This global pandemic has been and continues to be a challenge for most people; from travel restrictions and cancelled holidays, to loss of income, the tragic and devastating loss of loved ones and the development of new or pre-existing mental health related problems, including anxiety and depression. The initial shock felt at the start of the Covid 19 pandemic was a normal reaction to a global health scare; we didn’t know what was happening, what narrative to believe, and those in positions of authority, in most cases, reacted in a manner that served to evoke more fear and confusion. People felt afraid, out of control, restricted, trapped, and concerned or worried about loved ones, food supply, finances and general health and safety.
While the fears and worries prevail, some people have been able to adapt to what is happening by accepting the unknown, accepting what is out of our control, and implementing adaptive choices based on what is within our control, including: moving work online, creating wine and tapas meet ups in video chat rooms, deeply cleaning the house, enjoying time for baking, re-connecting with family members and making healthy choices in response to the information presented. Some of these people adapted by seeking meaning in suffering and chose to see the pandemic through a positive perspective; they were able to allow the pandemic to provide an opportunity to recognise or reassert what truly matters, and make quality of life adjustments accordingly.
However, not everyone has been able to adapt or cope in a healthy way with how they have been feeling, because they have not been aware of healthy coping strategies, because the pandemic forced them into terrifying situations where they were not safe and unable to escape, or because the pandemic has traumatised them. When the initial shock activated the central nervous system, causing a fight, flight or freeze response, instead of experiencing the natural rebalancing effects of the autonomic nervous system, which automatically kicks in to process fear and shock, restore stability to heart rate, breathing, and feeling safe, and enabling a return to rational thinking, which would allow a person to make healthy choices to support emotional wellness, if they wish to, some people have remained in a highly activated state, causing them feel that they are not safe, and to suffer intense and overwhelming emotional distress, intense anxiety and strong feelings of depression that they can no longer cope with.
This highly activated state was made worse by the minute-to-minute updates about the situation, portrayed through dramatic and fearmongering communication styles from the media, fuelling people’s fears of a highly contagious virus that may affect them or loved ones, fears of a conspiracy to remove human rights and freedoms, fears of forced untested vaccinations, or fears about being in a pandemic situation forever. Due to remaining in a highly activated state, some of these people have developed symptoms of acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. Due to feeling continually anxious and afraid, and without the ability to restore balance or calm, these people have needed to find external sources to help them cope with the intensity of their thoughts, feelings and emotions. Some turned to a glass or few of wine every evening to provide short term relief from anxiety or a low mood, others have chosen food, drugs, painkillers or addictive or obsessive behaviours to distract from how they are feeling. For many, even when the pandemic passes and COVID 19 becomes similar to an annual flu season, those who have been traumatised will continue to experience anxiety and depression until they learn how to heal and restore their inner calm.
This picture is nothing new; the pandemic has simply brought to our attention the very real suffering so many experience as a result of trauma inducing events. What we can take from this pandemic is that it has brought to the table an opportunity for long overdue conversations with those may be suffering. Having these conversations needs to happen in a safe place to ensure people are not re-traumatised or triggered into states they cannot control. The following points outline how to create a safe space to address mental health related matters at work:
Create a safe space: In the context of mental health, a safe space means an environment that allows a person to manage their emotional distress in an effective way. This may involve providing a physical space where people can go for a quiet moment to restore emotional balance and distract from negative and fear thoughts. It also means providing ‘safe people’ to hold a trauma informed space of compassion, empathy and kindness, where a person feels safe to open up, share their struggles and work on solutions.
Provide safe support people: A person who is safe is trauma-informed, which means they know how to create a safe place, foster trust, empower the person they are supporting, and are accepting, compassionate and able to support emotional regulation, which means the facilitator needs to be able to self-regulate and have a good level of emotional intelligence. You may have a mental health first aider or HR person with specialised training who would be suitable for this role, you may wish to bring in a trauma-informed therapist or psychologist to facilitate employee psychological well-being and mental health, or you may wish to form a mental health policy that provides the fees for an employee to attend a certain number or private and confidential therapy sessions outside of the office.
Establish psychological safety: Because trauma inducing events can activate the central nervous system to behave as if a real danger is present, even when the danger or perceived danger has passed, traumatised people continue to experience the sensations of being in danger, under attack, or in the fear scenario even when it is safe. By encouraging the development of positive coping skills, this solutions-focused attitude helps to activate the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for logic and reason, which can enable a person to begin to recognise that there is no actual real danger right now, in this moment, rather there is a ‘what if’ fear, which is an entirely different story. When a person can logically assert that they are safe right now, this can help reduce symptoms of emotional distress and sometimes help restore some sense of calm.
Know how to manage an emotional crisis: If someone is emotionally distressed or having an anxiety attack, the five senses exercise is one simple, non-invasive and effective technique that can be offered to help bring a person back into the present moment, where they can be reminded that they are safe right now. Ask the person to do the following five things, connecting with each sense in turn:
Be clear on what is suitable office based mental health support?
It is important to understand that as a manager or colleague you are not expected to be a psychologist or therapist, but there are some practices that you can provide that offer effective support and aid in the reduction of symptoms of anxiety, stress, fear and depression.
Help them to restore routine: Creating a sense of routine can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression because routines help to provide a sense of structure and security where you know what to expect, which can be useful for times of uncertainty or with feelings of being out of control. Creating a routine might include beginning with the same morning routine upon waking, taking set tea and lunch breaks through the day, scheduling time to be alone, putting a workout in the diary, finishing work at the same time and not taking work home, and making a note each day about what you feel grateful for.
