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Joanne Gilhooly - Psychotherapist & Counsellor - Dublin City

B.A. (Hons) Counselling & Psychotherapy, Dip. Gestalt, MIACP

Dublin Counselling and Psychotherapy Blog


Pandemic Life: Understanding Backwards and Living Forwards

Posted on May 4, 2020 at 5:31 PM Comments comments (10477)

Existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said “Life can only be understand backwards, but must be lived forwards”. There is a limit to what we can control and what we can plan for and if 2020 so far has anything to teach us, it is that.

In these pandemic days we have been plunged into uncertainty, into a situation that will only truly be understood backwards and must be lived forwards. There are times that we can get around this to a certain extent, we can keep our personal world small and surround ourselves only with the familiar and predictable. This will be boring and unsatisfying, but it does offer an illusion of control which can be enticing. But, an illusion it is. Despite our defensive walls, a global disaster can come along and remind us that there is no certainty.
Eventually, whether we like it or not, if we want to live in a satisfying way, we must live forwards. We must take those tentative steps into the unknown, however shaky they may be, however terrified we may be that we are going to mess this up. You might mess up, of course, but you might also learn something precious, maybe even something life-changing, that could not have been learned in a tidy or organised way. You might even find that you have given yourself a gift, that the messiness and unpredictability of life is anxiety provoking, yes, but it can also be joyous and celebratory.

On the other side of this coin, is when we try to live without ever planning at all, without reflecting on the past, without integrating our learning. We might jump from one emotional impulse to the next, telling ourselves that we live in the moment, but instead what we find is that, while life can be exciting, we seem to repeat the same mistakes again and again. Remember, life can only be understood backwards, but it does need to be understood.

Slowing down and taking the time to reflect and understand might feel boring and unexciting, but it is the other part of what makes life satisfying. Living on impulse alone is a little like eating chocolate for every meal. It tastes great, but it doesn’t last long, you’ll be hungry again soon, and you’ll likely have a blood sugar/emotional crash shortly afterwards. You need some vegetables.

So, what was Kierkegaard trying to teach us? I believe it was that satisfaction and fulfilment are only available to us when we find a balance between the work of reflection and risk. Do your work, live reflexively - that's important, but remember that we will be messy humans too. Sometimes, no matter how well prepared we are, no matter how much homework we have done, we will find ourselves unprepared (or in the middle of a pandemic). And then, we will do our best, and while we might delight ourselves with the discovery of previously untapped capabilities, there is also a chance that we will get it wrong. Or both.
Whatever happens, we will be living life to the full, and that is all we can do.
As that other great existential philosopher, Alanis Morrisette, said “You live, you learn”.



On Guilt...

Posted on November 20, 2015 at 3:36 PM Comments comments (2393)

"You should never reduce the mystery and expanse of your presence to a haunted fixation with something you did or did not do. To learn the art of integrating your faults is to begin a journey of healing on which you will regain your poise and find new creativity. Your soul is more immense than any one moment or event in your past. When you allow guilt to fester and reduce you like this, it has little to do with guilt. The guilt is only an uncomfortable but convenient excuse for your fear of growth."

 ~ John O'Donohue

On Missing the Journey...

Posted on January 26, 2015 at 6:12 PM Comments comments (894)
"No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them." 

                                           ~ Alan Watts

On Being 'Better'....

Posted on May 16, 2014 at 4:21 PM Comments comments (718)

“When people start to meditate or work with any spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are...loving kindness doesn't mean getting rid of anything. [It] means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground....that’s what we know with tremendous curiosity and interest.”

~ Pema Chodron The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness


Posted on April 6, 2014 at 6:58 PM Comments comments (1288)
Counselling for relationship problems Dublin
Vulnerability isn't good or bad: it's not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.
~ Brene Brown, Daring Greatly.

Start where you are...

Posted on February 9, 2014 at 5:54 AM Comments comments (2119)
Counselling in Dublin City Centre
Start where you are...
Use what you have...
Do what you can
~ Arthur Ashe
We all have challenging days, so here is a three step check-in that might be useful when it feels like its all getting too much:
1. Slow down and check in with yourself. What's happening for you right now? What are your thoughts? Your feelings? What's happening in your body?
Are you stressed and tense? Frustrated? Anxious? 
Notice where you feel the tension, anxiety etc.
Be kind to yourself, no matter what your experience is right now.
2. Notice your breathing. Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow?
Just notice it...
Stay with it for a minute or two, and notice if it changes. There is no need to try to change it, just notice if it changes by itself. If it doesn't change, that's fine too.
3. Ask yourself what you can do to help yourself right now. Just listen to yourself - what can you do? Try to leave aside the things you can't do, and focus on what you can do.


Posted on August 25, 2013 at 4:44 PM Comments comments (1491)
Psychotherapy in Dublin
"The cool water of the running stream may be scooped up with open, overflowing palms. It cannot be grasped up to the mouth with clenching fists, no matter what thirst motivates our desperate grab"
~ Sheldon Kopp, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him!

A few words for the inner critic...

Posted on November 12, 2012 at 7:07 AM Comments comments (1303)
It's not the critic who counts...Got a voice inside you that tells you are never good enough? A few words for what we call the 'inner critic'...
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly..."
~ From Theodore Roosevelt's Sorbonne Speech.

Why 'Good Enough'?

Posted on September 23, 2012 at 9:05 AM Comments comments (1508)
The term ‘good enough’, as used by many therapists, stems from the work of D.W. Winnicott, a psychoanalyst and object relations theorist who used it in relation to the mothers and children he worked with.  The good enough mother, though less than ‘perfect’, is good enough to be able to care for her child in a way that helps them to develop high self-esteem, good ego strength, and a strong sense of self.  
The good enough mother, according to Winnicott, is actually more effective than the mother who does not know when to step back. While there is a time in the infant’s life that they need constant care, there also comes a time when the mother needs to step back a bit so the child can grow and learn for themselves. If mother is unable to let go when the child reaches this stage, the child may become overly dependent and have difficulty developing the confidence they need to explore their own way of being, their own values, beliefs, choices and sense of self as they grow. The good enough mother knows when to let go, when to stand back and let her child take the initiative.
Applied to the self, ‘good enough’ indicates the ability to‘be’ or do-nothing-more-for-now, after a period of hard work, knowing when you have reached your unique and very personal limit. Just as the good enough mother is in tune enough with her child to know when she needs to step back, beinggood enough with oneself means knowing when we have given our best and it istime to rest and give ourselves a pat on the back, no matter how small the achievement may seem.
Perfectionism might be defined, in part, as the inability to step back, to let go, to accept where one is at. In this space, acceptance of difficulty, of struggle and of vulnerability, is anathema. The overriding feeling is that one is never good enough and that only by continual striving and forcing of personal limits will one reach a point at which they will feel ok.
This can result in a kind of paralysis or ‘stuckness’ in which the person can neither find the energy to go forward, but cannot allow themselves to be where they are at. Compassionate acceptance of personal limitations can help a person to make the shift out of this ‘life paralysis’, into a more relaxed, grounded and reflective space. In this space, making clear decisions, dealing with daily stressors, and simply enjoying life, with all its inherent terms and conditions, becomes a possibility.
The pursuit of perfection, and a damning inner critic, plays a part in many emotional difficulties, such as depression, severe anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders. When the inner critic is at full throttle, the idea of having self-compassion can feel counter-intuitive, even dangerous. It can be as though if you were to ease up on the self-criticism for a moment, you might suddenly spin out of control. I use the term good enough in the title of this blog, in the hope that it might be a reminder that good enough, really is good enough, and perfection is not all that it seems.
In this blog I will write about all things related to counselling, psychotherapy and emotional issues. I will also try to keep in mind the overall theme of good enough, and the importance of grounding the self in reality for emotional health. Being human means that meeting difficulty is inevitable, but it can also be our best opportunity for growth, and ultimately growth is what counselling and psychotherapy are all about.