This feature was first published in Fibromyalgia monthly magazine. It explores how living with a chronic disease can affect one’s self-perception and ability to feel personally empowered to make health improvements. Changes can be made and here therapists Sally Baker and Liz Hogon share some of their techniques.
You are already well aware of how challenging it is to live with Fibromyalgia’s inhibiting symptoms of physical pain, cognitive impairment, and erratic levels of energy. You also already know how the unpredictable nature of Fibromyalgia means that even when your symptoms alleviate your ability to live life to the full are hugely inhibited as you are never sure how long a remission will last.
You are also well aware that a lack of mobility, and even taking some prescription medications, including those to counter depression, can make it even more challenging for you to maintain a healthy weight. You also know that extra weight has been scientifically proven to compound Fibromyalgia symptoms, and increase the frequency, and degree of pain, which in turn decreases mobility. So, there you are in the midst of a vicious circle of carrying excess weight leading to additional pain, leading to reduced mobility leading to further weight gain that feels almost impossible to break.
Worse still you can feel it’s your own fault your symptoms are so debilitating when you have so conspicuously failed to lose weight.
Losing weight is a challenge for most people. In addition living with a chronic disease means the typical emotional drivers to overeating such as comfort, and stress eating play a larger role making weight loss seem even more intractable. Therapists Sally Baker, and Liz Hogon specialise in resolving issues around emotional eating so that people who have struggled with weight loss for years can finally successfully lose weight.
Their clients are mostly people who feel particularly over-whelmed with the challenge of weight loss, and they often have other long term health issues to contend with such as depression, IBS, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. As therapists they understand, and particularly focus on the power of the mind body connection to harness the power of the mind to resolve, and release self-limiting beliefs, and end self-sabotaging behaviour, especially around food.
Living with little or no confidence of how one will physically feel from day to day encourages self-doubt, and frustration. Feeling negative about oneself can becomes its’ own vicious circle of frustration, disappointment and anger, all of which are often directed inward.
When Baker and Hogon work with issues around weight loss with clients living with chronic ill-health one of the first therapeutic approaches they make is to encourage the person to gain an enhanced level of self-awareness to highlight the impact those uncomfortable emotions have on themselves.
In their book 7 Simple Steps to Stop Emotional Eating they have taken the therapy tools they use in their own individual practices, and made them accessible as easy to learn, and easy to apply self-help tools.
They found one of the most beneficial ways of discovering if a person is prone to negative thoughts about themselves is to explore the kind of things their inner voice says to them. If on reading this your response is, ‘What inner voice – I don’t have one’, then that is your inner voice. Your inner voice runs a continuous internal dialogue commenting on everything you do, and often makes judgments on how well you do it too. Happening as it does just below conscious awareness one’s inner voice goes unchecked, and unchallenged for most of the time.
For many people, especially those living with chronic illness, their inner voice is rarely a source of uplifting encouragement. It is more likely to be an unremitting flow of self-criticism, and negative self-judgements. Taking the time to become aware of how your inner voice speaks to you can accurately demonstrate to you your own level of self-judgement, and self-condemnation. Tuning in, and clearly hearing your inner voice is the crucial first step to silencing the draining, and dispiriting stream of negativity that can hinder moving forward, and making positive changes.
They encourage their clients to spend a little quiet time, just a few moments, every day for about a week to tune-in to their inner voice, and simply listen and note down the negative statements. A therapy tool they use to facilitate this is called Emotional Freedom Technique, (EFT or Tapping). EFT is an energy therapy that has proved highly effective for revealing true feelings, in this case negative, self-limiting beliefs.
Once you have a greater awareness of your own unique brand of negative self-talk you can then apply another of their core therapy tools called Percussive Suggestion Technique (PSTEC) to turn-down, or dispel the emotions attached to the negative beliefs you have about yourself. Turning off negative self-talk is the beginning of a powerful journey which can transform a former inner-critic into your greatest advocate – someone cheering for you instead of undermining you.
I was recently invited to give a talk at the meeting of ‘To Infinity and Beyond’ group in the City of London organised by leading NLP trainers Andy Coley and Jo Wilson of Beyond NLP.
I spoke about my therapeutic response when working with clients dealing with family expectations and pressures with EFT, (Emotional Freedom Technique) and PSTEC (Percussive Suggestion Technique) to discover the source of your own inner negative voice. I also demonstrated how a child’s music box can be used to explore childhood triggers that may be getting played out in your adult relationships and repeated in the family structure you have created in adulthood. You can read the transcript of my speech here plus below is a bitly link to the free resources mentioned in my presentation for you to explore and release your own inner negative self talk and hidden triggers.
Surviving Family Expectations and Pressures
Our own family background is a popular short cut in how we define ourselves. When introduced to a new person we might begin with our profession and talk for a while about what we do but if a more nuanced insight seems appropriate the conversation might well turn to sharing stories about one’s family background. And what we say or don’t say can be used to show how far we have come in our own life, or to highlight how loyal we still are to our roots. Even the absence of a family of one’s own can be a major part of one’s personal story.
We all know that family plays a big part in the creation of our own personal, emotional, intellectual, and social development. It is within our family that we’re first exposed to the important influences of our life, the ones that often became the defining aspects of our personality, our emotions, our dreams, our fears.
In essence our identity – the aspects of ourselves that we share widely and the aspects of ourselves that only a few close friends or family know about. For me personally my family background makes me think about all the things I am versus all the things I’m not. One way to illustrate this is with my name: Sally Baker
I was born Sally Baker to a father named either Harry Baker or a father called Henry Jackson who was himself born either in 1912 or 1914. The same man who just happened to have two names and two dates of birth on two different birth certificates. It turns out that for the working class of the Edwardian period of over one hundred years ago that confusing situation was not that unusual.
So although in theory there was a 50:50 chance of me being called Sally Jackson I grew up obliviously to that as Sally Baker. In the Baker family ambition was not encouraged. My mum took books away from me as I was growing up saying I spent too much time reading and that nothing good ever happens to girls who know too much. Hey who knew!
I recall my father often saying to the teenage me that what would really make him proud of me is if I trained and qualified as a nurse. Note not a doctor. That would have been unthinkable. He had me pegged to be a nurse and that was that. But it was his lack of stretch, the lack of aspiration from him though that really hurt me. The fact he didn’t aspire for me to be a doctor felt to me that their was something lacking or unworthy about me.
So in my case parental ambition to succeed at all costs wasn’t my pressure. For me I felt the inverse pressure of a lack of expectation that my parents vested in me. We all get it that difficult things happen while we’re growing up and sometimes really bad things happen. Caring or careless parenting does not ultimately protect us from negative experiences out in the big wide world. What makes the difference is the story we tell ourselves about those tough, challenging events we all inevitably have to deal with. It is the judgements about ourselves that we make that stay with us and that script is often laid down insidiously at the heart of the family when we are young and unformed and powerless. Within the powerful dynamic of the family we pick up the subtle and sometimes not so subtle expressions of expectation about who we are supposed to be and our place in the world.
Everyone is shaped and moulded by their experience of growing up in their own particular family and individual personality are shaped by the strategies developed over-time to cope with their own unique set of familial pressures and expectations. It is inevitable that we bring the negative and the positive with us. The story, the judgements we formulated about ourselves back when we were growing up are often brought into strong relief in how we deal with the expectations and pressures within the dynamic of our own adult relationships. This can be heightened when it is common trait that people choose partners who reflect aspects of their original family structure. Expectations experienced while growing up can feel like negative judgements when we hear them from our partners and the opinions of the family you have made can just feel like more added pressure.
