agony aunt

Am I destined to be lonely forever?

lonely

3 minute read

Q. I’m 45 and feel lost and alone. I’ve been single for years. I’m educated and a hard worker, yet I’m only offered jobs at the bottom end in terms of pay. All the ‘normal’ things that other women seem to take for granted, like a partner and children, seem out of reach for me.

I’ve had years of therapy but nothing changes. I have spoken to doctors who say I’m depressed and put me on antidepressants, but that didn’t solve anything. What can I do? Name supplied

A. I know that what you have written will strike a chord with readers, as it does with me, so thank you for putting your thoughts into words. I’ve been thinking about your letter while listening to The Compassionate Mind (Little, Brown, £12.99), a book on neuroscience and the spirituality and evolution of the human brain. Author Paul Gilbert argues that our minds respond to self-criticism in the same way they do to an external threat. The instinct to hide at the back of the cave is designed to keep us safe from predators, but it’s not a great way to escape our thoughts.

It’s worth trying again, through your GP, to find a combination of drugs and talking therapy that works. The right job, more money, a change of environment, all these might make a difference, but I believe a therapist you feel safe with would help more. Warmth, gentleness and kindness will help your recovery, and you might need to experience this through therapy before you can offer it to yourself.

To directly answer your questions: No, I do not believe either in destiny or losers. I believe in our capacity to learn and change the way we tell our own story. I do not believe in ‘one big answer’ – that would be like wanting to eat one big meal and never feel hunger again. Please keep taking baby steps, seeking help and sharing your fears.

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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relationships

by Psychologies

My boyfriend drinks too much

Drinks too much

3 minute read

Q. I love my boyfriend and he’s kind. We disagree on some political issues but that’s OK; our backgrounds are different so I can see that in context. The problem is, sometimes, especially when he’s been drinking, he says things I find offensive; he can make racist and sexist jokes. I pick him up on it and he can get quite cross and tells me not to censor him.

He is a caring, decent man and would be the last person to treat anyone with prejudice – to him, it is about humour and being himself, but it upsets me and makes me question what sort of man he is. How can I talk to him about this without us arguing? Name supplied

A. I think of a racist joke as being like a marker buoy. When swimmers or sailors see a big orange inflatable bobbing on the waves, we know it’s telling us something: the limit it’s safe to swim or a hidden hazard perhaps. Both you and your boyfriend see the buoy, but you disagree with what it means.

For you, it might be the limits of his kindness and for him it might be about protecting the bonds with his friends.

It’s not romantic, but a large part of creating a relationship is managing differences. The aim is not always to resolve them, but to understand. A leading researcher into couples, John Gottman, says that up to two thirds of arguments in a longterm relationship will be linked to something deeper that won’t change. One way of putting it is: when choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems.

What problems can you live with, and how do you navigate the ones you’ve got?

In this case, I suggest picking a time when there’s no alcohol, and you can tap into a mindset of looking for clues beyond the obvious. It almost doesn’t matter what the answers are, but practising better questions and listening are skills neither one of you will regret.

In this link, the therapist suggests that we need to be kind, curious and humble. It might help to start your question with ‘I wonder’: ‘I wonder what it means to you when I get upset about these jokes.’

Any woman who identifies as political will be accused of having no sense of humour, because jokes are one way to decide who is in or out of our gang. Please don’t let the fear of what you might discover stop you from asking the questions.

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Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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relationships

by Psychologies

I have no friends at work

No friends

2 minute read

Q. I began a new job six months ago and I like the work, but I haven’t made any friends. There is not much staff turnover and it is quite cliquey. People are not unkind, but they will go off to lunch in little groups and never invite me. How can I integrate and form relationships? Name supplied

A. This sounds tough. I have not worked in an office for years, but the main thing that would tempt me back would be social contact and having a laugh with colleagues. I have three thoughts – get curious, reverse the focus, and reach outside before coming back in.

Get curious: If there is one person you connect with slightly more, could you find an opportunity to share your observations and ask for feedback? For example, ‘I’ve noticed this happening; you’ve been here longer than me, what do you suggest?’ Make it clear you’d like constructive feedback about whether there is anything you could do differently.

Reverse the focus: This would mean inviting others to lunch or a coffee – rather than waiting to be invited.

By ‘reach outside’, I mean finding people who work in a similar field or organisation or even an office nearby, and building your own network of connections which will make you even more of an asset, both commercially and socially. The principle in all of these is ‘givers’ gain’: by offering more, you will be opening yourself up to more offers in return.

Expanding your network will help you decide, ultimately, if this is a deal-breaker. You would not be alone in that decision – more of us change jobs for people reasons than for strictly work-related ones.

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careers

by Psychologies

How to deal with family rejection

Family rejection

4 minute read

Q. Seven years ago, my niece died. Her daughter went to live with her father and his girlfriend but it didn’t work out so, for three years, she lived with me and my husband and we did a lot for her.

Two years ago, my great-niece got a boyfriend and moved out. Now, we don’t see her, she’s had a baby and is back with the people who didn’t want to know her. We’ve never been invited over. Am I being unreasonable for feeling upset? Should I let her go? Name supplied

A. Is it possible to find some space between feeling upset and deciding to let her go? It’s been a tumultuous seven years for everyone – grief, house moves, shifts in loyalty and now a new baby. It might take time before you and your great-niece get this all in perspective. In the meantime, she will be getting daily reminders of what her own mother did for her, and she can’t ask her for help.

Could you bring yourself to take the initiative, perhaps like this: ‘I’m passing your way, could I pop in for 15 minutes? I’d love to say hello.’

I’m not asking you to ignore your feelings of hurt, but find a way to deal with them separately. I wonder if there is something going on about being a mother or not being a mother that is making this particularly painful for you. It may be helpful to write some of that down, talk to a trusted friend or seek counselling.

The title of aunt can be acquired by blood ties or given to acknowledge a relationship that has grown over time. You have earned it both ways.

You have leeway to decide what that means. In the words of existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom – how could you construct a regret-free life for yourself? Alternatively, how does a great-aunt act if she also wants to be a fairy godmother?

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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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relationships

by Psychologies

How to sustain a long-term healthy relationship with eating

Healthy relationship

2 minute read

Q. I have struggled with my weight since my teens. I have times when I keep myself healthy but I cannot seem to sustain good eating habits and I gain weight. I am scared that this will have long-term consequences for my health. Any help would be appreciated. Name supplied

A. The relationship between health and weight is not the simple story you might have believed as a teenager. There is growing evidence to support a shift away from goals of weight loss to those of health gains. Health includes mental wellbeing and good social relationships – both of which will suffer if there’s a harsh voice in your head judging you as good or bad, depending on what you ate yesterday.

I’ve found a lot of my education on Instagram, where the @i_weigh account began when actress Jameela Jamil got tired of seeing women ‘ignore what’s amazing about them, their lives and achievements because they don’t have a bloody thigh gap’.

One umbrella term is Health At Every Size (HAES), with goals such as finding enjoyable ways to exercise and eating in a way that nourishes you and gives energy, rather than making you tired and irritable. You’ll find a great introduction to one element of the approach – intuitive eating – in Just Eat It (Pan Macmillan, £12.99) by nutritionist Laura Thomas. She talks about learning to recognise our internal cues about hunger, and asks if we can treat our bodies with kindness, even on our bad days. You are more than a number on the scales.

Can you shift the dial from fear and punishment to finding your own space; cherishing both your softness and your strength? 

Be part of our tribe

Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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relationships

by Psychologies

How to get rid of the post-holiday blues

post-holiday blues

2 minute read

Q. I love holidays but I dread coming home. I love exploring, adventuring, meeting people and the sunshine – then I get home and I feel awful. My life isn’t terrible – I have a job that I quite like, good friends and an active social life. I know that, compared to a lot of people, I am lucky. Once I get back into the flow of normal life, I am fine – but it takes a while. I suppose I feel that I’m missing out on what life should be all about. How can I deal with these feelings? Name supplied

A. I believe you are hearing ‘the call to adventure’. It’s the term used by author Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces (New World Library, £19.99), commonly known as ‘The Hero’s Journey’. He identified the underlying story structure that hooks us into everything from tales of the Buddha to Game Of Thrones.

The call comes when the hero starts to realise that ordinary life won’t ‘work’ any more. Sometimes that decision is not a choice: Dorothy’s house is picked up in a tornado in The Wizard Of Oz. Other times, it’s more like a radio signal that buzzes – in your case when you return from holiday – then fades until the next time.

It’s common to ignore the first signals because we are afraid of the journey. One clue to overcome that is in the word ‘awful’. If we think of it as awe-ful, I wonder whether what you have at home is awe-less, and if there are ways that you can consciously build more of that uplifting feeling into your daily life.

Researcher Barbara Fredrickson has a theory – ‘broaden and build’ – which says that, just like travel, positive emotions expand the mind. Awe is one of the big 10 feelings that allow us to see new possibilities; the others are love, joy, gratitude, hope, serenity, interest, pride, amusement and inspiration. Turning up the volume on these will open you to connections that you haven’t seen before. The long-lasting effect comes when we use those ideas to build our resources – physical, intellectual and social – for the future.

There is research suggesting that the journey for women is more of an inner one, and creativity is a key element. When you have a sense of being in flow, with no consciousness of time passing, what are you doing? Which routines, habits or people get in the way of what Campbell calls ‘following your bliss’? This adventure can start now, wherever you are.

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Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Better You

by Psychologies

My husband's ex wife hates me

2 minute read

Q. Five years ago, I married a lovely man but I have struggled to understand the hurtful behaviour towards me from his ex-wife and grown-up daughter. His ex married quickly after their divorce, many years before he and I met. We were careful to introduce our relationship gradually, and my husband’s two sons seem comfortable with me, but his daughter has often been unpleasant. His ex-wife seems to resent me, though I have only met her briefly.

I suggested we meet and get to know each other but she responded rudely and, as a result, I felt I had to refuse an invitation to a family event from my stepson. I’d like to understand the reasons behind this. Is it possible to improve the situation? Name supplied

A. You may be right, it’s possible that there is an ex-wife and a stepdaughter here with negative feelings towards ‘the new wife’. But people are generally not thinking about us as much as we imagine. That could be hurtful, if you take it as thoughtlessness; it could also be a comfort, if it takes the pressure off.

The general guideline is to remember that everyone is coming with their own view of the story. I’d be interested to know more about your husband’s perspective, as the person who knows all of the main characters. Here are a few other angles worth considering: what were these relationships like before you came on the scene? In your heart of hearts, do you feel attacked as a person, or more in a role as pantomime villain? Perhaps, what you see as bad behaviour is just people who are socially awkward or want to be left alone for other reasons.

Even when everyone is an adult, dealing with a blended family can throw up insecurities which remind us of childhood, including invisible pressure to be loyal to the other parent. Playwrights know that one way to create drama is to throw characters together in a situation they can’t escape – like a ship, or an underground bunker – and see how everyone reacts to pressure.

In some ways, you and your husband are the producers, in that it’s your marriage which brings everyone to the same scene. Beyond that, it might help to let go of your desire to direct other people. Your relationship with your husband is at the heart of this. How can you, as a couple, show that you are in this for the long haul, and act with patience, generosity and respect towards people who didn’t choose each other?

As Einstein said: ‘Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.’ 

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Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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relationships

by Psychologies

I've never had a real relationship

Real relationship

2 minute read

Q. I am 26 and I’ve never had a long-term relationship. The message that I receive from everyone who tries to help is ‘learn to live your own life’. This is what I have always done – I travel, I do things I enjoy and make plans for the future. However, this situation is not allowing me to develop my sex life. I have tried casual relationships before with disastrous results and I know this is not for me. How can I fill that void? Name supplied

A. It sounds as if three desires are interwoven here – a relationship, a fulfilling sex life and emotional intimacy – and you are right to recognise that they don’t always arrive in one neat package. Sarah Louise Ryan, dating coach and founder of Love Lessons, says the craving for a romantic connection can blind us to other forms of intimacy. She encourages us to resist comparing our story to others’ – our chapter two might be someone else’s chapter 20 and, in a few years’ time, the situation will be reversed.

Meanwhile, you can practise intimacy in two other ways – by opening up on another level with people you are already close to, and learning how to look after yourself in that deeper sense, too.

This means taking opportunities to be your most vulnerable self with your friends and family – even one open conversation about what you are going through will help you feel more connected emotionally and reduce your fear of the void. It also means paying attention to what the tiny flickering flame inside you needs to feel sheltered from the world’s storms. In some ways, you’re on a parallel inner journey to know and love the full, whole, vulnerable self, before choosing to share it with someone new. 

Be part of our tribe

Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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relationships

by Psychologies

My inner critic is ruining my life

inner critic

4 minute read

Q. I tend to ruminate over my mistakes and keep berating myself. How can I stop this? Do you have any tips on how to silence the mind chatter? Name supplied

A. Rather than getting drawn into an argument with your own thoughts, I’m going to suggest three different approaches. One is understanding. In the 1960s, psychologist Aaron Beck described ‘automatic negative thoughts’ or ANTs. Just like ANTs, there’s never just one, they invite all their friends to the picnic. The types of ANTs include – black-and-white thinking (words such as ‘always’ and ‘never’) and taking things personally (people are not thinking about you as much as you imagine). If you write the thoughts down, you’ll begin to recognise your own patterns, and I’ll give you a link with ways to challenge each.

A second option is to become more playful. In Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way (Pan Macmillan, £16.99), she suggests creating a whole character for the inner critic. Hers is a flamboyant British designer called Nigel. Then you can ask, ‘What are you doing here, Nigel?’ rather than, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’

Perhaps, simplest of all, is to do something physical – whatever is going on in your head will have no choice but to come along for the ride. Three minutes of energetic dancing will shift you into a different state. This becomes even more effective if you combine the activity either with getting outside in a green space, or with a friend. Take Nigel on a Parkrun and the ANTs will not be able to keep up!

Be part of our tribe

Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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Better You

by Psychologies

How can I save my bad relationship with my mother-in-law?

Mother-in-law

3 minute read

Q. I can’t stand my mother-in-law. She’s incredibly selfish. My husband doesn’t have the best relationship with her; when they speak, she always interrupts him and starts talking about her life. Being honest, I don’t like her, but I’m aware I mirror my husband’s behaviour towards her. I don’t want to drive a wider wedge between them, but it is hard to find anything positive to say about her. How can I get beyond this and be more tolerant? Name supplied

A. It is tempting to save our energy for people who are easier to like, so I admire you for even trying to improve this relationship. Being likeable is partly about skills that can be learned, such as being relaxed, smiling, the appropriate degree of eye contact and, above all, listening.  It sounds as if your mother-in-law is a textbook case of the opposite qualities, and that probably makes her life pretty difficult in general, not just with you.

I suggest looking at the work of the Centre for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC). This approach says we all have a longing to be understood and feel connected. It sounds as if your mother-in-law might have very poor skills in communicating her needs. You can’t change her, but you could expand your own emotional vocabulary to get more clarity about the problem areas.

When our needs are being met, we might feel peaceful, engaged or refreshed; when our needs are not satisfied, we may feel tense, disconnected or drained. If you get more clarity about the unspoken needs beneath your mother-in-law’s words, it could nudge the relationship towards something more satisfying for both of you.

Be part of our tribe

Join the Life Leap Club and receive free coaching from our experts. All you have to do is subscribe to access free coaching videos, inspirational resources and masterclasses. Watch Mary’s coaching sessions live every Tuesday at 1pm.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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relationships

by Psychologies