STRONGER TOGETHER: Inclusion at work - better for wellbeing and better for business

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"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses inclusion at work, and how it is better for both wellbeing and business.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Most of us spend much of our daily life at work, so it’s not surprising that our job and the environment we work in has a strong influence on our overall health and wellbeing.

Whether we feel accepted, included, and safe can play a significant role in how we feel about where we work, and thereby how we feel about ourselves. Inclusivity is more important than ever, not just at work, but throughout our day-to-day lives. Being inclusive is about more than ticking the right boxes. Professionally, it means constantly working to foster a work environment where people feel respected, connected, that they can progress, and are contributing to the overall success of the company or organisation they work for.

I’m proud to share this week that Diversity Council Australia recognised IMPACT Community Services as one of 30 Inclusive Employers for 2022-23. As members of DCA we were assessed against several criteria and benchmarks, and learned areas where we excel in equality and diversity and areas where there is room to improve. We’re thrilled that in most areas, we are exceeding national benchmarks around employee satisfaction on inclusion and diversity.

As an organisation focused on improving lives, we are on a journey to greater understanding of what is means to be inclusive. Participating in the Diversity Council Australia’s Inclusive Employer Index allows us to identify areas where we can focus our energies.

 We know that there is still work to do. Everyone has a valuable contribution to make, and we will continue having conversations with our team around how we can improve as an organisation to continue to embrace diversity and be more inclusive.

Inclusion is so much more than just a buzz word or feel-good exercise – it’s good business and good for mental health and wellbeing. An inclusive culture fosters a happier work environment that fosters effectiveness, innovation, better customer service and higher employee satisfaction.

We are all responsible for being inclusive, so I encourage you to educate yourself about and be open to other people’s lived experiences. Consider the barriers you put in place between yourself and people you perceive to be different than you, then do the work required to challenge them and tear them down.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses making a difference in our community through social enterprise

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

How many businesses do you know that operate with the aim of supporting the community?

 Many have heard of the toilet paper company Who Gives A Crap. Last week I was lucky enough to hear their CEO and co-founder, Simon Griffiths, speak at an event where he spoke candidly about how he launched the company by live streaming from a toilet for 50 hours to pre-sell the first $50k of toilet rolls.

Simon and his co-founders, Jehan and Danny, started Who Gives a Crap in 2012 after learning that 2.4 billion people worldwide don’t have access to a toilet. They wanted to make a difference, so they committed to donating 50% of their profits to build toilets and have now donated almost $11 million!

We must ask ourselves how we can apply this to our own community. Every time we turn on the news, we’re bombarded with stories about homelessness, the rising cost of living and the impact on mental health. The opportunity for social enterprises to make real and tangible differences within our community has never been greater.

IMPACT ventured into social enterprise in 2001, partnering with Bundaberg Regional Council to provide jobs for 24 people with a disability, in addition to creating an environmental impact by reducing waste going to landfill. In 2014, we purchased a small 1.5 tonne a month laundry with a vision of providing jobs for people with disability or mental illness. In 2016, IMPACT accelerated the business building its own commercial laundry, New Image Laundry, which now has the capacity to process up to 80 tonne per month. It now employs over 25 people and has major contracts with The Friendlies Hospital and Blue Care.

Our vision of ‘Improving Lives’ is embedded into the DNA of our business and is directly focused on creating social, cultural and environmental impact. We see the change that can be created when people, particularly those who traditionally struggle to enter the workforce, are provided with an opportunity. Pathways to employment are created, workforce participation rates increase, and people become economically independent. Intergenerational welfare dependence patterns are disrupted.

Social enterprise equals good business.

Have an idea for a social enterprise? Currently, IMPACT Community Services is working with StartSomeGood to host Emerge, a program that will teach you how to transform your ideas into a ready to launch social enterprise.

Reach out if you would like to find out more.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses boosting productivity with The Pomodoro Technique

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

How much more could you get done if you could give your full attention to what you were working on?

Distractions, social media, procrastination, excuses – all impediments that can quickly become problematic for the time poor. 

So how is it that some people have their ‘to do’ list firmly under control and remain calm in the face of a deadline while others consistently scramble to keep up?  

Research suggests that people who struggle with time management are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, sleep issues, stress, professional burnout and other mental health issues. In previous columns, I have also talked about how challenging multitasking is for our brains – we are much more productive when we focus energy and effort on just one thing. Finding techniques that support us to use our time more effectively is therefore as important for our health as it is for our productivity.

Cue ‘The Pomodoro Technique’ - the brainchild of businessman Francesco Cirillo. As a student, Cirillo found himself easily distracted so he set himself a challenge to increase the time he spent focused on study. Using a red kitchen timer in the shape of a pomodoro (tomato in English), Cirillo started at two minutes, incrementally increasing his focused time to one hour. After some trial and error, he found the sweet spot was 25 minutes followed by a 2-3 minute break.

The Pomodoro Technique is a useful way of reducing distractions and focusing on just one thing. Imagine deliberately pressing pause on social media, phone reminders, colleague interruptions and phone calls. I refer to this as ‘living the dream!’

The beauty of the technique is the only equipment needed is a timer and a way of keeping track of your ‘Pomodoro’s’ (or focused time)!

Interested in giving it a go?

Grab your timer and work through these six steps in order:

  1. Identify the task you would like to work on
  2. Predict how long the task will take to complete
  3. Set a timer for 25 minutes (think 1 Pomodoro)  
  4. Remove distractions eg turn off your phone, find a quiet space. Focus solely on the task for the duration of the Pomodoro (25 minutes)
  5. When the timer goes off, take a break for 2-3 minutes  
  6. For every 4 Pomodoro’s (think 4 times 25-minute blocks), allow a longer break (20-25 minutes) 

Play around with it. If 25 minutes is too much at first, start small and increase the time until you find your own sweet spot.   

In a world where there are more demands than ever on our time and attention, finding ways to do more in less time makes sense for our mental health and our overall wellbeing.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses making a conscious effort to broaden your lens of society before judging others

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

A world of equality, where everybody has enough money and resources to feed themselves and their family, put a roof over their head and have money left over to cover clothes, education, and health expenses, is certainly a desired one; but far from reality.

In Australia 3.3 million people live below the poverty line – almost 14% of our population. While this isn’t an overnight fix, the judgement of people in certain situations can be.

Hearing stories from three incredibly resilient women recently, I noticed while their hardships and situations were different, they all mentioned feeling judged and isolated for deciding to work or not to work based on putting their family/children first.

These women didn’t ask for anyone’s help and they certainly didn’t need anyone’s judgement.

If you’ve read previous columns by me, you’ll remember the dot on the page exercise where you imagine a white page with a dot on it and reflect on what you see.

Did you focus solely on the dot? Did you consider the rest of the page and look at the big picture?

Some people make aspersions about others. They put people under the microscope like the dot; examining its colour, shape, size, position, wondering what’s wrong with it or what could change. We don’t always focus on the bigger picture – all the things going on in the white space. But it’s worth refocusing our view.

Personally, I applaud working mums, however juggling a career and children was easy for me. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by family I can lean for support if needed.

I’ve never been a single mum working four jobs to keep a roof over my children’s heads and food on the table; or stop working because my child required extra support; or eat toast for months to get the roof fixed. I do however know this happens all around us.

I also know that with less judgment and more compassion for the person we’ll stop fixating on the dot and find ways to better support these highly resilient and resourceful people. When we consider the space and people as whole individuals, whose stories have value, we start to connect with some of the real issues that people are experiencing in the world.   

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses fear and self-reflection.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

What are you afraid of? Heights, snakes, flying?

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

All of these fears are valid, and very common amongst us. But what about when it comes to your day-to-day life? Is fear holding you back from doing something you want to do? Perhaps it is related to a relationship, work, or study.

Fear, like all emotions, is the physical sensation that we experience when biochemical and electrical chain reactions occur within our body.

Yet here’s the thing.

Our brain can’t distinguish between what we imagine and what is real. Perhaps we hear a noise and start imagining someone is breaking into our home. Our brain starts producing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to prepare us to fight or run – it is part of our human wiring to keep us safe and survive dangerous situations.

But when fear becomes a driving force in decision-making where the stakes are considerably less life-threatening, we need to evaluate exactly what is causing our fear and why.

We need to determine whether what we fear is an immediate threat or a legacy of our past that we continue to carry with us. Maybe it is fear of rejection, failure, or judgement that is preventing us from making a change or pursuing an interest.

Often, we know what we should do, but fear paralyses us or holds us back.

We look for answers and confirmation everywhere but within. And it is why we are never truly satisfied, nor do we find peace in the opinions of others.

What is one thing that you would do today, if you knew that you couldn’t fail?

Time to get real.

What is holding you back from doing it?

Is it fear? If so, are you going to be in danger if you do it?

If not, you have given yourself a green light to get clear about what is driving that fear and how you start putting strategies in place to overcome it.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses self care plans and why we struggle to enact them.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

The human capacity for creating and upholding habits and routines is incredibly fascinating – and the adoption of positive wellbeing practices, and lack thereof, is no exception.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

For the most part, we know what’s good for our wellbeing, physical and mental health, or we know where to find out more information.

We know that we should be getting adequate sleep each night, eating healthy, drinking water, taking time for ourselves – and yet, more and more people are feeling tired, burnt out and stressed.

What is contributing to this rising mental health crisis people are facing and are self-care plans the answer? Or do they simply add to the stress?

People know what self-care’s important and yet seldom is it enacted or upheld.

10 years ago, amid a busy professional and personal life with two children, study for multiple degrees and board services, I found myself completely exhausted daily.

It took my GP telling me a stroke weas in my immediate future if I didn’t address the effect that stress, and pressure was having on my life – so I got to making a change.

With wellbeing a constant practice in my life, I’m exploring what motivates and disciplines others. 

What I’m most curious to know now is, why? Why are people struggling to maintain and implement a self-care plan in their life when it is designed to make daily life a little less stressful.

Do we have a proclivity for self-sabotage, do we feel time poor, do we feel selfish for prioritising ourselves?

This is an area I am eager to investigate in an upcoming project and I would appreciate your help, should you’d be inclined to share.

Questions will relate to what you know about self-care and whether you actively engage in maintaining your wellbeing.

This is not a criticism, but an exploration of local perspectives on mental health, self-care plans, the challenges of a self-care plan, and what more could be done to make a bigger difference in your life?

If you would like to contribute, please visit www.impact.org.au and complete the survey on our home page at Self-care and wellbeing survey - Impact Community Services.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses what we consider work and the choices we make in life.  

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

What do you consider work in your daily life?

For years, there’s been important discussion regarding the inequity of unpaid work between genders, however continuing this conversation in today’s society seems redundant for a few reasons.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Firstly, much of the information and data implicitly relates to heteronormative couples (male/female) which is an outdated concept.

Secondly, conversations about unpaid work suggest household activities cause stress and injustice towards one’s own lifestyle.

Which is interesting in today’s challenging climate when people are struggling to find suitable housing and the cost of living is unmanageable for some.

Shouldn’t we just be grateful to have the opportunity to do unpaid work if we choose?

Perhaps for ‘unpaid’ labours of life we do get paid, it’s just in a different form of currency: pleasure, health, satisfaction or simply having our basic needs met. Maybe by reframing chores as choices we get to make about our life and how we spend our downtime, we can live a less stressful and more empowered and grateful existence.

When the mindset towards household chores, exercise, or personal responsibilities is considered a choice, it can have an invigorating and inspiring impact for you to be an active participant in your own life.

Sometimes things get added to the work ‘to do’ list because they’ve been traditionally considered unpaid work – but this truly depends on you.

I do over 35,000 steps on a weekend doing practical, unpaid activities that are different to my workday schedule, avoiding sitting in front of my computer or the television whenever possible. I enjoy exercising, cooking, walking the dogs, catching up with friends, attending an event and working in the garden, picking up leaves, repotting, harvesting the veggie garden and replanting it. For me, some of these activities are a form of meditation that help to ‘fill my cup’, rather than deplete it.  

Some may consider these unpaid activities as mundane. Personally, I am filled with gratitude that I have a home, a family and a garden that gives me a choice to do these things.

What activities are you grateful for that you don’t get paid to do?  

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses gratitude and its effect on wellbeing.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Gratitude may seem like somewhat of a buzzword these days, but there’s plenty to be abuzz about.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

The practice of gratitude is not only a nice thing to do for others but also for yourself. Research suggests that being grateful and expressing gratitude towards others can improve our happiness and quality of life. Gratitude enhances empathy, improves physical health, mental wellbeing, quality of sleep, self-esteem and, also has the capacity to reduce stress.  

Identifying what you’re grateful for, especially during challenging times, can help foster resilience and improve our wellbeing.

Expressing gratitude to others goes a step further from identifying things we are grateful for. It actions it, often shifting the focus to appreciating the kindness, nature, and acts of others. When we meaningfully express our gratitude and appreciation for others, seldom is it lost on them.

Several years ago, I received an anonymous gratitude card filled with praise and positivity about me. This act, seemingly so simple, was incredibly uplifting. The generosity of such an act can have a compelling effect on people and their capacity to cultivate happiness, kindness, and compassion.

While September 21 marks World Gratitude Day for 2022, and it’s well worth pausing on this day to reflect and express gratitude – there’s also no time like the present.

There are various ways in which to show or express gratitude; these include writing thank you notes, keeping a gratitude journal and practicing mindfulness.

The great thing about being grateful is that’s really easy to get started, you don’t need any special equipment. Simply start by observing and noticing the things that people are doing around you each day that you appreciate or are thankful for. Make a mental or written note of who did it and why you are grateful to have noticed it.

We all know using our manners can go a long way, and simply saying ‘thank you’ is no exception, particularly when we’re talking about gratitude.

Take a moment today, on September 21 and every other day to reflect on what or who you’re grateful for and how you can share it.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses Parkinson's Law and tips for how to prioritise.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Life can sometimes feel like a juggling act, where you are juggling so many balls (think of each like different roles you have in your life) and not wanting any of them to fall. The reality is instead of reducing the balls we’re juggling; we keep adding another one in - eventually something’s going to give. 

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Juggling everything is an art which requires incredible skill, energy and determination. Maintaining high productivity while juggling all those balls can however become overwhelming, resulting in burnout, stress, and anxiety. The best advice might be to remove some of the balls, but many of us are reluctant to do so.

We therefore need a Plan B – a strategy to keep those balls in the air while prioritising deadlines, remaining productive, inspired, and maintaining our wellbeing. Enter Parkinson’s Law, the secret weapon to help us prioritise work, life, family, social, health and other interests.

Parkinson’s Law suggests the amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completion; if you give too much time to a simple task it’ll get harder. Thus, by giving appropriate deadlines and prioritization we use our time more efficiently with greater effort.

So, how do you prioritise?

First up, brain dump. Get everything out of your head and onto a list (or two). 

This first list is uncensored and contains whatever comes out.

For the next list, create five columns, titled 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The numbers might refer to months, six-month periods, or years. You decide what’s relevant to you. Then work out which things on your list have an actual deadline. Allocate each of those activities to one of the columns, and then assign appropriate deadlines to the other things on your list and pop them into a column.

Once you have finished assigning tasks to columns, focus only on items from column 1. That’s it. Focus your energy and effort on getting through those things on the list as quickly as possible.

You decide how long it will take you to work through your list and move onto the next. You decide what you wish to continue juggling and which balls you want to remove.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses self diagnosis and the dangers of social media influencers.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Generally, when people experience pain, they seek out medical advice. Unfortunately, in Australia we do not have enough GPs and mental health professionals to assist more than 26 million people, who at any given time, may be experiencing individual health care issues and needs.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Current wait times for appointments with psychologists and other mental health professionals can be more than eight weeks. It’s not surprising that people are turning to Google and social media platforms, like Tik Tok, to self-diagnose symptoms associated with physical and mental health.

Sometimes, the self-diagnosis provides additional information that reduces unnecessary stress. Other times, it can leave us feeling more perplexed and anxious than when we started. The real concern is when people with previously undiagnosed mental health conditions are relying on information from uncredentialed sources to diagnose or form an opinion about their own or others’ symptoms.

Knowledge is power and I commend people for doing their own research and raising their awareness about mental health. Along the way, however, people have recognised social media as an opportunity to do more than share information and experience.

This is particularly relevant with young people, where uncredentialed influencers are using it as an opportunity to make money, which can, at times, come at the expense of providing quality, peer to peer content.

Some things to consider:

I applaud people taking proactive steps to research and seek out information. Unfortunately, however, we have a new wave of young people claiming to have a range of conditions based on content being shared by TikTok influencers – people who are being incentivised to be vulnerable and highlight unpleasant moments.

Peer to peer support is incredibly powerful, yet we must critically evaluate the credibility and the motivation of the source. And above all, never use the information to make a self-diagnosis and instead seek out appropriate medical advice for all symptoms.

If this topic has raised concerns for you please visit our Mental Health page or contact us during office hours on free-call 1800 179 233

Need help right now?

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How to report a DFV incident Visit Police Website, CLICK HERE or for all other domestic violence related matters, phone Policelink on 131 444, 24 hours, 7 days a week .

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"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses behaviour patterns and how they can help or hinder our drive.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

I was so excited when I got my learners and jumped into the driver’s seat for the first time.

Can you remember the first time that you drove a car?

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

I recall meticulously thinking through every step – putting on my seat belt, checking the rearview mirrors and the immediate surroundings. After a while, I no longer needed to think through each of these steps. The repeated pattern of behaviours required to start and drive a car enabled me to move from a highly conscious, deliberate process to one that was automatic, faster, and much more efficient.

We each create and rely on patterns that become automatic (and seemingly unconscious) on a daily basis. For some people identifying these patterns is easy as they have created them purposefully aligned to their goals. They know the routines that work for them and while sometimes it can feel hard to remain committed, they continue to do it because it’s important to them.

However, the reality is some of the patterns we can create are unhelpful.

Our brain supports us every day to create and make sense of patterns; but sometimes these ‘patterns’ are not really patterns at all. Klaus Conrad recognised this within his patients, coining the term 'apophenia' - the tendency to perceive patterns between objects or ideas when they simply don’t exist.

One type of apophenia is gambler’s fallacy, where people perceive patterns or meaning in random numbers in pursuit of their next big win. They might argue they’re due for a win or continue to feed money into a poker machine believing their odds of a payout are increasing with each spend.

Reflecting on the patterns we create provides insight and the ability to make change when certain patterns of behaviour aren’t serving us.

At times, sticking to a schedule to achieve your goals can feel like a sacrifice or trade-off for free-time or splurging. But when you’re striving for something important to you, what are you really trading? Your health, your quality of life, your relationship, your financial independence, your self-worth?

If something needs to change, it’s only you who can disrupt the old pattern and start anew.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses taking our emotional health as seriously as our physical health

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

It can be hard to talk about being in pain. I’m not talking about the pain we feel when we stub our toe or fall over and get injured – that we recognise immediately.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

We seek out help when our body is injured.

But when our emotional and mental wellbeing is in pain, we tend to ignore it until it piles up and we start to breakdown.

In the TEDTalk Why we all need to practice emotional first aid, psychologist Dr. Guy Winch provides a terrific exploration around the preference we place on our physical health. With an anecdote about breaking your leg, he brilliantly highlights the stark and arguably bizarre way we brush off psychological pain.

You know when your leg is broken, other people can see that it is broken, there are professionals ready to help you identify the injury and provide advice on how long it will take to heal. No one judges you or tells you to ‘walk it off’.

And yet, how often do we tell ourselves or does someone say ‘try not to worry about it’ if you’re worried or upset about something?

This type of response must stop. Our emotional wellbeing is just as serious as our physical health.

We need to give ourselves permission to feel, to notice pain in others and the compassion to consider what it is like walking in someone else’s shoes.

We’re human beings, and we can’t just put a band aid on everything. Sometimes we need to stop and talk about what we’re going through, sometimes we need to let others help us.

We can’t predict how long it will take to mend, or when things will be better; but when we work together, we know things will indeed get better.

We can apply first aid and stop the ‘emotional bleeding’. If you need help, reach out to a friend or a profession and talk about it. Or if you know someone is going through a hard time, give them a call, ask how they are today and let them know how much you appreciate them and you are always ready to listen.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses trying to balance the hustle of daily life and prioritising our wellbeing.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Life is full. People are juggling and struggling to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Although I advocate for and encourage my team to have a personal self-care plan, the reality is many see self-care as an additional job on their ‘to do’ list. Something creating a sense of overwhelm for people already feeling stretched.

Advocating the importance of self-care shouldn’t be a push strategy; pushing ourselves, our team, family, or friends to do things that improve their mental health and wellbeing.

Move more, drink more water, take your lunch break, disconnect from work, get enough sleep, eat food that nourishes you, take regular breaks, catch up with family and friends. These are all good strategies when applied consistently.

The research however tells us that push strategies aren’t working.

Results from a recent Deloitte study (2022) show that 1/3 employees and executives struggle with fatigue and poor mental health. This is even though people are well-intentioned, know what strategies to use and understand the importance of prioritising their mental health and wellbeing.

So, what’s the problem? If they know it’s important, what’s stopping them?

Work. And arguably not just the 9am-5pm chunk of your day when you’re on the clock. You have to get ready for work, commute, cook dinner, look after children if you have them, try to catch up with friends and ensure you have time to focus on your wellbeing. It’s a lot to cram into 24hours.

Sometimes, just pausing and reflecting on a choice you’re about to make can make the world of difference. Stop pushing for a moment to simply ask, ‘is this decision more likely to help or hinder my mental health and wellbeing?’

Will another glass of wine help me deal with the stress of a situation? Or would it be more helpful to talk with a trusted friend?  

Will staying up until 2am help or hurt my chances of starting work at 8am?

Will meal-prepping on the weekend help me to fit in a walk after work?

Every day we’re faced with choices that can help or hinder our mental health and wellbeing.

Is today the time you make a different choice?

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses Stephen Karpman’s ‘Drama Triangle’.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Getting curious about why we act the way we do in certain situations and then opening ourselves up to understanding those behaviours is incredibly powerful and emboldening.  

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Why do we think and then act the way we do? What triggers us to react in ways unique to us – why don’t other people react the same way?

Does that reaction serve us, and if not, can we prevent it from happening again?

Gaining insight into ourselves is a journey of personal discovery that can be illuminating for some. Others can be fearful of what they’ll learn and instead decide, ‘I am who I am, and I don’t care if other people don’t like it.’

Dedicating energy towards understanding ourselves better isn’t for everyone. But there’s an opportunity for us all to rise to the challenge of behaving in more ways that are above the line.

‘Above the line?’ I hear you say. ‘What line is she referring to?’

I often refer to Stephen Karpman’s ‘Drama Triangle’ model with my team. It reminds us of the different roles we play when behaving above and below the line – roles we can sometimes revert to unconsciously or out of habit.   

Karpman suggests when we’re behaving below the line, we assume the unhelpful roles of ‘bully’, ‘rescuer’ and ‘victim’ leading to habitual ways of responding linked to blame, justification and defence. Imagine someone you know who; consistently sees the world as unfair (victim); always steps in to help out (rescuer); or has a tendency to take over (bully).

In contrast, above the line behaviours indicate openness, security in oneself and the acceptance of personal responsibility.

This journey of self-discovery isn’t for the faint-hearted. We won’t always like what we learn about ourselves. Self-compassion is therefore essential. Be kind to yourself – you’re human, and this isn’t a path of critique, but curiosity.

Take a moment to reflect on the roles within the Drama Triangle.

Have there been situations when you’ve assumed roles considered ‘below the line’? If so, what was the trigger? Is there anything you’d like to change moving forward? What about behaving above the line – when did you find yourself doing that? Are there opportunities for you to do more of this?

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses toxic positivity and optimism.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Times are challenging and people are struggling to stay optimistic. If you feel like this, it’s completely understandable. Rising interest rates, the cost of living and the latest COVID wave have people feeling flat and anxious.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Is optimism the antidote?           

We all know those ‘glass half-full’ optimists. People telling us everything happens for a reason, or we should focus on what we have instead of what we have lost.

There’s enormous pressure to put on a brave face and convince others (and themselves) that everything is ‘great’. People put on their ‘I’m an optimist’ mask and make it their mission to urge others to ‘think positive’ and be grateful for what they have, even in the face of adversity and when it’s evident they’re struggling.

There’s plenty of evidence-based research highlighting the benefits of optimism, positive thinking, and how it can inspire hope for ‘finding the silver lining’. But the reality is we are humans, not robots.

We experience emotions and we have bad days.

And that’s okay.

What’s not okay, is when we start to invalidate our own or another person’s feelings. By definition, ‘invalidation is the process of denying, rejecting or dismissing someone’s feelings’.

This can occur in a variety of ways, many of which are well-intentioned. ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’, ‘try not to think about it’ or ‘it could be worse’ are all different ways people commonly and unintentionally send a message to another person that their feelings aren’t justified or appropriate.

While the intention may be to uplift someone, failing to acknowledge your own emotions or dismissing the feelings of others through toxic positivity sits at the core of invalidation.

This doesn’t mean we can’t show gratitude for what we have. It does however serve as a reminder that sometimes we just need to have some compassion for ourselves and what others might be going through.

Sometimes listening is enough. No pressure to fix anything, just offering a friendly ear and providing support is often all that is needed.

Focusing on positive emotions only is unrealistic and erodes our ability to communicate how we are really feeling.

Finding a silver lining can still be achieved while avoiding toxic positivity. The key is recognising that negative feelings and emotions are a normal part of life, and naming and recognising them is far more valuable than encouraging people to put on a brave face and stuff them away.

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