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Supporting Children through separation and divorce.

Separation/ Divorce — admin @ 7:41 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about separation. We have been speaking in particular about how to help children to negotiate their way through the separation of their parents. This is an issue that comes up in our work on a daily basis and includes the full range of participants in a family break up. We see couples and individuals who are going through or have gone through a separation. This often involves a subsequent divorce. We see children of differing ages who are trying to come to terms with the breakup of their parents’ relationship. We also see the aftermath with adult children of separated or divorced parents reflecting on their childhood experiences. Grandparents also feel the effects of separation involving children and grandchildren.

There are some actions that parents can take that will help children to deal with separation and divorce and the changes that these bring about. This first thing is to keep lines of communication open. It is important that parents keep their children informed in an age appropriate manner. Children will notice changes and wonder what is going on and it is reassuring to be told what is happening. Children will be better able to deal with changes in living arrangements if they have been told what is going to happen in advance. This can include being involved in viewing and furnishing a new house if that is what is happening.

On a more fundamental level is the truth of what is happening between mammy and daddy. Again, it is important to try to be as honest as possible without burdening the child with too much information. Age appropriate communication with children can include the clarification of the difference between parents no longer loving each other while each still loves the children. A child may come to believe that they are in some way responsible for their parents breakup and it is important to reassure them that this is not the case. Children will feel reassured if they know that each parent still loves them and will remain a big part of their lives after the separation. Extended family have a role to play too and maintaining contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins keeps a level of familiarity in the child’s changing emotional landscape.

It is a general rule of thumb that children will do well when parents co-operate in their upbringing. In a post separation situation it is useful if the parents devise a way of communicating with each other about what is going on in their children’s lives. If the parents find it difficult to speak with each other a system of regular email or other communication can work well. It is reassuring for a child if each parent is kept up to date with issues that may arise in school or with friends. It also helps a child through a separation when each parent gives the same message. Children may harbour hope of reconciliation between their parents and look for differences in the parents’ attitudes. A consistent message delivered gently by each parent will help the child to gradually come to terms with the reality of the breakup.

One of the key things is for each parent to speak respectfully of the other. This may not reflect how they really feel but what is asked of a parent here is to put the interests of the child first. There may be any amount of unresolved emotional issues between the parents but these should not be communicated through the children. Open conflict, arguments or shouting are very stressful for children. It hardly needs us to say it but it is harmful to children if they become enlisted in a battle between their parents. As a parent it is important to find a space where your own feelings about the breakup of your relationship can be expressed and understood. We hope that this would prevent a situation where feelings of anger, resentment or a thirst for revenge are expressed using the children. It is possible to continue to well do well following separation and divorce if each family member can remain understanding of the other’s and especially the children’s ongoing emotional needs.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

The Trouble with Love.

Counselling — admin @ 1:36 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about love. A good deal of our work could be described as being about love; frequently this is when love goes wrong. Love is elemental and universal; it is complex and difficult to put into words. If it eludes description it is not timid or withdrawn about letting us know when it is present. It can take over to the extent that when it strikes we hardly know how to think straight and feel butterflies in out stomach. And when it is lost or rebuffed it will protest loud and long. It can take a long time to get over love in the coming or the going.

The reasons why people come to us to talk about love have to do with the pain that losing love or not being able to find love can cause. One of the features of this is how little control we seem to have over love. It seems that our love will invest itself wholly and completely in another with no thought at all as to the consequences. In this regard the old saying is true; love is blind. Sometimes at an early stage of a new romantic attachment we will become aware that our love is running away with itself and try to apply the brakes. Paradoxically this process only seems to increase the attraction.

Trying to calm the raging passion of love may have resonance with our experiences with the objects of our early affections. Indeed understanding our relations with our mother and father during infancy may hold clues to how we learn to love. It seems that one aim of our instinct to love is to merge ourselves absolutely and completely with the other. This may be how we felt about our mothers when we were babies. This may also give us some clue as to why losing love might feel so devastating.

Our way of loving as an adult may be related to how we felt when we were coming to terms with periods of separation as a baby. An example of this kind of thing is in the fun that a baby takes out of the game of peek-a-boo. The joy that is experienced is in the reassurance that the other person goes or disappears and then reappears again and again with a happy, smiling face. The game loses nothing in its repetition. If the other person goes and does not return the loss can seem overwhelming and almost impossible to bear. Aspects of this prevail in our adult romantic lives.

It seems likely that in any adult relationship traces of our early experiences of love will reappear. Longings that may have been lying dormant within us for years can suddenly burst back into life and seek expression. It seems that the wish to merge with another and feel fully known and understood is part of this process. We can also feel frightened by the prospect of a loss of self in the act of trying to bring this situation about. This can present as deliberately scuppering relationships when they get to a certain point of closeness.

With a bit or work and self awareness and maybe even bitter experience we can gain some control over the wild stampede of our love. We can learn to see our partner as a separate person with their own needs and independence. We can tame the more fervent aspects of our own love and blend it into a mature, adult companionship. There is a love to be found that is quieter than the raging passion of our younger love. In this by a beautiful paradox we can come closer to experiencing that togetherness of our fervent dreams. It comes with a fuller and deeper understanding of both our own self and that of our partner being separate and together.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

A tendency to repeat.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 8:37 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about one of the more puzzling aspects of human behaviour. We’ve been looking into why we can find ourselves repeating the past. Sometimes it is one of the things that a new client will mention in a first session. The work of the therapy then becomes a process of remembering past events and trying to work out why some of the more painful things seem to reoccur. It can be quite distressing to overcome a difficult period only to find a similar set of circumstances cropping up again.

An example of the kind of thing that people come to us to seek help with would be if a tendency to repeat becomes evident in romantic relationships. It is not unusual for someone to wonder aloud ‘what it is about me that attracts these kinds of bad partners?’ It might be more profitable to reframe the question and wonder what it is about these others that attracts us. In trying to figure out why we might seek out a particular kind of partner we might uncover clues as to what our own individual patterns are. We might also succeed in uncovering hidden motivations behind our actions.

Some form of repetition can also be found following a traumatic event. We may have vivid and terrifying dreams in which the details of the trauma are replayed. This is a kind of repetition even if it is only in our imagination. Anyone who has been woken in the middle of the night by one of these kinds of dreams will testify to how real the feelings of terror are. The reactions in our body can be similar in intensity to those we experienced during the initial trauma. We believe that in these dreams we can find clues to what the phenomenon of repetition is really about.

The way we think about repetition involves taking into account the past, the present and the future. The past is represented by whatever event we experienced and which we have not understood or overcome. This might be a relationship which caused us pain and which ended in an unsatisfactory manner. In the present we replay some of the characteristics of that relationship. We can find ourselves acting out aspects of the past and often find ourselves at a critical crossroad faced with a decision as to how to proceed. If our thinking on this is correct the purpose of the whole repetition is to then try to bring about a more satisfactory conclusion and create a better future.

The purpose of repeating behaviours would be to return to a past difficulty which left us with a degree of dissatisfaction; to try to resolve it and bring about a better outcome. One of the difficulties this poses is that once we have succeeded in recreating the original situation we often do not then know how to proceed to bring about the desired result. There is even a danger that we might find ourselves stuck in a cycle of repetition. We may end up secretly striving for nothing more ambitious than to be able to live with the discomfort of the situation in the absence of any satisfactory solution to it.

The work of therapy is to lay bare the range of our hidden motivations in these situations. This can throw up some surprising insights as to how little control we have over our emotional lives. We would seek an understanding of these influences and to try to facilitate a different outlet for them. The repetition is about trying to find a solution to an old problem. We would hope to bring about an awareness of the inner self so that we can exercise more choice over how we proceed with things that we got stuck on in the past. In this way a cycle of repetition can be broken for good.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Coming out of Depression.

Depression — admin @ 6:57 pm

Here at Counselling Connections we have been continuing our discussion on various aspects of depression. This week our focus has been on one of the most difficult and also the most admirable aspects of coming through depression. We are talking about the ability to bounce back from what can seem like a series of knocks each of which represent a possible road block to our getting well again. The motivation it takes to overcome the obstacles that life presents us with is severely tested in the process of coming out of depression.

Sometimes we wonder where motivation comes from and how it works. Before we undertake a task we would have to have some reason for doing it. There has to be motivation to complete even a simple chore. Sometimes in depression we can’t seem to find the energy to put into even small day to day tasks. Part of therapy can involve plotting a way to achieve even a small goal which can then be registered as one achievement on the path out of depression. This may be nothing more complicated than a trip to the local shop. These little things which we usually take for granted can take on a bigger significance when we are coming through depression.

As part of a depression we can lose contact with others and become withdrawn into ourselves. This social isolation contributes to our anxious feelings as we struggle at the prospect at having to face people again. A one step at a time approach to coming out of depression involves facing these fears and having the determination to put small goals in front of ourselves. Being able to mark off a success in one of these tasks can give us the sense of satisfaction that builds into the confidence to tackle bigger things. This is part of a strategy aimed at getting back into a fuller life after the retreat of depression.

We understand that there are occasions where motivation seems to have deserted us completely. At times like this it can seem impossible to get started on any project. It is likely that a part of our self is telling us that we got seriously hurt by the world when we tried to achieve something in the past. This part of us is wrapped up in a type of mourning for the loss of past dreams which have gone unfulfilled. It cautions us against trying anything new for fear of getting disappointed again. At times like this we have to understand this fear and try to go on anyway in spite of it. We may feel that motivation is absent but we try the action anyway. It’s a bit of a paradox but action may need to come first in the absence of motivation in order to start the process of moving out of depression.

We hope that with achieving small milestones which we have set for ourselves we can build a step by step path out of depression. Our feelings of caution which are nursing the hurt of past failures will try to protect us from harm by holding us back. Any new setback will be seen by this part of our self as further evidence that there is no point in trying. Overcoming this takes a lot of determination and a little blind faith. It is a case of not necessarily knowing where the next step will take us but knowing that we have to keep trying. Putting a series of small successes together will lead to a sense of confidence. Belief starts small and is brittle but it grows as we keep on going. The strength that it takes to do this and to come out of depression is something we admire very much.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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