Sunday, May 29, 2011

blog break


I'm taking a blog break, and hope to be back mid to late June when I'll be at the 'Happiness and its Causes' conference in Brisbane. I hope to see you here when I return, full of interesting research into the brain and how we construct our own happiness.

till then


Tweed Heads. NSW.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The End Of The World !s Nigh!

Today's post is over at JumpingAground here

Looking for the end of the world. Cape Schanck. Victoria

Monday, May 23, 2011

Breathe with awareness

I've been dipping into "The Happiness Trap" by Dr Russ Harris, and I'd like to share a couple of paragraphs about the importance of breathing. It sounds odd doesn't it; but as I said the other day, breathing with awareness can assist beneficially in all sorts of difficult situations.

Russ is talking about a client whose husband and child died in a car crash and how waves of sadness wash over her which trigger a strong desire to drink heavily. She eventually finds that remembering to take even one deep breath can make a difference. "It gave her a few precious seconds to realise what was happening. Then she could make a conscious choice as to whether or not she would act on that urge."

Sometimes she still chose to drink heavily, but over time, she found that by remembering to be aware of her breathing, she was able to make more decisions to drink less (which she knew wasn't helping her recover). Eventually the desire had less control over her, and she felt more in control of her life. She was still extremely sad, but not overwhelmed and out of control with heavy drinking.

Further on he talks about what to do when you're in a crisis.

"No matter how bad the situation you're in, no matter how much pain you may be suffering, start by taking a few deep breaths. If you're breathing, you know you're alive. And as long as you're alive, there's hope. Taking a few breaths in the midst of a crisis gives you valuable time to get present, to notice what's happening and how you're responding and to think about what effective action you can take. Sometimes there is no immediate action to take. In this case, being present and accepting what you are feeling is the most effective action."

I suspect that many people who are suffering from PTSD can relate to the situation above. I really like the last two sentences; "Sometimes there is no immediate action to take. In this case, being present and accepting what you are feeling is the most effective action." It sounds simple, but it may not be easy.

Tidal River. Wilsons Promontory. Victoria.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Another step. Recovering from bullying.

Last month I looked different aspects of bullying; I’ve now moved on to looking at the recovery process. If you’ve been the target of serial bullying, you’ll understand the challenges involved in coming to terms with what’s happened and learning to live and breathe freely again.

Not long ago someone said to me, that even after having been out of the bullying environment for over a year, it seems almost impossible not to get caught up in thoughts like “If only…” “What if…” “Why didn’t I…” “How did it come to this?” “What did I do wrong?” and other similar comments, even though it is clearly evident they’re serving no useful purpose at all.

What seems to regularly happen, is that after becoming aware of this destructive rehashing, the target begins berating themselves with negative comments along the lines of “You’re useless, you know this isn’t helping”, “Why are you being so mean to yourself, why don’t you go for a walk…it’s because you’re not only useless, but lazy” on and on. As I said the other day, it’s a real double whammy.

This person’s mind is so used to following the well-worn unhappy paths, that it takes committed and conscious discipline not to fall into this self destructive habit. You're learning to nip it in the bud as soon as you become aware of it happening.

The path to the familiar story of the past can be easy to take. It’s a well worn track, and while you’re busy doing something mundane, you suddenly become aware that the old hurts and painful episodes are playing out again, and again, and again.

Sometimes I think of it like a virulent ‘earworm’. You know, one of those ghastly songs that as soon as you hear the title or melody, you can’t escape it, and it plays for days and days ‘till you all but scream “Get out of my head and leave me in peace.”

But much worse.

Is it helping?

If yes, read no further!

If not, are you able to pause for a moment as soon as you become aware of what’s happening?

A bit like we talked about the other day. Just pause. That’s all for the moment.

The next bit seems to be tricky. It’s just letting all the crap and hurt just be there without putting a value judgement on it, without the shoulds and oughts kicking in automatically. Can you make space for it, give the prickliness of it a little room?

