Ipswich Counselling Blog | How to deal with shame

I want to write about shame this month because it’s an emotion which is on my radar at the moment both personally and often comes into my counselling service here in Ipswich.Ipswich counselling blog | How to deal with shame | Image of a statue hanging their head in shame with quote from Brené Brown

My relationship with shame is fairly new. That is to say being able to give a label of shame to the physical feeling is fairly new, but like many, if not most of us, I’ve experienced shame since I was a young child.  In my body, I experience shame as a painful ache on one side of my chest accompanied by butterflies (the kind more often associated with your stomach).  I often freeze or at least feel the need to be very still and if I’m alone, I’ll often cry, feeling deeply sad.  Knowing what I’m feeling is shame enables me to not get as swallowed up by it and these days I tend to acknowledge and accept what’s happening even though it feels painful.  Once the immediate feeling has passed, I like to get curious and reflect on what’s happened. Most often I can trace it to a sense of feeling unworthy – like I’m not good enough somehow.  I can’t always go any further into it than that, but just knowing that a sense of unworthiness has surfaced is useful.

As anyone who follows my Facebook business page will know, I’m a big fan of Brené Brown and I’ve just finished reading her latest book Rising Strong.  Brown differentiates shame from guilt by saying guilt is I DID something bad.  Shame is I AM bad.  These are two very different things and using this distinction has really helped me understand the difference.  Guilt can be a driver to makes amends and do something different.  Shame is toxic is offers nothing useful.

So what can you do when you get caught up in shame?  Brown writes that the antidote to shame is empathy and from experience I agree with her.  Can you recall the feeling of relief when in a moment of feeling bad about yourself, you reach out to someone, share how you’re feeling and receive a ‘me too’ or ‘yes, I know what you mean’ or ‘you’re not alone’?   However, I’ve come to realise that not everyone is empathic – not even close friends or family who you love and who love you.  I’m becoming much more selective with whom I share my shame stories because to feel judged, not understood or misunderstood adds another layer of shame, making climbing out just that bit harder.  So who you tell matters greatly and I’d recommend you choose who you share your shame stories with wisely.  Brown writes in Daring Greatly:

“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”

I’d add that we also need to hold space inside ourselves to be self-compassionate, especially when we’re feeling unworthy.  If that sounds too soft or touchy feely then let me ask you this.  If you have a friend who’s really struggling, would you suggest they need to pull themselves together or would you be kind and do your best to listen and be supportive?  If you chose the first option you may have some work to do on yourself my friend but if you chose the second option, then this is what you need to offer yourself, in abundance, because I notice that we’re often a lot, lot harder on ourselves than we are on other people.  Would you agree?  I’d love to hear your thoughts about my blog post or about your experience with shame so if you have a comment, please use the box below.

Finally, if you’d like to understand more about shame I’d wholeheartedly recommend Brené Brown’s TED Talk Listening to Shame. It’s not only informative (and I would argue transformative) but she’s really funny too!

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Ipswich Counselling Blog | Grief and Ritual: The Intention of Connection

A close family member of mine sadly died in 2009.  This week I would have been Counselling in Ipswich | Blog Post | Grief: The Intention of Connection - The Bridge Counselling Service, Ipswichcelebrating their 40th birthday.  Over the last couple of days I have found myself thinking about what it would have meant to have been able to mark the beginning of a new decade.

When someone close to us dies, significant dates and the lead up to them can be very difficult.  One thing I have found helpful over the years is having a personally meaningful ritual.

Merriam-Webster defines ritual as something which is ‘always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time’.  Having a ritual to me feels honouring and connecting. My ritual starts a few weeks before the actual date and involves buying the same Lily-Flame candle year on year.  Whilst neither the candle nor its scent reminds me of my loved one during their life, I have come to associate it with them in death.  There is something about becoming aware that I will need to buy the candle, the satisfaction of actually purchasing it, displaying it for a few days before and finally the lighting of it on the day and enjoying the fragrance infusing my home.  I suppose I would call it the intention of connection.  Whereas during the year my thoughts turn to my loved one naturally and spontaneously, on this date I have a specific intention to want to spend quality time thinking about them.

Significant dates that remind us of the absence of a loved one can be incredibly painful even years or decades later.  I wrote about grieving in my post Grieving: Finding a New Normal and for me a ritual forms part of what William Worden describes in that post as the fourth stage of grieving ‘to find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life’.  No ‘getting over’ or ‘moving on’ but instead creating something which feeds that sense of ongoing relationship.

My ritual is just one of endless possibilities.  You may already do something which feels meaningful to you but in case you are in need of some inspiration, I have listed below 5 simple rituals which you might find helpful:

  • Change your Facebook profile picture for 24 hours.
  • Carve out a period during the day with the intention of quietly reminiscing about your relationship with your loved one.
  • Laugh and cry at old photos.
  • Prepare or order in your loved one’s favourite meal.
  • Visit a place which holds memories of you and your loved one.

I would be really interested to hear about any rituals you have created to connect with your loved ones.  Feel free to post comments below.

If someone you love has died and you are looking for counselling in Ipswich, please give me a call on 07578 839779 or visit thebridgecounsellingservice.co.uk and I would be happy to make an appointment for you to come and see me.

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I Believe You – The Importance of the Counselling Relationship in Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse is rarely out of the news these days.  In the last month the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse looking into what has gone wrong within institutions has been launched and members of a paedophile ring in Norwich have been found guilty.  The NSPCC suggest that 1 in 20 children have been abused, with over 23,000 sexual offences against children recorded in the UK in 2012/13[1].  Sadly this is just the tip of the iceberg as most sexual abuse goes unreported.  Whilst the hope is that things are changing, fear of not being believed, the secrecy that often accompanies abuse and the unfortunate shaming which can take place, make disclosing abuse a complex and often terrifying process and there are many survivors who continue to suffer in silence.

I BELIEVE YOUObviously as a counsellor I would recommend counselling as one way of tackling the effects of childhood sexual abuse.  Counselling offers the opportunity to try and piece together what are often fragments – sensations, smells, feelings or memories which are remembered only in part.  Abuse occurs within relationships and heals within relationships and learning to build a safe and trusting alliance with a counsellor can be enormously helpful. Being believed is likely to be a huge step on the journey towards healing from the effects of abuse, which you may have been living with for a very long time.

It isn’t easy learning to trust after abuse.  Counsellors are aware of this and recognise that in the early stages, there may be an imbalance of power in that (a) by virtue of coming to counselling you are in a vulnerable state as opposed to the counsellor who won’t have that same sense of vulnerability and (b) you may feel your counsellor has the ability to heal you rather than helping empower you to heal yourself.  Over time and as the counselling relationship develops, this imbalance should equalise with both parties developing an alliance which feels collaborative, mutual and equal.  It’s important to highlight this though as sometimes the power imbalance can resemble the dynamics of abuser and survivor.

It’s all well and good me talking about the importance of the counselling relationship but if you’d like some evidence to back this up you could look at the recent joint study by the universities of Manchester and Liverpool which showed that a good therapeutic relationship improves the likelihood of a successful outcome whilst doing the reverse if the therapeutic relationship isn’t good.

Meta-analysis carried out by Lambert (1992) [2] also supports the importance of the therapeutic relationship and Wampold (2001) in his book The Great Psychotherapy Debate found that the counselling relationship is more important than any technique that might be offered.

As a final thought, although the importance of the counselling relationship cannot be underestimated, I believe you also have infinite resources to help heal yourself.  This again is supported by research suggesting that when looking at what makes therapy successful, 40% can be attributed to your own resources.  To me that means the collaboration between the counsellor and client is a potent recipe for healing.

Please get in touch if you’d like to make an appointment.  You can call me on 07578 839779 or email donnagibson@thebridgecounsellingservice.co.uk.  My office is on the outskirts of Ipswich, within easy reach of Felixstowe, Woodbridge and surrounding areas and has free parking.

[1] Jütte, S. et al (2014) How safe are our children? 2014. London: NSPCC

[2] Lambert, M. J. (1992) Psychotherapy Outcome Research: Implications for Integrative and Eclectic Therapists in Norcross, C. and Goldfried, M. (Eds) Handbook of Psychotherapy Integration, Basic Books, United States. Ch 3

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Politics and change or politics of change?

I took part in an online conference on psychotherapy and global transformation a couple of days ago and I wanted to share with you some reflections I’ve had.  It was a timely conference in many ways because I have been thinking a lot recently about what I do as an individual to contribute to change, change being a large part of the counselling process and life in general.

The first comment I made at the conference was around my feeling of anxiety when I think about the words ‘global transformation’.  They seem so big and I feel so small.  I think of Carl Rogers (founder of the person-centred approach) who said ‘when I look at the world I’m pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic’.  That speaks to me.  When I zoom in to the inThe Bridge Counselling Service - May blog post - Carl Rogers' quote When I look at the world I'm pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimisticdividual level, I feel I can do something and counselling is one of the ways I contribute.  It is when I zoom out and look at a world dominated by organisations and institutions which seem to value conformity, compliance and consumption that I feel pessimistic.

As I work to try and become outwardly more aligned with how I feel and think internally, I realise that I practice as a person-centred counsellor because it speaks to me at that optimistic individual level and I believe that it is not only an effective counselling approach but its wider applications could have a transformative effect on society.

Going back to the conference, during one of the presentations Professor Mick Cooper talked about whether helpful relationships could be offered in a wider context, not necessarily just in one to one counselling and it got me thinking about group work.  Does group work have to be specifically therapeutic to be effective or is being in the presence of others with the same intention therapeutic in itself?  Something for me to ponder further is how I might contribute to something wider than one to one counselling.

The final thing that came out of the conference for me was during a talk by Clare Slaney (who writes an excellent counselling blog in my opinion).  She was talking about our views of the poor in the UK and she invited us to contemplate what the word is for society’s intense dislike of the poor.  It got me thinking about the recent election and my fear for what continued austerity might mean for the vulnerable and let’s face it, we’re all vulnerable in one way or another aren’t we?  Many of us are only ever one step away from becoming part of a system which may have a significant impact on our mental health.  When I think of enforced therapy in job centres or the recent proposal to withhold employment and support allowance if you’re obese or have drug or alcohol problems and refuse to do something which makes it more likely you will return to work, it fills me with dread.

The talk tied in nicely with my sense of anger and injustice at what feels to me like punishing of the vulnerable and my plans to attend the End Austerity Now national march which is taking place in London in June.  It’s a leap out of my comfort zone.  I’ve never taken part in anything like this before but I have a desire to dThe Bridge Counselling Service May blog post quote by JFK One person can make a difference and everyone should tryo something about my strength of feeling.  I’m going to keep in mind John F Kennedy’s words ‘ One person can make a difference and everyone should try’. An optimistic quote which is both individual and global.

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A compassionate approach to understanding anger and rage

I thought I’d write about anger this month because I’ve just finished reading a really interesting book on these oftenImage of angry person misunderstood emotions.

How many of us think of anger as a negative emotion?   Perhaps you were raised in a family where expressing anger was frowned upon or perhaps when you have expressed anger at something, you were shamed for doing so?  Sue Parker-Hall author of Anger, Rage and Relationship argues that anger is a positive emotion when allowed its true expression.  As we develop our unique personality, we use anger as a way of trying to maintain boundaries and separate ourselves from our parents or caregivers.  If our anger is taken seriously and responded to in a helpful way, it can set the stage for dealing with challenging situations, decision making and effecting change throughout our lives.

According to Professor Paul Ekman, in addition to happiness, sadness, surprise, fear and disgust, anger is one of the six primary emotions.  Anger acts like an alarm system warning us that something isn’t right.  Although it helps to keep us safe, many of us have a difficult relationship with anger.  Family and cultural views often mean that anger is seen as a negative emotion.  As we have a natural desire to be liked and approved of, this positive emotion often gets distorted or denied and loses its powerful and helpful function.

Parker-Hall suggests that rage, on the other hand, develops from an inability to process life’s experiences and develops when we are still babies.  It is an early defence mechanism which we use when our environment is not supportive and when our emotions threaten to overwhelm us.  This unsupportive environment could be in the form of an early relationship which doesn’t meet our needs or perhaps a traumatic event where there was lack of support to help soothe our overwhelming emotions.

Parker-Hall talks of two types of rage – hot and cold.  She uses a metaphor of a pot to describe both. If you place your feelings in a pot, hot rage will cause the lid to fly off.  Behaviours associated with hot rage include criticism, manipulation, violence and aggression.  With cold rage, the pot lid is firmly held in place, not allowing any of the emotions to be revealed.  Here, behaviours can include withdrawal, indifference, distance and impotence.

With both anger and rage, Parker-Hall recommends a relational approach to counselling which fits my person-centred roots.  Offering a similar relationship to that which would have been helpful in childhood can help process experiences and feelings or look at how anger might have been denied or distorted.

Anger in its true form can be reclaimed and rage can be transformed into what Parker-Hall calls ‘adult rage’ which can be used in pro-social way to challenge social issues and make a difference to wider society.

As I hope is becoming clear from my posts, I am passionate about offering a relationship which is rich in understanding and acceptance.  I choose to work this way because I have a fundamental trust that when we can experience a genuinely empathic and acceptant relationship, there is a natural tendency towards growth.  I believe that if we are offered an environment which is free from threat, we can get back in touch with what we really think, feel and want and when we can do this, it is less likely that we will want someone to tell us what to do because we will have regained the ability to trust that we know what it best for us.


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Why choose person centred counselling?

In this month’s blog post I wanted to talk about the person centred approach to counselling.

I offer this type of counselling because it aligns with my own views on human beings. I believe that we want the best for ourselves and I rogers_coreconditionstrust we have all the resources we need to do this, if only we can free ourselves of the things which are blocking our growth.

How we see ourselves plays a huge part. Part of that comes from what we imagine others think of us and from our need to be approved of. So as children, if we were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where we were loved and prized for who we were and not what others wanted us to be, we would be better able to keep in touch with what we think and feel rather than trying to live up to the values and beliefs of others. However the reality is that to a lesser or greater degree, we all end up on the receiving end of beliefs and values of parents, teachers and wider society and so we adapt to the messages which say ‘you are worthy if you………………..’ So who we really are becomes buried and in its place we have a self-concept which includes the messages about how to maintain the approval of others. The point at which we seek counselling is often the stage where the conflict between our experience, which may have been denied or distorted, and who we think we are becomes too great and we want change.

So when you arrive for counselling, you can expect to develop a relationship with your counsellor which is rich in three conditions – empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence and I will describe these briefly below.

Simply put, empathy is stepping into your shoes and trying to see the world as you see with all your meanings and beliefs. Unconditional positive regard is about accepting you as a unique individual of worth. Congruence is also known as transparency or genuineness. Empathy and unconditional positive regard need to perceived by you and they should be offered to you genuinely and not as a tool.  It would be no good if you felt you were offered conditions in a way which didn’t feel authentic.

Some have criticised the approach for its individualist outlook which can be viewed as selfish, but the argument is that when we experience these three conditions, we are inclined to move in a pro-social direction which ultimately benefits all.

So to finish, person centred counselling aims to help you unblock whatever is getting in your way and free you for growth and development. The aim isn’t to ‘do’ something to you but instead to support you in your exploration. Person centred counselling doesn’t seek to impose anything on you. It is like entering into a bubble for 50 minutes each week where the focus is on you and what you wish to explore. If the relationship between you and your counsellor feels safe, hopefully you won’t feel threated and that can help you to open up and explore aspects of yourself or your experiencing which may have been difficult to talk about previously. As a result, you will likely gain greater understanding of yourself and acceptance and this may help you to find your own way forward.


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Christmas time, mistletoe and bleurgh!

Christmas is fast approaching isn’t it?  Children are finishing school for the year.  Adults are possibly taking a break from work.  For many it is a time of fun, relaxation and celebration but equally for many, Christmas is a difficult time.  How about you?  Are you facing Christmas without someone you love?  Are you in an unhappy relationship?  Does the thought of spending time with family put the spotlight on painful family dynamics?  Perhaps money is a concern?  Christmas can be expensive and place extra pressure on an already stretched budget.  Perhaps you’ve been feeling lonely and this time of year is heightening that feeling?  Maybe you’ve been thinking about coming to counselling but want to get Christmas out of the way first.  If so, it could be a tough period for you as you wait until the timing is better.Christmas The Bridge Counselling Service

So what can you do in the meantime?  I wonder how you feel about giving yourself permission not to feel OK?  It perhaps goes against the grain, especially if you are used to masking your true feelings or trying hard to be upbeat for the sake of others.  Sometimes just accepting where you find yourself can be helpful.  Often there are no easy answers, but having compassion for yourself can help reduce the internal pressure.  Even if you are committed to making Christmas great for everyone despite how you feel, you have given yourself the go-ahead to not feel OK. You are being true to yourself.

Perhaps that’s enough?  If it isn’t though, could you tell one person how you’re feeling?  It’s not always easy to put our needs at the forefront, but how would it be to risk asking someone to listen to you without offering any advice – could you ask for this?  If you don’t feel in a position to talk to someone, how about journalling – not necessarily documenting what you’ve been doing, but instead getting in touch with and writing about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking?  It may help you gain some clarity.

Is there something you would like?  A day under the duvet, some quiet time or a walk in nature perhaps?  It doesn’t really matter what it is.  What I’m wondering is whether it is possible for you to carve out a little ‘me’ time to just allow you to be?  It’s not easy with competing pressures, but giving yourself something, even a little something, can be like offering yourself the same level of care you offer others; treating yourself as equally important.

I wish you well during the holiday period.  If you do find in the New Year you’d like to make an appointment to come and see me, please give me a call on 07578 839779 or email me at donnagibson@thebridgecounsellingservice.co.uk and I’ll be glad to book you in.

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Grieving: Finding a New Normal

According to Wikipedia approximately 150,0001 people die across the globe each day.  It’s a given that we will all experience bereavement during our lives.  Perhaps you are drawn to reading this post because you are going through the grieving process at the moment.

Grieving Blog Post - William Worden Four Tasks of Mourning

Credit: whatsyourgrief.com

There are so many ‘normal’ responses to grief.  Sadness, anger, disbelief, shock, numbness, depression and anxiety to list a few and the time it takes to grieve is as individual as the person experiencing it.

It can be difficult to grieve openly and for as long as is needed.  Friends and family will no doubt try their best, but our society seems to shy away from talking about death for too long.  Often there is plenty of support to start with, but it tails off as people resume their regular activities.  This can make grieving a very private and lonely experience.

If you have someone to talk to who will listen to all that you are experiencing without trying to fix you, it can be enormously helpful.  If you don’t or prefer to talk to someone impartial, then counselling may be for you.

I offer person-centred counselling and when I work with clients who are grieving, I offer a safe and helpful space to ‘be’ – whatever that looks like.  A witness and understanding companion during the process of working through feelings, thoughts and behaviour.  All feelings are welcome – even the ones which sometimes feel risky to show or too painful to allow expression.  Talking is welcome.  Tears are welcome.  Silence is welcome.  Sadly there are no quick fixes and the process is likely to be painful.  The grieving process is what it is and if not allowed to progress at its own pace, will wait patiently until there is a time.

Anyone looking at my Facebook business page recently may have seen the Worden’s tasks of mourning picture I posted.  I like Worden’s four tasks, mainly because step 4 talks about finding an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life rather than ‘getting over’ the death of a loved one which I’m not sure is possible or should be seen as a goal.

I too have lost loved ones and have ongoing connections with all of them and I like that.  It’s not enough, but it’s something.  Personally I use the term ‘finding a new normal’ to signify the desire to carry on with life, knowing it is different and that I am changed.  There was ‘life before ……….. died’ and now there is ‘life after ………. died’.

If you like reading, there are many books which can help you reflect.  A search on the internet will bring up many on the subject.  If grieving brings up fears around your own mortality then I would recommend Irvin Yalom’s Staring at the Sun.  If you have suffered many losses and feel as though you’ve not been able to grieve fully for them, then Stephen Levine’s Unattended Sorrow is a helpful read.

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortality_rate



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Listening and empathy – The importance of feeling heard

Last week I posted a quote on my Facebook business page https://www.facebook.com/thebridgecounsellingservice by Carl Rogers, an American Psychologist responsible for developing the Person-Centred Approach to counselling.  He said:

Carl Rogers quote about empathy

A powerful quote and something to ponder in today’s society.  The idea that if we truly listen with the desire of understanding the other, that alone can produce change.

I don’t know about you but I notice that often conversations seem to involve listening to what someone is saying whilst at the same time thinking about what we want to say and waiting for a gap to say it.  Sometimes it’s subtle, other times not so and I don’t believe it’s done with malice, but I get the sense that we listen enough to take in what is being said but that we’re not always fully present.  Does that sound familiar?  Have you ever been left with the feeling of not really being heard or understood?  We’re all human after all and I know I’m guilty of both doing it and being on the receiving end of it!

Can you think of an occasion when someone took the time to stop and really listen to you, where you felt heard and got the sense that you were understood?  How often does it happen?  How did it feel?  I find those moments really stand out.  What I notice is that feeling heard enables me to hear myself better and in turn be more compassionate and understanding towards myself.

In the world of counselling it is generally accepted that empathy is an important part of therapy.  It is however a vital attitude alongside non-judgement and genuineness in Person-Centred counselling.  If your counsellor is experiencing an empathic understanding of how you see things, tries to communicate their understanding to you and if you feel that your counsellor has accurately understood you, even to a minimal degree, then change is possible.  Like Rogers says above, empathy is a potent force for change.

If you’d like to learn more about empathy, you might be interested in an organisation called Center for Building a Culture of Empathy http://cultureofempathy.com/ who produce an interesting magazine with articles on empathy http://www.scoop.it/t/empathy-and-compassion.

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