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Counselling — admin @ 7:22 pm

Today we take a look at perfectionism. In our modern, media-driven world there are everyday offers to seduce us. Advertising focuses on the achievement of the ‘perfect’ body, the perfect house, the perfect life. These are, of course, illusions. So what does it mean to be a perfectionist? Ironically, it is not about being perfect, as this is never really possible but rather it is about setting extremely high, maybe even unachievable standards for yourself and going to huge lengths to try to meet them. The perfectionist believes these standards are achievable and consequently judges his self-worth on whether he achieves his goals or not, which, almost inevitably he doesn’t.

Ironically, lots of people who are high achievers are perfectionistic and there are times when being this way facilitates excellence in many walks of life. However the perfectionist is never happy with his efforts and spends a lot of time mulling over the tiniest of mistakes, affecting his mood and sense of self-worth. It is rumoured that Michelangelo strove for perfection in painting the ceiling in the Sistine chapel. It is said that he was never quite happy with it even though it is recognised as a masterpiece. So we understand there are some benefits to being perfectionistic in terms of achievement and doing things well but there is a difference in the healthy pursuit of excellence and the unhealthy striving for perfection which comes at a cost. It becomes a very stressful way to live as one struggles to maintain the perfectionistic cycle and attain the ideal.

So what motivates the perfectionist to be the way he is and how does he come to place such demands on himself? Many theorists believe that it is as a result of having hypercritical parents, for whom whatever you achieved was never good enough. The child going forward into adulthood internalises the voice of the parent and he becomes his own worst critic. He develops all or nothing thinking, where the end goal is all that matters and the process of getting there is irrelevant in terms of measuring achievement. For this individual the fear of disapproval, criticism or making a mistake are fears to be avoided at all costs. These he equates with failure and worthlessness. Self-worth becomes dependent on the achievement of high standards.

In our work as therapists we also see that perfectionism can be a way of ‘balancing up’ negative feelings of guilt or shame associated with childhood abuse. The child who is abused can often be left feeling ‘bad’ or ashamed of the abuse and can develop perfectionistic behaviours in order to compensate. When self-esteem is low, perfectionistic behaviour can temporarily raise feelings of self-worth but this are only dashed again as the negative cycle continues. We can go to great lengths however to try to do a perfect job and gain the approval of another.

Sometimes the ideal we are trying to achieve is so high that we know it is unattainable. This can lead to a sort of giving up. Then we can feel guilty and re-double our efforts only to fail and give up again. Another paradoxical aspect of this is the fear of success. We are familiar with the notion of a fear of failure which can drive us on. But we find too that we can be overcome with a fear of what responsibility or leaderships might await us if we should succeed and we can scupper our efforts in fear of this. In any event, the origins of these things and their manifestations in our every day lives can be explored in therapy as we seek to relieve ourselves of the stress of trying to be perfect and become comfortable with being good enough.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk. 24th Nov 2011.

On thanking and being thanked.

Counselling — admin @ 8:47 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week there was one of those occasions when we got sidetracked and the most important issue arose outside of the intended setting. As we settled down to our weekly meeting one of our number was recounting details of a positive customer service experience. So impressed had she been with the service she received that she rang the young man’s boss to say thanks. So, rather than have our scheduled meeting we turned the agenda on its head and began with A.O.B . This was the whole issue of thanks and the positivity and feel good factor it can generate.

Of course, being thorough about this meant that we had to look at both the good and bad of the whole issue of thanks. So, what does it mean to say thank you to someone? There can be an inequality to this exchange. What is it that we are thanking them for? It may mean that the other person has done us some kind of good turn and that we owe them something. One kind of thanks can be repayment for some favour done; perhaps even a favour that we didn’t ask for.

So, some forms of thanks can involve an unequal relationship; one in which we thank another for something they have done and where maybe the inequality surrounds the notion of them retaining some hold over us. Such a person may deftly avoid allowing us the opportunity to do them a favour of some sort in return thus retaining whatever upper hand seems to pertain in such a relationship. Maybe this points to a deeper meaning where being able to graciously accept a gift is a gift in itself. Where to receive is the favour in return.

There is something then about being comfortable within the relationship that allows us to receive and to say thanks. This points to a comfort and a trust in the other but more so also some sort of comfort in our own self. This may be down to feeling worthy of whatever gift the other has bestowed on us. It may also be that because of our positive experience we don’t have to worry unduly about repayment or what price the other may try to extract. An open kind of thanks, free of obligation is one borne of the genuine nature of the giving.

Another aspect of thanks or gratitude is nothing more complicated than passing on good will to another. It has a measurable positive effect. This is the kind of experience that we can have in any day to day transaction let alone within our intimate relationships. One really good aspect of this kind of thanks is that it can be consciously begun. Imagine if you pause for a moment as you put your change into your purse or wallet; make eye contact with your sales assistant and say a smiling thank you to them. We would expect that event to have a positive ripple through that person’s day and through them to other people of good will whom they encounter.

There is no doubt that this kind of positive experience has a cumulative effect. One positive experience begets another and a little thanks or complement will enrich both giver and receiver. With all the bad news about; with all the negative discourse about money and weather it is very encouraging to think that we can create some good cheer just by spreading a little good will around. We can give good service and we can acknowledge it with thanks when we receive it. Let us then start the ball rolling by thanking you for reading this week’s post. If you liked it pass it on.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Dependency in relationships.

Relationship Difficulties — admin @ 7:12 pm

This week at counselling connections we thought we might take a look at dependency in relationships. For the purpose of this journal piece we will look at how this manifests in adult romantic relationships. Dependency, although often described as love, is not love in the true sense. It is based on one having one’s needs met as a primary concern, with little regard for the other as a person in their own right. A relationship based on dependency will eventually choke itself to death. If there is a co-dependency where each depends on the other, the relationship may last but there is little room for growth individually or as a couple.

Inherent in us all is a desire to be cared for and nurtured. We like it and it is an indulgence from time to time. For the passive dependent person, however, being cared for is a necessity. It rules his life. He cannot survive without it. He all the time is seeking to be loved and therefore has little energy left to love. Dependency in adult relationships usually results from failure of parents to provide the love the child needs. This failure leaves a child feeling insecure and unloved. Naturally then, he goes about his daily life looking to fill the void, the emptiness within. He elicits the care and attention he didn’t get as a child. Once he finds this love, he clings to it desperately and will often stay in relationships that aren’t good for him in order to have his emotional needs met. This type of person also lacks self-discipline because he was not taught it. As a consequence, it is difficult for dependent people to wait for attention and care as they are desperate for it. Waiting for a text or a call can be excruciatingly painful.

Dependency causes people to form overwhelming, unhealthy attachments to lovers. This is why it is often mistaken for love. To hear someone utter the words, “I can’t live without him”, signals dependency rather than love. To be dependent on the other for survival leaves the relationship void of real choice and freedom and these are necessary for a healthy relationship. The dependent person gives their partner little or no space to be themselves. They relate everything to themselves and can only live their lives through the other.  In the face of rejection or perceived abandonment, the dependent partner may turn to suicide because the pain they feel is intolerable. Loneliness is unbearable and so they will go to great lengths to avoid it.

In marriage and long term relationships we see examples of co-dependency in everyday lives. He deals with finances, while she sees to the housework and the children, for example. Stereotypical roles like this should be interchangeable so that respective partners know they are capable of success in either role. Too often in these types of relationships, both partners are happy with leaving it up to the other. It assures the other that their partner will never leave them and so they have their needs met. This is a classic co-dependent relationship in which both partners will never have the opportunity for spiritual growth. Often these couples will die in quick succession of each other, literally being unable to live without their partner.

We also see examples of this with some parents towards their adult children. Parents who live their lives through their children refusing to let them separate out and become independent individuals are sucking the life out of their children in relying on them to have their own emotional needs met.

In therapy we can work through the dependent feelings and teach people skills in order to be able to deal with the intense emotion they feel. This can lead to healthier, more fulfilling relationships where both partners can live without each other but they are choosing to live as a couple. It is not restrictive and encourages the other to grow as an individual. Of course this is the ideal we are striving towards and perhaps the place to start is with an awareness of how your relationship works and how you are in it.

Counselling Connections, 10th Nov 2011

Prejudice, stigma and tolerance.

Depression,Separation/ Divorce — admin @ 3:43 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been getting up on our soap box. The issues we were discussing were stigma and prejudice. Often in therapy the issues that are covered are historical. These are the life events and relationships that shape us. Our parents, siblings,  family, schoolmates and teachers and our wider communityare all influences that help to shape our personality. We can spend a good deal of time in therapy reflecting on these influences and considering ways to change their ongoing effects.

The stories from our past which we remember and work through in therapy can include incidents where others have taken it upon themselves to criticize or condemn us. These can be hurtful and harmful and depending where we encounter this it can have a major effect on us. This can be worked on in therapy. Sometimes this criticism can be because of prejudice and it can be current. It is this which we want to address today. For all that we can work with these issues in therapy they also reflect the society in which we live.

We wonder if our highlighting these issues can help towards making life a little more bearable by encouraging a little tolerance where we find difference. And this seems to be important to the kinds of things which we come across in our work. Even though it’s the twenty first century and social norms have changed a great deal we still come across examples where clients are stigmatised and discriminated against. It might seem like we are talking about things that belong to previous decades but we find that these things are still happening in 2011.

When you make the decision to get married and commit yourself to another you expect that it will last for life in line with the vow. You don’t expect that the relationship will come apart and end in separation or divorce. Nobody expects to encounter a period of depression or even repeated periods of it through life. Many people struggle greatly with the process of facing up to their own sexual orientation. In all of these things the support of family, friends, colleagues and community can be a huge force for good. It is that force for good which we would like to appeal for today.

If you take tolerance to its ultimate conclusion it would mean that we must show some understanding of those who hold views that are in opposition to our own. The balance that we are trying to find is between holding firm views and the harm that expressing or attempting to enforce these views might cause. Our appeal is for understanding of those who may be gay or lesbian; who may be trying to establish a second relationship after a marriage has ended or those attempting to put their lives together after a period of depression. Our plea is simple. It is to show a little understanding and tolerance and not to stand in the way of someone trying to become the person they want to be.

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