Overcoming life hurdles

All the expert advice you need to get over life hurdles including divorce, affairs and empty nest syndrome

Life doesn't always run smoothly, throwing hurdles at us which, at the time, might seem almost impossible to overcome. Whether you're going through a divorce, have found out your partner has had an affair, or you're suffering from empty nest syndrome, then chances are you may need a little help getting through it.

We've spoken to Psychotherapist and Mentor, Abigail Lennol, who is here to help you deal with the challenges that you are facing right now. She brings expert advice on how to deal with the issues, managing your feelings, and what steps to take to overcome what you're struggling with.

The main thing to remember, is that you can work through these challenges - after all, they wouldn't be called hurdles if there was no way to get over them!

Coping with a bereavement 

What you're feeling: Losing somebody may be the most challenging and painful experience we ever have to face. And yet, we will all be touched by death at some point in our lives. It affects everyone differently and how we cope will sometimes be determined by who we have lost, the circumstances of their passing and the quality of our relationship with them. However, there are some common stages of grief that people tend to go through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, all of which describe the process of mourning. What to do: A period of mourning is difficult but vitally important. There will be good days when we feel able to get on with our lives, but also days when the grief feels so overwhelming that we wonder if the sadness will ever end, or if we will ever feel ‘normal' again. Some feelings of grief can be especially confusing and difficult to understand. How can we feel angry with someone who has died, when we know it wasn't his or her fault? Maybe because losing a loved one can feel like we've been abandoned. On these days it will be especially important to think about how you are feeling and, if possible, to talk about it. Sharing your grief can help you feel understood, comforted and less alone with your loss. The mourning process can take a year or two. If you are still struggling to come to terms with your loss after this time and find that it's impacting your life and other relationships, then seek help through your GP. You might also consider bereavement counselling or reading some of the helpful books on the subject. Whilst nothing can bring the lost person back, humans have a remarkable ability to cope and adapt. Though it is the end of the lost person's world, it doesn't have to mean the end of yours.

Getting through a divorce 

What you're feeling: Divorce can feel like a death; it signals the end of a marriage and all the hopes and possibilities that were associated with your relationship. Like a bereavement, you'll need time to mourn the relationship and come to terms with its ending.

While it's painful for the couple going through divorce, it can be upsetting for the rest of the family too, especially children. Many parents struggle with how to break this upsetting news.

Parents often feel guilty that they have let their children down. They may worry that the children will experience their leaving as a rejection, or feel unloved. Such fears often belong to the parents since it is actually how they, themselves, feel. It is important not to expose your child to too many adult anxieties, since children will sometimes blame themselves for the breakdown of a marriage.

What to do: If it is possible to reach agreement on how best to explain the divorce, both parents might share the responsibility of telling the children. Reassure them that, although you are no longer married, you will always be Mum and Dad.

Divorce can be a long and costly process and couples can become caught up in a protracted fight, point scoring and apportioning blame. Such destructive behaviour can take its toll on all concerned. It may help to stop and ask yourself what you are really fighting about, and at what cost to yourself and the rest of your family? Perhaps remind yourself that you once loved and respected your partner and that he or she is still the mother or father of your children.

As with all endings there is always the possibility of new beginnings. Take time to think about what you might do differently in your next relationship, and the kind of partner who might be right for you when you feel ready to make a commitment again.

Children leaving home

What you're feeling: The expression 'empty nest syndrome' has been coined for a reason, since it's something that many parents will feel when their children leave the family home. When a child moves out it can feel like a loss, and it will take time to adjust. It's not just the loss of your child's presence in the house that will affect you however, but, also facing up to the reality that your child has become an adult and is no longer dependent upon you in the same way.

You may feel lonely and wonder what to do with yourself. Some parents feel they have lost their purpose and are no longer sure of their role.

You may have mixed feelings about your child leaving home. On the one hand you understand that this is the natural order of things - after all, you had to do it. On the other you may feel anxious about your child's transition into the wider world and your own ability to cope with the grief and sadness you feel at their leaving.

What to do: Preparing for this event will be key in helping both you, and your child, make the transition easier. If you can share with each other how it affects you, it's likely you will find some common ground and feel less isolated. By talking it through you may be able to come to mutual arrangements, like a weekly call or a monthly visit to spend time together, so that the separation is not too abrupt or overwhelming.

A positive thing about your child leaving is that you will have the opportunity to pursue your own interests. You may rediscover yourself as a person in your own right - not just as a Mum or a Dad. This can be liberating. It's also really important to remember that your child still needs you, just in a different way.

Coping if your partner has an affair

What you're feeling: Finding out that your partner has had an affair can be one of the most painful things to face within a relationship. However, confronting the reasons why it happened and how it makes you feel is essential if you are to move on, whether together or apart.

At the beginning you are likely to experience a range of overwhelming emotions. You will probably feel angry and betrayed, as if your world has been turned upside down. This can be difficult to talk about, since you may feel embarrassed or ashamed - as if your partner's affair reflects badly upon you. You may feel that you've failed in some way and this can leave you feeling insecure and worthless. But, it's important to always remember that no matter what, they made the decision to be unfaithful, not you.

What to do: Exploring why the affair happened is a painful, yet necessary process if you and your partner are to gain understanding and resolution. Is it possible that you both have ignored warning signs that the relationship is in trouble?

Have you been cheated on in the past? Is this your partner's first affair? It may be important to explore why this has happened to you. Perhaps your parents had affairs; you might be drawn unconsciously to similar relationships. Perhaps you have low self-esteem and incorrectly believe that this is the way that you deserve to be treated. Or perhaps you are seeking to right wrongs that happened in your childhood.

Whether you stay together or decide to separate, forgiveness will be key. Keeping resentment alive will leave you bitter and untrusting. Children in the relationship will pick up on this and it will make everyone miserable. Always be completely honest with yourself about whether you really are able to forgive your other half. If you can let go and forgive, you will improve your chances of moving on from this painful and difficult episode.

Dealing with redundancy

What you're feeling: Being made redundant can be a frightening and stressful experience, not only for the person who has lost his or her job, but also for the family who depend on that income too.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things about redundancy is that it presents us with a situation that can feel out of our control. Having no choice can leave us feeling powerless and rejected. This can be all the more painful if we enjoyed our work and valued our role within it. To lose this can leave us feeling angry, resentful and confused.

For many, self-esteem is defined through work and their ability to provide for the family. When this is taken away you may feel abandoned, or worry that you are not good enough.

What to do: Once the initial shock has subsided it may help to accept that, while you can't prevent the redundancy, other things are within your control: practical steps like seeking careers advice or consulting the Citizens Advice Bureau. Consider what you liked about your job and what you didn't. It's important to remember that your skills and expertise do not disappear with the job - they stay with you to take into the future and your next position.

In these tough economic times redundancy has become a part of working life. While there's an unpleasant reality to redundancy it's better to see it as a sign of the times we live in, rather than a personal attack on you or your abilities.

Finally, redundancy can give you an opportunity to re-evaluate your life and whether you were totally happy in your previous job. It may be just the push you need to find something new and more fulfilling.

Falling out with a close friend 

What you're feeling: Falling out with a close friend can be an upsetting and painful experience, especially when genuinely good friends are hard to come by. We often invest as much, sometimes more care and attention in a friendship than we do in some family relationships. As the saying goes, you can choose your friends but not your family.

When it feels as though we've been let down or are in disagreement with a friend it can leave us feeling hurt and anxious. It's important to remember that all relationships have their ups and downs; depending on the cause of the falling out it may be possible to salvage the friendship.

What to do: Perhaps the place to start is within yourself. Ask some questions: how do you feel about what has happened? What do you think has gone wrong? What part might you have played in the row? By trying to sort these things out in your mind you give yourself the opportunity to open up a better conversation with your friend; one less fraught with anger and hurt.

Sometimes friends fall out for seemingly trivial reasons. We might be surprised at our overreaction to something a friend says or does. Perhaps this is because it has triggered something from our past - an issue related to an experience or person that remains unresolved.

Falling out with a friend can provide us with the opportunity to rexeamine our relationships in more detail. It takes courage and honesty to admit that maybe your reasons for remaining friends aren't as healthy or straightforward as they might be. If your relationship is based on rivalry or jealousy rather than mutual support and trust, it could be time to move on and think carefully before starting new friendships. But, if you want to resolve the argument and continue your friendship with your friend then it's important to be honest and discuss what happened openly.

Coping with debt and money worries

What you’re feeling: Being in debt can cause lots of stress and worry. It might make you feel ashamed, guilty, or like things have spiralled out of control. When you're feeling like this, it can be hard to think clearly and rationally and you might start to feel like there's no way out of your situation.

People get into debt for many reasons, some relatively straightforward – the loss of work or the rising cost of living and household expenditure. However, some are more complex and related to our emotional relationship with money: what it means to us, how it makes us feel, when we have it and when we don’t, how our parents managed money and how we value ourselves.

Some people get into debt because they overspend – often on things that they don’t need or want. Spending money unnecessarily can feel like a compulsion and is a destructive cycle often with anxiety and depression at the root. We feel anxious or depressed, and imagine that buying something will make us feel better. For a short time we feel relieved by the activity, but afterwards feel down and empty once more, left counting the cost – literally.

What to do: Perhaps the first step is to stop and think why you are in debt and examine your relationship with money. If you are overspending, are you trying to fill a void in your life? Did you feel deprived as a child? Or is there something missing in your life and relationships now?

It’s essential that you don’t ignore the problem. Not opening bills does not mean they magically disappear. Instead, take courage and calculate how much you owe and to who. Most reputable lenders will help you to work out a realistic payment plan. You could also contact a debt advisory service that will explain other options and ways to resolve the situation. Above all, don’t suffer in silence.

Getting over a serious illness

What you’re feeling: If you've recovered from a serious illness, you might expect to feel happy and relieved. However, people can sometimes be left feeling depressed and anxious. This can be confusing, both to themselves and to those around them.

Perhaps this is because serious illness makes you think seriously about your own mortality and makes you aware of just how frail we are as human beings, often taking good health for granted. However, the initial shock of finding out that you are ill, followed by treatment for the illness and recovery time can be an emotionally and physically traumatic and exhausting experience.

Just as recovery from illness can take time, we may also be faced with the challenge of adapting to a different, perhaps slower pace of life. We may not be able to live our lives in quite the same way as before. Being dependent on others for help can make us feel frustrated and angry. We may struggle with feelings that our illness is unfair and underserved – since it often is.

What to do: Acceptance of what has happened to you will be key to your recovery. We can tie ourselves in knots trying to make sense of something that is out of our control. Perhaps your time and energy could be better spent looking to the future and imagining yourself better. Rather than seeing yourself as a victim, empower yourself as the survivor you truly are.

In your recovery you have the opportunity to evaluate your life – past, present and future. This might be the starting point you need to move your life on in a healthier and more positive direction.

You could also contact the many support groups and charities to share your experience, and to learn how others cope and manage their lives following serious illness. This can be both rewarding and a valuable network of support.

Abigail Lennol is a Psychodynamic Counsellor and Psychotherapist based in Bromley and London Bridge. For more information about her services, visit her website: alennolcounselling.com (opens in new tab)

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