Friday, 23 December 2011

Father Christmas doesn't exist - Myth busting

Here's a short Christmas wellbeing exercise.

1. Did you ever believe in Father Christmas?

2. If so, who told you he existed?

3. Do you believe in Father Christmas now?

4. How old were you when you learnt the truth about Father Christmas?

5. What evidence made you change your mind?

Now change some words, remove 'Father Christmas' from the above sentences and replace with your own limiting beliefs.

1. Did you ever believe that you were: unloved, unwanted, friendless, hopeless, stupid, a failure, no good, useless or any other negative descriptions attributed to you? Basically, words or deeds that you believed and left you with a feeling that you weren't good enough in some way.

2. Who used these descriptions about you first?

3. Did that person really 'know' you? 

4. In what context were they used? Look at the whole picture.

5. Do you think they are still relevant today?

6. If you do, why? What's the evidence?

7. Could you put away the childhood memories of negativity and recall times when there is evidence to show that these statements are now inaccurate?

8. If not, why not?

When we are children we generally believe what our 'olders and betters' tell us. Sometimes there are good and fun reasons to be told untruths. eg: Father Christmas. Fairies taking lost teeth. Pots of gold at the end of rainbows. And many more*.

We grow up and see/hear/read the evidence and change our minds.

If we are emotionally healthy, we leave behind the childhood beliefs if they aren't helpful. We take on new beliefs. We grow up emotionally.

Sometimes we still want to believe and hold on to some 'magic' from childhood. That can be fun, as long as we don't spend our lives expecting the 'magic' to happen again, just as it did then.

Sometimes we feel we missed out on some 'magic' from childhood and carry on looking for it through a life of dashed hope and unfulfilled expectations.

* When I was a little girl, the top of the Christmas Tree was always empty before Christmas Day. The hall window in our flat was left slightly open and I was told that the fairy flew in on Christmas Eve night and there she was on Christmas morning. Magic.

One year when I was about seven, I woke early, climbed up on a chair and reached up high to touch the fairy. She had rubber legs.  I was very disappointed. My parents knew something had happened when they woke up to find the tree somewhat askew. For the rest of my time at home, the fairy was known as 'Rubber Legs'.

I lost my belief in the tree fairy at seven. It look me longer to lose other unhelpful beliefs that had been given to me.

Here's a reminder of a quote by Steve Jobs, that I wrote in an earlier blog:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is 


I wish you all a very happy Christmas and holiday time. I wish you what you wish long as it has nothing to do with changing the past or trying to re-write history.

'Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.' Anon

The best gift you receive this year, may be the one you give yourself.


Sunday, 11 December 2011

"What were they like?" What's your legacy?

I went to another funeral last week. Again, a time for reflection and sadness. But very different from my friend's death in October.

Our friend was a good man. An honest man. A man who, under pressure in a challenging working environment, remained an incorruptible force. A man with chronic physical difficulties, who never complained. He was a modest man.  If awards are to be given out at all, then he should have been the recipient of awards, given to those who make outstanding contributions to their communities. He didn't have any awards, though he may have refused some. We will never know.

As I listened to the tributes, I was reminded of a sermon I heard in unusual circumstances. Some years ago, I was visiting my 85-year- old Aunt, who lived in a retirement community in California. She wanted me to accompany her to the multi-denominational Sunday service, which was held in a Sports Hall. The service was well attended and the average age must have been over 80 years of age.

The service was taken by a preacher called Mr D'eath. The sermon's subject was based on a bible reading, which was about...death. I wondered what on earth he was going to say to people, who were nearer the end of their lives than the beginning or even the middle.

Mr D'eath's theme was 'what will people say about you at your funeral'?  I've often thought about that question since then.

I once met the recently-deceased friend, after he had attended a funeral of the wife of an important local businessman. Apparently this lady had a reputation of being difficult, if not downright unpleasant.  The vicar had to talk about her.  He said, " She held strong opinions and..." there was a pause while he appeared to search for words, "...and had lovely hair."

If we're fortunate we can live for decades. We touch thousands of people's lives. It's generally summed up in ten minutes or so. But we can live on in people's hearts and minds forever. It's up to us, how we are remembered.

When I was a child, there was a character in a book called, Mrs Do-as-you-would-be-done-by. I didn't fully understand the meaning of her name then.  Immature brains don't fully understand actions and consequences. I do now. 

It may be idealistic, but would "Do unto others as we would do to ourselves'' be such a bad starting point?  


