In the introduction, I mention this blog post, where I discuss my diminishing need to comfort myself as I explore this understanding. And I also mention the post about my daily soda habit that dropped away recently. You can read that here. (Or listen to it. I also recorded it as an audio file.)
And I also mention the new ebook and audiobook that’s available that ties in so beautifully with the topic of this interview. You can get your free copy of Stop Suffering About Being Broken (Because You’re Not) here.
Christian McNeill is a 50-something coach and trainer, living in Glasgow, Scotland. She’s the mother to two grown children and was a lawyer for over 30 years. In her 20s, she got over a drinking problem and, for many years, she had a secret side career of trying to be happy. In early 2011, she stumbled across the Three Principles Paradigm and discovered how to be happy without trying. She now works with individuals and organizations, helping them to flourish. She also teaches and mentors others wishing to learn about the Three Principles Paradigm. And today, her side career is as a yoga teacher.
You can find Christian at ElementsOfWellBeing.net
You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or watch the video here. Highlights, notes, resources and full transcript below.
- On the varying
wayspeople react to their busy minds
- Christian’s observation that using old healing paradigms no-one gets past their childhood trauma
- The essence of everyone that is whole and unbreakable
- A different outlook on the past once we understand the nature of Thought
- On the nature of grief and exploring that from the inside-out
Transcript of interview with Christian MacNeill
Alexandra: Hi, everyone. I’m Alexandra Amor. This is the “Stop Suffering About” podcast, and I’m here today with Christian McNeill. Hi, Christian.
Christian: Hi, Alexandra. Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s lovely to be here.
Alexandra: Such a pleasure to have you. Thank you for chatting with me, all the way from Glasgow today. Let me give our listeners a little bit of an introduction to you.
Christian McNeill is a 50-something coach and trainer, living in Glasgow, Scotland. She’s the mother to two grown children and was a lawyer for over 30 years. In her 20s, she got over a drinking problem and, for many years, she had a secret side career of trying to be happy.
In early 2011, she stumbled across the Three Principles Paradigm and discovered how to be happy without trying. She now works with individuals and organizations, helping them to flourish. She also teaches and mentors others wishing to learn about the Three Principles Paradigm. And today, her side career is as a yoga teacher. I love that.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background. That transition from lawyer to Principles Practitioner is fascinating to me.
Christian: It’s interesting because
I got into law just the way people do. I fell into it. I went to university at 16, and that was my career. I was in law until I was in my early 50s, and as you mentioned, I developed a drinking problem, probably much earlier, but reached a crisis in my mid-20s, and I got sober then. That was a massive, massive shift.
The crisis was an opening-up to me to something beyond the intellectual, beyond the material, because I just had no interest in matters spiritual or even emotional, really, until that point, and it was like a huge new world opened up.
I was in the 12 Step Program for recovery, and as the name implies, there were steps to doing them. It was this idea of the realization of addiction implied that there was something wrong with me. There was something emotionally and spiritually wrong with me, which I had been medicating with drink, and recovery involved kind of re-knitting myself through these steps, through a spiritual experience.
And I have to say, I mean, I’m maybe sounding a little critical of it. I’m not. It was a wonderful experience. It was life-changing. It saved my life. That’s how I see it. But I found I certainly wasn’t thriving.
It was as though the harder I tried to be happy, the more elusive it was. And today, I understand why that was. So this thing is going on in my private life, this secret career, and I began to train in other modalities, and I saw again that you mentioned that on your website that every self-help book in the library or the bookshop, every therapy going, sitting in groups, endless. I mean, the effort that went into that, and I still felt I was struggling. There were lots of problems in my life. I just couldn’t get a handle on it, couldn’t get a handle on it.
In the meantime, in my more public life, my career was going well enough. I had met someone, had children. That relationship broke up, but we co-parented, and my children were thriving.
I was an advocate for 20 years. Then I took a job as a tribunal judge. I was doing reasonably well in that field, but that felt like a struggle as well. It wasn’t where my heart lay.
