Dr Gemma Gladstone.
We all want a thriving, high functioning and happy relationship. We want a relationship that makes us feel nourished, supported and loved. Easier said than done right? In real life when there are so many individual demands to manage, such as family dynamics, career development, financial growth and mental health, making time for our relationship and our partner can often get left behind or put on the bottom of the list.
What we know about relationships is that when they are positive and fulfilling our individual mental health is better and personal resilience is high. So how do we ensure our relationships are thriving? The simple answer is by making them a priority and nurturing them through regular positive habits. Habits are about practice and repeat, making something so frequent in our lives that it becomes a part of the everyday. So with that in mind, its time to set some new healthy and regular habits for your relationships, ensuring that you continue to thrive as a couple and individually.
Below are five habits that you should practice to keep your relationship healthy:
- Get to know your partner again and build a friendship: Life experiences change us as individuals and therefore it is likely that our needs and wants have changed over the years. Its time to start ‘re-learning’ about each other, from the simple interests to the more intimate thoughts/ideas. This activity can strengthen your friendship as a couple and allow you to explore shared interests.
- Celebrate your mutual wins: In the busy nature of life we often forget to celebrate our wins as a couple or to remind each other what we mutually set out to achieve together. For example, did you eventually buy that dream house that you were both working for? Did your eldest child achieve academic success? Did you survive that first family road trip? Recognizing the achievements you have had as a team can create a sense of satisfaction and reassurance for your relationship.
- Understand each other’s values and create mutual respect: Core values drive our decisions and direction in life. In a partnership it is important to understand if our values are shared or different, as a misunderstanding of your partner’s values can often cause relationship conflict. Take time to explore each other’s ‘set of values’, gaining an understanding of what you each expect in family life, career goals, marriage, spirituality etc., so that this knowledge can shape your future decisions in life.
- Book a date night: It’s a cliché but dedicated date nights (or days) actually work! Date nights give significance to making time for each other so that you can engage in deeper conversations, share interests and can encourage an element of fun in your relationship.
- Have the “tough” conversations and don’t leave ‘elephants’ in the room: Communication is vital to relationship well-being so when we stop talking, we stop investing in our relationship development. Leaving important issues ‘unsaid’ can lead to resentment, anxiety and mistrust. If you find it hard to start a conversation about a tough issue, use other ways of communicating such as emails, letters or creative approaches to open up to each other. Make sure you approach these conversations calmly and with honesty, knowing that you may not solve the issue immediately but that small steps towards resolution is a positive win for your relationship.
Are you a yes person? A people pleaser?
Are you the one who always listens to other people?
Do you seem to miss your turn receiving support? Do you take on more than you can manage?
Boundaries help us maintain relationships, and maintain our authenticity – or our connection to ourselves.
Agreeableness is a scale that we all fall on somewhere. Being agreeable, or self-sacrificing can be a strength, but it can also be a weakness. You may be really good at listening but have a hard time expressing your own needs and desires.
Why is it a strength? You have a lot of empathy, you are attuned to the feelings of others and you know how to make them happy. People like you. You may also achieve a lot by virtue of taking on a lot.
However – A strength overdone can become a weakness!
How is it a weakness? People who can’t say No may build up anger and resentment towards themselves and others. You may not even realise this, but it can manifest as depression, burnout, emotional numbness, headaches or other bodily pain. Pleasing everyone else can leave you feeling stressed and unfulfilled.
Patterns of agreeableness often have their origins in our childhood. We may learn to suppress our authenticity, our true feelings and needs, to maintain a close relationship with our family members. This is a very adaptable coping strategy for a little person, however, it can lead to having unhealthy boundaries as an adult.
How can you develop healthier boundaries?
- Tune into your body – what is it telling you? What is your gut feeling about being asked to do x y z?
- Tune into your needs and desires. Write them down. What is it that you really want in your life?
- Turn your compassion for others’ needs to express and be heard, inward. Start listening to yourself as well as you listen to others.
- Identify what it is your inner critic has to say – probably something that makes you feel guilty for saying No. Write a rebuttal and practice delivering it regularly.
- Identify the areas and people you find it most difficult to say No to. Maybe it’s your boss, or a parent. Delay your response. Don’t say yes straight away. A line such as ‘I’ll get back to you’, gives you some time to prepare to say NO.
- Practice expressing your needs and desires with people you trust. What is the outcome for you, for them, for your relationship?
- Support – have someone who understands you, encourages you, validates you, and helps hold you accountable for practicing these things.
Developing healthier boundaries doesn’t mean you have to give up your strength. You can develop more flexibility and control of this attribute, and having healthy boundaries can become your new strength. Our therapists can help you understand your patterns of interaction and how to break free from stressful and unfulfilling relationships.
Self Soothing to reduce stress and anxiety AND improve physical health
Are you experiencing physical symptoms of stress or anxiety such as pain, fatigue, restlessness, unintentional weight loss or weight gain, digestion issues, nausea, ammenorrhea, sweating or insomnia?
Understanding the nervous system (and how to calm it) can help you manage these effects of stress on the body.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into 2 opposing systems – the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is the emergency system, also called the fight or flight response. It prepares the body for danger by shutting down the digestive system, speeding up the heart, increasing blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Unfortunately our bodies cannot differentiate between real and imagined stress, and this system which was designed to save our lives, can instead be activated in everyday situations such as a busy day at work. If this response is activated too regularly our health suffers. Our bodies are flooded with the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol, and our pain threshold goes down.
The other side of the coin is the parasympathetic, or the rest and digest system. This system works to recover from normal daily activities by activating digestion, decreasing blood pressure and slowing the heart rate and breathing. When this system is activated the body is relaxing, the muscles can repair and build strength, food can be digested, and we can sleep and reproduce.
So how can we calm our fight or flight response and activate our rest and digest system?
- Identify and work to eliminate triggers in your life. This is always an important step for long-term recovery and health.
- Slow your breathing. This tells your body that you are safe and signals it to relax. Incorporate breathing exercises and meditation into your daily routine. Try the 4, 2, 6 breathing technique – inhale in for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Slowly release tension in your body by tensing and then releasing the muscles. Start with the toes and slowly work your way up to the face. Yoga is also a helpful and mindful practice for this.
- Light exercise. Don’t overdo the exercise. Cardio can have the same effect on the body as stress – the heart rate is up and the sympathetic system is activated. Try a nature walk instead. Being in nature has been shown to actively control the sympathetic nervous system and decrease blood pressure.
- Physical touch. We are hard-wired to be soothed by physical touch, just like a baby being rocked. Massage is a great option for relaxation, and make sure you get lots of hugs from your loved ones. You can even self-soothe by hugging yourself!
- Self care. Everyone finds different things soothing. Discover what it is that works for you, and schedule time for this regularly. It might be music, crafts, surfing or spending time with friends. It is important to have fun too!
What goes in
- Consume warm liquids and foods. This soothes the digestive system, which works to maintain body temperature. Ice cold drinks or foods make your gut work harder to regulate its temperature.
- Reduce caffeine. Limit your coffee to one a day, or cut it out completely. Coffee stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.
- Get enough sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene, and think about how you can priortise a good nights sleep. This might mean revisiting number 1 and considering lifestyle changes.
- Self compassion. Last but not least, self-soothing is all about being kind to yourself. Notice whether an internal critical voice is getting in the way of any of these steps, and think about what you would say to a friend who was struggling with stress or anxiety. Chances are, you are much harder on yourself than anyone else. Create some positive affirmations, or a mantra that reminds you you are doing your best, and remind yourself of this everyday.
Don’t punish your child for expressing how they feel.
“Is that your angry face?
I better not see that next time I look at you!”;
“Don’t be angry with me, I won’t have that!”;
“Don’t look so sad, cheer up, it’s not that bad”,
“Stop crying, there’s nothing to be upset about!”
Children have feelings too, don’t punish your child because you’re uncomfortable with negative feelings, because the ramifications (for you and them) are far too significant.
Too often parents punish children simply for having an emotion such as anger (or dismiss and deny their child’s more negative passive emotions such as sadness). They don’t like what the child is expressing or feeling, so they crack down hard on the emotion (but oh boy, is this a mistake that will come back to bite them, particularly if it’s done insidiously).
Discipline your children for their problematic behaviour only and NOT for their emotions (e.g., not for voicing their opinions, being grumpy, having an ‘unpleasant’ emotional outburst, or even stomping their feet and saying “I hate you”). Cracking down with harsh disapproval is an easy, knee-jerk reaction which will only get you in hot water down the track. Of course, if you respond this way routinely, your child will (sadly) learn to hold things back and internalise how they feel. This will ‘look’ like good, compliant behaviour on the surface, but it’s not, it’s simply a coping strategy that they learn in order to please you and avoid your disapproval (Yes, that’s right, parental disapproval is something that the majority of children will do almost anything to avoid).
So when parents ‘shut children down’ by punishing their child’s emotion, they are not actually creating a well-mannered, compliant little person, they are actually creating a shame-ridden and emotionally stifled child (who BTW is more likely to develop future emotional & relational problems). Let’s be straight, this is not permissive or Laissez-faire parenting where anything goes and you encourage primal screaming just because the shop ran out of their favourite ice-cream. This is simply about knowing the difference between being an emotionally dismissive or disapproving parent and one who chooses to help their child work through and cope with their emotional experiences (even with emotions you are uncomfortable with because of your own upbringing).
Emotion Coaching (John & Julie Gottman), is one way to respond to these issues. Emotion coaching is a parenting style which has been proven to greatly assist children is developing emotional regulation skills necessary for successfully navigating the ups and downs of life. The steps in Emotions Coaching will actually get you closer to your child rather than further away (which is right where punishing kids for their emotions will get you). It’s also worth noting here that there is no stock-standard ‘way’ to respond to a child’s misbehaviour. A parent’s response needs to be mindful and intentional, not simply a blanket response – to all misbehaviour, in all settings.
If you punish (i.e., with punitive, dismissing or rejecting behaviours) your child for having or expressing an emotion that you don’t like (especially with any regularity), then your child will develop a strong emotional inhibition schema – as well as other early maladaptive schemas. Such a child will learn that some emotions are ‘unacceptable’ or bad and destructive and they will gradually learn to suppress those emotions, firstly when around you and then later with others.
They will also learn that certain parts of themselves are to be ‘hidden’ and unacceptable to you and other people. All this will lead to poor emotional regulation and the belief that they cannot tolerate strong or difficult emotions (this is a very problematic outcome indeed, as these factors often play a role in adolescent suicidal and self-harming behaviours). These kids will eventually learn to fear their emotions and to respond to difficult emotions with faulty or even dangerous coping strategies. Apart from all this, they will also begin to harbour resentments towards you and they will become more selective in what they reveal to you and share with you.
So, like you (and all of us), kids have bad days and they often have ‘negative’ emotions and express them in ways we don’t like. The way to deal with this is to teach them that emotions (in themselves and in their pure form) are real and acceptable and cannot harm them. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ emotion. All emotions are temporary – they come and go. All emotions also have a function (or purpose) to them and an accompanying ‘action urge’ (a desire to act out a behaviour, whether that be positive or negative). The action of course is different from the actual emotion, it is not part of the emotion. The urge is part of the emotion, but the action (behaviour) comes afterwards. It’s the action or behaviour that we can learn to resist, control and alter (children learn this gradually between the ages of 3 – 7 usually). The actual feelings/emotions themselves, are less in our control.
‘Emotion Coaching’ is definitely the way to go in conjunction with intentional (tailored) responses to misbehaviour and limit setting when necessary. You have to know and understand your child’s unique temperament to appropriately discipline them. This is what’s missing in many parent’s approaches to discipline. Using one, single standard response to misbehaviour is often not the way to go. The interaction between a child’s temperament and a parent’s response is paramount. That’s the tricky part, as it can be a delicate interplay of responses not observable to an onlooker.
When we emotion coach our children, we work with whatever emotion is there, in order to teach important self-awareness and emotion-regulation skills. So called ‘negative’ emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, fear, frustration) are not things to be scared of, shut down or dismissed by parents. Rather, they can be great opportunities to ‘connect’ with your child and help them grow. There are 5 basic steps to emotion coaching (discussed in different blogs). Used appropriately, emotion coaching can bring you emotionally closer to your child and provide the essential building blocks for an on-going enriching relationship with them.
For help with these issues and for training in Emotion Coaching (the Gold Standard in Parenting) contact us to speak with one of our helpful psychologists.
Dr Gemma Gladstone
There is no time-frame, stages or steps to grief. With regards to bereavement, a person does not experience linear or sequential stages (they may of course, but this is rarely the case). The actual experience of grief is a lot more haphazard. Perhaps people intuitively like the idea of stages because it communicates to us an anticipated ‘end stage’.
However, there is no final ‘resolution’ or process one goes through in order to reach an end-point of ‘no grief’. This is a human view that we have tried to impose upon the experience of grief, fueled by the idea that one goes through the process of a painful, unpleasant experience only to come out the other-side having ‘let go’ of the pain.
There is a significant cultural expectation, at least in the West, that people should have a certain amount of time to process their loss (i.e., 3 months, 6 months, one-year?). After which time, it is often expected that a person should have somehow completed a period of ‘mourning’ and their grief should have ‘resolved’.
This idea is generally not helpful for the bereaved person and can leave them feeling confused and critical of their own grief and their ability to heal. At some level, people expect others to ‘get over it’ earlier than people can realistically heal from their loss. As a therapist, I’ve lost count of how many times a client has asked me a variation of these questions: “Is what I am feeling normal?” “Should I be feeling this sad for this long?” “My husband/friend/colleague etc wants to know when I’ll be over it”.
Anyone who has ever lost someone special knows that we don’t just get over it! At times of great stress, like the death of a loved one, we need to be connected to supportive others. We need supportive companionships and some degree of secure social bonds in order to grieve effectively.
But is there a usual course of grief?
Grief triggers an instinctive mourning process. Mourning is the process by which acute grief evolves (over time), as information about the finality and consequences of the death are integrated into the person’s attachment working models and life goals and plans are redefined accordingly.
The process of so called ‘normal grief’ is marked by movement towards acceptance of the loss and a gradual alleviation of the initial ‘symptoms’ of acute grief – as well as the ability for continued engagement in daily life. However, this transition is not linear. It is normal for the emotional pain of grief to be felt sporadically, with some days experienced as deeply sorrowful and painful and other days experienced as calm with an absence of intense negative emotion.
Acute grief gradually transforms into integrated grief (i.e., a grief that we live with and grow around). The grief remains – it never goes away, but we are able to integrate it into our life’s and who we are. We are essentially able to see our lives and live our lives without the lost person being present as they once were. Integrated grief often involves finding a new way to relate to the lost person. It also involves finding new meaning, a new or renewed sense of purpose and new goals for ourselves – over time.
In its true form grief is not an illness and grief in its pure form is not like depression. It can share so called symptoms with depression for example, but it is fundamentally different. The growing around grief model (discussed by Lois Tolkin) is a more realistic way to understand grief and clients often identify significantly with this view of grief – it also helps takes the pressure off.
In this regard, the grief is not necessarily resolved or completed, but it is experienced as qualitatively different. The grief may be still there, but the person is able to function around it. That is, the grief is not front and centre all the time. It tends to come to the surface when activated in some way (e.g., taking about the person in a conversation), but it is no longer experienced as acute grief.
So what is a ‘good outcome’ when it comes to grief?
What are some signs that a person has integrated or accommodated the loss into their lives? The list below includes several features of ‘integrated’ grief.
- The bereaved person gradually becomes more involved in life
- They begin to find renewed meaning in life
- They may develop a renewed sense of purpose
- Their ability to enjoy life again gradually returns
- There may be a strong appreciation for the (lost) person together with an appreciation for one’s own life
- The memories of the loved person become varied & more positive (eg., diverse memories spanning the whole relationship with that person) and not just about the end-of-life period or death-related memories.
- A continued ‘relationship’ with the loved person is maintained (e.g., photographs, community, relationships, included in conversation, prayer, meditation etc). Meaning that a new way of continuing the bond and relating to the deceased person has been established or at least partially established.
Key points to remember when relating to a bereaved person
- We don’t move through neat stages of grief only to come out the other side being “grief-free”. It just doesn’t usually work like that.
- A common assumption is that someone’s period of mourning should be shorter than it is.
- There is a common human tendency to want people to be “all better” – we want them to have ‘resolved’ and achieved ‘closure’ for their grief.
- People have very different grief experiences – we cannot compare or assume someone’s course of grief and mourning.
- Grief is already an isolating experience. Show up for someone who is grieving & always acknowledge their loss. Be present. Have ‘big ears and a small mouth’.
- Offer specific help and support. Bereaved people often experience difficulty in initiating connect with others. Instead of saying “let me know if I can do anything for you”. You could say “will you be free Friday, why don’t I bring over some dinner over?”.
What not to say to someone who is grieving
It is often difficult to know what to say to support bereaved family members, friends, work colleagues or acquaintances. Sometimes people say things to calm or reassure themselves and they unwittingly invalidate & dismiss the person’s loss.
- Avoid unhelpful “At least” Examples: “At least she didn’t suffer”; “at least he died peacefully”; “at least you have other children”; “at least he died doing something he enjoyed”
- Avoid talking about your own grief too soon.
- Avoid comparing their grief to other people’s grief or loss circumstances.
- Avoid encouraging them to ‘get on with their lives” by saying something like “John would not have wanted you to be sad”.
You don’t really have to have something clever or profound to say. A simple “I’m so sorry…” together with your presence and general support is often the best comfort you can provide someone who is grieving.
We often think of grief as the psychological response to loss but it is certainly more like a full-bodied response, especially for the bereaved person (i.e., a person who is experiencing the death of a loved one).
Grief is an inescapable part of life and an important part of the human condition. The amount of ‘pain’ experienced is generally commensurate with the degree of loss and therefore the degree of love and attachment we feel for the person we have lost.
The loss of a loved person is the most obvious form of loss but there are numerous types of losses we can face in our lifetimes: career loss, financial loss, lost outcomes, loss of friendships/relationships, loss of fertility, loss of hope, loss of health/independence, the aging process, loss of ‘a future’, loss of one’s dreams for the future, loss because life didn’t turn out how we had planned!
Grief is so closely tied up with what it is to be a human being living in a changing and imperfect world. There might be many micro-moments of grief throughout life (ie.,disappointments) as well as more distinct and painful grief experiences such as the death of a much loved person.
There are many models of grief and bereavement, different theorists emphasise different ‘tasks’ or ‘phases’ involved in grief work. They all understand grief to involve a painful emotional adjustment which takes time and with no specific time limit. This appears to be universally true, although each person’s grief experience will be unique. Grief is indeed a universal experience but there are very unique aspects to each and every loss.
When someone close to us dies, our entire emotional and social landscape is changed. The way we grieve will be influenced by a myriad of factors. Therefore we cannot compare people as each person’s individual history will influence the course and nature of their grief.
What is Acute Grief?
During the initial weeks and months, the bereaved person may be very preoccupied with the most recent memories of their loved one (eg, remembering them being sick and other ‘death-related’ memories). Over time however, there is usually a gradual return of more distance memories of the person, including both positive and neutral memories. This process tends to occur naturally.
Acute grief is not a disorder or a psychiatric condition, although there may be many ‘symptoms’ which are similar to those with depression or PTSD. The acute phase of grief is the initial intense response to the loss which encompasses an array of internal experiencing and outward behaviours. It is important not to pathologize grief itself as all these responses are normal. The acutely bereaved person can experience: shock, disbelief, emotional numbness, panic, fear, insecurity, confusion, sleep and appetite disturbances, physical pain, sadness, sorrow, intense emotions, longing, disengagement from ongoing life, insistent thoughts of the lost person and many others. Acute grief is generally ‘time limited’ (in that these intense feelings and
experiences naturally subside over-time – they become less intense). Acute grief does tend to come in waves and bursts. It is important not to block or deny your feelings of loss. You need to feel the pain of the loss in order to begin to heal.
What is Integrated Grief?
The process of so called ‘normal grief’ is marked by movement towards acceptance of the loss and a gradual alleviation of the initial ‘symptoms’ of acute grief – as well as the ability for continued engagement in daily life. However, this transition takes time and is not linear. It is normal for the emotional pain of grief to be felt sporadically, with some days experienced as deeply sorrowful and painful and other days experienced as calm with an absence of intense negative emotion.
The acute grief gradually transforms into integrated grief (i.e., a grief that we live with and grow around). The grief remains within us – it never goes away or ‘resolves’ as such, however though its gradual acceptance we being to integrate it into our life’s, who we are and our future.
This means that we are gradually able to see our lives and live our lives without the lost person being in our life as they once were. Integrated grief often involves finding a new way to relate to the lost person and keeping some form of ‘connection’ with your loved one. Many people find a way to continue a special bond with the lost person and this can be very useful and healing. The process of integration also involves finding new meaning, a new or renewed sense of purpose and some new life goals for ourselves.
Mostly, grief is processed in a way whereby the bereaved person moves and changes with the grief and all the life changes that have resulted from the loss (i.e., life after the loss of a loved one). We know that someone is ‘processing’ the loss, if they are generally non-avoidant of the pain (most of the time). The term, “the only way out is through” is a very apt sentiment when it comes to grief. So non-avoidance and allowing oneself to feel all the emotions and pain of the loss is paramount to one’s ability to accept the loss, process the loss and integrate the loss into their life.
What is Complicated Grief?
Recent studies suggest that complicated grief (also referred to as ‘prolonged grief disorder’ and ‘persistent complex bereavement disorder’) affects around 10 – 15 % of bereaved individuals. These people’s grief does not appear to evolve over time and they continue to experience distressing acute grief symptoms for a prolonged period. They will also feel as though they are stuck in their grief and admit to feeling unable to cope with the loss. It is very hard for them to see a future for themselves without the lost person. Simply put, the grief becomes ‘complicated’ or derailed because the person unwittingly blocks the emotional processing necessary to integrate the grief. They do this because the reality of the loss is simply too painful and catastrophic that they cannot allow themselves to fully feel it and acknowledge all its ramifications (eg, secondary losses, changes to life as they know it).
Thoughts, beliefs and behaviours can get in the way and actively block the experience of grief, stopping the person from feeling the pain of the loss and blocking acceptance of their new reality. The lost loved one is still very much the focus of the person’s inner world (unlike inhibited or delayed grief where the person has shut down most of the thoughts and reminders of the deceased person). In complicated grief reactions, the person is thinking and ruminating on their lost loved one and the circumstances around the death. There are usually lots of thoughts and
around “what if…” “if only I…..” “if only they….”. Regret, guilt and self-blame are very common thought processes. There may often be a sense of having ‘failed’ the lost person – especially if the loved one is a child.
These complex cognitions and beliefs and the person’s preoccupation with them, keep the person from actually doing the work of emotionally processing the loss. These complex thought processes, inhibit the necessary emotional processing.
Common components of complicated grief:
Thoughts and ruminations are often related to: care-giver self-blame and guilt
Unhelpful Behaviours: either distinct ongoing avoidance of reminders or constant over-engagement with reminders
Emotion dysregulation: Over or under-engagement with emotional material/emotions; not taking respite from painful emotions (not allowing oneself to experience positive emotions)
Inadequate restoration processes: lack of sleep; nutrition; exercise; positive emotions
Lack of emotional/social support or contact with active egregious influences (eg, family disputes)
There may also be a co-occurring psychological disorder (eg, depression or PTSD), that needs treatment
Therapy can and does help!
Treatment for complicated grief can include experiential interventions like chair-work and imaginal dialogues. These methods have proved to be highly successful at helping people resolved painful emotions and beliefs tied up with the loss.
Don’t hesitate to seek therapy to help you deal with the trauma of the death of a loved one.
There is also no time limit for grief. It is common for people to suffer from loss feelings and sometimes complications years and decades after the loss of a loved person.
Whether you are experiencing complicated grief or not, therapy can assist you to
integrate your loss and work through and heal from the intense emotional pain of
grief. It is never too late to seek help for any kind of loss.
Why Schema Therapy Can Help You …..
Most people can benefit from Schema Therapy because we all have some degree of difficulty in our life which is linked to a schema. Everyone has schemas. Have you ever wondered why your emotional buttons get pushed, or why you seem to push other people’s buttons? Have you met people that really trigger a powerful emotional response in you? The answer is tied up in understanding your schemas, what they are, where they came from, and what or who triggers them. So gaining some insight around your schemas at an intellectual level firstly is helpful so you can have a framework for understanding your issues or problems. An experienced schema therapist will help you formulate your issues in a different way. Quite frankly, it is often the case that schema therapy is able to conceptualise your issues in new meaningful ways which differ significantly from previous therapies you might have tried. Schema therapy offers many people new hope when they have been previously told that they are beyond help or somehow ‘treatment-resistant’.
When schemas and/or modes are very strong and go unchecked or unchanged for a long time they become factors which play a very real role in the cause of emotional/psychological health problems like depression. By modifying your schemas, you can greatly reduce your vulnerability to future depression, clinical anxiety and other psychological issues. In particular, schema therapy is very useful for anyone with recurrent or long-standing mental health or psychological difficulties. Things like, multiple episodes or recurrent depression; depression which is difficult to shift; reoccurring negative events or persistent low self-esteem. It’s also very helpful for people with problematic romantic or family relationships and for people whose own personality styles tends to interfere with their well-being, relationships and general functioning.
Good examples of problems which are driven by schemas include: being a ‘self-sacrificer’ who can’t say “no” and becoming depressed or ill as a result; being attracted to ‘unavailable’ partners over and over again; expecting or anticipating that others will have control over you and carrying a lot of anger internally; expecting yourself to be perfect and not feeling good enough; feeling inferior to others; feeling inadequate and not able to stand on your own two feet; expecting loved ones to leave or disappoint you; being unable to trust other people; having volatile or difficult relationships or avoiding romantic relationships all together .
If you have noticed any type of recurring and unhelpful ‘pattern’ in your life, in relation to your mental health, work relationships or friendships, romantic relationships, stressful family dynamics or decisions you have made, then schema therapy is probably the best therapy for you! If you suffer from recurrent episodes of depression or if you have been told that you have ‘treatment resistant’ depression, then schema therapy is likely to help you in a way that other treatments have been unable to. If you have been told that you have Bipolar II disorder, problems with emotional regulation, urges to self-harm, or issues of addiction, then a dedicated attempt at schema therapy is likely to really help you.
You don’t have to have a serious mental health issue to benefit from Schema Therapy. It might be that you are curious about learning more about your personality and understanding why you do the things you do. Do you find it hard to ask for what you need? Are you the one always giving to others or do you guilty when you decide to take care of yourself? Have you noticed that you seem to be surrounded by Narcissistic people – at work, in your family of origin or in your friendships? Are you having trouble finding a healthy romantic relationship? Do you tend to have relationships with the same type of person? Do you tend to attract emotionally unavailable partners when all you are wanting is a secure relationship with a loving partner? Why does it seem so hard? Schema Therapy can often provide the answers you’ve been looking.
Parental Overwhelm – 4 helpful ways to keep your head above water:
It’s book week on Monday, the forms for Nippers are due, you need a babysitter this Saturday night and your daughter has broken her glasses…again!! If you’re a parent, you’ll be familiar with the seemingly never ending list of “To do’s”, the constant checking of the calendar for what you need to do next and all the “stuff” that needs to get done for and around our kids.
Whether it’s making a costume for the school play, helping out with homework or a project, birthday parties, play dates, weekend sport and after school activities, not to mention all the washing, food preparation and general life organising that has to get done, just to keep up with everything. This can all be very overwhelming!
So, how can you cope with all of this? How can you keep your head above water and manage it all so that the stress and anxiety doesn’t rub off on your lovely offspring, or effect your relationship, work and general wellbeing? The following are 4 helpful ways to deal with parental overwhelm and hopefully make the job of parenting a little less stressful:
- Make time to attend to yourself
- Get organised
- Your relationship
- Doesn’t have to be perfect
- Make time to attend to yourself and your own needs. It’s like when, on an aeroplane, they say “secure your own oxygen mask before you secure your childs”. If you can’t breathe, you can’t possibly be any help to them. So, take the time to breathe and check in with yourself. What do you need to do so that you are better able to cope with all the tasks that have to get done? It might be that you need to get some regular exercise, which will help you to better manage the stress or anxiety you may be experiencing. You might need to go and have a massage to help ease some of the tension you’ve been holding in your body. Make time to re-connect with yourself as a person (whatever that means for you), not only as a parent, so that you can fill your “cup” which will then mean that you have enough reserves to attend to your children and their needs, wants and associated admin.
- Work on getting organised. Make lists, prioritise them, diarise everything so that you don’t forget about it. Create a family calendar that you can share with your partner or whoever might also care for your child. Remember to get organised in your own life as well. Set aside time to do your own personal admin and where possible, outsource, delegate and share the load with your partner or other significant person in your childs life. You don’t have to be Superwoman/man and do it all by yourself.
- Make your relationship a priority. If you have a partner, make sure you make time for the two of you as a couple. People can quite easily fall into being “co-parents” and end up feeling like “flat mates” who just work together to manage all the child related work that needs to be done. So, make sure you have a regular “date night”, however often you can manage it, but ideally weekly or fortnightly, where the two of you can get together and remember who you are as a couple. Even if you don’t go out because babysitting is scarce, do something special at home, where you can re-connect and switch off from the daily pressures that can sometimes get in the way of spending quality time together. Think of it as an investment into your relationship, with the bonus of knowing that if you are happy as a couple, your kids will benefit too.
- Finally, give up the idea that you have to do everything or need to do it perfectly. It is so common for people to put unrealistically high standards onto themselves and sometimes onto their children too. This is not helpful and only adds to the sense of overwhelm you can feel when you are a parent. So, if you have to buy, or throw together a simple costume rather than painstakingly making an amazing creation by hand, thats okay!! If you need to order pizza or make eggs because you’ve had a crazily busy day and can’t fathom cooking a perfectly nutritious, delicious dinner, that’s okay too! Your kids will thank you for that as well.
If you have trouble with doing any of the above because you have a tendency not to look after your own needs and seem to always put others first, or can’t seem to let go of putting those very high expectations onto yourself, it may be that there are schemas and modes that are getting in the way of being able to do this (for more information on this talk to your therapist at the Good Mood Clinic). This is where therapy can be very useful, by helping to address the barriers to putting some of these coping practices into place.
Tips for coping during the first months with a newborn …
- Love and nurture your baby
- It’s okay to let things go
- Prepare meals in advance
- Accept sleep when you can
- Breastfeeding or not
- A crying baby
- Life is different now
- Ask for support
- Get help
- Saying no
- Mother’s group
- It’s okay not to be perfect
We all have an idea of the type of parent we would like to be. It might be something like being calm, in control and knowing what you are doing. I’ll be a natural at this, kids love me right? I’ll be like a baby whisper whose newborn will sleep, eat and grow like a dream. Sounds great but often it just doesn’t work that way, it might not come easily, quite the opposite as having a newborn is one of the biggest life changes that you will ever experience. Feeling stressed is a normal response to this change and the sleep deprivation you will likely have. Your baby just needs your love and nurture and doesn’t want a stressed mum or dad so here are some tips to help you through the first few challenging months:
- Smother your baby with love, nurturing, attention and cuddles. That’s your only job. You absolutely cannot give your little one too much attention
- Some days you won’t shower or get changed out of your pajamas and finding time to go to the toilet will be a struggle. It’s ok if the house looks like a bomb hit it.
You are raising a new person, that’s what’s important
- Prepare what you can in advance: stock your freezer / fridge with some prepared meals and cupboard with healthy snacks. These will be a godsend on the days you don’t have time to
even make toast or are sitting for hours holding a crying or feeding baby
- Babies are nocturnal, they are supposed to be awake during night. Try to accept this and grab a few minutes sleep or rest whenever they do, day or night. Rest, deep breathing or
mindfulness on an app such as Headspace can still be great to help you reset if you can’t sleep
- Breastfeeding can be really hard. Some babies take to it immediately, with others it’s difficult, painful and fraught with stress. It’s great if you can but ok if you don’t, it doesn’t make you any less a wonderful mum. Formula is great too
- When your baby cries hold him or her, comfort, cuddle, soothe, then comfort and cuddle some more. Repeat this and keep on repeating, deep breathing or counting your breaths can
help keep you calm. Sometimes you won’t know why your baby is crying so however much you try, you can’t make the tears stop, but it’s being comforted that matters. That’s often
how we feel when we cry – the other person can’t make it better but we just need to be held and loved Babies change, try to be flexible in the moment. What works one day beautifully might not work at all the next. Often once you have a routine they will go ahead and completely change what they do
- Understand that life is different now. Accepting that might mean you need to mourn your former life – the you who got to go out whenever you wanted, had a few seconds to reply to
messages from friends, finished a coffee or tea before it was stone cold, had adult conversations, got to go the toilet when you needed to etc. These things can come back, they just aren’t here now
- Ask for support, this is tricky stuff and all brand new. Don’t be shy in asking for help and be specific, ‘can you please mind the baby while I sleep for an hour?’ or ‘can you pick up these things from the supermarket for me?’. People are usually happy to help, especially if they have been there, they just usually don’t know how to help unless you tell them
- Seek support from professionals – your GP and a pediatrician who can be sources of trusted advice as opposed to Dr Google and forums. Reach out to your doctor or come see a
psychologist if you are feeling down or anxious. It’s really common after having a baby for both mums and dads and we have supported lots of lovely people through these difficult
- You don’t need to please anyone else. That might mean saying no to new visitors in the early days when you are just getting to know your little one as it’s precious time. It also means not listening to all that well meaning advice that people will offer (whether you ask or not)
- Go to mothers group. If you are lucky enough to get a good one, you will be surrounded by other mums or dads who feel like you do – scared, out of their comfort zone with no idea
what they are doing. Together you can laugh, cry, swap stories and advice and know that it’s not just you who feels like tearing your hair out at 2am. If you are really lucky you might
make some wise life long friends like I did. In fact my mothers group helped write these tips a few years down the track from having newborns
- You are human, you can’t be perfect, you won’t be perfect but you can be kind to yourself in the imperfect things you do. Remember, your baby just needs your love and nurture and
doesn’t want a mum or dad who is trying to be perfect or beating themselves up
Psychologist, Clinical Psychology Registrar
MPsych(Clin), BSc(Psych)Hons, GradDipPsych, BEc