Thursday, 31 January 2013

...When she was good, she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid...

Hmmm, sometimes I feel just like the little girl in this nursery rhyme.  When I am good, I am very, very good and when I am bad, I am horrid. Like most people, I have some very nice qualities:  I am loyal, I am generous and I am kind.  And again, like most other people I have some less attractive qualities: I am critical, judgmental and can hold onto a grudge until it begs for mercy! This week, I’m re-visiting the notion of perfection and how we deal with those aspects of ourselves that are not so nice.  Do we strive harder to be nicer, or is there a kinder way?  Having tried unsuccessfully in the past to use brute force on myself, in order to be nicer, I’ve identified 3 steps that work for me.  You may have heard of other steps or worked out some for yourself. Whatever works for you is best for you, is my motto and at least you have a better chance of sticking to it, if it resonates with who you are.

My programme involves accepting yourself, in your entirety; taking responsibility for yourself and your actions and finally making a change.

First up is acceptance.  It seems like such a harmless word and such a simple thing to do, but in reality, it’s something that a large number of us- including myself, struggle with.  I’m talking primarily about character in this post, but this could apply equally well to our relationship with food and our bodies as women.  I don’t know about you, but I really resist accepting the less attractive sides of my character.  In my head, I can’t accept that although I am loyal, generous and kind, I can also be critical judgemental and unforgiving.  I feel like the negative traits would cancel out the positive ones and that I would turn into some kind of evil termagant!  However, the truth of the matter is that acceptance is the first step in any change process.  Until we see ourselves clearly and accept ourselves-warts and all, we’re living in denial and change becomes nearly impossible.  It’s a bit like riding a donkey and insisting that it’s a car, because they are both forms of transportation!

My next step flows on from this and it is simple: you can’t change what you don’t take responsibility for. I read recently that whatever I see in my life today is a result of decisions that I have made in the past.  Whilst it’s very tempting to blame everyone else for situations in your life, it keeps you in a powerless situation and again, you will not be able to make any effective change.  I want to be clear though that I am talking about taking responsibility and not blame. Responsibility is about acknowledging your part in a situation.  Blame on the other hand is responsibility + censure = guilt.  Responsibility is internal, hopeful, forward looking and can help you to change, whilst blame is usually external, focuses on judgement, criticism and censure and usually only leads to recrimination and very little change.  Trying to change some aspect of yourself without first taking responsibility is like trying to drive a car from the passenger seat. I know lots of people who give it their best shot, but it generally doesn’t work.

Finally, having accepted your situation and taken responsibility for your part in it, then you have the option to make a change.  I say option, because sometimes, even though you’ve done the first 2 steps, you still don’t make a change.  You might be too afraid to and so you choose to maintain the status quo. You may also choose not to make a change, because, although where you are isn't that nice, it's still better than the pain of making change.  Finally, there is the chance that you don't make change because you like where you are. Personally, now that I know my weak spots, it allows me to be intentional about choosing a different way of interacting with people.  Being critical for me is easy.  It’s harder not to be critical, but if I value the relationships I have, then I have to do something different, no matter how hard it feels.

This week’s piece has got me thinking about a few questions: what aspects of yourself have you refused to accept? What have you done with the parts of you that are unacceptable? What are the things in your life that you need to take responsibility for? What are the things you need to stop blaming yourself about? Finally, having answered those questions, will you make a change now? If not, what’s holding you back? So many questions and questions I am asking of myself as well, but all important as we journey to becoming the best we can be.   If you'd like some help, walking through the change process, contact us at the website, to kickstart your journey. 

I’d love to hear what you think of my three steps or some steps of your own.  Leave me a comment and let’s continue the conversation.

Until next week, go well.


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Whatever gets you through the night...

This week I read an article about an American programmer called ‘Bob’, who outsourced his own job to a Chinese software company[1].  Apparently for just 20% of his pay, Bob was able to spend his time surfing the net and winning accolades for being a star coder. As I read about Bob’s ingeniousness (or not, depending on your viewpoint), it got me thinking about how we metaphorically outsource bits of our lives, in order to get on with the business of living. As I thought about it more deeply, I started to see the connections between the outsourcing metaphor and domestic violence.

