Friday, October 30, 2009

Personal Growth Matters - What Does It Mean to Love Yourself?

Back in the Have It All 80’s, when we eagerly attended self improvement weekend seminars in plush hotels, the hackneyed cliché ‘You’ve got to love yourself before you can love others’ was thrown around liberally by the pseudo experts on the stage and the naïve followers in the audience.

This trite statement begs to be dissected and explored in more depth. What exactly does the word ‘love’ mean in this context? Romantic love? Hardly. Or spiritual love? What’s spiritual love anyway? And what aspect of the Self are we meant to love? The fake image we manufacture or the real self that lurks within, with all its flaws? How do you love yourself if you don’t even know yourself properly? It’s like falling in love with a complete stranger, as if mindless infatuation was a good thing!

Back then I worked out that if the opposite of love is hatred (some say the opposite of love is indifference) then such an aversion is usually based on projections. We project feelings of dislike onto someone else who has the traits we don’t like in our self. So, the logic goes, if I learn to accept these aspects of myself, I will accept them in others. This line of thought was getting warm but not hot.

Instant negative feelings about others can also be based on transferences (aspects of other key people such as parents and siblings that hurt us growing up). Hating someone can also simply be that they rub us the wrong way by being offensive or we just don’t click with someone’s personality. Surely having negative feelings about some people, (while loving trusted others) is a normal inbuilt protective device so we avoid those who cause us distress. Perhaps the concept of universe love is not necessarily desirable.

Back in the 80’s when I was trying to work it all out, I reasoned that negative emotions were NOT love, and realised that when I felt emotions such as variations of anxiety, grief, neediness, shame and anger I was not feeling generous, warm, gooey love. So I decided my goal should be to remain in a constant state of blissful ‘love’ in order to express love to others. I was trying hard to crack this nut, but not quite getting it!

In my marriage, I certainly knew that my gnawing neediness was selfish; all about my craving to get my insatiable emotional needs met, rather than unselfishly, unconditionally giving love to my husband.

I was once told by a devotee of the popular Indian guru Rajneesh that the goal was to exist in a state of love, starting with loving yourself, so that you had so much love, there was an excess and it just spilt out! So I spent lots of time trying to fill my inner cup so that it would run over! But to be honest, it didn’t work, because truth is, like everyone, I am a complex mixture of emotions throughout any one day, which changes from minute to minute, in fact. Running the gauntlet of a parade of changing emotions is just being human.

Now three decades later, in my 50s, with piles life experience and study of psychology under my belt, I can confidently claim I know in my heart what the concept of loving yourself is all about.

One thing I know for sure (to borrow Oprah’s assertive phrase) is the real meaning of “loving yourself” is NOT narcissism, which is to love your own false image. The word narcissism comes from Greek mythology about the youth, Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a stream. He was so transfixed by his own beauty he couldn’t move away and ended up dying there, staring at his reflection.

Our western culture promotes narcissism. We are encouraged to worship the fake facades of celebrities manufactured by the media and to become obsessed with our physical appearance and carefully cultivated self-image (which sells fashion, beauty products, cosmetic surgery, gym memberships etc). The commercial focus on image exploits our human need to be admired but sadly the more effort we put into created a false image, the more we become estranged from our Real Self.

The ‘self’ we are meant to love to find healing, growth and transformation is not the superficial False Self. To fall in love with our own image is vanity and delusion and ultimately leads to a tragic end. Healing and growth comes through loving the real inner self; the self that is flawed and vulnerable; the self we mostly keep hidden from others. In theology, this is the sinful self that has done wrong, made mistakes and fallen short. In therapy, it is the wounded Inner Child who carried all the hurts of a lifetime.

We must target this ‘True Self’ in order to heal and grow. In therapy that takes someone below the surface behaviour and deep inside the psyche to the memories of childhood, we discover that all emotions and beliefs about other people and life in general, are reduced to core beliefs and core hurts that revolve about the Self.

If the adult is angry and hates their partner, in therapy, we contact the inner child who was angry and hated mum or dad (or another caregiver or sibling). But going deeper, we always discover the faulty beliefs link to the self (children are egocentric in their undeveloped thinking). If the child felt unloved, neglected or abused by a parent, they blame them self and conclude “There’s something wrong with me”;I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve love” etc.

So, yes, the wounded inner self, with all its distorted negative opinions, requires love in order to heal and unleash the ability to love others. In therapy, the unconscious distorted beliefs about the Self are lovingly corrected. The wounded Inner Child is gently nurtured and protected.
But what is meant by ‘love’? There are different kinds of love such as romantic love (eros); family love (phileo) and spiritual love (agape).

Firstly let’s explore emotions that are NOT love. There are four core ‘negative’ (painful or unpleasant) emotions which have various degrees of intensity.

FEAR runs the spectrum from mild apprehension, worry, nervousness and anxiety to panic and full-blow terror. Fear tends to be about the ‘future’, is concerned with safety and survival and is mostly triggered by mental activity about perceived threats. Fear starts in the head, with a thinking process.

When someone experiences chronic anxiety, especially if they perceive their partner as a threat, it is difficult to feel love. They are too on edge, defensive and reactive all the time.

GRIEF, the emotion of sadness and sorrow, experienced in the heart region, is a response to loss or unmet emotional needs. Grief, like the other emotions varies in intensity from mild disappointment to a devastating experience of being heartbroken and in the deepest despair (lacking all hope and motivation to live). Grief actually feels physically painful in the heart because of the nerves and hormones activated in this region. Grief is about the PAST; yearning for what you once had or wanted but is now lost or gone.

When someone experiences the loss of a loved one or some kind of trauma, it is healthy to express the grief through crying. When grief is not openly expressed, but repressed and buried, it is not integrated and a person becomes disconnected from their Inner Pain.

Clearly it is difficult to feel love for yourself and others while stuck in chronic, repressed grief, which sometimes takes the form of depression. However the person in mourning who expresses grief through crying will emerge from the process renewed and capable of loving again. In fact, feeling one’s Inner Pain is the path to genuine love…that’s where we are going with this but first let’s consider two other emotions.

SHAME is a core emotion that sits just under the heart, in the stomach. It comes from an inbuilt survival mechanism to distinguish good and bad and what is healthy or harmful, both in the moral sense and the physical sense.

If we eat food that has gone off and could make us sick, we will feel disgust and spit it out. If we do something wrong, against our own values, we will feel guilty, a feeling of being “bad”. If we correct the behaviour the feeling should go away however some children are made to feel guilty, bad about themselves, all the time and temporary guilt morphs into an overall sense of permanent, chronic shame where the child grow up and continues feel like a ‘bad person’. Chronic shame can lead to all kinds of shameful or harmful behaviour as self punishment for being bad and unworthy.

ANGER is another core emotion that is felt in the lower gut. It has a purpose in the human psyche to motivate action, to fight, if your survival is threatened. Anger is activated to defend against an attack or offence. It can be turned into the impulse for retaliation or revenge if the offence has already happened.

Anger has range of intensities too, from frustration to annoyance through degrees of disrespect and disdain and contempt (when coloured by judgements) to blind hatred and furious rage. Repressed anger is experienced as hostility and resentment. In a relationship, if one or both partners are carrying unexpressed resentment, it seeps out in all kinds of ways such as non-co-operation, covert hostility and passive aggression.

If someone lives in a state of chronic anger, it is difficult for them to feel love and softness while feeling hyped up on aggressive hormones.

All these emotions are natural to the human condition and serve a purpose. However to become a Loving Person, we have to gain mastery over these emotions and allow them to transmute into a positive, spiritual form.

Fear can bring us to Faith. Grief leads us to the highest form of Love, which is compassion. Shame is overcome through finding a sense of goodness and the energy of anger can become a motivator, the essence of Hope. Remember the scripture, 1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope and Love.

Let’s revisit the Heart and explore the nature of love more fully. It is necessary to feel your own Inner Pain; all that buried grief over not being loved enough or even abused as a child plus a lifetime of accumulated hurts. The experience of grief leads to the gift of EMPATHY; the ability to feel another person’s pain. Empathy leads to REMORSE (sorrow) for how we have hurt others and a desire not to hurt others again.

Empathy brings a feeling of COMPASSION for other people’s suffering. Compassion is a feeling of deep concern, kindness, sympathy and understanding. Compassion is spiritual, agape love. This kind of love is unconditional and generous, not needy, requires no reciprocation and has no strings attached. It is God’s kind of love expressed through humans.

And compassion is the kind of healing love that is needed by the Inner Self.

When we feel ashamed of our self for our past sins and mistakes, we tend to fear three reactions from others if they ever found out our secrets: judgement and condemnation which creates more shame; rejection and ending the relationship and anger and hatred.
The opposite of these reactions is non-judgement; to see the goodness in the person; forgiveness (to pardon without punishment); acceptance instead of rejection and compassion (kindness and gentleness) instead of anger and hatred. The child or adult consumed by shame can be healed by this loving combination.

The Inner Self needs a sense of goodness, acceptance and compassion. How can we give this gift of ultimate love to our self? Now here is the paradoxical twist in the 80s You’ve Got To Love Yourself mantra; the ability to love yourself only comes from receiving this kind of unconditional healing love for others.

Humans are social creatures and we first learnt what to feel about our self from how others treated us; our parents and other caregivers growing up. As adults in search of healing we need to experience love from others again; to have acceptance, our true worth and value and heartfelt compassion reflected in the eyes of others in order to experience ‘love’; acceptance, forgiveness, goodness, respect, compassion, kindness and understanding towards our true self.

Other People who are compassionate are the necessary step to Self Love.

Who are these loving people? It is your job to find them. And it is your job to be that loving person in the healing of others.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Personal Growth Matters -Sibling Rivalry Drives Immature Adults

I grew up with a kind, protective big brother, no bitchy sisters, so it has been perplexing for me to grasp this insidious aspect of human nature. In fact, it has taken years of observing the bizarre behaviour of fully grown adults to comprehend sibling rivalry.

Sibling rivalry, a deep, burning competiveness, is the underlying driving force that makes a 54 year old man regress to the age of three around his younger brother and act superior and boastful and ignore or denigrate his brother’s achievements, as if throwing a tantrum and screaming at an invisible mummy and daddy: “Look at ME. I am much better than him!”

The potent force of sibling rivalry makes grown women steal other women’s husbands, causing horrendous damage to all concerned; far worse than stealing their sister’s favourite dress. It makes otherwise-intelligent professional women copy and compete with the clothes, jewellery and hair styles of female colleagues (as if screaming: “Look everyone, I’m prettier than her!”). It compels childish men to backstab colleagues by reporting misdemeanours to the boss (the way the Goody Two Shoes kid dobs in his siblings to Dad to score points.)

There are several weapons in the armoury of the grown-up still driven by unconscious sibling rivalry. In conversation, the sub text remains “I am better than you (and other lesser beings)”. This dysfunctional person is proud to strut as a flagrant snob, even though most mature people, who value equality and human rights, consider snobbery offensive and misguided.

A superiority complex might form if someone is born with a firm grip on the Silver Spoon, into a wealthy, upper class family, or it might be based on real attributes and accomplishments (Ironically most genuine achievers are modest and have no need to boast).
More often, superiority is a phoney act with no basis in reality. One guy I know, far from being born into the aristocracy and preened for privilege in a private school and an elite university, grew up in an ordinary, struggling family and left Tech at 15 in the back blocks of Australia. In adult life he moved to the UK, and now fakes a posh accent and pretends he’s Blue Blood. (Sadly not many people fall for it. His false pretensions are very transparent!)

Such a self-centred person will hog the spotlight in a conversation, boasting about their latest exotic holidays, sporting pursuits and dubious achievements and name-dropping about rubbing shoulders with the rich, famous and obnoxious, but they are loath to give the other person equal time.

They never ask about you, having honed with sibling rivals growing up, the skill of avoiding the subject of you as their preferred competitive strategy, which has the affect of making you feel ignored and devalued.

However if you seize the audacity to talk about yourself, gripped by panic, they go to the next level of competing which is to negate you by showing no interest and changing the subject. This will be confusing and hurtful; especially if you are used to courteous conversation with supportive friends who take a genuine interest in you. I’ve been on the receiving end of this undermining treatment, and being taken by surprise, I am quite undefended. It is impossible to connect with someone who is acting superior and competitive. Bonding is based in equality and mutual respect.

If you persist in talking about yourself, they will bring out the big guns of sarcastic put-downs; such is their infantile fear that you will outdo them or take the attention off them. If you are sensitive like me, and not ready with a sarcastic come-back, you can be wounded by these malicious tactics, learned long ago as a sly backyard bully to weaker, younger siblings.

A certain personality type (Type Seven, for readers who know the Enneagram) is prone to jealousy and rivalry, based on a faulty belief formed in childhood that there is not enough parental affection, praise and attention to go around. They perceive parental love as a small pie, which has to be divided up and if your brother gets a bigger slice, you get less.

These jealous kids grow up with a sense of lack and deprivation, fighting with siblings for the biggest share, instead of experiencing a sense of abundance; secure in an unlimited, endless supply of love for the whole family. Stingy parents who doled out scraps of love might be responsible for creating this belief or it can spring from the child’s own insatiable neediness.

A toddler dethroned by a new baby at the Identity stage of development, between the ages of three and four, is particular susceptible to jealousy and perceiving the baby as a rival for parental focus. This is the attention-seeking stage when kids dress up and yell at mum and dad: “Look at me! I’m a tiger/Superman/Fairy/Princess etc

What this kind of competitiveness becomes in adults is begrudging giving your partner, children, extended family, friends, colleagues, anyone for that matter, any credit, praise, complements or encouragement. Even as adults, we continue to need these emotional strokes and it is wounding not to receive them from people we love.

When I was in my 20s holding down a highly responsible job as Women’s Editor of a daily broadsheet newspaper, I was working my heart out and achieving great things by writing in-depth features that publicised community issues and promoted worthy events.
I craved a pat on the back from my best gal pal and my best male friend, but both of them in their own way, withheld all praise and acknowledgement. I remember buying into their unspoken devaluing message and thinking “Ah well, what I’m doing isn’t such a big deal!”

Likewise I scrambled after approval from a close relative, longing for the day she would praise me for a clever article I’d written, but it never came! She lived with low self-esteem having grown up with ‘small pie’ parents, so it was too risky to throw a few crumbs my way.

Unresolved sibling rivalry can also emerge in adulthood in silly ways. An impressionable female colleague of mine in a male dominated workplace, was obsessed with copying my clothes. One day I wore a smart green suit, the next week, she coincidently wore the same suit. If I wore red, she wore red. I wore big gold hoop ear rings, she wore bigger hoops! She started wearing her hair like mine. I thought I was just vain and paranoid and imagining this copying syndrome until she bought the same make of car as mine! Apparently she grew up with a lot of sisters.

There is a positive developmental role to sibling rivalry; growing up we learn by copying parents and are motivated to succeed by comparing and competing with our brothers and sisters (and friends). Humans, like other mammals, have an inbuilt instinct to learn through imitation of parents and siblings.

How do we learn to speak if not by listening carefully to and copying our parents? When my husband was a primary school teacher he had a little girl as a pupil who spoke as if she had a speech impediment, when she had no physical problem. She learnt how to speak from her dad, who had a cleft palate. Another woman I know has slurred speech having grown up with an alcoholic parent.

When we reach the Individuation Stage of Development in our teens, when it is essential to psychologically ‘separate’ from enmeshment with parents and start to form our own independence and individuality, we need to clash with parents in order to break the attachment. This clashing is normal and necessary although very tough on parents.

Some times the latent urge to individuate from parents comes out as rivalry. I once had a woman friend whose mother died when she was young. She was still straining to grow up and break the psychological maternal tie in her late 40s and used me to ‘compare, copy and compete’ with. It was quite weird being the recipient of such a dynamic.

Some kids who grow up as an Only Child, without siblings to bounce off, end up competing with their parents in adult life, trying to prove they can do exactly what their parents did, but even bigger and better. If they are High Achievers, they feel compelled to surpass their parents’ success in every aspect of life.

In the final analysis, sibling rivalry is an extension of the survival instinct. We are born with a powerful urge to survive, which is purely selfish and self-centred. This is the ‘Taker’ part of you, which tramples over others to get your own physical and emotional needs met.

But thankfully we are also equipped with an altruistic instinct to care for and protect others. Females of the species have a powerful maternal instinct to nurture and males come installed with the paternal instinct to provide and protect. This other-centred instinct, the ‘Giver’, is firstly directed to our own children and family and then expanded to encompass all children, the sick, old, weak and vulnerable members of the Tribe and animals in our care.

