Don’t Hide From Grief. Let Your Brain Do Its Work.

Grief is a very difficult feeling to explain. Although there are similarities in the way people grieve, there are also differences. Each person grieves in their own unique way.

How you grieve depends on your life experiences, your relationship to the person who has died, what else is happening in your life and what you have been taught about grief.

Grief Is Inescapable

The important thing to remember is that Grief is real. It is not something to be pushed away or run away from.

It is not something you can drink away, smoke away, drug away, shop away or any other activity you can devise to hide from it.

Grief is.

Grief Impacts Your Brain

Neuroscientists studying grief have found that grief activates the same areas of the brain activated by physical pain. In other words, emotional pain causes the same pain reaction in the brain as physical pain.

Grief also triggers the brain’s fight or flight defensive areas. This results in you being alert and restless. It also causes you to feel exhausted as your brain doesn’t allow you to rest.

I Can’t Get The Circumstances Out Of My Mind

People who grieve often talk about the constant churning of the events of their loved one’s death over and over in their mind.

This is something that is often reported as being unhealthy. Replaying events in the brain is something that people are often told is bad and must be stopped.

But replaying the events of a painful experience such as bereavement is essential for the brain to process what has happened.

I am not saying that you keep going over and over the events forever. But you do need to allow them to replay and be resolved.

Memories Usually Lessen Over Time

Those memories should start to lessen over time. You might not think them as often. You might find the memories are less painful. That means your brain is processing them and resolving them.

If those memories don’t lessen. If you still are troubled by the high frequency of the memories. If you feel things are not resolving then you may need help from a grief counsellor.

The Uncertainty Of The Grief World

It is important to remember that the fight or flight response in the brain is triggered by the disruption of grief. All that you knew, all that seemed certain, has been devastated. You are in the grip of uncertainty and that is scary. You will most likely feel unsafe.

In some instances you may be financially impacted by the grief. That in itself is scary.

It is really important to allow others who you feel safe with to financially support you.

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 helpful 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

3 Steps To Helping Your Child Understand And Process Grief

Grief is devastating for anyone.

As an adult, you have an advantage in grieving. That advantage is your brain development.

All things being equal, by the time your brain is fully developed (around age 25) you have learned how to process grief. If you haven’t encountered grief before, hopefully you have learned to seek help in processing your grief.

Children’s Brains Struggle To Process Grief

For a child, the lack of brain development means that processing grief is very difficult.

For an undeveloped brain, comprehending death and the existential issues around it, is extremely difficult. Adults struggle with this. So children will struggle even more without the tools yet to be developed to help them.

Grief In Children Resurfaces At Each Developmental Stage.

The younger the child, the more undeveloped will be their ability to process their grief. It is now known that grief in children will resurface at different stages in their childhood and even into adult life.

It is important to be aware of these difficulties and be ready to support your child.

The developing brain is learning. That is how the brain develops. But without support, the brain cannot learn. The brain needs to learn how to process Grief.

Attending To The Trauma Of Grief

Grief is a trauma. It is dysregulating. A child experiencing grief will be thrown into a major fight/flight/freeze stress response. They will also lose their connection to others and feel very isolated and alone.

Many people think they just have to sit their child down and talk to them and that will help. But a dysregulated brain can’t learn or reason so talking to a child in this situation will not work.

The 3 Steps

There are 3 steps to reaching your child and helping them to learn how to process their grief.

The steps are as follows:

Step 1. Regulate

The first thing you need to do with your child is help them regulate their fight/flight/freeze response and become calmer.

One of the best ways to do this is to be as calm as you can. Research has shown that children cope well with traumatic events when their parents remain relatively calm and can maintain as much as possible regular routines. The main thing is that your child feels safe. They need to feel that you can still protect them. In a world that has just fallen apart with the loss of someone important, knowing you are still there is vital.

Do the best you can

Obviously, if you are grieving as well, it is going to be hard to regulate yourself. You are likely to be crying and finding it hard to focus.

This is the pain of parenting. There are times when you have to put your own needs aside to attend to the needs of your children. It is natural for you to do that, and it may be necessary. But don’t put off attending to your own needs for long. It is okay to be crying when you seek to regulate your child.

After all, your child needs to see you grieving to learn it is okay to be sad and cry, but life still goes on.

One of the best ways to regulate is to hold your child. That helps them to feel safe and also gives you a sense of safety as well.

Step 2. Relate

Holding your child is part of the next step as well.

You help your child to regulate, to feel safer and still cared for.

Now you help them by establishing a connection. Holding your child will help them feel connected to you. This will mean they feel less isolated and alone.

Being Attuned To Your Child

Relating also involved being attuned to your child and their needs. It means you will stop and seek to understand what your child is thinking and feeling. Depending on their age, this may involve (when appropriate) making a general statement such as:

“It is really sad and frightening that x has died.”

This would work best for a young child who may still be learning to understand their emotions. Acknowledging what you sense they are experiencing helps them to feel understood.

For an older child you may ask them what they are feeling. Or you may wonder if they are feeling sad because you are.

It is important to not hide your feelings and allow your child to see you are sad too but that your sadness won’t stop you caring for them.

Be Attuned For A Long Time

Remember that I earlier mentioned that grief in children takes longer and is revisited at each developmental stage.

It is important to keep that in mind. Even after the initial period of adjustment to death your child will continue to grieve.

Always make sure you seek to understand your child. This maintains a connection between the two of you and is also comforting for your child. An attuned parent is one who provides safety and security. Something all children need, but grieving children need it more.

Step 3. Reason

Once your child is regulated and secure in their relationship with you, you can then reason with them.

You can support your child to express their feelings should they want to. You can support your child according to their developmental stage to reflect, learn, remember, articulate and learn how to live with their loss.

How Do I Support My Child To Learn?

There are many aids you can use to help you support your child through their grief. These aids will help them to learn healthy ways of processing grief. This will serve them well now and in later life with other losses.

There are many age-appropriate books you can read to your child. Your local library is a good source of these. If you send your child to a counsellor many will have these resources as well. I have a range of books I use with younger children.

For teenagers, who are already exploring the more existential issues of life as part of their teen development, a more existential approach that emphasises philosophical discussions mixed with some helpful facts about grief and its impacts is really helpful.

Can I Help?

Sometimes you and/or your child/ren will need help from a grief trained counsellor. It can be very helpful to learn what is normal in grieving both for yourself and your child. If you need help, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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 Family Enmeshment? Is My Family Enmeshed?

The definition of family enmeshment is that family members are excessively involved in each other’s lives and find it hard, even impossible, to set boundaries. There is a strong desire to maintain close relationships, which in itself is not bad, but it has negative impacts.

It is like several lengths of wool, each representing a family member. The wool strands become tangled into masses of knots. With an enmeshed family each person in the family becomes entangled and the needs and identities of each individual get lost.

Enmeshed Families And Close Families Are Different.

This doesn’t mean that families can’t be close and healthy. There are families where family members are close. These families have strong bonds. The members of the family care for each other.

The difference between a close family and an enmeshed family is that in the close knit family there is respect of each individual and their personal space and independence. Individuals within a close family are encouraged to grow and make their own choices. There is no pressure for people to do things they don’t want to.

In the enmeshed family there is a blurring of the boundaries between individuals within the family. It becomes difficult for a member of such a family to make a decision or even have their own thoughts and feelings. Members of enmeshed families feel unable to make choices that the family won’t approve of, even when they really want to do something.

Are Enmeshed Families Codependent?

It is often believed that enmeshed families are in codependent relationship with each other. Certainly co-dependency and enmeshment are related and can happen in family relationships as well as other relationships but there is a difference.

Enmeshment is when two or more people become so involved in each other’s lives, relationships and decision making that they are unable to act autonomously. This has a negative effect on the mental health of the enmeshed people.

Codependent relationships are where two people, such as those in a romantic relationship, friends, parent and child rely on the other for emotional support, acceptance or identity.

Co-dependency may exist in an enmeshed family but then again it may not.

Cultural Impact Of Enmeshment.

In different cultures families can act differently. If the culture is one of autonomy and independence (individualistic) a healthy family will have well defined boundaries between family members. If the culture is one where being part of the group and more dependent on others is normal (collectivist culture), then a family that meets the definition of enmeshed is more likely to exist. In this setting, such a family is considered to be normal and healthy.

If the culture the family exists in is collectivist, family members will not suffer negative mental health impacts. However, if the family has emigrated to a country with a more individualistic culture, the family members may be more torn between the culture of their family and that of the society in which they are now living. This is particularly so with children.

When deciding if a family is enmeshed or not it is important to consider the culture of the family and the impact that enmeshment is having on the mental health of the family members.

In Enmeshed Families Roles Are Rigid.

Another thing seen in an enmeshed family is that family members will often have rigid roles within the family. Every family has roles for family members, but in a healthy family the roles can change over time.

Enmeshed families are often very intrusive. There is little privacy and interfering with another family member’s private thoughts and concerns is considered normal. This is because of the lack of boundaries between family members.

How To Spot Lack Of Boundaries

In such a family other signs of lack of boundaries can include:

• Over protective adults who control what children do and prevent them from anything that challenges them and allows them to grow. The adults may believe they are protecting the child but the motivation is often their own fears of something like that happening to them.

• Adults in the family system will micromanage their children and make decisions for them without any consultation.

• Manipulation is used to coerce the children to do what the adult wants. Guilt and Shame are often used to achieve this.

• Not respecting the privacy of children, often seen by going through their belongings, reading private writings, monitoring their activities and keeping tabs on what they are doing.

• Use the children for emotional support and validation.

• Set out to be the child’s “best friend” even when the child doesn’t want it.

• Not perceive the children as individuals who are growing up and striving for independence.

• Enforce family unity and prevent anything that threatens that such as something an individual may wish to do or outside relationships individuals may wish to have.

• Keep a strict cap on any conflict within the family. Individuals within an enmeshed family learn that keeping the peace is essential and there are negative consequences for disobeying that rule.

What Impact Does An Enmeshed Family Have On A Child?

Children in an enmeshed family are:

• Often very alert to their parent’s needs and emotions.

• Have trouble making decisions.

• Struggle to become independent as adults.

• If asked what their interests and values are they will always cite the family interests and values.

• Believe they must keep the family happy.

• Often are loners and don’t make friends because their emotional needs are met within the family.

• Find it hard to voice their own needs, again due to a need to maintain peace within the family.

• Become more emotional then is normal when there are family conflicts or crises

• As they grow older they often become financially and emotionally responsible for the care of their parents.

Why Does Enmeshment Occur In Some Families?

A lot of enmeshment happens because of parents being raised in enmeshed families. This is the only family structure one or both parents know. Parenting is usually based on what was learned during childhood. Unless the parent is aware their childhood family was enmeshed and was able to learn about other family models as well as learn how to set healthy boundaries, the pattern the parent will use in their family will be an enmeshed one.

Another cause could be if there were difficulties in the relationship a child had with their caregivers that resulted in what is known as an anxious attachment style. That style of attachment involves a need for excessive closeness and validation from others. If the childhood wounds are not resolved and the attachment style healed then it can result in the behaviours present in an enmeshed family.

Research has suggested that a parent who has poor mental health and is raising their children alone without healthy adult friendships is more likely to establish enmeshed relationships with her children. People in that situation often experienced their own trauma as children and consequently have a poor sense of self and have difficult regulating their emotions.

Crises in the environment, such as natural disasters and wars will increase the likelihood that the family members with look to each other for support and security. If the crisis is long term or resulted in traumatic impacts that are not healed then enmeshment can develop.

Is Enmeshment Bad?

Yes and no. members of enmeshed family value loyalty, belonging and emotionally supporting others. They also have deep interpersonal connections with other family members.

The negative is that family members, especially children raised in such a family, find it hard to set boundaries with others. They can find it hard to make decisions. They will also struggle being able to express their own needs and desires and set healthy boundaries around their needs and desires.

Another negative is that it can be difficult developing healthy relationships with others outside the family.

For adults in an enmeshed family there can be high levels of stress as they remain constantly vigilant maintaining control and closeness. Adults are also likely to struggle to maintain their own identity which impacts on their own mental health. It also impacts on their relationships with others both within and outside the family.

Conflict is another difficulty for enmeshed families. It may often lead to conflict being buried and these unresolved conflicts result in tension within the family that can become destructive. Family members, especially children, will struggle to learn healthy conflict resolution skills. This impacts mental health as well as impacting on the ability to learn healthy communication skills.

Does Enmeshment Cause Trauma?

Yes it can.

In heavily enmeshed families each family member is very involved in the emotional life of each other family member. This is difficult for children with their developing brains and developing emotional regulation skills. Being overloaded and overwhelmed by adult emotions without anyone to help the child understand what is being experienced, as well as emotionally regulate, impacts the child’s mental well being, both in childhood and later in adulthood.

Not knowing where you end and other family members start is also damaging. This impacts on the ability to form a sense of self. It impacts on the ability to set boundaries.

In a family where everyone’s business and feelings is everyone else’s it is very difficult to learn boundaries and to learn to say no or yes.

If a child doesn’t learn to set boundaries then it is very difficult to do so in adulthood.

Research shows that adults who grew up in enmeshed families and were traumatised by this, struggle with their mental health in adulthood. They may suffer depression and anxiety. They may also find it hard to form healthy, respectful relationships. They are more vulnerable to codependent relationships. They also struggle to separate their emotions and needs from those of others.

The Good News.

As with all trauma, it is possible to heal. It is not easy and it will take a long time for your brain to grow new, healthy connections, but it is possible.

The first step is recognising the enmeshment and what behaviours within the family are enmeshed behaviours and which are not problem behaviours.

• It is possible to learn who you are and learn where your boundaries are.

• It is possible to learn to assert those boundaries in a calm and healthy way.

• You can even learn to say no without feeling guilty!

• It is even possible to learn to set boundaries with your family. It may not always be possible to set boundaries without cutting off contact with your family, that will depend on how mentally healthy individual members are, but you can learn to set limits on contact so that it is healthy and you learn how to heal from this.

• You can learn what is normal family and relationship behaviour and be able to set healthy boundaries around future relationships as well as existing ones. You can also learn to recognise unhealthy relationships that may need to end.

What Other Things Can You Do To Learn Who You Are And Heal?

A competent counsellor who is trained in mindfulness can teach you mindfulness and how to use this to understand the feelings and emotions you experience.

• With this skill you can be taught how to regulate your emotions.

• With mindfulness you can start exploring the things that matter to you, what your values are, what you believe in.

• You can get to know yourself and what you are passionate about. You can recognise the things that really interest you.

• You can learn how to be curious and how to try new things.

• You can learn to connect with others in a healthy way and “find your tribe” who understand you and support you.

• You can learn to be kind to yourself.

Getting Help.

When you have been raised in the difficult environment of an enmeshed family it can be hard to learn what is normal and what is dysfunctional.

It can also be difficult to know how to learn more healthy behaviours.

This is where seeing a counsellor who is skilled in those areas can be helpful.

Can I Help?

I am trained in mindfulness and in trauma counselling. I use mindfulness always in my work with people. If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your family enmeshment, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

Trauma Impacts Your Adult Life, Even When You Don’t Think It Has

“Few of us have escaped experiencing trauma in our human life. I define trauma as a difficult life event that was too overwhelming to emotionally process when it happened. When you become emotionally overwhelmed, trauma is stored in your body, waiting for another time in the future to be digested, resolved and healed.” ~ Shelley Klammer

Many of the difficult feelings that are experienced in life are never dealt with. Maybe at the time there was too much going on to be able to process what had happened. Maybe there wasn’t support available to help you process what had happened. Often these traumatic experiences occur in childhood.

Frequently other people don’t understand how traumatic seemingly (to them) unimportant events can be to a child. If others don’t comprehend the impact the event had on you, then they can’t help you process it.

Sadly, not all children have adults in their lives who are attuned to them or have the skills to help them process the difficult things that happen in life.

So You Think Your Childhood Trauma Didn’t Impact You?

I have witnessed so many people who claim they were never impacted by the difficult things that happened in their lives, but the way they react to things and the difficulties they face in life tell another story.

So often individuals are unaware of the impacts because they have covered them up for so long, at first as a matter of survival and later because they have covered them up so successfully they can no longer see them as existing.

My Journey Of Discovery

I know. I did the same thing. As I grew older, and learned more, I started to try to understand what was happening for me.

My mother dying helped, as her hold over me was broken. It was like waking up and seeing the things she did to me and hearing what other people had observed but I hadn’t been ready to hear until she was dead.

When I studied counselling I discovered a lot of places where trauma had impacted me. I was able to see that shadow side. The trauma side.

Along the way I sought my own counselling to help heal the trauma impacts.

Shame

I was also able to acknowledge the shame I felt at being abused as a child.

Shame is a major part of childhood abuse. The child is often told the adult’s bad behaviour is the child’s fault. Even if the child is not told that, the child concludes they are bad and shameful because it is the only way they can make sense of what is happening to them.

Trauma Healing Is Active And Lifelong

I continue to discover places where trauma has impacted me. I suspect I will continue finding these impacts until I die. They are not major now, but they are still there.

Seeing Trauma Impacts As Different Parts Of You

I have learned to be able to see those impacts as a child of the age when the trauma occurred. That helps to be more objective about the impacts.

It helps to have compassion for the child, rather than judging her. It helps me to understand better how hard I had to work as a child and how well I have done to be fairly normal as an adult.

Mindfulness, reflection and compassion are my tools for exploring all those hurt places.

You can learn this too. On your journey you will find it hard to be able to do this alone. This is where a trauma trained counsellor is helpful.

Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

“Few of us have escaped experiencing trauma in our human life. I define trauma as a difficult life event that was too overwhelming to emotionally process when it happened. When you become emotionally overwhelmed, trauma is stored in your body, waiting for another time in the future to be digested, resolved and healed.” ~ Shelley Klammer

Many of the difficult feelings that are experienced in life are never dealt with. Maybe at the time there was too much going on to be able to process what had happened. Maybe there wasn’t support available to help you process what had happened. Often these traumatic experiences occur in childhood.

Frequently other people don’t understand how traumatic seemingly (to them) unimportant events can be to a child. If others don’t comprehend the impact the event had on you, then they can’t help you process it.

Sadly, not all children have adults in their lives who are attuned to them or have the skills to help them process the difficult things that happen in life.

Subheading So You Think Your Childhood Trauma Didn’t Impact You?

I have witnessed so many people who claim they were never impacted by the difficult things that happened in their lives, but the way they react to things and the difficulties they face in life tell another story.

So often individuals are unaware of the impacts because they have covered them up for so long, at first as a matter of survival and later because they have covered them up so successfully they can no longer see them as existing.

Subheading My Journey Of Discovery

I know. I did the same thing. As I grew older, and learned more, I started to try to understand what was happening for me.

My mother dying helped, as her hold over me was broken. It was like waking up and seeing the things she did to me and hearing what other people had observed but I hadn’t been ready to hear until she was dead.

When I studied counselling I discovered a lot of places where trauma had impacted me. I was able to see that shadow side. The trauma side.

Along the way I sought my own counselling to help heal the trauma impacts.

Subheading Shame

I was also able to acknowledge the shame I felt at being abused as a child.

Shame is a major part of childhood abuse. The child is often told the adult’s bad behaviour is the child’s fault. Even if the child is not told that, the child concludes they are bad and shameful because it is the only way they can make sense of what is happening to them.

Subheading Trauma Healing Is Active And Lifelong

I continue to discover places where trauma has impacted me. I suspect I will continue finding these impacts until I die. They are not major now, but they are still there.

Subheading Seeing Trauma Impacts As Different Parts Of You

I have learned to be able to see those impacts as a child of the age when the trauma occurred. That helps to be more objective about the impacts.

It helps to have compassion for the child, rather than judging her. It helps me to understand better how hard I had to work as a child and how well I have done to be fairly normal as an adult.

Mindfulness, reflection and compassion are my tools for exploring all those hurt places.

You can learn this too. On your journey you will find it hard to be able to do this alone. This is where a trauma trained counsellor is helpful.

Sub heading Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

Learning To Feel What Seems Unfeelable

I often write about the importance of learning to feel into your body. It is in your body that the keys to unlock the things that hold you back can be found.

I always write this knowing that it is possible to learn to do this, as I have done. But I am also aware it is not easy to reach there. It is virtually impossible without the assistance of a trauma trained counsellor.

I was reminded of this recently when I read a blog by a trauma yoga teacher.

She wrote about leading a yoga and meditation class in the mental health ward of a hospital. Her clients were people with dissociative disorders.

Feeling Into Your Body Is Something You Have To Learn To Do

Having learned, as I have, to be able to feel into her body in safety, she realised she had to allow for the difficulty these people experienced feeling into their bodies. When you have unresolved trauma from the past it is very hard to feel into your body where all those unprocessed and very scary memories are stored.

This experience forced the teacher to explore how to bring attention inside without being so frightened that you dissociate. She explored how to bring attention inside without feeling like you are floating, disconnected from your internal and external environment.

Being In The External World Is Easy, But Go Into Your Internal World And It Becomes Very Hard

We find it so easy to get angry or irritated by people in our external world, why is it so hard to turn out attention internally to situations in our past that hurt us?

Why is it that we can be courageous in the world around us, but when we come to look in side ourselves and allow us to feel what we find there, we are terrified?

Every Child Needs An Adult Who Loves Them And Can Teach Them How To Self Regulate

If you never had an adult in your childhood who was able to attune to you. Able to teach you how to make sense of what was going on in your body. Able to help you learn how to regulate your emotions so that your internal world is not terrifying. Then how could you learn?

When you lacked someone to guide and teach you then how do you navigate your internal environment?

Trauma Trained Counsellors Learn How To Do This

This is what a trauma trained counsellor knows to do. I have learned how to connect those broken pieces inside. How to piece your body, mind and heart together so that you can feel safe to look inside yourself.

I know these techniques work because I used them myself to learn.

All those trapped memories need to be processed. Until you learn the skills and have someone skilled to walk beside you and help you, you will not be able to process this trauma. And it will cripple your life.

Childhood Memories Of Trauma Are Frightening

Those memories are frightening. They hurt. They are full of a child trying to understand a very frightening world. There is a deep sense of shame, of being wrong. Of thinking that what happened was your fault and because there was something wrong with you.

There is despair at never seeming to get any better. There is rage at the unfair things being done to you. There is hurt that someone who should care for you can do this. There is disappointment that no matter what you try, nothing gets better.

All these terrifying memories are the reason you become numb. Feeling them is terrifying so blanketing them, freezing them, dulling them is the only way to survive. And because they are still there your body reacts to them in the only way it can.

How Your Body Reacts To The Pain

You get terrible fear and pain from these memories.

You get anxious, depressed, you do whatever you can to shut down the memories.

You take pills, you drink too much alcohol, you try an array of drugs, you go on spending sprees, you do any behaviour that is repetitive to drown out those horrible memories and feelings of deep shame and unworthiness.

What You Need

What you need is someone to teach you how to manage those emotions. How to release the feelings of unworthiness, exclusion and shame. How to release these harmful feelings.

You need to take it slowly. To only visit those memories when you have the skills to calm yourself.

Yes you can reach a point where you can make the choice to be who you want to be. A place where you know how to respond to calm yourself. Where you know how to respond to not put yourself in a fight/flight/freeze state. And I can help you with that learning.

Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

Focusing on the Emotions of Grief

So many people come to see me because, in the wake of their grief, they can’t handle the swirl of emotions.

It is not just the emotions that they struggle with. It is the belief that there is something wrong with them for having those emotions.

It is heart breaking to see people feeling they can’t express their emotions. Either because someone tells them it is bad to do so, or because other people immediately seek to shut them down.

Like it or not, grieving involves a swinging from the emotions of protest at the death of the one you love and despair that they are not there anymore.

Things that Complicate Grief

Complicating grieving are the security of the relationship you had with the person, and any unresolved issues within that relationship.

By this I mean how secure your relationship felt. Did you feel safe and secure with this person? Or were you constantly battling to feel reassured of the security of the relationship? Were there hurts that you had never had a chance to resolve with that person? It will be hard to grieve for that person while those hurts remain unresolved.

Also relevant is anything that has happened in the past that impacts on the current grief.

Factors that Impact How You Cope With the Emotions Around Grief

A major factor in how you will cope with the emotions is your history of how you regulate emotions. If you find it hard to express your emotions then expressing those around grief are going to be difficult.

If you can’t express your emotions then it is impossible to be able to sit with those emotions, face them and work your way through them.

How Rituals Can Help

Rituals around death can also be helpful. What were you raised to do when someone died?

Some are taught to not show emotions, not talk about the death and feel intense shame if you cry.

Others are taught to cry as part of the ritual around the death of a loved one.

Then there are the rituals where the person is commemorated, maybe you will have “sorry business”, or you may light a candle every day for a prescribed number of days in honour of the person.

The above are just some of the ways rituals are used to mark a person’s death.

All, with the exception of the one where you suppress emotions, are very helpful to those who are grieving.

Learning to Manage the Overwhelming Emotions

When I see a grieving person I look for ways to manage the overwhelming emotions. Ways to process what has happened.

I never look for pathology. Although, if you come to see me and it has been 6 months since your loved one died I will ask you to fill in a questionnaire as an aid to measure your progress while seeing me.

Often all you need in your grief is a companion to walk beside you. Having that companion a grief trained counsellor is really helpful. I won’t pathologise your experience. I will help you to express what is so hard to express. I will ensure you realise how normal your reaction is.

Questions to Consider

As we walk together I will ask you to tell me about the one you lost. Tell me about your relationship. What about the history of their death? How did they die? Did you have to make a decision to turn off life support? Did they choose a medically assisted death? Was their death long and painful? Was their death peaceful?

What was the experience of their death like for you?

Were you present in the moment, or did you push your own feelings aside to support your dying loved one, or other family members.

It can be very easy to get stuck, unable to express your own feelings, when you are in a situation of supporting other people.

Were you isolated at the time of death and its aftermath? Being isolated is very traumatising.

Did you feel unsafe in the situation, with all your emotions swirling around and no one there to support you?

The Goal of Therapy

When you work with me the goal we work to is to help you see the strengths that have carried you this far.

Additionally, when you had to support others at the time, I give you the space and support to make that emotional contact with your own feelings so that you can support yourself now.

Together we can be curious and open to explore your experience and the places you are frightened of visiting. My aim is to help you make contact with yourself again. To give you the chance now you are out of survival mode to experience your feelings.

Visiting that experience will most likely involve a lot of reminiscence about your relationship with your loved one. Reminiscing about the things you did together and the events of the end of their life is also important. It allows you to experience the things you may have pushed aside to support others.

What about the present?

An important aspect of grieving is learning to live in the present.

The one you love still exists in your mind. That is something that needs to be explored. How do they exist to you? In what ways do you still rely on them? Do you have a sense of their presence? Do you imagine they help you when you feel lost and not sure how to proceed?

All this is known as continuing bonds. This is an important part of grief. Forming these bonds is how you form the new relationship with your loved one.

“I have a new life. Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some final resolution, some clear meaning, which it perhaps never finds.” ~ Robert Anderson

Grief is not something you ever “get over”. It lasts for the rest of your life. It just gets easier over time to think about the person. You learn to forge a new relationship that is based on them being dead.

That Can Impact How You Grieve

There are many things that impact on how you grieve.

Grief you have experienced in the past, and the way it was managed, has a deep impact on how you are grieving now.

Trauma in your past will also impact on how you perceive grief and how you are able to regulate your emotions and access support.

Having previously learned to suppress your emotions will make it hard for your to experience them now.

One thing I like to do is to take your back to those final moments for you to experience the feelings you had then. It is helpful for you to experience those feelings in a more receptive way. At the time you would have been barely surviving. Now you are better able to be aware of the experience.

Working on that Moment

Sitting with what you were feeling at those crucial moments in the death of your loved one allows you to experience emotions you had to suppress in order to get through these moments.

Many people will realise they felt great sadness, anger, sadness and longing.

One man told me that at the moment in his life when he was in the worst situation he had ever been in, losing the one he loved, the person he could count on to support him wasn’t there because they were dying.

The person is dying or dead and you don’t want to let them go.

Learning to accept the pain

In time most people are able to live with the horror of their grief. They can learn to accept the pain rather than avoid it. They give themselves permission to cry and not try to hide what they are feeling.

Most people learn to continue a relationship with the one who has died. They may still have conversations with them. Some even write a journal for their loved one of all the things they want to tell them.

It becomes possible to be reminded of the one you lost. You no longer avoid the places that strongly remind you of them. You can remember the good and bad times.

Most importantly, you can accept that you are a different person now. And being that different person is not bad. It is okay.

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 helpful 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

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Grief

Rituals

GriefRecovery

The Real Impact of Trauma

It is one thing to process memories of trauma, but it is an entirely different matter to confront the inner void – the holes in the soul that result from not having been wanted, not having been seen, and not having been allowed to speak the truth. If your parents’ faces never lit up when they looked at you, it’s hard to know what it feels like to be loved and cherished. If you come from an incomprehensible world filled with secrecy and fear, its almost impossible to find the words to express what you have endured. If you grew up unwanted and ignored, it is a major challenge to develop a visceral sense of agency and self worth.” ~ Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score

This quote from the book The Body Keeps The Score, by Bessel van der Kolk has always hit home for me.

It is such a powerful summary of the impact of abuse, neglect, lack of attunement, poor attachment, emotionally unavailable parents, narcissistic parents and more that include the range of wounds that comprise childhood trauma.

It is horrible to not be wanted. It is devastating to not be seen. The wounds left by never been greeted by your parents with love and lit up faces are immense.
When all those things happen the child feels like they don’t exist. They feel unsafe. The feel they have to fight for their survival. They learn to people please and fawn to be given the tiny bit of attention needed to survive. They do things that make them feel ashamed and cripple them in adulthood with shame. They learn to feel like a nothing. To have no way to express their fear, sorrow, anger and more.

My Own Experience

I understand this because that was my childhood. I was never wanted and was told that often. I was deliberately ignored. There were never any proud parents watching my achievements as a child. There were never words of congratulation around the dinner table at night.

I never knew what it was like to be greeted by someone whose face lit up when they saw me, that is until I met my husband. The things my parents did to me were never discussed.

In adulthood when I tried to discuss them with my parents and my siblings there was a wall of silence. My mother constructed a narrative to dismiss my recollections as me being neurotic, or over exaggerating, or making a mountain out of a tiny molehill.

I have had to fight very hard to heal from that. To learn that I am worthy, that I do have a sense of agency, that I matter. I have learned to feel safe, to learn to trust others, to fearlessly speak my truth.

Because I have done that, I know you can too. It is scary. It is hard to trust. Progress can seem so agonisingly slow. But you will get there. You can heal.

As well as my own lived experience, I have studied extensively the latest research on trauma and the best practice approaches to heal trauma. I have helped countless people heal from their trauma, and I can help you too.

Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

Grief Is About Living, Not Just Losing

Everyone lives life with expectations about what life will be.

Eventually there is disappointment when life doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. The way you believe it should be.

In life there are two ways to deal with disappointment.

The first is to protest: I didn’t sign up for this!!!

Life has not turned out as you wanted it to. The trouble is you can get stuck in that protest place and feel miserable and never free yourself to grieve.

Or you can choose to grieve and transform the disappointment.

Some people have learned to transform. They take life as it comes and roll with the punches. They can manage with uncertainty. But for most of us, we have yet to learn this lesson and disappointment, coupled with surprise or shock, leads to grief at the loss of our expected life.

Learning to accept the uncertainty of life allows you to:

• See things as they really are. This allows you to understand life better.

• See opportunities you didn’t realise were there.

• Feel more at peace and comfortable as you switch your attention to what you have instead of what you want and don’t have.

Grief Is About Every Loss In Life

Grief is not just about losing someone you love. Anything in life that is lost, be it a limb, friendship, home, job, life expectation and so on is a loss that you grieve.

The fact that these losses are not recognised as things that are grieved for, makes it harder to grieve.

Examples of big losses in life that need to be grieved for are:

• Having a child born with severe disabilities that changes the expectations you had for the life of that child. You may love that child and determine to always support them, but you still grieve for the lost expectation.

• Future plans to retire and enjoy life changes when your partner becomes very ill and you have to be their full time carer.

• Losing a much loved and valued job.

Grieving Is A Skill

Grieving is a skill that you can learn. People who experience a lot of grief often learn the skills to allow them to process their grief faster.

Whatever the cause of your grief, remember that it is normal. The normal trajectory of grief is that over time the grief diminishes and becomes less. You also start to discover meaning in your life again.

How Long Does Grief Last And Is It Always This Intense?

To answer this question, I am going to ask some questions of you first.

What Was Your Relationship To What Or Who You Have Lost?

If your emotional needs were primarily met by the one you have lost then you are going to need to find someone to meet those needs.

Initially a counsellor can help with that. You can also join a grief support group. In the long term you need to find ways to get those emotional needs met.

How Supportive Is Your Social Network?

The strong supportive social network helps you meet your emotional needs and is there to support you when you need help.

Do You Have Meaningful Activities In Your Life That Are Not Affected By Your Loss?

Having activities in place that are meaningful for you will help you continue with your life.

Part of grieving involves finding new meaning in your life. Having some meaning already can help shorten that process. For some people, their loss changes their life priorities. If that is you, then you may find you need to seek new ways of finding meaning in life.

How Counsellors Help

The biggest way I help people is to allow them to talk to me without any judgement or “fixing” from me. Being able to express your feelings in a safe place allows you to process them better. You can contextualise your grief better with counselling. You can also organise your grief better so that it is more manageable.

So What Does This Have To Do With The Grief Of Lost Expectations?

One thing to consider when you grieve lost expectations is to identify where they came from.

Society is great at teaching you what you should expect from life.

From birth you are introduced to concepts of the ideal life. From the story books you have read to you, to the children’s television programs. These all teach you expectations of what life will be.

As you grow up you observe what people around you are doing. You learn to expect your life to be like that of others. Older people in your life teach you this too. Maybe they talk about what you will grow up to be. There are expectations that you will have a job when you grow up. Expectations that you will find a life partner. Expectations that you will have children. Expectations that you will live in some sort of home.

Advertisements, movies, television series, the conversations of those around us. All these give you a picture of the life you should expect to live.

So where in this perfect picture does a disabled child fit? Or a partner requiring your care? Or you becoming disabled and needing to be cared for? Or losing that wonderful job that means so much to you?

All these things are contrary to what you learned to expect in life. All lead to grief. All need to be grieved.

Life Wasn’t Meant To Be Easy

That may be some put down by a politician, or a platitude thrown at you by someone uncomfortable with your struggles. But the reality is that all life contains suffering. Some people may get a lot more than others, but all will experience some.

If you allow it to, suffering can teach you things.

You may find good people who help you when you didn’t expect that to happen.

You may discover strengths you didn’t realise you had.

You may learn to appreciate life more.

You may find a different way of living that suits you better.

Expectations Around Your Latter Years

For many people I see whose long-term relationships break down once they are over the age of 50 there is often a lot of grief around the future. When you have been in a relationship with someone long term there is that expectation of a future together.

As the Beatles suggested in “When I’m 64” there is the expectation of being in the relationship forever and growing old together. What happens to that? Will you grow old alone? What does that mean for your quality of life? Will you have no one to care for you? No one to notice if you fall? No one to be there should you die at home? What about money? How will you survive? Will you actually have a home to live in? Or will you end up homeless?
These are very real concerns. So Grief is complicated by fears for safety and companionship in the future.

The Value Of Problem Solving

A lot of these lost expectations revolve around what you imagine will give you happiness.

But what if happiness, true happiness, is found elsewhere?

Researchers have found that people who solve problems in their lives report greater happiness and sense of agency than those who don’t solve problems.

That may sound strange but it makes sense.

If you encounter a problem in life it can feel very disempowering. But if you work out how to resolve that problem then you feel good.

Working through your grief and learning how to solve the problems that grief has caused is empowering and builds happiness.

How To Engage Problem Solving

So you had a picture of what your future would be like.

What was that picture?

How has it changed?

What is missing from that picture now?

You have identified what is missing. Now you know what you have lost.

Was what you thought the future would be like realistic? After all, we all imagine amazing things, but they rarely happen. And we are usually fine with that because on some level we know they were unrealistic. Also that realisation usually unfolds slowly, not abruptly when something major happens.

Identifying the unrealistic expectations can help with being able to let go of them.

What you are left with are the expectations that were more realistic. Maybe they were long cherished dreams that are now shattered. These are the ones you need to grieve. Because you put in the work to identify these deep losses, it is actually more manageable to work through them. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it is now a more manageable size.

You may be able to work through these losses on your own or you may need help.

Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

Trauma Blocking Behaviour

I often write about the impacts of trauma in childhood. I also write about the way our society teaches us to avoid uncomfortable feelings.

Today I want to talk about some behaviours people engage in that are designed to cover up deeply upsetting feelings.

These are:
Excessive use of social media and compulsive mindless scrolling.

    I am not referring to people looking on social media to catch up on what friends have posted. I am referring to people who search and search social media pretty much all the time, even when there is nothing to read. I know we can all do that to a certain extent, but when it becomes every day, all day, then it is a problem and most likely to be a trauma blocking behaviour.

Drinking alcohol to excess, including binge drinking.

    Taking drugs of any type, smoking, vaping are also trauma blocking behaviours. In fact experts in addiction agree that the addictions are caused by trauma.

Excessive and mindless eating, even when not hungry.

    Like alcohol, drugs and smoking this is a behaviour that helps to block trauma.

Compulsive exercising to reach an unattainable goal. Or just exercising compulsively.

    As with other addictions, this behaviour blocks uncomfortable feelings so it is compulsively adopted.

Being frightened of being alone so you stay in toxic relationships, even when you are unhappy or in danger.

    It is the idea of it being better to be in any relationship than none at all. But is it better to be in a terrifying and potentially deadly relationship?

Being frightened of being alone so you constantly surround yourself with people and activities to stop you ever being alone.

    This can also involve manipulative behaviours to ensure you have people around you. And when you are alone, you may well use alcohol, drugs or self harm to suppress the fear.

Feeling unsafe if you have nothing do you so you keep yourself busy with constant projects.

Compulsive shopping, especially online, for things you don’t need and going into debt

Being a workaholic with poor work boundaries so that you end up being available 24/7

I am sure you could add others to that list.

Do you find yourself adopting these behaviours?

If you do, you are not alone.

Do you want to stop using these behaviours, or others like them?

This is where a counsellor can help you learn how to face and heal deeply upsetting feelings.

Can I Help?

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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

“I don’t love you anymore”. Getting over the trauma.

Many years ago I had a woman come to see me.

She had been married nearly 50 years, having married in her teens. It was a very long and seemingly happy marriage.

One day her husband told her he had never loved her.

He left.

She was devastated.

The Impact of a Relationship Ending

It is unlikely what he said was true, but so often I hear one of a couple tell their partner the same thing. It is as if in the moment they don’t love the person any more so it becomes “I never loved you”.

This woman had worked hard all her adult life. She was approaching retirement. They had been planning all the things they would do. Now all that was over.

She was facing retirement and old age on her own without the man who had been part of her life for almost 50 years.

Relationship Ending Cause Grief Too

And there was the pain.

He didn’t part amicably. It was nasty and messy. He left and ignored her. The only contact was through lawyers.

The Pain of Rejection

How do you recover when someone you have spent all your adult life with is gone?

It is hard enough when they die. But when their departure is due to them not wanting to be with you anymore that is excruciatingly painful.

It is an incredible rejection.

She had moulded herself to be the other half of a couple. They had a lifetime of memories together. The children they shared, the places they had lived, the pets they had over the years. Everything was a tattered wreck.

How Counselling Helped Her

The woman who walked into my room was shattered. She was stripped of self confidence, self esteem, self worth and sense of self. She was deeply grieving the loss of her future, her plans, her dreams.

But she was resilient. After a few sessions where she was able to express all her anger, devastation, fear and the desire to get him back, she began to realise how resilient she was.

She determined to reclaim her life. And to reclaim it as it related to her. Not as half a couple but as an individual.

Retelling Your Life Story

To do this she decided to tell her life story. Prior to this point she had been telling it as half of a couple. Now she told it as a single person.

She told and retold and retold the story.

She kept telling it until she was able to develop a fresh sense of self.

Finding Who You Are in the Retelling

With that newfound sense of self she was able to hold a fresh perspective on her life. With this perspective and her renewed sense of self she was able to find purpose and meaning in her life to date and in her life moving forward.

This may sound extreme, but we all tell and retell our life stories. Every time you relate to someone else the hurtful things in your past, or the great things in your past, you are telling your story.

What this woman did was look at her life story from a different perspective. She looked at is from the perspective of being an individual.

You can do this too, not just with your stories of loss, but with anything in your life.

Can I Help?

When you are in the depths of grief and rejection, it can be hard to find your story to tell and retell from a new perspective. At those times it can be helpful to see a specialist grief counsellor.

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

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful 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