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Episode 206: Belonging


And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast. The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be. I’m psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this is episode 206 it’s titled Belonging and if you're ready we'll start the show.
What the heck it's October already! Another month! Only this ones got Halloween in it which gives us an excuse to dress up daft and celebrate life and then before you know it it'll be November and we'll have bonfire parties, and then it'll be Christmas and by then so many people will be vaccinated and plenty will have had boosters hopefully and we can all get together in sweet harmony. Although if you've ever heard me sing you'll find that sweet harmony is not really my bag if I'm honest.

But we're a tribal species, we're pack animals that want to find our tribe and stick together and usually this month would normally be a month I'd be really looking forward to because, although we usually do it in June and we couldn't this year 'cos of covid, but once a year I would normally be helping out at an annual psychotherapy conference run by an association I'm a member of that is an offshoot of a College I trained at.

The National College of Hypnosis & Psychotherapy, a super organisation and I'd highly recommend their training courses if you're thinking of becoming a hypno-psychotherapist or a hypnotherapist. And the reason I enjoy the conference so much isn't just because of the lectures and seminars. It's the sense of belonging I get when I'm in a group of people that I feel are part of my tribe. I fit in there, it's a place where I'm not the weird one.

Well, that's debatable, potentially I'm still the wacky one even in that tribe but I can't go this year. It being moved from June to October has meant it's clashed with another annual thing I do with a group of friends. And that's a chance to dress up daft and watch The Rocky Horror Show, it's on Saturday actually if you're listening to this as soon as it's released I haven't been yet but if it's not too inappropriate I might put some pics on Instagram, follow me there if you don't already @richardnichollsreal you'll certainly have a giggle.

If you ever see how the audience is expected to dress up for Rocky Horror you'll understand what I mean. I'm going this time as a version of the character Brad, nice tartan bow tie, cummerbund and smart jacket and fishnet stockings and high heels so it's really quite surreal. But every time I go it highlights something for me and that's the importance of a sense of belonging. Because Rocky Horror fans are a bit like members of a social club, or a support group.

But they're all complete strangers to each other. Ok, lets rewind here just in case. Let me tell you briefly about the rocky horror show. It's a very average 1970s musical that was in the right place at the right time to grab the attention of people who felt like an outsider. In all honesty, there's nothing special about the script or the music. If you were to compare it to most musical theatre productions.

It's a story about what would happen if different 1950's B movies got merged into one and came to life. So it's got a naive couple whose car breaks down, a Tarzan Hercules muscle man it's got a Dr Frankenstein castle and people from another planet and all merged with fluid sexual identity. It's really not to be taken seriously. It's no Les Miserables by a long shot. But what it did in the 1970's is brought people together who felt different,

they were gay or bi or didn't know. they were men in so called women's bodies and women in so called men's bodies. And because they made a film out of it in 1975 it started this, I'd say unique, expectation that if you were going to watch it you'd dress up as one of the characters and maybe even shout out alternative lines. Which began to spread to the stage version where now, the cast will pause for the heckles and absolutely play up to it.

The first time I went, cause I've gone 3 times now over the years, this time is my 4th, it was really quite intimidating being around all these people who didn't fit cultural norms. Because we like our expectations to be met we like people to behave in predictable ways, it makes us feel safe and then when everything around you is totally at odds to that it does make you feel quite anxious. Until the interval, because after an hour of it you kind of get desensitised to men in fish nets

and seductive Transylvanian maids. But in a theatre audience of a thousand people you can count on your fingers the people who aren't dressed up and they're the ones who feel like the centre of attention now, not the men in fish net stockings. So this environment becomes a safe place for a lot of folk who struggle with who they are. Because you're accepted, no matter what. It doesn't matter if you're straight, gay male,

female and everything in between. No one judges you. And that's really nice, it's quite unique, even for someone without anxiety it's quite unique to not feel judged everywhere you go. Because we might know intellectually that no one is giving us a second glance in the supermarket or the bus queue or whatever but we don't always feel that way. And for someone with anxiety thats going to be massively exaggerated.

So to be in an environment where everyone is part of something, like a family or a church, 'cos The Rocky Horror Show is a bit like that, is quite nice. It reminded me of a couple of studies at Lancaster University where they got actors to pretend they'd been hurt when they tripped up at a football game to see how often they'd be helped. What they were looking at was whether or not the shirt the football fan was wearing had any correlation with who would help them

because it was a Liverpool v Man United game. When the actor wore a plain shirt and you couldn't tell which group he belonged to, hardly anyone would help him when he fell. If he wore a Manchester United shirt in front of Man United fans when he tripped, 80% of the time someone would help him. If he tripped in front of Liverpool fans he wasn't helped very often, but still more often than if he had a plain shirt on. And the same vice versa if he wore a Liverpool shirt.

And this has been replicated a few times. It seems we have an unconscious sense of solidarity towards people who were think are part of our own group. Psychologists call it in-group and out-group dynamics. And it's useful to study it because it helps to understand prejudice and racism. And in these rather frustratingly divided times

we do need to understand it more, because otherwise all we do is complain about it. Which I get, yeah complain about racism, complain about prejudice and in an age where we can communicate so much easier than we used to it's good to raise awareness. But it's what we do with that awareness that makes a difference. Raising awareness of the inequality of being seen as an outsider won't make any difference. But doing something that overrides it will.

And what it does, what can do that, is seeing the similarities in us rather than the differences. If we can see that we're all part of a group we can feel that kinship, and create a good sense of belonging to those that come into our groups, and for us when we join theirs. Years ago I was a manager in a civil engineering firm, not a good manager 'cos I was a bit too soft.

So my staff thought I was a great Manager, but my Manager didn't. Anyway one guy became a Manager himself after working on the tools for years and thought he'd better do something else 'cos his back wouldn't last otherwise and I asked him why he'd waited so long if he knew he didn't want to be on the tools forever. And he said "Men in ties made me angry" this was the summer of 2000 and I was just finishing my training as a therapist,

so I was interested in this. I leant forwards, tell me more about that, I said as I sipped my Friday afternoon lunch time pint by this canal. And he told me about his prejudices, as a bloke on the tools his in-group was other blokes digging and filling in holes in the road for gas pipes or whatever. And he'd always seen the supervisors that went from site to site as the out-group and so it prevented him from applying for a job like that because he didn't want to become the sort of person he hated.

Until he became 45 and his kids were talking about university and he thought oh god, something needs to change. But in order for him to move forwards in his career he needed to challenge the feeling that anyone in a tie was the enemy. I've gone off on a tangent here because I was talking about belonging, but this has all reminded me of a friend of mine who came to me for some advice about weight loss. She'd been struggling for a few years

And she just couldn't get motivated. And through chatting about it she realised something. I asked her to imagine being the shape and size she wanted to be and asked her to describe the positive differences in the way she looked, and then the way she felt, and then I asked her if there was anything negative about it. Was there anything about being slim that she didn't like? Sometimes people, well women if it's going to be anyone,

Sometimes women don't like the idea of being slim because they associate it with being attractive, and they might not like that for lots of different reasons. But what my friend said was she associated being slim with being successful, with being powerful, bossy. A power dressing business woman who was full of confidence. For whatever reason that was the first place her brain went to when she thought about what would happen if she lost weight.

But she didn't want to be that sort of person, that's not who she identified as at all, in fact she associated that sort of character with being someone with no time for friends and family, who was only interested in work. She'd been that sort of person once and had absolutely no desire to go back there. And it wasn't until she could see the underlying prejudices she had with being slim that the desire to be slim could become greater than the desire to not be.

Because she couldn't see that she fitted into that group. Well I didn't know that I fitted into a group of transvestite men at the theatre until I acted like one. Turns out I do belong, not because I'm interested in cross dressing or even that interested in musical theatre to be honest. But I'm interested in the sense of belonging itself. And if Rocky Horror is one way of getting it I'll do it. It's why those annual hypno-psychotherapy conferences once a year feel so special to me.

Getting a hundred or so other hypno-psychotherapists and hypnotherapists together who hardly know each other at first but by the end of the weekend they can see that they're part of something bigger, they aren't alone. They're accepted, no matter what. The only time it didn't quite work the way it normally does, is when we held a multi modality conference instead. Not just those who were interested in hypnosis

but those who were existential therapists or analysts or art therapists, it was a nice conference, but this Saturday night dinner and dance that we normally have a great time at, and we still did though, didn't quite gel the way it normally does. Because even though we all had one thing in uncommon, we were all psychotherapists, we also had our differences, and everyone split off into their own groups of their own modality, the person centred counsellors clung together, the drama therapists

found each other and stayed put. But because hypno-psychotherapy is more integrative, the training is specifically about all the different modalities of psychotherapy and how they could help different clients, so we're used to embracing the differences in order to see the common ground and so we're chatting to more people because we feel that we belong with ALL the groups, and this is definitely something worth bottling. If you could sell a product that did that the world would be a happier place,

although actually that might be what Ecstasy does and that hasn't worked out too well. Much better to make that sense of belonging yourself rather than tricking your brain into it with psychoactive drugs. Because not belonging is something that we have to learn, and if we can learn that we can also unlearn that and learn something new. No one is born seeing themselves as different.

Or anyone else for that matter, no-one is born prejudiced or racist. We have to learn to see people as different, as part of an out group. But if we see ourselves as the out group then it can genuinely have some really nasty effects on our brain. Its no co-incidence that a bigger percentage of ethnic minorities are diagnosed with schizophrenia in the uk than there should be. African-Caribbean people are four times more likely than any other group to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital for schizophrenia.

I was chatting to a doctor once at a conference that I was a presenter a couple of years ago as he'd been part of a research program into this. And it's really quite significant. If we don't feel accepted or that we belong it can tip us over the edge from neurosis into psychosis far easier than someone with a healthy foundation of belongingness. That feeling of belonging provides a good cushion

and it's amazing where you can find it as I discover every time I get dressed up for The Rocky Horror Show or go to a hypno-psychotherapy conference. And I'd recommend you look for ways to get those needs met yourself, find your tribe folks. Look let's leave it for now. As always if you'd like more episodes from me I do make weekly episodes just like this one every Monday morning through Patreon,

where I also provide some hypnotherapy sessions for you to steer yourself in a better direction if you feel you need it. A lot of people are finding it a very useful resource and if you feel you need something extra or maybe you just want to support the show head on over to Patreon and if you pay annually it's pennies each day, it's like 16p and a percentage of that does go to charitable places as well, so I don't just pocket your 16p like some Ebeneezer Scrooge, there's a lot of good that comes from it and hopefully a lot of good for you too. So if you feel the urge, head over to Patreon and come on board. I'll love you and leave you, enjoy October and I'll be back next time. Bye folks.