One way to explore those old influences is to listen to your inner voice. If on hearing about your inner voice your response is, ‘What inner voice – I don’t have one’, then that is your inner voice. Your inner voice runs a continuous internal dialogue commenting on everything you do, and often makes judgments on how well you do it too. For many people their inner voice is rarely a source of uplifting encouragement. It is more likely to be an unremitting flow of self-criticism, and negative self-judgements. Tuning in, and clearly hearing your inner voice is the crucial first step to silencing the draining, and dispiriting stream of negativity that can happens continuously, just below conscious awareness like a toxic dripping tap.
I encourage my clients to spend a little quiet time, just a few moments, every day for about a week to tune-in to their inner voice. Simply listen and note down the negative statements noting perhaps use of language, idiom, slang or accent. Begin to get a sense of where the negative voice originated – does it remind you of your foster carers voice, the voice of your mother or father or the kind of things said to you by a grand parent or even a teacher.
The first step towards turning off your negative voice is to gain a greater awareness of your own unique brand of negative self-talk. Train yourself to be more attuned to your inner voice and instead of it allowing it a free pass to your sub-conscious start tripping it up by whenever an old negative thought pops into your head firstly acknowledge that its there. Just by being aware of it, by just clocking it starts to diminish the internal negative voice’s power to limit you and then in your mind dismiss it for just what it is – a BS thought. Your aim is to turn the doubting, carping inner voice around to being on your team, supporting you and you can do this easily in just a couple of weeks of mindful awareness. An entrenched negative voice backed up with conclusions you’ve made about yourself – the harsh negative judgements that never seem to go away might well require some further leverage. For that I recommend a technique called PSTEC which stands for Percussive suggestion Technique which is available as a free MP3 download on line and I can give you details of how to access that later.
PSTEC is a relatively new therapy approach which is rapidly gaining interest the world over. It was created here in the UK by Tim Phizackerley from Durham in the North of England. He is an expert in artificial intelligence and how the mind processes memories, conclusions and situations. The two free PSTEC interactive audio tracks about 10 minutes in length. In them he instructs the listener to follow three different beats – one to tap along to with your left hand and one to tap along to with your right hand. The third isn’t a beat at all but a mono tone for you to tap rapidly with both hands.
All you need to do is focus on the feelings you experience when you hear those negative statements being said to you. Ideally allow your mind to track back to the first time it was said you or an early time when it really had an impact on you. Give it a score of intensity from zero to ten. Focus hard enough to really feel the emotional discomfort and then the technique asks that you simply focus on those feelings while interacting to the beats and tones on the audio track. When you’ve listened to the track you will often feel very different about the negative feelings and you can score it again for yourself to see how much change you have made. I highly recommend it as a technique. They have a legends of self-helpers who have changed how they think and feel about themselves without ever seeing a therapist so it really is worth exploring.
There is another way of exploring the pressure of expectations from our family and that is to recognise the triggers from your past so that they no longer bother you today. Triggers are painful reminders that we have formulated to tell ourselves something negative about ourselves.
I’ll give you an example:
I worked with a very successful professional gambler in in the USA via Skype. He had studied gambling and how to reduce risk and he made a good living from it. He found though that he had a ceiling on the amount he could win during any given session. It was enough of a pattern for him that he learnt to bail before he got to that point but he was frustrated as he wanted to go to the next level but felt something changed in himself and his confidence in his own abilities when he reached a certain amount.
We worked to find out what was being triggered and through the sessions we had he remembered a time from his childhood and it felt to him that it was the key event that was still triggering him today.
He told me his parents divorced when he was still a kid and that his dad wasn’t always that reliable about turning up for visits. He remembered being stressed and anxious as to whether his dad would show up or not as he had promised. Also the visits were pretty tense and my client, I’ll call him C (although that’s not his real initial) felt under a lot of pressure to be the perfect son to try and hold his father’s attention. On one visit father and son were playing catch with a baseball and catcher’s mitt in the yard. He could tell his dad was pretty half hearted and bored but at least he was there which meant a lot to him. After a few pitches and catches C missed a catch and his dad turned his back on his boy in disgust and said ‘ You’re crap – you always drop the ball!.’ C in that instant made a negative judgment about himself and not one about his dead-beat dad. He internalised the judgment that he will always drop the ball and never come good. That in essence had become my client’s story that could get triggered by all sorts of events in his life but most noticeably when he was winning.
I use the analogy of a music box. Many of the women will have had one as a child themselves. They’re a cute thing. They only play one tune and the little ballet dancer inside only does one dance.
She get’s wound up when the key gets turned…..just like C he gets triggered and then he’s straight back into his old story with his old negative judgments about himself – whatever they might be ‘I always drop the ball’ or ‘I’m never going to be good enough’ or ‘I don’t deserve this good stuff in my life’. People rarely if ever get triggered by the judgements they made about themselves in their childhood to remind them how awesome they are. Gaining an awareness of what gets triggered enables you to interrupt the knee jerk response and stay connected to your own inmate power and intuition.
Just like with the negative voice, triggers too need to be gently explored and unravelled so that they can be released and resolved for good. And again overwhelming triggers might require some therapeutic intervention to really see them on their way. The first steps though is to take some time to gentle explore some of that old stuff so you can take back control of how you think and feel about yourself and be on your own team instead of undermining or self-sabotaging yourself time and time again. The desired outcome is improved clarity and insight, improved access to one’s own intuition so that it becomes easier and easier to respond authentically and calmly to family pressures and expectations instead of knee-jerk responses driven by unresolved issues from the past
All the free resources such as a guide to EFT and how to download the free PSTEC click tracks are available. Drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the links them by return.
The history of EFT is fascinating. Its origins lie in traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture, which has been the primary form of medicine in
China for more than 5000 years. Recent research has confirmed the flow of energy (Qi) along these invisible meridians, or pathways in the body.
Acupuncture was originally developed to treat physical problems, although today practitioners frequently use it also to treat anxiety and stress.
Dr George Goodheart, a chiropractor in the US, developed an interest in acupuncture, and went on to introduce a new method into his practice called ‘Applied Kinesiology’, which is a form of muscle testing. He achieved the same results as acupuncture by tapping on the acupuncture points. Australian psychiatrist, John Diamond MD, then went on to create another variant of this wherein he had the client tapping on the same points, and repeating positive affirmations to treat any emotional symptoms.
Dr Roger Callahan went further to find that by tapping certain algorithms, or particular pattern, or tapping sequence, his patients were able to release specific anxieties, or phobias, and the first meridian tapping structures were created. If a client concentrated on a problem, or fear, and tapped at the same time, following a specific pattern, then the issue could be resolved, in some cases permanently. Thought Field Therapy (TFT) was born.
Later it occurred to Gary Craig, who had studied TFT extensively with Callahan, that a single algorithm, or pattern of tapping, might work just as well. Craig went on to develop his own individual single algorithm which he called ‘Emotional Freedom Techniques’ (EFT).
EFT is now the most influential and widely known Energy Psychology method in the world. It has been used successfully in treatments for an incredibly wide variety of issues, including fears, anxieties, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, just to mention a few. EFT has also proved to be very successful as a technique for managing, or reducing the impact, and/or frequency of physical issues, such as migraines, tinitus, IBS, Fibromyalgia, and TN (Trigeminal Neuropathic facial nerve pain, to name but a few examples.
It is an easy enough technique to be mastered by most people, and you don’t have to believe in meridian energy pathways in the body for it to work.
Learn how to work successfully with EFT
To get started you need to turn off your phone and ensure that you have around 30 minutes in which you will not be disturbed. It would be helpful to familiarise yourself with all the ‘tapping points’ you may need to use. It’s easy to follow these in our diagram (see Figure 1).
As you become more adept, and learn to trust your own instincts more, you will find you’ll be able to naturally, and intuitively compose your own EFT setups, and find your own words to say as you tap around on each point. Your own words are always more powerful as they are customised to your own requirements, and then you will really feel how powerful and life changing EFT can be for you.
Click here for your own EFT_Instructions