Psychology

Healthy ways to release your anger

Everybody gets angry – it’s a normal human emotion, like sadness, fear or joy. And there is nothing wrong with anger, despite its bad reputation and the damage it can cause. Like all emotions, the problem is not the anger, but the ways we either try to suppress and swallow it, or let it come spilling out, harming ourselves and those around us.

One of the main lessons I teach my clients in schema therapy is how to feel, express and so release their anger. And that’s not easy, because most of us have a problematic relationship with this most volatile of emotions – we may have grown up in a family where anger was never permitted expression, so we learned that anger was scary and shameful, to be kept inside at all costs. This means we now swallow our anger, which is not good for our health, physical or mental.

Or we might have grown up in a family that expressed anger too freely or even violently, with lots of screaming, breaking things or hitting. So again we are now probably afraid of anger, seeing it as threatening and unsafe, because we associate bad things with it. We may either have learned to hold it in, or followed our family’s example and now explode all over the place (using attack as the best form of defence against other people’s threatening behaviour), raging at other drivers or screaming at our partners/kids. This too is not good.

Healthy anger-release

I only have two rules for anger expression with my clients:

1. When expressing anger, they don’t hurt themselves.

2. When expressing anger, they don’t hurt anyone else.

Bearing these rules in mind, here are two ways to let your anger out safely and healthily (releasing all the energy from your Angry Child mode, which is the part of you that is so furious). First, try writing an angry letter to the person that has hurt or upset you. This may be your boss, partner, friend, colleague – or a person from the past, such as a critical parent. Write it on a blank Word document, allowing yourself to say whatever you need – swear as much as you like, use capitals and exclamation marks. Don’t censor in any way. When you’re done, print the letter and tear it into tiny pieces or burn it, imagining all that hostility and frustration leaving your body as you do. (And remember this letter never gets sent! It’s just for you and to release all that bottled up anger energy).

Second, get a towel and twist it until it’s really tight. Then keep twisting, saying ‘I am so angry with you!’, ‘I am so *!**!** angry with you!’ over and over, twisting the towel util your arms get tired (this should be hard work!). Make sure you stick with ‘I’ statements and the way they have hurt or upset you, rather than just blaming or attacking. You will eventually find that all the anger drains out of your body and you feel tired. And other feelings might bubble up too, like hurt or sadness. Let them be there and have a cry if you need to. This will help you feel better (and be soothing for your Vulnerable Child, which is the part of you that feels all the hurt, pain or fear that lies beneath the anger).

I hope that helps – if you would like to know more about schema therapy, or ways of working with your anger, call me on 07766 704210, email dan@danroberts.com or use the contact form to get in touch.

Warm wishes,

Dan

How schemas distort the way we see the world

I recently watched a report on the Guardian website about ‘flat Earth theory’, on the growing number of people who believe that the Earth is not in fact a sphere, but a flat disc. It’s intriguing and well worth watching, but I think it also tells us a great deal about the way schemas can distort the way we see the world (whatever shape we think it is).

Here is a photograph of the Earth, taken from space by an astronaut on the Apollo 17 mission. I would say that looks very much like a sphere (to be nerdily precise, it’s actually an ‘oblate spheroid’, but that’s still basically a sphere) a view backed by every serious scientist in the world. There is no doubt or debate about this, it’s just a simple scientific fact – as is the way that all large objects in space form spheres because of the shaping and smoothing effect of gravity.

So how do the Flat Earthers manage to ignore the overwhelming evidence against their passionately held position? We could ask the same question about climate-change deniers, or anti-vaxxers – both groups fiercely defend their views despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary.

How schemas work

One way to explain this is to think about schemas and how they affect our thinking. If you have a Defectiveness schema, say, you might strongly believe that you are stupid, even if you do well on your GCSEs, or get a 2:1 in your degree. You may believe you are ugly, even if your partner, friends and family tell you again and again that you are in fact very pretty. That’s because the schema affects the information-processing systems in your brain, distorting the way you think. Schemas affect our memories, belief systems, our imagined view of the future and the way we interpret sensory information such as what we see or hear. When triggered, they distort the way we think about ourselves, our actions, what people say to us and what we read or see on the internet.

So if you have a Flat Earth schema, it tells you that all the supposed scientific evidence is part of a grand conspiracy to fool and control you. It tells you that Newton’s theory of gravity is nonsense, that you should believe spurious theories on YouTube or in your Facebook feed more than genuine, evidence-based facts and information. Sadly, we are currently seeing this sort of thinking more and more, which also explains Trump and the rise of populism around the world.

