NOBODY’S PERFECT!!

Perfection. Wouldn’t it be nice? We have all heard of it and many of us desire it, but what are the consequences of embarking on a pursuit for perfection?

Firstly, it is important to distinguish between adaptive (helpful) and maladaptive (unhelpful) perfectionism. We have all heard the words, “yeah they’re a total perfectionist”. Maybe this was in reference to a school assignment being handed in the day before it was due or perhaps a night out with the fellas was missed in order to get a good night’s rest for an early start the next morning. These are examples of adaptive perfectionism, which reflect motivation, forward planning and self-belief. In contrast, maladaptive perfectionism involves self-criticism and unrelenting standards that can significantly impact ones performance, professional attainment and social and emotional well being.

Let’s think about Jack, who is in Year 11 and trying to start his English essay due next week. Each time Jack sits down to start his essay he feels his stomach sink and muscles tense. His hands start to tingle and he notices his heart beating in his chest. Jack’s mind starts racing and he finally says to himself, “I can’t do this”, and slides his books off the table. We can see that Jack’s essay has triggered a strong emotional reaction, which may suggest unhelpful perfectionism characterized by several common negative thinking patterns:

Crystal-balling: Jack predicts what will happen next, that is that the work won’t get done.

Generalizing: Jack attributes his present difficulties to reflect poorly on his global capabilities.

Catastrophising: Jack believes that he may get dropped a class, receive a detention or never achieve admission into TAFE or University.

Black/white: Jack thinks that his assignment will either come together easily and he will “succeed”, or he will fail miserably.

Emotional reasoning: Because Jack feels anxious, it must be a disaster!

Ultimately, in this moment Jack has forgotten the times when he handled similar situations and his ability to engage in work now has been impaired by worry about what may happen later.

Perfection may be characterized by:

  • A tendency to put off important things, even when this causes distress;
  • Avoidance of unfamiliar or challenging situations where performance may be evaluated;
  • A sensitivity to feedback and evaluation;
  • Becoming upset, irritable and anxious about making mistakes; and
  • Giving up on tasks easily or getting delayed by a tendency to start things over.

Now, we can ALL relate to the above examples from time to time, however when unhelpful perfectionism becomes a problem one may experience:

  • Heightened stress, anxiety and low mood;
  • Decrease motivation;
  • Procrastination and avoidance;
  • Guilt for putting things off;
  • Poor time-management and disorganisation;
  • Needing frequent reassurance from others;
  • Reduced immune system and more frequent illness;
  • Reduced productivity and goal attainment.

So how may we reduce unhelpful perfectionism?

  • Be mindful of your ‘self-talk’. Particularly when under stress, don’t hesitate to take out your metaphorical magnifying glass if you need to challenge the evidence and helpfulness of your thoughts;
  • Never forget the many shades of grey in life. Keep perspective and acknowledge that failure is a healthy and necessary part of life;
  • Celebrate success, but regularly praise and reward your efforts;
  • List the benefits and consequences of your perfectionism;
  • Set SMARTY goals, (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Framed and Yours!)

A note on reducing perfectionistic thinking and behaviour in children:

  • Encourage perseverance and reward effort. This enables children to push themselves beyond their comfort zone by reducing the perceived consequence of “failure”, therefore fostering emotional resilience and helping a young person to keep some much needed perspective;
  • Discourage competitiveness and foster individuality. For example, bolster personal strengths and interests;
  • Promote balance between social, academic, physical health and recreational activities;
  • Teach systematic problem solving, planning and organizational skills; and
  • Be mindful of what you are modelling through your direct and indirect communication, because children are extremely observant!

And remember…..

“YOUR ONLY COMPETITION IS YOURSELF YESTERDAY”

Greatness can only develop by successfully responding to adversity. Our role models teach us that risk is necessary for learning and thus, failure partner’s success. It takes courage to step into the unknown, perseverance to stay there and humility to graciously accept defeat with self-kindness. So how will you celebrate the achievement of your next ‘failure’ and look upon this as undisputed evidence of your own pursuit for excellence?

Mathew Pfeiffer, Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre

 

Finding Hope in Your Relationships

By Ivette Moutzouris

Registered Psychologist

I am a strong believer in hope. I wouldn’t be working in this field if I didn’t believe that change is possible and looking forward is definitely part of the process.

