The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘guilt’

Influencing Boundaries

I’d like to introduce you to Ellen, a Psychologist from Victoria. She is a blogger, author and mum and loves to inspire others. Here she shares her take on boundaries and how they impact on us and our sense of SELF. I really hope you come and join us again later in the week, as Ellen will be back to help us learn how to establish healthy boundaries and increase our self-esteem. I’d love for you to go visit her website after you listen to what she has to say.

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Recently a friend of mine, apologising for being a bit out of sorts, explained that she was upset about her 20-something daughter.  She and her daughter had always been close but recently there had been trouble; arguments and disagreements, tension.  According to my friend, the boyfriend was the problem.  Well … not the boyfriend exactly.  She had quite liked him and had certainly made him welcome as the two of them stayed with her during the weekends while working away from home during the week.  It was not him exactly.  Rather it was his influence on her daughter.

Apparently he had a lot to say about who she should be friends with and how much time she should spend with her friends and her family.  Apparently little things that upset him became big things to her and if friends and family were part of his issue then she went in to bat for him, causing tension in her own relationships.

Her mother, my friend, was quite distressed.  She sensed a wedge being driven between her and her daughter and she was quite sure that it was not of her daughter’s doing.  She could see the influence that this man was having.  She didn’t like it but she was at a loss as to what to do as any mention of it to her daughter was met solely with defensiveness.

At the time I expressed empathy for my friend, tried to console her and we brainstormed a few ideas and options.  I related my own experience of being in my 20s with a much-loved partner whom, on reflection, I also went in to bat for perhaps more often than was warranted. I tried to solve his problems and appease his worries when really that was his job.

I was pondering this later when I realised that this was perhaps an issue of blurred personal boundaries.  Personal boundaries, in psychology-speak, are the limits – physical, mental and emotional – that we establish around ourselves to differentiate ourselves from others.  They allow us to separate who we are and what we think and feel from the thoughts and feelings of the people around us.

Givers have to set limites ellen jackson

Personal boundaries are critical to healthy relationships but it can be very easy to let them blur, particularly when we’re young, inexperienced, or perhaps haven’t had clear boundaries and healthy relationships modelled to us in the past.

Signs of unhealthy boundaries include:

  • Feeling guilty for saying no
  • Doing things for others that we really don’t want to do
  • Allowing unwanted physical contact
  • Not speaking up when others treat us badly
  • Giving endlessly to others in order to please them
  • Taking endlessly from others because we can
  • Rescuing others or allowing ourselves to be rescued instead of solving our own problems and encouraging others to solve theirs.

Personal boundaries are critical to our self-esteem.  If we forget that we are each unique individuals with our own feelings, need, interests and values – or we were never clear about these things to begin with – it is so easy to take on board the needs, feelings and desires of our partners, children, friends and even the boss.  It is so easy to forget your importance as a special, unique person and to start to feel and behave as though everyone else is more important.  Do that for too long and your self-esteem – your confidence and belief in yourself – can easily disappear.

My friend’s daughter is still young and she has a strong mum.  With time I think – I hope – she will come to realise that she needs to look after her needs and her relationships and let her boyfriend fight his own battles.  If not, her mum and I agreed that a session or two with a good counsellor or psychologist will be the next course of action.

Stay tuned for my next post to learn how we establish healthy personal boundaries …

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ellen jackson

Ellen is a Psychologist, author, mum.  Melbourne-born, she spent most of her 20’s and 30’s in Sydney and now lives in beautiful Ballarat, in the Victorian Goldfields. Ellen writes stuff to inspire and sometimes to challenge.  She knows a lot of stuff about how people work at work, how people are different and unique and how people make the most out of life.  Ellen writes at www.potential.com.au or if you’d like ask a question or share a story she’d love to hear from you! You can email her at psych@potential.com.au.

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

We all have our little idiosyncrasies. Those behavioural quirks that to most people seem weird. Perhaps it’s that the pegs need to be OCD alphabeticalcolour coded when you hang the washing on the line. Or maybe it’s that you need to line up your pens in a certain order. Or even the toilet roll being in the “over” position.

