Month: December 2020

The negative cycle

I  have previously mentioned in a post @ – (November 24, 2020 ‘Hundreds of arguments, usually the same one…’), some sort of negative cycle is common in your relationships and friendships.  I wanted to say some more about the common varieties that you might recognise.

When talking about cycles, be they unicycles, bicycles, tricycles or negative it has just reminded me of a joke my then 15-year-old Bolshy middle sister told me years ago.  A woman in a bar has just picked up a man and wants to take him home, when she says to him “I think I should tell you that I am on my menstrual cycle”, “That’s okay” says the man cheerily “I’ll follow you on my moped”… BOOM BOOM TISH.  Apologies and please find the full text @

In an attempt to mystify what is essentially a quite simple idea – therapists and counsellors will label repetitive arguments as ‘the couple dance’ or ‘the negative cycle’.  To you it is usually just frustration or despair as seemingly whatever you do you always end up at the same bloody place – either upsetting someone or being upset.  It is interesting to note that the very behaviour you might employ to try and defuse the situation, unintentionally, appears to inflame it.

The very repetitive / circular nature of things might cause you to realise that this is a pattern, however, once emotional responses get triggered it is very difficult to extract yourself.  Hence why Counsellors might need counselling themselves – they might be able to recognise they are in a cycle but once an emotional response is triggered, all bets are off!

And that in a nutshell is the key.  You need to recognise initially that you are in a cycle, and then break it.  Again, easier said than done.  However, what it is helpful Is that the behaviour in the cycle itself is seldom important enough to the person to avoid breaking it.  Simplistically, the emotional attachment to the other person is stronger than the emotional attachment to the negative cycle.  I have frequently seen that an individual, couple or family long to behave in a different way, but get caught up responding in the ‘expected’ way – to avoid losing face or being seen as vulnerable.  The expected way is like a choreographed ‘dance’.  It’s easier to act in a certain way as everyone knows their part.

How do you break the cycle?  Do something different, maybe admit to the other you are stuck.  Talk to each other back-to-back, ask the other if this is helpful or maybe highlight that this is ‘just’ a cycle and how you might change your behaviour together.

All of this can that be easier with an independent third party.  If you feel you might need further guidance please don’t just ignore it and arrange a free assessment at

Because you’re worth it!

Self-worth is a funny old thing. There are many measures of value. You just need to look at the old saying ‘money can’t buy you happiness’, whatever ‘happiness’ is (but that is a whole different conversation!) Presumably it can if that is all you care about. Essentially, I believe it is YOUR contentment and YOUR ability to recognise something desirable or good in what you do.

One of the things that people find hardest to do is to recognise when asked and vocalise an aspect of themselves that they do well.  What I feel is so interesting is that people very rarely, if ever, cite resilience through the experience of failure, disappointment or enforced readjustment as a valuable characteristic.  It very definitely is and it is something that, as a disabled person, I have noticed people are far more willing to recognise in others (ie me!) than in themselves – a weird kind of British self depreciation that borders on the masochistic at times.  Amongst senior employees the attributes that frequently drive success in the workplace – focus, leadership, valuing rewards, prestige, people pleasing, ambition (conscious or subconscious!) are the very same attributes that drive disappointment and insecurity in their own performance.  Those in less senior roles have the added pressure they feel they are underperforming at work.  In counselling there is the well established idea that it is usually the original attraction between the two partners that is now the source of discontent.  If you are ‘successful’ at work why can’t you be as successful elsewhere in your life.  If you are not ‘successful’ at work, why can’t you translate the success elsewhere to your work.

This can all add up to a conscious feeling of dissatisfaction or an unconscious feeling of ‘something is not right’.  Either way leads to discontent / dissatisfaction, which can lead to an impact on other areas of your life.  So, ask yourself what do you do well, were you on time,  did you make someone smile?  YOU take the opportunity to think about what YOU do well and think about it every day for a week.

Easier said than done!


Just to say that it is National Grief Awareness week.
Grief is something that almost all of us go through. However, some people find it very difficult to acknowledge the other feelings, alongside the sadness and the things you’re ‘supposed’ to feel. From an elderly parent to a miscarriage this event, driven by The Good Grief Trust, aims to provide early signposting and a tool kit of support for all those directly and indirectly affected by bereavement. Please see – and if after reading through the website you are not sure if you want to see a counsellor – please arrange a free, no obligation, assessment session at

It’s Christmas time, there’s every need to be afraid… Very afraid.

Younger and older kids – what might help
Try to have some ideas of what you might do in the run up to Christmas day, the dull period between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve and for those ‘dead days’ after New Year’s Day and school.
Include older children so they don’t feel too ‘organised’ – especially if they value their independence. Older children can help in putting on Christmas itself, but also plan some older days – shopping, cinema and they can go with their friends, Bowling etc. Tag team up with anyone else available to take a child! Remember, planning ahead means you know what they’re doing, and what you are doing.
It can be really tempting to have either a relaxed routine or no routine at all, but a bit counter intuitively, this actually tends to stress children out because they don’t know when they’re eating or sleeping. Over excited, over tired or ‘hangry’ children get stressed. Stressed kids usually mean stressed adults
Stagger present giving as the younger children tend to get overwhelmed by the excitement of it all if they get everything all at once and smaller presents can get forgotten on the day.
It is a good idea to have a quieter, cooler place away from unopened presents, TV and people to have a quieter time just to play with presents.
Christmas is the ideal time for teenagers to play up!
Try not to react when they say something provocative, usually this just for your benefit – ‘Christmas is a waste of time’, ‘What’s the point?’, ‘I am a vegetarian now’, ‘this is dry…’ etc, stay in control (ha ha, easier said than done). They are frequently trying to demonstrate their power and causing you to lose it is a good example of them flexing their emotional muscles!
Choose your battles and see the bigger picture (otherwise known as winning the war!) – decide what’s important e.g. being at the present opening, being at Christmas dinner and playing one family game. Ask them to be there, ask them like an adult (don’t order them). Also stipulate any conditions beforehand so it is not a surprise to them e.g. No phones at the table, they can have one glass of wine etc. Surprises inevitably lead to negotiations ‘on the hoof’ – a recipe for disputes.
Time off for good behaviour – In the same way younger children need some downtime, so do teenagers. Let them see their friends, disappear to their room for an afternoon, play on the games console for a few hours, have a lie in and miss breakfast etc. – and this ties in to the idea of choosing your battles, don’t sweat the smaller stuff – they won’t, plus they might feel that they should reciprocate a little. You never know….
Also, there will be at least a couple of arguments – they are children after all (and teenagers at that!). Don’t expect everything to be magically great – the extra pressure on yourself and them will virtually guarantee a confrontation. Being told ‘to chill’ will ensure the opposite from you! (I know I just did it, and it is not even Christmas!). When you lose your rag (which you probably will do), don’t feel guilty and beat yourself up. Wait a while, ask for quick word, say how stressed you are and you need their help and (hopefully!) make up and move on.
Blended families
It is the classic saying of ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ – organize stuff ahead of time. Even basic arrangements like ‘I will drop them at 4.00 PM at your house’, this allows everyone to have an anchor event to arrange things around.
Try and avoid most things being organized by 1 person (unsurprisingly, this is annoying!)
Arrange journeys carefully to avoid 1 person travelling a long way / doing all the fetching and carrying (and not drinking!).
Plan / stagger celebration meals / Christmas events around children arriving (but not immediately!)
Step parents: try to think how the present you have bought your partner’s children is roughly equal in cost and size to the ones that you have bought your own kids. Children tend to be even less skilled than adults at hiding their true emotions and this is an easy stress to avoid, especially if the children are tired and/or over excited.
There are, of course, loads of other issues at Christmas, but these are usually made multiple times worse by children.
Remember, this is not a guide to having the perfect Christmas, I’m merely making you more aware of the obvious issues, in case you sleep walk into them.🙂

Getting all defensive….part II

As promised on Monday (but not delivered on Tuesday!) here are the other defences with some common situations.  Frequently the examples cited are actions, however, all actions start as an instinct, either conscious or unconscious, and it can be pretty artificial to try and separate them out. As a counsellor I frequently encounter some form of defence in direct response to me, in response to a partner or family member or indirectly as part of the narrative of a situation the client had been in.  As I said earlier, a level of defence not bad in and of itself and can be seen as a coping mechanism; frankly I would expect it as a ‘normal’ response (whatever ‘normal’ is!)

5.Dissociation – in its most simplistic form, this is ‘zoning out’ / ‘leaving the scene’ / ‘checking out’ / ‘leaving the building’ etc, either mentally or physically.  It involves some sense of changing your awareness of your place in reality or possibly the reality itself.  This can be as straightforward as day dreaming – wishing you were somewhere more interesting and doing something more interesting, or maybe not doing anything at all!  This can also be as complex as a protecting your emotional self by removing your mind from reality.  Most commonly this is done by not mentioning something, mentioning anything else or just saying ‘I don’t want to talk about it’.

6.Projection – this as it can be very straightforward or pretty complex.  Essentially you have a personality characteristic that you don’t like and don’t want to recognise in yourself.  It might be something you have seen in someone else and criticised.  E.g. Being inflexible, being ignorant, being sarcastic, being too nice etc.  Secretly you know you have the exact same trait that you accuse another person of having, so you ‘project’, either consciously or unconsciously that trait onto someone else.

