I recently watched an episode of the Channel 5 (UK) programme In Therapy. Each episode of the programme follows a different celebrity through counselling sessions, in the hopes of resolving certain issues.
I was particularly interested to see this recent episode as it featured Nikki Grahame of Big Brother fame, who developed anorexia at a very young age and spent most of her young years in treatment centres. Nikki endured herself to many, myself included, with her witty personality and intelligence, but sadly also her temper tantrums which displayed genuine distress.
I think the documentary can be accessed by UK viewers via Channel 5’s catch-up service below (sorry everyone else!):
The Therapy Sessions.
The counselling sessions with therapist Mandy Saligari began with Nikki having a meltdown (panic attack?) about having to open up about the past.
It was sad to see this, and part of me wonders whether the media are exploiting her in the name of entertainment. But that’s another issue in itself.
For the most part I feel her open-ness about her condition is beneficial in helping people to understand their own issues and to reframe themselves and their identity in a positive light.
A Distorted Perception
It was clear during the therapy sessions that Nikki is very hard on herself, even to the point of hating herself in some moments: as suggested by the disgust she has felt looking at her body in the mirror- which she now avoids.
I think many of us who have an extreme sensitivity and have been through childhood experiences that invalidate our sense of self-worth, may have felt similarly that they do not like themselves, perhaps to the point of hatred. I know I have and it is painful to remember those dark times.
It is also clear we are looking at an intelligent, witty young lady, who also has insight into her condition and its effects on others. It is so easy to see the good in her. Her past anorexia has distorted her view of herself physically too- self disgust, yet she presents as anything but disgusting!
So, if I am feeling bad about myself, I can be assured that my opinion is probably completely distorted towards the negative, and perhaps other people see something good and worthy in me. I start then to think of good qualities they may see and then the good thoughts multiply and add to a growing positive relationship with myself.
Recovery from many mental health conditions seems to be about making friends with yourself, loving and taking care of yourself. This is what we haven’t developed throughout childhood- we’ve had mirrored back to us only the negative (the majority of the time anyway) which has coloured our perception of ourselves as “bad” and “shameful”.
Consciously Denying Feelings
One particularly disturbing moment of the shows Nikki respond to perceived criticism by Mandy, by making the decision to not talk. She stares at the ceiling and seems to numb herself to any feeling she might have about this. It’s as if she decides that she doesn’t want to deal with this situation or person anymore, like she can’t cope with it, and the only way she feels she can deal with it is by numbing herself of all feeling and denying it.
This was very familiar to me. I developed a similar pattern of behaviour (though less overt) when I felt I couldn’t cope with certain situations throughout childhood. It is a very childlike way of coping. But we have been taught no other way of dealing with our own distress, so have developed our own coping mechanism at 3,5,9,10,11 years old, whenever, and that part of us is stuck there with this behaviour. We have learnt no other way of dealing with overwhelming emotions.
At one point, Mandy makes the point that Nikki’s emotions are no stronger than anybody else’s, she just hasn’t learnt to manage them. I actually disagree with this. I think some of us do feel emotions much more strongly than others- our sensitivity makes it so. To imply we all feel the same intensity of emotion is quite simplistic I think, and invalidates Nikki’s experiences of her own feelings.
Thankfully Nikki begins talking to Mandy again and they work through what happened in a healthy way. She could have remained in the cocoon she created for herself and refused to finish the counselling. This is a majorly positive step, anybody who achieves a breakthrough like this in counselling or life in general is moving forward positively, to greater maturity. Congratulate yourself! Achievements in life don’t have to be about academic or vocational gain. We must learn to see all the positive steps we take in life, in order for us to see who we truly are- wonderful beings!
A Positive Future
Nikki has moved on from feeling so controlled by anorexia, though she still admits to obsessive cleaning. But it is evident she has more self acceptance than she had in the past and is developing a more positive relationship with herself. This is such a hopeful thing to see- we are all capable of growth and developing self-love. We will move towards the positive and recovery, if that is what we want.
Counselling: My Wellbeing As Priority
Body Image and Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’.