Relationships – My Past Creates My Present
By Kim Harries, BA (Hons) MBACP Accred Published on 28th May, 2013
Present relationship problems can often be traced back to childhood.
In therapy, the presenting issues of the client are related to his/her core beliefs, which usually originate from childhood. The philosophy that underpins this work is the Adlerian Psychology of Alfred Adler (one of the most important figures in 21st Century Psychology, originally a colleague of Freud and Jung).
It is a philosophy and a way of life – a Psychology of action. It gives us the tools to understand ourselves and to get to the seat of our issues. It is a philosophy of mutual respect, co-operation, democracy and personal responsibility, with each one of us working for the common good. Very apt for these times we live in! As such, it is a wonderful philosophy for working not only with the child within, but with children and families as well. With insight we come to see that, as adults, we are responsible for how we think, and consequently how we feel and behave – for the consequences of our actions and ultimately, our destiny. We are not victims of our childhood, but survivors.
A Case Example – Alana’s Story; [Names and details have been changed to protect the anonymity of the client and given with permission]. Alana came into therapy because she was unsuccessful in love – the boyfriend role was the same, just the players’ names were different. None of them would commit. She wanted to know why she was facing the same pattern over and over again!
Alana was an only child. Her Mother was a housewife and her father was a successful businessman.
The women in my family all have difficulty in their intimate relationships, most of all my mother. My Father was a workaholic and not fully committed to her and to me. I feel so angry with my Mother, and here I am in the same boat! I am in an unhappy relationship with a man who can’t commit – he is ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ between me and his ex-partner and becoming increasingly more absent and I am condoning it!
When asked how this was making her feel; ‘taken advantage of, disrespected, condoning, non-assertive.’ She was then asked if she could give an example of an early memory, as far back as she could remember (preferably before the age of seven) which resonated with the feelings she was currently experiencing.
She gave this Early Memory
I am about 5, sitting on the floor hump in the back of Daddy’s car. Mummy and Daddy are sitting in the front seats. Mummy is talking to Daddy about not being around, spending too much time away working and asking him to be with us to look after us. Daddy is cross and threatening to go back to work.
Sad and torn. I knew Mummy was right but I was worried that her talking to daddy like this would send him back to work.
A close up of Mummy and Daddy in the front seat and me on the floor sitting behind but in the middle of them.
Title of this snapshot: ‘The one in the middle.’
She starts to cry, overcome with emotion. She couldn’t believe she had produced a memory that was a mirror image of her current difficulties. Looking at the beliefs of this child, she could relate them to those still operating for her today. Like Daddy; men are self-centred, men don’t commit, men are emotionally absent. Like Mummy, I don’t deserve commitment, if I confront a man I will be abandoned etc.etc. She was astounded to see that, unconsciously, she had reproduced a similar scenario to that which she had witnessed in childhood. In her adult relationships she was choosing men with commitment issues, like her Father, and powerless, like her Mother.
A word about Core Beliefs
They are unconscious and arise from the conclusions that the child arrives at about themselves and relationships, having experienced both happy and painful events in childhood. They form the blueprint of our belief system. Alana was unconsciously attracted to what she believed she deserved – she was now the ‘one in the middle’ between her partner and his ex – pure magic!
Alana came to see that, as children, we are born into a play in progress and creatively find our place, hypothesising about the world and our place within it as we go. She found her place within her family by taking responsibility for others’ feelings and perceived that she had to hold onto her loved ones at the expense of her needs.
She also could see why she had all this pent up anger towards her mother. The child had been angry towards her mother for not dealing with the situation assertively and allowing herself to be bullied. She was also angry with herself for behaving the same way.
She realised that she didn’t have to ‘put up and shut up’ as the child did. She could confront a man who was not showing commitment and assertively discuss her needs and place boundaries. She didn’t have to be the ‘one in the middle’ ensuring Daddy didn’t leave anymore. She could choose an equal relationship because she deserved commitment, just as she deserved a Daddy who was present and committed to his family!
The answer to all problems is indeed within ourselves and has its roots in our childhood perceptions. This means that, as adults, we can take responsibly for the choices we make and create a future where we can heal the past and live a truly fulfilling life.
Adlerian therapy is therefore a solution-focussed model of short-term therapy where the client explores future goals and aspirations, as well as issues experienced in the present, and looks at perceived blocks to happiness-mistaken beliefs.
Ask yourself; ‘What emotions am I De-pressing? What am I distancing myself from?’
By Kim Harries, BA (Hons) MBACP Accred Published on 9th September, 2013
Mild and Moderate Depression from a Psychological
All too frequently, clients come to therapy in a state of distress, complaining of feeling depressed, flat, lethargic, with little motivation or drive. They say; ‘here I am again, I’m not myself, it is as though I’m just going through the motions, I’m not present and I really want to get to the bottom of why I seem to be in this cycle again.’ While it is important to look after our health and take the medication (if prescribed), it is also equally important and tremendously beneficial from a psychological perspective, to gain insight into why we face these debilitating symptoms. Adlerian Psychotherapists are trained to enable the clients to view depression in a holistic way and to feel in control of their depression.
