Tag Archives: Boundaries

Trauma bonding – how to overcome, recover and protect from trauma bonding

I wrote about trauma bonding, and the complexity of those relationships, in an earlier post where I explained how trauma bonds are formed:

The deliberate inconsistency in affection makes the victim feel that they are to blame, and that their own behaviour and personality has to change in order to ‘earn’ that affection. There are brief, intense moments of joy scattered among more significant periods of hurt or abuse, but those joy moments are addictive; the intensity of love bombing is overwhelming. Victims of trauma bonding then often fall into familiar patterns with other relationships, finding themselves in similar situations even if they’ve escaped their initial abuser or trauma.

This is why so many people return to abusive relationships; those who haven’t experienced it say “why did you go back?” – but that gives the impression that an abuser is only abusive – when the reality is far more complex, and comes with the most intense highs and overwhelming shows of love and affection, which is what the victim is seeking, and may even think makes the painful abuse they experience worth it, because the high is so intense.

Escaping trauma bonding is as complex and multi-faceted as the traumatic relationship – but it is possible with the right steps and support. Here are some techniques I recommend when I’m working with clients who are moving away from abusive relationships and trauma bonding.

 

1: Be here, right now, truthfully. A significant part of what keeps you in that relationship or situation is the “if I just…” – the fantasy of how it could be more often, if you just…changed? Behaved differently? Got it right? All of those fantasy scenarios are so dependent on impossible goals and unrealistic reactions. Each time you slip into the daydreams of what could be, pause and take a critical assessment of what is, right now. The tiptoeing, the ball of anxiety, the “which version of them is coming home” that raises your heartrate when you hear their key in the door. That reality is far more consistent than the what if you imagine to survive it, so let yourself acknowledge the truth of where you are.

Don’t distract yourself with hoping or trying to somehow manage someone into a ‘good day’ – notice how you really feel, and how much you have to play a game or bite your tongue in order to get scraps of contentment amidst the anxiety of your day.

2: One day at a time (or even one minute at a time!) You don’t have to change everything at once – you don’t have to lose your entire life to escape a bad relationship. All or nothing is far too huge, and daunting, and it will imprison you because it’s too much to take on.

Instead, make one decision at a time, one action at a time, and one interaction at a time.

Finding yourself feeling stuck in an abusive relationship (be that with a partner, parent, friend or boss) took time; it wasn’t an overnight change. Nor is escaping it. You can set your own boundaries and implement small changes a little at a time, until you feel strong enough and ready to totally free yourself from this entanglement.

Key to this is remembering that putting your needs first is self preservation – not selfish. Each time you find yourself being self-critical, remember that isn’t your voice, and be compassionate and kind to yourself and your own needs.

3: Give yourself permission to feel. In this relationship you have learned to ignore your own feelings and needs, and to put those of the other person above yours. This makes it very difficult to find the edges of your emotions, and to accept that your feelings are important and valid. Re-learning those things is important – so rather than trying to squash them down for the sake of someone else, let yourself feel them and acknowledge them.

A great tool for this is keeping a journal, where you can write what you are feeling – including the negative and positive emotions tied to the abuser. This isn’t black and white – so let yourself acknowledge if you miss someone, but balance it with truthful awareness of how it felt to be near them.

It can be painful, healing from trauma and recovering from harmful relationships, but it’s only by acknowledging and moving through those complex emotions that you can understand yourself, and build resilience to protect against repeating this pattern in future relationships. Grief is one of the things you’ll feel – but remember that much of the grief is for how that relationship should have been, rather than for the reality of what you had.

4: Identify your needs. The biggest part of moving on is understanding what you were hoping to get from the relationship, and how they used that against you to keep you there.

By offering short, intense moments of joy or affection you were being given something powerful and addictive, which was then taken away or withheld, making you feel that you needed to ‘earn’ it. This is the ‘hook’ – the power that they held – and by identifying this hook you will be able to build a blueprint of what you need in other relationships, and how you can build that need into your own behaviour rather than being dependent on an external source to meet it.

5: Blueprint for the new life you deserve. Now that you’ve identified the most significant need you had (safety, affection, love, support) you can begin to set out the foundations of what you deserve in your life. The treatment you will – and will not – accept from others, and from yourself. Examples are things like “I will not stay in the company of someone who is insulting me”, “I will not sleep with anyone who is hurtful”, “I will manage my own income and spending”, “I will nourish my body with healthy food and avoid any alcohol or drugs that change my behaviour”.

Set small goals, things which matter to you. This could be getting a new job, moving to a new home, seeing friends or family that you’ve been separated from by your toxic partner, starting a new hobby or returning to one you quit because the relationship took all your energy. Small, life affirming choices which reinforce that you are capable and can enjoy things alone, and with chosen other people, on your own terms.

Invest time in a healthier relationship with yourself – allowing choices for things you want; start small with things like what you would like to eat, what you want to watch on TV, the colour of your bedding, how you dress today. All of these things have been whittled away by the choices and desires of your toxic relationship – so re-learning what you actually enjoy is an adventure. Each moment of enjoyment will reinforce that you are capable and that you make choices that bring you your own happiness – not that given to you as some kind of toxic reward, but simply by choosing for yourself.

Following that same pattern you can build healthy relationships with others by building on small, healthy interactions. Notice the people you have in your life – those you were forced to push away, those who overstepped your boundaries who you want to distance from. Pay attention to who is listening, and who is supportive; those are the people you deserve to keep in your life. It isn’t cruel or selfish to distance yourself from those who are harmful or overbearing.

Investing in those healthy interactions, and building on the relationships you have with people who aren’t toxic, is the only sure way to fully free yourself from unhealthy, toxic relationships, and from the possibility of repeating toxic patterns in future. It is tempting to slip into a familiar dynamic, where you’ve learned how to behave and squash your own needs down to suit others; that’s a difficult thing to un-learn – so keep reminding yourself that it took time to become the person they made you – and it can and will take time to build the new, happier, safer you. And you’re worth that time.

If you want to escape or move past trauma bonding, if this is something that feels very familiar and you know that you want and need a healthier, happier future free of those painful, heavy relationships, I can help. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

Is post-covid Freedom leaving people feeling imprisoned by fear?

July 19th in England was dubbed “Freedom Day” by the media, and the population counted down with excitement to a day when all the restrictions that were put in place because of the Covid pandemic were lifted.

It’s been over a week, schools have broken up for summer, and people are jumping (or tentatively creeping?) into travel, visiting friends and family, gathering in groups and returning to something like the normal we had before.

Opinions are very divided – but Government have decided to continue with their planned ‘Freedoms’, though scientists advised against it, and with the NHS already thinly stretched, many people are very concerned about their safety moving forward, and about another wave impacting our lives once again.

With no restrictions we are jumping for the first time in well over a year to freedom of travel, people visiting friends and family, bars and clubs re-opening, shopping without masks, gathering in large numbers without the need to social distance. All of those steps we took to protect ourselves and those in our communities are gone, and the gradual adjustment we all made to safety and isolation has been swept away.

For some this ‘all in one’ approach is daunting; moving from a mind-set where we avoid others, cancel social plans, don’t attend gatherings, wear masks and keep our distance, and carefully plan grocery trips to avoid big groups and get things delivered where we can to…total freedom? It’s just too much at once. Sensory overload, combined with anxiety when we face groups of un-masked strangers.

Families and friends have spent months aching to get together, to hug, to celebrate, to enjoy time in groups and to share affections and events. Now that we can, some are still too nervous to do so, still holding onto the idea that there’s danger in meeting.

Most worrying is that it’s true; the virus hasn’t disappeared, the vaccine rollout has slowed down, the new Delta variant is impacting younger people who were initially safe, and the numbers show active cases growing again.

Despite this, people are eager to return to work, to see their loved ones, to prop up the economy, which continues to be significantly impacted, and to believe that it’s safe to hug those they’ve not seen for many months. Loneliness, anxiety, lost work and the draining exhaustion of long-term stress have seen many of us ‘hit the wall’ – and though we are all eager to ‘get back to normal’ it’s hard to ignore the mixed messages and bombardment of opinions on social media.

If you are nervous, and struggling to know what the guidelines are post “freedom day” remember that there is no blanket rule; that there is no one right answer. The steps you take now depend entirely on your situation and how ready you are feeling to change the way you’ve adapted to this pandemic.

Lockdown proved that a great many jobs can, in fact, be successfully performed from home – so many employers are looking to adapt a more flexible structure for their teams. This is likely to improve mental health and the work/life balance of many working people. Mental health is a topic that has become more normalised to speak about, meaning that people are finding it easier to speak about the struggles they are facing with their own mental health. Again, this has seen a lot of employers giving more support and focus to the mental and emotional wellbeing of their teams, and supporting their needs.

Lockdown also showed that community support is absolutely vital – and that won’t disappear overnight; there will be others in your area who still need support, and who are willing to offer that support, if you need it.

The fact that we can now meet in large groups, go to events, ignore social distancing and bin the masks doesn’t mean that you have to do those things if you don’t feel ready.

You can continue to be wary of large gatherings, to wear masks when you’re indoors, to only meet friends outside if you don’t feel ready to take more steps quite yet.

It took us over a year to be in the position we are now; to adjust to the restrictions, change our routines, make plans that took more care and offered more awareness to the vulnerable in our lives.

An arbitrary date of “freedom” doesn’t mean that you have to abandon the things that made you feel safe throughout this pandemic – and you don’t need to bow to pressure to ‘get back to normal’ until you feel it’s safe for you to do so.

If you are struggling with anxiety around the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, the huge changes of ‘Freedom Day’ and perhaps pressure from people in your life to overstep boundaries you need to feel safe, you don’t need to cope alone or ignore your instincts; I can help you to process the anxiety and depression you may be experiencing, to face the wealth of conflicting emotions you’ve ridden the waves of since Covid first hit the UK, and to focus on the ways in which you are safe, and how to stay feeling so even as things continue to change.

You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. to speak about what support you think you’d benefit from.

 

 

Shame, and the impact it has on our wellbeing.

In a world of 24-hour news and celebrity culture, and an environment of constant sharing, with social media showcasing the minutia of everyday life for us to compare ourselves, share ourselves and open our lives to strangers on a global scale, shame is an emotion that we are beginning to see impacting more and more people on an increasingly significant scale.

Shame in itself isn’t necessarily harmful; shame is a natural response, which informs us that something is not quite right.  Without this felt sense, we would have little opportunity to avoid, change or repair whatever it is that ‘feels’ wrong, and we would be more vulnerable to harm or mistakes. But what happens when you are faced with, or feeling, more shame than you are prepared for, or more than you can cope with?

Shame is linked to a feeling deep within our self. A sense of not being ‘good enough’ or of letting ourselves – or worse, others – down. A belief that we are failures, or burdens on those around us, and that we deserve any negative experiences we may have.

Shame evokes a desire to withdraw into ourselves, to diminish our voice, gaze and stature.  Perhaps this is familiar to you, or indeed you may have noticed this behaviour in others?

The commonality of dropping our head and avoiding eye contact is prevalent amongst those who feel embarrassed or ashamed, and can give rise to the physical ‘Flight’ response kicking in, where the individual feels the urge to leave the room and/or situation, or to avoid social environments altogether, becoming isolated and creating a vacuum in which negative thoughts can breed.

In the presence of other people shame can run amok, ensuring that its damaging effects are profoundly felt by the afflicted individual, who cannot help but compare and contrast, and find themselves wanting, or re-hash and re-live a mistake which they feel cannot be overcome.

If this is a feeling or situation you are familiar with, I have some good news:

Because shame thrives on the presence of other people, in order to proffer the profound impact upon an individual, it is necessary to heal shame by interacting with other people. Don’t panic; the caveat for this is that those interactions are controlled by you, the individual feeling shame, and the first interaction which can begin your process of healing is with a therapist or counsellor.

When shame is understood, and acknowledged, by honest conversations with a trusted friend or a therapist, it eases and shrinks away. Shining a light on the feeling, and digging into the root of it, gives a new perspective, and shows shame for the toxic weight it brings.

Shame is powerful, and can have a significant impact on our lives and our day to day activities. In order to diminish its power over us, we need to engage with it, explore its origin and myth bust it, in a supportive and collaborative way that gives you a sense of mastery over such destructive emotions and feelings.

PATIENCE, SUPPORT AND SELF ACCEPTANCE are important when mastering your conscious and subconscious feelings and thoughts around the shame you experience. Shame isn’t a feeling we give to ourselves, it usually comes from external sources, from the way we think we should behave, think or feel, because of the environment which has shaped us.

Happily, those ‘should’ feelings don’t belong to us either – and we can process how we position ourselves in our own minds, in the expectations others have put on our lives, and in the actions we continue to take in order to gain control and acceptance over our own choices. Mastery of our emotional self, mastery over our needs and our identity.

The more you are open to talking about shame, the more power you harness; your old feelings of shame then become powerless over you (this is a FACT!) and the confidence that you feel when you win the battle for control over your self-worth against shame is life changing.

If you are living with shame, weighed down by it, and want to step towards self-acceptance and freedom, you can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person.

You can also read more about the impact that trauma has on a person, and on their ability to form healthy relationships, much of which comes entangled with a sense of shame and low self-worth, in my last article – just click here to read about trauma bonding and PTSD

I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

Should you disclose Mental Health issues at work?

Statistics are showing that more people than ever before are struggling with their mental health at the moment. The pressures of a global pandemic, lockdowns lifting and lowering, employment uncertain and family members lost or sick, it’s all taken a toll.

That toll sees people battling depression, anxiety, an increase in eating disorders or behavioural issues, the usual balance between our routines and our emotional needs disrupted with an uncertain end point.

It’s been traumatic, and challenging, and it’s no surprise that so many are battling their demons – some for the first time, others in a way they’d perhaps already worked hard to beat, and the slide back into a darker frame of mind can feel like a failure when you’ve been doing so well for so long.

Paper man surrounded by Coronavirus and economy news headlines

There is no shame in battling your mental health – there is no shame in admitting that you need support, and in reaching out for it. In taking time for yourself and your own needs, rather than constantly being on the go or giving your energy to others around you.

Or, rather, there should be no shame. But for many people, there still is. The stigma around mental health issues is still prevalent in many environments – and the place where that’s the biggest concern is in the workplace.

Though employers legally can’t challenge or dismiss their staff for needing mental health support, many still feel that disclosing mental health issues will impact their future in the role, or risk them losing their position, prevent their path to promotion or negatively impact the potential they had with the company.

You aren’t legally obliged to disclose any mental health considerations to your employer – but, if you do find that you are discriminated against at a later date, it is important to have evidence that they knew and have used that knowledge to negatively impact your employment.

The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance have created a very useful pros and cons document for whether or not you should disclose any mental health issues to employers; I know that it is deeply personal, and something you can only decide when you weigh up your own personal circumstances.

No matter what those circumstances are, the more of us who speak openly, honestly and powerfully about our experiences, the challenges we face and any mental health issues which have impacted our lives, the easier it becomes to do so. This means we benefit ourselves, able to relieve some of the pressure, and gain support from those around us. It also means we help others who may be struggling alone to see that it is more common than they thought, and that they can access and deserve help and support too.

That help and support comes in many forms – and your employer can, and should, help you to access some of them, whether through their own internal support or by allowing you to work more flexibly so that you can access support more readily.

If you are seeking one-to-one support, and you are looking for a Counsellor who can help you to work through the challenges you’re currently facing, or moving beyond past trauma or mental health concerns which are limiting your life today, please reach out to me; I can help you to leave that weight behind, and step into your best future with confidence.

You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person.

 

Holocaust Memorial Day

January 27th is internationally recognised as Holocaust Memorial Day – and it is, for myself as well as so many others, a day of deep reflection, of remembering those loved and lost, and of the many cruelties humanity have carried out against others for simply being ‘other’.

Six million Jewish people – men, women, children – were erased, snuffed out by the Nazi party, generations of hatred and xenophobia leading to mass murders and atrocities.

This is a piece of world history which we all remember – there are still living survivors and their families who hold dear the memories of those they lost, and who vividly recall the horrors of the camps, the cruelties of their captors, the fear that they lived in. Each November we wear poppies, we wave our flags, and we swear by “Lest we forget” – but across the UK, and the wider world, anti-Semitism is rife, and is still a leading topic in the media.

Year on year the reports of antisemitic views and behaviours are rising, and persecution and segregation are again sliding into ‘the norm’ as right-wing world leaders preach intolerance.

The impact on people – on those who didn’t forget, on those being pushed aside, on those once again living in fear – is immeasurable, and at a time when the world is facing uncertainty and fear we need to remember to come together, to love and support others, and to behave with kindness and compassion, rather than pulling into tribes which alienate and threaten anyone different to ourselves.

With the increase of technology and social media we are more able than ever before to find like minded people to communicate with – but still we see people leaning towards bubbles of those who share their views, and feeding intolerance in those bubbles. This has to stop, and we have to consciously work to explore other views, other cultures, other experiences to build a healthy, full picture of people’s experiences which we can use to shape our own.

The world is a rich tapestry of different cultures, with varied and fascinating histories, and humans are curious creatures. Often what we think of as fear – fear of anything different to our own lived experience – is actually curiosity, and rather than rejecting it we should encourage one another to explore it safely. To reach out to people, to be kind and tolerant, curious and keen.

Remember detail of a war memorial. An expression of faith, hope, and disbelief of what lies behind us

Kindness is the thing which makes us most human. Sharing, caring and supporting others, particularly when we have little to give ourselves, creates community and compassion – and those are the traits which can save us from sliding further into segregation and pain.

