How can counselling help with compulsive behaviour?

When we have experienced abuse over a prolonged period we have generally had to use strategies that allow us to compartmentalise the way we feel about the abuse we suffer. How can counselling help with compulsive behaviour?

These strategies enable us to ignore the pain of the abuse as it happens and they allow us to continue with our lives as best as we can in the times outside of the abuse.

For example, as parents, we are hard wired to protect our children, so in order to enable us to function as a parent we may need to “forget” the verbal abuse or the violence of the night before.

Counselling allows us to get back in touch with these “forbidden” feelings.

The feelings that we forbade ourselves to feel because we feared the pain of “knowing them” would have been too much for us.

We feared we would have broken under their weight if we had allowed ourselves to have experienced them at the time.

A counsellor is aware that talking through the details of abuse can be, in itself, trauma inducing because old, forbidden, feelings can be experienced or re-experienced.

Sometimes I meet survivors of abuse who speak about having compulsive behaviour that they know, on an intellectual level, they wish to stop, yet they feel unable to find anyway to address their compulsions.

A counsellor recognises that compulsive behaviour is “fixing” behaviour motivated by denied hurt and damaged feelings.

How can I address my feelings and change my behaviour if I deny the feelings exist.

Remember we have disallowed our feelings because others in our lives have labelled these feelings as shameful, selfish, non-existent and as a sign of weakness and embarrassment.

It is through these ways that we learnt to deny our feelings.

But our feelings do not go away.

They cry to us for nurture and comfort.

If we have not heard and understood them we do not know how to give them solace.

We use things to manage them instead. Like a “spoiling” parent we smother our feelings in things to make them feel good, things like…

Cars, jobs, money, power, substances….relationships…  

But nothing really hits the spot because the gap in the knowledge of ourselves means that we do not understand what we are doing….so we end up seeing our behaviour as compulsive.

A counsellor helps us find, understand and nurture our forbidden feelings.

In this way we can reorganise the way they motivate us.

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