Just thinking about therapy for the first time can be quite a daunting experience. I know, from my own experience how confusing it can be looking through the long list of counsellors and range of therapies available. Often people who are coming to counselling for the first time may feel anxious, embarrassed, or scared. Knowing more about the process can help you to feel reassured.
Today there are more options available to you than just the traditional face to face format – such as telephone, email and Skype. Face to face remains the most popular method, with many clients enjoying the feeling of closeness to another person. However some clients prefer the anonymity that telephone and email counselling provides, and how it fits into a busy schedule. This is a matter of personal preference and you will know which feels right for you.
Common misconceptions about counselling:
“Counselling is for the raving looney”
Some people still think that counselling is only for people with serious mental health issues. Counselling can help with difficult life experiences such as relationship breakdown, bereavement, redundancy, low self esteem and feelings of guilt, fear, sadness, and anger as well as problems such as depression and anxiety. Visiting a counsellor can help you feel listened to, less alone with your problem or feelings, as if a weight has been lifted, helping you to cope during a difficult time.
Some people may worry that their problem isn’t really important enough and feel that they would be wasting the counsellor’s time. This is never the case as every problem is important, and anything that is causing you distress or impacting on your daily living is a good enough reason to seek counselling.
Help is also available with more specialist treatments for eating disorders, phobias, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
“Seeking help is a sign of weakness”
Coming to therapy can involve a lot of bravery on the part of the client and is certainly never a sign of weakness. It can be difficult to find the right therapist. Getting to know and trust them enough to discuss what is troubling you can feel like a big risk.
Finding the right therapist
Lots of information can be found on the many types of therapy but recent research shows that the most important factor in counselling is the relationship between the client and the counsellor.
If you are able to trust your therapist and feel really comfortable with them, then you have a much greater chance of successful counselling. Trust your instincts and shop around. Do not settle for a counsellor you do not feel comfortable with.
Some counsellors offer a free first appointment. This can be a great opportunity for you to meet the counsellor and gauge if they feel like the right person for you. You should get the opportunity to ask questions and get a taste of what counselling is like. The first session is an assessment which can be a little different to further sessions with information being taken, helping the client and therapist to check their compatibility.
You should never feel pushed into counselling or under any obligation to start sessions immediately. You may want to contact several therapists before choosing.
The first session
At the first session the counsellor may ask you questions such as what is troubling you at the moment, what you hope to achieve from counselling, your personal history, and about your current symptoms.
Don’t be put off as this first session can involve some note taking and form filling, for example details such as contact and GP details will be required, and information such as any medication you are currently taking.
Remember this first session is also an opportunity for you to ask any questions, and your counsellor should be happy to explain anything you are concerned about.
During this first session the counsellor is likely to talk to you about confidentiality and inform you about the times when they may need to disclose information to another professional. This is usually if your counsellor has any real concerns that you are at serious risk of harm, or that another person may be harmed. Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand or they fail to mention their policy on disclosure.
I hope this article may have helped in some way and I wish you well with your future counselling.
There are valid points raised in the article, however this applies to a Therapist not speaking about themselves within counselling sessions.
When a Therapist is interviewed about their work, they will be asked why they chose to specialize in a particular subject and what personal experience they have had to enable them to do this. It is essential for a client to feel that they are understood.
It’s become a cliché – you ask your therapist a question and they reply with another question.
For many new clients the lack of self-disclosure by the therapist can be unsettling, as the relationship can feel very one way. The therapist gets to know the most personal details of the client’s life, while the client knows very little about the therapist’s.
While the lack of self-disclosure may feel frustrating, at times, for the client, there are several reasons for it.
The therapist’s issues can dominate: the therapy is for the benefit of the client not the therapist, so a therapist talking a lot about their own lives could start to dominate the sessions and make it more about the therapist’s needs rather than the client’s.
A client taking care of the therapist: the client may end up feeling they need to ‘take care of’ a therapist who talks about their own problems or issues in sessions.
Therapist protection: While the client has confidentiality, the therapist does not. Whatever the therapist tells the client may be repeated to others, including future therapists the client sees.
The transference: part of the way many counsellors and therapists work is in exploring the ‘transference’ , which means the unconscious projections that all clients bring to their therapist and to other relationships. Helping the client see how they are projecting certain expectations can help them improve their other relationships. Too much self-disclosure by the therapist can dilute this way of working.
Despite these factors, some therapists will choose to disclose more than others. They argue that developing a warm and genuine relationship with the client means disclosing, appropriately, some information about their personal lives and experiences.
How much a counsellor or therapist reveals about their personal life will partly depend on their personality and partly on the kind of counselling or therapy they practise.
It is a generalisation, but at the least revealing end of the spectrum tend to be psychoanalysts and those working in a psychodynamic way, where exploration of the transference is usually prioritised.
At the more disclosing end of the spectrum are many humanistic and existential therapists, who believe that being more open is good for the alliance between therapist and client and helps demystify the therapist’s role.
Irvin Yalom, an existential therapist and author, says that many therapists fear that if they disclose aspects of their personal lives the client will demand more. But he adds: “In my experience the overwhelming majority of patients accept what I offer, do not press for more or for uncomfortable disclosure, then go about the business of therapy.”
Integrative psychotherapist Michael Kahn takes a less self-disclosing approach and describes a client who continually wanted to know if he was gay. In this case Kahn decided not to answer the question and, at the end of the therapy, the client said he was glad about this as it had allowed him to explore his hopes and fears about the therapist and his own complex feelings about his own sexuality.
Of course, all therapists communicate information about themselves without explicitly stating it. Where they work, how they dress, how they respond to the client’s words will all say something about their lives and values.
What is important is that, if there is self-disclosure it needs to be in the client’s interests. And if the therapist chooses not to disclose something a client is asking about he or she needs to do this in a non-punishing way.
As Kahn says: “When I refuse to answer a question , I try hard not to look as though I were playing, ‘I’ve got a secret, so I’m one up on you’. I explain as fully as I can why I’m taking this stand.”
A woman in West Cornwall is using her traumatic experience of leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, after being raised as one, to offer a new counselling service for former members of religious cults.
Laetitia Latham Jones, from St Buryan near Penzance, recently qualified as a crisis and trauma counsellor and set up Taking The Helm, which provides counselling for everyone from victims of abuse, to survivors of natural disasters.
But it is those who have left religious cults that Laetitia wishes to specialise in helping, drawing on her own childhood experience and being disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion which she describes as having the traits of a cult.
In recent years, many former Jehovah’s Witnesses have described the religion as being cult-like, but fearing repercussions, most have done so anonymously.
Now, hoping to help others who have been shunned and left isolated after leaving religious groups, Laetitia has spoken out about what happens when you say you want to leave.
“I was born into a religious cult myself. Other people join them, but I had no choice.”
Originally from Kent, Laetitia says her parents became Jehovah’s Witnesses about four years before she was born. “They knocked on our door and caught my mum at a vulnerable time of crisis.” She explains.
“One of my older brothers had severe autism and had to live in a residential hospital at six years of age. After he left the home, my mum was obviously distraught and a Jehovah’s Witness called at her door.”
Laetitia’s mother started attending meetings, and her father could see it seemed to help her, so he accompanied her.
By the time Laetitia was born, the family were well-established Jehovah’s Witnesses, attending meetings at their local Kingdom Hall three times a week, and door knocking in the local area to try and recruit new members.
As a child, Laetitia was involved from the start. She recalls being taken out to preach every Christmas Day, something she hated because they received a lot of negative responses. She remembers a man shouting at her father, saying that his children should be at home opening presents rather than knocking on doors.
“By the time I was eight years old, I was out preaching on my own, with my parents calling on other homes in the same street. I was trained with good arguments for each subject that could be raised. I had a really good argument for evolution, and for not having or giving blood transfusions – even if it is for a family member.”
But preaching on Christmas Day was not the only thing that made Laetitia’s childhood different than most. “At school, I was kept out of religious assemblies and religious studies. We didn’t celebrate Christmas, birthdays, or Easter because we were taught they had Pagan origins.
“They feel that celebrating birthdays places you upon a pedestal and the only person you should honour is God.”
But for someone born into the religion, not having a birthday party did not seem all that strange:
“We were also encouraged not to associate with anyone outside of the religion and my friends didn’t celebrate their birthdays either.”
Although Laetitia would get in trouble for small acts of rebellion or asking too many questions, (like, ‘why have Adam and Eve got belly buttons in our pamphlet?’) she decided that she still wanted to be baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness.
“I was baptised at the age of 14 – full immersion in a pool at one of their conventions. At the time, I thought it was what I wanted. A friend of mine was baptised at 12 years of age, and I was quite close to her, so I asked my parents for the next two years until they agreed.
“The elders take you through a set of questions, to ensure you know what you’re getting into, but obviously at 14, you are still too young.”
If the elders thought being baptised would make Laetitia a more committed Jehovah’s Witness, they were wrong, because two years later, she had had enough and wanted out.
“At 16, I asked the elders to disfellowship me, because I wanted my own life, and I wanted my freedom. I was dating a young man who wasn’t in the religion, and he had all of his freedom and I wanted mine too.”
Laetitia continues: “I knew what would happen, I knew I had to choose between my family and my own life, because you are shunned once you leave. As I was young, I didn’t really appreciate the consequences, and the effect leaving would have on me way down the line.
“I was a rebellious child, and not looked upon favourably by my parents, so I thought it wouldn’t matter anyway. However, years on you realise it has a bigger effect on you than you thought it would.”
Laetitia says she was brought before three elders known as a judicial committee, who tried to convince her not to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses before the disfellowshipping. “I had been in front of them twice previously for various things, as I was not an obedient child. They tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted. I had my boyfriend, so I knew there was someone to support me. Maybe if I’d been on my own, I would never have asked.”
As soon as she left, Laetitia’s life changed: “Everyone you’ve known and grown up with shuns you. They don’t speak to you anymore. If they see you on the street, they will cross to the other side rather than speak to you, so you have to get used to that.
“With my parents, I was still living in the family home, so they had to interact with me as they usually would, but there was a definite atmosphere. They told me I couldn’t leave home unless I married, so I discussed this with my boyfriend and about five weeks later, at the age of 17, we were married and I was able to move out.”
Speaking about the adjustment that followed, Laetitia says: “When you are raised in a cult you do not realise how isolated you are from the outside world, so when you come out it is extremely difficult to learn how to mix with a community, to make friends and trust others – because you are taught to trust no-one in the world.
“Many people who leave cults are isolated and some have committed suicide, because they cannot handle the shunning and the outside world.”
Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses vehemently dispute they are in any way a cult, and have a section on their website dedicated to explaining why they are not a cult, saying: “No, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a cult. Rather, we are Christians who do our best to follow the example set by Jesus Christ and to live by his teachings.” The website continues to argue that they are not a cult because they ‘have not invented a new religion’, and ‘do not look to any human as their leader.’
Laetitia disagrees: “The religions viewed as cults interfere with your personal life. They control what you wear, what you read and what you watch on TV. We weren’t even allowed to watch Scooby Doo!
“In my research, I have discovered there is actually a checklist for cults known as the B.I.T.E. model.”
Having left her parents and the religion that she was raised in, Laetitia says there was domestic violence in her marriage when she was pregnant with her daughter, so feeling vulnerable she returned to the Jehovah’s Witnesses so that she could have contact and support from her family again.
She went through a process of being reinstated, where she had to attend church for six months without talking to anyone to prove that she was committed to being a member again.
After leaving her first husband, Laetitia eventually married again, but although her second husband was happy at first to attend the Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings, he soon realised after talking to an elder, that for them to accept him, he would have to quit his job as a policeman.
This prompted Laetitia to disassociate herself from Jehovah’s Witnesses for a second time, and disassociation results in the same treatment as disfellowshipping.
When Laetitia’s second husband retired from the police force, they moved to Cornwall with their son. She recalls visiting the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle in 1996 where she was shocked by the ways that women who were branded as witches had been tortured by people who were supposedly Christian. “So I thought, if they teach that witchcraft is evil, but can perform horrific tortures, then maybe the other side isn’t as bad as they say it is. That’s when I began looking into witchcraft.”
With a love of morris dancing as well as developing an interest in Paganism, Laetitia was invited to train as a ‘teaser’ for Penglaz, the Obby Oss at Golowan Festival in Penzance. Her tutor turned out to be Cassandra Latham, who she had previously met at the Pagan Conference in 2003.
In 1996, Cassandra became the first person in the UK to have her occupation registered with the Inland Revenue as ‘village witch’. As a much respected wisewoman in West Cornwall, Cassandra was looking to not only train up a new teaser, but a wisewoman who could work alongside her.
Laetitia and her second husband eventually divorced due to their lives going in different directions.
As a village wisewoman living with Cassandra in St Buryan, it would seem that Laetitia could not be further away from her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. However, when her father died of cancer five years ago, she attended her local Kingdom Hall following the funeral, to be somewhere he would want to be. She promised her father that she would return before he died and her grief at this time led her to become reinstated.
“Of course, when the elders discovered I was with Cassandra, all Hell broke loose, as you can imagine.” Laetitia remembers.
“They sent me a text to say they wanted to see me, and I visited the hall that evening, where two elders were waiting for me and brought up websites on their iPad with my pictures with the ‘Obby ‘Oss and Cassandra.
“They were angry and instructed me to leave Cassandra immediately, and called her an evil woman, and began questioning me about my personal life. I replied that she had been extremely kind to me as she gave me a home rather than see me become homeless after my divorce.
“I reacted angrily and shortly after that they instructed me to attend a hearing with the judicial committee of elders and I refused. The following day they called at Cassandra’s cottage and announced they were disfellowshipping me once again.”
Despite her reaction to the Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to tell her how to live her life, Laetitia says that she doesn’t hold any resentment towards her parents, who have both now passed away, following her mother’s death earlier this year.
“I don’t hold a grudge. They caught my parents at a vulnerable time, and I feel so sorry for them as they were taken advantage of. My parents lived and breathed that religion for 60 years, and now that I have more knowledge of cults, I can see they wasted their lives believing they would never become old or die, waiting each day for Armageddon and the paradise earth where they would live forever.”
Laetitia is clearly happy with where she is now, and proud of her achievements – with good reason: “As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we weren’t allowed to go on to further education after leaving school. We were told that college would have wild parties, drug taking, bad associations etc. They didn’t want us to have a career as we were pressured to be ‘pioneers’ where you preach for 90 hours a month and have a small part time job to earn money.
“I wanted to be a professional dancer and my sister wanted to be a P.E. teacher, but we didn’t pursue those careers as it would be difficult without parental support.
“I attended college in my early 30s and did NVQ levels 1, 2 and 3 in Beauty Therapy, went on to attain Diplomas in Holistic therapies, I teach Reiki courses and now have my Counselling Diploma.”
Looking towards the future and hoping that her Counselling Diploma and her experience can help others, Laetitia says:
“I had a friend from childhood who was a Jehovah’s Witness and committed suicide at the age of 21. He was depressed, and he told the elders he considered ending his life, but received no help.
“My research and study of religious cults show that many people end their lives because they are shunned and isolated after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults.
“I want to be there for people who reach out for someone who understands their problems.
“I could save lives in this way, just by being there, and I feel this is the reason for my life experience.”
I happened to come across an article about you and wanted to say thank you for sharing! Up until about a year and a half ago I thought I was the only one that experienced the aftermath of being disfellowshipped. Anyway, I hope you and yours are well! A.C
My sister, just sent me over your article from Cornwall live. Thank you for sharing your experience, it very much reflects our upbringing as a JW. I build up the courage 5 years ago to leave, not disassociate as my mum is mental and physically disabled, which you know would mean I would not be able to talk to her. Cutting the long story short, I am now a mental health nurse, due to witnessing so many witnesses disfellowshipped through acts they did whilst mentally ill. It is not all roses as many believe it is and I am so glad you have found your way and shared your story. Kind Regards S.M.
I just wanted to say well done for your brave interview on cornwalllive – good for you being able to talk openly about repression and controlling organisations and how much I respect your decision to help others who fall into these traps – also ignore the trolls as some people have nothing better to do than continue the repression this way! Lots of love. L.F.
Thank you for your article . I’m glad you were honest. I’ve left after 30 plus years . I was unhappy about the secret data base of paedophiles. Since speaking out I’ve been shunned . My daughter no longer speaks along with ..4 grandchildren. It’s just ridiculous. So many are leaving , I’ve been trying to visit people as they leave to make sure they have food . The situation has got very bad over the last few years . But I’d like to say thank you . Much love. A.C.
There are many articles on parents with estranged adult children. This article however will touch on adult children with estranged parents.
When people hear about the loss or the impending loss of an estranged parent some people feel shocked and unprepared to experience the range of emotions of grief. They may struggle with a wide variety of things that they will have to be consider in a very short period of time. Funeral attendance, flights across the country, other people’s feelings and their own feelings. The loss may leave them mourning not only their estranged parents death but also the loss of an imaginary, what-may-have-been relationship.
Sometimes people find out about the death of their parent in an insensitive way. Maybe they found out after the fact in obituaries or through the “grape-vine” of other estranged family members. Communication in estranged family relationships are sometimes non-existent. It is not unusual for major events – even a death – to not be communicated. They may assume that they were left out with evil intent when it’s possible that the family of the estranged parent has perceived the relationship to be so strained that the person wouldn’t want it communicated.
Reasons people may grieve an estranged parent:
Grieving that the relationship now has no chance of mending. Often at some level there is an unspoken hope that the relationship might be restored. Death closes the door on reconciliation. Words are left unsaid and the feelings still remain, sometimes without closure.
Grieving the loss of a part of heritage. Even though the relationship with the parent wasn’t strong, the death involves someone who is a part of their lineage and the chance to learn about the other half of their family may be gone.
Grieve what might have been. People reflect on a time when they loved the parent, or wanted to love them. Although there may not be a longing for things to change, there is a feeling of melancholy that things were not different. The death of the parent brings to mind ideas of how the relationship should have been. After the loss, the dream for a better relationship remains only a dream, and in many cases people grieve the death of the dream rather than the loss of the person.
Some people experience apathy to the loss of the non-existent parent in their lives. It is entirely possible that they dealt with the grief of loss when they were first estranged. The length of time and purpose of the estrangement greatly affects each persons response.
Ways to help someone with the loss of an estranged parent:
Regardless of whatever expectations they think society has placed on them for handling the loss of an estranged parent, they have experienced a loss and they are allowed to grieve. Giving them space to grieve without judgment is important.
People may express deep sadness and remorse for the wasted years. Missed phone calls or chances to re-connect and opportunities lost. Remind them to not waste the rest of their life looking back at what could have been.
Talking about the past can be cathartic and open doorways to recovery. Though sometimes people don’t realize that reciting a general litany of of unhappiness is one of the main reasons they stay stuck. The goal is to become emotionally complete with what happened so that they don’t need to be a current victim of what happened in the past. It’s bad enough that they were mistreated and/or harmed, but remaining stuck in the destructive mental repetition can prevent them from moving forward.
Remind them that forgiveness isn’t saying that the estranged child ‘accepts’ or ‘approves’ what happened. Forgiveness is the acknowledgment that what happened, happened, and that they are now ready to let go of the baggage. Forgiveness isn’t always about the other person, it’s about moving forward.
What NOT to say to someone grieving the death of an estranged parent:
“They were an awful person, why do you even care?” Invalidates the feelings of the grieving person. They are trying to figure out their own emotions in the situation. They may be feeling confused or upset that they care about this person too. They may be upset that they care for this person at all, adding even more to their confusion and grief. Invalidating their feelings may make them feel like they aren’t allowed to express them at all.
When will you feel better?” Expectation for a timeline for grieving puts unnecessary pressure on the griever to just get over it and again reinforces that they aren’t allowed to express their emotions.
“You didn’t even know him/her” amplifies what the griever is probably already thinking. Knowing this doesn’t take away from the pain of being unable to connect to their estranged parent, in cases it might even be the primary cause of their grief.
Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief, By Jennifer Elison and Chris Mcgonigle. Sometimes we are relieved that our loved one is no longer suffering; at the other end of the spectrum, a death might finally free us of an abusive or unhappy relationship. In this groundbreaking book, the authors share their own and others’ stories, compassionate clinical analysis, and pragmatic counsel with other disenfranchised survivors.
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, By Susan Forward. In this remarkable self-help guide, Dr. Susan Forward draws on case histories and the real-life voices of adult children of toxic parents to help you free yourself from the frustrating patterns of your relationship with your parents — and discover a new world of self-confidence, inner strength, and emotional independence.
Despite the repeated consensus that adhering to social distancing guidelines is the most effective way to diffuse the novel coronavirus pandemic, some people were slow to cancel their plans; some are still engaging in get-togethers.
It’s frustrating if this is one of your friends, endangering if it’s one of your immediate family members, and a tricky situation if it’s one of your colleagues, or someone who reports to you.
How do you handle someone who is blatantly ignoring social distancing guidelines? How do you reason with someone who is, essentially, a COVID-19 denier?
Unsurprisingly, there’s a psychological reason why some people may feel highly disinclined to ignore social distancing. There’s a reason why in times of high stress, some people respond with rebelliousness. Understanding this can help you respond, and manage, those reactions better.
Jud Brewer, M.D., Ph.D. is a neuroscientist, addiction psychiatrist and the director of research and innovations at the Mindfulness Center of Brown University. He shares with me that there are likely several reasons why people aren’t staying home right now.
“Some people are trying to retain a feeling of control by ignoring or defying stay-at-home orders. Other people are oppositional in nature and routinely defy authority. Many more are in denial, especially if they aren’t in hardest-hit areas, aren’t in high-risk groups and/or don’t know anyone with the virus.”
Brewer went onto say that anxiety “definitely” affects our ability to think clearly, make decisions or solve problems. The influx of uncertainty could be contributing to a denial of reality or factual information.
“When anxiety gets really bad, we start to panic,” he says. “It leads to thinks like panic-buying.”
Many of these measures are simply a way to regain a sense of control. Writer Maya Kosoff wrote an article explaining why you’re seeing so many people in your newsfeed cooking, cleaning and otherwise managing their household in very small and specific ways. It is, essentially, a form of regaining control.
Vaile Wright, the director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association, says all these ways of exerting control — my soup production included — represent humans’ collective intolerance of uncertainty and the unknown. Our ability to cope with uncertainty is a spectrum, she explains, but to varying degrees, we’re all facing the same challenge right now: Nothing feels stable, which makes us anxious and stressed out. So we act on those feelings. Stuck in our homes, we find projects and rituals to bring us comfort.
Brewer’s experience echos that as well.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, he explains that there are really two ways to stop anxiety from mismanaging your life: first, be aware that we are becoming anxious, and second, understand what the result is. This helps us differentiate behaviors that bring comfort, and behaviors that are actually integral to our survival.
“Panic can lead to behaviors that are dangerous,” he explains. “Anxiety is both acutely mentally and physically weakening and a slow burn that has more long-term health consequences.”
In it for the long-haul
Given that we still have at minimum a number of weeks of extreme social distancing on the horizon, how should we manage teams, friends and family members who aren’t convinced by facts? Here is what Brewer had to say:
Why are some people not convinced by factual information?
“Actions are driven by emotions, not rational thought,” he explains. Understanding this will help you get through some frustration.
What is the best way to talk to people like this?
Brewer says your best bet is “meet them where they’re at” and relate on an emotional level. This means acknowledging the fear, but calmly sharing the facts of the situation, and always encouraging the person to take proper action in order to help facilitate the best possible outcome.
What is the best way to actually change someone’s mind?
Influence is a tricky thing, and swaying someone’s preconceived ideas is even harder. Though you might not be able to completely change their mind, Brewer says the best way to try is by using positive reinforcement. This means encouraging, praising and even giving benefits to members of your team who are acting in accordance with guidelines, or innovating a new way work given the current structure.
How can we be more open to changing our own minds?
Of course, it’s not all about what other people are doing wrong.
If we are the ones struggling to accept our new reality, Brewer says that the first step is to take as much time as we need to “reset” our brains, and cool down emotionally. “When we are anxious or panicked, our thinking brains are offline and we can’t think. The first step is to help them get back online, so that we can take in rational information,” he shares.
Ultimately, things have changed, and even when they do return to normal, it won’t be precisely the new normal that we once knew. There’s a lot of uncharted territory to deal with, and that includes how the people around you are going to respond.
How to practically cope with increasing anxiety during this time
Source: Melanie Wasser/Unsplash
So much in our world has changed since I wrote my last post. And yet, the realities of our existential fears still persist and may be more evident than ever. The anxiety of this world continues to remain palpable – the empty shelves, the sickness, the isolation, death, and the reality of the unknown future. This week, I have been reflecting on the increased anxiety that we feel as humans when there is a threat to our well-being. We have a natural instinct to turn inward, to plan, to gather supplies, to be on high alert. And we have a natural instinct that causes us to feel fear in our bodies. All of these instincts are a result of being faced with four core existential fears (loss of control, challenges to our identity, isolation, and ultimately, our fear of death).1,2 The COVID-19 pandemic hits across all of our existential fears. When we are faced with these fears, we are confronted with information—and what we do with that information matters. As a therapist, I wanted to provide practical ways of coping with these fears and how we can use these fears to help us move forward.
1. Use your fear as information: Acknowledge that you are feeling a feeling. Do not ignore it, honor it, and ask yourself—”What is is this feeling trying to tell me?” For example, if you are feeling exhausted, increased pounding in your chest, inability to stop intrusive thoughts, take a deep breath, acknowledge these feelings and sit with them for a moment to say, “What is my concern here?” Are you afraid of losing work, losing your health, of not knowing what the future holds? Reflect and then begin to see what you can reasonably do with that information. Sometimes all we can do is acknowledge it (i.e., I do not have control over if my college classes are cancelled) and other times we can realize what we do have control over and what we don’t (i.e., I can wash my hands and keep limited social contact, but I cannot ultimately control whether I am exposed to illness). If you allow yourself to use your feelings as information, you can learn something from yourself. Feelings are there for a reason and often do not come from nowhere.
2. Practice acceptance: This may be the hardest step. We often do not want to accept “what is” and we would rather live in an alternate reality of “what we want life to be.” The truth is many will get sick, many will die, and we do not know what the future holds. When we begin with this reality, we can move toward “what is.” We can ground ourselves toward the truth and act accordingly. We wash our hands, we stay home, we connect virtually with those we love and express those feelings. We can begin to acknowledge our existential fears as facts and not fears.
3. Find connection: Talk to people in your life and connect with them. Use virtual means and schedule a hangout. Share your concerns, your struggles. Are there people in your life that are adding to your stress? Give yourself permission to take a break. Do you have someone in your life that will listen to you? Can you find something to talk about that you both can share together that is about something other than this crisis alone? Talk about your favorite show you are watching or the book you are reading. Make this an intention to connect. We are all in the midst of this experience and we might just be able to learn something from each other.
4. Use grounding techniques: When we are in a state of crisis, our body is telling us something. It is telling us to pay attention to the threats around us. This is a protective, natural response of being human. What makes a pandemic so unique is that our bodies are designed to alert us to these threats in short bursts, and cannot sustain threat-signals for an extended period of time. This can create fatigue, exhaustion, and just plain “foggy-headedness.” So you need to ground your body. This is a natural way to signal to your body that it is safe. Grounding techniques are universal and involve our five senses. Breathe deeply with your body in a child’s pose, or lay on the ground with your body on your back stretching like it is waking out of bed and practice deep belly breathing for two minutes. Notice your breath as it moves in and out. Let your thoughts come and go. Do not hold onto them, just notice them. Another grounding technique is called just notice them. Another grounding technique is called progressive muscle relaxation. You can google that to find the specific movements, but it can be as simple as squeezing your muscles tightly as you inhale and releasing your muscles as you exhale. Repeat. Notice your body and your mind.
5. Take a break when you can: Give yourself permission to take a break from the news, from fear and worry. Allow yourself to immerse yourself in a hobby like drawing, listening to music, reading a book, talking with a friend. Allow yourself to laugh and to be in the present moment. Put your phone in a drawer. Sit on your porch and see if you can hear the birds sing. Put “bookends” on your thoughts and when they start to circle back to worry or fear, notice it and then direct your mind to whatever you are doing in that moment. Be intentional about this practice. You do not need to be productive, you just need to feel and be. In fact, we can’t help it. I am just asking you to notice being human.
I hope this is helpful to you during this time. We are in this together. And we need each other. People react to fear in various ways—hoarding, becoming rigid, denial, anger—all various forms of fight, flight, or freeze. In my next post, I will explore this more. But for today, acknowledge what your fears might be trying to tell you. And lean in, trusting that your body is good and trying to tell you something. Listen to reality and ground yourself in your body. Immerse yourself where you are mean to be. Existential fears are a part of our life. We just may have realized it for the first time. Welcome. This is what it means to be fully alive.
Yes, it is important to pay attention to the health effects of a pandemic, but as a therapist, I am more intrigued at the increasing mental health effects of a pandemic. Often, it has been said that the difference between humans and animals is our awareness of the reality that we humans will one day die. Depressing, panic-inducing, isn’t it? How quickly we want to avoid reading the rest of this article, eh?
This is exactly my point. Animals exist with the awareness of a feeling or instinct of an imminent threat. Humans have the unique ability to perceive that it has the potential to be a threat to our wellbeing and we can even imagine how it might feel. We can imagine what it would be like to be in isolation, we can visualize how we feel getting sick, or even worse, what it would be like to possibly be faced with our own death and the potential of a loss of a future. This is what makes us, well, so uniquely human. So why does this induce panic?
We need to understand that as humans, we collectively have four existential fears.1,2 First, we have the fear of groundlessness, which is defined as the loss of control and the burden of freedom. There are things that we can control, such as where we plan to travel, whether we wash our hands or cover our mouths, all while realizing that we do not ultimately have control over what happens to us—whether or not we follow all of the prevention measures. Life can be largely out of our control and this feels scary, especially because we like to think we have more control that what we actually do.
Our second existential fear is isolation, or the fear of being truly alone. This fear is the realization that each of us experiences our own life from our unique perspective alone. Even though we have close relationships, we are the only ones that know what it’s like to live out our life with our experiences. Although we share our experiences with those closest to us, no one will ever know our innermost workings. No one knows precisely what is to be me. Aside from me, no one knows who I actually am. And this terrifies us.
Third, we must wrestle with identity, or the understanding of who I am. Identity and isolation are intimately tied together: Loneliness is born out of this fear. People often isolate themselves because they are fearful that others will learn who they truly are and ultimately reject them. We fear rejection, so we change who we are to fit how we think others want to see us. We do this so that we can feel that we are accepted and loved. For example, we might have shared our concern about the pandemic and then been dismissed by others around us, or even been made the butt of a joke. This can challenge our ability to even begin to acknowledge who we are because we fear being known and ultimately rejected.
And finally, we fear death. It is in our nature to live, to strive and to create meaning out of this life. We are evolutionarily programmed for life (e.g., survival). When we are faced with the potential for our own demise, we are challenged with “what is the meaning of this life after all?” We realize that life is temporary and that we will all die; however, this realization shatters our assumptions, because we never really think that we would be the ones to be faced with death now.
The COVID-19 pandemic touches on each of these four existential themes. We must pay attention to each of these existential fears so that we can become familiar with them, rather than avoid them. Avoiding fear creates space for further panic, isolation, loneliness, depression, and hopelessness. If you are struggling to face your existential fears, contact a professional who can help support you through this process. It takes courage to acknowledge your existential fears—in fact, we do a lot to avoid them altogether. But so much can be gained by understanding our fears and engaging them, rather than running from them or numbing them. In the next post, I’ll examine the benefits of engaging our existential fears.
What to do when Father’s Day isnt happy – Alison James
Do Father’s Day posts on social media make you want to crawl under the covers until the day is over?
Do Father’s Day commercials make you feel sad or angry?
Do you wish Father’s Day would be over already, so you would stop being reminded about your dad?
Even though Father’s Day is a happy occasion for many people, it can bring up painful or negative feelings for others.
Whether the day reminds you of a loving father who died, a less than loving father who wasn’t there the way you needed him to be, or if you’re a father who can’t be with your child for any reason, those are all losses that could make Father’s Day difficult. If the day brings up negative feelings then you might be experiencing unresolved grief.
Unresolved grief can have a long term negative impact on your life. Grief is cumulative and cumulatively negative. Grief not only affects current relationships, but it affects future relationships, your work, health, and even hobbies. The intensity of your feelings may lessen over time, but grief doesn’t heal on its own.
Here are some signs you might have unresolved grief around your dad:
Do you refuse to talk about him?
Do you feel angry or sad when you think about him?
