Taking space to reflect

"Ask yourself who, where, and what makes you feel safe or connected. These may well be things you do already but consider investing in these activities more intentionally and creating a reflective practice - a bit like strengthening your immune system with healthier protections."

By therapist and former lawyer Emilia Yau.

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As an ex-city lawyer who provides psychotherapy part of my job is to reflect what someone may be feeling, so they feel seen, understood and heard.

Research suggests that many mental health problems stem from childhood and especially from key relationships in the early years. Due to powerful attachment bonds formed between the child and early caregivers, which are often unconscious, an individual may seek similar and familiar bonds unknowingly whether healthy or otherwise.

Because we are relational beings, we form an idea of who we are through the experience of being seen through the eyes of another. This mirroring back may begin between a parent and child as the child learns who they are and discovers the world around them. If there has not been enough of this mirroring a person may find it harder to know what they think and feel; perhaps they have been dismissed or neglected. Sometimes these attachment bonds and patterns run in families as types of bonding and unsaid family narratives are passed down from one generation to the next. It is through being seen and feeling to be seen differently that these patterns of relating can start to shift.

If a person has had a good enough experience of being seen and heard, of this understanding and reflecting of who they are, they internalise this and are more able to do this for themselves and for someone else.

Therapy can help someone feel like their experiences are valid as the therapist reflects back what they hear and see. In turn this can aid the person to connect with a more authentic sense of self, rather than a self-image which has been negatively impacted due to how they may have been treated by caregivers or others.

From my experience as a lawyer, we can spend much time in our heads. Intelligence and perfection grant a sense of affirmation or self-worth, feeling like a safe or familiar space despite the toll it can take on the body and personal lives.

If prolonged, this kind of relationship with yourself can feel unhealthy, stressful and anxiety provoking or there can be a flattening, emptying, numbing out of feeling that impoverishes the joy and liveliness of living. Sometimes this can present in physical symptoms and illness when the body expresses the register of unconscious and difficult experiences. 

Disclosing Mental Illness

Reflection can happen by taking space

You can do this for yourself or with someone else, and it can be an act of self-care. If with someone else who is trusted, they may help you see something of yourself you may not see, even a blind spot.

Creating an environment that feels conducive to taking space can be helpful. Our emotional regulation is tied up with our polyvagal nerve and in times of stress and anxiety, we are much less able to think and feel.

This fight or flight reaction stems from a time when we needed to escape the pursuit of animals, so despite its utility it was only meant to be used for short bursts of time.

By its very nature, this detection of a threat system can then go into overdrive and once on can be hard to switch off, remembering that this is happening could be helpful, so taking space that feels safe instead to calm and rest this nervous system may help.

What makes you feel safe or connected?

Creating and then maintaining a bank of emotional anchors can help in the demanding world of a lawyer. Ask yourself who, where, and what makes you feel safe or connected. These may well be things you do already but consider investing in these activities more intentionally and creating a reflective practice - a bit like strengthening your immune system with healthier protections. This could be anything from taking a walk, being by the sea, being with a friend or even a pet, anything that feels familiar and safe, tune in to yourself and ask does this feel good or not?

If you are finding this hard, please get in touch with LawCare. If you feel the causes of distress may be deeper rooted or want to learn more about taking space to reflect, please get in touch with me.


Emilia Yau

Emilia is a BACP accredited psychodynamic therapist with an established private practice based in London and Tunbridge Wells, offering counselling and psychotherapy to adults. Emilia also provides online counselling and consulting to lawyers and firms looking to create a reflective practice.

Before training as a therapist, Emilia previously worked as a lawyer, specialising in financial services, in London and internationally. Emilia brings this experience into her work with lawyers and other professionals from high-pressure industries.

Emilia’s practice has a particular focus on increasing self-awareness and self-esteem. She works with individuals from a range of backgrounds on stress, anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, high workloads and client demands, perfectionism and imposter syndrome to name a few.


Emilia Yau Taking Space To Reflect Feb 2024

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