Our human mind is a wonderful thing.  One of the most wonderful qualities it has is its ability to protect us from extreme pain and trauma by setting up psychological defences.  Establishing psychological defences is a perfectly normal reaction.  However, these defences operate in our subconscious minds and when they come into play too rigidly and/or too often, then they become problematic.  This week, I want to talk about three common defences that are used; how they might show up in the context of domestic violence and how it could affect professionals working with survivors of domestic violence.

First up is ‘denial’.  It’s a concept that a lot of us are familiar with these days, due in part to television and psychology becoming a little more accessible to the general population. When you’re in denial, you’re looking past a problem, instead of facing it, being unrealistic about something that is happening in your life.  When you’re in denial, one of the things that you might do is minimise the consequences of the situation that you are in. In my experience, this is the place where a lot of domestic violence survivors find themselves.  I remember one survivor telling me that she couldn’t be a victim of domestic violence, because she was a nice middle class woman, with a good job and that it only happened to ‘other’ women.  It may sound a bit odd, but she was obviously grappling with something so painful, that her means of coping was to pretend it wasn’t happening.  Whilst it might give you a breather at the beginning, to continue to deny that you are being abused means that you will not take the necessary steps to make sure that you are safe.

The next defence mechanism that I’d like to mention is repression.  It’s similar to denial.  A person in denial may have at least an inkling of something being wrong.  However, when repression comes into play, it involves pushing thoughts or memories deep into the subconscious. These memories don’t go away though and they continue to influence our behaviour.  In the context of domestic violence, a woman or child may have repressed their experiences of abuse, but later in life, something triggers an emotional response in them and the memories come flooding back.  Think about situations when you have read or heard about someone saying they just ‘snapped’? and when you find out what caused them to snap, you think how could such a small thing cause that response? Because repression involves the subconscious, the only signs may be repetitive or extreme patterns of behaviour and the clues to unlocking the patterns are often hidden deep in the subconscious mind.

The last mechanism that I’d like to look at today is ‘projection’. Simply put, projection is about taking what we see as our unacceptable qualities or emotions and putting them onto another person.  It’s a bit like taking a disliked piece of clothing off, putting it on someone else and then criticising them for having bad taste!  It’s actually quite common and a mechanism that many of us use on a regular basis.  How often have you found yourself disliking someone, but justifying it by saying they dislike you too?  The way that this can be seen in cases of domestic violence is where the survivor repeatedly blames previous partners of the abuser for the abuse they suffered at the hands of the abuser.  She may have internalised the perpetrator’s claims that the violence happens because of something she does or doesn’t do and by ‘exporting’ that blame to ex partners, it allows her to try and manage the situation in the best way that she can.

As professionals, working with survivors of domestic violence, we need to know about these defences.  It’s important because it will help us to understand our client better, avoid misconceptions about puzzling behaviour, greatly reduce the chances of us becoming frustrated with the client and most importantly, help us to recognise when we might need to refer a client on to another professional. Ultimately, all of this helps us to come alongside our client and provide the best service that we can.
Facing some of the issues raised in this piece? Contact us for your free 30 minute consultation, that will start you on your journey to the best you.

Until next week, go well.



Thursday, 17 January 2013

There's something about that woman...


“...did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops.Weakened by my soulful cries...”[1]

Read the papers, visit the blogosphere and the twitter universe at the moment and you can’t help feeling that it’s a crime to be a woman!  From 15 year old Malala Yousafzai, the courageous young women’s rights activist in the area of education, to the Indian women being gang raped on an alarmingly regular basis.  It seems like there’s a war going on and it’s being waged on women: our right to an education, our bodily integrity, our right to live the lives we choose.

This week, I’m thinking about how important it is for us as women to become politically aware and exercise our power.  In many countries around the world, women are seriously under-represented in politics.  We account for only about 19% of the legislature, which is ridiculous, when you think that we are nearly 50% of the population! Nigeria is a classic example.  The House of Representatives has only 25 women out of 360 members, about 7% and only 4% of local government councillors are women.  Lest you think that this is only a problem for developing countries, you should know that women make up only 17% of the legislature in America.   Both these countries are in stark contrast to Rwanda, where after the 2008 elections, women held a third of all cabinet positions and constituted just over 56% of parliamentarians.  Why is this important you might ask? For me there are 2 reasons why women need to become more politically active:

The first reason has to do with tackling issues that affect women disproportionately.  When women are so seriously under-represented in the halls of power, it is much more likely that issues that have a huge impact on women are either not dealt with at all or are very poorly handled. Issues like violence against women- in all its forms are a case in point here.  The comprehensive Lagos State law on domestic violence is based on a draft national law.  That law was not passed nationally because legislators objected to a clause on marital rape.  They were of the view that marital rape was a Western idea!  In a House where women are poorly represented or where the women present are not sensitive to gender politics, this is exactly the kind of outcome that is seen over and over again.

