Identity Loss

who

How do you ‘lose’ your identity?

Losing your identity can be a long process that occurs over a period of months or years, but can also happen suddenly following a major life event or trauma. Loss of identity can follow various life changes personally and professionally in the workplace. Loss of a job or profession, loss of a significant loved one, such as a child, parent, or spouse. Loss leaves gaps, empty spaces. Such lossess can trigger increased levels of anxiety, low self-worth, depression, isolation and feeling alone, all of which impact on our ability to maintain relationships with other people.

Identity can also be lost when merging into a relationship that becomes imbalanced. A healthy relationship offers both partners the opportunity to connect with one another without cutting off the outside world. It promotes reciprocation in respecting the other and maintaining an individual sense of self. We may lose some identity, even in the most healthy of relationships, as we try to adjust our behaviours, and accommodate our partners, to create a dynamic that works for the relationship. There may be some changes in our levels of independence as we lean on our partners or have certain expectations, a level of co-dependency may occur. However, in abusive relationships this change could be more obvious, resulting in one partner dominating the other and removing choice, control and independence causing a total loss of who you are. This can often be seen in families where domestic abuse has become ‘normalised’ via systematic conditioning over time.

Often when we lose our identity and sense of who we are, we look to others for our sense of self-worth needing external validation and fulfilment. We feel the need to seek reassurance from others and what they think of us shapes how we view ourselves. We glean our self esteem, confidence and self worth from others based on how they percieve us according to factors like how we dress, our physical appearance and financial status. We seek praise from others to feel OK about ourselves – but in reality, our emotional well-being depends on how we feel about ourselves. We are the only ones that count but often dont realise it. It is what we think about ourselves that is the key, without being influenced by others. At the core of ourselves do we like, accept, value and respect who we are and what we stand for? If not why?

Our self worth or– our ‘identity’ – should be informed by our own experiences of self and not from what others think about us. Too often we worry about others judging us and we put way too much emphasis on how we look, or behave in order to ‘fit in’ be accepted and be liked. What we forget is that others have their own stuff going on too. Each person is waging a war with their own selves and could be projecting onto others their own insecurities. Hence being measured  by others we often fall short of their requirements and expectations, so what do we do? We act, we become the big pretenders, create an illusion of self that seems more acceptable -but wearing this mask can become exhausting. Showing the world our ‘best-self’, socially when really inside, we may be feeling very different can contradict our emotional selves. We hide the real ‘me’ underneath, afraid of rejection or of not being good enough if we show our true selves. It can become problematic when this is happening all the time, when we are more our ‘created selves, than our genuine selves’.

It can divide the psyche causing incongruence between what we say, what we do and how we think, such contradictions can lead to personal anxiety and unhappiness. Our dependency on external validation prevents our true selves from being out there, and impacts on our personal growth, as well as the opportunity for happiness. Our life experiences shape who we have become and often looking at the past we can track our life changes and see what led us to who we are today. For example a person who was bullied in childhood and had abusive parents may suffer with low self esteem into adulthood if issues were left unresolved. Parental neglect, abuse and trauma from childhood will impact on how we view ourselves and in turn how we interact with others. Such feelings may be re-triggered by major life events, or a change in life circumstances. For instance a person who was picked on at school and has low self confidence, finds himself in adulthood being bullied by their manager at work , this could trigger an emotional response and they may regress back to that childhood state of being fearful and anxious as the associated feelings become overwhelming.

This longing for social acceptance and reassurance from others; to be noticed, to be loved, to be wanted and needed, to be cared about. What if we could offer all of those things to ourselves? How amazing would that be? To be ok as ourselves and not afraid of showing others who we really are. It is a challenge but with the right support, determination and an open outlook such things can be achieved. It all begins with trust, if you can learn to trust in yourself, listen to yourself, have self compassion, and value who you are then the greatest love of all can be achieved- in Whitney Houstons words “the greatest love of all, is learning to love yourself”

I will end this article with my favourite lyrics from Whitney Houston’s song ‘The Greatest Love of All’ for you to reflect on….

“I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all”

 

Bereavement & Loss

Bereavement and loss are often used interchangeably; however it is important to note how each term can mean different things to different people. For example, someone going through a trauma like losing a loved one has suffered a loss and is bereaved. Whereas someone who has lost a job is not bereaved but has suffered a loss. Two very different scenarios. There is a massive difference in the impact and the pain felt in each case however they would both be classed as a loss. It is in understanding the significance and impact of the type of loss a person has suffered that we can only begin to try to understand what it means, so for example losing a spouse or child have different connotations but huge emotional impact for loved ones left behind.

For some losing a job could be felt acutely, the key here is to try not to draw comparisons, but to look at things from the other’s perspective. To understand what it means for the individual to have lost a loved one, their job, or a pet, because it would impact each person differently in each unique circumstance.

We are all different and in this difference we manage and cope using a variety of methods from taking medication, using talking therapies, to utilising support from freinds and family. Bereavement can feel overwhelmingly difficult to manage and no matter what anyone says only the person going through it can fully understand the significant impact of loss felt. What others can attempt to do is try to understand through being present, listening and really hearing the person to offer empathy and try to imagine what it might be like to walk in the bereaved persons shoes for a time. To appreciate just how difficult life may feel for them or the challenges it may throw up, change after loss is inevitable. Lives are often turned upside down and nothing is the same again. What was a ‘normal daily routine’ for some will forever be changed.

In the case of a bereaved person there is often a story to be shared, about the life that was led before. A story of a family or friend that lived amongst them and the experiences that were shared, the relationship that is now no more of this world but contained in the memories of those left behind. Celebrating the life of the person who has passed and the legacy that they left behind is often meaningful to loved ones. In sharing these experiences some people find solace and it can form a framework as a strategy for coping because by remembering loved ones who have passed away there is a sense of connection to them.

It is also important to bear in mind the circumstances around the death of a loved one whether it was an accident that was sudden, a terminal illness that was gradual or a suicide that left more questions than answers. Each of these unique circumstances will have different effects and impacts on how people cope with their loss.

So why do people struggle around the topic of loss? What do you say? How do you behave?

Firstly never make assumptions. Nobody can claim to know how another is feeling- but we can use empathy to reach out to others and try to understand. There is a whole range of emotions that can be felt from anguish and despair, to relief and guilt, and everything in between. Therefore no two people will feel exactly the same it will vary according to the relationship and experiences shared.

Listen -try not to make it about you. Often when talking to a bereaved person there can be a temptation to say and share experiences that we have felt ourselves about a loss that we may have had in the past. Although this may be useful for you to draw on emotionally to try and understand it may not be the most appropriate time to share it. Try to stay focused and hear whats being shared.
There can be a level of fear and uncertainty amongst people when it comes to saying and doing ‘the right thing’ around those who have lost loved ones. Truth be told there is no ‘right thing’; it is about having respect and offering support without being intrusive, being available if needed and using empathy to try and understand what they may be going through.

Sometimes support extends beyond words. You don’t have to ‘say’ anything. Just being present, emotionally available and supportive is enough.

Often people hold back from talking about their loss for fear of ‘ruining the mood’ socially but this can lead to feeling isolated and alone. It is often people’s own uncomfortableness around death and loss that makes them avoidant. There is nothing worse than being told “its been a while now- shouldn’t you be over it?” Like losing a loved one is something you need to ‘get over’.
What happens in reality is we learn new ways of adjusting and adapting to life without that person. We never forget, and may never ‘get over’ them but understand that life goes on and with each passing moment our love for them is not diminished but kept alive by remembering them. Hearts and minds can be powerful storage units that enable us to carry on going through life and living without compromising memories of loved ones. This doesn’t mean that by marrying again or having more children it detracts in any way from the painful loss, it just allows life to go on safe in the knowledge that everyone we love past and present have a special place in our hearts. Consciously aware that one does not replace another.

There is no disloyalty, no guilt, no shame and no fear when choosing to live life onwards after losing a loved one. Time helps but having an open and loving heart that contains a space for every special person is what carries us forwards.

los pic

The ‘I’ in Me

How often do any of us really sit and reflect on our selves and our lives?

“We have no time to- life is so busy” this is often the resounding answer.

So what does that mean-The I in me?

It refers to the core of ourselves, the innermost hidden parts that we may not even be aware of or that we guard well. There is so much more to us than meets the eye.



(Image by Stuart Miles at Freedigitalphotos.net)

We are not only defined just by our names, ages and roles we play in life. We are defined by so much more which makes each and every one of us unique. This blog has been designed to make you think, reflect and appreciate the diversity of life within yourselves and others. To really focus on the I inside each of us that is often unheard, forgotten or ignored.

We are made up of so many different aspects, and have various selves- our physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, social, cultural, religious and sexual selves.
This is not an exhaustive list there are many other factors that make us unique- our age, gender, class, economic status etc.

Our personal experiences in life shape who we are, how we think and how we behave towards others. We all share a natural curiosity to learn more about ourselves and others in order to enrich and enhance our personal and professional relationships with others.

I invite you to share your views and reflections about your own personal journeys in life- to celebrate the diversity of life and appreciation of the self and all it encompasses- the beauty of being you. Feel welcome to share anonymously or by stating your names its entirely up to you.

You never know who you might inspire with your own stories, poems, insights and revelations.

To help get you started I have compiled a list of questions to think about…

Who am i to me?

What makes me who i am?

Who am i to others?

Do i like me?

Do i think others like me?

What do i think of myself?

Do others perceptions of me match my own views of who I am?

Who is the real me?

Who is the me i show to the world?

Who is the me i hide out of fear, guilt, shame, embarrassment or just plain secrecy?

Who is the me i pretend to be?

Who is the me I would like to be?

What does being me mean to myself and others?

What parts of me do i like?

What parts of me do i dislike?

Why?

Is there a difference between me now and the person I want to be?

How can i bridge that gap and make the I in me stand out?
Lots of food for thought….

Feeling Well

We often hear how important maintaining a sense of well being is, but what does that actually mean in practice?

What factors contribute to feeling well?

(image by  David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net)

From researching this topic I have found what I believe to be important factors, in promoting good emotional health and well being.

  • Good family relationships
  • A manageable financial situation
  • A positive work environment
  • Community engagement and a good social network of friends, family and work colleagues.
  • Health – this covers good physical health via eating well, exercising and sleeping enough. Emotional and psychological health via expressing emotions freely amongst trusted freinds and family or via a therapist. Self awareness, self acceptance and valuing oneself. Spiritual health for those who like to feel connected with universal energies, be that via God / organised religion or a belief in nature and appreciation for humanity at its best.
  • Personal freedom – Feeling strong, empowered, liberated and in control of ones life.
  • Personal values –knowing oneself, identifying whats important and striving to achieve it.
  • Resilience and Patience to bear with lifes challenges
  • Continue to stimulate the brain intellectually by learning new things to enhance and enrich your life.

Realistically how many of us can say that we have all of the above in place? Its inevitable that we will all face challenges in life at one time or another, its about how we cope and manage with the support we do or dont have that counts.

Looking at the list above it is clear that the polar opposite of those descriptions could result in depression, anxiety and mental ill health. Problems can develop and be perpetuated in an ongoing cycle causing distress, trauma, fear and a sense of helplessness.

Therefore understanding a persons past and present life in a fuller context by taking into account the above listed factors can help make sense of how and why people may feel the way they do. This in turn will help to identify appropriate support mechanisms.

In order to promote a healthy sense of well being we need to continue to develop as individuals. Ask for help from others when we need it. Forge stronger bonds and connect with others in the community, not just online in the virtual world but in real life socialising with people directly.
It is important that we learn more about ourselves and others. This will increase our self awareness and enable us to identify our own needs, desires, defences and vulnerabilities. This would promote improved self esteem, self compassion and self acceptance.

How can we help ourselves if we dont truly understand who we are?

Ongoing personal development is the deal of the day… it will provide valuable insights and stimulate the winds of change that you want to see in your life.

Common Mental Health Issues

According to the Mental Health Organisation website;

Mental health problems range from worries we all experience

mental health
(image by  David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net)

as part of everyday life to serious long-term conditions. The majority of people who experience mental health problems can get over them or learn to live with them, especially if they get help early on. Mental health symptoms have traditionally been divided into groups called either ‘neurotic’ or ‘psychotic’ symptoms. ‘Neurotic’ covers those symptoms which can be regarded as severe forms of ‘normal’ emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety or panic. Conditions formerly referred to as ‘neuroses’ are now more frequently called ‘common mental health problems.’                                                                 Less common are ‘psychotic’ symptoms, which interfere with a person’s perception of reality, and may include hallucinations such as seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that no one else can. Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses.”

(https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/about-mental-health)

According to the NHS website at least one in four people experiences a diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, and one in six experiences this at any one time. More than half of those with a common mental health problem have both depression and anxiety. Nearly 850,000 children and young people aged five to 16 years have a mental health problem – about 10% of the population. Between one and two in every 100 people experience a severe mental illness, such as bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, and have periods when they lose touch with reality. Fewer than one in 10 accesses treatment.

(https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety./benefits-of-talking-therapy)

These are alarming figures when you consider how many people are suffering in silence and not accessing the help and support they need. So what are the reasons behind this? Could it be becuase of the stigma attached to having mental health issues, embarassment or not wanting to admit to yourself or in front of others that you are struggling and need support? Or is it that you have asked for help and are on a long waiting list only to be told that you will recieve limited sessions of help due to the demand of public health services across the UK. Often the most vulnerable people in society fall under the radar simply because they do not have the capacity to seek professional support when needed, for others accessibility and articulating their needs is an issue.

Common mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, panic disorders, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder can cause great emotional distress, and can affect how you cope with day-to-day life and your ability to work. So from a medical perspective such a person may be offered anti-depressants following an assessment and be labelled as suffering with depression or anxiety. Whereas the therapeutic approach would examine the person holistically looking at the environmental, financial, family, social, emotional factors and what support networks a person has in order to manage. All of these factors are considered in therapy alongside the physical health, psychological assessment, medication and conditions or labels. So in effect a macro not micro look at the persons whole life. A person with good support networks could fare better in therapy and on medication than a person living alone in isolation with no friends or family. Even though both have depression and are in therapy and on medication, the fact that one has more support than the other could have a massive impact on how they cope. Each factor and its impact is taken into consideration via the counsellor.

Psychological problems can involve both an explicit and implicit nature so its about being aware of where on the spectrum a person may be in their life. Common mental health and other psychological problems such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, Phobias, and Eating disorders often have roots in deeper issues at the core of the problem, it’s not so much in our lives but within ourselves. Negative self -belief, self -loathing and shame are often carried by us into adulthood from our childhood. Hearing negative messages from significant adults in our lives when young can have a lifelong impact on our psyche.

There are a small number of people who suffer with severe and complex mental health problem such as clinical Psychosis. Psychosis can make you experience changes in thinking and perception severe enough to significantly alter your experience of reality. These conditions include schizophrenia and affective psychosis and can have the same lifelong impact as any long-term physical condition. People categorised with severe and complex mental health problems may be helped by working on aspects of the foundations of themselves but only with a counsellor who is trained and experienced to work with this level of client problems and normally in conjunction with other services such as Community Psychiatric Nurses’s, Doctors, Mental health workers and support workers.

Often at this level they will be on some form of medication. We must remember that medication is just as important as therapy and to always seek medical attention when feeling unable to cope, therapy and medical intervention often go hand in hand and work effectively to support individuals who need help. As a counsellor it is important to understand a clients medical condition and decide if they can be supported via therapy. Hence honesty from the client at the time of assessment is essential in identifying needs and offering the appropriate mode of support.

 

Forced Marriage

 


Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I DO…. NOT!
Forced Vs Arranged Marriage..
It seems everybody has an opinion on this topic, and we have heard some horrendous stories of harrowing escapes, broken family ties and unhappy couples living a lie, but in reality what happens and what are the differences between ‘arranged’ and ‘forced’ marriages today?
Forced Marriage is not a new phenomenon but a social issue that has existed for many years across cultures. In more recent times we have seen a rise in reported cases hence the legislation and police powers attached to help support those in such situations. Under new laws, parents who force their children to marry in England and Wales could face jail.
The practice is already illegal in Scotland. Currently victims are effectively using the Forced Marriage Protection Order by asking authorities to confiscate their passports.

Media focus has been on recently reported cases in which most of the youngsters involved have been of South East Asian origin, and from muslim families. An estimated 8,000 young women a year are forced into marriages. There is a widespread misunderstanding of the differences between ‘arranged’ and ‘forced marriages’. In arranged marriages the couple meet, and can get to know each other before consenting to or refusing the proposal. The ‘arrangement’ is carried out by the families of the said couple who effectively match make for the pair, and if both consent fully inormed and happy to go ahead it is agreed.
However in ‘forced marriages’ there is often no consultation, or the views of the couple are ignored, the families take over and the couple are forced to marry against their will. This can lead to traumatisation, mental ill health and some consider suicide as the only way out. It is a serious issue for society at large and one that we must all work together to combat.
If you have been the victim of a forced marriage or know anybody going through this contact the Forced Marriage Unit:

Telephone: 020 7008 0151 or email: fmu@fco.gov.uk

For outreach work : email fmuoutreach@fco.gov.uk

There is also government legislation and guidance

in relation to forced marriages available to download from

http://www.fco.gov.uk/forcedmarriage.
For those who need emotional support and therapeutic intervention please don’t hesitate to contact me. I have an understanding of faith and cultural issues around this and beleive it is a not acceptable under any circumstances. This is often dressed up as a religious issue particularly for muslims but it is actually forbidden in Islam to force anybody to marry against their will. It is very much a cultural issue dominated by family traditions.

Anxiety

anxiety

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

Everyday life can become so stressful that even the slightest things can set us off in a spin. Anxiety and depression have been listed as the two most common mental health problems faced by everyone at some point in their lives. Knowing this, what can we do to help ourselves and when is it right to seek help from our GP’s and seek out counselling?

The answer to these questions will differ from one person to the next because we are all unique and have different ways of coping with life. As a general rule most people visit their doctors in the first instance to discuss symptoms which can lead to taking prescribed medication like anti-depressants. Sometimes counselling is suggested but more often than not the first course of action is medication. Counselling can be sought via the NHS or privately.

In order to understand what causes us anxiety it is important to know the signs, symptoms and what we can do to alleviate personal stress levels and manage. According to MIND, the National Mental Health Charity the following are some common signs of anxiety:

  • Losing interest in activities and tasks that were previously enjoyed
  • Poor performance at work
  • Feeling tense, uncertain and fearful of things
  • Worries affect sleep, appetite and ability to concentrate
  • Feeling powerless, out of control or overwhelmed by emotions
  • Having panic attacks
  • Feeling on edge, irritable and unable to relax
  • Seeking reassurances from others, not trusting oneself

To cope with these feelings individuals may turn to vices such as smoking, drinking, or misusing drugs. Holding on in failing relationships and feeling unable to hold down a job. for some people anxiety can be so severe it takes over their lives causing frequent panic attacks. They may withdraw from society, develop other phobias, or begin having obsessive compulsive thoughts or behaviours like exsessive cleaning.

How can I help myself?

Facing your anxieties and addressing why you feel this way is the start of making a difference, looking at the reasons behind what led you to feeling this way and unpicking that fear and insecurity. The following are some ways of helping manage symptoms yourself:

  • Relaxation and mindfulness techniques of breathing exercises. Mindfulness CD’s can be purchased to listen to and use when feeling stressed. Attend a class on Yoga, relaxation or mindfulness and learn about controlled breathing, deep breathes from the stomach in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Assertiveness training can help, maybe start a dancing, singing or drama class to encourage more social interaction and learn how to feel more confident, look up local classess in your area.
  • Takes advantage of compimentary therapies such as massage, acupuncture, reflexology, herbalism and hypnotherapy. There are various modes of alternative therapies which can help to relax and stimulate you. Even simple things like lavender oils in the bath or drinking chamomile tea can act as a soothing experience.
  • Use your freinds and family for support, make that call, go for a coffee and a chat and ask for what you need.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle, drink plenty of water, go for a jog or run, or even the gym where you can also use the sauna and steam room. Eat well, plenty of fruits and vegetables and try to cook from fresh avoiding packaged and processed foods where possible. Try to avoid stimulants like coffee, cigarettes and alcohol as these will impact on your ability to relax and may reduce the quality of your sleep.
  • It is advisable to seek medical attention and visit your GP if symptoms persist long term as they may be able to support you with prescribed anti-depressants and referrals for counselling.

If you are feeling anxious and need further information and support the following are organisations that can help:

  • No Panic: 0800 138 8889 nopanic.org.uk
  • MIND infoline: 0300 123 3393 info@mind.org.uk
  • Anxiety UK: 08444 775 774 anxietyuk.org.uk
  • Samaritans 08457 909090 samaritans.org
  • British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy: (BACP) 01455 883 300 itsgoodtotalk.org.uk

Me Map

MEMAP2
The above figure is the “Me Map”. It details every aspect of your life and helps you reflect on what is happening in your life right now. It gets you to think about how you are feeling. Getting the right balance in life can be quite difficult and often we struggle. Using the “Me Map” you can begin to unpick what is happening and sort through what is important and how we can achieve a happier more fulfilled life. Sometimes we need to stop, think and reflect before we can make positive changes in our lives. Just like a jigsaw puzzle it helps to take everything apart and put it back together again but in the correct order for you.

Go on, have a go. Think about each aspect of your life right now in this present moment and reflect on what is real, what you want, and how you feel about your life. It may help to write things down as you move through this exercise. It could throw up some surprising revelations, and help you to focus you on whats important to you.