The Demeaning Power of Coercive Control

During the recent 2023 Mental Health Super Summit Dr. Richard Hill explained the concept of “coercive control”, how it manifests and its devastating effects on children and adults.  This is a form of insidious, creeping control over another by a perpetrator (usually a parent or partner) that Richard describes as “a slow whittle”.  He drew on the definition of Dr. Emma Katz, a world authority in the area, to explain that coercive control involves the progressive “controlling of somebody else’s whole life”.   It takes away their normal autonomy and sense of freedom.  The control that is exercised is “wide-ranging and persistent”.  If the controlled person resists or refuses to conform they are punished.  The net result is that the controlled person lives a constrained way of life to avoid punishment.  

In her book, Coercive Control in Children’s and Mother’s Lives, Emma explains that children and adult survivors even after they are able to break free from the perpetrator must engage in a “sustained battle for safety and recovery”.  Through her research with many victims-survivors, she has become convinced that support and “professional Interventions” are needed to facilitate healing and recovery.

Richard explained that the perpetrator of coercive control keeps the controlled person “off balance”, continuously confuses them and progressively isolates them from others (in part, so that they can’t tell others what is happening to them).  He argues that the controlled person can begin to question their own sanity (because of “gaslighting”) and loses both self-esteem and self-determination.  Even when they are able to flee, they may fear for their safety because of stalking by the perpetrator who may continue to engage in “post-separation abuse”.

Even seeking assistance from the law is fraught with risk and difficulty for victims-survivors of perpetrators of coercive control.  In her book, Women, Intimate Partner Violence and the Law, Heather Douglas (drawing on case studies) explains that perpetrators often use the law against their victims, and that victims-survivors require very high levels of “endurance, tenacity and patience” to obtain help and protection through the law.  She highlights “the failure of the legal system to provide safety for women and children” on many occasions.

Jess Hill, Richard’s daughter, in her well-researched book, See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence, supports the view that “abuse is often reinforced by the justice system they trust to protect them” as victims-of domestic violence.  She suggests that instead of questioning why a woman didn’t leave her abusive partner, we should be asking, “Why did he do it?”. She offers ways forward to reduce the abuse and fear resulting from domestic violence that is so prevalent in Australian homes.

Jelena Dokic’s experience – a classic example of coercive control by a parent

In a previous post, I spoke of the physical abuse suffered by Jelena Dokic at the hands of her father, Damir Dokic.  Jelena, in her second memoir, Fearless: Finding the Power to Survive, also details what amounts to coercive control by her father – “wide-ranging and persistent control”.  Her father used physical punishment to control her behaviour (e.g. punishing her for not winning).  He restricted her access to people and attempted to isolate her.  He continuously called her demeaning names such as “cow” and “whore” and took control of her money, demanding she sign over her winnings and savings.  Her father also took all her trophies and sold them.  On one occasion, he publicly smashed a crystal runners-up trophy because Jelena did not win the tennis competition.

Jelena escaped from her family in 2002 (aged 19 years).  Despite this break away, she suffered post-separation abuse of her freedom. She was effectively stalked by her father and mother.  They would turn up unannounced at WTA events she was competing in and try to coax her to “return home”.  WTA security protected Jelena and refused entry to her father.  However, during the US Open in 2003, her mother turned up at her hotel and insisted that she sign over the family home in Florida to her father. 

In the previous post, I also described how Jelena was coached and supported by Australian tennis great Lesley Bowrey in her younger years, achieving outstanding success as a junior on the global stage.  Lesley believed in Jelena and what she could achieve and showed her respect and kindness – a stark contrast to the behaviour of her father.  However, eventually, her father insisted that she sack Lesley as her coach which shattered Jelena’s “happy world” and left her devastated. 

The continuous belittling, dismissing her achievements and pervasive control took its toll on Jelena’s mental health and she suffered from a loss of self-esteem and a feeling of “not being good enough”.  She felt trapped by her father despite being physically separated from him.  She experienced “thoughts of suicide” because she could see no way out of her traumatic situation (her “entrapment”).

Coercive Control of Jelena’s mother

Jelena and her mother, Ljiljana Dokic, were estranged because her daughter felt that her mother had failed to help and protect her against her father’s physical abuse and coercive control and the trauma she experienced.  However, in her Fearless memoir, Jelena explained that they had restored their relationship after she found it in herself to forgive her mother for her lack of protection.  She came to understand that her mother too suffered at the hands of her father.  She was also beaten into submission and suffered coercive control. 

Jelena’s father made all the key decisions impacting her mother.  He determined where they lived, controlled all the money (mainly Jelena’s winnings) and forced her to undertake unpleasant tasks against her will.  Jelena’s mother was forced to work to provide herself with some independent income. 

Reflection

In her memoir, Jelena acknowledged that she had not forgiven her father for his physical abuse and coercive control.  She had come to realise that her mother too was controlled by him and Jelena was able to find a level of forgiveness towards her mother following this realisation.

In an earlier post, I provided a reflection process for dealing with resentment and anger. It facilitates looking at what was happening for the other person in a conflict/abuse situation.  Among other things, it asks you to think about what was happening for the other person in terms of self-esteem and identity.  It also requires you to think about the pressures and stresses experienced by the other person, including their life experiences and familial influences.  As Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey suggest, an important question is, “What Happened to You?”.

By adopting the other person’s perspective, you are better able to be empathetic and find forgiveness.  Jelena was able to do this in relation to her mother, but not her father. Understanding and forgiveness may come with an appreciation of the influences that shaped her father’s life, including poverty and living in war-torn Croatia as a parent and partner, becoming a refugee in Australia and being beaten by his parents as a child.  Jelena’s hurt and pain at the hands (and mind) of her father are deep and will take a lifetime to heal.

As we grow in mindfulness, through reflection on our own life and significant formative events, we can appreciate the positive people and events in our life that helped to shape who we are and what we have achieved.  Jelena’s story, recorded in her memoirs, is a great source of inspiration for overcoming life’s challenges and appreciating what we do have.

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Image by Myléne from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

Integrating Kindness with Mindfulness Meditation

In a recent guided meditation podcast, Radiating Kindness Practice, Diana Winston reinforced the view that kindness is integral to mindfulness – kindness to ourselves and others.  She maintained that being kinder to ourselves (e.g. overcoming negative self-evaluation) and to others (loving kindness towards both people we love and those we dislike), is embedded in meditation.  In the guided meditation, she integrates kindness with the meditation process by incorporating three different loving kindness practices that she describes as:

  1. “Dry loving kindness”
  2. “Wet loving Kindness”
  3. “Radiating loving kindness”

At the start of the meditation, Diana encourages us to adopt a comfortable position that will aid relaxed breathing and assist us to express kindness to ourselves and others.  She begins with taking slow breaths before engaging in a brief body scan to identify points of tension or tightness.  After encouraging us to release the tension/tightness by softening the point in our body, she moves onto undertaking the different kindness practices in the order indicated above.

Dry loving kindness

Diana explains that the idea behind dry loving kindness is repetition of words that supplant any negative thoughts.  The idea is to stop ourselves from engaging in unflattering comparisons, negative self-evaluations, caustic critiques or cycles of worry and anxiety.  The concept is simple and is easy to undertake.  Basically, you can repeat words like, May I be happy, may you be happy, may we all be happy.  The approach adopts the intention to change our inner dialogue from negative to positive, from denigrating ourselves and others to empowering each of us through the repeated expression of kind thoughts.   Karen Drucker, in her song Gentle with Myself, expresses this form of loving kindness when she sings, I will be easy on myself, I will be kinder with my heart.

Wet loving kindness

Wet loving kindness”, in contrast to the previous approach, focuses on feelings rather than thoughts.  Thus it involves a systemic approach whereby we extend feelings of loving kindness towards people closest to us and then to others from those we love to those we may ignore or actually resent.  Reflection on resentment that we carry towards another person could be a useful prelude to this meditation to free us up to express understanding and kindness towards the person we resent.  Diana suggests a series of expressions that could be used as part of this wet loving kindness practice, such as:

May you be safe and protected

May you experience peace and contentment

May you feel strong and healthy

May you experience ease and equanimity.

Diana suggests that you substitute your own expression of kind feelings as you work from envisaging the people you love to others who may present a challenge to you.  She provides some ways of expressing kindness to others by way of example, not as a prescription.

Radiating loving kindness

The idea here is to radiate kindness beyond ourselves to the broader world.  In the guided meditation on radiating kindness, Diana begins with asking us to envisage a glow or sense of warmth emanating from our heart.  Initially, we can envisage it extending within our room – to the left, right, below and above. As we capture the essence of this approach, we can expand our vision to envisaging our heart’s glow/warmth filling our house (and household) and extending to our immediate neighbourhood and beyond.  I found it useful in this radiating kindness practice, to envisage wrapping people in Ukraine with warmth, care and kindness, embracing Ukrainian refugees as well.

Diana suggests that you can radiate kindness to areas of conflict, disease, natural disaster (e.g. floods, fire or hurricanes) or alternatively to individuals or groups who may be in need of kindness and thoughtfulness.  For example, I focused too on extending warmth and kindness to the relatives of the Australian soldier, known as “Ninja” who died fighting as a volunteer for Ukraine in the current war.  “Heart-focused breathing™” promoted in the online Heart Science Course could be a useful prelude to the radiating kindness practice as it helps us to recognise and appreciate the energy field that emanates from our heart.

Reflection

I have previously written about barriers to expressing loving kindness, including self-absorption, disconnection from the outside world, distorted view of “love” and inability to recognise that compassion requires external expression, even in the form of loving kindness meditation.  An additional barrier can be the inability to understand and value the intelligence and energy of the heart which has been demonstrated in research and documented in the Science of the Heart (free book).

As we grow in mindfulness through different loving kindness practices, we can become more open to the needs of others, better able to express gratitude and appreciation, more willing to take compassionate action, and more ready to accept things as they are for us.

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Image by Elias from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

9 Strategies for Managing Cynicism and Negativity in Your Work Team

Negativity and cynicism can develop in a team and become contagious leading to a toxic work environment.  Rollin McCraty, PhD, in his online Heart Science Course maintains that attitudes such as cynicism and negativity, along with challenging emotions like anger, resentment and anxiety, deplete energy – they drain energy and lead to loss of motivation and productivity. 

Rollin explains that neuroscience has demonstrated that these challenging emotions have a direct negative impact on people’s physiology – impacting heart rate, the nervous system, blood pressure and overall performance.  In contrast, research in relation to positive emotions such as appreciation, gratitude and compassion shows clear physiological and psychological benefits.

There can be many factors that contribute to the development of negativity or cynicism in a work team.  An individual who is constantly complaining can affect the attitudes of those around them, even sucking the manager into their negativity.  Individuals can express negativity because of adverse prior experiences in an organisation or because of a current personal problem that is pervading their thinking and perspective on life.  A team may become negative when they have experienced a series of unbroken promises on the part of a manager and be increasing cynical when they have been “over-sold” on the benefits of an organisational or system change.

It is worth noting, however, that some degree of scepticism can be good for a team – so that a team does not just accept what they are told without some evaluation or critique.  However, individuals who constantly play the “devil’s advocate”, are cynical or negative can drain the energy of the team and frustrate the manager.  People who complain endlessly or engage in passive aggressive behaviour whenever change is proposed can become a contagious negative force if their negativity and/or cynicism is left unaddressed.

Strategies to address negativity and cynicism in a team

Managers often feel powerless in the face of negativity and cynicism or when confronted with team members who are constantly pessimistic.  Doing nothing is not an option as these kinds of behaviours only become more pervasive and disruptive without proactive intervention by the manager.  However, there are strategies that can be employed to address the negative impacts of such behaviour.

1.Set expectations collaboratively

Managers can engage staff in the process of defining values and identifying the behaviours that give effect to the desired values.  This collaborative process builds a sense of agency and lays the foundation for a strong, positive culture.  A manager can include “positivity” as a desired value of a team and introduce “unwritten rules” or norms that give expression to this value.  

2.Call the behaviour

If an individual persists in behaving negatively and obstructively, it is critical to address their behaviour directly and privately in a one-on-one conversation.  This should be up-front, stating exactly what behaviours are inappropriate as well as their negative impact on the team. It should also be done at a time when the manager is calm and in control, not when they have developed a “head of steam” as a result of allowing their frustration to reach boiling point before they act.   Early intervention is important once the manager has laid out the team’s groundrules and explained behavioural expectations of team members.  During the feedback session, it is important for the manager to engage in empathetic listening once the inappropriate behaviour is addressed.

3.Avoid negativity or cynicism in your own words and actions

Managers need to monitor their own behaviour and avoid expressing negativity or cynicism in relation to what is going on in an organisation such as system or structural change, appointment of senior management or changes in policy or direction.  Staff continually observe a manager’s words and actions and take their cue from what the manager says and does.  A manager who continually expresses negativity or cynicism, will generate a negative environment and then have to deal with a toxic culture that undermines their efforts to develop a productive and mentally healthy workp0lace.

4.Monitor your language

It is so easy to fall into the habit of making statements like, “I wish it was Friday” or “I can’t wait till the weekend” – everybody does it.  However, these statements communicate dissatisfaction with the present moment and the immediate work environment.  They unconsciously give staff messages that the workplace is not enjoyable or that the manager resents being there.   They can contribute to a negative environment, rather than one that is positive and based on appreciation of what is good about being employed in the particular workplace.  Jake Bailey who was diagnosed with cancer in his final year of High School reminds us that we often overlook the potentiality of the present moment because we are focused on the future.  In his Senior Monitor’s speech at his school’s prize night, he commented, I was dying for weekends, I was dying for school holidays,. Before I knew it , I was dying.  His speech challenges you to ask the question, “Are you dying for tomorrow or living today?’

5.Be open to solutions

Managers often think that they are the one who has to have the solutions to all workplace problems.  Being open to suggestions by staff and being prepared to experiment with alternative ways of doing things, can develop positivity in a team.  It also contributes to staff’s sense of agency – their ability to influence their work environment and the way their work is done – all of which contributes to positive attitudes.

6.Provide positive feedback

Staff can become very negative if they feel they are taken for granted and their contribution is not valued.  Positive feedback is one of the best motivators of people because it involves recognition and appreciation.  If it is given in a way that is sincere, specific and timely, positive feedback can deepen relationships, build team cohesion and trust, and develop positive feelings.  It can also become pervasive and an integral part of team culture as staff observe a manager’s appreciative behaviour and model themselves on what they hear and see. 

7.Be congruent

Ensure that your actions line up with your words. This requires constant personal monitoring and reflection. If you say something is important (e.g. innovation), and don’t spend time, energy or resources on developing it, staff will become cynical and develop the attitude that you “do not mean what you say”.  Congruence builds trust, respect and a willingness to contribute.

8.Use de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats

The six thinking hats (represented by six different colours) provide ways of viewing an issue or change from a variety of perspectives, some of which are optimistic and creative while others are more pessimistic and tempered by realism and critique.  A manager can use the thinking hats approach to enable staff to explore their reactions to an issue or change and move from a negative/cynical perspective to one that is positive and energising.  The manager can start with “black hat thinking” to surface and publicly record staff’s reservations, concerns and anxieties about an issue or change.  This can be followed by exploring feelings (red hat) and, then, exploring potential benefits (yellow hat) as well as creative possibilities (green hat).

9.Explore gratitude reflections

Often negativity, cynicism or resentment flows from a focus by individuals in a team on what they do not have which can also be a source of envy.  A manager can develop a ritual of appreciation and expression of gratitude as a group and/or individual process.  This has proven psychological benefits for individuals and teams and can lead to displacing negativity with positivity.

Reflection

Many factors both personal and organisational can impact individual and team attitudes and contribute to the development of negativity and cynicism in a team.  As a manager grows in mindfulness through reflection, self-monitoring and observation, they can increase their capacity to recognise the signs of negativity and proactively implement strategies to address this enervating orientation to help develop and maintain a positive and mentally healthy team culture.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Managing Conflict

Recently the First Person Plural: EI and Beyond podcast featured Professor George Hohlrieser (Lausanne, Switzerland) discussing, How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict.  The podcast series involving collaboration between Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence), his son Hanuman Goleman and Emotional Intelligence (EI) coach Elizabeth Solomon, is designed to raise listeners’ awareness through stories provided on interview by inspiring people.   The hope is that listeners can grow in mindfulness and resilience in living proactively within the systems that surround them – within their personal, social, natural and global systems.

George works with multiple Fortune 500 companies as a clinical and organisational consultant.  He recounts during the podcast the story of how he became an accidental hostage negotiator while working for the police.  He has continued working in hostage negotiation (sometimes at considerable personal risk), as well as working with people who are suicidal.  George is an internationally renowned speaker and best-selling author.  His widely acclaimed book, Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance, is undergoing revision and updating and will be published on 30 November 2022.  In the book, he recounts compelling stories of real hostage situations and draws out the psychological principles that enable hostage negotiators to be successful.

Conflict management principles

During the podcast, George explained some of the principles that underpin his approach to conflict resolution and how they can apply to leaders who are attempting to influence others and develop high performance teams:

  • Don’t be a hostage: people can be a hostage to others – their children, parents, teachers, bosses, clients, suppliers or employees.  A hostage thinks they are powerless and the pandemic generated feelings of helplessness in a lot of people.  Not thinking like a hostage involves, among other things, thinking clearly about a desired outcome and establishing a positive mindset about that outcome.   It also involves establishing a secure personal base, not being hostage to your own emotions.
  • Become a secure base: manage your own fight/flight/freeze response so that you are not caught up in what Daniel Goleman describes as the “amygdala hijack”.  Develop calmness so that you “see opportunities not threats”.  George mentioned that in his leadership development programs he does not use the traditional Harvard case studies but tells participants that the case study is “you” – building self-awareness, developing insight and courage and tapping into personal intuition and creativity.  Being calm and secure builds trust – an essential element for conflict resolution and management.
  • Tell it like it is: George argues that you should not “sugar coat” the unsatisfactory situation, e.g. poor performance or inappropriate behaviour.  He gives the example of telling someone that “you are too aggressive with clients – that needs to change”.    
  • Address the conflict directly: George uses the analogy, “put the fish on the table” – drawing from his experience working with fishermen in Sicily who were scaling and cleaning fish on a table, removing the bloody, smelly bits and preparing the fish for the “great fish dinner a the end of the day”  The analogy means addressing the conflict not ignoring it (“not putting the fish under the table”), dealing up front with the messiness of the issues and looking forward to a positive resolution.
  • The person is not the problem: George maintains that you should not “write off” the person(s) involved, e.g. “they are just argumentative, nasty or thoughtless”.  He argues that there is a real problem underlying a conflict situation, e.g. the person may feel slighted or disrespected; they may feel taken for granted when passed over for a promotion or project; or they could be experiencing distress in a home situation.  He illustrated this principle by telling the story about a father involved in a hostage situation – it was not that he was a “naturally violent person” but that he had been prevented from seeing his child (locked out by unreasonable access rules).  The core problem in this situation was the inability of the father to see his child and the solution lay in finding a way for the father to gain access to his child.
  • Identify the “pain point”: George argued that you make little progress in managing conflict if you focus on “selling points” versus “pain points”.  This requires active listening, not trying to persuade.  The pain point is often related to a loss – past, present, future or anticipated.  He mentioned Warren Bennis’ idea of “hidden grief” – that leaders are often blind to their own underlying sense of grief and can be grieving over things that happened many years earlier.  George illustrated this point by recounting the stories of two CEO’s who committed suicide out of a sense of grief over some situation – economic or workplace related.
  • Be caring: listen for understanding and be willing to be empathetic.  Express the desire for their wellbeing and demonstrate a caring attitude.  George suggests that this creates a bond even with people you might consider your “enemy”.  Bonding helps to dissolve conflict.
  • Be daring: learning a new skill such as conflict management takes you outside your “comfort zone”. Be willing to dare yourself as any new talent you desire to develop requires daring on your part – facing the fear, acknowledging the challenge and preparing yourself.  Daring your employees by presenting them with challenging work or projects, develops and motivates them.
  • Ask questions: George suggests that asking questions empowers the other person, even in a situation where a person is suicidal.  Curiosity can communicate care and concern.  Questioning can help to explore the “pain point(s)” and to work towards a solution that they can accept.
  • Provide choice: avoid a “command and control” approach as this damages bonding and trust.  The command and control approach does not motivate – it disempowers and disables people.  It can lead to compliance, but not sustainable change. Provide choice wherever possible so that the person feels a sense of agency in relation to the underlying issue.

Reflection

George’s approach to conflict resolution has been developed through his experiences as a hostage negotiator and working with people who have suicidal intentions.  He has also refined his approach through working with organisational leaders around the world to help them implement the fundamental conflict management principles he has developed.  He emphasises that conflict management involves both caring and daring – it challenges us to move outside our comfort zone to achieve a resolution.   It requires us to avoid relying on positional power and instead employ the personal power associated with integrity, humility and compassion.

His approach requires us to grow in mindfulness so that we gain the necessary self-awareness and insight into our inner landscape to operate from a calm and secure place.  Mindfulness helps us to achieve the emotional regulation involved in dealing with conflictual situations and working to de-escalate the emotional tension involved.  Reflection on our own resentment(s) can assist us to achieve calm, caring and daring.

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Image by iqbal nuril anwar from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Solitude and Silence in Nature – A Pathway to Self-Awareness and Resilience

We can have an approach-avoidance attitude to solitude in nature – being alone in silence away from other people.  It can at first generate fear and tap into all our negative associations with “being alone”.  Solitude is different to loneliness because it involves choice – choosing to be by ourselves or to make the most of being “forced” to be alone.  It involves developing a positive perspective on being alone – seeing it as an opportunity for increased self-awareness and empowerment rather than a deprivation of company.

Ruth Allen, author of Grounded: How Connection with Nature Can Improve our Mental and Physical Wellbeing, maintains that when we are in nature we are never really alone – we are always in the presence of other living things that are around us that we often do not see.  Our natural environment is teeming with life.  When we choose solitude in nature, time away from other people, we can become more connected with nature and every living thing.  We can be more open to the vibrancy and beauty that surrounds us.

Often, we can be fearful of being alone with ourselves – facing up to who we really are (rather than who we project to others).  It means confronting those parts of ourselves that we may not like – it might be our character flaws or personal weaknesses, our past history of unkindness or thoughtlessness or our self-indulgence.  Many of these traits can be hidden away from consciousness because they appear too painful to confront.  The power of solitude in nature is the gift of silence and quiet reflection – time away from the distracting influence of noise and the pollution of expectations (our own and those of other people).

Gaining self-awareness and clarity

Solitude in nature offers us the opportunity to become increasingly self-aware – to understand who we really are and what we are truly capable of.   In his TED Talk, photographer Benjamin Powell argues that solitude in nature gives “our inner voice the opportunity to speak” and reveals our life purpose to us because it unearths our “latent gifts and talents” and cultivates unselfishness.  We can move from being self-absorbed to being absorbed in everything around us.

Often when we are experiencing challenges we say, “I need to go for a walk to clear my head”.  Solitude in nature gives us the opportunity to develop clarity, restore perspective and find creative solutions to issues that are causing us stress.  We can gain insight into our own way of perceiving the issues as well as develop an understanding from other people’s perspective.  Reflection through solitude in nature can help us, for example, to understand residual resentment that we may carry after an interaction (even if that was a long time ago).  It enables us to step back from the noise and clutter of a busy life and self-indulgence in hurt feelings and to find the insight to balance our perspective on the interaction, including understanding how our own sensitivity has contributed to our hurt feelings and appreciating the influences that contributed to the other person’s behaviour.

Strengthening relationships

When we return from solitude in nature, we are in a better place to engage with others, whether partners, family, friends, or colleague.  We can be more self-aware (particularly of our sensitivities and our habituated behavioural patterns), more patient through absorption in the quietness and stillness of nature, more in control of our own emotions and more ready to appreciate others in our life through experiencing gratitude for nature and its freely-given gifts.

Building resilience and self-reliance

When we spend time alone in nature, in stillness and silence, we have to fall back on our resources and resourcefulness.  We have to tap into our inner strength as we explore our “inner landscape” with openness and curiosity.  Meeting this challenge head on builds our capacity to meet the challenges of everyday life and to learn the depth and breadth of our inner strength.  Solitude in nature can provide us with an experience of bliss that flows over into our daily lives and strengthens us when we are confronted by adversity.  We know, too, from experience of solitude that we can seek refuge in nature to restore our groundedness and self-belief.

Reflection

If we have an aversion for solitude in nature, we can explore the feelings we are experiencing to better understand the source of our fear.  It might be that such solitude is a trigger for a traumatic reaction because of prior adverse experiences.  It could be that we are very reluctant to look too closely at our lives and what we have done in the past.  Sometimes, we may need professional support to engage with the challenge of solitude.

Ruth contends that we can train ourselves for solitude in nature and offers activities that we can undertake when alone in nature and ten strategies to employ when planning solitude in nature.  She also cautions against trying to move too fast or too far when we are not used to spending time alone.  Ruth points out, too, that we can progress from a short period to longer periods in solitude as we expand our comfort zone.  She also recommends that we reflect on our solitude experience and learn what natural places are more conducive to wellness for us as well as what is an ideal amount of time for us to spend in nature alone.

As we grow in mindfulness through solitude in nature and the resultant self-reflection, we can grow in self-awareness, self-reliance, and resilience to face the challenges of life.  We can also gain clarity about our life purpose and what we can contribute to helping others achieve wellness.

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Image by Antonio López from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

The Essence of Happiness and How to Be Happy

In a culminating dialogue during the Science and Wisdom of Emotions Summit, the Dalai Lama, Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman focused on the nature of happiness and how to be happy in our day to day lives despite the turbulent waves that we may encounter.  The Dalai Lama maintained that genuine happiness is closely linked to our mental state.  Outside events such as the pandemic, employment situation and political upheaval can affect us but not to the same degree as our minds.  We have the capacity to train our minds so that we reduce “destructive emotions” and cultivate constructive/positive emotions.

The impact of destructive emotions

The Dalai Lama spoke of destructive emotions as emotions that harm others or ourselves. They distort our perception of reality and of other people, leading to fractured relationships and unhappiness.  The most destructive emotions are those of anger and hatred.  Anger, according to the Dalai Lama “robs us of discernment” – because of our distorted perception and emotional inflammation, we are unable to initiate an appropriate response or undertake “wise action

Destructive emotions unsettle our peace of mind and destroy our equilibrium and sense of ease and tranquility.  It destabilises us so that we are unable to think clearly or act skilfully.  Resentment, for example, that feeds anger can have its foundation in misperception – not understanding what is happening for the other person or what they intended by their words and/or actions.  We can be so preoccupied with our own perceived hurt, that we do not recognise the needs of another.  We can end up with a one-track mind, replaying hurtful incidents and fuelling our anger and unhappiness.

The Dalia Lama explained that we have “Three Doors of Action” – speech, body, and mind.  We interact with others and the world at large through these three doors.  While the mind is preeminent, what we say and how we present ourselves to the world also affect the balance of happiness and unhappiness in our life.  Even if our words do not disclose our anger our non-verbal behaviour – such as abruptness, avoidance, or ignoring someone – can betray how we really feel.

The impact of positive emotions

Positive emotions derive from understanding our connectedness to every living thing, especially to other people wherever they are in the world.   It means seeing the dignity in every person no matter their beliefs or their actions.  The Dalai Lama suggests that when we experience righteous anger over some injustice, acting out that anger through aggression does not respect the inherent goodness and dignity of the other person(s).  It only aggravates the situation and leads to a negative cycle of destructive relationships.

He maintains that it is possible and desirable to approach such unjust situations with curiosity and a desire to understand the perspective of the other person, even when you strongly disagree with them.  Compassion demands that we recognise that the other person may be acting out of ignorance, inherited bias or past hurt. 

Positive emotions lead to harmonious relationships and happiness.  They enable us to exercise “patience and forbearance” and to experience joy in our life. If we are considerate and empathetic, we not only help others we also help ourselves.  Positive emotions are “grounded in reason” and understanding of our connectedness to everyone, which is increasingly the case in the world today.   Destructive emotions, on the other hand, are not grounded in reason and can lead to reactivity and ill-considered responses.

Reflection

We can create or destroy our happiness by our words and actions.  If we operate as if our happiness depends solely on ourselves, what we can acquire and how we can control situations and other people, we will find that unhappiness is a constant state for us.  On the other hand, if we grow in mindfulness through regular mindfulness practices, we can experience “emotional hygiene” and realise genuine happiness.  We can identify when we are emotionally out of balance, have sufficient self-awareness to identify what is happening for us and be in a better position to act skilfully, rather than reactively and injuriously.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Self-Forgiveness and Self-Care for Health and Happiness

There is a growing consensus around what we need for self-healing and this convergence is supported by neuroscience and scientific research into the process of aging.  In a recent HEAL Summit, international holistic health expert Danette May presented her insights gained through her traumatic life experiences and her journey to international success – a journey she has mapped through her book, The Rise: An Unforgettable Journey of Self-Love, Forgiveness and Transformation.

The HEAL Summit is produced by Hay House and the free presentations and resources are offered over one week by more than 30 experts in holistic health.  The presentation by Danette May covered the topic, Self-Love Rituals to be Happier and Healthier Now.  Her recipe for success in life involves healing foods, healing movements and a healing mindset.  Fundamentally, it entails self-love expressed through self-caring activities undertaken regularly to achieve wellness.

The rise from depression

Danette suffered severe depression and grief following her failed marriage and the death of her infant son.  Her story is one of achieving transformation in mind, body, and heart.  She became a best-selling author, leading expert in developing a healthy lifestyle, creator of a highly successful international business and a significant influencer through her social media presence and speaker engagements.  She was featured in the life-affirming documentary, WeRiseUP, which exhorts people to connect and take action to make a difference in their sphere of influence, whether in education, work, or the community.  Danette’s suggested approach represents an integrated, holistic way to achieve self-healing.

Healing foods

One of the world’s leading experts on aging and healthy living, David Sinclair, who is author of Lifespan, confirms through his research and that of his colleagues that what we eat, as well as how much we eat, has a major influence on our quality of life and longevity.  Danette contends that if we remove certain foods from our diet and include other more beneficial foods, the “wiring in our brain will change”.

Danette’s recommendations re healing foods include the following things to avoid:

  1. White sugar – because of its toxicity for mind and body.
  2. Gluten – causes inflammation in the whole-body system, including the brain (individuals may have more visible symptoms than others from these inflammatory effects, e.g., skin problems, headaches and/or digestive issues).
  3. Oils such as canola or vegetable oils (olive oil is widely recommended as a substitute).

Her recommendations re what to eat include:

  1. Avocados – identified by the Mayo Clinic as the superfood of the month.
  2. Blueberries
  3. Leafy green vegetables
  4. Fish
  5. Nuts

It is interesting that these latter foods are among the 10 superfoods identified by the Harvard Medical School as sources of a healthy diet.  Danette elaborates on her healing foods recommendations in her abovementioned book.  She has also published another book focused on recipes that are gluten-free and vegan friendly and provide a welcome resource for those who are trying to move away from mainstream consumption to a more healthy diet. In essence, she encourages us to be more mindful of what we eat and knowledgeable about its effects on our body and mind.

Healing movements

Danette identified inertia as one of the problems associated with depression and grief.  She strongly encourages movement particularly walking and maintains that movement is the quickest way to change your mental state.  Walking releases emotions and assists clarity in your thinking.  Danette especially advocates walking bare feet in nature as this enables you to become grounded. 

Healing mindset

Neuroscience research supports the view that positive thinking leads to better health outcomes, both bodily and mentally.  In line with her philosophy of small movements towards a goal, Danette recommends the use of personally appropriate affirmations for thirty seconds to one minute, at least each day.  Affirmations reinforce what is good in ourselves and helps to supplant “unconscious negative beliefs”.  What we focus on mentally becomes our new reality, our new mindset and perspective on the world.

Daily rituals of self-love and self-care

Danette suggested a wide range of daily practices that if maintained can create a ritual – a regular practice of a particular group of activities .  Here are some of them:

  1. Spend time in nature
  2. Write a gratitude journal   – writing can release self-limiting beliefs/negative self-stories, increase our self-awareness, and build a positive outlook through appreciating what we have.  You can reflect on where you are with your partner, family, career, life purpose or finances and appreciate the positive influences and influencers in your life.
  3. Eat something green and leafy
  4. Practise meditation, however briefly – even, for example, taking a few mindful, deep breaths.
  5. Read inspiring success stories that provide the motivation to realise, and exercise, your own power to make a difference in your arena of influence.
  6. Walk for health and wellness.

Overcoming procrastination

We can be full of good intentions to develop a daily ritual or to undertake something significant.  If we delay through procrastination, we enable our negatively biased brain to think up all the reasons why we should not proceed.  Danette suggests that we have 17 seconds to take action before our self-sabotaging thoughts take over.  Like Seth Godin, she suggests that you start small – begin with some step towards your goal, however small.

Self-forgiveness and forgiving others

Anger and resentment over our sense of personal hurt by another can only consume us and damage us physically, mentally, and emotionally – we can experience physical pain, unhealthy self-absorption, and emotional stunting.  Danette suggests that self-forgiveness and forgiving others is like “cutting the rope” – releasing yourself from negative emotions that hold you back.  She herself had developed a daily ritual of saying, “I forgive you, I love you”, to overcome her resentment towards her former partner – the process took five years!  Louise Hay offers a very pertinent affirmation for forgiveness, “As I forgive myself, it becomes easier to forgive others”.

Professional support

Sometimes our self-sabotaging behaviour becomes entrenched and difficult to shift.  It is times like these that professional help can provide the impetus to move forward.  Danette provides a range of services to assist anyone to make the necessary shift to achieve overall wellness and happiness:

  1. 3-day emotional detox – to work with people where they are currently at.
  2. 30 days challenge
  3. 6 weeks premium coaching to identify self-sabotaging behaviour, develop a positive mindset and take the first steps towards personal recovery and making a difference in the world.

Reflection

There can be a lot of things and experiences holding us back from realising our true potential.  The starting point is awareness – followed by deciding what we want to be different in our lives.  Daily rituals including meditation can help us to move forward and actively engage with what is holding us back.  As we grow in mindfulness through our rituals and daily mindfulness practices, we can develop profound self-awareness, a strong motivation to make a shift and the courage and creativity to realise our life purpose.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness as a Pathway to Gratitude

Diana Winston offers a way to develop and express gratitude through a guided meditation podcast.  She reminds us that mindfulness is about being in the present moment and paying attention to what is, while being open and curious.  She maintains that being mindful in the present moment, no matter what is happening, can create the space and sense of appreciation to enable gratitude to arise.   

Gratitude can develop and grow as we pay attention to what we are grateful for – we become what we choose to regularly focus on, e.g., compassion, kindness or gratitude.  When we are present to the moment, not self-absorbed or lost in thought, we can more readily appreciate aspects of our life and our environment.  We tend to see things more clearly, not lost in the fog of emotions such as resentment, anger, or frustration.

Guided gratitude meditation

Diana provides this meditation as part of the weekly meditation podcasts provided by UCLA through the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).  She takes us through a process of paying attention in the moment with a period of silence followed by a focus on being grateful.

The guided meditation has a number of steps:

  • Grounding – as with normal meditation practice, Diana’s process begins with being grounded through adopting a comfortable posture whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down for the meditation.  This is followed by taking a deep breath and using the outbreath to release any tensions, thoughts, or distractions.  At the same time, you can express gratitude for being able to breathe normally, something that we take for granted.  While expressing this appreciation, you could think of those who are suffering respiratory problems because of COVID-19 and offer compassion towards them, including a desire for their return to wellness.
  • Becoming aware – Diana suggests that you first focus on your body, then your mind and finally any emotions.  With your body, you can be focus on comfort, discomfort, aches or pains or any bodily sensation that you are aware of at the time.  You can pay attention to your thoughts and notice what your mind is doing, being aware of your tendency to plan, critique, analyse, evaluate or other regular mental activity that you may engage in.  Moving onto your emotions, you can become more conscious of how you are feeling – anxious, joyful, enthusiastic or sad – while accepting what is.  In this meditation, the aim is not to dwell on these bodily sensations, thoughts, or emotions, but to notice that they are with us at the moment.
  • Choosing an anchor – Diana offers a range of anchors such as your breath, bodily sensation (e.g., in your fingers or feet), sounds around you or an aspect of nature, such as a tree.  The anchor serves to bring your attention back once you become distracted by your thoughts.  The process of refocusing after distractions acts to strengthen your “awareness muscle”.

Focusing in on what you are grateful for

After a period of silence and practising stillness, Diana suggests that you bring to mind something or someone for which you are grateful.  This could be something you particularly appreciate in your life –  your location and its advantages, the opportunity to go for morning walks in a pleasant environment, the beauty of surrounding nature, the pleasure and comfort of your own home, the extraordinary capacity of your brain, the ability to move and engage in physical activity, or anything else that is a source of thankfulness.  

Alternatively, you could focus on a person in your life that you are really grateful for – in the process, paying attention to what you appreciate about them, e.g., their intelligence, thoughtfulness, support, kindness, sense of equity, willingness to share their feelings, openness, faithfulness, or any other traits that come to mind.

Whether you are focusing on someone or something, you can dwell on the sense of appreciation and gratitude that they are part of your life at the moment.  Keeping a focus on gratitude helps us to develop this very positive emotion that not only influences how we show up in the world and the nature of our interactions but is also great for our mental health

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, especially through gratitude meditation and expressions of appreciation, we will become more positive and appreciative of our life and less likely to indulge negative emotions such as resentment, envy, or frustration.

Recently I was playing social tennis with a male partner who was a very good player but who became increasingly annoyed and upset that his timing was out of kilter, resulting in multiple errors.  As emotional states are contagious, I could have become very negative about my own game and tennis mistakes.  However, through the practice of mindfulness, I was able instead to focus on the fact that I was able to play; that my body was holding up for this activity despite my age; and that I was able to take pleasure in any good shots I played.  This led me during the next day to focus on the micro skills that I was able  to use while playing tennis, e.g., serve, volley, play a forehand or backhand, run to the ball, and also judge the speed, direction, and spin of the ball.

Gratitude developed through mindfulness can positively impact every activity of our life.

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Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Diana Winston, gratitude, grow mindfulness, meditation podcast, appreciation, gratitude meditation, guided meditation, resentment, envy, paying attention, stillness, focus, COVID-19, compassion,

Enhancing Receptivity through Mindfulness

Jamie Bristow and Rosie Bell maintain from their research that mindfulness enhances our receptivity thus enabling us to reclaim our attention and sense of agency – our sense of the ability to positively influence our relationships and our external environment.  According to their research, mindfulness increases our receptivity in a number of ways – widening the “bandwidth of perception”, overcoming unhelpful habituated responses, reducing our distorted perceptions,  improving our relationships, and developing our “don’t know mind”. 

Widening the bandwidth of perception

Mindfulness increases our capacity to take in information through its emphasis on acceptance of “what is”, consciously noticing bodily sensations and heightened development of our senses.  Acceptance is a precondition for action, not inaction – if we cannot accept what is happening to us (e.g. through internal dialogue such as “Why me?”, “What have I done to deserve this?” or “This can’t be happening to me”), then we cannot move forward and take constructive action to redress our situation. 

Mindfulness meditation often focuses on our bodily sensations – we are encouraged to notice what is happening in us bodily when we experience difficult emotions.  By noticing our bodily sensations, we are better able to name our emotions and tame them. Our bodies are windows to our feelings – by paying attention to them we widen the bandwidth of our perception and gain better access to our inner landscape.

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book, Coming to Our Senses, shows us how to access all our senses – e.g., our seeing,  touchscape, soundscape, smellscape, tastescape – to enable us to heal ourselves and act positively on our world.  Being open to our senses enhances the depth and width of our perception and increases our sense of connection with nature – developing a sense of empowerment and resulting in healing ourselves.

Overcoming unhelpful habituated responses

As we come to understand our inner landscape through mindfulness, we gain insight into our negative triggers and their origins. This leads to awareness of our reactivity and habituated responses.  Often, we are triggered by our distorted perceptions that arise because of our bias, projections, prejudice, and unfounded assumptions.  As we unearth these distortions in perception through mindfulness meditation, we are better able to understand their influence over us and what we perceive, and to exercise control over our reactions.

Improving our relationships

Through mindfulness, we not only reduce our perceptual distortions but also emotional baggage that can destroy relationships.  We are able to bring to the relationship increased self-awareness and self-regulation.  For example, by reflecting on any resentment we carry towards another person, we can come to see their side of the story, understand where they are coming from and reduce our self-absorption and hurt – thus healing our relationship.  Through mindfulness we can also bring to the relationship an increased consciousness of our inner landscape, a sense of personal empowerment (not disabling dependence) and a growing capacity to feel and express empathy.  We are better able to engage in active listening because we can be present in the moment of the conversation, attentive to non-verbal cues and less defensive and self-protective.  Mantra meditations, as one form of mindfulness, can increase our capacity for deep listening.

Developing our “don’t know mind”

Jamie and Rosie write about the “beginner’s mind” developed through openness and curiosity  – which are hallmarks of mindfulness according to the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).  In discussing the lessons from death and dying, Frank Ostaseski encourages us to develop what he calls, the “don’t know mind” which has the same characteristics of openness and curiosity and he suggests that these characteristics can be developed through mindfulness meditation.  The result is that we are able to enter conversations with others not trying to be “interesting” but demonstrating being “interested in” the other person – a stance that enhances trust and relationships.  Mindfulness enables us to listen for understanding rather than attempting to always persuade others to our point of view – in the process, developing our influence and strengthening our relationships.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, we can strengthen our sense of agency by developing our receptivity – to information and to others.  We can gain better awareness of our distorted perceptions and their impacts, develop greater self-control over our reactions to negative triggers, improve our relationships and grow our influence through our curiosity and openness.  Our enhanced perceptual bandwidth developed through paying attention to our senses gives us uncluttered access to our inner landscape and the healing power and sense of empowerment of our natural landscape.

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Image by yamabon from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Meditation on Courage

Diana Winston recently offered a guided meditation on the topic, “Mindfulness, Courage and RBG” in honour of the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the US Supreme Court who died on 18 September 2020 at the age of 87.  RBG was a popular figure admired for her intellectual prowess and fierce determination to support the rights of women and native Americans.  During her tenure as a Supreme Court judge she tirelessly opposed gender discrimination and supported the right of women to have an abortion.  She changed the course of the American legal system through her dissenting judgements including her influential role in the development of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

In her meditation podcast, Diana portrayed Justice Ginsburg as the epitome of courage – displaying “strength of heart” in the face of powerful opposition and ongoing difficulties and challenges.  Despite being daunted by the task ahead, Justice Ginsburg pursued her convictions over a lifetime and took each step towards realisation of her goals even in the face of fear.  Although she was a “tiny person” she was a very deliberate and articulate person who had a “commanding presence”.  These characteristics were lauded by Judy Cohen and Betsy West, filmmakers and directors of the 2018 film on Justice Ginsburg’s extraordinary life, simply titled RBG.

Courage meditation

Diana begins her courage meditation podcast (at the 5-minute mark) by encouraging relaxed breathing and a body scan followed by a focus on sounds.  She uses these initial processes to help you achieve grounding in the moment.

Diana then asks you to recall a moment when you displayed courage in the face of strong opposition, challenges, and difficulties.  Your display of courage might involve a single event in your life or a protracted effort to achieve some level of justice, equity, or recognition.  It might have occurred in a work context, within your family environment, in a not-for-profit endeavour or in a sporting context.  Diana suggests that if you cannot think of when you displayed courage in your own life, you might reflect on the courageous life of Justice Ginsburg.

In the latter stages of the meditation, Diana asks you to capture what it felt like in mind and body to display courage and resilience in a challenging situation.  This reflection could generate both positive emotions (e.g. a sense of achievement/contribution) and a challenging emotion such as resentment (for the opposition you experienced).   It is important to be with these emotions and capture the whole-body experience of being courageous.

Reflection

Once we have captured what it means to be courageous in our lives, it is worth reflecting on what things/issues/ideals motivated us to be proactive in the face of challenging odds.  As we grow in mindfulness and self-awareness, we are better able to tap into what provides the energy for us to initiate and/or sustain courageous action.  We can gain a greater insight into our life purpose, our innate creativity, and our capacity to make a difference in our own life and that of others.

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.