Boundaries

In my support group on Facebook we’ve been exploring the importance of boundaries in our relationship with our difficult mother and I’d like to share some of what we discussed with you.

Difficult mothers often see you as an extension of themselves, or as a playing piece in a game. It doesn’t occur to them that you may have your own thoughts and feeling, what matters is you play a part.

Mary for instance has a very critical mother, she can’t do anything right, and nothing is good enough for her mum. For Mary’s mum keeping up appearances is everything, everyone needs to know what a great mum she is, how much she sacrifices and how trying it is to have a daughter like Mary.

Mary has been criticised and belittled so much by her mother that at the age of 32, she often belittles herself, calls herself stupid, fat and an idiot. She is almost pre-empting mum’s cutting remarks and constantly tries to do better.

Mary has learnt that she is never good enough, and that her mum’s love is conditional on her complying with mum’s need to be the best mother ever. Mary has to take on her mother’s belief or risk rejection.

You may question why Mary doesn’t walk away, the truth is rejection is one of the worst and scariest feelings humans can experience. To be ousted from the tribe/family is life threatening. Just because we have evolved and live differently doesn’t mean that fear goes away.

As children we know instinctively that our survival depends on having a parent to depend on to feed and protect us. This is why the human psyche goes to great lengths to maintain damaging and toxic relationships with our parents, even at the expense of our sense of self.

Most people in this situation find it hard to walk away and live in hope that their mum will see how they feel, or acknowledge the pain they have caused. Some are brave enough and have enough support to put in a hard boundary and choose not to see their toxic parent again. For others this is not the right time, or the right choice.

Boundaries may feel daunting, that you will be met with resistance, cause an argument, and where does that leave you? Tired, stressed, worried and hurt. It doesn’t have to be that way.

To begin with it can be enough to register your disagreement you can do this by using a small gesture like raising a finger, or taking a breath. This small step can be hugely significant, as it means you are beginning to see yourself as separate, and that it is ok not to agree with mum.

Take some time for yourself to consider if you believe the same thing as your mother or if your views differ. Can you work out what your beliefs and values are?

Once you’ve done the internal work and want to set boundaries with mum, start small. Think about what you want to say, how you will enforce it and what you will do if she becomes upset or angry.

Let your partner, friends and other trusted family members know so you have support if she does react badly. If you have no one to turn to, join a support group like mine.

Follow through, it may be difficult but it’s the quickest and easiest way. If you cave in the next time you try it may be harder.

If you’d like to dig deeper on how to work with boundaries, why not sign up for my latest webinar. Just click on the image below.

Living With and Without a Difficult Mum
Monday 4th Jan at 7pm GMT

What Your Mind Does With Covid-19 Uncertainty

So today the Government is due to announce face coverings being mandatory in shops from 24th July. It’s the latest in a long line of often confusing and contradictory advice the British public have been given on how to protect themselves. So I wanted to explore with you what happens when we encounter contradiction, uncertainty and instances when people say one thing and do another.

We should probably start by saying this experience has a name, we call it cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is where we encounter or hold contradictory beliefs, ideas or values or engage in an action that contradicts one of those deeply held beliefs, ideas or values. This experience causes us psychological stress.

What is fascinating, is how we cope with that stress, and what we do when the contradiction is pointed out to us (you may have seen this kind of thing played out in the news).

This kind of stress can cause us to fall into black and white thinking where it is, or it isn’t and things are never experienced as being on a spectrum, for instance, someone is right or wrong, they either have vaild points or they don’t rather than they may have some good points but others are vague.

Often when we think this way you find your self experiencing just one of the beliefs or ideas you hold being true and the other contradictory one is almost forgotten, then you switch. It’s as if your mind blanks one of the beliefs or ideas, to avoid experiencing the dissonance, and living with the contradiction.

You may find yourself researching and researching to find out what’s true. When you experience this you want certainty and become drawn to people with strong ideas who seem very sure of themselves, even if their ideas don’t hold water. This seeking of an authority to feel safe and to leave the decision to someone else can cause harm, as people who come across as very certain can have very extreme beliefs. Scientific reasearch, by contrast, tends to use probabilities and statistics which often give a more nuanced, or uncertain view. This is why at times like these we see a rise in conspiracy theorists, and people purporting to have the answer.

Uncertainty

Lastly there is what we humans love to do the most, we tell stories and make jokes. Stories help us to reason why the contradiction exists, some of the most common ones are ‘There’s one rule for us, and one rule for them’, ‘They didn’t mean it’, ‘It was an accident’, ‘They only broke the rules because’. It’s a tactic we use often when someone says one thing and behaves in a contradictory way, we find a reason for this exception.

When we live with uncertainty about the advice we are given or what will happen next, we do the same. The story fills the gap ‘It’ll be alright because…’ or conversely ‘It’s really terrible anyway, what did we expect?’ The story brings comfort and instead of avoiding the cognitive dissonance it tries to explain it away.

We can also use stories to minimise the importance of the uncertainty or contradiction ‘Well it’s all rubbish anyway’, ‘It won’t matter in ten years time’. This strategy is used to reduce to psychological stress by making the belief, idea or value unimportant. So trivial it’s not surprising there is a contradiction.

To work through cognitive dissonance we need to start by acknowledging the contradictory beliefs, ideas or values whether in society or in ourselves, and look at why they exist. Is it like the Coronavirus pandemic where we don’t have enough information to be certain, and as we learn we need to implement what we believe to be the current best practice; Or is it hypocrisy where we or others are claiming to hold to one thing whilst doing the opposite?

Living with uncertainty and contradiction is part of being human and living in a society, sometime we have to accept there are things we just don’t know and that our strategies for dealing with it may or may not be helpful. Other times it may be important to call out the hypocrisy or to do something about it, like when you are in a relationship where someone says they love you but they ignore you, belittle you, gaslight you or hurt you.

If you’d like to discuss this further or need to talk with someone about your own conflicting feelings do get in touch.

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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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Overthinking

We all do it, especially when we are stressed or worried. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, loss, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, attachment disorder etc often have overthinking as a symptom.

So what is overthinking?

Overthinking is defined as thinking about something for too long or analysing it in a way that is more harmful than helpful. Very often it has a repetitive quality, someone with social anxiety for instance may overthink how they were in a social situation, what they did or said and will repetitively do this for most, if not all sociable experiences.

Why do we do overthink?

It is often because we care, we care about what someone else thinks, we care about what will happen next, and we care about how others see us. This caring leads us to be concerned about the outcome of a relationship, a conversation or result. So our ever ‘helpful’ brain decides that if it analyses all the possible outcomes we can be prepared, it’s so good at this it will even analyse an event, meeting or result BEFORE it’s even happened. There are two main issues with our brains doing this:

  1. Our brain cannot possibly compute every outcome
  2. Our brain is influenced by any biases we have whether they are positive or negative. (If we are worriers or have a mental health issue this is usually a negative bias, but in mania, and some other conditions it can manifest as a positive bias.)

We can experience overthinking as:

  • Not being able to think of anything but the subject/person we are worried about.
  • Interfering with our ability to function.
  • Insomnia.
  • Increased stress levels.
  • Things feeling bleak.
  • Avoiding situations you are worried about.
  • Conversely, if you have a positive bias, getting into situations that are risky or more complicated than you had imagined.
  • Difficulty eating or eating too much in a bid to feel better.
  • A form of self-harm
  • Causing anxiety.

So what’s normal?

We all worry at times. We get nervous about things that matter to us like exams, job interviews, going on stage etc and during these periods we may experience overthinking. Overthinking becomes a problem when it doesn’t end after the specific event is over, when it becomes more generalised and we do it everyday. If overthinking is taking over your life, you should seek help from a qualified professional like a counsellor.

What we can do about overthinking?

So you are tired of overthinking, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, life feeling overwhelming and that you can’t seem to get out of your own head. So what do you do?

Especially when talking to others about their overthinking and worry, I find that most people use short to medium-term solutions, tips and tricks they have picked up to help in the moment. These include:

  • Distractions like: talking to someone, listening to music, listening to podcasts, and watching TV.
  • Mindful approaches like: grounding, breathing techniques, and fingertip touching.
  • Facing the problem: checking the facts, testing your assumptions, and talking it through with someone.
  • Getting support: help from family or friends when you are going through an tough time that needs extra support like exams, stage fright, PIP appeals.

Whilst all of these approaches can help you to feel better, people will repeat them over and over again because they still overthink.

My treatment plan for clients experiencing overthinking is a two-pronged approach, I will initially use short to medium-term interventions to give clients tools to help in the moment. But I also recommend more.

At the same time I will teach you a longer-term strategy to help you stop overthinking altogether so that eventually you don’t need the tips and tricks anymore.

So what do I recommend for chronic overthinkers?

Firstly we will try out and choose a short-term strategy that works for you, nursery rhymes or other distraction techniques are a favourite of most of the people I work with.

Next we work on the habit of overthinking. Noticing when you overthink allows you to name it, then you can catch yourself doing it and then you can change the habit to something else. One of my clients for instance will catch herself overthinking and acknowledge that she is worried about a particular issue, but the will choose to focus on something else and deal with the problem later. By the time later comes, the problem has often resolved itself.

For some people (especially those where the overthinking is more generalised and doesn’t have a specific cause) learning the first steps in meditation, where you focus on an object, sound, your breath or a sensation, can teach their mind to slow down and stop overthinking.

Learning to relax through Reiki or meditation can help to reset the balance in our bodies. letting go of the tension and stress that overthinking places in our bodies can be really helpful and replaces the the habit of overthinking with one of peace and calm.

Sometimes if your overthinking is part of a larger condition like anxiety, depression, Borderline Personality Disorder/Emotianlly Unstable Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or due to trauma or abuse, counselling can be a way forward. Counselling will provide support in the moment and help you to work through the issues you are facing, to help you find a better tomorrow.

None of these approaches is mutually exclusive, you can mix and match what works for you. My hope in writing this is that, as well as the short-term tips and tricks to beat anxiety and overthinking you see on Facebook and in ads, you will also consider using a long-term strategy alongside it so you find you don’t overthink in the first place.

If you would like to discuss this further please get in touch by clicking the button below.

Three Tips To Cope When Anxiety Strikes

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can range from nervousness to a full blown panic attack. You know you are heading there when you feel:

  • Restless
  • A sense of dread
  • Constantly “on edge”
  • It’s hard to concentrate
  • Irritable

These feelings can stop you from going out, seeing friends or even being able to work. Which can lead to more stress, feelings of guilt and not being good enough (low self-esteem).

You may also experience physical symptoms like:

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • A noticeable strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Stomach ache
  • Feeling sick
  • Headaches
  • Pins and needles
  • Not being able to sleep well

Some people know what causes their anxiety, it may be a phobia (fear) or a particular situation, for others the feeling comes with no real explanation.

Anxiety Girl Meme
Anxiety Girl Meme

So what can you do?

There are three tips I share with my Clients for when anxiety strikes, and generally one will work better for them than the others. So do try all the techniques and see which works best for YOU.

Technique One – Grounding

In this technique we use a mixture of focus and distraction to lessen the anxiety you are feeling:

When you start to feel anxious or worried slowly say out loud:

5 things you can see

4 things you can hear

3 things you can touch

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

Repeat a few times until the anxious feeling gets smaller.

Technique Two – Nursery Rhymes

In this technique we use a mixture of focus, distraction, comfort and controlled breathing to lessen the anxiety you are feeling:

When you start to feel anxious or worried slowly sing in your head, or out loud your favourite nursery rhyme.

Singing even in your head will help you control your breathing, the familiarity with your favourite nursery rhyme can bring comfort and a feeling of safety, and remembering the words and tune provides focus and distraction.

Again repeat a few times until the anxious feeling gets smaller.

Technique Three – Make Friends With Your Anxiety

In this technique we take a different approach to dealing with anxiety. When anxiety strikes we often instinctively fight it, and it’s a battle we can’t win. The more we fight the anxiety, the worse it gets.

The thing is: Your anxiety wants you to listen, it wants to keep you safe and the more you push it away the harder it tries to make you listen.

Making friends with your anxiety is not about giving in to it. It’s about accepting your anxiety for what it is (a way to keep you safe), and working with it rather than fighting that part of yourself.

So how do you change your relationship with your anxiety? 

When you start to feel anxious or worried talk to your anxiety, reassure it things will be ok, you can say things like:

‘Thank you for letting me know you are worried, but I am only going to do X, it will be fine because…’

‘We went to the supermarket last week and it was fine, I am really looking forward to getting ice cream.’

‘I know you are concerned, but remember how much we love seeing X they are funny and kind.’

This technique can take a little longer to work, as it takes time to change a relationship, it can also be used with one of the other techniques. Once the anxiety calms down a little, begin the self-talk.

Do get in touch if you would like to learn more, ask a question or book a session where I can help personalise the technique to you.