Don’t Panic

“I think I’m losing my mind,” the woman said. “My body seems to be out of control. I feel shaky, I’m sweating, I can’t breathe, and even though I want to run out of the place, I can’t move my legs.”

Panic Attacks affect many people of both sexes, all ages and from every background. They can come on without warning at any time, and the impact can leave those who experience them afraid to leave their homes, for fear they’ll strike again. They can vary in their severity and in the symptoms, but commonly include some of the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing or thumping heart,
  • Discomfort or pain in the chest
  • Sensations of choking or smothering
  • Wobbly or unsteady legs, dizziness or faintness
  • Tingling numbness or pins and needles in the arms or legs
  • Blurring or double vision
  • A queasy knot in the stomach, or a desire to vomit
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Waves of heat or cold passing over the body, or profuse sweating
  • Fear of dying
  • A fear of losing control or of going crazy

Not every one experiences all of these. Check with your doctor to ensure that there’s no other underlying reason for what you’re experiencing.

The symptoms of panic can last for between five and twenty minutes, though there can also be a feeling of anxiety for some time before and after the attack itself. Some people experience them frequently, while others have one or two and then never experience them again.

The following can be helpful in learning to manage and control panic:

  • Breathing: Probably more than anything else you do, breathing slowly, calmly and deeply lessens the panic feelings.
  • Meditation: Meditation and other similar practices can help you to still the thoughts that spiral out of control before, during and after a panic attack.
  • Learning your own symptoms, and to recognise what triggers an attack for you, and the signs of onset of an attack, can help you to learn to interrupt the process before it escalates out of control.
  • If you have severe symptoms, or if taking action yourself hasn’t resulted in any improvement of your symptoms, you may wish to seek professional help.

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Note: If you are suffering from panic, or are experiencing some of the symptoms outlined above, check with your doctor for a formal diagnosis before taking any action.


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Two People

Princess Diana caught the hearts of many when she said, “There were three people in this marriage from the start.” Anyone who had ever lived with someone whose attention was focussed elsewhere was able to relate to the comment.

It can be difficult for some couples to recognise that there are two people in their relationship. Sometimes, it can seem that there’s a third party, or there’s only one person who matters. And sometimes, the partners don’t see each other as people at all.

In “Why God is Laughing,” Deepak Chopra suggests that many difficulties in relationships are caused by us taking up a position where we are right and the other person is wrong, and that the solution is to let go of the need to be right. Holding out that we are right assumes that we know everything there is to know about a situation and the other people in our lives and that things are how they are and cannot change.

Letting go of the need to be right is another way of taking responsibility for ourselves. It affords us an opportunity to see ourselves and others as we really are, and not just the image or illusion that we present to the world. We may see our partner as strong and capable of looking after us, and in buying into that, we ignore their frailties and vulnerability, and ignore too our own strengths. We may be afraid of our partner’s anger, and fail to see the fear behind it. We may see our partner as controlling and ignore our own power and freedom to choose for ourselves.

When we are willing to let go of how we see ourselves and others, and the illusions and assumptions we make about them, we make space for seeing something different. We make space for them to grow into something different, and for ourselves to be all of who we are.

There are two people in the relationship. Underneath the illusions, there are two people trying to find happiness, two people trying to have their needs met. And two people who have felt fear and sadness and alone.

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Relationship Contracts

In every relationship and in every interaction of every relationship there is a contract. Sometimes the terms of the contract are explicit, sometimes they are not. Whether made clear or not, each party brings to the relationship their idea of what the terms of the contract are.

Most personal relationships develop organically, and each may expect that the other is operating according to the same terms, although they may not be. It’s often in what has not been expressed, and in which the partners have different expectations, that conflicts occur.

We learn to relate in our earliest relationships, and we carry with us into every later relationship, the imprint of what we learnt before we had the language or understanding to filter it. Everything will be shaped by that imprint: how we see others, how we relate about money, about sex, about security, and about every aspect of our lives.

So what might be in our contract? We may be offering our love, our caring, our support. We may be bringing our intellect, our interests and our skills. We may be willing to offer our loyalty, our companionship, our intimacy, and our friendship.

And what do we expect in return? Do we expect others to bring the same things? Or do we expect them to fill the gaps we might have?

Only by looking at what our unwritten contracts might be saying, can we really begin to understand what is being negotiated between us in our relationships.

Jude Fay is a counsellor and psychotherapist at AnneLeigh Counselling and Psychotherapy, Naas and Celbridge, Co Kildare.

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Body Wars

Sometimes when our bodies let us down, through illness or as a result of an accident, it can feel as if we are at war with ourselves. But are they really the enemies they seem to be?

Sometimes, we can see our bodies as separate from ourselves, as objects in which we travel around the world, much as we might see a car. So, when they aren’t working as well as they might, we feel as we would feel if our car were broken down, frustrated, disappointed and let down. Only more so…we can’t trade our bodies for a newer model.

And yet our bodies are so much more than a vehicle. Think of how many functions our bodies carry out without our conscious input. Often, we can take what our bodies do for granted.

There is a school of thought that physical pain and illness reflects some emotional disturbance within us, and is the body’s way of communicating that something is wrong. So next time you feel let down by your body, next time you experience pain or illness, or have an injury, ask yourself what your body is saying to you.

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Are you Good Enough?

In the film X Men First Class, a group of teenage mutants struggle with self acceptance. Raven, a blue skinned young woman with shocking red hair who can assume the form of anyone or anything, disguises her unusual form as a beautiful blond. Hank, a genius with hands instead of feet, works to produce a serum that will change his feet-hands into the more normal variety.

The fantasy is a metaphor for anyone who struggles to come to terms with their perception of themselves and the judgement of others, and tells the story of all of us. Each of us is a mutant in our own way. We are each one of a kind. We have all adapted to our surroundings, by developing some areas of ourselves at the cost of others. Each of us has areas of our personality or our bodies that we are less than happy about. Like Raven, we cover our true selves in something that we perceive will be more attractive to others. Like Hank, we hide the parts of us that are different, and pretend we’re the same, so as to fit in.

Whether it’s our physical shape (too fat, too thin, too tall, too small, the shape of our nose or hips, the way our hair curls etc), our personality (too accommodating, aggressive, demanding, needy), or perhaps achievements, we tell ourselves stories of why we’re not good enough just as we are.

Very few of us are without some level of artifice. Manners and social customs are taught from an early age, before we have time to question them. Those who are different are seen as threatening or in some way to be of curiosity value. As a society, we have love-hate relationship with those we perceive to be different. Often, we project onto others the fear and loathing we feel towards some aspect of ourselves.

In fantasy land, someone whose opinion is important to the heroine, makes some remark that changes their perspective completely. At the end of X Men, First Class, Raven, embracing her blueness, and echoing the words of her lover, says defiantly “Mutant and proud.” Sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes the right words spoken at the right time can indeed create a huge change in the way we see ourselves. However, it’s often not that straightforward.

Often, the experiences of our childhood have so ingrained the “not good enough” belief that it takes on the certainty of fact. We believe we are not good enough, and walk through life seeing events in that way. We interpret everything that happens to us through the lens of that belief.

The question arises, good enough for whom? If we allow others to be the guide as to what is and isn’t good enough then we are subject to their whims and fancies, to their moods and colours. And whose opinion do we listen to? For no matter how wise, how exalted, how powerful another person might be, their opinion is always going to be just that, their opinion. We may listen and learn from others, but we can also discard their view if it doesn’t fit for us. The “not good enough” belief has as it’s core assumption that our value or worth is what others agree it to be.

Their view is very important, you might say. Perhaps it is. Or perhaps not. Maybe they’re wrong, and maybe they’re right. It’s your life, you get to choose.

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Are you Waiting for Something or Someone?

There’s an old saying that “Everything comes to those who wait.”

Waiting can be hard work. Waiting for the right job to come along, a buyer for the house, the right relationship, an improvement in our health, exam results, even waiting for the bus, or to be served in a shop. It can be difficult to wait, and hard to know when to wait and when to move into action.

Does waiting have any purpose? It so often seems to be dead time, doesn’t it, providing us with nothing more than frustration and impatience? And yet, if we look at nature, time seems to play an important role in moving from one state to another. An acorn may take many years to grow into an oak tree. It may lie dormant under the soil of winter before pushing its new shoots above ground in spring. These changes are slow and often imperceptible, and yet change is occurring, even if we can’t see it.

Is anything required of us in that winter of waiting for what we want? Perhaps the delay is telling us that a change is needed in us too, before what we want can emerge.