“You’re being defensive” you say, defensively.

Additionally, it might be the case that you actually accuse someone of implying something you have difficulty acknowledging in yourself.

“Don’t make out I’m being ridiculous” you say, ignoring the fact nobody did.

Things can get quite difficult as this unacknowledged characteristic might also be wrapped up in an unacknowledged/unconscious bias or prejudice.  Which is a whole different kettle of fish….

In order to justify the way you have behaved (usually badly) in your own mind, you further intimate (to yourself), the person had it coming because they were….[Insert preferred answer]

7.Reaction formation – This one is relatively straightforward. You try to obscure your true feelings by acting the opposite way in your outward behaviour to the world.  Metaphorically, you are pulling the pigtails of the girl you like in the playground.  To really see this in action just watch an episode of ‘Love Island’ where every episode someone says ‘I’m glad you don’t see me as girlfriend/boyfriend material as I don’t want to lose you as a friend…’ – really, they are gutted!

8.Intellectualisation – this is my favourite because it is something I recognise in myself.  Another way of putting it might be to say ‘waffling’.  Rather than talking ‘properly’  about an uncomfortable emotion, you indicate a willingness to talk about the event / experience, then do so in a way that, whilst not denying an event happened, focuses your energy on the logistics of the event rather than the impact on your emotions, You think about the issue in an intellectual way so we do not have to address the emotion.

“How did you feel?” The counsellor asked me.

“If you mean ‘feel’ as in was I annoyed, then yes” I respond!!

9.Rationalisation – you might refer to this as the ‘Act of God’ defence, you can argue it is a bit like intellectualisation but you attempt to explain your reaction/behaviour by attributing it to some situation that you cannot control or twisting it so you are not responsible. ‘It wasn’t my fault because…’ and add in the justification of your choice.  You had to act as you did ‘because…’, you had no choice ‘because…’. I did it for you / us / them / myself etc ‘because…..’

  1. Compartmentalisation – As it sounds – this is separating areas of your life into separate silos. This defence is pretty useful when you need to focus entirely on one aspect of your life – for example work, a DIY project academic work etc, but less useful when issues or anxieties from one area ‘bleed’ into another, impacting one or other area due to an unacknowledged reason. Additionally, this can also be an issue if the internal ’walls’ you have constructed to separate the areas of your life render you incapable of discussing those areas together.  Eg you cannot discuss the impact the work and the promotion might have on your family’s ability to move to a bigger house and start a discussion about a new baby.
  2. Compensation – this is trying to emphasise one characteristic / behaviour in order to make up for what you see it as a weakness or lack of a ‘strong’ characteristic in yourself. Eg driving an expensive car to make up for a perceived lack of intellectual status. Making your point repeatedly and forcefully in an argument to make up for your lack of empathy / understanding of another’s point of view.
  3. Identification – we see an image as being something that we want to be associated with, and consciously or unconsciously amend our behaviour/mindset to reflect that image. This can be as simple as giving the appearance of intelligence by reading in public, or as serious (and controversial!) as identifying with an illness and using it to avoid taking responsibility for certain behaviours e.g. ‘it’s just my anxiety disorder making me….’
  4. Ritual and undoing – being aware, either consciously or unconsciously, that an aspect of your behaviour is not acceptable therefore trying to mitigate or hide it behind positive behaviour. Eg – being constantly late then, when on time, making a fuss about it because ‘you’re special!’, you usually put work events before family and then when you are with the family, putting unrealistic expectations on them planning a ‘big’ day out and constantly telling them how great it will be.
  5. Distraction – a temporarily effective response to being confronted with a strong emotion, be it unpleasant or unexpected. Whilst a bit more complex than the cartoons; shouting ‘hey! look at that’, pointing somewhere behind the baddie whilst running in the opposite direction – it is really just the mental equivalent. E.g. Talking at great length about possible arrangements for Christmas to avoid a discussion about commitment and the direction of the relationship.
  6. Sublimation – ‘sublimation’ is a great intellectual word that is only really used by Counsellors and therapists! This is a ‘good’ defence. It basically happens when people transform their difficult / uncomfortable emotions into something productive. E.g. Internal anger at being treated differently because you are disabled, turned into a positive campaign for getting disabled voices heard.  Internal disappointment, confusion and anger etc into how an intimate relationship is causing you to behave in a certain way and taking steps to leave that relationship.

Some and defences you might recognise, most of their time it is difficult to spot them because they are unconsciously motivated, you are too emotionally ‘close’ to be able to determine what is instinct, defence and regular behaviour and, usually,  there is more than 1 defence / motivation working at the same time.

However, if you feel your behaviours and internal thoughts are not very helpful to you, it is probably worth booking a free assessment with and seeing if you can become more aware of your motivations.