I will use this blog to share reflections on themes related to therapeutic counselling, reflections that find their source in both my experience and in the relevant literature.
I hope you find it useful.
Through society and our education, we are often obliged to only follow our rational minds and not to allow ourselves to be distracted by our emotions. “Emotions and feelings can overwhelm you, only the mind can help you”, is a sentence that rings in many heads. Use your brain, only the weak follow their heart. And of course, no one wants to be overwhelmed by their feelings and emotions.
But the feelings and emotions are there anyways! They make us human beings. They allow us to empathize with others and care for each other. But also, bad feelings and emotions have their meaning. They tell us what's not good for us. They signal us when we need to change something. That is why it’s called “a gut feeling”, which sits in the stomach or the intuition that sits in the chest area. These are other sources of information that we should not leave unused.
If we now ignore the bad feelings and emotions because we think we must not feel them, it will be difficult. It can take a lot of energy to suppress these feelings and emotions. It has been described as, —it ́s like trying to push a ball under water. But some of us are really good at it. However, if the force decreases, the feelings and emotions come up again and this time with much greater force and quite uncontrolled (just like the ball that was under water, pops up). This is the moment when our environment only sees our anger, rage, aggression or pure violence. You fight uncontrollably and may hurt your fellow people. Or we can go on suppressing the feelings and emotions until the body doesn't know how to help itself and gets sick.
Therefore, it is important to get access to your feelings and emotions and learn how to read them correctly. Because they give us important information about what is right and important to us. We can learn to accept the situation that makes us frustrated or angry, either with a peaceful feeling or if that does not work then try to make some changes. It's the inner struggle that costs so much energy and makes you sick.
Recently, there has been a growing awareness that the "new" media can also have a negative impact on our social interaction with each other. Partners complain about each other because of the constant presence on social media and the absence during e.g. meals, parents complain about their children and vice versa. The article "Cyber Babies and the Threat to the Development of Secure Attachment Relationships", by, Janet A. Courtney, PhD, discusses how dangerous it might be for our future social development if we don't even take care of our youngest fellow humans with direct eye contact. Of course, there are always the arguments that in the past not everything was perfect, which is surely true. However, the new media does not only have a positive influence on us. The new technology has become so important that it is now an integral part of our everyday life. It is not a question of demonizing the new media in general. However, it is naïve to assume that mishandling the situation will not affect our social interactions. Our need for information is so high and our concern to miss important information is often very present. A small ping on our mobile phone alone can cause us to leave everything else standing, even endanger us and our fellow men on the road. The worries of not receiving and reading an "important" message at once are driving our actions even on the road which sometimes leads us down dangerous paths and in turn lead to more accidents. Hardly anyone, with whom we are physically surrounded, can provoke such a fast response in us.
That alone should give us food for thought.
By pretending to be present everywhere and always live at the push of a button, we get the feeling of interacting with other people and it may even replace social interpersonal interactions. Our reward system in the brain seems to be so easily satisfied. The real-world interactions with other people can sometimes be very complicated and can present us with real challenges.
In a conversation, where we have eye contact, we are able to take in much more information from our counterpart than just the written or spoken words. Gesture, facial expressions and tone of voice give us additional information about our relationship with our conversational partner. A world without this interpersonal interaction is a poorer world. Poorer already in information.
If we have the possibility to interact with all our senses correctly, we have much more chances to clarify misunderstandings and wrong communication. In socially difficult situations where you feel overwhelmed, it can be an attractive and easy way to escape from the situation through distanced communication via e-mail, WhatsApp, SMS. The new media offer many a welcome escape from the situation.
Additionally, it is also tempting to find comfort on the internet.
A striking development in recent years is the increasing dependence on internet pornography. There are an increasing number of cases, in psychotherapeutic practices, where clients complain more and more about potency problems. In this case, too, the media plays a role and fuels expectations that have little to do with the reality of a fulfilled sex life in a partnership. Therefore, a pressure to perform can develop, which can have a negative effect on the erotic interaction in the partnership.
The romantic partners complain about a lack of erotic closeness. This can lead to jealousy towards pornography. These accusations are often dismissed, with - that's not so bad, I'm not having an affair.- However, such an intimate connection with the screen, very well has all the characteristics of an affair. The user of pornography may be more likely to turn to the screen than his or her partner.
Through the constant use of the media, we can get more and more into emotionally isolated, which destroys us mentally. There are more and more people suffering from depressions and anxiety or loneliness.
According to Sue Johnson (Therapist/Research Professor/Presenter in the field of couple relationships), we are very concerned about the destruction of our ecological environment, but equally as frightening is, that we are moving further and further away from our key stakeholders and are becoming more and more emotionally isolated. This emotional isolation makes us sick. We can no longer deal with people around us because we have forgotten how to do it, or have never really learned it. And with a lack of active communication, we will not be able to pass it on to our children properly. We should not only worry about destroying our ecological environment, since we will probably destroy each other emotionally first. We should put a greater focus on cultivating good working relationships. We humans need each other, we are social creatures. Only the cooperation with each other has helped us in our development. Positive interaction and interpersonal recognition is important in order for all of us to survive.
It is sad that we ignore the fact that we are social beings for whom social coexistence is vital for survival.
We are so vulnerable in our interpersonal relationships. However, these relationships are also the greatest source of our personal development and opportunity to grow beyond ourselves.
That is why it is so important that we pay more attention to each other.
As a couple therapist I work mainly with international and multicultural couples. One might think that with different mother tongues, different cultures and religions, it is hardly possible to communicate in a proper way. However, I experience again and again how beautiful it is when these couples have found a way to really respond to each other, to listen to each other, to really understand each other and to accept each other in his or her otherness. This is the love that we all so desperately long for and it even crosses borders.
We as individuals sometimes struggle a lot with our own identity and our close relationships. There are deadlines to meet, the train is not waiting, the biological clock is ticking, the house is almost on fire all the time. We must rush and be efficient, well organized, try to be on track all the time. Run, run, ... but where? ... and then? ... What is the next goal? .... The only unreliable resource in this game is the human being!
We are soft, slow, stubborn, fearful, too weak, too young, too old, too lazy, too ambitious, we get tired, get hungry, get sick, get thirsty. We get bored or talk too much and sometimes without thinking. We struggle.
We want to have security, loyalty, we want to trust. However, it is so difficult to judge human beings. There are all these people in our way and therefore we cannot give our best, get stuck, get stressed and frustrated. We always must wait for others! They are always keeping us from being perfect. Everything would be so good, if there would only be me. I would meet the deadline, I would catch the bus, I would be on time, I would not get stressed, I would be well organized, I could use all my money for myself. Moreover, I would be the nicest, the richest, the smartest and prettiest on earth. Everything would just be wonderful! ... Really? ... Of course, there are moments where the biggest gift is our privacy. And of course, people can be annoying, demanding and stressful.
But the truth is, the human species needs each other to survive. A little baby would not survive without any help from others. Cooperation was always our strength and brought us forward. We would wither without love and care. We all need loving connections to people until we die. We are social creatures, who need to talk, need to get feedback, need to learn from each other and need to feel loved. That makes us strong! Therefore, it makes sense to invest in healthy and strong relationships. Healthy relationships help to get the best out of us. They make us feel good, help us grow and they make us happy!
“Scientists decoded the myth of love.” (Sue Johnson) – That sounds great, doesn't it?
There has been done a lot of research on love in adulthood over the last 30 years. Sue Johnson is the one who is heavily quoted on this field. Love is very much about bonding and closeness with our partner. Which means, that having an emotional responsiveness exchange about our needs with our partner is an important factor when talking about love. An example for that is, that you can feel save enough to go to your partner and ask for emotional support.
This holds true especially in today’s society, where all this flexibility in the world makes our original social support system become very small. We do not have a big family or a whole village as a social support system anymore. However we, as human beings, are wired to live together. Feeling securely connected with our partner leads to a loving relationship, as more and more research shows. When we can be sure about love, in our close relationship, we feel secure enough to go out and face the world.
Equally important is to keep in mind, that emotional isolation might be as dangerous as smoking or alcohol abuse. It might lead to depression and emotional isolation can lead more easily to a stroke or a hard attack. Many people put a lot of effort in healthy living, sport and meditation, but there is still little knowledge about how we can be close to the individuals who are important to us. The good thing is, that we can learn how to connect, communicate better and how to do this in a more effective way. Close connections lead to love and secure love leads to a better sex live as well.
However it can feel a little difficult and scary. In couples therapy people learn how to address each other with their needs in a more open and valuable way. This draws their partner in instead of pushing them away.
It would be wonderful if there is someone who could just read your mind and would always be there for you just by sensing your needs. Of course there are people where we feel, that we have more in common with them than others. However the fact that there will be the perfect match for me somewhere in the world is not very likely. Of course the whole idea stated with the wish, - it would be perfect if someone could read my mind and always know what I need. Or if he/she really loves me, he/she would know what I need.However this of all-round carefree package ended after we were born. After that event we had to learn to communicate and care for our own needs.
Sometimes it is not easy to ask another person for help/support or just a hug. No one in the world does know better what is good for you than yourself. The good thing is, we can learn how to care better for ourselves and learn more about how to communicate in a more direct way with our partner. This leads to a more satisfied life in more satisfied relationship.
First of all, all couples fight! It is normal to get into an argument because we are all different people with different experiences and different views of life. There is nothing wrong with people getting into an argument. The indicator for a healthy relationship is that the two individuals get together later and can talk about their different views without hurting each other.
Human beings are wired to live in close relationships with a save and close connection. Recent research shows, our brain sends out the hormone Oxytocin (cuddle hormone) as a reward when we feel well connected to someone we make love.
However when our relationship does not feel save and our partner is critical all the time, one starts to feel lonely and rejected (some reported feeling like a failure or loser) I worked with lot of couples and all of them reported that loneliness is the biggest issue to deal with in the relationship.
When there is a tense situation in the relationship over a long period of time and there are only arguments and then you meet a nice person, who smiles at you, is friendly and offers you a coffee, it feels good to spend more time with this person. Research and my own experience showed, cheating develops more out of loneliness then out of affection and desire or lust.lust.
Um eine Paartherapie zu beginnen, erfordert es oft Mut. Es ist kein einfacher Schritt, sich einzugestehen, dass man als Paar Hilfe braucht, um die eigene Beziehung zu pflegen. Leider warten einige Paare aus diesem Grund manchmal zu lange, so dass dann leider die Hilfe zu spät kommt —daher möchte ich hier den Zweiflern ein bisschen Mut machen.
Ich bin zertifizierte Paartherapeutin nach EFT (Emotionsfocussierte Therapie). Dieser Therapie Ansatz wurde von der Kanadierin Sue Johnson in den 80ger Jahren entwickelt und mit vielen wissenschaftlichen Untersuchungen fundiert. Sie nennt es „die neue Wissenschaft der Liebe“ und erklärt, wie man an einer Liebesbeziehung arbeiten kann, so dass es kein Mysterium mehr sein muss, wenn sie „scheinbar plötzlich“ da ist und auch wieder „plötzlich“ verschwindet.
Die Emotionsfocussierte Therapie basiert darauf, dass wir Rudeltiere sind und die emotionale Bindung zu anderen lieben Mitmenschen brauchen, um uns sicher und geborgen zu fühlen. Ist nun die Bindung zu unserem wichtigsten Partner, aus welchen Gründen auch immer, unsicher (Missverständnisse haben die Oberhand), so reagiert unser Gehirn mit Stress (- die Angst - zurückgewiesen und Verlassen zu werden). Dies ist keine bewusste Entscheidung, unser Gehirn ist so aufgebaut, das es uns automatisch dorthin führt. Zurückweisung ist nach neurologischen Untersuchungen ein psychischer Schmerz, der im gleichen Bereich, der Gehirns, wie physikalischer Schmerz gemessen wird.
Ist der Schmerz erst einmal da, hätten wir die Wahl, was wir damit machen. Doch auch hier ist es schwierig, denn durch den Stress, haben wir meistens nur einen Tunnelblick, der uns sagt, „unser Partner ist der Feind“. Nur mit Übung und Gelassenheit kann es uns gelingen, das gesamte Bild zu sehen. Jedoch oftmals kann es passieren, dass man dabei in einen ungesunden negativen Kreislauf kommt.
Z.B. Fühlt sich ein Partner alleine und zurückgewiesen und startet daher die Konversation mit einem kritisierenden Ton, „nie hast du Zeit, immer muss ich alles alleine machen, nie redest du mit mir, wir müssen miteinander reden….“. Der andere Partner fühlt den Ärger und sagt, z.B. „immer bist du sauer, es macht keinen Spaß mit dir zu reden, wenn du immer sauer bist. Ich brauch erstmal Abstand“ … Und schon ist der negative Kreislauf in Gang, der endlos so weitergehen kann.
Durch jahrelange Untersuchung hat man herausgefunden, zornige Kritik verursacht im anderen Partner Rückzug und sich abschotten, dieses sich Abschotten und Zurückziehen führt dann den anderen Partner zur zornigen Kritik, da der Partner nicht erreichbar ist. Ist man einmal in diesem Kreislauf gefangen, ist es nicht so einfach dort alleine wieder raus zu kommen. In der Paartherapie nach EFT sucht man dann gemeinsam nach Wegen, wie Sie den Kreislauf durchbrechen können und so wieder mehr Verständnis füreinander entwickeln können. Das Paar lernt es gibt nicht „den“ Bösewicht, sondern es ist die Dynamik zwischen beiden, die etwas aus dem Gleichgewicht geraten ist.
Moving to another country for your job may be exciting. It could be a promotion in your job, or the wish to make some new experiences in a foreign country, or accompanying your partner. Whatever the reason, your are confronted with a new and somehow different environment than you are used to. When you are going with a partner, which might be helpful, because you can share your obstacles or gossip about the host culture.
Everyone is different and has a different approach on how to use that time. One might really want to dive into the host culture, learn the language and want to make contact with the local population. The other one sees it more as being abroad for a limited time and sees no reason why he/she should make an effort to learn the language and get integrate.
Another difference might be, one has a job where he/she meets colleagues every day and the other one stays at home and has to search for new contacts.
A lot of questions might come up like: Who am I? How do I use this time abroad? How do I develop me identity? And if you have children,…what do I want to pass on to my children?
I work a lot with couples, who have an international or a multicultural background and I help them to find their way in this global world. The challenge lays in how to keep you own values, integrate some values from the host culture and develop your own identity.
Emotional Focused Couples Therapy places the focus on the emotions in a relationship and how these emotions effect our living together. In the therapy room the client is the relationship of the couple. We are not looking for the bad guy who is responsible for the stress in the relationship. The focus is on how the individuals interact with each other and how their acting is influencing their partner´s emotions, feelings and behaviour. Sue Johanson, who developed this approach over the last 20 years with her colleagues, compares a relationship with a dance where two people are involved. Depending on the music and the steps the couple is doing, they are dancing a waltz, a tango or a polka. As in real life, it can of course happen, that we step on each other toes.
Research showed over the last 30 years that human beings are not so independent and self-sufficient as we thought and psychologists propagated over decades. The main idea is that individualism and positive thinking holds the key to self-worth and if we exercise this enough we will built up our self-esteem, which holds a certain truth. However when it comes to stressful situations our emotions take over and all the lists of good behaviours and positive reinforcements do not work anymore. In the past the positive and healthy power of interpersonal interactions and bonding was underestimated. We need to create secure and supportive connections with our loved ones (family or partner) to feel safe and built up our self-esteem from there.
Isolation causes a lot of stress in individuals and is a health risk factor like smoking or drinking. In addition it is shown that fear, pain and even traumatic experience decrease in the arms of a loved one, like Jim Coan showed in his “hand holding experiments”. Through a close loving relationship we feel secure enough to explore the world and face new challenges.
The ideal relationship does not exist. Every couple has its differences and arguments. And even if we step on our partner’s toes by accident that does not mean that there is no love. It is difficult or even inappropriate to define the ideal relationship because there are so many good working models and each relationship has to be adjusted to the individual and cultural circumstances the couple is living in. The amount of arguments is not an indicator of how healthy or secure a relationship is. The difference is if you do not find a way to a good and safe feeling towards your partner later. Moreover you have the feeling that you are going in circles in an argument and you do not find a way out and cannot reconnect in a trustful way. The argument lasts for hours or even days. In the end you feel lonely, frustrated, hopeless, helpless and isolated. In a healthy relationship the argument will be solved soon and the couple is able to build on trust easy.
In a secure relationship both individuals should feel good, supported and accepted for who they are. As mentioned above, there should be an equal space for the individual dreams, needs and developments.
Some goals for couple therapy could be:
EFT is divided into 3 steps
1. Identifying your circle/dance
Together we will identify in a save environment the dance/circle you developed in your relationship over time. Which means, that we will look at how your own emotions trigger your behaviour and how this will influence your partners thoughts, emotions and behaviour and the other way round. Most of the time we unintentionally hurt each other´s feelings —“step on each other’s feet”.
As soon as we discover the process how your emotions effect your behaviour and how this effects your partner’s feelings and emotions you might not feel just like victims any more. Most of the time this step already leads to relieving some stress in the relationship.
2. Create a new circle/ dance
In step 2, I will help you to create your new individual circle/dance as a couple. This happens through a more open conversation in your relationship over your individual feeling, emotions and experience. Again, there is no bad guy. More important thing is that you discover and observe what you need in the relationship to feel safe and supported. During this stage the individual starts to open up towards their partner. Both will be able to build up on a more close connection towards the other.
3. Healing old injuries
In Step 3 the couple is supported to strengthen the new developed steps and is encouraged to learn from their new experiences. They are supported by building on the new changes and to look differently on old hurtful events of their relationship.
I hope this text could help you to get more an idea what to expect.
When people hear about Expat life, most of them are associating it with pictures of a nice and exciting life in a foreign country, like a good paid holiday. Of course it is true that you have the chance of discovering another country in more detail, which might bring a lot of excitement and fun. However living an expat life demands a lot of flexibility and challenges from the individual. Independent from whether you are the one who provokes the move or are the accompanying partner, or you had to prevent unemployment. Changing the environment, losing the familiar social network, has apart form a lot of positive exciting effects also a huge impact on your daily life and on your mental health. Therefore it is important how you deal with these challenges. Doing this whole process with a family is even more challenging, but this is not the focus of this article.
Meanwhile it is acknowledged that expat life is not just easy and being on holiday for the next 2-4 years, if the location sounds great. However the article does not mean to be pessimistic and just looking at the bad sides of an expat life. Moreover it should help you to acknowledge the difficulties and to find your own way to deal better with the challenges that are involved. It should help you to be more satisfied with your situation.
As mentioned in my article about self-esteem, “…a healthy self esteem means to accept your weaknesses, see your strength and try to live your own life…” (you can read more on my website). However changing the location might make you feel that you are not in control of your own life any more. Again the motivation is still important, but even with a good preparation and a lot of positive spirit it might sometimes be hard to adjust to the new environment/culture and not getting stuck in frustration is sometimes not so easy. Moreover you might feel that you give your best and that you are trying harder and harder without feeling any better.
Due to the fact that our self-esteem develops through the experiences we make over our lifetime, trying to settle down in a different country involves a lot of new experiences that might affect our self-esteem. Sometimes you have to speak a different language or the language is too difficult to learn or because of your work environment you don’t need to learn the language, which means you will never get full access to the new culture and the new environment and you will always have the role of an outsider.
Additionally you have to find out the new rules of the new home culture. This part is the most underestimated one. Based on the preparation you get in the beginning you might think that you know already everything about the new place and community. Though you can’t be told everything and many rules have to be discovered locally. Therefore it seems to be unpreventable to make negative experiences. It might happen that you get surprised or irritated from time to time by your new environment. Moreover it depends on how you get in contact with these other people and how they react towards your presence. This way might cause insecurity or even stress in different situations. Getting stuck, because of not knowing how to behave in a specific moment might lead to insecurity and frustration. Furthermore it might develop into anger towards the others or towards yourself and your whole situation. This unexpected behaviour and feelings might be irritating. You might not understand why the “obvious” behaviour is not shown. Depending on your psychological situation this might lead to stress, anger and thoughts like: “…oh, how stupid they are …!” or “…help, I’m wrong, I’m stupid, I don’t understand the easiest way of behaviour, I’m not good enough! ...” or “… that’s interesting! Why do people come to these conclusions?”
Therefore the conclusions you make have a high impact on your psychological well being, as well. Your self-esteem develops through a combination of your inherent characters combined with experiences you make over your life span which lead to your core beliefs and value system.
The fact that your value system and core beliefs are created through your daily experiences might be very challenging when you have to change the environment and most of your experiences are not applicable any more. Each community/culture has a different value system, body language, and different rules, how things work out, without any explanations. Growing up in one culture leads you to understand people and their behaviour without any explanations. These rules and values developed over decades because of the natural and cultural environment and its circumstances.
Therefore when you move into another country you have to find out their new and different rules. Moreover this might be sometimes exhausting. As already mentioned some companies give a preparation course for their employees and partners/families. But this can’t cover everything. Moreover it just covers the most obvious differences and this just from an angle vision of one culture. During the daily life the more challenges things are the not so obvious differences.
For example you think you are on the right path and act completely appropriate because of your experiences and the information they gave you, but all of a sudden someone tells you, that you are completely wrong. It feels a bit like as if someone has changed the rules of a game without telling you. This kind of experience might affect your psychological wellbeing and therefore your self-esteem. Hence it is important to keep your personal discoverer alive and motivate it, even when it gets stuck. There might be the danger, when you don’t succeed to build a bridge between your own core beliefs and value system and the new culture environment than you start blaming the others because of their differences. Furthermore you might think that this is the only way of how you could protect yourself against all the difficulties, which are involved in the game. It is not a question of abandoning your identity and all your beliefs and values. Moreover getting totally adapted to the new culture is not an option when you don’t feel like doing it. The goal could be more to develop an understanding that things could be different and be still okay.
One of the main factors is how open and relaxed you can deal with the situation when everything around you is different all of a sudden. It might be helpful to build up social contacts with people from your cultural background who share the same difficulties or with people from other cultures to see how different their experiences are. Additionally it might be enriching if you find someone from the new home culture who might give you better access to the new environment. Another way might be to look for professional help to get back your mental balance after the experience of a culture shock. Moreover be patient with yourself and your new environment on your way of growing together. Try to be open and see if and what you can learn from them, and when you get stuck somehow, it is not because of you; it is just because of the circumstance.
As mentioned in the quotation above, the secret of a healthy self-esteem is to accept your weaknesses, see your strength and try to live your own life.
Official definitions about self-esteem mention that it is seen as a personality trait. How someone sees oneself including generally feeling about oneself, one’s abilities, attributes, emotions, appearance and behaviours. As we all know you can have a high or a low self-esteem and apart from that it can also change on the daily bases or develop during the lifetime. Everyone experiences low self-esteem from time to time or in different situations. However, the way in which you deal with a situation affects your daily life and your self-esteem as well.
Sometimes the term self-esteem is misused as to proclaim feeling good and superior, or having power over other people. However, you cannot have too much self-esteem. On the contrary, a healthy self-esteem has nothing to do with narcissism, egotism, arrogance or a sense of superiority. These attitudes are more signs of low self-esteem, which reflect bad behaviour. Unhealthy behaviour leads to harmful coping strategies like for example aggression, violence towards oneself or close relationships, alcohol, drugs, risk behaviour or not speaking up for yourself.
A reason why communities and parents should or are interested to help people and their children to develop a healthy self esteem is because it leads to more tolerance and respect for others. Individuals who accept responsibility for their own actions and their life, have integrity, take pride in their accomplishments, know how to motivate themselves, are willing to take risks and are more capable of handling criticism and stress. Additionally they are more able to choose healthy relationships and have fewer problems with challenges. Therefore with a healthy self-esteem they trust their own feelings and being. They are constructive, responsible and trustworthy and that would have a positive impact on society. Inversely people with a low self-esteem are prone to having a lower immune system in general. Additionally they are more at risk of depressions, anxieties, eating disorders, aggression issues, addictions and are over sensitive and easily upset. With low self-esteem they need others people’s encouragement all the time and therefore are at risk to be manipulated.
Due to the fact that we are listening to statements of others without any reflection, we lose our sense of self and what is good for us. It could go so far that you feel not living your own life any more. Already Socrates wanted to challenge people to reflect other’s statements. Therefore this topic engaged a lot of philosophers and psychoanalysts and psychotherapists since then.
This question is hard to answer, because there is not that one factor which causes a low self-esteem.
First of all your natural characters are the biases where to build on. Later everyone follows a different path of living and develops different core beliefs over the lifespan. These are influenced through the community where we are living in, relationships we are developing and experience are making.
Especially negative experiences in early childhood can have a huge impact on your self esteem. During that time you are much more vulnerable and dependent on other people’s help and care. With bad experiences during that time you might not develop a healthy resilience or the feeling of being important and worthwhile. This negative feeling might have an impact on how you see yourself today.
Apart from that, meaningful negative events and experiences during adolescence and adult life might also shake your core beliefs and might lower your self-esteem. Sometimes it takes a while and you do not really notice the negative impact and the changes of your core beliefs immediately. Especially when you have a weak day or time, negative experiences and judgmental statements of other people can affect you more than on another day. A few examples of negative experiences that could have an impact on your core beliefs / self esteem: “….
With a low self-esteem you have a higher inner criticizer, which is convinced to know best what is good for you and who you are! It is not to be mistaken with a healthy inner voice, which tries to lead you through your life. The voice I am talking about could develop into your real enemy. It is this one which involves all the musts, should, ought, etc. in your head. It puts you down without any evidence and judges you as “…being inferior, not good enough, not as good as others…” As already mentioned this criticizer could have developed through other people’s statements in combination with your core beliefs, living situation and mostly over a longer period of time. To free yourself and shift your view into another direction takes some time and is also a lot of work.
To start improving your self-esteem you need to look inside and try to explore your inner criticizer. Sometimes it might be helpful to do it together with a person you trust (like a very good friend, family member or with professional help).
Additionally you have to discover where the inner voice comes from. One reason might be that it developed because people made a particular statement about you (e.g. a teacher, parent, peer, etc). Therefore you have to look at your relationships. Do people who are not supporting you but causing you harm surround you? Therefore you have to reflect and see how you could change these relationships. (Being more assertive? Reducing the contact to these people? etc.)
A hard part might be to discover again what your real needs are.
On the Internet you find a lot of suggestions and exercises, which you can follow in order to develop a more healthy self-esteem. With all these ideas you have to listen to your caring inner voice and try to learn to trust your gut instinct again. However the way is not easy and it is also okay to look for professional help in order to get started.
When you tried a different behaviour and get positive feedback first, there might be another day/ situation where you don’t have the same success as expected. Depending on your mental state in this situation you might be frustrated. Therefore you have to act with caution and start in a safe environment first.
Being confronted with the fact that the own child has a developmental disability can cause enormous stress in parents and their families. Even though there are differences in coping strategies for everyone. According to literature and my own experience, it is normal that families/parents have adjustment problems with such diagnosis. Sometimes however, such a diagnosis might be a relief because they finally have something to deal with. Moreover, they get involved in reading the literature and start looking for new support systems. Others feel overwhelmed with all the extra work and treatment which might be offered. In all cases the whole situation is seen as a traumatic experience for parents. The road from learning about the diagnosis to the acceptance that the own child has to deal with this disability for the rest of his/her life is hard.
Parents need a lot of patience, but also help in order to find a way to handle this challenging situation. They might go in a way through denial, resilience, blame, self blame, sorrow that all the expectation which were set into their child might be difficult or will never be fulfilled. The picture of being a “normal” family might feel as being destroyed. Certainly every parent wants to have his/her child beloved, being clever, successful and independent one day.
Additionally, self blame often occurs because sciences do not explain clearly why these disorders develop. There is too much room for interpretation. Some people have the tendency to look too critically at their living arrangement or even genetic sources. This hypercritical view might lead to depression in the parents, as well. Apart from that, it makes of course a difference what level of diagnosis is given to the child. For example being confronted with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) —and again the severity of it has a big impact too— or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), just to name two of them, has consequences on the daily life of a child and his/her family.
Furthermore, it is not always obvious how different the child is, because they are not all looking different in comparisons to other children. Therefore an outsider cannot see how much the child might struggle with some tasks. Parents can be confronted with friends and other family members who think they are giving too much attention to their child or worry too much about their child's achievements. Parents could be judged as being too worried or too ambitious and pushy to their children. This might also influence the parent's feelings and decisions. Although, in order to best help the child, it is very important to start as early as possible with a supportive education/intervention. In contrast to that every hesitation could cause extra stress in the child´s daily life and effect the family life as well. Therefore, it is so difficult to find the right way in such a complex situation.
In the literature, Pauline Boss, an educator of Child Development and Family studies, talks about ambiguous losses (Boss, 2004, 2006) what parents and family experience by living with a child with e.g. autism. The challenge with children with learning disabilities is, that there is no clear cut. Boss defines ambiguous loss into two categories, first the beloved person is physically absent but psychological present – this would be, when a beloved one, like e.g. a child cannot live with the parents (adoption, divorce of the parents, boarding school, foster care), or e.g. because of moving the social network is lost. The second case is, the beloved one is physically present but psychologically sometimes unavailable – this might be with a mental health problem which makes the individual emotional temporarily or always unavailable. The difficulties parents have to deal with from e.g. autistic children, is the uncertainty of the developmental path their child will take. The stage of the child might differ on a daily basis. Sometimes the child develops very well over a period of time and then falls back into a former or more difficult stage and all hope is gone again. Therefore it is challenging to find the right balance between acceptances of the child's diagnosis which leads to the commitment of additional support. This should be combined with not giving up hope that additional education and intervention is useful. It is so crucial that all involved parties don't give up hope on the child.
Experience in my own private practice showed how relevant it is for parents to find their own support system/group or someone to talk to about their doubts, feelings and anxieties which they come across in their situation over time. Especially the feeling of not knowing how the coming day and future will look like might cause a lot of anxiety and stress in the mother or father. Naming the situation is often very helpful and the first step for the parents. It is important to acknowledge that it is the ambiguous situation which causes the stress in oneself and not once character. This might lead to a huge relief. The awareness that it is not one´s owns psychological health but rather the challenging situation which is not always easy to deal with, releases a lot of stress. Therefore coming to this point helps to look more openly to new, more suitable, flexible family routines instead of remaining stuck and frustrated to old not useful routines.