Ambivalence – A Brief Exploration

What is ambivalence?

The word ambivalence can be used for a wide array of psychological conflicts that involve conflicting factors, thoughts or feelings. The term was first used by the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler and later by Sigmund Freud who used the word to describe conflicts which related to love and hate.

Ambivalence could be understood as a state of tension that occurs when we have opposing beliefs, feelings or behaviours towards a person, object, experience or situation. Ambivalent feelings can often be fluid in their nature, meaning they can be experienced differently from moment to moment. Ambivalent feelings also often occur simultaneously, and hold within them both positive and negative components. When we are torn between different feelings, we may weigh arguments one way or the other, and try to decide on the right course of action, yet after much back and forth, often still can’t decide on an appropriate course of action. This process can become paralysing and exhausting. In many ways it demonstrates that our motivation to engage in one particular course of action is often driven by competing needs and desires that will go back and forth for priority, importance or meaning.

Examples of ambivalence

Ambivalence is a complex concept, but is also a relatively simple one that could be explained quite easily by the following example: Someone goes to an Italian restaurant but struggles with the menu and can’t decide whether to order pasta or pizza. This type of ambivalence is common and can also be understood as indecisiveness.

A deeper and more serious example of ambivalent feelings is given below:

Jack, a 37 year old man, enters into therapy after a recent row with his father. Jack explains he worships and idolises his father, and says he wishes he could be like him. He speaks about his father with nothing but adoration. On the surface, it would seem Jack has mainly positive feelings towards him but after one particularly difficult session Jack explains, ‘He used to become angry at me often… he told me I was pathetic, that I was stupid.’. Jack quickly takes this statement back saying, ‘He was only doing what he thought was right as a father, he was trying to toughen me up a bit. I can’t think about him like that, after all he’s done for me’.

Jack spends many sessions going back and forth between loving his father and also holding extreme anger against him. This conflict was summed up succinctly in one session with Jack saying the following statement ‘I love him and want to be like him, but also nothing like him. He was cruel… he was mean.’

As the brief above example shows, the strength of ambivalent feelings can be powerful, overwhelming and at points very painful. When we hold within us such strong opposing feelings, especially for someone we love, have loved in the past or someone who has died, it can be difficult to know how we truly feel now, how we felt before, or indeed whether we are permitted to have negative feelings about them. Guilt and shame can often enter into the fray with ambivalence, and it is common for people to feel that this ambivalence should be hidden from others lest we be judged or thought of badly.

Whilst there are often situations where an individual is aware of their ambivalent or undecided feelings, as in the above example of Jack, it is not always so simple. Often people hold their ambivalence unconsciously, without fully understanding it is there. An example of this follows:

Marie, a 30 year old woman begins a course of therapy seeking to understand her life in more depth, why her last few relationships have broken down prematurely and how she can better understand her current relationship. Marie explains her parents divorced when she was 10 but says that this didn’t impact her too much as her parents kept up good communication and the divorce was amicable. She explains that when her current girlfriend expressed to her how much she liked her, her initial reaction was to laugh and tell her to stop being so silly. Her girlfriend was hugely upset, but Marie explained she couldn’t understand why. As the session went on, Marie explained that in that moment, she had found it uncomfortable and upsetting that her girlfriend had been so caring towards her, yet she had also felt cared for.

In one particularly moving session for both Marie and her therapist, she explains that her previous relationships had ended because she felt they had become too close to her, or that they had become too attached or dependant on her. This led Marie to explore her conflicting feelings related to relationships and being cared for. On the one hand she wishes to be valued and cared for, but on the other is mistrustful of relationships and people caring for her. This stemmed from her parents’ divorce, which left her dubious about whether people can be in relationships effectively, whether they can last or that they will work at all.

As this example shows, ambivalence plays out in subtle and intricate ways within our unconscious mind and the patterns we follow are often occurring due to our desires and drives that we seek to meet or dismiss, even if we are not consciously aware of this happening.

In closing

Inherently tied into ambivalence is a sense of sadness or loss of what we could have or what we might miss out on. The truth is that much of life involves uncertainty about any number of known or unknown elements and it is natural to experience difficulties in making up our minds, or have periods of indecision, indecisiveness or uncertainty.

The balance between our needs and desires shifts constantly, as do our current priorities, motivations and feelings. Ambivalence is less an enemy to be feared, and more a representation of the internal conflicts we all experience in life

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – A Brief Exploration

What Is PTSD?

During World War 1, the term Shell Shock was used to describe what was initially thought to be the effect of intense artillery fire on those involved in warfare, but was later understood as the result of stress soldiers experienced in intense combat. The term PTSD became well known when it was associated with veterans of the Vietnam War, and was later mentioned in the third edition of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in the early 80s.

Today, PTSD is researched, understood and valued by many as a very real and impactful mental health condition. PTSD is used to describe a range of symptoms people may develop in response to experiencing events outside of their normal range of experiences, such as natural disasters, mass catastrophes or serious accidental injuries.


PTSD often has a delayed response, meaning an individual may not experience its symptoms at the time. It is common for people to feel distressed, confused and upset in the wake of a traumatic event, and may also feel emotionally numb, withdrawn or detached.

The impact, effects and psychological difficulties experienced through PTSD are diverse, depending on the individual, and there is no typical pattern in which PTSD occurs, furthermore, not all those who experience traumatic experiences develop PTSD, and of those that do, some may experience prolonged difficulties, whereas others find their symptoms disappear in a relatively short space of time.

Below are some of the symptoms an individual may experience with PTSD.

Reliving aspects of the trauma

  • vivid flashbacks – feeling the trauma happening again
  • intrusive thoughts or images
  • experiencing nightmares
  • intense distress at real or symbolic reminders or representations of the trauma
  • physical sensations – shivering, trembling, sweating or nausea.

Feeling on edge

  • panicking when reminded of the trauma
  • becoming easily upset or angry
  • disturbed sleeping patterns, or lack of sleep
  • aggressive, irritable behavior
  • difficulties concentrating
  • easily startled or frightened
  • self-destructive or reckless behaviours.

Avoiding feelings

  • unable to express affection for others
  • using alcohol or drugs to avoid painful memories
  • keeping busy
  • repressing memories or unable to remember aspects of the event
  • feeling detached or numb
  • avoiding situations which remind you of the trauma.

Some people who experience PTSD may also develop other mental health difficulties, which could include:

  • severe anxiety or panic
  • a phobia
  • differing levels of depression
  • a dissociative disorder
  • suicidal thoughts and feelings.


The situations and experiences which people find traumatic vary, however PTSD typically develops from situations which are life threatening, disturbing and highly traumatic. These could include:

  • a serious accident, such as a car crash
  • an event where you feared for your life
  • personal assaults such as rape, sexual assault or a violent attack
  • childhood sexual abuse
  • a traumatic childbirth, either as a mother or partner
  • witnessing a violent death
  • extreme war or combat
  • a natural disaster
  • losing someone close to you in disturbing circumstances.

There are other factors which can make people more vulnerable to developing PTSD, or could even make the symptoms experienced more severe. These could include:

  • experiencing repeated trauma, as a soldier in war, or a civilian experiencing war
  • having little support from family, friends or professionals
  • previously experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health difficulties
  • dealing with added stress at the time, such as a bereavement.

If you experiencing trauma at an early age or if the trauma was extended over a period of time, as in the case of prolonged childhood abuse, then you may be diagnosed with what is known as ‘complex PTSD’, meaning that treatment required is more long term and intense, than that which is needed to recover from a one off traumatic event. Of course, there are no absolutes with PTSD, and each individual will respond to prolonged or one off experiences differently.


After a traumatic event, many people find it hard to accept what has happened, and may behave as if nothing bad occurred. This response may allow time away from the trauma, and subconsciously, you may be beginning to process what you experienced. When you are ready, you may find some of the following ideas helpful.

Talk to someone

Talking about your experiences can be a good way of coming to terms with what happened, and turning to friends or relatives, or seeking professional help can assist you in the first stages of understanding your trauma.

Talk to people with similar experiences or contact an organisation

It may be helpful to share your experiences with others who have been through something similar. This can be an extremely important step in moving away from isolation and towards regaining control. There are many UK organisations which can assist, such as Assist Trauma Care, Combat Stress or Freedom From Torture. Taking the first step in searching your local area will make a big difference to you gaining ownership of your life, and realising that your past experiences do not own you.

How Psychotherapy Can Help

Psychotherapy can assists you in delicately exploring your trauma, and seeing how your past experiences have impacted your feelings in the present. In a safe environment, you can explore the emotional responses you have experienced through your trauma, and can go at your own pace to learn ways to manage these intense emotions and feelings.

In Closing

What makes traumatic experiences so difficult to manage and process, is that they undermine our fundamental beliefs we hold that our lives are safe, secure and manageable. They are outside of our normal range of experience, which makes them shocking, overwhelming and powerful.

Everyone has a unique response to trauma, and will proceed at their own pace. Talking before you want to may not be helpful for you and it may take you a little more time before you feel ready to speak.

By seeking the right support and learning to understand and manage the impact of these experiences, you can find light, movement and progression, and move toward seeing you are not bound to, or owned by your past experiences.

Why The Use Of Imagination in Psychotherapy Matters

People enter into therapy for different reasons, whether to understand bereavement and loss, or to explore a recent spate of anxiety. In therapy there are many aspects of our lives, experiences and relationships which can be explored. Therapy emphasises the importance of exploring our minds, seeking truth or clarity and uncovering our past. This exploratory process takes place in the hope that we may unburden ourselves from a myriad of complex thoughts or feelings.

This is why imagination becomes so important in therapy, because it allows us to explore thoughts and experiences, which if shared in the outside world, may not be understood. Imagination enables us to view or interpret experiences with a variety of different lenses which we can alter, change or shift as our mind explores concepts further.

Why Imagination Matters

All of us hold the potential for imagination, creativity and reflective thought, and can benefit from thinking outside the box. Imagination matters because it is fundamental to who we are. It is linked with dreams, ideas and what makes us individual and unique. No one will ever see, understand or engage with our imagination as well as we will ourselves. We are connected to imagination throughout life from an early age. Imagination assists with development and growth in infancy, and helps us to learn the boundaries of the world we are learning about and exploring.

Some people in therapy benefit more from working within the world of metaphor and imagination, than exploring what is more factual or ‘real’. The idea that progress can only be made if one owns up to their difficulties, admits fault or is real with oneself, is not an absolute. Of course, there must be some ownership of thoughts feelings and ideas, but this is not the only route to progress in therapy. In fact, it can be in abstract or creative patterns of thinking, which can lead us down meaningful avenues of self-exploration and growth.

Imagination not only assists with healing, growth and understanding in therapy, but also contributes to a person’s personal and mental development. Actively using imagination in therapy assists with transpersonal development, meaning it allows people to understand experiences which extend beyond the personal level of their psyche. Imagination, and reflective thinking, can assist someone in making links between their experiences and thoughts and help them form more detailed connections in their lives.

Free Association, Metaphor & Imagery

Freud believed greatly in the importance of imagery, metaphor, symbols and dreams. He believed much could be deciphered from a person’s unconscious processes, and that these became clearer through an individual’s use of language, imagery and metaphor. He encouraged people to express any and all thoughts which floated into their minds during a session. No image, thought or idea was too small, and all held value and meaning.

Exploring the mind without hindrance, censorship or embarrassment is a key tenant of Freudian therapy, and is known as free association. The idea behind this concept is that by speaking freely, a person will, through imagery, metaphor and language, reveal deeper aspects of their unconscious mind, which for several reasons may have been covered up.

Metaphor in therapy is not easy to define, and depends hugely on each client and therapist relationship, and how a therapist or client may understand particular metaphors used. For example, a therapist may use their own understanding or knowledge of theory to infer meaning to a metaphor which a client did not mean, or a client may have several understandings for a metaphor. Imagery which was considered safe, may become dangerous or unsafe. Through imagination, we can add or remove meaning as necessary, and there are no wrong or right answers. Thoughts that that once made sense may shift and become confusing and difficult. Through actively seeking an imaginative understanding, we can make these ideas more malleable and fluid.

The reason imagination matters in therapy is because it can allow a client to express how they are feeling about something when the direct use of words may be too painful. Symbols and metaphors can be used in place of complex and difficult memories or feelings. A brief fictional example of this is below.

Client Sometimes I feel like a decaying rusty anchor, lying on the ocean floor.

Therapist  Can you say a little more about what the image of an anchor might represent?

Client  It represents feeling unused and forgotten. It represents feeling heavy.

Therapist – Can you say more?

Client – I feel unable to stop decaying, that I am destined to remain on the ocean floor.

Therapist – Does the anchor represent you and your depression?

Client – Yes, and right now I feel chained to it. I do not know if I will ever leave the ocean floor. I may rust over some much, that I will be incapable of life.

As the above example shows, the metaphor of a rusty decaying anchor, held behind it a powerful feeling of helplessness, depression and sadness. The use of imagination in place of words enabled this person to explain the depth of their sadness, which was equivalent to the depths of the ocean itself.

In Closing

Imagination is a personal and private part of our lives, to which we alone can attribute meaning, value or feelings. The vastness and complexity of the mind, means that often thoughts, feelings and ideas become jumbled up, confused or lost. Therapy can assist you in detangling these aspects of your mind, and provide you with a greater sense of clarity, and allow you to see things in a different light.

Imagination could be viewed as providing a symbolic bridge between our conscious and unconscious thoughts, as a container or a conductor of psychological energies, feelings and sensations. Ultimately, it gives us a platform for expression, offers a wide array of tools to understand ourselves at greater depth, and when used within therapy, provides us with the chance to consider and reflect upon what could be, what might have been, what was, and what is.

Men’s Mental Health – Masculinity & Feelings

Due to the way young boys are socialised in education and society, their ability to deal with emotions has been systematically undermined from a young age. They are taught that certain aspects of their personality are not acceptable to others, taught not to feel, cry or express how they feel. In school, they’re shown the games they should or shouldn’t play, and may be mocked for liking ‘girl’s toys’ such as dolls. Rarely throughout school are they encouraged to engage with their feelings.

Television and advertising play a large part in how men view themselves and their feelings. Films and magazines paint a picture of what a ‘real man’ looks like. Men are bombarded by perceptions of masculinity, usually connected to muscles and bravado. Over time they are made to believe that being a man entails these specific criteria, and if they do not fit within these boxes they are not ‘man enough’.

These perceptions of masculinity can lead a culture of silence and fear, and a deep sense of shame permeating throughout male culture. The perceived definition of what it means to be a man is not only outdated and ridiculous, but harmful, not only for the men of today, but those of the future, who see this as the only way of being. The idea that men are to remain strong, silent and capable is a total myth, and belongs in the past.

Why Don’t Men Discuss Their Feelings Or Emotions?

Masculinity, and what it means to be a man, has been implanted, grown and developed in the minds of men since childhood. Men grow up witnessing the stereotypes of masculine heroes, who are self-sufficient, strong and capable. The role of offering emotional support is not one associated with being manly, and is therefore dismissed.

The reality is that many men experience mental health difficulties. In fact over 3 million men in the UK have a mental health difficulty, and the charity Mind previously found that 37% of men in the UK feel worried or low. The top three issues playing on their minds were job security, work and money.

I have listed some common reasons men may find it difficult to speak about their issues. This list is not exhaustive, and is meant only to highlight common difficulties.

  • Men often stigmatise themselves, leading to a sense of shame or embarrassment regarding their mental health difficulties
  • Men are often embarrassed to admit to others, particularly other men, and to themselves that they struggle, even if their troubles are considerable
  • Men often ‘put up’ with difficulties, which can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed later
  • Men often don’t display traditional symptoms of mental health difficulties, and may instead ‘act out’, through drug use, alcohol or aggression
  • These factors can lead to mental health difficulties being undiagnosed or overlooked in men

Men & Suicide

According to the office of national statistics, the ratio of male to female suicides has shown a sustained rise over the last 30 years. In 1981, 62% of suicides in the UK were male, and in 2014 this figure had risen to 76%. Suicide is the single biggest cause of death in men under the age of 45 in the UK.

So, why are the statistics for male suicide so high? Men have been conditioned to be less in touch with their emotions, to not show weakness, and often feel they have an image to uphold. Fearing someone may find out their weakness and judge them as inferior can be terrifying. The expectations of manliness make it difficult for men to feel comfortable in expressing they are having a bad time. Not being strong, essentially equates to them feeling as if they have failed as a man.

Needing to uphold this masculine image is tiring, especially if you are unable to speak to someone. Combining the idea of ‘failed masculinity’ with losing a job or relationship for example, can lead to devastating consequences, where men feel so ashamed and inferior that taking their own life seems the only option.

How Therapy Can Help

It would be inaccurate to say men do not seek help, or that all men are strong, silent and dismissive of feelings. However, often it is not until a point of crisis that men seek help. It is crucial to recognise, given the past conditioning & perceptions of being a man, this has been an incredibly hard thing to do, and accepting they need support is a huge step.

Therapy can offer men the chance to be seen without judgement as they are. They can show their vulnerabilities, stresses and anxieties, as well as being seen as strong, confident and capable. In therapy, men can learn to understand more of themselves, their difficulties and their thoughts, and explore the rich and diverse nature of masculinity, and see that it is not a one sided image so frequently painted by the media. Therapy offers men the chance to explore their life experiences, relationships and their pain and difficulty. Ultimately this experience allows them to be more enriched, and enhanced, and to understand more about what it means to be a man.

In Closing

The importance of dispelling the myths surrounding mental health is crucial for society as a whole, as it allows for a more open and honest conversation to take place and lessen stigma and discrimination. The reality is, mental health operates on a scale, and we all struggle at points.

Gender does not discriminate when it comes to mental health difficulties, and being a man, makes no difference to whether you should feel able to discuss, think about or engage with your feelings.

It is crucial men are able to have conversations with others, but particularly with other men, about their mental health and feelings. It is only when the idea of ‘what it means to be a man’ begins to change, that men will be able to open up, or reveal about themselves, those feelings or difficulties they are experiencing.

Why Do We Grieve The Deaths Of Celebrities?

It has been a year in which several prominent and well-known figures have died. Deaths of celebrities usually result in a massive outpouring of grief on social media, and the news is filled with stories of their lives. Timelines and news feeds are flooded with their quotes, and their pictures are often made into inspirational posters. This expression of intense grief and mourning often feels as if it were for a member of our own family.

While there is no doubt that these losses are incredibly sad, and the world has been bereft of great talent or ability, there is a sense also that this grief may be social media conformity, or that it is misplaced or unreal.

For Whom Or What Are We Grieving?

But, you didn’t even know them!

The idea that grieving for celebrities may be disingenuous is a contentious point, but is worth exploring further. The reality, although somewhat obvious, is that we did not know the celebrity on a personal level, did not share intimate moments or spend time connecting as two individuals. We may well have loved their music or art for years, and may have spent numerous evenings in the front row of their gigs. Without diminishing these connections or memories their music or art gave us over the years, the fact remains that our relationship to them was one sided. Our perception of them was not based on interpersonal interactions, sensed personal feelings or meaningful and powerful human bonds which are associated with those closest to us in our lives.

So how then, if we never met them have they so impacted our lives? Is our grief real? If we feel these things, then surely that makes them valid? This leads me to wonder, for whom or what are we grieving? Are we grieving the person who has gone, for the hole they have left in the lives of their family? Or are we grieving the loss of what they provided us with? Are we saddened on a selfish level, that they will never again make the music we so loved? Are we grieving because they will never again produce art or music which will get us through a hard time?

Is our grief associated with the universal sense that the world has been robbed of true talent? Are we in fact grieving not for a person, but for an image or idealised interpretation of another person who in reality, probably wasn’t as we perceived them on television or in magazines. Maybe we are grieving the loss of our own interpretation of their words or art, which over time provided us with something meaningful.

Social Media & Grief

There can be a sense of expectation on social media that when someone famous dies, you post something in their memory, almost as if it were a requirement, regardless of whether you felt significantly moved by their death. Timelines become filled; adding to the sense there is a collective or unified sense of mourning. This is further compounded by other celebrities doing the same, making the experience feel meaningful, real or validated. Almost instantaneously or virally, news feeds are swamped by the letters ‘RIP’, or ‘Taken too soon’, This blanketed approach to online grief, seems to fit the mentality of following rather than having an individual sense of an experience, and a unique set of feelings regarding grief.

While social media has made it easier for fans to interact with celebrities, and to exchange stories with other fans, it seems that the hashtags, posted links or stories and personal photos related to the death of a celebrity, may be less about remembering the individual and more about who can post about it first or an eagerness to ‘share’ the news. There will no doubt be a rush by media outlets to get the news out there first before their competition, and break the story. It is this aspect of celebrity online grieving, which feels overwhelming, non-empathic and more in line with sensationalism, accruing views and popularity than it is about grief.

Using social media to inform others of a tragedy and loss can be a good way to inform a community, but the retweet, share and one click condolence culture we live in, doesn’t help facilitate the process of loss and grief, If anything it accelerates this as a social norm, when in reality the process of grieving is one that can take months or years. Simply putting up a post and saying RIP somehow doesn’t feel real or meaningful enough.

In Closing

There is a reality involved in the complexity of grief. This is the enmeshment and entanglement of two individuals. The bonds formed over time and the development of closeness to one another is what makes loss so hard. Whether your attachment or relationship to the other person was fractured and painful, or whether it was stable and loving, losing someone is painful. No one can tell another human being how to feel about their relationships, how to grieve, who to grieve for or how they should experience loss. Loss is individual and meaningful for each individual differently.

The mass mourning on social media and in newspapers we experience for celebrities may be in part to do with breaking the news first, voicing your opinions, being part of what others are doing or because you are genuinely grieving.

Regardless of the reasons for our grief, it is certainly true that these people had an impact upon us. Their words or music spoke to us personally on profound levels and helped us through difficult times in our lives. Ultimately, we have been provided with joy and happiness, for which we feel moved and changed. The meaning or experiences we found in their art or music is and was very much real. The positive impact they have had and the value of their art to us and to the world, should not be ignored or diminished.


Relationships Issues – Exploring Difficulties & Pressures

The reality is that in each relationship, there will inherently be periods of strain, pressure, conflict and hurt. No relationship is perfect, and even relationships which may be perceived by others as stable, loving and contented, will have their turn on stormy seas.

This article looks at the importance of relationships, difficulties, pressures & blame in relationships and common relationship issues. I will also briefly explore how therapy can help a couple or individual.

Importance Of Relationships

At our core, we are relational beings who need contact, love and connection with others. This helps us feel sustained, heard, valued and understood. The relationships we develop and nurture, whether romantic, platonic, familial or work based, are an incredibly meaningful part of life, bringing us joy, happiness and fulfilment at profoundly deep levels. Relationships make us feel healthier and happier, as well as being a source of advice, support and guidance.

Conversely, relationships are also capable of being a source of difficulty, and can cause us great sadness, upset and anger. There can be many reasons for a relationship to break down or end. We may find ourselves feeling a relationship is no longer satisfying or feel the other person no longer meets our expectations, or we may have outgrown the relationship, or it may have naturally ended.

The nature of relationships, whether they are fractured, close or intermittent, is one of immense complexity, meaning we are all susceptible to feeling hurt, lonely, angry, vulnerable, or feeling disappointed with ourselves, our partner, or both.

It is often those closest to us that are capable of inflicting most hurt and pain upon us. The closeness we feel to our others is in many ways a double sided blade, and even though we care for and value those in our lives, they have the power to leave us exposed and hurt. Making us question the validity or meaningfulness of our relationship. This is in many ways, one of the unavoidable qualities of the human condition.

Difficulties Pressures & Blame

We live in an age of constant advertising, where on an unconscious level, we gain an expectation of what a relationship should be. We see films, television shows and read magazines, featuring perfect couples. Additionally, the advent of social media, leads us to see only perfection in the relationships of our friends or family. It is not surprising therefore, that we place our relationships under such pressure, scrutiny and often expect a great deal.

There will be in every relationship, a multitude of difficulties which we have to navigate and manage. Relationships are often delicate, fragile and easily damaged by a wide variety of occurrences. Seemingly small mistakes such as a careless comment or a perceived slight can erupt a torrent of arguments, leading to breakdown in communication.

The ‘blame game’ happens often within relationships, and can become a hard cycle to break, with each person refusing to budge. It can be all too easy for people to sulk or become angry, with the real issue forgotten. These interactions are common, but when they occur too often, it can over time poison and damage a relationship.

Common Relationship Issues

Often relationship issues stem from differing expectations, opinions or feelings. One partner may expect the other to act or do things a certain way, and then becomes frustrated when this doesn’t happen. Although this is common, each relationship is unique, containing its own individual set of dynamics, difficulties and patterns of functioning. While there are commonalities in why relationships break down, there are no set rules. I have outlined below 3 common relationship issues below.


Betraying a partner or close friend has a huge impact upon a relationship, and comes in different forms, such as an affair or keeping secrets of financial difficulties or an addiction to drugs, alcohol or pornography. In some cases these betrayals can lead to the complete breakdown of a relationship, but some people seek a resolution and want to work through difficulties within the relationship.

Family issues

The relationships we have with our family members become an integral part of our lives and when there is conflict within these relationships, it can have a powerful impact upon our significant relationships. All too commonly, one person does not get along with a member of their partners family due to historical difficulties for example. This can cause a painful and damaging rift in a relationship where one person feels they must choose sides. When feelings about family members go unsaid over time, we can become angry, hurt and disappointed, and our relationship can begin to suffer and become strained.


Communication is probably one of the most talked about subjects where relationship issues are concerned. Often, people equate communication with explaining how they feel. However, this is not the entire truth. Of course explaining to your partner how you feel is important, but what also matters is that you are able to listen; offering you the chance to know what it is they are feeling. Whether it is the case that one person finds it difficult to speak about their feelings, or access their emotions, and another is adept at doing so, a lack of communication between both people can have a damaging effect on a relationship.

How Therapy May Help

Often the reason for a couple or an individual to enter into psychotherapy and counselling is because a current relationship has broken down, and one or both partners has lost the ability to communicate. Alternatively, an individual may wish to examine their past relationships at more depth, and identify past patterns.

Psychotherapy and counselling allow either a couple, or one individual experiencing relationship difficulties, the space to explore their worries about their relationship, consider any patterns which may have emerged historically, or been made more clear within a recent relationship and begin to work toward communicating more effectively with their partner, and also to themselves. Ultimately, this will both enrich their relationships and their understanding of how they function within relationships.


Understanding & Coping With Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

What Is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

The word anxiety relates to feelings of unease, worry or fear and most of us will have experienced this at some point in our lives. Sitting an exam or attending a job interview for example, can instil feelings of anxiety. It is perfectly normal in situations such as this to be anxious or nervous.

Anxiety is the primary symptom in a number of different mental health conditions such as panic attacks, phobias, obsessive-compulsive behaviours and post-traumatic stress. The differentiating factor between GAD and normal levels of anxiety is that the anxiety is on-going and the reactions and feelings are usually highly disproportionate to the risk or worry involved. Meaning, it is much easier for a small incident or event to create huge levels of anxiety. GAD can be described as a persistent and long term condition that causes its sufferers to endure anxiety, worry and fear to the point at which it is crippling, and severely impairs their day to day lives.

Usually sufferers will be anxious around a variety of different circumstances and situations, which are not always the same, rather than one specific thing, which can be the case with phobias for example. Often GAD can cause people to catasrophize about situations, for example, waiting for their partner to come home and thinking they must have been in an accident instead of a likely scenario such as being stuck in traffic.

Others characteristics of GAD can be finding it nearly impossible to concentrate on anything, an unsettled mind or racing thoughts. GAD can often impact one’s ability to sleep or even manage relationships, or hold down a job. This is due to the on-going nature of the anxieties experienced and how as soon as one issue is resolved, another will take its place, thus continuing the cyclical nature of anxiety.


Although the causes of GAD are generally unknown, it has been shown that there can usually be a number of factors involved. Below I have listed some of these contributing factors. While these contributing factors may increase the chances of developing GAD, many people develop the condition for no apparent reason.

  • Suffering from a long term health condition such as Chronic Fatigue or Arthritis
  • A history or experience of major stress or trauma such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying
  • Genetics – If you have a close relative with GAD, you are five times more likely to develop it
  • Over activity in the parts of the brain associated with behaviour and emotion
  • A history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • An imbalance of the mood regulating chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline that occur in the brain

Who Is Affected?

  • GAD is a common condition in the UK, and it is estimated that up to 5% of the population are affected
  • Slightly more women than men are affected
  • The condition is more common in people from the ages of 35-59


GAD usually causes the sufferer to experience both physical and psychological symptoms, and the severity or frequency of these will differ from person to person. One person could feel the entire range of difficulties, where as another could only experience one or two.

Psychological Symptoms

  • A sense of dread
  • Feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Worrying or intrusive thoughts
  • Thinking about disturbing scenarios
  • Not able to relax

Physical Symptoms

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tension headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive difficulties

The physical symptoms of anxiety will cause the sufferer to experience further worry, anguish and increase their sense of unease. While other anxiety disorders have a specific trigger, GAD is often unpredictable, making it feel there is no way to stop feeling anxious. 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.


There are several different types of support or treatment for GAD, including –

Self Help

Talk To Someone You Trust

Talking to a trusted friend, partner or family member about your anxious thoughts, or diagnosis of GAD can be very helpful. You may find that they have encountered a similar problem, and therefore are able to help. Even just having someone show that they care is useful.

Try To Shift Your Focus

You may find that trying to shift your focus can distract you, even if momentarily, from your 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.

Try Reassuring Yourself

It can be helpful to tell yourself that the symptoms you are experiencing are actually caused by anxiety, and that it is not really dangerous and will pass in time. This can help you feel calmer and less fearful of future attacks.


If self-help options have not been particularly helpful, you may benefit from speaking to a qualified psychotherapist or counsellor. Talking therapies will give you a confidential space to explore your thoughts, feelings and ideas, and work on ways to manage your GAD or anxiety. Therapy will give you space to explore the roots of your anxiety, consider its components and triggers. As well as allowing you to explore the rules that can govern your GAD. Ultimately, this 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 And Managing Psychological Trauma

What is trauma?

The term trauma refers to an overwhelming level of stress created through particularly distressing, painful or difficult experiences. These experiences in most cases exceed our ability to manage, cope or integrate the emotions and feelings associated with the event or experience. Psychological trauma can occur on a one-off basis, repeat over a period of time or can be intermittent throughout life.

The sense of being overwhelmed which occurs through trauma can often be delayed by months, years or even decades, as we struggle to cope with the immediate circumstances of the events themselves. Because of the painful and difficult nature of traumatic memories, they are often hidden deep within our unconscious mind and we form defences around them, finding methods of coping until a trigger or event reminds us of our experience and we are re-traumatised and overwhelmed.

The definition of trauma will differ among different individuals due to their subjective experiences not the objective facts. In other words, people will react to similar events differently and not all people who experience a traumatic event will become psychologically traumatised. This difference in reaction could be due to the protective mechanisms some people may have developed within themselves to enable them to cope with trauma.

However, regardless of the source, all psychological and emotional traumas will have factors in common. These are that it was unexpected, the individual was unprepared and lastly, the individual could do nothing to prevent it from happening.

Symptoms of trauma

People who experience traumatic events may often have certain symptoms or difficulties as a result. The severity of these symptoms will depend on a number of different factors, such as the trauma involved or the emotional support received from others. Often these symptoms can last from anything from a few days, to years or decades and often can take some time to be recognised. Listed below are some common symptoms of psychological trauma:

  • Shock, denial or disbelief.
  • Flashbacks to the traumatic experience.
  • Insomnia or considerable difficulties sleeping.
  • Anger, irritability or dramatic mood swings.
  • Intense feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Loss of self-esteem.
  • Self-medication, either through drugs, alcohol or food.
  • Rationalisation of events or convincing yourself you were to blame.
  • Often feeling sad, hopeless or desperate.
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating.
  • Constant or regular anxiety and fear.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Feeling numb, disconnected or unreal.

The roots and causes of trauma

Psychological trauma can occur through a number of different circumstances. It often results in the sufferer questioning their history, entire aspects of their life or their belief systems and may entirely destroy their ability to trust others. These psychologically traumatic experiences will often be accompanied by physical trauma which threatens the survival and sense of security of the individual. There are many experiences which constitute improper treatment that may lead an individual to feel violated, mistreated or hurt in some way and often result in deep and lasting psychological trauma.


Below I have listed some of these:


This can refer to a wide range of different experiences, such as physical or violent abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or verbal abuse. It also includes domestic violence, harassment and bullying.


Experiencing an accident, whether it is a minor car accident or injuring yourself by falling, can lead to a traumatic response. It could result in us being additionally careful when walking down stairs, driving very carefully or refusing to go out to certain places or do certain things. Even if you were not seriously harmed, these sorts of events can lead to long-lasting changes in behaviour, due to fear of the event occurring again.

Brain injuries

Injuries to the brain or cancer of the brain can be hugely damaging for the person experiencing it, as well as those around them. With some injuries and illnesses, there can be am altering of personality or key motor skills, abilities and functions can be reduced or in some cases cease entirely. These experiences are painful in the extreme and can often lead to varying levels of psychological trauma.

War or catastrophic events

Being involved either directly or indirectly in catastrophic disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions, wars, terrorist attacks or bombings can lead to varying levels of psychological trauma.


Due to the deep and meaningful connection we can have with others, when someone dies, it can be very painful and difficult. Psychological trauma can occur if the loss itself was traumatic, such as a murder, or if it was sudden, such as a heart attack. We can also develop symptoms of trauma if we had a troubled or complicated relationship with the person who died, which can result in complex feelings we are unable to manage.


Violence in any way can result in psychological trauma of varying degrees. Whether someone has been the victim of physical violence themselves, either in a random attack or in abusive relationship, or witnessed violence on others. These types of experiences can have long-lasting psychological impacts.

Moving on and how therapy can help

The first step in the understanding and recovering from psychological trauma is being able to speak about it. Although this first step is incredibly hard, it is in the long run very valuable. With a therapist or counsellor, you can safely and without judgement begin to start bringing your body and mind out of shock. You can start to uncover your experiences from parts of your mind which you needed to cover up for self-protection and at your own pace begin to once again, trust your environment and regain a sense of wholeness and safety.

It is possible to understand that trauma lies in your past and no longer lives with you in the present and no matter your experience, you can begin to construct a new story about yourself. You can construct a story of your trauma, give yourself the best chance to overcome your experiences and begin to live your life in a way that feels real, meaningful and valuable.

Understanding & Managing Divorce & Separation

Understanding & Managing Divorce & Separation

A divorce or separation from a significant other is well known as putting a great deal of emotional, mental and physical strains and pressures onto us, and is in most cases a life changing event. When two people decide to separate or divorce, they begin to lose their psychological and emotional attachment to the other person. Although, depending on each person, this process can vary in length.

The Process Of Divorce & Separation

This process is one of significant change to all areas of life, and the impact is magnified because all of these various feelings and emotions are happening all at once. During the process, it is not uncommon for the identity of one of both partners to change; sometimes this happens quickly or drastically. An example could be a change in clothing style, shift in career or an entire lifestyle change. Seeing this change is very difficult for people to manage and often one partner is left angry, experiencing high levels of anguish, guilt or loneliness. Many will also feel as though they have failed the relationship, and that they are not worthy of love or care.

Grieving The Loss Of Relationship

Our natural human reaction to loss is to grieve, and this is no different when a significant relationship ends. In fact, there are many similarities between the death of a loved one and the ending of a significant relationship. Often we feel a wide array of emotions ranging from anger, guilt, regret and sadness to name a few. We experience this loss on many levels.

  • Loss of companionship and shared experiences, which may or not have been consistently enjoyable
  • Loss of support, whether it is financial, intellectual, social or emotional, or all the above
  • Loss of shared hopes, plans and dreams, which can be even more painful than any practical losses

Allowing yourself to engage with the pain of these multiple losses is frightening, and you may fear your emotions will be too intense to bear, or that if you allow yourself to feel these things that you may never exit out the other side. This process is important, and is part of the healing process which helps you to gradually let go of the old relationship.

Tips For Self-Care

During divorce and separation it can seem to be a struggle to maintain feelings, and it is common to feel stressed, low or anxious. Although you may not be able to entirely stop these unpredictable and difficult feelings, there are ways to take care of as best you can.

Nurture Yourself

Help yourself to heal by finding time each day to take part in activities you find calming or soothing. This could be reading a book, going for a walk, listening to music or simply 10 minutes for reflective thought.

Pay Attention To Your Needs

Allow yourself to express your needs, and why they are important and valuable. Make space to honour what you believe is right for you today, this week and in the future. Your needs may be different to what your ex-partner or others want, but it is important to be able to say no without fear or guilt.

Stick To A Routine

Divorce or a separation will throw your life into upheaval, and feelings will be amplified and you will more than likely experience a sense of uncertainty and chaos. It is important to do what you can to stick to your routine, which provides stability, structure and a sense of normalcy.

Explore New Interests

A divorce or separation is a new beginning as well as an end. Therefore, it is important to nurture new ideas, interests or think differently about your life. Exploring new activities will allow you enjoy life in the here and now, develop your self-esteem and allow you, however briefly, to stop concentrating on the past.

Dealing With Stress and Depression

It is not uncommon to find it difficult to talk about the way you feel after a divorce or separation, nor is it uncommon for friends or family to think we should snap out of it or move on. In the aftermath of we will experience varying levels of depression, low mood and low self-esteem. It is an erratic time, with a wide array of feelings, ideas and sensations. Below are some ways to manage these feelings.

Go For A Walk

This can be wonderfully therapeutic, and exercising and getting fresh air is important in lessening the feelings associated with low mood.


Laughing can be so beneficial in lifting our mood, brightening our day and giving is positive energy. Catch up with old friends, or watch your favourite film.

Keep A Diary

Keeping a diary allows you to express how you are feeling on a daily basis, and gives you the chance to put what is in your head onto paper. It can also be a helpful tool to look back on after a month, or even a year, and to see where you have got to.

Be Kinder To Yourself

Take a moment in each day to give yourself a compliment, tell yourself you are doing alright or do something nice for yourself.

Moving On & How Therapy Can Help

In times of emotional crisis, there is a huge opportunity for growth, learning and development. The emptiness experienced in the present is not an indication that nothing is happening now or in the future. Consider this time to sow seeds needed for personal growth, learn from the relationship, and realise the potential to emerge stronger and more resilient. In order for this to happen, it is important to acknowledge the part that you played in the process and understand the choices you made within the relationship which affected it. This is both empowering and informative and gives you the chance to learn.

Seeing a therapist after a divorce or separation or during the process of ending a relationship, can offer you a safe and nonjudgmental space to safely think at depth about your relationship, discuss the wide range of feelings and emotions you are experiencing, and gain some clarity of thought. It will also give you the chance to explore your other relationships, look at why they may not have worked, and understand what relationships mean to you, and what you seek from a relationship in the future.

Understanding & Managing The Loss Of Relationships

Loss is an undeniable aspect of life. It is unpredictable, uncertain and appears in many forms. From an early age, we experience loss in different guises, and it is argued by some that our very entry into the world is the first loss we experience, the loss of the security, warmth and comfort of the womb. It could also be argued that loss on some level continues throughout life, and that life is about adjusting to loss, and managing to find ways to accommodate and integrate it within ourselves.

We all have relationships of varying degrees of emotional closeness, but whatever the nature of our relationships, there is a reality within them all, and that is, as with life, they will at some point come to an end.

Grieving For Relationships

However a relationship comes to an end, it will be a difficult process involving a wide array of feelings and emotions, and will no doubt bring forth significant change to all areas of our lives. Our natural human reaction to any sort of loss is to grieve. In fact, there are many similarities between the death of a loved one and the ending of a significant relationship. Our feelings will often wildly oscillate between anger, guilt, regret and sadness to name a few.

The loss we are experience, will occur on many different levels depending on the individual, and the depth of the relationship. Such as –

  • Loss of companionship and shared experiences, which may or not have been consistently enjoyable
  • Loss of support, whether financial, intellectual, social or emotional, or all the above
  • Loss of shared hopes, plans and dreams, which can be even more painful than any practical losses

When a relationship comes to an end, it is important to allow ourselves to feel all of our emotions, thoughts and feelings. Engaging with the different levels of loss is frightening, and you may fear your emotions will be too intense to bear. However, this process is important, and is part of what we need to experience in order to begin the healing process, allowing you to gradually let go of the old relationship.

Our Sense Of Self & An Opportunity For Growth

When a relationship ends, whether it is a friendship that has over time become less close, or a romantic relationship that has mutually or for other reasons ended, it can feel as though our world has been turned upside down. We may be led to question the relationship, and ask why or how we got to our current position. Often we find ourselves heavily scrutinising ourselves or beating ourselves up for things we should or should or shouldn’t have said, or for how we behaved. We may decide that we are not worthy of attention or love, or feel as if we will never have a successful or happy relationship again.

In the absence of a relationship, it can feel as if we no longer know who we are. As mentioned above, we are mourning loss on several levels. Where there was once a ‘We’, there is now an I’. We can be left with a sense that a partnership, with shared goals, hopes, dreams and direction, has now been replaced with a sense of feeling directionless, as if we are now lost at sea. Of course, due to the closeness of human relationships, and there importance within our lives, it stands to reason that we would struggle with separating from another. The reason for this is because we can become entangled within romantic relationships, lost within another. Our sense of self was previously weaved closely with another’s, and is therefore hard to prize free or examine objectively.

However, while it doesn’t seem so at first, the breakdown or loss of a relationship can offer an excellent opportunity for us to grow, learn and communicate more freely to ourselves, our own desires, needs and wishes. This is of course, not an easy process, and takes different lengths of time for each of us. But, by beginning the process of lessening the sense of enmeshment we had with our significant other or friend and giving ourselves time to breathe, think and feel, we can begin to discover aspects of ourselves which within the relationship may not have been given as much attention, or parts of ourselves we augmented so as to please another.

How Therapy Can Help

As with the death of a loved one, losses of relationships are rarely smooth, clear cut or easy to manage. When a relationship ends, there can be a sense of feeling distant or ambivalent. There can be a sense within us of something needing resolution, understanding or clarity. We may struggle within our next relationship or wonder what is happening within these relationships that make them end prematurely.

Therapy can offer you the chance to explore your relationship history, from your earliest ones, to your most recent. You can begin to make sense of patterns, and decipher how you function with another, or whether you choosing certain types of people. As well as considering your romantic relationships, you can also explore your friendships, and relationships you have with your family. A therapist will work with you to assist you in unpacking your thoughts, feelings and ideas in a safe environment, and allow you to gain clarity and insight into your difficulties.

In Closing

Given the importance of relationships in our lives, and the need we all have for interaction, closeness and warmth that these relationships can bring us, it makes sense that when one ends, it will have a deep and meaningful impact upon us. Our sense of who we are can often become tied up within the mind of another, thus separating from this can be painful. However, over time, we can learn to regrow our minds, tend to the wounds we experience when we lose love, and begin once again, to have a fuller more complete sense of who we are, as individuals.