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Low Self Esteem – How Does it Develop?


Self Esteem is about how we think, evaluate and feel about ourselves.  When we have a generally negative view about ourselves this can be termed as Low Self Esteem.   It means we can ignore or be unaware of our positive traits, have negative and self-limiting beliefs, lack self care, and experience an inner negative voice (inner self critic).  These unhelpful thoughts and experiences can also lead to difficult feelings eg sadness, guilt, anger and shame, which can contribute to depression.


Low Self Esteem can develop from childhood,  when we repetitively experience:

– criticism, judgement, lack of acceptance

– negative and abusive relationships

– absence of positive support and feedback

– not fitting in at school or bullying

– an inability to express our emotions

– an inability to have our needs met on a ‘good enough basis’


Low Self Esteem is maintained from negative thinking, relationships and environments.  Working with self esteem in Counselling includes:

– becoming aware of unhelpful thoughts and how they developed

– challenging negative thoughts and reframing with more balanced views

– being able to value positives qualities

– learning to be true to self rather than to external expectations

– developing a supportive inner voice

– addressing unrealistic expectations

– supporting emotions to be expressed and needs to be met

– addressing self care, negative relationships and negative environments

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What is self esteem

Self Esteem is about how well we think about ourselves, respect and value ourselves.   It is the way we talk to ourselves on a day to day basis ie ‘self-talk’ and ‘inner dialogue’.
We all have a right to self-esteem, to be respected, and we are all of equal worth although it may not feel like that.

How does self esteem develop

We learn how to experience different levels of self esteem depending on:

  • how we have experienced others around us in the past
  • the way we experience others around us in the present
  • the way others talk, behave and treat us
  • the way we talk, behave and treat ourselves
  • current and past negative experiences affect our self esteem and we can develop negative thinking and feelings.
  • childhood experiences are fundamental in our learning about ourselves.  However, our learning about ourselves is not always the truth about what we really are.

Improving Self Esteem

To improve our self-esteem we need to work on the following aspects of our lives:

  • re-examining the negative beliefs we have about ourselves and where they have come from
  • re-framing beliefs so that they are more supportive and self-caring
  • noticing our inner negative dialogue and understanding where these unhelpful thoughts are coming from
  • regaining our power of choice so that we do not continue to feed our negative thoughts and beliefs that do not serve us
  • making informed choices about the people we connect to in our lives, are they supporting our well-being eg are they coming from a calm, respectful, kind and understanding place
  • giving ourselves caring, accepting, supportive attention, and healing our inner child
  • exploring your self-esteem issues in therapy for support towards change


It is common to experience changes in moods and thinking around menstruation time.  There are lots of changes going on in the body which affect blood sugar, and hormones which affect how we feel and think.  Self care is particularly important for women around their time of the month and so it might be useful to consider some of the following tips if you find you experience difficulties at this time.

– keep a diary to plan or make allowances as best as you can around this time of the month so that you can get more rest, reducing commitments as much as possible.

– if you are experiencing strong feelings, are there issues which you are not addressing? are you pushing things away which are important and bothering you; things which need attention?

– to help with the physical induced symptoms it is useful to reduce salt, caffeine, sugar and pay attention to a colourful healthy diet.

– around the first day/s,  focussing on gentle time, music, meditation, oils, having a bath, being gentle and easy on yourself.

– seeing this as a time to take a monthly break, a time to reflect and look within, things you may need to address, writing down anything significant for you.

– respecting your natural rhythm, if we don’t feel up to going at our normal pace, the body is probably asking for you to slow down a bit, or rest.



The subconscious mind is looking after us all the time, it is there to serve, and protect us.  It keeps all the systems in the body functioning, like the circulation, digestion and breathing, without us needing to do anything consciously about it.


It also creates habits and automatic functioning for us so that we don’t have to think about how to do something like riding a bike, driving, and the sort of things we can just do automatically without really thinking about it.  Anything we do consciously and repeatedly, the subconscious will see this as important (even if its not really healthy or helpful).  It will also see it as an opportunity to help you, and create a habit so that its easier to maintain doing it, and it ensures it keeps happening for you.  Of course you may be able to see how this might not always be helpful, and that this is how many bad habits of eating, or thinking can occur.


If we are going through a difficult time it can suppress emotions for us until a better time that we can deal with them.  That is why sometimes we come to counselling with something which happened a long time ago.  The subconscious knows it is in your best interest to process these emotions, and deal with this unfinished business.  If we have experienced anything which has happened to us where we have felt at threat or harm – this can be physical, emotional, or psychological, again the subconscious can then look out for us to protect us from this happening again.  This includes the development of defenses where we have experienced criticism or judgement and so we may withdraw; be in denial; have anger problems; learn not to trust people; have committment issues.  Again counselling can help address these unconscious defence mechanisms.

