7 Principles Ashtanga Taught Me About Healing Effects Of Childhood Abuse

7 Principles Ashtanga Taught Me About Healing Effects Of Childhood Abuse

Healing the Effects of Childhood Abuse

I sat in the room on the wooden floor together with about 20 other students. I did not know what to expect, my mind was restless: Why was I sitting here? Why did I have such a stupid idea? I have always been skeptical about spiritual things. I heard my late mother’s voice in my head, “You are crazy to believe in this crap.” However, I felt magically drawn to give it a try. The sun was softly shining through the windows. At the front was a small Buddha statue. The instructor stood at the front with a warm smile on her face. She said: “Welcome to Ashtanga – you have chosen the most strenuous form of Yoga, you can do.” While her message did not sound very encouraging, her energy was. I awkwardly followed her instructions.

Over the following years, my practice accompanied me throughout three countries, Germany, Spain, and Canada. I cannot tell you why I stuck with it. It just felt like the right thing to do. It transformed me. My practices helped me find important principles that supported me in my healing the effects of childhood abuse.

I am not sure where you are on your journey, but I would like to share 7 principles Ashtanga taught me about healing the effects of childhood abuse.

Principle 1: Start where you are

When I started with Ashtanga, I did not know what to expect. I had never tried Yoga before and my body felt rigid and stiff. I awkwardly moved from posture to posture. Sometimes, I needed to drag me to the studio because I felt scared of being judged. After each session, I felt a sense of inner peace I had never experienced before. If I had never started practicing, I would never have known how much I could change. If we have experienced childhood abuse, we may not know where to start and what it means to heal. Our minds may tell us to ignore our past and just move on. Social stigma may want us to stay silent forever. Let’s face it: healing is uncomfortable. However, if we never start, nothing will ever change. Instead of overthinking, take the first step and start where you are. Trust your intuition and look for healing modalities that resonate with you. Be skeptical but give it your best try.

Principle 2: Be Uncomfortable

When I started Ashtanga, I felt uncomfortable. Everything was new to me. I was scared to make a mistake. Each posture felt weird to me. Over time, I started to get more comfortable with some postures. However, the journey never ended. Practicing Ashtanga is not about doing it perfectly but become better. I came to accept that discomfort is part of growth. During our healing journey, we will not feel comfortable. While we find in environments where we feel safe and supported enough, sharing painful stories is probably always outside of our comfort zone. Growth doesn’t happen without feeling uncomfortable. If we want to develop our full potential as human beings, we need to get out of our comfort zone.

Principle 3: Be Gentle with Yourself

While Western philosophy is often based on ignoring our body and focusing on our mind, Ashtanga taught me to respect my body and be gentle with myself. While my mind sometimes wanted me to be faster or more flexible, Ashtanga taught me to be gentle with my body and respect its limits while not giving up on improving. During our healing journey, we need to learn to be gentle with ourselves. Healing cannot be forced. It happens at its own rhythm. Healing is about developing self-compassion with those parts of us that are hurt, angry or wounded. Healing the effects of childhood abuse is also about being gentle with our fears while not allowing them to overpower us.

Principle 4: Stop comparing, focus on yourself

When I started Ashtanga, I looked at the people in the room. I was wondering whether they were better than me. However, these thoughts kept me stuck and did not allow me to progress. It would have been easy to convince myself that it was not worth the effort. I decided to stop looking at others and to focus on my practice. Suddenly, I started to feel happy about the progress I made. As survivors of childhood abuse, we may feel broken. Society often gives us this ideal picture of how our childhood should have been like. I am not sure about yours, mine never was. We may look at others as if they are better than us. However, what do we know about other people’s lives? Each person has an individual burden to carry.  We are complex beings with many layers. Every one of us is work in progress. No matter what our burden is, the main question is how we can grow and become the better version of ourselves.

Principle 5: Challenge the limitation of your mind

One of the closing postures of Ashtanga is Utpluthih, a posture where you lift your body up while sitting in lotus. The first time I saw it, my mind told me that I would never be able to do it. One afternoon, I decided to challenge my mind. I sat down calmly in my living room and sat down with my legs crossed. I connected with my breath and tried to push my body up… Nothing happened. I continued breathing and focused on my core. I tried again. Suddenly, I felt a slight upward movement I never had felt before. I stayed calm and tried again… All of a sudden, it worked. I was able to lift my body from the ground. If we have experienced childhood abuse, our minds may have many negative thoughts. We may believe that we can never create a more joyful or more authentic life. Our painful and difficult experiences shape our reality and we may see everything as dark and hopeless. Nothing can change the facts about what happened to us. However, if we choose to heal, we can transform these negative perceptions, release painful emotions and learn to discern what is good for us and what is not. While the facts cannot be changed, we can transform our emotions around them.