Help reduce pressure: What can you do to reduce the pressure your employee is feeling? Is there a project someone else can do right now? What can be delegated or delayed for a short time? What part of their workload can you take on for a short-time? What low priority items can be let go? And what can you say to let this person know that their mental health challenges are not causing their job to be at risk, but that you will support them in healing and returning to wellness, as much as you can in your professional capacity.
Remind them of their accomplishments: When we experience intense emotions, it is common for the brain to turn to negative thinking, with feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness. However, these negative thoughts are often cognitive distortions and not actual facts or truth. By challenging negative and fear thoughts, a person can be helped in restoring balance. One way to do this in a work environment is to remind the person of their accomplishments, and it doesn’t matter if they are small, because many small ones collaborate to create a new feeling of positivity and competence.
Encourage them to seek professional support: Have a few contact numbers of psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists that they can choose to contact, and remind them that asking for help is an act of vulnerability that takes great strength, and it is a choice to self-love, because you care enough to want to feel better.
To be a heart centred leader is to consciously live from the values of love. This means to live and lead with acceptance, appreciation, authenticity, compassion, empathy, honesty, gratitude, kindness and respect, and to be sincerely passionate about empowering the growth and development of others.
The benefits to you when you lead from the heart far outweigh the strength building challenges you will be invited to face through transition. This is not for the faint hearted, leading from the heart is for those who really care, those who want to make an inspired positive difference and who are willing to dare to be vulnerable to make this happen, and it is for those who may not necessarily believe they have the strength to stand strong in their beliefs and values right now, but who suspect they may have this quiet inner light waiting to be given a chance to shine.
If you have read this far, then you are likely to be someone who is inspired by the possibility and the challenge of leading from the heart. If you are someone who wants more; a better quality of life, improved relationships, a feeling of core mental and emotional strength, and to be an inspired facilitator to the emerging talent and potential of yourself and others, then I invite you to consider how your are already leading from the heart and where you can grow yourself and your people. Ask yourself, how well do you:
To lead from the heart is to walk your talk in alignment with your values, creating a ripple effect that inspires and empowers others to walk the path to living in a field of greater love and harmony.
Facilitator in Leading from the Heart
Coaching and Therapy for Adults and Adolescents
BSc Psychology (Hons) MBPsS
MSc Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Psychological Practice
Qualified Professional Coach MICF PCC
Certified CBT practitioner
Private office in Pueblo Nuevo (Beside Sotogrande)
Also available at Ocean Clinic Gibraltar and online via Zoom or Doxy.
I work with individuals and organisations to facilitate leadership from the heart, partnering with you to identify and integrate your heart-centred values, to develop the behaviour qualities that reflect these values, and become a source of inspiration for your family, pupils, community and workforce, while empowering you to develop a greater sense of peace, freedom, happiness, harmony, and ultimately success where is matters most to you.
Get in touch:
As we scale the peak and cross the platform from where we were to where we are going, unable to see what the new planes will bring in the new world, and uncertain of the new horizones we shall meet, what can we do in this moment while we face uncertainty and the great unknown?
We can bring ourselves into this present moment, which for now requires a complete surrender of what we knew. As central governments decide, albeit with our influence, the course of our journey ahead (no, we are not powerless, and yes we have influence) and while in this present moment we are bombarded with confusing and contradictory information forcing us to admit that in reality, we do not know the truth about what is and we cannot know the truth about what is, and that it is hard to know who or what to believe, what we can do in this time of surrender, is start to listen to and trust our inner compass.
I invite you to connect with your inner compass, and delve deep into where you core values rest in this moment: what is this time teaching you and what matters most to you? What is this time teaching you about what mattered to you about how your life was, and how the world was? What is this time teaching you about who you want to be and how you want to live and how you want to see our world evolve?
Now, in solitude, which may be peaceful, chaotic, fearsome, overwhelming, emotional, stressful, calm or exciting; whatever it feels like for you, and perhaps a rollercoaster of all of this, in this time of change and opportunity for reflection, what core values; the things that really matter to you, do you want to see integrated more into how you live, what you do and how our world evolves?
Write these down, write down why they matter; why these values matter to you and what will having them and living them give you and mean for you and your world, and our world?
Then, in clear recognition of what truly matters to you, for you and your world, I invite you to draw closer to your heart and listen to you heart speak about those values that matter most to your heart, and ask, why do these values matter, and what would your world look like and feel like and sound like with these heart centred values lived?
Now that a picture is forming about how to live from these heart-centred values, I ask you to make a commitment to action: what can you do to live more from the values of the heart, your heart, and what will you do to evidence this, and when will you do this, and how will you know when this is done?
We are crossing a bridge of opportunity for change, some may take it, some may not, but the opportunity is here for those who want to take it and to evolve. I feel it, I feel I am walking in the footsteps of a dawn to a new world, and as I walk, consciously from the eve of what was into this new dawn, mindful of what I am letting go of, what no longer matters, and what I cannot bring with me because I recognise that I need let some things go, for my peace and happiness; the values I wish to grow in my new dawn, I am mindfully considering what vision do I want craft in the skies of the new landscape that is birthing, and how much do I want to contribute to that vision. I understand, through the laws of co-creation, that the vision in my mind, the vision of peace, happiness and harmony, can only come about if I walk with peace, in happiness and in harmony, conscioulsy, day to day, while contributing, in action to these values on a personal, local and globale scale in my own small way.
