Useful Information

8 ways to build healthy relationships

Building healthy relationships begins with being kind to yourself. Having a level of self-awareness and insights into your own past, as well as present thoughts and feelings, enables you to represent yourself in the world with dignity and respect. This is the first step to creating healthy relationships with others.

Self-awareness means the ability to identify and recognise, in the moment, the things, people and places that trigger automatic unhelpful reactions. Noticing these reactions means you are able to identify your default patterns which may be:

  • an automatic negative inner critic that puts you down.
  • the reaction of justifying your own thoughts, feelings, or behaviours, and blaming others.
  • noticing habitual ways of reacting by withdrawing, going silent or becoming angry, or stubbornly digging your heels in.
  • the need to get out of your skin by using externals – substances, additions, perfectionism, self-harm, risky behaviours including promiscuity or stealing etc.

Being kind to yourself is the first step towards change. Having self-compassion for your reactions, rather than beating yourself up, opens up the possibility of noticing how you are actually feeling, what you are really thinking, and defining what your needs are in the here and now. What can you do for yourself to feel better? How might you be kind to yourself?

Self-care, self-compassion, and empathy leads to a lowering of self-condemnation, as well as helping you to stop condemning others. Being able to accept love for yourself, giving yourself personal space and time for your own needs, attending to personal health, well-being and the building of trusting friendships leads to being able to handle the stresses of everyday life with more ease. Strengthening good friendships will lead to looking forward to social events and having fun. Finding the courage to know how you feel, and bravely expressing that to others, will help in feeling connected to others who care for you. All this strengthens the motivation for making future plans filled with hope and possibility.

So, what are the qualities needed to maintain self-care and build healthy relationships?

1. Be your own good listener. Really listen to yourself, how you are feeling and what you are thinking, and discovering what it is you need. Then, be a good listener for others, letting them know you have heard them and empathise.
2. Trusting in yourself, and respecting your thoughts, feelings, personal boundaries, and privacy, and doing the same for others.
3. Offering yourself and others emotional security by being dependable and having the expectation that others will be dependable in return.
4. Providing yourself physical security – expect to live in a non-threatening environment and maintain a healthy family routine.
5. Provide consistent discipline with children, providing appropriate age-related boundaries, clear limits, and expectations. Use discipline for instruction only and not for punishment.
6. Participate in the lives of others giving them time and expecting time to be given in return.
7. Have an affirming, encouraging attitude. Allow others to disagree with you and notice the differences between you, whilst respecting their opinions.
8. Show affection and expect affection in return.
Building healthy relationships is a matter of intention, of planning how to put in place the above ‘ways of being’. It takes practice. Keep at it and you will find that you have built the healthy relationships you have been longing for.

7 simple ways to reduce anxiety on a day to day basis

One of the most common things I get asked is for tips and tools to deal with anxiety on a day to day basis. These are not long-term solutions as they will not help you explore your anxiety and work out what your triggers are, but they are short-term tools that may help when having a panic attack or when feeling particularly anxious. Not all methods work for everyone so it is best to try out a few things to find out what works best for you. It is also important to remember that many tips to help reduce anxiety will not offer an immediate fix. Often, you need to practice these tips and tricks over numerous weeks before you start to see a positive effect.

Seven top tips to reduce daily anxiety

1. Put your panic into a time frame

When feeling anxious or having a panic attack, one of the first things I would recommend is to remind yourself that it won’t last forever. Put your panic into a time-frame. Remember that you’ve felt this way before – the feeling went away and it will do so this time as well. By doing this, the anxiety often loses some of its power and you can relax a little more.

2. Distraction techniques

Distraction techniques can be very helpful when feeling anxious, whether it’s a cuddle with your pet or going to a friend’s house. Often when feeling anxious, the instinct is to want to be alone where the anxiety can grow. If you can push yourself to find a healthy distraction it can really be beneficial.

3. Talk to your anxiety

One tip I find to be one of the most useful, even though it might sound strange, is to talk to your anxiety. If a particularly anxious thought is popping into and consuming your mind, I like to acknowledge it and say “Ok, I hear you, but not today thank you”. Often ignoring your anxiety and trying to pretend it’s not there can make it grow and further consume your mind. By acknowledging that anxiety is there but denying it power, you may feel less anxious.

4. Meditation

Meditation is a great aid if you’re feeling anxious, particularly if you struggle with your anxiety when sleeping. Meditation videos are readily available through a simple YouTube search, from guided meditations to calming and relaxing music. When sleeping it can be hard to switch the mind off, and meditation videos can be a healthy, calming distraction whilst guiding you into a more peaceful sleep.

5. Write your thoughts down

Another top tip that is useful if you have difficulty sleeping, especially if it’s caused by not being able to stop worries rushing through your head, is to write your thoughts down. The psychological effect of this is that the mind stops reminding you of the anxious thought. Once your thoughts are on a piece of paper the mind knows they’re stored somewhere else, so can begin to relax. So from to-do lists or random thoughts that you may never read again, writing what’s in your head down can be surprisingly useful in aiding a good night’s sleep.

6. Deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing techniques can be highly effective especially if having a panic attack.

The one I find the most effective is the four-seven-eight breathing exercise.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four
  • Hold your breath for a count of four
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of four
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle.

7. Talk about your anxiety with a friend

If you have a friend or family member that you feel comfortable with and trust, then talking about your anxiety can really diminish its effect on you. Often being able to say how you’re feeling out loud and share what’s making you feel anxious can take away some of the anxiety’s power. Sharing your thoughts with someone can often make the pressure of your anxiety feel less, as it feels like the anxiety is shared.

Alcohol addiction – crossing the invisible line

Alcohol can have a powerful influence on many of us. It quietens the mind and relaxes us after the stress of a long, hard day’s work. It can make time with friends or family more fun, and make social gatherings much easier, but when does someone’s use of alcohol become a problem?

Maybe you notice that you use more alcohol than other people do, or you start spending more money on alcohol than you used to. You may notice that you start to feel uncomfortable or uneasy about how much alcohol you are using, but you try to hide it or even dismiss it. You may only intend to “have a couple”, but end up getting very drunk. You tell yourself that this “won’t happen again next time” but it does, and this becomes more frequent. You may ask yourself – why does this keep happening? You don’t really know why, and you may even start to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as sweating when not drinking, or through decreased use. You might be thinking about alcohol more often, even when you are not using it. You may even start to isolate yourself more, and your relationships or employment may start to suffer because of your use of alcohol.

Do you recognise a voice within you that tells you and convinces you that there is nothing to worry about? That voice may tell you that just one drink will be okay and then you’ll be good. This can be a sign that you are starting to lose control of your use of alcohol, and addiction is present. If alcohol is starting to affect your daily living and quality of life, then this can also be a signal that you need to act and ask for help. But remember, that voice will tell you that you don’t need to worry, that you don’t need help, and that everything is fine.

Over the years, addiction has been described in a variety of different ways – a lack of willpower, being morally weak, having difficulty living in the real world, a physical illness, and a spiritual disease. If you’ve had the experience of being confronted with active addiction, then you may have many more ways of defining this destructive force. However, addiction can also be described in the following way:

Virtually all human beings have a deep need to feel happy, whole, and to have peace of mind. At times in our lives, most of us find this wholeness, peace and happiness, but then it floats away, only to return at another time. When it subsides, we feel sadness and even a slight sense of grief. This is one of the normal cycles of life, and it’s not a cycle we can control” (Nakken, 1996, P.1)

We can try and help these cycles along, but mostly they are uncontrollable, and all of us need to go through them. We can either accept these cycles and learn from them, or fight against them, searching instead for elusive contentment and happiness.

Addiction can be seen as an attempt to control these cycles. When addicts use a particular chemical or behaviour to produce a desired mood change, they believe they can control these cycles, and to begin with they can. Addiction, at its most basic level, is an attempt to control and satisfy this desire for contentment and happiness, but addiction is cunning, insidious, and subtle, and seduces its victims into a place that can progress into an illness which is slowly and unconsciously in constant development. The pathway of addiction has a beginning, a middle and an end. There is perhaps a more fun beginning, but at some point there is an invisible line that is crossed, and someone will move from recreational or social use to addictive use. This is the middle part which can go on for years, where someone will try to control their drinking or quit without success and will end up using more as tolerance builds and the stress of addiction increases. Negative consequences will become more frequent, and you can become more and more deceptive and dishonest with yourself and others. Addiction then moves towards an endpoint of total loss of control, pain and misery, and even death.

The later stages of addiction is where life just breaks down, the addict has lost total control, and is in utter denial. The addict’s life will literally start to collapse under the tremendous stress caused by ever-increasing pain, fear, shame, guilt, and anger that has built up over time from constant abuse. What brought relief and pleasure in the beginning has now gone, but the obsession and compulsion to keep using alcohol has not. There is a point where a person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and finally physically, breaks down under the stress and pain produced by addiction. This is a terrifying place to be, and it is not living but merely existing. It is a dark, despairing and lonely place, and often death feels appealing just to end the misery. The user will often just be drinking to feel more stable and normal, and to keep intolerable and severe life-threatening withdrawal symptoms at bay. The addict just doesn’t care about themselves or others anymore. Jobs are lost, people are in debt or have legal issues, marriages and relationships are gone, or strained to the point of dysfunction, homelessness may occur – addiction destroys lives and the consequences are endless!

Our society sees alcohol use as a normal and socially acceptable thing to do. This for many people is okay, but not for someone who is addicted, because this encourages a minimising and normalising of their alcohol use and can prevent or delay someone from seeking the help that they need. Some people see addiction as a lifestyle choice and a pleasurable experience, but it is really not. It is relentless, repetitive, painful and utterly life-changing in only negative ways.

However, recovery is possible, and there is light to be found amongst the darkness.

Sinking to the lowest point, or what’s known as “rock bottom”, is often where we are given the “gift of desperation” and we are faced with making a decision – “do I want to live?” or “do I want to die?”.

If you are reading this and in that dark place, or even just noticing that there might be signs of a problem with alcohol, then I hope you now choose to live! For me, addicts are usually wounded or unhappy people but have used alcohol to numb or suppress their unhappiness. You haven’t done anything wrong – you’ve just learned a way to survive life – but unfortunately it can only last for so long.

Recovery from addiction is about reconnecting with reality, relationships and the world around you. It is also looking at it as a re-birth, a second chance, and definitely an opportunity to create a brand new life. Recovery is about re-discovering and understanding yourself better. To recover means “to get back, to find or identify again” and “retrieve our true nature” – to become the person you always wanted to be.

Starting to work through what may be troubling you beneath the surface begins a journey of transformation and healing. What interests me when engaging with someone is – has this person lost control? What is fuelling that person’s addiction? Addiction needs fuel to keep it going, so what is that fuel? Alcohol use can be seen as an avoidance strategy to hide from the pain or truth of something. The addiction is communicating something that the person themselves feels unable to express, or is not in their conscious awareness. So what is their pain and suffering?

This is not an easy pathway and takes honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, dedication and a commitment to change. It is also not just about abstaining from alcohol. It requires a total lifestyle change. I would encourage anyone out there who is battling with an addiction to seek help, because there is a way out, and you’re not alone. Taking a risk in seeking some counselling/therapy is a way of starting that journey, and acts as a safe vessel for change. There is a life beyond alcohol, and you can get it with belief, determination and the right support.

The five stages of grief:

1) Denial

In this stage, Utter disbelief and ruminating thoughts. We are engulfed by feelings of shock, in addition we struggle to make sense of events and feeling numb is commonplace. It can feel like our world has become meaningless and life is overwhelming.

Trying to get through each day can feel insurmountable.

However, at this stage denial and shock can be positive and offer benefits, it allows us to put a sense of distance between us and the enormity of the loss: Because we are not yet fully in touch with these emotions, this distance, makes it easier to pace our feelings of grief,

There are hidden benefits in denial.

