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What is “Mental Illness”?

Thursday, June 06, 2019

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Psychotherapy Is About Repairing the Brain

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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On Compassion for Mental Wellbeing

Thursday, May 02, 2019

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Not Forgetting…But Forgiving: Is It Good for Us?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Grandma’s sage advice that we “forgive and forget” is something many of us have grown up hearing. All well and good, we say. But then we have a life experience that shakes this age-old wisdom to the core. Some things – people – we experience seem almost unforgiveable.

And then there’s ourselves. How many of us spend vast amounts of time in our minds beating ourselves up endlessly without self-forgiveness and moving on. What does this do to our mental health and general wellbeing?

Well, research suggests that holding on to emotions like resentment, blame, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger, which can be be fostered through rumination (or playing the same idea over and over in the mind), has dire health effects along the same lines as chronic or extreme stress. For example, blood pressure can be affected, and another study found that supressed hostility and anger were linked to carotid atherosclerosis in a sample of Finnish men. The underlying process is that these intense negative emotions re-set the autonomic nervous system into a state of hyperarousal, triggering a cascade of potentially serious physical problems.

Slipping into the rut of repressed rage also has social consequences. To stay so deeply entangled into bad feelings and negative thinking typically leads to social isolation, or can result in us connecting only with other negative people so the hostility and distress becomes magnified as each person shares their dreadful stories.

Self-unforgiveness resulting from getting trapped in the web of thoughts about our personal mistakes may increase levels of guilt, shame, and regret that in turn negatively impact mental health. Not only are we likely to suffer anxiety disorders, but depression is a risk especially if we isolate ourselves from everyday activities and connections with other people.

To achieve forgiveness, we need to focus on what we call decisional and emotional forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness is about the actions we commit to take - a behavioural intention to give up an unforgiving stance and to act differently toward a transgressor. Emotional forgiveness is the replacement of negative unforgiving emotions with positive emotions towards the person who hurt us. Emotional forgiveness involves psychophysiological changes, and it has more direct health and well-being consequences.

Since the pain of social transgressions (people doing things to us that hurt, especially if done deliberately) is deep, making the decision to forgive is challenging. One tip is to do a cost-benefit analysis. Make a list of the benefits, for you and the other, of hanging onto the pain or distress. Write out why it would be good to stay unforgiving. Then make a list of the costs – what price is to be paid by not forgiving? What benefits could come your way if you choose to forgive, and what costs will be incurred if you forgive. Do this on a sheet of paper drawn into four sections, and take a few days to think about it, letting new insights come to the surface.

Emotional forgiveness might sound easier but for many people who are well skilled at regulating or managing their own emotions, it can be equally challenging. Give this a go. Every time a thought or memory related to the transgressor comes to mind, look around you and pay attention to something in the present moment that gives you a good feeling. Notice the sun shining, feel and appreciate its warmth. Take a look at something amazing in nature that reignites your wonder and awe. Learn to shift your attention away from the inner world into the outer world. Or try using a mantra or affirmation that is a small group of words that inspire you. Over time, as you do this, the stranglehold of unforgiveness will weaken. Writing a forgiveness letter can also be a powerful way to move forward.

Whether you do this in relation to another person, or you do it in relation to yourself, there’s no doubt that making the decision to let go of unforgiveness and get unstuck from the pain of unforgiveness is a huge step towards better health and wellbeing. Next week’s Mental Fitness class will explore forgiveness in more detail and give you more tools for healing.

Dr Kate Lemerle, Psychologist

Chrysalis Counselling & Coaching, Norfolk Island


TEL: 52112 or email

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On Shame, Guilt and Contempt for Social Control

Friday, April 12, 2019

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What is Post Traumatic Growth?

Friday, April 05, 2019

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Tapping into Resilience...and Beyond

Friday, March 29, 2019

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Why Is Trying To Change Habits So Hard?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Habits are patterns of activity in the brain that have become “hard wired” – they have been repeated enough times that when activated they let us get on with things without having to consciously focus attention on the activity. They allow the brain to carry on multiple tasks at the same time by reducing the energy needed for commonly occurring tasks so more energy is available to deal with less common or familiar responses. This is Nature’s way of using available brain energy efficiently…but can be troublesome when we’ve decided that a certain habit no longer serves its purpose.

The brain’s habit-forming co-ordination centre is the striatum, one of the principal components of the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is located deep within the centre of the brain and plays important roles in cognition (thinking and awareness), learning, motivation and other functions. Neural tracts connect the outer cortex with the limbic (emotional) brain through the striatum, which makes it a critical brain structure for linking movement, thoughts and rewarding experiences.

Put simply, this means that repeated actions resulting in pleasure or relief, or those that indirectly result in positive emotional responses such as avoiding failure, are processed quickly by the basal ganglia. This brain structure is directly linked to the amygdala (emotional regulation) and hippocampus (memory) via the striatum which activates dopamine, the brain chemical that causes feelings of pleasure.

Habits – or in some cases addictive patterns of behaviour – are “learned” through repetition which brings about increasing linkages between neurons in this deep part of the brain – as we know, “neurons that fire together, wire together”.

To put this into everyday experience, recall a task you had to learn from scratch, such as operating your computer or a new piece of machinery, learning a new language, or performing a work task such as giving a public presentation. Remember how it felt the very first time you tried to perform the task, especially if you were being observed. Yes, we can all recall that moment of discomfort, if not outright terror! This is the amygdala sending off an alarm signal that you are now in mortal danger, so all your senses are on alert and you might even be experiencing panic.

Now, recall the moment when you completed the task successfully, and maybe even got praise. Relief! Self-satisfaction! And along with that, perhaps a burst of positive self-talk…”I can do this!”.

Fast forward to the tenth, hundredth, thousandth time you repeated the activity …not so much dopamine now because the skill or task has become a habit, something you do now with far less effort put into attention than the first time.

Now consider what’s involved in unravelling that complex set of neural processes in your brain. Now you have to find reasons – conscious thoughts – about the reward likely to be achieved if you stop the habit, and that reward – breaking the habit – has to be more powerful and meaningful than the deeply entrenched relief you gain from doing the habit. If the reasons to stop are not substantially stronger than the reasons to not-stop, then the habit will win.

Then we must make sure that the reward (dopamine hit) from something alternative to the habit is also substantially stronger than the implicit reward gained almost instantaneously from continuing the habit.

Finally, we have to repeat the alternative to the habit many times to establish new neural pathways, literally to retrain the brain’s operating system when the cue that triggers the old habit sets it off. This is called “deep practice” and depends on being mindfully attuned to every moment the activating trigger sets off the old habit, and ready – instantly – to activate the new pattern. This is why we say, “practice makes perfect”.

Now at this point you might be despairing about ever being able to “break” habits you want to change. Don’t forget, though, that your brain has a truly remarkable capacity for learning, adapting and repairing itself. Everything you do easily today was once an unlearned set of skills that grew with repetition – and you can keep adding to your “toolbox” once you know how to drive your brain well.

Dr Kate Lemerle, Psychologist

Chrysalis Counselling & Coaching, Norfolk Island


TEL: 52112 or email

Please 'contact us' for more information.

Norfolk Island Fitness and Health News

Thursday, March 07, 2019

  • Need some motivation to focus on your health and fitness?

MOVE, IMPROVE and find your Health and Fitness "GROOVE" with our 8 WEEK BODY BLITZ Program. Complete on your own or with a like-minded Training buddy. YOU choose the Start Date.

  • Members only competition!

Register now for our 30 Day "METRE MADNESS" Rowing Challenge starting MONDAY APRIL 1st and finishing on TUESDAY APRIL 30th.
Earn the right to "beat the Boss".

  • NEW LORNA JANE Active Wear in stock.

All Gym Enquiries to 52809 or 23569.

                "Motivate the Mind and the Body will follow."

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Non-Violent Communication: Tackling Domestic and Family Abuse

Friday, March 01, 2019

This week’s three-day training with the NSW Education Centre Against Violence (ECAV) has been a reminder about the critical importance for all of us to raise our skills in positive relationship-building. With so many changes in our community over recent years, and the distress and tension felt by many Norfolk Islanders who don’t share identical views on this, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a thriving community depends on peaceful processes for building connections and maintaining healthy patterns of communication.

Statistics about domestic abuse are sobering - the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report last year on family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia. It revealed that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 9 men were physically and/or sexually abused before the age of 15. Almost 1 in 4 (23%) women and 1 in 6 (16%) men have experienced emotional abuse from a current or previous partner. Close to 8 women and 2 men are hospitalised each day after being assaulted by their spouse or partner. The Norfolk Island Health Survey conducted in 20914 showed that 1 in 4 people in our community are “at risk” from violence within intimate partner relationships or within the family. 

Whilst these statistics are headline-grabbing because they draw attention to what is obviously a very serious social problem, with the potential to inflict grave harm on many people, myths about abusive behaviour remain common. For example, surveys show that because coverage of domestic violence overwhelmingly focuses on physical abuse, many people have difficulty self-identifying as victims of its verbal, emotional, psychological or financial forms. Verbal put-downs, threats, intimidation, emotional withholding, property destruction, and harm to pets are all forms of abuse where one person is imposing power and coercive control over another. 

Another common myth is that “real” domestic abuse is primarily men against women. But according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 7 men in the United States have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, and 29% of heterosexual men have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner. The Australian Bureau of Statistics “Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2017” released last year found that males comprised just under half (43% - 54 victims) of all victims of Family and Domestic Violence-related Murders.
Men, more so than women, can also experience legal and administrative abuse - the use of institutions such as legal systems to inflict further abuse on a victim, for example, taking out false restraining orders or not allowing the victim access to his children. Male victims are still excluded from many government anti-violence programs and there are few refuges available for men to seek safety from abusive relationships. 
Abuse in any form should never be tolerated. But if it’s so prevalent, where do we start to try stamping it out?

According to organisations such as the Center for Non-Violent Communication, it starts with learning to clarify what we are observing, what emotions we are feeling, what values we want to live by, and what we want for ourselves and others. That is, we commit to making sure every day we seek opportunities to contribute to each other’s wellbeing, whether in the home, the workplace, our social networks, and the wider community. 

We do this through learning the skills of deep listening along with authentic communication – letting others know with honesty how we feel, what we need, and our thoughts. Deep listening, according to Aboriginal people, is an almost spiritual skill based on respect, and involves inner quiet, still awareness, and waiting .

Tony Robbins describes “deep listening” as “not only allowing yourself the time and space to fully absorb what your conversation partner is saying, you can actually encourage him or her to feel heard and to speak more openly and honestly” . This requires eye contact; presence (stopping your mind from shifting away from the conversation and being truly present); giving nonverbal feedback such as the occasional nod, smile, or other sign that you are attuned to the conversation partner; and connection -  positioning your body in a way that creates a safe and welcoming space for him or her to speak openly.

These seem like easy things to do, but when our passions run high on issues, or we feel overwhelmed by life events that seem out of our control, it’s too easy to let go of higher-level skills and revert to our more primitive “reptilian” behaviour patterns. With committed effort, however, we all have the potential to grow healthier ways of responding to triggers, and when we commit individually to adopting peaceful ways of dealing with frustration or hurt, we build a far stronger and more resilient community. 

Dr Kate Lemerle, Psychologist
Chrysalis Counselling & Coaching, Norfolk Island
TEL: 52112 or email 

Please 'contact us' for more information.

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