This Social Instinct hopefully guides us to nurture and care for, and to protect from harm, our community and natural environment in these current times we live in (having left the Tribe).
As we develop and mature as adults, concern for others must override the selfish and competitive instincts. The Social Instinct allows people to work together for group survival in a spirit of co-operation, rather than competing as individuals.

In marriage, the caring and protecting instinct should be the strongest instinct. The husband who perceives his wife as the ‘enemy’ is stunted in survival mode and must locate his masculine paternal instinct, altruism, empathy and compassion.

Likewise the adult trapped in childish sibling rivalry must grow up and see his peers (brothers and sisters) not as competitors but as equal human beings to be respected and cherished.

Personal Growth Matters -The Powerful Principle of Three

Every activity has three parts, whether it is an event, a creative project, a new job, a trip or giving birth. The trinity is the underlying principle that operates in the patterns and rhythms of human life.

In their classic text, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Riso and Russ Hudson claim that the Western concept of the trinity, not the Eastern concept of duality, is the underlying principle of the Universe.

Rather than two opposite forces of yin and yang, we have Man, Woman and Child; not good and evil but good, evil and complex ethical dilemmas. Christianity is based on the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The colour spectrum is made up of three primary colours, three secondary colours and three shades of black white and grey.

Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters.

In the Enneagram there are nine personality types divided into three triads. There are three core aspects of the human psyche; thinking, feeling and action.

And might I be so bold as to suggest there are really only three seasons in the growing cycle because winter is an in-between rest time when growth stops.

The Principle of Three is expressed in the natural rhythms of life. The process of conception, gestation and giving birth is played out in the creative process.

You go through a stage of exploring and researching and being receptive to information, then you become ‘pregnant’ with ideas and you don’t need any more inspiration. You just need to get on with gestating and growing the baby and giving birth to your creation.

When you are inspired with an idea, an inspiration, a dream for a story, a painting, a piece of music, a garden, a building, a business, this is the conception stage.

Then you put in the hard work of creating it. This is gestation. When you have finished your project, you give birth to your creation and show your ‘baby’ to the world.

In any activity there is a beginning, middle and end. If you go on a trip, put on an event such as a wedding, a party, a seminar or a concert, or if you undertake any kind of project, there is the planning stage leading up to the implementation, when you are actually doing it, experiencing it, living it, and then comes the completion, the post-event follow-up where you record and document what you have done.

Any one who has ever been on a holiday knows about the preparation required to organise a trip. It can be so involved it makes you wonder if the holiday is worth all the trouble! And after the holiday, comes the ‘follow-up’ of facing piles of laundry, compiling your photo collection and settling back into to your routine.

Everybody knows the key to giving a great speech is preparation, the key to giving a great musical performance is practice and rehearsal and the key to a great sporting performance is training. The performance itself doesn’t just happen. It requires the lead-up and then the follow-up to record what happened.

In media publicity, there are also three parts; pre-publicity, coverage of the event as it happens and follow-up records.

Movies are divided into three parts: the orientation, where viewers are introduced to character and issues, the complication in the middle, where it all goes haywire and the resolution, where an outcome is reached and in Hollywood movies, characters live happily ever after.

When you take on a new job you will go through a cycle of the initial learning curve, where it is challenging and possibly stressful where everything is new and unfamiliar. Then you will hit a plateau where you are competent in your job and can sail along smoothly and then inevitably you will hit a stage where the work becomes routine and stale and you might start looking for fresh challenges. You intuitively wind down and seek completion of that job. How long this cycle lasts can vary over a few months or a few years.

Some people don’t know when to end a cycle and gracefully let go. They hang on to a job way too long out of sense of security; staying in the comfortable plateau stage. They do not move to the completion stage, ready to seek new challenges, and boredom and stagnation sets in. Work then becomes repetitious and monotonous.

The same pattern happens when you move house or move to a new state or country. At first everything is strange and unfamiliar and you feel like an alien outsider, then as you get to know the neighbourhood and meet new friends you become comfortable with a sense of belonging. If you stay in one place too long, the surroundings and people become stale and boring; no matter how beautiful a place is. I believe humans need variety and change. Some people are more conservative than others and maybe small changes are enough for them, while others thrive on sweeping changes.

With every new project or stage of life, at the beginning comes uncertainty as you enter the unknown. It can also be exciting and invigorating. Only at the end of a project is there a semblance of certainty where you find yourself repeating the same old thing. Some people, with high anxiety, prefer the security of the familiar, even at the expense of boredom, rather than seizing the courage to step into the unknown of something new.

The pattern of three appears again in dealing with a traumatic event. There are three parts; prevention, intervention and post-treatment. Some medical and welfare specialists focus on prevention. We aim to educate or care for children, adults or families to prevent something traumatic happening; to stop it before it starts.

If a trauma, crisis or harmful action is underway, if someone is in the middle of abusing themselves or others, let’s say the alcoholic or drug addict, experts and family members can mount an intervention and attempt to stop the abuse continuing. Sometimes a timely intervention in someone’s life can come through an act of kindness, picking up the right book, wandering into a church or joining a life-changing club.

Many people ask: Why doesn’t God intervene to stop human suffering? I think God does intervene but only when He’s asked. Having given humans free will, God will not act to stop human suffering until we cry out for help. Divine intervention occurs when we are willing and receptive to hear and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Then there is the third approach to bad stuff that has already happened. It happens after the event and it’s called post-traumatic treatment. People suffering with Post Traumatic Stress experience symptoms long after an event, like the adult who continues to have nightmares after being sexually abused as a child or the returned soldier who suffers flashbacks to combat scenes from years ago. Post-traumatic treatment doesn’t change what happened but it helps a person heal and recover. This is the work of recovery. You are given the chance of renewal, of starting afresh.

What about seasons, you might say; there are FOUR season? However there are only three seasons of growth. In spring, we plant seeds and flowers bloom and trees blossom. In summer, crops are nourished by the warmth of the sun, the goodness of the earth and gentle summer rain and they grow and flourish. Then in Autumn, crops are ready for harvest. Winter is a time when the ground is fallow and some trees die off to be revived in Spring. As Ecclesiastes says: To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.

I like to see the human life cycle as following the seasons. The child and teenager is in the Spring of life, preparing for adulthood, planting seeds, some good, some bad. I see the 20s and 30s as the Summer of life; these are our glory days in the sun, where our efforts are nourished and grow and flourish.

Somewhere in the 40s or later, most of us hit some kind of crisis; a culmination of how we have spent our days in the sun; the time to reap what we have sown. The crisis can be in our relationships, our health, our career or finances. The hardship can be a catalyst for healing and growth or sliding deeper into further dysfunction. It is a real turning point and an opportunity for renewal and redemption.

If we choose growth, the mid to late 40s, the 50s and 60s and on into the 70s can be the gentle Autumn of life; a plateau of contentment, a time to harvest all the efforts of our earlier life, leading into the Winter of old age and a gracious closure and completion of the life cycle.

Life is meant to change. We are meant to wheel through these creative cycles. We are either growing or stagnating. We can not be neutral and static. We are wise to align with the unforced rhythms of grace and the powerful Principle of Three.

Personal Growth Matters - The Goldilocks Principle

Apart from the fact she was trespassing, Goldilocks was onto a really sound principle.

In most of our problems as individuals, in relationships, in communities and even on a global scale, the answer to any problem is usually in moving from an extreme position to the middle ground. Like Goldilocks, it’s case of finding what’s not too hard, not too soft but “just right!”

In communication, we can operate at the extreme ends; being either submissive and not speaking up or aggressive and too forceful. The solution is for both the submissive and the aggressive person to learn to move to the middle position of clear assertiveness.

In marriage, a couple can function at either end of the scale; being in a state of constant conflict, fighting and arguing and abusing each other or at the other extreme, in a state of withdrawal and disconnection. The ideal state is one of intimacy.

When it comes to handling conflict, partners can be either anxiety-ridden and conflict-avoidant or hyped up on anger and overtly combative. The answer is to find the “just right” in-between approach of facing problems and resolving issues calmly and rationally. It takes a dash of courage from the timid one and some self-control from the aggressive one.

Parents of adult children can operate at the two extremes of dysfunction, either under-involved meaning they are estranged and disengaged and don’t contact their kids for months or over-involved meaning they are in touch several times a day, invading personal boundaries and meddling. What is the middle ground for parents of adults? The challenge is to find the right level of involvement with your kids and grandkids to show you care but also respect their independence.

