Camouflage face image 21 Apr 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Anxiety / Treatment

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Camouflage

A lit candle in daylight. A moggy in a dappled wood. An iguana coloured in perfect harmony with its jungled surroundings. A face in a crowded sea of faces.

It is wonderful thing to be able to be and yet not to be perceived or singled out.

There is a fit between us all which allows us to merge into a safe anonymity, a collective identity behind which our individual differences and eccentricities can be quietly hidden. We can be members of different kinds of associations or classes, from football supporters to baby showers, politics, or an interest in the weather; happily allowing our uniqueness to shine through only to a few trusted others and only when we want it to. Close friends, partners and children may ‘really’ know us a little bit more, or think they do, but in the end, do we even ‘really’ know ourselves?

Living in a world of other people, as we do, and also being shaped by it, as we are, as we make our way through a process of developmental change called life, it is sometimes hard, if not impossible, if we are honest, to know who and what our ‘true’ selves are without at some point running up against a brick wall of counter-truths which somehow give the lie to them.

So, we do what we can to fit in with what we hope and think best expresses what matters most to us. We can, if we are lucky, find it easy to shift from the domain of the personal to that of the group. Unless we are too rigid and inflexible either for reasons over which it is our fate to have little or no control like autism, cerebral damage, or intellectual disability, or an over-attachment to a collective ideological belief provided and shored up by institutional ‘isms’ such as politics or religions, and over which we can have some control.

But if we are anxious in social settings and lack confidence in relation to ‘the world of other people’ it is understandable that we want to conform to, (or equally conform by rebelling against), societal expectations about how we should behave. From how we dress to how we speak and the activities we participate in, there is a fitting in, a camouflaging, of our individuality that we feel we need to protect by so doing. But adopting and adapting camouflage to protect our private, deeper sense of self does not mean that this public face, or persona, is inauthentic. Unless, that is, we lose touch with or disconnect awareness from our underlying sense of our whole individual personality, private, naked, camouflaged, public, known and unknown. Under those circumstances we might find ourselves doing something harmful to ourselves, perhaps developing an eating disorder or an obsessive compulsion or even putting ourselves at risk of going mad.

So, don’t worry if your public persona does not completely or ‘truly’ reflect or express your inner sense of who you are, or even that it seems to morph and shift depending on whom you are with. We all need a persona with which to interact with the external ‘world of other people’. You don’t become an inauthentic liar having one and using it even though it does indeed shift and morph.

That lit candle in sunlight is still a wick dipped in wax with a flame on top!

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

 

lifted-image 01 Dec 2017

BY: Alastair Dodwell

Anxiety / Therapy

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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/

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

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Anxiety / Therapy

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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/

fear 13 Oct 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Anxiety / Therapy

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We are what we fear

Really? What a stupid statement, some might say. And, of course, it is. It’s not true at all.

Or is it? Just a little bit?

After all, it is often the case that the more intensely we feel something, the more important at least some elements of it, if not all of them, are to us, isn’t it?

Take for example the fear of small creatures. How much is the fear of them really about feeling we ourselves are like small creaturely things scurrying about in a big dangerous world, defenceless but in our own small way able, sometimes at least, to bite?

Qualities and characteristics that we cannot admit to, or abide in, ourselves, for whatever reason, often get externalised in this way and ‘seen’ as existing outside of ourselves, nothing to do with us at all.

It is not our own mouseyness or spideriness which is scary! Of course it isn’t. What a ridiculous thing to suggest, Carrie!

And yet…. the disproportionately high level of anxiety we can feel about some things that in themselves really don’t merit it at all, must be telling us something about ourselves, surely?

To be a human being is to be vulnerable, including being vulnerable to unbearable feelings which come from we know not where and which we don’t understand. They can be so emotive that we can lose sight of the fact that feelings and facts are distinctly different even if they do happen to coincide. Some of these frightening feelings we can admit to ourselves, even if we find them absolutely terrifying, and others we just can’t.  For example hating oneself for sometimes having a deep dark urge to commit a violent act towards ourselves or somebody else, even suicide or murder. Or again, though less obviously extreme, hearing an inner voice too often judging and criticising us for our ideas, fantasies, desires etc.,  all those things that make us human.

If we can let ourselves be vulnerable and understand our fears in terms of what they tell us about ourselves, our personalities, they can then begin to deflate and become less overwhelming. But only as much as you want them to do so!

Psychotherapy can provide a safe neutral space and time in which to get help with this process of self-unfolding and self-acceptance. Even of our mousey or spidery or snakey bits!

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

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

change-and-loss-image 15 Sep 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Anxiety

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Change and Loss

If one thing is certain (probably!) about living on this planet, it is that things change and loss is inevitable.  Everyday dusk falls and the day is lost at it gives way to nightfall. Some time later night is lost to a brand new day.

We live in time.

When things change and time brings us a new present there is always at least some kind of loss of what was before. Sometimes the change and loss are almost unnoticeable. At others they are huge, unmissable and inescapable. Some changes are slow, gradual and predictable. Others sudden and unexpected. Some bring happiness and the loss of unhappiness, others bring sadness, even trauma and loss of happiness.

Psychotherapy for help with awful feelings doesn’t mean we are going mad although it can feel like we are and we have to remind ourselves that facts and feelings don’t always coincide!

Similarly, losing a loved one, usually feels utterly impossible for those left behind when she, he or they, have died, no matter what their beliefs about an afterlife might be. It can feel so deeply distressing that we can start behaving as if we were clinically depressed not eating properly, sleeping badly and unable to function for feeling overwhelmed emotionally.

But there is nothing unhealthy about this kind of sadness. Grief is such a difficult process to bear, but in fact, as the measure of our feeling of love, it is one of the most naturally human experiences that we ever have in life. It may feel unbearable at the time, but in fact, for most of us it actually and eventually isn’t. In time it gradually lets us go as we let our loved ones go.

Of course it is a matter of degree, but expressions and effects of grief, as intense as they are, are rarely symptoms of mental illness they are the products of our mentally healthy love for our lost loved ones. There would be something wrong with us if we didn’t feel profoundly affected by their passing knowing that nothing will ever be the same again.

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

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

dragon 15 Aug 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Anxiety / Therapy

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Uncertainty

Apparently Confucius, an ancient Chinese philosopher, warned against knowing too much. ‘Beware dreadful understanding’ is, I think, the English translation of what he thought.

He wasn’t so much talking politically; what he was saying was that understanding too much doesn’t allow for the magic of not knowing enough!

We are all ultimately a mystery even, even perhaps especially, to ourselves. That’s why people sometimes seek out a psychotherapist. To try to understand themselves more fully. By paying a professional to help them for a while in this process of theirs they trust another person to get to know them differently from the way in which they know themselves, to understand them and know them in ways that that they themselves perhaps have not done before coming into therapy. And to do so in a kind, and understanding manner.

A psychotherapist is therefore a servant to the person who pays her or him for views and perspectives which in themselves and at the end of the day are just different, that’s all.

If a psychotherapist doesn’t know that the more s/he knows the more s/he knows how little s/he knows then perhaps s/he shouldn’t be practising!

It’s true that insight is the common currency of the different psychotherapeutic approaches but, in itself, insight does nothing to help a person change or get past a problem troubling them. It is good to be curious and interested, but we also have to come to terms with what we cannot know or understand.

In the creation myth Adam and Eve famously ate an apple from the Tree of Knowledge. It left them feeling, cold and hungry and scared. Paradise lost. A good rule of thumb is that certainty can be awful, harsh and uncompromising’.

To be human is to be uncertain. This is a main reason why psychotherapists deeply respect the courage of their patients in asking for help.

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

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

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things 12 Aug 2017

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery

Anxiety / Healing / Therapy

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Things

Is there ever a long period when we are not anxious about something?  I have spoken before in these blogs that it is often the case that when we must face and deal with the present reality of what we had been worrying about, it actually turns out to be not half as terrifying as we feared it would be beforehand. Sometimes, it is true, it turns out to be worse than what we feared, but usually our fears turn out to have been disproportionate.  Similarly, sometimes the things we were fervently hoping for can prove deeply disappointing and sometimes truly wonderful. But on the whole, once what we were hoping for actually arrives, it turns out to be mundane in comparison with our expectations.

Both hope for, and fear of, something happening involves anticipation. Anticipation, whether optimistic or fearful, usually, but not always, inflates and fills our imaginations so much more than the prosaic reality when it actually comes to pass.

Things can be so prosaic. They come and they go. Whether those things are events in our lives and relationships, or material things like a nice new dress or a new car, things always pass and move into history in a way that our sense of self never does. Even though it develops and changes through the course of our lives, our sense of self is somehow not a ‘thing’ in the way everything else is. And neither, of course, is anyone else’s sense of self a mere thing.

In psychotherapy or counselling we choose to try to be completely honest, perhaps for the first time in our lives, about our sense of self. It can be hard because our sense of self is not a thing. It is with us all the time, but it is mysterious and elusive just because it is not a thing.

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

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