Principle 6: The Importance of the Breath

Ashtanga Yoga uses a specific breathing technique, Ujjayi breathing. The breath builds the foundation of the practice and guides me throughout the different postures. It helps me focus on the present and be connected with myself while reducing stress and anxiety. Throughout my healing journey, I faced difficult memories and painful emotions came up. The calm voices of my fellow group members reminded me to breathe. It reminded me that I was in a safe space and allowed me to stay present in my body while facing those memories.  On our healing journey, we may experience intense emotions. Reminding us to breathe can help us to not get overwhelmed by our experience but stay present with our emotions and release them.

Principle 7: Commit to your process

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who developed Ashtanga Yoga stated that it is “99% practice, 1% theory.” While the theory is one aspect, what matters is the action. While I can read about how to do the “perfect” posture or watch endless youtube videos, I need to practice Ashtanga so that my body may ever get there. How does this relate to your own healing process? You can read about it. Maybe you know all the theories about it but nothing will change if you do not take action towards healing. Nobody else can walk this path for you. While you were not responsible for what happened to you as a child, you are the only person who can heal the effects it had on you. Nobody else can take the pain away. Nobody can walk this path for you. This doesn’t sound fair, does it? I hear you, however, I invite you to consider a different perspective. What if you could finally be free from your past? I cannot promise you how long it will take you but healing is the path that leads to freedom. How would it feel for you if you were finally free?

If you want to find freedom from the effects of childhood abuse, I am here to support you. Check out my services:

Image by Wim De graaf from Pixabay

How to Fall in Love in a Smart Way

Fall in Love in a Smart Way

Your heart is tingling when you are close to them. Your world becomes a little more vivid when you around them. Your eyes shine brightly when you see them… Do you know this feeling?

Falling in love is such a beautiful moment. However, what if this precious time is clouded by fears and doubts: What if I get rejected another time? What if I end up in a toxic relationship another time? Let’s face it: falling in love may be a difficult theme after heartbreak or betrayal. We may want to avoid it because we don’t want to repeat the pain from the past. However, if we do so, we allow fears and our past to control our live. While this can protect us from further hurt, it can limit our lives. Do you want to allow this to happen? What if we could fall in love in a smart way?

So, what options do we have to fall in love in a smart way?

Let’s be real: Not everybody we meet will be a good choice for a relationship. However, when we meet somebody we are interested in, it may also be an opportunity for creating the loving and healthy relationship we wanted for a long time. Nobody knows in the beginning how the story ends. If we don’t give it a try, we will never know what the result may be. So, how can we fall in love in a smart way? How can we avoid the pitfalls of the past? I don’t know which pitfalls you experienced in your life, but I had my share of them. While they were painful, they also taught me to look for a different way on how to fall in love. Here some ideas that I’d like to share with you.

Take it Slow

Getting to know a person takes time. If we have met them three times, we might have butterflies in the stomach, but it does not say if we are compatible. People are complex individuals with their individual experiences, their strengths, and weaknesses. If you want to create a healthy relationship, you need to be able to accept your partner as they are. Don’t force yourself to make decisions if you don’t have enough understanding of your partner. Take your time to get to know them. Make a conscious decision whether you want to have a relationship with this person taking into account all aspects of their personality. Don’t fall into the trap to hope that people will change. Look at them and ask yourself whether they are compatible with you as they are right now.

Understand yourself

Not every person we meet will be compatible with us. The better we know ourselves and the better we can communicate it, the more likely we can see whether the other individual is a good match. Know your values, what you can accept in a relationship and what is not acceptable. Talk about it. Understand your needs and communicate them. If your possible partner is not compatible with you, your relationship has not really a good prospect in the long run. It will save you a lot of time and unnecessary heartbreak.

Be yourself

When we are interested in somebody, we may want to only show our best sides and hide those aspects of us we consider socially unacceptable. However, a healthy relationship needs authenticity and vulnerability. While revealing yourself is a process, you need to show your possible partner who you are over time. It allows them to see you and to make a choice they agree with. If somebody doesn’t want to be with you when you are authentic, they are not a good match in the first place.

Let Go of Control

Falling in love again is an insecure moment. While we might hope that everything works out for the best, there is a risk that it won’t. We cannot control if the other person will return our interest. We also cannot control whether they might commit to us. Focus on what you can control: Yourself. Be yourself in the relationship. Be curious about the process of getting to know the other person, but don’t get obsessed about the possible outcome. Stay present in what is going on for you in the relationship. Remind yourself that you cannot make anybody love you. Have the courage to let go of the person if they don’t return your love.

Check your assumptions

When we fall in love, we may assume that our love interest shares our hopes and dreams. We may think that the words we use mean the same for them. However, each individual is different and has their unique perspective of the world. Create awareness about the assumptions you make about your partner. Be aware that you do not know whether they are true. When I was younger, I used to assume that people had the same dream about a relationship I had. However, I learned that this is not true. Each person had individual desires concerning love and relationships. Don’t take it for granted that your partner sees the world as you do it. Ask your partner questions to clarify the level of truth in your assumptions. Talk about your differences and seek to understand your partner’s world.