My second reason has to do with power.  Politics is about power and at the moment, men are holding the vast majority of power and are acting as gatekeepers to keep women out. Where the existing political elite are more interested in maintaining the status quo, there can be no change. The costs associated with running for political office and the risks involved with running for political office, unite to produce barriers that either only the most affluent of women can scale or those women with political ‘godfathers’.  Neither of those alternatives is particularly attractive nor even the most democratic way of doing things.  Politics in its most basic form is about effecting change and as women who want to bring about change, we need to become more politically active.  I am talking now about being political in the broadest possible sense.  Grassroots activism by women, in local communities was one of the ways that Rwanda was able to achieve the success that it has.  As women, we should seize the opportunities to speak out in our neighbourhoods and in our broader communities.  Another reason that Rwanda has been so successful is because of the support of President Paul Kagame.  Since his time as a rebel leader and during his tenure as president, he has consistently acted as an advocate for women’s leadership.

So this week, I’m issuing a challenge- to myself as well as to other women.  Start today, no matter how small.  Unhappy about an issue in your neighbourhood, in your community? Take a stand, speak out, organise events with other like-minded souls, to draw attention to the issue. Together, we can make it!  Not sure how to go about it? Contact us through the website for your free, 30 minute consultation.

“You may shoot me with your words; you may cut me with your eyes. You may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise...I rise, I rise, I rise”

Until next week, go well.

[1] Maya Angelou: Still I rise

Thursday, 10 January 2013



"...Because 'y' has a tail and 2 branches" was the sometime answer of my exasperated mother, when I turned up with yet another question.  As a child, I’m sure I must have driven my poor parents quite mad with my endless questions.  My favourite one was “why?” asked in that special singsong tone that only children seem to master.  When I was old enough, they bought me a set of junior encyclopaedias and they instructed me to look in there when I had any questions.  They kept me enthralled for many an afternoon, I can tell you!

As a child, a lawyer, coach and all round nosey person, you might have guessed that I am no stranger to asking questions.  This week’s post was inspired by a blog, I read last week, by John Engels of Leadership Coaching Inc[1], where he was reflecting on 3 decades of asking questions.  As I read the article, I started thinking about how the types of questions we ask in the context of violence against women, affect the answers we get. It occurred to me that if we really want to bring change as violence against women activists, then we need to start by asking the right questions. “How?”; “why?” and “what?” are all good questions, but they need to be asked at the right time and in the right context.

The “how?” question is one you see a lot of, when things are being investigated.  In the context of violence against women, the police are likely to be asking a lot of “how?” questions.  For example: “how did the perpetrator grab you?”, “how did the perpetrator prevent you from leaving?” There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of questions and I would use a lot of them as a lawyer, trying to build the best possible case. The chief limitation of them is that they focus on logic, reason, rational behaviour- they are very focused on trying to understand a situation.  Whilst that might produce fantastic results, if you’re trying to work out how a piece of machinery works or how a system works, it’s not so straightforward in cases of violence against women.  Primarily because violence against women isn’t about logic, reason or necessarily rational behaviour, it’s about power and control.  Consider the case of a domestic violence victim who isn’t physically restrained by the perpetrator, but still doesn’t leave.  Asking how the perpetrator restrained her, without any physical means is most probably going to be viewed very sceptically.  And yet, I remember a case where the perpetrator used a code word- the meaning of which was known, only to him and the victim in the course of giving his evidence to the court.  The victim was absolutely petrified she was almost incapable of taking any further part in the trial.  She was restrained as effectively as if he had handcuffed her to a post!

The next question is “why?”  In my mind, if you want to shut down true communication, ask a lot of “why?” questions.  These types of questions usually make you want to defend your position and once you are on the defensive, you are focused on protecting yourself and justifying your position.  These are also the sorts of questions that lead to victim blaming. Questions like “why were you out so late on your own?”; “why did you agree to let the perpetrator walk you home?” “why did you have so much to drink?” Asking the perpetrator why he uses violence is also likely to result in victim blaming: “She wouldn’t stop arguing”; “if she had done what I said, then I wouldn’t have had to hit her” and other such explanations.

The last set of questions are the “what?” ones.  These are the most powerful kinds of questions in my view.  These are the questions most likely to bring clarity and help an individual begin the process of reflection and self examination.  When these questions are asked honestly, with humility and genuine concern, then they can be very effective in producing change.  The right kind of “what?” question can unlock a deeper level of understanding and bring real insight into a situation. For a woman experiencing violence, asking “what do you want to happen here?” gives her an opportunity to be part of a solution that works for her.  It gives her the space to really think through her situation.  It can help to situate her at the center, rather than the periphery of the response to the perpetrator’s violence.

As I end, I reflect on how easy it is, to ask the wrong questions.  The “how?” and the “why?” ones are usually much easier to ask and may not require too much of us in response.  The “what?” ones are harder, because they demand that we take our time to fashion a good, perceptive question and because of that, we are more likely to find that we will have to do more with the answer we receive.  I say all of them have value, we just have to know how and when to use them.

If you would like to know more about anything you have read in this piece, please contact us through the website.  We offer a free, 30 minute consultation, which will help you take those first steps towards change now.

Until next week, go well.


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Did you know that success is spelt with 4Ps?

Before you all start to wonder, whether I have lost the ability to spell, let me reassure that it will all make perfect sense as you read along.

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a while ago, when I realised that (a) I was making the same resolutions over and over again and (b) I usually broke them all by the end of January!

This week’s post is not about making a New Year’s resolution.  It’s more like a mantra to help you live your best and most successful life in 2013. And also to tell you why I spell success with 4Ps.

The first ‘P’ stands for purpose.  Purpose can be defined as “having a specific reason for doing something”. When I think about purpose, I think about what excites me; what gets me up in the morning and keeps me up at night; what I feel I was created to do; what I feel like I never want to retire from. Usually, the idea of planning makes me want to lie down in a darkened room, accompanied by a very large bar of chocolate.  But when I think about planning in the context of my purpose, it feels very different.  It feels doable and actually something that I might enjoy! My purpose as a life coach is to empower women and girls.  My purpose as an activist is to help end violence against women and girls. What’s yours?   A new year is like a book you haven’t read yet or a journal you haven’t written in yet.  Everything feels shiny and new and that’s why it’s a popular time to think about your purpose. Purpose is important because it gives you focus. There are always so many things to be done and if you aren’t focused, you run the risk of dashing off in a million directions, without actually achieving anything.

The next ‘P’ stands for power. Power can be defined as “the capability of doing or accomplishing something”.  I like to think of it as the rocket fuel that helps us get from dreaming to doing and achieving. Having purpose without power is like having the fastest car in the world in your garage, without any petrol in the tank.  I think we can safely say that it doesn’t matter what the engine size is, without fuel, it’s going nowhere! The reason why so many New Year resolutions or dreams fail is that we don’t give them any power. Passion is a huge part of power.  If you don’t actually enjoy your purpose, you are more likely to give up at the first hurdle.  My passion is to change the world, one woman at a time and that passion gives me the power to keep going when it seems like an impossible dream.

The third ‘P’ is for practice. A definition of practice that I like is “repeated performance...for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency”.  We’ve all heard the old adage, “practice makes perfect”.  It’s only when we do something over and over again, that we arrive at expertise.  I remember being so petrified the first time I had to drive at night, that I turned off the radio and heating and drove all the way home, bundled up in my coat!  Fast forward a couple of months and I was like the Lewis Hamilton of night time driving.  What changed? I kept practising, until I became proficient.

My final ‘P’ is for peace. Peace can be defined as “a state of tranquillity or serenity”.  Even as I write this, I’m still not sure whether it should be my first or last ‘p’ or whether it should be the one that holds all the others together.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m anxious, it blocks my creative instincts.  Things that I can usually do in my sleep become difficult and very stressful.  Not conducive to success I can tell you!

As I end this week’s post, I invite you to powerfully practice your purpose, from a place of peace throughout 2013. Take some time to find your purpose, let your passion power you up, get practising and use peace to get those creative juices flowing.

Not sure how to identify your purpose? Coaching can help you do that, in the way that suits you best.  Contact us through the website, for your free, 30 minute consultation.

Until next week, go well.