By educating the client and facilitating personal awareness, the client gains the knowledge and insight to be able to manage and understand their depression. In doing so, they take back the power and control over what can be a hugely debilitating and life-sapping condition.
The Counselling Process
So the work begins. Together with the client, their depression is gradually unravelled and worked through – because how each individual experiences depression is unique to them. Their triggers, core beliefs, the unfinished business, long buried painful events and the unresolved emotions that lie beneath are identified, so that the healing can begin. By supporting the client along this journey, the client works through complex and difficult emotions, revises their core beliefs, grieves for unresolved losses, acknowledges their pain and begins to come through to the other side and live life again.
Education and Insight
The client comes to understand the purpose of their depression; their depression is viewed as a natural and powerful defence, a form of psychological protection, a defence from the world and usually from painful, strong emotions that have been buried – de-pressed – and therefore unresolved. The duvet syndrome is talked about; depression is seen as an unconscious defence mechanism that we employ to protect ourselves from pain and torment, a way to hide oneself from the world – the way we do when all we can do is lie in bed wrapped up in our duvets, feeling protected and safe. Depression is viewed in a similar way; it enables us to feel insulated, in retreat and protected from the outside world. With insight, we come to realise that our depression is communicating something to us about our lives – it has a purpose and we begin to listen. We begin to recognise what we have distanced ourselves and cut off from. We listen to, process and acknowledge to our emotions, our anger, our guilt, our regret, our unfulfillment, our rage, our loss.
Significant Events and Core Beliefs
With support, the client unfolds his/her life story, both present and past and a comprehensive picture of their life and personality and belief system is built up and re-evaluated (i.e. the Life Style). Together, with the therapist, significant events are processed where the first symptoms of depression were triggered and core beliefs were formed (Early Recollections). The family background and relationships with self and significant family members is examined as perceived by the client (the Family Constellation). Other significant factors relevant to the client are also examined; for instance, familiar illness and depression and how this was dealt with within the family together with its impact on the client, familial culture and values.
In tandem, the client’s life is looked at in the here and now; their support system, their occupation, family, love and intimacy, their hopes dreams and goals. Using weekly assignments, the client is enabled and encouraged to take small steps in taking control of their depression and to take their lives back. Consequently, they begin to feel present and supported, in the driving seat, and empowered to create a future, one that is meaningful, happy and truly fulfilling. Most importantly, they are enabled to feel that they are in control of their depressive episodes and that their depression is not controlling them.
- Seek and follow medical advice
- Gain insight into your depression
- Work on self-limiting beliefs
- Look after yourself; sleep and eat well, keep fit and keep hydrated
- Find an interest and keep busy – it will ground you and re-energise you
- Set some goals and work towards them – dare to dream!
- Do something for others on a regular basis – you will reap what you sow.
Hang on in there – it will pass!
20 Parenting tips for creating a happy family
By Kim Harries, BA (Hons) MBACP Accred Published on 13th March, 2015
The younger this is taught, (0-7) the better!
1. Be patient. The ground rules/boundaries can be set via the family meeting. Parenting won’t be effective in times of conflict, set the boundaries when the child is receptive.
2. Children are not naughty but discouraged. They use mistaken behaviour to gain significance. If I can’t be the best, I will be the best of the worst!
3. Children live up to our expectations – we all do! Convey the message that you trust your child to make the right decision and they will! Expect the child to be naughty and guess what!
4. Don’t do for the child what the child can do for him/herself – this fosters dependence, denies opportunities for the child to learn new skills and diminishes self-esteem. Instead, agree shared responsibilities for running the household at the family meeting.
5. Empowerment is giving your child the message there are no limits except those that we impose on ourselves. With positive self-belief, we can achieve our potential.
6. Enforce your rules and withdraw instead of setting up a power struggle. Calmly remove yourself from the room saying, I love you but not your behaviour. This is how we behave. It gives a very clear message and avoids a slanging match.
7. Give positive attention to good behaviour/ignore bad behaviour. No behaviour is maintained if it loses its purpose.
8. Give the child one chance to misbehave. We all learn from mistakes. It is only fair to let the child make a mistake to learn from, if the behaviour is repeated, then reinforce the boundary.
9. Let siblings fight it out. If it looks like an even battle – siblings learn to communicate and cooperate. Both the elder and younger have to demonstrate mutual respect.
10. Minimise mistakes. Making mistakes is human. Don’t make too much fuss about mistakes. Build on the positive behaviour.
