Developmental trauma occurs early on in a child’s life and can have detrimental consequences for children and their families. Developmental trauma can lead to long term or permanent changes in the structures and functions of the brain.
Childhood traumas can affect the nervous and the immune systems, as well as possible changes to the hormonal systems, particularly when the trauma exists over an extended period of time.
Sometimes, developmental traumas can lead to children being removed from their birth families and placed in local authority care, with foster carers or with other family members, also known as kinship carers.
Psychological symptoms of trauma don’t always present in children initially, they can occur several months or years down the line once they’ve developed a good relationship with their carers or once they start asking questions about their life history.
Sources or trauma for children can include:
Emotional, physical or sexual abuse,
Serious accident, major surgery or illness,
Change in the family dynamic,
War or natural disaster,
Domestic violence in the home environment,
Moving home suddenly,
Drug and alcohol abuse in the home environment,
Bereavement of family or other loved ones and
Removal from birth parents
These sources of trauma can also be called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) or toxic stressors.
Approximately 1 in 4 individuals have experienced at least 1 ACE in their childhood, with approximately 1 in 10 experiencing more than 4 ACEs.
Adverse Childhood Experiences can have an extremely long-term and inter-generational effect on individuals and their families as this video demonstrates.
Adverse Childhood Experiences have been shown in multiple studies to have negative consequences on health in later life, including increased risk of heart disease, cancers and premature death.
Sometimes children aren’t aware of memories of trauma, especially if the trauma has occurred in infancy or very early childhood. However, the body’s reflexes do still remember, and children can be extremely sensitive to things that may seem very trivial to you and me, perhaps the smell or the sound of everyday things.
Children can become very sensitive and hyper-aware in the places that are their safest places to them, like home or school. This can present itself as hypervigilance- perhaps staying at the back of a busy room so that they can see almost everything around them and see all means of escape. It can also present as adverse behaviours or diminished concentration as the child contemplates the safety of the environment they’re in.
When we experience stress, adrenaline is released which helps us to respond appropriately to stimuli in the environment around us. Different levels of adrenaline would be released when someone knocked at the door compared to if we came face to face with a threat to our lives.
However, when we are persistently in a heightened state of stress, the long-term stress hormone, cortisol, is activated which causes us to think of what may be seen as low-level stress to become more and more unmanageable unless we seek out appropriate support.
Additionally, because developmental trauma can cause epigenetic changes in the DNA, triggers can cause children who’ve had traumatic experiences to become stressed very quickly and the fight, flight or freeze response in the brain is activated to low-level stressors. The fight, flight or freeze response is a survival reflex activated at the back, lower section of the brain.
Once these survival instincts are activated, the blood supply that usually supplies the rational region of the brain in the upper, frontal sections is diverted to muscles in the body and prepares the body to freeze, fight or to escape.
When the rational region of the brain is essentially not functioning properly, it means the child can then not determine the level of threat the stimuli is invoking. Basically meaning, that they respond similarly when there’s a knock at the door to what they would to a higher-level threat.
The upper frontal regions of the brain are also responsible for emotional regulation, and you could imagine once again that if a child feels threatened and the blood supply is diverted, that the child then becomes impaired in their ability to emotionally regulate themselves and may, therefore, experience emotions often at their most extreme.
Without adequate intervention, this could have a profound impact on a child who is still developing emotionally and socially.
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. While trauma can have profound effects on children and their families or carers, they can be prevented in a lot of cases with a supportive and nurturing environment.
This has been the focus of family health services for some time and therapeutic parenting can also be very beneficial.
Some traumas like bereavements or serious accidents can’t be completely avoided in life, but children can be helped through those experiences in numerous therapeutic ways, which can be tailored to individual need and circumstances.
The organisations below offer therapeutic support to help individuals heal from Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) can be accessed by adoptive families and those with special guardianship orders to help fund some therapeutic support services.
