The Daddy Diaries

One of the areas that I’ve become increasingly interested in in my psychological practice is how our relationship with our fathers in our early years has the capacity to derail us in later life, especially as we approach middle age.

Image result for father and child

Emotional pain as a result of having a father that may have put us down, been abusive, abandoned us or been emotionally absent has the power to affect our subconscious mind and impact our self esteem life long. This is because prior to the age of seven, our brain waves are in a hypnotic like state and this makes us particularly impressionable to the influences that are present in our lives. As young children, not only are we more susceptible to a father’s opinions but we also do not have cognitive capacity to understand the context around their behaviours.  And to top it all off, as a young child we aren’t able to protect ourselves nor articulate our needs, resulting in feelings of powerlessness and bewilderment. It is this trifecta of factors that enables a careless comment or a pattern of neglect to have a searing effect on our inner most sense of self worth.

Image result for child with low self worth

This can set up a sub conscious set of beliefs that we are not good enough, not worthy of love or somehow flawed. And even though we may not be aware of this consciously, our patterns of behaviours and mindsets are the real giveaway.  Trauma imposed by a father may manifest in any number of ways in our adult lives. It could be a pattern of choosing relationships with abusive partners; procrastination about achieving our goals,  feeling unworthy of our success and consistent attempts to self sabotage in work and relationships.

Image result for procrastination

In therapy this presents a conundrum. Whilst we may know we want to attend to this aspect of our thinking because we see it is unhinging our ability to live a better life, we may also feel conflicted about examining our father’s influence. Often this results in uncomfortable feelings of disloyalty and laying  blame unfairly. This not only disturbs our core sense of identity and values but also disrupts the love we want to feel for our parent to feel safe in the world.

In my practice, I use a multi faceted approach to help clients work towards healing these childhood wounds. It is a very moving and intense process that involves getting in touch with our inner child, so that these sub conscious beliefs no longer drive unhealthy behaviours. Using a combination of Emotion Focussed Therapy (Tapping) and psychotherapy to become aware of the sub conscious beliefs and dial down the traumatic emotions, I guide clients towards a place of not only self compassion  but also an understanding of the frailties that may have informed the father’s behaviour. With this understanding comes a lessening of the power of the father’s influence and ultimately acceptance and forgiveness.

Image result for carrying a heavy load

It can liberate us from the heavy load we are carrying and usher us towards a place of peace and contentment.

Image result for forgiveness
Elizabeth Blackwood Psychology. Wellness One, 46 Douglas St, Milton, Qld.
Tel: 0422 047417
Advertisements

How chocolate fudge cake may have just prolonged my life.

imageThere’s a truck load of research that suggests one way to find contentment and fulfilment in life is to help others. This could be volunteering, showing compassion to someone in need or helping in your community. There are a myriad of benefits to be had from lending a helping hand; not only does connecting with others make us feel better about ourselves but it also actually strengthens our immune system and wait for it….. Prolongs our life! Yep those who regularly reach out to help others tend to live longer and more enriched lives.

image

But as anyone knows in today’s manic world that can sometimes be a bit of a stretch. Most weekends, I’m hard pushed to keep up with the laundry and ferry the children to their respective social engagements to pull my weight in our community. However this weekend I had a wonderful reminder of how good it feels to get involved again. I had volunteered to help at my 7 year old son’s school fete by running the dessert stall. That sounded so low key to me, I even packed my lap top in amongst the chocolate fudge cakes and lemon tarts, thinking I could knock off some work whilst sitting idly behind the heaving dessert display. Note to self: delusional!

image

Instead the day was a flurry of doling out sweet decadence to all and sundry….heavenly pistachio kulfis, tangy crumbly lemon cheesecakes that hummed on the tongue, creamy pannacottas oozing with raspberry coulis, soft velvety fist size Russian rum balls that like all things Russian not only kicked a punch but also left you reeling. All home made by a handful of mothers from the school, doubtlessly squeezed in between homework, paid work, housework and a few frazzled late night trips to the supermarket to get ingredients.

image

On the day I was helped by a beautiful band of international mothers who had volunteered not only to help the school’s fund raising efforts but also to get to know other parents. It was a subtle reminder of how often we take our place in our school society for granted, neither having to contend with a second language not trying to decipher the nuances of another culture. However dessert is clearly an international language because there were sugary smiles in abundance at the end of the day. image

But there was a whole new wave of connection that had me welling up with emotion. Charlie’s tiny little school serves a unique population of not only international families but also hearing impaired children and those children who have hearing impaired parents. This is the school where the second language taught is Auslan (the Australian sign language). So this wasn’t your standard school fete…it was a meeting of the local deaf communities that revel in being together. Looking around all I could see were animated signing conversations, eyes fixed eagerly on the signers, not an iPhone screen in sight to distract anyone. Focused faces drinking in the chance to connect with others who navigate a similar world to their own. It was the type of connectedness that fuelled the social tank of all those involved.

image

The best thing was watching them applaud the children’s performances. No bemused faces idly clapping here, instead the signing version of clapping is to lift your hands up and twinkle your fingers as if little stars were raining down. How can you remain disconnected when doing that?🌟
image

The Power of a Smile 



Thanks to a little volcano in Indonesia, our plane trip home was cancelled and we have found ourselves stranded in Bali for an extra week of enforced R&R……it’s kind of like winning a lottery that you hadn’t got around to buying a ticket for. So after 14 days of working our way through the massage menu, hoovering up the heaving buffet tables and sampling every tourist attraction known to man, we are set to leave for home tonight, ash cloud permitting. 

Along with the ubiquitous holiday purchases of dodgy wood carvings and mass produced paintings, my most treasured souvenir will be the memory of the way Balinese people smile. You only have to glance their way and their faces light up, delighting in the moment of connection you have created together. Their smiles are the most delicious gift; expansive, generous and heart warming. But what is most arresting is the innocence with which they smile, a simple testament to their belief in the goodness of others. 



We respond to a smile from our earliest moments. Watch any new parent coo at their baby and you will see a beautific smile spread serenely across their malleable little faces.  Glimpsing this remarkably private display of parental attachment, we are struck by the infectious power of their shared smiles…it is as if they emit a luminescence that shines on all those who watch them. We now know that these micro moments of connection  are predictive of the psychological and physical wellbeing of both parent and child.

It’s all about the connectedness. As social creatures, we are wired to connect. Having moments of connection in our lives, whether it be sharing a smile with our child, an exquisite private glance with our partner or an unexpected smile from the waiter at the buffet station, is incredibly good for our health. In fact, the cumulative effect of these micro moments of connection results in as great a benefit to our physical and mental health as diet and exercise. 





You might be wondering how a simple smile could have such a powerful effect. What happens is that when we make eye contact with someone who is smiling at us,  an almost involuntary mimicry effect is triggered in our brains, which in turn  triggers a neural connection that allows you to infer the meaning of their smile. And it is this level of behavioural synchrony that fuels a feeling of embodied support.

And it’s all because of a beautiful and rather long cranial nerve that runs from our brainstem to our abdomens via our hearts called the vagas nerve. The vagas nerve sends messages from your organs to your brain and vice versa. It also has a bit of a starring role in supporting your mental and physical health. 



A strong vagas nerve not only affects our brain’s ability to regulate our mood and decrease rates of  depression but also results in improved regulation of our glucose levels, boosts our immune system and lowers our risk of heart disease. With heart disease being the number one killer in the United States, this starring nerve is worth looking after.  But how?

There are a number of ways to improve your vagus nerve tone, taking up yoga is one, focusing on deep breaths with a long exhale is another but perhaps most enjoyably, is connecting with others. 

A study by Frederickson & Kok (2010) found that when we translate our positive emotions to a moment of social connection, such as an authentic smile to our partner, we improve our vagus nerve tone.  After a period of continued practice of connectedness, we can actually change our health at a cellular level, with an increase in our white blood cell count. Thereby making us less prone to illness, inflammation and heart disease.



So creating more moments when you connect with others serves as a rather handy tune up for your heart and your mind. And remember those micro moments of connection count just as much as more intense periods of connection, so go on, give it a go and flash those pearly whites! 

References 

Kok, B.E. & Frederickson, B.L. (2010). Upward spirals of the heart. Autonomic flexibility as indexed by vagal tone, reciprocally and prospectively predicts positive emotions and social connectedness. Biological Psychology, 85(3), 432-436. 

Mud, music and mayhem…What makes music festivals so compelling? 

 

Now it might just have been the vicarious effect of imbibing the perfumed fug emitted by the shirtless undulating man in front of me, but swaying with thousands of strangers at this year’s Byron Bay Blues Fest had a touch of the euphoric about it. I found myself air punching with the best of them, shifting some rather novel reggae moves on the muddy turf and feeling my heart swell with transient joy. It felt damn good.

In the tradition of Coachella and Glastonbury, not only is Bluesfest renowned for its amazing line up of classy blues and reggae acts, it’s also infamous for its mud. If you ain’t got your wellies on and preferably no sense of smell, you ain’t going nowhere. Easter sends those rain clouds jostling for attention over the Byron Bay skies, reducing miles of meadow to a black squelchy mess, hair to an untameable frizz and tie dye t-shirts to the clingy variety not normally seen outside of a dodgy working men’s club.

