Breaking The Cycle Of Unhealthy Relationships

Many people come to see me reporting a history of failed relationships. Some find they keep choosing the wrong person, who treats them badly. Others report not understanding why their relationships fail. Others have a history of seeing many therapists, seeing each one for a period of time, then moving to another therapist with no resolution of their difficulties.

All report being dissatisfied with their relationship histories but don’t know what to do about it. They feel stuck and unable to change the way things are happening.

I Am Not Good Enough

A lot of the time, when I explore with them their feelings about themselves they will report feeling not good enough. Often they believe they are not worth anything better.

Often they are looking for the perfect parent to fill the void left by less than perfect parenting that left them traumatised. This happens especially with friendships and therapists.

Insecure Attachment And Poor Attunement

For these people, they have not formed a secure attachment relationship with their parents in childhood. They will also have had parents who were not attuned to them. This leaves the child feeling unsafe and invisible.

This may not seem like a big issue, but this happens at a time when the child’s brain is developing. When the child’s template of relationships, their view of the world, their view of themselves is developing.

Attachment Is

Research has shown that human babies have an inbuilt need for secure attachment. If a parent cannot meet a baby’s needs, then the baby will die. For that reason, it is vital a baby can trust that their parent will feed them, change them, hold them when they are scared or in pain. In short, the baby needs to trust that their parent will keep them safe and alive.

This continues as the baby grows into a child. A child still needs care and protection.

This is what is referred to as attachment.

If a child does not have a secure attachment with its parents, then it is not safe. That is terrifying for a child.

Attunement Is

Attunement is a measure of how well a caregiver understands the child and is able to meet their needs, especially emotional needs. It means the parent seeks to understand why the child is crying, or acting out.

Instead of judging the parent may seek to understand what is wrong with the child. Are they tired, hungry, upset about something, unwell?

To be understood, to be attuned to, is to be seen. If you are seen then you are more likely to have your survival needs met. If you are not seen you are invisible and then you are at risk of dying because you will not be cared for.

It is worth noting that the parent who spends their time on their mobile phone instead of looking at their child and interacting with them is at risk of exhibiting poor attunement with the child.

If You Can’t Spend Time Caring For Me or Seeing Me Then I Am Not Worthwhile

Lack of attunement is a terrifying situation.

Insecure attachment is a terrifying situation.

They leave the child with the message that they are not worth anything because their parents don’t take the time to attend to their needs, seek to understand them or notice them.

Physical, sexual and emotional abuse can also leave a child feeling they are not worthy of love, that they are not good enough, that they are not worth anything better. I will talk about those issues more in other blogs.

I Am Not Worth Anything And Counselling

This is the situation many people who come to see me find themselves in. They were not worth enough to be securely attached or attuned to their parents.

People come to see me because they want help to feel better in relationships with other people. They want to have successful relationships. They want to have relationships with people who they can feel safe with.

But when there is a history of insecure attachment and lack of attunement it can be hard to work with a counsellor. If all other relationships are unsatisfactory, how can you be sure the counsellor will be a safe person to work with?

The Therapeutic Relationship (Alliance)

Counselling is a relationship referred to as the Therapeutic Alliance. Research has shown that the relationship between you and your counsellor is responsible for the majority of healing that takes place.

When you come to see me, the relationship we have will be a model of a secure relationship. The difficulty is, can you trust that the relationship is secure? When all you have known is insecure relationships, can you be sure I will give you the secure relationship you crave?

The Therapeutic Alliance Must Be A Secure Relationship

I can give you that secure relationship, but will you allow me to?

Growing up in an insecure relationship is terrifying. Children know intrinsically what they need. They can’t name it, but they will seek what they need.

A child who cannot trust relationships will constantly look for evidence that the person they are relating to cannot be trusted. Often, to avoid the pain of failed relationships the child will end a relationship before the other person can end it. This happens even when the other person is committed to the relationship.

Bids For Attention

As humans, we make constant “bids for attention” from the people we are in relationship with. As adults those bids are usually fairly subtle, but if those bids are not met, they can become more obvious, even angry.

For a child, who lacks the skills of an adult, the bids for attention are more extreme. The child may misbehave, break things, yell at the adult. They will do whatever it takes to get attention. This is because it is only when they get attention that they can know they are seen.

You have no doubt heard the saying “any attention is better than no attention”. The ignored child doesn’t want the bad attention, but if that is all they can get they will seek it.

The trouble is, the bad attention doesn’t meet the child’s needs fully.

The Traumatised Child In An Adult Body

As the child grows up, the small traumatised child who was desperate to feel safe and get their needs met is still there.

Normally, as we grow into adulthood, we learn new behaviours to replace the old behaviours. Then we behave in ways that help us to form and maintain relationships.

But for the child whose childhood needs were never met, those behaviours that worked temporarily in childhood don’t get an opportunity to transform into adult behaviours.

I see this often in my work. The small child, desperate to feel safe and get their needs met, demanding attention, demanding control, unable to consider others or collaborate with them. That adult with the small child behaviours is often labelled narcissistic, selfish, even aggressive. Yet they are not a true narcissist. They are just a child who lacks the nuanced skills of an adult.

How I Work

In my work I seek to heal the child and allow the adult self to take control. That is the way for you to feel safe in life. For you to have those relationships you crave. The way for you to feel worthwhile, safe and seen.

But for you, working with me is dangerous and scary. How can you trust me?

Therapy Is No Quick Fix

Healing the pain of your childhood will take a long time. Additionally, I will work with areas of your life your traumatised child is desperate to protect. I need to work with those areas, because they are what is holding you trapped in unsuccessful relationships. And you need to be able to let me do that.

It takes a long time to work through childhood trauma.

I will use many different approaches to help you work through this.

You may want me to wave a magic wand and fix you instantly. You may want me to work the way you decide, even though it is not a way that will help you. You may get frightened and decide you don’t want to be healed. You may know that you don’t want healing, or you may convince yourself that you just want another approach, or another therapist will meet your needs better.

Communication Between You And Me Is Vital

It is important we both communicate well.

I will tell you how I envisage working with you and ask you if you are okay with that.

I will explain things to you and review often to see if you are happy with the direction therapy is taking and discuss different approaches we can take for each stage of treatment.

You can help by telling me about your feelings and concerns so I can hear you and meet your needs.

When we communicate well with each other, then we can plan your therapy to best help you heal.

Therapy Is Long Term

Don’t expect this to be quick.

It is quite likely we will work towards a goal and you will then stop therapy for a time while you learn to live with this new goal. Over time you may find another area that needs attending to. Then you will either come back to me or to another therapist to do more work.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your difficulties, please contact me on 0409396608 or

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:

7 Words of Advice When Seeking Trauma Healing

If you have trauma in your past. Trauma that is impacting how you are in the world today. You will likely at some stage seek counselling.

Maybe you already have been to counselling.

Maybe you found it helpful, but now feel you need more.

Maybe you thought your counselling was amazing then became scared because you felt useless and the counsellor seemed so capable in life. You may have then decided to stop going.

Maybe you became frightened they would treat you like everyone else had in the past so you ran away from counselling, frightened of imagined judgement.

Maybe later you searched for another counsellor, only to eventually decided to stop seeing them also.

Maybe you heard about or read about some different treatment and grabbed on to that as the miracle cure. When you pursued that cure, maybe you found it helped a little was certainly no miracle cure.

Maybe you have despaired of ever healing this past trauma.

Here are some words of advice for you.

1. First Word of Advice

You’ve got this. You can do it. Yes, your life may well be a mess, or you feel it is, but you can do it. The fact you are here, reading this, speaks volumes for how much you are capable of.

2. Make Sure The Counsellor You See Is Properly Trained

It is important to check out the credentials of the person you are seeing. Are they trauma trained? Blue Knot Foundation is the peak body for trauma treatment in Australia. Has this counsellor completed training through Blue Knot Foundation?

3. Do Your Research

Once you have established that this counsellor has completed this training, you may like to look at their website, social media page/s, or talk to them. Do you think the way they work will suit you?

4. Stick With The Therapy

So you decide to see this counsellor. The important thing to do now is to stick with the therapy. Yes it will be expensive. Yes, the initial session particularly will feel scary. After all, all new experiences are leaps into the unknown and therefore scary.

5. You Are There For The Long Haul

Don’t expect to see your counsellor for a few sessions then finish. Trauma therapy takes a long time.

6. Therapy Is No Walk In The Park. But It Shouldn’t Be A Trip To The House Of Terrors

Therapy will get hard at times. And you may feel you want to stop, but discuss this with your counsellor first, unless your traumatic memories are becoming overwhelming and your counsellor seems disinterested or unable to help you with this, stick with it.

7. You Will Build A Relationship With Your Counsellor

One of the really scary parts of therapy is the relationship you develop with your counsellor. This is known as the Therapeutic Alliance and it is the foundation of all counselling work.

What Childhood Has Taught You About Relationships

It is rare for someone who has experienced childhood trauma to have a secure attachment with their primary caregiver. Secure attachment is where you feel you are safe, secure and that your caregiver understands you and cares about what you are going through. You are confident that this person will always protect you and that you will always be safe. This relationship builds a template for future relationships, where you expect all people you meet to be safe and secure.

If your primary caregiver is not able to protect you, or is the one who is traumatising you, you are likely to develop an insecure attachment style. You don’t expect to be safe, to be secure or to be comforted by this person.

This also builds an expectation of future relationships. If the person who is supposed to love and care for you doesn’t, then you don’t expect others in life to do that same.

The Therapeutic Alliance

When you come to a counsellor, you are going to form a relationship with them. This is often referred to as the Therapeutic Alliance. It is the way you and the counsellor work together. It is your expectation of being believed, supported, accepted, safe and comforted.

Acceptance is a major part of the therapeutic alliance. It is often referred to as unconditional positive regard. It means that I, your therapist, accept you as you are. I don’t judge you. I don’t look at you and think you are defective or unacceptable. I look at you with acceptance. Whatever you do I seek to understand and accept.

If I don’t accept you, then it will be impossible for us to work together. How can you work with someone who doesn’t think you are acceptable?

What if I Expect All Relationships To Fail?

When your expectation of relationships is that they will fail you, it is hard to learn to trust your counsellor. You may work happily with me for a while. But then your past difficulties with relationships will start to niggle.

You will feel that all people have let you down and you will start to feel that I will let you down too.

It is important to discuss this with me. Because I will continue to accept you. I am very aware of the fears you have around relationships. I want you to learn that you can have safe, secure relationships and I want to model this for you.

You Can Learn How To Have A Secure Relationship

Did you know you can learn to have safe relationships. That you can learn to trust. That there are people in life with whom you can have safe relationships. That you can learn to find those people and believe you are worth a good relationship?

As you learn to love yourself more, to learn your worth, to be able to set healthy boundaries and say no, you will develop confidence in your ability to have healthy relationships with others, including your counsellor.

Of course, this learning goes hand in hand with the work on healing your trauma. But remember, trauma wounds impact many areas of your functioning. It is not just the actual trauma but your sense of self, boundaries, worth, trust and the ability to have relationships that is impacted.

Trauma Treatment Takes More Than Just A Few Sessions

Remember, trauma treatment is long term. You may see a counsellor for a while, complete some healing, then take time to consolidate and allow your brain to absorb the changes. Then you may go back to the same or another counsellor for more therapy. This is ongoing. But each time you engage with therapy you heal another area of trauma.

There are techniques that can help heal some areas, but there will be many areas to heal and your brain needs to grow new neural networks. You also need to learn how to be as a person with all the changes. As I have already mentioned, you need to learn to set boundaries, to see your true worth and more.

There Are No Miracle Cures

Remember, there are no miracle cures, but there are techniques that can help you along the way with your healing. Some of the techniques that I use that can give you relief fairly rapidly and assist you with your healing journey are EFT and EMDR. They are best combined with other methods to help you learn new ways of being.

You may feel that you don’t make much progress in sessions, but believe me, you do make progress. Slow and steady progress is how you will heal your trauma. You have to be able to replace the old trauma networks in your brain with new healthy networks. You cannot have a vacuum there where you have removed a trauma impact and have no new behaviours to replace it with. That is why slow and steady works better.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your trauma healing, please contact me on 0409396608 or

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: