Family Conflict – how to Thrive through arguments

The picture postcard view of family life is always roses round the door, laughing together in mutual admiration. But we all know that family life can usually be a hotbed of simmering anger and resentment. Relationship dynamics – husband/wife/partner, parents/children, step-relations, best friends, housemates – whatever the connections, arguing is a situation where we all find ourselves sooner or later – and it’s not pleasant.
How often do we get frustrated and angry at someone because we want to get our point across and they are simply not ‘getting it!’ Similarly, the converse is true, when someone wants us to do something, or be someone that we are not, and we do not want to change the way we are. Our desire for control is strong, yet we feel powerless to be able to change their opinions in any way – therefore we get angry.
The trouble is, when these arguments happen again and again, they soon begin to erode our own sense of self, and just make us feel paranoid, belittled, attacked. The lower our self esteem, the more these interpersonal conflicts can affect our emotional well being, our stress levels. We question ourselves, even if we don’t want to!
Equally we fear being judged by the very people who are meant to love and support us no matter what. This fear of being judged puts us on the defensive, makes us paranoid.
Thrive is a perfect programme for all the family to go through if there are issues of conflict and control. It helps families to rediscover a more natural and harmonious sense of growing together, in which limiting belief systems are quickly identified and deconstructed, to be replaced with more empowering, constructive and forward looking belief systems. However, even if your family unit was resistant to the thought of ‘Thriving’, it absolutely gives the individual a greater grasp on their own thinking and cognitive abilities, developing greater strength and power in overcoming conflict.
Look at this quote from the research paper ‘Paranoia and the Structure of Powerlessness’, Mirowsky & Ross, 1983.
“Belief in an external locus of control is a learned, generalised world view that encompasses a sense of powerlessness, strain and self-estrangement. It is learned in the course of everyday life and is the first step in the descent to paranoia. The individual who believes in external control is readily moved by events and experiences to the next step: mistrust.”
“In the case of paranoia the person senses a negative relationship with a set of persons in the social environment. The perception may be correct or it may be a delusion, although it seems likely that such a delusion has self-fulfilling tendencies (Kohn, 1973: Lemert, 1962). In either case, the perception itself is real and represents a deep alienation of the person from at least some of the people in his or her social world.”
Coming through any conflict intact is down to you creating an internal locus of control, increasing your self esteem and lowering your social anxiety.
These arguments tend to be with your nearest and dearest. Those closest to you can sometimes be your worst enemies – not in the way that they want to hurt you, but because 99% of the time they are having their own battles with limiting belief systems, distorted thinking and increasing anxiety, and we tend not to pretend all is well with those nearest to us.
When you are badly managing your thinking, your stress levels can go through the roof. The more stressed you get, the less perspective you get on a situation. You have the snow globe effect with thoughts spinning uncontrollably round and round in your mind, you get angry and frustrated. The more stressed you are, the more in the red you are, the quicker you’re going to get angry. And we all know that being angry is the worst possible state to be in when having a difficult ‘discussion’ with someone you love.
And as the research says above, your (negative) relationship becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You become hypervigilant about all the negative things that ‘could’ be said – regardless of whether or not they are said. (We’ve all had the feeling that words are put into our mouths, or the person we’re arguing with only see what he/she wants to see).
So, other than raising your self esteem, lowering your social anxiety, and developing an internal locus of control, what else can we be doing to effectively manage our thoughts during times of stress?
1. Recognise these limiting traits in the person you are arguing with, and realise that what they are saying are more a result of their own limiting beliefs, desire for control and mismanaged thinking.
2. Don’t confuse your desire for control with gaining a sense of powerfulness – they are two completely different things. Recognise that you cannot control another’s thoughts, words or actions, in the same way that they cannot control yours. However, you CAN control the way you react to others.
3. Get a copy of the Thrive Programme workbook and read the chapter on stress and anxiety to understand not just how to control yours, but rather how not to create it in the first place! The less stressed you are, the less likely a simple discussion will escalate into a full blown argument.
4. Recognise the paranoia and hypervigilance in your thinking. Remember, the more your focus on the negative, the less perspective you’ll have overall.
5. Don’t turn into a ‘significant other’. Use positive, empowering language.
6. Finally, DON’T OBSESS about what has been said in an argument. Don’t turn it over and over in the mind, ‘chewing the arse off it’. Choose to move on, and not dwell. And if the attacks on your own self esteem have been particularly virulent, then go straight back to processing your positives, to recharge that self esteem battery. This is all about building psychological resilience, and the more recharging you do, the stronger you’ll be (and ultimately less recharging will be needed in the future!).
If you feel that your relationships and family life is suffering through emotional conflict, stress and anxiety, then a course of Thrive will help the whole family to feel more in control and powerful about resolving conflict without the need for arguments. Call me (Kate) anytime on (00 9)0 544 3298466 to talk through in more detail how.

Can depression EVER be a good thing? – Hell YES!

On a wet and miserable Tuesday morning at the end of March, when the local electricity board once again failed to cope with providing power due to a smattering of the damp stuff (actually it turned out to be a nationwide power outage that lasted all day – but that’s another story), I picked up a book.
I love (proper, pages and everything) books, but do confess these days to getting distracted by the tentacles of social media a tad too much, which means my office library can look a little neglected at times. So the positive side of a power cut during the working day is that I pick up books. This particular one was a book I refer to often during my Thrive sessions – The Importance of Suffering by James Davies.
Now, I have been accused in the past (by those who neither know me, nor have taken the time to meet and talk with me) of being a happy, clappy sort who peddles false positives while putting my hands over my ears and shouting LALALA very loud so as to not see the negativity of what is going on around me.
Not a bit of it!
Rather, I advocate that emotional suffering in certain situations is a vital process in understanding, assessing and putting into context and perspective. The amount of time and effort it takes is usually directly related with how affected you are on a personal level by the issue in hand.
Grief is a clear cut example of this. In terms of ‘evolutionary psychology’ the mind can work, in time, to heal the pain of loss.
Depression is another. Depression gets a bad press. Someone ‘gets’ depression – it’s seen as the end of the world. Cue lots of caring looks… mental disorders are so misunderstood….pop these anti depressants….mask the suffering….take a month of work….
The sufferer is caught up in a cycle of negativity and fear and collusion that this ‘thing’ is going to be with him for the rest of his life.
I prefer to take a much more positive stance on depression. As James Davies cites in his book, “Depression works because it forces upon us a period of ‘introversion’ or ‘hibernation’, during which we retreat from society to confront the reasons for our suffering, and to assess what life changes we need to make in order to put things right.”
He goes on to quote psychiatrist Neil Burton who summarised:
“Just as physical pain has evolved to signal injury and prevent further injury, so depression may have evolved to remove us from distressing, damaging or futile situations. The time and space and solitude that depression affords prevents us from making rash decisions, enables us to see the bigger picture and – in the context of being a social animal – to reassess our social relationships, think about those who are significant to us, and relate to them more meaningfully and with greater understanding and compassion.” (Burton 2009:117)
So, if you are strong in mind and managing your thinking well, then a bout of depression following a traumatic event can actually be an entirely natural, therapeutic, positive process to go through.
Unfortunately modern society does not always seem to want us to follow the course of natural, evolutionary psychology. It is cheaper (for governments) and more profitable (for the pharmaceuticals) and an all round easier quick fix (for us) to medicalise depression to such an extent that it has taken on this cloak of a terrifying beast snarling at anyone that crosses its path. We fear that we may be genetically disposed to depression if we watch our parents go through it. We worry that if we get it, then it will be with us for the rest of our lives. For some it may even define us – ‘My name is X and I am a depressive!’ Pills in pretty colours with fancy names help to ‘keep us on an even keel’, anaesthetise the pain, prevent us from confronting and challenging the ugly truth of our feelings. As James Davies claims:
“Powerful curative institutions now intervene, but with clinical interventions more likely to diagnose and stigmatise our descent, rather than legitimise it as a potentially necessary human experience.”
The reason why the Thrive Programme is SO effective in helping sufferers of depression deal with their ‘illness’ is because it teaches them the mental skills to bring themselves out of it, and promotes a deeper psychological understanding that aids the creation of greater mental resilience – resilience that can comfortably cope with the lows as well as enjoying and recharging on the highs. (And I must stress here once again that the Thrive Programme is totally evidence based. If it cannot be proven, it does not get included!)
Depression can affect anyone and everyone. Often some of the most gifted and brilliant academics the world over can be prone to depression, usually because they are, by their very nature, obsessive thinkers. As Rob Kelly states in the Thrive Programme workbook, “Obsessing tends to focus all attention on a problem, reinforcing all the negatives, keeping people absorbed in their worries and in fact, increasing the feelings of being out of control.”
Rob goes on the explain how depressed people are always looking for reasons to validate their state of mind (eg my girlfriend’s just dumped me!). There is a relief in the validation because having a reason gives them a sense of control. What it does not do, though, is give them a sense of strength (resilience) in terms of pulling themselves out of depression. Rather it brings them to a dead end, at which their control over confirming and reinforcing their depressed state is matched only by their sense of powerlessness in making any changes.
Depression may seem the deepest, darkest hole you have ever tripped into. The reality is, as Thrive consultants have witnessed again and again, depression is actually one of the easiest problems to overcome.
Just six weekly sessions with me on Skype or in my beachside clinic, will equip you with the knowledge and skills to dump depression and never look back. I can’t guarantee that you won’t have miserable times in the future. I can’t prevent shit happening in your life – because it can and will. But I can give you the skills to get through them all in one piece, and continue to be the person who want to be, and know you can be – a real Thriver!

© Kate Ashley-Norman April 2015.


10,000 Hours and Counting!

Sshhhh! Don’t tell my husband, but I’ve developed a bit of a crush. A couple of weeks ago we went to my favourite Turkish store, D&R Books, where I laid my hands on the last Malcolm Gladwell book that I had not yet read – David and Goliath.
I am truly in awe of the way this man’s mind work, and how he is able to work his way round so many varied and misleading wrong turns to get to the final truthful nugget of an issue. He takes our world and looks at it from every obscure angle – angles that most people do not even know exist.
But most importantly, he does not spout fluffy, spiritual, magical nonsense which has no evidence at all to back it up. Rather he goes to the psychologists and unearths what many policy makers and money men would prefer to cover up – the real truth of what is going on.
One of my favourite ‘stories’ is from his book Outliers, where he talks about the 10,000 hour rule, based on a piece of research done psychologist K.Anders Ericsson at Berlin’s Academy of Music.
They divided the school’s violinists into three groups. The first group were the crème de la crème, with the potential to be world class performers. The second group were considered ‘good’, and the last group included those who would probably end up as music teachers. Information was then taken about the age they started playing, and the hours per week they practised.
Everyone from all three groups started playing around the same age – five years old – and initially practised for about the same amount of time – 2-3 hours per week. However, at about eight years old things began to change.
The students who would end up the best in class began to practise more than everyone else – six hours by age nine, eight hours a week by age 12, 16 hours a week by age 14, increasing until by age 20, when they were doggedly practising for well over 30 hours a week. In fact, by the age of 20, the elite performers had each totalled 10,000 hours of practice. The ‘good’ students totalled 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers totalled just over 4000 hours.
What this piece of research demonstrates is the amount of effort and dedication that is required to succeed. To be the best of the best, musicians, performers, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers – anyone and everyone – need to comply to the 10,000 hour (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more information).
Inventor Thomas Edison made several hundred attempts at designing the light bulb until he got it just right. When asked by a newspaper reporter: ‘How does it feel to have failed 700 times?’ the great inventor replied: ‘I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work’. What a fantastic example of someone processing something positively!
It was also Thomas Edison who coined the phrase: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
This all underpins my own view that in our instant gratification, results oriented society, we want and expect things to happen as close to immediately as possible. We want to know something, we Google it. We start to get anxious if someone doesn’t answer our text messages/emails/Facebook comments within minutes. We are assailed by instant make over shows which transform our homes, gardens and ourselves in 60 minutes. We’re constantly being sold dramatic weight loss programmes which promise that you’ll lose 7lbs in 7 days. We want 15 minute meals. We have 24 hour rolling news channels.
We rarely tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Or denying ourselves.
When we feel down or fed up, we want something that is immediately going to make us feel better. “Emotionally distraught people indulge their impulses because they hope that indulgence will bring pleasure that may repair their mood and dispel distress.” Tice, Bratslavsky & Baumeister, 2001.
For many of us this involves food (of usually the wrong kind!), cigarettes, a glass or three of wine. Because the result of instant gratification means that you momentarily feel better, you reinforce your belief that a particular substance has those ‘healing, magical qualities’. So next time you feel crap, you reach for those same healing, magical substances. And so begins the vicious cycle.
I can’t help thinking that someone like Malcolm Gladwell would approve of the Thrive programme – the fact that it is evidence based, the fact that it teaches people how to dig deep and develop reserves of self efficacy and resilience.
After all, we all just want to be happy. But being happy takes effort – at least 10,000 hours worth of effort, but more likely a lifetime’s worth!.
The good news is – the more we learn how to create our own happiness by putting in all this effort, the more it becomes second nature, so ultimately less effort is required. Being happy eventually becomes implicit in everything we do.

Don’t Let Your Inner ‘Twit’ Control Your Life

Let Thrive show you how to take control of your thoughts

I have recently been re-reading some of Roald Dahl’s stories with my seven year old son, and hooting at the antics of that rather repulsive couple, The Twits. I couldn’t help thinking though what kind of life Mrs Twit might have had if she had gone through a course of Thrive when she was younger.

Now Mrs Twit had a ‘fearful ugliness’. But as Dahl was quick to point out, she was not born ugly, she had actually had a nice face when she was younger. She had grown uglier the older she got, and Dahl had a very profound explanation for this. He wrote:

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

Now Mrs Twit is a particularly repulsive character being used by Dahl for comic effect, but his words are very wise and we would do well to remember them in the context of the Thrive programme. When someone walks into my office who has all the physical attributes of a successful attractive person, yet their whole body language and spoken language is negative and depressive and cloaked in failure and doom and ugliness, then I just know that their mismanaged ugly thoughts are compelling them to don their ‘ugly’, ‘shit-tinted’ spectacles. When turned onto one-self, these shit tinted glasses can have significantly negative effects on the way you feel about yourself, the way you feel about other people, and ultimately about the way you feel about life as a whole.

As we all know and experience at times, the more negative you feel about life, the more difficult it seems to extricate yourself from that downward spiral. As Lyobomirsky and Tkach (2004) so eloquently put it in their research, – “Numerous studies over the past two decades have shown that repetitive ruminations about the implications of one’s depressive symptoms actually maintains those symptoms, impairs one’s ability to solve problems, and ushers in a host of negative consequences.”

The younger, prettier Mrs Twit had so many ugly thoughts about herself and life in general, that her self esteem only allowed her to marry a man she thought she deserved – the ‘foul and smelly’ Mr Twit. And together they perpetuated each other’s ugly approach to life. Their only ‘joy’ in life was to play cruel and disgusting tricks on each other.

Poor Mrs Twit. You can only imagine how her younger, prettier self may well have once dreamed of leading a happy life. But for those caught in a whirlpool of negativity and stress and anxiety, any chance of happiness can only seem like an increasingly unattainable concept. And once on that slippery slope it is easier to just keep slipping down into a depressed and self-flagellating pool, than it is to stand tall and fight it.

And so you get caught in the vicious circle of unhappy, negative, depressive thoughts, feelings of powerlessness, feeling physically and mentally tired, anxious, stressed and unable to cope, and too weak and unmotivated to do anything about it. As a result your immune system is weakened, and opens you up to every bug and virus going. (Anybody who wants to look into the mind-body connection need just Google psychneuroimmunology, PNI).

So don’t be a Mrs Twit and let those ugly thoughts take control and ruin your life (and looks!). You can be powerful over your own thoughts, and the Thrive programme is uniquely positioned to make you understand why, and how you can take control.