Online Counselling:

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.

I have various unconscious biases.

An obvious example would be that I did not see anything unusual about the room mostly full of besuited, white, middle aged men in a meeting at my work. I didn’t understand why my female colleague was intimidated. “But they are all nice guys…”  I explained completely missing the point.  When I first started my counsellor training, a couple of female colleagues admitted later that they had assumed I was not serious about seeking a career in counselling as “it’s not a proper job”.

The point is we all have unconscious bias.  Essentially, we make judgments about situations based on assumptions held in our subconscious. BUT, I hear you cry, if we don’t realise that we are doing it, how then can we guard against it?

I would make the point we can’t eliminate unconscious bias.  However, what we can do is accept that unconscious bias is there and try and be aware of how it affects your behaviour.  It makes it sound like standing in an addicts meeting and admitting you have an issue. “Hello everyone, my name is Bob and I have unconscious bias…”.

Be curious – Why did you react to such a way?  Did you get upset?  Alternatively, why is it not a big deal for you? Did the other person seem uncomfortable? Ask, don’t shelter behind words like “I just say it like it is”, “I don’t suffer fools gladly” (who does?!), “I’m a straight talker” etc, which are socially ‘acceptable’ ways of trying to close down the conversation without any further discussion.

Try to be a bit kinder and ask yourself why.  Hopefully you’ll become more aware of your assumptions, positive and negative and the effect on yourself and others.

Easy to say, less easy to do!


November 16, 2020

Kids and COVID lockdown

It might surprise you to know, that a number of counselling bodies in my hometown and anecdotal stories I have heard relating to children and settling back into a school routine highlight the increased anxiety of children and strain on family relations based on the pressures of facing life BACK in the ‘outside’ world after lockdown 1.0.

Generally speaking, the end of lockdown was seen as a ‘good’ thing for everyone. Especially in terms of the mental well-being of children.  Whilst in many senses this is undoubtedly true, it also seems to be true that in some cases this has led to an increase in child anxiety and a decrease in the feeling that children have that they can share their thoughts with adults.  This has led to the ‘school days are the best in your life’ syndrome, as I like to call it (but no one else!).  Some children feel that they won’t be listened to if they speak, some children feel there must be something ‘wrong’ with them if they feel there is something not quite right in the post lockdown world. Quite often their world will have changed dramatically through parental unemployment, not seeing relatives, changes at school etc and uncertainty.

All the social pressures that were there before lockdown are still there now.  Children are out of the secure and familiar, yet boring environment of home and having to navigate physical friendship/social politics, peer pressure, bullying, standing out, sporting/academic achievement, appearance, personal hygiene, stages of puberty etc, all of which are presumably as confusing as they were before.

Therefore – be kind, be patient, trying not to ask too many questions (this usually results in monosyllabic responses), reassure them, try to have a conversation when doing something else, tell them you are just ‘checking in’ and it’s not a big deal.  Most important, remember it’s not about you, it is about them.

Some stress is good. Stress motivates us; allows us meet goals; gets us excited. Generally, stress is due to an external trigger. Anxiety is usually excessive internal worrying. Mild to medium stress and anxiety levels of very common, in fact, not to have them would be more unusual. You might be surprised at how many people feel alone, or somehow different because of their reaction to stress. However, some little tweaks to the way you think and behave might help. There is no mystery, no rocket science!

Be kinder to yourself – a lot of people (myself included) call themselves rude names when they make mistakes, replace the name with something gentler.

Congratulate yourself on little things – did you make someone feel better with a cuppa? Did you catch the bus on time? Did you smile at someone? Make a phone call?

Write a ‘to do’ list of 1 thing – when you do it, congratulate yourself

Try to do something you have been putting off – doing this one may make other things seem easier

If you had to say something you can do well, what would it be? – even if it is something that you are not as bad at as someone else!

What are you good at? – do it regularly – take time to be satisfied with yourself, be it a crossword, driving, jigsaws, online quizzes whatever. Build yourself up in your own mind.

Chat to someone, a friend, partner, parent, colleague etc – as before, most of us have some a level of stress and anxiety, you might be pleasantly surprised you’re not alone.

Try to be rested – try to go to bed at the same time every night. Try not to have back lit screens in bed, don’t do posts or emails in bed, take 10 deep breaths in/out and concentrate on that. Clench your feet for 5 seconds, then relax them for 5 seconds, do it 10 times and concentrate on that.

Be patient with yourself – You are slowly trying to alter the way you think towards yourself,  ideas that have built up over time. It won’t change in a week.

Remember – if you cannot shake the feelings or you feel they are affecting your daily life and stopping you functioning or enjoying everything you think you should, it is no problem to chat to a counsellor… and you can be assured it is totally confidential!

Posted 23rd October 2020 – Pre conceptions about counselling? Change them and read here

Posted 20th October 2020 – Online Counselling – Accessible, complete anonymity, convenience, affordability and greater choice of counsellors. Read article here