Path To Freedom: Nature Is Wonderful Therapy

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Most of us love spring. A time when everything revives itself after winter. Green shoots appear on trees, flowers start to emerge and animals end their hibernation. The world is suddenly a nicer place to be in and generally we feel better as the days get longer. I know I do and even though I spend a lot of time in nature, no matter the season, I especially like the cooler sun in spring compared to what’s coming.

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Living where I do, there is a range of hiking opportunities from coastal walks to flat landscape and even the odd hill or two. My favorite is to drive two hours west of here and hike the various coastal walks that take in iconic port towns and villages that have unrivaled history attached to them. It never fails to inspire, no matter the season.

The advantages of walking and hiking are well-known and documented. The NHS in the UK encourage time in nature, taking in the surroundings as a recommendation in mental health provision. Many insurance companies in Europe produce  »healthy living » literature that includes spending time in nature. The benefits are known if not always practiced. It affects the way you see the world and impacts mind, heart and body and the best thing is, its free.

According to research, people who have a stronger connection to nature tend to be happier in their lives and are more likely to believe that their lives have been valuable. Nature has the ability to elicit a wide range of pleasant emotions, including relaxation, joy, and creativity, as well as to improve attention. It has also been shown that being linked to nature is associated with reduced levels of poor mental health, namely lower levels of depression and anxiety. Exposed to nature, whether it’s through a stroll through a city park or a day spent hiking in the wilderness, has been linked to a range of positive outcomes, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders, and even increased empathy and cooperation.

Why am I telling you this? Firstly, hiking has been part of my life since I was fifteen years old. As a family, we often explored the countryside around the village I grew up in just outside London and one particular place brings back fond memories of family time. Secondly, I love the countryside. I am not a city person and have never been comfortable with the noise, pollution and general behavior associated with cities. It creates stress for me. Thirdly and possibly most importantly, I drop hiking when I am feeling codependent to be with my wife. Ideally, she comes with me and often does but she is not interested in the »wilderness hiking »that I do.

The third point above is an important one as I also do it with other aspects of my life, though increasingly less as I have become more aware. You may ask why I would do this when it is clearly one of my needs. It’s mainly because other people’s needs are deemed more important at that point but of course, as we know, a return is expected. It is classic  »give to get » and is very destructive and builds resentment on both sides.

I always feel better when I do it but sometimes the urge to pull towards the idea that she needs me around for whatever reason is strong. The background to this is clear. I was assigned the role of caretaker to my siblings from a young age. Some would say that I was a parent in more senses of the word than my parents were. I was encouraged to give up my needs and interests to do this and was rewarded with some treat or other or validation from my mother about how well I did. During this time (from the age of eight), I now know that I developed a victim mentality.

I also know that I was also punished if my siblings did anything wrong so I spent a lot of time  »treading on eggshells », also treating them harshly to protect myself. I also at this point became a  »fixer » trying to shape the environment around me. It is also a period in my life where I started to lie to my parents about what had actually happened. I felt a lot of shame about that but realise now that I should never have been put in that situation.

It is very easy to give up the things that matter to concentrate on the needs of others, even if that person is not asking you to do that. The sense of guilt and shame that comes up when you put yourself first can be immense but doing this places that person in a victim role in your mind with the inevitable consequence that they need rescuing. Much the same as I saw my siblings.

We cannot go on reliving the trauma of our childhood in our adult world. Nobody needs rescuing generally and it is wrong to feel you need rescuing by others. It is all about awareness and responsibility…seeking awareness and taking responsibility. I see the next hike coming!

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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