sky at night 15 Dec 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

Comments: No Comments

Darkness

As a child and younger person, and like most people I suppose, I loved to look at the stars in the night sky. But for some years I have been more interested in the space between the stars*, the darkness. Not like an astrophysicist in dark matter; just in the matter of darkness, what it means.

With the nights having drawn in, and being older now so I sleep less well at night anyway, there is plenty of time during my waking periods at night to think about darkness.

When we are actually asleep we cannot think about darkness just because we are enveloped within it. Consciously thinking about the state we are in when and while we are actually asleep, at this current time in human history and except perhaps for mystics and charlatans, is an oxymoronic step too far. We can’t do it. Being within the darkness of sleep is a time and space for trusting that all be well and just letting ourselves be in it.

As if we were a baby and the darkness of sleep was a kind of mother, nurturing us.

People who come for psychotherapy or counselling often, if not always, arrive feeling trapped in a kind of darkness by the feelings and circumstances troubling them.  Although it is silly to generalise, and with apologies to people who lack visual sightedness, they somehow feel blind, in the dark, about just how their lives can possibly become less troubling.

But what if it was that very darkness, including the feeling of being trapped, which enables us to feel more in touch with what we are feeling, with how and who what really matters to us as we journey through our lives? What if it tells us what really matters to us?

When the poet Dylan Thomas was a young man and his father was dying he suggested that one should not ‘go gentle in to that good night’ but should instead ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’.

Well, perhaps it depends what time it is in the day of our lives!

By which I mean the darkness of sleep and ultimately the darkness of death (if not the penultimate process of dying which can often undoubtedly be awful) should be embraced as part of life.

It is a comfort to go into the darkness and sleep. As death is where we are all going in the end anyway, perhaps we should let it be a comfort? I am not arguing for self harm or suicide at all, but perhaps the darkness, the not knowing, the letting go, means, as Julian of Norwich (a woman) put it, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well!

* ’The space between the stars’ is a reference to my collection of poems entitled, ‘Engenderings’, by Cairns Clery, (Cairns is my middle name) and published by Chipmunka in 2012.


Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

young-happy-couple 08 Dec 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

Comments: No Comments

The Price of Love

When we love someone as a partner and live with them, married or otherwise, we give them our trust committing ourselves to giving them the best and the worst of ourselves in return for the same from them. There are limits, of course. Sexual betrayal is often one of them, as is violence, although the fact that it is happening already suggests that the trust barrier which holds the relationship together has been breached. And there are many other limits, including the discovery over time of intellectual, emotional and spiritual incompatibilities. And ultimately, of course, the great delimiter itself, death.

But assuming the couple relationship is intact and stable enough, that the mutual trust between partners is sufficiently containing to enable emotional exchange, some of its main characteristics and patterns can, and in my view must, be identified, lest the power embedded in it by aeons of previous (ancestral) couple relationship patterns threatens to destroy it. That’s putting it on a bit strong you might say. But think about it. Thousands and thousands of years of couple relationships have gone before our own. They didn’t just have sex together! They had love, respect, closeness, differences, arguments, grudges, forgivenesses, etc., just like we do now.

Also, just like we have now, there existed more subtle, less obvious but just as deeply affecting relational patterns between them, that we are still at risk with our most significant other of  habituating between ourselves now. We ignore these less obvious, deeply affecting habituated patterns at our psychological peril. For example, a pattern of not talking with each other for days, weeks, months or even years on end about what we are feeling, and ironically perhaps for what may have been perfectly good reasons at first, over time becomes emotionally damaging. Or even more subtly, doing the opposite of that and talking about what we are feeling together, but not talking about the way in which we are talking about it and the way in which that affects us, can also have an insidiously harmful effect both on ourselves and on our relationship. So that we may over time perhaps position ourselves, regardless of which biological sex we happen to belong to and what age we happen to be chronologically, into too often and for too long being caught up in a pattern of behaving more like a mother or more like a child in relation to the other.

Why this can happen is a subject for another blog and of course is unique to each couple and each individual member of it. But for now, I would just urge you to consider how what you do and how you behave affects the person you are coupled with and to talk about it together in a spirit of respectful, mutual enquiry. If you love him or her, it is vital to always try to pay them the respect of listening not just to what they are saying but also to the way in which they are saying it without falling into a redundant pattern of defensiveness or aggression.

