Who are you? How to free yourself for success

Who are you? How to free yourself for success

“RD Laing the brilliant British psychiatrist said, ‘the clinical hypnotist often knows what he is doing. The family hypnotist rarely does’.”
Gil Boyne, modern hypnotherapy pioneer


How do we come to believe who we are?

Big question. I know. You’re probably still pondering the quote above and trying to work out who was the Paul McKenna in your family that nobody mentioned. Hold that thought and read on… all will be revealed.

Let’s start with a simple exercise you may find enlightening.

If I were to ask you to describe yourself, not in terms of your professional skill or your role within a family, but who you see yourself as being, what would you say? Difficult, isn’t it, because we’re very used to describing ourselves within our context to others. But let’s just focus on you.

Who are you? Close your eyes and think about who you are. How would you describe yourself? 

I’m willing to bet that as you form these sentences, on at least one occasion an emotion will flit through your body. You may feel it in your stomach or your chest, maybe in your throat. 

And if you’re experiencing an uncomfortable feeling it’s likely this attribute you’ve just described has been with you for a while. Perhaps you recall an incident when you were criticised, scolded or shamed over a particular behaviour, perhaps you can’t recall the occasion when the seed was sown. When you accepted this label. But whether or not some of the roots of your belief are known to you, it’s likely this episode and then several like it have created a negative fixed belief that has carried on into adulthood.

The celebrated hypnotherapists’ trainer and pioneer in modern hypnotherapy, Gil Boyne, described the forming of fixed ideas very succinctly. It’s almost an equation.

Incident of behaviour + authority figure + emotional response x repetition of linked incident + authority figure + emotional response = forming of fixed idea

The initial incident of behaviour can be anything that leads to you being vulnerable to criticism – anything from failing a maths test, to not fitting in your summer dress to missing a goal in an important sports game.

Authority figures are parents, certainly, but they can be friends or teachers or anyone we, as children, listen to and respect.

So how does this play out in practice?

Say mum asks her daughter to try on her summer dress and discovers it’s too tight. Mum tuts and comments on her daughter getting ‘bigger’. The daughter senses her mother’s disapproval and that she’s somehow let her down. For a child disapproval represents a loss of love. There is no critical reasoning available to children, at least not until they’re about 11. Instead of concluding ‘I’m a year older, of course I’m bigger’ the child feels a loss of her mother’s love and concludes that she’s ‘too big’.

Add more instances of weight or body size-related comments and the fixed idea starts to take root in the mind. ‘I’m too big. I need to be thinner. I’m fat. I need to eat less.’

More often than not the parent is only trying to help; parents very rarely set out to harm a child’s development. But here’s one sentence that’s extraordinary powerful and will compound the fixed idea until it becomes a limiting belief: ‘You’re just like me…’ 

The parent is only trying to show empathy but the child being literal-thinking assumes they have literally inherited a character trait. And they’re now invested in the fixed idea because it makes them more like the parent whose love they crave. So if mum says ‘You’re just like me, you’ll always be on a diet’, the child may now believe she’s inherited an inability to eat for health and she’s condemned to be overweight or forever watching calories. If she takes on this label, she’ll be just like the parent she needs, that’s a strong emotionally-driven incentive to do so.

Yes, logic tells us she is not an exact facsimile of her mother but the emotional responses that fix these ideas into her subconscious are very powerful. Much more powerful than logic.

So who is the Paul McKenna of the family? Yes, it’s the authority figure, and in this example, mum.

Of course the million dollar question is, do we want to change? 

Fixed beliefs can become part of our armour, ones we use to protect us from the vulnerability of being truly seen. What if we were truly seen for who we are? Without the armour we use as a barrier between us and others. Complete authenticity could lead to full intimacy… that’s scary stuff!

Some people use emotions like anger as a barrier to hide their vulnerability. For others extra pounds will serve that purpose.

Accepting that change is possible and the negative fixed ideas formed in childhood can be righted is accepting a challenge; a hero’s challenge.

It can be a difficult journey, yes. But isn’t that reason to celebrate? All the more reason to go on. 

The journey is one of self discovery. Of self connection, of developing the ability to forgive yourself, love yourself and find peace in yourself, while having the adventure of discovering who you truly are. This is a hero’s journey and you’ll be the hero. 

And one who’s hopefully already considering that they have much more power to evolve their life than they once imagined.

Further reading:

Transforming Therapy by Gil Boyne
Self-Hypnosis by Gil Boyne
Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

And my current top three literary heroes, embodying women who hold strong:
Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gayle Honeyman


Dysmorphia, self-love, myths and the magic of mirrors

Dysmorphia, self-love, myths and the magic of mirrors

‘I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected,’ Paulo Coehlo: Goddesses of the Forest

Since being a little girl, I’ve loved fairy tales, myths and fables… haven’t you? I was frequently caught red handed as an eight year old; head under the covers long after lights out, with a torch, nose-deep in Enid Blyton’s Tales of Ancient Greece. 

As I grew older, my fascination grew. Not so much with the stories I read as a child, but the older, darker folk stories in which I realised there were deep, dark warnings… and not just for children.

Last week, I spoke at the Bavard Bar in my new hometown in theUK; an event to entertain audiences in a TedTalk-style evening, with a few asides of games besides. I wove a few of these old myths into my talk as it’s a light evening; not one for delving too deeply into issues such as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an anxiety condition impacting on between 1-3% of theUK population, according to NICE figures. Or the ferocity of inner critics, which effects far more men, women and children each time they look in the mirror.

As I’ve travelling through Europe, and then North, Central and South America over the years, I’ve put together quite a collection of local folklore books. I discovered that they told me so much about the people who lived in those countries today. If you want to know a culture, look to its ancient vision of life, god and its explanation for how the world came into being.

You’ll also start to notice that often the psychological and ethical issues we face today (and carry on like we have just invented them) have been echoing in the past for millennia. 

For instance, those stories by The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson are mostly based on ancient folk tales. But certain elements, often sexual or violent, were erased from the versions these authors published. Probably to meet the moral tastes of 19th century European parents.

In the older versions of Rapunzel our heroine is cast out of the tower with her two children. The children? A result of her relationship with the prince who came to visit. Sex before marriage? Hmm… out!

And take the Queen in Snow White… is she a raging narcissist, pathologically jealous of her stepdaughter? Or is she a woman lost in self loathing as she stares into the mirror? Does the mirror literally speak, or is it her own inner critic she hears condemning her to torment? Whatever her crimes, in the original tale she is the cabaret at Snow White’s wedding, forced to dance in red hot iron shoes until she drops dead. Seems a little extreme a punishment for an attempted murder conviction.

Dark mirrors

In the Snow Queen we can get so wrapped up in the story of Kai and Gerda, we forget how the sliver of glass that turned a boy’s heart to ice came to be. The glass, just a speck of a speck, was a minuscule fragment of a vast spellbound mirror, created by a demon who wanted to reflect wickedness and envy, jealousy and meanness and all the sins that you might imagine, and many more besides. The mirror shattered, thwarting the demon’s plan to shine the mirror into the face of God, but tiny bits of it fell to Earth, washed into sand which in turn became glass, used in spectacles and mirrors, and forever distorting our vision.

So yes, the trouble that comes from judging ourselves by our reflections has been around for a long time.

Narcissus, of course, fell in love with his own reflection and wasted away by a pool; perhaps a metaphor for what happens when we don’t look deep enough. His future was predicted by a blind prophet, a man with only inner vision; a telling paradox.
Like many of us I spent a lot of time, while I was growing up, criticising the woman I saw in the mirror.

I met my partner when I was 18 (we were a six-month pash back then, but we got back together when I was in my Forties; it’s a long story) and while as a student then I was quite convinced I was ‘fat’, although as my observant partner has said more than once ’you were stick thin and you never ate’. It took me a long time to see that whatever the scales showed, whatever the mirror reflected, I was seeing myself as ‘other’ and the bottom line was I didn’t think I was enough. Thin enough. Pretty enough. 

Using mirrors for good

Oh yes, there’s another way to use a mirror. Hold it up to your face. Really close. Or walk up to the mirror so you’re almost nose to glass. Now look deep into your own eyes…. Ah yes… that’s where you really are.

Because when you look into your pupil, you see deep into yourself. You can catch a glimpse of your inner self; the part of you that is deeply you. They talk about the eyes being the windows of the soul; perhaps they are, perhaps that is your soul you see. But it is certainly a deeper way of seeing your self in the mirror, that is for sure.

And perhaps that’s where self love can start from, because the inner critic somehow struggles to speak when confronted with the depths of the self.

Transform your experience

Inspirational speaker, Lisa Nichols, has an exercise using this intimate use of the mirror. One that can transform your experience with yourself because it you start a deep conversation at this level – nose to mirror.

Look yourself deep in the eye and tell yourself; ‘I am proud of you for’ and think of anything from your life for which you’ve accomplished a moment that gave you a glow. Even if you’re struggling to get our of bed in the morning, the act of doingAnd you can go way back to childhood, because you have 7 of these to find. Now repeat this on ‘I forgive you for…’ and let go of that self-judgement you’ve been holding on to. And one more… ‘I commit to you that…’ Now repeat daily. Lisa Nichols swears this prescription for self love was one of the practices that saved her from being medicated for depression.

I’ve tried it. I recommend it to clients too.

You will find it an emotional connection and you may surprise yourself. Healing our relationships with ourselves and turning that relationship into a life-long love affair, has to be a worthy goal, doesn’t it? We are certainly in a relationship with ourselves for a very long time; and turning mirrors into a force for good in our lives has to be a powerfully positive step in our self love journeys.