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

The Importance of To Don’t Lists

It is very easy to get caught up in the pressure to do more. This is particularly so at this time of year when people are sharing their wrap of the old year and their plans for all they are going to do and achieve in the new year.

I recently read an article that suggested another way to respond to this pressure. Instead of a To Do list, it involved a To Don’t List.

How Much Is Okay To Do In A Day?

Before I continue I want to qualify that it is fine to add extra things to your day, if you can do it without overburdening yourself.

For example, A few years ago I found myself waking up between 4 and 5am in the morning. It became an unproductive time for me because I would lie awake worrying about things. This resulted in me waking up feeling quite stressed and often fairly down.

So I decided to add into that time a morning meditation routine. That worked a treat. Instead of lying awake worrying, I spent the time relaxing and focusing on positive things. This was the birth of my “Paint Your Soul” routine and workshops.

When Adding Extra To Your Day Is Not Helpful

But what if normal for you was you sleeping soundly until the alarm sounded and getting up to start your day?

What if you decided to get up earlier to do something you wanted to fit in to your day? What if getting up earlier was not something your body coped with? What if instead you found yourself tired for the rest of the day?

Whereas my earlier start and morning meditation suited my situation, an earlier start may not suit you.

Making The Decision To Pull The Plug On Too Many To Dos

During the years I was raising 4 children, attending to the needs of the family and working part time, I found myself increasingly burdened with too many things to fit in to a day. As a result I was constantly exhausted, struggling to do everything and getting very stressed.

I realised I needed to reduce my workload. It wasn’t easy to do. I decided my priorities were my marriage, my children, clean clothes, clean dishes and food. Everything else was drastically reduced. If it didn’t serve me, it went.

Sometimes to protect yourself and your health you need to be brutal in making decisions to cut back on activities.

Writing A To Don’t List

In this article the writer talked about having a To Don’t List.

This was a decision made to set strict boundaries around her time.

I had To Don’ts. I just didn’t realise I had them.

One was that once the family sat down to eat in the evening the phone would not be answered. I had an answering machine (yes this was a couple of decades ago) so I knew people could leave a message. This allowed the family to focus on eating together, sitting down after dinner to talk or watch television together, and put the children to bed.

Another was to restrict how many invitations a week I accepted. Once I reached the limit I said no to any more invitations. It was hard to miss out on things, but I found it got easier as I enjoyed the time I had to attend to what was important.

Why A Written To Don’t List Works Better

You may have things you decide you won’t do, but find yourself falling into the trap of agreeing to do things on the spur of the moment.

For example, you may decide to spend your day off visiting a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. You haven’t put it in your calendar but you are planning to catch up with them. Then you get a phone call from the group you volunteer with to fill in for another person who is sick. They are so desperate. There is no
one else. You find yourself saying yes and cancelling your friend’s visit.

So here’s a worst case scenario. You miss out on catching up with your friend and are never able to have that catch up because your calendars never have a matching gap and your friend suddenly dies.

The charity you volunteer for? You get there and find there are more people there than needed. Later you discover you were the first person they rang and there were a number of people who would have been happy to fill in that day.

You don’t know when you are asked to do something what the future holds. You don’t know if you are desperately needed or not, or whether the person ringing you is anxious about filling a gap in a roster and wants to fill that gap with the minimum number of phone calls.

When you write your To Dont’s down it is easier to stick to them. There is something about the act of writing things down on a list that you can see that makes them harder to ignore.

Someone once told me that she puts everything in her calendar, including taking time out for “me” time. That way when someone contacts her wanting her to do something that clashes with her me time she just says no. It is in her calendar and she has learned the value of “me” time.

Guarding Your Time Is An Ongoing Process

I still fall into the trap of doing too much, especially as so many people want to see me before Christmas and I have so many friends I want to catch up with at many Christmas Gatherings. The past few Christmases I have found myself staggering over the finish line of Christmas Eve and spending Christmas feeling very unwell. Next Christmas? There will be a formal list with To Don’ts around the number of people I can see in a day. I won’t exceed my limit of people I see on a normal day. This is because I love catching up with my friends. Now that my children are grown up I have added my friends to my priority list. They are essential for my well being.

I still make decisions that involve To Don’ts. Now that I have read about To Don’t Lists I will be formalising my To Dont’s and taking them more seriously.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with setting boundaries around your time and deciding what is necessary and how to fit it in to your 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

People Pleasing, The Destructive Behaviour That Should Be Rejected

Most people are taught as children to have good manners, do as you are told and don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Oh and if you can’t hurt anyone’s feelings then you have to accept that your feelings may get hurt, but that is okay because they don’t matter.

Wrong.

What is deemed good manners often involves other people invading your personal boundaries. And if you follow that code, you aren’t allowed to set boundaries. And that is wrong.

The Downside Of People Pleasing

When you people please, not only do you get hurt but you don’t get a chance to do what you want to do because someone else frequently steps over your boundaries and prevents you from being who you want to be.

Sometimes people learn to people please because of the family environment they grow up in. When there is trauma you learn to do whatever keeps you safe. So you people please.

Narcissistic parents cause a lot of harm by making you responsible for making them happy. So you constantly second guess what you need to do to make them happy.

Becoming Addicted To Being Liked Because Your Truth Says You Don’t Matter

People pleasers can also become addicted to being liked by others and may even learn manipulative behaviours as well as people pleasing.

Behind people pleasing is the message that you and your needs don’t matter. That the things you want to do and the person you want to be is unimportant.

People Pleasing And Healthy Boundaries Can’t Co-exist

One of the problems with people pleasing to everyone is that you set boundaries with people that are very small and people don’t necessarily know they are encroaching on your boundaries. Inevitably you reach a point where you explode with frustration and anger. The other person may be shocked and surprised, not having realised they had encroached on a boundary.

Remember, you set boundaries and you only have to gently ask a healthy person not to do that if you want to set a boundary. If you say nothing then you have given permission to that person to breach that boundary.

An Example Of When People Pleasing Became An Issue

A classic example I saw years ago was when I was working in an office. One of the other team members would walk past the desk of another team member and constantly take her pencils and pens to use. The team member said nothing.

Privately she would complain to the rest of us about it. When it was suggested to her that she ask the other person to stop borrowing her pencils and pens she replied she couldn’t possibly. That would mean she wasn’t being a good team member.

One day she needed to write something down and discovered she had no writing implements on her desk. She went to the other person and exploded in anger. The other person was shocked. She had no idea her borrowing of pens/pencils was a problem.

That is the risk of people pleasing.

The Risks of People Pleasing

The team member in my example stayed up at night running over in her mind the way she should have spoken to the other staff member.

She fantasised about telling this team member not to take her pens and pencils. She became irritable and short fused and often snapped at her family and fellow team members. But never to the one she was actually angry with.

Over time she became resentful of this other team member. Far from being a good team member she had become an ineffective team member because she wouldn’t set boundaries. Her hidden anger and resentment, coupled with her irritability, was causing problems in the team. This reflected badly on her, not the other team member.

Over a period of time, it resulted in an outburst at the most unpredictable moment. Her reaction was out of proportion to the issue at the time.

The Cost of Not Valuing Yourself Enough To Set Boundaries

Not valuing yourself will rob you of your self confidence and self worth. It will destroy your sense of who you are. It destroys your relationships with others because you are constantly looking over your shoulder, second guessing people and modifying your behaviour to keep others happy.

How Do I Change From People Pleasing To Setting Healthy Boundaries?

Learn to say no.

Learn it is acceptable to ask someone not to take something of yours, or rearrange your plans to suit themself, and to consider your needs when making a decision.

Learn to understand who you are. Learn your values, boundaries, and worth.

Learn to say no to what you don’t want to do and yes to what you do want to do.

If the fear of speaking up for yourself and setting a boundary becomes too great to overcome then seeking help from a counsellor can be helpful.

Can I Help?

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

I can guide you through the roots of your people pleasing and help you heal the pain there. Then I can help you learn your values, where you want your boundaries to be and to see yourself as worthwhile.

It takes a lot of courage and strength to learn that you are worthwhile, it is okay to love yourself, you are not responsible for other people’s disappointment and you can say no.

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 didn’t think I had an abusive childhood, but now I realise I did

Do you need other people to validate the things you do?

Do you need the approval of others?

Do you find it hard making decisions for yourself?

Do you find it hard feeling self-reliant?

Do you find it hard to regulate your emotions?

Are you really hard on yourself?

Do you feel you have little or no worth?

Do you do things to numb your emotional pain?

Are you frightened of rejection and abandonment?

Do you feel you are stuck in angry mode?

Do you find it hard to feel joy or peace?

Do you find it hard to get close to other people?

Do you feel lonely and seek out others to compensate for your loneliness?

Do you feel lost, misunderstood or that you don’t fit in and others are judging you for that?

Do you frequently feel anxious or depressed?

Are you frightened of social situations and fear being rejected.

Do you feel others judge you as not being good enough?

Do you feel empowered in your life?

How childhood experiences can impact you as an adult

Did you know that trauma in childhood has a significant impact on your self-worth?

If your sense of safety and belonging in childhood was damaged you are likely to have developed skills to keep you safe in that situation. As you grew up you may never have unlearned those skills, so they trap you in patterns that don’t serve you in adulthood.

Also, poor attachment between your parents and you puts you at risk of suffering from loneliness in adulthood.

Traumatic experiences in your childhood disrupt how you see your self as a person and affect your ability to regulate your emotions. All this impacts on the quality of the interpersonal relationships you have later in life.

My parents didn’t physically or sexually abuse me. I can’t have suffered trauma.

It can be hard to understand you have been traumatised in childhood. The usual picture of trauma is that of being hit or sexually abused. But trauma covers much more than just that. In fact, the worst traumas are emotional and psychological.

Neglect

Neglect is a trauma that is often overlooked. With neglect the child’s physical and emotional needs are frequently overlooked. It may involve not receiving regular meals, not having clean clothes to wear, not having your emotional needs for comfort and support met. A parent who rarely interacts or shows an interest in you is also neglectful.

Neglectful parents are also unlikely to be there to teach you skills of emotional regulation. They may not teach you how to wash yourself, how often to change your clothes.

It is unlikely a neglectful parent will see you and spend time connecting to you. This is known as attunement. A child who is not seen is a child who is not safe. Not being safe is extremely traumatic.

The clear message in this situation is that you have no worth or value. After all, you are not worth having any time or attention given to you.

Narcissistic Parent

Narcissistic parents are also very destructive of a child’s sense of self-worth.

Such a parent depends on the child to make them feel good. The child gets positive attention when they do things that serve the parent. The trouble is, there are no clear guidelines as to what the child needs to do to serve the parent. Consequently, the child lives life second guessing the parent in order to feel that the parent will care for them and they will be safe.

Narcissistic parents will also often shame their children in front of others. They will expect their child to meet their needs, to do things to make them proud. They will never teach their child any skills that will equip them for adulthood and self-reliance.

Narcissistic parents will often hold the child close to serve their needs. They want the child to stay dependent on them because the child is there to serve their needs and that is why they had them.

One classic example is of a woman who would take her child to school. The child would happily run into the classroom and greet her friends. The mother would call her back and make a fuss of her, stating it was okay for mummy to leave now and she would be okay. The child would go back to her friends and be happily talking with them. Again, the mother would call her back. This would continue until the child’s resolve was broken and she would wail and beg her mother not to leave her.

A narcissistic parent is one of the most destructive types of parent and sentence their children to mental poor health and a dependence on validation from others in adulthood.

Complex PTSD and Borderline personality disorder

These conditions develop because of chronic trauma experienced in childhood. The type of trauma most associated with these conditions is emotional abuse and invalidation. It can happen if you are neglected or have a narcissistic parent. It can also happen from other types of abuse and invalidation.

Sometimes parents are not aware that their behaviour towards their children is invalidating and can be surprised when their child develops this disorder in adulthood.

When a parent is emotionally abusive or invalidating during a child’s early years it impacts on the child’s sense of self and the child can struggle to have a strong sense of self.

You may develop self-defeating attitudes and beliefs around yourself and the trustworthiness of the world.

When raised in such an environment it is also difficult to learn to regulate your emotions. This is often due to your parents being unable to regulate their emotions. How can you teach another person how to regulate their emotions if you can’t do it yourself.

For this reason, I encourage people who had difficult childhoods to seek counselling from a trauma trained professional before having children. Many parents who were emotionally abused as children are determined their own children will never have to go through that. But sometimes things your children do can trigger reactions in you that you can’t control and don’t like doing. If you find raising your children triggers behaviours you struggle to control then seek counselling. Seeking help makes you a good parent.

Unstable and intense relationships

If you find that any type of relationship you have with others tends to be intense and over time unstable then you may be experiencing the impacts of chronic trauma in childhood. Sometimes these relationships happen because you are uncomfortable being alone and seek out anyone who looks willing to be in a relationship with you. This can result in you unconsciously choosing the wrong type of person to have a relationship with.

Sometimes when you are in a relationship you can sabotage it by clinging to the person and unwittingly pushing them away.

I think you are the best, I hate you patterns

Another impact of childhood trauma can be seen in meeting someone new and idealising them. This continues for some time then you start devaluing them and finding things wrong with them.

You are too hard on yourself

One of the saddest impacts of childhood trauma is the lack of self-worth and lack of self-compassion.

It is not surprising that children develop these beliefs. When a parent is abusive, or expects you to jump over hoops to gain their approval, the natural response is to believe this is because you are a bad person. If your parent constantly tells you that you are bad then this belief is reinforced.

The reality is that a child is just a child learning how to live life. There is no inherent badness in a child. Sadly a child doesn’t know that. Shame becomes a big part of the life of an abused child.

Ways to dull the pain

If you never learned how to regulate your emotions, and you believe you are a bad person, then you feel great pain that you don’t know how to soothe.

Many people turn to behaviours that numb the pain. These behaviours may be dangerous. A good example of this is children who steal cars then drive them dangerously at high speed. The risk and dangers inherent in this activity help to suppress their pain.

Other things people do include addictions such as substance abuse, smoking or vaping, gambling, compulsive shopping, sex addiction, exercise addiction and eating disorders.

I am lonely

If you don’t feel you are worth anything then you may not feel you are likeable. The result is that you may avoid getting close to others so that they can’t reject you.

Getting close to another person means exposing yourself to the rejection of your parents. If they rejected you, then other people will too.

When you do form relationships with others you may be frightened of expressing your needs or asking for help because your parents failed to meet those needs when you were a child. So you may feel even lonelier because you can’t turn to someone for help.

Many people who suffered trauma in childhood report feeling lonely.

Depression and Anxiety

It is very common for someone traumatised as a child to be anxious. Your childhood was an anxious time of never being sure when you would receive support, or whether you may be abused. Abusers are rarely predictable so hypervigilance was an essential part of childhood.

Hypervigilance leads to anxiety. There is the need to be constantly on your guard because you never know what is going to happen in the next minute. You never know when things will suddenly become dangerous and frightening.

When you grow up and things become safer the fear doesn’t go away because your brain has developed neural pathways that constantly scan for danger. This is why anxiety is a constant companion of the traumatised child.

Depression is another consequence of this type of childhood. Many people report feeling depressed from childhood. The sense of not being good enough, the lack of self-worth, being emotionally worn down with anxiety and fear, the rejection and abandonment of parents and the sense of never being safe all contribute to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless and lead into depression.

I constantly feel on edge

The environment of neglect and emotional abuse is a highly stressful environment. Children in this situation are being impacted regularly by the release of stress hormones in the body. This has an impact on the developing brain and will often result in an adult who is highly sensitive to stress hormones.

The result is that your brain is in a constant state of defending yourself. In other words the fight/flight/freeze response.

It is very difficult to cope with life if your brain is constantly seeing danger and you spend a lot of time with your brain taking over your life and deciding whether you are to fight, run away, or freeze.

When this defence mechanism takes over, your thinking brain switches off. You can’t control your reactions. Sadly, very few people understand this and you may find yourself judged when you get stuck in this defence response.

It is for this reason that it is important to seek counselling from a qualified trauma counsellor.

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

7 Ways To Reduce Stress

When stress levels are high you can feel that things are out of control. You can feel overwhelmed with tasks and feel unable to cope with your massive To Do list.

Here are 7 “C” suggestions of things to do to feel better able to manage that stress.

1.Control

When you feel overwhelmed with things to do you don’t feel in control of your life. It feels more like life is controlling you and you are drowning in the busyness of it all. It is really important to find some space to think. So take time out. Even a few hours. Review everything you have on.

• Is there anything you can pass on to someone else to do?

• Is there anything non urgent you can move to another day/week/month?

• Which tasks need to be done so that your life can continue to function? (such as clean clothes, food, clean dishes, caring for children if you have any.)

• Which tasks are “like to do” rather than “need to do” tasks?