But despite the challenges dished out by Mother Nature and an inadequate festival wardrobe, all you see around you is a sea of mellow smiling faces, resplendent in a collective sense of shared musical discovery.

Whilst there are all the normal fuels for tension: crowds, alcohol, flimsy tents threatening collapse at the slightest puff of wind (and puffs of other varieties, no doubt) unfathomable parking rules, and portaloo queues so long that you’ve divulged your life history before your bladder, somehow music festivals create a collective yet unspoken desire to leave life’s normal agitation on the motorway and just chill.

What is it about a musical festival that creates this feel good factor for all ages, from kids lurching towards adulthood and adults craning their necks to recapture misspent youths?

 

One theory is that as social creatures one of our core needs is to belong. Existing in groups has afforded us an increased chance of survival from caveman times to navigating the drinks queue at Coachella.

That stubbornly indestructible wrist band we receive on entry to a festival denotes an instant sense of belonging to this new tribe. In that moment, we miraculously slip off our everyday identity and  shrug on the persona of someone infinitely more hip. Someone open to new experiences, cultures and questionable wardrobe and hygiene choices.  A healthy dose of escapism.

Psychology has a nifty name for this, Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) Because we are all unified in our new identity as festival goers, we feel a sense of relatedness to those anonymous sweaty armpits and undulating hips beside us. This casts a warm glow on our fellow tribe members, allowing us to be more tolerant and mellow towards those behaviours that would normally send us racing for the exit. And because we rate our identity as a festival goer, that sense of belonging serves to enhance our sense of self esteem. We tend to maximise the qualities of our group membership and denigrate those of other groups. Hence we feel a tiny bit cooler than others who have missed out on this musical revelation.

Of course the other thing that is happening is that we all love an experience. Research indicates that we are much happier when we fork out money for an experience than if we had spent the equivalent on physical items. This is because good experiences improve over time. We relish the reflection and the retelling and this gives us a little hit of the same feel good hormone we experienced fending off the ravages of the mosh pit. Think about it… How often do you reflect on a cherished experience compared to how often you reflect on the pleasure of a purchase?

So next time, you are dithering over splashing out $400 on a festival ticket just remember a little bit of short term muddy squelchy jostling pain is worth years of hipster gain….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mud, music and mayhem…What makes music festivals so compelling? 

 

Now it might just have been the vicarious effect of imbibing the perfumed fug emitted by the shirtless undulating man in front of me, but swaying with thousands of strangers at this year’s Byron Bay Blues Fest had a touch of the euphoric about it. I found myself air punching with the best of them, shifting some rather novel reggae moves on the muddy turf and feeling my heart swell with transient joy. It felt damn good.

In the tradition of Coachella and Glastonbury, not only is Bluesfest renowned for its amazing line up of classy blues and reggae acts, it’s also infamous for its mud. If you ain’t got your wellies on and preferably no sense of smell, you ain’t going nowhere. Easter sends those rain clouds jostling for attention over the Byron Bay skies, reducing miles of meadow to a black squelchy mess, hair to an untameable frizz and tie dye t-shirts to the clingy variety not normally seen outside of a dodgy working men’s club.

But despite the challenges dished out by Mother Nature and an inadequate festival wardrobe, all you see around you is a sea of mellow smiling faces, resplendent in a collective sense of shared musical discovery.

Whilst there are all the normal fuels for tension: crowds, alcohol, flimsy tents threatening collapse at the slightest puff of wind (and puffs of other varieties, no doubt) unfathomable parking rules, and portaloo queues so long that you’ve divulged your life history before your bladder, somehow music festivals create a collective yet unspoken desire to leave life’s normal agitation on the motorway and just chill.

What is it about a musical festival that creates this feel good factor for all ages, from kids lurching towards adulthood and adults craning their necks to recapture misspent youths?

 

One theory is that as social creatures one of our core needs is to belong. Existing in groups has afforded us an increased chance of survival from caveman times to navigating the drinks queue at Coachella.

That stubbornly indestructible wrist band we receive on entry to a festival denotes an instant sense of belonging to this new tribe. In that moment, we miraculously slip off our everyday identity and  shrug on the persona of someone infinitely more hip. Someone open to new experiences, cultures and questionable wardrobe and hygiene choices.  A healthy dose of escapism.

Psychology has a nifty name for this, Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner) Because we are all unified in our new identity as festival goers, we feel a sense of relatedness to those anonymous sweaty armpits and undulating hips beside us. This casts a warm glow on our fellow tribe members, allowing us to be more tolerant and mellow towards those behaviours that would normally send us racing for the exit. And because we rate our identity as a festival goer, that sense of belonging serves to enhance our sense of self esteem. We tend to maximise the qualities of our group membership and denigrate those of other groups. Hence we feel a tiny bit cooler than others who have missed out on this musical revelation.

