A summer of love
One of the things I learnt from my time as a sad girl
Hi. How are we doing?
I hope you’ve been okay over the summer months.
Last week I was in Bristol for a few days, and it got me thinking, thinking, thinking. I graduated with a degree in Psychology from the University of Bristol a number of years ago, and have since embarked on a career in psychotherapy. I’m a relatively well-adjusted person now, but my gosh I was a sad girlie for pretty much the entire three years. Being back in Bristol without the feeling of overwhelming negativity that soaked my time as a student, made me reflect on some of the things that helped me to regain joy. When I was going through it, I didn’t have much hope that I would ever feel normal or better again, but over time things started to shift. In this newsletter, I’m going to share just one of the things that helped me to make this internal change.
At my day job at the UK Trauma Council, I spend a large part of my time looking at the academic research around trauma. Our definition of trauma refers to the way that some distressing events are so extreme or intense that they overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, resulting in lasting negative impact. One of the difficult things about traumatic experiences is that they can shatter our core belief systems, colouring our view of ourselves, other people and the world around us. Suddenly the world may feel like an unpredictable and unsafe place, that leaves us stuck in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight or other unhelpful coping mechanisms.
There was a ground-breaking piece of research by Hobfoll et al (2007) that looked at the effects of mass disasters and tragedies from around the world, and identified the best evidence of how people can begin to recover from the trauma. One of the principles they recommend is to promote our sense of connectedness. I cannot emphasise enough how important our relationships and the practice of love is when rehabilitating from difficult experiences. TikTok influencers may fool you into thinking that you need to cut people off, block them and meditate the dark feelings away, but the leading research tells us that if we have been wounded, we must lean into trusted communities rather than avoid them. There is a quote from an American rabbi Harold Kushner that sums up my fears:
“I am afraid that we may be raising a generation of young people who will grow up afraid to love, afraid to give themselves completely to another person, because they will have seen how much it hurts to take the risk of loving and have it not work out. I am afraid that they will grow up looking for intimacy without risk, for pleasure without significant emotional investment. They will be so fearful of the pain of disappointment that they will forgo the possibilities of love and joy.”
When I was Bristol’s saddest second year student, I wish I knew just how important it was to be open to the possibilities of joy, and to both give and receive love from others. I think in those years I didn’t expect much from anyone outside of my close friendship group, because I thought it would save the hypothetical disappointment of being let down. What a sad and limited way to live! Nowadays, in my work with clients and in my own life, I try to promote ways to facilitate connection and restore a core belief system that isn’t shaped by the injury of trauma.
This may look like; remembering to buy a birthday card for the kindest, most gentle man who works at reception in my office, allowing my friends to come round and cook for me when I’m unwell (shout out Millie) or trying to consider that the woman being incredibly rude in Tesco is probably going through an awful time herself. These aren’t life-changing interventions on their own, but put together over time, they are some of the ingredients that allow us to develop a view of the world, ourselves and other people that is safer, more connected and more hopeful. This didn’t happen for me overnight, it took some time to nurture my relationships with a community of people to a place that helped me to return to myself.
Some questions for you to get you thinking:
Who is the most genuinely loving and joyful person you know? What is it like to be in their presence?
Think of the three people who you are closest to. What is one way you allow yourself to receive love from each of them?
In what environment do you feel the most loving? What helps you get to that state?
Who in your life would you like to be more connected to? What could you do to strengthen that connection?
If you experienced any joy or love over this summer, I hope that you can let it trickle into September.
Thanks so much for reading.
More from me
The rapper Konan of Krept & Konan has released a new documentary on his experience with PTSD. It’s called “Trapped in Trauma: UNTOLD” and is available on Channel 4. I found it to be a moving piece of film, and is definitely worth a watch if you are interested in how PTSD may be treated in therapy.
I’m open to new clients in Canary Wharf! I’ve started working for Leo Weisz Therapy which offers immediate mental health assessments, individual and group psychotherapy. I will still be working at the Community Psychotherapy Network alongside this new post. Feel free to get in touch with me for more information on either.
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