Joanne Gilhooly - Psychotherapist & Counsellor - Dublin City
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Dublin Counselling and Psychotherapy Blog
Dublin Counselling and Psychotherapy Blog
|Posted on August 8, 2013 at 11:17 AM||comments (1151)|
"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."
~ C.G. Jung
|Posted on April 21, 2013 at 3:16 PM||comments (1108)|
This post is a continuation of this previous blog post...
"Am I Good Enough?"
A smaller percentage of people than those who receive ‘good enough’ care giving as infants, do not develop a secure attachment. These people are said to have an insecure attachment style. It is worth remembering though, that all attachment styles, whether secure or insecure, are adaptations to the early environment, to the quality of care and attunement received by the primary caregiver, and are therefore by their very nature adaptive and creative. There is no such thing as an attachment style that is ‘wrong’. Each style of attachment makes perfect sense in terms of a person’s early experiences.
However, the problem for people who have early experiences that do not meet their needs, is that when the infant grows to an adult and attempts to form secure relationships with others they run into myriad obstacles. Their style doesn’t work so well anymore. The person’s template is one of insecurity, of trust being a dangerous thing to experience in relationship to another, and the expectation that they will be abandoned, rejected, or deemed unworthy of the love of another. The early environment is internalised, often unconsciously, and manifests in the belief that they themselves are not good enough.
These expectations manifest in different emotional and behavioural patterns. These patterns are usually categorised (a bit too neatly for some) into three insecure attachment styles, known as anxious/ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganised attachment. I will be focusing mostly on the first two styles here as they are the most common.
Anxious or Ambivalent Attachment
People with an anxious/ambivalent style of attachment usually experienced their early care giving as inconsistent. Everyone can be a bit inconsistent, of course, but for some this occurred to the extent that they became unsure whether they were likely to receive a response from their care giver that was well attuned to their needs. Children who develop this style may express their emotions with great intensity as a means of ensuring the attention of their care givers. They are anxious to ensure that they receive the attention they need, unsure as they are that their care giver will be either physically or emotionally available. Their experience is one of unpredictability, and so they may attempt to make the environment more predictable, and thus ensure their own safety, through their style of emotional expression.
(This unpredictability is different to the ‘rupture and repair’ cycle that occurs in the development of a secure attachment bond. In this, the caregiver will inevitably make mistakes, but more often than not, they will repair the rupture in the relationship by identifying, holding, and acknowledging the misattunement. In this way, the child learns that mistakes happen, but that repair is possible – an essential learning. This is what’s meant by ‘good enough’ care giving.)
This attachment style is often characterised by fear of rejection and abandonment, worrying about whether or not loving feelings are reciprocated, a wish for constant closeness or ‘clinging’, and possibly angry outbursts. People with this style can have great difficulty relaxing into and enjoying their relationships, and may have a persistent fear that their partner does not really want to be with them. They may experience a kind of ‘push and pull’ feeling in their relationships, as they get close to allay their fears, and may pull away angrily if their needs are not met. Close relationships can frequently be experienced as distressing.
The second style, avoidant attachment, tends to occur when the child experiences their care giver as more or less consistently unavailable to them. As a baby this child may not have received the ‘holding’or affection they needed, whether as a result of the care giver being emotionally unable to attune to the child, or being unable to offer their physical presence and affection. Essentially, it seems they turn this experience in on themselves, by attempting not to feel, or by not expressing emotion, and by attempting to meet one’s own needs rather than looking to the caregiver for assistance. This child seems to ‘grow up’ very quickly, at least to the outside observer. On the inside though, their needs are still very much present.
This attachment style in adults is often characterised by over self-reliance, being emotionally ‘closed’ or having difficulty with emotional expression, difficulties with closeness and intimacy, and discomfort with dependence on a partner or needing help from others. The person with this attachment style may seem to experience less distress in relationships. However, what this person seems to be doing in actuality, is minimising the importance of closeness and relationships to themselves. This is a result of a felt necessity to not need, as a consequence of the disappointment and attachment distress experienced in their early years. Not needing can be a defence against the possibility of unmet needs.
Counselling and Psychotherapy for Attachment Difficulties
In counselling and psychotherapy, the counsellor works with clients experiencing attachment difficulties by exploring their current experiences, their early experiences, and the client’s experience of the therapeutic relationship. The immediacy of the therapeutic relationship can be extremely useful in exploring these issues in a here-and-now context. That is, the issues experienced in relationships outside the psychotherapy room, in the client’s life, may well show up within the therapeutic relationship and can be worked through experientially.
Essentially, psychotherapy is an opportunity to explore new ways of relating in a safe and supportive setting, and to examine and reality test the templates we bring from our original experiences and how they can impact our experiences in the present. It is a chance to increase awareness of ‘blind spots’ and assumptions which may be negatively affecting relationships in the present.
Over time, psychotherapy can help to create a new template for relationships. The skilled counsellor or psychotherapist is trained in providing attachment focused therapy, in which the needs for good-enough attachment may be met, and healing can become a real possibility.
|Posted on March 25, 2013 at 9:35 AM||comments (1070)|
|Posted on March 15, 2013 at 8:35 AM||comments (1742)|
A college lecturer I had in my final year was very fond of using the phrase "we are born searching..."
She was referring to the attachment instinct, the natural instinct to search for a 'good enough' caregiver.
And, of course, we're not the only ones.
These pictures were taken a couple of years ago at the Grand Canal in Dublin. The mother of these small ducks was strolling along the canal bank, with her chicks moving as fast as they could behind her. They struggled to keep up at times, but were clearly led by their instinct to stay in close proximity to their caregiver, to give themselves the best chance of survival. Like all attached babies, they became distressed if left behind and there were signs of impending separation, as I witnessed happening to one of the swan signets.
The fact that we see this instinct in play in other animals can serve as a good reminder that we are significantly more than our 'heads', or our thoughts. Just like other animals we have instincts that are intended to serve our survival. It can be easy to get caught in the idea that as humans we are supposed to be beyond all of that, that as 'thinking' animals we should simply 'override' the instinctual response. Actually, in counselling and psychotherapy, it is often the instinctual response that is sat with, worked with and listened to. In doing so, we can begin to develop the ability to think about our instinctual reactions, to understand them instead of reacting from them. And it is from here we open the door to the possibility of more creative ways of responding.
|Posted on February 7, 2013 at 2:22 PM||comments (2845)|
When counsellors talk about ‘attachment’, we are talking about the bond a baby forms with their first caregiver early in life. You may be quite familiar with the term, as it is one of the wider known psychological theories, and its importance is often spoken about. The attachment phase, the period during which the relationship between baby and caregiver is particularly important, begins at birth and continues until a child is about three years of age. During this time, the child is dependent on a ‘good enough’ environment to ensure that they develop what is known as a secure attachment to their caregiver. This means beginning their growth as a baby with enough care, warmth, affection, food, sleep etc. that they need to thrive.
The securely attached child learns, through the care, comfort and attention provided by their caregivers, to pay attention to themselves, to self-soothe, and to begin to regulate their own emotions. As their sense of security in their (then very small) world starts to grow, they begin to feel a bit more confident in their abilities to explore, to cope with new experiences, and they gradually start to move away from the caregiver,using them as a secure base that they can return to when needed. In short, they are ready to begin exploring a bit more of their world, safe in the knowledge that if it all gets a bit too much theirparent figure will be there to mind them again. As these children explore, they continue to grow in confidence, and provided they can continue on this course fairly unimpeded, they will become securely attached adults.
The securely attached adult might be said to have a good enough template for relationships. They have experienced, and therefore may expect, that relationships will be mutually respectful, emotionally regulating,and empathically attuned experiences. They tend to have realistic expectations of relationships, to expect difficulty and disagreement, but also to be able to navigate these differences in ways that helps them to grow. While affection and intimacy come quite naturally to them, at the same time they will experience inevitable anxiety and uncertainty at times in their relationships. However, the securely attached adult seems able to sit with and process these natural reactions without major difficulty. They know that these obstacles are par for the course.
It is easy of course, to fall under the impression that the securely attached person has it ‘all sorted’, that ‘negative’ emotions are short-lived for them or that they do not experience these much at all. It would be very easy to imagine that emotional health means feeling content or happy all the time, to imagine that the securely attached person does not suffer. The reality, though, is really quite different. The nature of attachment is such that the securely attached person certainly does feel negative emotion, but as they are aware and connected to this feeling they are able to process and move through it, integrating their painful experiences to create a fuller, more robust, sense of self. The securely attached person, by definition, suffers in the loss of relationship – because they are attached to the person they have lost. The key though, is that this suffering may not prevent them from grieving, adjusting to, and integrating the loss, so that they may move on to experience new relationships in the future. Avoidance of intimacy in relationship is not necessary because the threat of loss is not experienced as a threat to one’s being or sense of self. There is a (maybe unconscious) ‘knowing’ that loss can be experienced, can be felt, that it is painful but survivable.
It is because of this relationship between attachment and emotional health that psychotherapists and counsellors pay so much attention to attachment. I have often been asked, as a therapist who puts great emphasis on the importance of the therapeutic relationship, what talking about this relationship in counselling and psychotherapy has to do with people’s problems. The answer to this is simpler that it may seem at first glance – our ability to sort our own problems, to trust in and challenge ourselves, to regulate our emotions so that we can relate healthily (and establish relationships that help to get us our needs met outside the therapy), is so intertwined with attachment that to not pay attention to the relationship would be to ignore the client’s most potent potential source of self-agency - their ability to relate.
In part 2 on Attachment I will be looking more at insecure styles, their impact on relationship, and how therapy aims to work with these difficulties.
|Posted on October 15, 2012 at 1:46 PM||comments (1015)|
Counselling the Whole Person
What does it mean for a humanistic or existential therapist to ‘see the whole person’? When we are in the midst of our suffering, it can be difficult to see beyond the symptom, or the wish for a ‘prescription’ that will heal it. We may want to be rid of it, see it as alien to us, or outside of us. Many therapies work solely with the symptom and work to reduce its impact, which is an important part of the work, but the humanistic therapies also recognise that the meaning of the symptom differs from one person to the next. To the humanistic therapist, the symptom (e.g. depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties) is a part of the whole, and it exists within a specific and unique context, your life context. And because everyone is different, everyone will have a different process.
To give you an idea of what this view of therapy is like,you might think about a chess game. There is a story about a chess champion being asked “what is the best chess move?”. Of course, this makes no sense, because there is only the best move in a given situation. What other pieces are on the board? Where is each one situated? What is the objective in this move? How does the position of one effect another? We need to consider all of these things before we know what the best move is. Likewise, with the therapeutic process, we need to understand the various ‘pieces’ of our lives, and how we postion ourselves in relation to them right now, before we can understand what changes need to be made so that we might feel better. That is why the therapeutic process focuses so much on you being the expert on yourself. Humanistic therapy holds that developing self-awareness (‘self expert-ness’) is essential to knowing what is right for us, it empowers us to make the best decisions for ourselves, to determine our own path, equipped with the self-knowledge required to make the ‘best move’.
This can be a difficult idea sometimes. When our suffering is all consuming, the idea of exploring our self can seem too lengthy, not enough, and dealing with the symptom can feel all important, which of course is understandable. Therapy can work with you to manage the difficulties and also, in time, to deepen your understanding of yourself with the intention of empowering you to make the best moves for you in the future. While we work, we might keep in mind that the better we know ourselves, the stronger we can become, and the better equipped we can become, to steer our lives in the direction of a personal, unique, and individual fulfilment.
|Posted on September 23, 2012 at 9:05 AM||comments (1281)|
The term ‘good enough’, as used by many therapists, stems from the work of D.W. Winnicott, a psychoanalyst and object relations theorist who used it in relation to the mothers and children he worked with. The good enough mother, though less than ‘perfect’, is good enough to be able to care for her child in a way that helps them to develop high self-esteem, good ego strength, and a strong sense of self.
The good enough mother, according to Winnicott, is actually more effective than the mother who does not know when to step back. While there is a time in the infant’s life that they need constant care, there also comes a time when the mother needs to step back a bit so the child can grow and learn for themselves. If mother is unable to let go when the child reaches this stage, the child may become overly dependent and have difficulty developing the confidence they need to explore their own way of being, their own values, beliefs, choices and sense of self as they grow. The good enough mother knows when to let go, when to stand back and let her child take the initiative.
Applied to the self, ‘good enough’ indicates the ability to‘be’ or do-nothing-more-for-now, after a period of hard work, knowing when you have reached your unique and very personal limit. Just as the good enough mother is in tune enough with her child to know when she needs to step back, beinggood enough with oneself means knowing when we have given our best and it istime to rest and give ourselves a pat on the back, no matter how small the achievement may seem.
Perfectionism might be defined, in part, as the inability to step back, to let go, to accept where one is at. In this space, acceptance of difficulty, of struggle and of vulnerability, is anathema. The overriding feeling is that one is never good enough and that only by continual striving and forcing of personal limits will one reach a point at which they will feel ok.
This can result in a kind of paralysis or ‘stuckness’ in which the person can neither find the energy to go forward, but cannot allow themselves to be where they are at. Compassionate acceptance of personal limitations can help a person to make the shift out of this ‘life paralysis’, into a more relaxed, grounded and reflective space. In this space, making clear decisions, dealing with daily stressors, and simply enjoying life, with all its inherent terms and conditions, becomes a possibility.
The pursuit of perfection, and a damning inner critic, plays a part in many emotional difficulties, such as depression, severe anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders. When the inner critic is at full throttle, the idea of having self-compassion can feel counter-intuitive, even dangerous. It can be as though if you were to ease up on the self-criticism for a moment, you might suddenly spin out of control. I use the term good enough in the title of this blog, in the hope that it might be a reminder that good enough, really is good enough, and perfection is not all that it seems.
In this blog I will write about all things related to counselling, psychotherapy and emotional issues. I will also try to keep in mind the overall theme of good enough, and the importance of grounding the self in reality for emotional health. Being human means that meeting difficulty is inevitable, but it can also be our best opportunity for growth, and ultimately growth is what counselling and psychotherapy are all about.