This is a call first to reflection and then to action. Your reflection, on the values of your heart, and your action, on the values of your heart are important right now.
I know when you and I listen to the voice of love, my voice, your voice, our voices, that even if our voices sing with shades of different colours, we can and shall make rainbows together in the skies of a new paradise.
Antonia Behan BSc, MSc,MBPsS MICF PCC
Providing coaching and therapy for adults and adolecents
Suddenly the world changed; overnight adolescents were isolated from their friends, moved to on-line learning, not allowed to leave their homes and told that a dangerous virus was circulating and that it could kill their vulnerable loved ones if they did not socially distance. Some teenagers have responded well; they are able to accept the situation, they do not feel afraid, they are relieved to be away from the stress of school, they have found online learning different but okay, and are happy to be home with family and feeling generally more relaxed and doing what is asked to take care of vulnerable loved ones. Other teenagers miss their friends, they feel lonely and isolated, they struggle with on-line learning and find it difficult to focus, and without their daily routine, these factors of change have created anxiety in those who were not anxious and heightened anxiety in those who are.
Without coping strategies to deal with what is happening and the unknown road ahead, some adolescents are at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety, anxiety disorders and depression, and may attempt to cope using unhealthy tools, such as alcohol or drugs, they may try to take control buy diving deeper into obsessive behaviours and addictive habits, they may seek to self-soothe by over-eating, or try to control anxiety through starvation. When we cannot change the situation, we can empower teenagers with healthy coping skills to manage what is happening and how they are feeling.
The first and most important item is family communication. Adolescents need emotion-focused communication, which means parents are open in expressing how they feel about what is happening. This helps a teenager feel better able to express their own feelings, and when feelings and emotions are open and seen, then coping strategies can be explored. Problems occur when parents keep their feelings to themselves, even when this is believed to help their teenager. What can happen is that a teenager sees that a parent is not able to engage in an emotion-focused conversation and then feels they need to protect that parent from emotion, and so the teenager keeps their feelings to themselves and tries to cope alone.
When communication is opened up, the conversation can move into deeper understanding about what is happening, how people are feeling about what is happening, and why they are feeling what they feel. It may be that a teenager is stressed because they cannot focus with online learning, which may contribute to fear-based thoughts about exam performance or university placement. The reason this teenager cannot focus is because their fear-based thoughts activate the amygdala in the brain, which causes the fight or flight response to be triggered, making it very difficult to concentrate or apply logic or focus. When this happens, it is possible to learn techniques to counter the fear-response to evoke calm which in turn will allow the prefrontal cortex area of the brain to function better, which aids focus and attention, while reducing the activity of the amygdala. A teenager may be worried that people they love may die, they may be experiencing distressing feelings and overwhelming worry, and they become obsessed about disinfecting things so that they don’t transmit anything to their parents or grandparents. This could develop into an anxiety disorder, which causes prolonged distress. Exploring together how you feel about what is happening, talking about death or fear of death, normalising it as part of our lives and how we cope with this, and identifying what your teenager needs to feel supported and this how support can be given, can go a long way towards easing anxiety and cultivating feelings of calm and security.
Some techniques to ease fear-based thoughts and anxiety include: breathing or muscle relaxation techniques, talking through worries and moving into solutions, identifying fears and applying logic and reason to formulate a more realistic point of view, modifying extreme and obsessive behaviours to create healthier patterns of behaviour, identifying healthy actions to manage the situation, learning to let go of what cannot be controlled and focus on what can with a healthy approach, engaging in activities that boost serotonin, endorphins and dopamine; hormones which generate positive feelings, and looking at ways to turn a difficult situation into a time of opportunity and possibility.
If you would like to explore how to support your teenager in managing anxiety, please get in touch:
Coaching Psychologist BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
0034 620 741 361
Private office near Sotogrande, with consultations also available at Ocean Clinic Gibraltar and Atlantic Clinic Nueva Andalucia. Online sessions available via Zoom, Skype or Doxy.
Dalton L, Rapa E and Stein A (2020) Protecting the psychological health of children through effective communication about COVID-19, The Lancet: Child and Adolescent Health
Grubic N, Badovinac S, Johri A (2020) Student mental health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: A call for further research and immediate solutions. International journal of social psychiatry https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764020925108
A gentle soul entered my life not so long ago. Through the days and weeks of her emerging I carried her and nurtured her and felt my love for her grow. I had dreams of my little girl; I saw her gifted to me from the angels who blessed her soul with love, and I understood that my angel would touch hearts, and that she would teach me to open my heart to greater love. I did not imagine how she would weave her magic, or that she would return to the angels so soon; a life lived only in my womb for 37 weeks, and who has touched my heart forever.
There has been felt by those close by a harmonic resonance in the meaning of her presence; to heal and to love. My little Angel touched hearts and opened family and friends to deeper heart connection; she was able to share her spiritual gifts without setting foot in this world and this is how I know for sure she truly is an Angel.
I have listened to many who have offered love and support say that ‘I have no words’ and ‘I do not know what to say’ and this is okay. Sometimes there are no words to say. This can lead to a divide, separation and isolation, because in fear of not knowing what to say or do, some shy away from tragedy and loss, when what is needed to support healing is connection, acknowledgement, acceptance and love. Others simply embrace the truth and accept the silence. Silent presence can be a powerful support.
Death is part of life; it touches us all. I wonder how life would be if we felt more confident about how we embrace death, loss and the pain of a broken heart. I wonder if we understood it was okay to say: ‘I am sorry for your loss’ and then return to silence, or to talk about the weather, the events of the day and the next, that in doing so we demonstrate transcendence of the fear of facing pain and give recognition to the strength to address and accept reality, and that in owning our strength we empower the grieving to grow their own.
I wish to honour the gift of my angel through dedication to loving more. This means striving to live with greater understanding, empathy and compassion, deeper acceptance, forgiveness and peace, the dedication to conscious creation of radiant happiness, joy and fulfilment, and to encourage deeply heart-felt meaning making in all who suffer tragedy, loss and the pain of grief.
What I am learning from this loss is that life brings beautiful blessings in ways we cannot imagine, and when we accept, no matter how much the suffering, the beauty we seek and discover gives us strength and illuminates the path ahead to a life of greater meaning, purpose and heart-centred living.
The pain and suffering does not end, that is not the goal. Pain and suffering, death and loss, tragedy and heart-break are part of our world. We can avoid and escape them, and turn to unhealthy, negative and destructive means of coping, or we can accept and embrace reality, find meaning, seek the gifts and blessings, and grow our hearts and minds to empower the evolution of love and beauty in the future. I believe this is what our world needs now: greater love, and my little Angels has fuelled me with more light to strive for this within myself and in empowering others with the growth of their strength.
Some of you reading this will have known of my Angel, and watched her grow with me over recent months. Do not be afraid to speak of her, her name was Isabella-Rose. Do not be afraid to open your heart or say what you feel like saying. Do not feel the need to avoid her to protect me from my pain, because I can hold my pain and I do not need it to be taken away, because I know time will help me heal, and this is how it must be: the pain is making me stronger.
I am not alone in grief. Death touches us all. This is not written for my loss, but for our loss; past, present and future, so as to encourage the opening of hearts, the sharing of words, and the development of strength to accept reality, to give it meaning, and to inspire and empower our ongoing journey’s to greater love and connection.
I am very happy to announce that I have just opened 'The Coaching Studio' in a very private office location on the edge of Sotogrande. Designed as a relaxing and supportive coaching and therapy space for adults and teenagers, as well as a comfy and professional creative and development space for group workshops.
Yes I said the 'C' word, and it's still October!! Let's face it, Christmas is not about celebrating one day of the year, it is a lengthy process of preparation that can involve all kinds of stressors and worries that may fuel anxiety in some. But let's not assume the worse, because equally so, and it can be a time of preparation for a beautiful heart-felt reunion of loved ones. For most people, the truth is somewhere along that perceptual spectrum.
This article explores how we can each take ownership of family harmony at Christmas and offers a simple and effective process that you can try at home to raise the bar on harmony. We begin to address harmony by considering what it means?
Q:What does 'Harmony in your family' mean to you?
Feeling Perplexed? Noticing your thoughts taking a few moments to clarify? If you are nodding, this is because it may well be the first time you have asked yourself the question in a long time, perhaps it is the first time ever? So let's take a moment to reflect and really consider the meaning of 'Harmony?'.
Harmony is being in agreement, a pleasing arrangement, acceptance of differences and people living in peace. Would you agree, or add anything to this? Now, with the meaning of harmony in mind, how do you rate your family harmony generally? (On a % scale, 100% being total harmony). Write this number down on a piece of paper to identify your place on the harmony spectrum!
Now, ask yourself, what would be different if you were at 100%? What would be different about how people think, behave and communicate? How would things look to a fly on the wall? What would be different about how it feels to be in the home with each other? Take a few moments to make some notes or have some thoughts about this.
When we consider the changes that may occur if a state of harmony were achieved, we begin to recognise what is needed to make the changes. These opportunities for growing towards greater harmony may require clearer expectations and boundaries for children and teenagers, it may be that positive ways of communicating need to be better modeled, or that techniques for managing powerful emotions and changing hormones be learnt. It is possible that personal beliefs would benefit from being enhanced in a positive direction, self-esteem developed, confidence cultivated, assertiveness embraced, the ability to say 'no' strengthened,and the recognition of the importance of letting go of trying to control embraced, and in the space created, a new acceptance of what cannot be changed or controlled and a new system integrated, a system based on positive values, upheld by a new boundary framework enforced with positive reinforcement and clear consequences that are religiously maintained to facilitate positive behaviour change and the potential for a stronger sense of security, trust and respect to be developed. It may be that allocated time is made to talk to each other, to be together doing something fun, together, and more often. It may be that responsibilities need to be defined and needs and wants requested. And, it may be that everything is actually going pretty well, it's juts that the pressure is on, and the family just needs a conscious decision to work on proper relaxation and making moments of peace to raise the feeling of harmony through a deeper sense of peace.
What resonates with you in these words? What do you believe would support you in growing towards family harmony? And, what is actually within your control to have impact on today?
Your Power to Create Family Harmony: It is for certain that within your control is the ability to make choices about your own thoughts, actions and reactions. It is within your control to ask for your needs and wants to be met and to ask others about what they need and want from you. It is within your control to modify how you communicate with yourself; how much more you speak from a place of loving kindness to your own mind. It is within your power to set boundaries on behaviour; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and how will you respond when the line is crossed, while honoring your own values and the values you wish to integrate within your family and home?It is within your power to manage your own emotional reactions. And yes, after a long day, with not enough sleep, hormonal mayhem, too much to do and urgent homework assignments or full costumes due in the morning!!, managing emotions may seem impossible and it may well be, so relax, give yourself a break, embrace acceptance, love, understanding and reality! It's okay, you are only human and sometimes it's just hard.
