Queries and Advice

Thanks for the query

This is a page with a different slant on getting help and designing and implementing small, safe experiments. Some queries are based on anonymous advice offered here and there, including the newspapers!

There are times when I cannot speak directly to a reader or member of the public. Instead, I answer their questions on this page as this may be of use to several readers.

Health warning: my comments here are for specific individuals. They will know who they are. What I say may not be relevant to other readers. Indeed, my comment may not be helpful to the intended reader, as I rarely have the full facts.

It’s just my best shot or effort and it can be put to one side, if needs be!

So here goes:

TOPIC: can I develop strategies to help me with a friend who is dependent on me?

The dilemma here, as I see it, is that there is only so much time and energy we have available for all the things we need to do during the day, and for all the people we know. It’s easier to want to change that, than to make it so.

That said, I do see a few lines of experimentation that connect one with another:

Assessing your own needs and priorities: https://your-nudge.com/using-the-inverted-tree-and-body-scanning/ What are your priorities and options – NOW?

It’s difficult to make changes without knowing what the choices are in front of us. Often we do things we find are uncomfortable, and that, alone, does not promote change.

Communicating your needs and priorities to others n be tricky. Fogging and assertiveness may be relevant.

I do have a specific suggestion that might be relevant. Try: “I’m please you’ve found the courage to seek professional help. Now I need to take time for myself.” OR “This is what I need to do [specify a couple of things]. Can you help me see it happens”

Shift the words and sentiments about as suits but please keep the first person, present tense feature.

Step back to see the wood for the trees. Focus on yourself and the way you want to spend your time in an average day or week: this is the tricky bit as it sounds like a good idea, but rather selfish. Part of you may resist wanting to be different in this way. Most of us want to be wanted and most of us want to help. I can’t speak for all psychologists, but ……

Even so, there are different forms of ‘help’ and its worth asking: who AM I doing this ‘helping’ for? Is it more for me, than for them.


… where I say: If you follow Socrates, then taking unthinking advice on small, safe experiments, might be be counter-productive.

I trust this advice is clear and I can imagine it sounds rather harsh. I suspect you will not be used to stepping away from others – maybe more used to stepping toward. Even so, explore possibilities and make sure your own needs ARE known to important others.

Good friends know how to respect you; if they do not, then maybe they are not such good friends.

TOPIC: some feelings are difficult to label or just notice. Love is particularly tricky.

I have discussed feelings a fair bit on this website. I am going to discuss them further – with a focus on love and shame. It may well be important to consider them together as they are both complex feelings. Both can mean many different things to different people. Neither feeling has a single dimension and that has implications for safe experimenters.

Many moons ago, shortly before his marriage to Diana, Prince Charles was quizzed about love. In his response he said: love, whatever that is. Some people were outraged, as I recall, yet it seemed to me that he was being refreshingly honest. Many of us, including me, can be puzzled by that English word. There are a few Greek words here, you might like to consider!

Consider what can happen when we fall in love. It can feel like a temporary madness propelling us into plans and unrealistic promises, often built on shifting sands.

For many, love works for a short time – first time round; it did for Charles, and for me, and a large number of other adults. That’s why the song Second Time Around (words set to the theme tune for the film Bilitis) can make much sense to many of us. Recall just a few films that cast light on the multiplicity of ways in which love manifests itself: just how different are the presentations in, to name just a very few: When Harry met Sally, Maurice, Brief Encounter, Brokeback Mountain, The Danish Girl and Just Another Year.

An illustration

Do you recall my comment on small defeats and small victories at the bottom of this illustration of part of the scenic route?

The problem is that love can become a chameleon word; changing its meaning over time when it is convenient for me to do so. This is particularly feasible if I move the experience from one person to another person. That’s why love is often juxtaposed with hate. It seems tricky to love two people at the same time, as described in the song Torn Between Two Lovers. Too often, it easier to relabel the word!

Humans are susceptible to doing hateful things to people they once loved.

Therefore, from my point of view, the word, love, is best understood when we consider what we do to other people. Are your ACTIONS loving? That might increase our awareness of the choices we have about the actions we take in the face of mixed sensations and high emotions.

There are safe experiments to be found on these pages:

Love Languages: where specific actions demonstrating ‘love’ are described.

Sex where I discuss the five love languages further – along with some old favourites.

……and there is a summary illustration that might be of interest at:

Moving on to the topic of Shame, I have commentaries at: https://your-nudge.com/shame/ …. and on this page: shame and Neuroception.

I include in this commentary on shame some attention to its close relative, guilt.

