Category Archives: Relationships

Feeling Cut Off From Your Family?

As a counsellor and psychotherapist, I often used to see clients who felt cut off from, or by, family members. Sometimes, they could come to terms with this but more often there was stress, sometimes depression and even shame. This was particularly the case if there didn’t seem to be any particular reason for the rift.

Here are some of the most likely reasons why one person in a family cuts off from another or why an entire family can seem to ostracise just one member. I’m not suggesting that this is a healthy situation but sometimes understanding dynamics can be helpful:

  • In most families there are dominant members and these people exert their power and control to keep other members in line – a bit like playground disputes where bullies use the same methods of control with their peers.
  • Because of this some family members get exhausted by a relative, feeling that they have put up with some behaviours for far too long. They may feel hopeless about changing the situation and start to interact less and less with that person or people.
  • Some families definitely ‘scapegoat’ one member, using them to blame family issues on when things go wrong. This is along the lines of “you always do this/never do enough/don’t pull your weight” and other less dominant family members jump on this bandwagon too, finding it easier to blame one person than take responsibility for looking at the situation with a clear mind.
  • Rewriting history – if your family know a lot about your younger self and you don’t want to be reminded of that, it sometimes feels better to shut out family members, avoid them and rewrite your story when you meet new people.
  • If you have chosen a partner whom your family don’t like, sometimes it’s easier to avoid your original family and give your loyalty and interest to your partner. Your family will probably resent this, argue with you about it or point out your partner’s flaws and to avoid this you may well end up avoiding your family rather than your partner.
  • Misunderstanding can occur between relatives and if they’re not discussed, the relationships can eventually break down. If someone is concerned that discussions will develop into confrontations, they’ll avoid the situation and the people involved.
  • Some families have a history of cutting off relatives when they’re annoyed or upset with them. With no model of resolution, you learn that cutting off family members is an option and you don’t have a model of how to resolve issues within the family.
  • Money often leads to difficulties within families – a parent who favoured one child where money was concerned or leaves more money in their will to one of their children rather than treat them all equally. In an ideal world, this doesn’t happen but if parents feel that one child did more for them than their other children did, they may also feel that that child deserves more inheritance. There’s no easy answer to this but if you don’t want to see your family disintegrate, you will need to find a way to overcome such perceived injustices.
  • If an elderly parent is ill, some families can handle this well and divide the care between them, but if one child lives a long distance away, it isn’t easy and resentments can set in. This is often when families become disenchanted with one another. It may also be that one sibling doesn’t see the need to take responsibility for the parent and naturally this causes friction.

If you feel cut off from your family, or another family member is no longer in contact, you may feel that you don’t care if that changes or not. However, if it bothers you, it’s almost always worth swallowing your pride, getting in touch, meeting and discussing what’s happened and how it might be better in the future. Avoid extreme words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ – they’re not helpful and won’t achieve a peaceful outcome. If you want to be on better terms (and you may not want to!), take it slowly and try to build up your relationship to be at least friendly, even if you can’t manage loving.

Please do comment on my blog if you have found it interesting, useful or otherwise. You can see my blogs as soon as they are published (usually on Wednesdays) by pressing the ‘follow’ button and you can share them with your friends. You can also find me on Linked In, Instagram (samebutdifferent) and read my FB posts at Same But Different.

Do You Care What Other People Think?

Interesting question, I think …..maybe you disagree!

Is some of it to do with status? In psychology circles there are some debates about whether status is the fundamental motivation for all human beings. Do you think this is true? For all species living in social groups of any kind, it’s likely that thousands (perhaps millions) of years ago, the most able and strongest males lived longer, coupled up with the most desirable females and ate better than weaker, less able men.  But what about now? Is status still important and a key to happiness? It’s not dependent upon how we see men any longer (not for most of us anyway!) so what is it about?

In our modern society, those with perceived status do seem to have more influence and power. However, what I’m asking in this blog is – do you care what others think of you, considering that status seems to make a difference to a lot of people?

To help you decide, here’s a little exercise for you. Try to answer the questions below on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being strongly disagree and 7 being strongly agree:

  • I’m not interested in trying to impress people.
  • When I achieve something, I tend to keep quiet about it
  • It really doesn’t matter how you compare to others
  • It doesn’t matter to me where I stand in the social order.
  • I don’t spend much time thinking about whether I’m good enough compared to others.
  • If other people don’t see me as something special, it’s no big deal.
  • I like telling people when something good happens to me
  • I don’t need to go telling everyone when something good happens to me.

The maximum score is 56 although I think that it’s pretty unlikely that many of us would attain that score. As you’ve probably worked out, if you have a much lower score, it often indicates a higher concern about status.

If you’re not comfortable with that, it’s a good idea to reflect on why it’s important and what your self-esteem is like. If you’re happy with yourself, you won’t care so much about what other people think about you. Here are a few tips to start feeling better about yourself, caring less what others think of you and worrying less about status and keeping up with other people including friends and maybe family members:

  • Be patient, kind and understanding with yourself.  Take time to feel pleased when you achieve something good.  Don’t blame yourself out of all proportion if something doesn’t go as you’d planned.
  • Set achievable goals and work to accomplish them. This is important as, if we set goals that are too high at this stage, we will almost certainly feel disappointment if we don’t achieve them.  It is easier to work up to goals than to work down from them and gives us more of a sense of accomplishment.
  • Do not accept put-downs.  Be assertive and let people know that you don’t like negative criticism.
  • Accept compliments.  Just say ‘thank you’ and smile.
  • Act the person you want to be.  Play the new role long enough and you will become that person
  • Visualise change.  Imagine the person you want to become six months down the road.  Imagination is stronger than the will.
  • Look after yourself – look at your diet and try cutting down on sugary processed snacks, walk as much as possible and generally review your lifestyle and how it affects you.
  • Think of yourself as a loveable and capable person.  You came into this world that way and that potential never changes.
  • Try to mix with positive people who don’t drag you down in any way but help reinforce good feelings about yourself and the world.

Keep practising and you’ll find that you feel better about yourself, even if you don’t live in a big house, drive a fast car (if you have a car) and earn loads of money.

Please do comment on my blog if you have found it interesting, useful or otherwise. You can see my blogs as soon as they are published (usually on Wednesdays) by pressing the ‘follow’ button and you can share them with your friends. You can also find me on Linked In, Instagram (samebutdifferent) and read my FB posts at Same But Different.

Are Your Debts Mounting Up Now?

Rarely has the subject of debt been more relevant. With so many people having been furloughed, debts are mounting for a lot of them – in fact, maybe you’re one of them. There’s also the added worry that a lot of people have about whether they’ll have a job when the lockdown restrictions are finally lifted.

Finding that you can’t cope financially can be absolutely devastating, especially if you’ve never found yourself in this position before. You may have prided yourself on managing to save money, ‘paying your way’ and probably providing ‘treats’ for your family and friends.

When you realise that things have to change it may be too late – you’re in too deep and things look bleak.

It’s hard to admit that we haven’t been able to manage things as well as we’d hoped but these are unusual times so cut yourself some slack. With the way things are, a greatly reduced income and the current financial climate, it’s easier than ever to get into debt and if you’ve been made redundant, this in itself can be devastating. The emotional impact of redundancy is often huge anyway, let alone the financial consequences, even if you’ve received some compensation.

A budget needs to be drawn up and this needs to be realistic – rent/mortgage, food and bills need to be paid before anything else. If you can take a mortgage holiday, great, although you may find that your monthly payments increase a bit once you’re able to start paying again. Maybe your landlord will reduce your rent during this difficult time, but that’s not certain.

If you have children you may have to explain that you can no longer pay for some of the things they used to have but try to be positive in the way you tell them – they will take their lead from you and if you can make it seem as if you’re all going to cope and be fine, it’s a good life-lesson. Where you are concerned, once you hopefully get back to work, it may mean that you can no longer go out for meals with friends or socialise in the same ways. They’ll already realise that things are tight right now and you can only go for a coffee for a while – they may be in the same situation anyway. They may want to help you but this can make it worse – try to put down some boundaries, say that you’re going to be fine and that a bit of budgeting won’t hurt you.

Regarding the practicalities of debts mounting up, the worst thing you can do is to ignore the problem and hope it will go away on its own – it will not.  Here are some steps to deal with your debt right now:

  • Make a list of how much you owe and whom you owe it to.  Mortgage and rent payments are most important, to avoid eviction so tackle them first.
  • Speak to your lenders – they may agree to you stopping payments for a couple of months if your problem is a temporary one or they could arrange an IVA (Individual Voluntary Arrangement to pay off the debt at an affordable rate for you.
  • Find out how else you can make money.  Is there a skill you have that could help you with a second job from home in the evenings?
  • Can other family members lend you money instead of a bank or finance company? If you are able to borrow from within your family it’s vital to make sure that you agree on a regular method of realistic repayments with an end date for both parties. If you don’t do this resentment can build up and spoil the relationship.
  • Sell possessions to pay off debt.  Online auction sites are a great way to make cash which can then be used to pay off your bills.
  • Even during these difficult times, the Citizens Advice Bureau is still operating by phone, e.mail and online chats so it may be worth contacting them if you’re struggling.

Please do comment on my blog if you have found it interesting, useful or otherwise. You can see my blogs as soon as they are published (usually on Wednesdays) by pressing the ‘follow’ button and you can share them with your friends. You can also find me on Linked In, Instagram (samebutdifferent) and read my FB posts at Same But Different.

When Hoarding Controls Your Life

If you don’t have the tendency to hoard, it can be hard to understand those people who do so. Why do they feel the need to hang onto things that most of us would think are rubbish or completely insignificant? For hoarders though every single item has some sort of importance to them and to them, it’s not junk.

That’s not to say that they don’t feel embarrassed and ashamed about the state of their homes but dealing with it is extremely difficult. I came to realise this over years of counselling clients who were themselves hoarders or who had a family member who held onto every single item over the years, even empty food tins, small lengths of string and years-old newspapers.

Hoarders have a huge difficulty in discarding or parting with possessions – they feel that they need to save them at all costs, regardless of whether they present a fire hazard or obstruct walking spaces (or even sleeping areas). In fact, many hoarders feel a deep sense of shame about what amounts to an addiction and often stop inviting friends round, sometimes isolating themselves in the process.

Children and partners of hoarders also find life difficult as they also can’t have friends round and their home becomes a constant source of friction. They often want to help, but find that their help is refused. It can cause marital break-ups and adult children often leave home as soon as possible.

People with a hoarding disorder usually save items because they have serve as a reminder of happy times, or they represent people that they loved. They think that their items will be useful in the future and don’t want to waste anything in case it’s needed later. Most of all, they often feel safer when surrounded by all the things that they’ve saved.

Things pile up and become disorganised so that there are often stacks of paperwork, books, newspapers and clothes. This is different from people who have collections of, say, stamps or books by a particular author. Although collections can be large, they’re not usually particularly cluttered and don’t cause the distress that hoarding does. In fact, most people who collect items are often proud of them and want to show them off to other people.

It’s not entirely clear what causes this disorder but often people develop a hoarding disorder after they’ve experienced a stressful life event that they’ve had a lot of difficulty coming to terms with – this could be the death of a loved one, eviction, losing possessions in a fire or burglary or getting divorced. Other sad life events like the loss of a child can often precipitate hoarding too.

If you live with or know a hoarder, you’ve probably already realised that they’re resistant to your offers of help to sort out their belongings. No-one really wants someone else coming into their home and telling them that the things that they’re so attached to are junk and need to be thrown out. Hoarders need kindness and persuasion to encourage them to seek out help. In the meantime:

  • Find out as much as you can about this condition by reading websites and books about it.
  • Don’t take their possessions away – although this can be tempting, it won’t resolve the real problem and could destroy your relationship.
  • Recognise their victories, however small, by praising them if they throw away something, even if it’s very small.
  • Don’t enable their behaviour by offering to store some of their items for them.
  • Don’t clean up for them – ultimately, they need to recognise that things are getting in a mess and that they need to take action to stop things getting any worse.
  • Encourage them to seek help and treatment. This is possibly one of the best things that you can do to help them.

Talking with their doctor can help and counselling is a positive way forward where, gently, over a period of months, the counsellor can find out what the items mean to the hoarder, how they feel about sorting them out and whether they might start in a small way to make some headway with the clearing and cleaning process.

Some communities now have agencies to help with the hoarding problems once the healing process of counselling is under way. It’s important that the hoarder themself knows how the problem originated and that they want to be able to resolve it.

Such a process won’t happen overnight but with time and patience, a lot of hoarders can start clearing their homes and become happier and more fulfilled in the process.

Please do comment on my blog if you have found it interesting, useful or otherwise. You can see my blogs as soon as they are published (usually on Wednesdays) by pressing the ‘follow’ button and you can share them with your friends. You can also find me on Linked In, Instagram (samebutdifferent) and read my FB posts at Same But Different.

“Heartbreaking, Boring and Scary”

Listening to Russell Howard, the comedian, a couple of weeks ago, he talked about how the coronavirus is affecting us all in so many ways. As he said, the situation is ‘heartbreaking, boring and scary’ all at the same time.

If you suffer with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, it’s particularly frightening and isolating. Your usual support, whether that’s family, friends, support workers or CAMHS, may not be easily available now and that increases the feelings of anxiety.

Here are a few ways that will hopefully help during this stressful time and keep you going until things return to some sort of normality.

One of the first things is to STOP blaming yourself for the way you’re feeling – be kind to yourself and practice self-care, starting with:

  • Understanding your anxiety – it’s frightening for most of us and we’re all bracing ourselves for what might happen next. The uncertainty is one of the most difficult things because we don’t know if things might worsen and spiral out of control. So try to understand that it’s natural to feel anxious but that your anxiety can be managed.
  • Try to focus on what you can control – we don’t know how long this will last and we can’t control other people’s behaviour, so worrying about them won’t make a difference. For your own peace of mind, look  at things you can control, like washing your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds each time, staying at home as much as possible, avoiding crowds or gatherings, keeping two metres apart from other people when you go out and following recommendations from the health authorities. Staying apart from others when you’re feeling anxious can make you feel more isolated than ever, but ultimately it will help you and everyone else to get back to some sort of normality sooner rather than later.
  • Keep yourself informed but don’t check the news obsessively – try to limit it to twice a day. If you start to feel overwhelmed, step away from the media for a part of each day.
  • Write down your own specific worries about how coronavirus may disrupt your life in the future. Try to focus on a list of possible solutions. There won’t be perfect outcomes but there will be some things that you’ll be able to change and look at differently. Once you’ve found some other options, put down a plan of action and then, put the list to one side. Things can change quickly so you may need to adapt some of your possible solutions, but that’s alright.
  • It’s absolutely natural to be concerned about what might happen if you’re no longer able to work, you have to self-quarantine or your children’s schools remain closed. To stop your feelings spiralling out of control, close your eyes and focus on breathing in for 5 counts and out for 5 counts, five times. Notice what’s going on around you, from the different sounds to the smells and keep breathing like this until you feel calmer. Try audio meditations to help you regain an inner calm.
  • Make this time a priority to stay in touch with family and family. Think about scheduling in regular chats by phone or video calls. Although this is hard to do if you’re depressed, it’s important to stay connected in the best way that we can and reach out to people for support.

If you’re really struggling, try contacting one of these:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – If you’re feeling suicidal, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Coronavirus Resource Center – Get answers to many common questions about coronavirus, as well as links to other resources. (Harvard Health Publishing)

National Domestic Violence Hotlineexternal icon  – Isolated at home in an abusive situation and need help? Call 1-800-799-7233.

Hopefully you’ve found this blog interesting, useful or otherwise! Please do comment if you feel able to do so. You can see my blogs as soon as they are published (usually on Wednesdays) by pressing the ‘follow’ button and you can share them with your friends. You can also find me on Linked In, Instagram (samebutdifferent) and read my FB posts at Same But Different.