Don’t Give Up

Remind yourself of what you’ve been able to overcome. All the times when you thought you weren’t going to make it through, and you proved yourself wrong. You are more powerful than you feel.” – Unknown

Remind yourself of this when you feel anxious, scared, weak, worn-out, worn-down, or overwhelmed.

There are days when we believe that we simply cannot cope.  But we take the next step, and then the step after that.

We keep on going, and we do the best we can.

We force ourselves to try.

We don’t give in. We must be strong.

And when we look back at our day: We‘re glad it’s over; it’s been tough.

But, yet, we made it through. 

And we are here.

And we survived.

Taming Feelings of Anxiety

I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, but I did get a few solid hours of anxiety in.”

I’m sure this is something we can all relate to. Anxiety is something that we all have to manage – and it’s really challenging when it disturbs our sleep. So what can we do to relieve anxiety, and to dissipate the worry and the stress in our lives?

1. First, be compassionate with yourself. The fact that you’re anxious and are seriously stressed means you likely need some comfort and support right now. Make sure you offer this to yourself. Self-kindness is important. Don’t criticize yourself.

2. Notice every little gesture of kindness that other people extend to you. A thoughtful act. A sympathetic comment. Some practical help. An unexpected compliment. A word, or a response, which communicates to you that someone understands what you are going through. These are powerful and impactful as they show us others care. So do your best to notice all these tiny little things.

3. Open up, and share with someone that you’re having a hard time. We benefit when others share their strength with us, so we don’t feel we’re shouldering our challenges alone. Also, if you’re a person of faith, it can help to pray … or to ask other people to pray for you.

4. Deliberately do something that will build you up. Do something that you know has made a difference in the past. And we’re all very different in terms of what this is It might be doing something physical like cycling or skiing. It might be going for a meal with some friends that you enjoy. For someone else, it might be taking their dog for a walk. Find out what work for you, and make sure you do that!

5. Listening to music can relax the mind. For example, slow-paced instrumental music lowers heart rate and blood pressure. And we all have favourite playlists that can soothe our minds. It’s amazing how transformative the right music can be. Again, choose whatever styles and pieces work for you.

Tell me What Happened to You

“The relevant question in psychiatry shouldn’t be what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you.” – Eleanor Longden          

In counselling we ask that very question.

People are shaped by their relationships, and by significant life experiences. So rather than just treating the symptoms or effects, or diagnosing someone with an inappropriate label, in counselling we ask questions like:

1. What significant event has just happened in their life? Are they reeling from a devastating trauma? Has their whole world just been turned upside down? Is this the kind of thing that any normal person would find disorienting and too much to handle?  Do they have adequate support?

2. Related to this, how many other traumatic events has this individual had to deal with? If previous traumas haven’t been properly processed, then they won’t have the resources and reserves to cope with another devastating life event.

3. Have they suffered a significant loss? Are these normal reactions for someone who is grieving? How many other losses has this loss precipitated? How life-changing is this loss/ or are these losses? Has the person been allowed to grieve properly?

4. What was their early childhood like? What kinds of attachment relationships did they form with their parents, or their main caregivers? Were the attachments secure (safe, unconditional, loving, accepting, healthy, reliable and predictable)? Anxious-ambivalent (where love and acceptance were conditional, and they never knew for sure if the important people in their life would be there for them, or not)? Dismissive Avoidant (where they have to hide their true thoughts and feelings – so they became detached and emotionally distant)? Dismissive Avoidant (where they have buried and still carry unresolved losses and traumas, or mistreatments and abuses associated with their childhood)?   

These all leave their mark on the individual’s mind. There is nothing wrong with them. All their reactions are quite normal. They are people who’ve been harmed, and who carry the deep scars of a shocking, painful past that still needs to be addressed.

Where Healing Begins

Sometimes that’s all you need. Someone who gets it. A light in the darkness. Some empathy in a cold world. A little understanding of the chaos inside.” – JmStorm

Isn’t that what we all long for at times.

It hurts to be alone with all the chaos and the pain.

It feels too much to handle, and we don’t know where to turn.

But the kindness of someone who is simply there for us, can make all the difference.

All the difference in the world.

Relationships, and Recovery from Trauma

1. World wide studies of disaster response have confirmed that social support provides the greatest protection against being severely impacted by a trauma.

2. Social support doesn’t simply mean having people around you – even highly responsive and compassionate people.  

To feel supported, we need to feel we have truly been seen, heard and understood by somebody who genuinely cares.

We also need to feel completely safe with that person. This is absolutely crucial for healing to occur.

3. Feeling safe is not a cognitive decision. It’s not something we can convince ourselves of, or can talk ourselves into believing. We don’t feel safe because we’re told someone is safe.

Instead, safety is something we experience intuitively, and at a gut level.

We need to feel – deep down inside – that we matter to this person, and the fact that we are suffering truly matters to them, too.

4. Even where we are surrounded by familiar people – people who belong to our community – we won’t be able to benefit from this unless we have first experienced true and genuine support (as described in 2 and 3, above). Instead, we will simply feel detached, disconnected, and alone. We will feel more isolated than we’ve ever felt before.

5. If we don’t experience true and genuine support, the trauma reactions will eventually be too hard to bear. The feelings will be intolerable.

As a consequence of this, people may turn to self harm, alcohol, drugs or sex to numb the pain.

6. This is why it is essential that a trauma survivor finds a safe person who will be there for them. (A therapist, a counsellor, a friend or family member who really “gets” their pain, and who communicates concerns). Only then, can the survivor choose to let down their guard, and slowly start to process the trauma they’ve been through.  And only then can they begin to slowly start to heal.

When (trauma) is ignored or invalidated, the silent screams continue internally. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin.” – Danielle Bernock

Trauma and Sleep

Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs.” ― Bessel A. van der Kolk

If you have experienced a trauma of some kind, your brain will now be programmed to expect danger or threat. So, even in the night, it will remain on high alert. It does this on its own, outside of conscious awareness.

In summary:

1. The brain will start to release a cascade of hormones. This disturbs our sleep, and usually wakens us up, as it prepares to set in motion the fight/ flight/ freeze response. This happens even when the risk or the danger has passed.

2. Trauma disturbs our normal sleep architecture. This means it interferes with the way we move through the different sleep cycles. REM sleep is the stage which is affected most. This is where we integrate and process our experiences.

3. Many trauma sufferers will experience night-terrors. These occur when we are in the REM part of the sleep cycle. Often, night-terrors will vividly replay part of the trauma, or they may contain images, symbols, or feelings related to the trauma.

4. Although this is disturbing, upsetting and distressing, it is believed to be the brain’s attempt at healing from the trauma.

What can we do about disturbed sleep patterns?

1. Firstly, it’s important to have realistic expectations related to sleep, after you’ve experienced a trauma of some kind. Your body and your brain are only trying to protect you. They don’t want you to sleep – because that makes you vulnerable.

2. No-one wants to waken when they’ve just fallen sleep, or struggle with insomnia, or experience night terrors. So show yourself compassion, and be kind to yourself.

3. Try your best to maintain some kind of regular sleep schedule so your brain comes to expect set, certain periods of “down time.” This will help prepare your body, so it’s able to relax.

4. If this doesn’t work, then just allow yourself to sleep whenever you feel tired, or whenever you can nap. Take the pressure off yourself; you cannot force yourself to sleep.

5. Sleep where you feel safe, or are prepared to deal with threat. For some, this might mean sleeping in a different room … or maybe having somebody they trust nearby … or having ready access to a clear means of escape. Whatever it takes, you need to carve out a safe space. You need to feel you’re able to protect yourself.

6. Learn how to de-stress when you are wakened in the night. For example, some people practice deep breathing exercises, some people choose to get up and change rooms, others seek comfort and support in a safe person. It’s important to experiment, and find what works for you.

7. If you keep tossing and turning, then get up and move around. Find something that’s distracting, or that helps you to feel calm. Eventually, you’ll start to feel relaxed and tired again.  You can’t speed up this process; you just have to wait it out.

Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise again.”

Lessons I’ve Learned from Loss

The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief.” – Hilary Stanton Zunin

1. The people we love won’t always be around. Life can change in an instant, and permanently. Once it’s over, it’s over, and there’s no going back.

2. Loss shows us that time passes and comes to an end. The things that used to matter don’t matter any more. Grief crystallizes values and what matters most in life.

3. Grief follows its own schedule and trajectory. There isn’t a right way to work through grief. You take it as it comes, and take it one step at a time. It can’t be planned in advance, and it’s unpredictable.

4. Although life moves on around you as though nothing has changed, it’s OK if you focus on, and honour, what you’ve lost. Your grief is real and valid, and you should give it its place. You owe it to yourself to feel and process layers of loss.

5. There are some kinds of losses that will always stay with us. We won’t recover fully, or forget what we once had. There will always be a sadness, and heartache, and a grief. 

6. Over time, you slowly learn that joy and pain can co-exist. It doesn’t take away from the pain and loss you feel. But you see it’s possible to still experience happiness.

7. The landscape after loss is unfamiliar and unknown. We’re stumbling in the dark; nothing really feels the same. We feel that we have changed, and we’re strangers to ourselves. Also, there’s nothing that appeals or that draws any more.

8.  You feel so isolated – for no-one understands. It’s something you must face, and must live through, on your own.

9. Loss creates anxiety and deep insecurity. Your world’s fallen apart; nothing’s certain any more. You don’t believe in dreams, and you’re too afraid to hope. The future just looks bleak, and is something to be feared.

10. You appreciate the people who’re sensitive and kind. Who understand you’re grieving, and who let you take your time. They don’t have expectations. They never make demands. They let you just be real. They don’t need you to be strong.  

Let’s Talk About Gaslighting

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that occurs in abusive relationships. It is an insidious and sometimes covert type of emotional abuse where the bully or abuser makes the target question their judgments and reality. Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to wonder if they are losing their sanity.” – verywellmind

Gaslighting Tactics

Typical gaslighting tactics include:

1. Denying absolutely everything you say in an attempt to confuse you – even where there’s proof that you are right. Essentially, that person is completely set on undermining your view of reality. They want you, and others, to think that you are wrong – that you have misinterpreted the situation, or are simply imagining things.

2. Spreading lies about you. Gaslighters are experts at telling lies, and they’ll only escalate if you try to call them out. They’ll vehemently dispute any evidence against them. They will act as if they’re shocked, will deny and blame. They then will spread more lies as they attempt to show you’re wrong. They will lie with conviction and with confidence. The goal here is to make you (and others) doubt the truth so that no-one really knows what to believe anymore. 

3. Pointing out and exaggerating perceived inadequacies, weaknesses and failures (which aren’t true of you.) Their main goals are to make you look bad in front of others, to weaken your position (in the family or at work), and make you feel defensive, alone and weak.

4. There is a marked discrepancy between their actions and their words. Watch what they do. This reveals reality.

5. They project onto others, and accuse other people of doing what they deny doing themselves. For example, they may accuse a partner of having an affair to deflect attention away from them.

6. They attempt to turn the people you love against you. They do this in order to isolate you.

In summary: A gaslighter wants complete control over you. They do this first and foremost through mind control. They use these kinds of tactics repeatedly as they’re absolutely set on wearing you down.

How to Deal with Gaslighting

The following suggestions can be helpful here:

1. When you’re with a gaslighter, pay careful attention to everything they say and everything they do. Focus on the details. Don’t overlook a thing.

It can sometimes help to journal the things they say to you, and exactly what you said in response to this. These can be reviewed a later point in time. Also, ask yourself what kinds of patterns you can see.

2. Hold on very firmly to your sense of self (self-belief, self-worth and self-esteem.) Don’t allow them to affect your or undermine your confidence.

3. Trust your intuition. Listen to your gut. Believe what they are telling you. They’re almost always right.

4. When you are talking to gaslighters, always keep in mind what their true (destructive) motives are: to control you, to undermine you in front of others, and to distort your view of realty. Don’t ever forget that!

5. Make it clear to the gaslighter that you don’t believe their lies, interpretations, perspectives and accounts of things – otherwise they will continue gaslighting you.

6. Always hold onto the truth that the problem isn’t you. The gaslighter is the person with the issues here.

7. Don’t expect to win exchanges with a person who gaslights. They are totally fixated on destroying you. They will never give an inch, for they must always win the game. It is what is. Be OK with that. The main thing is you know what is going on, and you’ won’t be dominated and controlled by them. And that is a massive achievement in itself.