Of course the other thing that is happening is that we all love an experience. Research indicates that we are much happier when we fork out money for an experience than if we had spent the equivalent on physical items. This is because good experiences improve over time. We relish the reflection and the retelling and this gives us a little hit of the same feel good hormone we experienced fending off the ravages of the mosh pit. Think about it… How often do you reflect on a cherished experience compared to how often you reflect on the pleasure of a purchase?

So next time, you are dithering over splashing out $400 on a festival ticket just remember a little bit of short term muddy squelchy jostling pain is worth years of hipster gain….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling the Cyber Love

Scrolling through my friends’ Facebook posts is as close as I get to a dash of salacious voyeurism. Admittedly it is a rather  sneaky yet efficient way of peering through the net curtains of their life.  And whilst I know it’s not entirely logical, somehow the glimpse of what they wore to the school trivia night, what messiness lurks behind them in the  ubiquitous bathroom selfie shot and whose shoulder they were dribbling on in a drunken moment makes me feel inestimably closer to them. In fact at times I feel something approaching tenderness towards people I may barely know. I think this cyber tenderness is due to the fact we unwittingly reveal so much about ourselves in what we post. And people tend to fall into a definite posting category. For instance, there are the serial selfie offenders, who like me, have worked out what angle to pose at to hide double chins, stubborn back fat and creeping wrinkles by using the same head tilt for every shot, filtered within an inch of our Cruz tinted lives (yep it takes one to know one). Then there are those who rarely appear in their own pics, instead the household pet, fetching love-heart on top of their latte, or over-achieving photogenic progeny take centre stage, carefully captured and offered up for tentative approval to the FB public. And let’s not forget the Meme Brigade, who give us all pause for thought with the titbits of wisdom from someone infinitely more zen stretched across a canvas of a life we’d rather be living.

Psychology love this stuff and research shows we use FB as a means of building our image and increasing our social capital. Serious stuff eh? So whilst it may seem mad to my husband that I insist he takes close to 30 shots of me huddled together with my shiny girlfriends at a fancy restaurant, it allows me to select the pic that makes me look at least 15% better looking than I actually am and leading a far more glamourous life than the piles of last year’s dirty washing and infinite nights in front of the TV attest to. FB cleverly meets our needs for gratification; by giving us an avenue not only for receiving attention but also for gaining support and receiving comfort from others in times of distress. This was brought home to me recently when a dear friend put up a number of heartfelt posts detailing an event that had left her reeling with hurt and disbelief. The lines radiated with pain. It made for poignant reading and I felt compelled to give her a cyber hug. As I logged on to comment, I noticed a ream of earnest messages from friends, in what can only be described as a rallying call of support and shared indignancy. To know that she would have received these within moments of posting was of great comfort and I hoped, may have lessened the sting. By sharing her experience on FB, she was able to process her emotional response boosted by the support of this ready made online community. It made me reflect on how powerful FB comments can be in enhancing our self-esteem and our sense that what happens to us matters to someone, anyone, even one of our 276 FB friends. I know how ridiculously pleased I am when someone comments on a post I’ve made and how that gesture in itself acts as a building block in what essentially are rather remote friendships. This notion of reciprocation is a powerful thing; when we offer a part of ourselves to someone, be it a photo, a vignette of our day or an opinion on something we find meaningful, we are seeking some kind of approval. When we receive positive acknowledgment in the form of a kind comment, our brains actually fire off a shot of the same feel good hormone that is produced when we have good sex or breast feed our baby; oxytocin. This induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others. And it has a rather lovely knock on effect. In laboratory studies, Paul Zak, the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, has found that a dose of oxytocin will cause people to give more generously and to feel more empathy towards others, with “symptoms” lasting up to two hours. So I staged a little experiment with this at home because let’s face it, as every stressed time-poor woman of a certain age knows, we could all do with a little oxytocin honey from time to time. I Thus began my own little comment revolution. Rather than swipe idly past another picture of a lonely latte or freshy pressed progeny on their first day back at school, I started commenting. And boy did it pay dividends. By commenting I began to feel a little more connected with others. Warmth suffused through me as I made the comment and if that little blue thumbs up sign quivered in recognition, I experienced another sweet injection of pleasure and a deeper sense of belonging. Being a tad disorganised in the keeping-up-with-friends stakes, these comments enabled me to lighty lubricate the wheels of friendships in a satisfyingly efficient manner, and I didn’t even have to haul myself off the sofa! And as for the oxytocin release, don’t tell my husband, he might think it’s his birthday again 😉

#wordpress.com