Reflective Listening 1 – getting upset

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 11) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.

What happens when we get upset

Getting upset is common.  We all get upset now and again. Sometimes the upset isn’t very strong and doesn’t interfere with whatever we are doing at the time. Sometimes the upset is much greater and the strength of the feelings gets in the way of our being able to think straight or get on with everyday tasks. At these times, our feelings have flooded out our thinking minds and we need quite urgently to unflood ourselves before we can carry on.


Reflective listening

Reflective listening—also sometimes known as “active listening” is about the best way we know for helping people deal with upsets, unflood those feelings, sort out the confusions and work out the solutions to their day to day worries and difficulties. Reflective listening is a mixture of skills that include silence and good attention as well as three more active ingredients:-

a) paraphrasing

This is a way of helping someone get clearer about what they are thinking and feeling by listening to what they are saying and then repeating to them the gist of the content in a short and simple “paraphrase” using your own words.

b) reflecting feelings

It is often difficult to get clear about thoughts if feelings are getting in the way, so as you listen it is particularly helpful to pick out the feeling words and underlying unstated feelings and reflect these back to the speaker. This helps them become more aware of what is happening inside them and allows them to let go of those feelings and become unflooded.

c) reflecting hidden meanings

In combining paraphrasing and reflecting the feelings it is often possible for the listener to get a sense of what the speaker is meaning even if they can’t get it for themselves. Offering your sense of things to them may well help them to make the connections they need to be able to help themselves.

The value of expressing feelings

In the world in which we live, thoughts and deeds are valued much more than feelings. We train children to think clearly often whilst also training them not to express their feelings. However, bottled up feelings have to go somewhere; they may either explode periodically in dangerous ways, in the home, at work or on the streets; or they may become locked into our bodies and cause anything from minor aches and pains to migraines, ulcers or serious medical conditions. Helping people learn to express their feelings safely and considerately is one of the most useful things you can do.

As we let our feelings out we can experience a great sense of relief, like a heavy weight removed from our shoulders. Not only will we feel lighter, calmer and happier, other people will experience us that way too. Having let go of the unexpressed feelings, we will be more ready to face the world around us, the people in our lives and the tasks we have to do.



Sometimes I need to see my reflection in another person in order to  remember who I really am.


 Reflective listening

Reflective listening is the skill of mirroring back to a person, in your own words and manner, what that person is saying to you.

Reflective listening allows the speaker to hear what they are saying, see what they are meaning and feel what is happening, and through this process, come to a better understanding of themselves and their situation.

At its simplest level, it is a process of listening with full attention that includes repeating back a shortened version of what the speaker says—known as paraphrasing.

The time when most of us use this skill already is when we are being given directions to get somewhere. We take in the information, then say it back to the giver to check whether we have got it right. We are converting what has been said into our own words to make sure of our own understanding.

With reflective listening you are doing just the same thing but with the emphasis is on helping the other person to get clear about what is going on for them.

Paraphrasing what the other has said also goes a long way towards preventing misunderstandings—we often think or feel that we understand what a person has said but this is just guesswork, unless we check our understanding out with the speaker.

When your words mirror clearly what is being said you will get a “yes” response from the speaker, verbally or non-verbally. When your paraphrase misses the mark the speaker naturally corrects it. In this way, an inaccurate paraphrase will be far more use than a question or reassuring statement.

Paraphrasing deals mainly with the content of the message you are receiving; the words, facts and information. You feed back, in your own wordsthe essence of what the other person is saying to you in a short form. The paraphrase should be simple and to the point and actively reflect only the important points of the other’s message. Using too many words can completely distract the speaker from what they are saying. Using your own words when you do this is very important.


“I can never tell you `what you said’, but only `what I heard’.   I will have to rephrase what you said, and check it out with you to make sure that what left your mind and heart arrived in my mind and heart intact and without distortion.”                          

 John Powel 


Just repeating the exact words like a parrot can srop the conversation completely.  Using your own words convey to the speaker that you have really listened and understood and it helps you to know that you understand.

In summary:

  • Reflect the content of message.
  • Be short and to the point.
  • Reflect only the essentials of the message.
  • Use your own words.

 Key phrases

When we start to use reflective listening it is all too easy to use the same sets of words all the time. We then end up sounding rather boring and the people we are trying to help may switch off. Below you will find a selection of phrases other people have found useful at different moments in the reflective listening process.

We call these phrases “lead-ins”, and they are important because they tell the other person that our paraphrase is what we guess or think they are saying rather than an attempt to lay down the law.

So, for example, where the statement “you’re feeling upset” might produce resentment or irritation, the more tentative statement “I have a sense that you’re feeling upset” or “I think that …” invites agreement or disagreement, and allows the communication to move to the next stage.

As you practise this kind of listening, you will develop your own approach that feels natural to you. Maybe you will find that you can convey an open-ended tentative approach without having to use these sorts of lead-ins at all.




How reflective listening helps the speaker

When you listen reflectively you are checking with the speaker that you really heard what they meant to say. This stops you from getting their messages wrong, gives the speaker a feeling of safety because they know they have been understood and allows the conversation to flow more freely, which helps them explore their problem.

They can then get to the problem that is really bothering them, which is rarely the same as the one that they start talking about.

People in the helping professions are trained to look beneath what is called the “presenting” problem that a person comes to them with. We don’t usually start talking about our deepest worries immediately; we “test the water” first or “sound someone out” before we start to reveal ourselves fully to them.

Reflective listening, done with care and compassion, helps people through these initial stages. It also stops you, the listener, from trying to solve the minor problem the speaker is  talking  about  first.  If you were  to  do  that,  they  would  have  no  chance to explore what it is that is really bothering them.


Children, in particular, often make only indirect attempts to get their deeper needs met. They want a drink at bedtime, they want something to eat just after lunch, etc. If we meet these surface needs all the time the child never gets what they were really wanting. You may wonder why they don’t just come out with the real problem. Yet think of the number of times you have felt off-colour or fed up and not really known why. Reflective listening to your child’s concerns can prevent this from happening.

Reflective listening can help people in two important ways. Firstly, it can make it easier for some people who are not really aware of their feelings, or what is going on inside them emotionally, to get back in touch with their feelings again. Just doing this often adds the missing piece they needed in order to begin to solve their problem.

Secondly, when a person is overwhelmed by feelings, reflective listening lets them know that it is all right to have those emotions and gives them the chance to express them fully. Expressing the emotions has the effect of releasing the pent-up energy and drains off the emotion, after which the person generally feels a great deal better.

Reflective listening helps people feel strong and in control of their lives because it acknowledges what they are experiencing and thus who they are. Too often in our world we are told by others what we are doing, feeling and thinking. Reflective listening gives us a chance to see, hear and feel ourselves for ourselves — it puts us back in touch with who we really are!


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:

Asking questions

Let me know if you have any questions!  Talking about questions, there is a lot below on this!! The material in this series of 22 (of which this is number 10) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.

Asking questions

It isn’t always easy to talk about our feelings, worries or problems. In particular it can be difficult to get started. If you think that someone has something on their mind that you could help them with, a good way to start is letting them know that you have the time to listen and are prepared to give them the time and attention that they may need.  As nice as it is to be able to help, there are times when you may well have more important things to do or to think about. It is more useful not to offer to listen than to offer and then not listen, giving all those little unconscious messages that show you would rather really be somewhere else.

‘But what,’ you might wonder, `if they dry up and don’t seem to know what to say?’

It is a natural response, in this situation, to feel that you want ask questions. After all, asking questions helps the flow of conversation.

Question may well be appropriate at such a time – however, there are useful and not so useful questions to use.

Questions can be either closed questions or open ended questions.

By asking open-ended question rather than closed, directive ones, you are firmly leaving the responsibility for the feeling or the problem with the other person, rather than trying to solve it for them.  Your open-ended questions, coupled with an accepting and attentive attitude, convey your genuine interest in helping them without taking over or prying into things they may like to work through on their own.


Here are some of the less useful reasons questions are usually asked:

1     To fill in silences that the listener finds uncomfortable.

2     To confirm something the questioner is thinking.

3     To veil some emotion or need of the questioner, e.g. `Why are you doing that?’ instead of `I don’t want you

to do that.’

4     To satisfy the questioner’s own curiosity or need to know.

These reasons usually conceal a statement that the person isn’t willing to state out loud, or may not be aware of.

Look for the statement underlying your question. It is usually better to make a statement (`I want some peace!’) than to phrase it as a question. (`Do you have to make so much noise?’)

Emotional Flooding

There is another good reason fore not asking closed questions of someone who is experiencing a problem and is emotionally upset. when we are upset, our emotions tend ot take over the thinking part of our makeup. The more upset we are, the more difficult it is to think straight. When we are upset we are emotionally flooded.   Closed questions, or questions that demand specific information in answer, address just that thinking side of the mind which is being flooded out by emotions.  The result is either that the emotional temperature can rise as the upset person struggles to find the answer and/or they are taken off track form the real issues by trying to answer well-intentioned but irrelevant questions.

It can be a painful realisation for well-meaning people to discover that their best efforts to help are only making matters worse.


Learning from past experience

Young children don’t make mistakes or fail at things – they do something, then do it again and again, finding new ways if the old ones don’t work, until they have got it how they want it.

This is how the learn to crawl, sit up, walk, talk and achieve many of their early skills.

Children learn about failure. They learn because of the expectations placed on them by adults, and sometimes by older children, and the negative messages that get when they don’t meet up to those expectations. As they get older they may start to have unrealistic expectations of themselves, wanting to do things that their bodies or minds can’t achieve.

Our society is very goal and achievement-oriented and there is not much emphasis placed on enjoyment while getting there. We want to `be it’ or `have it’ now.

It is easy to love perfection and the way things should be. The real test is to feel comfortable and content with the way it is right now. It is the obstacles I meet that allow me to expand, to stretch my `lovingness’ to include even that.

When we make mistakes and feel we have failed, we quite often get completely side-tracked and use up energy feeling guilty or trying to correct the mistake. If we do get side-tracked in this way we are no longer on our path, unable to go to the next place that we want to be. Many people spend a great deal of time `lost’ in this sort of way.

If we remove the negative emotional attitudes that we have towards our failures and mistakes, we can free a great deal of energy. This we can then use to look constructively at what happened and gather information that can help us change what we do in the future.

If we allow ourselves the freedom, we can learn much of great value from where, how and when we went astray.

Fear of failure

If we learned that it was not all right to fail, this attitude can have a profound effect on what we allow ourselves to do in the future. Fear of failure can prevent us from even trying to get our needs met or attempting new things, thus severely limiting us as human beings.

In our education system, where only one person can come `top’ it is very hard for children not to pick up negative attitudes and feelings about `getting things wrong’.  If you were told that you had to take an exam at the end of this  course (which you don’t!) most of you would feel some level of anxiety about it. The learning process would be changed for you and probably not in a very constructive way.

Children do not need to be taught how to learn, develop and explore the world – they are born with these abilities.  The concept of failure however, is one that is learned, and one that affects us all through our lives.


What might stop us listening?

For most of us, real attentive listening is a skill we have to learn and practice.  The reality is that we may fumble along at it, jump in and ask questions, give advice instead of remaining quiet and find listening well very difficult.  The old habits die hard.  Many  people have not had much experience of listening or being listened  to  and so  have not had opportunity to learn the skill.


We have all had plenty of experience of not being listened to.  At times, even those we are lisening to will contribute to how hard we find it.

‘Please just tell me what to do’ is a common plea, and not just  from young children …


Go easy on yourself

Are you prepared to go easy on yourself and learn these new skills bit by bit without worrying that you are not doing it right?

It is useful to remember that we are all doing the best we know how at any particular moment. The fact that you have begun to learn a new way does not take away from the fact that when you are at home in your normal situation you react in the way you `know’ in that situation. It is OK to be a good enough listener bit by bit remembering to try things differently and learning from the nice and not so nice examples you experience.


Deception of familiarity

We tend to think that we know the people we spend a great deal of time with, very well – our colleagues, partners, children, etc.  This maybe true, but quite often, when we think we know someone well, we stop updating our information about them, and forget that people are constantly developing and changing.

Take some time to stand back a little and really notice that adults and children you spend a lot of your time with.  Look at them as if you were seeing them for the first time….


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:

Introduction to listening

When we are growing up, nobody teaches us how to listen!  This is a fundamental of life – and the next few blogs will show you how …

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 9) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.

Silence is not enough

As powerful as silent listening is, there are many occasions when we could be more active in our listening. Even simple, factual communications can be coloured by underlying emotion,  and to receive the full communication it  is useful to listen not only to the words, but to acknowledge the feelings that are being expressed.  Upset people don’t send clear messages, there are usually too many unpleasant and strong feelings around.

Letting people know you are aware of their feelings not only clarifies communication, but also helps both parties acknowledge and deal with relevant issues. Just giving a name to what you think they feel can be enough.

Open ended questions

Open ended questions leave the person you are listening to with the responsibility as to what they tell you and how the conversation goes.  Unlike a closed question they do not suggest an answer, for example:  “What aspect of your job bothers you?”  rather than  “Are you unhappy with your salary?”

Open ended questions fall into two categories:

1. Door openers, to start the ball rolling

It is not easy for some people to express the way they feel, especially if they perceive their feelings as    negative.  At these times it is useful to encourage them to start talking with open ended questions like:

“Do you want to talk about anything?”   “You seem a bit out of sorts, do you want to tell me about it?”

2. Questions to keep the flow going

Though pauses and silence is valuable in a conversation, sometimes it is useful keep people going with more open ended questions:

“Is there anything more?”  “Is there something else worrying you?”


Learning from our successes and mistakes

Children learning to walk try different ways of getting up and launching themselves on two feet, each time learning from what they do to be more successful at the next attempt. Unlike adults, they do not beat themselves up for making mistakes, but learn from experience, responding to the “feedback” that the experience offers them. We can learn to do likewise, considering what we do and the effect it has on us and others and using the feedback from other people and the environment to change things the next time.

What might get in the way of listening

Learning to really listen isn’t always easy. There are all sorts of patterns that can get in the way. However much we may want to be helpful in these new ways, we may be stuck in old patterns of trying to sort things out for others, and solve their problems for them.

We may also find that feelings expressed to us trigger us into our own, often unfruitful ways of responding, and the situation becomes about us, rather than about the other person, or the problem to be solved.

Obviously we want to do it all as well as we can, and it will take time to replace the old patterns of behaving with new ones.  Only doing it and leaning from the feedback we get both at work and at home can  speed the process up.


Taking listening a step further

Sometimes silence and the best attentive behaviour in the world are not quite enough. Some situations need something more. At these times we can use very simple responses so that the speaker knows we are still with them.  In this way we encourage the speaker to continue talking and don’t interrupt the flow.

Examples: –    … mm-hum …      go on …    yes  …         really?   …         oh    …     and?…

Repeating key words from the speaker’s last sentence may also be used as a way of encouraging someone to continue. For example:

  • Speaker:        `I don’t know what’s happening, I just feel stuck.’
  • Listener:         `Stuck.’

The listener’s body language, tone of voice and facial expression can also act as encouragement.

The aim of these responses is not to interrupt the person or agree or disagree with them but just to let them know that you hear what they are saying.

Of course, we have all experienced inattentive listeners who repeat the same words and sounds, trying to mask that they are not listening at all and maybe not even caring about what we are saying. So make sure you are feeling accepting and understanding when you use these simple forms of acknowledgement.

Remaining silent is a very powerful way of giving people the space and safety to talk through their fears, worries, upsets and difficulties. If we can give our attention in a caring, accepting and supportive way, then we are halfway towards being as helpful as it is possible to be.



In wanting to do more to help it is easy to forget the value of trusting the other person to be able to work through whatever they need to deal with, with our help. We leave the responsibility for dealing with feelings, solving the problem, or calming the worry with the person who is experiencing the feeling, problem or worry.

In this way, not only do we play our part in making sure that they do what is best for them, we are also helping them to learn how to do it in the future when we are not around to help. Particularly with our children this is a very important step we can help them take in their growing up – but it applies equally in any situation where a person is learning a new skill or assuming a new set of responsibilities.

As we said in the introduction, people who are upset do not send straight messages…


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:

Helping: Being Congruent

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 8) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.

Quite often we are not congruent. For example, we may feel angry in our  minds and bodies but try not to show it. This is called a mixed message and these can cause confusion in other people because they can sense that something isn’t “straight”. Children are especially sensitive to mixed messages and may behave in negative ways when they are receiving them from you because they cannot cope with the confusion they are experiencing.

We can be incongruent in three ways:

1. At the awareness level

We can experience thoughts and feelings without being aware of them. This means that others can sense that we are angry, hurt or upset but we don’t know it ourselves. When someone confronts us with how we are feeling we deny it and may even become defensive about it. Hence the red-faced person loudly shouting “I am not angry!”


In these instances the person is genuinely unaware of what they are experiencing and they may need help and support in order to “get in touch” with their feelings.

2. At the communication level

In these instances a person is aware of what they are experiencing but for some reason they are choosing not to express it to others. This includes being “polite” to someone you may not like and, also, not telling someone how you really feel because it may “hurt” them.

The choice not to express what you are feeling may be conscious or unconscious. We often learn as children that it is not safe to talk openly about what we experience and we bring this lesson with us into adult life. For instance, the little boy who is told it isn’t manly to cry may grow up into a man who suppresses any display of emotion. People who learn that it isn’t safe to be honest about their feelings very often keep their opinions of things to themselves, even when it would be valuable for them to express them.

3. Internal congruence

We can also experience a lack of congruence if what we believe is right is at odds with what we are actually able to do. For example, a modern mother may “believe” in breast feeding on demand. But perhaps she doesn’t have enough milk or she becomes too exhausted because she has other small children to take care of too. She becomes more and more tired, irritable and run down. Her beliefs are at odds with what she is physically capable of doing.

In instances like these, the belief needs changing and there needs to be far more trust put into what “feels” right rather than what is “thought” to be right.

What is right for a person makes them feel happy, doesn’t exhaust them, feels good, and works!

If you don’t feel happy and comfortable with what you are doing, then it isn’t right for you, whatever anyone tells you. Take time to find out what feels right! If you are happy, you will have so much more energy to live your life creatively.


Communication is the process by which messages are sent from one person to another via our senses. In our society there is a great deal of emphasis placed on words but studies have shown that often the words are the least important part of the communication.

Actions speak louder than words

If we take away the word content of communication we are left with tone of voice, which includes pitch, rhythm, volume, etc. and body language, which includes facial expression, gestures, body movement, posture and breathing.

It’s not what we say but how we say it, as the old saying goes.

Spend some time just watching people, making sure that you can’t hear what they are saying, and see just how much you can pick up from their non-verbal behaviour.

One interesting way to do this is to turn the sound down on the television and watch the picture alone. It is often quite easy to follow what is happening in the programme without sounds.

Most of us pick up the non-verbal aspect of communication unconsciously as we go along and only really become aware of it when there is a very obvious discrepancy between what is being said and the way in which it is said.

These discrepancies arise when we are not being congruent; on some level we are sending a mixed message that the receiver is unclear about, e.g. saying yes or no when we really don’t want to, or when we are trying to hide our true thoughts and feelings.


Using the child as a guide


We all have some ability to sense when people are not being straightforward or completely honest with us. Our response, when this happens, can range from feeling slightly uncomfortable to believing that we are being lied to. Whatever the response there is likely to be a feeling of confusion and a lack of understanding of what is going on.

Young children are very sharp at picking up mixed messages from what we say and do. This makes them ill at ease and that is likely to be reflected in their behaviour.

For instance:

Bob is concentrating on producing some complex statistics for his MD, and people keep popping into his office for trivial reasons.  At first he is patient and polite, but as time passes and he makes little progress on his task due to interruptions, he starts to get harassed.  Finally he blows up at the next unfortunate who pops their head around the door.  Word gets round the office – “leave Bob alone!” and he is able to finish his task in peace.

In an effort to be Mr. Nice Guy, Bob sent out mixed messages, until his internal stress reached critical levels, and he erupted.  After that everyone knew what it was he wanted and was happy to give it to him.


Often children force us to be straight and honest by their simple innocence and directness.  This quality of innocence is important in helping us remain straight with ourselves.  Observe young children and get a sense of where they’re coming from and apply this to your own life.

If you don’t have children in your life, try to harness the innocence and directness that is still part of the child within you – the child that you once were.  Pay attention to that little voice inside – it is often more honest than we allow ourselves to be, and can help us become more congruent, more `real’ in our daily lives.

If you don’t have children in your life, try to harness the innocence and directness that is still part of the child within you – the child that you once were.  Pay attention to that little voice inside – it is often more honest than we allow ourselves to be, and can help us become more congruent, more `real’ in our daily lives.


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:


Being a Helper

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 7) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for I am most grateful.

Regarding being a helper, theoretically it’s enough to listen!

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We are often most helpful when we are just listening. When others share their feelings with us, it is very easy to want to help them so badly that we give them good advice, take over their problem or—if its bad enough—try and take their minds off the situation. However, the most useful thing we can do is keep quiet, show them we care by the way we listen and attend to them and let them use us as a sounding board to vent off their feelings.

Being there for someone

One of the best ways in which we can help others when they have a problem is just to listen and act as a sounding board for their thoughts and feelings. This means caring enough about the person to put aside all thoughts of ourselves and concentrate our whole attention and awareness on them, in an open and caring way. The people we tend to find it easiest to talk to about our deepest fears and worries are those who don’t talk back to us very much.  Mostly they just listen and we go away feeling that we have really been heard and understood.

What these people are doing is allowing us to speak our worries freely without putting in their own thoughts and feelings to get in our way. Although they are often silent we know from the expression on their face and how they sit or stand that they are giving us their complete attention.


They show their caring, acceptance and trust to us and feeling this from them, we can let go of some of our fear and share a lot more of what is troubling us than we would otherwise do.  In doing so, we can see ourselves and our problem more clearly.  Doing and saying nothing but just silently being there, attentive and caring, can be the most profound help that we can ever give to another human being.  Yet, although we are taught how to talk, read and write, very rarely are we taught to listen, despite the fact that it is a communication skill like all the others.

Research has shown that people who are thought of as very good listeners tend to “match” the person who is talking to them. This matching behaviour includes what they do with their body and their gestures, the use of similar words and phrases and, more subtly, mirroring thought processes. Most of us do this to some degree, even if only at an unconscious level, and the skill can be developed considerably with practice.  Matching has the effect of putting the other person more at their ease and making them feel comfortable and accepted for who and what they are. This feeling of safety gives them the freedom to explore their problems more deeply and productively.


 The essential ingredients for a helping relationship

When professionals first started to train people as helpers, they spent years noticing how people who were naturally helpful behaved. In this way they identified five major ingredients that we can all usefully employ in helping both adults and  children:

1. Acceptance

Difficulty with acceptance is often bound up with issues of control.  We may find it difficult to accept others if we have the need to control or judge the behaviour or feelings especially when they are feelings that don’t fit with our picture of the world.  If we can cultivate a sense of impartiality, or an awareness of a clear distance between “me” and “you”, we will find it easier to accept others fully, and to accept what they say without judgement.

2. Care

Even as we are able to accept others and what is happening for them, without judgement, we need to be able to genuinely care about them enough to be able to want to help them both now with their problem and in the long term by helping them learn how to help themselves. This can be particularly difficult when dealing with those closest to us. It is one of the most difficult things a parent can do for instance, to watch while their children learn `from their own mistakes’.

3. Understanding

We can never truly experience things in exactly the same way as someone else – but to be understanding we need to get as close to this as we possibly can. Part of being a helper is taking the time almost to think ourselves into someone else’s shoes, imagining or visualising what might they be feeling like right now,  not in order to present them with our ready made solution but o be able to work alongside them in their task to find their own.


4. Trust

None of the above is a lot of use if we do not believe that the other person is actually capable of understanding their own feelings and issues, finding their own answers and looking after themselves. We need to be able to trust them to help themselves, which may or may not include asking us for assistance along the way. As we trust them more, they will come to trust themselves more and will grow – learning from their mistakes- to be more and more capable.

5. Being congruent Being congruent means that all the different parts of you match. They are all expressing the same thing. These parts include:

  •  Tone of voice.
  • Facial expression.
  • Posture and body language.
  • Internal feelings and sensations.
  • Thoughts and beliefs.
  • The words that are spoken.
  • The actions you perform.

For example, if you were angry, you would look and sound angry, you would be thinking angry thoughts and you would be expressing yourself verbally in an angry way.  No-one would be in any doubt about the fact that you were ANGRY! Being congruent involves:

Experiencing – having thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, physical tensions       

Awareness – knowing what you are feeling and thinking    

Communication – being able to communicate these things to others.

Quite often we are not congruent. For example, we may feel angry in our  minds and bodies but try not to show it. This is called a mixed message and these can cause confusion in other people because they can sense that something isn’t “straight”. Children are especially sensitive to mixed messages and may behave in negative ways when they are receiving them from you because they cannot cope with the confusion they are experiencing. We can be incongruent in three ways … we will do some more of this in the next posting!

There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”. Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:


Problem Ownership

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 6) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.

Problem ownership

Problems that inevitably occur within most relationships can be much easier to tackle if we are familiar with the concept of problem ownership. This means stepping back when a problem begins to arise and asking yourself: `”Who is most upset?” or “Who needs help first?” and “Whose problem is this?”

If a person is not getting something they need, they will feel uncomfortable and get upset-how upset depends on the importance of the need. But if their behaviour in fulfilling this need doesn’t interfere with the others, or prevent others from meeting their own needs, then the only problem is the satisfaction of the need – the person owns the problem.


If a person is managing to satisfy their needs but the way they have chosen interferes with others and does prevent others from meeting their own needs,  then the other people are likely to get upset – they own the problem. When everybody is managing to meet their needs without interfering with anybody else, there is no problem!

Quite often we become emotionally involved in a problem that is not ours and this reduces our ability to cope, think straight or help the person with the problem. This happens more often in close relationships where our loved ones’ distress, anger, confusion, etc. is more likely to trigger our own emotional patterns from the past.


By asking ourselves the above questions we can figure out who has the problem and from there we can make clearer decisions about whether we need to be involved and what action to take if we do.

It sometimes happens that we ‘take on’ the problems of others – always with the best intentions, and because we most probably genuinely care about them. Often we have a sense of responsible for the other person, as a parent, or boss, or older sibling.  But in certain cases this is quite inapropriate.  Not only do we load ourselves with a burden we don’t really need (no doubt having enough of our own!) we also deprive those whose problem we take on, of the sense of achievement that comes from sorting out a problem, and we encourage their continued dependence and an attitude of dependency.

There is a fine line between truly helping a person towards finding their solutions, and thereby increasing their self-worth, and “doing it for them”, which keeps them powerless.

A matter of priority

There will be occasions when it isn’t clear who owns the problem. For example:

“When I came upon a road accident, I knew the people needed my help, but I had to deal with my own distress before I could be of any use.”

“A week after I had been promoted to manager, I received a list of the redundancies in my division.  I was surprised, and more than a little uncomfortable, when Jed, who was on my list, came to see me.  He proceeded to tell me about the difficulties he had been having in his marriage, which had finally come to a head, and he was going through a rather messy divorce.  He asked for my support.  I did what I could to reassure him, but felt awful, and had to see my manager for help in dealing with the situation.”

“My son was upset because his grandmother had repeatedly promised him a particular present and failed yet again to deliver. Before I could help him think about what to do with what should have been his problem, I needed to unload my share of the problem – which I did by telling him how annoyed I was at my mother for breaking her promises. That freed me then to help him.”

In these situations, both parties involved had a problem, and a series of solutions had to be worked out, prioritising needs and solutions.  In the first, the person arriving on the scene of the accident had to deal with their distress first. In the second, the new manager had to offer what support he could, before seeking help himself. The parent in the third case, managed to deal with both problems at the same time by exressing how they felt as part of the same process of listening to and dealing with the distress of the son.

Some people in these three situations would not have experienced any needs of their own and so would have been able to concentrate straightaway on the needs of the other. Others may have felt themselves being sucked into the problem and taken the decision to stay back and not get emotionally involved.

More problem ownership

The two most important things about the concept of problem ownership are: it helps you to identify how to act, if at all; and it encourages you to allow others responsibility for their own problems. The important issue is to differentiate between your own needs and the needs of others.  With your own problems you need skills that help you assert your own needs.  When  you are dealing with others who have problems you need  helping skills which show caring and support for the other person whilst also enabling them to find their own solutions to their problems.


A helping relationship is one in which a person helps another to develop and grow as a human being. All your relationships can have this element in them at some time – relationships with your loved ones, the people you work with, even with people you don’t like or people who are complete strangers to you. We have in our society many “helping” professions in which people are trained in some way to help others in need.  But many studies show that it is from within our own circle of family, friends and acquaintances that we are most likely to get the help we really need.

Most of us have known, at some time or another, someone that we could “talk” to, who “understood” us and who we felt “safe” with.  This sort of person is straight, honest and open with us; we trust them to tell us the truth.  They care about us and don’t get sucked into our problems. They are not depressed by our depression or fearful of our fear.  They empathise with how we feel and what is happening to us and that helps us to understand ourselves and our problems better. We are not threatened by them, they don’t judge us and they accept the differences and changes in us.

These are qualities that we all display towards someone at some time in our lives and they are the qualities that are most likely to provide worthwhile help and support to a person with a problem.


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:

Needs behind behaviour

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 5) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.

Needs behind behaviour

Everything we do in life is geared to meet some need. There are a limited number of needs that all people share. On the simplest level, these include things like the need for food, shelter, sleep, security, safety, love, friendship, exercise for the body and the mind. As we meet these basic needs so we can begin to work towards others that are more to do with our self-esteem, creative ability and being part of the world we live in a way that counts for something.

Acceptable and unacceptable behaviour

The ways people choose to try and meet their needs may or may not interfere with other people. If they don’t interfere, they will be seen as acceptable, if they do, they will be seen as unacceptable.  There are four factors that may affect how accepting of the behaviour of others we are:


  • how we are feeling
  • who is doing the behaviour
  •  where they are doing it
  • when they are doing it.

Who owns a problem

If everyone is having a good time and is quite happy, there is no problem. If the people around us behave in ways that affect our needs, we are displeased and have a problem. If we behave in ways that affect their needs, they are displeased and have a problem. Before we start to sort out our problems and help them sort out theirs, it is useful to make sure we know who owns the problem.

We are not our behaviour

It is very common to identify ourselves by the job we do, the way we look, the background we came from, or whether we are rich or poor, so it can be very difficult for us to be ourselves as we really are. We are individuals in our own right, regardless of our roles, our status in society or our possessions. Most of us have a deep-rooted desire to be loved for ourselves, rather than for our looks or our connections or whatever.

Yet very often we get stereotyped with a particular label and then people are no longer open to seeing us any other way. We have all, at some time, probably been treated as just a woman or a typical male or too old to understand or too young to understand or always hysterical or rational or any one of the thousands of labels that can be used to stop us being seen as complex individuals. This is the process that begins very early in life when children begin to be labelled for their behaviour.

E.g.  – She is:-

quiet, good, studious, helpful, kind, bossy, rude, stubborn, stupid, clumsy, thick, etc.

 If the label is used often enough, it sticks, and she becomes a neatly labelled package from which she cannot escape; the label follows her through school, work, marriage and parenthood to her death. If we are able to distinguish between the individual and the behaviour, it becomes easier to avoid the trap of labelling.  `I didn’t like the way you did that’ might then replace `You idiot! You’ve made a right mess of that!’

Behaviour can be learned, changed and developed. Love, on the other hand, is unconditional and says: “I might not like what you do sometimes but I love, support and cherish you.”


Behaviour and needs

American psychologist Abraham Maslow describes human needs as falling into five categories, as represented in the pyramid below …

Maslow believed that, until our most basic needs are met (level 1), we are unable to aspire to those on level 2.

Until we feel a physical sense of stability and safety (level 2), we are unable to form the ties that enable us to feel emotionally secure (level 3) and so on, one by one, up to level 5.

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For example, if a little girl felt unprotected and insecure, on level 2 of the pyramid, she would be unhappy, insecure and fearful most of the time and so be unable to make friends and take the first step in reaching out towards others, which are the belongingness needs on level three of the pyramid.

In other words, meeting our needs successfully at each level leads us up the pyramid to becoming what Maslow called a “self-actualised person”, one who is self-motivated, successful and competent, and always reaching out into the world to grow, change and experience new things.

The same needs

As human beings we all have the same needs and we behave in ways we think will help us get those needs met. This is normal and healthy. But people who are for some reason continually unable to get their needs met may resort to more and more extreme behaviour. While this behaviour may be undesirable or inappropriate, it does not mean that the underlying need is wrong.

For example:

  • With a young family to support and things being rather uncertain at work, Thomas feels under extreme pressure.  He finds himself contemplating ways to `end it all’.
  •  Twenty-year-old Lorraine needs love, warmth and comfort, so she gets a sore throat and has to go to bed for two days.
  •  ŸTeenage Sally establishes her independence by staying out all night without telling her parents where she is.
  •  Six-year-old Adam needs to develop and test out his sense of balance and co-ordination, so he climbs trees and climbing frames to heights that scare his mother.

In these examples the actual needs are valid human needs but the behaviours used to fulfil them may cause problems for the individual and for others round them.

Acceptable and unacceptable behaviour

Behaviour that interferes with us and our needs we think of negatively; behaviour that doesn’t interfere with us is thought of positively. In this way, we tend to view behaviour as either good or bad, nice or naughty, quiet or annoying etc.

It is much more useful to look at behaviour in terms of whether we find it acceptable or unacceptable, for by doing this we are not labelling the individual or the behaviour (as good or bad or whatever) but looking at our own needs and feelings at the time. Being clearer in your own mind about what you find acceptable at any given time can lead to a far better understanding between yourself and others.


Just what behaviour we find unacceptable at any given time depends on several factors:

  • how  we feel at the time – when we are feeling well and happy it is likely that we will find far more behaviour acceptable than when we are tired, cross and upset.
  • who is doing the behaviour – you probably like some people more than others and allow them more freedom with your time, space and attention.  And you also have different expectations of different people.  You will probably be quite happy for your partner to snuggle up next to you as you sit on the bus, but will have a different reaction if a total stranger did the same.
  • where the behaviour is taking place has an effect on whether you find it acceptable or not; you may really like your child’s gymnastic ability but not at Granny’s funeral.
  • when the behaviour takes place – jibes and teasing from your mates over drinks in the evening are likely to be taken in fun, but the same comments to next morning at work may well be offensive!

Because of these factors there is not a hard and fast rule that you can follow regarding your response to behaviour.


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:


Labels & self-esteem (ii)

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 4) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.

Labels & self-esteem

The deep down feeling that we are worth being loved and valued, comes about through the quality of the relationships we have with the important people in our lives.  While it is impossible to fill these needs for ourselves in a direct way, we can do so indirectly by creating a wholesome climate for the significant others in our lives.  It is an amazing fact that when we help others feel better about themselves, they quite literally can’t help responding in positive ways, which in turn helps us feel better as well.

We can create this wholesome climate by focusing on strengths rather weaknesses, on successes rather than failures. Most of us are expert at finding fault, expecting the worst and dwelling on mistakes.  This can lead us to anticipate failure from others, which creates an atmosphere of tension and mistrust.

Expectation of failure encourages failure.  Just as “Don’t spill the milk” makes it easier to spill the milk, expecting the worst creates increases the possibility of the worst occurring.  Stating things in the positive is therefore of great importance, but going ‘over the top’ even in terms of positivity can have its dangers as well.  If we set up expectations of a positive outcome in someone in an area where the target task or activity is well beyond present capability, the inevitable result is failure, and the result will be a double negative – dealing with he failure itself and dealing with the expectation.

Encouraging someone to do something of which they are clearly incapable (at the moment) is as great a dis-service as  expecting them to fail.  It may be better to focus on the individual skills needed to achieve a particular task, and work our  realistic programme to help acquire them.  For example if someone wants to run a marathon, we may need to encourage them to get fit in manageable stages.  We would not say “You will never run a marathon”.  We may say “I’m sure you do well  next year if you start training now”.

“My father only ever gave me attention when I did something that he approved of.  Because I loved him so much I ended up only doing the things I knew he would like and I hid lots of things about myself from him.  I wanted to be ME and I wanted his love. Because I could’t do both I stopped being me. I wanted to be loved for me.  I wanted to be encouraged and supported in my own hopes and dreams.  He died and I never got what I wanted from him.  Only now, years later, am I beginning to be able to give those things to myself.  If only he had been as happy with me as I was”.


A common danger is comparing the performance of one person to that of another.  For example, we might be tempted to say “Jones manages to get through that pile of paperwork in one day, so can you.”  Sadly, in the real world these situations occur on a daily basis.  Worse still, very often someone’s performance will be deemed unacceptable on the basis of the perceived performance of another.

In industry, where results are all that matter, people are expendable, and their sense of their own worth is considered irrelevant.  This is a short term view, and situations where people find themselves often unfairly compared to others arise due to management problems.  If people are wisely placed in positions which offer them a realistic chance of success, the increase in their sense of self worth will translate itself into increased productivity, which is the what industry wants in the first place.


Praise and Encouragement

Positive labels can be as unhelpful as negative ones.  Praise, like criticism, is a judgement made from outside and imposed on the individual.  It is often used to manipulate behaviour to fit a certain set of external criteria.  The ‘danger’ of constant raise is that it encourages behaviour for external reasons, and discourages  self-referral, or reliance on the self to determine behaviour.  Looking around us, we can see what effect this need for external reward has done to the state of our world.

We all need positive messages about what we do, who we are and what we create.  It is possible to give and receive encouragement without the use of labels.  If we describe behaviour and say what we feel about it, we can give a positive message without the risks involved in labelling.

 Some drawbacks of praising

  1. What you are praising the other person for may not be valued by them at all; it may even be meaningless or annoying to them.
  2. People know that if they can be praised they can also be blamed and, if praise is used a great deal in a relationship, the lack of it can be taken as criticism.
  3. Praise is often used as a form of manipulation to try and get someone to do what you want rather than as a genuine compliment.
  4. Being praised for things that aren’t valuable or important to you can make you feel that the other person doesn’t understand you.
  5.  Being praised can deeply embarrass some people, especially when it is done in front of an audience.
  6.   People can grow to depend on praise and begin to demand it as a way of getting attention and approval.


Children know when they have done something well or badly.  You can see and hear their satisfaction when they have achieved what they have set out to do and also their dissatisfaction when they don’t.  As they grow a bit older they learn that if they do certain things they are “good” and approved of and if they do others they are “bad” and disapproved of. Gradually, because the approval of the people who are bringing them up is so important, they begin to lose their own “knowing” and rely upon their grown ups’ judgements of their behaviour.

Often this process through childhood results in us loosing our sense of knowing altogether and we come to rely completely on others to tell us who we are and what we should be doing.  We may completely bury our  “selves” and constantly check to see if others approve of what we are doing or wanting.  As adults may live out our lives doing what we think others want and never know what our own needs are at all.

The idea that praise may be just another form of labelling may seem a strange contradiction, because we have been taught that praise is ‘good’.  After all, it can’t be bad to say nice things to people, can it?  But, as with many things that started out as good ideas, the act of praising has become misused and misunderstood.

Praise is usually an evaluation of another person and their qualities and abilities; it does not show what you are really thinking and feeling.  The next time you have the urge to praise, stop yourself and ask yourself why. What is your real intention?  Do you really want to say something nice to that person?  Do you want to manipulate them into doing something?  Are you doing it to avoid acknowledging something else that is going on (e.g. jealousy, guilt)?


So what do we do instead?

Rather than using praise that judges, try using praise that describes.  So, instead of saying things like: “You are wonderful, good, lovely, brilliant or whatever (which tell the person nothing about why you think so), be explicit about what it is you like and how it makes you feel.

Here are some examples:-

 1.   I really like the way you help me wash up.

 2.   When you rub my neck like that I feel really cared for.

 3.   That cooker you have just cleaned looks spotless.

4.   I am really happy with the earrings you bought me.

Descriptive praise usually includes the following:-

  • An accurate description of the work, behaviour or accomplishment of the other.
  • How you feel about or value what you have described.
  •  And, if there is one, the positive effect that the behaviour has had on you.


Changing from judging to describing takes time to learn because praising in the old way is such a habit in our society.  Be patient with yourself while you are learning this new skill.


Praising in this new way quite often brings to the surface thoughts and feelings that never get expressed when the other kind of praise is used.  It lets the other person know more about you and the positive effect that they and their behaviour have on you.


 A 35-year-old doctor, with blonde hair, glasses and two children, spent six months training to run the New York Marathon. The great day arrived and he finished 999th out of 1000. He returned to the hospital on Monday to be asked by his fellow doctors where he came in the race, so he told them “Ah! You only beat one person,” they exclaimed. “But that doesn’t matter, I was best in my class,” he replied. They couldn’t understand. “What class was that?” they asked.  He explained:- “That was the class for 35-year-old doctors with blonde hair, glasses and two children.  I did my best.  I can’t compare myself with other people because then I am always going to lose – and I will probably get ulcers into the bargain.  I gave 100 per cent and that is all I can ever do.  I can only try to be the best person, runner and doctor that I can be”.



 Many adults and children have built large defensive walls around themselves and they ward off positive comments that they receive saying things like: “Oh, it’s nothing” or “I didn’t do anything really”.  These people are pushing away the very thing that they most need, positive attention, because they don’t trust or are embarrassed by the form in which the comments are made.

If someone responds that way to something you say, try repeating what you originally said in a descriptive rather than a judging way.  This may break through their defensive wall, because it is hard for them to dismiss as “nothing” something you have said about how  feel.  They may be able to accept and take in your words and then they may really glow!

Remember to use your voice, your body, and your heart, when you do it.

We feel good when others express their good feelings about us, and when we can accept our self-worth, we don’t ever need others to tell us that we are okay or to compare our achievements to theirs.


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:



Labels & self-esteem development

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 3) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.

Regarding labels & self-esteem development, labels are a shorthand way of commenting on a person’s behaviour. Instead of describing what we have done, it is all too easy for someone to invent a name for it and hang it around our necks. More often than not the label is a direct criticism and hurts our feelings. It also tells us nothing about what they want changed. And worst of all, if we hear the label enough we may end up taking it on board for good, becoming just what they don’t want.

“What was that you called me?”  

We all put labels on our own and other people’s behaviour. We describe someone as clever,  stupid,  polite, spoilt, rude, selfish, etc. It is very easy for us to get so used to hearing and using these terms that we can bandy them about with out thinking any more whether they still apply. Some labels were applied a long time ago, and in very specific circumstances, which changed, but the labels stuck. We must therefore question whether we are really saying that these words apply to someone, or is there another reason – perhaps something about ourselves?

And what do words like these really mean in the first place? Different people mean different things when they use words like “clever” or “clumsy”.  Many of these labels originate in childhood, and when we are young, they create a particular way of thinking about ourselves.

It makes far more sense to describe the actual behaviour, rather than labelling the person. That means talking only in terms of what we can see, hear and feel. There are several good reasons for this.

Firstly, we  often use labels by way of telling someone off without actually clafifying the nature of unacceptable behaviour. This makes it difficult for anyone to stop doing what-   ever they are doing.  If we describe behaviour we are supplying the information necessary to effect change.

Secondly, often using a label comes across as a criticism and results in feelings of hurt and resentful. With feelings like that around, it becomes difficult to be co-operative or to have any desire to change anything.. A simple description of the facts is easier to listen to and accept.

Thirdly, labels have a nasty habit of becoming true. If we use the same labels for long enough, everyone concerned can come to believe them. We become so used to being called clumsy or stupid that we adjust our expectations of ourselves to accommodate what we take to be a revised evaluation of ourselves.

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Say what you want  

If you say to a person “Don’t drop it!” they have to make a picture or get a sense in their head of dropping it, just so that they can avoid doing so. While they are making that picture they are half-way towards dropping it, probably helped by the anxiety in your voice! It is much more helpful to say what it is you do want to happen, for example “hold on tight to it.” Or if we say to our child “Don’t spill the milk”, they have to imagine spilt milk – and milk, once imagined spilt, is all the easier to spill. We could consider describing the behaviour we do want.  This can be quite difficult, because we all tend to know what we don’t want but have greater difficulty in defining what we do want! Even when we have worked out the behaviour behind the label, it is still very easy to say “Don’t leave things lying around” rather than “Do put things away.”   Making the change to stating what we want rather than what we do not want takes extra thought and attention, but with care we can break a long-standing habit.  Instead of  “Don’t spill the milk” we could say “Hold the milk steady”. Here are some more examples:-

“Don’t interrupt me!” could be “Please let me finish speaking!”

“Don’t wake me when you come in.” could be “Be quiet when you come in.”

“Don’t make any mistakes with these figures” could be “Take extra care with these figures”.  

“Don’t be late for the meeting” could be “Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the meeting”.

Different people,  Different experiences  

Our experience of life is uniquely our own.  This means that our perspective will be unique to us as well.  This is because much of the way we experience our lives originated in childhood.  We came to understand and make sense of our world according to many different factors.  As adults we forget that these differences exist, and therefore expect that all people see, hear, taste smell and feel life in the same way as we do.  In the process of growing up, we come to imbue words with subtle and sometimes slightly different meanings.  Understanding this is vitally important when dealing with children.  Children have a totally different frame of reference to adults, and tend to take words at their literal meaning.  If we are not careful, this can result in serious problems in communication.  

It is not only with adults that errors in communication can arise.  We sometimes use words that are loaded with meaning for us, and wonder why others don’t respond in the way we would have responded.  For example, sally’s mother used he word `fine’ in a slightly disapproving sense. When she said Sally looked fine, it really meant that she didn’t like the way Sally was dressed, was refraining from being critical.  Sally grew to hate the word.  Years later, when she was married, her husband couldn’t understand why she got upset when he said  that she looked `fine’.    

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 The development of self esteem  

So much of what happens in our lives depends on how we feel about ourselves – on our  sense of our own worth, or what we call `self-esteem’.   Much of the development of self esteem takes place during childhood, but each and every encounter we have in our lives can influence our self esteem in a positive or negative way.

It is from our family that we first learnt whether we were loveable or not, so what we do and say to our children has a significant effect on their developing self-esteem. It is therefore vitally important to be aware of how we talk to our children.

But it is not only children who are affected by the way they are treated. At any point in our lives, the attitude of the significant people around us has an effect on how we feel about ourselves. Self esteem is not static, so although childhood influences are important, they are not all that matters. Below is a list of some of the areas in which positive messages can be given, helping us feel better about ourselves:

1. Being

We need to feel we have a right to be here and that we are loveable just because we exist.   We get this message when we know that we are loved, tat we are important, and that people like our company.

2. Doing

We  need to know that others think we are capable of succeeding in our lives.   We get positive messages to this effect directly: “you did that well!” “I really liked the way you did ……………” “I love the way you do …………….” and so on.

3. Thinking

We need to have a sense of our own capability on a mental level.  This is very often broken down when our views and opinions are not sought, of if they are sought, they are disregarded as useless without being given any consideration.  This is a common in the workplace these days.

4. Feeling

All human beings need to know that they have a right to show their feelings.  Our society has made it unfashionable for whole groups to be real about their feelings.  Men are traditionally not allowed to express emotion in any way other than through violence or aggression.  The British people as a whole are famed for their `stiff upper lip’.  It is important to find acceptable ways to share our feelings with other people rather than bottle them up inside.

5. Learning who we are

Being strong and capable means just that – it does not mean that we somehow reach a state in which we have no needs.  No matter how independent, powerful or accomplished we become, we still need love, support and care.

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We need to learn that it is all right to ask in a straightforward way for what we want. We don’t have to pretend to be sick, sad or angry to get what we need. It is all right to express honestly what we are feeling.

Quite often we expect others to know quite intuitively what we want, especially in close family relationships, but also at work or in friendship relationships. When we become aware of the nature of our expectation we are able to do something about it.  We need to cultivate the awareness that separates us from those around us, so that we can see he dynamics of our relationships more clearly.

We need to know who we are in order to get what we want or need.

6. Learning to do things our own way

Often one of the most pervasive lessons we learned in childhood was the lesson of obedience.  Hopefully as we grew older, we learned to temper our blind obedience with discrimination.  This is the theory of it. Looking around in the world however, and with lessons such as the one taught by Hitler in the second world war, or some of the modern-day civil wars in various parts of the world, we can see that theory does not always manifest in reality.  We may protest wildly that we would never get caught in a situation like that – perhaps not exactly like that, but if we are honest, there are probably many instances in which we follow what other say without thinking for ourselves.

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The power of the advertising industry is an example of this phenomenon.  Again all we can do is cultivate an awareness in ourselves of the reasons we do things.  If we spend most of our time doing things others want us to do, then we need to look at what is happening inside ourselves quite carefully.  The converse is also true.  If we spend our lives doing the opposite of what others want us to do, then it is possible that we are `reacting’ to attempted control, but still not doing what we need to do ourselves.

If we deal with children, we need to give them positive messages which encourage them to think for themselves, and work out what they want to do or believe. They need to learn from an early age to trust their feelings to help them know what to do.  The world has seen the tragic consequences of this failing in this lesson.

7. Sexuality

Often our feelings of sexuality are tied up in the needs and expectations of others at an early age.  We may learn that our worth depends on our ability to perform sexually, or we may learn that our sexuality is dirty and sinful, depending on the influences to which we were exposed.  Religion and society has many good reasons for manipulation this part of our lives. While we wouldn’t suggest that the development of a sense of morality is undesirable, we would say that it is difficult to obtain a balance in these matters, and that often we are a victim of the conditioning we received when we were young.  The feelings we develop regarding our sexuality from childhood often persists well into adulthood, reducing our ability to feel or think clearly as self determining adults.

We also need to learn to discriminate between our sexuality and our need for love and comfort, because these can easily become confused and intertwined.

8. Independence

The development of independence is very much an issue of relevance to parents.  Parents know that helping heir children achieve independence can be one of the most difficult things to do.  As parents we may have needs of our own that get in he way of helping our children along this path, or we may simply not know what sort of messages we need to give to our children.  How we give them these messages depends very much on the type of person we are and the sort of language we use.

Even if we are not parents, the issue of independence is probably still of great relevance to us.  If we didn’t get the help we needed as children through the phases we have been discussing, it is likely that our sense of our ability to live an independent life may be stunted or warped. Often marriage or partner relationships engender patterns of dependency based on earlier parent-child relationships.  We may either experience ourselves as dependent on others, or we may have powerful needs for others to be dependent on us.  Both these patterns stem from the messages we received in childhood.  To raise our awareness of these issues in our lives, it is helpful to consider the nature of our feelings around these issues.  If we think about our relationship either with someone we depend on, on who depends on us, we can try to identify things that bring up strong feelings. They may be messages that you missed out on as a child and now have a chance to catch up on.

If we didn’t get the things we needed at the right time when we were children, we continually get chances to make up that lack as we go on through our life.   Clearly the issue of independence is very much an issue of the level of self esteem.  We need others to depend on us, because that proves that we are `good’.  It also in fact proves that we are actually exist.  It may also legitimise us in our own eyes, for if someone else needs us, then there must be a reason for our lives after all.

There are two principle beliefs we need for high self-esteem

  • the belief that I am loveable simply because I exist.
  • the belief that I am worthwhile, that I have something to give & to offer others.

The deep down feeling that we are worth being loved and valued, comes about through the quality of the relationships we have with the important people in our lives.  While it is impossible to fill these needs for ourselves in a direct way, we can do so indirectly by creating a wholesome climate for the significant others in our lives.  It is an amazing fact that when we help others feel better about themselves, they quite literally can’t help responding in positive ways, which in turn helps us feel better as well….


The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 3) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.

There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at:

Feelings 2: Self-esteem

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 2) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.


There is one quality above all others that determines how individuals respond to circumstances in their lives – that quality is self-esteem. Self-esteem is how a person feels about himself or herself; how much he likes being him, how much she feels good about just being alive.

The level of self-esteem of those around you is clearly not your `responsibility’ – but we would be surprised if we knew to what extent our words and actions affect the ways those around us see themselves.  When it comes to children, our responsibility increases dramatically.

When thinking about the your effect on those around you, and the extent to which you can exert a positive influence, the first and most important place to start is looking at your own self-esteem. Do you have `a quiet sense of self-respect, a feeling of self-worth’ – are you glad that you are you?

Everything good that you wish for those around you, you deserve for yourself.  Are you giving yourself those things, or do you think that you are not important, or that your needs can wait? How you treat yourself  is a model for how others will treat you.

How you treat yourself will also affect how you do your job,  and take care of those around you. The more you look after yourself, the better and happier you will feel, and the more energy you will have perform those tasks you must perform. It is a little like making sure you keep your car battery topped up. If it is too low and your next door neighbour needs a jump start, you will not be able to help.  Or to put it another way, only if you keep filling up your own cup will there be anything in it for others  to drink.

Some ways to develop your own self esteem

Being nice to yourself

We all need what psychologist Eric Berne called `strokes’.  A stroke is a unit of attention, and it can be negative or positive.  A smile or a loving touch are loving strokes, an angry frown or sharp slap are negative strokes.

The worst thing for all people (and animals) is not to be getting any strokes at all – in other words to be ignored or to feel left out.  Even negative strokes are better than no strokes at all!

Many adults are so busy stroking their children, their partner, the hamster, the house, the boss, that they forget about getting strokes for themselves.  They end up tired and depressed and wonder what on earth is wrong with them. Somewhere along the line they start ignoring themselves and feeling that they are not important, and everybody else follows suit.  No one is an endless reservoir of energy. In order to keep giving out love, care and attention, we all need to get something back for ourselves, and being adults, the responsibility for that lies firmly in our own laps.

There are two main ways to get strokes:

1. Stroking yourself

This means treating yourself with love, care and attention, and is usually to do with very simple things.

  • It means giving yourself something just for you, just because you enjoy it. Also giving yourself time to rest when you know that you are tired.
  • It means caring for your body, wearing things that you like, having space for yourself that is warm and comforting.
  • It means cooking and eating what you like, with time to enjoy it.
  • It means making sure that you have something that you love to do, just for yourself. It may be painting, walking in the country, reading adventure novels, being with a close friend.  The important thing is that it is for you, not for anyone else.

Make a list of the things you really like to do, even things that seem impossible at the moment.  If you have been ignoring yourself for a long time this may prove difficult at first but that is all the more reason to do it. You are in real need of strokes if you have forgotten what it is you like to do.

However much we would like others to take care of us, it is ultimately our own responsibility to see that we get the love, care, attention and fun that we need.

The place to start is by giving to yourself, and thereby signalling to the world that you are an important human being and you deserve nice things!


2.  Getting strokes from others

We are hampered in our attempts to get what we want from others by some strong but false messages. These say things like:

  • If you loved me you would know what I want!
  • It isn’t the same if  I have to ask for it!
  • “I want” doesn’t get!

People are not mind readers. If they are not told what it is you like them to give you, they will get it all wrong, apart from a few lucky guesses!

Many people get strokes from others that they either don’t value or don’t like. Again, it is your responsibility to let others know exactly what it is you want them to do or  say.

Doing this can bring up fears of rejection but, if you are asking from the stand-point of being a valuable person who has a right to get his or her needs met, the likelihood of your being rejected is small. Asking in a straightforward way for what you want doesn’t mean that you will always get it but it is honest and clear and encourages others to respond in the same way to you.

Think about the following things:-

  • What forms of attention do you value from others?
  • What would you like them to say to you?
  • How would you like them to comfort you?
  • What things about you would you like them to take notice of?
  • What sort of things do you like to be given as presents?
  • How do you like to be touched and made love to?

Do you get these things?


Affirmations – saying nice things to yourself

Have you got a little voice inside your head? One that chatters on endlessly about what you should or shouldn’t do, like some miniature critic who lives somewhere inside your grey matter?  I do – and we have yet to meet anybody that didn’t.

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We could call this voice the tape recorder and affirmations are the tapes to put in it, tapes that say positive things about you.

If you have to have a voice inside your head it might as well be saying nice things to you!

What we say to ourselves is important because both our conscious and unconscious minds listen to what we are saying and act upon it. If you are telling yourself that you are fat, stupid and ugly, unconsciously you will be working away at being just that!

Remember what we said about labels as self fulfilling. You already have all the material you will ever need for your affirmations.  At the moment they are in the form of negative statements that you say to yourself.  All you have to do is reverse their message in a way that is meaningful to you.  You will know if your affirmations are meaningful by your reaction to them.  If they are difficult for you to say, if you get “funny feelings” like tingling, warmth, tears or if you suddenly  “feel better” or lighter, then the affirmation is doing its work. It is changing how you feel  and think about yourself at a very deep level.

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The negative statements in our head are not true but they are very powerful. If we try to fight them or to argue with them we just reinforce them.  Just let them be and build yourself some positive ones. Use them to help yourself instead of pulling yourself down.

If affirmations appeal to you, they work. Try it and see!

If saying affirmations seems strange or odd to you, don’t you also think it is odd to have a voice telling you how awful you are all the time?

The enemy within is probably the biggest any of us will ever have to fight.


The unconscious self not only listens to what you say, it also notices the thoughts and pictures, or images, that you have.

Some of us can see very clear pictures in our mind’s eye and some of us don’t.  This is just the different ways in which brains can work but if you can think about something and somehow “experience it”, in whatever way you do it, then you can do what we call “visualise”.

Think about pink snow ………..

The first kitchen you ever remember seeing …….

A large stone with a bright light in the centre of it………

There you visualised those things in whatever way was right for you!

Trust your own way and don’t worry if it’s not like anyone else’s. It’s yours and it works!

Now we can use the process of visualisation to help us build our self-esteem.

To visualise for this purpose means to close your eyes and imagine yourself or others as you want them to be.

Imagine your family is happy and at peace.  Imagine yourself being as you would like to be.

When Carol gets tired and worried, because her baby always seems to be so upset, she closes her eyes and allows herself to imagine a Carol who is a warm, caring, capable mother, a Carol who knows, deep inside, that she has every right to be the mother of this child, who has every right to be tired and will give herself the rest she needs.

When John worries about his presentation to the managing director, he closes his eyes and  visualises himself as a calm but alert person who can communicate in a clear, concise way, as a man with something important to say, and who deserves to be listened to.

What we think and say to ourselves matters.  Use the skills of affirmations and visualisations to help yourself build a more positive self image. Also teach these ideas to your children. They will take to them very easily because, unlike adults, they tend to believe that what they think can change reality.

The child within us

Even when we are adults, there is a child tucked away inside. Learning to take care of the child within us is of major importance. Some people can do this easily, especially if they had affectionate, caring parents.  Others have to really work at it, especially if they didn’t get enough love, direction and attention for themselves when they were young.

The child in you is often more active when you are feeling hungry, sick, worried, tired, hurt or afraid.  The child in you then feels a need for something – food, sleep, comfort, encouragement, love and so forth.  If these needs are not met, then you feel worse.  Whereas if they are met you usually not only feel better but are able to cope better.

One way to care for your inner child is to care for or nurture yourself.  Treat yourself to your favourite things: a special food, a new book, a walk in the sunshine or the rain, a meal without the children, a visit to your friend. Give yourself the things you really enjoy and deserve because you are a person too.

Another form of nurturing is to give yourself the things that are good for you: fresh air, some form of exercise that feels right for you, proper care and attention when you don’t feel so good.

Nurturing also involves giving yourself comfort: cool, clean sheets, a snuggle in a favourite blanket or arm chair, a hot bath and comfortable clothing, peace and quiet or your favourite music.  It can also include talking to yourself to give yourself comfort, reassurance and encouragement.

Your inner child may like playing and having fun: running on the grass, playing catch, laughing at a silly joke. Recapture your childlike fun, however that expressed itself!  It’s also possible to have fun alone: a walk in the woods, paddling in a stream, feeling the warm sun on your face, drawing, dancing to music.  Children are able to enjoy themselves alone and that ability still lies within us as adults, however deeply buried.  Recognising and fulfilling your inner child’s needs leads you towards becoming a happier, more secure person, and that in turn makes you more able to meet your responsibilities towards others.  Everyone benefits when you are nicer to yourself and more accepting of yourself and your needs.

If you are aware of not doing enough to look after yourself and your inner child, it might be useful to think about what stops you or what is getting in the way? What steps would you have to take to start nurturing yourself more?  You will have opportunities in your “Peace of Mind” group to learn what other people are beginning to do for themselves and how you can too.

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In case you missed this at the top!  The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 2) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which we are most grateful.

There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

There are helpful free downloads at: