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The Living Wise Blog

Calling time on Wine O’Clock. How to break the alcohol habit.

May 13, 2019
two friends drinking in habit

As much as we normalise regular drinking and it is very much an accepted part of our Aussie culture, when alcohol consumption becomes very habitual, it can get in the way of your fitness goals (or any other goals) and compromise your health.  Typically, the more you drink the more you drink, meaning that your tolerance for alcohol increases with repeated use and you find you need to drink more to achieve the same effect. You might have noticed that your ‘Friday drinks’ have moved up on the calendar to Wednesday night or your one glass has turned into three or four. Typically, the longer you keep up the habit, the more you’ll be frustrated by your apparent inability to stop as alcohol starts feeling more and more necessary in your life. If you’re frustrated with alcohol getting in the way of your ability to lose weight or you’re concerned that alcohol is becoming more a necessity than a luxury for you, there are lots of things you can do to kick the habit or cut back.

1.    Set a goal

The important thing is to decide what kind of drinker you want to be. If you’re drinking daily, you might want to cut back to only drinking on weekends. If you drink on weekends, you might want to limit yourself to two drinks rather than finishing the whole bottle of wine. You may decide you want to stop drinking completely. Decide now on a goal even if it’s for 30 days or 90 days. If you’re concerned about your health, perhaps take yourself to the GP for blood and liver function tests so that you can go back and review your health improvements after a break from alcohol.

2.    Know your triggers

Like any habit, there will be clear triggers that signify to you that it’s time for a drink. The trigger can be the time of day, day of week, another part of your normal routine (such as coming home from work) or certain people or places. The whole point of habits is that they bypass conscious thought so you don’t have to think about them. Knowing your alcohol ‘cues’ helps you to turn off autopilot and become more conscious of what you’re doing.

3.    Understand the role of dopamine

All of your alcohol cues trigger the release of dopamine in your brain as it begins anticipating the reward of alcohol. People often don’t realise that dopamine is not just a reward chemical released after you’ve had a drink, it is a powerful motivating force towards your reward so it will kick in with only the thought of alcohol before you’ve gone anywhere near a drink. When you notice cravings, recognise dopamine is at work – it’s just a chemical process in your brain, nothing more.

4.    Practise mindfulness (urge surfing)

There is a practise in mindfulness called ‘surfing the urge’ which is a highly effective way to manage those cravings when they arise. A craving is no more than a bunch of thoughts in your head and sensations in your body. Most people go to battle in their head and cravings ‘win’ so instead you should work on being curious about the sensations in your body, breathing into them, allowing them and watching them pass. Most cravings will arise and fall away within 20 minutes if you drop the struggle and breathe through them. Google ‘urge surfing’ for more on that.

5.  Find alternatives

When you know what primary function alcohol is serving in your life, you can come up with alternative activities to meet that need. If it’s stress relief, you might try having a hot shower, meditation, reading a book, listening to music or getting outside and playing with your dog. If alcohol is the centre of your social world, you might find other ways to connect with people like going for a walk or meeting for coffee.

6. Get inspired

Loads of books have been written by women who have successfully given up alcohol. One that many people credit for fundamentally changing the way they think about alcohol is ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace. Reading about other people’s experiences can inspire you to keep on track and remind you of the reasons why you’re doing it.

7. Don’t stress about slip-ups

When trying to change a habit, most people slip up many, many times. The most important thing is to not see it as a failure or that you’re weak or that the whole thing is hopeless. Remember that if alcohol is the tool you use to manage uncomfortable feelings, then making yourself feel bad is only going to drive you straight to alcohol. Every slip up is an opportunity to learn if you are open and kind to yourself and willing to get back on track.

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When does binge eating become a problem?

May 6, 2019
too much eating sweets

Sometimes no matter how much you try to convince yourself to put the Tim Tams back in the pantry, you just can’t help having another one.. and another and another. Overindulging in some delicious temptation is very human and while you probably want to curb the compulsive overeating, the occasional blowout won’t necessarily do a whole lot of harm. For some people though, those blowouts are all too frequent. If you feel out of control around food and are regularly eating a lot more food than is necessary or healthy, it can be every bit as harmful to your emotional and psychological wellbeing as your physical health.

For some people, it’s hard to know what falls into the category of normal ‘emotional eating’ or even mindless snacking and what would be considered a problem worth getting professional help to address. There are some clear guidelines about what a mental health professional would consider to be a binge eating disorder and they are outlined as follows:

Binge eating has two main components to it:

1. It involves eating a very large amount of food (far more than what would be considered a normal amount for a regular person) in a relatively short space of time (e.g., within two hours);

2. You experience a feeling of being out of control while eating. Perhaps you feel like you can’t stop eating or even that you ‘zone out’ and you’re not really present while you’re eating.

Some of the other criteria that signify that binge eating is potentially a clinical problem include the following (you don’t need to tick every box):

  • Eating much more quickly than normal
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you’re not hungry
  • Eating alone because you feel embarrassed or ashamed
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty afterwards

In psychology, something becomes a ‘disorder’ when it occurs repeatedly over a period of time. In the case of binge eating, if this is happening at least once a week (on average) and has been going on for three months or more that would meet the clinical definition of a Binge Eating Disorder. Binge Eating is different from Bulimia Nervosa because there is no ‘compensatory’ behaviour such as vomiting, excessive exercising or taking laxatives.

What to do about it

You really don’t need to wait until the situation is completely out of hand before you get some advice from a professional about what you might be able to do differently. Usually the problem has nothing to do with food and is more about how you deal with difficult feelings, so any help you can get to learn more effective coping strategies is going to be helpful. Here are some things you might like to do to start with.

1. Keep a food diary

By tracking what you eat and when you eat it, what you were feeling before and after you binged, you start to get an insight into your triggers and patterns. You might be able to use this information to make changes to your routine or if you see a professional, the information will give you a really good starting point for unpacking the problem and dealing with it.

2. Eat more mindfully

When you’re mindful, you make a conscious choice to bring yourself fully into the present moment and pay attention to what you’re feeling in your mind and body. This is challenging if you’re used to stuffing down your feelings with food. By slowing down and being present with yourself and your feelings, you give yourself a chance to make a different choice in that moment. Even if you don’t stop yourself from compulsively reaching for food, you might stop eating sooner than you normally would and this is good progress when it comes to changing patterns.

3. Don’t be so hard on yourself

Most people get very down on themselves for overeating. If you use food as a way of coping with difficult feelings, and then you make yourself feel terrible by piling on the shame and self-criticism you’re only going to drive yourself back to overeating and so the cycle continues. What you need most is not self-criticism but self-compassion. Remind yourself that everyone struggles with something and that you’re worthy of love and support.

Ultimately, if you recognise that you have a problem with binge eating, I highly recommend you seek support from a kind and qualified professional who can help you identify your specific patterns and triggers and develop specific strategies to start breaking the cycle. Remember you aren’t alone and there are people who are very willing and able to help if you reach out to them for support.

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How to Find your Missing Mojo

April 29, 2019
Finding your missing DOJO

Sometimes life feels a lot like Groundhog Day. Day after day and week after week, you go through the same old motions, eat the same food, shop at the same place and watch the same TV shows. Maybe the spark has gone out of your relationship or work isn’t very challenging or meaningful. Perhaps being home with kids leaves you wanting for some adult conversation and intellectual stimulation.

When life gets a little monotonous, it can easily feel like it’s you who is uninteresting with nothing much to offer the world. Being stuck in a rut drains your energy and puts a big wet blanket on your mood.

So how do you find your missing mojo? As tempting as it may be to run away and start a whole new life, that is usually not practical, nor is it required. There are some things you can do to start livening things up a little and the good news is they don’t require you to trade in your current life for a whole new one:

1.    Change something in your environment

When the scenery never changes, we tend to tune out, which means we stop appreciating the things we see and do regularly. Our brains respond favourably to anything new and novel. Re-arrange the furniture, paint a feature wall or splash some new accessories around the place. By introducing something new to your world, you wake your brain up so it starts noticing things again, which can be a little bit like seeing the world with new eyes. This can help you start to see the possibilities in other areas of your life.

2.    Do one new thing

When life is all a bit same-old, it’s a great idea to engage in something different, fun or challenging. It might be trying a new gym class that you’ve previously avoided, going to a new restaurant or enrolling in a ceramics or art class. Mix things up and give yourself the opportunity to do something you’ve never done before. What’s even better is making a commitment to trying something new on a regular basis and if you can get a friend or your partner on board to share the experience, that’s even better.

3.    Meet new people

The world is full of people looking to meet other people. Joining a club or a meet up group (or perhaps a kids group if you’re a parent) might be a huge stretch out of your comfort zone but when your ‘comfort’ zone is actually very uncomfortable, stifling and restrictive, it might be just the thing you need to add some new personalities into your social mix.

4.    Look for possibilities

When you’re stuck in a rut, your mind tends to be very closed, seeing only what is in your immediate surroundings and circumstances. Hop online and start scanning the job ads, online courses, holiday destinations, volunteering opportunities or houses for sale or rent. Open your mind to the possibilities that exist in the world.

5.    Think bigger

Sometimes the only limitations that exist are the limitations in our minds. What are you telling yourself is not possible? Want to sell up and move to Bali? Want to leave the city and move to the ocean or the country? What is actually stopping you? So many people stay stuck in situations they find unfulfilling because they tell themselves there’s no alternative while meanwhile, many other people are doing that exact thing, every single day. They say you only regret the things you don’t do.

And if, after you’ve given serious thought to selling up and moving to Bali you decide it’s out of the question, maybe joining a meet up group or taking a salsa class doesn’t seem so hard after all.

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Down but not out: recognising and dealing with depression

April 22, 2019
girl dealing with depression

Everyone has good days and bad days. Some days you might feel flat or sad or lacking in motivation for no real reason (or perhaps, at times, with very good reason). These ups and downs are normal and part of the whole human experience. As lovely as it would be to feel happy all the time, that’s simply not a realistic expectation. For some people though, those low moods can become so frequent and intense that it affects their quality of life and the ability to function normally. As many as one million Australian adults will experience depression in any given year and almost half the population will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime (depression, anxiety and substance use disorder being the most common, and often overlapping, conditions).

Depression is serious but many people suffering from depression (or other mood disorders) never access professional help. Sometimes that’s because of the stigma associated with mental illness but it can also be because people don’t realise that what they are experiencing is no longer within the range of ‘normal’ fluctuations in mood. Especially if you’ve been suffering with mood disturbances for a long time, it can be easy to settle into living with a low mood, low energy and motivation and lose sight of the possibility that there could be a happier and more fulfilling way to live.

Symptoms of depression can look and feel different for different people. Many people associate it with crying and feeling sad but for some people it’s more a case of losing interest in things that you used to enjoy doing, struggling with energy and motivation, withdrawing socially, neglecting responsibilities like work (calling in sick), school assignments, housework or parenting, and feeling hopeless or worthless. Depression can also affect sleeping and eating habits but many people fail to register changes in biological functions as being related to a mood disorder.

There are lots of self-care strategies you can try for yourself that are proven to help alleviate the symptoms of depression, until you’re able to talk to a professional. Some proven effective strategies include:

1.    Exercise

Studies have shown that 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 days per week can be as effective as anti-depressant medication in reducing depressive symptoms for people with mild to moderate levels of depression. Remember though – lack of motivation is a symptom of depression so as best as you can, don’t wait until you feel like it – treat it like a prescription and just do it.

2.    Talking to someone

Talking to a professional is ideal but it’s also important to stay socially connected. Depression is often characterised by social withdrawal and isolation. You might feel like you wouldn’t be good company or perhaps it’s that lack of energy and motivation that keeps you from reaching out and engaging with others. Again, the key is to ignore the voice that tells you otherwise and make yourself available for connected conversations.

3.    Finding pleasure

It’s important to do something every day that makes you feel good. Things like having a warm bath, watching a movie, playing with your dog or putting your favourite music on can help turn your mood around long enough that you feel encouraged to do something else like phone a friend or go out for a walk. Taking small steps to turn a downward spiralling mood into an upward spiral will help you get there faster.

4. Check your self-talk

Negative, self-critical, problem focused thinking is characteristic of depression. The problem is that most of us tend to over-identify with the thoughts in our head, which is to say rather than seeing them for what they are, which is just a bunch of random ideas floating across your mind – we believe them to be true. It may come as a surprise to you but guess what – thoughts aren’t facts. Learning to see your thoughts for what they are and not believe everything your mind tells you is a key step in getting out of the negative loop of depression.

5. Get something done

You can slow down the negative spiral of low energy, low motivation, do nothing, feel guilty, get more depressed etc. by doing something that gives you a small sense of achievement. It could be something like putting away your clothes or washing the dishes. We’re not talking about writing your novel or spring-cleaning your whole house here! When you’re feeling down, everything can feel overwhelming and you don’t know where to start. Just doing one small thing can give you a sense of satisfaction and a little hit of dopamine to start moving that spiral in a more upwards direction.

Of course, the first step if you think you might be depressed is always to see your GP who can refer you to a psychologist or other mental health professional. There are so many great treatment options out there and you don’t have to suffer alone.

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How to get over a break up

April 15, 2019
man-and-woman moving on from breakup

When a relationship ends, it’s bound to be painful regardless of who made the decision to end it. If the break-up comes out of left-field, there’s often shock and grief, confusion and fear – especially if there are children and property involved. It’s hard to know where to start in dealing with the aftermath. Should you be calling a counsellor, a lawyer or your best friend? In a time of crisis, it’s wise to take one day at a time, allow yourself time to heal and ideally to manage your own emotions in a way that doesn’t cause harm to others.

In other words,  resist the urge to do things in the heat of the moment that you might regret later. Below are some suggestions that might help you navigate that difficult time right after a relationship ends.

1.    Give it time

In those first wobbly days and weeks after a relationship ends, emotions are jagged and raw and everything is uncertain. At this time, patience is key. Try not to push for definitive answers, final decisions or legal papers. Take some time out for your own self-care and allow time for the dust to settle. It can be helpful to familiarise yourself with the neutral zone, which is what psychologist William Bridges calls that vast no-man’s land that exists between an ending and a new beginning.

2.    Feel your feelings

It’s important and healthy to process your painful emotions. You might call on your best friend, your mum or a therapist. There is likely to be a period of mourning what you’ve lost even if you weren’t altogether happy in the relationship. In fact, even if you’re the one who ended it, you’re entitled to feel sad about what you’ve lost. Try not to dumb your feelings with alcohol or drugs. It might feel like a great option in the short term but ultimately those feelings are still going to be there in the morning.

3.    Remember the good times

After a break-up, it’s tempting to paint your ex in a negative light as a way of buffering your sad feelings. After all, it’s much easier to hate someone than to love them when you can’t be with them. This is unfair to both of you and doesn’t honour the good times you shared, regardless of how it ended. Speaking badly about your ex ultimately reflects badly on you and focusing on the pain they caused you only prolongs your suffering. As best as you can, rise about the temptation to trash talk them, especially if there are children involved.

4.    Beware the rebound relationship

Getting involved with someone else too quickly is a recipe for disaster. It’s unlikely to end well and is unfair to the person you’re using to make you feel better. A one-night stand might seem like the perfect way to make you feel good about yourself again but it’s more likely to have the opposite effect so do try to seek solace in platonic relationships and give yourself some space from romantic encounters right now. If you realise that you’ve never been alone before, this is a perfect opportunity to learn how to live independently and get to know who you are outside of a relationship.

5.    Be kind to yourself

Breaking up can be a blow to your self-esteem so it’s important to remember that just because a relationship didn’t work out, it’s not because you are not loveable or worthy. Remember your best qualities and hang out with people who appreciate everything you have to offer. Use the opportunity to spend time nurturing yourself, developing your own interests and remembering who you are and what makes you fabulous so that when the next relationship comes along, you’ll be healed and whole, confident and ready to jump back into the dating game.

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5 tips for getting your needs met in a relationship

April 8, 2019
boy and girl talking

We all have a need for connection, intimacy and emotional support. It’s the reason we are driven to create and maintain relationships with friends and partners, but just as relationships can be our greatest joy, they can also cause us the most pain. How often have you felt let down by someone in your life because they seem unwilling or unable to give you what you need?

It might be your partner jumping in with “helpful” solutions to your problem when all you want is someone to listen. It could be a friend who invites an extra person along on your coffee date when you were really looking forward to some one-on-one time, or someone who barely lets you have a moment to share your issues before changing the topic of conversation to focus on themselves.

If you find yourself getting frustrated or feeling resentful towards people, it’s often because your emotional needs aren’t being met. When you try to pinpoint what the problem is, you can readily identify the behaviour you don’t like. The problem is that focusing on someone’s behaviour doesn’t usually adequately express the real issue. People are very quick to defend their actions because they don’t actually understand what the real problem is. Communicating your emotional needs requires a level of vulnerability which we often avoid.

