Hanging on to resentment is like cutting off your nose to spite your face

As a Reiki Master I have a daily practice to choose the way I wish to live. This practice is in line with the 5 Reiki Principles.

Number 1 on my list is the choice I make to “release my investment in staying hurt and angry”.

I have observed in my own life and that of others how destructive holding on to that investment in hurt and anger is. It destroys relationships. And it destroys the person holding on to the hurt and anger.

As a counsellor I see how destructive hurt and anger is to the mental health of those holding on to hold on and convert the hurt and anger into resentment.

Anger is not bad, what you do with it can be

Despite all the bad press, anger, when directed the right way, can be constructive.

Anger can be an important signal that there are things in your life you need to attend to. This is where anger is a signal that drives change.

Anger in itself is not wrong. It is the response to anger that can cause harm if it is not a helpful response.

Being frightened of anger is destructive if you run from anger

People are taught to be frightened of anger. When anger is experienced a person will often suppress the anger and flee from it, instead of sitting with it and attending to it.

The problem with suppressing anger is that unexpressed anger becomes resentment. Resentment tends to fester, below the level of conscious awareness, and poison our interactions with others.

The festering wound of resentment

Then resentment develops, the person you were angry with is turned into an evil person. You remember bad things about them and forget all the good things. So the person becomes more and more negative in your mind.

Bearing a grudge against another person is resentment.

Holding on to resentment doesn’t serve you. It can make you bitter and less trusting of others. In time it can destroy a lot of your relationships.

How to release your investment in staying hurt and angry

To let go of your resentment you need to revisit the original event that led to your anger converting to resentment. That is not always easy. When you go back to that original event, you are likely to realise the event was not as bad as you have come to picture it, and that the person you have branded as evil is not as evil as you have come to think of them.

One of the biggest issues with resentment is that you assign blame to the target of your resentment. Yet things are rarely that black and white. It is important to let go of the need to assign blame.

Resentment means you never let go of your hurt and anger

One of the problems with needing to assign blame is that your need to hold the other person responsible for your feelings is doing you great harm.

When you think you are managing to cope with your hurt but are resentful towards the other person you are actually holding on to your hurt and anger. To heal you need to let go of the hurt and anger. To do that, you need to let go of the resentment you feel towards others.

Own your responses

You need to own your response to what originally happened and stop blaming others for how you are feeling now.

What do you need now? Do you need the pain and damage to your mental health of holding on to the resentment? Or do you need to think of yourself and your needs and release the resentment that is harming you?

Releasing your resentment

Performing an activity to release your resentment is really helpful.

You may find it helpful to write your feelings down on a piece of paper and then burn the paper as you announce you are choosing to let go of those feelings.

You may wish to read out what you have written before declaring you intention to let go and burning the paper.

I have an old saucepan that I put paper in when burning it. I never leave the pan until the paper has burned up completely. That way I can be present in watching my feelings dissipate and also maintain safety around the burning paper.

Releasing resentment is about serving you

Resentment is tied to forgiveness. Letting go of resentment is forgiving. Forgiving is not about the other person. It is about you.

If you can find the compassion to release your investment in staying hurt and angry then you have achieved an important step in healing and wholeness.

The benefits of letting go

When you let go of your resentment you will find you are much happier. Life seems brighter and lighter. You have so much more energy to devote to you and your growth as a person. You are better able to focus on the things that matter to you.

When you are resentful, everything in life becomes something to judge. Once you let go of that resentment you will find you have the space to accept yourself and others. You will feel happier and experience more joy.

Releasing resentment and removing the barriers it has built between you and a fulfilling life, opens up your life to receive blessings.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with releasing your resentment, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How do you resolve a loss where there are no answers?

As a registered nurse I witnessed many families struggling to cope with a loss that is rarely recognised. That of ambiguous loss.

In the case of these families, something had happened to take their loved one emotionally away from them. The physical body was still there, but their loved one was changed. This occurred due to a number of causes including brain injuries, a cerebral haemorrhage, dementia, stroke, or mental illness.

At that time a friend of my mother lost her husband emotionally due to a stroke secondary to cardiac surgery. Physically he was still there, but emotionally he was a completely different person. The friend found it hard to cope. In an instant the man she married had gone and somebody else with unstable moods and little memory was there instead. Her life changed and she now found herself caring for this familiar stranger. Her old life, the future they planned together, the man she loved. All were gone. Instead there was this stranger whose mannerisms and physical attributes constantly reminded her of the man she loved, but he wasn’t there.

Some years later my mother suffered a similar fate when my father had a stroke and lost much of the man he had once been. She expressed to me often her deep grief and at times hatred and resentment of him. She had lost the man she had once known. All the plans for the future were gone and she felt trapped into a life that she had not chosen.

Working with Ambiguous Loss

Over the years, my counselling work has led me to support many people suffering ambiguous loss.

Particularly hard to cope with is when a loved one goes missing and there is no knowledge of what has happened to them. They have just disappeared. Are they dead? Are they alive? Do you grieve their death, which means giving up hope they will be found alive? Or do you hold on to hope they will one day return, which means never being able to finalise the relationship. You are left hanging in uncertainty.

Of all the different types of loss, ambiguous loss is one of the most difficult. It is also one where there is little support because the loss is not an actual death. The loss does not lead to a network of support as happens with the more final and usual path of death and funeral.

What is ambiguous loss?

Ambiguous loss is a loss that is not clear. A loss that is difficult or impossible to resolve because the outcome of the loss is uncertain.

As I have already mentioned, the loss can include someone going missing, becoming estranged from a loved one, the psychological loss of the person who is alive and in the same body but is no longer the person they once were.

In all these situations the relationship lacks resolution. Is the person still living? Why has the relationship with this person you love ended? Is it possible to restore the relationship? How do I manage with the person I loved being physically there, but not emotionally there?

Closure in the case of someone being physically lost

The idea of “closure” is often mentioned in relation to sudden death due to accident, murder, assault. Those bereaved that way will say there is not such thing as “closure”. And they are right. Knowing how someone died does not usually bring closure.

But when you don’t know if the person is dead or alive any definite answer brings a “closure” because it makes it possible to work on something definite. If they are dead, then you can grieve. If they are just estranged from you, then you can grieve.

How do you resolve ambiguous loss?

The uncertainty and lack of resolution around this loss makes it extremely difficult to ever find resolution.

While there is no definite answer there is always hope. In this situation hope is agonising. There is the pain of the person no longer being there and the hope they will someday be there. You can never close the wound of loss when you don’t know if the loss is final.

Counselling is one of the best ways of learning how to move forward in life with such a loss. Moving on from counselling to good support systems is important, as is ensuring you get enough self care.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your loss, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

When The People You Trust Are Unwilling to Protect You

This blog is about protecting children and young adults and being willing to defend them in difficult situations. The fictional scenario I am going to discuss is about a child being sexually assaulted. The scenario is not real, but it is based on the experiences of many people I have spoken to over the years.

The discussion is brief and does not cover everything, but hopefully it covers the most important aspects of the scenario.


Jamie is 7 and lives with her parents. Her father’s best friend comes around often and stays over. The last time he stayed over he touched Jamie inappropriately by putting his hand under her dress and into her undies. Jamie is upset and tells her mother and father.

What happens next can be very different depending on the reaction of Jamie’s parents.

Response 1

Jamie’s parents are upset at the friend. They support Jamie. They listen to her, reassure her and get her counselling help. They also report the matter to the police. The friend is never allowed to see the family ever again.

Response 2

Jamie’s parents are horrified and tell the friend he is not to visit any more. Nothing more is said about it. When Jamie tries to talk about it she is shut down and told there is no need to talk about that anymore.

Response 3

Jamie’s parents are horrified and the father contacts his friend and tells him to not visit any more. He meets up with the friend, who tells him he didn’t do anything and he is appalled at the way they have believed their daughter’s lies. Her father comes home and tells her she is to apologise to his friend and that he will continue coming to the house.

Response 4

Jamie’s parents tell her to stop making something out of nothing. She obviously encouraged him and she has to stop this behaviour. Her mother tells her she must avoid the friend and shut her bedroom door at night when he is there.

Different Responses

4 very different responses to a sexual assault, a violation of her boundaries, and being placed in a very unsafe situation.

All these have happened to people time and again.

The message these reactions give Jamie have long lasting impacts on her life.

Impacts on Jamie’s life

There are many ways this event can impact on Jamie. Below is a summary of what may happen.

Response 1

Jamie feels safe, supported and heard. She learns she is not to blame. She feels her parents are willing to step up to support her and protect her from events in the world. She also learns that she can set healthy boundaries and she has worth because her parent’s have put her needs first.

Response 2

Jamie feels believed and heard. She is okay, but there are lingering issues around processing the abuse.

Response 3

Jamie feels betrayed and confused. She can’t understand why she has to apologise to the friend for the thing he did that made her uncomfortable. Her boundaries have been violated but she is given the message that she has no right to set boundaries. She realises her father will put others first before her. She learns from his actions that she has no value.

Jamie may disengage from life over the coming years. Her engagement with school may be impacted. She may also start exhibiting acting out behaviours.

Response 4

Jamie feels unsafe and unprotected. She learns she has no value and that she is always wrong. Her boundaries have been violated and she learns that her boundaries are non existent. That she has not right to say no. She learns she has no worth to others.

Jamie may also disengage from family life and engagement with school. She may misbehave, become defiant, get involved with petty crime, car thefts, dangerous driving and other “antisocial” behaviours.

When might Jamie present for counselling?

In each response I may see Jamie. But it will be at different life stages and the issues Jamie presents with will be different.

Response 1

I may see Jamie to help her process the incident with the father’s friend. She will have a chance to understand and process what happened. If nothing else happens in Jamie’s life, it is unlikely I will ever see her again.

Response 2

I may see Jamie later in life. She may have some PTSD around the events. There may be feelings of shame around what happened. She may find engaging in social contact with males difficult. She may require a number of counselling sessions to process this and rewire the neural pathways in her brain that are connected with the event. It is possible Jamie may not even know what the source of her difficulties is. She may only identify this in therapy.

How could Jamie’s parents have helped at the time of the original incident? By listening to her and helping her to understand she did nothing wrong. By allowing her to express herself and being open to her continuing need to process this.

Response 3

Jamie will usually come to see me later in life. She will likely present with difficulty setting boundaries, even to the point of not realising she has the right to set boundaries. She may report finding it hard to say no to people. She may have put on weight to stop men noticing her (there is a lot of research around this well recognised issue).

Jamie will most likely have very low self worth. She will also feel a lot of shame. She may have difficulties in her relationships. Either getting involved in partners who don’t respect her boundaries, or ending relationships because she feels she is not respected.

Jamie may also find she is constantly trying to gain her father’s approval, or she may have a difficult relationship with her father.
In time she may tell me about the assault.

Response 4

Jamie may come to see me later in life. She may tell me she has difficulties with relationships. She may well be anxious and constantly trying to meet the needs of the people in her life. She may have put on weight to stop men noticing her.

She will most likely have low self worth. She will also feel shame.

Summing Up

These descriptions are very brief descriptions of what may happen to Jamie as a result of sexual assault when 7. The long term impacts of sexual assault are many and complicated.

The message I am sending is that any form of touching in no go areas is sexual assault. It will leave the victim feeling uncomfortable and violated. It is up to those they turn to for help to protect them and take a stand against the perpetrator. If you are one who feels unable to protect those in your care from perpetrators then it is important you seek counselling support to heal your own difficulties.

Jamie may well have been 15 or 25, or older. Instead of parents, she may have been seeking support from friends. There will still be impacts of any non consensual sexual contact.

When someone reports a sexual assault they need to know that those people in their life who can protect them, are willing to protect them. This is particularly so when the person is a child or young.

Sadly, many parents do not support their children in these situations. I have heard so many stories of children forced to go to the abuser’s home because their story was not believed and the parents were unwilling to protect their child.

Parents are supposed to protect us from harm. The betrayal when they won’t is horrendous.

Can I Help?

If anything in this blog has struck a chord with you, or has left you feeling you need to resolve a difficulty in your life, I can help you.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

In the wake of your loved one dying, are you struggling to make sense of and cope with your feelings? Grief Counselling can help.

Without fail, everyone who comes to see me after the loss of a loved one tells me they have had so many different messages about how they should be behaving and how to cope.

I have found that in my own experience.

In the wake of my mother’s death, I tried to talk to my siblings about her and how I was missing her and their response was to tell me I needed to “see someone”. A year later, one of my siblings contacted me by email and told me he missed her. By that time I didn’t miss her any more. I guess I could have suggested he “see someone”. I just didn’t reply. I didn’t feel my response would have been polite. Grief is hard to deal with and can cause friction between all those grieving the loss of a particular person.

I have lost count of the number of people referred to me by their GP in the weeks following the loss. In their referrals they describe the understandable grief as “pathological”. They also suggest the use of anti depressants!

Although grief counselling can be helpful. There is no obligation to see anyone about your grief. If you want to talk to someone who understands grief, will reassure you that you are not going mad and is objective then counselling is great. But you don’t have to.

Acute grief, those early days, weeks, months after a loss is painful. It hurts. Nothing is going to help that. Only time.

Many people who come to see me think there is something wrong with them. They are receiving so many messages from others that they wonder if they have something wrong with them.

Messages you may receive from others about your Grief

Messages such as:

• The funeral is over, you should be over it

• It is wrong to sit at home and not go out, you should be getting on with life

• You should be over the tears by now

• You shouldn’t cry in public, it upsets people

• You need anti depressants

• You should be crying all the time, you obviously are not crying enough

• You shouldn’t want to go back to work now

• You should go back to work now

• You shouldn’t be going out so much, you are not spending enough time grieving (whatever they think it looks like)

• Your unstable emotions have nothing to do with grief, you need to get help

• Your anger, difficulty forming thoughts, difficulty doing things, feeling that your loved one is there, and so on, are problems. You need to get help

• You should be glad their suffering is over/you can have another child/you can find another partner.

There are many more, but these are the most common ones I have encountered.

Everyone’s grief is different. Even if you are grieving for the same person, you will grieve differently.

The way you work through that grief is as individual as you are.

You need to find what helps you. What helped a friend may or may not help you. Try their suggestions if you want to, or decide not to. Either way, you will find your own way of grieving.

When should you see a Grief Counsellor?

• Because you want to.

• You want someone objective to talk to

• You are seeking reassurance you are not going mad

• You want to know what is right for you

• You want a witness to your feelings, one who will not judge or jump in with their own opinion

• You feel you need help

• You feel the way you are coping with grief is not healthy or helpful

• You have been grieving for a long time and you feel you may be stuck and want help to move forward

• You would like to learn some coping skills.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Stop! The people close to you are seeking to connect

The actions that seek your attention are often small and difficult to spot consciously. But they act to maintain positive feelings and regard for the people you care about.

Small Acts of Connection Are Worth More Than Grand Gestures

I have lost track of the number of times I have heard the story of the friend who ignores a person all year but suddenly remembers them on their birthday and wants to give them a gift. So often the person relating this story to me is left feeling cold at the friend’s gesture. The grand gesture of a birthday gift is not valued because the person has not made those small actions of contact.

This is very much what researchers have found. It is the small acts of connection that cement relationships, not grand, infrequent gestures.


These small acts of connection invite the people close to you into your world and issue a request to enter theirs. This connection is known as attunement. Attunement is where mirror neurons in your brain light up in response to another person’s experience.

How Relationships Falter

Relationships falter when those acts of connection are lacking. This is because the lack of connection causes emotional disengagement with the other person. When those emotions are disengaged you can feel lonely and rejected. Relationships often break up because of emotional disengagement. If people stick together they report being extremely unhappy.

Acts of Connection

Not picking up on the acts of connection is often not deliberate. What often happens is that people forget to pay attention. They become distracted by other things and stop noticing the acts of connection.

Working hard at work to the exclusion of others is one way you don’t notice the acts of connection.

Spending a lot of time on your phone prevents you noticing the acts of connection.

Being busy reading books, being on your laptop, falling asleep, things happening in your life that are disruptive and distracting, and stress are all examples of how your attention can be distracted away from noticing the acts of attention.

It is really tempting in this world to follow the distractions, but failing to notice the acts of connection from the people important to you is a relationship killer. Eventually the other person will stop reaching out to you.

The Impact of Not Noticing Acts of Connection

Once you stop noticing the acts of connection and the other person stops reaching out you can both become detached from your relationship and each other.

You do need to be aware of those acts seeking connection. People don’t usually demand connection. Most of these requests for connection are subtle and small. They may send you a text. They may look sad when you don’t respond to them. They may sigh. You may label them “passive aggressive” because you misunderstand their connection needs. NB. Passive Aggressive is a term often ignorantly applied to a genuine bid for connection.

How to Conduct a Relationship

In relationships you will often find areas where the other person is interested in things you are not interested in. This particularly applies when they are your children. You give attention to the things they love because you love them and want to connect with them. You will do the same with someone you are in a partnership with. You will do the same with friends as well.

Giving those you are in relationship with your attention, the intention to pay attention, interest in them and curiosity about their world are the important ways you respond to requests for connection.

How Abandonment Impacts Relationships

It is always important to remember that you or other people may have a history of abandonment.

When you send out a request seeking connection and the other person doesn’t notice you may feel rejected and distance yourself to protect yourself.

You may notice a friend who you have inadvertently failed to notice distances themself from you.

Reaching Out To The Person Who Distances Themself

In those situations it helps to have a conversation with the other person. Whether it is the person you feel rejected you or the person who feels rejected by you.

When you have been rejected it is not easy to engage with someone else. This is when discussing the difficulty with a counsellor can help.

If you want to heal the abandonment wounds then counselling can also help.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your relationships and/or helping you heal from abandonment, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The Legacy of Grief

Neuroscientific advances have led to the identification of attachment neural networks in our brains. These networks create bonds with the people in your life.

Grief impacts on many aspects of brain function. From a neuroscientific perspective, grief is the action of the brain to build new networks and dismantle old ones to accommodate the loss of people in you life.

The Impact In Your Life

You recall memories of the person you have lost. So many people report the difficulties of bitter sweet memories.

You used to share information with that person and it helped you gain perspective. It enriched the experiences you shared. Many people tell me they no longer enjoy the things they used to do because the experience of doing something on their own is lacking the perspective of the person they used to do it with.

Grief can leave you feeling no longer in control of your feelings and reactions to things. You may find yourself crying uncontrollably, seemingly unable to stop. You may find yourself feeling angry at anything and unable to stop those feelings. You may find making decisions overwhelming.

Then there is pain. That pain may feel physical but your doctor can find no cause for it. But the experience of physical pain occurs in the same part of the brain as the experience of emotional pain. And your body experiences emotions in various parts of the body. Not surprising then that the strong emotions of grief can cause physical pain.

The Experience of Grief

The pain and confusion are horrible. It is not surprising if you want to run away from them. Equally, you may feel numb and want to do anything to feel something.

All this pain, confusion and numbness can only be managed by moving through it. Eventually the worst of it will over and you will learn to live with what is left.

