Boundaries In A Post Lockdown World

Boundaries are a marker, rule or guideline whose purpose is to say you can go this far and no further. Boundaries can be applied to our physical environment, physical self, mental self and emotional self. These can manifest as laws, physical boundaries, good working practices, guidelines or rules for particular settings, values, principles and determining what we will and won’t put up with from other people.

Boundaries help us to create spaces whether physically, mentally or emotionally where we feel safe. That feeling of safety arises from people acting in particular agreed ways, and when we, or they don’t, one or both of us can feel hurt. For instance on a physical level take the Highway Code, it sets out how all road users from pedestrians to truck drivers should behave. When we all follow the same guidelines it helps to prevent accidents, because it allows us to confidently predict the other’s behaviour even though we can’t communicate verbally. When we choose to not follow it and our behaviour becomes unpredictable it often ends with people getting hurt.

This happens on an emotional level too. If as a child or adult we experience a trauma caused by a person or situation, that experience of the event is usually painful because it has broken an internal or external boundary. That pain either physical or mental will cause us to adjust our behaviour, and sometimes in unexpected ways.

It might seem obvious that if you experience a car accident you may avoid or feel anxious about driving or being a passenger in a vehicle and it may take time to feel safe again. However in instances of childhood trauma and abuse, particularly when the person hurting you is your care-giver or parent, you will find ways to push down that fear and unease as your survival depends on your parent and maintaining a relationship with them. This can lead to behaviours such as denial, acting as if everyting is ok, minimising yourself and the trauma, self-blame etc.

Boundaries are vitally important for our health and wellbeing, so what does this have to do with lockdown easing?

Social-distancing in a cityscape
Social Distancing

We have been following guidelines and laws that have helped to keep people safe, and now that they are easing, some of us do not feel confident about the restricitons lifting. The 1 metre plus rule is vague, and inconsitency when introducing or applying boundaries can lead to anxiety and not feeling safe. In short some people are ok with a 1 metre distance others prefer 2 meters or more.

When we inhabit public spaces such as supermarkets, cityscapes or beauty spots we have to rely not just on ourselves following the boundaries, but also on the others that are co-habiting the space with us. Much like with the Highway Code the more predictable we are to each other the safer we are, and the safer we feel.

It was only a week ago I watched in the supermarket as someone reached over another customer to get a pack of cheese, the person whose spatial and mental boundaries had be broken, exclaimed angrily causing an arguement. This response was clearly driven by the fear of what could happen if the boundary of social-distancing is broken.

It is probable that this incident will cause a change in behaviour for one or both parties. The person whose boundaries were broken is likely to act in ways that are more defensive and have a greater feeling of anxiety about being in a similar situation. It is hoped the other party may be more mindful in future.

All healthy relationships need good boundaries whether they are with work colleagues, family, friends or people we inhabit space with at the supermarket. In this post lockdown world I would recommend following the largest distance possible unless you are invited to do otherwise by the setting, or people involved. It all comes down to respect, and kindness. Imposing yourself on others boundaries whether you agree or disagree with them, is a lack of courtesy and care that causes harm.

If you would like to think more about boundaries or need help feeling safe and calm in these anxious times, do get in touch.

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Mens Mental Health Matters

Men’s mental health and the challenges they face is an often neglected topic, especially around admitting the need for help, accessing help and accepting help. For instance: Did you know 1 in 8 men experience a common mental health problem (1)? Or that many men don’t seek help or talk with their loved ones about how they are feeling (2)?

Father walking with his children
Men’s Mental Health Matters

In my own research I have heard repeatedly that admitting you even have a mental health problem is hard, because of societal and cultural expectations. There is traditional view of masculinity that perpetuates the values of strength, control, being a support, a breadwinner; that a boy or young man learns to live up to. we’ve all heard phrases like ‘What are you crying for, you big girls blouse?’ ‘Man up!’ ‘Suck it up cupcake’ and others. These verbal cues teach the idea that expressing your feelings, thoughts and pain are not manly and therfore are unacceptable. We’d like to think they aren’t still with us, but the research shows, they stop men even admitting to themselves they have a problem.

Accessing help has pitfalls too. If you struggle to admit something by the time you ask for help a moderate problem could have easily become severe. This can mean by the time men access help they are more likely to use alcohol, drugs and self-harm as a coping mechanism (3). Mental health services are typically oversubscribed and have long waiting lists, with the delay in putting yourself forward added, men can feel quite desperate and resentful when help eventually comes. It is no surprise that in 2017, 75% of suicides were males (4) and that suicide represents the largest cause of death for men under 50 (5).  

Accepting help can be hard too, in my experience not only have men had a long journey to get help, once they do, knowing how to use it is hard. If you have never discussed your feelings before you may have to learn a whole new emotional language to articulate what’s going on inside of you. A major cause of men dropping out of therapy is not feeling understood or feeling judged.

So how can we help?

  • As parents we can help equip our boys and young men with the language and space to be able to discuss their feelings and to be heard.
  • We can ask our friends and colleagues how they are and after the usual ‘I’m fine’ ask how they really are.
  • If you notice a friend ‘drowning their sorrows’ make some time to talk with them.
  • If you seek professional help, know that a good therapist will help you to find the words to describe what you are feeling, and will not be judgemental.

Support is out there, and private therapy can help you to be seen sooner, and to work with someone you feel comfortable with. Many therapists, like me, offer a free first session to discuss what’s going on for you and to see if you feel comfortable working together. If you’d like to try it for yourself click the button below and book an appointment, or keep in touch by signing up for our bulletin.

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References

(1) McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital. Available at: http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748/apms-2014-full-rpt.pdf

(2) Mental Health Foundation (2016). Survey of people with lived experience of mental health problems reveals men less likely to seek medical support. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/survey-people-lived-experience-ment…

(3) Wylie, C., Platt, S., Brownlie, J., Chandler, A., Connolly, S., Evans, R… Scourfield, J. (2012). Men, suicide, and society: Why disadvantaged men in mid-life die by suicide. Samaritans. Retrieved from: https://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/press/Men%…

(4) Office for National Statistics (2017). Suicides in the UK: 2016 registrations. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2017registrations#suicides-in-the-uk

(5) Public Health England. (2017). Chapter 2: Major causes of death and how they have changed. Health Profile for England 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-profile-for-england/ch…

Tribal women or the benefits of sisterhood

Dedicated to Diane Evans, a good friend, cancer warrior and an amazing sister.

I recently read this interesting article on the benefits of sisterhood to women’s mental, emotional and physical health:

The premise is that women when stressed or anxious seem to ‘tend and befriend’, and don’t fit so neatly into the fight, flight or freeze response to threat like men seem to. The justification for this, is that much of the research into our fight or flight reflex has been historically carried out on male subjects, as women’s moods were seen to be too changeable, due to our ‘hormones’.

However this is the very difference we need to understand. When adrenaline levels rise due to stress in males, so does their testosterone, but in women their oestrogen and oxytocin levels rise. These differences can cause remarkably different responses, and not all of them useful.

For instance if a woman’s response of tending and befriending is provoked by domestic abuse, it can mean she stays attached to the person perpetrating the abuse long after it would be safer to leave. Yet this hormonal response makes much sense out of the reasons and beliefs that reinforce a woman’s inability to leave.

In times of illness, women will come together not only with practical support but also with emotional, and mental support. Talking things through, expressing feelings and sharing experiences is a large part of any sisterhood. Finding a solution is not necessarily goal orientated; the catharsis, understanding and belonging bring feelings of welbeing and an ability to cope.

This support and emotional care received through women gathering together, is often overlooked, especially in an age where we rarely have enough time for our homes, careers, children and partners.

Women coming together to support one another
Women coming together

Making time to gather together with a trusted group can make a real difference to your health and wellbeing. Many red tent groups, moon lodges and women’s groups are springing up in response to this need. Indeed here at The Meditative Counsellor I host a Facebook group called daughters of difficult mothers.

I also hold a yearly weekend retreat for our members where I deliver workshops, talks, women’s yoga and inner journeying. Where women get the chance for some time out, to relax and renew themselves.

If you would like to find out more, please contact me at: charlotte@meditativecounsellor.com or click on the button below to find out more about the support I offer and to join our Facebook group.


Domestic abuse is an issue which affects both men and women and if you are affected, please seek help from your local support services. If you need help, Charlotte can advise you on finding and accessing your local services, just get in touch.

Choosing A Private Counsellor

Ever felt worried, down, stressed, sad or scared? We all experience these emotions from time to time, and they usually pass and we move on. Sometimes though when you find yourself in a difficult situation such as divorce, losing a loved one, relationship difficulties, when you are facing depression, and/or anxiety, or are stressed with problems at work or with your children, the feelings don’t pass so easily and you begin to feel stuck. At times like these it can be helpful to to talk to a qualified, professional. So where should you go for help?

