You may have heard the term co-dependency tossed around in discussions about unhealthy relationships. Usually people are talking about an unhealthy attachment to another person to such an extent that there is a crippling reliance on the support and validation they receive in that relationship. Codependent relationships can occur in the context of a romantic relationship, but these dynamics can also be present in family relationships or friendships as well.
Codependency was first recognized and defined in the context of people with addiction problems and the people who support and facilitate addictive behavior in their partners. However, the pattern has been expanded and understood more broadly in the context of any relationship in which one person’s unhealthy behaviors are accepted and propped up by the other person, who becomes an enabler of the unhealthy patterns.
How to Recognize Codependency in Relationships
To understand codependency, you want to recognize the signs of this unhealthy dynamic in relationships. People who tend towards co-dependency may exhibit the signs of unhealthy attachment in multiple different relationships, and they may repeat these patterns in relationships that they seek out. Often the person is seeking out emotional validation or looking for others who will enable their own unhealthy behaviors, including addiction, irresponsibility, or poor choices.
Some of the signs of codependency in a relationship may include:
- Manipulative behaviors that drain others of time, resources, and/or emotional energy
- Lashing out when others try to set boundaries and limits
- Creating justifications for unreasonable behaviors
- Acting helpless in order to make others feel responsible for helping them or solving their problems
- Becoming disappointed or depressed when others do not rescue them or give in to their demands, claiming no one cares about or supports them
- Using past adverse events or situations to justify current helplessness or lack of responsibility for their choices
- Using other people’s concern for their wellbeing to manipulate situations or extract resources from them
These patterns indicate that codependency has become a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with life’s problems or taking responsibility for life’s challenges. People with codependency often need professional help to understand their own behaviors and take control over their own lives.
Sometimes this means seeking treatment for addiction or mental health problems. Often, family therapy is needed as well in order to break unhealthy patterns in the family dynamic and help everyone establish healthier boundaries with each other. In some cases family members or enmeshed partners have to stop their own enabling behaviors in order to force change in the codependent relationship.
Understanding The Enabler in Codependent Relationships
An important part of understanding codependent relationships is also understanding the role of the enabler. You may wonder why a person would put up with such unhealthy and maladaptive behaviors from someone else. Yet for the enabler in the relationship, they are often getting a secondary gain from the dynamics in the relationship. A secondary gain is typically an unmet emotional need that is being facilitated by the codependent dynamics of the relationship.
To use the example of codependency in addiction, the enabler is often put in the position of facilitating the addicted person’s behaviors by providing money, shelter, rescuing them from unsafe situations, and helping to minimize the negative outcomes of the addictive behaviors. They may be asked to pay for legal assistance, treatment costs, or food and shelter. The enabler may find themself supplying drugs or alcohol, or picking them up when they are intoxicated, or taking care of them when they are hungover or recovering from a drug binge. Even when the addicted person’s behavior and needs become excessive and unreasonable, the enabler often continues to support and facilitate these needs.
Why would anyone allow themself to be manipulated or used over and over again?To start off with, the person in the role of the enabler likely loves and cares about the addicted person very much. It’s difficult to watch someone you love do things that hurt them, and most of us have at least some inclination towards helping those we care about. There may also be a very sincere desire to do whatever is needed to help this person recover from their addiction and improve their life.
However, in codependent relationships this desire to help someone you love becomes excessive and unhealthy. Often, the enabler is also using the relationship to fulfill their own conscious or unconscious emotional needs. They may have a desire to feel needed, or a fear of abandonment, or they may feel validated by rescuing other people. These emotional needs get fed when they become enmeshed with a needy and co-dependent person.
Enablers may also believe that they deserve to be mistreated or used, and may feel that they will not find another person who will need or want them. This desire to maintain the relationship despite the unhealthy patterns will allow the enabler to justify manipulative or even abusive dynamics within the relationship.
Relationships between an enabler and a codependent person can become quite destructive. Enablers have difficulty with setting boundaries and co-dependent people are quite good at blurring and crossing boundaries when it serves them. The needy behavior is reinforced because the codependent person receives attention and nurturing when they exhibit the unhealthy behaviors, thereby further incentivizing the co-dependent patterns.
