Big You, Little You.


Nesting Dolls

I love these nesting dolls as they provide a visual representation of how we all have younger versions of ourselves inside of us.

As we grow up and become adults we don’t leave behind our younger selves, they remain within us. All the layers of our developing selves add up to the person we become. In a good enough environment these layers or parts of us are well developed, resiliant and adaptable, creating a strong adult self.

A good enough environment offers safety, protection, boundaries and opportunities to grow well as an individual. As a child learns to become independent and resourceful, they ‘borrow’ the security, regulation and support of adults around them. They can then internalise and integrate these resources, and be able to access them to problem solve, self soothe and self regulate.

What happens then, if the environment isn’t adequate and the developing parts haven’t got the resources to thrive? They may be damaged or entirely neglected with not enough adult to borrow from. A person may look like an adult on the outside but if there are interuptions or deficits to the little selves within, it will be evident through a lack of self soothing and regulation, defensive behaviours and unhelpful coping mechanisms. I think its important to honour the defences and coping mechanisms as they once ensured survival and made the lack of adult protection, tolerable. It becomes a problem when it no longer works in adulthood and this is often the point that a person enters therapy, to seek resolve from the stuckness of ineffective behaviours and beliefs.

Adult on the outside, child within.

The parts of a person that were developmentally damaged are still there inside the adult exterior and need now, what they should have received back then; safety, recognition, protection and space to grow. The little ones inside still need assurance that they are being taken care of, but how can this happen if we can’t go back and rewrite our experiences?

We can’t re-do the actual experience of growing chronologically, however we can repeat the processes, developmentally. We can borrow the regulation of a safe other and learn what we did not have the opportunity to learn then. What does this look like? Well, as this is a therapy blog, therapy can be a place for this new experience to take place. An attuned, empathic, available therapist can provide regulation and a safe container for developmental growth to take place (I am over simplifying this process here) and over time, a persons adult self can internalise and take on the caretaking of their own child self.

As I said in the beginning, we don’t leave behind the little ones inside, they are still there. We can find them and tell them what they needed to hear then, and provide now, what they needing providing then. Our adult self can take our little self by the hand and let them know they’re not alone now. We don’t need to tell the baby inside to stop having needs, or the child to go away or the teenager to shut up. We can own all of our parts of self and embrace what each brings, given the right environment to thrive.


Up next in PART 2: The little ones inside contain our sense of play, creativity and imagination.

Put the Cup Down(!)

Do you ever feel so full that you can’t take in one more thing? Full to the brim with life in all its victories and challenges. A feeling of being at full capacity in every sense; physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and the list goes on.

I know I’m not the only one to be feeling the coronavirus fatigue, experiencing disruptions in all areas of life. School attendance is unpredictable, work requires flexibility, relationships are being held with physical distance, energy is frayed. The impact is hard to hold, especially with a sense of the unknown future ahead.

I’ve felt the weight of carrying so much and have felt like my metaphorical cup is so full up that it’s spilling over. It manifests itself in ways such as illness, tiredness, tears and low energy. I have felt the pull to carry on, to minimise the spillage while the cup is still filling up. It’s an exhausting balancing act!

This morning I felt the need to put down the cup..! To let it pause and rest. To stop for a moment, the inflow of more. It’s not always easy. I battle the voice inside my head telling me “You should…do this thing, be at that thing, call that person, tidy that up, get on with what needs doing.” I have to turn the volume down on these demands and tune in to what my body and soul needs and when I do that, I hear a voice crying out for rest.

The result of doing so this morning was a sense of breathing space, a moment to inhale. The cup is still very much full but it’s contents aren’t being sloshed all over, trying to accomodate more. For me this looks like a quiet day at home, reading, painting and being by the fire with a cup of tea. The things that nourish me as I am today. Tomorrow will take care of itself but for today, I put my cup down and tended to what my soul needed.

What do you need? Do you need to put your cup down, even for a day? What nourishes your soul?

Summer SAD

Otherwise known as reverse seasonal affective disorder.

You’re likely to have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder- SAD for short. You may even have heard it described as “winter depression”. It’s characterised by a feeling of low mood, irritability and loss of interest in normal activities, prevalent during winter months. It’s real and it’s exhausting for those that suffer.

Summer SAD is this in reverse; summer months bringing about the low mood with an improvement seen in winter months. You can read more about symptoms and treatment on the NHS website, but I want to focus on another reason why people may find the summer months difficult and I think it may be one of the causes of SAD.

Polymorphic Light Eruption rash

Polymorphic Light Eruption or PMLE is an itchy, burning skin rash caused by sensitivity to sunlight. Fluid filled blisters often occur too. It is a painful and frustrating condition and although it is physical in its presentation, it has huge psychological, social and emotional impact. In the summer, there is an increased expectation to be out and about enjoying the long, warm days with an assumption that everybody loves the sun! If you don’t, you can be misunderstood as being miserable or overreacting. When your skin reacts like the picture above (which is a fairly mild case in this instance), it can cause a sense of dread of the sheer exhaustion of surviving summer. It doesn’t always feel ok to share that though, oh party pooper you 😉

Enjoying the view from inside

I am writing this from my experience. Experience of making myself be outdoors with others so I wouldn’t be the awkward one. Experience of suffering the consequences of keeping quiet and joining the outdoor party. Experience of feeling utterly miserable on the inside but keeping others’ convenience and happiness at the fore front.

As I have made the link between reverse SAD and PMLE and experienced the psychological effects as well as the physical, I have begun to take more care of what I need in living with this condition.

– I wear clothes that cover my arms as they are the worst affected. Yes I’ve had comments about ‘being dressed for winter’ but as it’s me dealing with the consequence of not covering up, I have become ok with doing this. It might seem unusual to others, but it’s usual for me and that’s ok.

– I’m allowed to stay indoors. That’s right, I have choice! There are times I will be in the sun because a person or occasion is utterly worth it but I have choice in how I manage it. Sometimes the choice is to not be out at all. I am learning to meet my needs too even if they’re misunderstood.

– I can seek out a dark room to retreat to, physically and mentally. It does me good, even if it doesn’t do others good. Again, it’s what I need and that’s ok. It also helps if I get in there first with the vampire jokes too, because they will happen!

– I spend time with those who want to spend time with me, even if it’s indoors. The ones who suggest indoor places have an extra special place in my heart!

Ultimately it’s about me knowing what I need and having freedom to operate within that. Only 10-15% of the UK population suffer with PMLE and out of those many will endure reverse SAD because of it (this is my lived experience opinion, not medical fact but it makes sense right?). So I share this to speak out for a small community to know you’re not alone in this summer struggle and if you happen to read this and think your summer despising friend is a miserable soul, be the one to ask and understand- they will appreciate you forever for it!

It’s been a while…

It’s been awhile

This is a phrase that has kept repeating itself to me recently so I thought about what that means for me: It’s been a while since I’ve seen and hugged people. It’s been a while since I’ve visited certain places. It’s been a while since doing the school run. It’s been a while since seeing clients face to face.

I went on to think about this on an internal level; it’s been a while since I have written anything, it’s been a while since I had a decent block of peace & quiet, it’s been a while since I asked myself how I’m doing. Not until a friend asked me did I stop to really think about how I feel, what life looks like right now and what impact that has and I thought to myself ‘it’s been a while’. It’s been a while since checking in with me, since I attended to myself and observed all that I have been experiencing.

So I took a mental snap shot of this moment in time, a check point internally and externally. I’m reminded of times of getting together with friends and family and that parting sentence “Don’t leave it so long next time!” and I said to myself, “Its been awhile, let’s not leave it so long next time.”

Quiet Grief

Today my grief is quiet.

What emerges will emerge; no calling out to the words and memories that usually blow about like confetti.

Should they arrive, there will be no fanfare, only a quiet acknowledgement of their presence.

I will sit and watch, and as they settle I will give a silent nod to their passing.

Today my grief is quiet.

Drawing by Leanne Riley

Therapy hurts: It Hurts So Good

Imagine attending to a gash on your leg with a plaster, it keeps it covered and it may well do the job for a while. Then it starts to itch, becoming more noticeable and eventually starts to get in the way of daily activity. You take the plaster off and realise it needs a bit more than a plaster; a deeper clean, removing the bits that had become stuck. It may become too painful to do it alone or you may not have the right tools so you go and get it looked at.

This is what therapy is and the wounds are emotional. They may be deep and need someone skilled to help clear and heal the gash(es). The dressings are removed carefully, all with your permission and although you know it needs to happen, it hurts. It hurts so much and yet you know it’s good because it will bring healing.

Image by AmaSolheim

This is the real work of therapy. It’s not pretty and you don’t leave every session skipping down the road. Sure there are moments of absolute beauty found in connection, feeling safe, feeling understood and finally sharing the burden. It’s also hard and frustrating work.

Author unknown

Therapy is meant to make you feel better, right? So why do I often feel worse? you might ask. Let me tell you, the frustration and exhaustion often experienced can be sign that therapy is going well! When clients are in the thick of uncovering the wounds and beginning the healing process they often report feeling exhausted, tearful and wondering what they’ve started. I respond with validation of their feelings, because it is hard work and I also affirm that as counterintuitive as it feels, I see it as a positive sign of therapy being utilised and engaged in. Running a race isn’t easy and to come out where you want to be is going to need time spent training, it’s a sweaty business! Therapy comes with emotional sweat to get you to where you want to be.

Much like the gash needing a deeper clean, the process is longer than applying a quick plaster but the benefits to doing such deep work are long term. So if it feels hard work, it’s because it is hard work and you are doing a beautiful and brave thing. Eventually the wound(s) start to heal, moving becomes easier, the sting goes down and life feels that bit easier. Don’t be alarmed if during this process you have some wavering moments of doubt and pain as when a physical wound is healing it itches and the skin works to form a scab and then a scar. Sometimes that scab might bleed and the scar might feel tight but behind it all healing and health is happening, much like therapy.

Keep going. It hurts, but it hurts good.

(But) or and…

Its usual to hear the word ‘but’ used to join together two sentences or two thoughts; “It was good but…” “I’m really struggling but I should look at the positives.”

It’s used to connect contrasting ideas and the the intention is often to recognise both positive and negative aspects, to be aware of different perspectives. However, what can happen is the ‘but’ can serve to invalidate the first response. The implication is that the first thought or feeling was either too much or not enough and it needs balancing out. Our experience is reduced and made ok or not ok (I didn’t like it but.., I did like it but…) Like I said, the intention is often good and it shows we’re seeing both sides of the coin but we need to not lose the potency of either experience. Notice in my last sentence, I have made a statement and then countered it; the second statement could invalidate the wholeness of the first.

I wonder if I’d used the word and instead, it would have a different feel and meaning, “the intention is often good and it shows we’re seeing both sides of the coin and we need to not lose the potency of either experience.” Another example more specific to current difficulties due to COVID, “I’m really struggling with this and I have experienced some benefits.” “

“It was really good and it was challenging”.

Rather than replace one with the other, which ‘but’ can suggest, it holds both experiences with equal weight. It feels that both are acceptable and held within their own entirety. The result is a freedom to feel and express alternative experiences without having to choose one to preside over the other. Where the but can limit, and can expand.

A small word that can make a big difference to the validation of the lived experience of another and to ourselves. I’ve noticed the permission it gives and the value it places on what someone feels or thinks. It moves away from comparison and into companionship; our experiences can be side by side yet different, not one or the other.

Try reframing your own internal dialogue with and. Next time you think “this is really, really hard BUT it’s teaching me something” (excusing the really really hard bit) change it to “this is really, really hard AND it’s teaching me something” (containing, not minimising the really really hard bit).

Then try it with others and notice what happens. I’ve noticed people relax, even smile because they feel seen and heard and validated and ok with their responses because they’re not having to hide them, down play them or big them up. They can respond authentically and feel like their whole person is held without having to shut off aspects that ‘aren’t acceptable’.

I’d love to hear what you notice about using ‘and’. A small and space giving word.

Overwhelming freedom: anxiety beyond Covid 19

I have become increasingly aware of people’s growing anxiety during this time. A different type of anxiety I should say; one of nervousness and trepidation about what comes next.

Of course to acknowledge the balance, this time has brought blessed relief for some and allowed time to slow down, rest and perhaps learn something new.

For others it’s been a busy combination of work and children and doesn’t feel so much like a rest.

Google image.

You can see from that how differently people have been affected. I recently read a blog post about “not all being in the same boat” instead “in the same storm, but different boats”. I think this is true not only from family to family but within families. Everyone will have their own perspective and experience and will own unique memories of it once it’s over.

To come back to what I started with, it’s the anxiety about ‘afterwards’. For some, the idea of ‘freedom’ feels so overwhelming; the volume of people, social interaction after prolonged isolation, lack of control, fear of whether the virus has truly gone and the loss of those it has taken. In the face of this, home can have the effect of a safe cocoon and whilst that gives a sense of protection and release from expectation, the challenge to ‘resume’ is going to feel greater.

It’s not going to be about going back to normal but adapting to a new ‘normal’ and that will take some time and adjustment; physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. In the same way it has taken time to get used to the restrictions put in place due to Covid, I think it’s fair to say exiting is going to take some time too.

Image from on Pinterest

If you’ve been feeling this way, I want you to know you’re not the only one. I’m noticing it more and more through my work and I think acknowledging something’s existence is so important and validating. It can be so easy to compare our experience and think we ought to be feeling a certain way but to go back to the ‘same storm, different boat’ we will all have differing experiences after the virus.

Beyond Covid will look different for us all and none of us have navigated these waters before so if your boat feels shaky, I’d say that’s probably to be expected! If the challenges for you lie in the time after the lockdown and you feel like you should be welcoming the freedom but are struggling to just yet, I want to say that you are seen in your difficulty; take some time and allow yourself space to adjust and seek support if you need it, you won’t be the only one.

Google image.

Tell them: When you see something beautiful.

Words stick. Negative ones are especially sticky.

It can feel strange to tell someone when you notice something beautiful about them and it can be unusual to hear, but it lasts and can make the world of difference.

One moment that has stayed with me was from an evening last winter when leaving the local health centre. It was cold and dark and I just wanted to get home. As I crossed the car park, I noticed a mum and her young son. She was lifting him out of his special needs buggy to get him into the car and he sounded distressed. The noise he made was loud and he seemed to struggle against her. The mum had lots to pack away into the car but she stopped everything and comforted her son. She held him, speaking gently to him with reassurance as he writhed and cried. I’m not sure what was happening for him, but she clearly did and watching her calm him moved me. It was such a beautiful moment. I was conscious of wanting to help but not wanting to make matters worse so I got into my car and waited until she had her son seated in the car. I then reversed out of my space, wound down my window and said “Excuse me”. She looked up sharply with a worried expression, expecting a complaint maybe. I said “I saw you with your son just now and seeing the way you calmed him was beautiful to watch”. She was clearly taken aback and thanked me with an exhaustion in her eyes that I recognised. I drove off with tears in my eyes at being able to see one of life’s beautiful moments in what I’m sure was a stressful situation for the mum.

My introvert self fought over saying anything but something about this mum doing what she was doing, quietly in the dark of the car park needed recognising. The vulnerability I felt in reaching out was mirroring the vulnerability of the mum with her son. It felt important to tell her. I will never know the impact it had but it felt worth the discomfort to let her see herself how I did in that moment, to notice her in the dark and tell her that I saw something beautiful.

We can be more than one thing.

We can feel more than one thing. We can experience different emotions, together.

We can be both a mess and a masterpiece at the same time.

Wildflower photograph by Leanne Riley

We can often feel like we are meant to be happy or sad, angry or excited . If life is going well, how is it possible to feel down? How can you laugh when the bottom has just fallen out of your world? How can joy and pain co-exist?

Life is multi-layered and so are we.

Photograph taken by Leanne Riley

We are beautifully complex humans and can’t be all of one thing and nothing of another; it is possible to feel like you’re holding one aspect of life all-together while another is falling apart. It is entirely possible to hold different parts of ourselves and our lives, simultaneously and not feel like we have to mend, hide or change the things that aren’t quite fitting into place.

Photograph taken by Leanne Riley

Life is beautiful and hard all at the same time. There are moments that are as clear as night and day, then there is dawn and dusk, where the night and the day come together to create a new experience, neither exclusive. This is what happens when we allow the complexities of life and ourselves to be, a tapestry of dark and light, pain and happiness is created.

It’s ok to be more than one thing.