To most people these habits are simply that; habits. Habits that we chuckle at affectionately.

For some people these habits, and many more like them, can be a problem. Hand washing, cleaning, locking doors, sorting/hanging clothes, quoting specific sayings (whether aloud or silently), collecting things, counting floor tiles or cracks in the footpath, going in and out of doorways. All of these, and more, have been noted as common in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

OCD is an anxiety disorder. The person with OCD will experience severe anxiety. They will become obsessed with specific thoughts (e.g., my house will burn down) and to relieve the anxiety the thoughts produce, will carry out certain compulsions (behaviours), such as checking and re-checking that they have turned off the stove and any other appliance that may catch alight. So, the person will become obsessed with the idea of their house burning down, anxious about the possibility and feel the compulsion to check and re-check the stove and other appliances to prevent it.

One of the main characteristics of OCD is that the person with the disorder will recognise that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational. They are aimed at reducing the anxiety or preventing some dreaded event (e.g., house burning down). The thoughts or habits must interfere with daily life and must last for long periods of time (an hour or more per day).

OCD cycle

How do you think you’d feel if you were plagued with thoughts that your baby girl is at risk if you don’t check and re-check that you’ve locked the front door? You check it at least 50 times before you can relax. And then you start thinking about all the other dangers she could get into. Maybe it’s combing the sandpit repeatedly to make sure there is nothing that could cut her fragile skin. Or maybe it’s the germs she could pick up if she crawled around on the floor, so you wash and re-wash everything in sight before you let her down to play. And then you follow her around so she doesn’t pick anything up to suck on it.

Can you imagine it?

OCD battle

You know that the thoughts are silly and not based in reality. And yet you can’t seem to control it. How would you feel? Hopefully some of the recent posts we have shared from a few of our readers will give you an inkling. If you experience similar obsessions or compulsions that interfere with your life, please consider seeking professional support from a psychologist or counsellor. Tomorrow we will share the experiences of someone who lives with OCD. In the meantime, if you would like more, technical information please try these sites. They cover definitions, symptoms and common treatments.

http://psychcentral.com/disorders/ocd/

http://eqip.psychology.org.au/conditions/OCD/

When someone you love dies

grief no timeline

We are born, we live, we learn, we grow.

And then we die.

Death is a part of life.

Like a lot of people, I am no stranger to grief. Three of my grandparents died when I was a child and as an adult this has been followed by a step grandmother (paternal), my parents, my older brother, a favourite cousin, a grandmother (maternal) and the son of my best friend. Each of those people has meant something different to me and my experience with coping with each death has also been very different.

When somebody dies it is natural for us to feel like there has been a hole left in our lives and hearts. We get used to a person being a huge part of our lives. We depend on them. We feel safe with them. We feel comfortable. We look forward to being with them. We love them and connect with them. We often spend an entire lifetime with them. And one day we turn around and they aren’t there any longer.

So then what?

We need to get used to an entirely different way of living. Of being. Not only do we miss the person and grieve for them, we also need to learn how to live our life without them in it. This can be a huge undertaking, especially if we have lived our entire life with them. Spouse. Son. Daughter. Mother. Father. Grandparent. Aunt. Uncle. Best friend. Whatever that person’s role was in your life, making adjustments to live a different life can be seriously tough.

Common grief responses

One of the key things to note is that every person’s grief experience is different. Your way of grieving is going to be different to the person sitting next to you, even if that person is a close family member. There are however, some commonalities. There has been a lot of research into these common responses, which have resulted in several models being developed to describe how grief “works”.

Grief_Wheel

One model of the stages of grief

There are several “stages” that people usually experience. Shock & numbness occurs immediately following the death. There may be denial. You then go into a protest stage where the shock becomes heightened, you feel angry, you yearn for the person who died and you are preoccupied with thoughts of them. This is followed by disorganisation, where there is a loss of interest in normal daily activities, depression, apathy, lethargy, restlessness, aimlessness, confusion, withdrawal. Sleep disturbances, crying, irritability are also seen. Eventually there is reorganisation, where things start to come together again. You start to look forward to doing some of the activities you used to enjoy. You start to try new things and find meaning in the death. You may experience guilt in here too. Many people feel like they shouldn’t be enjoying themselves because their loved one isn’t here to share in those moments. Then you move into recovery, where a new “normal” comes about. At any one of these stages we could move into deterioration. We may be going along fine, and something will trigger us and we end up “going backward”. We get cranky, we cry, criticize ourselves, feel guilty, experience sleep and appetite disturbances. Physical symptoms may include sweating, breathing difficulties, nausea etc.

GrievingWheellarge

Another model of the grief wheel. Note the similarities.

A couple of important notes to consider.

Firstly, this process is not a linear one. We don’t move from one stage to the next and the next and the next. As already mentioned, we may be triggered at any time and feel like we are back where we started. If we graphed what actually happens to us we would have a curvy line jumping up and down, back and forward all over the place.

Secondly, I am giving a very brief, basic outline here on grief and a general picture of how it looks. Many people experience an intensified, long-term grief process that may be considered out of the ordinary. Symptoms are experienced as very intense and long-lasting. Grief is supposed to ease over several weeks and months. If this does not happen, it could be that this is an experience of complicated grief. There are several risk factors that make some people more prone to complicated grief, including having had a very close relationship to the person who died, the death being unexpected, and an inability to adapt to change (lack of resilience), among other things. For more details on complicated grief, the Mayo Clinic in the USA has some good information. Please note that there are several pages to digest, which can be navigated by clicking the links on the left side of the page. It includes what to look for and how to get some help. Here in Australia I would recommend seeking help from a grief counsellor or psychologist.

Ways to cope

It’s important to understand that unfortunately, the only way to the other side of grief is to go through the process. You can’t go around, under or over it, and you can’t avoid it. Ever. You must go through it.

  • Allow yourself to feel the emotions, whatever they are. Sadness, sorrow, shock, numbness, listlessness. All of these are a normal, understandable reaction to the circumstances and it is ok to feel them. We often push these feelings down because they hurt, but the more we do that the longer the process takes. Those feelings will always come back.grief miss talking
  • Most people find that what they really want is to bring back the person who died. So why not do that? Yes, I know that you can’t bring them back in person, but you can bring their memory alive. A lot of grief counsellors will encourage the person to talk about their loved one. To describe them. Talk about what they love and miss about them. This may bring up a lot of emotion, and that is ok. I understand that a lot of people get nervous around emotions, and that’s fine too. If you can allow yourself to sit with it, even a little bit at a time, it does get a little easier. Eventually.
  • If you feel like the people you are talking to are getting impatient with your never-ending talk about the person who died, try either talking to somebody different or writing things down instead. Write a letter or a story. Or even talk into a voice recorder. You can erase it if you don’t want to keep it, but it may give you an outlet without feeling like you’re being a burden on the people closest to you.
  • Talk to the person who died. This is especially helpful if it was a long, intense or close relationship. Tell them about your day, about how the kids are doing, about how much you miss them.
  • There is no right or wrong way to feel when you are grieving. The stages described in the wheel can come and go in a seemingly random pattern. You might think you are getting through the worst of it and then you’ll be right back in the middle of all those intense feelings. This is normal.
  • Honour the person who died in some way. You could try planting a tree, creating some artwork or craft, a memory box, write a letter to the person, write some poetry or a song. Even go to visit their grave and talk to them. There is no right or wrong with this. Go with your instinct and do something that feels right for you.
  • grief individualI know this one could sound a little harsh, but I am going to say it anyway. Ignore the people who tell you that you “should be over it by now” (or some variation on the theme). Grief is not something that has a timetable. It is different for everyone and is a very individual experience. What works for one person may not work for another.
  • Try not to force yourself to do things you’re not ready for. Sometimes you may feel like you’re never going to be the same again and you’ll feel like staying in bed all day every day. I’m not suggesting that you spend the rest of your life in bed, and sometimes it can help you feel a little better to force yourself to get out of the house. Sometimes though, it is ok to allow yourself some time to be with your memories.
  • Find a support group in your area. Sometimes it helps to know that there are others out there who are going through the same thing you are. You don’t have to do this on your own.
  • If you don’t start feeling more like your old self within a few months, please consider seeking professional support. A grief counsellor or psychologist may be able to help you to sort through some of the feelings you’re having. This can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing complicated grief. It’s hard, and not everyone understands what it is like. A professional can help you to gain some understanding of what is happening for you. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be you sitting there spilling your guts. Sometimes you can do other things. I know someone who had a counsellor help them edit a book of poetry that had been written to help with the grief. Others will do art or craft work, or something completely different. If you have something in mind that you feel would help you, but feel uncertain about it, discuss it with your professional. You may be able to do it in session.

grief myths facts

Helping someone through their grief

If you have a family member or a friend who is grieving, remember that everyone grieves differently. Even if that person is your spouse, brother, sister, daughter or son (or whoever).

  • Honour and respect the grief process for the individual, personal experience it is.
  • Never (EVER) tell a person to “snap out of it”. There is no such thing as getting over the person who has died and moving on with your life. The person who has died will always be a part of treasured memories. They will always be missed. It’s simply the intensity that varies.
  • Grief has no timeline. Some people can reach the stage of acceptance within a few weeks, while others take years. Sometimes feelings of sadness will hit you out of the blue, triggered by simple things such as hearing a song on the radio or smelling a favourite meal cooking on the stove.
  • Grief is a process that upsets everything you have known in your life. Grieving people benefit from sameness, familiarity and routine. It can be comforting to have the same neighbours, the same furniture, and the same house. In some cases, such as with the death of one half of a long-standing elderly couple, the surviving partner may not be able to remain in the familiarity of the home they have been used to (e.g., if they require care). These changes require a lot more adjustment than would otherwise be required. If at all possible, allow some time to make the transition. Allow them to sort through treasured possessions and to gather anything that will help them gain comfort. Clothing, furniture (if possible), photographs and so on. The more familiarity they have around them, the better their transition is likely to be.
  • Sometimes it can seem like this grief lasts forever and you can feel impatient with the person who continues to talk while grief one at a timeyou want to move forward. This is common if you are also grieving the same person. You could try suggesting something different to do, or maybe respectfully suggest that they talk with a professional instead. You need to honour your own needs in dealing with your grief and have every right to do so. If you are uncertain, please consider talking with a professional to get some advice on what you can do to balance your own needs and helping this person with their grief.

I know this post has been quite wordy and very lengthy, but I think to do it justice it has needed to be. One of the biggest things I have found in working with grieving people, is the knowledge that you are not on your own. Grief can sometimes feel like a very isolating experience and knowing that there are others out there who are going through the same thing can help ease that for you. I would encourage you to share your experiences here in the comments. Let’s see if we can create a small community of support right here.

I hope this post has helped in some small way.

 grief hugs

Letting go of Guilt

everything i do makes me feel guilty

 

I get a lot of people in my office who tell me they feel guilty. Usually for not being able to do something that they feel they “should have”. This could have been for something like, feeling like they haven’t met the demands or requests of their family, or “failing” in eating healthy foods and exercising. Or it could be something completely different. Whatever it is, the guilt that comes as a result can be debilitating. It can bring you to your knees. Literally.

If we looked up “guilt” in the dictionary we would see two general definitions. www.dictionary.com shows the following:

noun

1. The fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability: He admitted his guilt.

2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

3. conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.: to live a life of guilt.

verb (used with object) Informal.

4. 

to cause to feel guilty (often followed by out  or into  ): She totally guilted me out, dude. He guilted me into picking up the tab.  

 

i regret nothing guilt

Both definitions are about wrongdoing. In other words, if you are guilty, you have done something wrong. Now if we were talking about the legal stuff I would agree with you. But if we aren’t, then things are open to interpretation. Of course there are occasions when we make mistakes and we do or say things that may not necessarily be helpful. And in those situations the feeling of guilt serves as a guide, or compass, to help us to know how to make amends and to follow-up with different choices next time.

