Look for the LONGING under the protest

It’s easy, in the face or a partner or spouse shouting at us to shout back, or stonewalling us, to “pick, pick, peck, peck, prod, prod” to try and stimulate a response (then they roar) and whole thing escalates into an alarming row often over something apparently little e.g. loading / unloading, the dishwasher.

It seems inconceivable that the shout or silence that launched the row was, in fact, a distress call, a “mayday”, from someone who, in response to something we’ve said, done or not done (all unknowing), suddenly connected to earlier examples (often before they met us) of feeling attacked, abandoned, betrayed, let down or confused and thereby, in the present, feeling a sudden, shocking, emotional distance from the one (us) with whom, until that moment, they’d felt safest, closest and by whom they felt most understood, seen and loved.

A sudden blast of cold emotional air slicing into a soft and exposed emotional self made completely vulnerable because, in the presence of their loved one (us), they’d dared divest themselves of all emotional armour for, open, naked (and thereby vulnerable), is how to get close enough to another to feel truly loved.

That shock, in the moment, of our beloveddoing something we did not expect and so out of character with who we believed them to be (and perhaps so like someone who hurt us, betrayed us or let us down in the past), means we’re gripped by the icy fear of “have I made a terrible mistake? If this person could do or say this thing at which I am feeling now so shocked then what else could they do or say? Have I misplaced my trust? Have I been a complete fool?”

The one we utterly trusted has, in that split second, become someone we do not recognise. In that protest is a seeking to restore closeness an “OMG, please prove my fears wrong and quickly! Bring back the person I recognise!” It is fear is fueling the heat and volume of the protest, that desire to be reassured in response to the mayday that all is well, that we are, after all, safe and our fears unfounded. If that sound like psychobabble, here are some examples and their translations:

Example: “You care more about watching sport than you do about me!”

Translation: “I miss you, you’re the one who means most to me in the world, I realise we never get any ‘we’ time with you, I worry you, precious you, may be slipping away from me and I fear that more than anything.”

Example: “There you are, sitting around when and I have so much to do”

Translation: “Help me, I’m drowning and overwhelmed with what is on my plate, I’m not expecting you to take on what I can no longer do, I am on my knees, please comfort me, come to my aid, help me up, help me make sense of it, work together on what to stop doing, what we can outsource or obliterate and how better to handle what we have to keep doing. Help me feel less alone, that you have my back as I have yours”.

Children have no qualms about asking for what they need yet it seems as we grow into adults loads of “shoulds / should nots”, quietly strangle any request before we make it. We can repress a need for only so long before the build up of anxiety or resentment becomes uncontainable and explodes out in a disordered, uncontrolled and shocking way at a spouse or partner who is then blindsided, bewildered and starts doing the whole “I thought I knew this person and now they remind me of someone horrible from my past, have I been betrayed / misled / been an idiot?” thing and launches into “fight fire with fire” be it by shouting back or stonewalling which, of course, is the opposite of what the distress call was aiming to achieve so protest intensifies as does response and, emotional fuel rods now firmly in, the row goes nuclear.

Next time a loved one comes at you all guns blazing, or walks off saying “whatever, do what you want”, perhaps catch your own shock-induced knee-jerk “attack is the best form of defence” reaction (which will take things forward and into a “don’t talk to me like that!” or “your behaviour is so infantile / unacceptable” style argument), pause, metaphorically see where the punch is coming from and try staying where they are by asking “hey, hey, hey Darling, what just happened there, what is this about? I’m here, I’m want to know, sit down, tell me”. We do it for our children, perhaps we can do it for our loved one’s inner child and, in so doing, help them get their adult self back in the room, the one that can say “when I see you watching sport I realise I miss you and wish we could have some time together, how do you feel about that?”

What is the payoff? Well, like a high wire trapeze act, when our partner lets go in that recoil of terror and looks at use like we have shape-shifter into a monster, if we can swing towards them (rather than swing away at grand vitesse) then, when your couple comes back together, it is with a deeper understanding of each other and consequently a

What’s the payoff? What makes stoicism in the face of what may feel like a full frontal assault worth it?

Well, like a high wire trapeze act, when our partner lets go of us in that recoil of terror and looks at us like we have shape-shifted into a monster, if we can do the opposite of what everything within us may be screaming at us to do (swing away at grand vitesse or engage: head down, horns metaphorically locked and pushing) and instead swing towards them, reach out to them then, as your couple comes back together, it is with a deeper understanding of each other and consequently a better hold, a newer, tighter and more secure grip. In that you will both feel a rush of sweet relief, reassurance and security in that the person we love is still there, even more wonderful a person than we had hitherto thought and we feel even closer to them, a closeness often that we did not even know was possible because we thought we were as close as it was possible to be. We can each see our loved one anew and know them, or be known, more deeply.

© 2023 Untangle Your Life, all rights reserved


For me, the perfect relationships are the ones in which the imperfections are handled well.

For me (and in the context of pretty much any relationship: friend, partner, child), the perfect relationship is one where the imperfections are handled well. When I am presented with anything that feels “picture perfect” (like this window box in a Chelsea flower show show garden) I find myself thinking “in my LIfe this level of perfection would not be possible, would be manufactured, would be unsustainable without constant attention, primping, tweaking and curating when Life, and the people in it , are so messy, so unpredictable , so disordered.

I wonder “is everything as it seems? Is someone here keeping a very tight grip on themselves, a very tight lid on things, and presenting an idealised “false self” based on some “I should be…” or “I should do…” or some other (now massively outdated) rule, judgement or opinion absorbed growing up and taken as fact. Some core belief at odds with what they really think or feel in a given situation and what is that costing them in terms of mental energy and angst?

Are the forces of “to thine own self be true” building up and building up behind the dam wall of maintaining the perfect front and, if they are, what covert (because the user feels shame and guilt because in “Perfectland” they “shouldn’t” need to do it) coping mechanisms are shoring up the dam: alcohol, obsessive exercise, binge eating, gambling, porn, out of control on line shopping, drugs, cross dressing, self harm, an affair? What…..and when is that coping strategy’s grip going to slip and the whole thing blow wide open in some spectacular torrent of emotion (or apathy or breakdown or burnout) that comes coursing down the valley onto the unsuspecting, and ill prepared (because there were no warning signs, no little leaks which could have been managed) heads of the inhabitants below?

Is that what you WANT for yourself and / or loved ones? That the first they know you are in trouble is when the dam breaks and they are left wondering HOW could we not have known? WHY could they not trust us with their inner turmoil and allow us to help? HOW could this person we love and adore be in SO much trouble right under our nose and yet we knew nothing of it because of their fear we’d think less of them, love them less, cast them out when, in fact, to know they are human and mortal and fallible endears them to us even more, tips them off that pedestal of improbable, impossible perfection and deeper into our hearts?

Please consider releasing the pressure. Do you give emotional support to your friends and family? Consider then, just consider, little by little (this is “toe in the water” stuff not jumping in at the deep end) sharing a little more of your inner emotional life with them and allow yourself to find out if they can dispense empathy as well as receive it and that they are not made of glass, they will not shatter if you, for once, draw on their support . Turn to friends, family or loved ones and if you deem that truly is impossible then please go to your GP, go to BACP website to find a counsellor or contact me and let’s work together to get the needle on your emotional pressure value out of the red and back in the green.

© 2021 Untangle Your Life, all rights reserved.

Our brains are like plasticine

Our brains are like plasticine with peaks, according to Dr Loretta Breuning PhD, in this “neuroplasticity” (as it is called) aged 0 to 2, at about 7 to 8 and in adolescence when our brain, in effect, melts down and is re-cast in adult form.

The stimulation of new experiences, and the love and fascination of the family, creates a huge candyfloss of connections in their baby’s brain.

At about two years old the MOST USED connections form the infrastructure, the information superhighways, of our infants and a great deal else is pruned back.

Where anxiety inducing or frightening experiences outnumber those of love and wonder during those 3 phases of greatest brain plasticity, counselling helps build new connections to flyover or bypass the rocky roads of a difficult beginning.

Ever since starting my time as a counsellor I have longed for a world where early modelling is optimal, where no such remodelling in adulthood is necessary, where people are spared all the pain of the application in adulthood of childhood adaptations, now outdated, made necessary to fit into that early family emotional landscape.

I have been following the Duchess of Cambridge’s early years work with such interest and am just delighted at “Big change starts small” and how the Royal Foundation’s Centre for Early Childhood is working to bring that longed for world closer.

Please click the Royal Foundation’s link below for wonderful, practical ways to build a healthy brain and please consider contacting me if you would like to work with me on building those new flyover and bypass connections, getting you out of the pits and on the road to a happier and more fulfilling life.


© 2021 Untangle Your Life, all rights reserved.

Looking forward to HRH The Duchess of Cambridge’s announcement

I am so looking forward to the “Big Change Starts Small” news to come from Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge this week.  

Over and over again the people I work with who have turned to food to feel better rather than to people did so because of early experience with caregivers. Some of my clients did not even learn from caregivers how to identify and name their feelings.  

Others learned not to express them because, rather than the interested, empathic or soothing response they sought, the caregiver was (often of necessity) pre-occupied or unequipped themselves (due to their upbringing) to regulate their own emotions let alone teach a child how to do it so.

Rather than continue to approach a caregiver for soothing and have the hope of getting the response they longed for repeatedly dashed to pieces on the rocks of disappointment, many of my clients gave up and sought the solace of food. The problem is, food not only doesn’t fill emotional emptiness, it leads to weight gain and, in our “lookist” Society to self-loathing (as one client described it) and self-esteem and body-esteem so low it is somewhere underground. 

I look forward to the day when every child forms a secure attachment with caregivers and comfort eating, emotional eating, binge eating, whatever we call it, becomes a thing of the past as far as my counselling room is concerned.

© 2021 Untangle Your Life, all rights reserved.

So what is this “Counselling” all about then?

When people ask “so what is counselling?” I say, for me, counselling is about creating the conditions where a client feels safe and supported enough to bravely turn and interact with their emotions from a position of curiosity rather than a position of fear or dread, and thereby gain understanding, rather than trying to outrun them, hide from them or deny them.

What do I mean by this? Well, if a friend was angry rather than ignore it or leg it we’d probably make them a cuppa, sit them down and say “okay, okay, what’s got you so worked up and angry, what’s this all about, what is going on?” Clients and I work to get to the point where they feel safe to do the same with their anger or fear or procrastination or anxiety or defensiveness or insecurity or whatever it is.

Take Procrastination for example. When Procrastination comes and plonks themself down next to me and starts suggesting I go and put the kettle on or do the ironing ( I would rather have root canal work without anesthetic than do my ironing) or a thousand other things rather than start that email, write that letter or fill in that application form I metaphorically turn to look at my Procrastination and say “OK my friend, you’ve got my attention now, go on, what is this all about, what is going on here please, what are you trying to protect me from? what are you worried will happen if I do this thing?”

Once I have some insight into that I can disperse, mitigate or allow myself to accept I am worried that it won’t be goodenough or x or y or z or whatever, reassure myself it WON’T be goodenough because the first draft of anything is always terrible (that’s why we have first drafts), that the only thing worse than doing this thing now is doing it later as by then I’ll be up against the pressure of a deadline (and my student days taught me I’m NOT at my best at 23:59, tearful and snotty) plus, hey hey mate, I always get there in the end.

Now, if you were to come to me as a client please rest assured we build up slowly to conversing with the emotions we find have us shying away when they turn up. We don’t just going charging in like a bull into a china shop because those defences of numbing, denial and repressing emotion were put up by a younger you for what you considered to be a very good reason at that time. We don’t want to be going over the top of these defences when we don’t fully know what they were put up to keep out……or keep in…….however enough for now, bite size chunks “graduation” is a subject for another blog entry.

© 2021 Untangle Your Life, all rights reserved.

Winnicott the shit out of parenting. Be a gem…

I found myself replying to a friend (who had declared themself fed up with reading “mums advice” from “people who think they know it all and that they are perfect”), with something that, on reflection, felt perhaps it may be helpful to also share here so here it is:

“Winnicott the shit out of parenthood. Relax, Be a gem…..a “good enough mother” or father or parent or however you identity (Winnicott coined that phrase in 1953 when primary caregivers were more often than not the child’s mother. Happily now things have moved on with co-parenting the norm).

Perfection means you send your child out into the world naked, without the protection of knowing adults make mistakes, things go wrong, that they (as a child) can speak up in response and be heard, that apologies can be made, soothing offered and, having learned that such moments of let down are possible / WILL happen, have learned too that, whilst such moments are horrible, they will pass, they are survivable, that they (the child) can survive it, survive disappointment and being let down and in so doing develop resilience, assertiveness, learn from you how sooth and thereby how to do it for themselves, to self-sooth, as well as developing “this is horrid and I will be able to get myself through it, I am a good, worthy and capable person and I have the support of friends and family when I need to call upon it” good self esteem xx”

I would add that, for me (and in the context of pretty much any relationship: friend, partner, child), the perfect relationship is one where the imperfections are handled well.

© 2020 Untangle Your Life, all rights reserved.

Sometimes the smaller picture is more calming

charlie mackesy on Twitter: "When the big things feel out of control.… "

Sometimes it is soothing to widen one’s perspective to take in the bigger world and then a problem we face can seem small in comparison and we relax and find calm and inner peace……and sometimes soothing is found by really narrowing our perspective and focussing in tight on those things which give us a sense of safety and ease. Thank you to a dear friend of mine who reminded me of this by posting this wonderful drawing by Charlie Mackesy.

Think of emotions as motorcycle couriers trying to get a message to you

I think the trouble starts when some of us have been taught by those who cared for us growing up that certain emotions are bad or negative when the fact we have them at all means they must serve some useful purpose otherwise evolution would have got rid of them a long time ago. 

Rather than working like mad to get away from “negative” feelings how about getting curious rather than judgemental and asking ourselves “hmmm, what just happened there, what is this emotion about? What is it trying to tell me?” 

Perhaps a more helpful way to look at this group of emotions is to see them for what they are, as earnest and determined messengers desperately trying to do their job of alerting us to the fact that our unconscious systems for monitoring data coming in from our senses have picked up something which may not be OK. Creating this sense of unease is a means of getting our conscious mind’s attention so we can assess the incoming message, the data, decide if action is required (and what that might be) whilst at the same time having been placed “on guard” by our monitoring station for the duration of this assessment process lest things escalate whilst we are deliberating.

In the past some Clients on my (now virtual) chaise longue have said when I ask what they’d like to be different at the end of our work together to the beginning, with varying degrees of desperation or exasperation, “I want to get rid of my anxiety” or “I want to get rid of my anger”, “can you help with guilt?” or “whatever I do I can’t seem to shift this low mood”. 

The thing is, if we did get rid of anxiety (say) completely, we’d have no protection at all and keep lurching from situation to situation where a bit of “hang on a minute, am I affording this person my default level of trust when actually I don’t know them?” caution may have prevented us being mugged, swindled or otherwise hurt. What such a comment means is we want to recalibrate the general resting, background threshold at which that feeling of unease is triggered so we get jolts of anxiety only when something really does merit attention and then be able to work with, to manage, anxiety better. We want to be its master and stop it constantly bursting in like an overzealous personal protection officer bundling us off to the panic room every 5 minutes in response to what we consciously feel are acceptable levels of conflict and stress as we go about everyday life.

I often suggest people think of emotions like motorcycle couriers trying to get a vital message to us and that they’ll chase us all round town until they get the message through. Just as a motorcycle courier, face obscured so we can’t read their expression and gain insight into their intention, wordlessly and determinedly tracking us wherever we go and lying in wait for us as we come out of meetings or wake up in the morning appears quite threatening so do feelings like anxiety, anger or depression. We want to get away from them which just seems to make them more determined to catch up with us rather than reframing the poor feeling as desperately trying to do is its job and get a message to us.

Anger can ride into town when a boundary has been crossed, when something has gone from being OK to not OK, anxiety when we fear something horrible that happened to us in the past is about to happen again in the present, boredom when we need variety and low mood when actually we are not doing in our life what WE want to do (rather like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”).

So, next time you feel an emotional motorcycle courier roaring up beside you in response to something someone says, does or does NOT do please consider pausing by mentally signing for the envelope you are delivering to yourself, reading it by which I mean being curious about what message the emotion is trying to give you and why this situation may be prompting this particular emotional messenger and in so doing you create a bit of space in which you can choose what you do (or don’t do) next.

What you do may be, having established in that pause why this situation is triggering, to perhaps decide it’s time to soothe or let go of something bad that happened in the past in a similar situation which is, actually, on closer inspection not happening now in the present. Time to let go of, to throw off the bonds of, the influence that some childhood bully or thoughtless comment by a teacher, parent, caregiver or ex-partner still has in your life when there is so much evidence in the here and now that what they said or did back then was untrue, unjustified or just cruel.

Equally you may decide that your emotional response is entirely appropriate in this situation and can then act in a calm and objective manner rather than re-acting (which of course brings with it the risk of OVER-reacting). 

Either way, at this point, the emotional messenger can turn, swing its leg over its ‘bike and go on its way released from its obligation, job done and you will feel at ease once more.

Claire Dyson is a BACP accredited Integrative Relational Counsellor based on the outskirts of Weybridge, Surrey. Claire helps individuals, couples and those seeking freedon from eating they experience as compulsive, addictive even, through her practice Untangle Your Life. To find out more please visit http://www.untangleyourlife.co.uk, call +44 (0)7950 986 085 or email clairedysoncounselling@gmail.com. Thank you.

#selfawareness #selfesteem #toxicpositivity #selfacceptance #anxiety #anxietyrelief #anxietysupport #angermanagement #depression #boredom #emotionalwellbeing #emotionalhealth #emotionalresilience #mentalwellbeing  #mentalhealth #selfcare #mindfulness

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© 2020 Untangle Your Life, all rights reserved.

Microbiome: The buzzword of the moment but what exactly is it?


A biome is “a large naturally occurring community of flora and fauna occupying a major habitat such as a forest or tundra.”  We offer a habitat for microorganisms e.g. bacteria, virus and fungus, which form our microbiome. Whilst microbes that cause athlete’s foot, body odour or bad breath are annoying most “pay their rent”:

“Most of the microbes in the microbiome do not cause disease. In fact, humans rely on microbes to perform many important functions that we cannot perform ourselves. Microbes digest food to generate nutrients for host cells, synthesize vitamins, metabolize drugs, detoxify carcinogens, stimulate renewal of cells in the gut lining and activate and support the immune system” (National Human Genome Research Institute website)

“detoxify carcinogens” means protect us from cancer-causing substances.

Believe it or not for every human cell which makes up our body there are 10 bacterial, viral or fungal cells.  Technically then we are a “supra” organism, a collection of individuals which behave as a single unit with enhanced function”.  Interesting thought isn’t it?  How “human” actually are we?

We tend our gardens to create conditions which encourage the flowers and vegetables that we want to grow and deny water and fertilizer to those we don’t (so weeds and also pests like slugs, snails, green / black / white fly and so on).

It can be helpful to things of tending your gut microbiome in the same way.  Doing this well reduces IBS, obesity (so high blood pressure, heart disease), type 2 diabetes, and allergies (asthma, eczema). Dr Gewirtz (Cornell University) changed the weight of mice by over 15% just by shifting their intestinal bacteria and we humans have the same link.

Adjusting your diet to shift the balance in favour of gut bacteria which keep us lean (Bacteroidetes) by “feeding” them and “starving” those which feast on the sugar we give them and busy themselves with increasing our stores of fat (Firmicutes).

Stress hormones kill Bacteroidetes which is why we put on weight when stressed and, at the risk of being boring on this subject, another reason to use excercise, mindfulness, meditation, knitting, colouring, jigsaws, model making and other hobbies to reduce stress levels along with socialising with good friends, joining clubs or going to MeetUps.

Dr Michael Mosely has published “The Clever Guts Guide” and Dr Alan Christianson advices:  

Eat a high-fibre diet e.g. wholegrains, porridge, beans (especially kidney or pinto), nuts etc.  Stop Firmicutes running riot by avoiding added sugars and processed carbs (white bread, pasta, cake).

Encourage Bacteroidetes gradually by introducing a tablespoon of pinto or red kidney beans to supper each evening for two weeks before moving onto more normal serving sizes.  This avoids gas and bloating caused by other microbes getting in on the act before your Bacteroidetes multiply.

Sleep and eat according to regular schedules. Like our sleep-wake cycle, the rhythm of gut bacteria changes throughout the day. Shift work, jet lag and erratic meal times can hurt good bacteria (as can overuse of antibiotics).

The old idea of health was that it was the result of strenuous effort and deprivation. Not only was that not fun, it did not work. The new revolution is that being healthy, lean and energized is a product of being at peace and in sync with the world inside and around you.

© 22/05/2017 Untangle Your Life 2017

Change how you think of change


Struggling to get started on changing some aspect of your life?

Perhaps adopting DiClemente’s and Prochaska’s way of looking at change will help.  Rather than thinking of change as a single act their research suggests it is a process with a number of stages including lapses along the way (please refer to photo above).

A lapse is exactly that, a small slip down the spiral not a collapse.  Be gentle with yourself and avoid “all or nothing” thinking.  If your goal is to get fitter by walking 10,000 steps a day and you didn’t manage it today that’s OK, no need to set fire to your trainers and face plant a pizza.

Precontemplation (Not Ready)

We’re either unaware being unfit is problematic or acutely aware but unsure what to do or not confident we can do anything after past, unsuccessful, forays into Lycra.  We underestimate the benefits of changing and overestimate costs, both monetary and in terms of the effort involved.

Contemplation (Getting Ready)

We’re coming around to the idea that there might be some advantages to the change e.g. being able to enjoy physical activity with family and friends versus dreading it.  That said, we’re alternating between thinking this and believing the work involved is just too much, too uncomfortable.

Preparation (Ready)

We stop assuming change is too tough and start researching how to go about it e.g. join other people who are trying to get fitter so we feel less conspicuous.  We try out different classes to narrow down activities we like. We buy the fitness DVD of a celebrity or sports personality we admire so we can workout in the privacy of our own home when it suits us.


We’re done preparing and ready to go for it.  We know what we are going to do, we have a goal and a plan. We have put in place the support systems that we need and actually, you know what, it is beginning to feel a bit exciting.  Crucially this is not a “quick fix” rather we know that slow and steady is the way to embed lasting change.


Once we’ve got fit we have evidence we can do it, have been through (and survived) lapses so we feel more confident in our ability to sustain our fitness and motivated to keep at it because of the benefits we’re feeling.


This really is Nirvana, the ultimate goal of change, a stage where we’d no more think of NOT doing our favourite form of exercise than stop breathing.  It is like we were never our former unfit selves.  If we don’t do the activities that we have chosen as a means of keeping fit then we feel like something is missing in our lives.

© 03/05/2017 Untangle Your Life 2017