Grief and Loss isn’t just about the death of someone you love.

Virtually every aspect of our lives involves loss of some kind. And there will be varying degrees of grief associated with that loss.

I have had many clients come to see me about their loss and tell me they don’t have the right to grieve because someone they know is doing it so much harder with their type of loss. My answer is always to say that their grief is genuine and needs to be addressed. They have a right to grieve.

Loss can be the loss of a precious object.

It can involve burglary.

It can be losing your house.

It can be moving to a new area or country.

It can be losing a job.

It can involve losing a body part, or losing the use of a body part.

It can be the end of a relationship.

It can be any number of things.

Whatever matters to you that you no longer have is a loss.

The pain around those losses is genuine and you have the right to be upset about it.

You may also need to talk to a counsellor about your loss and its impact on you.

Never be afraid to ask for help.

The Fawn defence response

When we feel stress in our bodies, our bodies react as thought we are in danger. This is where the stress response, when not based on actual physical threat, can be dangerous. It unleashes mechanisms designed to get us physically away from danger but does not give us the ability to actually get away from a danger that is not necessarily physical. Our bodies cannot distinguish a physical threat to our life from an event that causes us stress. So we react with body responses that are designed to get us away from danger. For most of us, we don’t recognise stress as causing that danger response, therefore we don’t take measures to attend to the response and allow our bodies to return to normal. The impact is harm to our bodies through not being able to complete our defensive responses properly and a lowered ability to cope with life events.

There is a lot written about the different mechanisms we have for reacting to a stressful event. The first two are the best known. Flight or fight. Less well known is the freeze response, where we just remain on the spot and are unable to do anything. A more recently identified as a defence response is the fawn response. This is where we respond to the stress by trying to please the other person.

It is the fawn response that I am talking about today.

This response has often been described as people pleasing. It is where a person changes their behaviour to not cause offence to others. People pleasing has been known about for a long time, but it is only just being accepted as a danger response.

This response involves:

Worrying about saying the wrong thing,

Worrying about annoying another person,

Worrying about not being liked by other people.

These worries often lead to a person behaving in a way that encourages others to like them. If the person feels they have said the wrong thing, they may continually talk about what they think they said wrong, or talk about the opposite of what they said, or seek contact with the other person as reassurance they will not be rejected.

If the person is worried about annoying the other person, they may also seek contact with the person and seek to say and do things they think the other person will approve of. Again, they are seeking reassurance they will not be rejected.

If the person is worried about not being liked they may again seek to behave in ways they think the other person will approve of. They may say or do things they think the other person will like. They may try to do things for the other person. They may agree with things the other person says and does, even if they are contrary to the individual’s values. It is all about needing the reassurance of not being rejected.

This response is grounded in childhood. A child needs to be accepted by its carers in order to survive. The child who is rejected by its carers and not cared for will die. This is how we are programmed and the basis of a child’s attachment to its parents. It is about survival. Human babies are dependent on their parents for survival so a child will do many things to ensure its survival.

This behaviour can be very annoying to other people and can actually lead to the person being rejected as they feared. It can also lead to the person being taken advantage of by the other person. All these responses by the other person are unpleasant and frightening for the person. This behaviour can cause a lot of fear, shame, rejection and upset for the person.

It is difficult, but not impossible, for a person to unlearn this behaviour. The first thing they need to do is to understand where the behaviour has come from and heal that. This is not an instant thing. It can take time. There are many ways a counsellor can work with someone to help them learn to not see possible rejection as a threat to the adult. As a trauma trained counsellor, I have many different approaches that I use to help my clients learn more helpful responses to life events. If you would like assistance, you can make a face to face or skype appointment with me by contacting me on 0409306608 or

Why is it taking so long?

One issue that comes up fairly often for people who have lost their partner is the loneliness and how it can still be present so long after the death of their partner.

For many people who express this as an issue, there is a reason. For many, their partner died when their children were still living at home and the loneliness did not hit until the children left home. For others, financial considerations often lead to them sharing a house with other people. Then some day finances allow them to be on their own.

For all these people loneliness hits when the people they have been living in a house with have gone.

What happens for them is the usual impact of the empty nest combined with the grief over the loss of their partner. The combination of the two events: a twist of loss; and the exit from the house of other people. Suddenly a grief that they may have felt they were adjusted to is back.

The reality is every change in life is going to have the twist of loss added to it. What for many is a normal moving on of family members becomes another reminder of the loss of partner. Everything in life has that impact. Be it moving house, retiring, living on your own. All will need the normal adjustment plus the adjustment of grief.

It is not easy to feel this loneliness. There is no shortcut to take away the pain. Talking about it can help. What ultimately will lead the way forward is an acknowledgement of the pain. “Ouch this hurts”. And giving permission to feel the pain. In time, just as with every other aspect of this grief, you will learn how to fit it into your life.

It can be helpful to talk to a counsellor about it. Sometimes sharing with someone who is less caught up in the grief can be helpful. But remember. There is no magic wand. The pain of loss hurts.

Does change need to happen?

For many people with trauma histories, change is difficult. And that is understandable. Changing those thoughts and protective behaviours feels essential but also on a deeper level, like a betrayal.
Letting go of protective behaviours can leave you vulnerable to those trauma’s repeating themselves.
Letting go of anger at the perpetrator can feel like approving of their behaviour.
There are many more thoughts and protective behaviours that are hard to let go of.
So often in therapy, a trauma survivor is asked to give up those behaviours and thoughts. But that isn’t what I do. I work with people to identify all the thoughts and behaviours and understand their purpose. Then the person I am working with identifies how much of that thought or behaviour they want to change and we work on that.
It is always important to remember that the things we think and the ways we protect ourselves are not defective. They have been important tools in our survival thus far. Sometimes those tools need repurposing to allow us to move forward in life.
Here’s to a successful repurposing.

Accepting your loss

One of the most difficult things people report feeling about the loss of someone is living with what life is like now. What is difficult to accept is the present.

The present without that person you love.

The present on your own.

The present with changed dynamics in your social networks. This is particularly noticeable when you love your partner. How do you do the single person amongst the couples? It can happen when you have lost a child as well, particularly if your social networks are families and you are the one with the missing child.

One thing I encourage people who are dealing with loss – whether it is the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the loss of home or job or country, the loss of a limb and so on – is to acknowledge what has happened.

Acknowledging is not going to make things instantly better. But it is important to do. Even when the thing that has ended is something you wanted, there is still loss and it is still important to honour what was and is no more.

Without that step of acknowledgement and honouring the loss, it is virtually impossible to move on.

Acknowledging helps to deal with any guilt you may be feeling. It helps to deal with any anger you feel. It helps to feel with confusion, devastation, loneliness and the myriad issues loss bring up for you to deal with.

Without acknowledgement of the loss many issues cannot be acknowledged either. When those issues cannot be acknowledged they cannot be dealt with and healed. Without healing those things continue to eat away at you, keeping you trapped in a cycle of grieving and never able to move forward.

It is frightening to admit many of those feelings. But acknowledging the loss and acknowledging those feelings is important. It is not dishonouring what is lost. Rather it is honouring you and your path forward in life.

No loss is without regret, pain and a multitude of emotions.

Allow yourself to acknowledge them and move forward. It is often best to acknowledge these emotions with an impartial witness. This is where I can help you. I can witness what you need to share with compassion and acceptance. And I can help you to understand how usual many of your feelings are. I can help you to acknowledge and let go of feelings that don’t belong in your journey and hold on to what is important around your loss.

Please listen to me

“Why is it I always seek to understand others when they are rude to me but I don’t get the same consideration? It’s not fair!”

Ilse slumped down in the chair, tears of frustration mixed with sorrow coursing down her cheeks. She had come to see me because, at the end of a distressing week she had snapped at her sister-in-law’s unreasonable demand. Now she was the pariah of the family.

Her sister-in-law was always rude and demanding and normally she forgave her because she could understand the need behind the rudeness. She had spoken to this woman in calm times and told her how her words hurt. She had asked her not to speak to her like that again. Her sister-in-law didn’t acknowledge her behaviour was bad and she didn’t apologise for the hurt she caused. Other members of the family agreed with Ilse that the sister-in-law behaved badly. So why was it that she was being treated like a terrible person because she had snapped at her? She had had a terrible week. Her best friend died of cancer on Tuesday and on Friday her husband received a cancer diagnosis. Friday evening her sister-in-law had berated her for not ordering the serviettes for her parent’s wedding anniversary celebration in two months. Ilse had snapped at her.

To her horror, she was berated by other family members for her response. What she wanted was understanding and compassion and her family gave her none. This is why she came to see me.

Maybe you can relate to Ilse’s experience.

When you are hurting and needing support, who do you turn to? People often turn to family and friends. But what if they aren’t available, or they are the problem?

This is where a visit to a counsellor can be really helpful. Ilse came to see me and was able to be heard, to feel understand, and to receive compassion. She was able to find a safe place to express all the pain, fear and helplessness she was feeling. In the session she was able to discover how to move forward. How to cope with the stresses in her life. How to sit with the hurt she was feeling.

Do you need understanding and compassion? Maybe I can help you too?

If you would like to sit in a safe place where you can be heard and receive compassion then ring 0409396608 for an appointment.

When you survive loss

“When you survive loss … everyone is so quick to tell you how strong you are. And how tough you must be. But actually, no one has a choice to survive grief … do they? It’s not optional. You just have to cry in the shower, sob into a pillow, and pray you make it.” Zoe Clark-Coates.

I find this quote so powerful. It is so true.

Survival is about resilience. Our resilience is what allows us to muddle through and somehow survive the unthinkable. On more than one occasion I have heard a client complain about being constantly told “you are so strong” when they don’t feel it. For other people watching, and imagining what it would be like to experience such a loss, it does feel like superhuman strength to survive.

If you are surviving loss take a moment to stop and think. Realise you have strength you didn’t realise you had. You may feel like a total mess, but you are getting through most days and that is an amazing achievement given what you are going through. You have what it takes to survive this. You may not particularly want to survive this, but you will. As the quote says “no one has a choice to survive grief … It’s not optional.”

This quote reminds us that surviving grief is not optional. We have to do it. And we largely do it alone. Few people have the stamina to see another person through all the ups and down of acute grief.

Consequently, much grief is conducted alone.

And it is lonely.

Grief disconnects you from all others, even those close to you who may be grieving too.

Every grief is unique, even when it is for the same person.

Inevitably you are alone.

But the good thing is, no matter how hard and awful it is, you do survive.

You don’t have a choice.

Why Counsel children and adolescents in grief and loss?

Children need opportunities to process grief and loss.

In the past, it was always believed that children weren’t aware of what was happening in the family. They would not be allowed to go to the funerals of dead family members because they “would be too distressed about it”. The departed family member would never be discussed. Children would often form faulty beliefs that they had been responsible for the death of their family member. Even now, it is hard for grieving family members to attend to the needs of the children in the family. Frequently, children benefit from talking to an outsider who can focus on them and their needs.
Below is the story of “Anna”. As with all my blogs, I never use real names and usually use a composite of several clients, removing anything that could identify the clients. I also print people’s stories only with permission. In this case, Anna asked me to print her story with just her name changed.
When I was 11, my year group were taught to perform CPR. We were told our actions would mean the difference between life and death for someone we loved. I took that very seriously. A year later, at the age of 12, I was visiting my grandparents when my grandmother collapsed. She had no pulse or respirations. I worked on resuscitating her for what seemed like hours, but was probably no more than fifteen minutes. When the paramedics arrived, they took over and I went and sat in the back room while my family gathered around the stretcher as my grandmother was wheeled out to the ambulance. Nothing was said to me. My brother and I went home and my parents and grandfather went to the hospital. Later they returned and said my grandmother had died. What I did was never discussed. My brother made a passing comment about not knowing how to perform CPR, but no one ever talked about what I did. My mother told me my grandmother would have been happier to have died, rather than become an invalid, but this did not help me. All my mother did was reinforce the faulty belief I had about my part in my grandmother’s death. I was devastated and full of guilt. When we learned CPR we were told all we had to do was perform CPR and the person would live. I believed I had killed my grandmother because I must have done something wrong or she would not have died. I also believed that if I told my family what I did they would reject me. My grandmother’s death was never discussed and I never had the opportunity to talk to anyone about my belief and be reassured that it was not true. We forget as adults that children think differently and will often hide the things they most fear, and that often children form faulty beliefs about their culpability in events. It is so important children are given a safe place to talk so that those faulty beliefs can be expressed and corrected.
When I grew up I became a nurse and used to dread the call to attend a cardiac arrest, something that, working in Intensive Care and Coronary Care, I had to do frequently. Eventually I was working in Aged Care and one of my residents choked on a sandwich. I found myself in the same situation as when I was 12. I worked on this woman, but despite my efforts she died. This time, there was someone to talk to about it, as my employer was serious about debriefing people. I realised that I still carried the guilt of my grandmother’s death into every resuscitation event, fearing that I would kill those people too. Every time there was a cardiac arrest, my brain went into fight or flight mode and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

It was many years before I heard the statistics of how few people are successfully resuscitated. I persisted in the belief I had killed my grandmother until that moment in the CPR refresher course when I heard those statistics and was finally able to realise I needed counselling to shift the belief that I had killed my grandmother.
All the years I tormented myself with guilt could have been prevented if my family had talked about what had happened, instead of never mentioning my grandmother or the events around her death again. Or, if my parents had not felt able to talk about her death, if they had sent me to a counsellor or to a grief and loss group. My parents were not bad people. Their behaviour was due to their inability to deal in a healthy way with loss.

We live in a society that discourages openness about death. Frequently in families the death of a loved one is never discussed. Children will often report that it is like the person they loved never existed. It is heartbreaking when children feel distress that their family never talks about the person who has died. Those children never get a chance to properly grieve for their dead loved one and learn an unhealthy way to grieve that will impact on their grieving as an adult. Children are also impacted in other ways by their feelings. Anna internalised her guilt so no one thought there was anything wrong, but many children act out their feelings and are seen as being naughty. The pain is never properly resolved and continues to cause problems into adulthood.
My aim in counselling children is to give them the chance to talk about what has happened. To teach them that it is okay to feel a great range of emotions, it is okay to talk about how they feel and to show them that they can reach out to others for support. It is also an opportunity for the child to express those common false beliefs he or she holds about being responsible for what has happened to them or others. In this way, the child can grow into a healthy adult.

“The wound is the place where the light enters you” Rumi

The wound is the place where the light enters you

In the swirling darkness of trauma’s legacy, it seems nothing can every tame the uncontrollable tangle of emotions. It seems that the cries for help disappear into the darkness of trauma. You step out into the day, hoping today will be a good one. Hoping that there will be no triggers to send you back into that darkness. Hoping that today you will be able to be you. Fearing that you is actually this tangle of emotions when you want you to be this person who is able to function normally … most of the time.
You want the truth? You is the person who can function normally. There are also trauma networks in your brain that occasionally take over. When the right trigger presents itself. When they take over, there is no escaping them. You seem trapped, unable to stop the swirl of reactions taking over your body.
How do you get out of this darkness? How do you escape?
Rumi is quoted as having said that where we are wounded is where the light enters us. It is often that triggered reaction that is the source of healing. Taking that triggered reaction to a trauma qualified counsellor is a way to start disentangling and controlling those emotions. It is a way to take those trauma networks and change them from dead end streets you get stuck in into memories that no longer control you.
I have the training, experience and skills to help you.
I can see you face to face or via Skype.
Please feel free to contact me today to arrange an appointment.

The individuality of grief

Grief is an individual thing

I often have clients tell me they want to find people who have suffered the same loss so someone can understand them. But the truth is you will never find someone who is grieving the same way you are. You are an individual. The person you have lost is an individual. The relationship you had with the one you have lost is individual. Your experience in unique.
Finding another person with the same type of loss is not going to help. There may be similarities but there will always be differences. There is also the danger you may both want to tell your stories and the other person may not necessarily hear your story.
This is not to say that people in grief shouldn’t talk to other people in grief. It can be very helpful to share with others. Just don’t expect the other person/people will meet the needs you want met. If you expect them to solve all your grieving problems, you will be disappointed.
Grieving is hard. Unbelievably hard. It is also a lonely path. You can reach out to others occasionally to share the common ground, but you will never find someone who experiences your grief in an identical way.
So draw comfort from fellow travellers and know that there will always be parts of your experience that are unique.