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The Downside of Empathy

From Keir Brady Counselling

If you are empathic, you probably easily identify with the feelings of others. You might also absorb the emotions and moods of those around you. Being in a crowd could leave you feeling exhausted and emotionally drained. It is probably difficult to watch violent movies, or even the news. If you absorb the energy around you and feel what others are feeling, then you might be an empath. While there is nothing wrong with being an empath, it can take a toll on your emotional well-being. If being an empath is negatively impacting your mental health, there are some things you can try that might help.

Being An Empath

If you are an empath, you can easily identify with and experience another’s feelings. Empathy can be a very good quality as it can help you connect with others through a deep level of understanding. You probably have good intuition, are a natural nurturer, and exude a healing energy. Being around joyful, excited people energizes you and makes you feel good. The difficult part of being empathic is that you also pick up on the negative energy and feelings of sadness and despair. This can lead to problems with anxiety and depression when it is hard to separate yourself from the unpleasant emotions of others. If you are sensitive to other people’s feelings and emotions, there are things you can do to keep yourself from absorbing all of the negative energy around you.

1. Name The Feeling

When you are sensitive to other people’s energy, it is difficult to know if what you are feeling belongs to you, or someone else. Naming the feeling you are experiencing can help with this. If you were having a great day and when someone joined you anger came up, this feeling might not belong to you. Being able to differentiate and name your feelings, can help you realize what feelings belong to you and which ones might belong to someone else. 

2. Ground Yourself

If you notice yourself absorbing the energy of those around you, ground yourself back in the present moment. Focus on a specific object nearby. Name the things that are around you. Touch something with a unique texture. Take some deep, cleansing belly breaths. When your focus is on the experience rather than the feeling, it is easier to keep the energy around you separate from you. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can be helpful as well. The more you are able to be fully present in the moment, the less likely you are to take on the negative emotions of others.

3. Be Self-Aware

Self-awareness is important when you are sensitive to other people’s feelings. Acknowledge your need for alone time. Spend time with your own emotions. Allow your feelings to be without judgement. Learn what triggers you in a negative way. Also, become aware of what brings you feelings of joy. When you are more aware of your own feelings, moods, and triggers, it is easier to tell when you are picking up on someone else’s energy. Being more self-aware will enable you to cultivate different ways to acknowledge emotions that do not belong to you without absorbing them.

4. Visualize A Glass Wall

There are a number of techniques that you can use to keep other people’s energy separate. One technique includes visualizing a glass wall between yourself and the other person. The glass wall allows you to see the other person’s emotions. However, the emotions are not able to penetrate the wall. When they hit the wall, they bounce back to the other person, not to you. You can see and acknowledge the feelings, but you do not absorb them. This technique can work in large crowds as well. You can picture yourself surrounded by a glass wall as you move through the crowd. Although you may notice their energy, you do not have to take it on as it cannot get through the wall.

5. Be Curious

When it is easier to pick up on the feelings of someone else, you might also believe that you understand how this impacts them. Even if your assumptions are correct, sometimes people just want to be heard. Being curious about the other person and what they are feeling and how it is affecting them can help you separate what they are feeling from what you are feeling. Instead of taking on someone else’s “bad mood”, you can ask them questions about what they are going through. Gaining a deeper understanding of what the other person is experiencing and why can keep your own feelings separate, no matter how empathic you might be. Showing curiosity about what someone is going through enables them to begin to process their experience through sharing, which can help you both feel closer.

6. Have Strong Boundaries

If you are empathetic, it is very important to have strong boundaries. Since it is natural for you to understand and empathize with others, you might easily become a dumping ground for their negative emotions. It is essential that you know yourself and what you are and are not able to handle. You might need more alone time than others to feel re-energized. Certain people and situations might be particularly draining for you and you may have to limit your exposure to them. Effective boundaries help you set limits based on your own needs, feelings, and energy levels. This way you can limit your exposure to those people that consistently drain your energy.

7. Release The Emotion

Even if you incorporate all of the above, if you are naturally sensitive to the emotions of others, there will be times when you will absorb them. When this happens, you can use another visualization technique to keep from becoming overwhelmed. To do this, you can picture leaves floating down a stream. Picture yourself writing down the feeling you have absorbed onto a leaf. As the leaf flows down the stream and out of sight, the feeling goes with it and you are left with the calmness of the flowing water. Try this the next time you pick up on someone else’s emotions and see if it is helpful.

Empathy is a gift that helps you connect with others. The key to being empathetic without the negative side effects is to maintain a strong sense of self. If you are an empath, and find yourself absorbing the negative energy around you, try some of the ideas above to see if they are helpful. That way, your compassion, deep level of understanding, and healing energy will shine through.

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More on Love ‘Languages’

The love languages concept is helpful for anyone seeking practical ideas and better understanding of their partner.

The idea of different ‘languages’ interests me because I have experience of being in relationships where our mother tongues are different. Verbal/written misunderstandings are rife Body language can add further difficulties. Having tangible other ‘languages’ to work with definitely helps.

But it isn’t the whole story in my view. There are other ways outside of the five and there is a lot more to know when it comes to providing a mutually emotionally supportive relationship with a loved one.

I am currently studying ‘Theory of Mind’ as a possible cause of relationship difficulties.

Theory of mind problems can have a range of serious complications. When people struggle to understand mental states, social relationships, and interactions can suffer.

Interesting observation:

Researchers have suggested that theory of mind problems are one of the hallmarks of autism.5 In a study, they looked at how children with autism performed on the theory of mind tasks compared to children with Down syndrome as well as neurotypical children.

They found that while around 80% of children who were neurotypical or who had Down syndrome were able to answer theory of mind questions correctly, only around 20% of children who had been diagnosed with autism were able to correctly answer such questions.

My experience is that young adults with Down’s form strong and meaningful relationships despite their noticeable difficulties. A person living with autism may come across as withdrawn or even rude whilst the partners of adults with what used to be called Asperger’s often notice a lack of theory of mind on the part of their partner’s to be a major cause of relationship disconnect and stress.

A Word From the Verywell website

Forming a theory of mind is critical in our ability to understand ourselves and others. This ability to understand mental states allows people to introspect and consider their own thoughts and mental states. Such self-awareness is important in the formation of a strong sense of self.