You are walking a tightrope over the gulf of loss and everlasting memories of that person.

Losing You

Your sense of self is totally disrupted. This is not surprising because you gain your sense of self from your relationships with others. If one who deeply mattered is gone, who are you? You need a new identity.

Identity can be tied with another person in many ways.

  1. The relationship you had with them: partner, parent, child, friend.
  2. Your identity in relationship with that person. Were you a parent and now you are not? Did you care for the person before they died and now they are gong you are not a person who cares for another?
  3. How do you perceive yourself as a parent without a child, or with one less? How do you perceive yourself as a person without parents or a parent? How do you perceive yourself as single? You had a relationship with the person who has died and who you were in that relationship no longer exists.

The Only Way Out

One thing you will eventually discover is that facing grief is the way out of this time of deep grieving.

When you learn to face grief and experience it you will learn how to reorganise yourself and your life to include your grief in it.

What You Can Do

Be gentle, self compassionate and open to seeking help from other people. Don’t turn away those who want to support you. It is okay to occasionally say you need a break from people, but do allow people in when you are able to.

Be willing to learn how to cope. Draw on what you already know and learn new strategies. You may find it beneficial to see a Grief Counsellor to assist you with this.

A Wise Perspective From An Old Woman

I wanted to finish on a wonderful perspective shared with me a long time ago.

A lovely woman who saw me some years ago had experienced much grief during her life. Now in her final years she was coming to terms with the losses of close friends as many came to the end of their lives.

At the end of our sessions together, she reflected on a lifetime of grief and rejoiced that she could remember all the wonder of each relationship and the precious memories she had of those times.

She reflected that at the time each loss was so painful. She had grieved so much for each one. She thought she would never feel better. But she was able to move on with the sweetness of that loss as a precious bitter sweet memory.

Now looking back on her life, she could see how precious each person was and how the relationships had been vital parts of her life. Each relationship had given her life a richness and meaning that far outweighed the pain of losing them. For that she was grateful.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

There is more to therapy than CBT – and the alternatives can work better

If you go to see a psychologist, it is likely you will encounter a form of therapy called CBT or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It has become the favoured approach with the medical model framework for mental health therapy. The reason for this is that it is easy to measure outcomes, so researchers can easily report on effectiveness so therefore there has been a lot of research about it.

According to CBT it is believed we develop Schemas, which are faulty patterns of belief. This in itself is not wrong. But I have observed CBT over the years, including visiting a psychologist to experience for myself CBT.

Personal experiences of CBT

What I experienced personally, and what people who come to see me report is that CBT is shaming. You have faulty thinking, therefore you are the one who is wrong. When CBT doesn’t work it is your failure.

My experience and that of people who come to see me is that there is never a focus on acknowledging a person’s pain. Instead the focus is on faulty thinking.

When I went to try CBT for myself, I had a fairly minor issue to deal with. By the time I walked out on the therapy after an experience where the psychologist failed to listen to me and made an incorrect and denigrating assumption, I was in a worse state than when I started. The psychologist was an extremely experienced psychologist so inexperience was not the reason she breached ethical standards and caused harm to a client.

Being left feeling defective because CBT doesn’t work for you

I have had numerous clients who came to me feeling very defective because CBT had failed to address their problems that had trauma at their root. They all reported the same thing – that they were given rigid exercises to repeat every day. It reminded me of joining a direct selling group when in my 20s. We were expected to attend weekly meetings and engage in online activities in between. All this to keep us in the mindset of what we were doing. As soon as I stopped going to meetings the impact of the meetings fell away.

Neuroscience has shown the problems of trauma are far deeper than CBT can address. CBT is a frontal lobe “top down” therapy.

However trauma is stored lower down in the brain and when activated the frontal lobe goes off line. Therapy that addresses the “bottom up” approach is more effective in these cases.

What is the bottom up approach?

Memories involve your entire body and all your senses. You don’t just have a narrative of a memory. You have vision of the memory. You have sound of the memory. You have smells of the memory. You have taste of the memory. You have sensations in your body of the memory. These aspects of memory are often overlooked but give vital clues to trauma memories where the narrative of the memory is not always accessible.

Your brain reacts to trauma memories in your subconscious. Your body sends signals to the brain that are contained in a trauma memory and you react without even being aware a trauma memory has been identified.

All of this is below your conscious control.

What does the bottom up approach involve?

The bottom up approach involves working with the memories in the body. It involves identifying body sensations and learning to be mindful (aware) of body sensations so that you can work with them. It involves a therapist being careful to only work with sensations in a safe way that does not send you into a terrifying reliving of the trauma memory.

The place of CBT in therapy

CBT has its place towards the end of therapy in helping people to restructure thought patterns once the bottom healing has taken place.

But CBT cannot replace the necessary healing of the subconscious.

I can teach you new ways of understanding your moods and give you exercises to achieve this, but when the triggers to past trauma happen, deep in the unconscious, the frontal lobe (your thinking brain) goes offline and all the exercises in the world are completely ineffective.

The need to develop and heal the subconscious brain

CBT cannot develop the subconscious parts of the brain. It works on the assumption that adult emotional problems are failures in thinking and reasoning. It works on the assumption that it is your misconceptions of events that is the key to your emotional upsets, not the emotional upset itself. But this is not true.

Most adult emotional problems have their roots in childhood trauma. And that does not respond to the rational approach of CBT. You cannot reason your way out of trauma. If you could you would not need counselling.

An example of a person’s needs not being recognised

One example I learned about when studying CBT at university was about a student who was depressed at failing a university exam. The therapist asked him why failing was so depressing, and he stated it was because he would never get into law school. This means he was not smart enough and could never be happy.

The therapist concluded that it was failing the test that made him unhappy. But that is not true. It was the belief he could never be happy that was the problem. However, the therapist concluded the student’s problem was an error in reasoning. It is after all illogical to think that failing to get into a course you wanted to do was cause for depression.
So therefore the student was expected to correct this faulty thinking.
There was no exploration of why the student believed not getting into the course he wanted was so important. There was just the assumption that the student was not thinking logically.

Being stuck in the idea mental health problems are due to faulty thinking

Although CBT has expanded to include mindfulness and acceptance of feelings in its treatments, it still has as its foundation the assumption that mental health disorders are problems of thinking and the answer is to teach people to think more rationally.

If only it were that easy!

No amount of work on your conscious thinking patterns will heal trauma and subconscious trauma responses.

When CBT fails to help the person they are perceived by themselves and their therapist as defective. In short they are shamed.

Why is CBT so popular?

CBT is popular with governments and insurers because it is “rapid” and can be completed in 5-12 sessions. Ideal for Mental Health Care Plans. The trouble is it only works in that time frame for minor issues. It does not work on trauma.

Any other form of therapy becomes expensive to do. Trauma informed therapy takes a long time and is irreplaceable by CBT.

But therapy costs so much.

To put trauma therapy cost into perspective, it is more cost effective to engage from the outset with a trauma trained therapist and not waste your time and money on CBT. It is very attractive to think you can just go to someone for 5 sessions and learn to say things by rote and all will be fixed but it is not reality.

Not all mental health problems are problems with thinking and they do not require cognitive restructuring to fix them. Trauma is not a problem of viewing reality in a faulty way. It is a problem of intrusive memories that won’t go away because they are stuck in your subconscious.

So think carefully about who you want to see. Find out what form of therapy they use. Do they use a bottom up approach? Are they trauma trained? Do they have experience working effectively with trauma? Are they prepared to listen to you with openness, rather than with the agenda of identifying your faulty thinking?

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

What is my brain doing when I grieve?

In my last blog I shared the range of experiences people report in the aftermath of bereavement.

Today I want to share about what is happening in the brain in grief.

Before I do that, it is important to acknowledge that grief is not just about the death of someone close to you. It is also about losing a body part, losing freedom, losing a job, losing good health, losing a relationship, moving house, moving to a new area/country and so on.

What is the brain doing in grief?

In the immediate aftermath of your loss, your brain perceives the distress you are experiencing as a threat to your survival and springs into defence mode. You are suddenly in a highly activated stress state. The state where you body switches into fight or flight mode. This is why many people in the early stages of grief are unable to sit still but instead need to pace backwards and forwards, or even run away.

Other symptoms of this defence mode include:

• an inability to sleep,

• being unable to think clearly or make decisions,

• total loss of appetite,

• Being numb or feeling things are unreal,

• Being hypervigilant to reminders of your loss,

• Dizziness, trembling, racing heartbeat, gastro-intestinal upset,

• Difficulty concentrating,

• Forgetting things,

• Finding it difficult to regulate your feelings.

Long term brain work

After the acute grief period your defence systems in your brain will settle down. But you will still experience many of the same symptoms. So what is happening?

Learning is what is happening.

Any change in circumstances results in changes in the brain. The brain has to develop new neural pathways and close down others. This is how learning shows up in the brain.

The brain’s internal map

I have heard it likened to walking through your house at night. Most people can navigate around the house fairly well in dim light. Your brain has an internal map of the layout of the space so that you avoid bumping into things.

In this map, your brain will alert you to what is there.

Have you ever experienced walking into a space and noticing something is not there? Then you wonder how long it has been missing because you can’t actually remember when you last saw it. The chances are this item has just gone missing. When things are familiar you tend not to notice them. But when they are not there you suddenly notice.

When items are missing from the brain’s map

This is very similar to what your brain does with people in your life. You are used to seeing certain people and don’t even have to think about them being there, because they always are. Every time you see them, your brain releases a feel good chemical, oxytocin. But if they are not there, then you notice their absence and you no longer get the oxytocin dose.

