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Ghosts, Skeletons, False Faces & Halloween

Psychotherapy — admin @ 11:27 am

Ghosts, Skeletons, False Faces & Halloween . . .

It’s that time of year again when the clocks go back and the evenings are darker earlier, marked by Halloween. It can bring back good memories of bobbin apples in dishes of water, apple tarts with money in and barmbrack with a gold ring that usually wasn’t a full circle and certainly wasn’t gold (always found in the adults piece of brack!). And Pumpkins…..something rare here in the past and only associated with America but now they’re in every supermarket in town. My sister even grows them in her garden!. No more painstaking hours of scooping out a turnip! ( I don’t know how my Mother did that every year).

There’s lots of fun to be had for kids of all ages as they dress up as witches, skeletons, ghosts and ghouls to knock on doors of neighbours and strangers in search of treats. Trick or treating has evolved as a regular event at dusk on Halloween. Creating positive memories for children at these significant times in the year is really important and something they will carry with them as adults and pass down the line to their children.

It got me thinking about good and bad memories we attach to momentous events and what we carry in our memory store. What ghosts from the past do we carry with us on a daily basis, not just reserved for one day of the year….what skeletons are ‘in the closet’ so to speak that we are reluctant to look at and get rid of once and for all….what masks do we hide behind as we go about our daily business, revealing our true selves to few, if any, if even to ourselves? Donald Winnicott, a British Psychoanalyst and Paediatrician (1896-1971) talks of the ‘true self’ and the ‘false self’. As babies if we are responded to by our mothers we can develop our true selves. The false self is something we build up in response to social expectations and others. It’s a mask behind which our true self is hidden and where we are tuned into the needs of others so much that we act outside of ourselves. There can be a sense of not living your truth and fundamental unhappiness despite “having it all” in society’s opinion. We can become very skilled at this and seem to be able to get by until painful experiences in life force us to examine what are lives are really like.

The ‘bad stuff’ can take up so much room in the ‘closet’ of our minds. We can give enormous energy to these old ghosts, even at an unconscious level (so we don’t even realise), causing disharmony and unhappiness. Getting rid of psychological baggage, while difficult, can really free us up to enjoy living, to get into the spirit of things, like the children who will come knocking on your door, hoping to be met with kindness and loads of goodies!


On being entombed

On being entombed, in a mine or in a mind.

Last week it seemed the whole world watched transfixed as 33 Chilean miners were successfully released from a 69 day ordeal during which they were trapped deep below ground when the mine they were working in collapsed. It is a tribute to the men and their rescuers that a potentially disastrous situation was brought to a successful conclusion. We wish the miners good health as they readjust to life above ground and in particular in dealing with the demands of their newfound celebrity.

These events brought welcome relief to a world growing weary of bad news stories of debt and recession. They also got us thinking here in Counselling Connections and talking about the notion of being entombed and various meanings around this. In the first instance we were struck by birth analogies in the manner in which the miners were rescued and delivered back to the world from ‘mother earth’, if you like. But our focus has remained on a different, darker aspect of what the story brings up for us when we reflect on our experience as counsellors working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

There is a psychological equivalent of the ordeal which the Chilean miners have endured. There is a dark place where the light of love or any kind of nourishment does not shine. There are boys and girls who have grown up to become men and women for whom there never appeared to be any prospect of either rescue or escape. And they have been walking among us, apparently free and in broad daylight while at the same time enduring the psychological entombment of abuse.

Natascha Kampusch’s book ‘3,096 days’ was published last month telling the story of her 3,096 days captivity at the hand of her paedophile captor. She is a young Austrian woman who was kidnapped at the age of ten and kept in a cellar for eight years. Her story is reminiscent of that of another young Austrian woman, Elisabeth Fritzl who was held captive in a cellar for 24 years by her father. In Elisabeth’s case she was repeatedly raped by her father and bore six children and suffered one miscarriage with him. These are horrific stories.

It is with sadness that we report to you that we are aware of many quiet lives lived by many people in our own localities who share some of the experiences of Natascha and Elisabeth. Psychological abuse is an intrinsic part of sexual abuse. The abuser maintains silence and keeps up his perverse practices with a reign of psychological terror which prevents the victim from speaking out. It is not unusual for such a perpetrator to be well regarded in his locality, someone with some standing in the community. He knows this and the child knows this and this is the psychological entombment of which we speak and which can last for year after year after year. No light of love, no oxygen of hope, no prospect of escape reaches into this particular tomb of abuse.

Learning to speak, to finally say the unsayable; finding someone to listen, someone who can understand, who will wait with you as you shine a light in these dark chambers is the beginning of the way out. There is relief and some comfort to be found in the resurfacing that can be achieved after a long therapy process to deal with these unspeakable things. It is long, slow and painful and at times deeply confusing to look back over chronic traumatic events and reorder these in your mind and slowly come to terms with them.

The president won’t be waiting to greet you when you emerge from the therapy room. Nor will there be press, nor cameras nor applause. But there can be a quiet, we hope contented, sense of being free and of living your own life anew. Anew or maybe even for the first time ever.

FB & MMG, Counselling Connections Dundalk.

Saturday Night, X Factor & Happy Endings….

Counselling — admin @ 1:05 pm

I’m wondering if anyone goes out on a Saturday night anymore. It seems that the X Factor has captured the attention of many of us (11 million viewers tuning in last Saturday night to the live shows) and that weekends are now centred around this essential viewing. Let’s take a look at what it may be about the show that captivates and entertains us.

It’s not just the singing we’re interested in…..we’re curious about the sort of people we’re dealing with and voting for. There’s Mary Byrne, the Irish woman from Ballyfermot who up until a few weeks ago was singing her way through her day as a cashier in Tescos. She hasn’t had it easy in life, a single Mother struggling to bring up her daughter and working away to make ends meet. There’s something in us that makes us feel she deserves a lucky break. I’m reminded of the fairy tale ‘Cinderella’ and the Rags to Riches element to the story. Bruno Bettelheim, a Viennese Psychoanalyst who wrote about the psychological meaning of fairy tales (1991) believes that an intrinsic part of their message is to get across that difficulties in life are unavoidable but that if one keeps trying, she will be victorious in the end, just like Cinderella who after a difficult life got the man, the money and the castle! (Winning out over her two ugly sisters). So a happy ending for Mary would sit well with a lot of people, particularly those who can identify with her life to date. And to be fair, she can surely sing.

Then what of ‘Gamu’, an African girl with a great voice and a sad life story who didn’t make it through to the live shows. There was hysteria among the general public and a campaign to ‘Save Gamu’. We find it difficult when the fairy tale is axed half way through and doesn’t make it to the happy ending. It’s like reading Cinderella up to the point where she can’t go to the ball and leaving it at that. No fairy godmother, no carriage, no glass slippers and no prince!

Watching shows like the X Factor allow us to hope and dream of having a better life. It’s within the grasp of the ordinary person and we are certain of the ending……..a happy one for one contestant who dared to dream.

So if you’re a fan of the show, sit back and be entertained on Saturday night and let your thoughts drift to your own hopes and dreams and how you might go about making them real….

Neighbours, Tea, Coffee, Home and Teddy Bears.

Counselling — admin @ 12:00 pm

There was cause for optimism and indeed celebration this week in Seatown Place when a neighbouring business opened.  Riva Townhouse has opened across the street from us in the premises formerly occupied by Mizu who we were all very sad to see having to close in August of this year. We wish the new venture every success.

Quite apart from adding the welcoming aromas of freshly brewed coffee to our end of the Street it also gives us here at Counselling Connections the opportunity to reflect on the value and comfort we get from a simple cup of tea or coffee. In fact, its something we’ve made a bit of a study of!

Clients who are coming to therapy on a regular basis frequently develop a ‘therapy routine’.  This often revolves around a hot beverage or treat either before or after their weekly session. It’s not unusual for a client to arrive clutching a freshly brewed coffee. Indeed, far from discouraging this, here at Counselling Connections we have tea and coffee making facilities should anyone wish to help themselves.

Being in the business of teasing out and trying to understand psychological issues we find ourselves asking what it is about a cup of tea or coffee that seems to give so much succour.  We asked a group of people a little while back to say the first words that occurred to them when we said ‘tea’ and the responses were, ‘comfort’; ‘home’; ‘relaxing’ and ‘aaaah!’. It evokes feelings of home and of comfort, safety and relaxation.

We’re inclined to the belief that a cuppa is a ‘transitional object’ for grown ups! A transitional object is a term first used by the British psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott. The best known examples of it are a comfort blanket and later a teddy bear. In a nutshell the theory goes that the object forms a comfort for a child, a transition between the child and its mother when they are apart. The child derives some of the satisfaction and comfort that is normally provided by a loving mother from the comfort blanket or other object. Among other things it is about coping with being alone. Here at Counselling Connections we are of the belief that an adult taste for a tea or coffee, especially during times of stress, is a grown up example of this childhood phenomenon.

Frothy, milky, sugary beverages like lattes, mochas and cappuccinos could easily be seen as substitutes for mother’s milk and may explain the psychological comfort and satisfaction they give above and beyond the actual physical taste and textures.

So, enjoy your tea or coffee; savour it and consider the extra comfort you can draw from being a loving mother to yourself, comforting the child within.

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