And what happened was, in my early 50s, I stumbled across what we are calling the Three Principles or the Three Principles Paradigm, and one of my qualifications at that point…In fact, I had several qualifications in the field of neurolinguistic programming, NLP.
A trainer in that field was putting on a weekend event called “Grow Your Business with Integrity,” and I had this long-term plan of moving into that field, once I retired from law. So it was a
Anyway, it turned out that it was all about the Three Principles and nothing to do with NLP stuff, but that was to my benefit. It hit me like a train. At that point, I had been maybe 25 years sort of working on myself, trying to improve everything, and I suddenly got, “This is what I’ve been looking for.”
And in fact, already at this point, I’d begun to have insight into, for example…I had an insight, “If I want to be happy, I have to start connecting with my inner voice, rather than trying to live by somebody else’s program, no matter how good.” So that had been one, but this weekend gave me a sense of what
And in fact, as time went on, I realized I had lots more than I had. I had lots more than one or two, but it
And in fact, it gave me the certainty that all the answers I needed for any situation in my life could be found within, and that was a glib phrase I’d heard before. Everything you need is within you. But I never knew how to access it. It just seemed like the sound of one hand clapping. What the hell does that mean?
Christian: It was not helpful, but suddenly I kind of saw that, and I kind of…I saw that how you access the answers that are within are through that inner voice, through sitting in, “I don’t know,” you know, just through deflection.
It just is difficult to say how impactful it was, and I think some of the explanation I’m giving now is…It’s easier to articulate after eight years in the principles, because I wasn’t necessarily able to articulate it initially, but something did shift.
And one thing that happened was, soon after this course, I mean just a few weeks, I went back to Glasgow. The course was in London. I went back to Glasgow where I live, and I discovered that my father was terminally ill. I also…Again, it’s quite hard to articulate clearly how I knew this, but I did know that I was…What had begun to open up on that weekend was helping me through this, his death and the bereavement and all of that, and it was an extraordinary experience.
Really connecting and loving experience, which I felt
But there was also something about that whole experience that confirmed even more, if I needed it, that this thing, that this Three Principles, this insider understanding is where you need to be looking. And I was just all in. I just thought I found the thing that I’ve been looking for for a quarter of a century, and
And then…So this is a huge long answer we’re getting to, the bit that you asked about the transition. So also around this time, I mean it was like life did not miss me over the next couple of years. I had a couple of very sudden and potentially serious health issues, which have now completely resolved. My mother died the following year.
And also, I found myself one day at work, I mean more than one day, but one day
So I got referred to this psychiatrist, and it turned out that his diagnosis was ADHD, and it was fascinating because it made complete sense. It went right back to my childhood. I could remember things that had happened
Today, I can say I don’t know if I even see ADHD as a thing, as opposed to an outcome of where my mind goes when it’s really busy. Some people get depressed. Some people get burnt out. Some people become very sort of compulsive about doing things. Mine goes just creating chaos around me and just sort of starting new things and leaving.
I sometimes think attention deficit distraction, because what happens
The Three Principles and understanding of how my mind works
In my more resourceful times, clarity reverts and I can take care of it. However, the diagnosis and all the other things that were going on led to my employer offering me a package if I wanted to take it, which I did. So that was how I transitioned out of this very secure job in law, and I had the kind of cushion to start this work, which was, I suppose, about three years down the line, two or three years down the line after I’d first encountered it.
And in the meantime, I’d been doing every training that I could find. Somewhere in London, I did a
Alexandra: Thank you for sharing that with us. That’s great. I like seeing how things just unfold when we let them, and sometimes it’s easy to see those things in hindsight.
You have a blog post on your website about adverse childhood events. And I think the title is “Why You’re Not Broken,” and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that and your understanding of those adverse childhood events.
And how this paradigm approaches them in a way that’s very different. It’s almost flipped on its head from a traditional sort of therapeutic model.