In “Ask and It Is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks, it is proposed that all that stands between us and what we want in life is our resistance to allowing it to be. Whatever we want is out there, if only we are open to it. Anyone who has suffered ill health, or financial difficulties is likely to find this a difficult idea to take on. Why would anyone want to continue in ill health, or poverty, or indeed any other form of hardship? If it were as easy as allowing it, then surely we would all have all we want already. The Hicks agree, and are quick to point that out. Their view is that most of us are unaware of how much power we have to create our lives, and as a consequence remain stuck in a powerless victim place, believing that our lives are shaped by events and the actions of others that happen to us, and independent of us.

Our resistance to allowing what we most want in life can take different shapes. For some it may be a question of how we see reality. It may be a lack of focus on what we want, or to put it another way, a focus on what we don’t want. It may be a fear of what we might lose if we were to get our deepest desires.

For example, in these recessionary times, when many are experiencing financial stress, some may fear that being successful would set them apart from those they love, who may not be doing so well. This fear may be buried deep, but may influence our decisions in a subtle way so that the isolation of being different doesn‘t arise. Misery loves company so they say!

Another reason why we may unconsciously be resisting what we want, is that we make others responsible for our happiness and well being; “I’ll be happy when I’ve met the right person,” or “I’ll be happy when I have the right job,” or “If only my boss didn’t have it in for me.”

We can become so focused on what is wrong, that we are oblivious to what is going well and supporting us in our lives. If I have a pain in my elbow, I may be so conscious of it that I am unaware of how well the rest of my body feels, and how strong I am in other ways. The Hicks’ view is that in focussing so much on what we don’t want, we are blocking what we do want from coming to us.

Yet another aspect of this is not being clear about what it is that we DO want. Many people are surprisingly vague about their desires, even about small things. They may complain about what upsets or bothers them about their current situation, but have never actually given thought to what it is they would like instead. How will they recognise it when it is within their reach if they have no idea what they want?

Another form of resistance is to deny our own wants, or to hold negative beliefs. For example, we may secretly want to have that red sports car, but are afraid that we might be judged as materialistic or selfish, so we tell ourselves we don’t want it, and in time, we come to believe that. Or we mat believe that we don’t deserve to have an easy or comfortable life while others may have less than us. As the Hicks point out, we wouldn’t say its not fair that I’m well when others are sick, so I’ll just be sick for a while to give them a chance to be well.

If we believe that wealthy people are worldly and dishonest, we are unlikely to take action that might bring us nearer to prosperity, for fear we may turn out like them. If we have been told that it’s harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to get into heaven, we may resist any opportunities that might improve our financial situation, in case we mess up our chances in the next life. Even if we do not consciously believe these things, they may have been absorbed at a deeper level during our childhood.

In Esther and Jerry Hicks book, “Ask and it is Given,” they suggest 22 ways of bringing yourself closer to getting what you want in life. These include:

Appreciating what you like: noticing what’s good in your life and in your environment and taking time to appreciate its existence, and the impact it has on you. Sitting in traffic the other  day I noticed a pink helium balloon in the shape of the number five floating up into the blue sky. It was a magical sight. Look out for what pleases you, and what makes you smile. Collect pictures of what you do like, whether it is a thing, a situation or a feeling. When you see something you don’t like, turn it around, ask yourself how you’d like it to be, and focus on that instead. Over time, this will help you to clarify your desire.

Take the time to imagine how you would like things to be: Your unconscious mind can’t tell the difference between fact and imagination. If you can focus on how you would like things to turn out, how, for example, you’d like a work meeting or interview to go, how you’d like to feel in it. (I am feeling confident, competent, in harmony with my colleagues etc.) The energy you create in your imagination will flow with you into the situation and oil the wheels. Take the time to look at your relationships, your work, your home and your body, and ask yourself if you could have anything you wanted, what you would like to have. Be specific. I want to be a healthy weight. I want feel loved and valued.

Trust your feelings: They can tell you whether what is happening in your life is in alignment with what you really want. When you know what you don’t want, you can easily shift to what you DO want. Many of us were taught to deny or shame our feelings, particularly “negative” ones such as anger or rage or jealousy. Indeed many were taught that wanting or desiring things for ourselves was selfish. These feelings can be an invaluable guide to what we want, and where our lives don‘t measure up, but if we‘re covering up our deeper reactions with more socially acceptable ones, we may be losing touch with our real wishes and desires.

There are many fears about acknowledging our negative feelings (for example, our anger towards someone who has hurt us), that it will make us a bad person, or that we won’t be liked if we are selfish or feel jealousy. In my experience, the opposite is true. Feelings pass, and with their passing we are free to grow stronger and more authentically.