Respect Yourself

It is easy to get carried away if we meet a new love interest. We may want to please them, we may want to be there for them, and we may not want to disappoint them. Therefore, we may ignore our boundaries or give more than we should do. However, the initial phase sets the stage for the future. If you want to fall in love in a smart way, you need to respect yourself and set healthy boundaries. If they respect them, it is great. If they ignore them or get angry with you, this might be a warning sign. If your love interest is violating your boundaries, attacking your dignity or ignoring your most profound principles or values, you are better off without them.

Balance

While we may want to spend every free moment with our new love, it is important that we need to balance intimacy and autonomy. If we want to create a healthy foundation for a relationship, we need to love for our partner while loving for ourselves. Don’t put your partner first. It is essential that you have space for yourself, that you continue with your personal or spiritual goals and follow professional and personal goals outside of the relationship. If this balancing is lacking, we are likely to end up in a dependency. In this case, take a step back, self-reflect and evaluate how you can transform the patterns so that you can put yourself first.

Creating a new and healthy relationship is not about needing the other person; it is about consciously choosing to be with the other person. I hope that they give you some inspirations to fall in love in a smart way. If you notice that you need them, you might need to deepen your own healing work. Hope for the best but don’t be too attached to the outcome or the thought that “they must be the one.” Trust and follow your inner voice. It is the best compass to guide you in a direction that is good for you. I wish you all the best on your journey to fall in love in a smart way.

If you want to find new love, check out my e-program Your Vision of a Healthy and Joyful Relationship.

If you want to deepen your healing journey, check out my services. I am happy to collaborate with you.

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Pathways to Healing for Survivors of Childhood Abuse

Pathways to Healing

When I started my healing journey, I often had doubts about whether healing was possible. Social stigma told me that I was forever broken and deterministic worldviews imposed on me that I would never recover. Most research I read told me what was wrong with me but did not tell me how I could change it. While these voices left me hopeless, I also found true stories from people who had recovered. I also read books by experts who believed that recovery was possible. Those voices inspired me to go through my healing journey. Overtime, I found my individual pathways to healing.

I guess there will always be some people who don’t believe in healing for  whatever reason. However, full recovery is possible, even if each healing journey is unique and different. Some methods will work for you, while others won’t. Unfortunately, there is not the only methodology that will solve all your problems. It does not exist. While it is frustrating if things don’t work out, it doesn’t mean that you are a hopeless case. There are many pathways to healing. It just means that it wasn’t the right tool or professional for you, and it is time to look for a new one.

Here are some pathways to healing that you may find beneficial for your healing journey as an adult survivor of childhood abuse:

Owning your story

The first step to overcoming negative childhood experiences is to acknowledge what happened to you and making sense of how the past influences the present. It includes that you explore your childhood experiences with curiosity and that you reflect how they influence your current experience Based on your reflections, you work on breaking those patterns. Furthermore, it means that you explore which unconscious decisions you made concerning survival in this work.

Healthily connecting with your emotions

Healing doesn’t mean that the facts change. For example, if you have experienced sexual violence, it has happened to you. Healing means that you own the emotions related to the incident, work through and release them. Since we often learned as children to numb our emotions since we weren’t equipped to deal with them, we need to learn as adults to connect with them again. This process takes time and you will find your rhythm to go through it.

Become a loving adult for your inner child

Inner child work is a loving concept to nurture those parts of us that were hurt by childhood abuse. The more we can create a compassionate and honest relationship with our disowned parts, the more we will connect to others meaningfully. It may help us to heal painful emotions due to abandonment and rejection. Inner child work can be an important foundation for your healing journey because it allows you to understand the impact your experiences as a child had on your past and present and to make peace with it.

Meditation

There are many different meditation styles available: Zen meditation can help you to improve your relationships and create self-awareness. Mindfulness has proven to improve our attachment styles. As survivors of childhood abuse, we may have insecure attachment styles that influence our relationships in a negative way. Mindfulness together with therapy can help you to transform your relationship style and create an earned secure attachment style as an adult.

When we are faced with unprocessed childhood experiences, it often may appear very overwhelming to deal with them. However, healing does not mean that you need to rush through the process or force it to happen. It means that you learn new skills that you can work through those experiences in a safe space and confront them when you are ready for this. You do not have to do this alone, counselling will help you to work through it. While healing might be an uncomfortable process, it will help you to transform your life.

Find out what services are available for you.

