It's such a common phrase as people try to take advantage of a New Year to attempt a change in their lives. Perhaps you're attempting just that, or trying for the umpteenth time to make a change but fear that once again you'll fail. Do you undermine your own chances? Do you doubt your ability to change? Or perhaps you're really not all that willing to change but like to be seen to make the effort? What really gets in the way, and how can you make the changes you'd like to make?
Shame is present to a certain extent in most of our lives. It's an integral part of being human, of being social entities striving to belong to the group. If our behaviour steps outside of what we think the group wants us to think, see, or feel, then our automatic reaction is shame. In most cases, we learn from these experiences, talk about them with other people, and move on with our lives having learnt a lesson. But there are certain situations that cause shame to bury deep out of sight, affecting how we think about ourselves, and how we live in the world.
The end of the year is a time when many people are able to switch off from many of the stresses of the rest of the year. Wouldn't it be great if we could start the New Year better equipped to deal with stress, and gain the upper hand? Not only is it possible, but you may already be doing it! How do you understand and manage your stress?
It's amazing how changing your perspective can completely change your world. We so often get stuck in the rut of the way we look at things that we stagnate, repeat the same mistakes, and gradually become more and more disillusioned. But just how do you set about changing your perspective?
Not usually words that I would use as they bring up such strong images of war. But for some men, there is an internal battle being waged daily, a battle to keep up appearances, to not let the family down, to perform at work - all while feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and worth nothing to nobody. And so, we divide, and then we conquer.
People often come to therapy feeling completely overwhelmed by depression and anxiety, by anger or disappointment, confused as to what to do next. People often only come because someone they love has given them an ultimatum - get help or else. The despair that comes into the therapy space is very real, as is the person's belief that they are simply a broken down loser, with no hope, and no right to be. What if you could be separated from that belief, could see that belief is a choice, and begin to build for yourself a different way to be?
It's a powerful statement; one made by Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool during an interview on BBC radio 4's Today program. I often see clients that have been treated for their depression and anxiety in the "medical model" - That is, symptoms are presented to a GP or a psychiatrist, and those symptoms are treated with medication alone. All too often, those clients report a brief time of improvement, then a gradual worsening of their circumstances. Those individuals suffer a range of additional difficulties as a result of the medical treatment failing, including despair and shame that they are untreatable. Is the medication-only treatment perhaps part of the problem?
Language is an extraordinary thing. It enables communication, the transmission of ideas, the teaching of skills and knowledge, and enables, some would argue, our ability to strive. Language is also the transmitter of prejudice and misunderstanding, the very things that perpetuate both pain and privilege. It's also the most powerful and useful tool for therapists. That's why I believe the inclusion of cisgender in the Oxford English Dictionary is such an important event.
Relationship and Family therapist Andrea Wachter wrote an elegant piece in a recent publication outlining 7 things she wished she knew when she was "battling depression." She notes, as is often reported, that it can take a long time to grasp and integrate the tools to ameliorate or banish depressive symptoms. I find them relevant and useful, and have paraphrased her article, adding my own points from the point of view of my own counselling experience.
I am struck, while noting coverage of various ANZAC day ceremonies, how much is made of physical suffering, and how little of the mental scars that accompany war.
It's also not just enlisted personnel who suffer. Civilian support staff, local civilians, and those close to sufferers are also directly affected.
Chris is a Counsellor and Psychotherapist at Engage Counselling, Sydney