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The Myth of Romantic Love.

Relationship Difficulties — admin @ 12:13 am

Here at Counselling Connections we have been considering the problems couples and individuals face in their relationships.  Amidst other issues one’s perception of love seems to play a big part in relationship difficulties. We often hear “I just don’t seem to love him anymore” or “he doesn’t love me the way he used to”. Through exploration of comments like these we arrive at an individual’s perception of love. So….what is love and what does it mean to truly love someone? To understand this, we must differentiate between ‘Falling in Love’ and ‘Real Love’.

Most of us will recognise the ‘Falling in Love’ phase of a relationship where the other is ‘everything’ to us. We feel like we have surely met ‘the one’ and that life will be wonderful as long as we have that other person in our lives. The concept of two becoming one seems very attractive and we will never have to face being alone again. The problem with this phase is that it is temporary and so, will always come to an end. It is inevitably linked to sexual attraction, whether conscious or unconscious, which is why many psychologists have described it as nature’s way of continuation of the species. We don’t seem to have control over who we fall in love with or when. It often happens when we least expect it, something that seems to happen to us, rather than requiring real effort. Romantic love is everywhere…. It begins in the childhood fairy tales we once read (and continue to pass on to our children), where the Prince and Princess live happily ever after (overcoming all the odds). Throughout our lives there is a continuation of the myth of romantic love seen in the movies, in the theatre, in music and poetry. Subtly, it is set out as something to aspire to, a measure for how our real relationships ‘should’ be…..So deeply is it set in our unconscious, that we forget to remind ourselves that it is fantasy.

However, just as we fall in love, so too will we eventually fall out of love. It is at this point the opportunity for real love presents itself. One of the differences with real love is that it is conscious and requires effort. Real love requires us to act in loving ways even when we don’t feel like it, to listen to the other even when we are tired. It requests that we appreciate the other and ourselves as individuals and looks to nurture the growth and separateness of the other. This is the basis of true love. In true love there is freedom and choice and we make a decision to love. It is not a feeling but rather that this person is important to us and so we choose to love them. The cornerstone of real love has to be commitment. Without commitment the normal issues that present in every relationship cannot be worked through, for fear the relationship would not survive it. Genuine love requires hard work and attention but the benefits in terms of personal and spiritual growth make it lasting and worthwhile.

It may interest you to take note the next time you watch a romantic movie at the cinema. Note how caught up in it you get and how good it makes you feel. Contrast that feeling to when the music ends and the movie’s over and the lights go on. Romance quickly dies away when reality encroaches. In contrast real love begins when the lights go on.

Our inner critic.

Depression,Psychotherapy — admin @ 2:06 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we enjoyed a good discussion over a pot of coffee. It was a longish discussion, with a good case to be made for each side of the argument. Then one participant stood up and said ‘I should be getting back to work; I don’t want to get into trouble’. This was a joke. We counselling folk do like a little therapy humour although this particular attempt was met with more groans than laughs. The reason for the joke; the point of expressing the feeling that we might get in trouble was that the discussion was about our inner critic; that sometimes loud and harsh; sometimes quiet and encouraging inner sense or inner voice that plays an essential role in regulating our personality.

Tuning in to our inner critic plays a part in every therapy. In some cases it is a central theme with long, painstaking, almost archaeological sifting through the layers backwards through time. This is where therapy digs into the deeper issues as we undertake the work of getting to know our own internal critic. The questions are about this inner critic’s origins; its effects and how it might be challenged and changed. One of the characteristics of it seems to be the severity by which it is experienced. And this leads us towards the reasons for its presence and how it can be either a positive and creative force or a negative and destructive one.

That part of our personality which becomes our inner critic has its origins in our early experiences. It is the result of the day to day routines of life which are governed by minor rights and wrongs. Our parents may admonish us or try to steer us gently in particular direction; maybe a direction we don’t want to go in. The result can be either a tantrum or desire to please by doing the right thing. The two sides of the compliance/defiance coin are played out energetically during these times and often are revisited again years later in therapy. An important part of how these experiences effect us seems to be how well they sit with us at the time and also how lightly or not the regulations are introduced and enforced.

In dealing with depression it is quite common to find an inner critic or internal parent that has turned against the self. In this case the harshness of early admonishments are revived and relived with a real and destructive ferocity. We can experience strong feelings of self reproach which can result in reduced self esteem and feelings of utter worthlessness. These self reproaches are echoes of criticisms received over time from others which become a part of how we regard our own self. Often we defend ourselves against them; maybe even for years but at times when things seem to be going wrong for us on different fronts they can assert themselves and leave us feeling overwhelmed. This cruel self reproach from internalised rebukes is central to the feelings of low self worth which often accompany depression.

We do however need an internal critic. Its purpose is to regulate the personality, particularly in a social capacity. We benefit by becoming masters of our own fantasies and impulses and by channelling these energies into creative rather than destructive endeavours. If the regulation behind the internal critic is aimed at achieving a certain standard in a particular field of life; if it is benignly learned and compatible with how we would like to behave and like to be regarded then it can be a positive and creative force. In this way too in therapy we can tune into our internal critic; its effects and the obstacles it can erect. We can consider these in the light of how we would like to be. In this way we can learn to realign it to revised personal standards and goals, freed up from old blockages. We can replace a harsh internal critic with a more benign one of our own choosing.

The Empty Nest Syndrome

Counselling — admin @ 11:55 am

13th Oct 2011

This week at Counselling Connections, we take a look at what is commonly known as the ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’. It can be described as the mixture of emotions felt by parents, most commonly the Mother (but increasingly Fathers too), when children begin to leave home or when they have all left. It takes its name from bird nesting habits where fledglings flee the nest when they are considered independent enough to go it alone.

Whether one is a working parent or not, there can be an overwhelming sense of loneliness and abandonment. One suddenly becomes redundant and it can feel strange to see friends and partners of our children become more significant than family of origin.  ‘Losing’ our children to marriage can feel like total abandonment, especially if we aren’t so keen on the son or daughter-in-law. It seems our investment will not yield a direct return but rather becomes an investment that another reaps the benefit of.  In this redundancy, there is a true sense of loss for the child who once was and for the important role of parent of the previous twenty years.

We must mourn these losses. It is a grieving process, one we have to feel the pain of and work through. There are tangible reminders….the quietness of the house, the empty bedrooms, no-one to cook or wash and iron for. All the chores we gave out about suddenly would give meaning back to our lives, back then when we were important enough to be needed. Of course, appropriately, our children don’t get it. They are off living their lives to the full, with the occasional ‘call me’ or text just to look for an extra twenty euro to see them through the weekend. Coming home at weekends becomes infrequent as they settle into college or work life. And we can be left feeling insignificant. Knowing, however, that this is the way it should be and that we have done our job well goes some way to taking the edge off our loneliness.

 Just as we find ourselves feeling the loss, trying to accommodate to it and readjusting to life without our kids, a new parenting role emerges where less hands on but more support is needed. In effect, our role as we knew it has changed and with this can come a sense of relief and freedom. Having more time on our hands can be positive, as long as we learn to adapt. Taking up a hobby which had been put on hold can give a new lease of life. Getting to know our partner again, spending time together can make an interesting change. Taking an interest in our adult children’s lives can reward us with a rich relationship going forward. And remembering that this is the cycle of life and we once did as our children are now doing without a second thought for our parents left behind….


Bringing it all back home.

Counselling — admin @ 3:51 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we’ve been enjoying a bit of a sporting diversion from our normal discussions. We were very struck by events over the weekend at the Rugby World Cup. And it’s not so much the on-field happenings that have grabbed our attention. Rather, it’s the performance, for that is the right word, off the field of the Ireland supporters that has caused us to sit up and take notice. There was exuberance and joy in how the crowd performed during the last game which was all the more noteworthy because of their sheer numbers bearing in mind the distance they are from home. The amount of people supporting the team seemed phenomenal and you wondered where they all came from.

Players and team management were quick to acknowledge the support in interviews after the game and it got quite a bit of attention at home. The answer to the question ‘where did they all come from?’ seems to be Ireland. And the reason often offered for their sheer numbers so far away from home is that they had to leave here for economic reasons. For many that is no doubt the case. Others may be there on holiday or for no other reason than that favoured Irish pursuit ‘the craic’. Whatever the reason for their being there something about their demeanour and their enjoyment seems to be rippling back home.

In our line of work there is much talk about mirrors. We wonder what we see when we look at ourselves in a mirror. If a child looks at a parent and if they see a smile they will in all likelihood feel good about themselves. We can see a little of our own self in the reactions of loved ones to us. So what do we see when television pictures are beamed into our homes from the far corner of the world showing our own people behaving with such pride and exuberance. What do we see when we consider that the reason for their happiness is nothing more or less than their Irishness itself? It challenges us that they can behave in such a way when the consensus at home is that their country has let them down causing them to have to leave.

We’ve referred to the ‘performance’ of the crowd. It seems that there is a tacit understanding among followers of Ireland teams of whatever code that the way they behave is as important as the team. Sure, the team’s performance is important and it would all end if they lost and had to come home but the reactions of the crowd express something fundamental about us and they know it .The feeling is that something is building. The response of the team to their supporters and the growing bond between them is giving us at home reason to pause and think. Perhaps we had all fallen too much into a kind of national depression where the discourse has become relentlessly negative. Maybe we can learn from watching our compatriots at the Rugby World Cup and celebrate what we have and see if a little enthusiasm can lift the public spirit.

There seems to be something peculiarly Irish about this. There seems to be something about how our team’s supporters go about their business that attracts others. People see something attractive and joyful and they want to be a part of it. In this regard we would suggest that there is a prize available to us here which may actually be more valuable than winning the Word Cup itself. If the team and supporters can hang in there for another couple of weeks and allow this feeling grow our hope is that it will cause us all at home to look inside ourselves. We hope that besides the doom and gloom we will find reasons to feel good and even to celebrate. And we hope that this in turn will have a positive effect which will permeate from the sporting arena to the social and economic life of the country.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk,Ireland.

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