Tag Archives: mental health

Neuroception – or listening to our instincts

I have been reading a new book by Stephen Porges, called Poly Vagal Safety. It covers lots of different knowledge about how we detect stress and feelings of threat. Without going into the theory in too much detail, one of the things that Porges is known for is creating of the word ‘neuroception’, which defines the ability for our bodies to detect danger and feelings of threat before we come into conscious awareness that something is off.

Polyvagal Safety: Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation (IPNB) by [Stephen W. Porges]

Click the image to find the book on Amazon

To explain this more, interoception skills are where we notice body sensations; we might be aware when our body is feeling anxious, and we may go into a fight or flight response. Neuroception means that we can still be experiencing responses to threat when we are unaware of the signals or causes, and have no memory of the events (this is particularly true for young children, where they may have no memory or language for events, but their bodies and brains store and recall trauma). So, as an adult there will be issues with threat response, but an inability to put a finger on why.

Some people may experience this as a ‘gut feeling’ – as intuition that something is off, but they are not aware of any clear signals or obvious indicators of threat.  Others have no conscious awareness, but their body has detected something. Sometimes in this instance their body moves into a shutdown response, or even into states like disassociating, panic attacks and fainting.


Thinking about trauma, and the responses our bodies have to feelings of being unsafe, could potentially be a trigger point for the individual. The sense of being on full alert mode has not left. So, what does this mean for the individual, both physically and mentally?

Acknowledging what happens to humans when they are in prolonged situations of stress is important. We know that prolonged exposure to stress increases cortisol and adrenalin in the body, putting us at increased risk of anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep problems, weight gain and memory and concentration impairment – and that isn’t an exhaustive list! The short and long term impacts of stress on our bodies can lead to chronic illnesses, increased risk of life limiting diseases, and significant trauma.

Whilst it may be unclear whether an individual does have PTSD, we would do well to assume that certain situations may leave the individual experiencing symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In thinking about this ongoing exposure to stress and anxiety, there are some steps we can take to reduce the likelihood of a trauma response:

  • Acknowledge it – and be aware of the possibility of negative instinctive responses or increased stress
  • Take a pause or break from any work or important tasks you’re involved with
  • Make time to relax and focus on self-care
  • Have compassion for the individual in this situation (including yourself)
  • Practice controlled and active mindfulness and mindful breathing
  • Explore any feelings and thoughts through journaling/art
  • Find reasons for gratitude throughout the day
  • Avoid alcohol – which doesn’t cheer you up, it just makes whatever you’re already feeling seem bigger, so stress and anxiety will increase
  • Speak to a friend or loved one, or someone you trust
  • Get outdoors
  • Exercise

Finding a way to distance yourself from the stressor or to just ground yourself in the moment helps to put things into perspective, and gives your body and mind time to recognise that you are safe and in control.

If you would like more support and a safe space to speak about your experiences, and to process past trauma, I can help;  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 may not be able to answer right away, if I am in session, but please leave me a message and as soon as I’m able to, I will respond.

Action for Happiness – December 2021

It’s December – yet another month has passed, and we are at the fresh beginning of a new one. This month is one which many people can find difficult and painful in some ways – but, as this Action for Happiness calendar shows, it’s the very small things which can make a difference to others, and which can turn around a day (or a month!)

These small kindnesses also help us – doing something for another, an act of kindness, of services, of love and support, is a wonderfully healing and uplifting thing for the one doing, as well as for the one receiving.

National Stress Awareness Day

The phrase ‘Stress Awareness Day’ always makes me laugh a little; after all, who on earth is unaware of their stress? But that’s not what it really means; stress awareness day is more about being aware of the stress others might be experiencing – and how we can do small things to help alleviate it.

There is a wealth of advice online (and available from your Doctor, Counsellor or a mental health representative in your workplace, as well as via charities like Mind) about how to better manage and reduce stress – and some things work better than others, and for others, so the best advice I can give is to try a few different methods and keep doing what works for you.

The obvious first steps are to speak to someone you trust (a friend or loved one, your manager at work, a counsellor or your doctor, if things are really getting on top of you) and to make a plan for changing the things that are stressing you out. If you’re overworked, your manager could help you to move things around and get more down time. If you’re financially stretched, a partner could sit and do a new budget with you to reduce the pressure. If you’re just fizzing with anxiety, some exercise and a decent meal will go a long way.

Exercise is the one that usually annoys me; when I’m feeling overwhelmed and someone suggests I go for a walk, get some fresh air and get my body moving, my blood pumping, and just take a break from computer screens and work, it often irritates me. What’s more irritating is that when I do that, and get the fresh air and a good stomping walk through some woodland, it always helps. Every time. And whoever suggested it was right. How annoying!

The strange reluctance of the stressed to avoid the things we know will help is common – so don’t think you’re alone, or that you’re the only person who grumpily slips into a little bit of self-destruct when you’re overwhelmed. We’re all guilty of it to some extent – and that’s why it’s so important to be honest with how you’re feeling, and how you’re sometimes reluctant to change anything.

But stress can have a hugely negative impact on our health (mental and physical) and can have serious repercussions on our future success, health and potential for contentment. There are always steps we can take to reduce stress – and even when we don’t really want to admit it, we know they help and that we should be giving ourselves a little break.

Breaks, rest and down time

Too many of us are guilty of pushing ourselves too much, for too long. Working long hours, eating lunch at our desk, committing to too many things that burn us out.

It’s absolutely vital to take breaks, regularly and consistently. Take proper breaks, away from your desk, from your screens, from the bombardment of information we are subjected to in our everyday lives. Step outside, sit somewhere peaceful, breathe real air and give yourself chance to just exist outside of what you’re doing or achieving, and just be.

Exercise

I know. I KNOW. Ugh. But, as I said above, it really does help – even (if not especially) at the times we least want to do it. Now, I’m not saying you need to commit to a gym routine and build yourself a solid 6 pack with bulging biceps – but a ten minute stroll in the outdoors can make a huge difference in your mental wellbeing and your ability to manage stress.

Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and in our busy modern lives it can be hard to find a way to fit that in, but making your own needs a priority means that you’ve got more in the bank to give to everything else, so really there’s no good enough excuse.

Walk to work, walk the dog, get the couch to 5k app, buy a mini trampoline, follow a YouTube yoga video, join a dance class – whatever it is, pick  something that makes you smile, and try to make it a regular part of your routine so you are getting your heart pumping and boosting the happy hormones that keep your body and mind running smoothly.

Sleep

Hands up who has lain awake late into the night, thinking about mistakes made in the past, worrying about things we should have done and haven’t, or dreading tomorrow’s to-do list…? Yeah – me too, and it’s so damaging.

Sleep is the best ingredient for mental (and, again, physical) health – and it’s vital for our bodies to recover from the exertion of the day and heal small hurts, build new cells, process the general functions that keep things ticking along. It’s also vital for our minds to process everything we’ve been doing, store away memories, tidy up thoughts and organise everything we’ve experienced. Sleep deprivation is incredibly harmful, and over time consistently getting too little sleep increases the chances of heart disease, reduces our productivity and wellbeing, makes us irritable and disorganised, and causes all manner of problems.

Prioritising sleep means you might need to change your routine; avoid any kind of screen for an hour before bed, drink a warm herbal tea, spend some time reading a favourite book, have a warm bath, whatever it is that winds you down and gets your relaxation going so that your mind recognises that now is the time to switch off. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep, and maintain a similar schedule even if you’re tempted by a massive weekend lie in or a late night now and then.

It’s been a really difficult couple of years, and it’s no surprise that statistics show that stress levels have increased nationally, with more people than ever reporting that they are experiencing stress and struggling to manage it.

The more openly we can speak about the stress we are experiencing, and the more we can support each other with it, the better we will all cope, and the more likely we will be to thrive beyond this period of history.

If you would like me to write more articles on how to better manage stress send me a message or respond on my social media channels and I will create some downloadable content for you to use in your own lives.

If you are struggling with stress and need someone safe to speak with, please 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)4rf  because I can help you to process the things you are feeling overwhelmed with and make a plan for moving through them, and building a more resilient tomorrow.

Halloween and mental health

 In years gone by Halloween wasn’t much of a ‘thing’ – perhaps there would be some candles, some treacle toffee if you were lucky, and a turnip lamp – but it wasn’t really celebrated the way that it is now.

Whether it’s from movies or a globalisation of what was once American culture, there’s no denying that Halloween is a big deal now – but not everyone is a fan.

For some people it’s a party – fun costumes, games with friends, sweets and treats, and staying up late to Trick or Treat, knocking on neighbourhood doors to ask for goodies.

But there are those who don’t get the same joy from the occasion; for whom the knocking on doors and shouting for treats is nothing but fear inducing.

Some people – those living with anxiety, those with PTSD, elderly people, people with dementia, sick people, anyone who has a heightened fight or flight response – can find their doorbell ringing very triggering.

It is an intrusion into their safe space, a jarring and fear inducing sound, a challenge to the usual security of the home. People jumping out of the dark in costumes, their faces hidden, is terrifying, their identities and motives hidden.

The trend of ‘trick’ pranks can be vandalism, causing mess and damage to their property if they don’t answer to give out sweets, and the fear of that can be overwhelming.

If you or your children are planning Trick or Treat adventures this Halloween please try to remember some of the basic courtesies which have become traditional too:

  • Only visit houses which are decorated – a lit pumpkin outside = welcome
  • If a house has no pumpkin outside, skip it!
  • Don’t stay out too late – set a curfew of 8pm, after which you shouldn’t visit homes
  • Only knock or ring the bell once – and if nobody answers, leave quietly (Maybe they are out of sweets – maybe they have smaller children who are going to bed – maybe they’ve simply had enough intrusion and want some peace)
  • Try to keep smaller children calm and quiet – no screaming in peoples doorways!

Try to remember that, although this is a fun holiday for you, and you’re having a great time in your costumes with family and friends, not everyone feels the same way – so be respectful, aware of the impact you may be having on those who are more vulnerable, and teach your children the basic rules above, so they can avoid inadvertently upsetting others too.

Another important factor to keep in mind this year, as the pandemic continues to impact lives, is that some homes may have positive Covid cases, others vulnerable people who are sheltering and could be put at risk by having a string of strangers ringing the doorbell bringing exposure to viral infections.

Many places are agreeing to skip the trick or treat traditions, and I know that’s sad for those who get so much pleasure from the adventure, and it’s yet another thing that our children might be missing out on as a result of the pandemic – but protecting people’s lives is the first priority, and it’s everyone’s responsibility. Even without Covid, you should be mindful of the impact you could be having on the more vulnerable members of your community, and of being alert to their needs.

If this time of year brings you any challenges, or triggers any kind of past trauma that you feel you could benefit from support with, 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.

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;

 

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/

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.