Do you avoid places that remind you of him?
Do you put your dad on a pedestal or only see his negative qualities?
Do you avoid watching movies, eating foods, or going to places that remind you of him?
Do you avoid contact with him?
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you weren’t carrying around the pain from your relationship with your dad?
If you’re like most people, you were never taught how to heal your broken heart. Although there are plenty of articles, and well-intentioned people, who will share a list of ways to change your feelings short term, they never show you how to truly recover. Frankly, if you want to recover from grief then you must have the courage to do the work.
The first step is admitting that you want help.
Talk to someone you trust. Tell the truth about yourself. Ask them not to judge, criticize, or analyze (then don’t judge, criticize, or analyze yourself either).
Whether you are already in one, or considering joining any kind of group be it a religious group, place of work, performance group etc. the following article will enlighten you on what signs to look out for.
By Rick Ross – Expert Consultant and Intervention Therapist.
Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.
Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.
The group/leader is always right.
The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.
Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.
Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower’s mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused–as that person’s involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.
Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as “persecution”.
Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.
Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.
Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.
A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.
Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.
Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.
Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.
Ten signs of a safe group/leader.
A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.
A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.
A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.
A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.
A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.
A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.
A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.
A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.
A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.
A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.
Don’t be naïve, develop a good BS Detector.
You can protect yourself from unsafe groups and leaders by developing a good BS detector. Check things out, know the facts and examine the evidence. A safe group will be patient with your decision making process. If a group or leader grows angry and anxious just because you want to make an informed and careful decision before joining; beware.
A family is like all living things; it grows, develops and constantly evolves over time as the family structure changes. Sometimes changes to the family structure occur as a result of new members joining the family, through marriage and the birth of children; other times, it’s the result of losing family members as our loved ones pass away.
It can be particularly difficult to cope with the breakdown of a family, through separation or divorce. How people deal with a separation or divorce is different for each person, and there is no right or wrong way of dealing with it. However, it can be helpful to understand how separation and divorce can impact the people within a family.
What does ‘divorce’ really mean?
Divorce is the ending of a marriage – but what about the additional relationships that were tied to this marriage? These peripheral relationships include extended families, such as in-laws, whilst core relationships include children. The dissolution of a marriage through divorce, however, does not address the impact of divorce upon all of the additional relationships that were created through the marriage.
Children are often the most affected by a separation or divorce. The breakup of the parental unit brings with it many changes. Changes may be physical – the literal separation of each parent to different places of residences – as well as emotional: primarily the confusion and frustration of not understanding what is happening, or why.
This is why children sometimes protest against the situation in unusual or unexpected ways, such as unusually poor academic performance, withdrawal from friends and family, and other problematic behaviours. Typically, a child’s first reaction to divorce or separation is confusion, denial, and fear. Children may subsequently experience anger, depression, or even panic attacks, unless their feelings are assuaged early on in the separation by each parent.
The effect on the extended family
A separation or divorce can also affect the extended family of a marriage. In some cases, the family members of each spouse may feel like they have to take sides. This may be difficult, confusing and may also adversely affect the children too.
Children are good at sensing when something is wrong, and they’re especially deft at picking up on hostility – particularly if it’s being directed toward one of their parents. Post-separation, children typically struggle with knowing how to balance divided loyalties; feeling disloyal if they still love dad when mum is visibly upset, and vice versa.
When grandparents and other members of an extended family are also conflicted over whether they should take sides, kids pick up on this. If the extended family does express prejudice toward one parent, this can reinforce those feelings of confusion in children, and damage the relationship the child has with each parent.
Moving forward after a separation
Though it may be difficult to manage whilst you’re in the throes of a separation, it’s important that you communicate regularly with your loved ones – especially your children, extended family, and your in-laws. It’s important that you explain to them how you would like your family to move forward, despite the separation or divorce.
Talk about your feelings openly with your children and family, even if they are feelings of hurt or frustration. Let them see that although you’re upset, it’s okay to talk about how they are feeling, too. Doing this eliminates the sense that certain topics may be off limits, which can exacerbate each person’s feelings of confusion and frustration.
A separation is not a competition
It’s also important that you reinforce that even though you are separating from your partner, no one is to take sides, least of all the children. Even if, deep down, you don’t feel this way – which is common for people going through a separation or divorce – it’s vital for the children that you don’t make them feel compelled to take sides. This just creates inner feelings of conflict and torment, which can negatively impact their emotional and physical wellbeing.
It’s also helpful if you have these discussions with your children while your partner is present, so they can see that despite everything, you’re both remaining amicable toward each other. Try not to argue or fight in front of the children, and if you do need to have discussions with your partner that may become heated, try to have them while the children are not around.
Even though this particular chapter of your family life is ending, the family you’ve built never really breaks up or goes away – it merely evolves and moves forward, and it’s important to remember that as you negotiate this difficult time.