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Challenging your inner critic

So often clients will hold such a critical view of themselves, often which they do not hold in the same way with friends, family or colleagues. These messages of I’m not good enough, I’m fat, I’m stupid, I’m useless are so imbedded that a client often doesn’t realise most of what they are saying about themselves. Instead, they present with low mood or anxiety, which is no wonder really. If you had someone following you round all day telling you how rubbish you are, you would see clearly how you might start to become anxious about doing the wrong thing or depressed because you just can’t do anything right. So how does anyone work on this?

  1. Firstly, slowly. Changing that inner critic is hard work and takes time. It can also escalate when challenged which can feel overwhelming at times. If this happens, please do not suffer in silence, seek support from friends or family and a professional if needed.

2. Question the voice. Is it actually telling you the truth. What’s the evidence for and against? Even if you can’t prove that what the critic is saying is wrong, could you at least add in the possibility that there are other ways to view something.

3. Test the critic. For example, if you are someone who is socially anxious, you could confide in a friend about what you’re thinking and feeling. e.g. I am worried that you will think this about me because of …… and I’m anxious that our friendship will be over. So often a friend is not thinking that in the slightest.

4. Instead of going over and over all the things you still haven’t done, go through a list in your head of all the things you have done that day/ week.

5. When someone tells you your good at something keep repeating that until it sticks. E.g that report for work was so well done. Tell yourself, I did a good job there. I am able to do my job. My manager recognises my good work etc, etc.

6. Schedule nice things in for you, even if it feels clunky and forced. If you schedule in the time to do something you. are more likely to actually do it. This will challenge the part that stays you don’t deserve the time.

5 Ways To Be Happy

  1. Scrap the goal to be happy, no one can be happy all of the time.
  2. Lower your expectations of what happy is. So often we are waiting for those big life changing moments of happy, that we forget to notice the everyday moment that bring us happiness. That cup of coffee in the morning, or fluffy socks.
  3. Look for the wonder. Ever notice that look a child has in their eyes when the discover something new in the world? That’s more than often, wonder. And where, you find wonder, you are sure to find moments of happiness.
  4. Be present. So often we are thinking about what we’ve got to do or ruminate on something that’s not gone quite right that we disconnect from what’s going on right here and now. Bring your awareness to your surroundings, to what’s going on right now. It’s a sure fire way to bring more happiness into your life.
  5. Feel all your other emotions. We have a great ability to ‘numb out’ how we are feeling, but the problem with that is we not only numb out the unpleasant feelings, but the ones we like too, including happiness.

When Grief Gets Complicated

When someone significant to you dies the impact can be huge. Emotions whirl around in a seemingly endless torrent, going from sadness, to disbelief, to anger and back again. It can be hard to function and believe that life carries on when something so monumental has happened, but it does. Eventually though these emotions subside, the grief never goes, but you learn ways to integrate the grief into your life and find some new meaning and hope for the future. 

But what happens when this process goes awry?

During my work with young people and adults I started to notice stark differences between some client’s grieving processes. Some of these people were presenting with grief, but seemingly unable to access it, becoming completely overwhelmed by it even years later. Not only that they often presented with a whole myriad of concerns ranging from somatic complaints to flashbacks. It’s almost as if their whole lives had been put on hold the moment they knew of the death. This got me wondering, was there something more than the grieving process with which I had become familiar? And how could I work with these clients to process their grief when even the mention of it was enough for them to completely shutdown or become so overwhelmed that they never returned to therapy?

I began examining the literature and came across the term complicated grief. This is what I had been looking for and it accurately described what I had seen in my clinical practice.

What is complicated grief and how does it present?

Complicated grief is a term that is used to describe a person’s grief which has been enduring in its intensity, despite the passage of time. It often inhibits you from being able to uptake any of your usually activities and you often isolate yourself from others as feelings of shame, blame and guilt hold your grief like an anchor. This withdrawal from life often amplifies your sense of aloneness and you may begin to experience suicidal thoughts. 

This a list of things you may be experiencing if you have complicated grief:

  • A lack of acceptance of the death, at least a year or more afterwards.
  • Anxiety and/or depression-like symptoms.
  • A loss of meaning in your life.
  • Inability to uptake previous activities.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • A sense of isolation and loneliness.
  • Symptoms that interfere with day to day functioning including working and looking after yourself.
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts.
  • Intrusive images or sounds linked to the bereavement (similar to post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD).
  • Issues with your body that cannot be explained by a medical cause.

This list in not exhaustive and a person is unlikely to experience all of these symptoms, but if you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, it may be worth seeking some additional support either from a GP or a therapist. 

Although the term complicated grief is only recently emerging in the mainstream, it is important to know complicated grief is not something new, but historically may have been diagnosed as PTSD or major depressive disorder. This means you are not the only one who is experiencing these symptoms, you do not have to be alone in your grief, and there is hope. 

For people with complicated grief the work is not initially about the person who died or the time surrounding the death, but  often involves holding the grief in a safe way and putting it to one side until you are able to  begin to look at it. In the beginning it’s about rebuilding self-esteem, self-worth and teaching grounding techniques so that you are less overwhelmed by your emotions. It is only then that the grief can begin to be processed. This takes time and like other trauma, the process is not linear. At times it can feel as if the symptoms have become overwhelming again. Do not be discouraged, this is what happens to many clients. However, if this does happen in therapy, be as open and honest as you can with your therapist. It may be that the pace needs to be slowed down a little or it may be time to revisit some coping strategies.

Don’t give up. In time there will come a point when you feel able to talk about the grief and although you will be changed in some way, you will be able to discover new ways of being and find a way of being part of life again.

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