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Counselling: Blog

Surprisingly, sometimes the biggest obstacle to an individual’s ability to manage change is the individuals own expectation(s), usually of themselves.

Previously when I mentioned grief it was in what you might call in the ‘traditional’ sense of the death or loss of somebody close to you or that meant a lot to you.  However, it important to recognise some emotional elements of our common reactions in the process of grieving are also common to changes to our ambitions, dreams, expectations and future.  Therefore, these reactions can be as important. I frequently talk about the ‘grief curve’, there are basically five stages to this, with any number of intermediate emotional stages in-between.  Shock, anger, understanding, acceptance and moving on.  Now think about traumatic event or personal change, for something that you were personally invested in – be it a potentially great job / promotion, potential new house or flat, a potential new relationship, potentially trying for a baby, the potential post COVID-19 world, your children growing into their potential whilst you slow down, a potential election result etc.  This could have presented you with a different future, an ‘ If only….’ moment.

Rationally you know it’s not the end of the world, plenty more fish in the sea and other fantastically facile/banal platitudes, however, emotionally you feel rubbish…  why?  Essentially, you’re grieving to a greater or lesser extent.  It becomes more difficult to manage when your expectations (usually your own!) increase the pressure on yourself and are greatly unrealistic/slightly unrealistic.

For instance, one of the most difficult times that I had adjusting to life in a wheelchair, a significant change in my expected future, was managing my mental image of myself winning the Dad’s race at my child’s primary school sports day.  This might be more understandable were I ever to have been any good at running or won anything in any sporting arena at any time pre-condition or post-condition and certainly pre-wheelchair.

The point I am trying to illustrate is that the expectation is less based in the rational and more in the emotional – sometimes it is more akin to a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  What my image illustrated was the loss of the opportunity to take part.  This was a loss, which I felt emotionally.

So be kinder to yourself and you should give yourself time and space to grieve for what you might feel is a trivial issue but that if you look closer (maybe with www.accessibleonlinecounselling.co.uk) could be having an emotional impact.

December 17, 2020

The negative cycle

I  have previously mentioned in a post @ http://www.accessibleonlinecounselling.co.uk/blog/ – (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 @ http://www.accessibleonlinecounselling.co.uk/blog/

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 www.assessibleonlinecounselling.co.uk

December 16, 2020

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!

December 11, 2020

Grief

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 – http://nationalgriefawarenessweek.org/ 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 www.accessibleonlinecounselling.co.uk
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.🙂

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 www.accessibleonlinecounselling.co.uk and seeing if you can become more aware of your motivations.

Along with ‘couple fit’ talking about defences. be they purely verbal or physical, or a combination of the two in the way they show themselves, seems to be an area of pretty intense interest.  I think it’s because they can be quite accessible, recognisable to spot and you can recognise them in yourself.

A level of defence is a good thing and protects you, those around you and indicates a level of social awareness.  You might argue that the employment of defences, to some degree, allows successful and more complex social interactions.  A good example would be the ability of service personnel to compartmentalise traumatic war zone events and not bring them back to civilian life e.g.  Not talking about dismemberment and explosive devices when buying the paper at the newsagents.

It is when the defence goes beyond the control of the originator, becomes a repetitive default response or becomes evidence of a dysfunctional behaviour that defences can become an issue.  I’m not really sure what the ‘official’ number of defences is.  A quick look on the web sees some people putting down 6 ‘main’ ones, one lists 10, another lists 12 – I came up with 15, but I have probably split some, double counted and made one up!

In no particular order they are:

1.Denial – not acknowledging your own behaviour and using a ‘shield’ of some other reason to justify the behaviour.so you protect yourself from needing to acknowledge something unpalatable – e.g. denial of the idea you smoke by using the name/excuse’ social smoking’ or ‘I only smoke when I have a drink…’.  This could have far more serious implications as part of the justification for somebody staying in an abusive relationship could be to deny/minimise the abuse as a sign of ‘true love’. A more common example would be the serious impact of sudden/traumatic grief and relative(s) are not clearing out the dead person’s belongings until a considerable time after the event.

2.Repression – consciously or unconsciously ‘forgetting’ an unpleasant memory.  This could be as powerful as somebody who has suffered a trauma being unable to recall the specific details of the event to the Donald Trump approach to the US election – seemingly a genuine feeling he won repressing the reality that he lost.

3.Regression – This is the reversion back to a childlike emotional state – ‘throwing your toys out of the pram’, sulking, shouting over someone, refusing to listen, storming off etc, in which your base/childhood unconscious anxieties, fears and general emotional instability erupt (before you have learnt adult control).  Essentially this is a toddler temper tantrum e.g. it leads to irrational behaviours such as road rage incidents, the ‘red mist’ descending, Donald Trump not only repressing idea he lost, but doubling down on the idea there is systemic weakness in the election process, contrary to all evidence.  In arguments it is usually met with the accusation ‘you’re SUCH a child…’

4.Displacement – this is when you ‘take out’ your true feelings on to someone else – usually someone close to you who is not responsible in any way. In the ‘biz’ we would call that ‘transference’ of your true emotions.

A common example would be that you’ve had a pretty unsatisfactory conversation about work with your boss or teacher, and you feel quite helpless but you can’t express your true emotion toward him or her.  Instead, you come home and, usually without intending to or really being aware of it, pick a fight with someone else rather than the actual cause of our difficulties.  The problem is that this is usually our partners, family or friends, and can result in other difficulties.

Spotted any you do yet?!

