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On being alone.

Here at Counselling Connections this week we took time out to have a long look at our waiting room. It is a very attractive room, high ceilinged with original plasterwork and a large open fireplace. We have a few nice paintings and two comfortable couches. There is a long coffee table with an eclectic mix of reading from psychoanalysis through fairy tales to the local free advertiser. We sat for a few minutes to feel what the experience was like. We realise that a waiting room can be a place of anxiety and we are trying to make ours as welcoming and comfortable as we can. Quite apart from the reading material we place there we realise that one of the first things that someone does nowadays if they have to wait is to reach for their phone.

Whether it is on a bus or a train or waiting for a food order to be brought to your table in a restaurant those few minutes of being alone can make us feel anxious. With the mobile phone being so accessible it is often the crutch that we use to fill those awkward few minutes. It provides the illusion of not being alone; it serves to help us to deny our separateness. With so much information now available we can check the latest news updates for a while or log in to a social network to see what friends have been up to. Or if we feel like we really need to reach out to another we might choose a friend and send that great contemporary conversation opener; the ‘where r u?’ text. It seems to us that this is all about relieving the anxiety of being alone.

Imagine a baby who wakes after a short nap. On waking the baby wants to re-establish human contact and will usually call out for their mother. Depending on the age of the child this may be by making a range of different noises and movements or it may be by use of the word ‘Mammy’ once they have learned this. Just say that one particular day the mother is temporarily out of earshot and does not react to the baby straight away. In this instance the baby will experience a sudden rise in anxiety levels and will worry for a moment about being abandoned forever. A few short minutes can seem like an eternity in these circumstances. Depending on the placement of the cot and the accessibility to it this may happen a lot during infancy and this baby may grow up with a slightly higher than usual level of fear when it comes to being alone.

Fast forward now by twenty years or so and the baby of our example has grown to be an adult in our twenty first century world. Among their gadgets, indeed a necessity for their job is a mobile phone. They may have the addition of a wireless Bluetooth facility to make hands free calls on the go. Imagine then that with voice recognition dialling they had the ability to make a call while driving or walking along a city street. It is very convenient to be able to get in touch with their office base in this way. We feel that this ability also serves to keep at bay their fundamental anxiety about being on their own. They may even have made allowances for the occasional personal call and programmed in their mammy’s number so that she too can be reached simply by calling her name. Just like in their childhood dreams they can experience the soothing tones of their mother’s voice in an instant.

Mobile technology and internet access have made so many things so much more accessible and straight forward. They have also helped us to keep at bay the anxieties we feel abut being alone. It is a good exercise to watch these things in our selves. Sometimes, turning off our modern devices, even the radio and just listening to silence or the ticking of a clock can be very instructive. In those quiet moments we might get in touch with some things which we fear. By considering these things and reflecting on them and on their possible origins in infancy we can understand and placate our fears. In this way we can get in touch with feelings of confidence in our selves as separate from but still in relationship with others. We can learn to feel relaxed rather than fearful when things go a little quiet and we are left alone with our thoughts.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

A kind of trauma.

Psychotherapy,Trauma — admin @ 10:26 am

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about trauma. We are all familiar with the effects of a single, catastrophic event and we have no difficulty understanding how such a trauma can send your body into shock. This can lead to flashbacks and difficulty sleeping as well as quite strong anxiety. The event which caused the trauma looms large in our minds sometimes even after the passage of a good deal of time. This kind of trauma can be worked through in counselling and it is possible to recover well quite quickly. Sometimes when we are working through a trauma that has a single obvious cause we find traces of previous, more subtle traumas. These other kinds of trauma will have created their own difficulties and it is these that we want to talk about this week.

What we are describing are effects of trauma that have come about as a result of a series of smaller events. These can be more difficult to recall because they often lack the sudden impact of a larger traumatic event. It can also be confusing to look back on because it is one of the characteristics of these types of events that we try to play down their importance. There are often day to day events which we simply adapted our selves to. It is in these adaptations that the problem can be found. They are stories from what is often initially referred to as a normal childhood.

As children if what we have to say or how we feel is not received well, not welcomed in our environment, we will adapt. We will learn to say things and maybe even begin to learn to feel things which we know are accepted. These responses are to the ordinary day to day admonishments of parents to a child that rise in intensity to the point where they are consistently delivered too harshly. In this way we develop a false self. It is probably fair to say that we all have a false self to a greater or lesser extent. We do not say how we feel all of the time in every situation. But as a child, if our playful expression is met with a consistent harsh response we will experience these as a series of traumas and react accordingly.

We become accustomed to reacting in a way which is in keeping with the family culture. We do not consider what may be right for our own self but rather how our interaction will be received. We can grow up then without really knowing how to get in touch with our own self or even how we feel. This can leave us as adults with feelings of being detached or with difficulty in forming close relationships. It can also leave us feeling dissatisfied with life because we have learned to adapt to others without any account of what may be right for us. We then have to go about undoing the habit of a lifetime.

Again and again we see examples of a life lived under the stifling influence of an overly harsh parent. This can leave us fearful and inhibited and feeling unable to get in touch with what we would like to achieve. Indeed, it can leave us unable to consider that there might be any value in something which might come from our own self so accustomed have we become to adapting our wishes to those others. It can take some time in therapy to work through the events that led to this situation. This may be accompanied by the re-emergence of strong feelings that have been buried away for years. This process continues with beginning to find some confidence in our self and our ability to find our own way in the world. The hope is that this way will lead to a more fulfilled and contented way of being in our personal and professional lives.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Dealing with Traumatic Birth Experiences…

Birth Trauma,Mothers and Babies. — admin @ 1:15 pm

The birth of your baby is usually a time of celebration for you and your family. This may ring true for lots of women who have had good experiences of pregnancy and giving birth. But it is not always the case and women and babies can be left traumatised after negative birth experiences. This trauma can affect everyday living, where a mother has huge difficulty getting over her experience. The current medical model of childbirth here in Ireland seems to give out the message that if a mother and baby are healthy, one should be grateful for that. This leaves women feeling unable to speak out negatively about their experiences. However, a traumatic birth experience can affect a mothers relationship with herself, her new baby, her partner, her other children and extended family.

Giving birth is a life event. It is a very vulnerable time for you. If you have had an overwhelming traumatic experience, your body will have gone into shock, both physically and psychologically.   Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD happens when a person remains stuck in psychological shock. This can happen following traumatic birth.  You may be reliving your traumatic birth through flashbacks and nightmares, leaving you unable to reconnect in your relationships. It can be difficult for you to feel safe again as it may have felt like a life or death experience. This can leave you lacking in confidence with your ability to be a good mother to your baby. Other symptoms can include being irritable, depressed, lacking in concentration or being angry.  It is normal to feel frightened, sad and anxious following such an event. Many mothers describe a feeling of going crazy. For others there is a numbness about the whole event. There can be a deep sense of loss around one’s expectations for giving birth and how it actually turned out.

In our practice here at Counselling Connections, we have met mothers whose experiences may have been recorded medically as “normal” but the woman’s experience felt far from normal. Even a ‘natural’ birth can be experienced as traumatic. Through counselling we can help you work towards feeling safe and in control of your life again. We do this by facilitating you in processing the memories and emotions associated with your experience in a safe, confidential environment. It is only when the experience is felt and understood that it will stop hurting so much.

Considering change.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 11:36 am

Here at Counselling Connections this week we’ve been talking about change. There is nothing unusual about that I suppose when you consider that change is the line of work that we are in. We were talking about the change that happens on a societal level over numbers of years. When you think of the rules that our parents, or their parents had to live with and compare them to our generation or to our kids you can see a world of difference. The question we paused to consider is ‘where does this change begin?’ It is interesting to consider how ideas which we consider normal now would have been quire foreign to our grandparents. This goes for a number of issues at a societal level covering race, gender, sexual orientation or family status. We wondered how this change comes about and also how this applies to a person changing over the course of their life.

Sometimes when a person is in therapy and looking at their life as it is at the time an idea will present itself. This idea could relate to their relationship; to their job or maybe it could be something to do with college. It could even be about going to college as a mature student and beginning to train in something completely new. Often these things are expressed and immediately discarded as being impossible to achieve. It is not unusual to sit with a person who is in an unhappy relationship but who finds the idea of separation too difficult to contemplate. In our experience a person’s heart makes the decision for them at an early stage but it can take some time for this change of heart to be reflected in the world. This is an important clue as to how we bring about change.

Another example could be a person who has become unhappy in their job but for whom the prospect of change is too scary for the moment. Often we find that the fear of change here can relate to the apparent security of their current income and a consequent appearance of a lack of security if they were to go with their imagination, take a risk and follow a career path that would be more satisfying but maybe not have the guarantee of a monthly salary. The first time a change is considered it is often quickly dismissed as being impossible. But slowly; and there is plenty of time in therapy for ideas to grow, various ideas of what the future might be can be played with. With time, as with many other things; an idea that once seemed preposterous or an impossible dream can slowly become more concrete. Then with a little determination and an amount of hard work changes can be brought about.

So, the key thing seems to be that in the first instant you just need the idea; the use of a little imagination. It seems then that a number of objections will almost automatically raise themselves. In therapy these objections can be considered one by one. Often this involves revealing their origins which may be in a relationship either with a parent, or a teacher or even just because of the prevailing norms we grew up with. The interesting thing here is that it is actually our own self, not another who dismisses the possibilities open to us. Over the years we have internalised what was originally an external opposition and made it our own. Change begins then when we can sit with an idea and watch our internal objections to it and having got to know our own self a little better, to politely disregard these objections. We are freer then to choose; we are freer to consider new things; things which we may have previously regarded as being impossible for us to achieve.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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