How To Recover From Childhood Bullying

I was bullied mercilessly at my all boys high school. Turning up to Year 8 English class was a routine nightmare: Often one boy in the class would stake out the door waiting for the teacher while another group would hoist me up on top of a high cupboard against my will. As the teacher arrived, the scout at the door would give the signal for everyone to return to their desks so that at the precise moment that the teacher walked into the room everything looked normal in the class; except that Graham was up on top of the cupboard. The teacher was too stupid to work out what was going on, and I'd end up getting sent to the principal for more even punishment.

Childhood bullying is insidious because it can leave long-lasting scars on your mental psyche. This is a critical time of development of our brains, and if your experience of childhood or adolescence is one of powerlessness and victimization, it can program deep unconscious patterns into our minds that set us up for debilitating anxiety and depression later in life.

Childhood bullying can affect you long into your adult life.

Childhood bullying can leave mental scars that affect you long into your adult life.

Fortunately though we can recover. There's enough neural plasticity in our brains to undo the damage that bullying does, provided we're willing to face the emotions that we were forced to suppress when the bullying occurred. Here's how to recover from childhood bullying: Continue reading

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How To Overcome Your Fear Of Being Seen

If you're anything like me, you feel self-conscious in front of other people. Last time I caught an airplane, I went to the front of the plane to use the toilet right behind the cockpit, and had to wait at the front because it was already occupied. I felt that rush of shame on realizing that the other passengers could see me waiting. Somehow in my head, I imagined them thinking the worst; even though they probably weren't thinking about me at all.

In situations like this I like to pretend that other people are always thinking great things like “Wow, he's awesome!” when they look at me, and while that's helpful, it hasn't entirely made the anxiety go away. One of my favorite hobbies is playing music, and it recently gave me the opportunity to confront this fear head-on.

I've been playing guitar for around 6 years now, and I can strum up a decent tune on my own or playing with friends. But I get nervous playing in public; I feel anxious and my mind wanders through a series of stressful thoughts like “I'm crap!”, “I'll mess it up”, “They (whoever is listening) won't like it”, “They won't like the song I've chosen”, “My singing sounds bad” etc etc.

It's exhausting!

The first time I played guitar for an audience was in my guitar class, and although I was nervous it went really well. The teacher wanted us to have a good experience playing in front of people, and the best way to conquer the fear was to play in front of a friendly crowd who were all in the same boat as beginner guitarists.

The next time I played in front of an audience was in a comedy club, doing a variation of American Pie with humorous lyrics. I was so nervous that my left hand couldn't make the chord shapes, and the anxiety got worse the longer I played. One of the guys in the audience yelled out “You've killed a great song!”

Damn hecklers! Damn anxiety! Damn damn damn damn damn!

It was a few years before I wanted to play in front of an audience again.

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How To Overcome The Fear Of Conflict

I developed an intense fear of conflict when I was young, and it has hung around with me for a long time. The fear evolved as a series of things led to each other: I used to find the fights between my parents very frightening as a kid, and never experienced any of their conflicts actually being resolved. Conflict was scary, and never seemed to have a positive outcome. My parent's anger during conflict always felt out of control and destructive to me, so I decided that anger was a bad emotion to be suppressed at all costs. Plus my religion taught me to “turn the other cheek” rather than to stand up for myself when I was being treated in ways that I didn't like. As an awkward, sensitive boy I was bullied mercilessly at my sport-oriented all-boys high school.

When we are afraid of conflict, other people can treat us like this.

When we are afraid of conflict, other people can treat us like this.

So the message I internalised was that conflict was scary and often led to me getting hurt. I developed an intense fear of conflict: Any time I was under threat or being criticised, I would collapse into sadness or be overwhelmed with fear. I didn't know how to utilise my anger to stand up for myself in times of conflict, nor had I been taught the communication skills to resolve conflict in a win/win manner that left me feeling empowered.

Once we've internalised negative experiences of conflict in our nervous systems, our default programming around conflict can be to run away from it, and it can be a challenge to reprogram our brain and nervous system to step up in the face of conflict, instead of fleeing from it.

Standing up for ourselves in the face of conflict is how we overcome the fear of it.

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Are You An Angry Young Man?

Anger is one of the emotions that I have found most difficult to deal with in the past. I grew up in a house where anger was handled in ways that I found very frightening, leading me to become very afraid of conflict. This meant that I made a decision fairly early on in life that anger was a "bad" emotion that I should suppress at all costs. I became very ashamed of anybody knowing when I was angry.

I ended up internalising a lot of rage and unhappiness. I just didn't know how to let anger go and how to get it out of my system. It wasn't until the last few years that I even realised just how angry I was deep down.

I now know that anger is not "bad" emotion; it's just a signal that our needs aren't getting met. Anger provides energy for us to act assertively in situations where people are treating us in ways we don't like. If we've learned to be passive in the face of our anger, that energy gets trapped in our nervous system.

Because I have many years of internalising my anger, the situations where I would have liked to act assertively have long passed. Yet I'm still carrying that anger in my nervous system.

So the question becomes: How to let it go?

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Learning To Swim

Eight weeks ago I finally got around to taking swimming lessons. It's something that I had been planning to do ever since moving to live near the beach 18 months ago. There are a number of reasons for this: firstly, I don't feel safe in the ocean when I'm out of my depth. Deep down I know that I'm not a confident swimmer and whenever I'm in deep water my body responds with a lot of anxiety. I figured that if I knew I could swim confidently I wouldn't get so anxious about not being able to touch the bottom.I go body boarding a lot and I feel relatively safe with the board strapped to my arm. But I get caught in rips all the time and I know that if the strap was to break or I lost the board somehow, I'd be in real trouble.

Plus I think swimming is a great exercise for overcoming deep-seated anxiety. The full immersion in the water gives gentle stimulation to our nervous system, and it's also a relatively low impact exercise. So long as you don't drown, that is.

Swimming: How hard can it be?

Swimming: How hard can it be?

The arm movement involved in swimming could also be particularly beneficial. We generally use our arms to move things in our environment: to take action; and I believe that taking action is the antidote to the anxiety that we feel when we think was are powerless.

I also suspect that the migraine headaches I sometimes get are related to muscle tension in the back of my neck and shoulders. Getting some motion on my shoulders and neck should help release that tension and give me the feeling that I'm moving forward under my own power.

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How To Deal With Angry Women

I get my fair share of hate mail on the Internet, which I find unpleasant but not entirely surprising. Many people aren't good at expressing their anger cleanly, and some of them choose to channel it into hate mail directed at me.

Being on the receiving end of somebody else's hostility can be stressful, so it's important to be assertive with these people to stop their stress from entering our emotional boundary.

Use assertiveness to stop other people's anger entering your emotional boundary.

Use assertiveness to stop other people's anger entering your emotional boundary.

He's an example from a few weeks ago: I got an email from a female ex-friend who I initially met through a blog I run, which began:

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Sign Up For The World's Greatest Shave

Here is yet another confidence building tip fresh from my backyard. And today I want to talk to you about changing your appearance because if there's one thing that makes a big difference to our confidence it's making a big change in our appearance and then going out in the world and experiencing what happens when we do that and how other people respond to us.

So there are two events that I want to recommend that you get involved in which help raise money for charity and change your appearance at the same time which means you get to feel good about yourself for two reasons: firstly, you'll be helping other people; and, secondly, you'll be building your confidence.

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How To Heal Emotional Trauma

Sumelevate Life Coach Sume Chatz recently interviewed me for his video podcast about how I work with my coaching clients to help them heal emotional trauma from the past so they can move on to a happier future.

The interview packs a heap of information into a half hour, covering topics like:

  • How family of origin issues can set you up for emotional problems down the track
  • The impact of poor communication skills on our world view as children
  • How to heal overwhelming anxiety
  • The role of the subconscious and how to work with it
  • Mindfulness and the importance of living in the present
  • What I actually do in Skype sessions with my clients
  • How to coach someone in emotional trauma
  • How to get motivated towards your goals

That's a lot of valuable information for one half hour! I recommend you check it out.

emotional traumaThe one thing I didn't mention explicitly was what exactly emotional trauma is: the emotional residue left in our brains and nervous system attached to memories of any emotionally overwhelming past event that we weren't able to fully express and release at the time.

Healing trauma is important because emotionally charged memories from the past restrict our ability to be freely self-expressed and get on with life in the present.

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Happy Festivus!

It's a Seinfeld classic. Just gotta share it today:

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Finding Hope When All Hope Seems Lost

I've been watching a lot of movies lately on the theme of "The Hero's Journey" that every man must take in order to grow from being a boy into being a man. I've been particularly drawn to movies that talk about hope and masculine empowerment, such as The Shawshank Redemption which is currently rated number one on the IMDB list of the top 250 movies.

Obviously the reason why this particular movie is so highly rated is that it strikes a chord deep in the soul of everyone who watches it. I've seen it several times before, but this time it's struck some nerves with me that hadn't quite been hit before.

Wisdom from The Shawshank Redemption

Wisdom from The Shawshank Redemption

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