The idea is to begin breaking the old familiar habit and take one tiny step in the long process of choosing and consolidating a new habit. I don’t pretend it’s easy. In a sense it’s a bit like forging a new track through uncharted territory where there appears to be impenetrable jungle full of all sorts of tricky obstacles. Our brains seem to skitter towards the familiar path, even if it’s hurtful.

What’s happening is that when you’re fighting the painful, intrusive thoughts constantly, and pushing them away fearfully, (because they hurt so much) the pathway to them seems to get stronger.

This old path is clear and direct. It’s so well worn from the countless times it’s been travelled that the sides are up high, way over your head and it’s difficult to see over them to what is around outside. To choose to deviate involves conscious effort, slipping and sliding, clutching at the steep sides, scrabbling up and over, but then and only then is it possible to see that being on this track was preventing you from seeing other options.

And so, one step.

Just one.

When the painful thoughts intrude; pause; breathe deeply, three times if possible, stretch tall.

That’s it.

I wonder how many times each day you can do this. 5, 10, 50 or more? Does it help?

There's a bit more on the recovery process here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Recovery from bullying - learning new patterns

If you’re on the healing journey after surviving serial bullying one thing you can be sure of, the road could well be rocky.

You’re possibly feeling vulnerable and nervous about rejoining the workforce. You may be thinking, “If it’s happened before, it can happen again”, you may be annoyed with yourself for being "weak" in not standing up to the bully (there's some information on how we can bully ourselves here), and feel fearful. For some there will have been the workplace bullying AND self bullying – as if one alone wasn’t enough, you’re contending with a double whammy.

Basically you’re a nice person who got stung badly. You’ll remain a nice person but ideally learn a few skills to help prevent it happening again. Your character will remain attractive to the bullies in the world, simply because you have qualities they fear/envy/or whatever their motivation is. (Information about what bullies look for in Why me?)

What I'm offering here is not a one size fits all suggestion, but one tool to add to your toolkit that might be useful in some instances.

One of the things that many people have said to me is that they have an automatic "Yes" that kicks in when they’re being asked to do something at work.

From childhood we’ve been taught to be accommodating, helpful, to defer to those in authority, to be kind and help people out when they ask. We have NOT been taught to be alert for bullying behaviour or even to know what it is.

If you’re unsure what bullying behaviour is, have a look at The Angst and Anguish of workplace bullying (A in the A-Z Challenge) or How to Recognize Bullying Behaviour at Work (B in the A-Z Challenge) It’s good to read widely and be aware of what constitutes bullying.

The following is adapted from a post I wrote back in November last year.

Many of us regularly find ourselves getting overloaded at work and may have fallen into the habit of agreeing to all and sundry requests, even if they go against our better instincts for self-preservation. Sometimes however, the power imbalance between us and the boss is such that we feel pressured into agreeing - it's a subtle kind of bullying, and can have some negative long term ramifications if not nipped in the bud.

One client found herself habitually saying 'yes' to any request her boss put to her, even if it meant missing both morning tea and lunch breaks, and working unpaid overtime and consistent 'graveyard' shifts. Her health was clearly suffering and she was burnt out and miserable by the time she came to me. It had got to the stage where her boss had come to rely on her compliance and the situation needed a gentle shakeup.

Firstly, stop and think.

That's all.

It sounds very simple, but many people find this first step overwhelming. Remember you may have been trained from childhood to be a “nice”, helpful person.  Learning a new pattern of behaviour goes against the grain, and that may bring a sense of discomfort.

Many of us like to feel needed, and being asked to do things can also make us feel important (and there's nothing at all wrong with that - in moderation). In addition, some of us have grown up in cultures that encourage us to put our own needs down, possibly to keep the peace in our family, for religious reasons, and sometimes because one gender is seen to be more powerful (and deserving) than the other.

Some people describe a sinking feeling in the stomach when they pause to assess the situation, and believe they’ll be fired on the spot. It’s ok – pausing may be new and unfamiliar, it gets easier with practice! So, don't be hard on yourself if it's tough to pause before agreeing.

Secondly, ask a few questions. Is it urgent that you drop everything to, for instance, see this client immediately? Will the world fall apart if you use your lunch break to eat and digest your sandwich in peace? Does the patient need urgent assistance that only you can provide causing you to lose your 15 minute afternoon break? Who else is on the scene who could assist?

If you're being asked to take on an additional project unexpectedly it may be appropriate to say "Can I get back to you about that tomorrow morning?" It's a question that comes out as a statement - you may need to rehearse this one.

But please remember, this isn't a 'one size fits all' suggestion, and your response needs to be suitable, thoughtful and respectful, taking into account your personal situation.

Some bosses have developed the knack of catastrophising even the slightest mishap into a drama of world proportions. I worked with a manager like this some years ago, and the department was in a constant state of nervous anticipation waiting for the next 'catastrophe' to fall. It was draining, and led to increased staff 'mental health day' breaks simply to counteract the emotional exhaustion of dealing with the unreasonable and unnecessary demand for immediate action. Need I say, we weren't dealing with life and death situations, but routine, predictable everyday events.

By asking a couple of questions, your boss will quickly see that the pattern is changing. In the best scenarios, this leads to an increased level of professionalism and mutual respect. Interestingly, my clients who've begun using this technique state that their view of themselves begins to change from being a bit of a pushover to more confident and assured. Workplaces haven't fallen into anarchy, and in fact, the workplace culture has often improved.

Thirdly, if the request is reasonable, of course you'll agree graciously. You may choose to drop what you're doing and fulfil the request. In the process however, you'll have regained a sense of control, and a pattern that may have outlived its usefulness will begin to crumble.

If possible, find a trusted person to practice this with. There are times when rehearsing in your head is fine, this isn’t one of them. You need to hear your own voice and find the right words. To begin with, it's awkward and unfamiliar, and hearing yourself saying these new things can be quite unsettling.

There's more on recovering from bullying here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Making of Happiness

In my last post, I mentioned a television series called Making Australia Happy, and promised that I’d introduce you to the ideas behind the show. This link leads to the web site attached to the show, as well as to a self assessment Happiness Test. You'll also find suggested guidelines for worksheets, links to the episodes, and the research behind the show.  If you're think you could be depressed please seek professional support - if you don't know where to start, try Beyond Blue (link), Lifeline (link) or your local GP (General Medical Practitioner).

Whilst I found the format of the show a bit gimmicky in that it mirrored the games show format of ‘The Biggest Loser’ etc. I stuck with it because of the calibre of the presenters and quality research behind the programme. Normally I’d turn this kind of show off because I’d be very critical of, and skeptical about the validity of the content.

Eight people were selected from a miserable inner city suburb near Sydney. The promotional blurb states “Hoping to find greater fulfillment and meaning in their lives, they’ve signed up to an eight-week happiness program ... they discover that the road to happiness is tough, but that the rewards can be immense…”

They found that happiness changed their biology and the functioning of their brains in a very positive way.

Three professionals from different walks of life explained how their particular intervention would work and how it interlinked with the other two. It is known that each alone is beneficial, but the idea was to encourage each volunteer to adopt all three because of the positive gains when they’re used in combination.

Three strategies 

1. Mindfulness was introduced by Dr Russ Harris. When I realized he was one of the presenters I was confident the show would be reputable. Russ trained me in the Mindfulness technique called ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy). I found him to be honest, trustworthy and he acts with integrity. I figured that if he was on board, the quality of the other techniques presented would be equally as good.

Dr Russ Harris taught the eight volunteers some simple, evidence-based techniques for cultivating mindfulness. These were taken from a model called ACT which teaches mindfulness skills through quick, simple exercises rather than the more traditional method of meditation.

The promotional material goes on to say that Mindfulness means paying attention with openness, curiosity and flexibility. The technique (along with other meditation techniques) is gaining the attention of leading medical researchers, psychologists and neuroscientists who are studying the long term benefits for stressed people.

2.  Positive Psychology focuses on the value of positive emotions, character traits and environments.  The ideas behind Positive Psychology were pioneered by Dr Martin Seligman, and are based on a model of wellness and positive human functioning. A lot of research has been done which supports the benefits of this model. Dr Tony Grant introduces this section.

3. Physical health. A huge amount of research has also been done into the importance of improved physical health to support happiness. A physiotherapist, Anna-Louise Bouvier worked with the participants to look after their bodies, sleep patterns, diet and exercise. As the blurb says “in order to get the most out of their mental training, it was vital for the volunteers to be in good physical shape".

Check out the links, take the test if you want, and have a look at the show if you have time. There's a huge amount of good information and things to do.

Next I'll have a look at other strategies to support those recovering from bullying. I'll revisit ACT and mindfulness later on.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Justin Bieber meets Casey Heynes - the target of bullying attacks at school


Justin Bieber isn't someone I'd usually associate with  shedding light on the insidious issue of schoolyard bullying.  I'd assumed he was a teenager being manipulated and exploited by greedy entertainment types determined to get what they could from his popularity before he got used up and spat out without ceremony. However, it appears I've been proven wrong and he's highlighted at a concert in Melbourne, Australia that he's prepared to take a very public stand on an issue that has such a damaging negative effect on so many children.

Bieber heard about a boy in Australia, Casey Heynes, who'd been the target of serial bullying at school for far too many years. The bullies had taken a video of one of the episodes, presumable to enjoy later. In the clip, we see Casey being harassed by the bullies, no onlookers supporting him, and he snaps.

Heynes was invited to meet Bieber and appear on stage with him. It's interesting how the tables have turned. The target has received worldwide acclaim, been interviewed and appeared on stage with Justin Bieber. The bullies?  I wonder what has happened with them ...

Bieber later reveals that he had been bullied at school. It is well documented that serial bullying at school  can have a negative impact for life. The target rarely achieves their expected grades, and this can continue for life. As an adult, the person who has been bullied at school can have flashbacks, and doubt their ability to achieve. The brain goes into defensive mode and is simply unable to function as smoothly as it could.

I wouldn't expect Bieber to analyse or articulate the complexities of serial bullying, but I'm so grateful for him using his extremely high profile to highlight the issue. 

Maybe, just maybe those in power in the education system will stop, think and adopt, across the board,  one of the outstanding programmes that educates everyone to be aware of schoolyard bullying, to acknowledge that it is OUR problem. To accept that together we need to tackle bullying, including every person who steps into the schoolyard, from the cleaners, canteen staff, librarians, administrative staff and teachers, but crucially the student bystanders.  We need to teach the Casey's in our communities how to respond effectively and assertively at the first instance of bullying, and to get the onlookers involved to prevent recurrent episodes. 

Right now, I'm eating Humble Pie.  Justin Bieber certainly appears to be much more than I gave him credit for, and with all the bad and sad news this week, month, year, I'm grateful.

Thankyou Corey for sharing this clip with me.

Further information on bullying at school here. For schools, teachers and other interested parties: CASSE (Creating a Safe, Supportive Environment - link here) has an inexpensive conference in May 2011 in Melbourne, link here. Another reputable programme by Twemlow, Sacco and Twemlow here.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A-Z Blogging Challenge. Reflections

What a journey, what a month.

Firstly a humungous thankyou to Arlee at Tossing it Out and his very able crew for hosting. It's been a massive job for you all, and I appreciate the time and energy that you've all put into this event.

Congratulations, well done!

What I've learnt:
Most importantly, don't tackle two blogs in the A-Z Blogging challenge without preparation! It wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done. It was utterly exhausting, demanding, draining and I'd never recommend it - ever - to anyone who has an ounce of common sense.

I'd seen the buttons around the blogosphere and wondered what the A-Z challenge was about and thought it looked like fun, so entered my 'for me' blog - jumpingaground - that was all fine and good. Then, on March 31st  I had a rush of blood to my head and decided at that late stage to enter my more formal blog. That's plain crazy!

One entry? No worries.
Drabbles? Fine.
Two entries? Insane!

The alliterative Drabbles were fun to write over at jumpingaground , although I found it hard to turn off once I got on a roll. All stories are based on real people and events except Yolanda and her yellow yacht. Many are environment or climate related, others are to do with learning difficulties.

I suspect the idea of writing about bullying had been floating around in my head, lurking, just waiting for an opportunity like this. The structure worked for me. I think if I'd been left to my own devices I wouldn't have attempted it at all or I would have drifted and dithered, with a bit here and a bit there. A-Z provided the scaffolding I needed to do it in one hit.

My list of A-Z Workplace Bullying posts is here.

Before I started, I had no idea how long each post would take. I spent 1/2 a day getting a vague outline together to make sure I would have something for each letter, realised I had something sort of workable, and plunged in. I hadn't anticipated each post would then take many many hours, revising, rewording, checking for accuracy, editing and adding pictures. Some are a bit long, but that's the way they are.

I'm tenacious. This is not good if you're being bullied. It could be possible to hang on and try to make something work when it's destined not to. But for a blogging challenge it's invaluable!

I'll try to remember never to post a comment when I've had a glass or two of wine. It's not good. Now you know why some of those comments were, erm not so clearly written. 

It would have been difficult to have completed the posts without the support and input from other bloggers. Each and every comment helped me get through. This topic isn't fun or popular or sexy - to read or to write. Your comments were, and still are, welcomed and cherished.

Why tackle workplace bullying?  I hope these posts might be a resource beyond this challenge. I'm horrified at the prevalence of ongoing bullying in workplaces. As a Career Development Professional, my clients tell me what happens in supposedly reputable organisations. The people I work with are honest, ethical, have strong morals and act with integrity. Too many workplaces don't value those attributes, they chew up employees, take everything they can get, then spit out what's left. I felt my addition to exposing some of the tactics used by bullies was a small something I could do to support others and perhaps shed some light on this appalling behaviour.

Knowledge is power. My aim was to share my knowledge in a hopefully easy to read form to empower others.

What I've learnt about others. People are generous. Of course I knew that, but it's been underlined hugely. People have supported me by encouraging others to read the information, they've forwarded the posts on and have commented in a very positive way. That's what I dreamed might happen. Thanks to everyone who has shared and commented.

What have I learnt about blogging?
Success is just a word. Running the two blogs in tandem was fascinating. jumpingaground went from something like 22 followers to 83, but I don't get many drop in visitors or many hits. Keyword search data is wishy washy at best.  But it's fun, and it's for me!

In comparison, traverselife went from about 22 followers to 52, which in comparison is 'unsuccessful'. Keyword searches however, show clearly what people are looking for, and I get significantly more hits daily but less or no comments. I've had quiet, consistent, steady support for the posts from people within and outside the blogging community. That's rewarding. People who've contacted me have given me a huge boost, It really makes this feel like a strong community pulling together, and is a reassuring feeling of connectedness. Thankyou.
East Side Gallery. Berlin. 2009.
For me, the month wasn't fun, but it supported my core values and it has been rewarding doing something I truly believe in. I've done the best I can given that it was unplanned and in a sense done on the fly to conform to the challenge guidelines. I'm pleased with the result, and proud I stuck with it. I wouldn't post like that again for a whole month. It took too much out of me. I need a break.

What do I look for in other blogs?
Meatiness, fun, not self indulgent, interesting, challenging without being derogatory or rude.

What next? 
I might do a follow up with something about schools and bullying, add some more links to some good information. Editing needs to happen....drat..... I want to pose the question "Do you bully yourself?" and look at how we're often meaner to ourselves than is healthy. I'm looking forward to eventually writing about the healing process after being bullied. Looking at how we can create rich, full and meaningful lives is something I've wanted to post about, but haven't yet found a structure that feels right. I also want to revisit assertiveness and How to say "No".

Would I recommend this challenge to others? Definitely!

I've just had some insight when I was making a comment on someone else's blog. I went in to this Challenge asking myself what I could GIVE to others. I wasn't focusing on how many followers or comments I could GET.  Hmmm.....

Lastly, I have a newfound respect for everyone who has written a book. How do you do it and stay sane? Characters who wander off and create mayhem, plots that refuse to co-operate - gosh you guys are impressive!

How to make a hyperlink (clicky) signature here