The start of the relationship feels like a meeting of kindred spirits. The other person ticks many of the boxes that had been left unticked in the past. They “get” us. They share our values. They care. They understand our quirks. They even have similar quirks. We feel like best friends and lovers. They are interested in us as and not just as a sex object. But the sex is intense. A dream gets ignited. A hope of a happy future with this person is born.
Some clients arrive for their first therapy session skeptical, worried, or downright reluctant to talk about their childhoods.
I assure them I have no interest in getting them to do something they don’t want. Nevertheless, if they are willing, then I am curious—exploring their childhoods helps me to understand their concerns more fully.
Our breathing changes as our thoughts, feelings and behaviour change. As we become worried, excited, elated, depressed or aroused, our breathing becomes shorter, jerkier, longer, deeper, shallower or smoother. What if the reverse were true? What if our breathing could change our thoughts, feelings and behaviour? What if breathing the right way meant more personal excellence and less anxiety and anger?
Recently a few of my clients have been contemplating whether it’s time to end therapy. Recently other of my clients have been contemplating whether the to end their romantic relationships. Should I stay or should I go and how do I know?
The job of the therapist is to facilitate awareness of blind spots so that they can make a more informed decision Thus, as I said to both sets of clients, I can help you to explore your situation and the reasons for wanting to stay and go. Hopefully this will give you a greater perspective and help you to understand more fully the dynamics at play. This is true both for a therapeutic or a romantic relationship.
OCD refers to obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviour. These can include obsessive thoughts around four types of vulnerabilities which are: 1) health and illness, 2) danger, 3) poverty and 4) losing control. Specifically, we can think obsessively about sex, death, relationships and contamination, amongst others. We may behave compulsively by cleaning, checking and double-checking, repeatedly asking our partner the same question, for example. We also tend to avoid certain situations which makes us feel particularly anxious. On a physical level, it is common to experience a tightness in our chests, shallow breathing, sweaty palms, palpitations, dizziness or brain fog when in the grips of obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviours. We may also generally feel low in mood, lonely, empty and tired because of our condition.
When we get to this bit, our wounds risk being exposed. We feel vulnerable and scared. We have after all been protecting and soothing our relationship wounds for a life-time. And let’s face it we all have some. The relationship dynamic and couples counselling can nudge us to take another look at how we protect and shield ourselves and whether that helps or hinders our relationship. We may learn some hard truths along the way. That can feel really scary. So scary that we take a ‘flight into health’ and abort the sessions early on in order to maintain the status quo. We settle for superficial gains. These rarely last. What we resist persists. The alternative feels like too much work and surely a relationship shouldn’t be that hard?
If you are both committed to change, you can! – Are some relationships doomed? Is it written in the stars whether a relationship is meant to be? Have you heard people say that if a relationship is struggling early on it’s a bad sign?.........so long as you are willing to show up, even with your doubt, change is possible. That doesn’t mean it will be easy and at some point, both partners need to get fully on board. We get on board by expressing all of our doubts, resentments, hurts, fears in an open and non-blaming way as possible. Often this is easier in the presence of a couples’ therapist who is neutral and skilled to facilitate dialogue. It’s only by bringing all of our selves to the table that we allow the possibility for healing and greater understanding to occur.
Childhood trauma, developmental trauma, complex trauma, attachment trauma. These are all terms referring to hurt we experienced as children which still impacts us as adults. We may have suffered trauma due to external circumstances such as a car accident, a long hospital stay, a chronic childhood illness or perpetrated by a stranger or more distant family member. Or we may have suffered the hurt at the hands of our caregivers. Whichever of these circumstances, we did not at that time receive the support necessary to process our pain.
What can the function of depression be? For some clients, it provides a security. Even though the distress is real and often awful, being depressed minimises the fear and anxiety linked with risking and getting rejected or failing. I ask clients what they would do if they weren’t feeling depressed. Often it is difficult to respond. Even risking telling their therapist about secret hopes and dreams feels too scary, for fear they will be judged.
Unfortunately, it not possible to wrap the cause and cure of depression up into a neat little package. Nevertheless, there are certain common themes that are worthwhile to explore in therapy. Just as there are common depression symptoms, from my clinical experience depressed people share certain creative adjustments in common. ‘Creative adjustment’ is a Gestalt therapy term which means a way that an individual has adapted to cope with a particular situation in their early development, which may no longer serve them in the present. In the rest of this article I’m going to look at four common features: the critical voice, the relationship with anger, boundaries, and the fear of failure
Attachment styles are widely talked about in psychology these days. The term refers to the social-behavioural impact of our early relationships with our key caregivers. Researchers have recentl investigated how attachment styles affect our current relationships. A study published in the International Journal of Psychological Studies (Vol. 8, No.4) looks at whether attachment affects our social intelligence.
Fantasy has been around for as long as humanity. As George Bernard Shaw said, "Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will”. Creative visualization is widely written about these days. Imagery is also used by cognitive behavioural therapists, amongst others. This study looks at the effects of self-guided imagery. Specifically, researchers Velikova et al. investigated whether self-guided imagery can increase wellbeing.
If our self-esteem is based on achievements and praise it is like the little pigs House of Straw. One puff and it is all blown down. What is missing is a robust and continuous sense of self-worth which is independent of our achievements whether they be glorious, embarrassing, admirable or downright disappointing.
Failing demands we unshackle our sense of self from our performance. It means we separate our sense of being a lovable and worthy human being from the sometime idiotic, regrettable acts we might commit as a fallible person. It means growing up and connecting with our innate sense of self- worth rather than viewing ourselves through the lens we think others see us through.
What should I do? This is a question that takes up a lot of headspace in a lot of people, a lot of the time. I hear it from my clients. I hear it as I ask myself the same question. “Should I relocate to the town or country?” “Should I quit my job or not?” “Should I stay with him/her or go?” “Should I invest or save?” “Should I buy the dress or the jeans?” Decisions. Why are they often so difficult? How come we can get so tied up in knots trying to make them?
So what are you doing about self-care? I often ask my clients. It is a common question and one that I can just as easily ask myself, aware that that I can neglect that department too. It’s a word that is bandied about a lot. It goes by other names such as self-love, self-compassion or in Gestalt therapy theory as self-support. The two simple words self-care convey something seemingly very obvious and easy to do. In the ABC of emotional health and wellbeing this is logically one of the first building blocks. Indeed it is so obvious that it can be overlooked. Both by clients and by myself. “Self-care, yes of course I’m practicing self-care”, I might respond. But what does that actually mean?
A common thread that runs through a lot of the issues my clients bring is validation. By validation I mean the process of being confirmed as ‘ok’, ‘acceptable’ or ‘good enough’. For many individuals this sense of being ‘ok’ is derived from others or how we imagine others think of us. We need others to consider us interesting in order for us to feel interesting. We need others to think that we are beautiful in order to feel beautiful. We need others to think that we are intelligent in order to feel intelligent. We need others to give us permission to feel ok before we give ourselves permission to feel ok.
I mentioned in my previous article on social anxiety that it was important to get as grounded as possible. When we feel anxious we tend to breathe more quickly and less fully. As a result we can become heady and have physical symptoms such as feeling dizzy, spaced out or numb. Consequently we no longer feel balanced and find it difficult to get in touch with other more supportive states that counter the anxious thoughts for example excitement, curiosity or confidence. Grounding involves being more in our bodies and less in our heads.
Social anxiety is the inner voice that tells us, whilst we are in, or are contemplating being in a social situation, that we are not good enough, not interesting enough, that others are judging us negatively. It can be accompanied by shyness however we can have social anxiety without being shy. This critical inner voice can become so insistent and powerful that it builds a wall between the other/s and us, and we are no longer fully present and available to engage freely with them.