As a (fairly) rational person and evidence-based practitioner, this worries me deeply, as it is doing great harm to our world – for example, denying climate change at the very moment humanity needs to take drastic action to keep the planet inhabitable for humans and other species. But if you understand the way that schemas work, it’s not surprising that people hold bizarre or impossible-to-prove beliefs. After all, because everyone has schemas everybody does have distorted or unhelpful beliefs, even if we don’t think the Earth is in fact a big, blue Frisbee suspended in space…

If you would like to understand more about schemas and how they might be causing your psychological problems, call me on 07766 704210, email dan@danroberts.com or use the Contact form to get in touch.

Warm wishes,

Dan

What is the Healthy Adult mode in schema therapy?

One of the key ideas in schema therapy is that we all have different 'modes', or parts of our personality, which are more or less helpful for us in our lives. One of the most important of these modes is the Healthy Adult, which is the part of you that does all the important day-to-day stuff like going to work, being a caring parent and partner, paying the bills, going to the gym, not drinking too much, and so on. 

So the Healthy Adult does all the important, healthy stuff that you often take for granted, but without which life would quickly grind to a halt. This part is also very protective, again in terms of the outside world, being assertive when you need to stand up to an aggressive boss, say, or dealing with the teenage neighbour who loves blasting their favourite house music at 2am.

Silencing your inner critic

The Healthy Adult also protects you from yourself. In schema therapy, we also work with two 'maladaptive parent' modes, the Demanding Parent and Punitive Parent. The first drives you way too hard, often leading to stress or burnout – nothing is ever good enough. And the second is your inner critic, telling you that you are stupid, or fat, or useless. Both modes need to be disempowered, told to shut up and leave you alone. It's the Healthy Adult's job to do that. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Healthy Adult looks after the most vulnerable, wounded part of you, the Vulnerable Child. This part holds a lot of your most difficult schemas, so is the mode that is triggered when you feel anxious, upset, threatened or ashamed. All of our work in schema therapy is about healing this part of you, at first with my help but later through your Healthy Adult.

Working together, we will build this healthy, protective part of you like an inner muscle, until it is strong enough to calm you down when you're upset, or help you through a challenging job interview or parent's evening at school. You will feel yourself getting stronger and stronger; making increasingly healthy choices in your life; letting go of self-soothing strategies like excessive drinking or spending... And you will find yourself becoming more like the person you always wanted to be, but never knew how.

If you would like to find out more about how schema therapy can help you, call me on 07766 704210 or email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan

 

Are you an orchid or a dandelion?

One of the key ideas I always share with my clients is that we all have a certain temperament, which we are born with and which has a profound impact on the way that life experiences, good or bad, affect us. Many of my clients have a sensitive, emotional temperament, which means that they are much more affected by problems in the family than someone with a robust, more intellectual temperament. It's important to emphasise that having a certain kind of temperament is neither good nor bad – it's just like being born with brown or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, not your choice or fault in any way but simply how you arrived on this planet.

I also tell my clients that I have a sensitive, emotional temperament too. This can make life difficult at times, as I am affected deeply by negative experiences and my childhood was pretty bumpy, to say the least. But it also bestows on me particular talents and gifts – I could not be a therapist without this kind of temperament. After all, you wouldn't want a therapist who was insensitive, unempathic or unkind! 

Dandelion children

Psychologists have, in recent years, been investigating the theory that we are all either orchids or dandelions. This is based on the Swedish idea that 'dandelion children' are pretty robust and do well in any environment, even if the parenting and family dynamic are less than perfect. US psychologists Bruce Ellis and W. Thomas Boyce extended this idea to include 'orchid children', who were especially sensitive and so needed just the right conditions to thrive. In practice, that means loving, nurturing parents; a relatively calm and stable family environment; and no traumatic experiences during childhood.

If orchids have a difficult family dynamic, they will struggle – developing a number of schemas which will affect them throughout their life and very likely experience depression or anxiety, among other problems, when these schemas are triggered by stressful events. But, if these sensitive children are well-nurtured, they will bloom into beautiful young people and later adults – just like the orchids above.