Our social functioning also hinges on having a theory of mind. By being able to think about what other people are thinking, we can better understand others and predict what they might do next.

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And the 8th is for…


“Invalidation is one of the most damaging forms of emotional abuse and can make the recipient feel like they’re going crazy!

“What’s scary, it can be one of the most subtle and unintentional abuses. The invalidated person will often leave a conversation feeling confused and full of self-doubt”. – Dr Jamie Long

These are not my words. They are directly taken from Psychology Today. But from personal experience I can’t overstate the importance of the love language of empathy.

All the other basic love languages types we’ve learned about are nothing if you don’t have the ability to speak the language of Empathy.

It is a language usually acquired (if you have any awareness of emotional intelligence) as a teenager and in your very first relationships. Fail to learn it at your peril!

Too many relationships end up grounded on the rocks due to the failure of one or both parties to demonstrate empathy. It is a sure way to destroy trust, safety, love and hope. A

Anyway….back to a Psychology Today….

Understanding and Developing Empathy

One of the best tools we have as humans is the ability to feel empathy. The world would be a better place if we were all capable of finding that place within ourselves to help another person feel that they are not alone and that someone else understands what their soul is going through.

The good news is that you don’t have to go to years of graduate school to learn how to do this.

Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of another person.

When that person is your other half, the importance of empathy cannot be overstated.

Having empathic experiences and exchanges with the one you love is one of the most bonding things you can do.

Ask your partner to avoid judgement, unsolicited advice, or personal opinions when you are expressing your feelings or worries.

An empathetic partner should listen with open compassion and tenderness and validate your feelings, (even if he or she doesn’t necessarily agree with them all).

Integrity is key to an empathic connection with someone else. If an outside or selfish agenda is in the mix, no one will grow or heal.

The process is one of soothing the other’s pain by letting them know that you get it, and your opinion is not part of the process.

Keep your focus on this dynamic, and you will achieve the desired outcome.

In your relationship, when either of you is experiencing a difficult time, getting some support and understanding from the love of your life can make all the difference in the world.

Just a few kind words about the emotions that are being felt in the room will help everyone feel better.

When you have a deep discussion like this, it is always good to make a light physical connection, for the power of touch is part of empathic healing.

Be open and honest and always tell the truth, but this is not a place for brutal honesty. Be soft and gentle about it if you have to suggest a course correction.

Wanting the other person to feel better is the essence of empathy. Being able to give fully and completely is a tool that will serve you well throughout your life and keep your connections strong. When you are empathetic with someone, it is a gift that goes in both directions.

Remember that you can’t feel what someone else is feeling if your emotions are high. You need to find a way to calm yourself before trying to engage in a meaningful conversation.

Taking a few deep breaths and speaking softly and gently will help. You don’t have to be an expert to be empathic. You just have to care enough to listen with your heart as well as your ears.

Almost all of us have the ability to be empathic, and some can choose to turn it on and off. My suggestion is that you try to keep that sensitivity alive within you.

Showing empathy to others is a gift to those around you and will provide you with positive feelings of self-worth.

Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character.

Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately.

It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own, and enables prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced.

Some surveys indicate that empathy is on the decline in western societies, findings that motivate parents, schools, and communities to support programs that help people of all ages enhance and maintain their ability to walk in each other’s shoes.

Empathy helps us cooperate with others, build friendships, make moral decisions, and intervene when we see others being bullied.

Humans begin to show signs of empathy in infancy and the trait develops steadily through childhood and adolescence. Still, most people are likely to feel greater empathy for people like themselves and may feel less empathy for those outside their family, community, ethnicity, or race.

Why is empathy important?

Empathy helps us connect and help others, but like other traits, it may have evolved with a selfish motive: using others as a “social antenna” to help detect danger. From an evolutionary perspective, creating a mental model of another person’s intent is critical: the arrival of an interloper, for example, could be deadly, so developing sensitivity to the signals of others could be life-saving.

How do children develop empathy?

Babies display an understanding that people’s actions are guided by intentions and are able to act on that understanding before they are 18 months old, including trying to comfort a parent. More advanced reasoning about other people’s thoughts develops by around age 5 or 6, and research shows that parents who promote and model empathy raise more empathetic children.

What’s the difference between empathy and sympathy?

Empathy, sympathy, and compassion are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Sympathy is feeling of concern for someone else, and a desire that they become happier or better off, while empathy involves sharing the other person’s emotions. Compassion is an empathic understanding of a person’s feelings accompanied by altruism, or a desire to act on that person’s behalf. 

Can Empathy be Learned?

Researchers believe people can choose to cultivate and prioritize empathy. People who spend more time with individuals different from themselves tend to adopt a more empathic outlook toward others. Other research finds that reading novels can help foster the ability to put ourselves in the minds of others. Meditation has also been shown to help cultivate brain states that increase empathy.

What are mirror neurons?

Some neuroscientists have advanced the concept of “mirror neurons” as a possible source of empathy. These neurons, it is theorized, enhance the capacity to display, read, and mimic emotional signals through facial expressions and other forms of body language, enhancing empathy. But whether mirror neurons actually operate this way in humans is a subject of longstanding scientific debate, and some scientists question their very existence. 

Empathy in Relationships

The ability to convey support for a partner, relative, or friend is crucial to establishing positive relationships. Empathy enables us to establish rapport with another person, make them feel that they are being heard, and, through words and body language, mimic their emotions. Perspective-taking, or the empathic ability to assume the cognitive state of another person and see a problem through their eyes, can further cement a connection.

Love Does Not Automatically Include Empathy

Based on these definitions and my own experience counseling couples, love does not necessarily include empathy. Think about how some divorced people may still love one another, but never could understand each other!

When it comes to the survival of intimate relationships, no matter how much love there is between you and your partner, there’s no guarantee that you both will be able to empathize—even if you think you’re “soulmates.” Without empathy, the love in your relationship will end up like “love” as in tennis—one big zero.

If you are questioning whether or not to throw in the relationship towel and call things quits, I am asking you to carefully pay attention to what I am about to share about how crucial empathy is for struggling relationships to heal and thrive.

How about romantic relationships?

In healthy relationships, people expect their partners to empathize with them when they face hardship or personal struggles, but the ability to empathize with a partner in good times may be at least as important.

In one study, displaying empathy for a partner’s positive emotions was five times more beneficial for relationship satisfaction than only empathizing with his or her negative emotions.

Can narcissists show empathy?

People high in narcissism, or who have narcissistic personality disorder, can exhibit empathy and even compassion. However, that ability only goes so far, as ultimately their own needs come first. Some researchers believe narcissists can develop greater empathy by developing greater self-compassion, which can increase their own feelings of security and self-worth and enable them to open up to hearing others.

The Downside of Empathy

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be beneficial, but when it becomes one’s default mode of relating to others, it can blind an individual to their own needs and even make them vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them.

Can you be too empathic, or not empathic enough?

People who regularly put the feelings and perspectives of others above their own may experience feelings of emptiness or alienation and develop generalized anxiety or low-level depression. Psychopaths, on the other hand, are capable of empathic accuracy, or correctly inferring thoughts and feelings, but may have no experiential referent for it: a true psychopath does not feel empathy.

Can people run out of empathy?

First responders, humanitarian aid workers, doctors, therapists, journalists, and others whose work involves opening themselves up to others’ pain tend to be highly empathic. However, they may come to share the heartbreak of those they help or whose stories they record. As such “emotional residue” accumulates, they may shut down, burn out, and become less willing or able to give of themselves.

How do I know whether I’m a highly empathic person?

Empaths are often characterized as being highly sensitive and overly focused on the needs of others. They may benefit from time alone, as they find it draining to be in the presence of other people. People who are very empathic are more likely to be targeted by manipulative individuals. For this reason, it is important to create healthy boundaries in all relationships, and to be cognizant of relationships with “energy vampires,” who are draining to empaths and non-empaths alike.

Are you ready?

And now my words, how to demonstrate empathy, what to say, what it looks like IRL:

First, the person who is being honest, vulnerable and open enough to trust you with their deepest, innermost feelings, requires that the conversation that you have together is a ‘no consequences conversation’ otherwise known as ‘don’t play the relationship card’.

If the person has tried before and you’ve talked over them, shut them down, made them feel inferior/told off/mocked (how do you know this? Because you felt superior, in charge, amused, or contemptuous) you’ll need to repair this first by stating clearly that they are now safe and can talk to you without fear.

“This will not effect the respect and love I have for you. I know in the past I’ve shut you down, and you’ve felt invalidated because I’ve suggested that your feelings are wrong or I’ve tried to offer an alternative narrative and made suggested solutions which I now realise wasn’t required or appropriate and probably made you feel even worse!

“I’m sorry about that. It’s a weakness of mine that I’m actively working on not doing. You’re safe to talk to me this time and whatever you say, I’m listening not judging”. (Something like that).

And then this is the magic method, the secret sauce to not being an emotionally bankrupt attacker and instead being an empathetic human:

Listen carefully (nodding, humming the occasional smile to signify you ‘get it’, giving kind eye contact, maybe gently touching the other person if appropriate but not talking) as they state their truth.

Be mindful of your body language, facial expression, stance (don’t tower aggressively, stare, roll eyes, sigh aggressively or keep arms or legs crossed) but sit perhaps next to them, arms down and open, soft arms and eyes. No tapping, stimming or other negative leaks!

Then, conscious of a low, quiet, gentle, slow tone volume and style of voice, repeat in paraphrase what they just told you asking ‘have I got this right?’

It’s not about you and you are not required to correct them or argue little minor points your job is to show the person you care about what you heard from them.

They may want to correct your version and that’s fine, you introduce their clarifications into your paraphrase, repeating their story until they say ‘yes! That’s it! You’ve got it!’

You don’t need to agree to it all by the way. Your memory might be different. But this moment isn’t about you and you are not both in court. It’s about emotion. It’s about the other person feeling safe exposing their feelings and vulnerability which is actually a huge honour they are bestowing on you.

You are going to learn about them and this is going to massively improve your relationship. They are going to appreciate this a lot. It’s a win-win. This is where healing and growth in the context of your relationship happens.

Other healing takes place on your own of course. But the danger of only personal self growth on your own (when in a relationship) is that you grow apart. One day, you wake up and ‘pooooffff’ the love has disappeared. Be aware!

Back to the empathy moment. You’ve listened, they’ve poured their heart out. You listened without making it about you and you’ve then paraphrased their story, confirming you understood and also taking on board any clarifications they make (they will interrupt you in your paraphrasing, and you are not offended).

Do NOT under any circumstances talk with contempt, mockery, sarcasm or disbelief. If they feel ridiculed or mocked at this point, this will probably be the last meaningful, authentic, honest, open conversation you’ll ever be allowed to hold with them.

Any negative response will indicate to them that you are not a safe person. Their barriers will go up. Your relationship will collapse into a permanent state of passive aggression and resentment. It’s your choice!

Once you’ve recounted their story, you need to apologise (if appropriate) for your part.

Even the most hardened non-apologiser can rustle up something like ‘I’m sorry for the part I’ve played in this I truly am, what can we do to resolve this and make things better?”

And let them speak again.

At some point, say ‘I’m so grateful to you for telling me this! I can imagine how awful you must have felt. I can see now that I probably didn’t handle that very well and I’m sorry”.

An honest apology is always met with a warm heart. If the person didn’t care about you they wouldn’t have been upset in the first place.

If you ignore or argue their points, and instead start on about how YOU felt, how they annoyed YOU, how YOU have a list of grievances….then you’ll blow it.

This is not your playpen. It’s theirs! In fact, it’s up to you to ‘book’ a no consequences conversation yourself where the tables are turned and you get to say your thing. BUT don’t take over this situation.

It’s like a pretty girl invited to a wedding showing up in a long, white dress with flowers in her hair. No! Not your wedding! Organise your own! Another time!

Once your significant person has had their say, and you’ve actively listened, respected their points, paraphrased it back, apologised and asked if there’s anything that can be done, and the other person indicates that they are finished, that’s the cue for a hug if appropriate, a cuppa, and saying ‘I’m so proud of you for sharing your feelings, it’s not easy is it? These conversations are so important to the growth of our relationship and I’m so glad we are able to clear the air! Thank you!’

They will probably love you for life.

