The fourth group session was taken up with a discussion between group members on issues arising for them within their families, which became apparant for them through looking at their genograms, or family 'maps'. Patterns of behaviour between generations were identified, for example one group member realised that she had never had the courage to approach her mother and talk about issues that bothered her concerning her childhood, because she had witnessed her mother's difficult relationship with her own mother. This resulted in the group member internalising a message or a 'rule' that "it's not safe to try and discuss sensitive issues with your mother". After realising this from looking at her genogram, the group member approached her mother and had a very constructive conversation with her, which helped to put a lot of things into perspective and encouraged her to feel more confident in her ability to open up to and talk with her mother.
During the fifth session, we began an exercise called "Mirror Mirror". In the fairytale Snow White, the Witch asks "mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" Often when we look in the mirror, we do not see ourselves, rather we see a failure, someone who has failed to measure up to unrealistic family, social and personal expectations.
Clients often extend generosity of spirit, trust and support to others in their lives, but never give themselves these same gifts. We are overly kind and understanding of others, yet super-critical of ourselves - is this fair?
We looked at our childhoods, and asked the same question under four topic headings - Atmosphere, Mistakes, Hurt/Pain, and Expectations. I asked everyone to evaluate these areas of family life:
What was the Atmosphere like in your childhood family? Was it loving and supportive, or cold, critical or even cruel? Estimate how much of the time the atmosphere was positive and how much of the time was negative, making both numbers add up to 100%.
Family Attitude to Mistakes
Were you allowed to make mistakes in your home? If you made a mistake was it forgiven, were you given an opportunity to resolve it in a supported way, or were you criticised, told you were stupid, careless or worse? Using the 100% guide, divide up your childhood into the percentage you were allowed to make mistakes and the percentage you were punished for making mistakes.
Family Attitude to Hurt/Pain
Hurt/Pain: Were you allowed to be hurt, or be in pain, and were you comforted and taken care of at these times, or were you told to grow up, take it on the chin, laughed at or dismissed? Divide the supportive times and the unsupported times to add up to 100%.
Expectations: What expectations were placed on you as a child? Were you expected to succeed, be the best, or expected to take on an inappropriate role - the mother, the spouse, the supportive one, the 'good child', the success. Were all children in the family treated equally or were their higher expectations of one over the other? What percentage of time do you feel the expectations of you were appropriate, and how often were they inappropriate? Score out of 100%.
Take some time to reflect more on these questions and headings in the context of your childhood family life, and see what memories and recollections come to you. As always, take care of yourself and make sure you have support or a comforting strategy available to you whenever you do your reflection.
Take Care, Emma
We used the first part of this session to review goal setting techniques and strategies. Some were able to achieve their goals, some did not achieve the goals set, but we are using this "failure" as a learning experience, it will teach us more about how we set goals, are they realistic and achievable, or do they need to be revised downwards to be easier to reach. We are not looking to climb a whole mountain, simply take one step at a time towards it.
The second part of the session was spent discussing the roles each family member plays in the family, and what these roles mean - or rather, what effect can roles like this have, both on the 'player' and the other family members. "Overfunctioning" members of the family end up doing all the work, which means other family members do not have to.
We then did a drawing of family trees, or genograms. This exercise helps people to look at their family in a different way, to identify patterns, to see where generations are "mirroring" each other, or even noticing where relationships have broken down, or there are secrets, or things we don't know (that we didn't realise we didn't know). This exercise is only the beginning of our work to explore the family and it's functioning throughout the rest of the sessions for this group.
Feel free to comment or simply post a note on the blog if you wish, and we will meet again on Tuesday May. Until then, Take Care of Yourselves. Emma
This week we discussed goal setting and how to judge our goals in terms of how achievable and realistic they are.
Many goals that we set for ourselves are "macro goals" - i.e. far to big and lofty to be achieved - I want to stop bingeing. Or they are "concept goals" - i.e. are based on a wish or an aspiration that has nothing to do with concrete behaviour or action - I want to lose a stone.
Key learning from this evening's session is about reducing goals right down so that they are "action oriented" - e.g. "I will go for a walk tonight", and realistically time limited - " I am not going to eat chocolate today".
FAILING AS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
Failing to achieve a goal is a learning experience - what happened that prevented me from achieving my goal? All information is useful and informs us about what we can do differently the next time.
Setting unrealistic and unachievable goals allows us to keep beating ourselves up about how useless we are, it feeds the negative voice. Using the goal setting handout allows you to begin checking your goals for achieveability and reality - can I actually do this?
GETTING IN YOUR OWN WAY
Another key learning is the sometimes bizarre nature of the thoughts and rules we have internalised and see as reasonable and logical in our heads. Being able to tune in more to your own internalised rules and messages is another way of gathering valuable information on how you may be getting in your own way of achieving goals. E.g. having rigid rules, not knowing what "normal" is, understanding how your aspirations or wishes for yourself are realistically at odds with who you are - all these internalised rules and messages are keeping you stuck in your negative behaviours and feeding your critical voice.
THE NEGATIVE VOICE
The more awareness you have of the internal negative voice, the more you can separate it out from yourself and begin to challenge it. A suggestion from the group was to put a face or name on it, preferably of someone you don't like. Visualise this person sitting on your shoulder talking into your ear - this helps you see it as something separate that you can talk back to.
Concentrating on your failures and faults feeds the voice. Setting realistic and achieveable goals will give you successes that you can focus on and build upon.
Feel free to comment on this blog during the week, and take care of yourselves.
This round of the group has seven participants.
Meeting tonight for the first time went well, and everyone participated well in the discussions.
WE ALL FEEL THE SAME DISTRESSES
Everyone was able to identify with everyone else's current problems in their relationship to food, their body image, and the connection between food and their feelings.
Most in the group identified with the feeling of fear and/or anxiety around losing their "friend" and coping mechanism, and wondered what they could do instead when faced with difficulties in the future, when the eating disordered behaviour is gone.
What is important to take from this sentiment is the feeling that everyone potentially sees a time when they may not have this behaviour in their life.
Finally, almost everyone identified with the feelings of secrecy and shame around their behaviour, and the inability to really share their distress with others in their lives, as others don't really understand how eating disordered behaviour actually works as a coping strategy.
ALL OR NOTHING THINKING
Feelings of either being in control or out of control were common in the group. Recognising a habit of thinking in very concrete terms, "all or nothing" thinking. I have suggested that you break the day down into three sections to allow yourself three chances a day to achieve your goal, whatever it is on the day.
FEAR OF WHAT WE MIGHT FIND OUT
Several participants spoke of a sense that there's something they don't know, or can't put their finger on, that causes them to feel like they have a 'black hole' inside. Although we will be exploring the past and the family during the group, the aim is not necessarily to uncover some dark, dreadful secret, (although sometimes that can happen), the goal of this work is to help participants understand what subconscious 'rules' and 'messages' they are still carrying around with them, and to work on changing them if they no longer fit with where we are today in our lives. Most parents do not deliberately set out to hurt their children, but they may inadvertently affect them on an emotional level by the rules they impose on the family, or through the 'roles' they assign to the family members. We'll be looking at all this in a lot more detail in the coming weeks.
This is your forum to communicate with each other or simply put something up on the board if you wish, in between sessions. This blog is private and only available to members of the group.
Take care of yourself, Emma
Emma Murphy is a Counsellor and Psychotherapist working with clients struggling with food and/or body image, in Sandyford South Dublin.
All All Or Nothing Thinking Failing As A Learning Experience Family Atmosphere Family Attitudes Family Attitude To Hurt/Pain Family Attitude To Mistakes Family Expectations Family Maps/Genograms Fear Of What We Might Find Out Getting In Your Own Way Goal Setting Realistic Goals The Negative Voice We All Feel The Same Distresses