Rules For Life? by Helen

Red Traffic Light Against Blue Sky Rules For LifeI love learning new information, I really do. But it’s not without issues. As soon as someone ‘discovers’ something, it probably pushes out, overturns or disproves something I thought I knew.  There’s the problem in a nutshell, there are no fixed rules for life.

Whilst it can be exciting to learn about all this new stuff, (Who knew? It turns out the world isn’t flat after all!!), it can also be extremely unsettling.

What Actually ARE the Rules?!

It’s hard to have a fixed set of rules for life when things are constantly changing, and this can be a real source of distress for people. Suddenly we’re faced with choices, options and pressures that mean a relentless adaptation of how we live.  Everything is changing; the work we do, the places we live, the people we connect with and the values we hold. No wonder we’re struggling with overwhelm and stress!

Us humans have a tendency to make rules to give the appearance of stability in the face of all this chaos. Often we are forced to follow the rules of life e.g. Road traffic laws, and at other times we force the rules on ourselves e.g. I’ll only eat chocolate after 6pm. However it happens, we try and bring order to our world.

What happens when Our Rules for life Don’t Match Other People’s?

You only have to look at social media to observe the rich variety of perspectives that exist on any topic. Two people can have entirely opposing views, and argue them vehemently, and this too can cause distress.

This is often particularly true in relationships of any kind. Here are a couple of examples…

  • A parent might set a firm bedtime routine as they believe their child needs to learn good habits, and the child might interpret this as a punishment which segregates them from their family.
  • One friend might not be able to open the door without full make-up and dress, whereas another may happily pop to the shops in their Pjs.

The Role Of Judgement

People judge us from our earliest moments. “He’s just like you,” “What pretty eyes,” “Is she a bit chubby?” Insiduously, we absorb the judgements into our way of viewing ourselves, and we learn our own particular set of rules for life.

Often people come to therapy when their rules for life no longer work, or are causing them pain. Sometimes people come because they’re not even sure what or whose rules they’re following. Sometimes people recognise that they have been living by everyone else’s rules for life, and they no longer want to do so.

A Safe Place to Challenge The Rules

If you ever spend any time on Facebook you will have seen a poster turning off comments with an exasperated, “I only asked a simple question…”   Even simple questions seem to upset or offended someone (or several someones).  If you’re shot down in flames, you might never ask anything again!

In the safe space of the therapy room, within the bounds of confidentiality with your therapist, you can challenge the rules. You can explore the unwritten laws governing your life, and decide whether you still want to follow them.  You can amend or even discard them!

It can be quite a revelation to realise that some of the rules we have been living by for decades, are not even ones we necessarily agree with when we think about it!   I was the daughter of a teacher and headmaster; no swearing allowed!  My father used to say that it was evidence of a lack of vocabulary. When I was heading towards fifty, I decided to disagree. Sometimes a loud f*** is the perfect word for the situation! I’m sorry if that shocks you. I’d have been the same a few years ago, but now I am at peace at saying the words that would have had me grounded all those years ago.

The Effect of ‘Breaking’ The Rules

My swearing example is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but what if what we do (or don’t do) really hurts us, or hurts others? What if we follow the restrictive rules set by an abusive partner?  What if we drink ourselves into oblivion because of peer pressure on a Friday night?  Or hate ourselves because we can’t live up to the perfection we believe we should achieve? What if we belittle others by our words or actions, or teach our children to keep quiet instead of speaking up about things that are wrong?

I don’t see my role as therapist to point out what your rules for life are, but to be with you as you start to see them for yourself. We might look at patterns of behaviour, and reflect on where and when they started, and explore how you feel about them now. Often just becoming aware that you are following these unrecognised rules for life can be enough to change your way of responding the next time you’re in that situation.

I’d Like To Know More!

Perhaps you’ve found yourself nodding as you’ve been reading this, and you’d like to know more?  Dr Meg-John Barker has written some great books surrounding sex, gender and relationships, and has a website called  If you’re looking for new rules for life around the way you care for yourself, watch this space for new blogs on this soon.

If you’re not sure where to start, and would like some support, why not book a free initial session with Helen,  in our offices here or online, via or +34 654065721.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Highly Sensitive Person – Am I One?

Life as a Highly Sensitive Person means seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting everything in technicolour

Statistics show that around 1 in 5 is a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP for short), and so it’s possible that you are.  This blog looks at how you can find out.  My new Theme Thursdays will give more information about what it means to be HSP, and how you can live your best life as one.

What Does HSP Actually Mean?

Sensitivity gets a bad press. People usually think of sensitivity as a as a female trait, and label it unhelpfully with words like, “Snowflake” and “Weak.”   Elaine Aron, (Author of “The Highly Sensitive Person”), however, sees high sensitivity as a personality trait rather than a personality disorder.

Some definitions of “Sensitive” can be found here, and one of the examples really struck me…

Spiders are sensitive to the vibrations on their web”

The heightened sensitivity helps the spider to sense and catch its prey, it survives through doing so.

Even though HSPs are not likely to be catching prey in a web, they are highly attuned to what’s going on around them.  They notice the moods and emotions of others, they feel changes in the atmosphere and environment and process all of this deeply.

What Does Being A Highly sensitive Person Mean for Everyday Life?

Every human (and most animals), works best when their nervous system is running smoothly; not too stressed, but also not understimulated and bored.

HSP nervous systems are wired to produce a higher reaction to stimuli than people who aren’t HSP… most people will react to a car backfiring with a hardly a glance, but an HSP might jump out of their skin. And the reactions are usually greater for all the senses; loud noises, bright lights, a big crowd, strong smells, all of these might induce a stronger reaction from an HSP, than they would from someone who isn’t.

It doesn’t just stop there.  HSPs process information more deeply too, which means they reflect on everything that’s said in a discussion.  They analyse motives and reactions, and have brains that are active at a high level for much of the time, even in the middle of the night.   So if you want a late night philosophy discussion about the meaning of life, find yourself an HSP!

Being HSP Sounds Hard, Are There Any Good Bits?!

Yes! This in depth processing means that HSPs have a much more complex understanding of what’s happening in situations.  They pick up the subtle clues and nuances that others might miss, and this gives them insight and intuition.

Seeing the world in so much detail can also increase levels of creativity and innovation; so it’s no surprise that many artists, actors and creatives are HSP.

And actually, seeing the world in technicolour and surround sound can be amazing!

What About Overwhelm?

This is one of the more difficult things that HSPs have to deal with.  All this nervous system activity can be exhausting.   What might seem like a walk in the park for a non-HSP, might feel like wading through treacle if you are.

Take a night out at a concert.  Crowds of people.  High levels of noise.  Lots of social activity. Possibly unusual or strong smells (could be BO or perfume depending on the concert).  Then there’s travelling to the venue, differing levels of temperature, along with the excitement of seeing the concert itself. Whilst enjoyable, this also could overload an HSP’s system to the point that they can’t cope.

In future, I’ll be looking at ways that HSPs can manage their nervous systems to reduce overwhelm.

A Different Way of Looking at HSP

Instead of seeing being a Highly Sensitive Person as a curse, it can help to reframe this. Elena Herdieckerhoff talks about this in her Paris TED Talk, which you can see here.

If you’re interested in reading more about Elaine Aron’s work, click here.

My next blogs will look at “Tips To Make HSP Life Easier” and “Managing Relationships As An HSP”.

If you’d like to book a free initial appointment to talk about any of the issues above, please contact me here.

Today is NOT International Women’s Day

Women's Day, Two women walking away, one wearing a denim jacket with "GRL PWR" on.

Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash

This is the weekend after International Women’s Day. On Friday, my Facebook feed was FULL of messages celebrating women; pictures of pioneers in science, sport and politics. Some of the words used to describe these women were, “Amazing, inspiring, incredible, awesome, brave, optimistic and beautiful.”

I’ve chosen today to post, because the people I’m talking to, may not have been able to look at the exciting and inspiring things that were going on on Friday.  And because it would be lovely to think that we can talk about women’s issues every day.

What Is Women’s Day All About?

According to the Women’s Day website , the day, (which has been celebrated for over a century) is a global day, celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

It’s a brilliant idea, and completely relevant in today’s climate.

Is Women’s Day For EVERYONE?

Of course, it should be, but maybe for some women, it might not feel like it.

This message is for you if none of those words above feel like they fit;

  • If you weren’t sure you’d make it out of bed this morning;
  • If you sometimes nip to the loo because you need to cry and can’t do it anywhere else
  • If you hide the bruises under a long-sleeved shirt
  • If you are battling with chronic pain and exhaustion
  • If the memories from your childhood pop up and floor you when you’re trying to forget
  • If you have no idea who you really are because you’ve tried to fit in for so long
  • If you down the rest of the bottle on a Friday night so you can escape from your reality for a while…

I’m speaking to you if you feel the opposite of the words above… hopeless, useless, broken, worthless, a waste of space, a coward, ugly and depressed.

Women’s Day IS For You Too!

Even though it might not feel like it, the day is perhaps especially for you.

The day celebrates women, and you are a woman. End of.  You don’t have to have climbed a mountain, discovered a cure for disease, built a business, overturned a corrupt government. We are celebrating you, just as you are, because every woman has something to offer this world.

Every single one of us has demons. We all have parts of ourselves that we’re not happy with. No one is immune from internal negative talk or unhealthy habits. In short, not one of us is perfect. And that’s OK.

I’m not diminishing some of the achievements that were shown on Friday, there really are some awe-inspiring stories out there! But actually, if you are living in the deepest, darkest pit of depression, or facing the scenarios above, even functioning on the smallest scale is equally amazing.

This post is to tell you that you’re not forgotten, that we’re celebrating you too, not just on 8th March, but every day.

If you are affected by any of the issues discussed here, why not make a free initial appointment, to see if I can help. Contact me here.

Big Boys Don’t Cry (Or At Least That’s How The Saying Goes …) by Thomas

I’m sure that at some point in your lives you have heard the saying, ‘Man up’ .I remember hearing it many times as a child from family members, friends, and even teachers! However, it wasn’t something that I gave much thought to growing up – I guess I just accepted it as the norm.

Another similar saying that you may have come across is; ‘Big boys don’t cry’. You can almost picture the little boy who has fallen over and scraped his knee. He is crying in pain and his father says to him; “Come on, son, big boys don’t cry”.

Although these sayings may seem harmless and very normal to us, they are part of the bigger picture that we are talking about today. As society, we convey the message that men should ‘Man up’ or be a ‘Big boy’, which can mean that we, as men, find it very difficult to show any weakness or vulnerability.

Tough Guys, Sad Minds…

So, how does this stereotype fit with men and seeking out mental health support? Quite simply it doesn’t appear to. The ‘men should have a show no weakness bravado’ that we see in the media and through these stereotypes, does not appear to sit well with seeking out mental health support for men, as it may be seen to be in conflict with the role that society expects of them.

Indeed, with superhero men in the media often portrayed as invincible, powerful, human beings that never show weakness, along with the constant message to ‘Man up’. This can lead to men developing the belief that ‘real men’ or ‘masculine men’ should not be struggling. Men, are therefore, essentially brought up in fear of thinking or talking about emotional problems, and often repress their emotions, or shy away from expressing their struggles for the fear of being seen as weak or not masculine.

When it comes to seeking out mental health support when we need it, we are not getting the support that we really need.

The Figures…

In the US, an estimated 6 million men were living with depression last year, whilst 12.5% of all men in the UK were suffering from one of the common mental health disorders in 2017. Do these figures seem high to you? If you are saying yes, then I would agree. However, the worrying thing is that it is believed that these figures do even come close to representing the true extent of the problem.

The number of men who are suffering from mental health may not be represented in suchfigures, as they are simply not reaching out for the help that they need.

The Barriers…

A survey by a mental health foundation found that, in 2017, only 28% of men sought help for their mental health problems, and only a quarter of men had spoken to friends or family about what they were going through. They also found that 35% of men waited more than 2 years to disclose their mental health problems to friends and family.

Worryingly, it has been found that men are four times less likely to seek mental health support than women, and are four times more likely to die from suicide. Unfortunately, suicide is now the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, with middle-aged men found to be more vulnerable to mental health challenges, substance abuse and suicide.

Shame, embarrassment, fear of treatment, concerns about confidentiality, not believing that theyneed help, and wanting to handle it on their own, are some of the main barriers that men face for accessing mental health support. Unsurprisingly, given these figures, it has been found that 46% of men stated that they would be embarrassed or ashamed to take time of work for a mental health concern, compared to 13% if it was for a physical injury. In addition, 38% of men showed concern that their employer would think badly of them if they took time off work for a mental health problem.

Asking For Help is NOT Showing Weakness…

I think it is fair to say that we, as a society, are slowly challenging the stigma attached to mental health. In recent years, campaigns, such as; ‘Movember’ have been launched, whilst celebrities such as; Prince Harry, Prince William, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and a number of others, have spoken openly about their mental health struggles. But it does feel that there is more work to be done, especially considering the recent statistics highlighting that men are still often not accessing the mental health support that they need.

We therefore need to further challenge the stereotypes and myths that it is weak to ask for help!

I believe that we can all challenge our beliefs and develop new healthier beliefs, such as:

  • Depression is an illness, not a sign of weakness;
  • Reaching out for help and taking control of your mental health is the best course of action, we don’t need to cope on our own;
  • All humans, including men, feel sadness, this does not mean that feeling sad is not manly;
  • A sign of real strength is acknowledging and facing the challenges that arise, this does not mean that you are not a ‘real man’;
  • To help depression or other mental health problems, takes skill and strategies, simply suggesting someone snaps out of it’ does not usually work;

I don’t feel right, but I’m not sure I’m mentally ill”…

Perhaps another barrier inhibiting men from accessing support for mental health is a lack of awareness that they are struggling with it! It’s true that men can experience different emotions to women and sometimes may not realise what they are feeling, just that they don’t feel right. This is because men often repress their feelings and symptoms as opposed to showing sadness or crying.

As a result, men can therefore also exhibit symptoms that are ‘masking their feelings’, such as;

  • Irritability and anger;
  • Substance abuse;
  • Risk taking behaviours.

Access the support that you need, and talk to a friend or someone you trust…

I feel that there is a bigger picture that we need to look at, in order to truly challenge the stereotypes and stigmas related to mental health. I believe that we need to look at parenting; how we bring up our boys, such as; reducing critical and ‘Man up’ talk.

However, ultimately for now, men need to feel able to engage with support for mental health, and the first step towards this treatment is the individual feeling that they can talk about how they are feeling.

For this to happen, we all need to work together to help challenge the negative stigma and stereotypical views of masculinity, that are stopping them from doing so. We need to be kind and supportive to our friends if they don’t seem themselves, something as simple as offering to go for a drink or walk with them and being there for them can be a huge support. And if you feel that you are struggling with mental health, remember that there has never been a better time to reach out for support. The first step can often be the hardest, but it can lead towards getting better.

If you feel that you may benefit from talking to someone about any of these issues, why not book a free initial appointment with Thomas via or +34693554925, or share this post with a friend. Together we can overcome this.