The 22 processes set out by the Hicks include ones that can be used in different situations according to how we are feeling. They are simple and straightforward, and there are lots of examples about how they can be used. Try them for yourself. See

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Ghosts of Relationships Past

There’s an ad on TV at the moment for a fabric freshener in which a garlic clove and a fish are hanging around the house and are eliminated with a spray of this wonder product. If only it were so easy to eliminate the odours of past relationships!

We are all the product of our experiences and the meanings we have made of them, and while we may not be aware of it, how we relate in the present has much to do with what has gone on in those previous relationships.

We absorb our values and beliefs at an unconscious level growing up. These include our beliefs about every aspect of life, about people, about money, about health, about expectations and more. These are often so ingrained that we are not aware that they are beliefs, but may consider them to be facts. Take health for example. Some years ago I worked with a man who had a family history of heart disease. He used to say that no male for several generations in his family had lived past the age of 60. He believed it to be a fact that he too would not live past sixty, and took little care of his health as a result, saying there was no point as he was going to die at an early age anyway. His belief took no account of changing life styles, or advances in medicine, or that he was different from others who had gone before him.

The way our families relate to each other as we grow up becomes our model for future relationships too. For example, if gender roles were very clearly divided in our family, we may come to our adult relationships with similar expectations. If we had a father who was hard working and provided well for the family, but expected his wife to do everything in the home and with the children, we may find ourselves attracted to similar or opposite traits in later life. If we grew up believing that because our mother was critical, that we weren’t good enough, we may find ourselves attracting criticism in the work place or from our spouse.

In my work, when I ask people to finish the sentence “Men are…” or “Women are…” it’s amazing what they say. They are often surprised with what comes to them, to realise that they believe, for example, that men can’t be trusted, are irresponsible, or can’t talk about their feelings, or that women are devious and manipulative, or can’t change a tyre or read a map. Undoubtedly some women and men do display these characteristics, but it is not a rule. Unconsciously, we may have absorbed beliefs that because this was what we experienced growing up, that all men, or all women are the same. And because that is what we expect to see, we may be blind to all the other men and women who aren’t like that.

Love relationships that haven’t worked out can often leave their scars in subtle ways. We may be cautious about committing ourselves again, sabotaging any potential chance of future happiness. We may tell ourselves stories about how we just can’t find the “right” person, or how “all the good ones are gone.” We may believe that we are unlovable because we are fat, thin, tall, short, ugly, pretty, scary, angry, boring and so on. We can find endless reasons why we might not be attractive to others. Rarely do we recognise that it is not that others see us that way that prevents us from finding a relationship that works, but that at some deep level we don’t want it to work (because of the fear that we may be hurt.) I should stress that much of this goes on beneath the surface.

How we perceived our parents relating with each other may also be a model for what we expect in life. If our parents were loving and caring towards each other, then that will give us a positive model for what we might expect. If on the other hand, they were cold, or angry, or dismissive with each other, or with us, or clearly stayed together out of obligation and duty, at a deep level we may fear making a commitment to any relationship, in case it repeats the pattern. We may consciously want to attract a relationship that will work for us, but our unconscious fear may lead us to sabotage any chance we might have.

In his book, Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle, Colin Tipping provides a clear and straightforward explanation of how we take our unconscious fears about our own shortcomings and failings, and rather than seeing them in ourselves, project them onto those we come into contact with. Rather than blaming the other for their part, he says we have received a gift from those relationships we have most difficulty with. By highlighting where we may be acting out of past relationships, the most difficult situations give us an opportunity to identify, heal and transform our past hurts into a future of love and peace.

Colin has a series of processes for healing situations and relationships, with others or with ourselves. They are simple, practical and they work, whether you believe in them or not. None of them require you to condone or excuse the behaviour of others.

Each of the processes follows a similar pattern. The first steps are to tell the story, and to feel the feelings, and the hurt involved. Next the process looks at how our beliefs and judgements may be colouring how we are seeing the situation. (For example, if someone criticises something we have done, we may experience this as being rejected and interpret their comments as meaning that we are not good enough, rather than seeing their criticism as feedback that may help us improve.)

The next step is to reframe the story, by shifting our perception to the gift that may be in the situation (in the example above, the criticism may help us to heal an old wound of believing that we’re not good enough), or if we’re unable to see it, being willing to accept that the situation is for us, rather than against us. And finally, we integrate our new understanding into our body, usually through breathing or movement.

See his website for details, much of which is free of charge.

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