When a distressful thought becomes an obsession: OCD

Thought and Obsession

An Obsession can be defined as a frequent, intrusive and distressful thought.

Our mind and our thoughts are not always under our complete rational control, even if we would like them to be. We can’t always decide rationally which thoughts or images are allowed to come to our mind. Indeed we produce constantly a very large number of thoughts, some of them pertinent to our lives, work, relationships, etc. and some of them not pertinent, sometimes even weird, which can pop up in our mind even when we are focused on something else. It happened to all of us, while working or studying, to start thinking about something else without being totally aware of it (e.g. the grocery list, weekend activities, etc. etc.).

Sometimes the thoughts that pop up may be “weird”; this means that sometimes we can make thoughts that are definitely not congruent and maybe opposite to what we normally think or how we usually behave.

It can happen for example to have an aggressive thought, or a pervert or a deeply heretic one, maybe a homosexual thought if we are straight (or vice versa), or to think something really bad about a person that we love or that something really bad could happen… The potential list is very long, but the main feature is that these thoughts imply a scenario that is deeply feared by the person.

Usually since these thoughts are so far away from our beliefs and lifestyle, we don’t give too much importance to them and they tend to spontaneously disappear. But for some of us these thoughts cause intense anxiety and distress, they tend to pop up with a much higher frequency and they don’t disappear as fast as it happens for other people.

The anxiety caused by these thoughts is so intense that it interferes with the person’s daily functioning and he/she, in the attempt to find relief, may try to suppress them, to create rituals that can help to calm them down, to ask for reassurances or to avoid situations or people related to the thought. Also the list of rituals is potentially very long.

What is happening? And why?

If you recognise yourself or a person close to you in the dynamics explained above, it may be possible that you have developed an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is a serious and subtle disorder that tends not be recognised in the first place, as the person is often very ashamed of having these bad thoughts. In the long-term, OCD may make the person feel like a slave, controlled and dominated by obsessions and compulsions. If you think that this is your case, then consulting a specialist is highly recommended.

People with OCD, compared to others, tend to be very emotionally shaken by the bad thoughts described above, because these thoughts are totally incompatible with their core personal beliefs and the chance of these thoughts becoming “reality” is therefore to be avoided in every possible instance.
If however we can’t control which thoughts pop up in our mind, we can work on our attitude towards them and our consequent behaviours.

Cognitive behavioural psychotherapy is the form of therapy highly recommended to treat this disorder by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Seven cognitive shortcuts that may worsen your problems

Our mind often plays bad tricks on our discerning and rational abilities, without us being aware of what is happening.

Cognitive biases are a form of cognitive ‘errors’ or shortcuts leading us to evaluate situations, events or people in a distorted and almost irrational way in a very short period of time.

To read my entire article published on Counselling Directory, click here.

Sadness and depression: when do you cross the line?

Sadness or depression?

Nowadays the word ‘depression’ has been so fully absorbed into our daily language that it is often incorrectly used to describe normal sadness.

Sometimes it may occur that intense sadness makes us wonder whether it is a normal and transitory feeling or there is more about what is perceived as sorrow, such as real depression. In this instance, it is important to be aware of it and in case the boundary is crossed, seek appropriate help as depression is an actual disease which should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Let’s have a look then at the differences between sadness and depression.

The differences between sadness and depression

Sadness is an emotion that we often experience in our everyday life and that is usually categorised as a ‘negative’ and ‘unwanted’ feeling. Sadness is generally caused by missing out on our aims or goals which seem no longer achievable. Depending on how important the goal is and its specific meaning to us, we may experience a more or less intense feeling of sadness. For example, the intensity of the sense of sadness will be very different if applied to an unsuccessful application for a temporary and maybe not-so-wanted job as opposed to the instance of not getting our dream-life position.

Usually sadness is linked to specific events or thoughts, is time-limited and doesn’t prevent us from experiencing positive feelings if happy and joyous events occur. Furthermore, it doesn’t have a significant influence on our biological rhythms and daily functioning.

On the contrary, depression brings consistent and identifiable changes and symptoms in our habits and lasts for longer. First of all, a wake-up call related to a depressive episode occurs if the symptoms and low mood persist for at least a period of two weeks, in which they manifest most of the time and most of the days.

The core symptoms are severely low mood and lack of interest in the activities that used to stir up a positive response within ourselves, such as a sense of interest and engagement. When depressed, we are no longer interested in and motivated to undertake activities or hobbies as they no longer bring us any sense of pleasure. We may also feel like we have no energy for them at all. We may not care at all about going out, hanging out with friends, spending time with our partner (engaging in sexual activity as well), going to work, playing our favourite sport, etc. It may even occur that we neglect self-caring tasks. Low mood and a lack of interest will make us perceive the world as emotionally dull and grey, as though colours no longer exist.

As mentioned above, depression brings changes in our biological rhythms as well.

Different types of change in sleep habits, appetite and motor activity are reported. As a matter of fact, sleep problems or a tendency to sleep in can be observed as well as significantly increased or reduced appetite (and therefore weight gain or weight loss) and retardation or agitation related to motor activity.
Cognitively speaking, we may suffer from concentration problems, have trouble making decisions and often feel guilty, unworthy and hopeless about the future. In particular, the future may be perceived as an infinite extension of a worthless today. Several cognitive biases tend to maintain this hopelessness-related point of view.

As you can see, depression manifests in different ways with different symptoms, but the common denominator is a significant change in the functioning of the person, intense, strong and long-lasting symptoms and a significant impact on everyday life.

What to do

If you have the feeling that your low mood may not be linked to momentary sadness, keep an eye on it and if you recognise yourself in the aforementioned symptoms, consult a specialist. A psychotherapist, and in mild or severe cases a psychiatrist, can help you understand and tackle the issue.

The not-so-imaginary invalid: health anxiety

Health anxiety

Health anxiety is very often underestimated. Let’s see what happens in the mind of an hypochondriac.

A little tingling in our cheek, an anomalous heart beat, maybe slightly faster then usual, a pain in our back that doesn’t seem to leave, a particular ache in a muscle… and in a blink of an eye we are immediately alerted, fully focused on our bodily signals scanning any potential change.

So many worries come to our mind: what is this? Am I having a heart attack? Is this cancer? Or maybe an aneurysm? All raised by a tremendous amount of anxiety.

If it happened to you, how would you behave?

It would be quite normal to gather information from books or the Internet about signs and symptoms of the disease you think you may have and very probably you will urgently book an appointment with your GP asking him/her to run several medical tests.

But what happens to some of us is that books and the Internet will provide much information and many negative scenarios that will scare us even more, and very likely we may focus only on the information that confirm our worries. Moreover, even if test results will show that nothing is wrong with our body, we will feel reassured only for a short period of time, until the next strange body signal appears, which will prompt us to request other specialist exams. And so on…

What is happening?

What was once a normal and understandable way to react to possible abnormal symptoms has become a pervasive and exaggerated way of dealing with our body, which creates intense distress in the person experiencing it and hence several negative consequences and limitations to their everyday life.

This is the so-called hypochondria or health anxiety, a distressful condition where a person’s beliefs and worries are often considered by others as imaginary or fake, making the person feel even more misunderstood and lonely.

On the contrary, health anxiety is a real problem, the person’s symptoms are real and the worries are extremely distressful.

Health anxiety treatment

The good news is that health anxiety can be treated and cognitive behavioural psychotherapy is the most recommended form of therapy in these instances. CBT can indeed help you in acknowledging and changing the cognitive misinterpretations that maintain the problem and in finding new coping mechanisms to better deal with anxiety.

Understanding the symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety

We all agree that being anxious and suffering from anxiety is something that we would rather avoid in the first place.

Anxiety is an annoying condition and if its intensity raises, its symptoms may scare the person and bring forth the sensation of not being in control of our body reactions. Experiencing very intense anxiety symptoms in our body may be so terrifying that for many people it may become itself an experience to be very scared of.

In these instances we are talking about what is so called “fear of fear” itself. Fear of fear can bring more intense consequences than anxiety itself, leading the person to avoid any possible situation where they may feel the unwanted anxiety symptoms.

Fear of fear is a very powerful and delicate mechanism that in most cases maintains and/or worsens the initial situation.

The first step to overcome fear of fear is getting to know the enemy.

Let’s try to understand together what is happening to our body when we are so anxious and why.

Understanding the symptoms of anxiety

The first thing that is important to know is that anxiety is an emotion that in our evolutionary history derives from the most primitive emotion of fear, but it has appeared in the history of the human being only after the development of our superior cortical functions. Anxiety is indeed linked to the complex ability of our brain to make long-term plans and assumptions about what could possibly happen in the future; on the contrary fear is a more primitive and archaic instinctive that implies an immediate reaction to a threat in the “here-and-now”.

Secondly, anxiety, like fear, is related to the perception of a threat, and it activates the same brain pathways that are activated by its fellow emotion of fear. In both situations, the automatic reaction that is induced in our body is the fight-or-flight response: our body prepares itself to fight the threat or to run away to ensure survival.

Each symptom that is experienced when we are anxious can indeed be explained and understood in the fight-or-flight perspective.

Let’s see the most commons symptoms that we experience when we are anxious and their physiological explanations:

  • Muscle tension: usually we feel our muscles contracted and rigid; if the anxious condition becomes prolonged in time, we may even feel some sort of pain. This happens because our body is preparing itself to fight the threat or to run away; as a consequence our muscles are in tension and ready to react immediately if it is necessary.
  • Tachycardia or heart palpitations: our heart rate tends to increase so that our heart may pump more blood to our muscles and send more oxygen. This helps our muscles to be better prepared to react to the danger.
  • Tingling or torpidity in our body’s extremities: we may feel tingling in our hands or feet. This happens because the majority of our blood flow becomes concentrated in our main muscles (for the reasons explained above) and not in the extremities. As a consequence this may be experienced as tingles, torpidity or cold hands and feet.
  • Difficulty breathing: we may experience the sensation of having trouble breathing. This happens because the contraction of our muscles may counteract the expansion of our lungs.
  • Air hunger: we may have the feeling of needing air. Very often during anxiety we experience hyperventilation; this means that we increase the number of breaths per minute but the quality our breathing worsens, as we tend to breath using only the higher parts of our lungs (thoracic breathing) and not our diaphragm. Hyperventilation introduces too much oxygen in our body, and the consequence is a worsening of the intensity of anxiety symptoms.
  • Goose bumps: muscle contraction involves as well the skin, causing goose bumps.
  • Stomach ache: very often we may experience stomach ache, as if someone punched us in our stomach, nausea or gastrointestinal problems. This happens because when the fight-or-flight response is activated, all the energy of our body is suddenly concentrated in facing the danger and digestion is interrupted, as it consumes a lot of energy that needs to be used to deal with the threat.
  • Blurred vision: we may have the feeling that our vision is blurred during intense anxiety episodes. What happens is that pupils dilate in order to let more light come in the eye and have a better sight of the danger. Our eyes focus better on details and peripheral vision worsens, giving us the feeling of blurred vision.
  • Dizziness and giddiness: we may experience those symptoms as a consequence of hyperventilation. As written above, hyperventilation brings more oxygen in our body. The consequence is the vaso constrictions of some brain blood vessels, so even if more oxygen is introduced in our body, our brain receives less of it and the consequence may be dizziness.

These are the most common symptoms that we may experience when we are anxious. As you can read, each of them has a specific physiological explanation related to the physiological reactions caused by the perception of a threat.

Taking care of your emotional states is a very important way of taking care of yourself.

Anxiety treatment

If you suffer from a serious anxiety condition, gathering information about what is going on is the first step but it doesn’t substitute specialist help. Psychotherapy and counselling can help you in better handling anxiety symptoms, dealing with hyperventilation and facing the perceived threats that foster your anxiety.

Irritable bowel syndrome: can psychotherapy help?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder, affecting around 11% of the general population, that tends to be chronic and is certainly bothersome. Even if usually no inflammation or tissues alteration is present, IBS may be a very disturbing and distressing condition, that significantly worsens a person’s quality.

Irritable Bowel Symptoms

People suffering from IBS may experience a great variety of symptoms:

  • abdominal pain: its intensity is usually mild and not severe, it may follow food ingestion and stop after evacuation
  • cramping and/or bloating
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • gas and/or mucus.

The risk factors of IBS are: being woman, being under 45, having a familiar history of IBS and having a mental health problem.

The causes of IBS are still unknown, but it is very likely that several concomitant factors may play a role.

Furthermore, stress seems to have an impact in worsening the syndrome. In particular, the stress condition caused by suffering from IBS may itself create a vicious cycle, fostering IBS symptoms and consequently creating more anxiety. Moreover, it seems that up to 70-90% of people suffering from IBS may experience psychological difficulties, more likely mood or anxiety disorders.

What is neuroscience telling us?

The tight relationship between our brain and our bowel is not a novelty, but in the last decade neuroscience has given us amazingly interesting new information about it.

It seems that our brain and our guts are in constant communication, both influencing each other through top-down and bottom-up processes. But we are not talking only about digestion-related information: our guts have been defined by scientist M. Gershon like a real “second brain”.

Our “second brain” contains indeed around 100 millions of neurons that are responsible for digestion but also for making us experience the so called “gut feelings”, such as “butterflies” in the stomach. Furthermore, it seems that those feelings can have an influence on our mental states even if no conscious thought or decision-making can be undertaken by our second brain. In particular it seems that some specific macrobiota in our guts may impact the functions of our central nervous system; in mice, an impact on anxiety and stress-related behaviours has been found.

Can psychotherapy help?

If you suffer from IBS and you believe you are suffering from anxiety and stress, you may consider taking care of this to avoid a worsening of your IBS.

Research has showed high comorbidities of anxiety and mood disorders in IBS patients, the problematic vicious cycle that anxiety may create and the consequent risk of perceiving a poor quality of life.

Psychotherapy may help you with the aforementioned psychological issues, as our mind and our bowel are so deeply interconnected.

Furthermore, research has showed promising results on the efficacy of psychotherapy, in particular cognitive behavioural therapy and therapies involving relaxation techniques, in improving IBS symptoms, anxiety and the patient’s quality of life.

Suggested links

Irritable Bowel Syndrom Network UK

Bibliography

Al-Asmakh, M; Anuar; Zadjali, F; Rafter, J;  Pettersson, S. “Gut microbial communities modulating brain development and function”. Gut Microbes 2012 Jul-Aug;3(4):366-73. Epub 2012 Jun 29.
Blanchard, E; Lackner, JM; Sanders, K; Krasner, S; Keefer, L; Payne, A; Gudleski, GD; Katz, L; Rowell, D; Sykes, M; Kuhn, E;  Gusmano, R; Carosella, AM; Firth, R;  Dulgar-Tulloch, L. “A controlled evaluation of group cognitive therapy in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome”. Behavioural Research and Therapy, April 2007, vol 45(4):663-648.
Garakani, A; Win, T; Virk, S; Gupta, S; Kaplan, D; Masand, PS. “Comorbidity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Psychiatric Patients: A Review”. Am J Ther. 2003 Jan-Feb;10(1):61-7.
Kuo, B; Bhasin, M; Jacquart, J; Scult, MA; Slipp, L; Riklin, El, Lepoutre, V; Comosa, N; Norton, BA; Dassatti, A; Rosenblum, J; Thurler, AH; Surjanhata, BC; Hasheminejad, NN; Kagan, L; Slawsby, E; Rao, SR; Mackin, EA; Fricchione, GL; Benson, H, Libermann, TA; Korzenik, J; Denninger, JW. “Genomic and Clinical Effects Associated with a Relaxation Response Mind-Body Intervention in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease” PLoS One. 2015 Apr 30;10(4):e0123861. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123861. eCollection 2015.

Working mothers: when guilt becomes too much

Working mothers

Being working mothers of toddlers is a fulfilling and challenging experience that no one really prepares us to face. Everything is on the move: every day the child grows up a little bit more, discovers new things, new behaviours and its personality is being shaped. This usually makes us want to spend as much time as we can watching them growing up, playing with them, discovering the world with them and enjoying everyday moments.

But after our maternity leave, work calls us back to real life and this can become tricky. Often young families live far from their relatives and taking up a part-time position is not always possible. Very often the only solutions are kindergartens or qualified nannies, and for new mums it can be quite hard to leave their toddlers with strangers for a whole day. As a matter of fact, this may set off a feeling of intense guilt, possibly making the moment of separation very distressful for both the mum and as a consequence the child. In fact, if our child realises the mother’s distress during the moment of separation, he may think that there is something wrong and probably something to be worried about.

What is guilt?

Guilt is a complex social emotion, that implies different cognitive evaluations. To experience guilt indeed it is necessary that at least two people are represented in one’s own mind. In particular, the person who feels guilty believes he may have potentially damaged or harmed another person (voluntarily or not) or have transgressed a moral or a social principle. As a consequence of guilt, the “guilty” person usually tries to restore a sort of balance with the “harmed” one, helping out the person or finding a way to expiate this unpleasant emotion.

Why would mums feel guilty?

As written above, very often it occurs that new mums experience maternity far away from their country of origin and without the support of the original and the extended family. In addition, the most common scenario is mums that work full-time, while simultaneously take care of housework, their partner and their baby. In summary, multitasking is not a choice but a duty! We have to cover so many roles in our daily life and we try to do it in a good way: we want to work well for ourselves/our boss/colleagues or clients, we want to be good partners and for sure we want to be the best mothers for our children. But while in the best case scenario we may be confident about our work and our relationship with our partner, being a new mum is for many a totally new experience that may lead to many doubts and thoughts.

Usually the most common thoughts of new mothers are: am I doing the right thing? Am I interpreting the signals that my baby is sending me in the right way? Is he/she OK in the kindergarten? Is it normal if he/she cries at separation? Am I a bad mother if I leave him/her there all day long? Will there be consequences if I don’t spend enough time with my baby?

The direct consequence of those questions is obviously a strong sense of guilt. You may feel guilty at work because you left your kid at the kindergarten or you may even feel guilty towards your job if you spend a day at home with child because maybe he/she is sick…

Anyway, experiencing a bit of guilt is normal as we have so many roles and responsibilities, we try to do our best to multitask and doing everything in a perfect way is really difficult. Making mistakes is normal as well! When motherhood is a brand new experience, the only way to go forward is to put ourselves on the line and just try, make mistakes and learn from them.

But if you have the feeling that guilt is becoming overwhelming, it is generating too much anxiety, it is difficult to handle or it is affecting in a bad way the relationship with your child, then take a step back and try to think about what is happening.

Many times beyond a sense of intense guilt there is a strong sense of responsibility, an excessive perfectionism or fear of committing mistakes. Furthermore, often our own personal experiences as children may play a role as well, triggering old emotions and relational memories that may influence our attitude towards our child. And this influence may not be always positive.

If this happens, considering seeking the help of a psychotherapist may be a good choice, as it could help you deal with this sense of guilt and the aforementioned dynamics, as well better handling that special and unique relationship with your child.

Bereavement: Maria’s experience

Bereavement

Bereavement is an extremely touching experience, difficult to articulate in words. The normal reaction to losing a beloved person implies a mix of feelings that can vary from deep sadness to guilt, anger or emptiness. Usually the person experiences the tendency of spending some time by himself/herself in order to cry for the loss, remember the memories, realise what has happened and “adjust” his/her life with the absence of the departed one.

The five stages of grief

Even if psychologists support the theory of the Five Stages of Grief theorised by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, everyone has its own specific pattern of reaction. Usually we need a variable amount of time in order to cope with a loss and it is proportional to the intimate meaning and role that the departed person represented to us.

Often, the very first reaction to some shocking sad news is denial. Many times people remember that their first thoughts were: Are you serious? What are you talking about? That is not possible! Denial is a primitive and protective reaction and it can manifest in different forms: for someone denial can last only few minutes, for others it can last few hours or even days; the person can feel shocked, stunned, turned upside down without realising what is going on and without feeling the relative emotions yet. Denial can then be followed by angerWhy is this happening to me? Why him/her? It is not fair! Why did he/she leave? Anger is a protective reaction as well; our anger can be addressed to different objects or persons, even the beloved one.

After anger, the person usually enters the bargaining stage, when he/she starts to look for explanations and faults about what happened. The universal and most known stage is then the depressive one, when sadness and regrets are dominant. On the contrary, the last stage is characterised by acceptance: realising and accepting the death of the loved person is the first step to go back to reality.

Not everybody is able to reach the acceptance stage: it can happen, for many different reasons, that a person gets stuck in one of the previous stages and needs a little help to elaborate the loss.

What to do

If we have trouble in elaborating bereavement, time is not healing our wounds and we have the feeling of being trapped by intense and sometimes contradictory emotions, psychotherapy can be a useful tool to get past this.

This is for example what happened to one of my first patients and how therapy worked for her.

Maria’s experience

She was a lovely and smart lady over 80 years old, who I will call Maria here; she lost her husband a few years earlier and she was stuck in the depressive stage. Actually Maria didn’t just lose her husband, she had lost her unique, special and long-lasting love after 60 years of marriage, the person she totally relied on for almost all of her life. And she was not able even to think about her life without this precious man by her side. Maria was very depressed and felt lost; no antidepressant was helping her so she decided to start psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy supported her while going through almost all the stages of loss. Indeed she was not alone while she was crying all her tears, expressing all her anger towards her condition and her dead husband who left her alone, while passing through guilt and every regret and remorse. In the end psychotherapy helped her searching and strengthening her personal dispositions that could help her in coping with that difficult period. Little by little, Maria started reorganising her life, finding new ways, new goals and new meanings. After two years of therapy, Maria decided that it was time to end psychotherapy: she realised that she will always be missing her husband, that she could never forget him, but that she could focus on her nephews, her family and friends to feel better. And in that moment she felt that she could do it by herself.

This is a good example of how a psychotherapist can indeed help you express and understand your feelings, realise what is keeping you stuck in a particular stage of grief and prevent you from coping with your loss.

Relationships: when criticism is a main character

Criticism and relationships

Being criticised is a very common experience that can occur in every relationship, at work, at home or with friends.

In particular, criticising and reproaching a bad conduct may be a natural way of expressing our disapproval for a certain behaviour and our feelings related to it. It is indeed normal to be ourselves sometimes – the ones criticising or being criticised by other people. In the end no one is perfect!
But there are different ways of reproaching.

Positive and negative reproaches

A constructive and positive way of reproaching a person is when this relates to a specific behaviour and is supported by reasonable explanations. Moreover, this type of reproach may imply suggestions on how to change and repair the “wrong” behaviour, thus putting ourselves in the shoes of the other person.

On the contrary, sometimes it may occur that the reproach is expressed in a very negative and judgmental way, without expressing what the wrong behaviour is or how it could be fixed. Furthermore, in some instances the reproaching person may shift his or her judgement to the person as a whole instead of criticising the single bad behaviour, which is often followed by a negative emotional response in the criticised person.

Let’s focus on negative criticism. Negative criticism can be defined as a constant, pervasive and repetitive tendency to reproach another person. In particular, criticism in parenting may become a style of relating to children and adolescents (Apparigliato, 2011). As anticipated, the criticising person may show his or her disappointment for a particular behaviour (or the omission of a behaviour) in order to change it, but he/she may not consider the son’s preferences and believes to know what is good and what is not for their son.

Consequences of criticism

Research suggests that high levels of perceived criticism have been linked to higher relapses in depressed and schizophrenic patients, and drop-outs in patients with eating disorders. Plus, parental criticism may develop excessive perfectionism in children, who may try harder than usual to satisfy such high demanding and difficult parents. And perfectionism is a well known anxiety-related feature.

Given what literature suggests, it can be really distressful to live with such a critical parent or partner, with sometimes negative psychological and self-esteem consequences. In particular, growing up in this type of environment, with a parent (or both) always prone to criticise and demanding to reach their own high personal standards may lead a person to doubt one’s own abilities, talents and strengths, causing suffering and distress.

If you recognise yourself in these dynamics, you may consider discussing this delicate personal issue with a psychotherapist that can help you elaborate these feelings and handle criticism in different way.

What to do

Meanwhile, here there are some little tips that you could try to use:

  • Try to take into account only the good in every reproach. If you have been negatively criticised, try to think if there can be a positive information for you in it. Sometimes a reproach, even if expressed in the wrong away, is made for a reason. So try to trash the negativity, shame, guilt or anger that you may feel and ask yourself: is there a real reason for being criticised? Was there a better or useful way to behave? Could I fix or change something of that behaviour? The answer may be no, but sometimes it may be yes.
  • Do not accept generalisations: if the blame gets born from a single behaviour but it becomes generalised to your whole person… use boundaries! You are who you are and a single specific wrong behaviour doesn’t imply a total and negative judgment of you as a human being. Try not to take it too personally.
  • Very often the problem is not yours but theirs – people who constantly and negatively criticise usually have something going on in their mind. It may occur that when going through rough times, someone may try to vent their problems in this way. In other cases instead, someone could have experienced a very reproaching relationship themselves and negative criticism may be the only learnt and well known way of expressing care in a relationship.
  • Be assertive – communicate the person when the boundary from positive to negative criticism is crossed and how that makes you feel. And if you have to make a reproach … remember the aforementioned features of constructive reproaches and try not to fall into the trick of negative criticism.

Why change can be so scary?

“There is nothing permanent except change”, Heraclitus

Change: a six-letter word that can enclose and raise so many different feelings and meanings in each of us.

For some change may imply new thrilling experiences when they can test themselves, explore unknown territories and create better ways of living. On the contrary for others changing may be a mandatory and unavoidable step, at times not wanted and burdened with suffering, but possible to deal with. Moreover, for other people change is really scary and may imply the total breakdown of what is “well known” and bring them in a terrific spot of unknown and uncertainty. In these cases, tightly grasping to the past may be a solution.

Why is change so important?

As Heraclitus quoted back in 400 A.C., change is probably the only permanent thing in life.
Darwin explained this concept very well in his Evolutionary Theory: changing allows organisms to better adapt themselves to their environments. Moreover, the better the organism is able to adapt, the higher the likelihood of survival.

If change is natural, why can it be so scary?

Change can refer to thousands of different situations with extremely different features. Obviously the potential scariness will depend on many characteristics, such as how much it was expected, wanted and foreseen, if positive or negative consequences will result from it (their extent and how definitive they are), the amount of secondary changes that it may imply, how much we feel able to deal with it, etc.

Try to think about some of the following important changes that can happen in a lifetime and try to relate them to the aforementioned features: finishing school and starting to work, a marriage or a divorce, a betrayal, changing job, changing city, becoming a mother, the loss of a loved one, going into retirement … the list is potentially infinite.

Each of these changes may assume different meanings to each of us depending on our personal history, current lifestyle, our goals and our intimate beliefs. But a common denominator is that our self-esteem will influence how we will manage these changes: the more we feel that we are able to cope with the related changes and difficulties, the less scary the change will be.

And what if we feel that we are not strong enough, independent enough or lovable enough to succeed in getting through an important change?

In these cases change can be faced in different ways.

Someone could go through it with an intense pain, anxiety or sadness managed with its own specific coping mechanisms. For example someone could find relief by increasing their control over everyday life, or by being extremely dependent on the partner/parents/friend.

On the contrary other people may be so scared about a potential change that he/she may try to stay ahead in the game and work hard to avoid it in the first place.

Instead other people may react to change misrepresenting it, not taking into account its consequences, minimising it or pretending it’s not happening. But denial and keeping our eyes closed will not eventually change things; on the contrary this solution may disconnect you from reality, that sooner or later will intensely materialise.

Usually our typical pattern of reaction to new information is consolidated in the attachment relationship with our parents; but with clinical work it can be changed.

If you recognise yourself in having issues at adapting and accepting important changes in your life, you may try to think about the dynamics written above.

What is scaring you? What are the feared consequences? What are your intimate beliefs about yourself dealing with this change?

Sometimes it may be hard to go through this alone by ourselves. Psychotherapy can help you realise what is preventing you to adapt to how your life is turning out. Moreover, it can help you achieve more flexibility and strengthen your self-esteem.

Being aware of what is happening is, as a matter of fact, the first step to change.