It’s important to remember that no-one is a mind reader and the only person responsible for ensuring you get your needs met (or for ending a relationship if they’re not being met) is you. When you harbour resentments, it can drive a wedge between you and the people you care about and the problem is unlikely to go away if you ignore it.

If you’re having difficulties in a relationship, here are some tips for helping you communicate more effectively:

1. Name the need

Here’s the tricky thing. For you to ask for what you need, you actually need to look within and work out what it is. If you’re feeling annoyed, irritated or offended by someone’s behaviour, it’s helpful to look beyond their actions to what those actions actually represent to you. You might think what you really need is for your partner to phone if they’re going to be late or for your friend to be on time for once. But what is the emotional need that you feel is not being met? Is it empathy, respect, encouragement, warmth, support, understanding or simply reassurance that you matter to the other person?

2. Take responsibility

Remember that while something may be very obvious to you, most of us are preoccupied with our concerns so it’s not fair to assume that anyone else will automatically know what you need from them in any given moment. It also pays to remember that we frequently make meaning of events, and sometimes those interpretations are way off base. For example, if your partner forgets your anniversary and you make it mean he/she doesn’t value you or the relationship, that’s a story you’re telling yourself that isn’t necessarily the truth. Getting your needs met means taking full responsibility for your own emotional wellbeing. In other words, we need to fact check our stories and speak up about what we’re thinking and feeling.

3. Drop your defenses

As a general rule, the people in your life aren’t out to deliberately upset you even if they’re a little self-centred or thoughtless. Most times if someone cares for you, they will happily meet your needs if they know how to (note: some people’s own personal history makes it more difficult for them to give you what you need). When you feel hurt by someone and your self-protective defence is to put walls up or go on the attack, you close the door on effective communication. It’s hard to be vulnerable, especially if you’ve been hurt before but if the relationship matters to you, then being willing to open up is the best way to ensure it’s satisfying and mutually supportive.

4. Communicate to connect

When you open up and tell someone what you’re feeling, it’s important to express yourself in a way that encourages connection, not conflict. You can do this by being clear that you aren’t blaming the other person for your feelings (see point 2!) and by expressing appreciation for the person. Be mindful of any tendency to be harsh and critical, or of making sweeping generalisations. Stay focused as much as possible on the facts, stick to the present issue (not dragging up every transgression that’s occurred in the last five years) and keep your intention and your focus on the importance of the relationship. As the old saying goes, being kind is more important than being right.

5. Be calm and clear

Try to be as specific as possible about what you need and what the other person can do in that moment. For example, you might say, “I appreciate that you really want to help me solve this, but I think I just need you to listen and I’m sure I’ll come to my own solution.” If you have a friend who continually moves the topic of conversation to her own issues, you might say, “I know you have some things going on in your life too but I wonder if you could give me your support to  work this out and then I’ll happily give you my full attention.”

You might need to practice if you’re not used to asking for what you need in a relationship but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Most of us would rather have a difficult conversation than lose an important person but it might take you to be the one to take that first step. And when you’ve done all you can do, if it’s apparent that you’re unlikely to get what you need from a relationship, then sometimes you need to make the decision to move on and put your energy into a relationship.

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Relationship Rescue: Communication traps to avoid

April 1, 2019
communication in relationship

In any relationship, after the honeymoon phase is over, couples can find themselves running into rocky ground. As you and your partner relax and get more comfortable with each other, you both begin to reveal a more natural version of yourselves and sometimes this is when the cracks begin to appear. In long term relationships, conflict arises over differences in opinions or values. Parenting, money and sex are common areas of relationship conflict.

Conflict in a relationship is not necessarily a signal that the relationship is doomed. In fact, studies have shown that it’s not the amount of arguments a couple has but how people argue which determines whether or not a relationship will succeed or fail. Dr John Gottman is a world-renowned relationship researcher and therapist who is famously able to predict (with astonishing accuracy) which relationships will succeed and which will fail after observing a couple discussing a heated topic for just 15 minutes. He suggests that there are four communication habits that spell disaster for any relationship.

If you are locked in battle with your significant other, it’s worth knowing what Gottman refers to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and doing your best to avoid falling into these unhelpful relationship patterns:

1.    Criticism

Criticism is different from complaining in that rather than focusing on a person’s behaviour, it takes the form of broad generalisations about their character. Expressing a complaint is healthy in a relationship but when you start using generalisations such as “You always….” or “You never…”. When you attack your partner’s personality or character, that is criticism, not a complaint. We’re all guilty of being a little critical at times, but when criticism becomes pervasive, it erodes the quality of your connection.

Try to raise your points with specific examples of behaviours you consider to be problematic (and why). Avoid launching into an attack on your partner by expressing your needs in a positive way. Remind yourself that attacking your partner’s character is a fast way to escalate an argument and will not likely lead to the resolution of the issue.

2.    Contempt

Too much criticism in a relationship is likely to lead to contempt. Contempt is when you verbally or non-verbally communicate disdain for your partner. It could take the form of insults or even dismissive eye-rolling. Contempt has the intention to insult or belittle the other person. Perhaps unsurprisingly, contempt in a relationship is the single biggest predictor of divorce.

To avoid acting in contempt, focus on your partner’s positive qualities and the common ground that you share. Remember the reasons you are together in the first place and try to focus on the issue you are discussing rather than attacking your partner’s sense of self.

3.    Defensiveness

Usually defensiveness is a response to feeling criticised. It is refusing to take on board your partner’s feedback and making yourself a victim in the situation. Defensiveness sometimes leads to a pre-emptive attack, which is also unhelpful when trying to resolve an issue.

Overcoming defensiveness requires you to be open to hearing your partner’s feedback and being willing to accept any responsibility you have. Dropping your defensiveness means you need to trust that your partner is also willing to take their own share of responsibility and that you both have the best interests of your relationship at heart.

4.    Stonewalling

This is when one person gives the other the silent treatment or otherwise refuses to engage with their partner. It is psychologically withdrawing from the conversation, creating distance and disconnection perhaps because it’s too difficult to discuss. Just as defensiveness is often a response to criticism, stonewalling is usually a response to contempt. Being given the silent treatment by anyone (even if you don’t like the person!) feels painful and it is all the more unbearable when the person you love is the one who is ostracising you.

The antidote to stonewalling is to tell your partner you need some space or time and to then take the time to soothe your own discomfort. When you’re feeling calmer, you can re-enter the conversation.

Most couples who are in trouble wait far too long before seeking help so if you feel you and your partner are having trouble resolving your issues on your own, the key message is to ask for help early rather than waiting until the problems are too great and the relationship is beyond repair.

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Five Toxic Friends You Don’t Need in Your Life

March 25, 2019
Five toxic friends you don't need in your life

There’s a lot of emphasis these days on decluttering our lives and living more minimally. Marie Kondo’s method of keeping only those possessions that spark joy has become almost a global movement and we’re even being encouraged to take a minimalist approach to technology.

Sometimes in the course of clearning the clutter, you realise that there are people in your life who also don’t spark joy.  They may not support the highest version of you or they simply don’t add any value to your life. When it comes to friends, quality is much more important than quantity. As you get older and friendships evolve and dissolve, it becomes even more important to invest your time and energy into the people who support and value you.

Of course, sometimes we naturally outgrow friendships. People move away, you develop different interests or just change to the point that there isn’t enough in common to maintain a regular friendship. Other times, friendships can turn toxic and when that happens, you might need to make the hard call to end a friendship that isn’t serving you anymore.

Here are five friends you might need to cut loose if you find them bringing you more heartache than joy:

The competitive friend

A good indicator of a solid friendship is that they are thrilled when you achieve something you’re proud of or get a lucky break. Of course it’s human nature to sometimes feel a little envious of someone’s big success, but the toxic friend will be so fixated on comparison that she’ll find it difficult to experience any happiness for you at all. She might undermine your success by downplaying what you’ve achieved (or finding fault with it), ignoring your news completely, or changing the subject to highlight something she’s achieved and stealing your thunder.

The narcissist

Narcissists have an overinflated sense of entitlement and exaggerated sense of self-importance. At social gatherings, they’re only comfortable if they are holding the floor and rarely stop telling you about their greatness to ask you how you are. The narcissist can be charismatic and popular and make you feel super special, which is why you might initially be drawn to their charm. But narcissists are only interested in you as long as you serve a purpose for them. You are an extension of them and you are there to prop them up and make them look good. Things tend to go pear-shaped if you push back against their demands or they don’t need you anymore.  A true friend will take on board your feedback if you point out they’re being a little self-absorbed. The narcissist will turn the tables and make it sound like it’s you who has the problem, or else they might cut you off, get angry or turn other people against you in order to preserve their own self image.

The emotional vampire

We all like to have a whinge when we’re having a bad day, but sometimes there’s that one friend who only ever seems to be complaining and telling you what’s going wrong. Usually the emotional vampire isn’t interested in hearing your suggestions about how she might change things or make improvements; she’s only interested in venting. When she’s done, she goes away feeling a million bucks while you’re left feeling like you’ve had the life literally sucked out of you. Unless there is some positivity to balance things out, you might want to put some space between you and the bad news cycle.

The Single White Female

Based on the classic 1992 thriller “Single White Female”, the SWF is the friend who copies everything about you and your life. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery and it’s lovely if someone lets you know they find you inspiring. For the SWF it’s usually more a case of her not having a strong sense of her own identity therefore she models herself, her preferences, opinions, personal style or even major life decisions on yours. You know you’re dealing with an SWF when she doesn’t acknowledge that she’s been inspired by you but instead begins cloning you while acting as if those choices are entirely her own idea. If you complain about having a SWF, people might assume you’re being petty or paranoid, but it’s up to you to make the call and put distance between you if you feel this is not a healthy, balanced relationship. (Oh and in true SWF style, when you do create distance, you will probably quickly become the enemy just like in the movie).

The Unreliable Friend

If someone constantly makes plans to catch up, then cancels at the last minute you can probably tolerate it to a degree because we all know life gets busy; but when it becomes so routine that you don’t feel you can trust her to commit to anything, you might want to stop making those plans. As you get older, life gets busier and making time for friendships becomes more and more difficult. If you’re making an effort to schedule time for someone, it’s nice to know you are as important to your friend as they are to you and that they’ll do what it takes to keep commitments.

Every friendship has ups and downs, but some friendships reach the point where the balance has tipped so far into the negative that you know it’s time to walk away. If you know a friendship can’t be saved or that your feedback would fall on deaf ears (or cause a drama you don’t need), it’s perfectly ok to start putting some distance between you and the friend. Losing a friend can be painful but the more you free up space by cutting out the energy drainers, the more room you have for positive, fun and mutually supportive people in your life.

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Transitions: How to Deal with Change

March 18, 2019
deal with change

It was the philosopher Hericlitus who said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” It’s easy enough to grasp intellectually, but many of us still struggle emotionally with change. So much so, that the central concept of Buddhist teachings is ‘impermanence’; that is, that we’d all be happier if we could just accept that nothing lasts forever.

Some of us have a higher threshold than others when it comes to how much change we can comfortably handle. Whether it’s a relationship break-up, changing jobs, moving house – these are widely acknowledged as being the most stressful experiences in life.

What’s important to understand is that an actual change in your circumstances can happen in an instant. You can move house (or even interstate or overseas) in the space of a weekend. Similarly, changing jobs, ending relationships or getting married – these things happen quickly. However, the psychological process that goes along with a change usually takes a whole lot longer.

Psychologist Bill Bridges refers to this process as the ‘transition’ and he suggests that it involves three distinct phases.  He mostly applies the theory in organisational settings these days but it’s very relevant to personal change and I often refer to his theory when helping people to understand and navigate their way through life’s changes. (In fact, he wrote another book, “The Way of Transition: Embracing life’s most difficult moments” describing his own transition process when his wife died from cancer.) He describes the three phases as follows:

1. The Ending

In any change process, there is an ending to the way things are. If you have made the decision to end something, various emotions are usually present in the lead up, such as disenchantment, disillusionment and psychological disengagement. If the change is sudden and unexpected, there might be stronger emotions like shock, anger and denial.  In this phase, Bridges says your task is to let go of your inner connection to how things used to be. It can be helpful to ask yourself, “What do I need to let go of?” and to give yourself the space to experience any emotions that come up at this time. Even with a positive change like getting married or having a baby, there can be an ending to your old sense of self and identity. It’s important to acknowledge it all.

2. The Neutral Zone

This is the time when the old way of life is gone but the new doesn’t quite feel comfortable or familiar yet. This can be a confusing and difficult period because the neutral zone is a psychological no-man’s land. For many people, it can be a time of reflection on your values as you make sense of the change that’s happening and slowly work towards feeling ‘normal’ again. Some people might find they withdraw socially a little while they work through their own emotions and navigate their way through a time when it can feel like there is nothing solid to hold onto. There is no fixed timeframe for the neutral zone and there should be no rushing it. Sometimes the discomfort leads people to want things to go back to how they were or to launch into something new before they’re ready (for example after a break-up or loss). Tolerating the discomfort and allowing this process to unfold in its own time is the key to a successful transition.

3. A New Beginning

At some point in the future, there will be a way of life and sense of identity that feels familiar and comfortable again. New beginnings are often associated with optimism and anticipation, renewed energy and re-engagement with life. You may have adopted new values, attitudes and even have a new sense of self. All the inner work that takes place during the neutral zone is worth it when you look around and realise you’ve happily settled into your new way of life.

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How to let go of rigid food rules.

March 11, 2019
Food rules!

Food is vital for life and fundamental to our health and wellbeing. It’s a means of celebration and connection; but for many people, food can also be a battleground. As a society, our preoccupation with weight and body shape has led us to search for the ‘right’ food plan that will help us achieve our weight goals and gain optimal health. No doubt at various times during your life, depending on what you’d read or what ideas were prevalent, you might have subscribed to a low-fat or low-calorie diet; low-carbs, high protein, healthy fat; or you may have opted for a vegetarian or vegan diet. Carnivores might follow Paleo guidelines with the most diligent omitting all grains, legumes and dairy from their diet.

All of these approaches to food and eating can potentially lead you to categorising foods into categories such as  ‘good or bad’, ‘right or wrong’, ‘healthy or unhealthy’. If you add environmental and ethical issues to the mix, you can easily begin judging food by how sustainable it is; how ethically produced or humanely raised. If you tend towards perfectionism or have a strong need for control, what begins as a guideline or values-based decision can quickly turn into rigid rules around food and eating. So when do personal approaches to eating become a problem, and what can you do about that?

It’s easy to believe that following a certain diet or food plan is the “right” way to eat (that’s why you do it!) but the bigger picture is that having unrelenting standards about food can impact your ability to enjoy life. When it becomes extreme, it can cause anxiety and lead to disordered eating. Perfectionistic ideas around food can actually be a precursor to Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or even Orthorexia, which is defined as an obsession with healthy eating.

If your food rules are causing you to feel stressed, try these strategies for lightening up and letting go of the rigidity:

Do you find yourself using moralising words or phrases such as ‘bad’ food, ‘cheat’ meals, or ‘not allowed’? Bring in some flexibility and choice by using the word ‘could’ instead of ‘should’. Swap out ‘cheat’ for ‘treat’ and remind yourself that food choices are exactly that – a choice you make, not a doctrine you must obediently follow. Simply noticing this tendency to judge or moralise certain foods is the first step to changing that habit.

2. Remember the bigger picture

If you choose to eat a particular way because of certain beliefs or values, there isn’t anything wrong with that unless that way of eating begins causing you stress or anxiety. Valued living means making choices in line with your values but accepting that life happens sometimes and we all veer off course. Values are a direction, not a final destination. If you notice you’re becoming anxious or excessively pre-occupied with food or that it’s limiting your ability to enjoy life, try to step back from the rigid rules and keep the bigger picture of your values in mind.

3. Practise mindfulness.

If you’ve struggled with food or weight in the past, rigid food rules can feel comforting because you no longer trust yourself to make reasonable choices. The problem is that relying on food rules continues to place the onus on something or someone outside of you to decide what or when you should eat, rather than you tuning in and listening to the signals of your body. Mindful eating is about connecting to your experience in the present moment; that is, what’s happening within you as well as the sight, smell, taste and texture of food. Being aware of your body’s signals helps you to recognise when you’re hungry or full whereas having your choices dictated by food rules overrides those natural inclinations.

And if this is something you feel you can’t manage alone, there is no shame in asking for help from a professional. You can obtain a referral to a psychologist from your GP or you might want to check out an organisation that specialises in eating or body image issues such as the Butterfly Foundation.

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Cass Dun clinical psychologist
Hi, I’m Cass.

I'm here to help you find freedom from psychological struggles so that you can live your happiest, most meaningful and fulfilling life.

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