Tag Archives: Shame

Sexual Health Awareness Week

September 13th to 19th was Sexual Health Awareness Week – and there are events across the UK promoting both sexual and relationship health education throughout September, some of which you can find here https://www.brook.org.uk/shw/ – and I’d particularly like to guide readers towards the webinar for young men which focusses on consent.

This is an area I work in, which you can learn more about by clicking this link, and which can be very difficult and delicate – supporting those who have been accused of, or are under investigation for, sexual assault or abuse.

I’ve been challenged on occasion for working with this particular client group.  I agree that there is no excusing the acts of sexual offending, on or off line. However, if a person has performed those acts there is, more often than not, significant trauma and/or or abuse in their own history, which impacted upon their personality, their development and their behaviours, and which led to the creation of cognitive distortions and, often times, dissociation, all of which needs to be processed and understood in order to prevent further offending in future.

There are also a number of men I work with – particularly young men – who have been accused of sexual assault when they are innocent. The difficulties of intoxication, blurred boundaries, consent and shame mean that sometimes people can’t clearly remember what happened, or that both parties cross lines they later regret, and sometimes people panic and make an accusation which is unfounded. Many of the clients I work with in this specific area of need have been accused of brutal, devastating things – but the truth of the situation is far more complex, and they are innocent of any crime.

The accusation itself is deeply traumatic, and the process of investigation can have lasting and significant impact not only on the alleged victim, but on the alleged perpetrator – especially when they are innocent, but become tarred with the accusation, and carry that shame.

This is why proper sex and relationship education, especially around consent and the impact of drugs and alcohol on inhibitions and our grasp of reality, memory and morality under their influence, is absolutely vital.

It’s at this time of year when hundreds of thousands of young adults, barely out of childhood, move out into the world as students. Away from home for the first time, free from the constraints of home life and keen to explore every new experience, expand their boundaries and embrace everything student culture brings, combined with meeting new people, in a new place, and bombarded with Fresher’s week party culture, many of these young adults come apart at the seams.

A lot of these young adults find themselves out of control, with free drinks and experimenting with drugs, with blank spaces in their memories of the night before. Many find themselves making decisions they otherwise wouldn’t have made, making enormous mistakes, making fools of themselves or – worse – making victims of themselves or of others.

Some think that universities need to take more responsibility for protecting these new students, limiting the activities in Fresher’s week which focus on party culture – but others say that the students are adults now, and free to make their own choices. Legally they may be adults, but research has evidenced that the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain which controls impulsive and risk-taking behaviours) hasn’t yet developed as people reach early adulthood. This means that these young people quite literally don’t have the area of brain we need to make these decisions and form reasoned behaviours – putting them at far greater risk of endangering themselves or putting themselves and others at risk impulsively.

When you combine a tendency towards risk taking with excessive alcohol or drug consumption, young people are at the most danger of finding themselves in situations in which they can be accused of – or be guilty of – inappropriate or criminal sexual behaviours.

Education is the only way to challenge this – and to help your own young people to avoid those dangers when they are coming into adulthood and stepping out into the world to test their boundaries and explore their independence. Consent and safe sexual intimacy are vitally important messages for young people to understand, and which people still find difficult to discuss as openly as we need to.

When we have campaigns like sexual health awareness week it opens conversations in these vital topics – the signs of sexually transmitted infections (find out more about the most common STIs here https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis/) enthusiastic consent (find out more about consent here https://www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent) and protecting yourself against spiked drinks (find out more here https://theconversation.com/what-is-drink-spiking-how-can-you-know-if-its-happened-to-you-and-how-can-it-be-prevented-160538#:~:text=%E2%80%9CDrink%20spiking%E2%80%9D%20is%20when%20someone,alcohol%20to%20an%20alcoholic%20drink) are some of the most important conversations you should be able to have with and as young adults.

One of the best educational videos I’ve seen around consent is this:

The impact of a sexual assault can be life long, and deeply traumatic, and it can impact every aspect of a person’s life and future relationships. But being accused of sexual assault is also very damaging – and those who have been accused need support as well as the alleged victims – especially when the accusation is unfounded or the truth of the situation is that both parties have been harmed by a mutual mistake.

If you find yourself in that situation I am registered with both ATSAC www.atasc.org.uk (The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity) and StopSo www.stopso.org.uk ) (Specialist Treatment Organisation for Perpetrators and Survivors of Sexual Offending) I provide specialised counselling services for those who have committed – or who might commit – sexual offences, as well as those who have been falsely accused.

I can help, no matter what the truth of the situation, to process the trauma of both your past and this difficult present.

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.

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.

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.

Shame; how to process it, move past it and use it to your advantage

As an individual you experience a wide range of feelings, emotions, reactions and responses day to day – even minute by minute – and riding the rollercoaster of these emotions is something that I help people to cope with in my work as a counsellor.

One of the most maligned and misunderstood emotions that most of us face is shame; shame is a response to things we have done or said, or those done or said to or around us, which our innermost self regrets or has been hurt by.

Shame is our innermost self, informing us that something is ‘not quite right’ or that it is going against our instinctive moral code. Without shame, without that sense of disquiet, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to avoid, change or repair whatever has happened that ‘feels wrong’ – which is why I argue that shame isn’t always a negative response or experience.

Though it is often linked to a feeling, deep within, of not being good enough, or of letting ourselves or others down, shame is simply an alarm system – and one which we can work with to move past negative experiences and create healthier boundaries.

Often the first response to feeling shame is withdrawal; withdrawing into ourselves, diminishing our voice, gaze and stature, shrinking to avoid being witnessed and responded to by others who may witness our shame. Perhaps this is familiar to you? Perhaps you’ve noticed this behaviour in others? There is a commonality in shame; the dropping of our head, avoiding eye contact, embarrassment and shame giving rise to the ‘flight’ response which makes us want to leave the room or situation and avoid it.

This is a natural – and important – response, and one which we can use to form healthier coping mechanisms; rather than complete withdrawal, a quite time of introspection and reflection can help us to identify why we feel this shame or embarrassment, and address what changes we can make to avoid repeating the experience.

When we feel shame in the presence of others the impact – and damage – of these big emotions can be profound, and can have long-lasting repercussions on the way we feel and function. The good news, however, is that shame – whilst thriving on the presence of others – can also be healed by interacting with others.

You are in control of your emotional responses and behaviour – these aren’t dependent on others, though we can measure our own responses by theirs, and we can moderate ours by communicating and sharing with the people around us.

One of the best and healthiest ways to understand, and thus to overcome, feelings of shame is to find a safe place to discuss and challenge the situations and experiences which the shame is linked to, and to find balance in how we view those experiences, and our own behaviours.

Though shame can be a useful tool, it can also be a heavy burden – and it’s only in examining and processing those feelings that we can move past them, and leave that burden behind.

Talking therapies and counselling are not just a way to understand events which have happened to us but also to understand things we have done ourselves, and the behaviours which may have protected us or defended us in challenging times, or been coping mechanisms, but which ultimately haven’t served us well, or have left us carrying shame.

When you examine and understand these behaviours as part of a bigger picture, working hand in hand with someone who can help you to move through, discuss and challenge those experiences, it is easier to understand – and to forgive – the person we once were.

Shame, when understood, can then shrink, can be left in the past, and can stop being such a burden in your current situation, and you can, with the help of a counsellor or therapist, truly forgive the self you were, and accept the self that you now are, free of that burden of shame.

The best way to diminish the power that shame holds over us is to engage with it. To explore the origin and myth of shame. Working together with you I can support you and collaborate with you to move through and beyond your shame, and to gain mastery over the destructive emotions and feelings which it brings.

Patience, support and self-acceptance are vital when mastering both your conscious and your subconscious feelings and responses to any shame that you’ve experienced – and the more that you are able to talk about those experiences, the more power you harness over them – and the less power they have over you.

 If you are ready to extinguish the shame you carry, and wishing to embrace a happier, freer contented self, I can help. You don’t need to carry this burden alone. Contact me through this website, on my Facebook page,  email me on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com or call/WhatsApp me on 07849 037095 today and let’s start your first steps to freedom.