Is My Freedom The Same As Your Freedom?

Bali is a place known for it’s magic and I knew the minute I stepped foot on Balinese soil that I’d instantly feel happy. I never doubted that I’d feel this way, in fact I was craving to come back here, and I knew I needed this holiday more than anything else in my life. The past three years have been emotional, testing and thoroughly insightful. Every single moment has been completely worth it, even if it meant tears, fears and embarrassing moments. All of it was worth it because it’s brought me back here – to a feeling of freedom. I think this feeling is different for everyone, because it comes down to knowing who you are and how you truly want to live your life. Then it takes courage to follow through with that desire despite what the outside world tells you.

Dr Jenn once said to me “Bravery is the root of happiness. It takes courage to reach into the World and put your mark on it”. I remember at the time thinking how profound it sounded to me, and it was during a time when it seemed like following through with what I wanted to do with my life seemed to go against any plan of ‘normality’ I’d ever known. As I get more comfortable with my own desires, I find myself not caring about what other people think and most importantly not being swayed by what other people want me to do.

To me, freedom is living in a way where I can change my situation if something doesn’t feel good, like leaving Mallorca for Bali in winter because I feel more nourished here during this season. It means building up my skill set so that I can flitter between freelance jobs because I enjoy and am capable of practising multiple professions at once. It means making new friends, and starting them with deeply connecting conversations so I know I can feel connected anywhere, anytime.

I’ve recently been fighting with my desire to feel freedom, as though it was wrong, or that I was running away from commitment. Back in Mallorca I was trying to push various areas of my life into commitment, as if to prove to myself that I could commit to something and break this whole freedom thing. I even booked a return flight… that I almost changed. What I’ve realised since getting to Bali is that travel and freedom is ultimately a part of who I am, it makes me feel alive and anyone who wants to play an important part in my life must accept that. It’s the reason why I’m building up a business where I can work from my laptop anywhere. It’s the reason why the majority of my friend are or have been very nomadic.

Since getting here I feel relaxed, open and positive. My body feels tension free and I don’t feel conflicted with decisions of ‘what should I do next’. I know that everything will just work out one way or another. I mean, in comparison to where I was at emotionally three years ago, I really have nothing to worry about. I also know that the new venture I’m starting is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life – helping others.

I’m on a mission to create a greater sense wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing – including values, emotional intelligence, self-care, personal development, and body and mind awareness.

If you feel stuck and you want the EQ tools to move forward again, contact me directly to see how I can help you. Find out more about workshops, training and tailored coaching packages at www.shereensoliman.com. 

Shereen x

Photo by Victor Rodriguez on Unsplash

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What Are You Focusing On For 2019?

I was asked recently from a friend who owns a marketing agency ‘What keeps you focused with your business?’ I ended up pondering on this question for a while, dissecting it in a few forms and seriously thinking deep about this – would you expect anything less from me??

Firstly I thought ‘focus’ and me in the same sentence? If anything, throughout my multiple business endeavours and careers, my work life has been anything but focused. In fact, I don’t think it’s a word many of my friends would typically associate with me.

However when I thought about this a little deeper, I realise that since overcoming PTSD I do have focus. It was actually something I crafted in the mist of trauma recovery to pull me out of such emotional turmoil. Back then my focus was to get back to my fearless, nomadic lifestyle. Recently I feel like I got that back – WIN – and proof that you can do anything you put your mind to.

One of the things that constantly beat me with a stick to stay focused and keep on moving was my tendency to think with foresight and compare it with what was happening in the present. I’ve been told that this can be a negative trait because ‘you’re not living in the present blah blah blah…’ but when living in the present means reliving trauma, well of course sometimes I didn’t want to live in it, I’m only human!

When I was able to project in the future that my current actions were not going to get me to where I wanted to be, it alerted me to change my focus. Sometimes this meant reassessing things in my life, questioning how I’d ended up so far away from my focus (usually fear and self-sabotage) and then I would make the relevant adjustments to get me back on track.

Having known what living such a fearless and adventurous nomadic lifestyle felt like, I focused on what those feelings felt like whenever I felt low.

I focused on the time that I arrived at the café in Indonesia, built by my future-to-be-boss and told him that he needed to hire me for his construction project. Back then, I had unchallengeable confidence in my ability.

I focused on the time I helped sail a boat across the Bay of Biscay in a force 9 with a crew of 3 men I’d never met before. Back then, I trusted that I was always safe and protected in life.

I focused on all the times that I went out dancing with travel buddies in Bangkok and Malaysia. When I danced on tables with yacht crew in Sardinia, singing our hearts out. When I laughed wholeheartedly across the streets of Monaco with my friend until my stomach ached so much I had to lie down!

Focusing in to these feelings made me realise that I could get back to them. All I needed to do was focus on unpicking the thought patterns that kept me living such a fear-driven restricted life. Obviously I had some short and sharp situations that drastically changed my life and created contrast. In a moment I went from living fearlessly to living fear driven. For most of us, I know that this isn’t the case. Some of us have picked up picked up negative thought patterns gradually throughout life and sometimes we aren’t even aware that we’re living in the restriction of them. However, the method for unpicking and releasing them is always the same and it’s empowering. If anything going through this process has taught me that we can all break free from these unconscious fears and live out our dreams. In fact, this is our birth right to do this, and the challenge of life is to figure out how.

With that, my question to you is – What are you focusing on this year?

For 2019 I’m focusing on inspiring you to be the best version of yourself, so you can move towards the life you’ve always dream of. To do the work necessary to break free from what unconsciously holds you back, so you can feel happier for longer and together we can create a more compassionate and connected society!

If you’re interested in how to do this then get in touch now to find out more about my emotional intelligence coaching and sign up to www.shereensoliman.com for free emotional intelligence tools, personal development book recommendations to get you started.

Sending motivating vibes,

Shereen x

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Christmas Eve. Three Insightful Years Later.

Today it’s three years since I first posted on this blog, and what an insightful three years it’s been.

At the time when I started writing this blog I didn’t have any ambition for what it might be. I didn’t know where I was going with it or where it might lead. All I knew, was that I’d been through some challenging life situations and that expressing them through writing somehow made me feel better. It was the start of releasing emotional expressions which had been bottled up for years because I didn’t have the knowledge of how to let these emotions out in a healthy way.

Three years on and I’ve learnt a lot.

I’m proud of the way I’ve addressed my trauma recovery, and I’m grateful to every single person who played their part to help me along the way. My aim three years back was to explore my inner world and see how I could grow from the situations I’d been presented with, even if it meant sinking down into an uncomfortable hole of darkness (which it often did). I knew deep down that all of it would be worth the journey and that by talking about it openly I’d help others along their struggles too.

As I write this, I’m back in Bali – one of the places I resonated to when I needed healing the most. This time, I’m back here on holiday enjoying the food, the sun and the massages. Before I left for Asia, a few things rolled into place and it was the moment that I looked back at the three years past and I realised none of this was in vein.

I was asked to run a workshop on how to overcome ‘negative’ emotions, I called it the ‘Unstuck Yourself‘ workshop. This workshop had such a positive response that I ran a second and a third and I’m now running a coaching program helping others learn the emotional intelligence toolkit to get themselves out of any emotional rut. My aim is to set up initiatives which help people identify, unpick and release pent up emotions and gain a full emotional intelligence toolkit along the way. Eventually I’m going to build a luxury spa and trauma recovery centre (out of natural and sustainable materials of course) where anyone can come to process their emotions and traumatic situations.

I know all this sounds quite grand, and I’ve only just started on this new journey, but if I’ve learnt anything over the past few years, it’s that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. Knowing that is what’s going to make these Christmas wishes come true.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Merry Christmas!

Shereen x

Photo by erin walker on Unsplash

Compassion for the Christmas Monster

Every house has a monster at Christmas. You know, the one who gets stressed out and is basically a nightmare to be around. Full of tension and trying-so-hard-to-be-happy that they couldn’t spot authentic happiness if it slapped them in the face? Well, this year that’s me.

Who am I kidding? It’s me most years!

Last year I somehow managed to escape the fate of the Christmas monster, probably because we glided through the holiday in a drunken stupor in my Dad’s absence. The first Christmas is always the hardest apparently and especially as my Dad was a Muslim and didn’t drink it seemed only right to go through a painful Christmas period the only way us Brit’s knew how – with an abundance of alcohol. It’s funny how the emotions play on the brain, as though they zap energy from painful times so that the memories don’t stay fixed, a kind of protective mechanism from enduring suffering maybe. It only became apparent today when we were asked what we did for last years celebrations – my Mum and I looked at each other cluelessly. We didn’t know. I later discussed this with my brother – he didn’t know either. None of us knew what we ate, if there had been a tree or if we had even exchanged presents. Come to think of it, the only thing I do remember is doing the Christmas shop… Wine, Whisky, Amaretto – could this be the reason why we don’t remember?

The fact of the matter is that I don’t remember being a monster last year, which is refreshing because when I am in the guilt ridden state of not-being-able-to-step-out-of- being-a-monster it seems like I have spent my life that way and that I will always be that way, but thankfully, that’s not reality. This very example of what we can all remember from last year demonstrates how these are all just tricks on the mind – that we can think that we will be in our current state for ever and that our life will be shaped this way, but in reality this isn’t true. I remember managing to pull myself out of a dark depression with this thought when my Dad had died, but I also remember how difficult it was to believe it, against the odds of how I felt at the time.

The thing is that sometimes we are monsters. With emotions running high and the pressure to enjoy family holidays it can be so challenging to not turn into a monster and today I just didn’t have the strength in me to keep it calm.

I’m lucky to come from a forgiving and compassionate family though. With a brother who takes me out for a gin and tells me to not worry because tomorrow is another day, and a mother who comes to tell me she loves me, hugs me and tells me that I’m forgiven for the way I’ve behaved lately –even though I have not earned either of these actions. These things made me melt. Knowing that I didn’t deserve to be treated so nice after being so horrible and knowing that I was still loved for all my worst traits. It’s this compassion that melts the hearts of monsters and brings them back into the love of life.

If you have a monster this year, show them some compassion.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

The vagus nerve, emotions and the difficulty with mindfulness practices

Let’s talk about emotions! Here’s some science.

 

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to http://www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

healing from the freeze

“Now, many people who don’t know a lot about trauma think that trauma has something to do with something that happened to you a long time ago. In fact,the past is the past and the only thing that matters is what happens right now. And what is trauma is the residue that a past event leaves in your own sensory experiences in your body and it’s not that event out there that becomes intolerable but the physical sensations with which you live that become intolerable and you will do anything to make them go away.” (Bessel van der Kolk)

Last week, during a two-day deep cleaning/paint prep binge (see the kitchen ceiling to the right!), I listened to a recorded talk by Bessel van der Kolk given at the May 2011 22nd Annual International Trauma Conference. The title of van der Kolk’s title is a mouthful: “Putting neuroplasticity into clinical…

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Three Life Lessons From Growing Out of Trauma

  1. Life is precious.

One day you are going to die.

I am going to die.

It could be tomorrow by getting hit by a bus, it could be in 20 years time with a horrible illness but the truth of the matter is that one day I will be a lifeless, cold, corpse and everything will be over.

Yes, this is pretty morbid, especially as most of my posts are bringing messages of ‘yes you can conquer anything, love life to the full etc’ but that joyful message doesn’t hit home as hard as the realisation that we are all going to die someday, life is short. Embrace it.

While thinking about that, ask yourself these questions:

  1. If you dropped dead right now would you be happy with how you’ve spent your life?
  2. Did you chase your dreams?
  3. Did you tell the people you love often enough?
  4. Were you happy with what you achieved?

If the answer to any of these questions is no then I seriously insist that you explore these questions more and ask yourself what the hell are you doing with your life?

We can often get wrapped up in the nitty gritty of life, and I get it, we’ve all got our things to do, got to pay the bills right? When you’ve come through a life threatening situation though, you see things a little differently and it’s as though you really see what matters.

I remember when I experienced this mindset change quite vividly. There was a poignant moment during the attack that I seriously thought “I am going to be raped, murdered and then left here to rot”. This was the exact moment that I seemed to spring into life. As though something inside me said “No fucking way”. It was the moment that I pulled out all the stops to get out of that situation, and I did get out of it. I survived and I’m here writing about it today. That situation was the scariest thing that has happened to me in my entire life and it has brought me a whole load of uninvited emotions that I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. They weren’t pleasant and I would never wish for someone to go through something as horrific as having to literally fight for their survival or to experience the rickershay of emotions that pop up at every trigger in the aftermath – the panic, the fear, the depression, the shame, the guilt, I could go on. However, without this experience I wouldn’t have the perspective I do now, so I’m passing this message on to you. We only have one life, don’t take it for granted.

  1. Fear is a signpost for growth

Fear is a funny thing, sometimes I know it’s there and I can really feel the terror, the butterflies, the anxiety – like I’m going to physically vomit  because of it, and then sometimes I can’t feel it at all but it’s there lingering in the background controlling my thoughts and actions behind my subconscious state. The second type of fear is the most debilitating, it’s the unconscious state of fear that causes us to disengage in a relationship, cause arguments to create distance and generally provoke negative actions in a way to protect ourselves.

What I’ve come to realise as I unpick the triggers in my post trauma state is that every negative reaction we have usually comes from fear. That means any judgment or blame towards others, the avoidance of a particular subject/person, numbness, suppression or outright anger – all of these deflection techniques are the ego’s way of protecting us when we’re in a state of fear. When we become aware of this and we can see the ego’s behaviour it becomes easier to question it and find out why the fear is there in the first place and from my own experience I’ve found that underneath fear are almost always signposts for growth.

In a recent situation where I was starting to become vulnerable with a man I found myself judging, blaming and becoming angry with him, I didn’t even realise that I was doing it until a friend pointed this out to me. So I decided to address it like all my other triggers. When I did this, at first I found myself in tears. I was terrified. I was scared that if I let someone into that vulnerable emotional space that something awful was going to happen to me and that I would experience all the emotions from heartbreak, attempted rape and the death of someone close all over again. I desperately did not want to feel all those emotions in that intensity again and I was terrified that this situation was headed that way. Having got to know my triggers very well, I know that they create a whole world of illogical scenarios in my head based on a couple of situations in my life and during those moments of fear I remember what those scenarios feel like which causes me to back out fast. The reality though, is very different because the past doesn’t determine the future and the trick is to remind myself of this reality when I’m experiencing what feel like very real occurrences. Practising that continuously is what has allowed me to grow out of trauma in to a more authentic and stronger person than I was before. The next time you find yourself bearing way from something, as yourself why? If it comes down to fear then it could be an opportunity for growth too.

  1. Communicating that we don’t know how to feel is the first step to connecting

Anyone who knows about Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability will already know that vulnerability is where human connections thrive. I’ve watched her TED talks, I’d read the books but what I hadn’t done is really practiced what she preached when it came to vulnerability and to be honest it’s because I wasn’t aware that I didn’t know how to be vulnerable. To be completely honest, I thought I knew all about vulnerability before I experienced my traumas but in reality I was running away from all negative feelings in my very privileged and somewhat entitled life, without the awareness that I was running. So when I was faced with so many difficult situations I got to experience first-hand what she meant in The Power of Vulnerability, especially when she explains about those vulnerable moments:

  • Making that phone call to the relative who just lost someone, even though you have no idea what to say
  • Telling someone you love them, without knowing if they feel the same
  • Admitting to someone you care about that you did something wrong and that you’re sorry

What all these situations do is communicate our feelings at the times when it’s the hardest because those are the times when it matters the most. When I was on the receiving end of these situations I appreciated the friends who called me and said “I don’t know what to say”, over those who just avoided me altogether because we could at least converse over the fact that neither of us knew how to deal with the situation which meant we were in it together. I also did this with the vulnerable situation where I acted reactively with the guy I previously mentioned, after I had become vulnerable. I explained that I was terrified and that I didn’t know how to handle the situation and because of that I had pushed him away. In both these situations I found that communicating the very observation of the feeling led to me becoming a lot closer with these people and that is the start of practicing vulnerability.

All our life experiences give us a choice. The choice to deal with them, learn and grow from them or the choice to shut off, avoid and live in a life of safe guards. For me, the latter meant that I would give up the nomadic lifestyle which was the very thing that made me feel alive, so I had to find away to grow out of it or I knew that I faced a life locked in silent misery, clouded by apathy and an inability to connect with other people. Urgh, no thanks.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Therapy Review – Ecstatic dance Ubud

Therapy Review – Ecstatic dance Ubud

It’s undeniable that dance is a therapy. In terms of exercise it releases a lot of tension in the body which builds up endorphins, music can also bring up your vibration frequency and, well it just makes me feel good really.

My research is set into three parts – description of the session, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

The session

I’ve been to the ecstatic dance at the Akasha villa in Ubud a couple of times and the crowd never ceases to surprise me, it’s always full of vibrant and colourful people. The last time I went there was a man dressed as a unicorn and almost the whole crowd was wearing glitter or a face paint of sorts.

The dance is held in the beautiful Askasa villa about a 20 minute scooter ride out of the centre of Ubud (where the palace is) and as I walk in I’m greeted with a sacred smudging ritual. Whilst I stand there the man in front of me ceremonially waves a smouldering piece of wood from my head to my feed, ask me to turn around and then do the same thing from feet to head on the back of my body.

I walk up the path and to the left is a fire, alight in a large metal bowl. Directly in front of the fire is the swimming pool, complete with flowing waterfalls and a pagoda which some artists are using as their painting studio.

I can hear the music playing loud as I enter the main dance room of the villa, that’s where the DJ is; happy, engaged and whispering the occasional motivating sentences into the microphone. The villa is huge and the music can be heard from all around. Through the dance room is an archway that leads through to another large space. On the right are some steps which lead to another dancing space where at the back a man is serving tea with a blessing of sorts. On the left of the archway is a large couch which actually sinks into the floor, so I can literally step down into it. I guess it’s for dancers to rest if they get tired feet.

As I was past the couch, the double doors open up to some stepping stones right in front of me which are set in a beautiful natural water feature. They lead down to an enclosure which keeps a monkey on the left and a bamboo dome on the right, which is an exclusive naturally build bedroom. During the dances the bamboo dome is usually occupied, and off limits to dancers, but I’m lucky enough to have been inside during the daytime and I can assure you, it’s absolutely beautiful.

Ecstatic dance is a sober affair, on sale you can find vegetarian food, coconut water and raw food chocolate but there is no alcohol, no drugs and I rarely see anyone smoking, well not smoking cigarettes. All in all it’s a very holistic affair. It’s a place where anyone and everyone can feel free who be who they want to be. Want to wear glitter and do a yoga dance on your head in the pagoda? Go for it. Want to bop around subtly to some tunes in plane shorts and a baseball cap? Feel welcomed. It really is for all and the premise is just to dance. Just feel comfortable and dance, and what a therapy it is too. I can’t say for sure what the music type is because it’s a mix and it changes, but throughout the night there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re into house music, reggae, rock, jazz or anthems. It’s a good variety of beats to dance to. Also for those who don’t want to dance, you can soak in the pool, chill on the sofas or just chat to someone whilst sipping some coconut water. However I decided to approach this as a therapy, so for me it was the dancing that I explored.

As expected I felt anxious when I arrived. There are a lot of people this time and being surrounded by a lot of people these days brings up an anxiety in me, an anxiety that actually almost caused me to leave until a friend sat me down and stayed with me through that discomfort.

This fear sets off a negative chat in my head, and the battle to overcome it cane become challenging because all I really want to do is leave. Leave because of fear. But, fear of what? It’s the ‘fear of what’ conversation that helped me shake it off. I mean, I’m at a sober ecstatic dance in Ubud, spiritual centre of the Universe and I’m here with a group of friends – really what is the worst that’s going to happen? Even if I decided to strip naked on the dance floor, loudly confess my undying love for a randomer then do a serpent dance to the exit in rage-tears I seriously think everyone around me would just carry on doing their own thing as though all of that was completely normal behaviour. Some may even join in to help me embrace my emotional state, or sincerely cheer me on from the edges of the dance floor. As I realised this with my friend, I laughed. Ecstatic dance in Ubud wasn’t the place I needed to fear judgement of others. Acknowledging that highlighted that judgement was another trigger for me, another trigger that needed to be unravelled and reframed and what better time than now?

With a little pep talk and a few tokes on a walk-by shisha I was able to suck in my inner shakes and get on the dance floor, even if for me that can sometimes mean just swaying from side to side until I get into it. It’s one of those things where I know it will do me good in the long run and although it’s scary and difficult to climb over that barrier of fear, it must be done anyway.

By the end of the evening I was in full swing dancing and managed to stay until the end of the night.

Pre-session sense check (30 May 2016, 3pm –  1 hour before leaving for ecstatic dance)

Emotionally – I feel quite anxious. I’m excited for ecstatic dance because I love the dance aspect but at the same time I know there will be some triggers for me to deal with, and with them my own judgements and fear of being judged. I also know that all of this is in my head and it’s stupid, then I need to not beat myself up for being stupid – there’s a lot to deal with today. I’m generally in high spirits and I feel quite clear headed. I also feel very motivated today too and I know that I can shake off the anxiety, I just need to get myself to the dance.

Physically – the anxiety is like a flutter in my chest and stomach. It’s not too unpleasant and it’s not that strong but it’s still there, just a general sense of discomfort really. Apart from that I’m feeling good in my body. The pain in my shoulder is pretty much none existent these days, I feel healthy and alert.

Post-session sense check (30 May 2016, 12 midnight –  1 hour after returning from ecstatic dance)

Emotionally – I feel quite drained because I think that I worked through a lot of inner judgement at the dance. I also had a lot of triggers from the attack come up – fast movements in the dark because at one point there was some very active dancing. I persisted to stay and dance, even the moments when I didn’t feel comfortable in myself and this gives me a sense of achievement but I’m also tired and ready to relax.

Physically – I feel a head cold coming on, my head is foggy and I’m sneezing. I’m not surprised at this because physically and emotionally over the last few weeks I’ve released a lot of emotion so this is probably a sign that my body is ready for a rest, hence putting me out of action. Conversely I also feel quite energised, like the way you sometimes feel after a work out, strangely tired but energised at the same time. It’s a nice feeling, and there’s some purity to it because I spent the evening drinking coconut water and dancing in a beautiful setting.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Are Empowered Women Empowering Men? Or Are we Suppressing Them? 

I originally wrote this piece for the Good Men Project but I think it has a lot of relevance to trauma emotions like fear, vulnerability and compassion, so I’m sharing it here too. It also broaches the subject of masculinity and femininity in the changing times of these roles. Enjoy…

I grew up as a Tom boy. I was the only girl in the Boy Scouts, spent my days climbing trees and wore jeans and baseball caps. I grew up feeling empowered to do anything that my heart desired and I did just that, especially when it meant beating the guys at their own game. In fact, I took pride in beating the guys. Whether it was swimming in the Scouts, showing my boyfriend how to build a campfire after watching him fail miserably or outsmarting boys on tests. Anything they could do, I could do better and I was sure to let them know.

As I grew older I did start to dabble in some more feminine activities but when I found myself working in the construction industry for my first graduate job, I fell back into my old patterns of showing the guys that I was better than them at everything. In that industry, I felt it was the only way to become successful and sometimes the only way to survive. The thing is that I actually loved being in this environment and I took pride in the fact that these guys got shown up when they got outsmarted by a girl. It was as though I was fighting some kind of war for all the women who had been suppressed throughout history and I was taking no prisoners.

When this approach starting to seep into other areas of my life, especially in my relationships it turned out to be more toxic than successful. I started to notice this when my boyfriend of three years started to experience depression. I didn’t really understand it and after becoming so estranged from any kind of vulnerability within myself I simply didn’t know how to handle this situation. For the next year and a half, I stayed with him out of loyalty but couldn’t help getting frustrated with his situation and watching all his family and friends pander to him when my response was much less sympathetic. As much as I feel ashamed to write this, at the time I saw his depression as a weakness.

I didn’t know at the time but the reality was that I was scared. Scared of admitting those vulnerabilities within myself and scared that I might be the problem. When I couldn’t take it any longer I took an opportunity to do an internship abroad for a few months to give both of us some space. Those months away allowed him to empower himself and work on his depression, without me there to take his empowerment away he managed to pull himself out of that negative space. Needless to say, this lead to us breaking up as I was part of the problem.

At the time I didn’t learn from this experience and spent the next couple of years travelling, running away from any deep connection and any other opportunity to be vulnerable. That was until I fell in love again.

This time, however, I fell in love with a guy who wouldn’t open up because he was so vulnerable after experiencing a variety of traumas in his childhood and adult life. He was like a closed nut with a magical light shining from the inside and I desperately wanted to see more.

My response? To try and prize the nut open.

Back then this was my response to most things. Fight with determination and win, after all, I was empowered. I was strong and vulnerability (weakness as I saw it) wasn’t something that existed in my world. Despite all my efforts, this strategy backfired.

We broke up and the following year I learnt what real vulnerability was, through experiencing my own series of traumas that invited intensely vulnerable emotions into my consciousness from depths that I never knew existed inside me. I learnt that my ’empowerment’ had silenced the men in my life and highlighted them as weak against my own strength of will. I had shamed them for having vulnerable emotions, and my “being soft is weakness” attitude didn’t allow them to show vulnerability in my presence, so instead they suppressed it. For the guys that stuck around, family, friends and romantic partners, these suppressions slowly crept towards depression as these men were frequently rejected by the empowered women in their lives who paraded the same message as me.

What I’ve come to realise since is that as an empowered woman I can suppress men if I don’t show my vulnerabilities as well as my strengths. As women, it’s socially acceptable for us to be emotional as much as it is now for us to fight our corner and as empowered women, it is important that we do this to break down the shame that surrounds vulnerabilities. If we don’t acknowledge those vulnerable emotions then we don’t create the safe emotional space for men to do so either. That’s when our empowerment silences men, rather than empowers them.

In order to help empower the men in my life, I’ve taken it upon myself to make the first move and show them my vulnerability. It’s not easy and there is a lot of work to do, especially after the way I’ve acted for such a long time. Sometimes it leaves me feeling quite exposed and awkward but mostly it leads to an emotionally safe space where we can both talk about how we feel and release the silent loads that have weighed us down.

Since I’ve started this approach I’ve seen the men in my life grow and build closer connections in their own relationships and friendships. I’ve seen them become more confident, dynamic and authentic in their way of addressing life. I’ve watched them become more empowered with me, rather than opposed to me. The only thing that needed to change, was my attitude.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Review of a CBT and Humanistic Approach Talk Therapy (Counselling) Session

Therapy Review – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Humanistic Approach Talk Therapy, Therapist – Edward Giles

Talk therapy counselling seems to have a lot of stigma around it and because of that, it seems to be one which a lot of people bear away from, especially if they experience a slow onset of negative emotions through some undesirable life situations rather than a specific traumatic event. I believe that we bear away from this type of therapy because of stigma of talking about mental health, so to coincide with my post about the shame around talking to a therapist I’m including my own personal review of talk therapy, to view it in an objective light like I do with all my therapy reviews.

I had my first talk therapy session with a counsellor who was recommended by a friend of mine who had originally sought therapy for grief, however as this was directly after the attack (before my father passed away), I was looking for therapy for post-traumatic stress. As far as I was concerned a counsellor was a counsellor and I just needed to see someone who was qualified. After a couple of sessions, I realised that I was feeling a lot worse after, rather than better, especially when I was instructed that my dreams of doing a particular yacht delivery were unachievable. Luckily, this is the point when Dr Jenn intervened and told me how important it was for me to ‘click’ with the therapist and also gave me a few pointers on how to pick the right therapist. From that moment on I went about finding a therapist like I would a marketing project – I did my research, interviewed each person and then decided on which counsellor was right for me. From that moment on I began my healing journey started and I began to process the recent series of events.

I found my new therapist on the counsellor directory which provides a list of accredited counsellors with all their qualifications, experience and specialities. As it was post-traumatic stress that I was dealing with at the time I wanted someone who had experience in this area and when a counsellor I interviewed told me that he had experience counselling war veterans then I knew I was in the right place.

My review is set into three parts – description of the sessions, how I felt directly before and after the treatment, my overall review.

The Sessions

I first arranged to meet Edward in his studio for a free chat to see how I felt about him and having counselling sessions with him. He met me at his front door and asked me to come around the house to his studio at the bottom of his garden. His studio was a self-built timber structure at the bottom of his garden, and inside was a desk, a bookshelf, a few comfy chairs and lot of poems and motivational prose on the walls. I remember at the time thinking how nice and welcoming the environment was, everything about the décor felt nurturing, even the smell of natural wood was soothing to me. Obviously, I value these types of settings very highly, especially when it comes to wellness (I’ll put that down to my interests in environmental construction and organic wellness) but at the time it really helped to ground me and I took this as a good sign.

The intention of this meet-up was to discuss what I wanted out of my counselling, what he could provide and whether or not we ‘clicked’. As well as already feeling very positive about the environment that we were in, there was something about Edward that made me feel quite confident in his ability. I can’t necessarily put my finger on what this may have been, it was more of a feeling or an intuition than anything else, not to mention that he was also a sailor, maybe we had similar values… either way my intuition was telling me that it felt like a good move to pick this therapist, so I did and we arranged that I would return for an actual session a week later.

The first session turned out to be the first of about four sessions in total. Each one started with us sitting down in his studio and him asking how I was feeling. I remember thinking that it was difficult to talk about how I was feeling at first, resisting the desire to answer ‘fine’ which seems to be our societal status quo answer. Over the course of the sessions (and with my commitment to mindful meditation) I started to become more in tune with my feelings and how to express them. This helped immensely as I progressed on this healing journey because although I didn’t realise it at the time, I had a massive inner judgement about accepting how I felt and openly saying it out loud.

Throughout each session Edward would allow me to talk freely and I did. Sometimes I was really judgmental about myself and others, sometimes I was very emotional – angry, upset, dismissive, you name it, I did it. Sometimes I just needed to air what was on my mind about a particular topic that had happened recently and so it landed on his ears. Sometimes we went a lot deeper and unpicked self-limiting beliefs that I had pinned down deep in my childhood which the attack was now highlighting. Through all of this Edward listened and asked very poignant questions at opportune moments, causing me to reflect and think about particular things that I may not have otherwise questioned. Overall this encouraged me to go deeper into my belief system and slowly I became a lot more aware of my thoughts and behaviours, I also then and started to see (and challenge) my ego.

One of the most helpful things I remember him telling me in our sessions was “We often judge others for something that we see in ourselves”. This stuck with me because I started to use it as a tool for reflection, so when I became judgmental towards someone else’s actions I began to stop and ask myself what it was about that behaviour that I demonstrated myself, and why was I unhappy about it? This didn’t happen immediately and there are still times now that I get lost in an emotion and fire out at someone for doing something without realising why I’m so annoyed about it, however slowly this simple reflection has allowed me to step back from situations and see them with objectivity.

Another tool which Edward started to show me how to use was that of self-compassion. This is something that I didn’t seem to have fully developed before and with the setbacks of the attack, I found myself becoming increasingly hard on myself for not behaving in certain ways as if I should’ve known better. When I started to cultivate self-compassion I started to accept what had happened to me and how I was dealing with it, instead of berating myself for it. The biggest thing for me to fully accept was my negative emotions and expressing them publicly. I guess I didn’t realise it at the time but I had such a judgement and stigma around showing vulnerabilities openly and this was taking a hold of my life because not only was I holding myself back from showing these emotions in public but I was also suppressing them deep inside me.

Through talking, reflecting and accepting, Edward taught me to be compassionate towards myself and my situation. As I began to practice this more I noticed that my compassion for others also increased, as if by getting in touch with these feelings helped me connect with other people’s feelings to the point where if someone became angry or judgemental towards me I was able to understand it and treat it compassionately rather than act reactively to whatever was said/done.

Each session lasted for 50 minutes and when we were 40 minutes through each session, Edward would tell me that we had 10 minutes left. This structured approach showed that he was holding the space of the session and establishing his own professional boundaries. Although subtle, this action demonstrated that he was able to hold that emotional space, something which is extremely important in all therapies which I have come to strongly value. At that point we would round off the session, I would pay, make another appointment if necessary and he would then walk me out to the driveway where he would shake my hand and we’d say goodbye.

Although I have written this review of the period straight after the attack, I also went to see Edward for another couple of sessions after my father passed away because that is when my emotions really started to burst out. I think that because of the sessions that we had before I had already started to work on the tools that I needed to process the grief but seeing a counsellor who already knew my back story and was able to objectively listen while I moved through my emotions was extremely beneficial for me. I saw Edward for a few sessions in this period (maybe two or three – my mind is a little blurry from that period) and on the last session I remember feeling that I had everything I needed to work through the rest of the processing on my own, knowing that there was a therapist I could rely on if I needed some more new tools.

Pre-session sense check (January 2015)

Physically – Straight after the attack I just seemed to be exhausted all of the time and would take three or four-hour naps in the day as well as get about 10 hours at night. My shoulder was really tight and I was having weekly massages just to be able to cope with the tightness, some days it was so exhausting that I would just lie in bed. I would, however, get the occasionally bought of energy which I would utilise by going for a run, only to find that I would later crash and burn. My physical energy was very erratic during this period.

Emotionally – Throughout this time I was completely reactive and unaware of my emotions that were controlling all of my behaviour. One minute I could be a little bit reflective and insightful, the next I could lash out after begin triggered without realising it. I didn’t even know what a trigger was at this time, let alone how they were taking over my life.

Post-session sense check (August 2016)

Physically – My body feels a lot lighter than when I began my therapy exploration. This comes down to a lot of different therapies which I have explored, involving physical, emotional and intellectual treatment so it’s impossible to say what the direct effect of the talk counselling was.

Emotionally – The counselling sessions with Edward encouraged me to explore a new way of thinking which made me aware of my emotions and allowed me to accept them for what they are – this in itself reduced stress, anxiety and made me a lot calmer within myself. The effect of someone who has the inner strength to hold your space and say “it’s ok” is something that was massively powerful to me at the time when I was experiencing the intensities of post-traumatic stress. This also gave me a great sense of empowerment that allowed me to start my journey into the inner depths of my psyche and gave me the tools to successfully deal with any dark shadows that arose.

Overall Review

To sum up, how influential this therapy is, I remember something a friend said in our reflection of talk therapy, that “the World would be a much better place if everyone had therapy”. The effects of counselling can be very profound and I would recommend it to everyone, even if it’s just to talk to someone in an emotional space which is free of judgment – that in itself if therapy. Secondly to have someone who is qualified to observe your behaviour and point out your patterns is very effective because this starts us on the path of becoming consciously aware of what we were unconsciously unaware of, once our issues are out there in the open we can start working on them, and with the guidance of someone who can help us do this in the most therapeutic way. I have undertaken talk therapy with other counsellors whilst I was in Bali and different therapist bring different tools to the table so although I’ve discussed the same life events, by doing so with different counsellors from different schools of thought was beneficial because it gave me a variety of perspectives to draw upon. By talking openly in front of someone also gave me the courage to discuss this kind of things with my friends which have brought to closer and more open relationships, as we all become more authentic and help each other out when reflecting on certain issues. The key here is to make sure that the therapist works for you, and as with all things in life some therapies will work for one person and not another, similarly some therapist will work some one person and not another, so just find the one that works for you. If you need some guidance check out my articles on finding the right therapist and when to call it a day with a therapist.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Your Situation Can Be Your Anchor Or Your Springboard. It’s Your Choice. 

This week I got in an uberpool taxi in New York and listened to some poignant words from an insightful passenger named Dante. “It’s your situation”, he said. “It can be your anchor or your spring board, it’s your choice”. He continued on, to talk about how good or bad situations could be used this way and that it’s all to do with our intention. Dante was pretty switched on. He was a 27 year old NYC actor and a bar tender which he relabelled as ‘the people’s psychologist’. In the 20 minutes that my friend and I were graced with his presence his perils of wisdom sprinkled through the taxi like flickering lights into the darkness. My friend Guy, and I talked at length about this experience after and we’re still unsure of the oracle who presented himself as Dante. Did he exist as a real person, as a figment of our alcohol infused imagination or maybe he was the ghost of Christmas past, gently directing us on our way. Whatever he was, he told me exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in time.

On that particular night I’d been pushing myself pretty hard in the area of triggers and it had ended in a spectacularly awful way. I’d had a disastrous night trying to connect with a new guy I’d met and without realising my ego had jumped up and sabotaged the evening without me even noticing. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to get into a romantic situation, with a guy who I hadn’t know prior to the attack. The first time since my Dad died at least, which is when the trust that I had in my judgement of new men disappeared completely and subconscious fear started controlling my life.

Trusting men has become difficult for me since these traumas exploded. As though my subconscious fears that all men are now going to break my heart, rape me or die on me. Sounds kind of ridiculous doesn’t it? But that’s how our neuro pathways work and it takes work to re-program them. Ive known about this for a while and it’s something I’ve started working on as I start to work on the male relationships in my life – my brother and my close male friends. The thing is that the area of romance is the one that I really need to work out if I want to lead the fulfilled life that I dream of, but these lessons don’t come easily. They’re peppered with pain, embarrassment and sharp emotional edges that all these authenticity insights have brought me as I unwind the traumas. It feels like I’m being reset back to the start of this recovery journey and every time I think I know something my whole world seems to completely morph into something unrecognisable, as though all I knew before turns out to be an illusion.

As I sat in the back of the taxi I felt deflated, upset and embarrassed. I was exhausted from spending the later part of the evening in floods of tears whilst my friend comforted me and helped me reflect on the situation. Secretly, I was wishing that I wasn’t me. That I could just switch back into being a normal person, talking about normal stuff and enjoying the friverless light conversation that modern dating life continues to provide. Unfortunately trauma processing provides no such grace and the emotional hooks that spin out when someone’s unwinding go far and wide hooking up all in their presence. It’s something which leaves me feeling outcasted and alone in a world where being emotional to any depth is simply taboo until other social confirms are met. I do reflect on this often and wonder how we got to a point where we exchange saliva and body fluids with less social policing than we do with the exchange of tears.

I don’t know if the insightful young Dante sensed how I felt, or maybe he somehow knew what had gone on that night. Maybe he got the gist from my tear-strewn make up less face. Or maybe he just said something completely coincidental and I chose to apply it to my evening and be in awe of it. Either way I found what he had to say pretty profound.

Viewing my situation as an anchor or a springboard suddenly made me see things differently. Suddenly I wasn’t upset anymore. It highlighted that I could see my situation as one that tethers me down, restricts my life’s movements and keeps me in one place. On the other hand I could see it as a springboard to jump up and down until I get the momentum to move forward. Depending on how I saw it ultimately affects my reaction and all of this is ultimately my choice.

It strung a cord with me because it also highlighted how important it is to reflect and react from our stories so that we can work at changing our situation. It sums up my whole journey of my trauma recover so far: sit and dwell in my situations or use them to my advantage and progress forward in life. As I looked back on the evening I knew I’d finally been trying the later. After avoiding dating for months after being terrified of trusting men I’d put myself out in a vulnerable situation and tested the water. I knew that I still had issues of coming across as confrontational or even aggressive towards guys. After having fought off a rapist this is unfortunately my current ‘go to’ whenever I feel the slightest bit vulnerable. The worst of it is that for the most part I’m unaware of this behaviour and it takes constant mindful practice and gentle reminders from my friends that I’m acting this way. All necessary feedback if I’m to make progress.

Its a difficult situation, balancing between consciously trying to face my triggers and subconsciously fighting them off all at the same time. I can only imagine how ridiculous it must look on the outside. In a world where words and body language usually flow in sync to see a person who contradicts themselves to such an extent.

The night had been a disaster but it had been a huge step forward too. It was the night I’d pulled up the anchor that had held me stationary for so long and I’d started to springboard. In this particular instance I felt like I’d sprung up and banged straight into a painful lesson, but at least it was movement and that means progress. A step forward from being locked in a secret solitude

That simple comment at the end of my night turned a teary deflated evening into a reflective one. It gave me the slap round the face that I needed to give myself the well needed break of self compassion. It reminded me that although I struggled to be the person I so desperately want to be on the outside of these traumas that I was at least moving forward in that direction. It showed me that the tears, the upset and deflation that I was experiencing was necessary to build momentum in my spring. It reminded me that I was doing all I needed in the right way to get there.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x