Is Conflict a Necessary Evil?

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Is Conflict a Necessary Evil?

Conflict, a nasty word to most people and something that almost everyone says they avoid or certainly don't enjoy.  So why does it exist in most of our lives?  Because without it we wouldn't grow or learn.  And avoiding it does just that, stops us from growing and learning about ourselves, the person we are in conflict with and how to have healthy relationships.  There are two types of conflict one very closely associated with the other;

Internal Conflict
Conflict has been around since the beginning of time.  Think of the internal conflict Adam and Eve must have had in the garden of Eden.  They knew they shouldn't pick the apple from the tree,  their desire conflicted with their will power and their desire won.  We all have internal dialogues going on in our minds on a daily basis and often these dialogues can develop into conflict most of it going unnoticed.  It could be as small as what to have for lunch. “I should really stay in and eat a healthy salad but the rest of the crew are going to that lovely restaurant.  What should I do?”  Or “ I should really go to the gym after work.  But I've had such a busy day I'm exhausted and deserve to go home and lie on the couch.”. These are necessary conflicts because they allow you to measure what is right for you and help you make informed decisions.  

It's when decisions can't be made out of the internal conflict and the mind starts to overthink and ruminate that difficulty arises. You then have arguments in your head with yourself or the person you are thinking about and negative thinking ensues and proliferates.  When this happens it can often be the silent trigger of external conflict.

External Conflict
External conflict is necessary in most relationships.  Conflict resolution strengthens relationships and deepens understanding between two people whether it's your boss, your parent your child or your partner.  But resolving conflict can be much more difficult when you have unresolved internal conflict.  An example of this if you are having difficulty with someone at work but are unable to address it so the conflict remains internal and lots of arguments and discussions of what you would say or should have said are going on in your head.  Then you come home and a family member starts giving you a hard time about something small and you explode.  It happens to us all.  

Communication is good in these situations.  When you arrive home say you've had a bad day, don't let the emotions fester inside you.  Try and talk it out with someone impartial.  Someone who is just on your side, while this may feel supportive, often just adds fuel to your fire.  It's always good to talk to someone who is going to understand both sides of the story.

Look after yourself.  Self care is so important and often we are last on the list of people we look after well.  Find a way to relax, switch off and wind down.  For some that's sweating it out at the gym, for others it a long walk or a long soak in the bath.  Find something that does it for you. Eat healthily and get a good nights sleep.  Minding ourselves helps us to deal with conflict easier and more rationally.

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Proactive versus Reactive Parenting

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Proactive versus Reactive Parenting



As parents we strive every day to do what's best for our kids. We parent instinctively which can work extremely well until we come up against conflict. Parenting is like any relationship. It's affected by many factors like your mood, your health your work environment and your financial situation to name but a few. One of the keys to being a proactive parent is being aware of the above. An example of this is, if you are aware that say financial pressures are causing you stress you will be able to be less reactive when your child or teenager is making financial demands. And remember there is no shame in telling your children how you feel. Don't try to be a super parent. Children can learn to empathise from a young age and its a good skill to learn. Being honest with children builds great trust.

As humans we all need to be loved but we also like to be liked. Children need to feel both capable and lovable and approval is very important to nurture this.  In our role as parents we often subconsciously leave approval in the hands of friends teachers and relations. A small positive acknowledgement can go a long way. It's a learned behaviour to catch your child being good. We often get caught up in the negative and correcting and forget to focus on the positives. Make it your business to catch your child doing something positive at least once a day. Don't wait for something big. Catch them doing small things like bringing in the shopping or cleaning up after themselves. A small verbal approval like "that was helpful" can be very effective.

As your child gets older setting fair boundaries that have been negotiated between both parent and child can avoid conflict. Children and teenagers feel safest within boundaries but when boundaries are too restrictive and unreasonable children rebel. Acknowledging how your child is feeling is very important. And when the time is right discussing these feelings can be very valuable to both parent and child.

Parenting is such a vast topic and impossible to cover in just one blog so ill finish by sharing two quotes I read recently;

"Parents need to fill a child's bucket of self esteem so high that the rest of the world can't poke enough holes to drain it dry" 

"Children need love the most when they deserve it the least".

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Why we sometimes have low self esteem and how to raise it

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Why we sometimes have low self esteem and how to raise it

There are times in all of our lives when we lack confidence and self esteem and don't feel very good about ourselves.  Self esteem is how we view and value ourselves.  When we have high self esteem we tend to feel good about ourselves and about our lives but with low self esteem we tend to view ourselves negatively and critically and find life in general harder. 

Low self esteem often begins in our childhood years.  Parents, siblings, friends, teachers and those around us give us positive and negative messages about ourselves and those of us who are more sensitive or more prone to negative thinking tend to zone in on and personalise the negative messages and feel we are not worthy or good enough.  The problem with thinking we are not good enough is that we can then begin to really believe it, to own it and to behave as if it's true. When low self esteem becomes a long term problem it can have a harmful effect on our long term mental health.  So what can we do today to ensure our self esteem is healthy?  

Learn to identify your negative thoughts  You may tell yourself you're ‘not pretty enough to be liked’, ‘too stupid to get that job’, that ‘nobody cares anyway’.  Start to challenge these thoughts with positive things about yourself.  ‘I am clever because I've always done well in exams’, ‘I have good friends so they must find me attractive’, ‘I am caring, thoughtful etc’.  Anytime you hear the inner critic in your mind challenge it with something positive.

Find something that you are good at doing and do it, everyone is good at something whether it's sport, singing, cooking, cleaning, listening, chatting, helping,  whatever it is find what you're good at and go do it.  Doing something that you like to do and you know you do well always helps you to feel good about yourself. 

Surround yourself with positive people.  We often don't realise the impact of negative people on our mood and lives.  If certain people are dragging you down try to spend less time with them. Recognise the positive people in your life, they will appreciate you more and allow you to feel better about yourself. 

Don’t be afraid to say No!   Often people with low self esteem are yes people, not wanting to say no and hurt other people's feelings.  Remember your feelings are the most important so start checking in with yourself.  If you want to say no feel the fear and say it. You'll survive and chances are you will feel better about yourself after.  

Start treating yourself like you treat your friends.  Often people with low self esteem make great friends because they are thoughtful caring and giving and often put their friends first before themselves.  So today start treating yourself like you would a friend. Would you be critical of your friend like you are of yourself?  Would you speak to your friend the way you speak to yourself?  Be nice to yourself, be gentle and caring and stop the criticism because simply you don't deserve it.

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5 things you can do today to help you feel happier

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5 things you can do today to help you feel happier

1.Meditate for just ten minutes
People who have never meditated before are often put off by the concept but meditation can be so easy and has been proven to still your thoughts, calm your mind and in turn give you clarity over anything that may be bothering you that day. Sit in a quiet place set a timer and focus on your breathing.  Focus on your in breaths and your out breaths.  You will get distracted but keep bringing yourself back to focussing on your breath.  You'll be amazed with a little practice how easy this becomes and how beneficial it is.  There are also many helpful apps available to download that give you short guided meditations. So give it a go and happy meditating. 

2. Exercise
For years many thought that exercise was just about the body but studies have shown the impact that regular exercise also has on the brain.  Healthy body, healthy mind.  Regular exercise produces the hormone serotonin which is often called the happy hormone.  Try and make it an outdoor exercise.  Spending time in nature organically lifts your spirits. Just a half hour exercise everyday can have a positive impact on how you feel, how you sleep and in turn how happy you are so get those trainers on and go for it.  

3. Write a list of things you need to do and do one of them
We all have that never ending list of things to do that we never seem to get to the end of.  Sometimes it's in our head taking up unnecessary headspace so take some time to write the list down and commit to doing the first thing on your list today.  You'll feel so much better when you do it and action always propels action so chances are you might even get number two done as well.  So get writing.

4. Think positively about someone you are struggling with
We all have that person in our lives that we have difficulty with and thinking about them produces negative feelings within us.  Try thinking about that persons good points today and trigger good emotions instead of bad.  And remember the great Buddhist saying; “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; instead you are the one who gets burned”.

