The Balancing Act: ‘Brutal Realities Have Impacted My Behaviour’
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to answer readers’ questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
An Emotional Rollercoaster: I’m very emotional. I cry and hurt easily and do not try to hide my feelings. After the death of my Dad, I have been taking more family responsibilities. And then my girlfriend decided to move on, which was as tough to face as the reality of my father’s death. It has been a tough time with a lot of challenges. I sometimes feel I’ve been successful in handling these challenges, and sometimes feel I have not. Facing these brutal realities has impacted my behaviour, and I sometimes lose my cool, get highly angry, have mood swings, and try to hurt myself. Sometimes, I let the anger go by breaking a mug or throwing a pillow or other object. But I have difficulty pulling out of these negative thoughts and behaviours once I’ve started. Despite this, I always see the value for life. I think the biggest problem is losing my cool and getting super angry. Can you help me?
Sonali: Life has been quite an emotional rollercoaster for you. You have had to deal with the loss of two intimate relationships, and I wonder if you have been able to grieve. I do see your strong and resilient side as you have taken charge after your father’s passing. This, followed by your girlfriend’s decision to leave, would have been quite shattering for you. It would have left you feeling emotionally more vulnerable.
Both bereavement and the end of an intimate relationship can trigger feelings of loneliness, anger, frustration, helplessness, insecurity and anxiety. My fear is that sometimes, when people choose to intellectualise their problems as a coping mechanism, it still leaves them with emotional wounds. Our past baggage of emotional concerns, if not resolved, can often overwhelm us. Any emotion that is not dealt with or acknowledged can take dangerous forms and often shows up in sudden unexpected outbursts. In some cases, it turns into anger or frustration directed inwardly. You do have high cognitive insight and I wonder if this hypothesis of intellectualization holds true for you. Your resilient side has helped you see hope and respect life. Having said that, learning to develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with pent-up feelings will strengthen your inner self. It will provide you with effective outlets for your anxiety and anger and help avoid unhealthy outlets, like hurting oneself. You must seek immediate help from a psychologist to resolve this.
Grief can generally lower our ability to deal with stress and thus leaves us very exhausted. Traumatic events can lead to a state of physical and emotional exhaustion termed as burnout. I would suggest that you work with a psychologist who can help you get closure over some past issues, strengthen your core self and teach you ways to effectively dispute some irrational thought processes or behaviours. Learning to be compassionate with your own self and acknowledging that you need to invest in self-care to heal will make the process of seeking help easier.
Long-Lost Dad: I have a 4-year-old son. I and my wife were separated for over 3 years. Now we’re together again, but he barely remembers me. How can I strengthen my bonds with my son?
Sonali: I can understand how emotionally painful and difficult it is for you to realise that your child has very little memory of you. The good news is that your child is only four years old, so it’s not too late for you to strengthen your bond with your son. Psychological research shows that communicating an attitude of physically availability, listening, and providing a sense of warmth goes a long way in developing attachment. I’ve written before on parent-child bonding, and this article can help you with some tips.
I suggest you start by developing some rituals, such as planning a father-son day out every weekend or playing a sport or a game with him. Physical warmth in the form of hugs, time spent listening to your son, and creating an environment where he feels safe will all add to the relationship. Looking at old photographs together from your wedding album, talking about anecdotes from your wife’s pregnancy and when your son was born can also help to aid the conversation.
I’m a little concerned about how last three years have influenced you and your wife. You’ve offered very little information about what led to the separation, but I hope both of you have been able to work on your personal concerns; otherwise, you must seek marital counselling. Sometimes our guilt, anger or other, unresolved feelings can complicate relationships. Nothing helps children develop a sense of security and trust as much as a stable relationship. Our anxieties can often rub off on children, so it’s important that you and your wife work on this together. If your son realises his mother can trust you, it will help him to develop trust in you, too. Patience and positive engagement with your child is the key.
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