It is a defense mechanism, and I believe that it is our brains way of letting in only as much as we can handle at the time. It serves to protect us; As the reality of the loss is accepted, we begin the healing process, fortuitously.

Although I mentioned earlier that stages do not necessarily run consecutively and you may not pass through them all, when the denial stage starts to fade, yet the feelings that were denied begin to emerge. You may find yourself being faced by the devastating pain that lies beneath denial.

2) Anger

Anger is a normal and natural part of the grieving and healing process. It is not always part of everyone’s experience, and some people feel uncomfortable with feeling anger. However, by being willing to feel our anger and not deny it, even though it may be intense is an essential and cathartic part of this stage. The more you allow yourself to feel anger, the more it can be released and processed.

There is a positive side of anger. It is that it enables us to channel energy, and helps to make some sense of our pain. At times this may feel easier than feeling the feelings behind it. When we experience a loss, we may have every right to be angry. Even if it sometimes, feels like it lacks justice or logic. The feelings that we feel are neither wrong or right, good or bad. They are what they are.

3) Bargaining

In this stage it can feel like we are navigating through a labyrinth of regret and sorrow filled thoughts.

Guilt prevails.

“What if I…” or “if only we had…” statements run in a circular fashion in our minds. Of course, we would give anything to have our loved one back. Some of us wish we had a time machine and want to go back in time and do things differently to change the permanence of the outcome… If only.

At this point it’s hard and important to exercise self-compassion. I’m not religious, but we are not God and we cannot change what has happened. Some people may lose their faith at this stage.

4) Depression

This stage forces us to focus on the present, it confirms that there is nothing that can be done to alter the permanence of the loss. This stage differs from a clinical or GP’s diagnosis of depression and it’s not a sign of illness. The overwhelming sadness is a natural and normal response to a tremendous loss.

It represents the emptiness we feel when we are living in reality and realise that our loved one is never coming back. In this stage, withdrawing socially and from life in general, feeling numb or feeling as if you are living in a fog is common. Facing the outside world might seem too much to manage. Avoiding others and feeling hopeless is typical of this stage. When loss finally sets in, depression is a natural phase to prepare us to accept the unacceptable.

5. Acceptance

At first, acceptance might simply mean more good days than bad ones, or perhaps an increased distance between their frequency. Sometimes being able to remember more memories without the distressing emotions shows that we are taking steps towards acceptance. The final stage of the grieving process does not mean that we have to forgive, excuse what has happened or retreat back into denial.

There is no expectation to feel all right about the loss of a loved one.

Attachment styles and how they affect relationships

Attachment styles and how they affect relationships, This stage focuses on accepting the permanent reality that our loved one is physically gone. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. We need to learn and adjust to living our life where our loved one is missing. A counsellor can also help to give extra support during this difficult time.

The way we relate to others, including our partners, is complex and multi-layered. It is developed over time, and although we can, to an extent, control what we say and do within our relationships, it is more difficult to understand why we behave and feel the way we do in relation to others.

One way of describing how we function within relationships is to talk about our style of ‘attachment’. How we attach to others affects everything from the partners we choose, to how well our relationships progress and how they end. Once we recognise our attachment patterns, we begin to understand our strengths and vulnerabilities within our relationships, including those with friends and family.

Attachment patterns are established in early childhood. The developing infant builds up a set of ‘models’ of themselves and others based on repeated patterns of interpersonal experiences with their caregiver (usually the mother and/or father). These repeated patterns continue to function as ‘internal working models’ for relationships in adulthood. The problem is that much of this is happening at an unconscious level and, as such, we remain unaware of these models, leaving us likely to repeat unhelpful patterns which may, in turn, leave us feeling frustrated and hurt.

The four different attachment styles

According to attachment theory, there are four attachment styles.

Secure attachment

Securely attached people tend to have satisfying relationships. Broadly speaking, their internal working model gives them a core sense of being safe and secure within themselves. These people feel more or less good about themselves and their capacity to be effective and create positive relationships. This can also be described as having good self-esteem. This allows them to believe that if they experience a rupture or a falling out with a friend or partner, it’s OK. The relationship can be repaired and things will get back on track between them.

Anxious-preoccupied attachment

These people are often described as being clingy and needy. Their internal working model does not provide them with a core sense of safety and security. They look to others to provide this for them.  Therefore, when they experience a rupture or falling out, they feel insecure and unsafe and in their attempt to feel secure and safe again, and they become demanding and possessive of their friends and partners because they cannot provide themselves with these feelings. Unfortunately, this behaviour tends to push people away – confirming their worse fear – and so the cycle is complete.

Dismissive-avoidant attachment

People with this style of attachment tend to distance themselves from others emotionally. Like people with an insecure-ambivalent attachment style, their internal working model does not provide them with a sense of safety and security, but they protect themselves from this by becoming ‘pseudo-independent’ and telling themselves that they do not need people. They have the ability to shut down emotionally and turn off their feelings, even in heated arguments with friends or partners. Their relationships often end because their friends and partners experience them as detached and unemotional.

Fearful-avoidant attachment

A person with this style of attachment fears being both too close or too distant from other people, and moves between these two states. They often feel overwhelmed by their feelings, over which they feel they have little control. Their internal working model is that in order to achieve any sense of safety and security, they need to move towards people, but that if they let people get too close they will get hurt. This leaves them in a state of confusion as to how to get their needs met, although this may not be entirely conscious. What they are conscious of are feelings of being trapped when they get close to people, and clinging to people who reject them. Their relationships can end up being abusive.

How psychotherapy can help

By becoming aware of your attachment style, over time you can challenge the insecurities and fears that have formed your ‘internal working model’, and develop new styles of attachment for sustaining more secure and satisfying relationships with others. This sounds easy but, in reality, it is more complex. Exploring and understanding your internal working model and resultant core state can be challenging, as defensive strategies that have come into play to protect you from psychological pain are hard to change and can leave you feeling vulnerable.

However, change is possible within a relationship of trust with a skilled and experienced therapist. On a very basic level, the relationship with the therapist provides a space where repeated patterns of interpersonal experience occur and can be thought about. The therapist will be able to stand back and reflect on what is happening between you with the intention of helping you identify the patterns which, so far, have remained unconscious and out of your awareness. In this way, over time, you are able to choose to do things differently, bit by bit.

How to find the right therapist

When it coming to finding the right therapist, there can be many things to take into consideration. It can initially feel overwhelming going through a directory of many names and faces, each one describing how they can help, sometimes in very simple terms, and other times in terms you may not quite understand.This is absolutely no fault of your own; sometimes there is an unknown language, regularly used within the world of psychotherapy but if you are a regular person looking into therapy like I once was, a lot of these terms may not mean much to you, particularly when you have never experienced any type of therapy before. This might seem overwhelming, but please do not let that deter you from reaching out for the help that you need.

There are many ways therapists are trained to work, with different theories underpinning how they might work with you. However, ultimately this will not determine whether they are the right therapist for you.

If you are quite well acquainted with therapy and the different types out there, you might have it in your mind that you are focused on one particular approach. I would suggest that it’s always good to keep an open mind and to not let theories and approaches become a distraction. What will matter is if you can build a good connection or working alliance with your therapist.

Research suggests that the most important aspect of having a good outcome of therapy is the relationship you are able to build with your therapist. What will be really important is that you feel confident in sharing and exploring your thoughts and feelings, without the fear of being judged.

When you are trying to find the right therapist, you can gage a fair amount by reading a therapist’s directory entry and their website. This will give you a sense of who they are, how they work, and whether you think they could be the therapist for you.

Exploring whether you are the right fit doesn’t have to end there. You can make contact by email or over the phone to see if you and the therapist is the right fit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – there is no such thing as a silly question, and it’s important you get to ask anything that may be worrying or concerning you.

It can be tempting to only think of the practicalities of seeing a therapist, such as who has the lowest fee, which therapist is the closest, and these are things to consider, but I don’t believe they should be the deciding factor on how you choose your therapist. In most scenarios, cheaper does not always mean better; it doesn’t necessarily mean worse either, it just means cheaper.