The type of guilt I really want to talk about is when we have the perception of doing wrong, but in reality we haven’t. For example, let’s just say that a neighbor consistently asks you to take them shopping. You’ve been doing this for weeks and after a while you realise that it is getting in the way of other things in your life. The neighbour rarely thinks about stuff you need to do and never shows you any appreciation. You want to tell the neighbour you can no longer take her out, but you feel guilty for even thinking about it. guilt rooted in actions of pastGiven that there has been no appreciation or consideration, does it really make any kind of sense that you feel this guilt? As the person who is doing your neighbour a favour, don’t you deserve it? If it were your best friend or your mother doing the favour, would they deserve the appreciation?

So why do we feel guilty about it?

Before I go on, I do understand that the situations in which we often feel guilty are not always as uncomplicated as this example. You put many years worth of conditioning and complex family dynamics into the mix and things become complicated very quickly. Trust me, I get it. That said though, while the dynamics may be complex and a little more challenging to deal with, the concepts in dealing with it remain the same. I’ll come back to the strategies in a second.

fear of judgement mark of guiltThat feeling of guilt comes from expectation. Often the conditioning we have experienced shows its face. We expect ourselves to be perfect. We expect that our coping ability is better than everyone around us. We expect ourselves to have the ability to be everything, for everybody. And when we can’t meet those expectations we feel guilty and “bad” for not being able to. We feel inadequate. We feel like failures.

Guilt is also about “shoulds”. You think “I should be able to cope”, “I should help others. Good sons/daughters/mothers/brothers help their family”, “I should be able to manage better”, “I should help. They won’t like me if I don’t”. You better be careful there, cause you’re gonna should all over yourself! 😉 

Seriously … guilt is only ever a good thing when you really have done something wrong and it guides you to change your behavior. Otherwise, all it does is weigh you down, hold you back from living your best life and stresses your entire system.

To let go of the guilt you need to understand that your wrongdoing is your perception and is not necessarily an accurate one. Sometimes our mind plays tricks on us by sending us messages indicating that we are callous or selfish if we don’t feel guilty. Like most things, we become conditioned to it. Try not to listen to those voices.

A few things to consider:

  1. We also feel guilt when we have a conflict between our values. Using the example of the neighbour I introduced earlier, we value supporting others and helping them through difficulties. And we value our family and taking care of them. If what the neighbour is asking prevents us from doing things for our family, those two values could be in conflict. Being asked to justify your values is like asking someone to justify why their favourite flavour of ice-cream is butterscotch. It is an impossible question to answer. You can continue asking “why” forever without receiving an adequate response. And why does it even need justifying? It doesn’t. So work on getting some clarity around what is really important in your life. If you don’t know, try doing the rocking chair test. Imagine yourself sitting on your porch in your rocking chair in your twilight years. Reflect on your life and think about what you want to be remembered for. The important things.
  2. Have a think about your rights as a member of the human race and of your community. Most people would agree that every human being has a fundamental right to be respected, considered, appreciated. To make mistakes, to say no, to care for themselves. Without the need to justify these to anyone else. As a fellow human, you have those rights as well. Why should your rights be any less important?
  3. Standing up for your rights can be scary if you’ve never done it before. But it can also be super empowering. If you would like to take that stand and aren’t sure how to (or if you’re afraid to), try starting with the little things. Try starting with yourself. Try saying no to something that you know doesn’t serve you, or even try giving yourself permission to do something you’ve been denying yourself for a while.
  4. Allow yourself to be imperfect. You don’t have to do it right all the time.
  5. If you feel like you need some support in taking that stand, talk to someone you trust. Someone who you know will give you an objective opinion and support you in gaining confidence, without telling you what to do. If you don’t have anyone in your life who will be that honest with you, please don’t be afraid to speak with a professional. A counsellor, psychologist, life coach, or similar could be very helpful.

dear guilt

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