Nobody could have believed, as the atrocities of the Holocaust were first realised, and the truths about the murder and torture of millions of people, people who had committed no crimes, were released, that antisemitism would still be an issue nearly one hundred years later.

We learned so many lessons in the wake of the world wars – and yet still we see people being persecuted.

Today, take time to reflect. To truly assess your own treatment of others, and the behaviour of those around you. Of those casual ‘jokes’ which build a society rife with unkindness, segregation and separatism.

Think what you can do to challenge those moments, and how you can influence the world around you with kindness, compassion and love.

If you have faced persecution, have been mistreated because of your religion, your culture, your race or your sexual preference or gender identity, please don’t carry the burden of that hurt alone.

Reach out to your friends and loved ones, build a community around yourself of love and protection – and if you would like more support, contact me via this website, on Facebook, via email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com or call or WhatsApp 07749 499783 to arrange counselling to work through the issues you’ve faced, and step into a happier, lighter future.

Action for happiness July calendar

Each month I would like to share the Action for Happiness calendar, which has some wonderful, small actions each day of the month to help you to focus on your mental wellbeing and emotional health.

This month’s focus is resilience – and you can download the image below or follow the link I’ve included underneath to download a copy of the calendar directly into your digital devices, so that you can see reminders each day to focus on your resilience, and take a moment to mindfully be kinder to yourself.

You can find more information on Action for Happiness here.

I also wrote an article recently about boundaries – and that would be a great place to read more about how to build resilience, and what I can do to help you with that. Read more about boundaries here.

You can get in touch with me here if you would like to know more.

Your personal boundaries are so important

An area that many people struggle with is setting personal boundaries, and with maintaining those boundaries in their relationships, day to day without letting others influence them.

If you have no boundaries in place, it could stem from never having learned how, never being enabled to, or being afraid to. It could be because your self-worth has been eroded through neglect, control or abuse, or that you never had the emotional support needed to value your needs.

How does losing – or not having – boundaries impact us?

 First and foremost – it’s painful. It’s painful, because we are always giving too much of ourselves away, with no regard for our limits, and people take without giving in return.

It is also exhausting, draining – emotionally, mentally and – as a result – often physically too. All of the energy and drive we have is poured from us into others, or taken from us by others, and we have nothing left in reserve for caring for ourselves or meeting our own needs.

If you keep finding that an environment is leaving you feeling drained, emotionally bruised and demotivated, it’s likely that it’s because your boundaries aren’t in place in that environment, so your energy and emotional health are being depleted by those around you.

 Your boundaries are personal to you – and they may change or move over time

 We all grow and change in time, and that’s a normal and healthy part of life.

What is also normal and healthy is to have views, values and emotional responses which determine our personal boundaries, and what we are and are not comfortable doing.

If you have been subjected to any kind of controlling behaviour, oppression or abuse then it can be even more challenging to identify your own boundaries, outside of that environment – and all the more difficult to enforce them with the people within that environment. Even once you have left those situations or environments behind, establishing and maintaining your boundaries is difficult, because you’ve not had an opportunity to build and live with them before – so you are unsure even how to start.

 Enforcing your boundaries is important

 It can be challenging and daunting enforcing your boundaries. Saying “no” to someone who is used to only hearing “yes” from you, and standing firm despite their reaction, is hard – and they may push back and be angry. If they are, that shows that they have been taking advantage of you, and that they are willing to override your wellbeing for their own benefit.

Sometimes when we begin to enforce our boundaries we find that some relationships may be lost – and that can be terribly sad. Unfortunately, some relationships have to be a learning experience for us, and be left behind as we build on our own self-worth and growth – and if someone can’t learn to respect and value your boundaries, and grow with you, then you may need to let them go in order to protect yourself.

I can help you to identify, establish and reinforce your personal boundaries

If you would like some support with boundaries – whether you simply need to build your resilience in order to stand more, or whether you need to start from the beginning by identifying what your boundaries might be, I can help you with the process.

You can also read more about personal boundaries – how they could be eroded, what situations show whether you are being taken advantage of, how to begin to identify and build your own boundaries, and whether it’s ever ok to change your mind (it is!) – on my boundaries website page, where you can also find resources and activities which might help you.

Get in touch with me – you can contact me through this website, on my Facebook page, on my phone number – 07849 037 095 – either as a phone call or via WhatsApp video – or email me on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com   – and let me help you to be a happier, more confident self who believes in their own value.