Counselling and Psychotherapy

In therapy, we are often working with the subconscious mind.  In the same way that repetition has meant that we have learnt things which may not be helpful, we can also re-learn and re-evaluate some of our beliefs based on a present understanding rather than on past experiences and understanding. We can help re-programme our subconscious so that it works for us in a helpful way, and hence this is why therapy can need consistent, regular attendance to create new conscious and unconscious habits and ways of being.


Mindfulness helps us to achieve a calm, peaceful and relaxed being state of mind.  When getting into the habit of being mindful it means that we start to notice our thoughts, feelings and sensations rather than reacting to, or being consumed in them.  We can create some distance from our experiences and have more choice about how to deal with them.  By focusing on our breath, body or senses we find an inner calm place where we can observe, and acknowledge how we think and feel,and also be compassionate and accepting of ourselves.  Working with mindfulness can help with the following:

– reduce anxiety, negative thinking, automatic negative thoughts

– reduce the overwhelm in feeling, and reduce difficult feelings

– reduces stress

– reduces the fight and flight response

– increases a calm mind and relaxed body

– enables the mind and body to rest from doing

– increases clear thinking and decision making


RELATIONSHIPS: Why do I stay if I am unhappy

How is it that we can stay in unhappy, unfulfilling and unhealthy relationships, what keeps us from leaving?


Sometimes we have put the other person on a pedestal.  We idealise them or the relationship as perfect, acknowledging the good and denying what isn’t okay for us.  Although we may manage to do this most of the time, we will have our moments of reality and they may be short lived.  We might find it hard to acknowledge what we really don’t like and suppress this, however we are also likely to be aware of how miserable we are at some point.

Hope of Change

Hope can be very powerful.  When we are aware of the difficulties and the dissatisfaction we experience, we may endlessly live in hope that the other person will change.  We may keep putting off our issues especially if we have low self esteem, and painstakingly await for the other person to become the person we want them to be.  The slightest indication of change might keep us holding on, and then any changes may be short lived, so again we await in hope that things an be different.


Change is a scary prospect, especially when we are used to our comfort zone.   Some people would rather stay with what they know than what they don’t. Likewise this means staying with the pain of an unhappy relationship which is familiar  rather than being with the unfamiliar discomfort of being single. Whilst this helps us avoid the unknown fear, we end up staying with what’s not right.  We are also loosing the opportunity of finding someone more suited, that feels right for us and we feel happier being with.   The pain of staying is likely to go on indefinitely if the other person does not want to address issues within the relationship.  Being single can have more opportunities for positive change, as we are not awaiting on the actions of another, we can take responsibility for our self and address how we can feel better about our self and our life.


When we stay in a negative relationship for a long time, this can have a profoundly negative affect on us.  We can lose the ability to look after ourselves in the same way we were able to at the start of a relationship.  If we are continually spoken to in a way which is not supportive, or is criticising and abusive, then we can start to believe what we hear, we can start to question what is right, and we can start to get confused about what we think and feel. We develop a vulnerability which makes it very hard to do something about a difficult situation we are in.

Past Experiences

When we were young we had no control over how adults behaved around us, we were powerless and others were in control.  We may have had our needs ignored, or we learnt about looking after others before ourselves.  If we have had difficult and unsatisfactory family relationships, we may find ourselves back in challenging relationships.

When we find ourselves back in something unsatisfactory, which may or may not feel familiar, there is sometimes an unconscious need have this situation to work out right in the way that our previous childhood relationships didn’t work out for us.  It is similar to the hope process, and sometimes is not realistic depending on the issues you are dealing with.  We have to decide if what we are hoping for is a reasonable possibility, and worth our time and emotional and psychological investment.

WHO AM I: Identity and Values

Who Am I?

Sometimes in life we find ourselves asking Who Am I, we might try to be something we think we should be, or we might be confused about who we want to be?   Or we might question if what we are  is acceptable, right or good enough. Sometimes we are searching ‘out there’ for an answer, we constantly compare ourselves to others as to whether or not we are okay.  This can be anxiety provoking, confusing and stressful as the true answer can be found within.  It may be difficult to connect to that or stay connected to that inner knowing and this is where counselling can be supportive in connecting and accepting with our inner truth.

What are my values?

When we consider what we value in our lives, this is a way to understand more about who we are and our identity. What is important to us, what motivates us and what is meaningful to us will lead us to our values.  When we are considering our values and working in line with them we feel motivated, self esteem, fulfilled and with a purpose in life.  Life includes several areas of concern such as identity, home, career, finance, family, relationships, friends, romance, hobbies, etc.