Christian: Sure. ACEs, or adverse childhood events, are very much under discussion in some of the fields that I work in now. That particular acronym wasn’t what we used when I first got into this whole recovery movement, but it was essentially the same thing; the belief was that distress in the present was caused by what had happened in childhood, and it seemed like the only answer was endless therapy to talk about it.
What I was actually told in terms on occasion were things like, “Well, you’re essentially broken, and if you do all this work, if you work really hard, then you can probably get away with a mild limp,” as it were, emotional limp. That was sort of good enough for me.
I was really committed to that. I was all in with that, and I really didn’t stop to question much of it. It seemed to make sense.
And as you said on your website, you sampled many, many different therapies. Me too. And it’s very interesting.
Gradually I began to notice that nobody ever got through. We just get stuck in it, and I wasn’t the only one. It wasn’t that I was peculiarly bad at it. I began to notice some of my fellow travelers, if you like, who were on the same sort of journey.
If anything, they became less functional and they started to see themselves as depressed and having mental health problems.
On one particular occasion, I was with a bunch of women of similar age and educational level as me, social sort of socioeconomic level, if you like. The problems around that table were phenomenal, and I was thinking, “If you had a similar bunch of women at the tennis club up the road, similar kind of situations, nobody gets through life without difficulties, but it wouldn’t look like this.” I mean nobody’s got a happy marriage. Most people have financial difficulties.
What is going on here? T
I was increasingly stepping away from this whole therapeutic model and so on. And for me, this, again, was why encountering the Principles made such
And it’s not to say that abuse of children is irrelevant. It’s not saying that at all. But whatever has happened in your life, right here, right now, you’re whole. You have everything you need within you. And there is an essence that can’t be touched.
There is an essence that’s whole and unbreakable, and I just knew that was true. I just knew that was true. I mean it was literally, you know, almost overnight.
As you said, I already stepped away, but it was almost literally overnight. I completely put that down.
When I reflect on my own life, I see that subscribing to that model of brokenness and putting effort into self-fixing, if you like, or being fixed by others, with the help of others,
So much energy, so much time, so many years spent on that, rather than…Because it’s focusing on…Well, the past no longer exists. So it’s focusing on something that doesn’t exist. It’s focusing on painful emotions. It’s using the creative power of imagination just to recreate distress rather than…and distress in this moment about something that no longer exists, with the false promise that that will lead to something better.
Now today when I work with people, it’s not that anything is off the table. Sometimes something, a memory from the past might come through, and it’s entirely possible to have fresh thinking about that, but it’s certainly not where the focus is.
Alexandra: I’m sure there isn’t anybody alive who hasn’t had some sort of childhood trauma, things that happened, parenting situations that weren’t ideal, whatever it is. And what I
And that alone, just that, sort of felt like it lifted 50% to 75% of the angst that I had about those events off my shoulders. It was just remarkable, and I think that’s one of the things that has committed me to this paradigm as well.
You talked about doing it for the rest of your life. That was one moment where I felt like I was all in, as you said.
Christian: I love that, and I had heard that. It was another sort of mantra, “They were all doing the best they could with the knowledge they had at the time.” So I had heard that many times, but it didn’t seem true to me until I encountered the principles. And I suddenly really got it.
I got that all that any of us is experiencing
We can’t control it. Knowing what is happening is helpful, but that sort of gush, that torrent of thought running through us, visible and invisible, is what’s creating the feelings, and I saw that that was true for me. And therefore, it must have been true for my family members, the people around in my childhood.
I had a very difficult relationship with my mother in particular, which had become civil over all these decades of working on myself, but suddenly I got it with her. Like you say, suddenly I got it.
And there was a sort of evolution of that insight as well because
Just to backtrack slightly, while I saw her as responsible for my present-day unhappiness, I couldn’t forgive her because I was still experiencing that. So it just seemed like self-abuse to sort of forgive her.
The minute I saw that what I’m feeling today is not caused by anything beyond the thought that’s occurring in me, and there was freedom in that, and then the next thing that I saw was the reason our relationship or part of the reason that our relationship had never become close was because I was caught up in the misunderstanding.