Sunday, 4 December 2011

"I blame my parents". Do we have to?

This blog is one I could write at any time. It can be relevant every day in some way. Of all the blogs, I can categorically say, that this subject matter will definitely be a chapter in the book. I could write the whole book on it alone. Many people have.

Most people will be able to relate to the subject matter. If not themselves, then for other family members. The subject matter is probably responsible for the majority of people experiencing emotional health problems and those seeking help.

I went to see my mother this week. She lives in a nursing home about 250 miles away, near my sister. She is 91 next week and has dementia. Fortunately she is not agitated or distressed and still recognises us.  Mother sits quietly in her comfortable room and is well cared for. She looks like a mild mannered, little grey haired old lady. That's what she

Someone was telling me that their ex husband has told them, that he stays aways from his 95 year old mother, as he still has issues with her. I sighed.

Other than the now commonplace use of the infuriating word, 'issues', ( ),  I thought to myself, that if I let past problems with my mother intrude in the present, I wouldn't bother being in touch, let alone visit. But all I can see is a little old lady, who has little comprehension on what day of what year it is, let alone remember past relationship problems.

Yes, I can still wince a bit, when she thinks I'm some sort of angel, but the thought of saying something is dismissed and I return to the present. A few years ago at the start of her mental deterioration, she said to me, 'I don't think I was a very good mother." What to do? Agree and tell her exactly what I thought of some of my childhood experiences? Rub it in?  What would the point have been? Would I have felt better? I doubt it. It would have changed nothing. 

A friend thought that I should have gone the other way and reassured her that she was a wonderful mother. Hmmm. I couldn't do that either. So I made some general comment and changed the subject.

The main reason my mother and I had a difficult relationship through my childhood, was that my father was extremely difficult and I reminded her of him. No personal archaeology necessary, as I was reminded on an extremely regular basis, that "You are just like your father." It was only in adult life and well before I embarked on any psychology training, that I recognised 'transference', though I had no idea that's what it was called.

I first became aware of 'transference', when 'the penny dropped' and I realised that my first husband, who was unable to express any feelings to his mother, dumped them all on me. 

In the last few months of his life, people would ask if my father had apologised for his behaviour. I used to answer that he hadn't and at that stage of life, I wouldn't really want him to. I had already realised that mother apologising would have changed nothing. Nothing that I would have liked changing. 

My father held strong and challenging opinions. At 91, I felt that it was easier that he died with those opinions intact. If he had suddenly said, "Oh, I've been wrong all along", where would that have left matters? It would have been helpful if he could have changed his opinions and behaviour in the 1950s, but it wasn't going to make any difference in 2010. 

And that's the point. Christmas is coming. Lots of opportunities for past events to be aired in family situations, aided by alcohol.  Parents and children, grandparents, brothers and sisters. All old, sometimes very old, hurts simmering away ready to boil over at any moment. In the middle of Christmas 2011, the room is full of past years being played out, like watching a personal 'A Christmas Carol' film. Been there, done that etc:

Doctor's surgeries, therapy and counselling rooms, addiction units, psychiatric units, the prison system, all have to deal with the fallout of unresolved family dynamics. Of unmet needs, actual or perceived. Of adults unable to deal with the present in a mature way, but with the emotional age of an under 10 years old. 

When people stop trying to change the past, which is impossible, they can 'grow up' into the present and find they can function in healthier ways.

As quoted in the previous blog, "My mother treats me like a six year old." Well, only if you let her. Learn to draw boundaries. I had to. I know it's not easy, but worth one's sanity. Also look at the bigger picture for greater understanding.

The mantra of so many adults is the Philip Larkin's poem, 'This be the verse.' Universally known for the opening line, "They f**k you up, your mum and dad." It's quoted as an excuse for all sorts of anti social behaviour.

If people read the second verse, they may be able to see the bigger picture and put their parent's behaviour into perspective.

'This be the verse' by Philip Larkin
They f**k you up, your mum and dad.   
They may not mean to, but they do.  
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f**ked up in their turn 
By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

(Third verse isn't helpful!)

No-one can change past events. Only filmmakers and writers. 
Past emotions can be changed and so can present day attitudes.

Family history can be fascinatin
g. Helpful too. As well as being difficult, my father kept his correspondence since the 1930s. As I read more and more, so I find more pieces of his personal jig saw and his behaviour can be explained. Not excused though. 

There are no excuses, but there can be reasons.