To understand if you might be enabling codependent behavior, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there someone in your life that makes constant and sometimes unreasonable demands of your time, attention, and/or resources?
- Do you find it difficult to say “no” when they ask things of you?
- Have you covered up for mistakes or unhealthy behaviors such as drug use, accidents, or poor choices for this person?
- Have you protected them from feeling the consequences of their own behavior?
- Do you worry that if you do not rescue them they will abandon you or will suffer from the consequences of their choices?
- Do you avoid confrontation by giving in to their demands?
- Do you ever feel trapped in the relationship, with no good options for how to handle the problems that arise?
- Do you feel like if you don’t help them, no one else will and the person you love will end up alone?
It’s also important to note that both people in a relationship can be codependent. When this happens, both people are enmeshed in unhealthy patterns of facilitating each other’s bad habits while also depending on each other to feel needed and valued. They can develop a desperate kind of love for each other in which they only feel understood and valued by each other, and use their intense connection to justify addictive and maladaptive behaviors with and for each other. They enable each other and use each other as crutches to avoid change.
Breaking the Patterns of Codependency and Enabling
If these relationship dynamics sound familiar to you, then recognizing the codependent pattern is the first step in breaking up these maladaptive habits. These patterns can be hard to break because both people are getting something out of the codependent pattern. The enabler feels needed and validated, while the codependent person feels loved and cared for. Breaking these patterns may require professional help, and most definitely will require behavioral changes that include setting and respecting each other’s boundaries.
While the codependent person is often the one most in need of help and treatment, the enabler is more often the first person who has to change. This is because the codependent person’s behaviors are being reinforced by the enabler. Once the enabler decides that they will no longer facilitate those patterns, the codependent person has to either change or find a different enabler.
This means setting firm boundaries on what will and will not be tolerated in the relationship. Saying “no” to things that you have previously said “yes” to will usually cause conflict, so you have to be prepared to weather the negative reactions from the other person. For the enabler, this step is the part where things get difficult, because they fear they will lose the relationship and no longer feel needed or desired.
Individual, family, or couples therapy is often a necessary step in breaking codependent patterns and establishing healthier relationship dynamics. Whether you have struggled with codependency or you have been the enabler in the relationship, healthier relationships have to start with a willingness to change patterns and examine the emotional needs of everyone involved.
For more on healthy relationships and emotional intelligence, check out these other posts:
How to Identify Toxic Relationships
Emotional Intelligence Series: Setting Boundaries
Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership
9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People
10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence
Jealousy- it’s not a fun emotion to experience and it’s not exactly something to be proud of. Jealousy is a feeling of envy and wishing that you had something that someone else has, or even sometimes wishing that something bad would happen to someone who you perceive as having some kind of advantage over you. Everyone experiences jealousy sometimes, but it’s important to keep it in check to make sure that jealousy doesn’t cause you undue distress or problems in your relationships.
Why Do We Experience Jealousy?
Jealousy is complex, and can be triggered when people feel threatened in some way or have a fear of losing something, such as an important relationship. It can arise when people are competing for the attention of a third party, or when there is a perception that someone has something you don’t have, including some kind of advantage. These feelings can be triggered by competition in romantic relationships, family relationships, work relationships and friendships.
Humans can also experience jealousy when competing for resources and social capital. Social capital just means that certain qualities, such as appearance, financial resources, or personality strengths give people an advantage in the broader society. Our culture is predicated upon people being able to access resources that include things that increase our social and financial capital. This is why you can feel jealous, for example, if you think someone is more attractive than you, because it seems like they have an unfair advantage in being able to secure romantic partners, receive attention or favors, or even to be treated more respectfully or favorably.
There is plenty of research that backs up how people with certain qualities receive more benefits and advantages because of them. People who are considered conventionally attractive tend to get more job offers, make more money, receive more attention from potential romantic partners, more social acceptance, and even more leniency when in trouble. People who have more financial resources tend to have more power, fewer social problems, and yes, more leniency when in trouble. It stands to reason then, that people can look upon others who have these advantages and feel envious that they don’t have the same advantage.
It’s certainly not fair that subjective qualities such as beauty result in more advantages, just as it’s not always fair that objective resources such as money results in other advantages like power or authority or respect. However, given that we are all going to experience jealousy sometimes and we all have to live in the world as it is, it is worthwhile to gain some control over any tendencies towards jealousy you may have and build more resilience towards negative emotional reactions.
What To Do About Jealousy
While jealousy is a natural emotion to experience, it’s distressful and can take up too much of your emotional energy. Not only that, it’s also not very productive as an emotional state. It doesn’t help you improve yourself, it doesn’t help you feel better about yourself, and it doesn’t usually motivate you to work harder on your goals.
It can, however, motivate you to act irrationally, damage your personal relationships, and make you look insecure and petty.
One of the mistakes that I see people make sometimes is that they want someone else to make them feel better when they are feeling jealous. For example, they want their partner to provide more reassurance to them when they feel jealous of another person, or they might make baseless accusations about what other people are thinking or feeling when in reality their perceptions are rooted in jealousy rather than rational facts. This can cause damage in relationships because friends or partners get annoyed and fatigued when they have to constantly provide reassurance for reasons that seem irrational or rooted in insecurity and jealousy.
Combatting jealousy involves turning your focus back onto yourself so that you can stop wasting emotional energy on irrational jealousy. Here are 5 tips on what you can do to combat feelings of jealousy and keep your emotional state in balance:
- Practice Gratitude: First and foremost, practicing gratitude daily can help you feel less jealous and more secure. Increasing the gratitude you have for your life and relationships can help you to feel less threatened by others who may have resources or advantages that you don’t have. There are always going to be people who have more than you, or advantages that you don’t have. Yet in reality there is probably a lot that you can feel grateful for and there are others that have less than you. There may even be people who are jealous of you, though you might not even know it. Check out the link above for tips on how to cultivate a gratitude practice
- Acknowledge your strengths: While it can seem like other people have strengths, privileges, and advantages, you likely have all of those things too. Everyone has strengths, and you likely have advantages too in other ways. Take the time to recognize everything you have that enables you to be successful and helps you to move forward in your life. Make an inventory of your strengths that includes things that you are good at, what you like about your personality, things that make you unique, ways in which you’ve helped other people in positive ways, challenges that you have overcome, and compliments that you have received.
- Check your values: Understanding your values is part of being emotionally intelligent, because your values help to guide your choices and priorities. Vales can be things like love, family, security, fairness, responsibility, loyalty, and many other qualities that you want to embody in your life. Values can be helpful when you’re feeling jealous because more than likely being a jealous person isn’t something that you value or want to prioritize in your life. Think about the values that you want to have and the qualities that you want others to recognize in you. If how you’re feeling isn’t in line with those things, then it’s time to let go of jealousy thoughts and focus on living out your own values.
- Challenge your cognitive distortions: Cognitive distortions are like mind-tricks that we engage in that often involve irrational thoughts that can distort reality and lead to negative emotions. Understanding these distortions can help you overcome jealousy by learning to approach issues from a more rational context. Challenging cognitive distortions involves recognizing irrational thought patterns and then practicing more rational and objective ways of thinking about situations and feelings. For more information on cognitive distortions check out the link above and the other posts in my series on the topic here, here, here, and here.
- Acknowledge feelings of jealousy: When you acknowledge that you are feeling jealous, you can disempower that feeling. People often deny being jealous, but that doesn’t usually help you feel any better. This doesn’t mean you have to tell the person you are jealous of how you feel. That may not be wise or productive, depending on the circumstances. However, even if you just acknowledge it to yourself or another close friend, recognizing that you are having a natural emotion that needs to be dealt with can help you take control of the feeling and confront it. Try to understand why you are feeling that way and what kinds of inadequacies you think you have that are triggering jealous feelings. Then, practice the tips above to put the focus back on being your best self and dropping the comparisons.
Releasing the power that jealousy has on you can be an effective way to build your own confidence and let go of negative emotions. Remember that the only person you need to be in competition with is yourself, and jealousy isn’t serving you in any positive way. When we acknowledge our more unpleasant emotions and work to think about them in more logical and healthy ways, then we gain the benefits of having a higher emotional intelligence. It’s not about denying that you ever feel jealous or pretending that you’re above it all. It’s about acknowledging that you’re human with the same emotions as everybody else, but choosing to not be ruled by those emotions or let them drag you into a negative emotional state.
For more information on Emotional Intelligence, check out these posts:
How to Build Emotional Resilience
Are You Using Selective Self Control?
10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence
4 Steps for Anger Management
If you have a relationship with a toxic person, whether that is a romantic relationship, a friendship, or even a family relationship, you might often find yourself frustrated, drained, and confused about how to handle the situation. It’s hard to know how to set boundaries with people or know when to cut ties with someone that you care about. You may not recognize how toxic the relationship has become until you take some time to really think about the patterns that have been established.
What Are Toxic Relationships?
Toxic relationships tend to drain your energy, because the patterns of behavior from a toxic person can be confusing, hypocritical, and exhausting. Some people actually thrive on the conflict and drama that they create in their personal lives. The reasons why people do this are just as confusing, and usually not worth your time to try and figure out. It usually has to do with personal insecurity and poor emotional intelligence. Trying to change the other person or have healthy boundaries can be just as exhausting, because ultimately you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change, or who doesn’t see the toxic patterns in their own behavior.
There are many signs that the relationship you are in is has become toxic, which means you need to think about changing some things to protect your own mental health and establish healthier relationships with this other person. Again, this could apply to a friendship, a romantic relationship, or another personal relationship, even a co-worker or supervisor. The toxic person in your life may not display all of these sings, but they likely will display at least a few of these signs if their pattern of behavior is unhealthy.
Here are 10 things to look out for that indicate you are in a toxic relationship:
1: You get upset at this person, but then you end up apologizing to them for something else entirely. They have a way of turning arguments or disagreements around so that you end up feeling guilty for everything, even things that are not your fault. They rarely take responsibility for their own faults, and when confronted they turn the focus back to the person who is calling out their behavior.
2: You are constantly accommodating their needs, but when you need help or support, they aren’t there for you. Toxic people tend to latch on to other people who are givers and empaths, but they are often not willing to give support back to other people.
3: They make a lot of promises or agreements, but they rarely follow through with what they say they will do. They are willing to follow through with things that will benefit themselves, but toxic people will not prioritize other people’s needs, so if they see no benefit to themselves, they don’t follow through with their commitments.
4: They are constantly complaining, but they never do anything to change their circumstances. They may blame everyone else for issues, but never take responsibility for solving their own problems. You may find yourself caught up in trying to rescue them often or fix their problems for them. They start to assume that you will be there to fix things for them, and they may even become angry when you don’t fix their problems for them or bail them out from the consequences of their own behaviors.
5: They may be negative more often than not. They will avoid doing things because they insist that things will not work. They may avoid making changes because they always find barriers to making progress or changing their behavior. Even when you try to cheer them up or point out the positive in situations, they will still shut down any solutions you offer or refuse to acknowledge anything positive. It can be hard to be around people like this after awhile because they start to negatively affect your mood, too.
6: Toxic people may avoid issues altogether by denying that a problem exists, or avoid hard conversations by just saying they have nothing to say, or giving one-word answers when you are trying to resolve a problem or talk about an issue. They may also stall, saying that they will do something later, or wait for someone else to do it.
7: You feel like you have to walk on eggshells or watch what you say around this person to avoid an argument or problem. A toxic person may become highly defensive if you try to raise any issue that you want to talk about. They also may have a tendency to say things that are hurtful or condescending, so you become defensive too, so as not to find yourself under attack in some way.
8: They may expect you to read their mind, or know how they feel at all times, so that when they become upset you may be the one who gets blamed. You may find yourself trying to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, they end up finding fault with something you did or said. Toxic people can be extremely difficult to please, because they expect others to cater to them, yet they will easily find fault in others when mistakes happen or if they don’t get their way.
9: They may ignore your boundaries when you try to set limits with them, but they become upset when you try to enforce those boundaries. Toxic people feel victimized when other people set boundaries with them, and so even if you try to set healthy boundaries, they may not respect your wishes or accuse you of abandoning them when you try to stick to those limits.
10: They may make fun of you or otherwise say hurtful things, but if you get upset they accuse you of being too sensitive or of not being able to take a joke. When you stand up for yourself, they distance themselves from you to punish you for doing so. It might seem easier to just let things slide, even when you feel hurt, because trying to address how you feel will just result in an argument or more denials from the toxic person.
There are many other things that toxic people may do that are confusing, hurtful and unhealthy. Unfortunately it can be hard to set boundaries with people like this, and you may still care about them and want to continue to friendship or relationship. However, you need to remember that you cannot change another person, especially someone who does not see the need for them to change.
What To Do If You Are In a Toxic Relationship
Sometimes, you may be able to keep the person in your life, but you might have to cut back on how much time you spend with them. If you are in a romantic relationship with someone who exhibits these patterns, then you really need to consider whether you can continue to tolerate this kind of dynamic in your relationship. It is possible for people to change, but you might need help from a professional, and your partner has to be willing to look at their own toxic patterns.
If these patterns are present in the workplace, you may not have any choice but to try and find other employment, especially if the person is in a supervisory position over you. While you always have to carefully weigh your options when it comes to work, staying in a toxic work environment can cause long-term stress and contribute to a decline in your overall mental health and quality of life. When it is a co-worker you have difficulties with, you can try to limit your conversations to work-related issues and avoid contact with them outside of work.
Other times, when it is a family member or a person that you can’t or don’t want to cut out of your life, you have to start to adjust your expectations and limit how much time and energy you give to this toxic person in your life. Although it can be difficult, you have to ask yourself some hard questions about whether you can continue to spend your emotional energy in a relationship with someone who does not respect your needs or feelings. Setting boundaries and limiting your contact with toxic people are often the best strategies to avoid these relationships have a significant negative effect on your life.
For more information on setting boundaries and emotional intelligence, check out these other posts:
Emotional Intelligence Series: Setting Boundaries
10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence
9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People
Everyone has times in their life when they feel depressed, but clinical depression is more prolonged and intense than just having a sad day once in a while. When you are in a depressive state, it can be a challenge to get out of, even when you’re tired of feeling bad all the time.
Most therapists and other helping people will encourage you to focus on positive experiences, thoughts, and people to help you get out of that depressive state and back to feeling good. However, it’s also helpful to think about some of the things that you can cut out of your life that might be contributing to your depression and making you feel worse. It can be hard to get motivated to do the all the self-care you’re supposed to be doing when you’re in the midst of an intense depressive state.
Cutting some things out instead of adding more to your to-do list can be one strategy to combat depression and start to feel better, so that you actually have the energy to take care of yourself. Here are some things that you can safely ditch when you’re feeling depressed so that you have more time and energy to focus on yourself and get to feeling better:
1: Social Media
We all know that social media can be a place of comparison and drama when it’s not being used properly. When you’re feeling depressed, social media can sometimes contribute to you feeling worse, especially if you get trapped into thinking that everyone’s lives seem better than yours or that other people seem to be happy and thriving while you’re not.
In reality, some people are putting their best faces, experiences, and attitudes forward on social media and not necessarily the full picture of their daily struggles. Others might be constantly posting negativity, berating each other publicly, or starting arguments with little chance for resolution on public forums. All of this can get overwhelming as you’re scrolling through your social feeds.
While it may be tempting to surf through all of your social platforms when you’re feeling down or bored, consider temporarily checking out of your social media profiles when you’re having a depressive episode. The point is not to avoid people or the world in general, but you’ll be better off connecting with people in person who support you rather than spending too much time on social media when you’re feeling down.
2: Toxic People
Most of us know at least one toxic person, and possibly quite a few. Toxic people are the ones that either contribute to all of the negativity in the world because they have negative energy overall, or those who directly speak or act in ways that are hurtful or damaging to those around them. You probably know who the toxic people are in your life if you spend a bit of time thinking about it. It could be the person at work who is always complaining about the office or their home life, or it could be that one friend who pretends to be supportive but in reality finds ways to cut you down or dismiss your feelings whenever given the chance.
If you have a toxic person in your life, feel free to limit your contact with them or cancel any plans you might have made if you are feeling depressed and know their energy would just make things worse. This is all part of having healthy boundaries, and boundaries are part of self-care. When you’re feeling depressed, cutting out time with negative, toxic people is part of getting through that depressive episode. You don’t owe time or attention to people who negatively affect your mental health, even if they are among your friends and family.
3: Excess Clutter
Sometimes when you are feeling depressed, your physical possessions can tend to pile up and your space becomes a physical representation of how you feel inside. Think of dishes taking over the kitchen, laundry taking over the living room, and clutter taking over your whole home. The prospect of cleaning everything up seems overwhelming, and the whole mess contributes to how overwhelmed, sad, and unmotivated you feel. The best strategy when this starts to happen is to tackle one thing at a time.
When you are depressed, you probably aren’t going to feel motivated to de-clutter all of your space, so think about just picking up one thing at a time. When you walk to the bathroom, grab something to throw in the trash on the way or the laundry bin. If you go to the kitchen to get a snack, put up one or two dishes from the dishwashing machine or wash one pot in the sink. Don’t think you have to tackle it all at once, but recognize that one small bit of progress is not too overwhelming to manage, and doing one thing can create momentum. You will likely feel somewhat better when your space isn’t overwhelming you too, so just focus on small tasks, and by the end of one day you will have made some progress.
4: Negative Self- Talk & Rumination
This can be a tough one to tackle, because the nature of depression is such that your mind finds ways to remind you of the negative outlook on almost everything that is happening, and it all gets tied in with the hopelessness and loss of motivation that you are already feeling. However, ditching negative self-talk and negative rumination is one of the most powerful things that you can practice to help combat symptoms of depression.
First, you need to notice the thoughts that you are having that are negative and unhelpful. Recognize when you are engaging in thoughts patterns where you are ruminating on thoughts, people, or experiences that are not helping you to solve a problem or move past an issue. When you are having repetitive thoughts, such as “I can’t do anything right, nothing I do will make a difference, everyone thinks negative things about me…”, then you need to take control over this thought pattern.
When you recognize these negative thought patterns, write down all of the negative things you are saying to yourself, and then directly challenge those thoughts. Make an argument to yourself about why these thoughts are limiting you and make a conscious choice to change those thoughts in a more positive direction. You can enlist the help of a good friend or confident, your therapist if you have one, or you can do it yourself. But don’t let those thoughts go unchallenged, or they will take over your mental space and push you further into that depressive state.
5: Extra Obligations
We all have obligations that we have to meet in order to keep out lives on track and running smoothly. Work, school, family obligations, and other responsibilities are a part of all of our lives. Sometimes, though, you can afford to let go of some of the things you typically feel obligated to do, especially if you are someone who tends to over-commit yourself to others or take on more than you can reasonably handle. If this is a problem you have, then these extra-obligations can feel like more opportunities for failure or letting people down, and when you’re depressed, that can take on extra significance. When you are experiencing a depressive episode, however, this is a time to trim down your extra obligations and focus on getting your basic needs met.
If you have a partner that can pick up some of the slack, then enlist their help when possible. If you need to cancel plans that feel too burdensome, that’s okay, just try to be conscientious and forthright towards people that you have made commitments to. You don’t have to over-explain everything, but it’s okay to let people know that you’re not feeling well and you’re not able to meet those obligations you’ve committed to.
This is not to say that you can abandon all of your responsibilities. If you start to just check out of everything, like taking too many days off work, not taking care of your children, or abandoning tasks that need to get done like paying bills then you might find yourself suffering from consequences that will make your depression worse. This strategy is about ditching the excess stuff that you can do without, like too many social obligations or over-committing to extra projects. If you find yourself struggling to complete necessary obligations that keep your life together, then it’s time to get some professional help with your depression.
Manage Depression by Focusing on One Thing At A Time
Managing depression usually requires multiple different strategies, and sometimes it feels like a beast that is too hard to tackle all at once. You don’t have to give in to the sadness and fatigue, though. Every day and every hour is a new opportunity to try something different, and it will be worth the effort you make to feel better.
When it seems like self-care is elusive or like no matter what you do you’re still feeling bad, then try to trim down what you’re focusing on. Thinking about everything all at once can be too overwhelming, so just try to think about one strategy at a time and give yourself credit for that. Abandoning your social media scrolling in favor of a walk outside or canceling dinner plans with that toxic person in favor of some time spent journaling or calling your more positive friend who lives across the country can make a difference in how you feel at the end of the day.
It’s important to understand what to expect from trauma recovery therapy in order for you to get the most out of your counseling experience. Everyone’s experiences are different, and so it’s important to understand that your needs are going to be unique, so it is worth the time it takes to find the right therapist for you. Sometimes this is just about a personality fit, but there are other considerations as well.
The decision to go to counseling after a traumatic event can be difficult for many people trying to recover after trauma. The reasons may include a need to detach from the traumatic event and avoid thinking or talking about it, the distress that comes from recovering memories of traumatic events, or perhaps previous negative experiences with counseling that cause people to be wary of seeking out therapy or any kind of mental health care. However, engaging in trauma recovery therapy can be life-changing for many people and can help them move on with their lives in a positive way.
There are several things to keep in mind when you are considering counseling for trauma recovery. Having the right expectations can help you get the most out of your counseling experience and hopefully make it a healing and therapeutic process. If you are considering seeking therapy for trauma recovery, keep the following things in mind:
1. Finding the Right Therapist May Take Time
One of the most important parts of trauma recovery counseling is to have a therapist that you trust and feel comfortable with. This means that you might have to see a few different providers until you find the right therapist for you.
Any professional therapist should be able to work with clients who have experienced trauma, but that doesn’t mean that any therapist is right for you. Furthermore, some therapists do specialize in trauma recovery so you might want to ask if the therapist you will be seeing has experience with your area of need.
If you have been sexually assaulted, you may have preferences as to the gender of your therapist, or you may have other preferences based on your comfort with any particular person. It is totally fine to seek out therapists that possess qualities that help you to feel more comfortable. This is also true if you have other unique needs related to your personal background, history, experiences, or culture.
Therapy is about YOU, so don’t feel bad about seeking out a therapist that you feel the most comfortable with. Most therapists are not going to be offended if you tell them that you have decided to go with a different provider.
2. You Don’t Have To Talk About the Details
Unless you want to. Trauma recovery therapy should be a place where you feel safe to discuss traumatic experiences that have happened to you and how they have affected you. It’s more important, though, that you feel comfortable with any decision to disclose certain details related to the trauma with your therapist. When you are ready and you have built a trusting relationship with your therapist, you can feel free to talk about the details of your experiences. However, you don’t have to feel pressured to disclose every detail of the trauma if you’re not comfortable doing so. It could take time and some work in therapy before you feel ready to share certain details.
Some people feel intense shame or guilt related to their traumatic experiences. Talking about certain details that trigger feelings of shame surrounding the trauma can be healing when done in a safe and therapeutic environment. However, sometimes when clients share things before they’re truly ready, they can feel too overwhelmed with therapy and then stop coming because they are uncomfortable. This is why it is more important that you feel comfortable with your decision to share things with your therapist than it is to just release everything all at once before you’re ready.
3. Trauma Recovery Therapy Can Be A Trigger
This can happen for a couple reasons. Sometimes, people are used to avoiding uncomfortable emotions, and other times people may be doing better and therapy starts to just remind them of the trauma. Unfortunately, because therapy can be trigger for some people, this may cause people to avoid therapy or to feel extra stress around or after appointments.
Many people use avoidance as a way of coping with trauma. After a traumatic experience, you may try to distract yourself from thinking about the trauma as a way to avoid the distress that comes with those memories. This is a normal reaction, but when you are used to using avoidance to cope with difficult feelings related to the trauma you may find yourself feeling triggered when it is time to talk about things in therapy. If this starts to happen, it’s a good idea to talk to your therapist about what you’re experiencing, especially if you are thinking about stopping therapy or not returning because you feel overwhelmed.
When you have made some progress in therapy and you are feeling better in your daily life, you might find that therapy starts to remind you of the trauma just when you’re starting to feel good about not thinking about it all the time. Sometimes, you might decide together with your therapist that it’s time for a break in therapy for a while, or to go longer in between appointments. Just try to keep the communication open with your therapist about what you need.
4. Your Therapist is Human Too
Therapy can be such a delicate process, especially when it is related to traumatic experiences. Most therapists are compassionate, empathetic and kind people that truly want to help their clients and are not going to judge you or shame you in therapy. Yet even the best therapists sometimes say things the wrong way, or don’t know exactly what to say, or make other mistakes that might upset you.
When this happens, try to remember that your therapist is just another human being who sometimes makes mistakes at work too. Certainly if there is some kind of ongoing issue with your therapist that is impacting your treatment experience then you might decide to seek out another therapist. However, if you let your therapist know how you’re feeling, whether you were upset with how they said something or you feel they are doing something else that you don’t understand or like, most therapists will be open to having a discussion about it and trying to resolve the issue. Resolving a conflict with your therapist can actually be a pretty therapeutic way to practice doing the same thing in your regular life and can help you gain confidence in your own ability to handle problems.
5. Therapy Heals but Doesn’t Cure
Getting counseling and support to help you recover from a traumatic experience is an important step towards healing emotionally afterwards. Ultimately, though, therapy cannot change what happened to you and cannot guarantee that you’ll overcome all of the painful feelings associated with the trauma.
Therapy can help you to process through all of the emotional distress related to traumatic events and can help you cope with the impact to your life and mental health. Trauma impacts people in so many different ways, from painful memories to damaged relationships years after the trauma. Therapy can help you resolve some of these problems and learn to reduce the negative impact of the trauma on your life.
However, the truth is that trauma is a psychological injury, and just like major physical injuries, sometimes you will never be the same. Healing a psychological injury is important to your mental health, but therapy can’t take away the experience of the trauma or make you go back to how you were before a major traumatic event.
Healing after trauma is more about adapting to the new normal of your life, where you have to work to accept the facts of what happened and create your own understanding and narrative of what it all means for you moving forward. Therapy can help you with this adjustment and give you the support and tools you need to limit the negative impact of the trauma on your life moving forward.
Are You Ready For Trauma Therapy?
Having the right expectations for trauma recovery therapy will help you get the most out of counseling, but some people are still unsure about whether they need or are ready for counseling. In truth, there are times when some people are just not ready for counseling, and it can take some people years after trauma to be really ready for counseling.
After a traumatic event and especially after a prolonged period of extended trauma, such as in abusive relationships or homes, people may be in survival-mode emotionally. Not everyone is ready for therapy immediately after getting out of a traumatic situation, which is okay. Often, it is not until much later that people realize how much of a long term impact the trauma has had on them and their relationships and coping mechanisms.
As mentioned previously, when people enter into therapy when they are not ready or disclose too much too soon in therapy, they can become uncomfortable or triggered and stop coming to counseling. It is a challenge to work through that discomfort, but when the emotional pain of coping with the trauma on your own becomes too overwhelming it is time to get some support and guidance to help you recover.
When you are ready to seek out counseling to help you cope with trauma that you have experienced, consider what your expectations are for counseling and then do some research to help you find the right therapist for your needs. Don’t let fear or anxiety over the counseling process stop you from getting the help you need. It can get better with time and you can get support and help if you are willing and able to participate in the therapeutic process.