How free will is linked to a positive sense of self

Authenticity can come from having a sense of agency over our lives. (pic copyright: delcreations)

The extent to which we believe in free will can determine our sense of self – how we feel about ourselves, the world, and our place in it. Diminishing our free will can trigger depression, anxiety and lower self-esteem. That’s according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Researchers at Texas A&M University worked with two groups of 300 participants, giving them tests to examine the relationship between free will and sense of self, and between free will and authenticity. They discovered that people with low free will showed “greater feelings of self-alienation and lower self-awareness” as well as lower authenticity compared with the group who had higher free will.

“Our findings suggest that part of being who you are is experiencing a sense of agency and feeling like you are in control over the actions and outcomes in your life,” says lead author Elizabeth Seto from the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University. “If people are able to experience these feelings, they can become closer to their true or core self.”

My experience of working with clients in therapy bears out these findings. People can feel depressed, depleted and hopeless when they feel they have no choice over aspects of their lives. This can put them in a victim position from which they feel unable to escape. Things get ‘done’ to them, and they have little sense of any agency over their own lives. The process of being in therapy can help identify options, and instil a belief that they are in charge of their own lives. Sometimes that can start with a very small step, and gradually they can make more decisions in alignment with who they truly are – instead of looking to external factors for encouragement or validation.

I will leave the final word on this to Carl Jung: “Freedom of will is the ability to do gladly that which I must do.”

Sugar, spice… and all things stressed

Scientists have proved the link between stress, sweets and emotions - and the impact that can have (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/rakratchada torsap)

Scientists have proved the link between stress, sweets and emotions – and the impact that can have (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/rakratchada torsap)

If you find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin, searching in the treats cupboard, or raiding the kiddies’ sweetie stash when you come home from work feeling stressed – and need to find an antidote that calms you down, quickly! –  it will come as little surprise that researchers have found that eating sugar is one of the best stress relievers around.

You can read on ‘Women’s Doctor’ that sweets relieve stress – but you can of course try to substitute sugar for healthier alternatives. However, the answer may not be as simple as that. Body fat can have an effect on the way the brain responds to stress and metabolism, according to a University of Florida study.

The research found that: “Stress causes a desire to eat more, which can lead to obesity. And too much extra fat can impair the body’s ability to send a signal to the brain to shut off the stress response.” So, stress isn’t just in the brain after all.

This is a new finding in this field, where stress was generally thought to be an emotional response. Now that the ‘fat to brain pathway’ has been detected, researchers are going to look at those signals that prompt overeating in response to stress, and work out how those links can be recognised and broken – both ways.

Further articles on the link between stress, diet and emotion include:

What are you planting today to help you believe in tomorrow?

How does your psychological garden grow?

How does your psychological garden grow?

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” This is one of the most memorable quotes from one of the world’s most iconic women, Audrey Hepburn, whose 86th birthday would have been today. It’s a quote about inspiration, and about trusting that the seeds you sow today will one day blossom into something beautiful and meaningful.

While Audrey Hepburn’s quote has been related to the humanitarian work she did for children, from a psychotherapy perspective all kinds of shoots can spring forth from this rich metaphor. Some I have in mind are these:

  • What types of thoughts are taking root in your mind? Benign, helpful ones that will later bud into positive beliefs – or negative, destructive thoughts that will build resentment and breed rot in your flowerbeds?
  • Are you eyeing up your neighbour’s flowers – as spring breathes life into gardens across your neighbourhood – wishing you could have what they have? Or do you want to trample on them in the spirit of envy because the grass isn’t greener in your life?
  • Are your entrenched behaviours beginning to stifle the significant others in your life, like ivy around a tree?
  • Is your prickliness spreading like a bramble, ready to trip people up?
  • Are you primped and prepared for everyday weathers? Or are you wild and unwieldy like an overgrown garden?

Do you wish you could bloom like a peony, rather than twist like a thorn  – but don’t know how? Are you ready to dig around in your psyche for clues as to how your life can change, and plant something more positive for your future? Then psychotherapy could be for you.

To take the first steps in helping your psychological garden to grow, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com

Can we be happy without feeling guilty?

