Tag Archives: counselling

Action for Happiness – Optimistic October

October already! This year seems simultaneously to be flying past and endless – but somehow we are in October, nights are getting longer, weather colder, and it’s time to start thinking about cosy fires and hearty soup!

The Action For Happiness calendar this month focusses on Optimism – and there are, as always, some wonderful suggestions;

 

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.

Men and the growing crisis of mental health

Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women.

There are more billionaire men than women – but there are also more homeless men living rough than women.

There are more men in prison than women.

Men are more likely to receive harsh punishments for crimes than women.

The gaps between good and bad lives, good and bad experiences, good and bad support, are vast; we know that there’s a disparity between men and women – but few people speak about the enormous differences in life experience between men in different cultural and economic worlds.

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I wrote recently about toxic masculinity, and how it’s responsible for so many male abuse victims suffering in silence and being killed by their abusers.

It also means that men are more likely to die from treatable medical issues – because seeking medical help is seen as ‘weak’ and men are taunted for being ‘more dramatic’ with illnesses like ‘man flu’ (in reality, men are significantly more likely to die of flu than women) and will ignore symptoms of more serious conditions because it’s seen as a failing of masculinity to be worried, to visit a doctor, to express concern and seek help.

“Man up.”

“Boys don’t cry.”

Men’s health – and especially men’s mental health – is being failed by a system that isn’t offering intervention and support before the issue becomes life threatening. Statistics show that men are far more likely to die of things like cancer, infections, viruses, heart disease and diabetes – and that their lifestyles and weight can impact these far more commonly than women might experience. Men’s mortality is far higher than that of women, at every age – but the most worrying among these statistics by far is the number of men who are dying by suicide.

Often this is associated to younger men – but middle-aged and retired men are also far more likely to die of suicide than any natural causes or illnesses, and far more likely than women to die by suicide at every age.

Men are suffering with crippling, life threatening mental health issues because the medical system isn’t geared towards helping them, their workplaces make no allowances for their mental health and emotional needs, the pressures of providing for a family and maintaining a façade of strength among their peers are overwhelming, and admitting that they are struggling against these pressures is seen as a weakness, so they are ridiculed or dismissed.

This is leaving men across the UK, from every kind of background, every social environment, every income bracket, every level of our society with no support, with no access to the right kind of help, no avenue for seeking emotional and mental health support, medication, counselling, justice for any harm or abuse that they face.

The Men’s Health Forum are petitioning Government to invest more in a Men’s Health Strategy – something designed to improve and promote services tailored to the specific needs of men. Covid has hugely impacted the NHS, the available support, stretching an already thinly spread system in which so many men were already slipping through the gaps between their needs and the available services.

When men are ridiculed, dismissed as weak or brushed off for having any kind of health need – whether that’s physical or mental – it shows a dangerous and deadly culture of fronting any issue with ignorance, secrecy and fear. The endemic issue of toxic masculinity, of pushing men to maintain the illusion of strength and stability, of making them feel afraid to ask for help and acknowledge when they are struggling, is costing far too many lives.

It’s time that those voices are heard, and that men are supported to seek the help that they need to survive any mental or physical health crisis; that they are given fair and universal access to mental health support, to lifestyle and physical health benefits that they are currently lacking, and that the mentality of ‘man up’ is challenged so often, and so loudly, that it becomes the shameful view, and men are finally able to speak openly about the challenges that they face and access appropriate support in order to break that cycle of toxicity.

Martin Tod, CEO of the Men’s Health Forum, has shared this video which details the worrying statistics that men are facing, and which is the front of their campaign,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD7pU7pZNZk

and you can sign the petition supporting the cause here

https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/petition-mens-health-strategy?utm_source=MHF+newsletters&utm_campaign=cc28e67fbf-APPG_Video_7_17_2021_20_8&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b8d405abed-cc28e67fbf-444204473&mc_cid=cc28e67fbf&mc_eid=2e66ec0ef9

It’s time that Government realised that their health support needs to meet the very different and specific needs of both men and women – and, in fact, everyone who falls between those two categories in the spectrum of gender and sex. Binary and blanket health care is outdated, ineffective and failing our population, and it’s time for things to change and to evolve with the existing needs of people who rely on that system for support.

Mental Health word cloud on a white background.

I work with many men, including those who have fallen into the trap of repeating toxic cycles, who were victims of abuse in their formative years, who were punished for being vulnerable, and who are now living with the impact of significant mental health needs. These cycles can be broken, and even those who are living with very complex pain and trauma can find a pathway to leave that hurt behind, and to avoid weaponizing it to protect themselves from potential future harm.

If you feel that you would benefit from somewhere safe to speak, to process your past hurts, to deal with the stress and pressure of your current life, to prepare for any upcoming challenges that you are worrying about, and you think you need support with any mental health concerns, contact me – you don’t need to battle your demons alone. 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.

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.

 

 

Domestic abuse and the abuse of men – and the plague of toxic masculinity

 Across the UK reports of domestic abuse have increased significantly. The police saw a 7% increase in violent domestic abuse reports, Victim Support report a 12% increase in referrals for domestic abuse cases, and the National Domestic Abuse Helpline saw a very concerning 65% increase in calls in just the first months of lockdown. These figures have continued to grow throughout the ongoing pandemic, and domestic abuse is a cause of enormous concern as resources continue to be overwhelmed and people remain in abusive relationships and situations that are reaching boiling point under the ongoing pressures of the pandemic.

The media has been drawing a lot of attention to these statistics, and attempting to find support for resources which offer help to victims. The main focus of this help has been for women and children, who have been victimised by their abusive partners and fathers.

Much of the media coverage, however, doesn’t make much referral to resources for men who are suffering abuse, and who are being victimised in domestic abuse situations.

Men often find it much harder than women to escape abuse. They also find it harder to admit, or even to accept, that they are in an abusive relationship. Public response to men being abused is far less sympathetic, and can often make light or even ridicule those who are trying to ask for help, but it is just as dangerous for a man who is being abused as it is for a female victim.

Men in abusive relationships are at high risk of physical harm and even death, and especially so because the public response, and that of many services, doesn’t take their abuse as seriously, which means that men are ashamed or embarrassed to seek help, therefore find themselves trapped for longer without access to support and resources which could protect them from their abuser.

The legal repercussions for women who abuse men are also far less significant, which means that they are less protected from their abuser finding them again, or returning to the abusive relationship because their abuser gets off lightly and is still free to continue contacting, and therefore abusing, their victim.

One very public case shown regularly in the media in recent years was 22 year old Alex Skeel from Bedfordshire, who was found ‘days from death’ by police after neighbours reported a disturbance.  His then partner, Jordan Worth, admitted grievous bodily harm and coercive, controlling behaviour, after isolating Alex from his family and friends, and assaulting him with knives, boiling water and a hot iron, among other incidents. Jordan was jailed for seven and a half years for the abuse, and Alex is now very active as a public speaker, regularly appearing in the media, campaigning to raise awareness and support for men who are abused.

Sickeningly, a significant amount of the public response to the news stories, including comments on news stories and posts on Twitter, have seen people ridiculing Alex, making jokes about the abuse he suffered, and taunting him for publicly speaking about his experiences.

Which is precisely why he continues to do it. To raise awareness of how terrifying living with abuse is, and how incredibly dangerous it is for authorities and services to see it as ‘less significant’ and thus less serious or damaging than a man abusing a woman.

I wrote recently about the life-altering impact of shame, and how it can cause deep psychological issues – you can read that article here – and one thing many men who have been abused name as a lasting impact is shame; shame that they were abused, shame that they ‘were weak’ or that they are somehow less of a man.

This is not true. It simply isn’t. The mentality that ‘a real man’ couldn’t be abused, or that it’s somehow funny, is wholly inaccurate and damaging.

Toxic masculinity – the way that men are taught from a very young age that they should be tough, that they should not be soft or gentle, that they should be hard and unemotional, is poisonous.

Toxic masculinity, and the ingrained belief that men should never struggle with their emotional needs or mental health, that men should never cry, not talk about their feelings, should be physically and mentally tougher than women, and that their needs are insignificant or a sign of weakness and being somehow ‘lesser’, is precisely why more men are finding themselves in abusive relationships.

It is also why it is harder for them to seek, and receive, help. It is why the statistics for suicide are significantly higher in men. Because they have no way of processing, recovering from or surviving pain, trauma and mental ill health.

In fact; suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and figures are increasing.

Suicide is directly linked to shame – and shame is a direct result of toxic masculinity. That toxicity is seeing more men die from abuse, or from suicide, and both could be avoided if people simply felt more able to speak honestly about their experiences, and receive support.

If you are struggling with shame, or have been the victim of abuse – either in the past or in your current life – please don’t continue to carry that pain alone. I can help, and am very experienced in working with men who have lived with abuse; 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 visit Mankind for more information and support for male victims of abuse https://www.mankind.org.uk/

Action for Happiness – Jump Back Up July

I share the Action for Happiness Calendar every month, because I benefit from them personally as well as sharing them with my clients (and family, and friends, and social media audience!)

This month’s topic is Jump Back Up – and the idea is building resilience, and building skills which help us to manage any challenges that life brings without letting those challenges derail us. Building resilience doesn’t mean becoming hard – quite the opposite; it is flexibility, the ability to heal and self manage, and to moderate our emotional responses to unexpected situations or changes.

Each day there is a prompt – an action to take, a subject to think about, an opportunity to process something challenging and see just how well we can overcome it with the right mindset.

YOU are in charge of your life, of the way you face it; you can’t change how others behave or control every aspect of the world – but we can be fully in control of our own emotional responses, and our own behaviours.

If this is something you feel you need more support with, and if you want to leave the hurt the world has given you behind to live a free, content life with better emotional resilience 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.

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.

Trauma, bonding and grounding: what your diagnosis really means, and how to free yourself from past Trauma.

Through life we all experience trauma, and each of us is shaped by the things we experience – but what happens when we are faced with significant trauma, and find it impossible to move past it? How does it shape our future choices, our relationships, and can it ever really leave us?

What is PTSD?

PTSD means Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This means that experiencing a very traumatic event – and anything you find traumatic counts – leaves you with life altering stress and anxiety.

This isn’t just ‘being anxious’ and it isn’t just ‘having some bad memories’ – it’s far more significant. PTSD actually alters the brain, physically. There are marked and well known physical differences in areas of the brain which process memories, anxiety and emotional stimuli and responses.

Symptoms of PTSD include a high level of stress or anxiety – again, a physical change – with higher levels of cortisone, which can lead to heart problems, among other issues. Other symptoms are flashbacks, night terrors and audio or visual illusions. Any trigger which sparks a trauma response takes the sufferer straight back to the initial trauma event, reliving and re-traumatising. The brain cannot differentiate between the traumatic event and the trigger, so the physical and emotional response is the same.

Complex PTSD – or CPTSD – is when someone has suffered multiple traumatic events, and is more challenging to live with and to treat, as those who suffer struggle to differentiate between trauma and triggers, and to maintain emotional balance or form healthy relationships and routines.

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is a very complex issue – and is something we most commonly see in victims of abuse. Any emotional bond is influenced by kindness and intimacy. These become unhealthy, trauma bonds when that same source of intimacy is the person who abuses you.

Most abusive relationships – whether they are between romantic couples, children and their abusive caregivers, Cult leaders and their followers or even kidnappers and their victims – tend to follow the same patterns.

Initially there is intense attention, affection and interest – love bombing – where the abuser, or person with the most power in the dynamic, showers their victim with overwhelming attention, and makes them feel special.

When the victim is feeling happy, vulnerable and adoring, seeing their abuser in a wonderful, loving light, the painful treatment begins. It could be a withdrawal and rejection, a physical attack, a verbal assault. The abuse itself takes many forms – but the pattern is the same. This is a shock, and incredibly painful for the victim, but it’s often brief – and the abuser quickly says something like ‘look what you made me do’ and is very apologetic. The love bombing re-starts, and affection – usually extreme affection – makes the victim feel secure again.

This cycle repeats – and a trauma bond is formed where the abuser is the person most capable of hurting you, be it physically or psychological, but they are also the  person you most desperately want and need comfort from, and who any scrap of kindness from has the greatest impact.

This makes it very difficult to leave abusive relationships or situations, or to break that cycle and avoid repeating the pattern in new relationships (be it friendships, romantic relationships or even employment) because the familiarity makes it feel secure, even when it is incredibly painful.

Over time the bad days outweigh the good ones, but the victim – the person with the trauma bond – can’t leave because they still believe that if they can just love someone right, if they can just stop making mistakes, or upsetting their abuser, or stepping out of line, it will be as wonderful as it was in the beginning. They are chasing the reward of attention and love bombing, and will excuse and allow an enormous amount of cruelty to chase that feeling.

All of this is shaped by biological responses and the physical makeup of our brains, and as with PTSD it can literally alter the development of your brain – as well as forming the behaviours you exhibit.

Those who have never experienced it question why someone stays in an abusive relationship, but it’s an incredibly difficult thing to break, and to truly move away from and avoid repeating.

In that process, one of the most powerful therapeutic devices taught by psychotherapists and counsellors is grounding.

What is Grounding?

Grounding is when someone who is experiencing anxiety, fear, panic or heightened senses can reduce their stimulus and calm their body and mind. Some think specifically of just ‘calming down’ and focus on the exact moment and location that you are in – others link it to nature, and the individual connects to the physical world by taking off their shoes and standing on grass, or similar.

There are many different techniques, and I will include some links below to explore more, but the method I often teach first is the ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ technique, shown below.

Download a copy of this technique by clicking here – 5 4 3 2 1

This method distracts your thoughts from the traumatic event, the flashbacks or the worries which have heightened your body and mind, and re-focusses those energies on the immediate here and now of where you are and what you can sense.

This allows you to leave the trauma memory, and to re-enter your body right now, right here, focussed on your senses. This allows you to calm your racing thoughts and gain control over your emotional and physical being.

This kind of grounding is simple, powerful and effective, and can help you to divert or avoid panic attacks, to maintain equilibrium and avoid anger or aggression, and gives you time and opportunity to focus on where you are and what you need right now.

For more information on PTSD and how it causes physical changes in the brain

For more information on Trauma Bonds 

For other Grounding techniques 

If you are struggling with any of the issues I’ve discussed in this article, and are looking for someone to speak to, to process and overcome your own traumatic events, 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.

Men’s Mental Health Week – June 14th-20th

I talk about mental health a lot – for obvious reasons! It isn’t something I campaign to open more conversations about simply because it’s my job – it’s a job I got into because I’m passionate about helping people to find support, about removing the stigma and shame still so prevalent in society around mental health issues, and about enabling those with the quietest voices to be heard.

One trend that is still apparent is that men find it harder than women to admit they are struggling, to ask for – and receive – help. The weight of toxic masculinity – the societal pressure for men to be strong, brave and stoic, to align mental health concerns with weakness or failure – means that men are far more likely to struggle alone.

This struggling alone means that men are still the highest statistic for suicide rates. Male suicide rates have risen by almost 10% in the last three years, with a significant increase through 2020 and 2021. There is a clear link between financial pressure and mental health concerns, with men expected to provide income for families, and the economic crisis brought by Covid-19 has seen those suicide rates skyrocketing – and mental health issues, particularly in adult males, recorded at the highest rate in history.

It is a crisis, and Government are still avoiding responding with adequate funding and support for the communities most impacted by these statistics, and the men in those communities who are desperate for help, for support, and for access to mental health treatments and counselling which would quite literally save lives.

Another shocking statistic which has leapt to the highest rate on record is the number of domestic abuse cases; situations where, due to lockdown, low employment, financial crisis and being trapped at home together have created a pressure oven of overwhelm, anger and aggression. The number of men physically attacking their partners and families has increased dramatically, and – again – the support and interventions which could prevent those incidents, and protect the victims, simply can’t keep up with the demand.

Another very clear connection and correlation is seen between men’s mental health and domestic abuse; better access to support and mental health interventions for men – and for the male children of abusers – would see drastic reduction in abusive incidents, breaking the cycle and allowing those involved to re-wire their emotional responses, providing safe spaces and solutions to their crisis. Those who commit these crimes have almost always been victims of abuse themselves, and are perpetuating a toxic pattern of abuse that can be prevented if they could access mental health support before they reach crisis, or use their own trauma as a weapon against others.

June 14th to 20th is National Men’s Mental Health Awareness Week – and there are a number of very important campaigns to raise awareness for these needs. To have these difficult conversations. To raise funds for the bodies and resources which support men’s mental health and provide active interventions and treatment for men’s mental health struggles.

The Men’s Mental Health Forum are one such body, and one which I actively support in my work with StopSo  – and they are running the ‘Can Do’ Campaign, raising vital awareness and funds, and recruiting Men’s Mental Health Champions to be the voice of their work; follow this link to find out more about the Can Do Campaign.

If you are struggling, if you have concerns about your mental health, if you have experienced trauma or difficulties and need a safe place to speak about them, to process them, and to leave your darker moments behind so that you can embrace your future happier, more confident and with resources to protect against future mental health crisis, please do get in touch. 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.

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.