Prisoner Self-Help

tools for healing, changing, growing

Fear of Emotions

by Masha Bennett http://www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

Most of us are scared of our emotions. Some of them may seem unacceptable, wrong, even dangerous. We spend a lot of time and energy on suppressing these emotions, hiding them even from ourselves and definitely from other people.

It is not surprising that our emotional world can seem confusing, challenging, and sometimes threatening. Our parents could only teach us what they knew themselves – and many of our parents and grandparents had also learnt to be scared and ashamed of their feelings. Knowingly, and most often unknowingly, they pass this learning onto us. They cannot give what they have not got. And we will pass this fear and shame around emotions to our children, unless we heal, unless we learn otherwise.

The truth is that every emotion has a function, a useful purpose in our mind/body system. Emotions give us vital information on what is happening in our world, and how we need to act in response to it. It is just a signal from our body, from our nervous system. For example, running a high temperature means that there is inflammation in the body, and you need more rest to allow the immune system to fight it. When you are thirsty, your body is letting you know that you are getting de-hydrated. When you feel your bladder is full, it is a clear sign that it needs to be relieved. These are common and understandable signals from your body, that demand certain action.

When emotions arise, they also carry information, just like the physiological signals above. When we feel scared, it is a signal of a real or possible danger, which helps us to keep ourselves safe. The difficult bit is that often the danger can reside not in the present, but in the past – in our memories, flashbacks, dreams of the traumatic or frightening things, maybe from a long time ago. And sometimes the fear can be in the future – in our worries and thoughts about the things that could go wrong. In both cases, our nervous system may respond with fear and anxiety, as if the danger is current and real – even if it is long gone, or is just an idea of something that could happen in the future.

Oil painting - Crying for Mother Earth

When we feel sad, it usually indicates a loss of some kind. If the loss is significant (for example, loss of a person close to you, your home, your liberty), the body will actually need to adjust its physiology to adapt to the new situation or environment without that person, or a job. This can result in slowing down, loss of appetite, apathy, disturbed sleep, and other symptoms that are associated with grief and depression.

Anger is one of the most misunderstood and maligned emotions. In itself, there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. It is a signal to let you know that someone or something has crossed an important boundary, or that a value you hold dear has been infringed upon. Sometimes feeling the anger may feel overwhelming and frightening. Sometimes the way we act upon our anger can cause terrible consequences, where we may harm others or ourselves. However, the response to the emotion is not the emotion itself, and we can learn to understand and manage our anger in a way that is healing, protective and creative. After all, many projects and charities that have been set up to fight injustice, discrimination, cruelty, indifference, are likely to have started off as someone’s anger, as rightful indignation about some wrong in the world.Oil Painting - Oya Goddess of the Storm

When we cannot fully feel, understand and accept our emotions, they tend to come out anyway, often in unexpected and damaging ways, no matter how much we learn to suppress them. These emotions may come out as explosive outbursts, or as panic attacks. They may show themselves as physical symptoms, or depressed mood. We may feel unbearable shame about having those “unacceptable” feelings, and shame itself acts as a “wet blanket” and stops us from feeling, connecting with people, and taking the right actions.

This short video explain how to notice and name the emotion you are experiencing, and how it may be helpful.

To conclude, here is a poem from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi, The Guest House.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Translated by Coleman Barks)

The two paintings are by Masha Bennett – Crying for Mother Earth, and Oya, Goddess of the Storm

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

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Your Mental Health in Prison

The Mental Health Foundation have published a helpful free guide to looking after your mental health in prison,

It offers some tips on self-care and basic information on how you can improve your wellbeing even in the difficult circumstances of being in jail.

The guide can be downloaded from the following page on the MHF website: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-look-after-your-mental-health-prison

 

The Butterfly Hug

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing) is a complex and powerful therapy that is used to treat Post Traumatic Stress, anxiety and some other mental health issues. Unfortunately it can only be safely used by specially trained mental health professionals and at the moment is rarely available in prisons. However, the so-called Butterfly Hug is one small tool in EMDR toolbox that can safely be used by anyone (even children) for self-help. You can try the Butterfly Hug to soothe yourself when you feel anxious, uncertain or fearful. Similarly to the full EMDR procedure, this tool employs bi-lateral stimulation, i.e. stimulation of the two sides of our brain, which is thought to help process trauma and calm anxious feelings.

This is how to do the Butterfly Hug. Whilst sitting up with your back straight, cross your arms across your chest, as if you are giving yourself a hug, with your right hand resting on your left upper arm, and your left hand on your right upper arm. (It doesn’t matter which arm is on top.) Observe any feelings of anxiety, fear or upset in yourself, and tap your hands on your arms alternately – left, right, left, right – at whatever speed is comfortable for you.

After tapping for a minute or two, stop and take a deep breath. Notice how you are feeling – are you a little calmer, somewhat relaxed, a bit more comfortable? Just notice whatever feelings or sensations you are experiencing, and continue tapping until you feel as calm as you would like to be.

Picture for Facebook Blue Butterfly

Butterfly is an ancient symbol of transformation

If you don’t notice any change, try tapping for a little bit longer and you may feel it then. You can do the Butterfly Hug for as long as you like, and as many times a day as you like. You can do it on your own, together with a friend or with a group of people.

This method was created by EMDR therapists who worked with children in the aftermath a natural disaster in Mexico City in 1998.

The Butterfly Hug is a useful tool but it will not work for everyone every time. If for any reason you begin to feel worse, please stop tapping and try calming yourself down by using any other methods that are available to you.

Another simple way to do bi-lateral stimulation (which should have a similar effect to the Butterfly Hug) is to pass a small ball or even a pebble from one hand to another repeatedly – it appears that almost any type of repeated left-right stimulation of our body is likely to have a balancing and soothing effect.

Here is a short video demonstrating the Butterfly Hug.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Useful links and references

EMDR Association UK & Ireland

EMDR Europe

EMDR International Association

Nancy Napier’s website

Yogic Eye Exercises

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

This is a simple exercise for relaxation, relieving tension in the eye muscles and to help improve sleep.

It can initially feel a bit strange and tiring for the eye muscles, as we are not accustomed to using our eyes in this way. These exercise are said to be used by yogi, but you don’t have to know anything about yoga to benefit from them.

Important note: if you suffer from cataracts or other eye problems it may be better to avoid these exercises or consult with a medical professional before trying them.

eye

When doing these eye exercises:

*Keep your head straight and do not move it, only moving the eyes.

*Close and relax your eyes for about 30 seconds between the exercises.

*If you normally wear contact lenses, it’s better to take them off for these exercises.

1.Keep your head still and look ahead. Look up and down, floor to ceiling, 10-15 times. Close your eyes and rest for half a minute.

2. Look left and right moving your eyes sideways as far as you can 10-15 times. Close your eyes and rest again for half a minute.

3. Move the eyes diagonally as far as possible 10-15 times one way, rest, then move them 10-15 times the other way, rest.

4. Move the eyes in a 180 degree upwards arc (like a rainbow) 10-15 times. Rest.

5. Finally, move the eyes in a 180 degree downwards arc (upside down rainbow) 10-15 times. Rest.

If you feel a bit dizzy or uncomfortable at any point during these exercises, just stop, close your eyes and allow them to rest for longer.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Innocent man re-building his life after 20 years in jail

Frankie Carillo was falsely convicted of murder when he was just 16. Twenty years later, the eyewitnesses admitted that they had lied. Now Frankie is making a new life for himself, has become a student and is beginning to develop a relationship with his son who was just a baby when his father was wrongly convicted.

See a video of Frankie talking about re-building his life on the BBC website.

 

 

Stepping Back from Negative Thoughts

by Andy Hunt www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

We do lots of thinking every day. Our thoughts come and go constantly from the moment we awake until the moment we fall asleep.

Depressed

Each of these thoughts has an effect on us. Many thoughts trigger emotional states in us for good or ill

Thoughts like this probably make us feel good:

  • “I think this is a great song”
  • “That chocolate cake looks good”
  • “I love you too sweetie”
  • “I’ve done well at…”

Thoughts like these probably make us feel bad:

  • “She makes me so angry”
  • “How could I be so stupid”
  • “I am so fat!”
  • “I am a failure”

Sometimes we are stuck to our ideas of ourselves and what is going on. If these ideas or thoughts are unhelpful this identification with them can be very stressful because we believe that what we are thinking is true. The thought triggers an emotional response whether it is appropriate or not. Our mistake is that we forget that the thought is just a thought about something, not the something itself. It’s as if we see a sign saying “Beware of the bull” and become afraid even though the field is quite empty.

A common response to having negative thoughts can be to try to add positive thoughts to the mix as an attempt to counteract or attack those negative thoughts.

This is like putting another gladiator in the ring and expecting the fighting to stop.

What we don’t do, or can’t do, is step out of the mental arena and let the thoughts go.

Fortunately, there are ways to ease the power of these thoughts by stepping away from them. One way of doing just that can be found in the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. It is one of several, simple techniques that you can use to step out of unhelpful thinking patterns.

The process is simplicity itself. Let’s imagine that you have the thought “I’m no good” going around in your head. When you have this thought it provokes a very stressful and debilitating reaction.

First I would ask you to think the thought: “I am no good” then notice what effect that has on you.

Second I would ask you to think the thought: “I am having the thought that I am no good” then notice what happens when you do that.

Third I would ask you to think the thought: “I am noticing that I am having the thought that I am no good”, then notice what happens when you do that.

When they do this, people usually report that this technique puts the original thought “at a distance” to them, and that they are less troubled by it.

Instructions

1. Choose a thought that stresses you.

2. Think that thought and notice what it does to you

3. Then think “I am having the thought [insert the thought here]

4. Then think “I am noticing that I am having the thought [insert the thought here]”

This is a really simple process for taking the charge out of negative thinking.

The only challenge is remembering to use it. Here are two approaches that might help:

1. When ever you have an unhelpful thought make a note of it in a journal or piece of paper. At some convenient time of the day, review your notes using the technique for each thought that causes you trouble.

2. When ever you are in difficult or stressful situations ask yourself the question “What am I thinking now?” and make a note of your answers, treating each one with the process.

Image courtesy of Sander van der Wel

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

How to Hug a Tree

by Masha Bennett http://www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

When I include this exercise in my courses and personal development sessions, many people are reluctant to try it. But virtually everyone later reports that that it was a profound and healing experience..

If you have access to a real tree, that’s great. If you don’t, you can still do the exercise in your imagination. Think of a tree that you know – or you can make one up in your mind. Then go through the following steps, slowly, with no hurry, trying to maintain an attitude of curious openness…

1. Approach the tree slowly.

2. From some distance, notice the shape of the crown, the way the branches reach out to the sky.

3. Take in the colours, different shades of green, the texture of the foliage, how the leaves are intricately positioned, to allow in as much sunlight as possible.

4. Notice – what do you like most about the tree? And is there anything you don’t like – are there any flaws, perhaps some damage to the branches, gaps in foliage, anything that is not pleasing to your eye?

5. Come closer, touch the tree trunk, feel the bark gently underneath your palm, your fingers. Is it rough, or smooth? Warm, cool?

6. Lean on the tree trunk, allow it to support your body.

7. Optional (I really like this bit):  put your cheek on the bark, really allow that sensitive part of your to feel the tree’s outer skin.

ash_tree

8. Put your arms around the tree – depending on the size of the tree, your hands may or may not meet on the other side of the trunk.

9. Close your eyes and focus on your physical sensations and your emotions. Feel the energy of the tree (it is a very large energy field of a very large organism!)

10. Spend a few minutes just quietly noticing whatever you are experiencing, without trying to analyse or judge it

11. You may like to ask the tree a question – out loud, or in your mind perhaps. Wait for the answer. This may come as thoughts, images, physical sensations, an awareness, insight.

12. Let go of the tree trunk slowly. Thank the tree.

You may now feel energized, or perhaps a little emotional, or possibly calm and peaceful. Whatever it is, it’s the right thing for now. You can now take your new insights, the new energy, the new connections with you.

Try this with different trees – and if you can, try it both with a real tree and a tree in your imagination – the experience will vary but will always be healing and enlightening.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Are You Hanging Onto Old Wounds?

by Andy Hunt www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

A man walks into a bar with an arrow sticking out of his chest.

He walks up to the astonished barman and asks for a beer.

The barman stares in disbelief at the arrow poking out through an old check shirt encrusted with dried blood.

He asks: “What the hell happened to you?!”

The man, rolling his eyes, says ” What does it look like? I was shot in the chest with an arrow!”

“Does it hurt?”, says the barman, staring at the arrow while pouring the beer.

“What do you think?”

“Why don’t you go to hospital and have it taken out and get yourself patched up?”

“No! I’m not letting any doctor take this arrow out! That the job of the evil S.O.B who shot me. He’s the only one who can take the arrow and the pain away!”

“That’s stupid!”, says the barman, “You should have someone remove that arrow and patch you up. I’ll phone a paramedic, you could be free of that problem in half an hour”.

“No! You don’t get it! Only the man who shot me can make this right, I’m waiting for him to come to me on bended knee and apologise for what he’s done, he can take out the arrow and then we’re done. He did the damage, he can make it better”

The barman studies the arrow noticing how old and tattered it looks, some of the feathers are missing, the wood is stained and splintered. He also notices that the mans shirt is old, ragged and dirty.

“When did you get shot?”

“20 years ago! … one of the worst days of my life!”

“What!!! You’ve been walking around with an arrow in your chest for 20 years! Are you nuts!”

Indignant the man says: “No, I’m in pain, can’t you respect my suffering?”

“Yeah, but 20 years!”, pointing at the arrow, “Doesn’t that cause you problems?”

“You bet. It hurts like hell, I have to avoid revolving doors, and can’t do press-ups, it’s a real nuisance”

“And you’re waiting for this guy to come and take the arrow out?”

“Yeah”

“Isn’t that unlikely, I mean he did shoot you in the first place. Why would he want to help you?”

“He should do it! It’s only right that he should make amends for what he did”

“Do you know where is he?”

“Yeah. In the cemetery. He’s been dead for seven years”

“What! How can he take the arrow out if he’s dead? You need to get someone else to take out the arrow”

“No way, that’s his job! I’d rather go to my grave suffering than let him get away with what he did by having someone else take this arrow!”

“You’re crazy! You’re holding onto this pain waiting for someone who will never come to make it all better”

“You don’t understand”, says the man finishing his beer, “Nobody ever does … “, putting down his empty glass he leaves the bar (being very careful of the swing doors).

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

43,000 strip searches of children

Freedom of Information request revealed that despite promises by the Youth Justice Board to stop routine strip-searching of children in young offender institutions and other secure settings, more than 43,000 took place over the last 21 months in England and Wales, some on children as young as 12, with 48% of those strip searched coming from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Read the full article on The Guardian website.

Chief inspector’s concerns over Winchester prison

The Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, Nick Hardwick, found that HM Prison Winchester is overcrowded and has unacceptable levels of violence. 10% of prisoners reported that they developed a drug problem in jail.

Read the summary of his findings on The Guardian website here, or the full report here.

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