The price of love in couple relationships can in part be paid by proactively and deliberately setting aside special ‘couple time’ together as often as possible, daily if you can, if only for an hour or two, in which the one rule is that you only behave with total and absolute respect for the other, just like you did when you first fell in love.


Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

lifted-image 01 Dec 2017

BY: Alastair Dodwell

Anxiety / Therapy

Comments: No Comments

The ‘problem of evil’

I want to think briefly about this old chestnut: ‘If there is an all-seeing, all-powerful, benevolent God why would S/He render us so vulnerable and have us live in a world of suffering and finally death?’ Two things have prompted me to want to linger for a moment with this question. The first is the fact that so many people I meet in my work struggle at some point with how to come to terms with the random, ultimately tragic nature of the human condition. The second is the imminence of Christmas with its connotations  of family and cribs etc,.

One small blog isn’t going to scratch the surface of the surface of this question which, I hasten to add, and without meaning any rudeness to people of faith, I am not addressing from a religious perspective.  I am just going to share a few simple and parochial, human-focussed thoughts about the idea of an infant god – i.e., the baby Jesus – which our ‘Christian’ culture reifies and commodifies at this time of year. If you want to use them as a springboard from which to take your own dive into this question’s deeper waters, go ahead!

Now if, for want of a better descriptor, this ‘infantile’ aspect of the idea of God is to be properly considered from a human point of view then we have to think about babyhood, about babies, how they are, what they need etc,. If this is right then it follows that the specifically infantile aspect of ‘God’, in human terms, needs mothering, nurturing, being cared for, and so on. And fathering – being raised and then helped on out into the world of other people, of work, politics, etc,.

As a human concept then, does ‘God-as-an-infant’’ need feeding and nurturing, as we do, by way of our feeding and nurturing our babies and children? Bringing them up to find their own moral feelings and encouraging them as they mature to do kind, humane things in the world so that the ‘work of God’ (i.e., being distinctively human rather than just animalistic) can fully be realised?

More contentiously perhaps, does this humanised notion of ‘God-as-an-infant’ mean that having entered time and space, here on earth ‘God’ may actually be learning Him/Herself to be completely helpless and dependent in the first instance, and then learning to walk as a toddler, to fall over, to cry and to need comfort, to grow older, to become pubertal, to have moods, even to make mistakes? And as adults, most of us, to bring up children, to work, to struggle with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in our lives, to suffer physical and emotional pain, and eventually to die? Conceptually speaking, does this child aspect of ‘God’ mean that we humans, as sentient animals, have both to suffer and to grow old and to die, and at the same time, as knowingly sentient human creatures, also to find morality and kindness (i.e., love in the most inclusive meaning of that word, rather than war, selfishness etc.,) while we do so, in order to enable ‘God-as-an-infant’ to develop and mature into an adult?  Are we, therefore, in a ‘spiritually’ emotional way, partly more grown-up than this infantile aspect of our creator? Don’t we have to be? (And if so, shouldn’t we do what we can, to actually de-commodify our celebration of it at this time of year, find a way to return to a more authentic ‘Spirit of Christmas’?).

Maybe this kind of thinking takes a tiny, baby-sized step towards answering the very big question why our existence requires suffering and ultimately, death. And if an implication of it is that we humans are a part of ‘God’ learning what love is, that is a theological issue and therefore not for this blog.


Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

luck 24 Nov 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

Comments: No Comments

Luck

Imagine reversing or switching all your beliefs and preconceptions for a moment. Imagine what it would be like.

It’s almost impossible when you think about it. Hard anyway, unless one suspends disbelief, goes into a trance-like dissociative state and really let’s go….

But if and when you do so, or fail to do so – either way! –  we are re-presented with how little we know!

And what’s the use of that, you might wonder?

Well part of coming to terms with the fact there are as many, if not more, neurons in the brain as stars in the sky – check it out! – is that we obviously know so little. So very, very little. Not just of the external world and the wider universe, but also of ourselves. And of course, as is the way in this irony-filled, contradictory world of ours, accepting that we know so little is the beginning of knowing more.

But where? Where do we actually start?

Well, I am not encouraging any kind of egotistic or overly narcissistic selfishness, in saying we obviously have to start with ourselves! Our self is the one thing we have and which has us until we die.

Everyone being different and unique, people dying and others being born all the time, there are clearly things that separate us and things we have in common as human beings. For example, one of these latter is that we all make mistakes. Another is we are all subject to luck, to forces beyond our control which shape our lives. From natural disasters and wars at one end of the scale to trivial things like spilling something down our fronts at the other, luck plays a huge part in our lives on planet earth.

So, whether our luck is good, bad or indifferent at any given time and as it is anyway inescapable, our duty to ourselves is to embrace it. We don’t have to love it in any conventional sense, but we do have to take it on and deal with it as best we can.

But when times are challenging a different perspective from a psychotherapist, who may well themselves have both different and yet also some similar, if not identical, beliefs and preconceptions as your own, can sometimes be helpful in addressing our luck or karma. A psychotherapist is paid to help people safely feel and think their way through the complexities and contradictions going on in the personal or interpersonal circumstances they find themselves in, so that whatever may be happening they can at least feel they are being as true as they can be to themselves.


Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

 

gender-image 17 Nov 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

Comments: No Comments

Sex and gender

For most of us our sex and our sense of it, our gender, overlap seamlessly. Or at least they virtually do so. More or less. But in transgendered and intersexed people their sex and their gender can often be quite, sometimes even completely, distinct.

Our sex is a biological given with females being chromosomally XX and males chromosomally XY. So much is clear. Gender, in contrast, which may or may not be biologically determined (not enough is yet known about this, but there is some evidence that it may be, at least in part), is more obviously socially constructed. That is, it is further developed during our childhood and adolescent years by the way we relate with, and our related to, by others.

Some transgendered and intersexed people have the external sexual characteristics of their anatomies surgically altered or, as they experience it, corrected to more accurately fit their sense of gender. They show just how complex the very notion of gender actually is. They show it by not following the ‘normal’ developmental trajectory. Instead they have a greater or lesser certainty, which they may or may not express, that they are different from the norm in terms of their gendered sense of who they are.

Before I go on I have to declare an interest: I am an XY female who has had full gender confirmation surgery because from earliest childhood I ‘knew’ I wasn’t a boy. I couldn’t understand how I ‘knew’ this, but it was as certain as day follows night. Then I would wake up every morning to be confronted  anatomically with the fact that what I ‘knew’ to be the case was not actually true.

It was a bit difficult, to say the least!

Hormonal and surgical intervention are not lightly taken steps. Like that between the brain and the mind, an unbridgeable gap exists for some transgendered people between their given biological sex  on the one hand, and their personal sense of self or identity on the other, which at this present time in history only hormones and surgery can satisfactorily address. The stress of feeling wrongly embodied is otherwise just too difficult to bear.

So next time you consciously take a gendered look at someone, (and unconsciously we all do it all the time in relation to one another), remember that your gendered sense of who and how and what we are as human beings is sometimes not as straightforward as it might appear.


Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

waves 10 Nov 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

Comments: No Comments

Self control

If some dreams just mix up the ingredients of our waking life into a jumble of apparently random events adding a few relatives, strangers, memories and visions of the future for spice, then popping them in the oven of our sleep to be cooked regardless of whether we remember them or not, doesn’t mean they are unimportant and ‘just’ dreams.

What it means is they are simply not available to us to think about or dwell upon in the same way that the ones which we remember are.

So what? So when we do think about the activity of dreaming than rather any particular dream, we have to wonder what it is about this human being business that whole worlds can whorl around inside our sleeping heads which we are not even aware of.

Again, so what? So when we are awake and make conscious attempts to have full control of ourselves instead of just accepting what and how and who we are, we are doomed to failure.

So am I crazily suggesting we behave like slobs? Not even a little bit. What I am suggesting is that we can trust ourselves. We don’t have to bully ourselves.  Instead we just need to listen to what we are feeling and hear it. For example if/when we are struggling with eating disordered patterns, instead of trying to consciously impose an ideology of restraint upon ourselves with psychological whips and jackboots, we just listen to our tummies telling us when they are feeling too empty or when they are feeling full enough and then show them (our tummies) that we have heard what they are saying to us by responding appropriately (eating some more if they say we haven’t had enough, or stopping eating if they are telling us we have had enough) we will start to free ourselves from being trapped in the depressing cycle of having to ‘be in control’ and inevitably then losing it.

Yes, I’ve just made a quantum leap from talking about dreams we don’t remember into a parallel world in which we can trust our feelings instead of trying to control them. But it can be done!

So much major mental illness behaviour can be understood in terms of well-intentioned if misguided attempts by our waking consciousness to have more control over things within ourselves that are actually beyond our control, like dreams or feelings to name but the two I have talked about here.

And there are many more. So when/if you notice a kind of rigid inflexibility in your thinking then it can help to get back in touch with what you are feeling. That may not be easy. The feelings may too often be almost intolerable. If so, you may want to consider seeking professional help, rather than obsessively avoiding them with the distractions of behavioural self-control.


Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

rose 03 Nov 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

Comments: No Comments

Death Again

I was gardening and I looked up at the clouds skudding past the late afternoon, autumnal sun and I thought of my mother who also loved gardening when she was alive. I remembered that before she died I promised to give my dead brother’s headstone an annual clean. He died when I was eight years old and he was five.

I hadn’t cleaned it in over the year since she had died. I felt guilty and sad.

I am old now. His destiny was a short life. My mother’s was to care for him during those first so very needy years, (he was brain-damaged), and then lose him. It left her unable to subsequently relate to children easily, if at all.

In contrast, I have spent my whole career working with children and young people and having some lovely ones of my own too. What did she let go of which somehow enabled me to relate to children so easily? I don’t know.

And without going into that, it is obvious how the existence of our families…. and the deaths of loved ones, not only shape how we feel in our lives, but also what we do in them and how we do it.  Regardless of whether we realise it or not.

So, are we also shaped by the generations that came before us? My answering feeling to this question must be a resounding ‘Yes!’. I think there is no disputing the fact that we must be shaped by them; even though we don’t realise it, and even though the more scientific amongst us use long words and talk about epigenetics. Of course, it would be too much if all our ancestors could talk directly to us, but surely we would not be here without them. Nor their particular experiences, relationships and dilemmas about how best to do this human being business. We may not know them in this world of linear time. We have our own experiences, relationships and dilemmas to deal with and there is only so much we can take. But our ancestors, obviously, did all the things we do, (breathe, eat, feel etc), including struggle with love and loneliness and death, just as we do.

It is a defining characteristic of being alive that we all must die. Death gives life it’s importance. This is why we must not let ourselves be seduced by the smooth tongues of warmongers and their political and media apologists.

I was in Amsterdam last week where Gandhi, Luther-King and Mandela were all being celebrated. All three are dead now; dead people who stood up for resisting prejudice, violence and the associated diminishment of the importance of each human being’s experience which includes that of small children whose lives are caught short by circumstance, and too, those of mothers who have lost their babies, like my mum did.


Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

wrapped-image 31 Oct 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

Comments: No Comments

Wrapped

As Winter enfolds us in its arms, the apparent incongruity of ancient pagan festivals dressed up in contemporary accoutrements in the form of sanitised tricks, treats and fireworks followed a couple of months later by anodyne Santas, sleigh bells and shopping malls, will be upon us.

And children, those of whom are lucky enough anyway, will be delighted and their parents will delight in their delight and all will be festive.

By order.  Whose order? Well, the deep-rooted need for order that our ancestral forebears knew much better than we do that was, and still is in so many domains, the difference between life and death. So much so that some of us, if not all of us, still and must make putting things in order an absolute priority needing to be celebrated and highlighted by way of festivals of light. It is deep-rooted because it is one of our presents from the dead. Without wrapping ourselves in collective rituals of sleeping and eating and sex and relationship etc., we adults won’t be able to work for our children, wrap them in warm clothes of safety and predictability and celebrate their safety, and our success in providing them with it, in festivals of light year after year.

Is it any wonder that some of us in our aim to take on board this deep-rooted, collective need for order bequeathed to us by the dead, can find our feeling and sensitivity dulled and deadened by the sheer overwhelming power of this ancient ancestral need to make order out of chaos, light out of darkness? Is it any wonder that some of us feel so completely overwhelmed by it that we render ourselves helpless and hopelessly inadequate to the task and give up trying to stop ourselves being swept up in an annual materialistic tsunami of presents and food and try to get to some deeper meaning?

But some of us can’t. Or at least we struggle to swim against the tide for various reasons because we might not have the money, or time, or inclination. For example, we might be scrooge-like because our feelings of loneliness and depression that we are already wrapped up in, are like an endless, internal pass-the-parcel game in which the layers of paper around us are the feelings we just cannot remove enough of from around ourselves and which prevent us from being able to participate in ‘seasonal cheer’. Or again, we might have become so obsessively caught up in everyday wrapping rituals like washing and cleaning and doing things in a compulsive and particular way in order to stave off unbearable feelings, that we are just not able anymore to spontaneously and freely give ourselves up to celebration and can only pretend to do so.

And our ancestors and predecessors, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs in all their different times – the dead, if we could just hear them – would want to tell us, in a way which we could hear and respond to and feel wrapped up warm and safely held by, that all we can ever do is our best, whatever form that takes, and that when all the wrapping has eventually come off and we are dead too, what will matter is that the living carry on trying to do their best too.


Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

 

take-me-to-the-dream-849_252 27 Oct 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Anxiety / Therapy

Comments: No Comments

Imagination

So much of what we do involves images. Images in our thoughts and feelings, memories and hopes, fears, dreams, daydreams, anxieties, fantasies and so on. Each one us pictures things in these different domains from the different points view of the different states of mind and body we experience as we perceive them.  And each one of us differently!

It is a blazingly amazing, if complicated, fact that imagination is everywhere!

In fact our mental images or pictures can get so plentiful, so jumbled up and confusing, that we feel like we could seize up with it all, at best dissociate, meaning split ourselves off (both from what we see and from our feelings about it), and at worse, become mentally and physically paralysed, catatonic.

Ýet we are also and to some degree all blind, (using the widest possible definition of that word, and meaning no insult to those with ocular incapacity. I have myself suffered ophthalmic shingles a few years ago which permanently damaged the sight in my left eye).

Relatively speaking, at least, and to a greater or lesser extent, we can ‘see’ very little. If we could see everything it would have the same effect on us as staring at the sun. But we do need to see what we can, especially of ourselves, and this requires imagination.

With the help of a psychotherapist whom we are able to trust, some us find it is possible to see a little more of ourselves, of our underlying personality and character, without becoming permanently overwhelmed by what we reveal to ourselves about our needs, motivations etc., which we have been ‘blind’ to; or alternatively, without perhaps remaining too much in denial of ourselves so that we wander the world emotionally rigid and repressive because of it. ‘Seeing’ ourselves better can help us feel less helpless and frightened and, crucially, less disempowered.

Metaphor and simile almost always involve images in our minds, and producing images requires imagination. Imagination is essential to the human condition. We use imagination to make sense of what see and actually perceive it. Imagination is not the exclusive property of children or artistic people, writers, painters and musicians, inventers or scientists. Whether we know it or not, we all have it and we all can use it as much as we choose.

So just imagine. Just imagine safely using your imagination more and it will help you better see yourself and the world around you!

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/

dreams 20 Oct 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Therapy

Comments: No Comments

Dreams

Dreams spin our days; mix our dreads and desires with the everyday stuff of life, reach into our pasts and futures and make any possibility actual while they process. We are inside them but they are inside us.

We all know that. But so what?

So this: after another day existing in the outside world, and any variation of it we can imagine, dreams whisk it all up any which way for us inside our heads, adding anyone and anything from our pasts or futures in the absolute present of what  indigenous Australians have called the ‘Dream Time’ .

Inside our heads! It is astonishing that we can have the all the world’s possibilities inside our heads. And all while our eyes are closed!

Since earliest childhood we have been used to being inside our dreams, nice or nightmarish and all variations between, and all usually if not always to some degree enigmatic, that we forget how amazing this is. Or at least we take it for granted and think, ‘well, that’s how it is with dreams’.

But think about it. What do they do for you and to you? How do they affect you? What is it about them that makes you forget them? And remember them? How do you best understand their origins and purposes? What do they tell you about what does and what does not matter to you?

Only you can address these questions because it is you who has the responsibility for being inside your dreams. If the whole world and all time is in them with you too that doesn’t make them any less and any less uniquely yours. Listen to them. Speak to them with your feelings during spare moments in your waking hours if you like. Feel them with your words. Let them feel you.  Let them have you as you have them. Even the upsetting ones!

Over the length of our lives dreaming keeps us connected with that which is beyond time and space. I mean our very humanity.

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

For more information on Carrie, visit: surreycentreforcounselling.com/theteam/