Some of the difficulty in grief is that you brain keeps noticing the one you love is not there. And it hurts.

Your brain relates to the people in your life

Your brain will change the way you relate to the person who is dead. This is learning. Your brain can create new pathways to hold the memory of the person you love, to remember their absence, and to feel the grief at their departure from your life.

While you are grieving, your brain is learning. It is learning how to transform the relationship you have with the one you have lost so that they are not in your life anymore but the love you have for them, and your memories of them, still exist.

Why does it take so long? Why is it so hard to accept the reality of the person being out of your life?

New neural pathways take time to grow. And there is a lot of growth needed to transform your memory of the person who is gone from present reality to a memory.

The neural connection with the people you love

You form neural pathways that link you to the person you love. The bond you have carries with it the understanding that you will both be there for each other. Now your brain has to unlearn that. But you still have that attachment pathway to their memory. And the pathway for memory needs to be unlinked from the pathways for the present.

While those neural pathways are changing you still have the sense the person you love is there and your brain keeps trying to connect to them. Then it is devastating when you remember they are gone.

Grieving requires you to resolve this conflict between your attachment to someone who is here and the memory of them when they are no longer here.

Epigenetic changes happen in brain when people bond. Oxytocin is released around those bonds. When the bond is broken the brain has to adapt to the loss of oxytocin..

Your brain understanding they are gone

Attachment bonds are specific to each person you bond with. It is hard to learn they are gone but usually the brain is good at learning. You learn to accept the loss of the person. Your brain can learn that they will not be there.

Continuing bonds

You may have heard the term continuing bonds. This refers to the bond you will always have with the person who is dead. They may not physically be present, but you will find you are still in communication with them. It is very common for human beings to do this.

Continuing bonds allow you to connect to other loved ones and make new friends.

The benefits of what your brain is doing

Your brain can help you through the experience of grief so that you can understand what life is like now and find ways to reconnect and create meaningful activity in your life.

Grief is a form of learning so it doesn’t matter how long it takes. You will continue to learn.

Keep talking about your loved one. Keep sharing your experiences. Find your tribe who will be willing to listen. Be patient. Be okay to not always be happy. Be okay to sometimes feel sad. Be okay to grieve forever.

If you need to talk to someone and can’t find a group, then counselling can help.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Attachment and its relevance to you

Attachment is a frequent topic of conversation. You may have heard about it and wondered what it is. In this blog, I will be explaining attachment and the related term attunement. I will describe the impact it has on child development and finish with an explanation as to how this impacts on adulthood. Finally, I will end with the good news for adults who missed out on secure attachment in childhood and how to correct insecure attachment.

What is Attachment?

Many mistakes and much research has demonstrated that an essential need for children is to be held and touched, as well as to feel seen. This need starts at birth.

These two needs are named Attachment and Attunement.

Attachment describes the bond between the child and their caregiver/s. For survival, a baby needs at least one secure adult who will provide the baby’s needs. If the child cries, it needs an adult to pick it up and attend to its needs for food, nappy changes, comfort when distressed and loving interactions. In an ideal world every child will receive that care and will be secure in the knowledge its care needs will be met.

But this is not an ideal world. And children, even in infancy, have to adopt behaviours to ensure their care needs are met.

The securely attached child

For the child with secure adult/s in their life, it is easy to have their needs met. They know there will be someone to look after them, to keep them clean, feed them, comfort them when they are distressed, play with them, see them. The usual attachment behaviours of crying or holding out their arms will result in their needs being met.

The insecurely attached child

For the child who does not have a secure adult in their life, it is not so easy. These children, described as having an insecure pattern of attachment, learn that their carer is not available when they need them. For this child, crying or expressing emotions may be dangerous. They learn to hide their fear and distress. Other insecurely attached children may learn that only when they exaggerate their crying or adopt any behaviour that gets attention will they get their needs met. For these children there is a belief that their carer is not there to meet their needs physically and/or emotionally.

Another group of insecurely attached children may learn that their carer is totally inconsistent in meeting their needs. This carer may be terrifying. That child may be frozen, unable to get any needs met and never being sure of the carer’s response to their attachment seeking behaviour.

The positive impact of secure attachment

When a child feels safe. That their physical and emotional needs will be met. They are able to develop on a normal trajectory.

Before I explain this, I want to talk about Attunement.


It is not enough for a child to have its needs for food and comfort met. Children also need to feel seen.

If a child is not seen and visible to its carer/s then it will not get its needs met and will not survive.

Attunement is noticing a child, tuning into them, interacting with them, seeking to understand them.

A child needs to be reassured that if they are upset at something, their carer will seek to understand what the problem is.

Babies are observed to use behaviours to be noticed by their carer. They smile, coo, put their hands out, respond to the carer’s interactions. All these are part of early attunement.

Another aspect of attunement is the carer who hears the child cry and understands that cry is one of discomfort. So they change the nappy and check for anything else causing discomfort.

If the cry is one of hunger, they feed the child. And so on.

As the child grows, the attuned parent plays with the child, interacts with them, looks at things they show them, seeks to understand why the child is upset, seeks to understand acting out behaviours and so on.

Providing the security to explore the world and safety to return to

Attunement is an important aspect of secure attachment for a child.

What a child needs is to have a secure base from which to explore the world while being delighted in, helped and sharing enjoyment. They also need a safe haven that welcomes the child returning and where they can feel protected, comforted, delighted in, and having their feelings organised so they can learn to do that later in life. (Circle of Security www.circleofsecurity.net)

Interacting with a child securely and safely

Once children learn to talk, they learn to ask questions. A lot of them. These questions are vital aspects of learning for the child. It is a child’s interactions with its carers that drive brain development.

It is during the child’s first five years of life that dramatic brain development takes place. During this time the child learns how to self-regulate their emotions. They learn this by being co-regulated by their carer who holds and comforts them when they are upset or hurt, as well as laughing with them when they are having fun.

During these years, the child learns about the world and forms the view of the world as either safe or dangerous.

4 main areas where attachment drives development

  1. Cognitive development. This is the internal belief about who I am and who You are.
  2. Emotional regulation. This is the ability to experience, tolerate, express and regulate all emotions and to learn to seek help when needed.
  3. Exploratory play and allied behaviour. This is the ability to be able to initiate exploration and investigation of the world through play and socialisation.
  4. Pro-social orientation towards others. This means feeling able to reach out to others, to form friendships with others, to be part of a community.

9 positive benefits throughout life of secure childhood attachment

  1. Protects from toxic stress. Toxic stress can be an abusive teacher, a bully, an abusive parent, needs being unmet, a disruption in the family such as divorce or a parent dying.
  2. Allows healthy development. The stress of insecure attachment has a negative effect on child development. It also makes children vulnerable to depression or anxiety in childhood and later life.
  3. Learning to regulate emotions. This has already been mentioned above.
  4. Develop a healthy sense of self. Being related to by others in secure attachment allows the child to develop a sense of “who am I” and “who are you”.
  5. Frees the brain to focus on learning. Insecure attachment involves the child constantly seeking safety which prevents the brain from giving full attention to learning.
  6. The development of self reliance. If the child is secure, they can feel safe to try new things and learn to be self reliant. On the flip side, the child also learns it is okay to ask for help when needed and safe to rely on others when necessary. Insecurely attached children can struggle to learn self reliance and can struggle to ask for help because as a child there was no one to help them.
  7. Healthy self esteem from which confidence grows. A securely attached child learns that there is always someone who thinks they are worthwhile. This is communicated to the child by the fact that there is always a carer there to pick them up, soothe them, play with them, see them. This sends the message “I am here and you are worth me being here”. What message does the child get from this? “You are here and I must be worth your being here. If I am worth you being here then I am worthwhile”.
  8. Social competence. The carer baby relationship is the first relationship a child has. These sets the template for all relationships the child has in life.
    Secure attachment teaches a child: • it is safe to be close to another person (intimacy) • you can support others and they can support you • empathy • getting along with others in all areas of life (or doing the best you can because it is not possible to get along with everyone)
  9. Good health. This is considered due to lower stress in childhood and into adulthood, which, apart from the lowered exposure to the damaging effect of stress hormones on the body, is shown to lower the need to resort to stress relieving activities such as excessive alcohol intake, comfort eating and smoking.

Secure attachment also leads to healthy relationships which result in good mental health, good physical health, healthy life habits and lowered mortality risk.

How does this relate to me as an adult?

If you had a secure attachment and were well attuned to as a child then you are likely to be able to live life with the ability to cope with the challenges you encounter. You may occasionally need help, but you will be fairly likely to be comfortable asking for help.

You will be able to form secure relationships with other people.

If you didn’t have a secure attachment then life may be more stressful. It may be harder to cope when challenges occur. You may not know who to seek help from or feel safe seeking that help. You may find it hard to do that things you want to do in life.

You may also find it hard to function when you are stressed. And you may notice you are stressed often. On the other hand, other people may comment on how stressed you are and you don’t think you are stressed at all because stress is so much part of your life that you don’t know what it feels like to not be stressed.

You may find you get into friendships and intimate relationships with people who are toxic. You may find yourself unable to speak up at work about problems.

You may find you feel there is crisis after crisis and struggle to feel at peace.

There are myriad ways your childhood may impact on you.

The good news

The good news is that, with the help of a trauma trained counsellor, it is possible to repair those early attachment wounds. It is possible to learn how to be more secure in relationships. It is possible to learn how to use the way your brain developed to serve you well in life, instead of hampering you.

Can I Help?

I am trauma trained and if you would like to talk to me about how I can help you to develop a more secure attachment style, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz