Author: <span>Michele Engelke</span>

4 signs of friendship burnout

4 signs of friendship burnout
Losing interest in the other is a sign of friendship burnout

Despite its severe connotation, friendship burnout is an actual thing. We are all susceptible to it, but recovering codependents, or people who find it hard to honour their boundaries, may experience it with greater frequency. Here are 4 signs of friendship burnout to increase your awareness of its effects on behaviour:

You feel exhausted: the relationship has become too intense and/or one-sided. You feel drained from spending too much time with your friend, even if they do not feel the same way. This can lead to a sense of overwhelm, especially when boundaries are not respected. You often feel guilty when saying no to your friend, and a sense of obligation to keep prioritising their needs.

You have lost interest: you struggle to connect with your friend in a way that feels pleasurable, meaningful, or rewarding to you. Your values, ideas and interests have changed and no longer match your friend’s. You start making excuses not to see them or worry about coming up with “good enough” reasons for not meeting up with them.

You have outgrown the friendship: you have grown and developed as a person, but your friend has not. As the current version of you no longer suits the friendship, you feel pressured to act inauthentically in order to maintain it.

You feel powerless: as you have changed, but the relationship dynamic has not, you feel a growing sense of pessimism about the future of the friendship. You consider expressing how you feel to your friend, but you feel hopeless about the outcome. As a result, you start fantasizing about reducing or even cutting contact.

If you have identified with the above, it is a good time to revaluate your friendship. While connecting with others can promote life engagement, dysfunctional relationships make us feel disconnected from our true selves. Consider taking a break from the friendship if it feels like too much hard work. Remind yourself that you are allowed to change your preferences and lead a balanced, peaceful life.

Finding happiness as a relational trauma survivor

Finding happiness as a relational trauma survivor
What is the key to happiness?

What role does happiness play in your life? Do you take it into consideration when making important decisions? How easily do you get distracted by what is going on outside of you and forget about your own happiness? Relational trauma survivors, as those who suffered emotional abuse in childhood are especially prone to neglecting their happiness to create a sense of harmony and safety with others. They often feel guilty for having wants, needs and emotions of their own and sacrifice them so not to risk upsetting others, being rejected and, consequently, alienated. Naturally, it proves a challenge to focus on what makes one happy when attention is constantly diverted to the irrational thoughts and fears of relational insecurity.

In Happiness by Design, professor of behavioural science Paul Dolan suggests that attention plays an important role on how happy we feel. When we consciously focus on what truly makes us happy – and not on what we think should make us happy – we live better, happier lives. That is because the information sensed and communicated by “the experiencing self” is much more accurate than that of “the remembering self” (Dolan, 2014). For all of those seeking happiness, connecting with experience as it happens and establishing right there and then whether its impact is positive or negative is the most reliable strategy. Relying on memory alone and our intellectualisation of how experience has affected us, however, tends to divert our attention from true, authentic happiness.

Therefore, relational trauma victims who value happiness can benefit from observing the following:

  • Be selective with your time and attention. Dedicate them to activities and people that make you feel good (light, cheerful, curious, energetic and lively). Reduce the frequency or cut contact with those who produce the opposite effect.
  • Stop relying on versions of events that minimize the negative effect that certain people and circumstances have on you.
  • Honour your body by holding values ​​that favour your wellbeing, from head to toe. Learn how to tolerate the discomfort that might arise from doing so, as an investment in long-term happiness.

While neglecting one’s happiness and focusing on others’ is often referred to as a noble and selfless act, it causes much unhappiness when practiced mindlessly by relational trauma victims. As challenging as it may seem, replacing such limiting mentality and living a full and happy life is an achievable goal for most of us. If you need help to heal your relational trauma wounds, I highly recommend Attachment-Focused EMDR therapy.

 

Reference:

Dolan, P. (2014). Happiness by design: change what you do, not how you think. New York, New York: Hudson Street Press.

Affirmations for moments of random anger and unwarranted rage

Affirmations for moments of random anger and unwarranted rage
Anger without a known trigger makes us feel even angrier

Anger, as most negative emotions, is not tolerated in our culture of emotional neglect. Although it is human and even healthy to feel anger, most of us struggle to accept it. Anger intolerance is even greater when we fail to connect it with specific events in our lives. Therefore, anger without a known trigger makes us feel powerless, lost, guilty, ashamed, hopeless and, at times, even angrier! To help you ground yourself in moments of random anger and unwarranted rage, read the following affirmations out loud or silently:

What I feel is normal

I am normal

I am strong enough to tolerate my anger

I am whole even when feeling angry for no reason

It is okay to feel anger even when it seems to lack context

This anger will pass because emotions ebb and flow

I am aware of my anger, and I do not blame others for it

I am aware of my anger, and I do not blame myself for it

I respect my emotions even when I am in pain

I honour all parts of myself

I accept the fact that my feelings do not need reasons to exist

I am safe in my anger

I can rely on myself even when I feel intense anger

I respect and love my body, regardless of my emotional state

I let go of toxic self-judgement in moments of anger

I am mindful of my emotional states

I can notice my anger without fully engaging with it

I feel stronger and more resilient when I learn from my anger

I am more than my anger

I am loved even when I am angry

I can overcome my anger

The best way to deal with anger is through acceptance. When you notice anger that does not go away easily, or that seems not to have an obvious reason to be, consciously and proactively let go of the need to control it. Take a break from your to do list and be kind to yourself. If you feel a burning need to be productive even in a state of anger, go for a run or channel anger’s energy into something positive, such as learning how to cope with it autonomously.

Nutrition psychology: what you eat affects your mental health

Our dietary choices have a direct effect on cognition, as well as on how we feel and behave. Growing research on the exciting new field of Nutrition Psychology has exposed the intrinsic relationship between nutrition and mental illness. Nutrition has been found to be not only a contributing factor to the development of mental illnesses, but also an important aid for its prevention and even management.

Nutrition psychology
Our dietary choices have a direct effect on cognition

In her book “This is your brain on food”, Dr Naidoo, a Nutritional Psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, lists baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high fructose syrup, white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta and anything made from refined flour, aspartame, French fries, fried chicken, fried seafood or anything else deep-fried in oil, as well as margarine, bacon, salami, sausage and other cured meats, as foods that make us unhappy and anxious. Those who are fighting depression and anxiety should eat high-fibre and aged, fermented, and cultured foods for their positive and calming effects on mood.

What you eat also interferes with the quality of your sleep. While caffeine and alcohol make it worse, foods that contain melatonin, such as eggs, fish, milk, rice, fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables such as asparagus, tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumber are said to help promote better sleep.

To fight fatigue, Dr Naidoo (2020) recommends eating foods rich in omega 3s, magnesium, zinc, vitamins B (1, 6, 9 and 12,), C, D and E, as well as colourful vegetables and spices, such as turmeric and black cumin.

Both Dr Naidoo and the clinical psychologist and researcher Julia Rucklidge (2017) agree that the Western Diet has a damaging effect on mental health. As a diet rich in bad fats, high-GI carbs and gluten, it is strongly connected to the expression of a variety of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and even schizophrenia, as well as weakened memory and decreased libido.

The mind gut connection can no longer be ignored by anyone concerned with their physical and mental/emotional wellbeing. For those who would like to improve their mental health but struggle to change their eating habits, having both psychological and nutritional counselling could help them address their goals from a more holistic and effective approach.

References:

Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med 15, 23 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y

Naidoo, U. (2020). This is your brain on food. Hachette Book Group: NY, New York.

Words as weapons: the effects of chronic verbal abuse in childhood

If you still go around saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”, it is time you revaluated that belief. As neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett explains in her brilliant new book “Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain”, exposure to verbal abuse sustained over a long period has other significant harming effects that go beyond low self-esteem. Because the brain regions that process language also control the insides of our bodies, verbal abuse also impacts heart rate, glucose levels and the flow of chemicals that support our immune system. As kind words make us feel loved, calmer, and stronger, aggressive ones have the power to harm our physical health.

Words, then, are tools for regulating human bodies. Other people’s words have a direct effect on your brain activity and your bodily systems, and your words have the same effect on other people. Whether you intend that effect is irrelevant. It’s how we are wired.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, 2020

When abusive individuals use words as weapons to mistreat, manipulate, and control others, their victims also become more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, anger, mood disorders in young adulthood, Immune dysfunction, and more metabolic dysfunction. In view of such facts, the connection between verbal abuse and illnesses of the mind and body should no longer be downplayed or ignored.

Words as weapons the effects of chronic verbal abuse in childhood
Exposure to verbal abuse may harm your physical health

Although the above is of high concern to anyone who works in mental health, what Barrett and other neuroscientists have demonstrated through extensive research on the effects of emotional and verbal abuse does not surprise me. As a trauma counsellor who specialises in childhood/developmental trauma, I have had several clients who grew up in highly dysfunctional family environments who suffer from at least one chronic illness or physical vulnerability like the ones mentioned above. Interestingly, their onset is mostly felt in their late teens and adult years. When our bodies are submitted to chronic stress through our development, the probability of it having a negative effect on our immune, respiratory, digestive, nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems is great.     

It is time our culture stopped normalising verbal abuse, be it in oral or written form. Whether you have witnessed or suffered verbal abuse, be reminded of how toxic it is to everyone involved and take active steps to stop perpetuating it. You can do that autonomously by reassessing your own rigid beliefs about verbal aggression, negative emotions and vulnerability, such as “If I let that get to me, it means I am weak”, and start honouring how you feel with tolerance. Whatever you do, be it getting out of your comfort zone through investing in assertive behaviours or speaking out about abuse, you are actively changing not only your own way of thinking, but that of our collective consciousness.

Reference:

Barrett, L. F. (2020). Seven and a half lessons about the brain. Picador: London, UK

Unattainable validation: when to give up trying to feel seen, felt and heard by your parents

Unattainable validation when to give up trying to feel seen, felt and heard by your parents
Is it time you gave up trying to feel seen, felt and heard by your parents?

Emotional neglect – despite being more commonly experienced than verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse – has painful and lasting effects on one’s development. Greatly misunderstood but ever so present in the narrative of those who grew up in dysfunctional and toxic families, emotional neglect is often a silent but very real self-esteem killer. It is naturally challenging for those who were made to feel like their emotions did not matter to nurture love and respect for themselves. How can one even build a reliable sense of self, when what they experience in their bodies is consistently ignored, denied, and discarded by those whose role is to model (emotional) maturity, congruence, autonomy, and intelligence?

When you grow up in a family culture of emotional neglect, you carry an emptiness that is felt strongly in your body. Emotional emptiness, as a result of failure to connect fully with others, makes one feel heavy, alone and alienated. Some may even feel numb and dissociated, as if they inhabited a body or lived a life that were not theirs. Because we all crave a sense of wholeness to experience happiness, those who suffered emotional neglect are particularly prone to relying on external factors, such as others’ reassurance, approval, and validation to feel good about themselves. Even when their parents are unable to give them what they want, they keep seeking their validation and support in an exhausting and, at times, obsessive fashion.

So how do you know when enough is enough? At what point can you state with confidence that your parents are truly unable or unwilling to validate your suffering?

In Burnout (2019), the Nagoski sisters advise on the following questions to determine a goal’s worth (my comments are in brackets):

What are the benefits of continuing? (Is there a realistic probability of your parents genuinely recognising their neglectful behaviour? How likely are you to feel better in pursuing that recognition?)

What are the benefits of stopping? (What effect would stop chasing your parents’ validation have on your mental/emotional health? How likely are you to feel better as a result of quitting that habit?)

What are the costs of continuing? (What effects feeling unseen and unimportant over and over may be having on your self-esteem? What influence would that continue to have on your self-confidence in relational contexts?)

What are the costs of stopping? (How stopping trying to connect emotionally with your parents may make you feel? How much do you trust your ability to process and accept that loss of connection?)

Even if the idea of not being able to rely on your parents for true emotional support and connection brings up great sadness in the short term, it is worth grieving that loss as an investment for authentic happiness in the long term.  Once you have given up on insisting on fixing dysfunctional and toxic relationships, you will feel freer to focus on more rewarding and satisfying ones.

Reference:

Nagoski, E. & A (2019). Burnout. Solve Your Stress Cycle. Penguin Random House: London, UK