 

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

Tom Robbins

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Don’t Let Them Steal Your Joy

Toxic Behaviour

5 Strategies to Respond to Toxic Behaviour

People with toxic behaviour are difficult to handle. I had my fair share of them. How about you? Toxic relationships influence our well-being and reduce our sense of joy. We feel confused or irritated. Maybe we feel completely overpowered, hopeless and hurt. I am not sure about you but I felt all those emotions. I felt stuck and powerless.

You cannot change toxic behaviour; You can change your response

Unfortunately, we cannot change other people’s actions, no matter how unjust or unhealthy it is. Only they can change it if they are willing to do so. While we cannot influence their behaviour, we can influence our responses. The toxic relationships that I experienced in my life taught me an important lesson about self-love, self-acceptance, and empowerment. Just to make it very clear: I am not saying that you are responsible for the toxic behaviour in any way but you cannot control how a person treats you. Their toxic actions are their responsibility; you can only control how you respond to it.

Unfortunately, we do not live in the ideal world. There are people in our society who behave in a toxic way. Sometimes, those people are our beloved family members, partners, or friends. We don’t want to lose them but we also don’t want to allow them to overpower us.

So, how can we be around them and not allow them to steal our joy?

I invite you to experiment with the following suggestions:

Put some distance

If a person has toxic relationship behaviours, you might feel as you are inside of a dark cloud. You may feel very confused. The longer you stay in this toxic cycle, the more likely you are to lose self-esteem and confidence. Put some distance between you and the person with unhealthy relationship behaviours: maybe you limit the number of phone calls, or you define some topics you will not talk about with this person. If you live with them, you may go for walks alone or take a weekend trip alone. Distance will help you to increase your clarity and work through your emotions.

Find an ally

If you are in a toxic relationship, it is important that you find allies with who you can talk about it. This individual can be a friend, a colleague, or maybe even a counsellor. Make sure that your ally is a person who knows what toxic relationship dynamics are. The person needs to be able to help you to identify and acknowledge the unhealthy relationship behaviours. A person who finds excuses for toxic behaviours doesn’t qualify as an ally. Talking about the behaviours and your emotions will support you in your journey of self-empowerment.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries protect your dignity and your emotional well-being. An individual with toxic behaviours needs firm boundaries or they will exploit you. Start with small steps. Don’t tackle the most difficult topic first. Ask yourself the following questions: what do you need to say no to? What behaviours do you need to say stop to?  What discussions do you need to agree to disagree? Setting healthy boundaries is a journey of self-exploration. The better you get to know yourself, the easier it is to set healthy boundaries.

Take Self-Care

Being around an individual with toxic behaviour is difficult. It affects our mental and emotional well-being. Therefore, it is important that you take self-care to reduce the effect of the manipulative behaviours. Ask yourself what activities you enjoy doing. Do them regularly. Start journaling about your emotions. Take care of your body and do some physical activities that you enjoy. Explore your spiritual site even though you may never have done it before.

Get to Know Your Unmet Needs

Usually, it is hard to get our needs met if we are in a toxic relationship. However, talking about your needs can give you clarity about what your partner is willing to change or not. Ask yourself about the needs you do not get met and what concrete action you need from your partner. Prioritize your list and identify those that are non-negotiable for you. Communicate the need and request to your partner if they are willing to do it. If they agree, it could be a sign that they are willing to change. If they disagree with your requests, it could be a sign that this relationship just won’t work for you. This clarity can be a good foundation for you if you face a decision about staying or leaving a relationship. In the end, you have a right to choose relationships that are good for you.

After reading this article, I am curious what action you choose to start today. If you do not take action, nothing will ever change. If you need any support, I am happy to be there for you.

Find out more about how I can help you.

You can download a needs inventory from the Centre for Non-Violent Communication.

Photo by Emerson Peters on Unsplash

Protection From Emotionally Abusive Behaviour

Have you ever had a landlord with emotionally abusive behaviour? Unfortunately, I met one a couple of years ago. Let me tell you my story:

The banging at my door was loud and aggressive. I was alone in my apartment. My roommate had just left. They knew that I was at home. I had no chance but to open the door. My landlord’s face was red, his wife was right behind him. He yelled at me right away, “Here is your written notice. I will get into your apartment now.” He pushed the paper onto my chest with so much force that I was thrust aside.

I tried to resist and told him that the law required a 24-hour written notice. Therefore, he would be able to enter the next day. His face turned dark red, “You do not have any rights. You are not even Canadian.” His wife who stood behind him threw her arms in the air and also yelled at me.

My intuition told me that there was a risk that he would be physically violent if I did not allow them in. I did not know anybody in this area. I had moved into this apartment just four months ago. I did not have my phone to call the police. I took a step back. They rushed into the apartment, constantly yelling. I cannot remember what they told me. I just tried to go through the situation without having it escalating.

After my landlord and his wife left, I phoned the only friend I had in Canada. This time, I was in tears. I felt horrified. I had just moved to Canada and this situation was not really what I had hoped for. She calmed me down and suggested to file a complaint with the tenants association, which I did.

The next day, I started to look for a new apartment. It had not been the first incident with my landlord and his wife. I had seen red flags before that day. I had addressed those issues with them. However, while they had verbally promised me to change, their actions demonstrated the opposite. They repeatedly ignored the boundaries that I had communicated. This environment was toxic for me and I did not want to stay there.

The day my landlord received the complaint, my roommate texted me that he had gone crazy. When I got home, I heard an incredible noise. The walls of the house were shaking. It felt as if he was throwing bowling balls onto the floor of the apartment above. We had a sense that the ceiling would be breaking. My roommate told me to phone the police. When they came they talked to my landlord but they also said that they could not do anything because it was his house. If he was invading our apartment, we should phone them again.

We spent that night in my roommate’s room. I feared that my landlord would come down into our room with a gun. The staircase that connected our apartments did not have a door. I wondered if I would be able to phone the police if he would really do this. I held a golf club in one hand and my phone in the other. The next morning, I packed my three cats into their crate and we moved out.

My roommate later stated that she would just have endured in this situation. I guess that I would have stayed longer when I was younger. In my late twenties, I was not able to recognize emotionally abusive behaviour and stayed in situations that were toxic. It was related to the fact that I grew up in a dysfunctional family and did not know where my boundaries were. During my healing journey, I re-created healthy boundaries. Emotionally abusive behaviour violates my boundaries and is damaging to my well-being. I believe it is an act of self-love to leave toxic situations. While I cannot influence how people treat me, I am responsible to respect my boundaries and take care of my safety.

If you struggle with setting boundaries or taking care of your safety, you are not alone. Growing up in a dysfunctional family or experiencing childhood abuse reduces our ability to have healthy boundaries. Therefore, we may consciously or unconsciously tolerate behaviours that aren’t healthy for us. However, you can choose to change this. Through counselling, you can recover and learn to set healthy boundaries. As a result, you will experience a higher level of personal fulfillment and joy.

Find out how counselling can help you.

Photo by Vitaliy Paykov on Unsplash

Gender is a Social Construct

Gender Identity

How do you relate with your gender identity?

I sat in the workshop. The instructor said, “Let’s do an icebreaker exercise. Everybody gets a card with a color and, then you just connect with whoever you feel drawn to without talking.” I saw the cards – red, blue, green. They looked so beautiful. I love the colors. The facilitator came to me. They gave me a pink card. I looked at this pink card in my hand and thought, Shit, pink again. Why did I receive this stupid pink card out of all the colors they had in their hand? I felt lost. This card represented to me the one concept I had never understood: how to be a woman. Don’t get me wrong, I have a female body but the complete concept of being a woman has never made sense to me.

To which extent is gender socially conditioned?

As a child, I had short hair and loved to play with cars. When puberty came, people suddenly started to label me based on gender. I felt shocked because I did not know what it meant. “Woman” or “girl” was just a word to me, even though society told me that I was supposed to be a woman. In my inner world, I did not connect with gender. I guess people always sensed that I was different: when I worked for a mobile network operator, my (male) colleagues usually had cell phones “just for women” in their portfolio. After four years of collaboration, one of my colleagues told me that they had never asked me to select one because I just was not a “typical woman.” I knew that I would have been the wrong person to ask.

Do you fit into the stereotype society imposes on you?

The older I grew, the more I collided with society and the meaning of being a woman. Once, I went to a workshop about my Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality type. The facilitator asked us to position ourselves on the quadrant that best described us. I found my place and was perfectly happy with it. She looked at me and called out that I was too male to be a woman. I felt confused because I did not know what she meant. However, I understood that there was something wrong with me. I started to doubt myself. That day, I gave in to the pressure of society. I had to find out what it meant to be a woman.

Part of the journey to find yourself: Find out who you are not

I connected with my intuition. My hope was that I would become a woman this way. However, I found out that intuition has nothing to do with gender. We are all intuitive. We just need to choose to connect and listen to it. So, it did not really work for me. I did spiritual meditations to connect with my feminine side. They did not really change anything. I expressed my gender confusion and concerns to my counsellor. She brushed them off. I read the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” because it seemed to be the perfect choice to explain to me what gender means. I felt completely confused by it because I could not make sense out of it. My inner world concerning gender just did not seem to fit into the two boxes. I threw the book away. The more I tried to explore what it meant to be a woman, the more lost I felt.

Allow yourself to be who you are

The last partner I dated explained me his version what it means to be a man and a woman. It was a confusing, evolutionary story about the times when human beings were still living in caves. While he passionately explained his theory, I sometimes wondered why he was holding on to such a limited narrative and how it related to modern life. When he broke up with me, I decided to stop trying to be a woman and to allow myself to just be myself.

Gender is a social construct

One day, I gained the insight I had been missing for many years. I learned that gender was a social construct and that sex we are assigned at birth can be different to our gender identity. My life suddenly made perfect sense. I just did not identify as a woman. I was gender queer and I never questioned my gender identity again. Gender just does not exist for me. I felt relieved.

Explore your gender identity

While we live in a world that is still shaped by being a “man”  or “woman,” there is also an increasing awareness that our gender identities are more diverse. We also need to be mindful that the labels we carry represent a social stereotype and may limit is if we do not fit into its box. There is a difference between our social conditioning and who we truly are. Part of our life’s journey is to overcome the limitations society imposes on us and find out who we truly are, independent of our gender identity. Every person has their individual meaning for their gender identity and they need to explore it. The beauty of life is that we are all unique and different and my hope is that we all learn to respect each other for our diversity and embrace it.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Find out about my online services for queer people.

Learn more about gender identity.

Laura Ockel

How to Find a Good Counsellor

How to find a good counsellor, this question was constantly on my mind when I first started my healing journey. In the beginning, I did not really know what to look for. Furthermore, I felt afraid of judgment and stigmatization.

How about you? What are your fears?

My first experience was difficult:

I sat in my psychologist’s office and said, Well, for me, it is over now. I have already packed up the stuff he had in my apartment and sent it back to him. Dr. Mueller looked at me with cool eyes and said, You are complicated. You will always find complicated men. I looked at her. Her words broke my heart. She was the psychologist. She was the authority. If she said it, it must be true. I asked her what I had to do because I truly wanted to heal. She told me that I could not leave my partner. I had to stay.

Until today, I have no clue why she made this assumption. I continued staying in an unhealthy relationship that wasn’t good for me because I thought it would help me grow. It never did.

What is your experience of how to find a good counsellor?

While this therapeutic relationship was painful, it also showed me what a good counsellor shouldn’t do. It was an important lesson to learn. I continued looking for a good counsellor to support me. Later on, I found them while I let go of those professionals who weren’t good for me.

So, how to find a good counsellor?

Unfortunately, there is no simple rule. I cannot tell you that it depended on their degree, their education or their professional association. However, there were certain qualities that made our therapeutic relationship beneficial for my healing journey. Here are some guidelines you can consider concerning how to find a good counsellor:

They don’t judge, make dismissive comments or discount your feelings or experiences

The counsellors who supported my healing journey did not judge me or stigmatize me. I never sensed that they looked down on me because I was a survivor of childhood abuse. They were not shocked by my story but responded with empathy and compassion. I felt as if they provided me with a safe space where I was able to show my deepest pain.

They have the courage to be with you in your darkness until you come out of it

Working through painful emotions is part of healing. A good counsellor is comfortable being with these difficult emotions. I always felt accompanied by my counsellors, no matter how much pain I felt. I never heard phrases like “just get over it.” They never brushed me off. They were there for me and they trusted that I would eventually find my way out of my darkness.

They leverage the power differential

Counsellors have a position of power, but how they use this power makes a difference. Good counsellors actively manage the power differential so that they do not abuse their power. In the collaboration with good counsellors, I felt like I was the expert of my life while they were the expert in healing. Unfortunately, we also do not live in a perfect world. Discrimination and oppression exist. Often, it is hard to put a finger on it. A good counsellor takes into consideration the social context that might influence the relationship with a client. They also leverage their privilege so that the dynamics of oppression do not continue in the therapeutic relationship. They are able to listen to stories about discrimination and open to feedback by their clients. They believe you.

They support you to find your answers within yourself

Good counsellors never gave me advice or told me what to do. While they encouraged me to experiment, they also trusted me when something did not work for me. It was a creative process that always respected my needs and helped me to connect with my inner voice and find my answers within myself.

I hope that these guidelines support you in finding a good counsellor. Last but not least, trust your gut. If you have a counsellor and you do not feel comfortable, safe or heard, they may not be the person for you.

Do you want to learn more about my programs? Check out my offers.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

4 Refreshing Perspectives of Success

Success

We were in the kitchen, preparing dinner. I just had met my date a couple of weeks ago and I was curious to get to him better. I asked him what he wanted people to say about him about his life. He looked at me and said, he made lots of money. I felt surprised because it did not really fit into my definition of success. Was money really everything? I asked him how the money would serve him after he was dead. He never answered this question.

Is money really the only measure of success?

Looking at my family of origin, money, and possession was the only measure of success. Society was a direct mirror of my family: the bigger the house or car, the more successful you were. It was a simple formula. I started doubting this model when my mother died of cancer when I was 19. She was just 50 years old. She died with regrets. Her greatest one was that she never had a loving relationship with her husband. She only knew dysfunctional relationships. I often asked myself how painful it must have been to die without ever having had a satisfactory relationship with a loving partner. My mother’s death was full of suffering. My mother’s agony made me re-consider the definition of success I had learned at home.

What have you learned about success? How well does it serve you?

Over the years, I created my own definition of success. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad with having a successful career or having financial success, but it is not everything. Success consists of more than just finances. We need to dig deeper and ask ourselves how we define success for ourselves.

For myself, I have defined four important elements that create my success.

Success means having healthy and mutually respectful relationships

The quality of my relationships defines the level of success I have achieved in my life. My relationships are mutually supportive and nurturing. I have friends on who I can rely on and vice versa. I am not saying that it is an easy journey to find people like this but I am deeply grateful that they are part of my life. How about you? What means the quality of your relationships to you?

Success means being true to myself

I guess most of us have aspects of us that collide with the stereotypes of society, where we do not fit in. At least, I had. In these moments, we have the choice to either give in to the pressure of society or to have the courage to be how we really are. While it seems tempting to try to fit in, we pay a price for it because fitting in is not the same as belonging. We can only find belonging if we show up as we are. Being true to myself may not be always comfortable but it is empowering and, ultimately, the only way that I can feel proud about myself and see myself as a success.

Success means listening to my heart and following my dreams

I guess most of us have our dreams and we can choose to follow them or not. Following my dreams means to take risks because I never know how it will turn out. Sometimes, it is a rocky journey because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me in ways that I would have never imagined. Following my dreams is the most beautiful journey I have ever embarked on. Overcoming obstacles, growing as a person, and not giving up is the road to success.

Success means to have grown and healed myself

I am not sure whether there is anybody who did not receive some emotional bruises in their childhood. Maybe there are some lucky ones out there, but I have not yet met them. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I had my share of childhood wounds that needed healing. As adults, we have a choice whether we look at our childhood and heal our past or whether we repeat unconsciously unhealthy patterns. Healing may sound scary and, often, it is an unknown path, but it is our only option to break free from our past and any unhealthy conditioning we have received. And I think that the result is worth the effort.

I do not know whether any of these options resonates with you. I cannot tell you how you should define success. However, I hope that you start to create your own definition of success so that you know your direction in life.

How about starting your definition of success today?

Do you want to learn more? Check out the free ebook “7 Magical Principles to Find Happiness.”

Photo by Madhu Shesharam on Unsplash

Three Essential Lessons about Suicide

suicide

Outside my room, the sun was shining. In the distance, I heard the voices of children who were playing. Inside my room, I sat on the floor in my room. The outside world was hidden behind a gray veil. I just could not continue living with this pain anymore. It was unbearable. I had a knife. I knew how to cut my wrist. Time passed by endlessly slow. Life did not matter anymore. I did not want to live anymore. I faced my dark night of the soul – I wanted to die by suicide.

The ringing of the phone penetrated the heavy silence in my room. I could not answer. I could not move. How are you? How about going for a walk one day? I heard my friend’s voice on my voice box. His voice sounded genuine. He sounded caring. The phone call evoked a spark of doubt. Was suicide really the only option? Was there maybe somebody who cared for me? It took me another night until I decided that I would give it a try. Maybe another life was possible? Maybe there was a reason for living? I did not know but I wanted to find it out. As a result, I returned his call and we went for many walks together. My life started to change in tiny steps over the following years.

I learned the following lessons about suicide:

Suicide is associated with tormenting pain.

I became suicidal because I felt an excruciated pain in my soul as a result of the abuse I had experienced as a child. I do not know whether you have experienced abuse or not, but I felt a tremendous pain while having to accept the dark truth of my childhood. It wasn’t a question of being weak or strong, I just did not know how to be alive while feeling this incredible pain. Dr. Edwin Shneidman described it with the very accurate term “psychache” (Dozois, 2015). Have you ever felt a pain like this? I certainly have and, luckily enough, I was able to transform it over the years. However, I still do not know how profound other people experience their pain and how detrimental it is for them. Therefore, I do not judge them.

Stigma propels suicide.

I went to work every morning, and nobody had a clue what was going on within me. It was impossible for me to talk to them. Stigma made it impossible to reach out for them because it shamed me. As a result, my voice was silent and I could not see any option to get for help. However, no matter how much stigma blamed me, it did not change my suicidal ideations. It rather pushed me towards it by disconnecting me from people.

Real connection keeps alive.

People who searched for a true connection with me kept me alive. They didn’t judge, they did not look down on me, and they did not tell me what I was supposed to feel. They showed genuine care and I felt their empathy. These connections helped me discover a reason for living and find the strength within me to face my pain. I don’t know if I were alive today without my friend’s phone call. He taught me that the best suicide prevention is a genuine connection.

Supporting somebody who is thinking about suicide

Years later, I became the emergency contact for a friend who lived with depression and was thinking about suicide. When her symptoms worsened, she used to ask me whether I would take care of her cat if she were to die. When I heard this warning sign, I asked her whether she was thinking about suicide. We talked about suicide. She explained her plans. She expressed her her pain. I felt with her and told her that I cared for and that I was concerned about her. I encouraged her to ask for professional help. It wasn’t an easy journey. There was no fast track solution.

At times, I felt scared that I would receive a message that she had died by suicide. I knew I could be there for her, but, ultimately, I couldn’t save her. I knew enough people who had died by suicide – my grandfather was among them. The line between life and death is fragile. After several months, my friend got help and recovered.

Talking about suicide

Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about, and it is easier to deny it. It is hard to face the reality that people we love are thinking about suicide. However, denial, stigma and silence will not make suicide go away. As a community, we need to challenge stigma. We can shame people who are suicidal or we can be there for them. Everybody has the choice to give empathy and compassion to people who are thinking about suicide. The only question is which choice we make. It is essential that we talk about it, even if we do not feel comfortable doing so. The more we can give people a safe space to share their suicide story, the better we can support them. This way each one of us can make a difference.

I have initiated the community development initiative “Let’s Talk About Suicide.” Our vision is to create a community that is free of stigma.

Do you want to join us?

Join us today and get the latest updates about our events. Take action towards creating a community that is free of stigma.

Sign up below:

Do you need help concerning suicide?

If you are currently thinking about suicide or if you want to support somebody who is thinking about suicide, please reach out for help. The following web page gives you an overview about the local crisis centres all over Canada:

Crisis Services Canada

Do you have more questions?

I would love to hear from you. Please send me a message.

 

References

Dozois, D. J. A. (2015). Abnormal Psychology. Don Mills, ON: Pearson Canada Inc.

Do You Know What Freedom Is?

On a warm night in September when I was just 19 my mother died after a life-long battle with cancer. I woke up and I knew that she was gone. I walked down the stairs. My stepfather had locked the house, and hid the telephone. He told me that I could stay but only if I behaved the way he wanted me to.

I somehow managed to phone my sister. The moment she came, my stepfather was on top of her, trying to beat her to death. I froze. Please don’t let this be my family. We escaped. I stood outside of the fence. The police came and said that they don’t intervene in family affairs. My mother’s doctor came. She said that my mother was finally free. I had no clue what she meant. I only knew sadness and violence. By the energy of her words I had a sense that freedom must be something wonderful. That day, I grabbed a bag and left. I promised myself to find freedom… Over the years I have found it.

For me, freedom has three essential components:

Freedom is choosing something different

My family was shaped by hatred, blame, discrimination, and violence. My parents never took responsibility for their behaviour or to heal their pain…. They were never happy.

I chose something different – I learned to trust – I chose to heal myself.

Today I know that no matter what happens to me, I have choices: I either allow it to destroy me or to make me a better person.

Freedom is standing-up for myself

I made a career change. I became a counsellor. One day I attended a large training for one hundred therapists and social workers. All was silent. In front, next to a therapist, a client sat with her head down. She sat next to the therapist, her head down.

The therapist asked: “What were the incidents in your family?” She replied: Sexual abuse and violence. Her voice broke. A shocked murmur spread.

I shrugged. For how many years had I felt stigmatized by the generic judgment of being a hopeless case? For how long had I allowed other people’s opinion to define my worthiness? … My answer was, for too long. I looked at her and ask myself: How does this murmur make her feel? She shrank in her seat. She was a picture of myself years ago.

Suddenly, the counsellor next to me said: “Poor thing, she’ll never recover.” I opened my mouth, and I wanted to tell her, it is possible to heal, but I didn’t find the words to tell it to her. I felt like a failure. I felt like I betrayed the woman on the chair.

That day I decided to write my memoir. I wrote it for the woman in the chair. It is my way to tell her that she is not alone. It is my way to tell her that I disagree with my colleagues. It is my way to express my hope that, one day, we will live in a world where people can share their stories without being judged.

Freedom is following my dreams

My dream has always been to create a sanctuary for cats that are different. When I was volunteering at a colony for feral cats in Barcelona, a shipbuilder brought a little box. Inside the box, I saw a kitten with two huge bandages around the back and another helper at the colony said he would die that night. I brought him to a vet. He said that it would be a miracle if the kitten were to survive. I called him Angel, visited him in the clinic and gave him Reiki. I told him that he had a home with me if he wanted to live without back legs. Five weeks later, I brought Angel home. Today, he runs and fights just like any other cat.

Living in Canada has always been my secret dream. In 2013, I arrived at the Vancouver airport with one suitcase and my three cats.

My dreams have always been the fuel to overcome my fears and search for freedom. Freedom means to choose something different, to stand up for myself and to follow my dreams.

I hope you find your version of freedom as I have found mine.

Thich Nhat Hanh said:

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice…”

Learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh and his Mindfulness Practice Center Plum Village.