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May 2012

Connect without fear

Recently I have been working in my Balwyn Hypnotherapy clinic with lots of clients presenting with ‘social phobias’.  For them, the modern world combines with our fundamental ‘human natures’ to create frames where socialising, connecting or even communicating has taken on a layer of fear.

 

The human brain cannot distinguish ‘real’ threats from imagined.  It cannot distinguish between rational fears and social fears.  In the end, the human brain does what it always does, and triggers a defensive (fear) response as an understandable ‘self protection’ mechanism. 

 

You may have heard of ‘fight or flight’, but we can also add ‘freeze and appease’ to the core fear / defensive responses that we can see in ourselves and others.  If you look at the way that you and others react in social situations, how often do you see these four attributes being present?

 

From a clinical perspective, it is interesting to see how social fears commonly link back to our innate desire to be included.  Throughout human history, being included was a critical success factor in our survival.  Imagine if you were ‘excluded’ from a tribe, and you had to fend for yourself.  Your chances of survival drop dramatically.  Therefore, inclusion is almost programmed into us as a basic survival need.

 

But the world has changed, and we don’t face those same risks any more.  Our brain, however, is still ‘wired’ the same, and inclusion is still seen as a key driver in our survival.  As humans we have not adapted to the modern world, but rather continue to seek ‘inclusion’ and fear ‘exclusion’ probably more than any other single thing –for many people it feels like a life or death scenario.

 

What is true for my clients is also true for everyone else around them.  It is not just them that feels the need for inclusion, and the fear of exclusion, everyone else does, too.  It is estimated  that more than half of the population have a deep seated fear of exclusion which impacts on how they behave socially (the others have developed strategies to manage it!).  The core belief that many clients run is that they are ‘not good enough’, too different to fit in or just don’t belong.

 

So what happens?  Two people meet – and it is likely that they both, at some level, have a fear of being excluded.  This means that they constantly look for signs in the other person that they are being rejected and excluded (because this is what they fear).  Because they are looking for it, they interpret almost any signal they receive as their worst fear. 

 

The other person might be thinking of something else, be scared of being rejected themselves, or just have a behavioural trait – and yet our fear encourages us to see it as ‘rejection’.  So both people are on high alert, over-analyse any signal and continuously tap back into their fear.  Is it any wonder that social situations make them anxious?

 

In reality, people love to be included.  A simple solution for some clients is to just set themselves the task of including others.  By doing so, the others feel comfortable, grateful and open to connecting.  If, on the other hand, they wait for others to connect to them, they can each allow their fears to cloud reality.

 

Working with social phobias is obviously more complex than this, however, but by including others (asking questions, showing that you are interested, considering their point of view) the opportunity to connect to others starts to become a reality.

 

My advice in social situations is “Go First”.  Give what you want and get what you give.

Here are two exercises to try:

1.  Go first.  Imagine that the other person is really scared of feeling rejected.  What would you do to make them feel comfortable?

2.  Connect and reconnect.   I encourage you to connect, or reconnect to three people in the next 24 hours.  See what happens!

 

What are your experiences with social situations?  Do you go first, or wait for others to take the lead?  Let me know what you experience as you try this exercise!

 

Live Well,

 

Phil.

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Moving beyond bullying

This week is anti-bullying week at my son’s school. It reminded me of many clients who come through the clinic for hypnotherapy that have been bullied in the past, and carry this as a powerful negative trauma that affects them, 30 and even 40 years later.

Bullying can have a massive impact on people who have suffered from it. It can:

· Create a sense of hopelessness

· Create a sense of powerlessness

· Develop levels of anxiety and fear, particularly relating to social situations

· Encourages withdrawal and minimising responses, and feelings of being ‘alone’ against the world.

· Create a strong sense of injustice

Bullying, at its heart, is a dysfunctional relationship. It is often seen as a play for power and control, but in my belief this can be a simplification of what the ‘bully’ is seeking from the relationship. Often the bully is seeking significance and to be included, control and to be seen as competent, or to be liked. The victim of the bullying is often just the ‘instrument’, and the bully seeks these psychological ‘rewards’ from others (the friends that watch and cheer them on) or themselves (internal compensations).

The relationship is therefore dysfunctional – one person uses the relationship to ‘take’ what they need, and the other, usually against their will, is forced to supply it.

What is true is that different people can be in the same circumstance and evaluate it differently. Some may see a situation as ‘bullying’, whilst others do not. Bullying, by definition, comes about by what the person feels as a result of an interaction. It is in the interpretation. (This by no means is meant to condone behaviours which use other people as a source of gaining what one needs).

By encouraging bullies to become more self-aware of their needs and their behaviours, we can hope to break the cycle of bullying. However, as I see many people in clinic where the trauma from bullying is carried throughout their lives, here are some ‘tips’ that you can use to help people affected by bullying that make a difference.

1. Skills and strategies. The frustration and negative self-referencing from a situation arises because at the time the person did not find the skills and strategies to diffuse, move beyond, or reframe the event. Discuss what skills and strategies were missing, and what could be done in a similar circumstance to develop a positive, forward looking learning frame from the experience.

2. Responsibility. Often the ‘victim’ develops a sense of responsibility for what happened. What is true is that the only thing they are actually responsible for is how they respond. It is not possible to control how other people behave, only taking responsibility for you you choose to act under a given circumstance.

3. Specificity. The bullying is usually related to one relationship, over one time period. What is true is that the person has many other relationships which are not the same. They have many relationships which are healthy, positive and nurturing. Seeing the bullying in context rather than as a ‘globalised’ thing (“I was always bullied”) provides context.

4. Normalisation. Bullying, unfortunately, is very common. Knowing that others deal with dysfunctional relationships and find ways to cope can be an important encouragement that they can, too.

5. Timeframes. We cannot go back into the past and change things – no one has yet invented a time machine. Therefore, continuously referencing a negative event like bullying from the past does nothing but cause upset and frustration. We can only affect ourselves in the present. If we take the lessons from the past – such as what skills and strategies serve us and what relationships we want to focus on – and live in the present, we have a much better chance of moving on.

6. Isolation. People who are bullied often lose sight of all the people around them who would support them, if only they knew. It can feel terribly lonely when you are bullied, and the process of keeping secrets and isolating yourself only enhances the problem and doesn’t connect you with resources that can help you.

7. Knowing that we all want to be included, in control and liked allows us to view our own response to the bullying incident – why does it make it feel like this? By having come empathy for the bully allows us a place of generosity to start reshaping the relationship (if we decide that we want to).

Bullying is terrible. However, for all of the trauma that can come of it, there is a series of things that can help people who have suffered shift to a positive, forward looking frame beyond the event and the trauma.

If you would like to discuss how you can move beyond past traumas such as bullying, please contact me via the contact page.

What experiences do you have in overcoming being bullied, or working with those who have suffered?

Live Well,

Phil.

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