The Spoon Theory and Pacing

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You may have heard people refer to themselves as “Spoonies”, or say they “have run out of spoons”.  So what does this mean?

“The Spoon Theory” was created by Christine Miserandino in 2003 in her essay of the same name.  Christine has lupus, which is an invisible illness that can cause a variety of debilitating symptoms.  Christine used spoons as a stand-in for units of energy.  They model how activities can be difficult and costly to people with chronic illness.  Each task cost a ‘spoon’, and someone with chronic illness starts with only a limited number per day.  There is no way to start with more, and trying to ‘buy’ extra ‘spoons’ can end up causing further problems.  This helped Christine’s friend to understand that people with chronic illness have to plan out their activities carefully.  Unexpected tasks might mean they cannot do other things due to having limited ‘spoons’.  The full essay is here.

The Spoon Theory can be a useful way of describing your experience to people around you.  It can also be helpful for self care.  Thinking about how many spoons you have each day (which may not be consistent), how many spoons will be needed for various tasks (which, again, may not be consistent) and planning out activities within those limits is known as “pacing”.

Pacing is a self-directed way of managing illness and fatigue that is personal to you.  It means getting to know your abilities and responses to certain stimuli.  This helps you to organise your time and activities.  It is all about balance – not cramming everything in first thing in the hope that you can rest later!

Perhaps one of the most tricky aspects to pacing is the self-discipline needed.  It is very easy to think, “I’ve only got this thing to do, I’ll just push through and rest later!” even if that will result in a much longer recovery time. You might also struggle with feelings of embarrassment if you need to stop an activity right in the middle, or fear letting people down.  I’ve written several times before about saying “no”.

Pacing isn’t an easy or quick thing to arrange, but it can be very helpful.  Long-term, pacing activities may be much better for your health than ‘soldiering on’.  Action for M.E. has produced a wonderful booklet that explains pacing, the evidence base for it and how to use it.  The booklet can be found online here.

Illnesses such as CFS/ME, fibromyalgia, EHS and lupus are very real, not just “in your head”.  This means counselling cannot ‘cure’ them.  However, these illnesses and their symptoms can cause, and also be made worse by, mental issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.  You may need to work through your grief or fear around your diagnosis, and get support in working out how to live your best life within these limits.  If you would like to make an appointment, please contact me.

The Rippling Effect

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I have decided today to write about The Rippling Effect, simply because it is one of my favourite concepts and one I think (for reasons that will become clear!) is a great one to share.

I first learned about The Rippling Effect from Irvin Yalom, although I don’t think he claims it as his own.

Yalom explains “Rippling” in his book Staring At The Sun: Overcoming the Dread of Death (2008, Piatkus):

Rippling refers to the fact that each of us creates – often without conscious thought or knowledge – concentric circles of influence that may affect others for years, even for generations.  That is, the effect we have on other people is in turn passed on to others, much as the ripples in a pond go on and on until they’re no longer visible but continuing at a nano level.

So what Yalom means is that while our names and identities will pass out of memory, our influence continues on.  While this might seem more obvious in the cases of ‘big’ things such as a scientific discovery or starting a new social movement, Yalom’s point is that the Rippling Effect can and will apply to each and every one of us.

Every action we take, every encounter we have with someone, will in some way change both them and us.  That change will then ripple outwards like a wave, as that person then goes on to interact with others.  It’s not necessary that the effect we have be huge or noticeable to others – it just needs to be there.  It might even be unconscious, rather than based on your actual words or deliberate actions.  Yalom continues:

Attempts to preserve personal identity are always futile.  Transiency is forever.  Rippling, as I use it, refers instead to leaving behind something from your life experience; some trait; some piece of wisdom, guidance, virtue, comfort that passes on to others, known or unknown.

This made me think of a quotation by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Pass it on!


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THE FEAR I am talking about today is that terror of getting something done in case you do something wrong, make a mistake, get into trouble…  It’s paralysing, and can occupy your thoughts to the exclusion of all else.

THE FEAR can be very difficult to get a handle on, especially as an adult.  I wondered why that might be.  A friend of mine said that as children, our fears of getting things wrong and into trouble tend to be focussed on a person – for example, a parent or a teacher.  However, as adults, those we can end up answerable to can seem a bit more faceless – HMRC, the police, government agencies.

I thought this was interesting, and it got me thinking about power dynamics.  Something about a faceless threat can seem so much scarier, perhaps because we can’t plan for how to deal with it or because it can have so much more power to impact our lives.  As children, losing our breaktime to a detention might feel devastating, but as adults we are more aware of how much bigger and scarier consequences and punishments can be.  We are also far more aware of the consequences of our actions – knowing that we could make a mistake or choose a path that leads to harm to others or ourselves.

Those “what ifs” are what are so paralysing.  “What if I get my tax return wrong?”  “What if my documentation isn’t correct?”  “What if they find an error when I’m audited?”

The trouble is, not facing and doing these things can also lead to bad consequences.  For example, a fine for a late submission, or even hurrying and ending up making a mistake you otherwise might not have.

My top tips for facing THE FEAR:

  1. Plan ahead.  Set aside a specific time to complete the task.  Not too far in the future, but not in the next 5 minutes either.
  2. Divide the task into smaller steps, and complete them in an order which makes the most sense to you.
  3. Perhaps the most difficult – ask for help.  It’s okay not to know or understand everything at once.  That’s why we have lawyers, accountants, electricians, plumbers…!  If money is an issue, check out free or low-cost sources of help such as ACAS (for work disputes), Shelter (for issues with housing, renting etc), MA (for money advice) or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (for all sorts of things).
  4. Plan a reward for yourself for afterwards, if you need extra motivation.

Getting the scary things done is an act of self care.  Self care isn’t just bubble baths and scented candles.  It is also completing the things we need to get done, rather than letting them hang over us and potentially causing worse problems.

As Susan Jeffers said, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway!

Being alone and why it’s useful

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Being alone has negative connotations – perhaps that the person is a “misery guts”, or is “unfriendly” or “isolated”.  However, I believe that time spent alone is necessary, useful, and valuable.

I’ve written before about coping with the demands of others and juggling responsibilities.  Being alone can give you time to recharge, decompress, and think about your own needs for a bit.  It’s easier to make plans and decisions if you’ve been left alone to think about them for a while, as you can escape other people’s agendas.  It might also help you be more productive. A friend of mine recently said the disruption to her office from the recent heavy snowfall meant she could get on with her work without interruption and was extremely productive!

The flip side of not being around other people and having their needs and demands placed upon you is that you don’t rely on them so much either.  Being alone and having to regulate your own emotions and needs can help you build strength and resilience.  That is why so many people recommend learning to love yourself before looking for love from others.  You will develop inner strength and the power to manage your own self-worth rather than needing someone else to do it for you.  You will learn to trust your own opinions and decisions rather than looking for reassurance and guidance from others.

Is there a movie you want to see but you friends don’t?  Or somewhere you want to eat, or travel?  Is lack of companionship holding you back from activities, and would it be so bad to go alone?  Why or why not?

Being alone can be a conscious choice for self care.  Remember, self care isn’t just about lighting and candle and having a nice bath!  It can also mean getting a stack of bills paid or having a medical appointment.

Happiness in your own company can also increase self-confidence and satisfaction.  Listening to our inner voice, agreeing with or challenging it appropriately, can help us feel more grounded and sure of ourselves.

So strike your best Greta Garbo pose and say, “I want to be alone!”.


JADE-ing and saying no

Stop JADE-ing
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I have written previously about saying “no”.  Actually resolving to say no is the first step, but what do you do when the other person won’t hear it?  You might be JADE-ing.

There are of course times when saying “no” isn’t appropriate – e.g. to a policeman, your boss, or to someone who is asking you to stop doing something that causes them harm.  This article is not about those times!

I have previously linked to this excellent article on how any why you might say no.  However, I’m sure we have all been in situations where, for example, “I’m sorry, I’m busy” doesn’t work.

At that point, it is tempting to start JADE-ing.

J – Justify

A – Argue

D – Defend

E – Explain

JADE-ing is when we come up with various reasons why we want to, need to, or choose to say “no”.

With friends who care about us, it’s not so much of a problem – we want to soften the “no”, to avoid hurting them or our relationship.  The problem arises when we are faced with someone who cannot or doesn’t want to accept our “no”, who hurts us with their demands.

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker says, “‘No’ is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you… Declining to hear ‘no’ is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it.”

When faced with this situation, JADE-ing doesn’t help.  Giving reasons or explanations, defending your choice  or arguing with the person hands them more opportunities to not hear your “no”.  Offering up information as to why you are saying no enables them to provide ways round it.  It’s as though you are saying “yes, but…”, and asking them to find ways to make it happen.  It’s easy to think they will understand your point of view if you just explain it to them.  Unfortunately, that is only true if they are actually interested in your point of view – and they might not be.

JADE-ing can be exhausting, and doesn’t actually get you any further than just saying “no” does.  It can even make it worse, as someone without your best interests at heart might then turn the situation round and insist you are the one causing the problem.

JADE-ing is a habit we can so easily fall into.  We can even end up JADE-ing ourselves!  Saying “no” can be an act of self-care, but when we are used to putting the needs of others first that we end up working really hard to convince ourselves of that.  It’s okay to say, “because I feel like it”.

So how can you tell if you are JADE-ing?  You might feel confused, uncertain, scared, or attacked.  You might find yourself struggling to find the ‘right’ words, going round in circles or off the subject.  The other person might start making accusations, becoming aggressive or otherwise escalating their demands.

Stopping JADE-ing and saying “no” outright might cause some ruffled feathers for a while.  There may be various consequences, such as changes in or even endings of relationships.  Only you can decide if you are able to accept those consequences.  Where do you want it to end?  Can you stop JADE-ing?

Some of my favourite quotations

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Today’s post will be a little bit different.  I have decided to share some of my favourite quotations.  Some are inspirational, some are thought-provoking, some can just help you get through the day.  If you would like to share your favourite quotations, feel free to head over to the Opis Counselling Facebook page and comment there.




“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

– Marcus Aurelius


“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

– Carl Rogers


“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

– John Lennon


“Done is better than perfect.”

– Sheryl Sandberg


“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

– Brene Brown


“Do nothing against thy will, nor contrary to the community, nor without due examination, nor with reluctancy.”

– Marcus Aurelius


“This, too, shall pass.”

– Ancient proverb.


“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.”

– Jane Austen


“All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost.”

– J R R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


“The first time someone shows you who they really are, believe them.”

– Maya Angelou


“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”

– Theodore Roosevelt


“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.”

– Allan Lokos


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou


“Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent.”

– Wendy Flynn


“Only I can change my life.  No one can do it for me.”

– Carol Burnett


“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

– Ann Frank


“Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.”

– Terry Pratchett


You might also enjoy The Starfish Story or this story about ‘letting go’.







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Just over a year ago, I wrote about the difference between ‘resignation’ and ‘acceptance’.  Today I will be saying more about what acceptance is, and how to go about developing it.

First of all, acceptance is not an “end point”.  It’s an ongoing process that might involve stops and starts, changes in direction, and occasional setbacks.  The good part is that you will keep progressing with it, using what you have learned to build on each day.  You will also become more skilled in applying it to various other things in your life.

So, how to begin?

It might sound back to front, but a good first step is to work out what you are not going to do or become.  By definition, acceptance means coming to terms with the idea that you will not (and cannot) be Perfect.  We all have an image of our Ideal Selves and Ideal Lives, but we don’t always recognise it.  You could start by writing out what your Ideal Self/Life is like, to specifically identify why you are pushing yourself.  How realistic are the things you’ve written?  Do you really want to be/do/have those things, or are you trying to live up to someone else’s expectations?

None of this is to say you cannot work towards being your Best Self… but it does mean recognising that “Best” doesn’t mean “Perfect”.

By comparing the list you have written with how you view yourself and your life now, you can more realistically judge not only what you want but what is actually achievable.  You could use the SMART goals format for this. Knowing what you can change then helps you to recognise the things you can’t, which is a big step on your journey of acceptance.

You might need to grieve for the things you expected to have but do not.  You might experience sadness, anger or frustration.  Do not criticise yourself for these feelings.  Just observe them as you watch them arrive, acknowledge them, and then let them go.

Next, you can write out a list of things that you have gained from not being/having/doing the things in your Ideal Self/Life list.  For example, by having a different career to the one you originally planned, you may have gained opportunities to meet people and try new experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have had.  Spend a bit more time on this.  You may tell yourself that you won’t be able to think of anything.  Letting that belief go and proving it wrong is another step on the acceptance journey.

You could ask a trusted friend or loved one to help you with this second list.  You might be surprised by what they come up with!

Some things, especially traumatising and painful things, will seem impossible to accept.  That is why it is important to think of this as a journey, one in which you will face setbacks.  It’s okay if you never become a 100% unruffled, serene being who floats through life’s slings and arrows.  No-one is!  That’s human – so you don’t have to beat yourself up for it.

If you would like to work through and move on from these issues in a safe and supportive environment, please contact me to book an appointment.

The Winner’s Triangle

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I have previously written about The Drama Triangle, and suggested how to recognise you are in one and how to get out of it.

The other side of The Drama Triangle coin is the Winner’s Triangle.  It also has three participants, but is a constructive system rather than a destructive one.  The idea of it has been around since at least the 1980s, and may have been first described by Acey Choy.

The Drama Triangle roles are Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer.  Each of the roles in the Drama Triangle has a corresponding role in the Winner’s Triangle:

Victim —> Vulnerable

Persecutor —> Assertive

Rescuer —> Caring

Note how the roles in the Winner’s Triangle are descriptions of behaviour, rather than labels of people.  This in itself gives suggestions of ways to move from a Drama Triangle to a Winner’s Triangle.

In the Drama Triangle, the Victim can often feel powerless but can end up holding quite a bit of power by manipulating the other participants.  By embracing and accepting their vulnerability they can, paradoxically, discover their own strength.  By being supported but not having everything fixed for them, the Victim can develop resilience and problem-solving skills.

Persecutor can move to Assertive by using their energy to solve issues rather than blaming, shaming, punishing or putting down.  At the same time as maintaining their own boundaries, they do not overstep someone else’s.

Rescuer can move to Caring by supporting and listening to Vulnerable and believing in their ability to solve the problem, but not doing everything for them.  This is a service in the long run, because it enables Vulnerable to grow and develop their own resources.  This position also helps Caring to develop their own ability to say no when necessary.

These Triangles can be played out between individuals, large groups of people and everything in between.  Just about everyone has been involved in a Triangle at some point.

A final note: beware the Bystander role!  This is the fourth role in the Drama Triangle that sits just to one side of it.  The Bystander observes what is happening but chooses not to get involved.  This might be because they think it is none of their business, or that they themselves might suffer for getting involved.  This can, of course, be true – and personal safety is a valid and important consideration.  However, the Bystander can also help maintain the Drama Triangle by appearing to give tacit approval to what is happening.  Throughout history, Persecutors in particular have felt supported and validated by Bystanders.  This can increase the feeling of powerlessness in the Victim – and even encourage other Persecutors to join in, spiralling the system into further destruction.  If you find yourself in the Bystander role, try to see the situation from a compassionate viewpoint.  Put yourself in the Victim’s place – what would be genuinely helpful, halt the destruction and assist everyone in moving into a Winner’s Triangle?  These are big questions, and only you can answer them for yourself for any given situation.  What do you want your role to be?


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We are all juggling various things.  Not  throwing various objects around, but keeping up with the many tasks, jobs and obligations we have every day.

At what point does it become too much, and what can you do?

Only you can decide what you can handle, but you can become so bogged down with things that you can’t even think straight.  At times like this, you might even end up compromising on the quality of what you are doing rather than the quantity.

This is not necessarily wrong – but if you find things are getting worse, it could be worth re-examining what you are doing any why.

I’ve written before about Saying No, but how do you know at what point to actually do it?

  • Are you compromising important aspects of health and self care, such as sleep and food, in order to get tasks done?
  • Is your mood dropping because you’re so overstretched?  Have you started snapping at loved ones?
  • Are you spending what should be down-time worrying about your list of tasks?
  • Have you totally given up the things which bring you pleasure and relaxation in favour of a list of jobs?

If you are saying yes to any of these, you might be juggling too much.

So what can you do?

For a start, look at the tasks you have and work out what actually needs doing and what doesn’t.  You can mentally group tasks into “necessary”, “not necessary but would be nice to have done” and “unnecessary”.  Be ruthless about it!  Much as we would all like to have a sparkling kitchen with alphabetised spice racks, sometimes it’s better overall to just settle for a clean space where we can find things reasonably easily!

Are your thoughts getting in the way?  Perhaps you believe things will collapse or people will think much less of you unless you Do All The Things.  This might not be a conscious belief, so it is worth examining carefully what you fear might happen if you stopped doing certain things.

Next, you could look at your tasks and check what you are really responsible for and what you are not.  So often the bulk of work in a household can fall to just one person, something which is being discussed more and more on social media lately.  Writing lists of what tasks fall to which person can be eye-opening!  Are you doing certain things just because that’s the way it has always been, despite lifestyles and working hours changing?  Do you cause yourself enormous disruption and difficulty to avoid someone else having to put up with a little discomfort?

Are you juggling more than you can manage because you find it difficult to ask for help?  It can be so hard to ask for help, as we might fear we are letting people down or damaging their view of us.  Only you can decide at what point the risks of asking for help are less than the risks of buckling under.  It’s also a good idea to be really specific.  It is easier for people to respond to a specific request than a general, “help me!”.

Which juggling ball will you put down today?

Book: “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin

“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin (2011, Harper)

“The Happiness Project” is Gretchen Rubin’s report of her year-long exercise to increase her happiness through self-discovery and trying various activities.

Rubin describes how she started with small “happiness resolutions”, with different (and more difficult) ones each month.  For December, she decided to try to keep to all her resolutions from the whole year.

Rubin challenged herself to find out what her ‘rules’ were and how following them (or not) changed her happiness.

A part that stuck out to me was “you can’t choose what you like to do, you can only choose what you do“.  What Rubin means is that forcing ourselves to do things we strongly dislike because we think we ‘should’ doesn’t increase happiness.  For example, Rubin wants to be the kind of person who listens to cool jazz music rather than pop, perhaps because she feels that as an adult and professional that she ‘should’.  But she doesn’t.  So why did she force herself to listen to music she dislikes rather than accepting she likes what she does?  Discovering this and accepting it provided a great example of how she could take control of her happiness.

Of course, some tasks are unavoidable.  Rubin tries to reframe them and view them in ways that don’t drag down her mood.  She finds ways to see pleasure in even mundane things, until the habit becomes second nature.

Rubin is flexible with her time and wealthy in a city with lots of opportunities, so her experience may seem unachievable.  This book is less a “how to” guide than a “this is what I did” description.  However, it might give some ideas of how to carry out your own “Happiness Project”, in ways that suit your lifestyle.

What rules do you live by?  What do you do because you think you ‘should’ rather than because they make you happy?  Are these things you can stop, or reframe?  What made you happy to do as a child (acting, painting, singing?), and what caused you to stop?  Could you start again?

You can read a sample chapter of The Happiness Project here.

You can read Gretchen Rubin’s blog here.