How to Talk with People you Disagree with

In the months leading up to and certainly following Brexit, we’ve seen a lot of polarisation in people’s views. Maybe it’s always been that way and we’re just vocalising it more now – but chickens and eggs aside, two camps definitely appear to be growing, creating tension and unrest in their wake.

Look across the pond to our American friends we see the same thing; groups forming, opposing sides pitting themselves against one another, hurling insults and accusations along the way. The sense of there being an ‘other’ feels that much greater now - and I suspect each of us, to varying degrees, is feeling the tug to separate ourselves into an ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Of course by doing this, whether we say it or just think it, we end up making generalisations. Individuals become ‘types’ of people that we can place into categories and ascribe other qualities and characteristics. “She voted ‘Leave’ – she must be a close-minded, ill-educated, flag-waving racist.” “He voted ‘Stay’- he must be a tree-hugging, terrorist-loving, ivory-tower-residing Commie.”

So the outcome, by its very nature, is divisive. Presumptions and judgements form on either side and, with increasing frequency, we see disagreement become hostility. 

This TED Talk, by adult educator, Elizabeth Lesser, considers this tendency to ‘otherise’ and suggests – in a very practical way – how we might cross such divisions or at least attempt to narrow them. Now, while we’re pinning labels on people, I think Ms Lesser herself would probably agree she’s more on the left-leaning, liberal side of things but if you’re more on the right-leaning, conservative side of things don’t let that put you off. The main substance of her points are for everyone:

The goal: To get to know one person from a group you may have negatively stereotyped

The rules: Don’t persuade, defend or interrupt – be curious, be real and listen

The content:    1) Share some of your life experiences

            2) What issues deeply concern you

           3) What have you always wanted to ask someone from the ‘other’ side

Underneath it all, most of us are just looking for a bit of hope, security and happiness among the fear, confusion and misery - we just tend to come at it from different angles. Think of this as re-aligning our angles a little.


Cruel Reflections

Body Image. For so many of us, it feels as though we should be ‘above’ that sort of thing; that characteristics like personality, intellect, values and moral codes should stand for so much more than how we look. We might say to ourselves “That’s just the surface! It’s what’s on the inside that counts!” but it can be so much easier to voice those thoughts than actually believe them.

Poor body image affects most people some of the time and some people a lot of the time - and nearly all the time, the harshest critics are ourselves. We might not dream of telling someone else their backside has more craters in it than the surface of the moon, but a quick swivel glance in a full length mirror can induce the worst criticisms you’re ever likely to hear.

Like it or not, male, female, young or old, body image can still have a massive impact on how we feel about ourselves – not just in terms of the way we look, but how happy we think we’ll be and the kind of relationships we think we deserve. So in terms of wellbeing, both short term and long term, we’ve got to change the record or it’s not going to do us any favours.

Digital video producers, The Scene, invited two young women to take part in a body image experiment (open video). The friends were asked to write down all the thoughts and feelings they had about their own bodies and then read the comments out as if directed to the other person. The results show how little love, kindness and acceptance the women had towards themselves compared to those they love - something many of us can identify with. The message: when you notice that critical voice, try offering yourself a little friendly compassion instead.



Navigating Anger

Anger, like all of our emotions, serves a purpose. It alerts us to the injustice of a situation (be it real or perceived) and fuels us with the energy needed to address the problem. Anger, undeniably, has its place – but what we do with that anger and how we express it can often be our downfall. A raised voice, scathing tone or hostile comment can certainly provide a momentary release from the discomfort of anger, but invariably it provokes a counter-response from the person on the receiving end. They get defensive, bite back, we rise to the bait and all the while each side gets further and further entrenched in their own positions, each feeling righteously aggrieved by the other.

Essentially, anger alerts us to the problem – but ‘giving in’ to that anger rarely solves it.

So what are we meant to do? Swallowing the anger down is no good – that just leads to resentment and potentially, over time, psychological or even physical complaints from all that unprocessed rage.

Instead, this article considers a mindful response; one in which we acknowledge the anger, reflect on what lies beneath it and give ourselves the space to decide how best to respond. An approach worth considering in these highly charged times.


All in the Mind?

The link between physical illness and psychological stress has been known for some time, but there’s still a great deal more to understand about this phenomenon. The good news is that more and more research is being done on the subject, and the more we recognise what’s happening, the better we’re able to address the underlying causes.

Somatization is the unconscious expression of mental or emotional pain into physical disorders. A key point to stress here is that just because a symptom is psychologically based, it doesn’t make it any less ‘real’ or distressing for the individual affected – that person has no more control over what’s happening to them than someone whose illness is purely physical. This type of suffering requires just as much care and attention as we’d give to someone whose pains are purely physical. In fact, it’s entirely possible that not getting sufficient care and attention in the first place was what led to their bodily symptoms.

This BBC article is the story of one doctor’s personal discovery of somatization and her attempts to further understand and promote awareness of what is turning out to be a very widespread problem. 

Deciding Against Indecision

With the EU Referendum fast approaching and the In/Out campaigns in full swing, we are being presented with a huge amount of information and speculation to process. For many of us, this level of data is more confusing than clarifying so, as a side to weighing up the costs and benefits, it may be helpful to consider the art of decision-making itself.

We are faced with hundreds of decisions every day; some barely require our thinking, others have us agonising over which way to turn. The methods by which we decide - and the ease with which we do so - vary from person to person and problem to problem. Some people plunge in without a second thought, which can sometimes lead to undesirable outcomes because of the lack of careful consideration. Others may be so undecided, perhaps because they are scared of making the wrong choice or of upsetting people who might be affected, that they are left in a state of mental paralysis doing nothing at all, letting other people or outside events determine what happens. The results may or may not end up in their favour, but the means of getting there are rarely satisfactory.

In the course of working with clients, I have found there are four key areas to consider when making a significant decision of any kind. None of them is particularly effective in isolation, but when considered as whole, they can often make the decision-making process smoother, clearer, as well as more authentic and rewarding:

1.      Gut Feeling / Instinct

Regardless of how palatable it is, do you have an intuitive sense of what the right decision is? A lot of them time we do, but other factors (for example inconvenience, risk, impact on those around us) might make it easier to ignore or reject these instincts. Going on gut feeling alone can lead to impulsive choices but disregarding it altogether means we miss out on a valuable source of counsel. By taking the time to listen to your intuition and exploring the factors which support and oppose it, you develop your sense of insight and trust in your own reasoning.

2.      Previous Experience

The older we get the more experience we amass. We develop a greater understanding of what brings us happiness and what contributes to our pain, both in the long term and the short term. We’ve observed how our actions can impact ourselves and others and how that makes us feel. We’ve achieved successes and made mistakes – some of which we might even have learned from! All of this contributes to our developing wisdom, creating a pool of experiential learning from which we can draw to inform our decision-making.

3.      People We Trust

These may be people we know personally or individuals who we admire for their work, character or general life philosophies. What are their views – and why do they hold them? If we can hear what they have to say, or better still get in to a dialogue with them, we can discuss our conflicted positions and gain insight through their own knowledge or experience. It can serve to both broaden and narrow the platform of choice, depending on what we require. This is not to say ‘do what other people tell you to do’ – in fact if they are telling you to do something, rather than weighing up the options with you through their own perspective, you might want to reconsider how valuable a source they are – but either way, it’s useful to thrash out ideas with people we feel are getting it right.

4.      Facts and Evidence

Like it or not, these are essential when it comes to effective decision-making. Instinct, experience and advice alone do not provide us with everything we need to make decisions specific to the circumstances. This needn’t just apply to fact-heavy debates such as the EU, but to more personal ones as well. For example: Do I leave my job? The facts might be that you are going to earn more money but it will reduce the amount of time you have to spend on other activities. The evidence of your bank balance / work-life satisfaction may determine one route; equally the fact that your children need your presence at home at the moment or you’ve recently undergone heart surgery may mean a different strategy is required. In these instances, creating a kind of cost/benefit analysis of your situation can help spotlight the best course of action. Doing your homework in this way will mean your decision is an informed one and makes it easier to back up should you need to.

Indecision can be crippling, while impulse action can be harmful – by considering these four steps as a whole you can help eliminate some of the anxiety that comes with decision-making or reduce the potential adverse effects of jumping in without thinking. This is not to say that we will always get it right, but we can go easier on ourselves knowing we’ve done all we can to make the best choice.


If you’re still finding it hard to make decisions and feel you could do with more in depth support exploring your options, motivation or resistance levels, you might want to consider counselling. For a free consultation in the Swindon area, contact Alex O’Donnell on this link.

Social Anxiety - Just Let Me Be By Myself

Social anxiety may be one of the most common anxiety disorders in the UK, but safety in numbers provides little comfort for those who suffer from the condition. Meeting new people, dealing with authority figures or mingling at parties are all situations which might prompt a nervous reaction, but if you’re someone with social anxiety you know the feelings can extend far beyond mild distress. Going to the shops, talking on the telephone or simply eating and drinking in the company of others can be sheer agony – not to mention the hours of pre-emptive worry or sleepless nights spent dissecting the experience afterwards.

Social anxiety is essentially the fear of being judged negatively. It emerges from the belief that you just won’t meet other people’s standards and will be treated with derision, pity or contempt as a result - if not to your face then behind your back. It’s a horrible and debilitating condition but thankfully there is help out there and it’s a subject people are starting to take seriously.

Earlier this year, BBC Radio 5Live aired a special programme on social anxiety, fronted by presenter Nicky Campbell. It features ideas on treatment, coping mechanisms, as well as guests and listeners who have lived with the condition - some have found means of working through it, others simply share their experiences. Whether you suffer from social anxiety disorder yourself or are just curious about it, this is one of the most compelling, helpful and insightful podcasts you can listen to on the subject.

Death, Dying and Bewilderment

With the apparent spike in the number of deaths of prominent figures – along with any personal bereavements we might be enduring - we may find that our sense of morbidity has grown in recent months. Thoughts on death, impermanence and the passage of time – all have a tendency to make us evaluate our lives; what we’ve done with them so far and how we might fill what remains of them.

Nearly fifty years ago, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, published her seminal work, ‘On Death and Dying’, a book which explores our common experiences of grief. Here, Dianne Gray, president of the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross foundation, considers our response to death – in particular the uncertainty and sense of regret that often accompanies it – and explores how we might nurture those feelings into something more positive and life-affirming.

The Internal Critic


Everyone has an internal voice, commenting on our daily thoughts and actions, offering opinions on what we do, think and feel. This is a normal part of the human condition, but the nature of that voice can seriously affect our capacity for happiness. In too many cases that voice can be overly harsh and unforgiving, criticising at every turn and making unreasonable demands.

This article from the Wellness section of U.S. News considers the tone of our internal voice, offering explanations as to why it can so often be our worst critic – and perhaps more importantly, what we can do to alter and lessen its impact. (Just ignore the bloody great advert instructing you to lose weight alongside it!)

There are many self-help suggestions for dealing with your internal critic, but if it's tending to drown out all your other thoughts, you might want to consider counselling. If you live in the Swindon area, feel free to contact Alex O'Donnell for a free initial consultation. 


Bridging the gap between sexual mismatch



It’s a common enough story – you can’t get enough of each other at the beginning of the relationship, but somewhere along the way that connection starts to wane. Practical, day-to-day factors (kids, work, money) can have an obvious impact, but often there are less visible, background features at play.

Our attitudes towards sex are highly individual and are created through lifelong emotional processes – little wonder then that these differences can affect our sexual connectedness and sense of intimacy.

This article by relationship therapist, Michael Salas, explores why couples face sexual mismatch and, crucially, how to take steps in bridging that gap.


The perils of people pleasing

stressed tired busy

We all want to feel accepted, but all too often this can be at the expense of our own happiness or sense of what’s ‘right’ for us. Caring too much about what other people think and how they might judge us leaves us feeling pulled in all directions, trying to satisfy everybody’s needs but our own.

This article by marriage and family therapist, Vicki Botnick, provides a great perspective on this urge to people-please and offers some valuable suggestions for strengthening our own core values and sense of self.