Many people’s first point of call is a GP or wellbeing centre, however a LOT of people I see, struggle with long waiting times, not being able to access more than 6-8 sessions, seeing different people during the assessment process, so they have to tell people their story over and over again, not being offered the therapy they want, and most importantly not being able to choose their therapist.

The impact this has, is that many people say therapy doesn’t work for them and their bad experience then stops them from seeking further help. So what’s the alternative?

As someone who has no vested interest in a particular outcome, a private counsellor can provide a non-judgemental, unbiased, listening ear. Exploring with you what has happened, why that might be and how it feels for you to experience that situation, and what might be the best way for you to move forward.

Unlike in the NHS or an EAP (employee assistance program) you will be seen by one person, who assesses and then treats you. In the case of EAPs there is no reporting back to your HR (human resources) department or boss, ensuring greater confidentiality. There are no waiting times and you can have sessions for as long as you need. When looking for a therapist you can choose one who offers the kind of therapy you are looking for such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), counselling or psychotherapy. Most importantly you can choose to work with someone you feel you get on with and have a good rapport with.

The reason many counsellors, like myself offer a FREE initial appointment, is because we know that the biggest predictor for how well YOU do in therapy is based on how well you get on with your therapist. I’ll say it again: If you have a good rapport with your therapist, your counselling will have a better outcome, regardless of the type of therapy you choose to have.

So it’s worth you meeting and talking with a few counsellors to see who you would like to work with. A good therapist will be on a voluntary register either with the BACP (British association for counselling and psychotherapy) or NCS (national counselling society), have a discosure and barring service (DBS) check, and have insurance.

So if you’d like to see if we can work together click the link below and get in touch, or if you’d like to find out more about how I work, please sign up for my fortnightly bulletin.

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Kindness Through Compassion

This week is mental health awareness week, and the theme is kindness. For me kindness and compassion go hand in hand, especially in these unprecedented times. Through compassion we can find the path to being kind to ourselves and others.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines compassion as:

Noun:[mass noun]

 sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others: the victims should be treated with compassion

Origin:

Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer with’

Other definitions describe a deep understanding and sympathy for the plight of others. So what has this got to do with counselling, and what does it mean for our sense of self?

As a Counsellor I spend a lot of time with Clients creating a non-judgemental compassionate space where they can explore what’s going on for them. This allows Client’s not just time to speak and for me to hear to what they are really trying to say; but also for them to really listen to themselves, to really hear and feel what they are saying and what it means for how they would like things to be.

Sometimes really seeing yourself and how life is for you, can feel harsh; to face the unhappiness and issues head on for the first time, needs not just understanding and empathy from your Counsellor but also from yourself. Time and again I see how little compassion people have for themselves, and how desperately they need that to change.

Even the definition of compassion that I started with suggests compassion is something you can only have for other people, but in my experience this is just not true. If you can cultivate a deep understanding, empathy and sympathy for how you got to where you are and why you are so unhappy or distressed you can begin to forgive yourself and let go.

We have all made poor choices at times, found ourselves in situations we were unable to cope with, felt stressed, depressed, unhappy or at a loss. If we allow ourselves to be ok with that and give our selves permission to start again, without having to bring the baggage of self-blame to all the other issues we have to deal with; we can give ourselves the freedom to make the changes we want.

For instance if a family member has died 6 months ago, is it still ok to feel sad? To still be looking for their face in familiar places? To still miss them? To still struggle to get out of bed? Or to still be crying? If you can treat your self with compassion, to understand what that person meant to you, what a big part they played in your life and what it feels like now they are gone; you begin to allow yourself time to grieve, without denigrating yourself every time it is hard to get out of bed or you find yourself crying at something that reminds you of them. You give yourself permission to heal in your own time, in the way that works for you.

So how do you cultivate compassion for yourself and others, when it is easy to put yourself down and play the blame game?

Don’t be so quick to judge: try to understand why you or others are acting the way they are.

Imagine what it’s like: Can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, what do you imagine it feels like. Conversely if you were your own best friend, what would you imagine you would say or do to comfort you?

Try to find a peaceful space: Meditation, listening to music, baking, painting and doing something creative are all ways to focus on something positive for a while. Sometimes our emotional and mental lives are heavy and stressful, giving yourself space and permission to do something you enjoy encourages peace and healing.

If you would like to discuss this further do get in touch

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