Question: what can you do to feel more in control of your life?

2.Competence

When you feel capable of completing the tasks you have to do, the tasks are easier to do. That doesn’t mean they won’t take time. You do need to be realistic about the amount of time a task will take and the amount of time you have available to complete your tasks.

Question: what skills do you need to learn or improve so that you can feel more competent?

3.Confidence

If you are confident that you can manage the unexpected obstacles to completing a task you are likely to feel less stress around attending to tasks. Fear of things going wrong and not knowing what to do is a major contributor to stress.

Question: how confident do you feel? Describe that level of confidence. What can you do to increase your confidence?

4.Connection

One of the best buffers against high stress levels are healthy relationships with other people. It is not so much about having great friends, but more about feeling you have a community around you that you belong to.

It is about having a network of people you can turn to for help when you need assistance, advice or other resources to complete your tasks.

Questions: Who are the people in your life you can go to for support or belonging? How might you make connections in the community? Do you have strong connection with family, friends, and your community?

5.Character

This may seem odd, but it is important the tasks you have to complete align with your values. Doing something you feel uncomfortable about is going to make you feel stressed and going to make the task a hard one to complete. That then leaves you with a To Do list with uncompleted tasks. That is a recipe for high stress.

Things to consider in this situation are:

• Who has assigned this task to you? Is it work related? Has a friend/family member asked you to do something? Is this something you feel you have to do because you don’t know of any other options?

• What is it about this task that you feel uncomfortable about?

• Which of your values does this task not align with?

• What other options are there for you to consider regarding this task?

• Do you have to do this task?

Questions: What are your values? What things you do make you feel uncomfortable? What is it about them that is uncomfortable?

6.Coping

There are myriad ways of coping. Some of those ways are helpful and some are unhelpful. Many people turn to alcohol or drugs to cope, but these are unhelpful because they never allow you to resolve the problem. It just becomes buried and that causes more problems. It is better to see a counsellor to learn coping techniques than resort to substances and behaviours that bury the problem. Some ways to cope are:

• Self care – take time out to do the things you love to do. Maybe you like a massage, or a visit to a float tank. Maybe you love seeing family or friends. Maybe you love walking in the bush or walking along the beach. Maybe movies are your self care.

• Relaxation – learn how to meditate. Guided meditations can be really great for that. Mindfulness is also a good meditation to do. Yoga or Qigong are also great for relaxation. Or you can find activities that are relaxing such as going to the beach, hugging a tree, a bush walk, jogging, walking, going to the gym and many more.

• Spending time on a relaxing hobby.

Questions: What do you usually do to cope when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Is it helpful or unhelpful? What is something more helpful you could try?

7.Contribution

This one refers to the contribution you make to the community in which you live. It is about volunteering to help others. It may involve dropping in to say hello to an elderly neighbour. It may involve volunteering at a Homeless Shelter. It may be as simple as giving a family member a lift somewhere.

Contributing is part of connection. When you contribute to your local community you feel more connected and invested in your local community. Research has also found that people who are willing to help others are more likely to reach out for help when they need it.

Part of Contribution is allowing others to contribute to the needs in your life.

Questions: What can you do to contribute to your community? What can others do to help you?

Putting the 7 “C’s” into practice

Here are some important things to consider when managing high stress levels:

• Have healthy boundaries. Learn to say “no”. Learn to be okay to ask for help, but also to not be involved in something you don’t want to do. Learn how to stop people encroaching on your boundaries. This is an aspect of control in your life and also coping.

• Accept who you are. You are like anyone else and that is wonderful. You are unique. There are things you are good at, and things you are not as good at. There are things you know how to do, and things you have yet to learn how to do. Know your limitations and accept them. Learn the things you need to learn and accept it will take time to be competent. Know also when it is time to stop because you have realised you will never be able to do something competently. This is an aspect of control, competence, confidence and character.

• Practice a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you get enough sleep. Eat a diet that is well balanced and low in junk and high sugar foods. Move and exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the Gym. It may mean you take a walk on the beach, go dancing with friends or dancing in your own living room. This is an aspect of control and coping.

• Ensure your routine includes time to attend to essential tasks and allows time for play. This is a big part of self care. If you don’t spend time relaxing and recharging your batteries you will not be able to complete those essential tasks. This is an aspect of coping and control.

• Embrace mistakes and failures. They are a normal part of life. They are also opportunities to learn and grow. A popular learning theory holds that we learn about something then try to do it. After we have done it we evaluate its success. Do I need to do it differently? Is there more I need to know? Have I learned something from this attempt to show me how to do it again? After evaluating, you try again. This goes on until you are able to complete the task. According to this theory mistakes and failures are a vital part of learning. This is an aspect of competence and developing confidence.

• Be creative. Try different ways of doing things. You may find a better way of organising your life. The creative ways I have devised throughout my life mean I can achieve a lot more than I could in earlier years. There were many creative ideas and some of them worked really well and I still use them. I still apply creativity to completing tasks. This is an important aspect of control and competence.

• Recognise and manage those things in life that will bring up unhappy memories that upset you. There will always be things like that. Maybe recognising why you were upset about something is possible and will help you be alert for that again. Recognising where the upset comes from is a great aid to being able to learn strategies to manage it. You can also see a counsellor to learn strategies when you are unable to.

• Talk to someone you trust when you need help.

• Can’t find anyone to talk to or who is helpful? Talk to a counsellor.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with learning to reduce stress, set boundaries, accept yourself, feel more in control, competent, connected make connections, identify your values, learn method of coping, and develop the skills to identify ways to contribute in your community 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

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

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

The Myth of Passive Aggressive Behaviour

There is a lot of misinformation about behaviour and its causes in the general community.

This leads to many terrible things being done to people who should be given understanding.

One popular thing to accuse people of is being Passive Aggressive. The label is freely applied to people but there is extremely limited understanding of what passive aggressive behaviour actually is.

The source of the myth

This myth is not helped by the fact that there used to be a “personality disorder” listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This “disorder” labelled Passive Aggressive was dropped 20 years ago.

Despite this no longer being accepted as a disorder, the community persists in applying this label to people. People who exhibit this behaviour have had trauma in their pasts and need understanding, not misguided judgement.

What behaviour you may see in someone labelled as Passive Aggressive

• Often a perfectionist with very high standards of their own behaviour.

• Difficulty identifying what they want.

• Difficulty asking for help.

• Difficulty setting boundaries and saying no.

• Low Self Esteem.

• Sensitive to criticism.

• People pleaser who seeks to accommodate other people’s wants.

• Hates to disappoint people and can become very distressed when think they will.

• Frightened of taking initiative in relationships.

• Finds it hard to say no so will instead say yes but try to communicate no by hints or cancelling at last minute, often in great distress.

• Withdraws when someone is angry with them.

• Doesn’t make feelings, needs and wants known to others.

• Saying no leads to feelings of guilt and great anxiety that have upset other person and that they will be rejected for that.

• Expresses feelings through behaviour rather than words.

• Seek to avoid conflict at all costs.

• Taken advantage of by others.

• Feels like a victim.

• Often unaware of feelings. Can be angry and not aware of it.

• May resort to more subtle behaviours to communicate message such as being sarcastic or even fantasising about getting revenge.

• Often feels resentful.

• Can’t understand why others can’t see their needs. Desperately wants other to see them because it is not safe to express them.

• May sub consciously adopt “unhappy” behaviour as non verbal communication.

• Procrastination, inefficiency, stubborness and sullenness are some behaviours that may be used.

Dispelling the myth: what passive aggressive behaviour is actually about

When a child is unable to express their needs safely they will adopt other ways to communicate their needs. This is not a deliberate thing. It comes about because their brain seeks ways to communicate that are safe.

One way to do this is through non verbal communication.

So you may see “unhappy” behaviour, sullenness, procrastination as behaviours that communicate unhappiness. These are not adopted deliberately.

When it is not safe to express needs openly, then passive aggressive behaviours become a safer way to express those needs. That is why you will notice people dropping hints, or being reluctant to do what you ask, or looking sullen.

Have you been accused of passive aggressive behaviour?

When you have learned it is not safe to express your needs you will frequently feel you do not have the right to have needs. This is why you will struggle to set boundaries and say no.

You will also notice you seek to avoid conflict. But underneath you may feel great distress at the way things are happening.

Internally, you may find it hard to even acknowledge what you are feeling. You may feel you are judged by others for the way you feel. In fact, you are judged because of ignorance about your behaviour.

The pressure cooker of denied needs

You may have learned as a child to push down your feelings. In adulthood you continue to do this. Over time this pushing down creates a pressure cooker situation where your feelings will explode and you may express them in a number of ways. For example by being angry, or bursting into tears, or running away.

How to be less passive aggressive

Ultimately you need to be honest with youself about your feelings and learn to express them more assertively. It is important to be aware that not everyone will accept you being more assertive. When that happens the other person is acting out their own insecurities. This doesn’t make you wrong. But it will feel uncomfortable.

Be honest about your feelings.

Learn to express yourself. This will help prevent misunderstandings, hurt feelings and resentment.

Do you need help?

It is not easy to learn to feel safe expressing your needs. Healing the past and learning to let go of the protective behaviours that kept you safe, but no longer serve you, is hard.

It is particularly hard to do on your own.

This is where counselling can help.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you to learn how to effectively meet your needs 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

9 Steps to Managing Conversations at the Dreaded Family Christmas

Families are never completely harmonious. They are comprised of people, bound together by genetic and marital ties, who often are not free to discuss conflicts as openly as is healthy. There are often undercurrents of tension and unresolved hurts in any family interactions.

Add a family Christmas, with all the stresses that “perfect” day brings. Add to the mix some freeing alcohol. Add to the mix the proximity with people who have caused those tensions and unresolved hurts.

Mix these ingredients and you have an explosive mix.

You can try to avoid difficult topics, but inevitably something will come up, particularly if you have the mix listed above.

Below are 8 steps you can use to survive the family Christmas. 8 steps to help you keep away from the difficult topics you may not be ready to discuss in a large family gathering.

  1. PREPARE FOR THE DAY.

Are you expecting challenging topics of conversation? Plan in advance how to manage and deescalate these potential ignition points.
a) PLAN TO SET BOUNDARIES

You can set boundaries by letting family members know what areas are contentious and that you want avoided. You can practice how you will set this boundary in a positive, affirming way.

Maybe you might say something like: “I love seeing you and our time together is really great. There are just some things that we disagree on and maybe we can avoid discussing them today so that we can enjoy our time together.”

b) PREPARE AHEAD

Before you meet up, think about happy things you and this family member/s have in common. Are there happy childhood memories you can share, do you have the same interests? Brainstorm ideas of topics of conversation so you are ready to have a conversation. When you have no topic to discuss, conversations tend to follow well worn paths. If those well worn paths are the contentious ones, then that is what you are going to end up having a conversation about.

  1. REDIRECT THE CONVERSATION.

Preparing ahead safe topics to discuss will allow you to quickly redirect the conversation to a safer topic that is related to the contentious topic. It is easier to pivot if the topic is related somehow, so if someone brings up a humiliating episode when you were a child and were swimming, you may bring in a conversation about wonderful beaches to visit and direct people to that topic. In that situation, the chances are that others in the conversation are not happy to bring up the humiliating episode either and will welcome the change to change the topic.

  1. REHEARSE WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY.

When you are under stress, you will tend to do what is habitual. So well used responses to others will tend to be used. This will quickly derail your intention to steer away from the uncomfortable conversations. So practise what you will say. Have imaginary conversations where the other person says something they usually say, or makes a comment about a situation they usually comment on. Imagine redirecting the conversation away from that contentious comment and what you will say. While you are doing this, imagine being relaxed and able to deflect any triggers in their words. Imagine calmly setting a boundary, or redirecting the conversation, or making a statement.

While you are imagining this conversation, practice taking calming breaths and imagine you are releasing all the tension and it is flying away as you breathe out. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in peace and calm.

If you have a family member who makes highly politicised comments, or makes racist comments, or expresses strong extremist viewpoints, practice a statement that acknowledges their opinion but indicates it is not up for discussion. The well tried response to this is to “agree to disagree” and have no more conversation around that.

Sometimes these statements are deliberate attempts to bait you into responding. Don’t. Set the boundary and try to change the topic of conversation. If the person still persists, walk away. Take a walk around the block if you need to calm down. Just remain calm until you are somewhere where it is safe for you to be upset. More on that later.

  1. BRING OUT THE OLD HAPPY MEMORIES.

This is another redirecting technique. Bringing out a positive family story involving a happy memory. The more family members involved in this memory the better. If you start off saying “Remember when xxx” you are inviting others to add their recollections of the memory. Not only is that fun to share in happy reminiscences, it also shuts down anyone negative due to the weight of people participating in a new conversation.

Remember, a family member who is difficult for you to get along with, may also be difficult for others to get along with. Other family members may welcome your efforts to redirect the conversation and be more than happy to jump in with enthusiasm. After all, everyone wants to have a lovely day.

  1. FOCUS ON FUN FAMILY TRADITIONS.

There will no doubt be things your family enjoy doing together on family occasions. There are families that love to gather around the piano and sing Christmas carols. Others love to play games. Others have a post Christmas lunch walk.

If your family has traditions then make sure they are carried out. If they don’t have any, then introduce some new things you think family members will be interested in. Prepare the ground for this. Talk about this “fun” idea with family members you think will be useful allies in this so that when you introduce the idea it will be supported by other people. These traditions are a great way to distract from unpleasant conversations.

  1. PRACTICE GRATITUDE.

In the lead up to Christmas, think of at least 10 things to be grateful for each day. Write them down and say them out loud, followed by three thank yous. Slowly introduce gratitudes for family members.

Don’t force the jolliness. Find things you are genuinely grateful for. They may range from extraordinary things to the seemingly mundane such as your health, your home, your job and so on.

Each day add gratitudes for family members. Start with the ones you love seeing. As you get close to Christmas think about the ones that cause you grief. Is there anything about them you like? Anything about them you admire? Try to find something to be grateful for about them. One might be that they are diligent about attending the family Christmas every year. Another might be they help with the washing up. Another might be they love their car. Find something to be grateful for.

Finding positives help you to feel more empowered and more in control of those difficult situations. It also helps to see the main protagonists as people with less power than you thought they had.

  1. FIND ALLIES.

Think about who will be at the Christmas event and identify those you find supportive. They may be the type who will speak up and support you at the time of the difficulty, or they may be someone you can speak to later to help you calm down.

It is easier to manage in stressful situations when you know you have support.

  1. PRACTICE CALMING TECHNIQUES.

One of the easiest ways to calm down is breathing. It is best to practice this technique in advance so that it is second nature when you need it. If you try this for the first time when you need it, it is unlikely to work effectively.

a) MINDFUL BREATHING

The best way to practice is to start small.

• Set a reminder on your phone for every hour if possible.

• Now prepare to breathe for 1 minute.

• Set a timer for 1 minute.

• Sit quietly with your hands resting in your lap.

• You may choose to let your focus slip or you may choose to close your eyes.

• Now breathe in while noticing the feeling of the air entering your nose and your chest and tummy rising with the in breath.

• Now breathe out while notice the feeling of your chest and tummy falling and the feeling of the air passing through your nose.

• With the next in breath, imagine you are inhaling calming air. Imagine it is a beautiful calming colour such as blue or green, whatever your find calming. See that coloured air entering your nose and lungs.

• Now breathe out all the tension and difficult emotions. Imagine the air you breathe out is the colour of tension and difficult emotions such as red, whatever you find expresses what you are feeling.

• Continue breathing in calm and breathing out tension. You can say to yourself I am breathing in calm on the in breath. And you can say I am breathing out tension/anger (name emotion) on the out breath.

• If you notice your mind wander away from noticing your breath just return your attention to your breath without judging yourself.

• Continue until 1 minute is up. Notice how you are feeling calmer and more in control of your emotions.

If you practice your 1 minute mediation as often as you can you may consider the next day practising for 5 minutes sometimes and 1 minute at others.

Practice as often as you can. When you need this calming at the Christmas event you will find it easier to slip into the practice if you have taken the time to practice in advance.

You can use mindful breathing sitting or moving around. Many people practice as they are walking. This is something you might try if you need to get some space away from the difficult people.

b) RELEASING WALK

The walk works like this:

• Don’t rush to push the emotions you feel away. Allow yourself to feel them, name them and walk them out. Stamp if you need to, walk fast if you need to. Swing your arms around. Whatever allows you to release what you are feeling.

• Once you have allowed yourself that time and you have acknowledged and released the emotions you can then walk at a calmer pace at your speed.

• Notice what is around you. What can you see, hear, smell, touch or taste?

• Take a deep in breath. Notice the sensation of that breath entering your body as you walk.

• Release that breath and notice the sensation of it leaving your body as you walk.

• Continue breathing and paying attention to your breath.

• Remember to breathe in calm and breathe out stress, anger and/or other distressing emotions you are experiencing.

• As you notice yourself feeling calmer, you can start paying attention to the beauty around you.

• Remember to just return your attention to your breath if your mind starts to wander.

• As you settle into this calming routine, allow yourself to feel your feet on the ground. Feel the ground supporting you are you walk.

• Allow yourself to feel the air around you. Feel the air wrapping you in its loving embrace.

• Continue walking, feeling the calm and feeling the support that surrounds you.

• When you are ready you can return to the gathering.

• You may decide to stay there, you may decide to communicate boundaries, you may decide to leave. Do whatever feels right for you.

  1. MAKE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS

If you feel that it is too distressing to attend the family Christmas, make other arrangements.

Maybe you would like to attend a community lunch.

Maybe you know other people who are on their own at Christmas. Perhaps you can get together to celebrate.

Maybe you would like the day alone with some lovely food and a stack of movies/games/books you would love to watch.

You may even find other family members don’t like the event and would be happy to do something with you instead.

A FINAL WORD

You have prepared yourself for the family Christmas and it is still difficult. Be okay with that. Don’t forget your strategies. Set realistic expectations of how people will be and prepare for this.

Do take the time to take some calming breaths before responding to other people. It can help to name what you are feeling. This allows you to cope better. It also allows you space to decide to not react to this person. It is in this moment you may choose to walk away, or calmly say their comment is inappropriate, or not funny, or unacceptable or anything else.

People can get to you with their behaviour and comments because you have unresolved hurts. After Christmas, review the family Christmas. What came up for you? Is there something you need to resolve. Counselling can be really helpful to explore and resolve old hurts. You can also learn helpful strategies to cope.

WHERE TO GET HELP

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your unresolved hurts, 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

PLEASE NOTE PLENTIFUL LIFE COUNSELLING WILL BE CLOSED FROM 5PM 21 DECEMBER 2022 AND WILL RE OPEN AT 9AM ON 9 JANUARY 2023.

How to set healthy boundaries at family Christmas get togethers

We all know the pressure to have the perfect Christmas. There is also the pressure to buy presents, to prepare food, to clean the house if you are hosting anyone for Christmas, or to travel away from home with all its associated stress if you are visiting for Christmas.

It is well accepted that Christmas can be a stressful time.

It is also accepted that getting together with family can be stressful as well.

Another stressful aspect of Christmas is the sheer volume of Christmas parties you may be invited to. You may receive more invitations than you feel comfortable accepting, yet you do accept them because you don’t want to let anyone down, or disappoint them.

All this stress can be overwhelming and make Christmas a less than enjoyable time for you.

Many people learn early in life to please other people. Maybe you are a people pleaser.

You may have learned to do this in your childhood home. It may have been a matter of survival. You may have learned to do this to make friends at school, or protect yourself from bullies. You may have learned to do it due to being in an abusive relationship. You may have learned to do it because you didn’t believe people would like you if you said no.

Whatever the reason, it can be a problem at Christmas.

It can be a problem when you feel you have to accept every invitation to attend a Christmas Party, even when you feel overwhelmed with busyness.

It can be a problem when you see family members at Christmas and you fear the expectations they have that you will go alone with anything they suggest.

Of course, you won’t only be a people pleaser at Christmas. It is just that it seems to be a time when you are called on more to people please and your stress levels are already high.

What do you do about it?

It is worthwhile considering how much of a problem this is.

To determine the extent of the problem it is helpful to understand the impact people pleasing can have on you.

• It can increase your stress

• It can lead to you feeling depressed

• You can feel resentful

• You can feel angry

• You can push yourself to the point of exhaustion which can impact your physical health

• It can lead to you now enjoying Christmas time at all

• It can cause you to neglect your self care

• It can harm your relationships

SO WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT IT?

We all say yes to things on occasion that we may not want to do. That is a choice we make in accommodating other people.

But if you say yes all the time, even when you don’t want to, then you do need to do something about it.

People pleasing, or fawning, is a stress response. It is part of the responses our brain activates when we are in danger.

The most well know of those responses are Fight and Flight. People pleasing, or fawning, is part of this group of defence mechanisms. When you fawn, you seek to accommodate the needs of others to the point where you don’t meet your own needs.

You may find you are not able to tell others how you really feel about something.

You may put the needs of others ahead of your own. A good example of that is saying yes to a Christmas party invitation when you are exhausted and really need to rest.

You may say yes to every request made of you.

You may seek to flatter others.

You may have low self esteem.

You will probably go to great lengths to avoid conflict

You may feel you are taken advantage of and that may really irritate you.

You may worry about fitting in with others and be frightened of having an argument with another person.

THE HIDDEN COSTS OF BEING A PEOPLE PLEASER

Because you always put your needs last, you are more vulnerable to emotional abuse and being exploited by others. You are also more vulnerable to abusive relationships.

At Christmas, being a people pleaser can lead to high levels of stress and you finding this time of year anything but relaxing.

SOME BANDAID MEASURES TO TRY

Feeling safe enough not to people please is a slow process. There are some things you can try in the interim. How effective they are will depend on how safe you feel, but you will only know when you try.

It is helpful to enlist the support of someone else who can be there and give you encouragement, give you some time out and be a listening ear when you need it.

THIS IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW

You need to know these important things:

• You deserve to be able to do what you want

• You deserve to be here and to take up space

• You are enough, just as you are

• Your thoughts, feelings, opinions and boundaries matter

• Most of the time when you say no you will survive.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN “MOST OF THE TIME”?

I would never recommend you stand up to a violent abuser or a coercive controller. That is dangerous. If you are in those situations it is best to contact 1800 RESPECT for assistance.

Apart from that it is okay to say no.

WHAT ARE THE BANDAID MEASURES?

The main measures to take are to be able to say “no”.

Your friend asks you to come to her party. You don’t want to go. You are worried about disappointing her by saying no.

STOP

You deserve to be able to do what you want.

You take a deep breath and say “no, I can’t come”. You may like to add a thankyou for your invitation.

It is important to remember that you don’t have to explain why you are saying no. Your no is no and that is good enough.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE

You arrive at your Aunt’s house for the extended family get together. She is a very organised and determined woman, used to give you orders and expecting you to jump to obey them.

You have drive 2 hours through heavy traffic to get there and you are tired, frazzled and need to destress for a while.

She jumps in with an order to prepare something in the kitchen. I might add at this point that everyone has brought food to contribute to the family feast so there is nothing to prepare in the kitchen.

You don’t want to. You need to sit for a while and see the rest of the family.

You have enlisted your partner to support you.

You say “no”. it is probably a good idea to add “when it is time to put the food out I can help you for a short while”.

She may be stunned you said no. She may try to shame you into helping. She may want to argue. If you can , walk away. If need be you may need to tell her that you need to destress after the drive and want to catch up with family members. You may ask if she has caught up with family members and suggest you can do that together.

Your partner can also support you by steering you away from your aunt, or, if necessary, stepping in to enforce the boundary.

HOW DO I LEARN TO SET BOUNDARIES

I have already mentioned that people pleasing is a survival response. It is learned because of traumatic situations.

When you have trauma in your past, you often find it hard to feel safe and manage your emotions, which are often very strong. You will frequently feel unsafe and that is something that you can heal from slowly with the correct treatment.

In Australia the Blue Knot Foundation has well respected trauma treatment guidelines that are effective in healing. It is wise to seek out a therapist who adheres to these guidelines.

WHERE CAN I FIND A THERAPIST?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your people pleasing, 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

Understanding your emotions

There is a belief we in western societies hold about ourselves. We believe we are cognitive driven people.

We believe that any emotions we experience are stumbled upon and quickly shut down.

Emotions are things we push down so that we can get back to our thinking selves.

That is what we are taught. It is how we are expected to behave.

But this is incorrect.

THE REALITY OF EMOTIONS

The reality is that we are emotional beings who occasionally think.

Radical.

Maybe even scary.

Our behaviour and decisions are driven by our emotions.

This is not what we are taught as children.

WHAT CHILDREN ARE TAUGHT

Children are taught to listen to adults telling them what the right decision to make is. They are the ones who tell the child that they are being silly when they don’t want to go somewhere because they feel uncomfortable.

The child feels uncomfortable because their brain has observed a lot of non verbal signs and translated those into emotions to inform the child of danger. This is what we call intuition.

Then the adult is telling the child that is silly. They are telling the child to ignore their emotions. To ignore their intuition.

So we grow up believing our emotions are silly things we should run away from.

The truth is, our emotions are the driving force in our lives.

EMOTIONS THE KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOUR

Emotions are not the baddy we are told to ignore. They are the knight in shining armour come to save us.

I was reminded of this in conversation with someone the other day. I am going to call this person Rose.

Rose was raised by a mother who expected her children to earn love by doing what she told them. A child who is not loved is a child who is in danger of being rejected. In our childhood brains rejection is death, because a child cannot survive without an adult. So to prevent rejection Rose learned to fawn, otherwise known as people pleasing.

FAWNING A CHILDHOOD SURVIVAL BEHAVIOUR BUT IN ADULTHOOD A HINDRANCE

This was a problem in that in adulthood she fawned with everyone and had trouble setting healthy boundaries.

She ignored her emotions and instead listened to her formulaic learning around what she should do. In this case what she should do was allow other people to set the agenda.

PRUNING THE GARDEN PLANT

The situation Rose was in was that someone had asked her if they could prune a bush in her garden. She was so stunned by being asked this that she said yes. But deep inside she had misgivings about it. In the end she went to the other person and said no.

Rose’s behaviour was being driven by the need to earn her mother’s love.

This behaviour then became the automatic way she behaved.

SAY YES AND REGRET IT LATER

Rose kept saying yes to people and then regretting it later. It was hard for her to withdraw her permission. And people treated her as though she was weird. She wanted to stop.

In our discussion we identified that Rose would often be “okay” with something and only later when she had a chance to listen to her emotions she would realise she was not okay.

WHEN SHOULD I MAKE DECISIONS?

The truth is you don’t have to make a decision on the spot.

Quite radical isn’t it? How often are we taught that we must give an instant response?

What most of us need is time to think. And it is absolutely okay to do that.

If you are affected like Rose maybe you would like to try what she is now doing.

THE RIGHT WAY TO MAKE DECISIONS

When someone asks you something, tell them you can’t answer right away. You need time to think. You might want 5 minutes, an hour, a day, a week. If the other person can’t wait then the answer is no. Don’t be pushed into anything.

Take that time out to think.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

The first think you will be aware of is feelings in your body. This is where we experience our emotions. They are felt in our bodies. That is why we call them feelings.

Allow yourself to explore those feelings. If you don’t yet know what they mean, allow yourself time to learn.

Your feelings will give a strong indicator about what you feel about the question.

After you have identified and explored the feelings think about what the other person has asked. What does it involve? What are your feelings telling you about the request? What does your reasoning mind tell you about the request?

Once you have given yourself time to explore your feelings and think you are then in a position to give an answer.

IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO

Remember, it is okay to say NO. If the other person doesn’t like NO don’t give in to them. Be the broken record that keeps saying NO.

Don’t forget, you don’t have to explain yourself. No is no. You do not owe the other person an explanation.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with understanding and responding to your emotions, 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