How To Manage Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is a common difficulty experienced at some point by us all. Anxious feelings often arise in relation to situations or experiences which provoke feelings of unease, worry or fear. Attending a job interview or having an exam for example, can quite easily bring forth feelings of anxiety. In situations such as this, anxiety is completely understandable and normal. However, for some people, it can become a debilitating and exhausting everyday experience, which can begin to control or overtake their lives.

What Is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

GAD is relatively common condition in the UK, and it is estimated that somewhere in the region of 5% of the population suffer from it. Marginally more women than men are affected, and it is common in people between the ages of 35-59.

What makes generalised anxiety disorder different from normal levels of anxiety is the persistence, regularity and strength of the anxiety. GAD operates in a persistent or long-term capacity, causing its sufferers to endure often crippling and disproportionate responses to the actual worry or risk. In other words, a small event or incident can be capable of provoking huge levels of worry or fear.

Sufferers of GAD will often experience anxiety around a variety of circumstances, opposed to one thing, as those experiencing phobias might. There can be an increase in catastrophizing about everyday situations or experiences. For example, waiting for a partner to arrive home, and thinking they have been involved in an accident instead of the more likely reason, such as being stuck in traffic.

What Causes Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

Whilst the specific causes of GAD are unknown, some research has shown that there can be a few factors involved. While these contributing factors may increase the chances of an individual developing GAD, it is not uncommon for an individual to develop the condition external to these factors. Below I have listed some possible factors. This list is not exhaustive and is used to illustrative purposes.

  • Experiencing a long-term health condition
  • Historic experiences of major stress or trauma such as domestic violence
  • You can be five times more like to develop Gad if a close relative suffered from with GAD
  • Over activity in the parts of the brain associated with behaviour and emotion
  • A history of difficulties with alcohol or drug abuse
  • An imbalance of mood regulating chemicals serotonin and adrenaline

Symptoms Of GAD

It is common for those suffering from GAD to experience both physical and psychological symptoms. These physical symptoms particularly, can cause the sufferer to experience an increased sense of worry, anguish and unease. The severity, frequency or experience of both psychological and physical symptoms of GAD will differ from person to person. For example, one person may experience a broad range of difficulties, whereas another might experience far fewer.

While other anxiety disorders may have a specific trigger, GAD is often unpredictable, making it feel difficult to know when difficult feelings will pass. GAD is a condition with far reaching impacts upon an individual’s life, which can make it difficult to manage relationships, jobs and daily life in general.

Listed below are some psychological and physical symptoms of GAD. These lists are not exhaustive and are intended as guidelines.

Psychological symptoms

  • A feeling of dread
  • Feeling on edge
  • Difficulty in managing everyday tasks such as work
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Feeling irritable
  • Finding it hard to maintain relationships
  • Overwhelming or racing thoughts
  • Worrying or intrusive thoughts

Physical symptoms

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Dry mouth, muscle aches, shortness of breath or digestive difficulties
  • Heart palpitations or tension headaches
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns

How To Manage Generalised Anxiety Disorder

GAD is very difficult and exhausting, and can way heavily on the mind. It can feel as though there is little respite from the overwhelming feelings and experiences of anxiety. At its worst, GAD can seriously impact your relationships, life and well-being. However, there are several ways in which you can help to manage the symptoms and experiences of GAD.

Self-help

Talk to someone you trust

Confiding in a close friend, colleague or family member about difficult or worrying experiences or diagnosis of GAD can be a meaningful and important experience, that provides comfort and support in a difficult time.

Try to shift your focus

You may find that trying to shift your focus can distract you, even if momentarily, from anxious thoughts and feelings. Look at a picture, or something which you find interesting or comforting. Really notice the details, the smells or sounds, and concentrate on them. Taking yourself away from the immediate worries and anxieties can be hugely beneficial.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can offer you a confidential space to explore your thoughts, feelings and ideas, and work on ways to manage your GAD or anxiety. Psychotherapy will give you space to explore the roots of your anxieties and consider its components and triggers, and to think about the rules that can govern your GAD. Ultimately, psychotherapy can assist you to develop a more dynamic and engaged way of living, which is not entirely filled with or controlled by anxiety

Moving Forward

Although a diagnosis of GAD can seem impossible to surpass, there are ways of managing, controlling and understanding your anxiety. Although this is of course not an easy road to go down, and will at points involve setbacks and difficulties, there is every chance that you can, with a combination of self-help and or talking therapies, overcome and manage GAD and anxiety. Helping yourself or seeking it from others takes courage, but is the first step toward a life with more balance and peace.

 

Understanding & Managing A Depression Relapse

What Is A Relapse

Depression is not so much something that can be cured, more something for which we have a variety of treatment options. It operates in cycles and phases, which are often unpredictable. It could be likened to a potential shadow, lurking ominously in the background, ready at any moment to descend.

We have all experienced periods of low mood or depression, which no matter their duration, can be difficult to manage, and bring forth painful and upsetting feelings and experiences. These episodes can leave us with an uncomfortable sense of unease, and the fear that the feelings may return. This says much about the link between relapse and anxiety.

Triggers

In its most basic form, a relapse can be understood as a deterioration after a period of increased improvement. This often results in an increase of unhelpful thinking patterns or behaviours and difficulty in managing and taking on day to day activities. In moments of relapse, there are often triggers, a date such as an anniversary, a change of job or ending of relationship for example. All these can provide uncertainty, and lead to an increased sense of fragility in one’s own mental states. These triggers can also be difficult to identify and occur outside of our conscious awareness. By increasing your own understanding of the things that can be detrimental to you during a period of depression, you may limit the risk of a relapse occurring.

Lost Progress

A depression relapse can be incredibly damaging and difficult to tolerate and can lead us to feel as if the progress or changes we made prior to a relapse have been swept away. Regaining our momentum or equilibrium can feel very difficult, and it can be challenging to hold onto any sense of historic achievement.

In other words, there can be a removal of the past and the future, and the sense that only the present remains. Without a sense of knowing or feeling what may happen beyond the current difficult and painful feelings, can be a worrying and difficult experience. This experience speaks to the power of depression, and the hold it can have on us.

Attacks On The Self

Being kinder to ourselves is never the easiest of tasks, and this challenge becomes more difficult during times of depression relapse. The internal persecutory voices we experience can become louder, more frequent and more damaging. These can be thought of as internal attacks on the self, and can be likened to a weakened immune system, more exposed and vulnerable to attack from infection. In our vulnerable moments, we can be more susceptible to latching on to this internal script and becoming entwined within it.

How To Identify A Relapse

A depression relapse will be different for us all and impact us in various ways depending on our personal experiences. However, there are some commonalities to look out for in identifying a relapse. The list below is not exhaustive and is intended to give an outline only.

·        Altered patterns of sleep – having less sleep, waking up in the night or difficulties getting up in the morning or a lack of sleep entirely

·        An increase in stress

·        Finding yourself feeling more on edge, anxious or worried than before

·        An increased persecutory internal voice

·        A lessening of personal care – not showering, eating or looking after yourself

·        A removal from social activities and a sense of needing to hide away

·        Noticeable changes in your usual behaviour – a lack of libido, an increase of insecurity or self-doubt

·        Problems with concentration, keeping focused or being active

How To Manage A Relapse

One of the key aspects to managing a relapse is acknowledging and accepting that it is happening. Being honest with yourself and allowing yourself the chance to name your experiences is of real importance. Whilst it can be painful to accept you might not be doing as well as you would like or feel disappointed or even ashamed you have found yourself once again in a similar position, acceptance offers the chance to begin the process of recovery. This is important because it allows us to offer ourselves kindness during a time when we can be most punishing towards ourselves.

As with identifying a relapse, managing one will also differ depending on our personal experiences. The list below offers some ideas on how we might manage a depression relapse and navigate the difficult feelings you may experience. Again, this list is not exhaustive.

·        Find some time for yourself to do something you enjoy

·        Reach out to a friend, colleague or family member in whatever way is most comfortable for you – depression thrives on silence, but can lessen when spoken about openly

·        Ask for someone to check in on you, to send you a text or give you a quick call – you don’t need someone monitoring your every move, but just having someone ask how you are can be very meaningful

·        Find some inspiration or creativity – re-establish connections to those parts of yourself which bring forth ideas and generate movement of creative thought

·        Try to exercise or get outside into nature – even a simple walk around a local park can be helpful

·        Work hard to re-establish your routine, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do everything as well as you could before

·        Take care of your body in the way which is most manageable for you – drinking less alcohol or eating more healthily can be helpful practices to keep in mind

How Psychotherapy Can Help

Psychotherapy offers a space to explore your thoughts, feelings and experiences, and to examine why or how a period of relapse may have occurred. It allows you the chance to verbalise what might be happening internally, and to have your experiences, no matter how small they may feel, to be heard. Most importantly, a relapse does not equate to failure, nor does it mean it is indefinite. As with all things, there is change and fluidity available, and nothing is set in stone.

 

Understanding And Managing Overthinking

In the modern world, we are almost constantly bombarded by visual and audio stimuli from a wide variety of sources, offered choice on a vast scale and provided with the opportunity to access anything at any time.

This energetic, alive and sometimes overwhelming world can make the experience of overthinking more common. In the moments where we find thoughts difficult to tolerate, it can feel as though a relatively innocuous or unimportant event can send us spiralling into a panic, where we simply cannot stop thinking, or more accurately, cannot think clearly.

The stream of thoughts we experience can feel limitless in their growth and diversity, from one thing to another in a matter of seconds. Managing to settle the mind enough to think clearly and accurately can feel very difficult.

This blog aims to look at overthinking and how we might understand and manage it, consider why we may overthink, investigate what gets lost in overthinking and its use as a mechanism of defence, briefly explore the links between anxiety and overthinking, and explore the benefits of psychotherapy.

Why Might We Overthink?

Overthinking can be both alluring and tiring. We may feel we it offers us the chance to solve a problem, think our way out of something difficult or achieve radical change. Whilst this is not untrue, the process can also be exhaustive and difficult to escape.

The reasons behind overthinking will differ for each of us individually and will depend upon our internal availability for certain thought patterns, feelings or ideas. This said, there are certainly some commonalities to be considered. The below list, whilst not exhaustive, provides an idea of some of the reasons for overthinking –

·        Fearing the situation is uncontrollable

The more out of control we consider something to be, the more we might try to think of every conceivable outcome to try and regain some control. However, this can feel difficult to escape from, and can promote an escalation of overthinking.

·        The panic of indecision

Fear of making the wrong choice or decision can be crippling, leading to what can feel like an infinitely tiring and difficult quagmire to negotiate. Struggling to come to a decision, can add to the sense that there is no control over difficult thoughts or feelings.

·        Worrying we may fail

The fear of failure is never far away, and in every outcome, there is inevitably a loss as well as a gain.

·        Catastrophizing

An exaggeration of our worries can often lead to the idea of catastrophe at every corner, adding to the cycle of overthinking.

·        Intellectualizing

Rationally talking through something difficult, provides the opportunity to avoid the difficult feelings involved.

What Gets Lost In Overthinking

The paradox of overthinking is that, rather than lead to actual thought, it prevents it. A swarm of ideas, suggestions or notions overwhelms the capacity for genuine and meaningful thought. This leads to something being lost, not considered or all together dismissed. By providing a million and one suggestions, the salient points get swept away in a tide of confusion.

Overthinking As A Mechanism Of Defence

It is helpful to consider the process of overthinking as an internal mechanism of defence. What do I mean by a mechanism of defence? An unconscious psychological mechanism which operates to reduce anxiety occurring from experiences or stimuli that might be harmful or unacceptable.

Considering the above definition, we can see how an influx of thoughts might be used to distract us from something difficult or ward off or protect against painful thoughts. Overthinking therefore, blocks important or meaningful ideas, but is done under the guise of sheltering us from reaching a realisation that might be difficult.

The Link Between Overthinking And Anxiety

Given what has been written above, it is not difficult to see how one might make the link between anxiety and overthinking. The more thinking we do, the more anxious we might become, the less answers or solutions overthinking provides, the more we may try and think ourselves out of something difficult. This frustrating and unhelpful cycle can feel very unsettling and difficult to avoid. In this way, we can see how anxiety promotes overthinking, adds to the sense of it feeling pervasive and damaging.

Overthinking difficult or upsetting thoughts is an anxious, and simultaneously, almost addictive experience. Choosing to locate and think about those things for which we cannot answer, or find upsetting is rather common. Perhaps it is easier to do this, than to provide ourselves with reassurance or care. This seems to sum up the both the rewarding and difficult aspects of overthinking quite well.

How Psychotherapy Can Help

Feeling as though you are filled with a never-ending stream of thoughts and ideas can be a tiring experience, as can finding a balance between the need for thoughts, feelings and ideas, and possessing clarity, understanding and a sense of feeling settled.

Psychotherapy can offer you the chance to think in depth about your patterns of overthinking and allow you to sift through what feels significant and what is perhaps masking your feelings or experiences.

Psychotherapy provides the chance for equal weight to be given to all ideas, thoughts and feelings, and values that there is meaning and importance to be found in all that is experienced, thought and said. This creates a space where overthinking can be examined, discussed and considered carefully and thoughtfully, allowing you the chance to live a life that feels more real, meaningful and connected.

In Closing

We all have the capacity to overthink, get lost in thoughts and find it difficult to calm our minds. Overthinking is not wholly negative, nor is it something which can necessarily be known in the moment it is happening. It has protective qualities to it, that to some extent are necessary. However, when it occurs to excess, it can be a tiring, difficult and frustrating experience. Learning to identify it when it happens allows us the ability to moderate it, and to learn from it.

The Importance Of Psychotherapy During The Division Of Brexit

This blog aims to explore the themes of division and uncertainty created and cultivated during the process of Brexit and the changing political landscape we currently inhabit. I aim to consider the important role psychotherapy has during these times of division, and how it may help you to process the feelings or experiences related to Brexit.

‘Strexit’

The impact Brexit has had on those living and working within the UK cannot be underestimated. Indeed, this tumultuous process has left an indelible mark upon the UK and its inhabitants. The political pendulum we have all been living with induces a high degree of stress, and the knock on effects of an uncertain political and societal future can be difficult to manage.

The term ‘Strexit’, whilst slightly laden with comedic value, also has a real and difficult meaning, and has been slowly creeping into our wider consciousness over the past few months. The stress of not knowing where we are or where we might end up, is understandably worrying, and the adoption of the term ‘Strexit’, incapsulates well the difficulties inherent in this political breakup, and what it might mean for us at a personal level.

A Landscape Of Division

We live in an increasingly divided and polarised world where powerful ideas and feelings are present irrespective of your political standpoint. This political landscape is increasingly split, and somewhat binary, either left or right leaning. In many ways, this is representative of a current world view, where other countries are separated in a similar fashion.

Brexit has created a genuine and powerful time of uncertainty for many of us living in the UK and abroad. Fears about where, how or when our home might be changed, or whether we will still be welcome are difficult to understand and manage. The global political landscape is also shifting, as are the views and ideas about the future of our planet.

It can be difficult knowing where or how one can fit in this changing landscape, and often it can feel as though there is a need to choose a side in order to find a place to fit in and settle. Yet, surely we cannot think in such binary or concrete terms, surely grey areas exist and require some discussion and thought?

The mixture of deep uncertainty has given way to powerful climate of division, where people are unsure of their position and what the future may hold for them or those they love. It would seem that this division creates and sustains ideas around separation and loss, and perpetuates themes of abandonment and isolation. These ideas further propel a notion of division over unity, when what is required is the opposite.

This, I believe, is where psychotherapy offers a unique and meaningful way of understanding the divisions and splits brought about through Brexit, and how we can negotiate and consider them more carefully.

How Psychotherapy Can Help Navigate A Split Political Landscape

Psychotherapy has an incredibly important role and position in these times of division, confusion, uncertainty and upset. This position, I believe, is one of bringing together disparate, confused and divided thoughts and feelings, both at a personal and societal level, and providing an opportunity to explore, navigate and consider them. Offering the individual the chance to consider not only their experiences, but the wider impact of this political and societal landscape. Psychotherapy offers the chance to hold in mind multiple positions or feelings, without the need to condemn or champion these. To inhabit the ambivalence of the world, to explore how differently we might feel from one day to the next, as we may feel differently about the ever changing political landscape.

These polarised times can leave us feeling split, unsure of positions we once thought were reliable or sustainable, and questioning aspects of our lives, work or relationships. When the outside world feels uncertain, so too can our internal world, and the impact of the political decisions certainly do not occur in a bubble, and we are not immune from policy makers or politicians in Westminster. Psychotherapy is not just about understanding the struggles and difficulties of the individual, but also of the societal, and global difficulties faced by us all.

Psychotherapy offers you a space to –

  • Investigate, consider and be curious about the world we live in
  • Think about the positions and roles we take up during times of uncertainty
  • Consider our ideas about Brexit, and how it makes us feel
  • Examine the changing relationships we have, and the impact Brexit has on them
  • Allow us to experience and consider the unknown, and how uncertainty makes us feel
  • Reflect upon the concepts of home, security and fear at losing these

Division At An Unconscious Level

The unconscious impact Brexit has on us cannot be devalued. How can we, if living in a time of division, experience being settled at an internal level? The division of Brexit and our political climate has important connections with our internal world. The persecutory or dismissive political and societal voices that get communicated to us through the the media, find their way into our internal world. Notions of being pushed aside, or not being good enough can pervade, leading to difficult and often painful realisations about ourselves or who we thought we were, and how we think of ourselves can change.

The Impact Brexit Has On Our Relationships

What then can be thought of regarding the impact Brexit has on our relationships. Perhaps, differing political opinions or views create relational difficulties, or perhaps in the light of Brexit, you or your partner are now uncertain of their future in the UK. What impact might this have on a relationship, and how might it make you feel to consider having to move to a different country, to uproot a life built here? These are uncertain and challenging ideas, worthy of consideration.

Psychotherapy offers you a space to –

  • Reflect on uncertainty in your relationships brought about through our current political landscape
  • Consider how this uncertainty influences your relationships
  • Explore the personal impact the changing political landscape has had on you or your family
  • Unpack how your relationships might have changed during this time
  • Think about the future of your relationships in the changing landscapes we live in

Psychotherapy As A Force For Social Change

Bombarded on all sides by split ideas and political views, finding unity or togetherness can feel impossible. However, I believe, that through gaining an understanding of ourselves and the internal splits and polarised views we hold about ourselves, can provide an important opportunity to understand the world, and more importantly where we fit within it.

Psychotherapy is a force for social change, as well as a vessel for gaining deeper personal understanding of the self. When understood this way, I believe it takes up an important social position, enables difficult topics to be breached, painful experiences to be named, and for a greater sense of clarity to be gained for us all.

Understanding fear of intimacy – A brief exploration

We as humans are relational beings, and inherent in all of our relationships is a need for physical and or emotional closeness and intimacy. We need to develop, build and experience relational bonds and experience closeness from another person. For some people however, intimacy is not so simple, and for some people it can be a source of fear, worry and difficulty. In this article, I aim to look at possible reasons for why people might develop a fear of intimacy, detail some of the symptoms people might exhibit and lastly, how psychotherapy can help those who may be struggling with a fear of intimacy.

What is a fear of intimacy?

At points, we all experience find ourselves contemplating the validity or meaning of our intimacy or closeness to another person. We may have concerns over the outcome of the relationship, whether we will be rejected, that the relationship will deteriorate or that our feelings of affection or care won’t be returned.

A fear of intimacy can be triggered by positive emotions or closeness more than by negative responses, and being chosen by a partner, experiencing their loving feelings, can bring about deeply held fears about intimacy.

 In simple terms, a fear of intimacy or closeness with others, is an often unconscious process, which frequently and significantly impacts an individual’s ability to form or maintain close relationships. This fear is of both physical and emotional intimacy, and tends to show up in people’s closest and most meaningful relationships.

A fear of intimacy could also be understood as a set of highly complex behaviours, emotions, feelings and thoughts which can prevent people from having meaningful long lasting relationships or that disrupt existing relationships. These fears do not only occur in romantically intimate relationships, but within platonic or familial relationships too.

Fearing intimacy is also not as simple as just a fear, and often holds within it a range of other difficulties, such as ambivalent feelings or uncertainty about these relational experiences. It is this complexity which means that these processes are difficult to understand and manage.

Due to the unconscious nature of having fears of intimacy, people do not intentionally reject love or care from another person. Instead what may happen, is during times of closeness, people may find ways of reacting with behaviours that create tension, strain or discomfort in the relationship, often leading to a premature end of a relationship, or one ending before it has had time to fully begin or develop, in essence, before a deep level of intimacy has had time to form.

How or why does a fear of intimacy develop?

 A fear of intimacy can develop for a number of different reasons, but for many people, it has its roots in childhood, and stems from the relationship between the infant and the primary caregiver. Infants express their needs (hunger, sleep, safety etc.) via crying or interacting with the caregiver or parent.

Over time, infants learn whether or not their needs will be met with either consistent responses of warmth, or with anger or irritation. Sometimes needs aren’t met at all, and as this cycle of expressing our needs and having them responded to develops in those first few years of our lives, we develop strong and lasting connections in our minds related to what relationships mean to us which stay present in adulthood.

These core beliefs developed in childhood can relate to a feeling we have about ourselves that we are in some way not enough, not good enough or somehow lacking in loveable qualities, or that we are bad, unlovable or in some way deficient. While these attitudes may be unpleasant, difficult or painful, they are also familiar to us, and to an extent maybe even comfortable. We can get used to their presence in our unconscious mind, driving our behaviours or creating patterns and processes in our relationships.

Symptoms of fear of intimacy

There are a number of symptoms or responses related to a fear of intimacy in a close emotional and or physical, and this will vary depending on each individual. The below list is meant as a guide only and is not exhaustive.

  • Feelings of unease or discomfort when expressing emotional truths
  • Fear of revealing deep feelings, discussing difficult or unpleasant personal experiences
  • Difficulty discussing emotionally painful experiences
  • Difficulty in showing concern for a distressed partner
  • Unease or discomfort when expressing affection
  • Difficulty in trusting a partner with personal information
  • Difficulty in being spontaneous in the presence of a partner
  • Fear that a partner may need you more than you need them
  • Unease or difficulty in expressing personal need
  • Discomfort or unease with open communication in a relationship

How psychotherapy can help

 Psychotherapy provides an opportunity to explore past relationships and early childhood experiences, and think about how these may have shaped you. It provides a space to examine fears or worries about intimacy that you may have, think in depth about patterns which may have developed in your adult relationships. Psychotherapy will assist you in working on deeply held beliefs you may have about yourself, challenge these, and ultimately work towards once again having meaningful relationships.

 In closing

 As adults, we may make the mistake of thinking that our behaviours in relationships are set in stone, that we will be afraid of intimacy for our entire lives. However, despite these fears having deep roots, they are not so deeply set that they cannot change. It is possible to rethink how we view ourselves and how the worth we ascribe to ourselves. We can be intimate, share our feelings, express our needs and wants, and experience meaningful and satisfying relationships.

Understanding Ambivalence in Loss and Grief

What is ambivalent loss?

In simple terms, ambivalence can be understood as a state of tension that occurs when we have opposing beliefs, feelings or behaviours towards a person, object, experience or situation.

A certain level of ambivalence in any relationship is universal, and not necessarily always hugely significant. In fact, there are few relationships that are devoid of or not complicated, by some level of hostility or difficulty at some point.

When considering ambivalence in loss and grief, it is safe to assume that it is common for most people dealing with the death of a loved one. It was Freud who believed that an important precursor to depression in the wake of the death of a loved one, was if the relationship before death was an ambivalent one.

There are many books written on mourning and grief, on how to cope with loss, or how to adapt to loneliness of loss. But, where are the resources for those who had a conflicted relationship, where is the book on managing unsaid or unspoken feelings or emotions, where is the book to help guide through a eulogy or funeral where you wish to speak up, but do not know how due unspoken ambivalence.

In this brief article, I aim to consider ambivalence in loss and grief, outline how or why ambivalent loss may occur, explore how to manage ambivalent loss, and look at how psychotherapy can help.

 How or why ambivalent loss may occur

 Each experience of loss and grief is unique and personal, however as explained earlier, ambivalence in loss and grief is fairly common. Below are some reasons which could lead to ambivalence in the grieving process. This list is no means exhaustive, and is given as an example only.

 Unfinished or unresolved feelings

This is a common component of ambivalent loss, yet can be very difficult to manage. Grieving can be interrupted when there are unresolved difficulties or feelings towards the person who has die. Ambivalence occurs due to the confliction of feelings, because on the one hand you may experience a sense of relief, and at the same time feel hurt that the things you wanted to say, even if these were negative, were not ever fully vocalized.

 Lack of contact before the death

A period of lack of communication, contact or relationship before the death can lead to a deep sense of ambivalence, and can raise questions about the distance between you and the person who has died, and the nature of your relationship. There can be a sense of longing to go back and change those elements of the relationship which led to the lack of communication, and bring about regret and maybe guilt.

 An abusive or psychologically damaging relationship

This a highly complex topic and therefore, the following is given only as a brief overview. Locating the true nature of this type of ambivalent loss can be incredibly difficult, as it takes an exploration of complicated ambivalent thoughts. On the one hand, the death of a person who may have represented terror, trauma, pain and hurt, and for whom you may hold anger or hatred. On the other, there can also be a sense of loss for someone for whom at one point you may have felt care, or even love for. Reconciling these two opposing views is incredibly challenging, leading in some cases to a sense of shame for even experiencing grief instead of rejoicing the death of someone who may have put you through very painful experiences.

 Remembering the deceased differently to others

When your experience or memory of the deceased is wholly different to that of others, especially family members or friends, can make grieving very difficult. Remembering the person who has died with negative feelings can feel somehow feel disingenuous, unfair or even untrue. It can lead to a sense of ambivalence about the true nature of your feelings, and a desire to keep these feelings hidden for fear of upsetting others.

 Managing ambivalent loss

 Managing or understanding ambivalent loss will be different for each person, but there are some strategies which can assist in this process. The list below is not comprehensive or exhaustive, and is given as an example only –

  • Remember ambivalence is a natural part of the grieving process
  • Remember ambivalent feelings or thoughts you might be embarrassed or ashamed about, do not take away from the positive qualities you remember about the person
  • Allow space in your mind for the conflicting thoughts, and know that this is ok
  • Talk openly about your thoughts with someone who you know is able to listen
  • Remember that thoughts are only thoughts, they do not always equate to truth, and you are not a bad person for simply having them

How psychotherapy can help

 Grief and loss are universal, inevitable and unavoidable elements of life. But when loss is left unexplored, left unspoken or thought about, difficult feelings can surface, leading to ambivalence and difficulty in facilitating the grieving process. Psychotherapy can assist in the process of unravelling grief, provide a space where all aspects of loss are open for debate, and reflection. Psychotherapy offers an opportunity to look in depth at the conflicted feelings you may have surrounding the death, and can enable you to explore these, with the view to understanding in more detail how you feel.

 In closing

 As previously stated, a degree of ambivalence is to be expected, and is a normal element of the grieving process. Nonetheless, it can be incredibly difficult and painful to grieve when you experience conflicting emotions for the person who has died.

 Grief will never have a clear-cut path, nor will it ever follow a pattern, and no theory on grief can ever explain how you will feel, but given time and reflection on the full range of our conflicted emotions and feelings, we will be able to work towards finding ourselves in a place where can begin to make sense of the process of grief and loss.

Understanding Ambivalence In Relationships

Ambivalence or uncertainty of any kind can be an anxious experience which can make us feel that our sense of safety and security has been threatened. Due to the nature of human connection, we can become psychologically, emotionally or even biologically connected to those we love. The mechanisms which drive human connections are powerful, and uncertainty puts them in a state of flux. This can lead to internal alarms being raised, and both body and mind seek a resolution and desire to feel secure and attached. Ambivalence both invites us to desire closeness whilst also avoiding becoming too detached.

Bouts of ambivalent feelings are to be expected within a relationship, and it is important to note that when we find ourselves questioning our relationship, it does not mean the relationships is falling apart; instead it is important to recognise ambivalence as a sign that feelings have surfaced which require attention.

What Causes Relational Ambivalence?

There are many reasons for ambivalence to appear within relationships and each relationship will contain its own set of difficulties, triggers and experiences which may lead someone to ambivalent feelings. Maybe you fear losing the relationship despite not being totally happy with your partner, or maybe you find it too painful to admit that your relationship may not be as it once was.

Ambivalence by its very nature contains negative and positive emotions and feelings, which jostle for space in our minds. It is painful to hold in our minds exclusively negative thoughts about those we love, or to think that we don’t love or care for our partner, or even that we’d prefer to be with someone else. We find ourselves switching between different feelings because settling on either one is too difficult or painful.

Below I have listed some common reasons why relationship ambivalence can occur and why it can continue without being addressed.

Fearing Consequences

It can be common to have a fearful anticipation of what could happen if you took action and addressed your relationship concerns. You may worry a conflict could arise if there is a history of explosive arguments, or feel apprehensive you may start something which could be worse than the ambivalence itself. Or even that you may open yourself up to ridicule, anger or mistreatment from your partner.

Naturally, people fear losing their relationship, connection and bond, so there can be a sense that it is not safe to disrupt the status quo of the relationship, despite not being totally happy with it. Even admitting a relationship may be experiencing difficulties feels terrifying enough for people to remain silent or to minimize or dismiss their ambivalent feelings. This can lead to people being stuck due to becoming continually focused on trying to avoid the inner discomfort they are experiencing rather than acknowledging and addressing it.

Torn Between Values Or Beliefs

During the duration of a relationship, we will inevitably change and grow as individuals, and sometimes that means our values or beliefs shift. It is great when you and your partner both shift and find ways to exist with different values or ideas, but this is not always possible. For example, one individual may realise that they do not want children, while their partner is very settled on the idea and feels very strongly about having children.

A difference in values or beliefs can be pivotal in creating relational ambivalence, and can contribute to the struggle for compromise or the desire for one person to shift their ideas. Although making sense of the exact values in conflict may not alleviate the ambivalence entirely, the act of naming them and discussing them will help ease the pressure, which can make it easier to come to decisions about the relationship.

Self-Esteem

Often the tensions we experience are related to either wanting or needing something from the other, and not being able to ask for it. People, who have a healthier level of self-esteem, may find it much easier to understand their needs matter and have value. This should not be seen as selfish, but instead that you are aware of your needs and require attention from your partner. Relationships require the renegotiation of our needs, desires and wants, for the relationship to effectively grow and flourish.

In Closing

By understanding what underlies relational ambivalence, you can more fully take steps toward to resolving conflict. This is by no means an easy task, and requires time, effort and potentially the help of an external mediator, such as a psychotherapist, or counsellor. Facing these difficult parts of the relationship may be hard, but no more so than living with ambivalence and not expressing it.

Ultimately, our close relationships hold much sway over how we feel and influence and impact on our decisions. Nothing can activate intense, powerful and also potentially destructive feelings like our relationships with those we love and care about.