Do you need a quick free assessment at www.accessibleonlinecounselling.co.uk?

More tomorrow!

 

It seems to be a pretty regular mistake to make to underestimate the impact of a virtual liaison on the existing relationship.  This never really ceases to amaze me – that is certainly not to say that anyone is overreacting or that the Internet is a vice that you only use at your peril!

More that when wounded partners rationally talk through their feelings of hurt, loss, betrayal and anger, it very quickly becomes apparent that these feelings are the same ones that would be felt if an ‘in person’ liaison had taken place.  Plus, the realisation from the other partner, gradual or sudden, that the majority of the characteristics of an ‘in person’ liaison is present in the online relationship – namely deception, secrecy, misinformation by omission and potentially lying etc.

It then becomes clearer (sometimes before your eyes) and the penny drops for the partner who has been conducting the liaison that they have been minimizing the liaison – maintaining to themselves that the liaison was harmless, any flirting was harmless and really, they had done nothing wrong.

Except that the difficulty is that in their heart of hearts (or brain of brains) the very awareness that they have needed to use deception, secrecy, misinformation by omission to some degree highlights that they were aware on some level that it would be ‘trouble’.

Fantasy / day dreaming is pretty much always better than the reality of life.  The ability to highlight those areas of your character that you wish were more dominant and become somebody different from your everyday ‘in person’ personality is seductive.  Online liaisons offer a level of freedom that would be unusual in real life – logistic conundrums such as explaining the lateness, receipts for illicit activities, lying about work functions etc are replaced with the seamless accessibility of the web and the ability to conduct yourself online at the same time as being physically present in real life.  The chances of discovery, as long as you’re a bit techno savvy are smaller than real life. So far so good.

Unfortunately, reality bites and it is less often the physical betrayal that becomes the most important aspect of an illicit liaison, online or in-person.  But it is in the emotional betrayal of confiding in another person rather than your partner that becomes almost insurmountable to them (were they to discover.)

The question is, as with all illicit liaisons whatever the circumstances, – why was a partner in that relationship open to doing something that was potentially so damaging to that relationship in the first place?

When I talk about the following, Counsellors/therapists etc normally go into psycho-babble land and quickly disappear in a puff of smoke up their own backsides.  We would call it ‘couple fit’, ‘attachment theory’, ‘relationship type’ and ‘the negative cycle’.  In the real world it is called real life.  Simplistically, it is the idea of why we repeatedly can develop certain characteristics in forming friendships and romantic relationships (‘attachment theory’ and ‘couple fit’), what forms as those relationships generally take (‘relationship type’) and the repeating pattern of behaviours when there is conflict in that relationship (‘the negative cycle’’).  Hence the title of this post, or it could be called ‘why is it always me?’.

It might be unsurprising to hear that our initial attachment styles partly develop subconsciously then consciously from our early experiences of care givers and close relationships in our immediate vicinity.  When we select a partner, we do so on multiple levels e.g. a ‘public fit’, a ‘conscious fit’ and an ‘unconscious fit’.  Our relationship, if we’re fortunate, is a functional amalgamation of any number of ‘relationship types’ – if we are less fortunate our relationship is predominantly characterised by one or two dynamics which tend to be inflexible when put under stress.  When we experience conflict in that relationship, essentially it is the way that we communicate with each other, the assumptions we make about each other’s behaviour and how we respond that determines what effect or damage this might have on our relationship (‘the negative cycle’’).

As I have said previously the majority of couples, friendships and family relationship are functional, they may not be the happiest, most spontaneous or ideal, but to a greater or lesser extent they function relatively well without any need for outside input be it friends, family or an independent third party (me!)

Unfortunately, it is when the couple dynamic becomes dysfunctional and the negative its cycle of communication takes hold that it can become very difficult for any relationship to go anywhere and the couple get stuck on the merry-go-round of joy, or as I might say ‘hundreds of arguments but always the same one’.

It is always better to talk to someone sooner rather than later and establish a healthy relationship dynamic before the couple gets bogged down or entrenched in their positions.  However, even if you didn’t see it coming and you feel firmly in a negative cycle, just arrange a free assessment and do not despair!

 

Now I should mention at this point, I have a vested interest in you coming to counselling!  However, that should not put you off the idea that spending time on yourself and just taking care of your mental well-being should be the ‘norm’ not the exception.

I like to think of it in terms of buying a good mattress to sleep – why wouldn’t you?  Roughly speaking (and don’t quote me on this!) We spend a third of our lives in bed.  So, it is a bit of a no brainer that you would take an interest in this.

You spend most of your life in your own head and with your own thoughts – so why don’t you take more of an interest in yourself?

As I have mentioned before, many people appear to think that that the time to see a counsellor, online or otherwise, is when something causing you significant damage or anxiety. This could be to yourself, maybe to your intimate relationships, maybe to your family, maybe to your friends, maybe your work, anything really.

I would argue that having a few sessions each year could avoid you get into a state where an issue causes you significant damage or anxiety. Even if you do experience an unexpected situation that causes you to need to look at things at in greater depth, you are in an ideal position to do so as you would be more familiar with the counselling process.

Previously, I have had clients equate counselling with having an annual MOT service. They just have a niggling thing that has been bothering them which they feel a chance to communicate their perspective and feelings to someone who is supportive, understanding and non-judgmental of them whilst they assess their behaviour and reactions in relation to themselves and others is helpful.

“What about the cost?” I hear you protest, to which I would say that the opportunity to potentially look at issues before they cause you significant damage is, in my experience, pretty much priceless.