Loss and Bereavement (Emotional therapy views)

This is another from the reports I write for my course, it’s also a topic that was very hard for me to write about at the time so it’s a little bit awkward in points. Regardless, I hope whoever reads it finds it interesting!

large (1)Loss is something that will unavoidably affect us throughout our lives, for it comes in many different ways. Death is of course the first thing we think of when it comes to loss and bereavement but loss does not have to refer solely to the loss of a loved one; whether it be the loss of a job, a limb, health, innocence, home, or happiness (or many of the other things that can be lost throughout our lives), each loss—no matter how small—can be difficult and require a period of adjustment, or ‘mourning’ if you will.

Loss is not exclusive to death, whereas bereavement only deals with loss through a death, and both words are not interchangeable but do share a core meaning which is that the person suffering from loss or who is bereaved has lost something that was, in any capacity, important to them. Both do elicit a wide variety of feelings that might depend on the person lost, the person suffering from the loss, or the situation surrounding the occurrence of the loss. Where a sudden, unexpected loss has as higher chance of leaving someone feeling angry or numb, a loss that takes place over a long period of time, that someone can see coming is just as likely to give way to exhaustion and hopelessness. But even those examples are vast generalisation and it is impossible to predict what losses and bereavement will leave people feeling. Far more often than not, it is the tangle of numerous emotions that form the process of mourning, if one can only traverse it to the other side.

Grieving people will often be afraid of ‘being left behind’, not just by the deceased but by those around them, because grief may make them less social then they were. With this loneliness and fear of isolation they might start to fear how they will be able to cope with the intensity of their feelings, as well as the day to day life that still requires their attention. Having to look after others if they too were affected by the death might be extremely difficult and make some people put their own emotions on the back burner whilst they try to help others. This may cause them to turn to drinking/drugs to help coping with the situation. Some may lose themselves to religion or work as an attempt to keep themselves busy (more of this when I talk about denial). The over-empathic reaction of friends and families, as well as overwhelming subjective advice and the social pressures surrounding the bereaved are all things that can add up to make grief an even more complicated process than it already is.

The framework for some of the effects of loss reflects the general categories of emotions that come into play and I shall be using it as a guide to go through some of the stages of loss and large (3)bereavement in more detail. Grief itself is often preceded by shock. Any loss, even those we might have expected, comes with a measure of shock. Grief and the sadness/tears that represent it more commonly tend to show themselves only once the shock has receded and allowed for the reality of the situation to register. Below grief and in the centre of the framework sits denial: the refusal to believe that the loss is real, maybe accompanied with the belief that ‘things will sort themselves out’ (if we’re not talking about someone’s death). Denial can manifest in many ways, from people acting as though the other person is still around (talking about them in present tense, not mentioning their death at all), to small actions that reveal that our mind has not yet registered the loss fully (turning around to address someone we used to live with, picking up a phone to call someone who is deceased). Similarly, some people can go in denial over the loss of a relationship, stubbornly believing that they can get back with the other person even if that isn’t going to happen.

From there the framework goes in three different directions. Now not all people will go through all of those paths, and the order might be different for everyone, but they do offer a clear image of grouped reactions. On the right sits the concepts of ‘minimising’ and ‘idealising’. The first word refers to the process of trying to make the loss seem lesser than it is. This might be mostly seen in losses of jobs, home, health, or similar situations where it would be easier for the person to pretend that the loss and changes did not affect them a lot, even if they do. Idealising for its part, is when a person might put on a pedestal the one that has died, or looks back upon what has been lost through rose-tinted glasses. It is a fact that people ‘do not speak ill of the dead’, which is one of the primary causes of idealisation as only the ‘good’ sides of that person are ever talked about and whatever else they were is lost to memory. Similarly people might look back on a job or relationship, remembering how wonderful it all was before whilst completely disregarding all the issues/stress that it came with.

On the opposite side of the framework we see another three concepts: avoidance, depression, and withdrawal. Avoidance is self-explanatory and occurs when the person suffering the loss tries to avoid anything that is related to it, including but not limited to thinking about it and facing up to the consequences of it. Depression is to an extent a separate problem all together, although it can be triggered by the occurrence of the loss of bereavement.  Finally, withdrawal is used here to mean the departure of the person who has suffered the loss from their usual circles of society, with a possible nuance that they are pushing people away. This can be done for different reasons, whether it is that the person is private in their mourning process, or that they are distancing themselves from others as a way to avoid further pain, protect others from their own pain, or something entirely different.

Finally, the last segment of the framework goes down from guilt to anger. Anger is a totally normal feeling when facing loss. Anger at the situation, its possible unfairness, anger at our helplessness or the injustice of the world: it is rare that loss does not at some point elicit some form of anger. Anger in turn can give way to guilt. Be it guilt over being angry in the first place, or over events that happened prior to the loss that the anger may have been masking before it dissipated. That anger and guilt cannot be felt at the same time does not prevent one from masking the other, and it is often the case that we may be angry at something as a way to disguise how we may feel guilty about it (whether there is an actual reason for guilt and not just a perceived one). After this comes bargaining, although as discussed during the study day, this is almost a stage that could happen before the actual loss. This can be seen in people who pray and may bargain with their god(s), promising to do certain things if the loss is avoided, if the person is saved. Also outside of that, people do it in their daily lives ‘if this doesn’t/does happen, I will/won’t do this’ is a very common thing.

large (2)After that, one starts to move in the stages where one can learn to deal with the loss and grief more effectively. First comes the adjustment period, often particularly relevant for people who have had a particularly strong phase of denial or have carried through habits that are no longer relevant/healthy now that the loss has occurred. Adjustment can take many shapes, depending what the loss was. In the case of career, it could be finding a new path to walk down, when it comes to health or an ability to be self-dependent, it would be taking the correct steps to ensure that all needs are met. In the case of bereavement, it could mean moving house, putting away the belongings of a partner that are no longer needed, or anything else that would allow the person to start moving on with their lives. At last, the final step of acceptance can happen. This does not necessarily means being ‘over’ the loss, but being capable of acknowledging it and the effects it has had on our lives, as well as being capable to handle the emotions still attached to it.

Talking about grief and loss is one of the most difficult things for people to do: we live in a culture where the ‘get over it’ mentality is unfortunately dominant and forces people to bury how they truly feel about what is happening in their lives. Alongside this there is the awkwardness that comes with talking about loss: it is an uncomfortable, often difficult topic, and those that are going through it might be afraid of hurting others by bringing up their own issues. Similarly, they might be afraid of other people’s reactions: will the people around them try to appropriate the grief onto themselves (even if they were not as close to the deceased), might they only respond by bringing up their own experiences in loss? People will also be afraid of their own reactions when talking about this: they might not be wanting to show their more vulnerable side for fear of being judged (especially true for men who are told from a very young age that ‘boys don’t cry’ and other such fabricated societal ideas).

This is where the job of the counsellor is particularly important as we offer a safe place for people to work through the stages of loss and bereavement. As with every other client it is important that we respect the boundaries of what they can and cannot handle, which means we must never rush, patronise, pity or make promises. What we can offer however is an attentive ear, someone who is capable of empathising with them. It is important to allow the person to cry if tears come during the session, although it is perfectly okay to give physical and verbal expressions of concern and understanding. We are here to guide the person through what is a process that everyone who suffers loss goes through (and even those that bury it all away will eventually need to go through it or it will come back to them after the fact), we are here as someone who offers a safe, supportive environment that they may not have access to anywhere else, especially as we are totally separate from the situation. With the counsellor that person can safely start to actualise the loss and allow themselves to feel the pain of grief, and the time we give the client who is grieving is entirely theirs: there are no children, friends or family who require their attention during that time. It is also important to remember to have non-emotional (and obviously non-judgemental) reactions to whatever it is that our client is telling us. Where empathy and validation are important, if the client see that the counsellor themselves are upset by the topic they might close off and not speak as openly.

As counsellor we must, however, also be aware of our limitations. It might be that a particular client is in a situation that hits too close to home for ourselves, or that we have just largeundergone a loss of our own and cannot take on the task to help someone else through grief. When such situations arise it is good to know how, and when, to refer someone to a colleague, or doctor, or anyone who will be able to offer better care to them.


Can it ever be enough?

Another personal ramble. Sorry if this one is even less coherent than the last. Been very emotionally overwhelmed by a lot of things today and I think I just needed to get some of it out there. Maybe someone will read this and find they’re not alone and that’s literally all the good I can hope to do by opening up.

“I need to be more productive.”

“I could have done more work today if…”

“I’ve wasted so much time already.”

“I won’t take a break until X is done.”

large.jpgThese are but a few of thoughts that go through my head on, well, a daily basis. If I wake up five minutes after my alarm I am ‘behind schedule’ even though I work from home and the only schedule I have to keep is my own. Every minute at my desk that I catch myself doing something other than work wracks me with guilt. And the worse part? The more productive I am in a day, the worse all these things get.

I lost a lot of time to depression, a close friend’s illness, and grief over the past few years. That’s not to say I did nothing during that time: somehow I wrote half a book, survived two and a half years of psychology course with the OU (I had to quit before the end for lack of support from my tutors for my circumstances and I had grown to detest the course), joined the FETC (emotional therapy counselling) to train as a counsellor, and generally achieved a hell of self-understanding.

Still, all I can see of that period of my life is a bleak landscape of nothingness. As though I had nothing to show for all those years. As though I had to justify my very existence by my achievements.

I grew up as quite the high-achiever at school. I was forever in the top 3 of my class (sometimes of the school) and most of my teachers had nothing but praises for me. I can’t remember what my parents were like all the time. But I can remember a lot of being told I wasn’t working hard enough, that I didn’t realise how lucky I was that I could be so lazy about my schoolwork and still get such good grades. It was always made a point that I wasn’t working hard, and somehow, somewhere in my child’s mind who always heard his parents praise hard work before all, I started to think this was a terrible thing.

The thing was, I wasn’t lazy about my schoolwork. At the risk of sounding boastful, I found it all easy. I was an incredibly academically minded child (university certainly got that out of me >_>) and homework and schoolwork was overall a doddle I could get done quickly before collapsing in front of the TV or a video game, or grabbing the book I was reading (NB: I spent years schooled in France where the school day ends at five or six in the afternoon, so I didn’t have that long to do anything once home). I didn’t leave my homework until the last minute (unless it was Latin, I was really bad at remembering to do my Latin homework). I studied for every test.

But still it wasn’t enough.

The core memory I have of all this must date back to when I was about 8 or 9. I had come home beaming with the grade I had just gotten on a test at school (I don’t even remember what the test had been about but I have a clear memory of the piece of paper I held in my hand when I walked in through the door). It was a 17/20 (French scoring system works out of 20, it’s weird once you move to the UK). I was so proud that I showed it to my father who was home on that particular day. I was at that age where I was desperate to be accepted and make proud this man who spent so much time away from home. He always went on about his academic achievements so I was convinced this would make him proud. Do you know what he said to me?

“Where are the other three points?”

I don’t care if he was joking because he never said “well done” first, or after. Or ever. All he saw was what was lacking.

