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Our article - "Reduce conflict and stress in relationships" published in the Chiswick Herald on the 9th November. Please read below:

Reduce conflict and stress in relationships
 
Conflict and stress in relationships often come from misunderstandings and poor communication. We cannot expect others to change how they communicate but we can change ourselves and when we find communications of others upsetting then having a better understanding can help.
 
In this article I’m going to look at how, by paying attention to our thinking and the words we use we can become more relaxed, have less conflict with others and become happier. Initially, I will explain how we have a natural tendency towards the negative, the role of our thinking, how the words we use can make things worse for us and how we can also apply this when we find the communications of others upsetting.
 
Recognising the difference between interpretation and fact
 
For example, a friend who you had agreed to let know whether you would or would not be able to make it for coffee, replies saying 
 
“You are late contacting me! Bad behaviour from a friend?” 
 
As you can see the response contains judgements which are negative towards your actions namely, “late” (no date or time had been agreed for confirming) and “Bad” (a subjective interpretation) - with such wording it is likely that you will have had a negative reaction to these words?
 
Beware - negative interpretations cause escalations in both yourself and others
 
Your feeling response to these judgements is likely to be negative. What feeling it evokes in you will depend upon your current situation and also how you to tend to respond to negative comments. Importantly your own negative reaction to the judgements may well lead you to negative judgements in return. For example, if you have been really busy and not very well you might feel upset and then your own negative judgement will be to think you are being misunderstood, if you have a history of disappointments, you might feel anger and think they are unfair, if you have had critical parents you might feel anxious or nervous and think you are in trouble?
 
So likely responses you send in these three scenarios might well be something like:
 
“You just don’t understand and are not being nice”.
“You are unfair, I know what it is like to feel disappointed and you have no right to feel this way”.
 
With these first two responses your friend is likely to be respond with further negative judgement and accusation. A third possibility and just as harmful to your friendship would be the following:
 
“I am sorry, I’ve changed my diary so I can make it”.
 
In this response you are dismissing yourself and doing what the other person wants just to avoid conflict, ultimately the cost to you of doing this is to have inauthentic relationships that bring you little in return!
 
Facts, facts , facts
 
So what can be done?
 
When you receive something from someone that results in a negative feeling here is what to do:
 
  1. Pause - It can be tempting to allow your thinking to take over but this is also unlikely to be helpful as your thoughts will be based upon your negative feelings.  Also when you have allowed your thinking to gain momentum you may find it hard to avoid taking action that has negative consequences.
  2. Take a breath and then ask yourself “what is factual here?”, with this example it can be helpful that having spotted there is little factual content and noting your negative reaction, that the important message from this interaction is that your friend is upset but not able to communicate this to you in a helpful way?
  3. Now develop a response with the following parts: first - state the facts, two - explain what thoughts it brings up for you. For example:
 
“I felt upset when I received your message and I do not remember us saying a time by which we would confirm whether or not we would be able to meet. As I felt upset, I am thinking that maybe you are upset that we are not able to meet”? 
 
Such a response is factual, offers a suggestion about what is going on and invites further communication. Unless you are in a friendship with someone who is abusive, in which case their response is likely to contain further judgements and criticisms, it is likely your friend will see that a misunderstanding has occurred.  Also if in the future difficult situations arise, this interaction will have helped build trust so that your friends initial response will itself be factual. They might for example say:
 
“I feel upset because I was looking forward to us meeting and I have not seen as much of you as I would have liked lately”.
 
And if you now note your reactions to receiving this kind of message, I imagine you feel upset for the other person and rather than defensive and wanting to avoid them, find yourself wanting to reach out and get something new organised?
 
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Our latest article on reducing anxiety was published in the Chiswick Herald on page 31 http://chiswickherald.co.uk/clien…/chiswickherald/121018.pdf#counselling #psychotherapist #anxiety Or read it below:

Feel happier - reduce stress and anxiety - here’s how!
 
Stress comes from being under pressure, anxiety comes from prolonged stress, anxiety reduces our happiness - so anything we can do to reduce pressure will have a direct impact on happiness!
 
In this article I’m going to look at how, by paying attention to our thinking and the words we use to describe things we can become more relaxed, have less conflict with others and become happier. Initially, I will explain how we have a natural tendency towards the negative, the role of our thinking, how the words we use can make things worse for us and then offer an experiment to help you start to make changes. This article will deal with events that we might come across everyday - in the next article we will look at relationships.
 
When we experience being under pressure the experience is one that is alerted to us by a combination of our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Neuroscience is showing that our feelings are something over which we have very little control - our bodily sensations and feelings will be triggered in response to a perceived threat or pleasure and then our thoughts will try to make sense of what is happening and if it is a threat, to seek a solution.
 
Under pressure it is our thinking which often proves to be the weak link. 
 
Thinking happens through our language, thoughts are the assigning of words to our experience and the biggest single problem with our language is how it contains so much scope for subjectivity combined with its tendency to see things as either positive or negative.
 
Being first and foremost concerned with our survival, negative judgements take precedence. For example, when we have a feeling we see as “good” we do not tend to dwell, analyse and procrastinate because there is nothing to be done, we are not under any possible threat. However when we have a feeling that we see as “bad” we naturally tend towards needing to find out what is “wrong”. The issue here is that we are already looking for something “bad” - we are starting with a bias. 
 
Our experience of living may be made up of equally good and bad feelings but the importance given to the bad means the way we can end up looking at the world will be skewed towards the negative.
 
In addition, the difficulty of feelings that we experience as bad can mean we do not feel as though we have time to understand whether our judgement is correct. Instead our in built risk assessment systems will urge us to think about the worst scenario, draw upon our previous bad experiences and allow our adrenal systems to kick in and allow physiological action designed to save us. 
 
Our very sensitive but not necessarily accurate systems are great for saving us when we really need it - where our safety is at risk - but it also influences us in low risk everyday situations where we find ourselves reacting to things and making negative judgements. I am not saying we stop judging but we recognise when we do this and how it has the potential to make us unhappy.
 
 
Here is an everyday example:
 
Imagine you are walking down the street - you narrowly miss stepping on some dog faeces. Whilst you are pleased you missed it you remember a previous time when you stepped in some dog “mess” and how annoyed you felt and the extra work involved in cleaning your shoes and the entrance hall carpet at home. The word “mess” combined with the previous memory triggers irritation and you think about how “irresponsible” people can be, that reminds you of how you found a new scratch on your car the previous week, you think “vandalism” and now you feel angry but also a little frightened. In turn that fear then reminds you of what you saw on the news about an increase in muggings in another part of the city. Now you think about how the city is changing and how crime is getting worse, how people are “dangerous” and you now feel unsafe. 
 
Instead imagine this possibility:
 
Walking down the street you narrowly miss stepping in some dog faeces. Whilst you are pleased you missed it you remember a previous time when you stepped in some dog “mess” and how annoyed you felt and the extra work involved in cleaning your shoes and the entrance hall carpet at home. 
 
NOW at this point - at the time of your initial reaction - try to train yourself to pause. You do this so that you can now look at the reaction and look firstly for words which are not purely descriptive - so ones that contain a subjective / judgement - in this case “mess” and secondly look at how this event today is triggering past negative events.
 
Now, having fully understood how you are reacting in a way that is amplifying the event and its negative impact on you, recall how you were feeling before this happened, take a second or so to fully experience yourself as you were.
 
Obviously it is unrealistic to expect yourself to do this every time something generates a negative thought and feeling however if you can start to do this occasionally you will start to understand how set backs, surprises, misunderstandings, disappointments etc end up with much more power than they fully warrant and how that can sabotage your happiness. In our next article we will look at how to apply this to relationships.

 

 
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Our latest article was published in the Chiswick Herald on the 14th September on page 27, click here to visit the site or read the article below.

How to make your family times happy times
 
For some people their family feels like the best place in the world whilst for others the worst however for most there are good times and bad times. For everyone though there will be a pattern to peoples behaviours and sometimes those patterns might change for the better!
 
When relaxed and happy people are able to rub along together with little conflict however individuals in groups often take on particular roles and this can lead to tension between people. When something changes or when stressful situations arise, behaviours may not change to adapt appropriately and / or the defence mechanisms deployed by people may add to conflict.

Staying quiet is an option but one that rarely changes an ongoing problem.
 
If you want to break patterns of behaviour that cause problems then the first thing to do is to think about your family and the particular roles people take. It is normal for people to assume a “job description” and tensions tend to arise because these job descriptions either overlap or leave holes. For example, you might have four people willing to cook but no one who is willing to clean up afterwards!
 
Unfortunately, when behaviours remain unchallenged and the resentment starts to build thoughts such as “they are so selfish, so thoughtless, self centred” start to occur and these tend to generate even more difficult feelings.
 
Do you think that person really wants to be seen as difficult?
 
Such patterns are normally formed because things change but habits stay static. It can be really helpful to think that the person with the annoying habit is most likely doing something automatically and doing it because at some point it was what people appreciated.
 
But now you need accept that the behaviour is simply one that you find difficult and this cannot be changed alone - if it could have been then you would have managed it by now! 

Even if you have been able to see the other persons behaviour as not intentionally difficult it is likely you will find raising this subject difficult. A good initial strategy is to think about how you tend to be under pressure and how others therefore experience you so you can find ways to stay calm. 
 
Fight, flight or freeze?
 
Under pressure people with have a tendency to respond in a particular way - this means it can be possible to predict with a degree of accuracy how someone - including ourselves will be when something goes wrong. There is “fight” meaning becoming active. It doesn’t necessarily mean becoming aggressive but if you think of movement it would be a “step towards”. For those who tend towards “flight” a “step backwards” and for those where “freeze” happens think “standing still”.
 
Once you have identified the response you can think about what this means in handling situations - imagine the situation then think of ways to ensure you both remain calm.
 
FFTP - Fact, feeling, thought, preference
 
FFTP is a structure for how to have those difficult discussions! In this method of communication you provide the other person with all the information about what is going on for you in relation to the issue you are finding difficult.
 
Here is a hypothetical but typical situation. Your brother (Arthur) who is married with three children has, since having the children, started turning up late to family events you organise and when he finally arrives tends to disagree with things arranged in his absence. Today when the family were due to meet for a walk and lunch he arrives an hour late by which time everyone had decided where to eat and ordered drinks. He says he wants to go to a different place as he has heard good things about it. You find yourself feeling annoyed and thinking here we go again. You know that you tend to get angry and that in the past you have ended up shouting so you know it will help if you can stay calm. You’ve been thinking about this and have already planned to ask if you can speak away from the rest of the family, you also know that when you sit down you tend to stay calmer - so you find somewhere you can sit.
 
You - 
 
Fact - “We agreed to meet at 1pm and when you didn’t show up on time we decided on this place, looked at the menu and ordered drinks. Now you want us to change what we are doing.”
 
Feeling - “I am feeling annoyed, hurt and unloved”
 
Thought - “I am thinking that my time has been wasted, what I want doesn’t matter and not good enough for you - it is hard for me to enjoy our family time with these feelings and thoughts”.
 
Preference - “Can we find a way to ensure our arrangements work but can I also ask you don’t ask me to change what has been decided.”
 
Arthur -
 
“It is always so hard for us to get places on time with the children, something always seems to happen when we are leaving the house. I should allow more time but sometimes I agree to something and then don’t feel I can change my mind. Arriving late today I felt stressed and nervous because you have been angry with me in the past so I am always thinking I have to make up for being late. I think I have spoilt things and I need to find a way to make things OK so I try and suggest something that I think will be better. Now I am thinking that if I arrive late I can just relax knowing that I don’t have to do that - I don’t need to fix anything. But you are right maybe we can change the way we make our arrangements - I would like to know its OK not to agree a time on the spot so I can think about timings?” 
 
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Our latest article has been published on page 27 of the Chiswick Herald. Click here to visit the site or read below.

Relationship dilemmas - what to do when you want something to change
 
One of the concerns couples often bring to therapy is the conflict that arises when a partner wants something to change in the relationship. Maybe its something to do with lifestyle, socialising, money, sex - whatever the issue many couples struggle to integrate change.
 
A major reason is that before the need for change becomes clear there is often a period of growing dissatisfaction. During this period couples often start to argue and both end up taking polar positions on the issue, often the issue itself becomes overshadowed by a power struggle.
 
“Avoid playing the blame game.”
 
It can be difficult for the dissatisfied partner to talk because they can feel awkward or guilty asking for change or maybe the conflict has become so difficult they fear raising the subject? And for the other partner they may also actively avoid the issue, nervous that they might not want to make the change or that the change is the start of other changes for which they are not yet ready.
 
A very common situation is where something that was merely slightly irritating in the early stages of a relationship appears to grow in importance. We all tend to be on our best behaviour in a new relationship, not wanting to be difficult but also having a significant amount of goodwill. As our relationships settle down our desire for our relationship to be one we experience as supportive and relaxing means that things we find irritating can start to damage our relationship.
 
“It can be helpful to see this as a sign of a maturing relationship”.
 
Here is a hypothetical but typical situation - M & T have been together for two years. M has been increasingly annoyed about the amount of time T spends with children from a previous relationship. Things came to a head recently when there was a confusion about dates, there was a wedding for one of M’s friends on the same day as T’s youngest was graduating from University. They argued about it, M revealed that this was the latest in a long list of upsetting times, T was angry that M should be upset. The issue was not resolved, M went to the wedding and T went to the graduation - they both felt hurt and something between them shifted. After a few more arguments and with growing sense of unhappiness they came to therapy.
 
Through therapy the first thing we did was de-escalate the conflict. Both M & T could see that disappointing though it was to have struggled with this issue it was a relatively common problem. They were also able to discuss how having this issue had led to them “catastrophising” in other words they had starting to wonder if the relationship had been a bad one from the start. Such thinking had badly affected the relationship so by speaking about this they were able to see that the growing conflict was merely a symptom of a need to improve their communications.
 
In the second stage of therapy M & T learnt how to speak about things when they were upset or importantly sensed that each other might be upset about something. M spoke about how sometimes it had felt difficult to say how it felt in a situation and had seen something in T’s reaction that meant the possibility of conversation had closed down. Meanwhile T spoke about how it was difficult to see M upset, had spotted the upset but had been fearful that they would end up arguing. 
 
Following this M was now able to tell T that the worst thing about this was not that it prevented them finding a solution but that it raised a fear that T was not interested and that they could not communicate. Meanwhile T was able to say that M often appeared really angry and spoke in an aggressive way that meant it had to be M’s way. So they could easily see how they shared the fear that neither was interested in communicating but only getting their own way.
 
They were now able to see how the misunderstandings had occurred, they were relieved to hear that they both actually wanted the same thing - to be able to talk about things. When encouraged to make an agreement between them to deal with this going forwards M asked T to check out whether they needed to speak when such situations arose in future, meanwhile T stated clearly a desire to hear from M in those situations.
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald on page 27, click here or read it below.

 
Relationship dilemmas - what to do when you want different things.
 
Over the next few months we will be outlining different dilemmas faced in relationships, in this article we will look at what happens when couples want different things.
 
The struggle for couples to find a way to handle situations when they both want different things is often brought to therapy. Where there is a repeating pattern of a couple not getting what they want resentment tends to build, goodwill is eroded, the relationship becomes a power struggle and the couple grow further and further apart.
 
There are only two possible outcomes when a couple find they have different wants:
 
  1. One gets what they want, the other changes position
  2. A compromise is reached
 
There is often a misunderstanding about “compromise”. Compromise still means that neither will get what they originally wanted however through working together they will find something new they both want.
 
What this tells us is that being in a relationship means a couple cannot realistically have an expectation they will both get what they want. A healthy relationship is therefore one where both agree that they will do whatever is needed to maintain and develop the relationship. 
 
This sounds obvious however when a partner starts to struggle instead of the focus being on “what do we need to do?” it tends to go to what each partner needs to do individually. Whilst this is a natural response it is simply not helpful. It is often also something about trust - trust that we can be understood and that we will end up with something helpful. 
 
Here is a hypothetical but typical situation - J and M have been together for just over ten years, last year M’s father died suddenly. J was in the middle of a redundancy programme at work at the time and although J escaped redundancy the environment has been unpleasant. M’s work have been very supportive but M has increased the amount of overseas travel. Over the last few months arguments have started to do with domestic chores and money, whilst sex has become sporadic and routine. 
 
Summer is coming and thoughts have turned to the annual holiday. J wants to go somewhere hot and lay on a beach in an all inclusive resort whilst M wants to go on a walking holiday staying in self catering accommodation. 
 
When they tried to discuss this they argued, it happened much like the other arguments they had been having but this time J picked up a bottle of wine and threw it at the wall. They found they were both shaken by what had happened and came to therapy. We looked closely at what had been said and how argument had developed. What we found was that:
 
First, they each stated what they wanted and then commented on what the other said they wanted.
Second, they said how the other had hurt them.
Third, they criticised each others behaviour in their conversation so M criticised J’s anger whilst J criticised M’s withdrawing.
 
So what is wrong with this? Well lets start at the end and work backwards:-
 
1. In arguments peoples behaviours are the revealing of defence mechanisms. Their activation is actually a sign that the individual is upset and responding - so this needs to be seen as an issue of the relationship - not the individuals. (With the exception of abusive behaviours). So instead of the behaviour it is more helpful to focus and understand the triggers. Ultimately to catch and prevent situations before they require defences.
 
2. In our relationships we have hurt feelings when our expectations are not met. Whilst is makes apparent sense to blame the other person it is far more helpful to think about how it is we have differing expectations. (Unless we believe the other person is abusive - in which case what are you still doing there?)
 
3. People often come up with solutions for problems and then are annoyed when others do not agree with the solutions. In relationships, a solution for something affecting both can only be found when both have agreed and understood the problem. 
 
So back to J and M. The “problem” was that they were both exhausted and upset with how the relationship was going and they recognised that their exhaustion was preventing them from being as flexible as they had been in the past. They had both been worried for themselves and each other and realised they had been trying to go on as normal and that included the holiday planning. They both agreed that the solution was they needed a holiday to relax / recuperate and when asked to think about each other they accurately identified they tended to have different ways of relaxing and recuperating (“expectations”). It had never occurred to them that holidaying apart might be feasible, fleeting thoughts had been dismissed because part of being on holiday was usually about enjoying time together. But this was not usual and so unusual solutions were valid. They agreed that for this holiday they would take separate holidays but they would also plan an extended weekend away together for a month later.
 
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Our latest article was published on page 29 of the Chiswick Herald on the 22nd June, click here or read below:

I’m a therapist because of loneliness.
 
For me, therapy works because the person struggling with something on their own no longer feels on their own! 
 
People come and see me because they are depressed, anxious, having panic attacks, having relationship problems, drinking too much, having problems becoming pregnant, have PTSD, are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, are suicidal, having trouble managing their anger but the baseline is they are coming to see me because they are alone with a struggle. 
 
No longer feeling alone brings a sense of relief and hope. 
 
The change, no matter how subtle brings new energy and makes it possible to express something that has previously been impossible to express. Feeling more relaxed means we can start to see the wood for the trees, be more rational, think about things more clearly, which in turn helps us to feel better.
 
It is only once we can express our difficulties we can start to understand them and once we understand them we have a chance of fixing them.
 
Although loneliness has been much in the news lately, the importance and scale of it is I think,  vastly overlooked. In my experience people find it hard to identify that they are lonely or even if they do feel lonely fail to see the importance of it.
 
When a person finds it hard to make sense of something, be it their thoughts, feelings or how they are experiencing themselves they can get stuck in their internal world. So they will find their thoughts going round in circles, have ever increasing and overwhelming negative feelings, have bodily symptoms - and the more they try to get out of the struggle the worse it gets.
 
This is a really lonely place to find yourself in.
 
When people find they cannot rely on themselves to find a solution they may move towards other behaviours, initially as coping mechanisms, that only act to escalate the problems and isolate them further - drinking, drugs, eating disorders, avoiding friends and family, giving up their hobbies, faith, work. 
 
It’s a natural response because once someone starts to focus inwardly they have already discounted, not thought about or had experiences which have led them to believe that they cannot be helped. 
 
But what is help?
 
The important thing about seeing a therapist is that you are meeting with someone who you do not know and who does not know you. This means that the problems you might experience in trying to talk to friends and family do not exist - you can feel more relaxed and speak freely, your conversations will be confidential, you do not have to worry about the therapists feelings, do not have to worry that they might not cope with you being upset, might change their opinion of you, be sure that they are there because they are focussed on helping you and as you are the client you are in control. 
 
One of the common problems people experience about sharing their struggles is a worry that somehow control might be taken away from them - with a therapist that is not the case.
 
Crucially though finding the right therapist for you is essential. Research consistently shows that the single most important factor in finding therapy helpful is the quality of the relationship someone has with their therapist. 
 
It is true that we go through years of training, undertake our own therapy, have experience in talking about things often not talked about in everyday life, so we might have some new way of looking at things, be able to share a wisdom but to know if you have found the right therapist I suggest you ask yourself “Do I feel lonely now I have my therapist to talk to?” If the answer is no, or not so much then I think you have found the therapist who is right for you.