It’s so important. You can do all the other Love Languages, buy presents, book dates, send cute texts, put the bins out, be their dream lover, but they are all superficial compared to this. This is the Game Changer or the Happy Home Wrecker (if you screw it up!)

Vulnerable, injured, honest, authentic, open, loving souls will tolerate invalidation for a long time from a significant person, becoming more and more distressed in the process.

But one day, their self-survival gene kicks in and they’ll see you invalidating and ignoring them and maybe just maybe they’ll pluck up the courage and self-worth to finally, reluctantly, cautiously talk to someone who gives a damn.

Then you will have lost your greatest fan and the sweetest soul. They will heal and run. Don’t say you didn’t know.

Empathy as a Bridge (from psychology today)

Think of empathy as a bridge that connects one partner to the other. Each of you as partners grew up with your own unique experiences and expectations. Being empathetic is the best way to bridge the gap of your differences. This bridge, when strong, can withstand the inevitable pounding forces of stresses on the relationship, including the demands of children, time, work, financial, and other pressures. In a truly mutual intimate relationship, which means a partnership of shared understanding, partners are stimulated and energized by genuinely empathizing with one another.

From Dr Jamie Long:

How to Validate Someone:

  • Recognize that validating someone’s emotional experience does not necessarily convey agreement with it or that you think they’re right. You can communicate that someone’s emotion is valid without liking the emotion. *Remember, emotion is different from behavior.
  • Avoid becoming defensive or offering unsolicited advice. If you are the target of the emotion, try to accept responsibility for at least a small part of the complaint. If you have an idea on how to solve their problem, ask: “Do you want my help with this problem?” If the answer is “No,” focus on listening.
  • Understanding must precede intervention. To truly listen to someone means to try to understand their position. The deeper you can understand where they’re coming from, the more validating you will be.
  • Reflect the Feeling. “I can see you’re really upset.” “This must be so painful.”
  • Summarize the experience. “I totally understand that you’re upset because I wasn’t on time which was rude and irresponsible.” “This must be so painful, it’s devastating to experience such a loss.”

Linehan suggests using the highest level of validation that you can in any situation.

The First Level is Being Present. There are so many ways to be present. Holding someone’s hand when they are having a painful medical treatment, listening with your whole mind and doing nothing but listening to a child describe their day in first grade, and going to a friend’s house at midnight to sit with her while she cries because a supposed friend told lies about her are all examples of being present.

Multi-tasking while you listen to your teenager’s story about his soccer game is not being present. Being present means giving all your attention to the person you are validating.

Being present for yourself means acknowledging your internal experience and sitting with it rather than “running away” from it, avoiding it, or pushing it away. Sitting with intense emotion is not easy. Even happiness or excitement can feel uncomfortable at times.

Often one of the reasons other people are uncomfortable with intense emotion is that they don’t know what to say. Just being present, paying complete attention to the person in a nonjudgmental way, is often the answer. For yourself, being mindful of your own emotion is the first step to accepting your emotion.

The Second Level is Accurate Reflection. Accurate reflection means you summarize what you have heard from someone else or summarize your own feelings.

This type of validation can be done by others in an awkward, sing-songy, artificial way that is truly irritating or by yourself in a criticizing way.

When done in an authentic manner, with the intent of truly understanding the experience and not judging it, accurate reflection is validating.

Sometimes this type of validation helps the emotional person sort through their thoughts and separate them from their emotions. “So basically I’m feeling pretty angry and hurt,” would be a self-reflection. ”Sounds like you’re disappointed in yourself because you didn’t call him back,” could be accurate reflection by someone else.

Level Three is Reading a Person’s Behavior and Guessing What They Might be Feeling or Thinking. People vary in their ability to know their own feelings. For example, some confuse anxiety and excitement and some confuse excitement and happiness. Some may not be clear about what they are feeling because they weren’t allowed to experience their feelings or learned to be afraid of their feelings.

Often, people mask their feelings because they have learned that others don’t react well to their sensitivity. This masking can lead to not acknowledging their feelings even to themselves, which makes the emotions more difficult to manage.Being able to accurately label feelings is an important step to being able to regulate them.

When someone is describing a situation, notice the emotional state. Then either label the emotions you hear or guess at what the person might be feeling.

“I’m guessing you must have felt pretty hurt by her comment” is Level Three validation. Remember that you may guess wrong and the person could correct you. It’s her emotion, so she is the only one who knows how she feels.

Level Four is Understanding the Person’s Behavior in Terms of their History and Biology. Your experiences and biology influence your emotional reactions. If your best friend was bitten by a dog a few years ago, she is not likely to enjoy playing with your German Shepherd.

Validation at this level would be saying, “Given what happened to you, I completely understand your not wanting to be around my dog.”

Self-validation would be understanding your own reactions in the context of your past experiences.

Level Five is normalizing or recognizing emotional reactions that anyone would have. Understanding that your emotions are normal is helpful for everyone.

Just knowing that anyone would be upset in a specific situation is validating. For example, “Of course you’re anxious. Speaking before an audience the first time is scary for anyone.”

Level Six is radical genuineness. Radical genuiness is when you understand the emotion someone is feeling on a very deep level. Maybe you have had a similar experience. Radical genuineness is sharing that experience as equals.

Validation strengthens relationships and helps with managing emotions. By communicating acceptance, validation empowers your and others.

For emotionally sensitive people, self-validation and validation by others helps them manage their emotions more effectively.

Emotional invalidation is painful. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but it’s a sign of emotional abuse when done repeatedly and intentionally.

Your feelings matter. Emotions serve an important purpose and shouldn’t be ignored. For example, feeling angry, afraid, or sad tells you that something’s wrong. You don’t want to miss these crucial pieces of information because they can help you to take care of yourself and make decisions to keep yourself safe.

Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They are a reflection of your thoughts, experiences, and perceptions, which is why two people can have the same experience, but feel differently.

It’s also important to note that validation – saying that someone’s feelings are acceptable or worthwhile – isn’t the same as agreeing with their feelings. We can certainly feel differently, but make the effort to try to understand and empathize with our loved one’s feelings.

Emotional invalidation might sound something like this:

  • I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.
  • You’re overly sensitive.
  • You probably took it too personally.
  • You’ll get over it.
  • Just let it go.
  • You’re a strong person.
  • It could be worse.
  • God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • I know exactly how you feel.
  • You shouldn’t be angry.
  • Don’t be sad.
  • You make a big deal out of everything.
  • That didn’t happen.
  • Stop making things up.
  • You’re overreacting.
  • You probably misunderstood.
  • Stop being so dramatic.

Invalidation can also be non-verbal: rolling your eyes, ignoring, playing on your phone or another distraction, leaving the room.

Generally, the closer the relationship you have with someone, the more important it is for them to understand your feelings. However, you have to be realistic about other people’s capabilities to do so. If this person repeatedly invalidates your feelings and isn’t interested or motivated to change, you need to take steps to distance yourself and take care of your own feelings. You may want to calmly and without blame state that you feel invalidated. This acknowledges that you’ve been hurt and gives the other person the opportunity to make it right.

The key, again, is not to get drawn into a debate about who is right or wrong, but to set a boundary that states how you want to be treated and to leave the situation if your needs aren’t respected.

It’s important to form relationships with people who love and respect you, who care about your feelings and want to understand who you are and how you feel.

It’s also important for you to care about, understand, and validate your own feelings. As you know, we can run into emotional problems and become victims when we rely too heavily on external validation.

Try this affirmation to help you validate your own feelings. An excerpt of it is below.

I respect and honor myself when I pay attention to and accept my feelings.  

I will try to slow down and make time to notice how I feel. I know that my feelings matter and I will value the truth and wisdom they contain. Others may try to invalidate my experiences and feelings, but I will hold on to my truth.

I can hold on to my truth and also remain open to other people’s perspectives as long as there is mutual respect. I’m learning to distinguish between people who invalidate and disrespect me and those who are curious and interested but have different experiences and feelings than my own.

I can choose not to spend time with people who continue to invalidate my experiences and feelings. I will choose to surround myself with people who support my healing and growth, who push me to be a better person, and who leave me feeling better about myself — not worse.

I can validate my feelings by reminding myself that all feelings are acceptable and have a purpose; my feelings matter and they aren’t wrong.

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7th Love Language

Chapman’s ideas around love ‘languages’ is a brilliant concept. In my previous post I dared to suggest that he missed one tho: Food.

I’ve carried on thinking about this topic and realised that I think I’ve come up with another: Quantity Time.

Cherish the time you have

When it comes to Gary Chapman’s five love languages, quality time is the love language that centers around togetherness. It’s all about expressing your love and affection with your undivided attention. … They feel important, loved, and special—like you were intentional in setting aside time just for them.

Quantity Time is quite different; it is more about hanging out, chilling, maybe doing different things or sharing chores or even doing individual chores or work but under the same roof. I’m a big fan of doing this.

Alone time is essential, rejuvenating, healing, important. However, for some people, having the assumption that you and your partner will be together is a default setting. I think they are on to something.

Too much alone time could eventually lead to complete disconnect as each grows and develops as individuals, with little influence from each other.

I’ve known independent-of-each-other successful couples who say they woke up one morning and realised they were lying next to a (pleasant) stranger with whom they no longer felt any connection.

They literally fell out of love, ‘grew apart’ and then either carry on in neutral gear or one (or even both) starts to feel desperately depressed and lonely, submerging themselves even deeper in their own little world and special interests that they do not share with their partner.

They build walls, they are friendly but somehow distant, passion declines, they might find they don’t even like each other very much anymore. Or they just feel indifferent.

That’s a terrible danger for some long term relationships. If you want it to last, you must put the hours in and ensure your relationship is one of your top priorities. The quality of your relationships is, after all the most important factor when it comes to longevity.

It’s often said that a couple who “plays together stays together” and I believe there’s a lot of truth in that.

Quantity Time doesn’t mean going on lavish dates or sitting together watching a film together (though of course Quality Time is a Love Language worth speaking fluently).

Quantity Time is the wonderful, ordinary everyday. It’s the daily routine, the hours, days, weeks, months, years, where you naturally want to be and do your regular life alongside each other.

You become familiar with each other, intimate, easy, relaxed. You show your true authentic self with all your unhealed trauma, funny little ways, needs, secret talents.

He might be downstairs washing up, you might be upstairs writing your novel, but you have an energy field around you. You’ll pop downstairs and help tidy up, or he’s put the kettle on and you make the tea.

When a couple gets comfortable being together, they grow together. They share their thoughts, emotions, feelings, they become empathetic and even sympathetic to each other.

They complete each other and sentences (and get it right) or even sense the other’s thoughts.

They start to really tune in to each other and become a tight team. They might share rituals or deliberately give their partner ‘space’ without leaving the building,

When one does pop out, there’s a loving hug and kiss before departure and in their return. If they disappear for hours the other will start texting ‘are you ok?’

Quantity Time is a bit like adopting a long term healthy lifestyle that is about being a couple, rather than two individuals who live together.

Quantity Time builds resilience in your relationship, at its best it creates harmony and deep security. ‘My other half’ or ‘my better half’ become natural descriptions and are said with great affection.

Examples of Quantity Time include couples who run businesses together, or both work from home on different jobs, or couples who go straight home from work to be together.

Retired couples buy camper vans to travel and enjoy lots and lots of Quantity Time together, as do keen gardeners. One might tend the veg patch, the other may be the lawn cutter. Both invest in the menial tasks required of their life together and both love it.

Spending lots of time together and assuming that you’ll spend your downtime together also provides huge opportunities to spontaneously express the other love languages, like little acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation.

If you’re not together this isn’t going to happen very often. It’s fundamental , if you think about it.

Knowing your loved one is near and being able to genuinely take that for granted as you both potter about, doing not much, maybe shopping or cleaning or caring for your children or pets, is an incredibly precious gift. For me, it’s clearly a love language.

Spending all that time together can be incredibly stabilising for anyone (and that’s pretty much everyone) who has experienced any form of loss or abandonment in their past. It stops them defaulting back to only ever feeling safe on their own. No man is an island. We are built for connection.

Life is short. Love is all we seek. If you are lucky enough to find it, show your love by spending your most precious asset on each other: yes that’s your time.

Why wouldn’t you choose to spend it with the one you truly love? Quantity Time fills a huge love tank that you both can thrive on.

“I saw that you were perfect, and so I loved you. Then I saw that you were not perfect and I loved you even more.” —Angelita Lim

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” —Dr Seuss

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” —Robert A. Heinlein

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” –Audrey Hepburn

“I need you like a heart needs a beat.” –Unknown

“I am who I am because of you. You are every reason, every hope, and every dream I’ve ever had.”The Notebook

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.” —Alfred Tennyson

“Take my hand, take my whole life too. For I can’t help falling in love with you.” —Elvis Presley

“I love you – I am at rest with you – I have come home.” — Dorothy L. Sayers

“A soul mate is someone who understands you like no other, loves you like no other, will be there for you forever, no matter what.” —P.S. I Love You

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The 6th Love Language is….

Based on his years of helping quarrelling couples, Dr Gary Chapman categorised different ways we all express love into five headings and wrote a relationship ‘Bible’ The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.

Chapman explained that for couples who really love each other, but seem to be struggling, having awareness of these different expressions of love (and needs) could provide insight and solutions.

Might we be expressing our love in “foreign languages” to each other? After all, it’s lonely when it feels like no one speaks your mother-tongue.

Luckily languages can be learned so that each can speak and recognise each other’s dominant love language. We might find that we and our loved ones need some or even all of them.

The languages are labelled Acts of Service; Physical Touch; Words of Affirmation; Gifts; and Quality Time.

A simple multiple choice questionnaire (available online) can reveal your preferred options for giving and receiving or recognising love.

I couldn’t wait to do the test. Of course, getting those you love to do it too (and sharing their results) is so insightful. It can be a little surprising and revealing. It’s true I’ve had a few ‘ah ha’ moments doing this.

It started to make more sense to me, how we are busily expressing (and asking for) love by our many little things we do and say to each other. It’s a very helpful framework.

But I have a feeling it’s not the whole story. For me, it felt like there was something missing from the list. I thought deeply about how I express my love.

Situations where others have helped me feel loved arose during these thoughts and reminded me of how lovely those moments were. What were those memories triggering? And why was my tummy rumbling?

What came into my mind was a memory from my professional life when I was working for the BBC. We were making a food series “Franco and Friends” about a wonderful Italian chef who, with his talented Welsh wife Ann had successfully established a superb restaurant in a remote Welsh pub in the middle of nowhere.

My job entailed a lot of time spent in the kitchen and front of house with the proprietors, their staff and guests. I guess I expected a posh looking place with haughty staff. What I discovered was a basic, homely, welcoming environment.

The famous and often wealthy customers simply fell in love when they came through the doors. It was that emotion that we wanted to capture in film. What transpired was that they wanted to experience what the locals (who had made the place viable) had felt from the outset: they wanted to feel the love.

Everything about the place felt magical: the little vegetable and herb plot lovingly tended by Franco each morning to bring to the lunch time table, the beautiful simplicity of the dishes, most of all Franco and Ann’s heartfelt passion for the food. I was soon captivated too.

The sixth Language of Love is surely Food with a capital F.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt sure. I also realised that this may explain why so many people are willing to invest so much of their lives into the production, acquisition, preparation, presentation and consumption of beautiful, tasty food.

Love is all you need, one steamy, delicious ladle at a time.

Food is of course a fundamental biological need. In the 70s as a child I was curious about the idea that food would become an automated, instant product as the moon landing revealed food pouches wrapped in vacuum packs had kept the astronauts alive.

We believed one day we’d pop a pill or mix up a powder, thus removing all the need, time, work and hassle to prepare and eat food altogether.

We’d simply fuel ourselves instantly like filling up a car then carry on with what we really wanted to do in life…like working out how to live on Mars.

But we didn’t. We carried on lovingly digging the earth, choosing, preparing, cooking and presenting food on pretty plates.

I have repeatedly expressed to family and friends that I pour all my love into food. I assign entire days to the process. I feel fantastic (even though it worries me that it takes up a lot of my time when I could be doing other things like earning money).

Why do I prepare a three course meal with produce from our local farm shop and garnishes picked from the hedgerows when we could in fact drink a protein shake? It’s because I have the urge to do so, especially when those I love are near.

If food as love is your dominant love language you’ll be the one who arises early to make the perfect cup of tea and poach eggs gently on a bed of freshly-picked herbs you cultivated in a pot on your windowsill.

You’ll be the one relied upon to have the necessary skills and patience to bash out an impressive Sunday lunch.

It’ll take you all morning and you’ll love each and every moment of it. Those lucky enough to be at your table will feel full of love by the end of it.

You’ll want picnics rather than a hurried fast food drive thro’s. You’d rather save up and go to your expensive neighbourhood restaurant because you know the chef is as passionate about the food as you are and you’ll literally feel that love the moment you step in the door.

Fancy places that attract crowds don’t have that vibe, where meals are planned and priced at a head office hundreds of miles away: they just don’t do anything for you.

It was the powerful memories of food related moments with others that cemented my feeling that food really is the sixth language of love. For me it’s numero uno.

I thought about those incredibly nurturing moments where I felt so loved in my childhood: going to my nana’s house for an unending Sunday lunch, (I never wanted to leave); visiting my Aunty Flossy in Cornwall to eat Golden Syrup sprinkled with Cornflakes in home made pastry with clotted cream; helping my dad make fudge out of tinned condensed milk.

As I grew up and had my first sleepovers I remember the love and care that I received during the preparation of a traditional west Walian cawl, as I experienced the unconditional love of a Welsh Mam in her kitchen. That love feeds me to this day.

Later I learned from my Lebanese mother-in-law the intricacies of a proper mezze. I could go on and on…my heart is full of the love of those who cooked so beautifully and all they needed in return was my appreciation as I willingly ate from their nurturing table.

Now I try to remember those dishes and put my passion into my pot, remembering those kind and loving people as I do so.

And that is why the preparing and receiving of food is to me (and many others too) the most important language of love.

You could argue it’s a mixture of acts of service and gifts but to me it goes much deeper than that.

When I cook a meal I realised that I also receive the nurturing love as well as whoever I’m cooking for.

Food is a route to that all-important self love and care along with loving and nurturing others and it is the very sharing that makes it so perfectly, powerfully loving.

Realising the love aspect of food may also go some way in explaining how we can have an unhealthy relationship with food.

It was once said that the ‘way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ and I’d say that’s not very inclusive.

The route to some human hearts is definitely through their stomach (and encapsulates all our senses in the process).

That’s important if they speak and wish to hear the soothing sixth love language: Food Glorious Food.

Bon appetit.

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Day 366

It’s been a year. Apart from a break in September and before lockdown came again in December I’ve spent a year experiencing living under House Arrest. like many of my fellow carers similarly restricted, it’s been quite a year.

Unlike many holed up in cramped conditions, I’m blessed with garden and country lanes. In the grand scheme I’m very fortunate that decisions I made 20 years ago have passed the test of time.

I’m grateful I’ve succeeded (so far) on keeping the virus away. I’ve delivered on my promise to keep my son out of harm’s way.

A year ago our only exit strategy back out there into everyday life (when the Government allowed) was vaccination and that idea brought understandable disbelief by many.

I was told I’d be stuck for 10 years. ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to catch the virus and have done with it?’ Seemed to be the vibe.

No thanks, that’s not going to work for me. I decided that the world of clever people would ‘science the sh1t’ out of this situation. My job was to wait and trust. And stay out of trouble in the meantime.

What have I learned from a year in ‘solitude’ ? I’m just remembering I endured a year of solitude when I was a newly married 22 year old . Fresh from our honeymoon, my husband, on whom I leaned on for my feelings of connection and happiness, was sent away by his employer. We endured a year of separation. It was so upsetting I think it irreparably changed the course of our relationship.

History repeats. And here I am, nearly 40 years older and wiser, but the pain of being robbed of what I yearn for – romantic connection – remains the same.

Now I could list the accomplishments, projects, exercise, diet, cooking, e-learning I’ve done (I haven’t wasted my time and neither have my cell mates) but the thing that’s happened to me is perhaps I’ve experienced a psychic ‘split’ where I appear to be me, doing my thing, but in fact there’s another ‘me’ that’s experienced the loneliness of this last year and that’s going to take a while to reconcile.

Today I’m pouring out my love baking and having Mother’s Day weekend fun.

Every day that I wake up alone I feel so weird … disconnected, until my enthusiastic son bounces in at some point and the daily chores unfold.

My disabled son and I have become the ‘odd couple’ who have lived through this together. I’ve had to make the decisions, keep us safe, do the logistics, cook the food, organise the fun.

He’s stood resolutely by my side, trusting my decisions, making me tea (sooooo much tea, if a drink could speak it surely would say ‘I love you mum’), dictating what’s on the telly and what time I’m finally allowed to sleep.

He’s been cheerful, healthy and present every single day apart from the brief return to college which ended with us both back here again as the second wave and new variants arrived.

Amongst my distress at being deprived of adult company sometimes I’ve lost sight of how my son has also experienced the loss of his hard won freedom and friends at college. We’ve both paid a big price to keep him safe.

And now as we begin to emerge, and vaccines are aplenty, we are both so much stronger, resilient, and love each other with an ease that comes after prolonged surviving together.

You either fall out or fall in line. For us, it’s been a surprising success and we will both remember this year with huge gratitude for that. We have a stronger bond that can take so much and that’s the thing about living through a crisis together.

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Day 238 #coronadiary

What an interesting day I’m having in the land of Landshipping in my Lockdown Lodge.

It’s USA Presidential Election Day 4 and counting. Thankfully the vote-counters are resisting pressure from their own President to ‘stop the count!’ As he seems unable or unwilling to accept that the voting preferences of postal voters are different to those who show up on the day to cast their vote; this difference sees changes in the winning and losing candidates as the different types of ballots are processed through their huge system that can take days unless there’s a landslide victory.

As it stands, Trump has received many many millions of votes as has his opponent Biden who has received more votes than anyone in the history of presidential elections. It’s both a bright and dark time for US politics and democracy and representative democracy: so sad that as a sore loser Trump has sought to discredit his own country’s electoral system that saw him win by a whisker four years ago despite his opponent polling more votes…and yet heartening that so many people have chosen to engage with this less than perfect process to have their voices heard! Many really interesting (female) candidates are also coming into politics and not a moment too soon.

And so I witness this theatre, this drama snd all the Trump tantrums and Biden calls to ‘bide your time’ from the continuing safety of my lockdown lodge.

Wales had been in a ‘firebreak’ lockdown for two weeks and it ends on Monday. England then declared its own month long lockdown which started yesterday. My son is home in Wales currently but is a student in England. Education is classified as ‘essential’ so no problem there…except the chief medical officer has just declared that adults with Down’s Syndrome are Extremely Clinically Vulnerable and have just been added as requiring shielding. The classification means that catching Covid is a statistically serious risk to health.

And so my dear son is enjoying an extended half term break, enjoying the time he’s getting to be at home and enjoying the relaxed, natural flow of food, rest, chores and healthy lifestyle we foster here.

He’s also curious about returning to college. I don’t know what to do apart from keep him safely away from the scary virus. I’m willing to honour his wishes to return to college as long as it is deemed safe to do so. I’m also so enjoying having him home again.

The DD otherwise known as the little ‘un is enjoying the craziest first year of university that there’s ever been. As expected. She’s taking it all in her stride. Her cookery skills have been utilised to the max. She’s enjoying a lovely friendship group and even survived her first isolation. Technology (and a mega order of sweet and savoury snacks delivered to her nearby Amazon Locker) keeps us connected. It feels good to know she’s thriving.

And how about me? As a perfectly healthy person I’ve been ‘taking one for the team’ for eight months. Putting my own life and needs to one side, the safety of our most vulnerable trumps all. My voluntary incarceration has had many benefits (yes it’s easier to let it drive me nuts but so far I’ve kept a lid on all that). I’ve handled stupidly difficult tasks con my own and in so doing developed a zen like work and patience ethic . Yeh, I’ve gained weight and lost physical condition but I’ve introduced new routines and habits such as trampolining and grounding. I’ve upped my meditation game. I’ve embraced ‘the cold’, positive affirmations snd even undertaken a three month online course in healing childhood trauma. I’ve picked up my paint brushes again after pretty much a 50 year gap. I’m doing weekly Pilates even though my back is still in pieces and casing endless pain. It is making a slight difference. I’ve devised a way of beginning the ‘e to 5km’ programme by starting the run and walk intervals in the house ha ha! I’m back doing juggling, and standing on one leg with my eyes closed.