That incident pretty much sums up his attitude to everything I did. When I tried to learn to draw all he would ever do is point out everything that was bad about my drawing. When fifteen-year-old me made the mistake of leaving the notebook in which he had been writing his first novel in laying around, my father read it and proceeded to tear apart almost every word written. My judo medals were never good enough. When I would practice piano he only ever commented on the mistakes. And on the rare occasions I would question why he had to be so harsh on me, he would reply that this was the way the world was and I would have to get thicker skin if I wanted to get anywhere.

By seventeen I wasn’t writing anymore, any attempts to draw long forgotten, the piano lessons forgotten and the judo training a missed memory. I had been sick from a mysterious stomach illness for a year and I just didn’t see the point in doing anything but what I had to. What was the point, after all, if I was never going to be good enough?

What my dad did was insidious and invisible. It took me years to see the damage that one remark had done. To realise the reason I never seem to manage to finish everything is for fear of how that thing, whatever it is, will be judged once I am done. I put off doing things until I have made myself sick with stress over putting it off and then I sit paralysed by the realisation that I have failed before ever starting.

So when I enter periods where I’m actually managing to work, to throw my all into what I want to do, I don’t do it 100%. I do it 200%. Sometimes more. I time every minute, I feel the need to keep track of everything I’m doing just so I can prove to myself that the paralysis is gone and I’m no longer being a waste of space. But the result isn’t that I’m more productive, it’s that there are days where all I want to do is curl up in bed and hide under the duvet.

Last weekend was tough for me: grief caught up with all its tangle of emotions and it all exploded on Monday. So I didn’t do any work on Monday. Let’s put aside the fact I actually managed to work out and did the groceries shopping (and wrote a long rambly blog post, it seems to be the week!), because all I can see about Monday is that I didn’t study either for my course or the language I’m trying to learn, I didn’t work on my book.

And I hate that about myself. I hate this inability to see what I have done, and instead only see what I haven’t. Thanks dad.

So I spent the rest of the week racing against the clock to make up for Monday. Add to that three trips to various doctors (for minor things), and this week seems to have vanished into nothing. Of course it’s not what my calendar is telling me. I have done plenty this week. It’s there, written black on white. But all I can think, all I can ever think is “But you could have done more if…” There are a thousand things that come after that if, all more ridiculous than the other. I did a couple of those this week, I didn’t take time off when I meant to and just pushed and pushed and rushed myself until today when a headache hit me out of nowhere.

I think these headaches are migraines (symptoms match more than not when I look them up) are absolutely exhausting. I feel dizzy, I feel sick, and one side of my face and behind one of my eyes feels unbearably painful. I know the best way to combat these: have an hour nap. Just turn off from the world and go to sleep. But sometimes I just can’t because I feel so damned guilty about it. Because it feels like I’m wasting time.

So I’ve got a long way to go before I stop this frantic race against….well I don’t know exactly. I know all of this on a mental level but sometimes it’s not enough to stop the feelings from overwhelming me. I don’t know if talking about it is going to help, but I doubt I’m the only person out there who feels this way. Some people will have had it way worse with their parents, some won’t have, and like me might feel unjustified in how it has left them feeling as adults.

The advantage I have is that as a trainee counsellor I know that how bad or not something was, if the damage is done, it is done. There is no need to justify why something affected you, it is enough that it did, especially as our children selves are so much more sensitive than they ever let on. We’re not responsible for how our parents made us feel, all we can do is make the most of what we have now.

So to all the people out there who feel like me: it’s ok, you’re plenty as you are. You’ve done plenty today, even if all you’ve done is breathe and survived through whatever shit you’re having to deal with. Don’t let parents, or society, tell you that your worth can be measured by any achievements. It doesn’t work like that. Be you, and that’ll be more than enough. Always.

Grief sucks

This is a very personal, kind of rambly post that I wrote yesterday when I was upset and hurting. I was all ready to chuck it in the recycle bin after I wrote it because I felt ashamed and embarassed by my emotions. I still am today but I realise that maybe, one day, someone might stumble upon this on the big wide internet and find themselves feeling a little less alone. Or maybe someone will read this and look at those around them who are grieving differently. Speaking up about personal experiences is important. Hard, but important. Thank you in advance for reading.

large1Grief sucks. There’s not really many other ways to say it. It sucks balls (if you’ll pardon the phrase) from here to the next galaxy. And back. And then probably there again. That’s just how much it sucks. It’s a messy ball of tangled emotions that’s more tangled up than a wool of yarn that’s been a cat’s victim for a week. And worst of all, no matter how much you know the theory behind it, when you’re feeling all the crap that comes with it, it’s hard as hell to remember.

Be gone with your inspirational ‘But grief means you have loved and been loved’ poetry stuff. Only an idiot wouldn’t realise we only grieve because we loved someone. It might look super cool and inspirational when stuck on a pretty background, but grief doesn’t want inspiration, it doesn’t want pretty poetry and sunsets. Sometimes it doesn’t know what it wants. Tears? Distraction? A hug? Understanding? Acknowledgement? It changes. It varies, sometimes from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour. Sometimes you’ll only know what it wanted/didn’t want, when someone tries to give you it.

This happens because, like I’ve said above, grief isn’t just one emotion. It’s a collective term that forms the sum of all types of emotions. Those emotions may be different, and come in different quantity and intensity, for different people. Similarly, it is unlikely you will ever grieve the same twice.

Which in itself is a massive pain because it means we can never learn how’s the best way to do it.

Grief is one of those things that doesn’t come with a manual. When you lose someone (because this is the type of grief I’m talking about here), you don’t get handed a manual with steps to follow. You’re on your own. And that’s tough (and sucky, let’s not forget sucky) and it’s probably going to take a hell of a lot more out of you than you thought.

At least I know it did me.

Last year (it almost makes me sick to think that it happened last year) I lost someone. I called her my sister, regardless of the fact we didn’t share blood, or parents, or hadn’t even grown up together. But we were family who had chosen each other, whose bond was as undeniable as the one that blood siblings have. We bickered like siblings, we laughed at the same stupid jokes, we cried together. She was as big a part of my heart as if we had been raised together. She called me her brother. Blood didn’t matter, never should matter when it comes to the people you pick as your family.

But to the world it does matter. You lose a sibling and your world is allowed to stop. Friends are supposed to help look after you where possible. Your emotions are validated by everything society tells you what losing a sibling feels like.

Lose a friend, and no one expects you to fall apart. They expect you to hurt but losing friends, losing people, happens, and we live in a world that very much so wants us to sweep our grief under the carpet before it makes everybody feel uncomfortable. It didn’t matter that she was more than a friend, that she was a sister, because all everybody around us could see was a friendship. A close one, sure, but just a friendship.

So last year, when I got the news that she was gone (which I got second hand because her parents had decided that I was the be-all and end-all of all evil), my world tried to stop. I was ready for this news. I had watch her slowly fading away for a year and the last time I had seen her face to face I had left with the gut wrenching certainty that I would never see her again, never hear her laugh (she had the most contagious laugh I have ever known a person to have and I have laughed at so many things I normally wouldn’t because her laugh would get me going).

She was gone. It was still abstract. Every wall I had put up for the news dropped was up and ready to take the battering. And they took it, and I didn’t cry. Instead I stayed calm (maybe too calm in retrospect) and informed some mutual friends that lived near us. We agreed to all go for ice cream that day. As they’d never been that close to her, not as close as me and my brother anyway, I’d expected them to be there for me. But no one knew what to do. We talked awkwardly about everything but after the necessary. There was awkward hugging.

I think I remember the ice cream didn’t taste much, but instead all I could think was of all the times we had come to this exact place with her, had laughed, had talked, had been together.

That was the day I realised that our society has made grief into something…unwanted. Other people do not want you to be grieving (especially not if you are usually ‘the strong one’ that everybody relies upon) because it makes them awkward. This is the same reason why it’s perfectly ok to laugh whilst in the street but crying would be….unseemly.

Because it makes people uncomfortable.

So grief is expected to be private, so private as to be invisible to those around you. You pull it in, and in, and in, until everything looks normal on the outside. Until even you are convinced that you have this under control and that it’s fine, that you’re fine, and that life can carry on by itself.

And then one day, for a reason you might never figure out, it blindsides you. large

I don’t remember when or why it happened to me, but I remember sitting on the side of bed, howling with tears. I was angry, I was sad, I was a thousand things beside for which I don’t know the words. That day, for reason I still don’t know, my walls, my carefully constructed walls, came tumbling down.

Grief rushed in.

I know now (and I knew at the time but it was hard to see) that that was healthy. Not allowing myself to feel was only going to lead to damage in the long run and as I have a history of making myself sick with withholding my emotions, I think it was a blessing that my walls cracked long before I thought they would.

And now that grief is in, it keeps catching me off guard. A dream there, a thought here and I feel this pain in my chest. It’s been very true of the last few days where I’ve hardly felt like I can dislodge the ball of pain that is living somewhere in the middle of my chest. It’s distracting, from pretty much everything I want to do, and today it’s come with an added veil of profound sadness that has just made everything just that little bit harder, that little bit more difficult to get done.

It’s also why I’m writing this, because on top of the knot-in-chest today I also had the knot-in-throat. There is so much I never say, so much I never talk about. Mostly I can’t get the words out, or people’s reaction to my words make me clam up all over again. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m allowed to talk. This has as much to do with the fact that when I do talk, some people just reply with silence, or the fact that I don’t want to burden the people who do reply because they are definitely dealing with more shit than they need to be already as it is.

But then today I saw some people I know making great dramas over twitter of how bad they felt, how tired they felt, how down they felt. Tweets about crying and about feeling shitty. And it made me feel bitter. Bitter that they were throwing their pain everywhere for everyone else to deal with and I always felt that I needed to hide mine because it was going to make everyone feel awkward, and in turn make me feel awkward about it. Today I feel like I’m being torn up inside by this sadness and for once, I actually needed to say something. If it was okay for everyone to cry and tell the world how hurt they were when two celebrities died, then it had better be okay for me to tell the world how much losing my sister makes it hurt.

And if it isn’t, then this messed up society needs to take a good look at itself. Today I needed this pain to exist somewhere else than inside my chest, and for once, for goddamned once, I am not going to apologise for how my grief is making me feel and act.

largeI woke up feeling like I was falling apart, and I still do feel like that. I’ve managed precious little because I think my brain’s energy has been focussed inwards on trying to work out how to cope with all the feelings going on. The one thing I did was get dressed (I had to go out after all) but I think that had as much to do with putting armour on as it did anything else. I got dressed ‘my style’ today, not because I felt like it, but because it felt that if I was me on the outside, maybe it would prevent me inside from crumbling.

I’ll let you know if I ever work out whether it worked or not.

Now it’s later in the day than I wanted it to be, and the knot-in-throat is partially gone (what I really need is to get the tears out but that hasn’t happened for a while), and the pain in my chest is still there. But at least I feel a little bit less alone, even if the only thing that ever reads this is my computer.

Sometimes, I guess, we just need to lay our thoughts bare before we can start to feel better.


Dreams and their importance

Another post taken from my work on my emotional therapeutic course! There were elements of this session that caused me all sorts of issues, namely the concepts of male and female archetypes. I bring it up in the report below, but I also ended up writing another post about it (here) which I sent to my tutors at the time. Since then, the course has been altered to reflect our modern world more accurately, so that was one victory I certainly did not expect!

largeOne of the first things we were told on the dreams workshop was a simply sentence: ‘We cannot sensor our dreams’. That statement holds within it the powerful effect that working with our dreams can have, how it can become a gateway to fears, events, or thoughts we have not been able to access consciously for a variety of reasons. We were presented with Yung’s work as background for our work on analysing dreams. With an awareness that our consciousness is by far smaller than our unconscious/subconscious, we started our travel into the dreamworld and its meanings.

To start with, we looked at what Jung classified as archetypes of what is present within dreams. There are three sets of opposing energies surrounding the self that forms the centre part of the dream and around which everything else revolves. This seven basic archetypes are Jung’s key to the understanding of dreams.

The archetype of the journey stands opposed to the archetype of the cycle of death/rebirth. The first symbolises the beginning of some form of healing work with the destination of the journey often uncertain or irrelevant as the importance lies in the journey itself. It can be represented through actual travelling or the presence of clocks, calendars, mountains in the distance, or even a light in the distance. It speaks of development and progression. The death/rebirth cycle is opposed to the journey archetype in that it doesn’t represent a linear travel but a cycle of change. Death within dreams is unlikely to represent a physical death of the body, but is far more likely to represent the end of something (a state of mind, a situation, a relationship, etc…) with rebirth ever present on the other side of death for each end is in turn a new beginning. Whereas the journey archetype is all about the process of moving forward, the death/rebirth cycle archetype represents a crisis and the potential for something to change and begin anew.

The next set of opposing archetypes are those Jung refers to as the masculine and largefeminine archetypes (which I shall henceforth be referring to as the Yin and Yang archetypes as a way to remove myself from any gender bias attached to either of the sets of energies discussed here, with the Yin corresponding to the set of ‘feminine’ energies and the Yang to the ‘masculine’ ones). On one side the Yang energies are the doing, pro-active energies. They’re about focus and structure, about logical thought and assertiveness. Taken to the extreme they become the violent energies, domineering and frightening. On the other side the Yin energies are about growth, acceptance, and welcoming. Those energies are about nurturing and the simple state of being. Taken to the extreme they become overly passive and stagnant. Where the previous pair of archetypes worked on an either/or basis (we are either undertaking a journey OR in the process of death and rebirth) the Yin and Yang archetype is very much so about balance of the two sets of energies (which is why I also thought the Yin and Yang words were perfect to use in this regard as they are primarily about balancing energies within ourselves). Whenever these energies appear within our dreams (Yung says we usually use people of the relevant gender to personify these emotions but within my personal experience I see it as more being people who we see as representing those energies, gender regardless) it is usually as a way to tell us that there is an imbalance, that one energy might be more predominant than the other and that we need to find ways to rectify this.

Finally, the third set of opposing archetypes are the hero or saviour archetype and the adversary archetype. One the one side, the hero archetype is a positive energy about winning and saving (ourselves). It can take the shape of a warrior, or a cornucopia and represents the light. The adversary is its exact opposite with a negative energy bent on opposition and destruction. Represented by things such as fire, the devil, or wounds, it is the darkness to the hero’s light. Here the aim of these archetypes is not so much to balance each other as to be integrated. Jung believed that we needed to integrate our darkness (referred to in his work as shadow) by accepting its existence and acknowledging it. In our dreams the darkness can often manifest in the form of something chasing us, something behind us that we cannot see but are often afraid or apprehensive about. The resolution comes when we become able to turn around and accept what is behind us in our dream, therefore taking the shadow of our selves within us, and integrating it into our self.

large (2)The seventh archetype is the centre one: the self. It represents both unity and separation and is the focus point of the healing process. There are many ways for the self to present itself in our dreams, although commonly it can be seen that a house (usually from childhood) represents the self.

Dreams can easily be seen and looked at as one would look at a drama, a play unfolding upon a stage. People as actors inhabit our dreamworld with their role and meaning not always matching the person they are in our waking life, making all their interactions with us and one another meaningful on a level deeper than the simply interactions of daily life. There is often a beginning to the dream that serves to set the scene. From there onwards the plot unfolds as it would in a play with the actors going about their roles and the momentum gathering around whatever the problem is until a climax or turning point is reached. When looking at dreams as drama it is interesting to analyse the place of the actors within the setting. It also gives us the opportunity to look at the sequencing of events and the interactions that have occurred. The ending whether it be a fulfilling conclusion or an abrupt end, also holds meaning as to our situation and mental state in our waking hours.

To access a more in depth analysis of dreams we looked at three separate methods which I will now briefly describe and discus as relevant to my own personal analysis done on the day.

The first method we looked at views dreams as happening in three stages: the introduction, the story, and the ending (be it through solution or catastrophe). Each part is analysed separately: what does the first sentence of the introduction tell us? We look at the characters and setting introduced and try to draw association with our waking lives. Throughout the introduction and the story we look at what the dream is trying to say by using recent events in our lives to see if they can be linked with what is happening in the dream. Finally we must extricate from the ending of the dream what action might be needed in our daily life to fix the issue at hand.

I personally found this way of analysing dreams to be very efficient for myself as the dream I used for this I had very detailed recognition of and was therefore able to clearly look at possible associations without needing to be guided. It felt like it is definitely a method that would work best for people who very clearly recall their dreams (or at least the dream worked on) and are easily able to bring back details to mind. It also does seem to encourage a very current interpretations, by which I mean it seems to try and root the message of the dream in the present situation of the person. It asks to draw association with what happened during the previous day, but does not appear to seek to make links with perhaps longer standing issues/anxieties that the person might have and would therefore be better used for dreams that the client feel are relevant to their current situations and not something that is deeply rooted within their past (for example, a recurrent dream).

The second method consists of a list of questions to ask the dreamer. It is a guided large (1)approach to dream analysis which focusses on specific aspects. The list of thirteen questions seeks to draw out the most important parts and feelings associated to the dreams by asking thigs like a word title the dreamer would give his or her dream, what actions were taken, or what would be done differently if the dream was lived in real life. These questions are there to help the client focus only on the elements of the dream which may be helpful if the person is not used to working with dreams or struggles to recall the dream in its entirety. Being able to focus simply on the parts of it that are relevant and meaningful also partially removes the chance of drawing associations simply for the sake of finding meaning behind every single thing. I found it an interesting method when I worked with it as it brought to light one or two elements of the dream that I had not regarded in the same way before, although overall there was a restrictive quality to the questions that I found did not let me explore my dream as freely.

The final method we looked at is Johnson’s four steps in dreamwork. The first step is all about making associations: we are to take the dream’s imagery and create direct associations with words, ideas or feelings that are relevant to us. The associations need to stay direct and not become a chain of connections as this is just the first stage. The associations need to feel right, to ‘click’ for the person making them, which means it advised to not be using a dream dictionary of any kind of universal dream symbols as a way to create the associations, at least not initially. The second part focusses on linking the dream images we have just acquired to our own inner life. We are now seeking to created links in between the words/ideas/feelings that we associated with what was in the dream to our waking selves and our daily lives. We may look at patterns present in the dream that also exist in our waking lives, at emotions that are echoes of our own personalities. The goal is to seek to understand what the dream is trying to draw our attention to: is something changing that we haven’t noticed? Has a healing happened or begun to happen that we didn’t think had? We only begin to interpret all of the findings from step one and two in the third and penultimate step. Here we draw together everything we have looked at so far to find the central message in the dream. We focus on what feelings are there and try to find an interpretation that resonates honestly with ourselves. Finally, the fourth step looks at taking a concrete step following the dream. Whether it be writing a letter, talking to someone, changing certain aspects of our lives, we must focus here on what we can do during our waking time to implement the message of the dream and therefore step closer to wholeness and individuation.

large (3)When I used this method for the dream I was working on, I both found it very helpful and somehow confusing. I liked how creative and free it allowed me to be, especially after the restrictions of the second method. But I did, however, find that I was terrible at sticking to the separate steps and tended to plough on ahead, mixing everything together and doing it all at once. Perhaps I would not have tried to create the associations in the same way had I not been working from this method but I found it difficult to just keep to the steps as each images unfurled into a flurry of associations that were easy to trace and work with. It is definitely a method that I think is best suited to people who find it easy to connect with their dreams, and I believe it is probably also important to not use it as a rigid to-do list but more as a guideline in how best to get the most possible out of our dreams and as a way to keep track of the different levels of associations and when it is best to pull everything together for an overall meaning.

Before finishing it is worth adding that we spoke briefly about keeping a dream log and the importance of it for people who wish to work with their dreams. Whenever keeping such log it is best to write what we remember of our dreams as soon as possible as well as leave space in between each dream to give us a chance to come back later on and to look at them with fresh eyes as we might be able to bring a new level of understanding after we have had time to think about the dream.


Fear seen as an Emotional Therapist

This is another report I have written for the course I am currently on. As with the last one it’s very blog-post like, so I hope it’ll make for an interesting read!

largeFear is one of our primal emotions, alongside love, one of the first things that, as a new born, we are able to feel. Fear has a lot of negative connotations, but it is, in its most basic representation, something that allows for the triggering of the flight or fight instinct which can be intrinsic to our survival. But what happens when fear stops triggering that reaction and instead freezes us on the spot, trapping us in a pattern, situation, or cycle that we simply cannot move from? That is when fear becomes an obstacle to our daily lives, and it is also when we begin to fear the fear itself, therefore creating a loop in which we simply cannot face the original fear that has us frozen in place.

Fear is one of the most common underlying feelings that a client might demonstrate, and it more likely than not that they will be unaware that fear is the root of their problem, let alone a fear of what. Because the fear is often rooted in one or more events of childhood, it is likely that the specifics of it have all been buried away by the adult as a coping mechanism. Similarly the fear may also have been displaced.

There are many physical, mental, and emotional signs that can tell us, as counsellors that fear is an underlying problem for the client even if they do not realise it. Physical signs can range from sweaty palms to shaking, to clinging onto specific items and high levels of restlessness. Mentally and emotionally, clients who are afraid are more likely to talk themselves in circle as they are too afraid to give voice to what the actual problem is. They are also likely to report high levels of anxiety in their daily lives as well as suffer from panic attacks. Addictions are also a good sign that there may be fear masked by the client’s actions. And those are only a small selection of examples on how fear manifest itself: lack of sleep, untargeted anger, and a chaotic lifestyle with no capacity to adapt are also some of the red flags surrounding fear in a client.

Anxiety, as is mentioned above, is unfocussed fear that the client has detached from what created it in the first place and it has become spread over everything that is part of the client’s life. Phobia, on the contrary, is a focussed fear, wherein a particular object, situation, or creature, becomes the target of an intense, uncontrollable fear. It is likely that phobias are displaced and targeted fears the origin of which clients can neither face nor recognise.

As therapists what we offer client is not to diminish their face, but it is to develop love large (1)(and self-love) to balance out the fear and make it more manageable. We cannot rid people of their fear, but what we can do is help the wounds caused by the events that created the fear, heal, and become just a scar. Triggering events will always make the scar feel sensitive but, with self-love and the proper healing having happened, a person can know what it is that is causing the feelings and why it is doing so and therefore be able to tackle how they feel both on a mental and emotional level.

When handling people who are afraid it is important for the therapist to be aware that they might need to approach the person and their issues in ways that are tailored to that person as each individual will handle their fear differently. One thing that can be said in most cases is to remind the person that they are being brave, and showing courage in coming to therapy. Courage can only exist in the face of fear, and by coming to therapy people are willing to tackle the fear that is hindering their lives, therefore demonstrating courage. This alone can help some people feel emboldened and more in control when it comes to the difficult process of therapy.

Most important is not to frighten the person away, not to give them another thing to be afraid of. It is necessary to be reassuring with frightened clients, perhaps to employ a particularly soft tone of voice to help them feel at ease. Exercises such as creative expression and dreamwork could prove beneficial to such clients: the former as a way to express the fear in a safe environment and in whichever way is more suited to them and the latter potentially as a way to uncover hints towards what is causing the fear. Visualization can be used to help calm the person if the session has taken them to somewhere which has caused them distress, whereas working with the stones might be a way to find out whether the fear is linked to one individual, or a group of individuals in particular.

What is important above all, and if not done will render any attempt to help the person useless, is the building of trust. Without trust, the client will not be able to open to their fear in front of the therapist, who will most likely become feared in turn.

large (2)It is important to help the client also understand that the fear they feel is not simply their own, but that of the inner child who has been holding onto that fear potentially for years now. It is very important to comfort the inner child and to teach the client to do the same, and not to belittle whatever it is that their inner child is feeling. Ways to get the client in touch with the inner child could involve the use of photographs from childhood (or old diaries), non-dominant hand writing, or the good parent visualization. It could be helpful to ask the client what would have helped them when they were in that situation and do behave that way towards the inner child where possible.

The therapist could ask questions along the line of ‘Can you remember a time when you felt afraid/safe/anxious?’ as a way to start creating a timeline of when the fear was created. Although this might be difficult for customers who have little to no memories of their childhood. Client willing, there are ways to help them try and retrieve these memories, but it is never guaranteed and there is always the risk of the client going to very dark and uncomfortable, often frightening, places. Again the use of old photos can help jog specific memories, and if the client has any, they could use object or toys from their past to build memories outwards from what they remember regarding the object/toy. Talking to old friends and family can also help.

It is also possible that the fear will prevent the recovery of memories, or that they have simply been lost and as such the therapist will need to work more with the present life of the client instead of trying to heal the wounds of the past. It is also possible that the fear has been created in a more recent past and not in the childhood, and therefore will likely need to be tackled differently. Either way, it is important to help people realise that fear is False Evidence Affecting Reality and that the proper support and love, it can be overcome in most cases.

Yin and Yang: Balancing energies

This is a report I have written for the course I am currently on. As the format I write them in is very similar to how I blog I thought it’d be cool to have them on here as well!

large (1)Throughout the world cultures, energies have more often than not been separated into two groups. Be it in Buddhism with its simple division by left and right, the Shiva/Shatki separation of yoga, the yin and yang of far Eastern, or the western division of masculine and feminine introduced by Jung, the different pairs of energies do tend to correspond to each other throughout places and time.

Jung was the first one to primarily work with such energies in the west and he was the one to introduce masculine and feminine as archetypes and representation of parts of people. He saw the Anima as the female part of a man and the Animus as the male part of any woman. These concepts were strongly built on the society he lived in, an outdated society where men and women were not treated as equal, and where they were forced into specific gender roles that forced certain traits upon them. In today’s society gender roles and expectations are slowly being pushed out and the concepts of masculine and feminine as presented by Jung might not make as much sense as they used to. In a world where transgender, gender fluid, and agender people are slowly being more and more accepted the dichotomy is between man and woman is slowly being broken down. It is becoming more and more acceptable for women to predominantly show strong ‘masculine’ traits and similarly (although perhaps not quite yet as prevalently) men are feeling more free to show their ‘feminine’ side. Jung’s choice of words can be seen as very restrictive and may make some people feel uncomfortable or make it hard for them to understand the need for balance in between the two energies.

So both on the course and in this report, the words yin and yang from far Eastern culture shall be used to refer to feminine and masculine.

Now what is important is that, no matter what words are chosen for each set of energies, what truly matters is balancing the two. To be a happy, healthy human being, we need to be able to balance both sets of energies for an excess of either can turn otherwise positive energies into something destructive, both to ourselves and those around us. For example, where a balanced yang might grant someone a strong, determined attitude underlined by the thoughtful reflection of their yin, an overly dominant yang will see the person being reckless and maybe even domineering to those around them. On the converse a dominant, unbalanced yin might make a nurturing, sensitive person become illogical and manipulative.

Many issues people suffer from can be put down to the presence of an imbalance in their energies. We can spot these imbalances by working through strength and frailties, looking into largethe client’s relationships with those around them, as well as looking at the interactions they have with others and their environment. Working with dreams might also be an illuminating path into the balance of energies in someone’s life. Journalling may help people realise their own imbalances, or at least bring to light areas that need work and where the therapist would be able to see the struggle of energies.

Imbalances in energies can be carried over from childhood or created by the present situation the person is in and it is important to work out where the imbalance originates before it can be worked on. A man with an over dominant yang may have carried this since childhood and being told on countless occasions that ‘boys don’t do this’ or ‘boys don’t cry’ (similarly this can be the case for a woman with over dominant yin). They would have pushed away any signs of their yin to fit in the mould that they were told they had to fit in. Other imbalances can be caused by the current situation of the person (although there is always a chance that the imbalance existed in childhood and is only coming to the surface in the present). Someone who has always seemed ‘strong’ in their dealings with events might become outwardly ‘unemotional’ if they are forced to keep up the pretence of strength by those around them even when things are starting to get too much for them. Another example could be that of a woman who has been treated unfairly by the men in her life and who would become manipulative as a rebellion against the overbearing yang that she has been faced with (it is also more than likely that in those cases she would ignore/diminish her own yang sides).

Our goal as therapist is to enable our clients to achieve a state of balance in between their energies as well as give them a capacity to recognise imbalance so that they may prevent it from taking over their lives again.

How binary and gendered words for non-gender related concepts is hurting the world

I attended the dreamwork workshop recently for the diploma course. It was, as always, interesting and illuminating. But partway through the day, I encountered something that deeply troubled me: when we were talking about the archetypes present in dreams (taken from Jung’s theories and work), the masculine and feminine archetypes were brought up. This is something that was already mentioned back during the foundation course and I remembered that our tutors during that weekend had preferred to use the terms Yin and Yang for the opposing sets of energies.

But this time the two sets of energies were referred straight out as masculine and feminine. I wasn’t going to raise the point I wanted to make (which I am a little ashamed of as this is important to me), until another student brought up how she couldn’t understand the opposing concepts. What she couldn’t understand wasn’t the concepts, but the words used to describe them. The tutors sort of brushed both her and me aside saying maybe it would make more sense later. We dropped it. Then later on one of the tutors read aloud a passage from Jung’s theories about the animus and anima, their origin, and their effects.

Now Jung lived some fifty, sixty years ago, in a society that viewed gender as entirely binary (male and female) and where societal roles were more often than not dictated by one’s gender. But in the 21st century, things have changed: gender is now widely accepted to be far more than non-binary. There are transgender people, gender fluid people, agender, and non-binary people. There is a whole scope, a whole spectrum of colour that shows gender to be a far more complex thing than simply male or female. Similarly, what is—unfortunately—referred to as ‘traditional’ gender roles (it is perhaps time we start calling them ‘outdated’ or ‘old-fashioned’ gender roles), have started to be thrown in bin. Of course there are still many issues of sexism, of women being paid less, of men being promoted over women even when the woman is more qualified. But that is because society is still changing, transforming, and we are far from having achieved the egalitarian world that we dream of as an ideal.

We also live in a world that is fighting to de-gender needlessly gendered things like toys, clothes, colours, and the myriad of other things that centuries of binary gender perception have polluted with ideas that some things are solely for girls and others solely for boys.

So when energies are gendered, we face the problem all over again. For not only are they gendered, they are referred to as archetypes. An archetype refers to a very typical example of a 2a5ef1a7-bb94-44d5-a0d0-b505ed4919e0_560_420person or thing. Some Greek philosophers saw an archetype as the ideal of that thing or person. Which basically means that we are putting forward that the words we associate with the energies we refer to as masculine and feminine are the ideals of what feminine and masculine should be.

Understandably we are not referring exclusively to gender here, but masculine and feminine are inextricable from their gender connotations. By choosing to use these words, we are choosing to perpetuate the idea that these qualities are solely for male or female (and yes, I do realise that both within the course and within Jung’s theories there is the idea of balance in between these energies but there always seems to be points made about the masculine being dominant in males and the feminine in females in most cases—Jung sees that the animus comes from the father and vice versa).

I know people for whom the labels placed on these energies would be troubling: I know someone who is often bullied at the school he goes to for not being ‘masculine’ enough, and I know without a doubt that if he was presented with the ‘masculine’ archetype we have here, he would be upset. Because it would not fit who he is. It would compound the reason behind the bullying. However, if the energies were presented simply under the Eastern philosophy idea of Yin and Yang, then there is no connotation that either set of energy is less favourable for anyone, no matter their gender.

Let me give another example: a close friend of mine is gender fluid, which means he at times sees and presents as male, and at times as female. He would have found the above separation of masculine and feminine upsetting and unbalancing because they demand that genders be seen as opposites, not as things capable to flow into one another. There would be many more cases within the LGBTQ community and I think it is important that we are aware of such things, and the damage that our own choice of words could do if we were to have clients that do not fit within these archetypes.

Screen-shot-2014-03-28-at-2.14.58-PMAs therapists we have a duty to offer as safe an environment to our clients as possible. Needlessly gendering energies and words that represent them is not something healthy and is becoming increasingly problematic for more and more people. There is no shame in men being softer and women being stronger, it does not mean they are behaving like people of the opposite gender, it simply means that they are more in touch with a different set of energies. My father, for example, is the one who cooks and more often than not tidies around the house. My mother is the bread winner of the family. Because of it she has often been referred to as a very masculine woman, often with the connotation that it is a bad thing because women should be feminine and men should be masculine.

I’m not, by any means, suggesting we don’t study Jung’s model: I think that the idea of opposing energies trying to find balance is a very important concept. But Jung has to be placed within the context of his time when he refers to a binary vision of gender and we, as people living in the changing world of the 21st century, need to do our best to adapt our vocabulary and terminology to what is happening around us.

Eastern philosophies offer us two words that are detached from gender (even the kanji that form them are not made of any of the ones used to write male/man or female/woman) and would allow to explain the two opposing sets of energies without any connotations. There may even be other words but as someone who is in touch with more eastern philosophies this is the only other set of words I could think of using.