Values can look like so many things such as: honesty, fun, learning, achievement, helping, creativity, respect, giving, security, success, adventure, sharing, understanding, peace, love, wealth, efficiency, teaching, consistency, trust, and endless more. Whatever they are, they are you’re truth and no-one can take them away from you whilst you want to keep them. When you connect to these, you are connecting to who you are as a person.  You can prioritise values, change values, and introduce new values as you change and grow as a person.

You are a unique individual

Everyone will have different and similar values, which are prioritised on an individual basis and this contributes to our uniqueness.  When we relate with people we like often these are people who have similar values, or values that we respect.  When we have difficulties with people in relationships and romance, sometimes there maybe differences in each others values, or the way we are prioritising them.  This is why it can be really important to fully understand someone elses values at the beginning of a relationship, so that we can have a realistic idea of how well suited we are  for each other.

Acceptance of values

Sometimes it is difficult to accept who we are especially if it is something different from the expectations of significant people in our lives, eg parents, teachers, mentors, friends, employers.  This can contribute to anxiety, stress, and other emotions which if needed can be supported and explored in counselling.  It can be useful to look at learnt beliefs and values, to see if they are conflicting with other beliefs and values that we have.


Recovery from pressure, stress, anxiety, emotions, thinking and activity

Relaxation is an important part of helping us maintain balance in our lives, and to help us deal with pressure, stress, anxieties, physical demands, and difficult periods we may be experiencing. Dealing with challenges with work, family, and friends, etc as well as negative thoughts, and painful feelings means that we can be subjected to long periods of stress.  It is of course normal for us to have to cope with stressful times within reason, and problems can arise when we are not addressing stress levels with enough self care, relaxation and recovery time.

Sometimes we may think we do not have enough time to fit in periods of relaxation, and this might be about the habits we have adopted, and how we are prioritising our day.  The body and mind can gain huge benefits from just an extra five minutes of relaxation morning, afternoon and/or night and so this does not necessarily mean needing large chunks of additional time.

What is relaxing?

Relaxing is not only resting our body, it is being able to rest our mind.  So what can we spend at least five minutes doing several times a day, that will help us switch off and give us a break from thinking. One function of our brain is for it to work for us, figuring out problems, analysing, and planning etc.  This thinking can also affect how we feel which in turn can trigger the fight and flight response, which can lead to tensions we feel in our body and so we can feel stressed.  This can all be fine if we also get enough rest and relaxation to recover from our demands.  Anything which stills and relaxes the mind will help relax the body, as well as physical relaxation techniques.

Strategies to increase relaxation and support an over active fight and flight response, include:

– Having supportive friends, and home environment where we feel safe and accepted.

– Creative play, eg enjoying interests, hobbies, sports, music, being creative, outdoors, fun etc..

– Attention to breathing: increasing awareness about breathing and how it supports us, using it as an anchor to the here and now

– Mindfulness: staying in the present and noticing/acknowledging thoughts without judgement or getting involved and hooked into them.  We acknowledge them and let them go, so that we take a break from thinking, and leave that to another time.

– Sensory focusing: using the senses helps us stay in the present, by paying attention to what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.  This might be a scenic walk, listening to music, foccussing on tasting a meal, being creative with our hands, or cleaning etc

– Visualisation, remembering a favourite place in detail in our imagination, what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch and experiencing the associated good feeling.

– Meditation, hypnosis, focussing on a word like peace, or calm and repeating it

– Water, has many therapeutic qualities for relaxation, hot and cold showers, bathing in the sea, keeping hydrated with mineral water.

– Making time for making notes, lists and prioritising and planning tasks for the day, week, month and year so that this frees up the mind from thinking and remembering, and we have some organisation and goals in our lives.

– Yoga, massage, aromatherapy, gentle stretching, progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscles in turn throughout the body)

– Attention to diet, hydration, sleep and exercise can all help with addressing stress to the body, and aiding relaxation.

When attending counselling to address issues around stress, anxiety, anger, and other emotions, looking at relaxation is an important part of feeling better, and an important part of a healthy day to day routine.


One way of looking at anger and rage is that they are two quite different experiences and therefore need working with differently.

Anger  is actually a positive emotion, in that it can indicate to us many helpful things.  It is how we use the experience of anger that can be positive or cause problems and difficulties ie how we may act out unhelpfully, or address issues, and make the changes needed.  See more about anger.

Rage can be very harmful,violent and  destructive and  like anger  is  addressed  in counselling. When experiencing  rage, there is normally the inability to think clearly, and an inablility to control oneself and actions.   People who experience issues with  rage, may have experiences of  past events which have not been processed  or worked through enough on a thinking or feeling level.

Rage can be understood  as a defence or protective mechanism that the body reverts to when it just doesn’t know what else to do.   There is often a sense of feeling overwhelmed in a situation.   At an unconcious level there is an experience of a threat to survival – this can be physical or  psychological, rational or irrational.  The perceived or real threat to survival triggers  the fight/flight response whereby there is an outburst of rage.

Working with rage can  involve working on many levels such as thinking, feeling, sensatory and behaviours such as:

–          Exploring/working through unprocessed events and emotions

–          Looking at thoughts and perceptions to experiences which may be contributing to the rage response.

–          Learning to connect to what is happening in the body

–          Becoming more aware of emotional responses and unmet needs

–          Looking at issues around stress, anxiety, anger,and  inner conflicts

–          Exploring relaxation, and calming strategies


When we are faced with, or anticipate fearful/dangerous/stressful situations our body can automatically respond so that we are able to fight or flight (run away) to keep ourselves safe.   This unconscious fight/flight response means that the brain focuses on preparing the body for action without you needing to do anything.  In dangerous situations it is important to get oxygen and energy circulated to different areas and muscles of the body so they can be prepared for action.  Other bodily systems deactivate like the digestion and immune system to save the needed resources and energy. 
Fight and flight can also be triggered when we are not in actual danger, but perceive or imagine something as fearful/stressful.  This can be useful where we need to be extra alert,  focussed  and motivated like when attending an exam.  The fight and flight is not always experienced as helpful, and if it is triggered excessively then it can be more difficult to switch the response off.  The fight flight response can get triggered with fear, anxiety, stress, and inner conflict, and for many reasons such as: trauma, guilt, shame, negative thoughts, conflicting thoughts, experiencing emotions, being true to ones self, shallow breathing, expectations of others, relating to others, lack of action.  The unconscious can misinterpret these fears and stresses as life threatening situations, and thus activate the flight and fight response.
When we become aware of what is happening in our body, we can start to work at changing what we are experiencing.  Sometimes there is a negative cycle created where we react with more fear to the fight flight response which increases and maintains the fight flight responding.   With awareness we can start to work at addressing our thoughts, feelings and behaviours so that we can help reduce these difficult responses.  This can include working with such things as breathing, mindfulness, sensory resources, muscle relaxation, imagery and positive thinking.  There is more information about this see > anxiety.




The mind and body can experience stress day to day as demands are made upon it.  It is healthy and normal to be dealing with a certain amount of stress as this alerts us and motivates us to make decisions, and take action.  If we are dealing with high amounts of stress over  long periods of time then we can sometimes start to suffer with our stress and maybe experience physical ailments.



It is not always what is happening  that is the problem but how we respond to it, or how we think or react that can increases our stress response.  Certain ways of thinking and acting are really unhelpful and increase the difficulties we are having; so it is useful to try and think and respond in self supportive ways.



Stress can often be linked with fear, anger  or threat…. eg I might loose my job or my partner might leave me.  In stressful situations, the body automatically alerts the survival response in the fight and flight system which enables us to physically fight or run away from the threat.   This was necessary in the days of hunting animals, and also now if we are dealing with a physical threat eg  a burning building – we need to be able to run away (flight).  However, much of the threats/fear/stress we might be dealing with on a regular basis is often more psychological or emotional and we are not actually at any risk of dying but the body does not differentiate between a real survival threat and a perceived one.

When we are experiencing the fight and flight response in stress we are producing chemicals preparing the body for action which often do not get used.  The body goes up a gear in preparation, and without the action it can get stuck in this less relaxed position.   What also happens is that the body needs to reserve energy by shutting down less important functions like the immune, and digestion etc.  The side effect of this is that we can experience aches and pains, tiredness, headaches, stomach upsets, colds, and more serious illnesses.



Also under stress we may reach out to coping mechanisms which may be unhealthy or unhelpful eg over eating, alcohol, smoking, drugs, excessive exercise, caffeine, sugar, and fatty foods, all of which might feel helpful in the short term but are adding stress to the body in the long term and becomes a negative cycle of stress.



–  exploring issues around boundaries, self care and self esteem

–  looking at unhelpful thinking and behaviours

–  working through suppressed or difficult emotions

–  looking at choices, decisions and responsibilities

–  develop healthy coping strategies







Grief is a process which can occur when we experience loss.  It is normally associated with bereavement, and it is also to be found in other painful losses.   Not only can grief be experienced when someone dies, it can occur with endings, and loss of relationships with partners, family, and  friends.  When we make life changes we can experience loss in  identity, work, home and life roles, and things we expected to happen but didn’t.



Grieving is an individual process and everyone is different in how they experience their loss.    There are similar phases and tasks in the grief process that can be recognised which can help people understand that what they are going through is quite normal and to be expected.  These can include feeling numbness, disbelief, shock, and disconnected; feeling sadness, tearfulness, gut wrenching pain, guilt, regret and anger etc.  There can be a period of pining where we are trying to keep connected to our loss and seek constant reminders which can provide  comfort and sometimes further pain.  We can question and be critical of  the endless tears however tears  have many therapeutic purposes in loss and are part of the healing process, please see  > crying.   Loss does not need to be about letting go but rather about how we eventually learn to adjust to our  loss.



Sometimes there are difficulties in accepting what has happened and also adjusting to what has happened.  It may seem easier to deny  thoughts and feelings, or you may be overwhelmed with them.  Sometimes we may already have so much going on that we are not able to process our grief properly.  This can sometimes lead to delayed grief, and it can come a surprise when  2, 10, 20, years down the line we might find ourselves dealing with past losses and grief when we are in a more able place to do so.    Unprocessed grief is also known to contribute to issues with depression.



Working through grief is not easy,  so  counselling is sought  for support.  Counselling grief can be about:

– facing and working through difficult thoughts

– being with feelings and processing them

– addressing behaviours and challenging them if needed

– exploring how you are adjusting to your loss

– reaffirming your values in life and hopes for the future

This all needs to occur in a supportive, accepting, patient environment.  It also helps to support clients how to help support themselves in this process.

RELATIONSHIPS – Why do I keep picking the wrong partner


How is it that we can meet the perfect partner of our dreams only to realise to our later disappointment and heartbreak that there is no way on earth the relationship can work in a way that we are happy with.  Not only may we find it difficult to understand how we fell in love with this person in the first place,  we can also find that we make the same mistake more than once?  Also see > relationship issues.



When we feel attracted to someone there can be a lot of processes going on that we are not aware of.  Sometimes we may have experienced relationships from childhood with too many disappointments, hurt, and insecurities which means we may still have a need for these past experiences to be repaired in current and future relationships – see > inner child.  What can happen is that unconsciously we are attracted to people who may have similar character traits to what we experienced in the past and there can be an unconscious need to put our experiences right by getting what we didn’t get before.  It can mean that staying with a similar relational dynamic can turn out to be very painful and yet also be comfortable  because it is something we are familiar with.  Often we prefer to stay with what we know rather than something different that we don’t know.  Another way of looking at this, is that there may be an underlying belief that relationships don’t work, or I dont deserve better, and so there is a sabotage aspect to this.  Unconsciously we can set ourselves up to fail because again this is what we believe and we are able to prove it by getting involved with the wrong guys which ultimately tend not to work.  Unfortunately, this can lead to a negative cycle of relationships.



Being in a new relationship can sometimes feel the best thing we have ever experienced, it may be anxiety provoking as well but overall it can have a feeling of utter bliss, and a dreamlike quality.  It has been likened to feeling crazy, and has even been termed as a temporary psychosis as there is sometimes an aspect of reality missing from the experience.  New love can create masses of endorphins whereby there is an enormous feel good factor, and only the good in the other person can be seen.  We can idealise the other person as being perfect and any warning signs or negative signals to the contrary can be ignored, or denied without being aware of this happening.  All of this is about maintaining the connection; keeping the relationship bonding and creating attachment.



In reality of course no one is perfect and we all have differences, and things which another person may think or do that we do not like, or agree with.   Sometimes finding the right person to be with is so powerful that we can continue to ignore differences which may actually be problematic, and we can minimize them, or deny them until they do start causing problems later on in the relationship.  We may have a need for approval, and have a fear of rejection which means we avoid facing issues which we may think will threaten the relationship.  Our identity and beliefs may be about working hard to please the other person and not doing anything which we think may upset them.  The difficulty here is that we are not being true to ourselves and we may suffer with low self esteem; we may not be getting our needs met; and  this  also means we start to develop a mixture of emotions building up because of the difficulty of expressing them  (emotions support us to get our needs met) or they may be expressed in an unhelpful way which does not support the relationship.



Eventually there can come a point where the negative experiences in a relationship can  start to outweigh the positive, and we might start becoming more aware of feeling unhappy, hurt, disappointed, anxious, angry, depressed and unable to sleep properly etc.  We may start to look at the relationship we are in and feel confused or question what we need to do.  As said previously it is normal to experience differences in relationship, and ideally we need to address any niggles and difficulties from the start so it is clear for both parties to be aware of others expectations, hopes, values and fears.



It is normal and necessary to be able to address minor problems so they do not develop into more damaging and maybe less repairable issues.  If two people are in relationship together they both need to be responsible for the part they are playing in that relationship, and show a  caring, and respectful way of being with their partner.  Making reasonable changes and compromises, is often a vital part of sustaining a healthy, enjoyable and meaningful relationship.  Sometimes we may have issues which need additional support from counselling, so that further awareness and understanding can be gained; and painful emotions and  unhelpful thoughts and behaviours  can be addressed in a therapeutic relationship.



TRUST and relationships



It is a normal human need to want to be in happy, meaningful and positive relationships however sometimes it may be hard to trust new relationships if we have  experienced negative, hurtful and harmful things with people in the past. Trust is an essential part of a healthy relationship to work well. We need to trust that the person will be respectful, caring, honest, fair, and reasonable with us etc.  Of course no relationship is perfect, and there are times when things may not go right.  However, when things do go wrong, it is important that we  can also trust that we will be heard and understood; that responsibility is taken for; and effort and action is taken to put things right.



Sometimes we respond to bad experiences with trust by withdrawing from social contact, or over protecting ourselves from further hurt and harm.  These behaviours can be helpful in the short term however sometimes they can also lead to further difficulties in the current relationship, or difficulties in securing healthy relationships in the future. Sometimes we find it hard to let go of someone who is too negative in our lives, we fear being alone, or finding new relationships, or even hurting that person.  Unfortunately, whilst we are staying in negative relationships we are less likely to encounter or be finding new healthy and positive relationships.  Stay in negative relationships also means that we are subjecting ourselves to further pain, distress, unhappiness, and loss of self esteem, and confidence etc.



When things go wrong with trust we can initially talk about our disappointments, hurt, and grievances with the expectation and hope that things will be acknowledged, and changed.  Where words are not effective it is sometimes necessary to address self care, and set limits or consequences which will be carried out – for example if someone is speaking to you abusively, you may need to say that whilst this is the case you have to leave the room until you can be spoken to reasonably.  Of course this needs to work both ways.



So how do we trust again?  Everyone is different on what they need to do to trust again, or how long it might take to regain trust.  Sometimes it may not be appropriate to trust the person again, or it may feel reasonable to offer another chance.  As noted initially, when trying to move on again within a relationship, it is important that both people are willing and actively working together.  The other person ideally needs to be providing you with what you need within reason to make the necessary changes.  It is also necessary that you can give that person the best chance to make amends eg by not continually referring to the past, or judging the person with negative expectations.



Some trust issues are about things which are generally fixed and unchangeable, eg how you want to be treated; behaviours you will never accept; things you will never be prepared to do; and so they fit in with your fixed and unchangeable boundaries which keep you safe, and healthy physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  Some trust issues may be protected by flexible boundaries where certain limits are set initially whilst you are regaining trust, or settling into a new relationship.  These flexible boundaries can be changed as you experience:  feeling respected, cared for, honesty, fairness and reason; and/or positive changes in behaviour on a consistent basis over a sufficient period of time. Also see > self care.



Sometimes difficult experiences in childhood mean that we have a more difficult time of trusting people in general and may be experiencing an inner hurt child.  As with the above issues, it can be helpful to explore this in counselling. Negative and unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours can get in the way of developing workable, and positive relationships.  By exploring these experiences and gaining further awareness, insight and change, you can be helped in addressing issues around trust.


ANGER – How is it helpful?



Anger can often be viewed in a negative way rather than for the positive support it provides us.  It can be associated with aggression, shouting, violence and negative behaviour.   Surprising to many clients in counselling, is that the initial recognition of feeling anger can be a helpful communication to oneself.  It is not necessarily the anger we feel which is a problem but how we respond to it, or how we express it, when we experience it.  Also, it is helpful to differentiate whether it is anger we are experiencing or rage.  When we are aware of feeling anger, we can normally think with it; when it is rage we lose the ability to think and can act out.  Feeling angry is often a sign that something needs attention or needs to change.  It provides valuable information and has many useful purposes.



– indicates something is not okay/unacceptable

– supports us in experiences of injustice and unfair/unacceptable behaviour

– provides protection from feeling hurt/pain

– supports and motivates us to address issues

– enables us to honour our difference and be true to ourselves

– maintains healthy boundaries and self care, eg saying no.

– enables us to address our issues assertively and with respect.  



Sometimes we do not have awareness of anger, or we may deny it, this can be due to conscious and unconscious processes because:

–  we have not learnt how to know our anger;

– have experienced negative responses to our anger;

– have experienced  others negative expressions of anger eg aggressive/violent behaviour



If we are unable to let anger inform us, this also means we lack the positive support it provides us which can  impact negatively on our happiness and wellbeing.  Working with anger issues in counselling helps us to see the positives of anger, and for it to become a support rather than a problem.

GUILT – Healthy or Unhealthy?



The purpose of feeling guilt is to help us to reassess our actions, and change the things we do that may be harmful or unreasonable to others. When we feel guilty about something we have done, it means that we can try and think what we are going to do about it.  This may mean considering the choices we have,  and the decisions and actions we take.   Healthy guilt enables us to  learn from our mistakes (a normal way of learning), and make amends or do what we can to put something right.



It is not healthy or helpful to feel guilt long term, or when we try to do something positive for ourselves.   Experiencing guilt long term means we can endure a miserable existence, and this is not serving any obvious positive function.  However, if we have become attached to guilt it may feel difficult to change, guilt may be serving an irrational function that we are no longer aware of.

Sometimes when we try to make healthy changes (ie behaviours with other people like saying no), we can feel guilty because we think we are doing wrong to others, when in fact we are trying to foster self care, and just doing something different to what we are familiar with.  When people make these kind of changes, friends and family may be accepting or react with negativity or manipulative guilt trips.  If we have learnt to be people-pleasers, we may have irrational and negative thoughts when we try to do what is best for ourselves. Counselling can help provide support in addressing healthy and unhealthy guilt, and the irrational thoughts and beliefs which can get in the way of positive changes.

SHAME – Hide or seek?

It is normal for children to experience being shamed by significant others as part of  a supportive relationship – shaming can help educate and motivate children towards socially acceptable conduct.  Healthy shame inhibits illegal, immoral, and harmful behaviour; and means learning from our mistakes and our limitations.  Shame is experienced as negative thinking and feeling about oneself  ‘I am bad if I do this’  rather than guilt which is thinking and feeling bad for an action taken.   When children learn healthy shame  it is important that they are continued to be supported with an attentive and understanding relationship.
If children experience shaming on a frequently, unreasonable, and inappropriate basis, and without an attentive and understanding relationship to support  them, then this can lead to an unhealthy experiences of shame in the future.  In these cases, we can learn that it is not okay to make mistakes, have limits, or be ourselves. We may learn that we have to be perfect and should be able to meet everyone elses needs.  These impossible expectations can set us up to fail and perpetuate the shame.  Once we are familiar with receiving shame externally, we can also learn to shame ourselves from within.  This can lead to an ongoing experience of feeling useless, a failure, disconnected, flawed, not deserving, stupid, worthless, not adequate and not good enough.  Unhealthy shame, is not really about who we are but rather about how we have experienced ourselves from others, and thus it becomes a learned belief about who we are.  
Unhealthy shame can also be referred to as toxic shame, or being shame bound.  In toxic shame we  may withdraw, isolate ourselves  and experience self hatred.  Shame also binds to emotions, where we believe that it is not okay to feel or have emotions and so we may sometimes struggle to express happiness, sadness, anger, and sexual feelings without feeling bad. 
Shame can be referred to as one of the greatest pains to suffer; causing extreme physical discomfort, like a dark sinking feeling.  It can also feel shameful to feel shame, and so shame spread and hide without being aware of what is happening.  We can learn to mask and defend the shame with a false sense of ourselves, and sometimes an exaggerated sense of self importance.   
Shame can often be triggered in counselling because understandably this can involve new learning processes and exploration of the unknown or things we don’t feel good about.  When a safe and supportive relationship can be experienced in counselling,  shame can be faced, confronted and transformed.

THE INNER CHILD – How do we heal?

We all carry experiences from our childhood which include: memories, rules, learning, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviour although we may or may not be aware of all of them as an adult.  These experiences are sometimes referred to as our inner child or the child ego state which can be a positive and negative part of our personality. 
Our inner state can change depending on what we are experiencing if there is a negative trigger we can connect to our ‘inner hurt child’ or a ‘vulnerable child ego state’.  Wounds from our past can be very powerful and painful; and we may experience unresolved childhood issues affecting our present day life as adults.  It can therefore be very important to work with our inner child hurts so that we can increase our healing and well being.  This can understandably be challenging work especially with experiences which are unfamiliar and painful. 
Challenges in healing our inner child may include:
  • finding self acceptance as you are now so that you can make the desired changes
  • giving yourself permission, that it’s okay for you to do this for you
  • to accept that it is okay to make mistakes; this is part of normal learning
  • that it is okay to consider breaking the rules (parental?) you live by if they don’t fit for you
  • accepting the need for healthy boundaries, the importance of saying NO to help keep you safe and healthy
  • knowing and expressing your feelings around supportive people
  • identifying your needs, and expressing your needs is not being selfish
  • re-evaluating your beliefs, what is your truth?
  • grieving for losses with past and current relationship


Changing the way we are is sometimes a big task but it is not impossible.  Some changes we can make on our own and for some changes we need to experience something different in relationship before we can achieve them. Many of our negative, unhealthy or unhelpful experiences and ways of being have been learned or occured during our earlier formative relationships, therefore these issues can also be addressed, changed and healed in a therapeutic, and supportive relationship such as counselling and psychotherapy.

SELF CARE – How well do we look afterselves?

Looking after ourselves is not always an easy task.  We may not be in the habit of doing it, or we may not fully know what that means.  We may be busy looking after others, family, friends, partners or work.  It is important to take time to reflect and consider how well our we taking care of ourselves.   A further difficulty is the belief that putting ourselves first is being selfish.  If we have learnt it is not okay to look after ourselves, and honour the importance of getting our needs met, or that it is more important to put others first it is understandable that we may have this negative belief.  Unfortunately, these experiences can get in the way of what is actually taking responsibility for ourselves.
There are the typical areas to consider such as eating, exercise, rest, sleep and positive activities.  There are also other areas which we may not be so aware of, or just take for granted and maybe not even consider the possibility of making changes to such as:
– unhelpful stressful relationships: we may endure being around people who are very negative and seem to deplete our energy – can we do something about this?
– persisting with things which do not feel right: we may be aware of a lack of enjoyment and fulfilment possibly with work, friends, and family – is there something we need to change, what are our options?
– ignoring what are emotions are communicating to us: what are our emotions telling us, they serve a purpose to let us know what we need, or need to change – do we understand them?
– difficulty to express what we experience: are we able to talk to anyone, are we able to talk the way we need to? can we get our thoughts and feelings across safely?
– do we have boundaries with others: do we have clear rules for what is okay and not okay and do we stick by them?  Boundaries are important to protect ourselves, and to be able to say no is essential to our well-being- do we have difficulty with boundaries?
Lack of self care and difficulty in self care can often lead or contribute to stress, low mood, anxiety, psychosomatic illness, low self esteem, and other issues.  Self care is an important aspect of learning, self development and counselling work.  It involves connecting, accepting, and taking responsibility for ourselves, and addressing what is getting in the way of this.

THE PAST – How does it help?

When we consider our early past relationships, childhood, and life experiences it can sometimes help us to understand our current ways of thinking, feeling, relating and behaving. Sometimes events in the past which have not been worked through sufficiently or at all, can negatively influence us in the present. It is not only the event which may cause problems but more often the way we have dealt with the event, or the unhelpful responses we have had, or the support we have not had which causes us ongoing difficulties.  
We all have needs throughout our lives, and our emotions help alert us to what is needed, and to get our needs met. From childhood we also learn to think in certain ways which fit for others eg carers and parents etc.. but they may not fit for us, this can cause inner conflict, and can interrupt us getting what we need. So it is important to check our beliefs and behaviours to see where they have come from, and to LEARN our own truth.  
Counselling and psychotherapy should offer a safe place to explore these issues, and it is often found in therapy that difficulties such as depression, anxiety, low self esteem, etc improve as unmet needs, unprocessed and denied feelings, and negative/distorted thinking are addressed.

EMOTIONS – Why they are important

Emotions serve many purposes and communicate many things which are important for us to know, learn from. They are specific reactions to a particular event.  It can therefore be very useful to be aware and informed by our emotions rather than trying to ignore, deny, or push them away somewhere.
Some of the useful things emotions inform and support us with are: 
  • protection, self care and boundaries
  • knowing what is okay  and not okay for us,
  • gaining support, comfort and understanding needed
  • getting our needs met
  • changing our behaviour
  • processing  experiences, and difficult life events
  • releasing tension and stress
  • experiences of  loss and grief


Sometimes emotions can be quite uncomfortable, distressing and confusing to tolerate especially if we don’t understand them, or have not learnt how to know them, accept them,  or manage them.   Denying, ignoring or distracting ourselves from feelings may be helpful in the short term, however, sometimes this can also cause longer term problems when feelings still manage to find their own way to express themselves.  This delayed expression can happen, days, months or years away, and therefore can be difficult to understand when it is experienced separately from the original event.  This can look like difficulties such as: anger management, anxiety, depression, tearful upsets, erratic moods, addictive behaviour and self harming etc which are common aspects of work within Counselling and Psychotherapy.

CRYING: Whats the point ?



Sometimes in life, and counselling, people can struggle with the need to cry, dismissing it as pointless, weak, or negative in some way.   Crying like all our emotions, serves a necessary purpose, to support us in our life experiences, and our well being.  



There are many reasons, why crying is important; relating to physical, emotional and psychological well being as follows:

  • A normal and natural response to grief, loss, distress, overwhelm, injury, hurt, fear and vulnerability
  • Indicates a need for attention, acknowledgement, care, understanding, support and comfort
  • Often there is a need is to cry with someone rather than be alone. Crying is visual for a reason, we have a need to be seen and connected with another which can also help keep our thinking rational.
  • A release mechanism from feelings and tension, crying has a natural rhythm, allowing ourselves to cry as needed helps finish the process.
  • Helps adjustment to change and adaption to loss
  • Essential in healing, if we interrupt crying this can interrupt healing.
  • If the upset feels disproportionate to the event, this can indicate unresolved/unprocessed past hurts, and loss etc.  See > inner child
  • Trust it is okay to cry… if not, how come? how have you learnt differently?
  • Noticing sadness without tears is just as important as crying.