Throughout the lifecourse, we can find ourselves in a pickle, trying to work out whether to stay or go (whether that's in a job that no longer fulfils us, a relationship, the move out of home). Transitions of any sort are often filled with fear and loss but also excitement. Sometimes our anxiety about change, and taking a risk into something new, can relate to an earlier sense of enmeshment with parental figures and so it is hard to tease apart what belongs to you - what makes you tick - and what belongs to them. If you are trying to work out the best course of action for you and your own development, therapy can be a space in which to give some thought to your options and what might best serve you. Equally, if you are a parent of a child or teenager who is struggling to make sense of his or her changing body and mind, the confusion it evokes, and is finding unhelpful ways, from self-harm to eating difficulties, to manage this turbulent time, it might be beneficial to talk it through in a non-judgemental space with a therapist, confidentially.
Living with uncertainty
There are few guarantees in life, and our sphere of influence is always relative and limited. That said, we do have agency and we can make choices. Occasionally we find it hard to articulate them and to share our thoughts with other people, yet this can be one way of mitigating the sense of isolation and the burden of anxiety about how our lives might pan out. Sometimes our lives become so uncertain because relationships might feel unstable, or we have become unwell, a friend or family member has died. At times like this, we can resort to earlier patterns of defensive behaviour and withdraw from others because speaking about how we feel might open us up to a sense of vulnerability. But we all feel vulnerable and unsure at times, particularly when we become aware of the transient nature of existence, its impermanence. This can startle us, and is particularly frightening if we had little control over how our childhood experiences played out. Again, sharing anxieties about uncertain times of any description can be a relief and the beginnings of a way to navigate a pathway that ties up with our own authentic agency.
Relationships and family dynamics
From the moment we are born, we enter into a relational frame: as newborns we are utterly dependent on a maternal or paternal other. This sets the stage for how our relationships will play out across the span of our lives. Sometimes all of us find ourselves in patterns that we might be able to trace back to toddlerhood, latency years or adolescence. Some of our behaviours might have become, understandably, rigid as a way of protecting ourselves from hurt, or rejection, disapproval, from addictive hooks to confusing power-plays. At times, these ways of operating might be useful adaptations; at others they might prevent us from more intimate, honest and open moments with our partners, friends and family members. If you are looking for a greater understanding about your own relational patterns and triggers, the dynamics you find yourself in, or are concerned you are too boundaried or not boundaried enough, again the work of therapy can help you to become more conscious of where you are at.
A death can leave us with all sorts of profoundly dislocating feelings and questions, a sense of what-ifs and guilt reactions, as if we might have missed a clue or that we failed to say the things we wished we had said. We may have watched someone decline slowly before us, with a long-term condition such as dementia, cancer, MND or MS; or a death may have been abrupt and unexpected, way before time. Our relationship may have been close or distant, accepted by society or on the margins. There might have been sibling rivalry around the dying of a parent, or that we have lost others - a secondary set of losses that compound the first - that would benefit from reflection and disentanglement with the physical death itself. Palliative psychotherapy focuses on the wide spread of issues that surround grief and bereavement, and while it can be difficult, often those of us who embark on therapeutic work at such a time find a new courage in ourselves and begin to reclaim parts of ourselves that we might have imagined were lost.
To have undergone a traumatic experience can have a lasting impact on our sense of self; we can begin to doubt ourselves at a deep and fundamental level. Sometimes trauma follows a random, unexplained tragedy. At others trauma is the result of another person's actions. The shame of having been ill-treated in some way, emotionally, physically or sexually, may leave us feeling suicidal, unlovable, very sad and frightened. While therapy is not a cure-all, having a safe experience with another human being can begin to help us reestablish trust with other people, with oneself and the world at large; the beginnings of building a good-enough quality of life back together.
As we begin to see that we can relate to people one-to-one and with greater confidence, it might be that we wish to branch out and to work with others in an emotionally connected way - where mutual support and understanding becomes second nature to us. Esther has worked for many years in group settings, with carers of those with dementia and long-term conditions as well as health and social care staff. If you are keen to create a facilitated group within your organisation or as part of a community programme, please do be in touch.