Parenting Support QLD

Parenting is 24/7 and while it can be filled with reward and joy it can also be relentless, frustrating, confusing and worrying.

Often in families we bring our patterns from our extended family into our immediate family and play out our old unhealed relationships with our children (and spouse). This can feel old but familiar and leave you feeling confused. You may feel stuck and unsure of what is happening in your relationship with your children, especially in the teenage years.

Sarah understands the trials and tribulations of parenting, (having four of her own) and will support you without judgement with your parenting concerns. Sometimes just having someone to talk to and knowing you are not alone makes all the difference.

Sarah can assist you with:

Setting healthy boundaries, an essential in all relationships (especially with children/teenagers) that helps to ease confusion and provide understanding of what is ok and not ok.

Staying consistent with rules

Communicating effectively and openly

Maintaining respect

Understanding old family patterns

Remaining calm, patient and knowing your triggers

How to listen and be heard

Parenting is a lifelong relationship, with a person/people that we love deeply and whom grow physically, psychologically and mentally right before our eyes. We know our children as babies, toddlers, children, teenagers and young adults and with each stage change occurs not only within our children as they grow but within our relationships with them. This can happen at a rate that takes time to adjust and catch up to, often talking and seeking support can help with this adjustment.

What is holding you back?

Have you ever wondered what it is that stops you from doing what you want whether it be changing careers, leaving an unsatisfying relationship, joining a painting class or even just getting up off the couch and going for a walk. Often (but not always) we instinctively know deep inside what we want, but something gets in our way. What is that?

In essence it is our beliefs about ourselves and the world that tend to hold us back. Our beliefs begin to form in our childhood and teenage years. By the time we have reached young adulthood our beliefs and our values which stem from those beliefs are generally set. However, as we encounter certain stages in our lives we may find what we need to move forward and our inherent belief system are in direct opposition. These opposing parts can begin a tug of war within us, otherwise known as an “internal conflict.”

Following is an example of how a common belief established in childhood can become so entrenched in ones psyche they are not even aware that the belief is running their life, or they are and don’t know how to change it. The most common belief initiated in childhood is around being a good girl or boy. That is, “If I am good I will be loved and belong.” Hopefully another belief will be formed in conjunction with this belief, such as “If I am bad I will receive consequences for my action, however I will still be loved and belong.” Unfortunately this ideal of accepting a child even when they have misbehaved is not always achieved in families (or at schools). For example, in the family if there is no room to be bad and still feel loved and like you belong, a belief system will form such as, “I am only loved and belong when I am good.”  Consequently the child, teenager or adult will begin to organise their life around the abovementioned belief, falling into a pattern of pleasing others to ensure they are loved and belong. As a consequence of this pattern one loses their ability and choice to say NO for fear of being isolated and unloved.

Eventually saying YES all the time comes at a cost to your health and wellbeing.   However the choice to say NO has been driven underground by the original belief that drives the behaviour of people pleasing. Belonging and feeling loved is one of our top needs for survival, so for some saying NO can feel like a matter of life or death, that is, a deep fear of being isolated, unlovable and/or not good enough. In order to avoid these feelings one says YES and instead feels stressed and overworked; anxious about getting it wrong; hiding out of shame for not being good enough; deep resentment and loneliness that I have to do everything and the list goes on. While some people may have an idea around what they are doing (saying YES when they want to say NO) they may still wonder how to say NO without feeling guilty or un-liked. On the other hand others may have no idea that they are saying YES when they want to say NO. What they may notice however is that they are always tired, stressed, resentful, and anxious without knowing why?

So, what are your beliefs about yourself and the world?  Are they holding you back?

What is Psychotherapy?

Being a Psychotherapist I am frequently asked ‘What is Psychotherapy and who is it for?’

In a nutshell Psychotherapy is a type of psychological treatment which involves a professional therapist using a range of techniques to help clients overcome unresolved issues, gain insight and achieve personal growth. Psychotherapy is for anyone who has an unresolved problem that they no longer feel they have the resources to overcome. It is entirely normal to sometimes feel confused, anxious, stuck or challenged by a situation, relationship or the direction of your life and no longer know how to move forward. This is when Psychotherapy may be of help to you!

There are five categories of Psychotherapy and Gestalt Psychotherapy, which I am trained in falls under the existential/humanistic category and was developed in the 1940’s and 1950’s by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls and Paul Goodman.

Primarily Gestalt Psychotherapy focuses on exploring an individual’s emotional experience, patterns of relating and behaviour within their personal and social relationships in the ‘here and now’ of the therapeutic setting. Whilst Gestalt therapy does not ignore the story of the client, it is in ‘how’ the client relates to their story that is of interest to the Gestalt therapist. Humans need to make meaning in order to understand and ease confusion. How you make meaning around your life story or what has happened to you can either serve you or not serve you. Thus, Gestalt therapy facilitates clients to build awareness around their own experience of what is happening for them and supports clients to stay close to their own experience/feelings, in order for them to become familiar with what they are doing and how it may or may not be serving them in their life. Once the client becomes more aware of their own way of being in the world the client may begin to choose to do things differently, first within the safety of the therapeutic relationship, than as appropriate, in the outside world.

Recently Neuroscience discovered that a relationship with someone who can supply support and understanding reshapes a person’s neurological possibilities. That is, with the right supportive environment, self acceptance and change is possible.

Learning to love, accept and be comfortable with all aspects of who you are today, is an important first step in change which leads to greater choice in life!

Sarah Bergman provides counselling through the practice of Gestalt Psychotherapy at her Tweed Practice. Visit www.counsellingonthecoast.com.au

What is my path?

You could call this the existential question that rests on the lips of the young, middle aged and even the old. For some this question hangs around like a bad smell all our lives as we take our hand at this and that never fully reaching our potential. For others they are lucky enough to stumble on their path and find a sense of purpose that brings them fulfilment. While for the rare few they know instinctually their gifts and pursue their passion with a steadfast enthusiasm overcoming obstacles with their sheer conviction and dedication.

What can we do if we find ourselves in the former position, forever embraced by the above question roaming aimlessly through life without meaning?

We begin at the beginning. Who am I?  As a Gestalt Psychotherapist we believe that experiencing ourselves, how we do life and how that makes us feel, as fully as possible, is the first step in order to bring about change and growth. Our theory posits that when we become aware of our patterns and habits that no longer serve us we can begin (firstly with the support of the therapist) to loosen their grip over us and build courage in doing things differently. As we let go of the old we experience the unknown until enough space is created to allow the new. When we continue to let go of our familiar rigid holding patterns we invite flexibility, authenticity, creativity and more choice into our lives. Anything is possible!

While some relish in the freedom of possibilities many of us experience this freedom as a daunting concept. A gaping hole of possibilities that appears to reflect back our own distrust in our ability to step out into the unknown, fearing that safety does not exist out there. Thus most of us choose to live our lives small and by this I don’t mean simply, but in a way that avoids our own potential infusing our experience of life with a feeling of unrelieved tension.  Soren Kierkegaard a Danish philosopher who is wildly considered to be the first existential philosopher describes the above as ‘existential angst’ when one is afraid of their own free will.

To relieve ‘existential angst’ we need to embrace our free will in order to reach our potential. It takes courage and conviction to discover who we are in our freedom. We learn to be bold and responsible for ourselves. We learn about what is important to us. Our choices and belief in our abilities grow and we can begin to embrace our free will with courage and curiosity. We may encounter adversity and challenge however the outcome is capability and strength.

 Discovering our own unique path requires not only the boldness of doing, but also the quiet self reflection and contemplation of not doing.  Rollo May an Existential Psychotherapist (1909 – 1994) and author of the influential book ‘Love and Will’ says it best.

 “It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when they have lost their way.”

Are you a highly sensitive person?

You may not want to answer this question given that Western society appears to look at sensitive people unfavourably, constantly suggesting you grow a thicker skin. However, being highly sensitive is an innate temperament trait, it is a part of who you are, you were born that way and you are not alone. In 1997, Elaine Aaron a research psychologist and University professor recognised not a disorder or condition but an innate temperament trait of high sensitivity. From her research Elaine Aaron went on to write a book called The Highly Sensitive Person and attests to being one herself.  

So what is a highly sensitive person?

A highly sensitive person can be introverted or extroverted, male or female and are about 20% of the population. Often they feel misunderstood or misperceived by others as being difficult, shy or overly emotional when in fact they are just easily overwhelmed due to their highly sensitive nervous system. In essence the highly sensitive person or HSP’s are deeply moved by the arts, music and nature, get easily overwhelmed, readily notice sensory changes, process what is happening around them more deeply and possess strong emotions and empathy. Biological reasons have been found for all the components of this trait and it is known that HSP’s brains are wired differently and their nervous systems are highly sensitive. This hyper-excitability contributes to increased emotional activity with a lower threshold for action.

If you are a HSP it is important (like all of us) to know yourself in order to take care of yourself. Some things you can do to keep you from overwhelm, stress, anxiety and eventual burnout are as follows. Reduce the number of intense stimuli in your environment; limit the number of tasks when multi-tasking; notice early warning signs of burnout, such as feeling anxious; journal your thoughts and deep emotions to decrease rumination; meditate, be creative and allow yourself guilt free space and time to relax and unwind.

While being a HSP has its downside in that being a highly sensitive person can increase your risk of depression and anxiety, being sensitive isn’t all bad. Often HSP’s are more conscientious, are better at paying attention to detail and are incredibly creative. You don’t need to grow thicker skin, you just need to ensure you take care of your specific needs and use your high sensitivity to SHINE bright in the world.

Christmas! A time when families come together the best they can.

Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Jingle all the way…..Christmas! What happens for you when you hear that Christmas Carol?  Joy, excitement, connection, belonging are you salivating at the thought of Rum balls! Or do you feel a sense of dread, loneliness, disconnection, anxiety an emptiness that leaves you with no appetite for the festive season at all.

Christmas is that time of year when we rediscover how well our extended family relationships are doing. Throughout the year a workable distance can be created without too much attention raised, either through kilometres or by the busyness in our own lives. However, as Christmas approaches and families need to discuss, organise and come together in celebration, unhealthy ways of relating that are hurtful and difficult can again be highlighted throughout the family. These family patterns or unfinished business can leave some families annually caught up in the same old unresolved patterns and attitudes. Christmas becomes stuck in the past. These past emerging family patterns can often leave us feeling anxious, misunderstood and confused around Christmas time. Most of us push through in silence on Christmas day with the comforting thought that it is only for one day, whilst others use the time to air misgivings and hurt. Some unfortunately feel so hurt and stressed by family relationships they opt out of a family Christmas altogether, leaving a glaring whole in the festive season and inadvertently cause pain to themselves through isolation. 

A happy Christmas reveals itself to be essentially dependent on how healthy our family relationships are. Boundaries, tolerance and effective communication are the key to healthy relationships. Celebrating together in the Christmas spirit of giving, receiving and sharing may be all we need to bridge the gap with our families and come away with a sense of belonging and connection. For those who no longer attend Christmas day (even if  it is for the best) or where conflict is the norm. Christmas day can reveal with overwhelming clarity a sense of loneliness and disconnection that is hard to ignore. This lack of belonging that may be hidden throughout the year is excruciatingly exposed on Christmas day. This day can evoke feelings of disconnection and loneliness. And may even produce feelings of shame…What is wrong with me? 

Relationships especially family relationships are evolving and forever changing. They can be complex and often require intentional effort to maintain a healthy connection, especially with extended family as we see them less. We all can feel vulnerable in our family relationships and an element of forgiveness and courage is required as we grow together, to stay together!

For some Christmas is a time to rejoice! For others Christmas is a time to heal!

 If you need support this Christmas due to family breakdown, disconnection or loneliness please seek support. It is ok to ask for help!

Reasons why life adjustments and changes are hard

Life is not a palette of black and white. There is a lot of grey area. In fact, life is more like a rainbow: there are even colors that you can’t ever see. If you are struggling with changing yourself, even if you know what you’re doing wrong, it is okay.

What makes it hard to manage adjustments in life?

 Here are some reasons why change and coping with change is hard:

Our brains are not always plastic

Unlike what we have been taught as children, our brains are not entirely plastic. If it were, we would easily be mind-washed and we would never be able to progress collectively as humanity. As we grow older, our ability to adapt to things decreases.

 This can also change depending on how you are raised, and your culture. Some people are more prone to certain types of change as compared to others. In simpler words, as we grow older, the plasticity of our brain exponentially decreases. 

Coping with change when you’re older is considerably more difficult, which is why many people visit a stress management counsellor to get their life under control. If we could do it on our own, there would not be a need for a professional to help us cope. 

Some things are harder to change:

Like we mentioned earlier, some things are easier to change than the others. For example, changing your diet is easy. Changing the school, you go to is easy but adapting to your new school is difficult – especially if you have memories and emotions attached to the previous one. 

Changing your innate habits are difficult

Your innate habits such as anxiety and being anxious when meeting someone new is not something that you can change overnight. It’s not like there is a kill-switch that will toggle your anxiety on and off whenever you will it. 

  • Similarly, it is not like you can kill away your stress when people say, “don’t stress over the little things”. Life is not that easy.
  • You can’t just throw your stress away just like that. If you could, people would not be going bald or dying because of stress and anxiety.
  • Your Stress management counsellor will help you develop activities which will make it easier to handle change and stress.

Humans are wired to be suspicious

Humans are wired to be suspicious of anything that happens in our vicinity. We especially find it hard to adapt to a new environment because of how our bodies have adapted. Because in the olden times, humans had to constantly come from one location to another, this change in environment would often require a high level of alertness and active maintenance. 

  • This alertness is often confused with anxiety and stress.
  • The average human takes about three to four weeks to finally settle down in a new place, though it entirely depends on how they are raised and if they have done this moving before.
  • Some people even take years to properly adapt to their new environment.

If you are having problems, we recommend choosing a stress management counsellor. 

If you have any further queries about life adjustments, coping with change and why changes are so hard, please reach our to Sarah Bergman at Counselling on the Coast today. We will try our best to help you. 

Empty Nest Syndrome – What is it?

Recently my first born left home and this change stirred a wondering inside me. What will it be like to have no kids at home? A mixture of excitement and sadness arose in me and I began to think about the Empty Nest syndrome and its impact on parents.

Firstly, what is Empty nest syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical condition or diagnosis. It is a transitional period in life that highlights loneliness and loss. Parents may experience feelings of grief, sadness and a loss of purpose when their last child leaves home.  

Although you might actively encourage your children to become independent, the experience of letting go can be painful. You might find it difficult to suddenly have no children at home who need your care. You might miss being a part of your children’s daily lives — as well as the constant companionship.

You might also worry intensely about your children’s safety and whether they’ll be able to take care of themselves on their own. You might struggle with the transition if your last child leaves the nest a little earlier or later than you expected. If you have only one child or strongly identify with your role as parent, you might have a particularly difficult time adjusting to an empty nest.

What’s the impact of empty nest syndrome?

In the past, research suggested that parents dealing with empty nest syndrome experienced a profound sense of loss that might make them vulnerable to depression, alcoholism, identity crisis and marital conflicts.

However, recent studies suggest that an empty nest might reduce work and family conflicts, and can provide parents with many other benefits. When the last child leaves home, parents have a new opportunity to reconnect with each other, improve the quality of their marriage (or if single begin a relationship) and rekindle interests for which they previously might not have had time.

Ways you can cope with empty nest syndrome.

If you’re experiencing feelings of loss due to empty nest syndrome, there are some steps you can take to ease the transition. For example:

  • Stay connected. You can continue to be close to your children even when you live apart by making the effort to keep in touch through maintaining regular contact such as, visits, phone calls, emails, texts or video chats.
  • New Identity. After your child’s departure you can refocus your attention on yourself through hobbies, travel, friendships, career or education goals.
  • Stay positive. Thinking about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your marriage or personal interests after your last child leaves home might help you adapt to this major life transition.
  • Seek support. If you’re having a difficult time dealing with an empty nest, lean on loved ones and other close contacts for support. Share your feelings. If you feel depressed or overwhelmed for extended periods consult your doctor and/or reach out to a Psychotherapist or counsellor.

So, if your last child is about to leave home and you’re worried about empty nest syndrome, formulate a plan. Look for new opportunities in your personal and professional life. Keep busy or tak on new challenges at work or at home, form a stronger connection with your partner, friends and yourself. Doing this can help ease the sense of loss that your child’s departure might cause. Transitions and change are a part of life, be kind and patient with yourself, with time you will adjust and begin to find your way!

Motherhood Unmasked!

Without a doubt becoming a mother is a wonderful and joyous time where you are filled with love, elation, excitement and gratitude. Your new little bundle of joy! While this is true, (especially when they are sleeping or feeding well) what about the times when your reality is not one of joy but of frustration, confusion, self doubt, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion and an overall feeling of dismay. What do mothers do with these feelings? Are they able to share them openly or do they feel like they are silenced?

Firstly, it is not ‘unnatural’ for mothers to feel confusion, frustration, self doubt and sadness etc. Virtually every mother will experience such emotions, however unfortunately most will feel like they have no right to do so, and that such feelings are shameful. For this reason unintentionally in society new mothers feel silenced and like they may not be allowed to express the challenges of being a new mum. They may feel afraid to speak too loudly or too clearly on the subject of their own experiences, for fear of being judged as a mum who is not good enough. When mothers feel like they can’t voice all their experiences of motherhood, the good and the bad, they can feel they have no choice but to mask their experience and difficult feelings from each other and the world around them. They find themselves pretending that all is going well and equate asking for help as failing at the inherent feminine qualities of being a ‘good’ mum.

So call me a whistle blower, but to all the new mums out there let me be clear. Being a new mum is a challenging time and no-one can prepare you for the demands a new born will place on you physically, emotionally or relationally. It is one of the most profound identity shifts that a person experiences in their lifetime. Yet, how this experience unfolds is totally unique to you and there are no well worn paths or universal truths along the mothering journey. It is a time of absolute newness and the learning curve is steep and daunting. And, while each new mum has to forge her own way it is important to understand that you don’t have to navigate the terrain of your emotional experience alone, or in isolation. It is ok to reach out for support, to lead with your vulnerability and share and begin to get comfortable asking for help, (which is not an easy thing to do in a culture that celebrates self-sufficiency and ambition). I invite you to share your experience with people you can trust, build yourself a village of supportive, understanding like minded people, whether they be friends, family, neighbours, community groups or health care professionals. You do not have to do it alone, unmask motherhood with tears of despair and the booming laughter of relief as you reach out and share the trials and tribulations, the joy and sorrow of being a new mum!

Can stress actually be good for you?

Stress is a perfectly normal experience in life which can be triggered by circumstances individual to each of us.

While we rarely hear anyone saying, “I’m so happy to be stressed”, there are definitely some stresses in our life that can be considered as ‘good stress’.

So, what is stress anyway?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to a perceived demand or physical threat. We often feel stress as a physical or emotional response which causes our body to enter a state of protection called “fight-or-flight”. Whether our stress is impacting physical or emotional being, any kind of threat to the body has a major influence on our mood, well-being and health.

Symptoms

Stress can be triggered from a range of things in our lives that affects us all in different ways. You might notice, sometimes feeling stressed can motivate us to accomplish goals and work productively, while other times it can leave us feeling totally overwhelmed and unable to move forward. Often, because we are from all different walks of life, our triggers and symptoms of stress vary.  This is where we need to identify both the physical and emotional symptoms of our own stress. Some these symptoms may include:

Physical responses

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhoea, constipation, and nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Emotional responses

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
  • Avoiding others
  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

Good stress vs bad stress

While a lot of us associate stress as a negative impact in our life, often we don’t realise there is healthy stressors that that can be considered good. Stress that motivates us to move forward can be considered good, while stress that impacts our health and wellbeing is notably bad news.

How is some stress good?

In small doses, stress can work to our advantage. It has the ability to advise us how to respond to a situation based off the stressor hormones released in the body. Essentially, when we experience stress in small doses within certain situations, it can motivate and drive us to work efficiently and achieve our goals.

This is because when stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine are released, our body signals a fight-or-flight response that can actually result in positive outcomes. An example of good stress would be adrenaline based activities such as bungee jumping or on the other hand, being productive at work to complete a short term target.

Sources of bad stress

Bad stress can be categorised in two different ways, acute or chronic. We usually experience acute stress as quick spurts of energy toward a surprise trigger such as dodging harms way. Usually, acute stress subsides when a solution is found or a problem is resolve, therefore returning us to a neutral state.

On the other hand, Chronic stress is a repeated stress that feels never ending.  We may experience this type of bad stress in serious situations such as continual pressures at work or situations including recurring conflict.

Sarah Bergman provides counselling through the practice of Psychotherapy for coping with stress and anxiety at her Tweed Heads Practice. When you attend counselling with Sarah, you can expect to be treated to the highest standard in a warm and supportive environment. Visit www.counsellingonthecoast.com.au