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Day 165 #coronadiary

Lying on a heavily-blanketed sun lounger I installed into the back of my somewhat scruffy mam-van I mean my innovative micro-camper 😜 I safely watch the swallows that now number at least a dozen, dive-bombing, swooping and generally putting on an extraordinary aeronautical display. They’ll be off soon and like a gaggle of unruly teenagers leaving their piles of shit all over the place and generally annoying me with their ‘look at me!’ antics I can’t wait for them to leave and I’ll miss them desperately and hate it being so quiet and clean.

The garden has taken a severe pounding and this new storm is hammering it all again. Previously proud branches are bowed and beaten, limping desperately in the wet earth. Produce is scattered in the mess. It’s carnage.

We’ve discovered a pile of quarry tiles, also battered and worn, and we are laying them out roughly on the grass around entrances as rudimentary patios. Even in their unfixed format they look inviting. The old ingrained mud washes off easily with rainwater tapped from my new water butt. The chore keeps my boys busy all day. We spend most of daylight hours out in the weather, slightly intimidated by the ferocious winds.

I cook a fantastic lamb hotpot with our own meat and spuds I dug up yesterday. The earthenware oven dish has been quietly bubbling away all day and the meat, loosened from its connective tissue, falls off the bones. It’s delicious and so right for this place.

Art is a challenge – we attempt to paint Munch’s ‘Scream’. I end up painting by torchlight because I set myself up in bright evening sunshine outside but by 9pm it’s dark. The nights are creeping in on me. It makes me want to….

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Day 150 #coronadiary

Monday morning and we are up and out by 5:30am. my son joins me at the trampoline where we time each other jumping and bouncing for five minutes each. It’s hard and fun.

Then we attend to our chickens. They need to have their very heavy house loved to fresh grass. Their bottle of water and hopper of food need cleaning and replenishing and we do all the chores and collect their eggs.

And then we are off on a 2.3 hour 10km walk. We meet a new person Richard from the caravan park and chat.

At 10am I have a business call. I have a shower first. I’m learning about the Bob Proctor method but I’m not willing to pay £600 for a one hour session or £6,000 for 6 months of mentoring. The coach is a lovely lady about my age, called Sheena. She’s a very motivating person and she’s offered the gift of a free one hour one to one on the back of a webinar I attended yesterday. She loses me a bit when I start to feel we are dealing with her need to sign up lots of clients to recoup her investment. I thought that with a coach it was all about the client?

However, I’m interested in the ideas and philosophy behind her professional practise and I have ordered a couple of books and I’m watching his videos. It’s good!

My PA is here for a couple of hours, and we make more progress, clearing and painting the other half of the veranda.

Mr G is shattered from his busy productive morning and retreats to his room.

I cook us a lovely dinner of chicken noodles. We are both exhausted by 8pm.

On Tuesday (day 151) I have another call lined up, also a free ‘try before you buy’ coach who has turned to online training.

This call is at 8:30am. Tired from Monday I do my hydration, grounding and trampolining one my own and I’m in my movement space doing positive affirmations when my phone rings. It’s Tori the trauma counsellor.

We talk for nearly an hour. She’s qualified, experienced and she’s a survivor of childhood trauma. She’s built a programme using many different schools of thought and techniques. She mixes talking therapies, journalling, body and breath work. It’s bespoke and one to one. She works 6 clients at a time and charges about £1,000 per client.

For three months of regular calls, support and individualised work I’m feeling really good about the concept. I feel we could work together. I’m so ready to heal up these haunting traumas that have come up to the surface during the last five months of my almost total isolation. I feel I’d rather do this as a gift to me. I’d considered a holiday, but travelling brings its own challenges and anxieties and I don’t want to go.

So I’m choosing you invest in this lady and in my own well-being journey. I call my closest three friends to tell them. I need to share this and have people who love me involved to hold me accountable.

Later I discuss my decision with my PA. he feels it’s a good decision too. Onwards!

I’m buying a large water butt to better harvest rainwater. We are slowly cutting back the recent bramble growth at the beck of the house. We burn another pile of weeds. It’s incredibly hot in the garden between the bright sunshine, 30 degrees heat and the fire.

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Day 135 #coronadiary

When I set up this blog many moons ago, desperate to try to connect beyond the confines of my life that was a big struggle at the time, I gave myself the mission statement:

“Surviving in the remote but glorious Pembrokeshire ‘outback’ isn’t enough – I wanna thrive and feel happy to be alive.”

That feeling has never left me. I’m tucked up safely in my Covid free cottage, and by a series of serendipitous hops, skips and jumps, now snuggled up in my old bed reading a book that says this:

‘I want you to know the following truth: there is a reason why you have found your way to this book.

‘The world I live in now is one of thriving rather than just surviving and I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, it’s been incredible to go from victim to survivor to thriver. This book is an invitation to join me in my world.’

Bring it on!

News from our lockdown life: we have both voles and stoats joining the hedgehogs, rats and mice in the garden. It’s raining madly and the veg plot is bursting with green lushness. My butternut squash plants are flowering.

Yesterday we had a water based drama. A local family took to the water in a tiny sailing dinghy and capsized in the rough windy conditions. They were just off the slipway on the Picton side but getting cold and wet they couldn’t right their boat. The ex was called and he borrowed a holidaymaker’s inflatable with handy outboard. The two bedraggled and embarrassed would-be sailors were brought safely back up their vehicle on this side of the river, but they’d lost their rudder.

Situations like that can quickly turn dangerous. It’s fortunate we have a very experienced boatman available most of the time by the slipway. All’s well that ends well.

My daughters are enjoying life in my house near the coast. My son and I, still officially in lockdown, enjoyed a breezy cycle down to the river once the storm and rain had passed.

We ate Chinese takeaway leftovers. I had lots of work to catch up with. I also up-cycled a bashed up old radio. it doesn’t work, but it’s a curious object. I’m putting many such items into the den as a treasury of fun items modern and historic for the delight and amusement of my kids.