If you are a dandelion, you may not need my help. But if you're an orchid whose childhood was not what you needed, life may be a struggle. If you would like some help, call me on 07766 704210 or email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan

 

When someone you love is depressed

It seems to me that we don't give enough help and support to the loved ones of people with mental health problems. If your partner, child, sibling or parent has a mental health problem like an anxiety disorder, depression or an eating disorder, it can place a huge strain on you. They may be the one who is struggling – and, hopefully, receiving the right help to resolve their problems – but it's easy to overlook the impact that can have on the people around them.

If someone close to you is depressed, you may feel out of your depth as you try to help them. Your normal strategies, like being encouraging or trying to look on the bright side, might not actually be helpful for your depressed loved one – and may even make them feel worse. Coming up with solutions for the many problems they perceive in their lives might also be unwelcome right now. And we know that depression can be 'contagious', meaning that you might also feel low, or become influenced by their negative and hopeless view of events.

Here are three ways you can help your loved one as they struggle with depression:

1. Understand what they are going through

If you have never experienced depression yourself, it can be bewildering when someone close to you is depressed. But it's incredibly common – one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, with the most common form being mixed anxiety and depression. Understanding what depression feels like, what causes it and especially what can help is key.

I strongly recommend Overcoming Depression: A Self-help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques, by Paul Gilbert – one of the world's leading experts on depression. You can also find a wealth of information online from charities such as Mind and the Mental Health Foundation.

2. Remember that it's not your job to fix them

When people we love are struggling, it's the most natural thing in the world to try and help them feel better. But when you are depressed it can be incredibly hard to lift your mood, or solve even minor problems that still seem utterly insurmountable because you lack energy, motivation and hope that things will get better. So rather than trying to fix them or gee them up just listen to them, keep showing them you love and care about them, and encourage them to see a mental-health professional, who does have the knowledge and skills to help them get better.

3. Help them take small steps to becoming more active

When you are depressed, you commonly stop doing the things you used to enjoy – partly because you have no energy, and partly because you don't take much pleasure in them any more. But if you stop doing things you enjoy, or that give you a sense of self-worth, your mood will clearly keep getting lower. So – gently – encourage them to do small things, such as going for a walk or to the park, doing some gardening, seeing close friends, going to the cinema, or if they feel up to it helping someone else, like an elderly neighbour (we know that this is especially helpful when you feel down).

If they are drinking heavily, encourage them to cut down or even stop for a while, as alcohol is a depressant. If their diet is really poor, try to get them eating more healthily – perhaps cooking healthy meals for their freezer. And if they aren't doing any exercise, see if you can help them start – regular cardiovascular exercise like swimming or brisk walking is as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression.

Finally, if their depression does not lift after a few months, they may need talking therapy such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), or schema therapy if they have had recurrent episodes of depression. You may need to encourage them to see a therapist – this is especially hard for men – but remind them that one in four people experience a mental health problem at some point in their life; and that therapy is now extremely effective, so it's definitely worth seeking help if their life is a real struggle.

I hope you find this helpful – please also remember to take care of yourself, as this will be a tough time for you too. 

Warm wishes,

Dan

 

Is someone close to you narcissistic?

Psychologists talk about 'personality types' when they are describing ways of thinking and behaving that are common to us all, such as being a bit selfish/self-focused, obsessive about tidiness, or consistently avoiding things we feel uncomfortable with. We are all on a spectrum with these traits, but for some of us they are much more pronounced than others.

You may also have heard the term 'personality disorder', which is when someone strongly exhibits characteristics of one or more of these types, to such an extent that it affects their whole personality (not just their mood, as in a 'mood disorder' like depression) and typically makes life very difficult for themselves and the people around them.

Another term commonly used (and often misused) in the media is 'narcissistic'. Correctly used, narcissism describes someone who tends to be extremely self-focused, viewing the world and the people they encounter as being there to serve their needs. They will probably have an Entitlement schema and so feel entitled to special treatment, attention and recognition of their unique skills, knowledge or personal qualities. Narcissistic people also have a black-and-white view of the world and how things should be, with a strong belief that they are always right and that bad things in their life are other people's fault, not theirs.

Not every narcissist is willing to change , but some will – with enough leverage, incentive and assistance.
— Wendy Behary

Again, it's important to remember that we all have some of these traits and beliefs – it's how strongly those beliefs are held that's key. When these beliefs are deeply and rigidly held, then someone might be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Because people with NPD tend to be extremely single-minded about getting what they want, we see these individuals at the top of a number of professions, such as banking, politics, law, professional sports, music and acting.

It's tough to be in a relationship with a narcissistic person, because they tend to be very perfectionistic and critical. Because empathy is not their strong suit, they just don't get why or how they have hurt someone, and will tend to fly into a rage when challenged or criticised (behaving like the angry little person above). If any of this sounds like someone close to you, they may need help in learning to relate to others in a more compassionate, less self-serving way.

Schema therapy can help with that, if they can be persuaded to come along, which is often challenging. People with these characteristics usually end up in therapy because people – an angry boss or partner on the verge of leaving – have pressurised them to do so.

The most important thing is to understand why they are acting in baffling and sometimes hurtful ways – and remember that it's definitely not your fault. Knowledge is power, so read up on narcissism (I strongly recommend Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-absorbed, by Wendy Behary, a leading schema therapist specialising in narcissism) and develop strategies for protecting yourself and maintaining healthy boundaries.

If you or someone close to you is narcissistic, and you would like help with that, email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan

Do you want to learn mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is very much in the news these days. Mindfulness is increasingly being taught in schools, corporations, to athletes, veterans, the police and even MPs in the Houses of Parliament! And for good reason – a regular meditation practice has been proven to help you feel calmer, less anxious and depressed, to respond better to stressful events, deal with chronic pain or illness with greater balance and equanimity, improve concentration, memory and overall wellbeing. 

As someone who teaches my clients to meditate, I have seen first-hand what a difference it can make for people struggling with mental health problems. And as a regular meditator for over six years, I know from personal experience what a profound difference it makes to one's life. I genuinely believe that life is so much happier and more positive as a direct result of my meditation practice and am deeply grateful that I made meditation a part of my daily life.

Learning to meditate

When I am teaching clients to meditate, I first direct them to Mark Williams and Danny Penman's excellent book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Mark Williams is a British psychologist who helped develop mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), an eight-week programme to help people deal with stress, anxiety and especially recurrent bouts of depression. 

This book is based on the MBCT course, but is also a wonderfully clear and simple guide to mindfulness meditation – it's the perfect place to start if you are interested in bringing the transformative power of mindfulness into your life. It also includes a CD of guided meditations by Mark Williams, which will really help when you're getting started.

If you would like to take an MBCT course, visit the Resources section of my site to find a reputable place to study. I also think that a blend of mindfulness and schema therapy is an excellent way to tackle a wide range of psychological problems. If you would like to know more, email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan

Why is your temperament important?

We are all born with a certain temperament, which varies from child to child – even siblings in the same family may have very different characters. Exactly what gives us our temperament is still being investigated by psychologists, but it's probably a combination of our genes and brain makeup, as well as experiences during pregnancy and early infancy.

One thing is for sure: your temperament is extremely important, because it determines how much you are affected by the experiences – both good and bad – you have in the family and at school, throughout childhood and into early adulthood, when your brain, personality and ways of thinking, behaving and coping with life are all being formed. In schema therapy, we are also very interested in schemas and modes, which are also formed in part because of your temperament.

You can think about temperament in terms of spectrums, for example between being introvert and extrovert, rational and emotional, sensitive and thick-skinned, passive and aggressive... If you plotted where you fall on all of these spectrums, that would be your temperament.

Sensitivity: a double-edged sword

Most of the people I see for therapy have sensitive, emotional temperaments, which means they are much more vulnerable to negative experiences in their family such as abuse, emotional neglect, harsh criticism, angry outbursts, excessively strict parents, or those struggling with drug, alcohol, or mental health problems as they try to raise their children. Having a sensitive temperament means you will be much more affected by even minor problems in the family – this will lead you to form painful schemas, which will be triggered in adult life when you experience similarly difficult events.

But as I often tell my clients, having a sensitive and emotional temperament is a double-edged sword. It does make life difficult, but it also gives you great gifts – of kindness, empathy, intuition, creativity, the ability to love and nurture others. I know this to be true, because this describes me very well too! Being a sensitive and emotional sort of person has made life difficult at times but also makes me – I hope – a kind, compassionate, insightful therapist.

So if you are struggling with the impact of a painful childhood, remember that a big part of this story is your temperament – which, of course, is not your fault, because it's something you were born with. Try to be compassionate to yourself as you embark on a journey to heal your painful schemas, free yourself from the long-term effects of a tough childhood and become a happier, stronger, more self-nurturing person.

If you would like help with healing your schemas, email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan