Mungo came to us in February... he was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm, where he had spent the first five years of his life. Probably his only experience of love in all that time, since being taken from his mother, until he came to us, was the eight weeks he spent in a wonderful foster-home (you can read more about his early journey here).
As human beings, it's easy for us to get stuck in the story we are telling ourselves each day... we will continue to do a particular behaviour, or think particular thoughts, because we've always done it that way. We interact with the world because of the labels we give ourselves - or accept from other people - "Anxious", "Introverted", "Extroverted", "Victim", "Intelligent", "Stupid"... When labels give us permission to limit ourselves, then we don't have to take responsibility - instead we can blame the label, because the label gives us our story... without realising that it's also the story that is "proving" the label. Those "knots of our own making" that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about.
There's a wonderful poem by Marianne Williamson, called "Our Deepest Fear" (I have it on the wall in my office), and in it she explains that it's our light, not our darkness that frightens us... our deepest fear, she says, is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure...
In my work as a therapist and a trainer, I see many people who do change the stories they have been telling themselves, often for decades - it requires courage, and insight, and self-awareness, and self-compassion to do that, and I'm in awe every single time, because it proves the truth of Marianne's words...
And then I look at this beautiful little soul who has joined our family... every "first time" he does something new - like jumping up next to us on the sofa, or climbing up four steps instead of three, or allowing Luna to share his bed - he is releasing and re-writing a little bit of that old story and it makes my heart melt, because he's letting a little bit more of his light shine.
If he is not afraid to re-write his old story, why should any of us be? In Marianne's words, again, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same..." If we are bringing that kind of inspiration into the world, then what can happen? That's another story - what if we were to write it?
Mungo arrived into our lives a few weeks ago... confused and scared, he had been rescued from a puppy farm, where he had spent the first five years of his life as a stud dog - without care, kindness or even a name of his own. His escape from this grim life was probably because he needed some expensive veterinary care, which he was unlikely to receive, unless he was surrendered into rescue - and fortunately for Mungo, this was the path that opened before him, thanks to the lovely folks at Friends of Animals Wales...
Following the removal of 33 teeth, funded by the wonderful Schnauzerfest charity, who supported all his veterinary costs whilst he was in rescue with FOAW, he then spent the first eight weeks of his new life with a kind and patient foster family, who began to teach him what it feels like to be loved...
Fast forward to the end of February, and this little boy had yet another huge upheaval when he moved yet again... this time to his forever home, with two little Lhasa sisters to show him the ropes. However, it is very clear to us that although he is completely free from that old life, the abuse and neglect has deep roots, and he is still beset by the demons of his past...
To begin with, he wouldn't eat. I wasn't too worried at first, because of the stress of his move, but after a couple of days he began to taste - and then he stood back and just stared at me. I suddenly got the message - he didn't like the bowl! I turned his meal out onto a plate, and he devoured it ravenously; so now, Mungo eats from a plate... and not just any plate - he has three rather beautiful Art Deco plates that we bought specially for him.
For all of us, it's a journey of interpreting feelings and needs... the tilt of an ear, the twitch of a tail or the droop of a head can tell us so much when we are prepared to pay attention. Unlike with people, there is no story to listen to, and be hooked by - we can only imagine what he has been through. Just like many people though, when we do not have the self-worth to believe that we deserve to have our needs met, it was clear to us that Mungo felt deeply unworthy of many things in his new life.
It's an incredible joy when he responds... the first time he came towards us and stood to have his head scratched... the first time he lay down next to us on the sofa... the first walk, with tail and ears up, and eyes bright... all of these things mark a small rite of passage for him - the sign that he has given himself permission to accept this part of his new life and, in doing so, hopefully also to release part of the old.
But here's an interesting thing. We chose his name because we liked it, and because it fit with our previous boy schnauzers (Theo, Hugo...). In an idle moment, I looked it up, to find out the meaning. It turns out that St Mungo is the patron saint of those who have been bullied, which is actually pretty perfect, and his feast day is 13 January. As Mungo didn't have a proper birthday either, that seems pretty perfect, too, just like Mungo himself...
Little Matilda joined our family in early April, following the sad loss of our beautiful Theo to lymphoma earlier in the year. She needed us as much as we needed her - her previous Mum had developed some health issues and was no longer able to look after her, so we took Luna to meet Matilda and they were friends at first sight...
She is, as all puppies are, part little angel, part tiny demon... but as Carl Jung once wrote, "The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites."
"The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites." - Carl Jung
Matilda certainly has great energy, as Luna can testify; they play crazy games of chase together - not caring whether they are in the garden, bedroom or sitting room, and then subside in a panting, happy heap. Like Luna, and like Daisy before her, Matilda knows how to bring the joy...
Matilda of course has no concept of self-judgement - she is fearless! She doesn't worry that she is "not good enough" because she likes to roll in pigeon poo, or that she is a "bad person" because she cherishes secret fantasies of catching one of the voles who inhabit the garden wall... she doesn't wallow in guilt because she was sick on our duvet at 4am... she just is as she is, and accepts herself for who she is because she has no idea that there is any other way to be. What liberation! No wonder she is so joyful...
Self-acceptance is a key aspect in developing wellbeing and rediscovering our own joy. To quote Carl Jung once again, "How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole." When we can accept all of ourselves - the light as well as the dark - then we are liberated from others' judgements of us; we realise that what others think of us is not about us at all - it is a reflection of their own thoughts and being.
It doesn't matter what others think of you - it is what you think of you that is the most important thing. Become fearless and spread the joy!
Negative and bullying remarks are a reflection of what's going on in the mind of the person who makes them, and we do not have to take their remarks personally. When we respond with violence we then become part of the problem; what happens when we respond with compassion instead?
Right, lovely dental folks - I'd like you to listen, please...
You know the scenario - it's 4.45pm on a Friday afternoon and a patient rings with severe toothache; they've had it for several weeks, and they are ringing now because they are "not sure they can make it through the weekend". A check on their records reveals two failed appointments for a filling which needed doing over a year ago and they have never been back in touch since then. Oh, and you also told them they needed to see the hygienist for regular appointments too, and they've never been.
Prevention. You teach it to your patients. All the time. Often repeatedly. At the end of the day, it's up to the patient whether or not they choose to take responsibility for their own dental health - as their dentist you know there is only so much you can do...
As a psychotherapist, this is what I see when I look at the dental profession: so many surveys measuring the catastrophic levels of stress in the profession; so many posts on social media complaining about mental distress; (and yes, it's bad - in many cases it's truly heartbreaking); and yet so many dentists are clearly not taking any responsibility for their own mental health.
Clients will often come to me because they have reached the psychological equivalent of the severe toothache patient described above; so we have to begin by firefighting the situation they have found themselves in... and just like that toothache, it's often been coming on for a very long time. Sometimes for years... and they've ignored the signs.
But here's the thing... Even if you are feeling absolutely fine right now, how many of you are actually taking an active responsibility in making sure you stay that way by maintaining your own mental health? (I know many of you are, which is fantastic - I also know that many, many more are not...) Are you even aware that there are very definite measures you can put in place to help prevent future burnout and chronic stress? Are you just like the patient with toothache who is aware that oral hygiene is probably something they should have been doing, and they are still not doing it? Are you willing to wait until you experience symptoms of chronic stress, mental breakdown and burnout before you decide to take some action?
Here are some suggestions, and my invitation to you is that you look into at least one of these right now (yes, even though you are feeling fine at the moment):
If you are feeling fine because you are already doing at least one of those, then that's marvellous - I salute you.
My mother always used to tell us that, "Something always happens when you don't do as you're told..." I've no doubt that's what you think when the irregularly attending, poor oral hygiene patient turns up yet again with an abscess. But remember the wise words of Virginia Satir, "Life isn't the way it's meant to be - it is the way it is. It's how we cope with it that makes the difference."
That difference has to start with you. And if you need some help to rediscover your own inner resources, please just ask.
As a psychotherapeutic coach I offer regular, ongoing, preventive, confidential support to dentists in the UK and abroad, as well as in-depth therapy when it's needed; just as you do for your patients. I also offer small group CPD courses specifically for dentists on how to change your relationship with stress.
I've always loved undoing knots. I don't know why, particularly, only that I find it a peculiarly satisfying activity. The other evening, when called upon to assist my husband with a knotted shoelace, followed in quick succession by the knotted string on the top of a bag of logs, it brought the pattern into consciousness.
As a child, I always enjoyed the challenge of undoing knots - my father would pass me things to undo; a necklace of my mother's, perhaps - hopelessly tangled - or a tiny chain destined to become part of something he was making or mending. I remember I once spent a happy evening undoing the fine wire encasing a Chianti bottle, just for the joy of it.
As I thought of these things, it occurred to me that even now in my work as a therapist, this is what I do - I help people to untie the "knots of their own making" as Rainer Maria Rilke called them:
"If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead, we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused..."
Sometimes we just need somebody outside ourselves to help us see the knots are there... and then to help us to disentangle ourselves so that we might, indeed, rise up as our true, congruent self.
What actually is stress? Stress can be defined as a psychological and physiological reaction caused by a perceived lack of resources; it is also the feeling we get when something we care about is under threat, and it is actually our body's way of giving us the ability to do something about that threat. We do not get stressed about something we don’t care about – stress and meaning are, in fact, inextricably linked; our stress is a reflection of our values.
Stress is a part of life. It's vital to us - stress creates motivation and enables us to adapt to deal with new experiences. The more we can adapt our responses, the less rigid we are in our thinking. If we are very rigid in our thoughts and beliefs, so that something "has to" be a certain way, then we will find it stressful if things are not the way we want or expect them to be. The more flexible we can become in our thinking, therefore, the less negative stress we will experience and the more peaceful we will become.
Events or circumstances are not actually stressful in themselves - it is our own personal perception of the event in that moment that makes us feel stressed or not; which is why some people are stressed about certain things (going to the dentist, for example) and others are not. Stress is therefore a subjective response to a given situation. If an individual believes they cannot cope or perceives they have a lack of personal resources, then they will experience a “fight or flight” threat stress response.
When we are regularly living and working in a “fight or flight” state, our ability to cope with day to day life can become compromised and we can end up feeling overwhelmed and reacting badly in our interactions with other people. We react this way because, in that moment, we believe we have no choice in our behaviour; our resources of calm and consideration appear to have deserted us and left us with negative emotions such as anger, fear or overwhelm as our only way of being.
Understanding how our body's stress response can actually assist us to deal with the situation can be very helpful... What if stress is not actually bad for us? What if it is, in fact, a resource in itself? Stress is far more than just “fight or flight” – it is a biologically appropriate response to a given situation. Depending on the ratio of hormones our bodies produce, we actually have a variety of different stress responses, each supporting a different coping strategy.
Our three main stress responses are:
Recent research has indicated that the way we think about stress itself has an impact on our physiology. If we view stress as a completely toxic state, then everything that engenders that state becomes something to be avoided. However, if we choose to accept that there is a connection between stress and meaning, then it can help us change our mindset and increase our self-belief in our ability to cope with the challenges of life.
Instead of believing stress is bad for us, if we believe that it is our body’s way of preparing us for the challenge ahead, this has actually been shown to positively affect the physiology of the stress response; changing a “fight/flight” response into a healthier “challenge” response. In other words, research suggests that stress is only bad for us when we believe it is.
Changing the perception of the stress response from something that is harmful into something that is a positive resource could have profound implications for health and wellbeing. Whilst the everyday stressors may remain, believing the stress response to actually be beneficial to long-term health could potentially create a much reduced incidence of stress-related physical and psychological symptoms.
1. Lipton, B.H., 2008. ‘The Biology of Belief.’ USA: Hay House.
2. McGonigall, K., 2015. ‘The Upside of Stress.’ UK: Penguin Random House.
3. Crum, A.J., Salovey, P., Achor, S., 2013. ‘Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response.’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 716-33.
In our world of fast-developing technology, and the need to stay connected with friends and colleagues through texts, emails and social media, the irony is that in our face-to-face relationships with others we are becoming increasingly disconnected. The need to check messages and emails as they arrive, to scroll through social media just to "catch up with what's going on" means that time spent together is often time spent on phones and tablets, and that means we are not "together" at all. In that distraction, we are not being present with our partner or family.
In my therapy practice, I am seeing increasing numbers of clients who are experiencing "relationship issues" for one reason or another...
Relationships are not about “getting it right”, they are about connecting with another person. The most important aspect of connection is the ability to listen… when was the last time you did that? Really listened, with total presence and with no other distractions at all?
Listening is a skill we all possess; it is a natural, innate ability. However, as we grow and develop, we learn different, adapted ways of listening, which require effort.
What can happen when you just listen…? Listen with no judgement, no effort, and without trying to offer solutions. Even if the other person is in a negative place – what happens if you just be with them, and hold the space, with compassion and empathy…?
Put your phones down, people, and just be present with each other... talk to each other... and, more importantly, listen... it's the biggest gift you can offer.
For any couples who feel they would like to spend some time together to reconnect, you may like to know that I offer a very special course... Because it’s only for one couple at a time, it’s tailored for the individuals concerned, and whatever you want to get out of the day. (You may also like to know that there is absolutely no mobile signal in our training and consultation offices at 'Planet Wykeham'!)
Self-Awareness and Relationships is an experiential workshop-style day, with some bits of NLP – understanding how we think, and how we each do that differently from one another; there are also some bits from other psychotherapeutic modalities too, because the day is all about having fun as well as learning about yourselves and each other within your relationship. It’s designed to be very much a future-oriented day, rather than looking back at whatever has happened in the past – it’s all about developing connection and understanding, and creating your future together.
If you'd like to know more, just give me a call and we can have a chat to see if this is something you'd like to do together.
We have exciting news... As the seasons change, so change is taking place for us, too...
At the beginning of November, we will be moving into our beautiful new training and consultancy offices in Langley House, at Wykeham Business Centre near Scarborough. Whilst we have really enjoyed holding our courses at Wydale Hall, it will be lovely to have the flexibility of our very own space, where we can put down roots and grow. Our new offices also have wheelchair access, which is wonderful for our less mobile clients and students.
We will be arranging an "Open Day" for everyone to pop in and visit us, and maybe share a coffee or a glass of Prosecco... and we'll have more details of that in our November newsletter - if you are not already a subscriber, you can sign up on the website home page.
In the meantime, the first course in our new training room has been arranged for Monday 21st November - Mindfulness and Self-Hypnosis for Personal Change. If you would like to join us for this relaxing day, then full details are on the website. There are only six places, though, so if you would like one then please book quickly! We also have a number of other courses arranged for the winter months; full details are on the SCNLH website.
In the coming months we are hoping to organise some weekly classes in relaxation, as well as Pilates and possibly T'ai Chi - watch this space for more details.
We are really looking forward to welcoming you to our new home!
Last Thursday was haircut day... we have a wonderful, patient lady who, every four weeks, comes to the house for the morning and creates order out of chaos; leaving behind three tidy dogs and an enormous bag of fluff. (The fluff is much appreciated by the local bird population in the spring, for nest-lining purposes... I would imagine that Lhasa fluff in particular must be very cosy - it certainly all disappears very rapidly.)
For Luna, who adores being brushed and loves meeting people, the arrival of Tracy is one of unrestrained joy and excitement. Lily is slightly more circumspect, but happy to hang around as she knows there will be biscuits in the offing... Theo, however, is horrified. After joining Lily in a traditional (and noisy) Schnauzer greeting, he scurries off at high speed in order to find a hiding place where, he hopes, we will be unable to find him until after Tracy has left... under my office desk is his sanctuary of choice. If he can't see us, he reasons, there's no way we'll be able to see him.
Unfortunately for Theo, cowering behind the office chair, we somehow always manage to locate him and lift him, by now shivering piteously, onto the grooming table. Half an hour or so later, when nothing very terrible has happened to him apart from the loss of some fluff amidst lots of cuddles, he's ecstatic to receive his obligatory biscuit from Tracy and run off joyously into the garden, to forget his fears until the next time.
Our worries and stresses are subjective - it depends what we have going on inside our heads as to how we perceive, and therefore how we experience, any given situation. When we are anticipating an event, we will have an internal representation of how we think the event will be. If we are focusing on a positive outcome, then we might feel pleasure, or excitement. But if we are focusing on what might go wrong, we are effectively playing out a scary movie inside our heads, which will result in us feeling stress and anxiety, even though our anticipated scenario may be far from real, or even likely.
...and the Canine Members of Staff