Friday, 3 February 2017

How a woman tests out her man

My step-son got married last year; my son is getting married next year. I've found myself pondering on the nature of relationships, in particular how a woman chooses a man. It seems to me that when women seek a life partner there may be an unconscious testing process that goes on.

She is looking for someone who is capable enough to look after her and her family when the babies are small; wise enough to provide support and guidance when she needs it; empathetic enough to listen and understand her concerns; and strong enough to match her and hold her in check when necessary. The first three of these are probably conscious desires and she can look at the evidence to see if her man is doing the necessary. The last one is not.

My belief is that a woman subconsciously puts her man through a trial of strength to see if he is stronger than her – that is what she is looking for. Someone who can match her energy, contain her desires, stand up for himself in a fight but not hurt her physically or emotionally, who knows what he wants, and, to put it bluntly, will not put up with her shit. She is unconsciously testing him, and can become bossy, demanding and sometimes downright bitchy. Unbeknown to both parties, she is not wanting him to defer, she is wanting him to say ‘Enough!’ to hold her and say ‘I respect you, and you need to respect me too’. Then she can relax, knowing she has made the right choice.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Marriage Advice

I was recently asked to contribute to a wedding ceremony by giving advice for a good marriage. What a lovely idea! My husband was asked as well, and two others couples who had been married for some time. This was my contribution. 

To the groom:
When a woman chooses a man it is not just because she loves him. It is also because she thinks she has found someone strong enough to spend her life with. Someone strong enough to hold her; to contain her; to match her. But remember that as well as the usual things we understand by it being strong also includes: 

-       being true to yourself
-       saying ‘no’ as well as ‘yes’
-       being brave enough to admit when you are feeling vulnerable
-       asking for help when you need it

To the bride: 
When I got married my father gave me one piece of advice; I’d like to pass that on to you. This is what he said to me: 

“Don’t try and change him!”

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Boys Need Boundaries - whatever age they are!

In the last couple of months I've had a few people asking advice about boys (and men) who are behaving badly in the home. I was struck by the common theme: dominating behaviour by the boy or man, coupled with a reluctance on the part of the woman (mother/partner) to use a sanction that would make the difference that was needed. 

Let me enlarge.

The first story came from the mother of a nine year old boy who had bouts of temper towards his parents that included hitting, kicking and verbal abuse. It sounded like he was worse to his mother than his father. Not long after his outbursts he would return to his affectionate self, snuggling up and telling his mother he loved her. 

"You've got to sort this out soon," I told her, "Right now he's smaller than you, imagine what it would be like if he's still behaving like this when he's a teenager." I asked how they were dealing with it; they had used sanctions like taking away his electronic devices or not allowing him to go and play with friends, but these weren't having the desired affect. 
"What about football?" I asked. I could feel her shudder; I was treading on hallowed ground, for this was his area of excellence, this was where he shone, this might be his future – this was a place they weren't prepared to go. 
"You must have a sanction he minds about," I explained, "or it won't have any effect. You don't have to ban him from football completely, you simply say 'If you carry on behaving like that you will not be going to the next football practice' or 'I'm giving you advance warning that if you swear at me the sanction will be missing the next football practice, and I will explain to your coach why you have missed it'." I later told my husband what my advice had been and he suggested a modification: giving the boy an opportunity to save face with his coach by saying, 'The first time you miss football I will not tell your coach how you have behaved at home, but if after that you do it again, not only will you miss the next practice, but I will tell your coach why.' This gives the boy a double incentive not to repeat his behaviour, and if you do end up telling the coach then you have an adult he respects on-side.

When choosing how to deal with unacceptable behaviour, it is essential that we examine our own areas of corruptibility. All the while there is a hallowed area that can not be touched, the boy will know, consciously or unconsciously, he has the power in the relationship and the bad behaviour will continue.

The second story came from someone whose daughter's friend had a younger, 17-year-old brother who was bullying the family and in particular their single mum. The brother, the oldest boy in a fatherless family, had dropped out of college and was selling drugs, but when the police came to the door his mother was not prepared to co-operate with them. However her loyalty to her son just increased his power, and soon the whole family became terrified of him. All the while the son knew that his mother would not tell the police about his threatening behaviour and his drug dealing, he retained his power over her, and his behaviour to his family and others became worse.

The third story was about a 23-year-old who had been brought up by his divorced mother with no financial help from their father, except for presents and holidays. She had managed to buy a house to raise her family in, and once her three children left home took in lodgers to contribute to her income. The boy initially had moved to his dad's and secured reasonably paid work, but then decided it was time to re-think his life, find himself and, after a short time travelling, arrived back at his mum's where he took his old bedroom that she would normally have let to a lodger. After a while he managed to get a job. When we spoke the mother was unhappy: she reported that they were having terrible rows, he was making the house so untidy she was concerned she would lose the lodgers she had, and when she asked for a financial contribution he asked what she wanted to spend it on and then they got into an argument about that. 

To me the situation was clear: she had to decide on a weekly rent for her son (that may or may not be as much as her other lodgers paid) and tell him that he needed to pay this amount each week or find somewhere else to live; no other discussion was necessary. But this suggestion stepped onto hallowed ground: after struggling to singlehandedly provide for her family for years, the mother did not feel able to insist on rent from one of her children and then ask them to leave if they did not pay. So sadly, having done a wonderful job of bringing up her children, she was now allowing one of them to get away with what his father had done – not paying his way – which does no favours to her, her son or his future partners.

I heard these three stories within a few weeks of one another. They showed how important it is not only to set boundaries early on, but also to carry on setting them as the boy grows into a teenager and then a young man. Then a fourth story came my way, this time about a man in his sixties. He had had a difficult childhood and several stormy relationships over his life, but now had a new partner. They each had their own place; she was very close to her family, and her children and grandchildren visited often. She made her new partner welcome when he stayed. He was quite private and territorial, she was very welcoming to family and cooperative with her neighbours. He started to get angry at the perceived intrusion of others into her house and their world, and when they were alone again would complain,  swear at her, threaten to break things, storm out and drive away, but later phone to apologise and come back. 

She seemed to handle it well, remaining calm while he ranted, explaining she wanted her family and neighbours around and he needed to accept and be polite to them, that she would call the police if he broke things, that he was free to go if he wanted to. 
I had only one criticism – that she didn't call him on his verbal abuse. 
"He needs to know that if he's in your house he must be respectful to everyone, which includes you," I said, "and that if he's verbally abusive you will ask him to leave. You would not put up with that from your children or grandchildren, and you should not put up with it from your partner, whatever age he is."

Four stories in the same month, all variations on a theme, with the protagonists ranging from 9 years old to 67. If we don't get this boundaries thing right early on, things can spiral out of control. But it seems that we will always be given another opportunity – and when faced with it, let's do all we can to allow ourselves to be sufficiently clear-sighted, firm and calm to do what it takes to put things right.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Six month sentence or life?

Let me tell you about Luke.

Luke has been a volunteer youth leader for the last three years at one of the youth clubs I'm involved with. He's great with the kids, a reliable member of the team, and probably would have been selected as chairperson if he hadn't already been running a football club almost singlehanded. He's a thoroughly decent guy who cares about young people and wants to give them opportunities – very empathetic, easy to talk to, good fun. Maybe that's just his nature, but it's probably got something to do with his life experience too: he was bullied at school, he became an angry teenager – in fact he ended up doing six months in a detention centre. So Luke can empathise with youngsters who aren't finding life easy. But he came through, got a job and it wasn't long before he was asked to keep an eye on the apprentices at work.

Luke got married, had children, but sadly his wife died of cancer and he found himself bringing them up on his own. Oh, and did I tell you his son has ADHD and was eventually sent to a special school, so Luke also knows all about dealing with special needs.

As you can imagine Luke didn't come out of school with many qualifications, so it was amazing when he decided to do a degree as a mature student. And once he graduated he started job hunting and asked me to be one of his referees. It was not  difficult to write a great reference for him when he applied to be a support worker at a home for people with learning difficulties. Nor was I in the least bit surprised to hear he had been offered the job, subject to a DBS check.

What did shock me a few weeks later though, was when he told me the offer had been withdrawn because of his criminal record – because of what he had done when he was 17 and 18 years old. You see there's one thing I haven't told you about Luke, which is that Luke had just celebrated his 50th birthday. And he is being told he is not suitable to work with people with learning difficulties because of things he had done as a teenager over thirty years ago!

I have written to the organisation involved to question their recruitment policy, but that is not enough, because this sort of insanity is going on all over the country in the name of safeguarding. Instead of using a bit of intelligence, common sense and discretion when faced with DBS information, HR departments are using a blanket tick-box approach. We need to get this story out there so that those who are recruiting start questioning their policies, instead of covering their backsides, and putting some humanity into Human Resources policies.

As Luke put it, "I did something wrong as a teenager and was punished for it. I don't expect to be punished for the same thing again 30 years later."

Monday, 22 July 2013

How to Motivate Yourself

The other day a friend asked me how to stay motivated when writing a book. I told him the key to motivation is to ditch trying to be conscientious and disciplined and instead to work out ways to trick your mind, and most importantly to learn how to be naughty!

Some principles:
  • replace 'should' with 'could' – instead of 'I should work on that chapter right now' say 'I could work on that chapter right now' and give yourself permission to choose not to
  • follow your energy – do what makes your energy  go up; if you think of cleaning the flat and your energy goes down, find something more interesting to do (which might at that moment by your assignment or your book, or it might be going shopping!)
  • let your body tell you what you need to do – it will tell you when you need to eat, sleep, work, rest, exercise, watch TV, go out; listen carefully and do what it tells you to do
  • be naughty – if you think you ought to be writing your book be naughty and clean the flat instead; if you think you ought to be doing an assignment be naughty and spend half an hour on the book before you start; if you think you ought to be exercising be naughty and finish off an assignment
  • observe your creative cycle – notice when you get your best ideas: in bed, in the bath, when walking, and allow yourself to do these things; notice what time of the day you write best and timetable this in; give yourself time to warm up to creativity, maybe start by editing a previous part until your writing brain clicks in; if working after a certain time affects your sleep or how you feel in the morning then stop before that time
  • trust that it will all get done in the end – when you find yourself doubting you can get everything done remind yourself it will happen, it just might take longer than you thought
  • use external deadlines to raise the stakes – when an assignment has to be in by a certain day it tends to get done; when you're expecting a visitor the house gets cleaned; understand that these things will get done in the end, so don't give yourself a hard time for not doing them earlier 
  • divide jobs into small bits and do one at a time – instead of aiming to do a whole assignment aim just to write the plan; instead of writing a whole chapter aim to write/edit/improve  one section; instead of aiming to clean the whole flat aim to clean one room
  • be kind to yourself – notice and praise yourself for all that you have achieved (which might include resting, socialising or having a good night's sleep) rather than focussing on the things you haven't done

Friday, 17 May 2013

Building a Better Future

I’m in the office getting ready for next week’s Building a Better Future course, which my husband Peter and I run for people who want to make changes in their lives. The list of names has been shifting all week, some people dropping off because of changes in their circumstances, others being added at the last minute.

We’ve been in the self-development field for many years and have worked on this particular course during the last three. It was initially aimed solely at people who had been in prison, but we soon realised there are many more people needing this kind of input, so opened it up to anyone who is ready and willing to change. We have teamed up with the homelessness charity Crisis and run the course in their Skylight Centre in London four times a year. Participants now include the homeless and recently homeless, people who have struggled with addiction, and those looking for a new way forward. Anyone is welcome as long as they come for the full five days, are prepared to look at themselves and their situation, and are open to change.

We’ve had people of all ages, from young people of 18 through to pensioners; men and women; many nationalities and from all walks of life. Whatever the backgrounds of those in the room, at the end of the week there is a group of people who have been on a journey together, who care about each others’ future and are prepared to offer one another support if it’s needed.

Despite the range of people who attend the course, their issues are often similar: a difficult childhood or traumatic event that caused deep pain, low self-esteem, anger and self-pity. This often led to disengagement with education; violence or crime; substance abuse; and/or mental health issues. Most people are deeply ashamed, but often mask this by blaming their circumstances, other people or society for their ills.  

During the week we explore the emotions that control us, discover how to identify them and to release them safely and effectively. We identify the best in us and the worst in us; most people find it much easier to see what is wrong with them than to acknowledge their qualities, but by the end of the week everyone knows their strengths and how they can use those to move forward. We look at our life stories and how they have made us who we are – we take responsibility for the decisions we’ve made, and forgive ourselves for those bits of our lives we aren’t proud of.

We use a variety of processes to achieve this. The key thing is to build trust within the group, and a range of simple exercises help participants get to know each other and feel comfortable in the room. On the first day we look at a model of emotions, allowing people to explore what emotions have dominated their lives and how to manage them; we use discussion and drama to do this. Throughout the week we use relaxation techniques, breathing and visualisation to manage stress, build self-esteem and release old emotions. We use stories, poems, drawing and symbolism to by-pass old thought patterns and explore new ways of looking at things. Once the group has bonded and there is a high level of trust, participants can use a listening circle to express and release the parts of their past that are holding them back. By the end of the week the group knows each other well and are able to give each other powerful feedback that leaves people feeling valued and recognised. The final day involves making a practical action plan for next three months and a simple ritual to leave the past behind and step into a better future. 

The course allows people to let go of things that have been holding them back, leave their past behind and to decide what needs to be done to embark on a positive future. There’s a lot of laughter along the way and often a few tears. For many it is healing place and a turning point in their life. It is powerful and effective because it addresses the causes of the participants’ destructive behaviour. Once these have been identified and released, the person is able to move on from their past and start making constructive choices. Whilst the journey is by no means over, participants usually leave with a sense of self-worth feeling that a burden has been lifted from them. This makes it easier for them to address mental health issues, addiction and offending, and so not only improves their life chances, but also reduces the amount the state will spend on them in their lifetime – a week’s investment with a high return in every sense.

So back in the office I’ve done the confirmation calls and am looking forward to meeting those I’ve spoken to. I look at the list and wonder who will arrive and who will not, and who will stay the course. I’m looking forward to getting to know the personalities, hear their stories and witness the struggles and triumphs they experience during the week. But most of all I’m looking forward to learning what each person I share the week with will add to my life.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Ten Lessons for Life

Last week I was the guest of honour at the Awards Evening at Ilkley Grammar School in Yorkshire. A great honour to be asked, but after presenting the certificates and awards, what should I say to the assembled students and parents? I decided to look at what I had learnt in life that might have been handy to know earlier.

  1. Courage is like a muscle and should be exercised regularly. When an opportunity comes up, make a habit of saying 'yes'. Notice how your body feels and learn to interpret it. I used to think butterflies in the tummy meant 'don't do it', but learnt they are actually saying 'it's your turn'.
  2. Take your own path.  Everyone is unique and has their own path. Some people know exactly what they want to do in life – they are lucky. Most do not, and it may take a while to find out. Your energy levels will give you some clues: what makes your energy lift, what makes it die? When faced with a choice, which option makes your energy go up, which one leaves you feeling  flat? Awareness of your energy levels may help you find your path.
  3. You can be good at anything.  Everyone has natural talents, but you can also become very good at things that you like but are not initially gifted at. All it takes is interest, commitment, and lots of practice!
  4. If you don't know what you want to do yet, do what you are doing well.  Anything you do will add to your experience and give you skills and insights that you can apply later. The more you apply yourself to what you are currently doing the more you will learn, gathering skills and experience you will need when you do find out what it is you want to do.
  5. You need to be flexible to reach your potential.  I remember myself in my early 20s. My attitude was roughly: "This is me and if people don't like how I am they can lump it!" It took me a while to realise that it was me that was losing out. But once I moved out of the comfort of my limitations, I felt more able to be fully myself. Seek feedback and advice and be open to change.
  6. Respect matters. When working with parents and teachers I'm sometimes told that young people should only be shown respect when they've earned it. Some teenagers have a similar view about adults. These attitudes result in a stalemate, while making the first move to give others respect usually brings out the best in people. Also respect yourself: care for yourself and learn to say 'no' when you need to. And be aware that everyone is sensitive, in fact the less sensitive they appear on the outside the more sensitive they are likely to be on the inside.
  7. What matters is who you are, not what you do or have. People won't remember you for your job title, the size of your house or the make of your car. They will remember you for the qualities you bring and the effect these have on others. 
  8. Life runs in cycles.  If you are finding something difficult, it will get easier; if you are feeling down, things will get better. But if things are good, that won't last for ever; there are likely to be challenges around the corner. We've heard about economic cycles, we are the bottom of one right now. The good news is that it will get better. But when it does, don't get fooled into thinking it will go on for ever. It won't. Life goes in cycles – plan for it.
  9. Learning never stops.  Everything you do in life will give you an opportunity to learn. Our mistakes can be our best teachers. But if you're smart, you'll watch out for other people's mistakes and learn from them too!
  10. Life will look after you.  Over the years I've come to realise that life will look after me – things do turn out in the end. But to let that happen you need to be alert: look out for and take advantage  of things that might help you. And learn to trust: trust that things will work out.