5. Get to bed early 
Never underestimate the power of a good nights sleep.  It replenishes both the body and the mind.  In this age of technology many of us go to bed with our smartphones and laptops but many don't realise that the ‘blue light’ from these devices prevents the release of melatonin from the pineal gland, melatonin being the hormone that induces sleep.  Also blue light emitted from energy saving light bulbs will stimulate us so try to use softened bulbs in your bedroom and if possible don't turn on the light if you wake during the night.  Reading a good book before bedtime is the best way to naturally allow your body to produce the necessary seratonin so leave your devices downstairs and get a good nights sleep. 

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How Mindfulness can help us manage stress

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How Mindfulness can help us manage stress

What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, while a relatively new concept in the Western World has in fact been a way of life for many generations stemming originally from a Buddhist Tradition.  One of the pioneers for Mindfulness in the developing world is Jon Kabat Zinn. He has written quite a number of books including “Full Catastrophe Living - How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation”.  He is a Scientist and a professor of medicine, has studied Buddhism in all its forms and found mindfulness to be a technique that he felt could be used in the management of stress anxiety pain and illness.  He opened a stress reduction clinic in the US using mindfulness techniques to help his patients.  He combined the buddhist way of teaching with his own scientific knowledge to not only allow patients to believe and through  faith but to show them scientific proof that using mindfulness on a daily basis can be proven to help increase the bodies immunity and brain  function in positive ways and how it promotes right sided brain activation which is associated with positive mood.  So even though its called Mind-ful-ness it in fact helps you to empty your mind of unnecessary negative thoughts. 

How research has shown that mindfulness has the power to alter brain activity
A recent study has shown that as little as eleven hours of mindfulness produced structural changes in neural pathways connecting part of the prefrontal cortex, the logical brain (specifically the ACC – anterior cingulate cortex) to the amygdala which is the part of our brain geared towards sensing danger.  The amygdala tends to react quicker than our pre-frontal cortex which is the part of the brain responsible for logical thought.  Therefore before our logical brain has a chance to sum up a situation, our more primitive, reactive brain has sparked off a chain of neurochemical processes  which alert the body to danger.  This is what is known as the fight or flight mode.  (Tang et al 2007)

In 2007 a study by Jain and Shapiro showed that mindfulness meditation may be specific in its ability to reduce distractive and ruminative thoughts and behaviours.

A study by Brown in 2003 found declines in mood disturbance and stress following mindfulness interventions.

In 2009 Garland found declines in Stress after mindfulness interventions which they deemed were potentially due to the positive reappraisals of what were at first appraised as stressors

Davidson (2003) found that mindfulness meditation increased brain and immune functions in positive ways and promotes right sided brain activation which is associated with positive mood.


Thoughts are not Facts – How we can observe ourselves and wake up our Automatic Pilot

Our thoughts are a very powerful part of who we are, but it is important that they are recognised as only a part of who we are.  Many people feel their thoughts control who they are when in fact we are all in control of our thoughts.  We may not choose which thought enters our head but we can choose what thoughts we invite to stay.  The first step here is to become aware that our thoughts are separate.  Try sitting in silence and observing your thoughts.  Unless you are a frequent meditator and have developed the ability to slow down your thinking most of you have busy minds with lots of thoughts occurring non stop.  Try to observe yourself the thinker.  Just as you sit now close you eyes and observe your thoughts.  What are you thinking?  Perhaps, I hate doing this. I don’t understand this.  This is quite interesting.  Just observe the thoughts and observe yourself the thinker.  Are your thoughts negative or positive.  Those with negative thoughts how are these thoughts making you feel?  Is it time to change the thought? Is it time to decide you no longer want negative thoughts or the feelings they bring? Do you feel its within your power to change these thoughts?  Yes it is.  You can indulge negative thoughts or you can choose to move away from them.  This will take practice in observing your self and your thoughts and taking control of them.  In doing this exact exercise you are practising mindfulness in the form of mindful thinking.  You can carry this through into all aspects of your day including mindful waking, mindful eating, driving etc. 