If I had to put it in my own words it means looking forward with a desire and yearning that things can get better. Without hope we are stuck and oftentimes we are stuck looking at what we don’t have, what hasn’t worked out and if you remain in the frame of mind long enough you can start to feel down and lose the very thing that can propel you forward……hope!

We need to believe that things can get better so that they do get better. But this doesn’t mean that life becomes perfect with this attitude. It means that we search for the meaning and sometimes the acceptance of what was and what is. By making some sense of the past and the present we can learn to improve, to make better choices, to change our expectations. We can also see what has worked (even if this didn’t happen often) and take better control of our immediate future by reproducing it again and again. In Psychological terms this perspective is called Solution Focused Therapy. It is the idea that change occurs when we focus on solutions rather than the problem. This doesn’t mean we disregard the problem(s) it simply means that solving our problems involves focusing on what’s working or has worked in the past instead of over focusing on what hasn’t. I have recently been reading a book on marriage- saving techniques which has this focus and in the first few chapters I was impressed by the author’s strong conviction that marriages can improve. She often had hope for her clients even when they seemed to have lost hope and she taught them how to look for exceptions in their marriage (i.e. times when things were going well) and to work on building on what already existed that was good. She found that this approach not only encouraged more immediate change but it also gave her clients a more practical and hopeful way of looking at their relationships. She also stressed that if something wasn’t working then adopt a different approach. This may seem obvious and simplistic but she did point out that in our relationships we often get stuck relating and reacting a certain way and this becomes a habit.

This approach is not only proactive but it is also reflective and hopeful because it is making a decision that things can be different and learning how to put this into practice. Once we experience a positive change it gives us hope into our future. It is an encouraging way of looking at your life. Instead of focusing on the negative we learn to be wiser as we reflect on the past, live in the now and look forward to the future.

 

Weiner-Davis, Michelle.1992. Divorce Busting. New York. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Thinking there is perfection is your first imperfection (the first of many)

i-can-t-keep-calm-i-m-a-perfectionistHi, my name is Alison and I am a perfectionist. Actually, let me rephrase that. I’m a recovering perfectionist. Take it from me, the road to recovery from perfectionism is a long and difficult one. Why is perfectionism such a problem that warrants recovery and repair? Does this not mean that I’m a high achiever on the healthy pursuit of excellence, destined for greatness?

Well my friends I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but perfectionism does not in any way resemble the healthy pursuit of anything. It is not healthy. Fullstop. It is actually quite harmful. Perfectionism can seem like a positive trait. It can make you seem smarter, more switched on or driven to succeed in life. Yes, often the perfectionist can present this way. But there is another side to perfectionism that is far less enticing, less rewarding and far more damaging.

Let me take you behind the scenes on some of the core beliefs behind this insidious trait. As a perfectionist:
1. You are motivated by the fear of failure or a sense of duty.
2. You feel driven to be number one, but your accomplishments, however great, never really satisfy you.
3. You feel you must earn your self-esteem. You think you must be very ‘special’ or intelligent or successful to be loved and accepted by others.
4. You are TERRIFIED by failure. If you do not achieve an important goal, you feel like a failure as a human being.
5. You think you must always be strong and in control of your emotions. You are reluctant to share vulnerable feelings like sadness, insecurity or anger with others. You believe they would think less of you.

Basically, perfectionism hampers success. It can lead you on a path towards depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis (defined as all the opportunities you have missed out on due to fear of putting anything out there that is imperfect).

These beliefs are incredibly negative and self-deprecating in nature and are inherently different to a healthy mental structure for screening and perceiving information. On the opposite end of the spectrum to perfectionism is the healthy pursuit of excellence, and this is where:
1. You are motivated by enthusiasm and you find the creative process exhilarating.
2. Your efforts give you feelings of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, even if you aren’t always ‘the greatest’.
3. You enjoy a sense of unconditional self-esteem. You do not feel you have to earn love and friendship by impressing people with your intelligence or your success.
4. You are not afraid to fail because you realise that no one can be successful all the time. Although failure is disappointing, you see it as an opportunity for growth and learning.
5. You’re not afraid of being vulnerable or sharing your feelings with people you care about. This makes you feel closer to them.

Brene Brown, a well known author of the bestseller, The Gifts of Imperfection, states that the journey towards letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embracing who you are starts with learning how to live a wholehearted life. Courage, compassion and connection, as the ‘gifts’ of imperfection, help you embrace your beautifully imperfect world and help you start to embrace worthiness. But don’t be fooled by these seemingly lofty ideas. The training in the use of these concepts involves practice. The art of repetition many times every single day. Not when you’ve gotten through your to-do list or when you have a spare few minutes (because let’s face it, you’re a perfectionist with a to-do list longer than you’re life span allows), but as a priority.

Here are some examples of how and what to practice.

1. Strive for a healthy outlook on life. Start and end each day with reading, watching or listening to something that inspires you.
2. Practice warmth and kindness towards yourself when you feel inadequate. Remember, imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders we are all in this together.
3. Tell yourself you are good enough just as you are. For example, at the start of your day say to yourself ‘Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough”.
4. Focus on forgiveness rather than bitterness. Be the ‘benefit’ finder rather than the ‘fault’ finder.
5. Work on stillness using mindfulness strategies at times when you feel vulnerable or fearful. By practicing mindfulness you will learn to roll with negative feelings so they stop having control over you. Your aim is not to be anxiety free, but to be anxiety aware.
6. Rather than being defensive, work on being open to suggestions. Embrace your flaws and learn to laugh at yourself by making your mistakes humorous and light-hearted.
7. When problems arise, focus on your sphere of influence. What is in your control to change? Move away from chronic worry that circles around in your head for days. Move into problem solving mode as quickly as you can.
8. Realise you can do one thing ‘perfect’ or many things well. Make a choice to let things go in order to increase your growth and learning.

It’s amazing how implementing such basic changes to your thinking and outlook can move you closer towards excellence from perfectionism. And if your perfectionistic brain thinks it’s not going to work so why bother, then I challenge you to challenge this faulty logic that keeps you stuck in ‘black and white’ or rigid thinking. For the richest, most beautiful and pleasing colour in the world my friends is ‘shades of grey’. That’s right. Shades of grey that go between the black and the white. This resembles flexibility and adaptability. By embracing flexibility, you have a chance to enjoy your life for what it is, in all its imperfect glory. In the words of Albert Einstein:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,
it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.

So, I will keep going on my journey and I wish you all the best of luck on yours. Remember, we cannot cross the sea merely by staring at the water. Positive change is no accident. It comes from hard work, perseverance and a little bit of love.

References:

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. 2010.

The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns. 1989.

The Pursuit of Perfect- How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by T. Ben-Shahar, 2009.

By: Alison Lenehan, Psychologist.

Hope: The light in times of uncertainty

By: John Shin
Psychologist

On August 16th 2015, the world witnessed one of the most emotional and moving moments in sporting history. Australian golfer, Jason Day, was at the final hole at the PGA Championships and he broke down into tears, no doubt filled with a myriad of emotions. He had just won one of the world’s most prestigious golfing tournaments.

2015 Champion Jason Day

Photo: Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America

Jason Day was born to an Irish-Australian father and a Filipino mother. His family did not have a lot of money and Jason’s first golf club would be a cut down three-wood his father had found at a rubbish tip. Jason recalls seeing his mother cutting the lawn with a knife because his family could not afford to fix the lawn mower. He also remembers using the kitchen kettle to have hot showers as his family did not have a hot water tank.

At the tender age of 12, Jason would see his father pass away from stomach cancer and began drinking. In his own words, Jason became an alcoholic and would frequently get into fights. These events make Jason’s heroics a great story of hope, not only for Jason himself, but also for his family.

Hope researcher, Charles Richard Snyder, outlined that hopeful thinkers tend to be higher achievers and are more likely to be physically and psychologically healthier than less hopeful thinkers. Hopeful thinkers are also more inclined to respond proactively to uncertainty and usually persist and seek different avenues to accomplish their goals when faced with obstacles.

In his extensive research on hope, Snyder proposed three key components of hopeful thinking (Hope Theory):

Goal directedness – Goals are based on one’s purpose and values in life and hold importance to take action. This direction provides clarity on the goals but generates uncertainty in how to achieve these goals.

Pathways – Pathway thinking refers to one’s ability to think of and generate different routes and strategies to achieve their desired goals.

Agency – Agency thinking refers to the belief one has that they can undertake the routes towards their goals, and the belief that they are able instigate change and achieve their desired goals.

The Day family’s actions exemplify hopeful thinking. Despite not having the finances to fix their lawn mower, Jason’s parents used other methods to maintain their lawn. And despite not having access to a hot water tank, they utilised unorthodox approaches to effectively access hot water for washing.

But the ultimate hope was perhaps displayed by Jason’s mother. Dening Day. In an interview following her son’s win in the prestigious PGA Championships, Dening stated that she felt “golf” was the only thing that would keep her son alive when Jason became a troubled alcoholic at the age of 12. Her goal was clear, and it was for her son to continue playing golf. And despite having recently lost her husband to cancer and needing to support her three young children as a single mother, Dening was thinking of different ways to financially support her son play golf. Soon after the passing of her husband to cancer, she sold the family home and worked long hours as a shipping clerk and sent her son to boarding school/golf academy.

Dening and Jason Day

Source: News Corp Australia

Being hopeful is not a form of wishful thinking. Hope is the psychological state that helps one proactively navigate through life’s difficulties by having clear goals (goal directedness), thinking of different pathways to achieve the goals (pathways), and believing that they are able to attain their goals (agency). Hope is about moving forward in spite of obstacles and times of difficulty. For Denning Day, the hope that she had when her son was a troubled 12 year old led to the unveiling of a new golfing champion.

 

John ShinJohn Shin is a psychologist at The Resilience Centre and is a researcher in the area of uncertainty, resilience and hope. John’s profile can be found here.

 

 

Being Positive and Resilient. What does it mean?

Positive Psychology and Resilience

Lyn Worsley

Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Resilience Centre

Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Resilience Centre

Clinical Psychologist.

Over the past month I had the pleasure of attending two amazing conferences on the other side of the world. The first one was the Pathways to Resilience conference in Halifax, Canada, and the second one was the International Positive Psychology Association’s fourth World Congress in Orlando Florida, USA.

Both of these conferences focused on measuring what was working, and building on it. The Resilience Centre was well represented as presented the findings of our group programs, Connect-3 and Linked-up which are based on the Resilience Doughnut model. The findings were that clients attending the groups have positive changes in their self-esteem, social skills and personal competence. We were also able to show the positive changes in family functioning as a result of the group programs.

At each of the conferences it was great to be part of a growing movement of looking for strengths and measuring the positive changes. Speakers amplified the study of character strengths and pro social community engagement.

To kick off the congress in the USA, the prominent psychologist, Martin Seligman gave an opening plenary titled Unravelling Learned Helplessness: Fifty years later.” (Learned helplessness is the phenomena observed when someone is exposed to continual uncontrollable situations they become helpless and lose their ability to gain control even after the trauma is removed.)

Seligman discussed the findings from the lab rats data colleagues are currently collecting. He courageously announced new findings based on rat brain studies that suggest that his own theory of learned helplessness is NOT in fact correct.

So here goes ill try and explain it.

It has been found that in a section of the brain, (the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus, DRN) is linked to passivity. When the DRN circuit is inactivated experimentally, rats do not become helpless, even when shocked. When the DRN is activated even without shock the rats become passive. Thus the DRN appears to be both necessary and sufficient for producing the passive behaviours called learned helplessness.

 Now stay with me here, it actually does get interesting!

In the studies they also found there to be another area in the brain (the Ventro medial prefrontal cortex (VMPRC) that can inhibit the DRN in order to block the passive response. Seligman referred to the connection between the DRN and the VMPRC as the HOPE CIRCUIT. This circuit is now the interest and focus of much of the studies in positive psychology.

Basically, if the circuit is blocked, rats will be passive even if they are able to escape. If this circuit is active, the rats persevere even after being shocked. He also noted that the circuit can be strengthened.

Based on this work, Seligman concluded that alleviating catastrophe can’t fix people. Instead it is important to work on building expectations of control and mastery, that is, building the hope circuit. This relates to building prospection, where people are guided by their internal representations of possible future states and are thus drawn into the future, rather looking back at the past. These findings have implications for education and therapy.

So I became very interested at this points because…

 At the Resilience Centre we, as psychologists, practice therapy that builds hope, and focuses on the future possibilities rather than focusing on the problems. We have shown this to be helpful in achieving positive change for out clients, and our measures support this. Our groups are solution focused groups, and during our therapy sessions and in our professional development sessions we often ask ourselves, what is working and how can we build on this to develop control and mastery for our clients. We run solution focused training groups, hot topics where we show clients how to be solution focused in their approach and small groups where we can practice the skills of solution focused thinking. Presently we are working on whole school programs that teach the skills of speaking in a solution-focused way to students and colleagues. These programs are showing increased student engagement, and a more resilient school community.

So I found the findings of these rat studies confirming of why what we are doing at the Resilience Centre actually works.

Finally on a practical front, Selgman noted that there are simple experiments with people that have had dramatic effect. These experiments get people to choose positive words over negative words and say them out loud. He even showed a “wordle” based on the words used by hopeful people on their social media pages. Take a look at it.wordle

This got me thinking about my own face book posts. Are they positive? I might actually go and wordle it myself. What about yours?

 

 

It’s just not cricket: growth as a result of trauma

by Kaitlyn Massey, Psychologist

Traumatic events shake us to our very core and incite us to ask some of life’s most profound questions – How? Why? and What if…? These are questions that never really have answers. Reflecting on my own moments of grief, I know that pain hurts, but often, what hurts more are these unanswered questions. As a psychologist, I have seen that the pain of trauma can be almost unbearable for many people, but I have also seen people discover the ability to grow in ways they could never have imagined; a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as posttraumatic growth.

Posttraumatic Growth 2I find myself writing this blog in the wake of the accidental death of Australian cricketer, Phillip Hughes. Like most traumatic events, his death was sudden, unexpected and completely shocking. It left his cricket team and the entire Australian nation asking those unanswerable questions. But from this tragedy we’ve been able to observe the marks of posttraumatic growth.

Research has suggested that there are five domains of posttraumatic growth: (1) people can be presented with new opportunities which were previously unavailable, (2) they may feel a bond with others who have also experienced traumatic events, (3) they may have a redefined sense of self resiliency, internal strength and perseverance, (4) they may have a greater appreciation of life in general, (5) people may find a deeper spiritual commitment which may be different to their previous beliefs.

Losing the life of Phillip Hughes was unarguably the worst thing that could happen to the Australian cricket team and the wider community, but this tragedy has also produced some of the best personal and professional triumphs that I’ve ever seen.

Professionally, the resolve of the players to keep fighting until the last minutes of play at the Adelaide Test to bring home a victory was inspiring. This was the result of peak performances by Clarke, Warner, Smith and Lyon, who were close colleagues of Phillip and present at his fall. Meanwhile, back at the SCG, Sean Abbott, the bowler of the fatal ball, turned out his career best performance taking six wickets. He has demonstrated resilience and maturity beyond his years.

Further to the professional successes, it was the personal insights of the players and the uniting of a whole community that was truly soul-touching. I watched Michael Clarke speak at Hughes’ funeral, with his raw emotion and candid words, “His spirit has touched it and it will forever be a sacred ground for me. I can feel his presence there…” David Warner’s glance at the heavens to pay his respects when he was sitting on 63 not out during the first test, demonstrated another poignant moment.

Steve Smith celebrating his century in the Adelaide Test

Steve Smith celebrating his century in the Adelaide Test

On a community level, social media was flooded with images cricket bats propped up against doors, windows and shops. The small town of Macksville saw social barriers torn down as celebrities and locals alike lined the streets to pay their respects. These are small, yet significant markers of posttraumatic growth. Of course it is still early days for those closest to Phillip Hughes. Their grief will continue, and growth will be slow. It’s also important to emphasise that posttraumatic growth does not mean that the pain has ceased; rather pain is the context within which growth occurs.

Similarly, we all have our own personal tragedies that we try to comprehend. We ask ourselves many of those unanswerable questions. However, in the depths of this pain, we may glean a sliver of hope; that in some way, we’ve grown.

As they say, hope dies last. Therefore, my question for you today is what is your hope? For the Australian cricket team their hope is to play it with more passion, more emotion and a deeper sense of purpose than ever before.

However, it’s not just cricket, how can you use your past trauma to encourage personal growth?

References

Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2006). Handbook of posttraumatic growth: Research & practice. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Joseph, S. (2014). Posttraumatic Growth | Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201402/posttraumatic-growth

Moore, M. (2014). What is PTG? | Post Traumatic Growth. Retrieved from http://www.posttraumaticgrowth.com/what-is-ptg/

Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). ” Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence”. Psychological inquiry, 15(1), 1-18.

Image references:
Copyright to Cricket Australia / Getty Images
Mark Tyrell’s Therapy Skills

Mental health treatment: 7 truths for the journey towards healing

I came across a pretty inspiring book the other day. The book, Beating Bipolar, by Blake Levine, was located during my search to help a client who seemed to be stuck processing her bipolar disorder diagnosis. Recalling his own story of his healing journey, Levine provides an impressive account of how he managed to turn his bipolar diagnosis into strength by guiding others with this illness as a professional life coach.

Bipolar disorder is a condition previously termed ‘manic depression’ because the person experiences periods of depression and periods of mania, with periods of normal mood in between. Mania can involve racing thoughts and speech, irritability and little need for sleep that is not just a fleeting experience. Sometimes the person loses touch with reality and has episodes of psychosis involving hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there) or delusions (for e.g. the person believing he or she has superpowers). The combination of mania and depression can feel like a dangerous and destructive emotional rollercoaster.

Bipolar disorder, and in fact any mental illness, is described by Levine as a disease of choices. You can choose to take one path or another, and there will be many crossroads along the way. Ultimately, you have to choose whether you will stay stuck inside your own world of pain, or whether you are prepared to work towards emotional stability. This is your choice to make and no one can make it for you. As Levine notes, you cannot pop a pill and declare yourself well. Proper healing is not that simple. True, genuine healing is about being selective of how to live your life and adhering to those values.

In the process of exploring, learning and eventually accepting what it means to have a mental health condition, the book asks an individual to answer 7 truths. They are:

1. Accept or reject your illness. Any doctor or psychologist can give a diagnosis and tell you all about it, but you have to be the one to acknowledge it. And that takes an incredible amount of courage. Not for the sake of accepting a ‘label’ but rather in order to seek the correct treatment. By not being invested enough to take on the meaning of the diagnosis, chances are you will become stuck.

2. Accept or reject the work that comes with bipolar disorder (or your diagnosis). Life with a mental health condition can be so challenging that it appears insurmountable and unfair. It is true that maneuvering through substandard mental health units is devastating (and at times traumatising) for most people. However, being able to overcome the setbacks and learn from them, in order to continue to work towards emotional stability (and avoid inpatient mental health units in the process) creates an inner strength that will be able to see you through the lowest points of your life.

3. Accept or reject that you will most likely need medication. For bipolar, medication to tame the mania and lift the depression (and therefore bring increased emotional stability) can be highly effective. However, only if it is used consistently by sticking to the regime over time. Medication must be maintained even when you start to feel better. Finding the right combination takes time, persistence and patience (and close monitoring by your psychiatrist or treating doctor). Weight gain, a common side effect of medication, can throw extra challenges your way, however until emotional stability is achieved, attaining other goals will be futile.

4. Accept or reject that you’ll need therapy and peer support. Levine writes “We share many trials as bipolar individuals, but isolation may be the most profound among them. Feeling alone is a universal experience for people with any mental illness, particularly this one. Not surprisingly, there are many reasons for it. Perhaps you’re too embarrassed about your mood swings and the past damage linked to your illness that you don’t reach out to others. Or maybe you have too many bottled up feelings stemming from other personal baggage to connect easily. Whatever the driving force, working with a mental health professional will help you sort out your issues and learn to connect with people”.

5. Accept or reject that your family’s participation and role in your life and illness might have to be modified to suit your healing. Emotionally stable people have a support network. We all need one, no exceptions. If you have nourishing, strong bonds with your family members, they will play a crucial role in your healing. However, there could also be some family dynamics causing considerable pain and stress and you will be the one to decide whether you can rely on the people in your current network for the long haul. If there are things getting in the way of your connection with them then you will need to find and create a different type of support system. This need is critical for living life in a connected way.

6. Accept or reject that you have to change aspects of your lifestyle. The reality of the situation is this: your mental health condition and any medications you are on do not mix well with drinking and substance abuse. These both cloud your thinking and impair your decision making. If your moods are not regulated yet, they can be lethal. Even having a drink now and then should be discussed with your doctor. Abstinence or moderation combined with a healthy diet, exercise and plenty of sleep are part of living healthy with a mental health condition.

7. Accept or reject that Bipolar (or your diagnosis) isn’t an end; it’s a beginning. The choice is yours. Levine states that the knee jerk reaction to mental illness is to run, particularly if you feel there is nothing to be gained by fighting. But he states that every time we experience pain, we have a chance to see that our struggles in our lives are put here in order to teach us lessons and help us grow. You are stronger than you think, and as long as you have courage, you will face whatever comes your way. The payoff, according to Levine, is to have a life filled with the affirming 4 H’s:
Hope
Health
Happiness
Healing
Whatever your individual journey and constraints, to work towards wellness will allow you to master your illness and your life, and that has to be worth the fight. Staying balanced takes time, patience and unwavering commitment, however hopefully if you are up for the task you too can start the healing journey right now, without wasting another minute, by listening to, exploring and accepting some of these truths. I wish you wellness and great success in your quest for what we are all searching for in life: Hope, Health, Happiness and Healing.

Sources:
Beating Bipolar by Blake Levine
Beyond Blue www.beyondblue.org.au

By: Alison Lenehan
Psychologist

Hope

by May Lim
Registered Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre

Hope.

HopeA reason for surviving. A reason for living. A reason to keep going despite facing adversity.

I really do feel encouraged and hungry to know more every time someone introduces me to Hope. This thing called Hope – it’s amazing and powerful. I’ve seen it when it’s full and generous; when it’s fragile and fading and also when it’s been lost and found.

When I encounter people who have experienced suffering in their lives, I like to be respectfully curious about what has encouraged them to persevere. My experiences supporting asylum seekers and refugees living and waiting in detention has further allowed me to witness the significance of hope in keeping life alive. I would invite them to consider, “If you are a candle and your hope is your flame, what would your flame look like now?” Many responses communicated that their flames were weak and faint. Despite the condition of their flames, one thing was for sure – though their flames were often flickering unsteadily, they certainly were not extinguished. Though their hope was not at its strongest and at grand heights, it was still alive and served a purpose.

Despite living through trauma and torture, witnessing atrocities and death, being displaced from their homes, enduring separation from family as well as facing an uncertain future for an unknown length of time, just how did Hope manage to stay alive and keep its job?

From my conversations with people I’ve met, it was love.

A strong and steadfast love for their family and all of its members – children, their spouse, parents, siblings and grandparents. A hope for a future filled with safety, promise and new beginnings for themselves and their loved ones. How powerful is love in its ability to protect and engineer hope? I witnessed how individuals can grow and strengthen their hope as a result of deriving meaning from suffering. It is truly encouraging to experience the positive changes that occur when one’s relationship with suffering shifts into a purposeful one.

Friedrich Nietzsche stated “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”.

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears towards a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how” ” , Viktor Frankl outlined in Man’s Search for Meaning (2006), detailing descriptions of life and spiritual survival in Nazi concentration camps.

Frankl continues to describe, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which would determine whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of the typical inmate”.

“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity- even under the most difficult circumstances- to add a deeper meaning to his life” (Frankl, 2006).

I am inspired and encouraged by people who have met adversity and suffering with a deliberate attitude of hope. Moreover, it is of such value when experiences of suffering become much more than just a narrative – when there is meaning accompanying it. This distinction often makes the difference in the growth of hope for the person as well as others who later learn from this.

It is also noteworthy to highlight that suffering is not necessary to find meaning, only that “meaning is possible in spite of suffering” (Frankl, 2006).

Hope has a beautiful recipe of turning challenges into triumphs. It can propel us to choose how to cope with difficulties, draw meaning from it and coax us in a forward facing direction. Hope can be instrumental in the formation of helpful attitudes and can also be contagious.

When we reflect on the “why” and our purpose for travelling through hard times, this may be unique for every person. Perhaps it’s out of love and commitment to loved ones, a promise made to ourselves, a test of our spiritual faith, a relentless goal for the future, a need to experience positive changes, a lesson longing to be passed down to the next generation, a desire to acquaint ourselves with a stronger developed self, a hope for healing and restoration, a want for reconnection to others or maybe a search for a deeper meaning in life.

Whatever your reasons are for persisting through hardship, may they arm you and fuel you with Hope and more of it.

 

 

Reference:
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Massachusetts: Beacon Press.

May Lim is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre.
Read more about her @maylim