Are Shame and Guilt one-and-the-same, or different labels for things we feel? In therapy, they are seen as different feelings; Guilt follows a known neural pathway; it is built in to almost all of us. It serves to deter us from unhelpful behaviour.

Shame, by contrast, is a complex feeling. True, it’s built-in to most of us as well and yet has a large role in telling us who we are; our relationship with it is a feature of our personality. Shame is part of our character, like letters through seaside rock. It makes a ‘statement’ about me (and you) and has a part in saying who I am (and you). The neural pathways that make up your ‘shame’ are not the same as mine. There may be common features but the profile varies from one person, to another.

If we are not careful, shame can take over our being. BUT we are more than one specific feeling. Shame – like love and hate – is triggered by a ‘part’ of you. Some of the work done in therapy is around identifying those ‘parts’. It considers the ‘conversations’ from our past and explores how they are now, in the present.

Therapy can help us to increase the choices available to us through exploring your experience of Love and Shame. Both feelings need to be experienced but it is the quality of the communication between loving and shameful ‘parts’ that is, in my view, more likely to establish an outcome; the next do-able thing.

So shame is a unique to you and me – shaped over many years, via many and varied messages from care takers and authority figures. Some of those messages would have been consistent and others inconsistent. Some of the contradictions may well have placed us in more than one double bind.

Recently, I was able to attend a training event with Kathy Steele and much of her material will prove helpful to clients and therapists, alike. After all, loving and feeling shamed happens to virtually everyone. How do we look both of them in the eye?

Here is a comment on safe experiments relating to emotions, with specific reference to shame.

Experimenting with the Inner Critic and our internal dialogue

It’s not comfortable to feel Shame. Shame is a harsh driver, a demanding task-master or task-mistress. Almost all of us have a ‘part’ commonly labelled the Inner Critic.

That part is engaged in an internal dialogue with other ‘parts’; it can nag and demean us. The Inner Critic is intimately involved in triggering our Shame response.

I trust this comment will lead to some achievable safe experimenting.

TOPIC: am I to blame if it does not work?

Philippa, an agony aunt in The Observer magazine, dated the 18th December 2022, answered a woman regretting her angry behaviour and questioning why numerous therapies had not helped her “ever repair my sorry life“. This is an extract from Philippa’s reply:

“.. nothing will [work] until you engage with it. Therapy is not like a medicinal cream that you just rub on and miraculously the rash disappears. When it comes to improving your mental health, you must engage with the help”.

I don’t like Philippa’s ‘mustabation’ in this quote. It is just one of the defensive responses mentioned on this page. Even so, I endorse the sentiment on my Welcome page where, at the bottom, I say: I cannot do the work for you.

Even so, you could be forgiven for these statements sounds like good old-fashioned ‘client blaming’. I criticise this subtle and pervasive view a few times, particularly when discussing the reaction of therapy to inequality.

It follows that this obstacle on the scenic route may be more complicated than it first appears. Therefore ……..

Consider some further options

  1. Motivation may need more attention and to become the focus of safe experiments.
  2. The ‘smallness’ of safe experiments is not small enough. What actions might turn a mountain into a hill?
  3. Facing change generates high emotion. It can be an obstacle in its own right. It interferes with thinking straight. Consider this page, with its focus on what is helpful for you. What works for one person might not work for another.
  4. It is possible to feel in two minds about change; wanting it on the one hand, and fearing it, on the other. The DBT model has something to say about that. The ability to’ just notice’ both experiences, and hold a conversation between each one is not so easy as it sounds.
  5. Control issues create problems that are difficult to discern. Sometimes we want total control over our lives, now! In my experience, impatience is an important obstacle to progress. This quality may arise from the impact of Drivers developed over decades. Using safe experiments to alter the pace of your actions might be relevant.
  6. Compassion for self and others. Lack of this can add weight to our Inner Critic. This, in turn, makes it difficult to see some small changes that are there. If you do not record small, subtle changes, then they may well not exist!
  7. Finall, if you are in therapy, change your therapist. I do place large emphasis on the relationship for getting results. Other people do make a difference and not all relationships, however well intentioned, do not always bring home the bacon. Sometimes the larger experiment of developing a new relationship will help as long as this does not lead to short-lived, shallow, serial relationships. Such ‘change’, itself, will be an obstacle to change.

I hope this web site offers several ways in which you can engage with the help put on offer by so many people.

Some other leads to consider

What actions make up a safe experiment?

Actions is not always enough

Safe experiments on the scenic route

How do we feel

Feelings go awry

…. and interfere with my ability to make meaning