Someone who is unemployed and stuck at home or an elderly person living alone can be under-stimulated with not enough meaningful work and mental input or contact with others. Under-stimulation leads isolated people to suffer from soul-destroying boredom and loneliness. On the other extreme, some city workers are over-stimulated. They are so over-worked and stressed-out and bombarded with exciting entertainment and people-contact 24/7 that they are frazzled and ready to snap! Adjusting your lifestyle to the right level of stimulation seems to be the key to fulfillment.

Here’s another example of the two extremes. Some fitness fanatics over-exercise. There’s absolutely no risk of that in my case! Over-exercisers actually harm their bodies with physical stress and injuries in their zeal for the perfect body or sporting highs. Then there are couch potatoes dedicated to under-exercising. Can these two extremists just shift to the middle ground?

We can see how the Goldilocks Principle is used with daily decisions; you sip your morning coffee, it’s too strong or too weak, but you want it the way you like it; you try on a pair of pants, they’re either too tight or too loose, but you want them to fit snugly; the music is too loud or too soft….everyday, it’s a matter of fine-tuning the extremes to find the “just right” comfort level.

On the global scene, the Goldilocks Principle would solve a lot of serious problems too. In poor countries people suffer because they don’t have enough to eat while in developed countries people suffer because they over-eat. Isn’t it stupid! Surely the answer is to ensure that we all get the right amount of food! I can just see our perky little Goldilocks savouring the yummy porridge with a satisfied comment, ”Ummm….just right!”

Philosophers talk about balance. Picture a see-saw scale with the goal of getting the same weight on each end so the plank is straight. This is a balance of dualities. You could simply divide life into two basic parts: Love and Work. But those coaches who specialise in ‘life balance’ tends to consider several aspects of a person’s lifestyle and aim to achieve the same amount of activity in every sphere; giving equal time to work, education, your primary relationship, family, friends, rest, exercise, recreation, interests and hobbies etc.

If we used the Goldilocks Principle in every aspect of life, then the overall picture would be one of equal distribution of time and effort, resulting in balance.

Long before the Goldilocks and The Three Bears fairytale, Aristotle devised a philosophy of moderation – the middle-ground principle. It seems our Goldilocks was not only pretty with all that golden hair and her peachy smile. She was a clever girl.

Personal Growth Matters - Why You Need to Visit Your Inner Child

When the Adult goes in search of, and finds, the Child, the Child teaches the Adult about their hidden feelings, their true qualities, their lost dreams and the key turning points which destroyed their innocence.

The playful Child reminds the Adult about the essence of the magical state of childhood: how to have fun, how to be in the moment, what it feels like to be overcome with excitement anticipating an adventure, how to experience the senses: how to sing, write stories, draw pictures, run in the wind, smell flowers, wrestle dogs, climb trees, eat icrecream.

And the Adult can teach the Child too. The Adult returns to the inner landscape of childhood memories, equipped with the strength and compassion of adulthood to console, comfort and nurture the Inner Child.

The Adult part of you becomes the Mentor and Protector soothing, reassuring and loving the angry, frightened, hurting, lonely and confused Child.

The Adult takes their grown-up perspective and wisdom and can explain those key turning points – with corrective statements such as “It wasn’t your fault”, that “You’re not ugly and stupid”, that “The reason those adults acted like that was because of their own pain and inadequacy”, that “They did really love you, they just couldn’t show it.”

And the Adult helps the Child forgive and feel compassion for those grown-ups who hurt and failed them.

The healing meeting is overseen by the Higher Self, that is, You, in your full potential, in your full glory – maybe your Future Self: when you are truly integrated as the best of the Child and the best of Adult without the phoney False Self you invented as a protection.

The False Self wants to sabotage your acceptance of your Child because the False Self despises and maligns the vulnerable Child. Don’t be deceived by the False Self. Seek out your Child who has been waiting and longing for you for so many years.

Go back and visit with your Child regularly because you have many things to uncover and teach each other – on your way to your Future - on your way Home.

Reflections on The Kid starring Bruce Willis, which was released in 2000

A must-see movie!

Personal Growth Matters - How To Choose a Counsellor

When you are experiencing psychological distress; it could be grief, depression, anxiety, anger, addiction, trauma or relationship problems, you might decide to seek professional help but Where do you begin? Who do you trust? What do you look for in an “expert”? These are hard decisions when you are vulnerable or in crisis.

Remember, this is a commercial transaction; you are a customer and, just as when you buy any other good or service, you have a right to shop around, be discerning and find the right match for your particular needs.

Qualifications & Skills
Counselling is a combination of knowledge, interpersonal skills and experience. It is essential your counsellor has recognised qualifications. However helping professionals come with a range of assorted qualifications.

Someone with a degree in psychology, for example, might have academic training in statistics and research, laboratory experiments or a narrow doctorate subject but lack listening skills and personal qualities such as empathy and understanding.

A counsellor might lack a university background, however he/she might be a caring listener and skilled at drawing out the client’s own suppressed feelings and insight.

Request an initial meeting and ask the person about their qualifications, skills and experience and also ask about their “approach”. Do you feel comfortable with the person?

Style & Approach
Humans are made up of three parts: body, soul and spirit. Which part of you is hurting? Which part needs help?

The body will express physical symptoms when the mind is out of sorts, and might require changes to diet, exercise or sleep habits. You might have a physical ailment or hormonal or brain chemical imbalance and require medication prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist.

Perhaps your spiritual self is in need of guidance and you would be wise to turn to a church or your personal faith.

The “soul” (mind or psyche) is comprised of three aspects: cognitive/thinking; feelings/emotional and decisions/behaviour. This is the area that psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists focus on.

Some are Cognitive-Behavioural. They will focus on changing your thinking and behaviour. Some will give directive advice.

Others, from the Psychotherapy school, focus on your emotional state and exploring issues from your present situation and past, encouraging the client to express pent-up emotions and develop insight.

Usually counsellors favour one approach or the other. However, the well-rounded counsellor encompasses beliefs, feelings and behaviour.

Values & Ethics
Counsellors are meant to be neutral and objective. I believe this is impossible. All of us have our own values, ethics, morals, issues, biases and agendas.

Instead of pretending to be objective, it is my view, that counsellors should be up front and inform their client of the values that steer their counselling. For example, a counsellor might believe strongly in marriage and be committed to helping save a troubled marriage while another counsellor might believe a client would grow and develop by leaving a troubled marriage. (Quite possibly the counsellor chose to leave her/his own marriage.)

Counsellors with Christian principles tend to support solving marital problems and working toward a happy, life-long marriage rather than breaking up.

If divorce is inevitable, a responsible counsellor will recognise this event as a significant trauma and recommend on-going support.

Be aware of a counsellor’s stated or un-stated values and ensure his/her values match your own.

It is common for a vulnerable person to view a counsellor as an expert or parent-figure and be overly influenced. Good counselling will empower you to find emotional health, your own values and ethics and make your own decisions.

Diane Priestley is a Certified Professional Counsellor with the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors (AIPC) Diploma of Counselling with triple major in Relationships, Abuse & Trauma and Grief and Authorised Instructor in Effectiveness Training communication skills with the Effectiveness Training Institute of Australia (ETIA). She holds Christian values and recommends a ‘client-centred’ approach, rather than an overtly directive approach to counselling.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Travel Matters - Irish Inspiration

I have just discovered my Irish connection, so I thought it timely to post a travel story on Ireland I wrote back in 2001.
But first, the family history. My great-great grandfather, Charles Ainsworth was a 20-year-old woodcutter from Oxford, England who was transported in 1840 to Hobart Town, Tasmania for nicking some tools.
After serving a 10-year sentence, he married an 18-year-old Irish lass, Ann Carroll, who just the year before was transported to the penal colony as a dependant of her Irish convict mother, Ann Birnes, a widow whose crime was stealing sheep and potatoes to feed her children.
Together Charles and Ann ran the Man of Ross Hotel in Liverpool Street, Hobart Town and had four children.
I am inspired to know that the young couple overcame their harsh treatment to make a success of their lives. And I am thrilled to confirm what I’ve always suspected; that I have feisty Irish blood running through my veins!

This is my Love Letter to Ireland, which was published in the Sunshine Coast Sunday on August 12, 2001. I hope you enjoy a little trip to the delightful Emerald Isle.

Lost Aussie finds herself at home amid the charm and beauty of the Irish, to be sure, to be sure
When I first set foot on Irish soil, it felt like a homecoming. It stirred me Irish blood. It did me heart good. In a flash, some lost part of me was reclaimed.
We hit a pub in Dublin’s Temple Bar, ordered our first half pint of Guinness (not being big drinkers!) and Shepherds Pie and a mountain of chips. The raunchy music of the Pogues was pumping and the crowd was wild and rowdy. It was a bustling Saturday afternoon in the city and the excitement was so great for this Aussie gal I could barely contain myself.
I am 44 and embarrassed to admit it has taken me this long to re-connect with my heritage. My husband Andrew and I set off without our teenage kids for this overdue and craved-for trip. Yet we can’t blame ourselves too much for our tardiness in discovering our homeland.
Like most Australians we are victims of a great conspiracy to keep us
exiled on our far flung island. It’s a conspiracy of economics. For what hard working middle-income Aussie family can afford the exorbitant cost of overseas travel exacerbated by the crushing exchange rate of the sad little Aussie dollar, which is worth roughly one third of your Irish currency? If it’s a choice between feeding the family and an extravagant OS holiday, well, the realities of life take precedence. We devoted two decades to raising kids and being slaves to a mortgage and careers before we could splurge 20,000 bucks on a six-week jaunt through Europe, England and Ireland.

Condemned to the Tyranny of Distance
And Australians are also encouraged to stay home on our remote shores by the tyranny of distance, that poignantly accurate phrase made famous by historian Geoffrey Blainey. We are not condemned to sail dangerous seas in squalid ships anymore. We enjoy the creature comforts of modern air travel; those cute little eye shades, rich food and in-flight movies. However 24 hours on a flight does play havoc with one’s body clock and is not for the faint hearted or feeble. People who live in Europe, the UK and US can zap anywhere in the world in a fraction of the time and cost.
Within days of arriving in Ireland, I realised how isolated and cut-off I am from the rest of the world, my roots and my personal history. I felt cheated.
Two hundred-odd years ago the English ruling class tore us from our families, blood ties, communities, culture, religion, history and heritage and hurled us across to the other side of the world. We are a displaced, disconnected, confused people. No wonder Australians, especially our youth, are so lost. No wonder we suffer an inexplicable aching emptiness.
Our predecessors were transported, in some bizarre and cruel social experiment, for minor offences of theft, born of abject poverty; banished to a harsh wilderness that didn’t belong to them but to a strong, intelligent indigenous people.
We live in Australia with plenty of sunshine and a magnificent natural environment (which tourists devour and adore) but we are mostly devoid of history, culture and meaning.
Enough belly aching. I’m here to tell you what I love about Ireland. I love the entire country, from lush farmlands dotted with dozy sheep and pretty townships pulsing with the slow rhythm of daily life to the rugged coastline and gentle rivers and lakes.
Andrew and I marvelled at the spectacular Cliffs of Moher one misty morning before heading for the vibrant university town on Galway and visited Yeats’ grave in picturesque Sligo. Hugging the northern coastline overlooking the pristine Atlantic Ocean we reached the awe-inspiring Giant’s Causeway and stood gleefully on top of the world! So much natural beauty and splendor in such a tiny, accessible country; tiny, that is, to an Australian’s perception.
We loved the small scale of Ireland which would fit 90 times into Australia’s land mass. We loved the fact we could drive for five minutes along quiet, safe roads and find ourselves in a different town. We delighted at the close proximity of community life; the strong family and friendship connections.
Just as Australians are isolated from the rest of the world, we are isolated and disconnected within our own vast, inhospitable country; east and west, north and south, divided by endless dusty red desert.
Families often live apart in different states, separated by thousands of miles. Our rural folk live on remote homesteads an hour’s drive from their nearest neighbour or shop. And in towns and cities our suburbs are sprawling wastelands of segregated quarter-acre blocks where locked inside four walls, a struggling young mum or sad old man could die of despair and loneliness.
In contrast, Ireland offers close community and a visible history; medieval castles, ancient buildings and churches, Celtic high crosses and sacred ruins. To be surrounded by history gives a depth of meaning and security, a solid foundation of knowing where you’ve come from.

Tour by Folk Songs
I’ve been a staunch folkie since I was 18 and sipped my first red wine in the Dan O’Connell pub in Melbourne. So it was logical that we should do a folk tour of Ireland. I insisted we visit every placename that has ever rated a mention in any heartfelt ballad. And since the Irish love to sing about every township and geographical feature of all 32 counties in the seven regions of their beloved country we were compelled to cover a lot of territory.
Heading south out of Dublin, in a clockwise circuit, we found ourselves on Dingle Beach (Song for Ireland) in County Clare (thank you Ralph McTell); seeking out Donegal Danny in his hometown, visiting Derry (The Town I Loved So Well); Carrick Fergus (traditional plaintive lament); Carlingford and Greenore (jaunty ditty rendered by the Dubliners) and many more melodious destinations.
I experienced my personal version of heaven on earth that perfect afternoon when we left the Blarney Castle on the way to the lakes of Killarney. We were cruising around the idyllic country roads with the sun streaming through the sun roof. The poignant strains of Mary Black drifted from the CD player and filled the air. I looked across at my best mate in the driver’s seat and in an exquisite moment of joy knew that life doesn’t get any better than this and the tears streamed down my face and splashed all over my traveller’s guide to Ireland!
And that brings me to the next thing I love about Ireland; the music. I especially love how music is meshed into daily life in a reliable routine of kicking off at the sensible hour of 10 pm at every pub across the country and playing until the midnight hour. This allows civilised people time in the evening to eat their dinner, gossip and socialise before settling into some lively jigs and reels.
With daylight saving the sun is up until 9.30pm so tourists like us can walk the streets until the band fires up as it did that fine Monday night at the Danny Mann Inn in Killarney. The resident band of accomplished musicians, who had no doubt been playing for several decades, performed one fabulous number after another of which I insisted on singing along to, which irritated the French couple next to me no end!

I appreciate that the pub was named after our son Daniel who grew up being called Dan The Man and thank you for his song, Danny Boy and the cute little music box of the very same name I bought from the fabulous Blarney Woollen Mills!
And I love the fact that traditional music is open to all ages across generations. In a tiny bar in Ballycastle, teenagers played their tin whistles and fiddles alongside grand dads.

Is there enough pubs around here?
I love the Irish pubs, pubs, pubs …everywhere. Killkenny boasts 80 and not one too many I say. They are not sleazy dives like you might find in some unsavory parts of Australian cities; hostile macho bastions where women and children fear to tread. No, these pubs are brightly painted with pretty Celtic lettering and sweet names, warm and welcoming with cosy open fires and endless pints of wonderful Guinness and Bush Mills whiskey to lighten the heart.
And of course there’s real live music and real live people. Cyber entertainment, thank Goodness, hasn’t taken off in Ireland. And these flesh and blood people actually like to talk to total strangers with funny Aussie accents. As the Irish say: When God made time he made plenty of it! There’s no rush to get away and frantically make business calls on your mobile. No, stay a while, we’ve got all day and all are welcome, to be sure.

Spreading the Luck and the Charm
I love this sweet country where kindness and generosity are woven into the fabric of the culture through superstition. It is bad luck to be rude or cheat someone and definitely good luck to be generous and friendly.
One beautiful B&B owner in Blarney, whom I swear had kissed the Blarney Stone a hundred times such was her formidable gift of the gab, gave us back a pound when we paid her a modest price for her hospitality and lavish Irish breakfast. Why the refund? For good luck in our travels!
And when Andrew sought out a haircut in a sleepy little township, the lovely lass sez to him: “Is this your first haircut in Ireland?” He admits it is. And she sez: “Well I can’t be charging ya then. It would be bad luck to charge ya!” What a unique, refreshing country where kindness is more important than money.
The Irish people we met were warm, sociable and passionate and more than anything else, charming. The Irish have cornered the market on charm. When God was handing out charm I think every Irish person lined up for a second helping. They would charm you out of your socks.
The way the Irish speak is blatantly seductive. I swear I could fall in love with every Irish man aged 16 to 80. An Irishman only has to unfurl that lilting accent and I go weak at the knees. And he could be talking drivel for all I care! And then those saucy Irish wenches would make any red blooded male swoon.
The Irish are sexy and they’re also a heart-centred people. Green is the colour of the heart and everywhere you travel is the symbol of the heart; in the national emblem, the shamrock, and in the beautiful claddagh; a heart for love held by the hands of friendship and crowned with loyalty.
The fundamental Irish values of humanity, equality, respect and honesty and the politics of freedom resonate with my heart. No wonder I feel at home in Ireland.
I loved the cold climate which gave me welcome respite from our tropical humidity and a chance to indulge in Baileys and chocolates while snuggling by an open fire, reading a Mauve Binchey novel and listening to Irish music.
For someone who wears nothing but a skimpy dress and sunnies throughout our sweltering summers, I got to rug up in a bulky Aran jumper and leather jacket!
And of course I like the tradition of not rising too early. 9 am is a fine time to rise to face a Big Irish Breakfast. Some fitness fanatics on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland where I live are known to throw themselves out from under the warmth of the doona and hit the walking track at the beach at the unholy hour of 6 am. I have returned to this masochistic habit however I now have The Pogues blasting through my earplugs to propel me along at a rollicking pace. I just have to remember not to sing out loud and appear quite mad to fellow walkers!
I love Ireland for giving me the opportunity to discover my Irish roots, which helps explain something of who I am. I suspect I hail from impeccable convict stock.
As the Irish say with pride; ‘Tis a Blessing to be born Irish’. And if you can’t be born Irish, at the very least have a drop of Irish blood in ya veins!
If you are lucky you will get to visit Ireland as a banished Aussie. And exceptionally lucky outcasts might even get to live in Ireland during their lifetime. I’m dreaming of having such luck one day. To be sure. Thank you Ireland for your warm welcome. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Human Matters - Redemption for Children of War

This hard-hitting feature was published in BM Business Matters magazine in December 2007 and XL Extraordinary Lives, an international magazine for entrepreneurs, in 2008.



The blue-eyed blonde Aussie had an anxious wife and baby son back home and questioned his recklessness in venturing into a war zone. Dr Robi recalls his terror, “The first time I flew into northern Uganda, hostilities were quite fierce. I arrived on this tiny airstrip in the middle of nowhere and collected my bags from underneath the plane and all of a sudden there was gunfire overhead. My mind was racing with panic. I was thinking: Where am I? What on earth am I doing here? But over the next few days as I sat down and talked to the children it became obvious why I was there. There was work to be done.

“My first interview was with a 14 year old girl who came home from school one day and was working in the cornfield with her dad and brother and the three of them were abducted by rebel soldiers and marched for days to a camp where her father and brother were killed and she was given to a soldier as his sex slave. She was beaten and raped every day for three years since she was 11.

“I was horrified and numb with disbelief. And then I became outraged and furious that the world was ignoring this tragedy. The United Nations describes it as the worst unattended emergency in the most dangerous place in the world for children to live.”
A civil war has been raging in northern Uganda for 20 years. It is the most sinister of wars because it targets children. Gangs of rebel soldiers, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by notorious witch doctor Joseph Kony, abduct children from their villages. Boys are recruited as child soldiers and forced to kill, mutilate, rape and commit unimaginable atrocities while girls are used as sex slaves, subjected to horrendous abuse and violation. Thousands of children who have miraculously escaped from the rebels are now living in refugee camps and are deeply traumatised.

Dr Robi, now 34, first became aware of the desperate plight of these children from an Oprah show but rather than shake his head in dismay, he heard a call to action. This was his area of expertise. He set off from his thriving clinic based on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland on that first fact-finding trip early 2004.

Shocking stories
On arrival he was mobbed by locals crying out for help. He recalls, “It was so confronting. Unfortunately I was seen as a kind of saviour. As soon as they heard there was a child trauma specialist in the camp, people came running with their stories. The shocking stories were endless. The children of northern Uganda have experienced horrors that even Hollywood is yet to think up. The human mind hasn’t prepared itself for this level of evil, cruelty and depravity. It is beyond our wildest imaginations.”

"For boys, the first thing they are required to do after being abducted is to kill straight away, he explains. The rebels will take the child back to his village and have him kill his parents, younger siblings and relatives so they will never be able to return there.”

It is common for girls to be abducted, taken to rebel camps and allocated to soldiers and raped continually for years, resulting in pregnancies and babies. Many girls have escaped with two or three babies in tow and are raising these infants in desperate conditions in refugee camps.

Dr Robi wrestles with anguish. “It’s hard to know how much graphic detail to report. Caring people need to know what these children have suffered. These stories roll around in my mind like hot lumps of coal and when I dredge them up and light the fire the after-effects burn.”

A shared commitment
His psychologist wife, Noleen shares his abhorrence and commitment to the traumatised children. With three young children, she is restricted in how much she can travel to Uganda after a heart-wrenching trip in December last year, but she is fiercely supportive of her husband’s work.

“I don’t deal with the atrocities very well, admits Noleen. I’m emotional and I get overwhelmed. Robi is a visionary. He sees the big picture and when he sets his mind to something nothing stands in the way. He’s very practical and gets on with the job. But he’s also compassionate and tender in dealing with people on a personal level. I admire him so much.”

Over the past four years, Dr Robi has trained Children of War aid workers in evidence-based trauma rehabilitation. He has developed a program called Empower and taken it to nearly two million refugees languishing in 120 camps dotted along the border of southern Sudan.

The program has been translated into the local Acholi dialect and teaches young refugees about post-traumatic symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares, how to deal with the terrible memories and emotional torment of terror, shame and guilt, remorse and grief, rage and bitterness and gives them hope for the future.

“Empower has been more successful than I could have ever anticipated,” says Dr Robi. “These resilient children have been longing for recovery but just lacked the knowledge of how to go about it. One 16-year-old boy told me ‘We have been waiting for a time such as this where we can learn how to heal’.”

As young people graduate from the 13-session program, they become ‘wounded healers’ and facilitate groups of other trauma victims, ensuring a multiplier effect. Recovery groups are now underway daily, sweeping the camps with a spirit of optimism. Testimonies of forgiveness and redemption abound.

In 2006, 100,000 Empower manuals were printed. Dr Robi and his growing band of supporters have an ambitious goal: to rehabilitate one million young refugees in the next two years. And there is a sense of urgency. A tentative cease-fire means the refugees might soon leave the camps.

“Once these people scatter throughout the vast rural plains of Uganda, we will have little hope of reaching them. While they are gathered in camps we can provide rehabilitation and prevent the mentally scarred children from perpetrating retribution. We are aiming to break the cycle of violence for the next generation. We must reach as many young people as possible.”

How it all began
It is a daunting challenge but clearly this exuberant dynamo thrives on challenges. He grew up on the snowfields around Canberra and was taught to ski by his Swiss-born father from the age of two. By 11, he joined the ACT Junior Racing Squad and was one of the first youngsters to master the snowboard and as a teenager raced the Australasian circuit.

Driven by a desire for adventure, he took off overseas at 17 and in 1993, at 20, was an ace snowboard instructor to the rich and famous on the slopes of Switzerland. The golden boy was set for a glamorous career as an elite athlete in the Winter Olympics however another desire was also stirring. He wanted an education and to make a genuine contribution.

He returned to Australia to study at Bond University on the Gold Coast and on breaks, skied in Switzerland. In 1996, he instructed Prince Charles and Prince Harry in the finer points of snowboarding at Klosters ski resort. The spectacular photos made front-page news around the world.

Dr Robi’s thirst for thrills led him to the University of Tasmania in the hope of doing postgraduate studies at Antarctica. But fate threw a curved ball. On the first day on campus, he fell in love. “I saw this young girl walking in slow motion across the courtyard with sunlight bouncing off her long curly hair and I was instantly smitten!”

Romance flourished. Noleen, an idealistic young psychology student had grown up on an exotic island near New Guinea. They hiked through the wilderness of Tasmania and their love was sparked over the glowing embers of campfires.

Noleen challenged him to make a decision. She was committed to working with AIDS orphans in a remote village in Zambia. However the sports star had the prospect of a lucrative job as snowboarding instructor to celebrities during the Winter Olympics in Japan. Would he go with her to Africa or go to Japan?

Decision Time
“I climbed a mountain and sat agonising. I was so torn. Snowboarding was my dream and yet here was the love of my life going off to Zambia offering me a chance to make a difference. It was a choice between self-glorification and serving others.”

Following graduation, the couple set off to Zambia and spent a year battling bouts of malaria and primitive conditions and empowered the villagers to break the dependency syndrome and build their own health centre.

Ironically it was here that Dr Robi rediscovered his faith. “It is the great reversal. White missionaries used to go to Africa to teach but I ended up going to Africa to be taught by indigenous tribes themselves. The villagers taught me about everyday life, family and loving your neighbour. They have a natural, earthy, genuine, unspoilt form of Christianity.”

On the last day in Zambia, he took his sweetheart on a picnic on the edge of a glorious wildlife wetland and proposed with an emerald stone set inside a native fruit. The year in Zambia had crystallised the couple’s commitment to each other and to the children of Africa.

They returned to the Gold Coast and were married in 1999 and Dr Robi completed his PhD at Brisbane’s Griffith University, graduating with high distinctions and was appointed National Co-ordinator of a Commonwealth project treating traumatised child refugees.

While working in New Zealand, Noleen fell pregnant with their first baby, Jhae, now four, and they moved to the Sunshine Coast to settle near family. But ‘settle’ is not the right word. They established Family Challenge, a child and adolescent mental health clinic, which has expanded to 14 staff, with profits directed to humanitarian projects.

In 2005 Dr Robi launched The Frontline to motivate adults and youth to use their creativity to help the traumatised children of war. “Lots of people approached me saying ‘I’d love to get involved but what could I possibly do?’ And I’m thinking there is so much you can do! You’ve got resources and skills and so much to contribute, but you just don’t know how. The Frontline is a movement to answer that question. It encourages people to make a difference in their own right.”

The result has been phenomenal. The Sunshine Coast community, churches and businesses have rallied behind the cause. Last year’s Sole Savers shoe drive saw 10,000 pairs of shoes donated, which will be presented to graduates of the Empower program so they can “walk tall” into their new lives. In other initiatives, school students have made films and recorded songs and the media has thrown its weight behind the cause.

The website deliberately uses military language. Dr Robi believes, “This is a good fight. We are engaged in a fight, not against the rebels, but against our own apathy and indifference. We aim to ignite passion in the hearts of people to help these kids. That passion becomes contagious and enhances your own life. When you become enthusiastic about contributing to something greater than yourself there is no faster way to build self-esteem.”

The Empower program is set to go worldwide to reach child victims of war, trauma and abuse everywhere. With his irrepressible positive attitude, he declares: “This message of hope has such great transferability to trouble spots around the world. It teaches young people how to put their lives back together, push through the pain of the past and look forward to a successful future.”

Resourcing parents everywhere
Dr Robi has given more than 250 lectures to packed audiences across Australia and has just released a series of CDs aimed at strengthening families: 93% Stress Free Parenting aims to reduce stress and increase fun in families; Dads & Lads encourages fathers to be more involved and Childhood Emotional Resilience addresses childhood anxiety. These innovative resources can be purchased from the Family Challenge website with proceeds going to Empower.

Visit and

Images by award-winning photographer Kevin Evans. Visit

Success Matters - The Irrepressible Allan Pease

I first had the pleasure of interviewing the mischievous Allan Pease back in August 1986 and I wrote one of my funniest ever features on him for the Geelong Advertiser. (It is impossible NOT to be funny when quoting Allan Pease.)

Allan popped up again in September 1997 when I did a phone interview with him from Sydney to promote his latest book and he confessed he was clawing his way out of debt. I wrote a humorous feature on the joke-a-minute guy for the Sunshine Coast Daily and then a year later I promoted his best-seller Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps in my popular weekly newspaper column, Family Matters.
When I launched into an interview in March 2008 at his spectacular Coast mansion with mesmerising ocean views, I reminded him of these previous encounters, spread over 20 years, and he quipped: “You really should stop stalking me like this!”
Yes, the master of the quick come-back will never be out-witted in the art of repartee. And as I was to discover his whole life has been dedicated to making a miraculous come-back.
He is the most resilient man I have ever met and provides us all with an inspirational Triumph over Hardship Success Story.
This cover story was published in BM Business Matters magazine in April 2008.

Mr Body Language Bounces Back

Internationally acclaimed Allan Pease squeezes in our interview and photo session between stepping off a flight from Cairns and dashing to Brisbane for lunch with the Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan.

I am treated to an early morning welcome from a perky Pease and his stunningly beautiful wife, business partner and co-author Barbara at their magnificent sprawling estate perched on Buderim Mountain with sweeping ocean views. And I meet their adorable children Brandon, 3 and baby Bella.

But the picture wasn’t always so rosy. Just 13 years ago, at 43, Allan Pease, renowned worldwide as Mr Body Language, who had audiences roaring with laughter, hit rock bottom. It was a mega crisis that would have destroyed a lesser man.

Back then he was reeling from a divorce, diagnosed with cancer and facing financial disaster, in debt for $1.48 million to the Tax Office.

“I was in a new relationship with Barbara and we lost all our investment properties, a 40 foot motor boat, waterfront home in Sydney, rare guitar collection and a farm with stud horses. It was all sold to repay debts. And then I got thyroid cancer on top of it. The first year I didn’t cope very well. In fact, I coped very badly. Thankfully, Barbara took over running the business."
Allan underwent harrowing cancer treatment and had a 50 per cent chance of losing his voice. It was a frightening time and the future looked bleak.

However the Ultimate Come-back Kid clawed his way back in a Hollywood-style tale of triumph over tragedy. In 1995 he and Barbara moved to England for a new beginning and the dynamic couple became more successful than ever before.

“At that time we were living in a little two-bedroom fibro shack in Sydney. I cried the day we moved in as it was a hard realisation of how low we had sunk financially. We put a map of the world on the floor and asked ourselves where is the biggest market? We liked the idea of Europe because everything is close with three times the population of America. We decided to live in England because they speak English! We put a pin in the middle of the map of England and it landed on a little place called Henley-in-Arden. So that’s where we went!”

Turning Point
“It was a major turning point. From then on, we decided we would only write best-selling books. Since that decision, we’ve had eight Number Ones in a row. The two of us together are far more powerful than I ever was on my own. We were reborn!”

Together they wrote Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps and followed it up with Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes, which took the UK and Europe by storm selling 13 million copies.

The mischievous Aussie who had grown up tough as a working class lad from the backblocks of Melbourne was a massive hit with 100 million viewers tuning in to his BBC television series on body language.

He presented seminars in more than 55 countries and captured his biggest market in Germany where he currently has a Number One box office hit with a quirky movie based on his light-hearted book on gender differences.

He’s a celebrity in Spain, France, Japan, Poland and even the far-flung reaches of Iceland! He coached Russian politicians at the Kremlin in how to tone down their aggressive body language in a case of Pease doing his piece for peace!

Setting a Record for Bestsellers
Allan is rated as one of Australia’s most successful non-fiction authors in history having written 14 bestsellers. He’s sold a total of 20 million books in more than 100 countries and his books are translated into 50 languages.

He is first and foremost a super salesman and marketing genius, having started in sales at the tender age of 10 selling rubber sponges door to door. At 17 he was Number One national salesman for a company selling pots and pans and at 21 was the youngest person to ever sell more than $1 million of life insurance.

In his 20s he studied every ‘ology’ from zoology and anthropology to sociology and psychology to become a self-styled expert in body language: how gestures and facial expressions reveal the inner feelings and motives of humans, mostly power plays, sexual signals and the common art of lying! He wrote his classics on body language and devised a hilarious stage show demonstrating the funny side of human behaviour. Audiences just loved it!

Another bout of cancer
But in the midst of his second wave of phenomenal success, cancer struck again, another devastating blow, when he was 48; this time the virulent cancer was in the prostate.

Usually an entertaining comedian cracking a joke a second, Allan is in a serious, reflective mood as he opens up about the trauma and shares his painful struggles.

“We came home to Australia and I got the diagnosis. I took a year off work to research my condition and was fortunate to have contacts around the world to give advice. I came to the conclusion to go the alternative way and went purely organic vegan and made my life entirely chemical-free, which meant stripping the house and changing our lifestyle, growing organic vegies and drinking spring water.

“I did this for six months but my family members were concerned and persuaded me to undergo conventional treatments. I had my prostate removed. But I still had the cancer so I had every possible treatment. According to the doctors, without conventional treatment, I only had a three-year life expectancy.

“Even if I survived, the radiation and surgery brought the risks that I would have no sex life and suffer incontinence and bowel problems. I even had a melanoma removed from my face. I know the cancer was all stress-related. But I decided whatever happened, I’d come out on top!”

Sitting chatting about the horrendous ordeal, Allan is the picture of good health, a resilient optimist and remarkably, a new dad through IVF!

Blessed with miracle babies
“It is incredible. It was considered an impossibility! I had no prostate. I’d had a vasectomy. Barb was over 40. We went to specialists who said ‘Forget it. It’s out of the question’. But we eventually found a doctor in Beijing who was pioneering new technology that extracts the male’s DNA to fertilise the eggs.”

Their two beautiful children are fraternal twins three years apart. The couple have four adult children from previous marriages, two grandchildren and two more grandchildren on the way.
“People ask me what it’s like to be a dad at your age and I say ‘It’s fantastic!’ I’m a real hands-on dad. When I had my children in my 20s I was working all the time but now I have time for Brandon and Bella. I’ve decided to live to at least age 90!”

A model mum
Barbara, a tall and slender former model, is radiant and obviously relishing motherhood as she dotes on her beautiful baby girl and prepares for Brandon’s third birthday bash!

“Believe it or not, as a bestselling author and CEO of our company Pease International, I can tell you that the highlight of my life is my children! Being an older mum has some real advantages as I am secure in my life and already established in my work. I am more relaxed in the way I interact with the kids and feel I have more to share with them, says Barb.

“I have also found that there are other would-be parents who I have been able to help and to some degree I have become a role model for many who have been unable to have children so far. Allan and I beat the odds with our two beautiful children and if we can, so can others.”

Allan is a staunch believer in the power of decision-making and goal setting. Once the couple decided they wanted more children they became completely focussed and devoted to achieving what doctors considered a miracle!

Driven to achieve
He has applied the same determination to other goals. He decided he wanted to play musical instruments and has now mastered piano, drums, bass, harp and guitar and is learning the saxophone.

The high achieving couple settled on the Sunshine Coast in 2000 and love the relaxed lifestyle. Allan is attempting to cut back his travelling and public speaking from 100 to 50 engagements a year so he can be at home in his idyllic Buderim retreat to spend quality time with his family.

And there are new books in progress. He is working on a biography called You Only Live Twice! For the irrepressible Peases 2008 is just the beginning of a whole new life!
Allan demonstrates some classic body language. "You're a pain in the neck!" "I don't like what I'm hearing" and the common hand-over-mouth gesture while listening is an exercise in self-control, which shows you he is stopping himself from telling you what he really thinks!

For information about Allan and Barbara’s books,resources and public speaking visit

Celebrity Matters- A Tribute to John Denver

Uploading my favourite music to the new ipod, my extensive John Denver collection takes pride of place. More than a decade after his tragic death, Denver’s unique music has proven timeless and more soul-stirring than ever.
His countless feel-good country songs have been elevated to the status of classics and absorbed into the popular culture of the 20th century and the psyche of millions of 70s teenagers like myself; the Baby Boomer generation. In our recent travels around the States, John Denver was our constant companion, capturing the grandeur of the Rockies, the freedom of the open road, the joy of horse riding through the forest and the cosiness of our country cabin in Montana.

The iconic singer-songwriter died at age 53 in a light plane crash off the coast of Monterey, California on October 12, 1997. The collective shock was compounded as the world was still reeling from the tragic death of Princess Diana on August 31. Denver was an irrepressible adventurer and accomplished pilot and he loved to fly. His small, experimental aircraft apparently ran out of fuel and dropped into the ocean and he died instantly.

Denver left behind two ex-wives, Annie, then 50 and Cassy, then 34 and three children, Zach, then 22, Anna Kate, then 20 and Jesse Belle, then eight. Our daughter Justine was nine at the time so I empathised strongly with little Jesse’s loss of her hero dad. The loss for his family, close friends, fellow musicians and activists was immeasurable and for his legions of fans, the grief was also deep and real.

The boy born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr, the son of a US Airforce officer of German descent, was a phenomenal success. In a career spanning more than 30 years, he produced 30 albums, including 14 gold albums and eight platinum albums in the US. John Denver’s Greatest Hits is still one of the largest selling albums with sales of over 20 million worldwide. His concerts reached millions of people in countries around the world including Russia and China.
As a crusader for peace, humanitarian causes and environmental care, his inspirational idealism lives on. His spirit will never die.

I wrote this personal reflection and tribute to John Denver which was published in the Sunshine Coast Sunday on October 26, 1997.

John Denver: Hope for an Intense Young Girl
MY friend and I had met up with two boys and went back to their barren little flat, the fea­ture of which was the massive stereo system and monster speakers spread across the en­tire length of one wall. As we hunched over the record collection, the gangling youth proudly pulled out an album and said: "Have you heard this guy?"

The start of a love affair
As I pored over the artistic cover with happy snaps of smiling friends glowing with the simple pleasures of coun­try life, the strains of a beauti­ful male voice filled that little flat and touched a chord in my heart I didn't know existed and set my spirit soaring above Rocky Mountains and down dusty country roads. The year was 1974. I was 17 and that was my introduction to John Denver and the start of my love affair with him.

I went through 20 tissues, drenched both sleeves and stained my cheeks with incon­solable tears through the dying scenes of the movie Sunshine, made all the more agonising than Love Story by the heart ­wrenching pathos of Denver's hit song, Sunshine on My Shoulders.

If my first hearing of Denver brought pure joy, my second unleashed pure grief. Such was the power of the man's magnificent tenor voice, his superb song writing skills and musicianship.

Tapping Deep Emotions
He had the rare talent of ar­ticulating deep emotions and ideals and wrapping them in unforgettable melodies that weave their way into your heart.

As a teenager I bought all his records. Along with Bob Dylan, Me­lanie, Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez and Donovan, they helped to give hope to an in­tense young girl worried about the state of the world.

Denver was not only a star of the 70s, his brilliance con­tinued throughout the 80s and 90s. As an avid fan, I can tell you Denver produced some of his finest and most sensitive songs in the 80s. His CDs Higher Ground and Different Directions are mas­terpieces in my opinion. And I should know because I've heard each track hundreds of times driving along singing at the top of my lungs!

Earth Songs, Human Songs
John Denver was also a great environmentalist, founding the Windstar organi­sation in 1976, a non-profit en­vironmental education and re­search centre. His earth songs celebrate the beauty of the natural world and shift human con­sciousness towards apprecia­tion and preservation. What an achievement; to in­fluence people for the better on a worldwide scale.

He was also a great humani­tarian, helping to found The Hunger Project and was the first American singer to perform in the Soviet Union and China, healing East-West tensions and helping the cause of world peace.

In 1992, though stricken with the flu, I dragged myself off to the Brisbane Entertain­ment Centre and thrilled to the sight of my idol in the flesh.

John Denver was never a stingy performer. He gave a long, full concert, serving up old favourites balanced with new songs and talking warmly to his audi­ence as if we were sitting around a campfire. Sparked by the warm glow of that concert, I went all country that year; strutting around in my denims and new boots and heading for the bush every chance I got.

Christmas 1994, Andrew gave me a copy of Denver's autobiography and I devoured every word. In 1995 we went to another Denver concert and I sat right up the front with my binocu­lars in Seventh Heaven.

After the show I was amazed that John, though ob­viously exhausted, showed in­credible stamina and dedica­tion, sitting for over two hours in the foyer signing auto­graphs for an endless queue of fans.
A Smitten Fan
I sent a fan letter and copy of my book to John that year expressing all the love and ad­miration in my heart. And I harboured a secret dream of meeting him when we travel to Colorado in a year or so.

The other Monday I was sorting out the noticeboard in my office, removing out-dated snapshots and postcards. I readjusted the pin-up pho­to of my John, smiling and patting him and adding an ex­tra drawing pin to hold him secure. I would never consider taking him down. He's my in­spiration.

That night Andrew and I came home giggly after seeing the British comedy The Full Monty and my son told me John Denver had been killed in a plane crash.

I said "You're joking, aren't you?" because my kids are al­ways teasing me about John Denver. But it wasn't a joke. It was tragically true. Like the devastating news just a month earlier about Princess Diana, it is impossi­ble to accept.

It was fitting that this mag­nificent, passionate man, who wrote about the euphoric free­dom of flight should die doing what he loved. But it's far too soon. He had too much life ahead.
His beautiful little daughter Jesse Belle is just a year youn­ger than my Justine and still needs her Dad.

We all need John Denver in our lives. His positive, uplifting music is a force for good in a destructive and violent world. Thankfully the spirit of John Denver will never die. His music will live on for generations.

At every family sing-along and whenever you're on the road and feeling lonely his timeless classics like Take Me Home Country Roads, Annie's Song and Back Home Again will guide you home.

Windstar Foundation
The Hunger Project