11. Model the behaviour you want to foster. Children model what we do, not what we say! This fosters respect, that you mean what you say and equality, (that you are not asking the child to do anything you wouldn’t do). Next time you observe your child shouting or thumping the table, ask yourself, where have they seen this behaviour before?
12. Mum and dad stick together and reinforce boundaries. Without agreement in parenting, the child learns to play one parent off against the other and all hell breaks loose!
13. Natural/logical consequences teaches responsibility, co-operation and self-discipline – if you don’t do your homework, you will get into trouble at school. If you don’t clean your teeth, you will need a filling. If you shout at me, I will leave the room because I feel disrespected.
14. Over protection is the on the same continuum as rejection. If I am over protective, I am teaching my child not to take risks, to be irresponsible and to put me in his/her service. I am effectively saying I have no faith in my child to shoulder responsibility.
15. Rewards and punishment are based upon power and teach arbitrary power and external control. A child who is punished seeks revenge and will retaliate where it hurts the parent most! A child who is given rewards soon comes to expect it as his/her right.
16. Set behavioural boundaries. State clearly what is acceptable/non-acceptable in your family. Be consistent.
17. Teach time out for both adults and children. When emotions run too high, time out is required to enable one/both parties to regain composure. (10 being a temper tantrum, anything over five means the child or adult has lost control – in this state, no one can be reasonable or logical!)
18. The courage to be imperfect. Teach the child that both parents and children make mistakes and say sorry. This teaches the child that mistakes are how we learn and part of the human condition.
19. Think about when to intervene – siblings have to learn to assert themselves. Sometimes fights are created to get the adult involved. By not intervening and, if necessary, discussing the event at a later time, gives the message that we trust our children to learn to get along better.
20. Use encouragement as opposed to praise. Praise is power based and diminishes the child. It demonstrates, I am in a superior position and can therefore judge you. Encouragement teaches the child self-empowerment: how do you feel you did, were you proud of your achievements, what else do you want to accomplish?
Understanding the child’s mistaken goals of behaviour
All children’s behaviour has a purpose. Children use behaviour to gain significance within the family group. This is based on their childlike perception of their place/role within the family – behaviour which is illogical to others but consistent with the child’s view of their place within the family group
There are four goals of misbehaviour.
This is all very well but how will I tell what my child’s goal is? We can tell what our child’s goal is by tuning into our feelings:
|Parental Feelings||Child’s Goal Part 1||Useful Parental Response|
|Annoyed, irritated, constantly interrupted.||Undue attention seeking. This behaviour is demanding and repetitive.||Use Distraction. Give positive attention for good behaviour, ignore negative behaviour.|
|Angry, provoked, into a power struggle which escalates.||Power, to be the boss.||Stay grounded, withdraw from power struggle. Remind child of boundaries. Leave the room. I will engage when you calm down and explain what you want nicely.|
|Hurt, wants to get even.||Revenge. Behaviour is angry and violent ensuring the parent knows how deeply they feel hurt.||Stay grounded. Don’t take it personally. Acknowledge/allow the child to express their feelings. Make the child feel secure. Reinforce the boundaries with loving empathy.|
|Despairing, at wits end. Gives up.||Display of inadequacy. The child is very discouraged.||Encourage the child, focus on small successes. Seek professional help if no improvement.|
Based on the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (Vienna 1870-1937).
10 year-olds are the new 16 year-olds!
By Kim Harries, BA (Hons) MBACP Accred Published on 8th May, 2015
How to parent pre-teens/teens, in forming healthy relationships
In our private, silent, cyber world, (social media, mobiles, the Internet) our children are being over exposed to explicit sexual images and skewed messages about sexuality and intimate relationships. These questionable information sources are having a huge impact on our children’s self-image, self-esteem, sexual values, morals and behaviour.
So how do we, as parents, best communicate to our pre-teens/teens when we are often the last people to know and certainly the last people they want to open up to?
Don’t panic! They may look all grown up, but they are just kids learning a new skill, just like when they learned to walk and kept knocking into the furniture!
Pre/teens are practising and acting out how to conduct intimate relationships
Peer groups rule!
At this age children copy each other without an in-depth insight into what they are doing or saying, let alone the impact on the other person. They are all fumbling in the dark and trying it all on for size; if you excuse the puns!
Pre/teens need support, understanding and patience
Making inroads with the opposite sex, together with exam pressure and unpredictable mood changes, makes for a turbulent, painful and confusing time, often affecting self-esteem, confidence, school work and sleep. Our role is to walk by their side, offering advice and support and the opportunity for non-judgmental discussion along the way.
Our aim is to be approachable, give moral guidance, unconditional love and support: we don’t want to chastise, humiliate or criticise. If we do, our pre/teen will go underground! Make no mistake, there will be many casualties along the way. We are not rescuers, but we are allowing them the space to learn from their mistakes and at the same time, to form loving, respectful, sexual relationships.