The following resource also provides ACE score questions and resilience score questions, which may be of some help if you’ve been experiencing health difficulties for some time and perhaps haven’t quite been able to pinpoint why or where it may be stemming from.
Over the course of my career, I have often worked with clients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
How to understand and help those affected by depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns is often shared and discussed on social media, but there tends to be far less information circulated about BPD.
I wanted to share some factors which are helpful to recognise, to avoid misunderstandings and conflict and support those affected.
The current Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) defines the main features of BPD as “a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and effect, as well as markedly impulsive behaviour, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts”.
BPD is indicated by the presence of five (or more) of the following:
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. (not including suicidal or self-mutilating behaviour covered in Criterion 5)
A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealisation and devaluation
Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). (not including suicidal or self-mutilating behaviour covered in Criterion 5)
Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour
Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
Chronic feelings of emptiness
Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms
BPD is found in around 0.7% of the general population, with a far higher prevalence among those in mental healthcare and forensic settings. There is conflicting data as to gender differences in the prevalence of BPD: it is sometimes found to be more common among women, with other studies indicating no difference.
There is little research focussing on BPD among those with non-binary gender identities.
Causes are not clear, though developmental trauma and abuse have been found to be high among those diagnosed, with neurobiological, genetic and psychosocial factors all viewed as playing a role in the onset of BPD.
For those with BPD, relationships can be very difficult. There can be a powerful fear of being abandoned, paired with a real struggle to make and keep friends, despite trying very hard to do so. Others are inadvertently driven away, as behaviour swings from clinging and idolising to hateful anger.
Loneliness and rejection are often experienced, but difficult to tolerate and express. This quote from Mind is illustrative: “The worst part of my BPD is the insecure relationships … when I am attached to someone, they are my whole world and it is crippling”.
Intense, labile emotions last from hours to days. Those with BPD can have an underdeveloped sense of identity, mirroring those admired and often changing and shifting image.
Feelings of emptiness and impulsivity can lead to extensive drug and alcohol use and other risk-taking behaviours, which can be alarming and concerning to those supporting them.
As a practitioner, working with someone with BPD can be challenging. A therapeutic alliance can appear to be blossoming well, when suddenly an action is perceived as a slight, a comment interpreted as an insult, or a distressing mood is experienced by the client, and the relationship completely shifts.
Accusations can be made, communication withdrawn, hostile emotions can erupt. The therapist can be left wondering what they have done wrong and how they can regain the former dynamic.
Friends, family members and partners supporting someone with BPD can have similarly bewildering experiences.
While it can seem impossible at times, it is essential to remember that people with BPD can heal and achieve balance and that research increasingly evidences that the condition is not as resistant to change as previously thought.
The role of validation is important. In common parlance this word is often used as a negative term, applied when someone is perceived to be agreeing with, excusing, permitting or minimising inappropriate conduct.
However, validation is the act of communicating to another person that you recognise and acknowledge their emotions, thoughts and experiences, even if you disagree or are upset by their words or actions.
Explaining to the loved one or client with BPD that you are present, listening, trying to understand and remain aware that historical and recent experiences might be impacting how they are thinking, acting and feeling in the moment can help to avoid communication breakdowns.
For an extensive exploration on Marsha Lineman’s six stages of validation, please see here.
Setting and maintaining boundaries is a particularly challenging aspect of supporting someone with BPD. Clear and consistent boundaries ensure a sense of comfort, safety and respect in a personal or professional relationship, but those with BPD can, consciously or unconsciously, be inclined to test the boundaries of others.
This may be in the form of demands and requests, timekeeping issues such as arriving late, missing sessions or wanting to remain in session after the designated time has elapsed, overfamiliarity, aggression or intimidating use of language and tone.
Succumbing to the temptation to permit or tolerate boundary transgressions leads to a sense of confusion for both parties, as what is acceptable and unacceptable becomes less clear and more difficult to vocalise.
Honesty, clarity, assertiveness and the willingness to respectfully challenge is important in establishing a predictable routine. For those with BPD, this sense of stability and trust can be pivotal.
A strengths-based approach is beneficial. To the person with BPD, conflict and a focus on problems may feel all too familiar. Highlighting areas of proficiency, genuine interest and progress helps cultivate an internal locus of self-worth, esteem and identity.
Finally, patience is key. As stated above, those with BPD can take time to settle into relationships and can find establishing clear lines of communication with others difficult at times. It is therefore important to allow time and space for an alliance to grow.
I love reading, and there is nothing I love more than a good psychology book.
I developed this reading list based off of some of my favourite books over the past few years.
If you are a psychology student, graduate, qualified psychologist, therapist or simply just interested in the topic of psychology then there will be a book in here for you, or maybe two, or maybe all of them!
Check out my reviews of all 20 books and simply click on the name of the book to be taken straight to a link to purchase it!
Blackbox thinking really came at the right time for me.
I had just started my doctorate in counselling psychology and was struggling to come to terms with a failed assignment.
This book really opened my eyes to the power and true purpose of failure.
Blackbox Thinking looks at different professional industries in our society and tries to teach lessons of industries that refuse to learn from failure, those that do and the differences in those industries as a result.
If you want to gain a better understanding of what failure is all about, the purpose and power of what failure can do for us, then this book is a must read!
Carl Rogers is one of the greatest pioneers of psychotherapy and psychology!
His work created a new age of therapeutic work during times of psychodynamic and behaviourist principles.
With a focus on the client as an individual, in their subjective world, Rogers’ work was revolutionary.
This book really encapsulates his ideology and philosophy better than any other.
What’s more, is that you don’t need to be a therapist to really appreciate and gain benefit from his work and knowledge
A new appreciation of the individual, empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence, an appreciation of the principles in this book and enhance the life of any reader, from any background and profession.
The book, unsurprisingly so, introduces the concept of ‘flow’.
Flow is a state that if reached, it is argued, can enrich the lives of people, and is the key to true happiness.
combination of a number of things such as minimising some of the challenges we catastrophise in life, as well as learning from our failures encapsulates what flow is about, however, it includes so much more.
This book is a bit of a classic in psychology and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
Backed with real sound empirical principles this book is one for the people looking to introduce a new concept in their lives to experience some more happiness in 2019!
Thinking fast and slow can be a challenging read I will not deny it
However, this is in the GetPsyched Reading List 2019 because of how thought-provoking it is.
If you can get past the challenges you might experience in reading it, this book talks in great detail about the two different parts of our decision making brain, the logic behind them and how it rules everything we do.
How rational we think we are when we are reactive compared to when we are considered and think situations through thoroughly, is very different from reality.
Similar to his other work, Yalom in the Gift of Therapy talks about his personal experiences and process of becoming the establish therapist he is today.
He goes into brutal detail about his trials and successes, something I rarely come across form professional therapists talking about their work.
The lessons he has learned and is willing to relay to the reader are so so valuable.
I really believe this book is not only a must read for therapists and trainees, but for anyone wishing to develop empathic and interpersonal skills with a desire to communicate and relate to others better.
This is one of those books that I just love picking up every now and again.
It’s by no means a self-discovery or intellectual based book but it is so so fun to read and actually gives more detail than I thought it would at first.
If like me you are interested in the basic principles of psychology but have limited time or resources to remind your self of some of the experiments that established these principles…then this is the book for you.
It gives wonderful illustrations and descriptions of the most famous studies in psychologies history.
It’s so easy to read and a really nice break from some of the harder texts I read often.
This book also looks at some of the ethical and legal issues some of these studies raised as well as their findings and how they still influence our lives and understand of psychology today. A really brilliant book!
Very similar to Pavlov’s Dogs and Other Experiments, the Psychology Book is one of those books I love to big up and just have a scan through.
Its nothing heavy and in truth was actually given to me as a bit of a joke.
It’s honestly brilliant though.
It’s a book that makes some of the most challenging and difficult to absorb concepts and principles in psychology easy to digest.
With awesome illustrations and key facts about studies, research, psychologists and experiments, it is everything you need in order to learn the most valuable points of some of the key principles to psychology.
We are all familiar with the moment our favourite lead character is shown to have a memory back to a horrifying moment from their past, or from earlier on in the series equating to their psychological state and unravelling storyline.
This is PTSD, known as post-traumatic stress disorder. There are increasing media representations of PTSD, but what exactly is it?
PTSD is an after effect of a traumatic event that has the potential to last months or years, often associated with soldiers, the rest of us are not exempt.
Traumatic events are overwhelming and frightening experiences, like being involved in an assault, witnessing an accident or attack. For some life carries on unaffected, whilst others are subject to psychological symptoms of grief, depression, guilt, shame and blame and specific to PTSD flashbacks and nightmares; avoidance and numbing; and hypervigilance, being constantly on alert.
Physical effects of irregular heartbeats, diarrhoea and pains are often occurrent with PTSD as a result of the continued activation of the fight, flight response.
A flashback of the traumatic memory will induce the same physiological responses as at the time of the traumatic experience itself.
Then the less commonly known complex-PTSD (cPTSD) is suffered when individuals suffer repeated severe neglect or abuse.
In addition to PTSD symptoms, cPTSD has symptoms of difficulties with regulating emotions; distrust towards the world; feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness as if they are damaged goods; feeling alienated; avoiding interpersonal relationships; suicidality and dissociative symptoms.
Dissociation is literally ‘ignorance is bliss’ in psychology terms with your brain disconnecting from the trauma and associated memories, feelings and identity, acting in self-preservation from the psychological turmoil.
This further creates difficulties with symptoms of amnesia, detachment to yourself and your emotions with a loss of self, a distorted perception of those and the world around you.
For some it’s a natural response to trauma, others decide to tune-out (this is often found with children) and for those with schizophrenia, bipolar and borderline personality disorder it’s a symptom of their disorder.
Trauma fundamental changes us, from the hardwiring of our brain to the bodies responses, operating from an instinctive drive in the face of trauma.
We are familiar with the four Fs- fighting, fleeing, feeding and f(love)-ing; fighting and fleeing are geared up in trauma and freezing can also occur. The reptilian brain, a drive in our survival, activates shutting down non-essential processes to conserve energy, the nervous system releases a flood of stress hormones to prepare the body in particular cortisol.
Cortisol prepares the body for its chosen method of survival, the vagus nerve sending signals to the heart, lungs and stomach, creating that feeling we get when we are in the grips of fear (for those who fear nothing, let me know how, for others with acrophobia or ophidiophobia (an evolutionary rationalised fear) will be all too familiar with this feeling.)
Generally, we sense danger, and no it’s not a sixth sense or the Illuminati (associated with the reptilian brain), its an innate instinct and further taught to us by our caregivers, aiding the development of part of our autonomic nervous system.
Mirror neurons aid this learning process with mimicry and in the development of empathy (if you are on the Autistic Disorder spectrum this may be more difficult), these handy neurons guide our perception and action.
Its mirror neurons that enable us to interpret individuals’ intentions or make us wince when someone gets hurt (unless it’s our sibling or best mate falling over, then we malfunction and laugh).
Consider walking home at night and a large, conspicuous hooded hulk of an individual approaches, alarm bells go off, you cross the road or your heart rate increases, and you hope to pass them unbothered, with wallet and limbs intact.
When someone approaches you in a bar we can sense their intentions and that niggle of your partners infidelity, this particular one is a paradox as we generally trust the person we love and therefore what they say, yet our instinct is flagging up something else putting us into conflict.
This conflict is particularly difficult in differentiating for individuals who have been abused by their care giver and by partners, the very people we look for love and security, are the very people who risk that safety and neglect us.
The potentiation of this can result in the dysregulated response occurrent with PTSD; overactivated amygdala, resulting in hypervigilance, underactive hippocampus, restricting consolidation of what has happened to put it as a past event resulting in the continued heightened preparation of flight or fight and finally the continued elevation of stress hormones.
There are a number of therapies that aid PTSD for some medication aids the turning down of heightened responses, likely the combination of medication and therapeutic techniques may be suitable.
Therapies include eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing, cognitive processing therapy and other cognitive therapeutic frameworks providing individuals with an opportunity to rationalise what has happened and gain skills to thrive and move out of survival mode.
Other holistic techniques engaging writing therapy to come to terms with what has happened; art therapy as an alternative expression; and yoga to get back into your body, effective for individuals who have experienced sexual and physical abuse and have disconnected with their bodies.
Trauma is attributable to the development of mental health difficulties and physical ill-health, finding individuals who experienced traumas in childhood, known as adverse childhood effects (ACEs) have increased mortality from heart disease, chronic lung disease and other health management.
Individuals working in professions dealing with traumatic events (paramedics, police and emergency services) or those dealing with disturbing details of forensic cases all are susceptible.
The outing of trauma can often result in a post-truth wake and can incur in mental health, especially in light of the shame and blame associated, particularly in the #metoo movement and clergy sexual abuse causes.
This is the tip of an iceberg that may explain and be a precursor in the development of mental health difficulties and physical health.
For further reading check out Dr van de Kolk, who articulates trauma beautifully, advocating building trust with patients and the holistic alternatives from a one pill fix, find it here.
I love studying. Prior to my seven-year
psychology degree, I started three other degrees. I love learning, I love
researching, I love growing, but mostly, I love writing. The sense of
achievement that follows looking at a finished document that didn’t exist
before provides me with such satisfaction.
I grieved after completing my degree, over the end of that part of my life.
Such was the loss, I wandered aimlessly,
wondering how to fill my days. How to fill the gap in the joy, calm and sense
of achievement that writing had fulfilled.
Before, I had sat in my favourite chair in the sun and listened to the tap tap of the keys and I turned my thoughts into pages and pages of my thesis. I sipped tea and felt the warmth on my skin and worked at my all-consuming task. I hadn’t ever predicted the ritual would leave such a gaping hole in my life and my wellbeing.
Soon after finishing my degree, I returned to writing for other reasons.
Diagnosed with breast cancer, I began journaling in the form of letters to my grandmother, my nan, who had died four years earlier. I found I could connect with her throughout my time of need by putting pen to paper and in doing so, her answers to my questions and the love and support I knew she would have given revealed themselves, loudly and clearly. Comfort.
Cancer treatment, hair, breasts, ovaries all came and went and soon I felt well enough to search for meaning in all that had just happened in my life. What if, as a psychologist, one who had worked extensively with cancer patients, I had a message to share that might alleviate someone else’s burden of illness just a little? I knew I had something to share, something of value, and decided to write a book.
I joined a writing class and in three years my breast cancer memoir, A Hole in my Genes, was complete. Revisiting my old friend, the writing process, brought me stunning mindful calm and a sense of achievement like no other, in the form of meaning for my cancer experience.
However, with the words ‘The End’ came another grieving period, my all-consuming ritual ended once again. It had been a catharsis. It assisted with my processing of facing my mortality. It had allowed me to express a myriad of emotions safely, yet fully. Writing had saved my life.
Fast forward a matter of weeks and the urge to write, to create, to express myself tugged at my thoughts ever so strongly and I knew I need a new writing project.
A coffee, a dog walk, and some tossing around of ideas with a photographer friend one afternoon saw the birth of The Psychology of It.
As psychologists, psycho-education is one of our most valuable and most utilised tools.
When our clients can understand the what,
why, when and how of a disorder, or a reaction, an emotion, a behaviour, they
are more than half-way towards knowing how to choose the most effective coping
tools to manage their situation.
Therapy is an interesting beast and I know for myself at least, I go through phases of using particular interventions,particular stories and metaphors and I certainly have my go-to examples thattend to help most people understand a variety of topics.
I noticed that I would find myself repeating the same information, using the same analogies, drawing the same diagrams over, and over again, day in and day out, wishing a resource existed, using my language, to direct my clients to.
Of course, there are amazing resources online but mostly they specialised in certain areas, were too science-y, too self-help-y, or were generally too ‘something’ that my clients wouldn’t read.
Enter Stage Left, The Psychology of It.
The Psychology of It website is where it all began. I adore writing in many different formats and so created a website with five different categories. As a psychologist, the evidence-based research and science is key to efficacious work. We are scientist-practitioners and are always evaluating the work we do with our clients, as well as keeping up-to-date with the latest best practice principles. A lot of the time however, this information is only available in research journals and not easy tounderstand for the general community.
So, I began with a section called Analyse This, where we were able to interpret the more scientific information in a user-friendly way. There are descriptions of different disorders as well as information about different treatment modalities, and articles that describe why certain human experiences are so.
In the name of being user-friendly, I wanted a quick reference guide to a number of easy-to-learn coping tools that people could access and easily understand. These are the tools I’m teaching my clients every single day and so to have an article I can print out for them, or direct them too after a session to reinforce the skill they have learned that day, is invaluable. Those articles are found in The Coping Toolkit.
I also wanted a space to write about personal opinions and experiences. The main aim of The Psychology of It is to normalise human experiences, reduce the stigma and highlight the similarities we have as human beings, as opposed to always focussing on the differences. I didn’t always want to have to be scientific about things and noticed that a lot of people are more likely to read information if it’s presented in a more personal format. This is where Up Close & Personal came in.
Another main aim for The Psychology of It is to connect us all, human to human, again by highlighting the similarities we experience as humans. Conversations on the Couch does that beautifully by introducing people from all walks of life and ‘interviewing’ them, using the same set of questions that explore their personal life experiences and opinions, identifying their unique outlooks but also highlighting their commonalities with others. This section helps us feel as though we’re not the ‘only one’. In fact, Fraser has his own Conversation on the Couch up on the website. You can find it here.
Finally, I realised there might have to be a ‘miscellaneous’ category which I named New Things. Whether it be new resources, new experiences, new people, it’s a section where almost anything fits.
As well as the five sections filled with articles by some wonderful guest writers, we also keep a resource list called Stuff We Like. It’s always needing updating so if you have any recommendations, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
In the world of social media, The Psychology of It is linked to a Facebook page with over 3000 followers, and also on Instagram and Twitter. These all allow for further reach for the messages we’d like to spread, reducing the stigma of mental illness, and pushing the barrow for mental health, messages of wellbeing and the importance of self-care.
The Psychology of It is growing and in many ways has taken on a life of its own.
This year, it has also become a clinical practice in south-west Victoria, Australia. This practice allows me to work as the type of clinician I’ve also aspired to be. Many sessions with clients are starting to be conducted outside of the clinic walls where we take the practice of the skills learned in session, into real life. Clients are booking in for mindful walking, running, eating sessions. I’ve also purchased two stand-up paddleboards so that in the warmer months, mindful breathing and grounding sessions can be conducted on our beautiful rivers and ocean. Within the next few weeks, I’ll be undertaking a Trauma-based Yoga for Clinicians workshop and am excited for what doors that may open for me both personally and professionally.
To top it all off, I’m extending the messages of the importance of self-care, well-being and preventative mental health by hosting The Psychology of It’s first international Wellbeing Retreat in Bali, Indonesia. To find out more about that, you can go to http://thepsychologyofit.com.au/retreat.html.
I’m so excited to be combining the science of psychology, with the ancient wisdom of yoga led by my close friend and colleague Peta Jolley, in the stunning heart of Bali. We are looking forward toa week of companionship, learning, personal exploration and growth, not to mention stunning experiences and the most amazing wellness food on the planet. Mindful Tribes have designed such a wonderful boutique experience for us and we’d love for you to join us.
In the meantime, A Hole in my Genes iscurrently at the publisher’s and will be available before the end of the year. I’ll keep you up to date and would love to offer the GetPsyched community a nice big discount.
As children, we look to others as we learn and understand the world around us. The people in our lives help us navigate things we come across that are new and often hard to make sense of, from learning to tieing our shoelaces to first fall outs with best friends. When we get stuck with something, we ask our parents, guardians or teachers for help. It is something we are encouraged to do in life from an early age, so why do people find asking for help so difficult?
So many things can influence our views on asking for help, and some of the most common reasons are rooted in our social identity and sense of self.
Fear is a powerful driver when it comes to thoughts and behaviours and asking for help is no exception. Often times asking for help is assumed to be a sign of weakness or failure when in reality it demonstrates great self-awareness and strength. Being strong enough to ask for help -whether you are a new parent in need of some shut-eye, a student struggling to understand course material or simply someone who is not tall enough to reach the top shelf- requires a level of self-awareness to identify what you need.
This sounds simple but figuring out what we need is not always easy. Having a good understanding of your needs is a key part of asking for help. Knowing specifically what we could use a helping hand with, makes it easier for those around us to understand how we feel and also to offer the support we need.
Independence and Identity
Asking for help can sometimes feel like you are relying on others, rather than being capable of doing things alone. These thoughts can lead to feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness and can threaten our sense of independence and identity. However, it is important to remember that everyone needs help sometimes and that no one can do everything alone. Getting support to achieve our goals, or even just to get through a tough day, doesn’t make you any less independent. In asking for help, you are taking control of your situation and how it is handled.
Why asking for help is important
Asking for help is important because it is one of the first steps we can take to truly accept ourselves. Acknowledging our limits and understanding our imperfections allows us to grow. Brené Brown, who is based at the University of Texas, carried out research in vulnerability, and her work found that being vulnerable is a key part of self-acceptance and knowing our worth.
So we can help others
“When you cannot ask for help without self-judgement, you are never really offering help without judgement”
Another important part of being able to reach out to others is that we can create an environment where we are able to help others. Seeking help and being able to offer it, with empathy and compassion, provides a network of support for and between the people in your life. But first we need to treat ourselves with that same compassion; if we are able to accept ourselves then we can begin to offer unconditional and non-judgemental support to others.
You are not alone
The saying goes ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and in asking for help there is definitely truth in that.
Sharing a problem or issue with someone you trust can really lighten the load of working through a problem on your own. Opening up in this way can also let someone know that you are willing to listen when they ask for help. Often when we share problems we realise that many others have similar experiences, feelings and needs with us, which can make us feel less alone.
It can be daunting to ask for help, and even if you have decided that it is the right thing for you to do, knowing where to start can be tricky. Depending on what kind of help you are looking for there may be a different starting point, but there is no shortage of people who are willing to help and want to help.
Friends and family are a big part of our support network and can be a good place to start. Talking to someone you trust and asking for support might feel more comfortable if it is someone you know well.
There are also community groups and charity organisations that can offer a multitude of resources that can help, for example, local meet-ups, legal advice, and helplines for people experiencing suicidal thoughts or loneliness. Community groups normally post information on local notice boards in public spaces, and of course, most of these organisations and information can be found easily online.
Talking to your GP is also a great way to ask for help if you are struggling with physical or mental health problems. Your GP is there to listen and advise you in a confidential setting and can help you get the treatment and support you need.
Whichever way works best for you, the most important thing to remember is that asking for help is not a weakness, it is a strength. No one gets through everything alone, and it’s ok to get a little help in making sure your needs are met.
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