*Sarah came to see me in the grip of terrible anxiety which she had suffered for as long as she could remember.
In Sarah’s case her anxiety was very specific. She had a debilitating fear of not being able to find a toilet when she was away from home. If she needed to leave the house, even for short trips, she would plan her route around the locations of the nearest public toilets.
Even before she left the house she would start to feel a sense of panic and dread about not being near a toilet. She would go through a routine of making sure she used the bathroom before she left the house even if she didn’t really need to, and having an emergency kit with her at all times, consisting of toilet paper and an empty bottle “just in case”.
While short journeys were somewhat manageable, long journeys in the car or on a plane or having days out with the family were incredibly difficult. Consumed by anxious thoughts of not being able to find a toilet, Sarah could never relax and enjoy herself. Long trips were punctuated by frequent stops at public restrooms. Traffic delays, getting lost or delayed sent Sarah into a panic, so much so that she would sometimes ask whoever was driving to stop suddenly so she could dash out to find a place to go to the toilet wherever she was.
Needless to say anxiety was ruining her life. She couldn’t enjoy days out with her husband and children. She felt limited by her anxiety to the extent that it was controlling her and her entire life. There was also a deep sense of shame about the anxiety and it was not something she felt safe talking about to many people.
The first thing I knew I needed to do was find out how Sarah’s mind was trying to help her by keeping her in a constant state of anxiety about needing to be near a toilet.
It sounds bizarre to suggest that Sarah’s anxiety may have been trying to help her. But one of the absolute rules of the mind is that our minds are always trying to protect us from harm – but sometimes they do this in really odd and unhelpful ways.
I suspected the roots of Sarah’s issue lay in childhood, most likely related to an incident where she was made to feel shame or guilt about natural bodily functions. So Sarah agreed to have a Rapid Transformational Therapy session with me to see if we could help her break free from the toilet anxiety once and for all.
Even though Sarah was keen to have RTT she was also sceptical. The only incident she could remember regarding being anxious about needing to use the toilet was in her late teens in the car with her boyfriend , when she had to ask him to pull over urgently so she could find somewhere to use the toilet. She remembered a feeling of blind panic and dread crashing down on her. But that was her only memory,
During her RTT session, however, she started to remember scenes from her childhood where she had experienced terrible shame about herself associated with needing to go to the toilet.
The most significant of these was as a four-year old girl, waking up in the middle of the night and needing to use the toilet. To get to the bathroom however she had to walk through a dark house, down a series of corridors, through several doors, past the kitchen. The corridors were dark and, to a four-old’s mind, very scary. She was terrified.
So instead, her little four year old mind came up with a solution. She shared a bedroom with her two younger sisters, one of whom had a potty which sat in the corner of the bedroom. She could use that. Problem solved.
The next day when her mum found that she had used her sister’s potty, she was angry. She screamed: “Why did you do this? That’s disgusting. You dirty girl. I’m so disappointed with you”.
It’s worth stating at this point that Sarah never felt loved by her mother. Her mother was often angry and took it out on Sarah. In a situation where Sarah should have been treated with love and compassion, she was made to feel dirty, disgusting and worthless.
From these scenes it was clear that there was already fear and anxiety associated with using the toilet (having to walk through dark and scary corridors to get to the toilet); and then, added to this, the shame at being called dirty and disgusting about not being able to get to a toilet, but using her sister’s potty instead.
In that moment, Sarah’s mind made a decision, to never put herself in a position where she was made to feel those same terrible feelings of shame and self-disgust ever again. Her mind decided in no uncertain terms: “You have to protect yourself, Sarah. So make sure you are near a toilet at all times. Never let yourself get caught out .”
Now that we knew where the root of the issue was, I helped Sarah change her belief about herself and to see that little four-year old girl through adult eyes. Rather than being dirty and disgusting, she was just a scared little girl, but also incredibly smart and resourceful to find a way to protect herself from being scared of going to the toilet.
We talked about how children have toilet accidents all the time – it’s part of growing up. And how if that had happened to one of her own children she would have responded in a completely different way to her own mother – she would have been understanding and loving. I worked with Sarah to help her feel incredible love and compassion for that little four-year old – and to understand that the event was not her fault.
We changed the belief Sarah had about herself. She is not dirty, nor disgusting, No one would ever tell her so, even if she did have a toilet accident. I also encouraged her to see that unless there is a physical condition present, adults are pretty good at being able to control their bladders. I helped her realise that she is in control of her body including her bladder at all times.
Following the session Sarah listened to her transformation recording for 21 days as instructed. During this time I coached her in specific techniquesto develop new ways of coping with anxious thoughts so that they became less and less troubling.
One week later, I checked in with her to see how she was getting on. There were already signs of improvement. When she was out with her children she felt more relaxed and was no longer thinking about where the nearest toilet was.
Then came a long car journey when the family went on holiday, after which I checked in with her again. And this is what she wrote:
“I never ever thought I would get to this stage! You have truly helped give me a new lease of life. I have broken free from those chains. I was so sceptical about RTT, thinking that it’s something that works for other people but not for me. How I smile at this not being the case. I’ve learnt also to trust in the process. I can’t thank you enough for providing such a safe, non judgemental space for me to dig deep and be totally honest and open about some of my darkest experiences and memories. Not worrying every time I walk out of the door is so refreshing and I know things will only get better and improve even more as time goes by.
What a miracle you have worked on me Dawn. This is something I never thought I would be free of. I can’t thank you enough”.
“When someone constantly criticises it often tells you more about the psychology of the criticiser than the person he or she is criticising. Knowing this is the first step to protecting yourself from the onslaught”
Worrying new evidence suggests that being constantly criticised can send people to an early grave. That’s according to a recent study published in scientific journal Health Psychology.
Professor Jamila Bookwala’s team at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, analysed data from 1,734 men and women* who had been interviewed for the National Social Life, Health and Ageing Project. When revisiting the survey participants five years later, they found that those who reported higher levels of being criticised in their partnerships were more than twice as likely to be dead than those who were criticised the least. (Some 44% of people who said they were criticised often by their partners were found to have died when researchers returned five years later.)
When you’re on the receiving end of constant criticism
If you’ve been criticised – and frankly, who hasn’t experienced it at some point in their lives? – you’ll know exactly how deeply hurtful it can feel. If you pay attention to the physical responses in your body when you’re being criticised, you’ll more than likely notice your heart rate increase, your chest become tight, maybe you’ll clench your fists. You may experience a feeling of nausea or a sudden blinding headache.
Your body responds in much the same way it does to a physical threat – it releases stress hormones as part of the flight, fight or freeze response.
According to Professor Bookwala, frequent criticism can put damaging stress on the body, and the effect is the same regardless of gender and independent of factors such as whether a person has other close friends or family. This is because criticism is a type of chronic interpersonal stressor, and “just like other chronic stressors, can have a cumulative and enduring negative impact on not only health and wellbeing – morbidity – but also mortality”.
No one likes to be criticised. But there are degrees of criticism. On one end of the spectrum there’s “constructive criticism” which is supposed to be helpful but can still require a deep inhale of breath to listen to without responding in kind. Then there’s the other extreme: personal criticism which attacks the fundamentals of who you are, and because of this can be deeply wounding. This kind of criticism:
* Is based on the person being wrong, rather than their behaviour
* Is about blame
* Is not about helping to improve a situation
* Is about there being only one right way of doing things
* Makes the person feel humiliated, small or feel badly about themselves on a fundamental level.
What to do if you face constant criticism
The first thing to bear in mind is that when someone makes a habit of criticising you, it often tells you more about the psychology of the criticiser than the person he or she is criticising. Knowing this is the first step to protecting yourself from the onslaught.
Step two is recognising what is known as the Looping Thought pattern that results when being criticised is a trigger. Criticism hurts because ultimately the person doing the criticising is telling you that in some way you’re not good enough. Some words of criticism hurt more than others and this depends on where “the old wounds are”.
Triggers are evidence of old emotional wounds that haven’t yet healed. For example, if someone was obese as a child and was made fun of because of it, being called fat even in adult life will trigger that old wound, even if the adult has gone on to successfully achieve a healthy weight. Some criticisms trigger off these old Looping Thought Patterns more than others and have nothing to do with the present day situation.
Fundamentally, when I work with a client who is in a relationship with someone who criticises them all the time (be it a partner, boss, friend or family member), it’s about getting to the root belief of feeling “not good enough”. And this root belief is often created in childhood because of experiences or situations where a child felt bad about themselves in some way, guilty, unloved, or different to other children.
“If criticism is someone telling you you’re not good enough, accepting their criticism is saying – Yes, you’re right.” – Dawn Quest
By changing that root belief, it makes it impossible for someone to allow criticism to affect them in quite the same way as it did before.
At the same time I embed a visualisation exercise into their hypnosis recording which is about creating a Shield to protect themselves from criticism or rejection.
We can’t control whether people criticise us or reject us or not but we can control whether we let that affect us. So I tell my clients to imagine they’re wearing a suit of armour made from industrial strength rubber, and to imagine any hurtful words or criticisms as flimsy arrows bouncing off them, right back at the person doing the criticising. In effect they become impenetrable and criticism loses its power.
Using imagery and visualisation in hypnosis in this way is a powerful technique to build emotional resilience.
Have you been told you’re too critical?
When accused of being too critical, criticisers will often defend themselves by accusing the other person of “being too sensitive”.
Criticisers also say they’re “just being honest” and are “providing feedback” without realising that honesty without tact is actually cruelty, and very hard to be on the receiving end of.
If you’ve been told you’re too critical then the likelihood is you are – sorry, that may be hard to hear.
Fundamentally you may be wrestling with your own feelings of not being good enough. Studies show that children who grow up being constantly criticised often become criticisers themselves. Is this true of you? Were you criticised a lot as a child? Is it time to look at those old wounds and see what can be done to heal them and in essence feel that you too are good enough just as you are?
In his article for Psychology Today – One thing that will ruin a perfectly good relationship – author Steven Stosny, Ph.D defines the difference between criticism and feedback. Criticism focuses on what’s wrong with the other person, feedback is about finding ways to improve a situation. Criticism implies the worst about the other person (You’re stubborn. You’re lazy). Feedback is about the behaviour (how can we sort out what’s going on here). Criticism devalues, feedback motivates and energises.
So if you often say you’re providing feedback but you’re accused of criticising, take a step back and look to see how your words may be rephrased in a more positive way – or even if they need to be said at all!
Talking about how you feel with the person who is criticising you can be the first step to healing any rifts, but oftentimes, criticisers find it very hard to hear even the most neutral of conversations, often turning it and saying they’re the ones being criticised (without noticing the irony!).
However, if talking doesn’t work, for those who are being constantly criticised – know that you do not need to stay in a relationship where you feel devalued or belittled.
And for those who criticise – Professor Bookwala says: “Put simply: stop criticising your partner – it can negatively impact their health and how long they’ll live.”
*All were aged between 57 and 85, with an average age of 68, and 90 per cent were married. The rest were living together or in an otherwise intimate relationship.
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