Why does your happiness get judged, criticised or called selfish? What would happen if you allowed yourself to be happy – no strings attached? (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles

What would happen if you allowed yourself to be happy – no strings attached? (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles

As it’s the International Day of Happiness – a time for us all to reflect on what happiness means – I can say that the predominant aim of clients coming for private therapy is to feel happy. There is a lack in their lives, or a block, and if only that lack or block would move out the way – or, if other people in their lives would change – then they’d be happy. Yet very often that lack or block isn’t because of other people. It lies within.

I see it in clients who would love to do something creative – like write, draw, sing, dance, cook, paint, colouring in. Whatever makes them happy. Yet they say they’re “not creative” or “it won’t lead anywhere”. And so the potential happiness they could gain – from creating something unique that wouldn’t exist had they not created it – remains lost, unsaid, unwritten, unpainted, unsung.

People who yearn to feel happy can often feel selfish if (more…)

Announcing a new Purley CR8 counselling practice

davanti purley practiceDavanti Counselling is delighted to announce the opening of a new practice in Purley CR8, offering a discreet venue for confidential counselling within easy reach of Caterham, Coulsdon, Croydon and Kenley.

Finding the right counselling space can help you feel comfortable to express things you’ve never dared say before. Most importantly, in the right environment, you’ll feel heard, understood and accepted. The therapeutic relationship can offer consistency and containment, and can help you work through your current issues to identify a future of new possibilities.

An ambience of peace, healing and optimism is what I’ve aimed to create within my new practice in Purley.

Appointments are available daytimes, evenings and Saturday mornings. Call Karen on 07956 823501 or email to book an initial session.

Concessionary rates for trainee therapists and for people on benefits are available at my Purley practice. Please ask when booking.

Why change has to happen one moment at a time

Don't rush for an xyz when your rate of change is still at abc (pietc courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/sheelamohan)

Don’t rush for an xyz when your rate of change is still at abc (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/sheelamohan)

People who come to long-term therapy want to change. They’re becoming more aware of what isn’t working for them in their lives. They want to introduce new ways of behaving and being in the world. Most importantly, they want to stop feeling the horrible stuff they’re feeling now.

They want a quick fix, a magic wand or potion, that will transport them from the stuckness of now to the freedom of the life they want.

Except that change doesn’t happen overnight. Hard to digest, maybe. But change isn’t ingested in a red or blue pill. Change isn’t about waking up one morning and deciding to be different. Change happens in those tiny moments of life when we decide to respond in a new way. How? (more…)

Stress: is kindness more effective than confidence?

Press forgiveness rather than punishing yourself. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/stuartmiles)

Press forgiveness rather than punishing yourself. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/stuartmiles)

Ever found yourself finding reasons to beat yourself up, believing yourself to be at fault, and wishing you could be a better person? If that’s a familiar (or daily) situation, then research is increasingly seeking to prove that being kind to yourself is far more effective than finding mantras for your self-esteem.

Being kinder to yourself, and finding more compassion for your faults and those of others, could help you deal more effectively with the daily stressors of life. That’s the main finding of research from Brandeis University on self-compassion.

The long-standing view has been that self-esteem is the cure-all, but the new view is that self-compassion could be far more effective in helping us cope with the stresses that bear down on us all.

Self-compassion is the ability to forgive yourself for stuff you’ve done, not blaming yourself or taking more responsibility than you should, and letting it go rather than dwelling on it. In other words, it’s the ability to cut yourself some slack.

The researchers asked people to rank their agreement to statements such as, “I try to be understanding and patient toward aspects of my personality I do not like” and “I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies”. Resulting stress tests were recorded.

Tests showed that people with low self-compassion carried their stress from the day before into today, which made them more vulnerable to the effects of stress.

The researchers said: “It is easy for stress to build over time, and a seemingly small daily stressor, such as traffic, can impact a person’s health if they don’t have the right strategies to deal with it.”

My take on this? Forgive yourself for stuff outside your control – where possible. Beating yourself up in areas that have nothing to do with you, or have a detrimental effect, are to be avoided. This way of being can have its roots in childhood, and how you had to take care of a parent as a child.

For support and to work on forgiveness, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling.com