Take a moment to consider your teenage children, the newness of hormones and overwhelming emotions, the urgency to be acceptance and included, the pressure to be online 24/7, to succeed, attain, achieve, and liked, and ask yourself: 'How could compassion support me and my family?' Accept that you are a human being and when you 'loose it', forgive yourself. All we can do, is try and try again; failure is an inevitable part of success and a value from which we can learn greatly. Focus on where it is realistic to make changes, and then, when the bigger challenges arrive, you will, as a consequence of practice, become better able to manage.
Now, take a breath, release the pressure, there is no pressure. In reality, change takes time, for you and for your family members. Release expectations, set only clear intentions and realistic actions, and try. Reward yourself and others for the small steps; in time they will become celebrations of a mountain peak attained; a mountain built on love, compassion, respect, acceptance, understanding, wisdom, strength, forgiveness and any other values you choose to build your family on.
You have the power to facilitate greater harmony for yourself, your family and your world.
Acceptance is ultimately a choice we make, it can take years or it can happen in a moment; the choice is yours.
At the age of 24, I was living in the UK, trying to ignite my entrepreneurial spirit, and dating a man who was a student of Buddhism. I had great dreams; I wanted to help others to heal themselves in an empowering way, and I wanted to create supportive and holistic living spaces to support well-being and happiness. I had gained qualifications in interior design, colour healing and some basic coaching skills, but the truth is, I didn't believe that I could create my beautiful dreams. I was struggling with myself and with trying to overcome depression. I believed if I could live in a sunnier climate, if I could achieve some sign of growth towards my dreams; which meant to grow from working as a waitress to create income and giving my free time to build my dreams, to actually making money from what I loved and feeling confident in the process, that I would feel better. If I lived an outdoor existence, I would feel better. If I escaped the rate race mentality of the commuter town Iived in, and found a more spiritual path, I would feel better.
'Accept the situation' my boyfriend encouraged. I considered his suggestion, and I believed it meant giving up, and giving in to what was.
'No, I will not give up on my dreams, I have to find a way to make life better, and then I can show others the way' I argued. 'I am determined and I will fight for a better life' I affirmed.
I did not understand why giving in to what was would help me. No, I would fight for my life, for my well-being and for what mattered to me, I was not prepared to settle and I was stubborn in my plight. And so, I remained feeling low, wanting to create change, not knowing how to, wavering between hope and hopeless, afraid my dreams could never come true, afraid I would always feel depressed, afraid life would not get better. Thankfully, change did happen, life brought opportunities and I grabbed them, making brave leaps into a new and sunny world, where I began to see some of my dreams come to life. However, a change in location or situation brought only temporary relief through distraction and newness, it does change my inner world.
I didn't know it then, but I had really misunderstood the meaning of acceptance.
In “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” Jon Kabat-Zinn’s wrote:
“It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is- especially when you don’t like it-and then work wisely and effectively as best you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in and with the resources at your disposal, both inner and outer, to mitigate, heal, redirect, and change what can be changed”
I began to understand acceptance during a process of therapy where I was encouraged to accept my emotions instead to trying to run away from them, or avoid them. I didn't want to know them, to experience them, to suffer in them, but, as research has shown, when we avoid and suppress emotion, it can make anxiety worse, and I believe, based on experience, suppression and avoidance only prolong the suffering of the soul and of facing the inevitable, our pain and our suffering, that is, if we truly want healing to occur and happiness to blossom.
The first time I allowed the sensations of anxiety go through me, without trying to escape, it was uncomfortable, painful, overwhelming, and then it passed. It would be a few cycles of this process before I realized the suffering passes as long as I allowed it, as long as I did not fuel it with fear, worry and negative thoughts, and as long as I did loose myself and my mind in the twittering of anxious thought. It may sound simple, but this is the work of immense strength and time and patience. I believe only because I understand the intensity of this work; the patience i have needed for myself and been gifted by my therapist, that I understand the space, acceptance, patience and love that we need to give to ourselves and to those who we support in their process.
Learning to accept certain emotions and sensations took some practice, and then I began to see the light; what could be possible if I made the choice to accept, to feel, and be strong with my mind. After some time had passed, I would feel the surge of adrenalin race through my body; the consequence of being anxious and depressed for too long before I sought help, and I would accept it, because it was the reality and fighting against what is, I learnt, was somewhat futile. When I managed to accept more emotions and sensations, I gained more strength to guide my mind to observe the sensations in my body, and place my thoughts in the present, as an observer of my experience, instead of drowning in worry, doubt and fear. As long as I guided my mind on a positive stream of thought, the suffering would pass, and I would free up space in my world to create solutions and better ways of being, because I was no longer fueling the fears, worries and doubts, I was, in that moment, enabled to begin crafting a better path where I would place footsteps to make my inner transformation, and pave my inner road to a better life.
Once I began to grow more confident in my ability to better manage anxiety, and I understood the power of acceptance, I realized the many ways in which acceptance could be brought into our lives to improve well-being, reduce fear, suffering, dis-ease and the struggles with anxiety, worry, doubt and depression. These are not the issues of a person with an anxiety 'disorder' or depression, these are real challenges we all face, and the process to better manage them apply to everyone. Mental health and psychological well-being affect us all, at all ages and stages, and there are psychological and spiritual tools we can access and apply to help each other heal, learn and grow along the inner path to a better life, regardless of whether or not we change the outer story. Indeed, it is inevitable if we change the inner world, the outer world will change. Acceptance is on the greatest facilitators of our transformation into improved well-being and a better life.
I realized acceptance could be applied to the self, emotions, situations, the past, present and future, to people and places, to noise and discomfort, to identity, limitation, body image and self-expression, and to the unknown and the uncontrollable. And I realized that had I accepted my situation at 24, it may not have changed my situation and the same outcome may have occurred, but acceptance would have allowed me to make peace with the moment, to end the repetition of my distress, unhappiness, and suffering, and to support me in a place of greater peace, as I set about making the changes I wanted: I could have enjoyed a more empowered and positive experience in my process of transformation and growth.
Today I have new dreams and goals, and many stories of success. I have pursued more studies and training and gained degrees in psychology and mental health and learnt new skills to support growth and transformation. I have greater confidence in my ability to bring dreams to life, and yet, many of the important things remain out of my control. And so, I have a choice; get angry, be afraid, worry about what may or may not be, or, I can accept what is, open myself to the wonder of what can be, choose to embrace a positive perception and take action in the direction of my dreams, for areas where I can effect change, while I invite life to participate in supporting my wishes in those areas that remain in the hands of fate, or in the subtleties of co-creation. In acceptance, I let go of so much fear and doubt and make way for new faith, strength, and trust in myself and in the great mystery. In acceptance, I remove the walls and dams I have built, and allow the river of life to flow into my world, and for me to flow along the river, allowing the currents to lead where they lead. When I accept, I not only change how i feel, I change my inner world and the world we live in for the better.
Acceptance was not born alone, it was developed with allies including appreciation, gratitude, support, love and faith.
As part of my process I made a commitment to learn to love more. Acceptance is an aspect of love. And so, because I choose to grow from love, I chose acceptance. Because I chose to grow from love, I chose to give focus to appreciation and gratitude, and to place my mind in these heart-centered places when the fears and worries haunted me. Because I chose love, I chose to put my mind on faith and trust instead of fear, because fear made me feel bad, trapped and suffocated and faith and trust lifted and liberated me. I wanted to feel better, the choice to come from love, gave me this strength. As the love grew, so did acceptance, and as love and acceptance developed, and I began to see my faith grow, and my confidence develop.
There is one great power underlying all of this, and that power is choice; my choice to place my mind where I choose, and my choice to come from love.
Healing, therapy and indeed living is an art. I do not believe there is one road, or one way, it is about building up the qualities that empower a person to love and believe in themselves and giving them the tools and strategies to support their own vision and values and challenges. Support has been essential, I could not do this alone, I have support in various forms, and I am grateful for all of them. My process has given me more than my academic studies, it has given me deep understanding, more acceptance, stronger love and more faith, a process that I perceive as on-going; we never stop growing.
Everything is a choice and we are free to make our own. When we make the choice to love and accept, like an art, it needs to be practiced, we need to convince ourselves that this is the way. There will be falls and stumbles, and these are for accepting. If we accept what is, where we are at, what has been, and what could be, if we accept ourselves, we grow our love, our power, our peace, our strength to outshine fear, and our freedom.
There are many facets to the Diamond that is love; there is romantic love, the love for a parent or child, the love of friends and your dear family pet, the love of nature, the love of french food and wine, the love of your career or vocation, the love for self, for God and for life. There is the feeling of being in love; the attachment that may be to another, there is conditional and unconditional love, and there is the sensation of expansion and light when the heart opens. And, underlying all this love, I believe the fundamental essence of love is is simply the choice to love, and that the choice to love yourself is where true love begins, because it is only when we truly love who we are, that we hold the capacity for embracing and sharing true love in our world.
What does it mean to love the self?
Answering this question came to me through a process and over time, as a result of all falling out of love with myself and then learning to love again.
The story begins in love. A child is born. Then, life happened, and over time the interaction of this child's life experiences with interpretations and beliefs formed about these experiences, initiated the child's story about who they are and how the world is. But, the truth is, the perception of the child is not the truth, it is a story life has led the child to believe about who she is and how her world is. It cannot be the truth, for the very simple reason that if you were to look through the eyes of every living being and see how they see themselves, other people and the world, you would see through a multi-million faceted diamond, and even this would not reveal the truth.
My story begins as a tale of a 4-year old child who was very shy. She was bullied at school. In her young mind, the story she told was of a cruel and nasty girl who would hurt her, because she was shy. She did not like the experience and so she tried to avoid being around this girl.
When the young girl turned 6 years of age, she moved to a new school. It happened that she was the only girl in a class full of 6 year old boys. They didn’t want to interact with her. And so the young girl told herself that: ‘six year old boys don’t like girls’ and she adapted by playing with the younger girls in her break times.
At 7, she was moved to a school with older students, and was also put in a class full of of boys. The boys were cruel. They chased her, spat at her and mostly ignored her. There were no younger girls to play with in this school and so she wandered the school ground alone, suppressing her sadness to survive.
At 8, she was moved to an all girls school. Here the girls had known each other several years and had formed their social groups. To each group she approached, she was told: ‘go find another group, we don’t want you’ . To this the girl responded to herself: ‘Nobody likes me’ and she accepted the situation, it was her normality, and she got on with enjoying her education. In time she started to make friends with the quieter girls, the nicer girls, while frequently bullied by the others, to which she suppressed and hide her sadness to survive.
At 11, this young girl began to develop into a young women, her self-confidence was growing, she was feeling good about being a good student and she was generally happy in herself. She moved on to secondary school, where she was one of a few day girls in a boarding school. Although shy, she decided she would put aside her shyness and get to know the others, and look out for the boarders who may be home-sick. When she noticed one of the boarding students being bullied. She knew the pain of bullying and didn’t want someone else to be so sad so she decided to become her friend. Then the bully and all the girls in the whole year turned in her. To this the young girl fought with all her might to suppress her sadness, and was creative in finding ways to avoid situations where she might be bullied or rejected. And she had one friend; one girl with the strength to resist the crowd. She tried to cope with the situation.
But, by the end of that year, it was just too much and she became depressed. The story in the young girls developing mind became tinged with clouds of darkness. She began to see her world through the eyes and the voices of the harsh judgments the bullies had flooded her with, she made them her own.
By the end of that year she turned inward to ask: ‘what is so wrong with me’. She could not find an answer and so she began to scrutinize,and looking for things to change so that she would become liked and accepted. She bullied herself with judgment about her fat legs, developing breasts and her silly giggles. And she responded to these dark thoughts by silencing herself, retreating into loneliness, losing weight, and judging herself with the harshness of 70 bullies.
This marks the turning point in the story, the time she this girl stopped loving herself. As a result, the quality of her life began to diminish, impacting on her social life, education, happiness, psychological well-being and mental health.
For a few years she drifted in darkness, carried only by her hope and dreams that one day she would leave school and build her dreams. At 19, she did just this, but, so after many years of depression, her mind continued to tell only stories of darkness, even when she was living the opportunity to build her dreams, and doing what she loved.
Learning to Love the Self
HOPE carried her. The beauty of hope is that you only need a flicker of a candle flame to mark an impression in darkness. Her hope was in a dream of a creative career doing what she loved. It may have been years ahead, but she had vision and direction; hope for change and a brighter future. A person who makes the choice to pursue a dream of hope still has a little love in them.
In therapy she took the next step towards learning to love herself, when she took time to understand her story. What she came to understand was that there was nothing wrong with her, that she was not a reject, a nothing, or a person what was not lovable or likeable, but that these were the stories that belonged to the other girls, to the bullies; it was their judgment, not her. So she returned their stories to the rightful owners and identified her own story; the story of a child who was shy and needed to learn how to build her self-esteem. But, as a result of the years gone by, she also needed to heal depression and damage she had done to herself.
One of the greatest tools in learning to develop self-love was mindful awareness. When she learnt that she could stand back from herself and observe her thoughts and body sensations as a silent observer, she was able to see the stories in her mind; the stories of judgment, criticism, rejection, sadness and fear, and the stories of hope that she had always kept alive. And from this place of observation, she was empowered to take command of her mind and decide which stories she would continue to listen to, and which she would return to sender or simply dissolve in the developing light of her love. Through mindfulness she became empowered to make the conscious choice to learn to start loving herself, by choosing loving thoughts and actions.
KNOW WHAT MATTERS TO YOU AND HONOUR THIS
In her early 20’s, attention was brought to her values; to what matters most. She identified that what mattered to her was living with a sense of meaning and purpose, to be able to heal herself, live in a positive environment that supported her well-being, enjoy good friends and one day, to fall in love and live in the sunshine to life her darkness into feeling better. She dreamt of becoming an inspiring writing and someone who helps others heal through therapy work. When she looked at her values, and she looked at her life, she realized there were many changes to make. It was in committing to make these changes, and slowly experiencing them become her story, that her self-esteem began to develop, because she was honouring her truth, and she was becoming successful in the maker of her dreams.
Through identification of her values, she was also invited to consider her self-worth. She began to decide what was acceptable in her mind and in her world and who and what was not. She decided to start saying: 'I have value and worth' but when she looked for supporting evidence, she could not find it.
Make Time to Heal
She continued to pursue her dreams and her meaningful purpose and she realized that she was growing the strength of her mind, but, deep inside, she was not fully integrating her knowledge into wisdom. She was haunted by the pain of her past and the years she had lost, and she did not always treat herself with love. Recognising this deeper truth, the young woman decided that she needed to deeply heal herself, to free herself from her suffering her traumas and all her suppressed pain. She embarked on a course of therapy, asking for help in reaching places that she was not able to heal by herself, and she learnt that asking for help is a choice of love, an act of courage and faith in the belief in herself and another to support a return to love.
Do What Makes You Happy
This young woman had a dream to make life better, to make a difference, and to turn her suffering into something of meaning and value that would help others in an empowering way. But she was so fixated on her need to prove herself, to be accepted, to affirm her value, and to be successful, that she gave no time to anything else that made her happy. She learnt that she believed she was not allowed to be happy, until she was successful. She was lost in her own illusion. When she gave herself permission to do things in the name of her happiness, a new light emerged from within and filled her with radiance. As a result the stories in her mind grew into stories of gratitude, appreciation, happiness, and joy and she learnt that choosing happiness, is is a choice of love.
One of the most empowering teachings was in the art of acceptance. To learn to accept what has been, what is, what may be, who she is, the emotions she had suppressed so long, and the way her world is, is a process that took time. It is indeed an art, and it required practice. The young women understood the wisdom of acceptance and she tried to embrace it. Sometimes she was successful and sometimes she failed, and in this, she also learnt to apply acceptance in her limitation, her humanity and to surrender her perfection and high expectation. As she grew in acceptance, something remarkable happened that marked a significant point in her transformation; it was as if a soft strong light developed within her, the flicker of the candle flame had ignited the energy of love growing in her heart, and she felt this light grow, and in this she felt a new connection with herself and understood that she was finally making a return to love.
It was is, by the very nature embracing acceptance, that she was carried along flowing river, naturally, into forgiveness. She was able to forgive the bullies and apply forgiveness to other aspects of her life, and she did this because she wanted to let go and move into peace. She choose forgiveness because she choose to love herself and set herself free.
Believe In Yourself
As her light and love grew brighter and she experienced her dreams developing, and her dedication to love grow stronger, she realized that the stories of failure and judgement still echoed in her mind. To this she responded by applying more love, and she did this by deciding that she would believe in herself and the power that enabled her to make the choice to believe in herself, was love. Because she choose to love, she choose to believe, because to doubt was not a choice of love.She did not know what the outcome would be; she was placing herself in a vulnerable situation, but she could choose to walk the path with light or in the shadows, and she was done walking in the shadows.
Share Your love
With growing love; through understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, the choice to love, appreciation, gratitude, compassion, the connection made with her own power, with her love, also granted her the capacity to begin to truly love others and in this, she began to find a connection she had been missing, and a depth of meaning and purpose that had evolved from a concept of mind, to become the light of her heart.
We can only truly open our hearts when we truly come from love and this takes time to grow. Learning to love yourself allows you to develop your greatest power and share your greatest gift.
If you are interested in working through an empowering process of learning to develop your self-esteem, please get in touch to schedule a time to call and explore how I can facilitate your process and journey.
Learn more at: www.antoniabehan.com
As the current year draws to a close and the new year dawns, I like to take time to reflect on the wisdom teachings gained, the transformations that have occurred, the happy memories I want to imprint in my mind, and the new intentions and visions to craft for this new year.
The theme of my year has been acceptance; to accept what was and is in my world, and within myself; who I am, how I think and feel, the emotions that flow in and out of my days, and the interactions I experience with other people and my world. One of my greatest teachers has been fear. As a focused challenge to manage, fear has served a pivotal role in teaching me to love more. This is a journey in process that I accept may well be infused in lessons of a lifetime; we simply become better at managing our fears as we mature in wisdom.
It has been in learning to manage fear and maintain fear where it belongs in my world; as a warning of what to be aware of, or of immediate and real danger, that I have been rewarded with a new gift. I have learnt that when fear is serving as a warning, based on my efficient brain triggering old fear memories that warn me that the same event and outcome could happen again, that when I take this warning sign as my reality and engage in the lived experience of fear as though it were real; a fearsome event or situation is really happening, I suffer. However, when I have taken charge of my mind with success, and reminded myself to place fear where it belongs; as a useful reminder to be mindful, but not afraid, and when I have thanked fear and my efficient brain for this reminder, and informed fear that it is no longer needed, because nothing fearful is actually happening, I have learnt that my brain is then liberated from the limitation of old patterns of thinking, so that the fear based stories of the past remain where they belong, and worries are cushioned in the reassurance of new carefully chosen thoughts and positive self-talk, which allows my mind to open to fresh inspiration, bringing new ideas, solutions, insight and possibility that was not able to infiltrate a mind absorbed in fear. in addition, these insights have often served to further dilute the fearsome thoughts, by revealing a new path, a new solution or a new way. I can allow my mind to be efficient in reminding me to be aware, or, I can guide my mind to be efficient in inspiring my life with insight and inspiration; to live in darkness, or light.
I am learning that when we manage fear, we set ourselves free. Acceptance has played a powerful role in this process, because it has been through acceptance of sensations of fear, and sitting with them, and breathing through them, that the feeling of fear has been allowed to simply pass, as it inevitably does, when it is not fed with an influx of fearsome thoughts. The choice to accept has been strengthened with the fundamental decision to live from a core place of love, over fear. Because I choose love, I choose acceptance; acceptance is an act of love. Because I choose acceptance, I make peace with myself, my thoughts and emotions, and my situation. This breeds inner peace. With a growing sense of inner peace, the conflict with fear ends because I empower myself to choose not to create thoughts of fear, but rather I allow the feeling of fear to be present when it is triggered by my efficient brain, so that in my peaceful acceptance, my mind has the energy and peace to create powerful words of love and encouragement that have the ability to dismantle fear and dissolve it in the mists of love. With no fuel to hold my mind in a state of fear, I move into the light.
Now that I understand the power of love and acceptance in the resolution of fear, I recognise that I can only become a victim to fear if I choose to. This path is a challenging path and sometimes fear takes hold with strong force. My challenge is to grow more love and acceptance and faith; faith that things will be okay, and faith that there is no need to be afraid. Anything can happen, so why choose fear when I can choose faith. Faith is a choice of love. I choose faith because I want peace, and in choosing peace, I am being loving to myself. In recognition of the choice to love, I am given power and strength to dissolve fear and to believe in my new and beautiful dreams. Fear is only as powerful as our own minds allow it to be, and at any point, we can step on the pathway towards managing fear and choosing to empower ourselves with self-management skills and our love.
Now, as I cast my vision on 2018 and the exciting intentions I am crafting, I move with appreciation and gratitude into the new year, carrying with me the blessings that fear has taught me. Indeed, fear may have given me the greatest gift of all, because in learning to manage fear, I have been initiated onto the path to love, and on this path I am learning the secrets to true peace, freedom and happiness. In crafting a new year from a place of love, I now create not only the dreams and goals I want to accomplish, but also the true wishes of my heart; to live with mind and body health, happiness and love, because from this foundation, anything I grow will be in alignment with my true heart values. This is the gift I want to give myself and share with you.
Wishing you a year of great health, happiness and love