So what you have just done is you have woken up your automatic pilot.  We tend to be on automatic pilot for such much of each day.  We wake up we get up we get showered dressed eat breakfast all on automatic pilot.  You know sometimes you cant remember if you did simple things like flushing the loo, locking the door, turning off the heat, putting on the alarm all things we do on automatic pilot.  

All planes today function a lot on automatic pilot.  They all have the ability with technology to take off fly and land without input from a pilot.  But would you feel safe getting on a plane knowing that there were no pilots in the cockpit.  No of course you wouldn’t.  So why conduct your daily life on automatic pilot.  Why not be more present, more alert, more aware, more MINDFUL.

90% of unhappiness does not arise from the circumstances of your life but from your thoughts around them. The unhappiness is caused by the mental commentary around the situations we find ourselves in.  For example what happens if you’re in a traffic jam or standing in a queue.  Your mind tells you how awful the situation is then you begin to feel awful.  That’s the time to ask yourself ‘Is the way I feel caused by my circumstances or is it caused by my thoughts?  Have I added unhappy thoughts to the present moment. 


Daily Mindfulness Techniques and tips on how to put them into practice

Observe
One of the first things to put into practice is to learn to observe your thoughts.  Be your own observer of yourself.  You have the choice to indulge negative thoughts or to direct your attention away from unnecessary thinking or whats known as overthinking.  It is this overthinking that is the main cause of anxiety and worry.  So step one is to observe.   

Breathe
Instead of indulging negative thoughts direct your attention to your breathing.  Breathe in think about the air entering our bodies, breathe out. The moment you do this you have taken the attention away from thinking.  When you are fully in the present moment thinking actually subsides momentarily.  

Appreciate the Positive
Appreciating the positive in your life takes your focus away from the negative.  Appreciating a warm bed, good friends, supportive family, blue skies, nature.

Mindful Living
Practice mindful living from the moment you wake in the morning.  Be aware of your body when you wake, be aware and thankful of your ability to get up, go about your morning activities in awareness, brushing your teeth, showering, feel the water on your body, be aware of the toothbrush in your mouth, be conscious of flushing the toilet, locking the door, turning on the alarm.  So often we are down the road and wondering if we locked the door or turned on the alarm because we spend so much of our time on auto pilot.  Be mindful when eating breakfast, feel the food in your mouth, feel the texture of the food, be conscious, be aware. 

The Raisin Meditation
The raisin meditation involves mindful eating of a single raisin – paying full attention for several minutes to the tasting of one raisin.  With your eyes closed, first pay attention to the smell of the raisin and to its texture.  Then introduce the raisin onto your tongue, concentrating your attention for a little while on simply feeling the sensation of the raisin as you explore it with your tongue.  Finally bite into and chew the raisin very very slowly, savouring the texture and full taste for another period, what its doing to your mouth before finally swallowing.

It is a powerful lesson in how much we miss of the everyday things we do.  Raisins are so insignificant we are used to eating them while doing something “more important”.

If it was only the taste of a raisin we were missing this might not matter too much.  But once you see the difference that paying full attention can make to the small things in life, you start to get an inkling of the cost of inattention.  


Bringing ‘raisin mind’ to other activities in your day
Choose an activity you normally do each day, such as getting dressed showering or brushing your teeth and see if you can bring what we will call ‘raisin mind’ to that activity over the next week. 

For example, if you choose to bring ‘raisin mind’ to showering then try to really pay attention to what the water feels like on your skin and hair.  Notice the movement of your hands as you wash, take in the smell of the soap or bodywash.

When your attention wanders off into thinking about other things (as it surely will) then notice what you were thinking about and then gently bring yourself back to the sensations of showering.

It sounds very easy but for most people this is a surprisingly difficult exercise – take heart that there is a powerful lesson to be learned from the struggle to stay present.  Through this exercise we learn just how much of our time is spent in the past or in the future and how much we are missing the present moment.  

And remember: Happiness cannot be found in the past or the future, it can only be experienced in the present moment, the only moment in which we are alive.”

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Passion and Relationships

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Passion and Relationships

Passionate love is a very necessary stage of love as it draws us into a relationship and allows us to ignore the faults and failings of the other person while the relationship is being established. Bestselling Author Eckhart Tolle describes falling in love as ‘an intensificaion of egoic wanting and needing’. His theory is that you become addicted to another person, or rather to your image of that person, and that it has ‘nothing to do with true love, which contains no wanting whatsoever’.

So, perhaps passionate love therefore, is not true love, but rather an immature love where both people are in love with how they feel when they are with the other person, an aroused state of passion that we have labelled love. Does this mean then that true love is what matures out of this passion and what is know as companionate love? Companionate love is a less self-absorbed and more solid love and is very different to what preceded it. Many couples feel they have fallen ‘out of love’ when the passion fades but are they really just getting to know true love without blinding passion getting in the way. It is during this shift and period of change from passionate love to companionate love that many issues arise in relationships. Many couples break up at this point and one or both go chasing what they feel they have lost, which is the passion in their relationship. This is often a time when couples seek counselling as they feel something is wrong and learning about the various forms and stages of love can be very beneficial to a relationship. 

If you feel you could benefit from couple counselling you can contact me in confidence on 087-1046800 or email ehanlonpsychotherapy@gmail.com

 

 

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'Opposites attract'...... or do they?

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'Opposites attract'...... or do they?

‘Opposites attract’ has been the old adage bandied about and repeated for generations, but is it no longer true? When we meet someone with similar interests, opinions and tastes, does it not endorse our own personality and in turn heighten our self esteem? 

Recent work challenges the ‘opposites attract’ approach claiming that individuals who are more alike will end up together creating a new ‘likes attract’ approach. This new research shows that if an individual rates him or herself high on physical attractiveness for example, then they will desire a partner who also scores high in that area. 

In his best selling book ‘Getting the love you want – a guide for couples’, Harville Hendrix says when we meet we “size each other up as coolly as business executives contemplating a merger, noting each others physical appeal, financial status and social rank, as well as various personality traits such as kindness, creativity and sense of humour. With computer like speed we tally up each others scores and if the numbers are roughly equivalent the trading bell rings and the bidding begins”. He calls this the ‘exchange theory’. He says that we select mates who are more or less our equals. 

As we are attracted to those who make us feel good many of us also like those who simply like us and make an effort to get to know us. This is especially true amongst people with low self worth as discussed by Curtis and Miller in their 1986 article ‘Believing another likes or dislikes you: behaviour making the beliefs come true’.

So......are we a new generation of 'Likes Attract' or are many of us still drawn to what is missing within ourselves?

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Divorce in the Twenty First Century

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Divorce in the Twenty First Century

Statistics vary from country to country but the average divorce rate in English speaking nations is now over thirty percent.  The USA has the highest rate but Europe are following close behind and soon we as a country are likely to reach a point where over half of all marriages end in divorce.  

 

An interesting statistic shows that cohabitees are much more likely to divorce once they do marry.  A US survey of 13,000 adults found that couples who lived together before marriage were one third more likely to separate or divorce within a decade.  Perhaps cohabitation appeals to those who are more open to ending unsatisfying relationships.

 

Another interesting finding is that most divorces today are initiated by women. Perhaps a reason for this is the change in women's employment prospects. This coupled with the diminishing social stigma surrounding divorce and the need for individual fulfilment has allowed women greater freedom.   

 

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What is relationship counselling like?

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What is relationship counselling like?

Ideally, you should go to couple counselling together: it's hard to build a team if only half the players are there. If one person makes the decision to give couple counselling a try, the partner may decide to go too.
If your partner flatly refuses to join you, there are lots of things couple counselling can help you sort out on your own. There may be changes you can make alone that will have a positive impact on your relationship. Some people also prefer to have counselling on their own at first to work out their feelings before seeing another counsellor as a couple.

 

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Top 10 books on Mindfulness and Meditation

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Top 10 books on Mindfulness and Meditation

Self-help version of the evidence-based Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) approach; extremely good value with a CD of guided meditations. Here is a helpful account of a sequence of ten blog posts written by James Hawkins, an Edinburgh-based medical doctor & psychotherapist; Dr Hawkins wrote the series to support people working their way through the book and he also generously provides free supporting resources such as practice record sheets, self-assessments and so on.
 

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