That wasn’t about punishing myself or beating myself because there was innocence in both my misunderstanding and hers, but I genuinely saw it wasn’t just her behavior. It was my misunderstanding too.
It was an inevitable outcome of those two people caught up in a misunderstanding was preventing the intimacy and the closeness, and that was quite humbling. It was quite humbling.
She died about 18 months after my dad. She died the following year. And again, I would just say there’s been a continued sort of growing and love and compassion towards her since then.
That feels good, and there is sadness, and there is regret that I couldn’t have seen it sooner. But in that innocence, I didn’t. We always see it when we see it.
Alexandra: Yes. Lovely. Well, I want to ask you. We’re getting close to the end of our time, but I want to ask you about grief because you have a lovely blog post on your website about grief.
Given that grief is so feeling-based, for lack of a better way to say it, for someone who might be brand-new to this understanding, how would you explore grief with them if you were working with them? Or how do you explain it?
Christian: It’s tricky when somebody is caught up in something that seems…when there has been a deep loss because
I’m not even suggesting that there’s anything wrong with grief. But in that particular blog post, I was speaking about somebody who’d lost her aged parents a couple of years ago and was really closed down and become almost, you know, nonfunctioning.
We had a bit of a conversation, and I don’t think it was necessarily particularly helpful to her, but it did make me reflect on, in a funny way, the deepest grief I felt was the loss of the relationship with the father of my children.
I could see the parallels with her and with me
One of the insights I had after discovering this paradigm was that even in that period, I was having kind of ups and downs, and there was new stuff coming into my life which I obviously was aware of.
I was driving myself to meet new friends or to do things, but it was as though my whole attention was focused on the low points. So I was joining the dots of the low points and as though I’d created a story that I will not be okay until these low points are gone. And all of this happened automatically.
It wasn’t things happening at an unconscious level, but an understanding of the principles enables me to see that actually in every difficult situation, there’s this ebb and flow, and the more we have eyes for the times of resourcefulness, connectedness, possibility, fresh solutions, then there’s the opportunity to have a very different experience of life.
So I wouldn’t be rushing in to say that someone shouldn’t feel grief. So the first question would be around, “Is that something that you would like some help with? Is that something you would like a different perspective on? Is that something I could help with?”
I think there has to be that
Alexandra: I totally
Alexandra: And I have experienced, when we let it kind of flow through us, the same way that we do any other thought or feeling, that it’s less likely to get kind of jammed up in us, and that’s one thing I really appreciate about being able to look at it from that perspective, but you said it much more eloquently. I love what you said about the connecting the dots of the low points.
Christian: Yeah, and it’s interesting because we do know that at any funeral or wake, the gathering
The Three Principles are very much a description of what’s already going on. It’s not a prescription, but having an understanding of that, having an awareness of that. There’s something incredibly helpful about that, incredibly sort of cycling and grounding and reassuring.
Alexandra: Yes, I totally agree. Well, thank you so much, Christian. This has been just amazing chatting with you this morning. I wish we could carry on.
Why don’t you let everybody know where they can find out more about you and your work?
Christian: Oh, sure. Thank you. My website is called elementsofwellbeing.net, all one word, and I’m also on Facebook, and I have a Facebook group called “Three Principles Conversations,” where we have a free monthly webinar which people are very welcome to join. So those are the easiest places to get me, I think.
Alexandra: Great. Okay. Well, I’m going to put links to the show notes and to all of those things so that people can find them when they listen to the show. So thank you.
Christian: Oh, thank you very much.
Alexandra: Oh, you’re so welcome. Thank you for being with me today. It was lovely to meet you and chat with you for a little while.
Christian: Lovely to meet you too, and look forward to doing so again.
Alexandra: Oh, thanks. Okay. Bye bye.
Christian: Bye bye.
[Pink flower image courtesy Kumiko Shimizu and Unsplash]