Stand back, breathe and count to ten.
- Beware of judging your pre/teen. It is easy to expect them to behave like adults because they look like adults. Remember how little life experience they have had.
- Explain that the process of choosing a girl/boyfriend is like choosing a best friend. We choose our best friends because they care and appreciate us for being ourselves.
- Sexual behaviour is respectful and mutual, not a bargaining tool to buy popularity, to win friends, to be used as harassment or for abuse
Physician heal thyself
Do you model the kind of intimate relationship you want your children to follow?
Discuss with your partner your values and views on love, sex and intimacy. It could be an interesting discussion.
What are both your views on:
- Emotions and how you demonstrate them.
- Gender roles and responsibilities.
- Sex, the expression of sexual feelings.
- Intimacy – how comfortable is it for you?
- Expressing affection in public?
- Same sex relationships, transgender issues, teen sex in the home, the pill, condoms?
Be aware of your psychological baggage around relationships
How healthy is your own relationship? Crises with your pre/teen can set off any of this unfinished business. Oh, the joys of parenting!
How do you communicate your love for each other? Are you respectful? Do you have a fulfilling sex life? Are you a team? Are you good listeners? Do you communicate difficult feelings openly and honestly? Maybe you need a few sessions of couple counselling?
- If your pre/teen shocks you and all your psychological buttons have been pressed by their behaviour, then…..take time out, discuss and process these feelings with your partner.
- Do not approach your pre/teen about the issue until you feel grounded and logical! Write the issue down or discuss it with someone close. This helps to create distance so you can deal with your own emotions and then the situation
Make open communication as enjoyable and easy as possible
Inform you pre/teen that you would like to discuss something important and negotiate a good time, when you are both relaxed and happy. Choose a good setting, such as a car journey or walk. The aim is an exchange of opinions in the spirit of mutual respect, giving opportunity for feedback and a mutual exchange.
Choose two points you want to raise. Discuss each point, say what you need to and ask your pre/teen for their opinion, let the discussion bat forwards and backwards. Come to an agreement. This helps your pre/teen to learn and practise critical thinking, informed decision making and assertive communication skills.
Love and sex go hand in hand, so talk about them together
Provide non-threatening opportunities to explain and discuss biological changes during puberty, together with the nature of healthy, loving, intimate, relationships. Everyone’s body develops differently at different rates and are all normal! Encourage respecting difference. Discuss height changes, voice breaking, menstruation, wet dreams, facial, body hair, masturbation, sexual intercourse. The dreaded spots, self-image and teasing, as well as body odour and the need for a consistent personal hygiene routine.
Stress that healthy intimate relationships are built upon mutual respect, mutual trust, teamwork, valuing each other, making each other happy and regular open communication. Above all our intimate relationships should improve our self-confidence and self-esteem and enhance us as individuals!
- Buy recommended ‘cool’ books and leave in your pre/teens room.
- Make it clear that you and your partner are available if they have any questions.
- Suggest they chat to a trusted person whom they consider a role model.
- Talk openly about your own experiences of puberty.
Trust your gut feeling
If you suspect something is going on that rings alarm bells, don’t delay, get to the bottom of it, even if it means asking their friends. It is our responsibility to know what our pre/teens are doing, where and with whom.
- Negotiate ground rules for using devices, text time, bed time.
- Explain it’s our job to keep pre/teens safe, so from time to time, we will check phones, PCs etc.
- Remember we are all learning!
- Take time off from parenting, have a glass, meditate, relax!
Counter transference: dare to dream!
By Kim Harries, BA (Hons) MBACP Accred Published on 23rd November, 2015
This was written in response to a discouraged client, when she was in a space where she was believing all the messages she perceived were true from within her family of origin. We call this the beliefs of the “graffiti wall”.
The purpose of counselling is to enable the client to tell their story and put the record straight – write a new wall. “This is who I really am and what I’m capable of!”
“I can’t!” say my clients,
“It’s painful, it’s hard”.
“I’m stuck”, “change is impossible”,
“It’s like climbing the Shard!”.
I know I say, I’ve seen it before,
the point where you just want to close that door.
These feelings are real, oh the buttons they press!
Surely it’s much better to avoid and suppress?
So they come, the obstacles many.
The tears, the cancellations,
the watching of telly.
But I press on, as I know…
That once we tackle that wall of graffiti,
we can re write the truth, see the potential,
write a new treaty.
I am good enough.
I can and I will,
as I acknowledge my past, my pain, until…
Those mistaken beliefs,
that have stolen my dreams like a night-cloaked thief,
start to change…
Then l move on and I move fast,
and say, “So long suckers!” to those ghosts of my past.
I can and I will.
I am good enough,
the pain will diminish and I’ll have the last laugh!