Emotions: why they’re all useful, and the cycle of problems when emotions are blocked

The key task of counselling or psychotherapy is to raise a person’s awareness of their own processes, to help them become attentive to their habitual patterns of thoughts and emotions. Of the four basic emotions – happiness, sadness, fear and anger – it is often the case that a person has learned that one emotion is ‘bad’, that they aren’t allowed it, that they should resist feeling it.  

This article outlines the purpose of emotions; why some are blocked or ‘banned’ in some families; how an ‘approved’ emotion is used as a substitute; how the banning of an emotion can lead to a repeated cycle of unresolved feelings; and how psychotherapy can help.

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Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 4/4: secure and earned secure attachment

This is the final article of four about attachment, the way we form relationships based on formative experiences with carers, usually our biological parents. The previous three articles have described how the avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganised attachment styles are formed, how these attachment styles play out in adult romantic relationships, and the way psychotherapy may help resolve the issues inherent in each attachment style.

The insecure attachment styles – avoidant, ambivalent and disorganised – are characterised by compromises the child made due to unmet emotional needs. These compromises then form a blueprint for what is and isn’t possible in intimate relationships. The avoidant blueprint is the need not to give away emotions which feel dangerous to express; the ambivalent blueprint is the need to manage fear of abandonment; and the disorganised blueprint is an abiding hypervigilance as the world is not a safe place to be.

By contrast, secure attachment is characterised by the child getting enough of what s/he needs enough of the time, enabling the child to express emotional needs openly and appropriately with the expectation they will be accepted and met. This child, free from preoccupation with hiding emotions, free from fear of abandonment or the need to stay safe from danger, has an inner sense of security which enables a much greater degree of self-knowledge and therefore a better quality of relationship with others.

This article describes the parent/child relationship which develops secure attachment and how this plays out in adult romantic relationships. As with all four articles, the attachment style is illustrated by a song: secure attachment is characterised by To Do With You by Jake Thackray. The final section of the article explains that the ultimate goal of therapy is to provide the care and conditions to help the client move from an insecure to an earned secure attachment.

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Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 3/4: disorganised or fearful attachment

This is the third of four articles about the way we form relationships, known as an attachment style. This article explores disorganised or fearful attachment. Taking early experiences with parents or carers as the blueprint, disorganised attachment originates in an abiding fear due to lack of safety, resulting in negative views about life, dissociation, and emotional disregulation. In adult life, this makes relationships problematic, as the primary concern of the fearfully attached is avoiding danger and, for that reason, emotions are either heightened or blocked and hypervigilance is the norm.

Each of these four articles about attachment includes music which exemplifies the attachment style. Disorganised or fearful attachment is illustrated by Björk’s Hyperballad. Finally, the role of psychotherapy is outlined, the process of helping someone with fearful attachment reach a place of emotional security and safety.  Read more

Love, attachment and intimacy. Part 2/4: ambivalent or preoccupied attachment

This is the second of four articles about attachment styles, the way we form relationships and view ourselves based on early experiences of nurturing. The first article briefly outlined the groundbreaking research of Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby and described the avoidant attachment style, in which emotions are either unavailable or feel dangerous to express. This article explains the origin and characteristics of ambivalent attachment, in which the infant is preoccupied with the presence of the parent whose emotional availability is unpredictable, and carries this model of relationships into adult life, passively or angrily fearing that their partner doesn’t love them.

Each article ends with an example of popular songs which encapsulate what it means to live the attachment style, and asks how counselling or psychotherapy can help change the pattern. The ambivalent attachment style is illustrated by Harry Nilsson’s Without You and Radiohead’s Creep, and the combination of avoidant and ambivalent attachments in relationship is illustrated by Wham’s Freedom.

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Letting go and grieving well

We tend to think of grief and bereavement as something we experience only when someone close to us has died, but the bereavement process can happen with any deep and significant loss: the death of a person, the end of a relationship, significant loss of health, the loss of a limb, the end of a career, etc.

This article outlines what to expect in any grieving process. My aim is to show that difficult experiences are normal processes of adjustment to a new situation involving loss.

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Couples in (mis)communication

For some, the scene is all too familiar. A couple are on a repetitive round of arguments, living the same events time and time again, repeating the same disputes and feeling the same powerful negative emotions. Why does this happen? And how might couple counselling, individual counselling or psychotherapy help communication?     Read more

What is this thing called love?

What is this thing called love,
This funny thing called love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?

~ Cole Porter, What is this thing called love?

In all its various forms, love is a frequent subject in the therapy room. As in Cole Porter’s song, some people’s experience is that loving relationships inevitably end, leaving them feeling foolish. Others experience love as a restricting prison, or as something powerfully desired but unattainable. Why is this? And how can counselling and psychotherapy help?

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Is counselling or psychotherapy for me?

For many people, the first question when reading this website will be, ‘Is counselling or psychotherapy for me? Will it help?’ The aim of this article is to address what therapy is like and what it can offer.

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Psychosomatic symptoms: are they all in the mind?

‘Psychosomatic illness’ and ‘psychosomatic symptoms’ are commonly-used terms. In everyday language, they are typically used to dismiss both the symptoms and the person, with phrases such as ‘It’s all in the mind’, often meaning, ‘It isn’t real: this person is imagining it’. This article outlines why such ideas are mistaken, and the importance of understanding the unity of mind and body.

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Seeing what we expect to see: the magic lamp and the circle of trauma

Recently I’ve been doing some work on my house and much of my furniture has been moved to accommodate the changes. I walked into the darkness of one room and reached out to turn on a lamp in the place it used to be. It wasn’t there. But for a split second, as if by magic, I saw it in front of me. I then turned to reach for it in the place I knew it now was, and realised the importance of what had just happened: for those in trauma, reliving expectations is a key part of experience.

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