Mental Health resources, news and information

What is borderline personality disorder? We break it down

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is known for being the most disabling of all mental health conditions, but it can be effectively managed through early interventions.Through this, we can teach interpersonal skills, emotion regulation, mindfulness, problem-solving and more that are crucial to healthy functioning.The Space Between Us sat down with Tanzanian psychologist Nadia Ahmed to unpack this largely misunderstood disorder.TSBU: Nadia, let’s start with dissecting what BPD is and what it feels like.  Nadia: BPD affects a person’s ability to regulate their emotions and is marked by unstable moods, behaviours, and relationships. The person almost always seems to be in a state of crisis. I had a patient with BPD who, whenever she had a small disagreement or fight with her partner, would engage in suicidal gestures and attempts, as a way of getting his attention and care. Sufferers can be depressed at one moment, argumentative the next, and later complain about having no feelings. They detest being alone, leading to frantic searches for companionship no matter how unsatisfactory. The person will distort their relationships by viewing people as either all good or all bad. As a result, their commitment often shifts from one thing to another.  Sufferers will experience extreme fear of either real or imagined abandonment, patterns of unstable and reckless short-lived relationships, alternating between extremes of idealisation and devaluation, unstable self-image, and sense of self, engaging in self-damaging and impulsive sensation-seeking behaviours like sex, drug abuse and reckless spending, repeated self-harm and suicidal behaviours. The fear of rejection leads to projection of this rejection onto a significant other through their behaviour. For example, a person with BPD is unable to face their insecurities in a relationship and may project these onto their partner, leading them to blame or doubt their partner. TSBU: Have you noticed a trend of BPD emerging in Tanzania?Nadia: BPD is a growing pandemic in Tanzania. Historically, personality disorders have gone mostly unrecognised in Tanzania because of limited resources, leading to the priority being given to conditions that present with psychosis. Due to the increased suicide rate in the country and relapse of other mental health conditions, BPD has caught everyone’s attention. There haven’t been any published studies on the prevalence of BPD in Tanzania, but a trend has been observed by clinicians in both private practice and public health facilities. Many inpatients that experience chronic mental illness also screen positively for BPD - this observation has inspired further exploration into this condition.We are working on a tool to help in the screening of personality functioning in adolescents called the Levels of Personality Functioning Questionnaire, to assess impairments in personality.TSBU: Would you say it’s just as common in South Africa?  Nadia: It’s just as prevalent in South Africa and goes highly under-reported in men. Research conducted by Paruk and Janse van Rensburg (2016) found that 18.5% of patients admitted at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg met the criteria for BPD.  TSBU: What do you think is behind this spike? Nadia: Rather than a spike it is more a realisation that BPD is prevalent in African contexts. Most research on personality disorders have not focused on low- and middle-income countries like Tanzania and South Africa. Instead, most statistics reflect data of high-income countries.Disorders like BPD are caused by biological, social, psychological, and environmental factors. Some African families are emotion dismissing, that is, children from these families may grow up without the skills needed to control their own emotions and others. This can mean not learning the necessary skills to regulate their own emotions. Adverse childhood experiences, like child abuse, neglect, child labour, loss, and deprivation in early childhood are common across the world and also in the African context. These issues disrupt healthy personality development and emotional wellbeing. TSBU: What is the best way to get help and/or treatment? Nadia: The first steps are learning more about the disorder to gain essential insights and better understanding. Treatment focuses on dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and mentalisation-based therapy (MBT).DBT teaches skills to control intense emotions, manage distress, reduce self-destructive behaviours, and improve relationships. The goal of this therapy is to help the individual to build a life that they find worth living. MBT is long-term psychotherapy that involves mentalisation, which is the ability to think about thinking. It helps us make sense of thoughts, beliefs, wishes and feelings and to link these to our behaviours and actions. TSBU: If you have a family member or friend with BPD, how can you offer support?  Nadia: You can help in two main ways. The first step is preventative and entails becoming emotion coaches for children. Emotion coaching helps the child to understand their emotions by recognising what they are feeling and why this skill helps them develop emotion and behaviour regulation skills which in adulthood help them navigate through social relationships, maximise intellectual success and develop self-confidence.The second step is to support the individual after receiving their diagnosis. The most important thing is to be non-judgmental, be patient, calm and consistent in your interactions with the individual. Be open minded in learning and understanding more about the disorder and understanding of the individual. It is never too late to be an emotion coach. Families can demonstrate and facilitate healthy ways to regulate emotions and social interactions.Finally, attending some of The Space Between Us’ practical, expert-led workshops like Building Healthy Relationships to Thrive workshop and Integrating Home, Work and Play Series can get you started on the right foot.               .Please join us in our Facebook groups: The TSBU Self-Care Space, The TSBU Grief & Loss Space, The TSBU Parenting Space. Also follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

PODCAST: Connecting with your body to heal trauma

In this episode of the series Trauma: The Silent Scream, TSBU clinical psychologists Linda Mthenjane and Gugu Gigaba stir our curiosity by exploring where we carry pain and discomfort in our bodies. These are the places our bodies have closed around psychological trauma … and ultimately, it’s where the healing begins.Listen to the full podcast below: In starting an important conversation about trans-generational trauma and looking at what it would take for us to truly heal the trauma of the past, clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane details how our bodies hold trauma by sharing a story from psychologist Tara Brach.It’s a story about how a woman goes back to her traumatised childhood self and a “good fairy” helps her body hold her feelings in different places until she is ready for her body to start unwinding its secrets and she can let go.“Your body reminds you” says Mthenjane. “Your body doesn’t forget. It reminds you … you’ve been here before.” And awareness of that pain and discomfort is “the first level of prescription that we know as talk therapists.”Clinical psychologist Gugu Gigaba agreed and spoke about trauma as the silent scream. “It speaks to the significant despair, the significant experience of walking around in despair but not being able to express it or externalise it in ways that actually relieve you.”And so, Gigaba invites us all to walk on this journey with them. “Allow yourself to sit with whatever it is that you’re feeling and let’s try and see what the gift in that is … and how it helps us progress in our journey towards understanding this trauma.”She guides us through an exercise that helps us locate the pain in our bodies and to listen to our bodies until we feel a sense of calm. It’s a beautiful way to end this episode that can only be described as a psychological balm for our hidden wounds. Listen to the full podcast here and make sure you hit subscribe so you never miss an episode.

5 tips for self-care on a budget

Self-care during Covid-19 doesn’t have to be expensive. It also doesn’t have to be a day at the salon, or the spa, or even about beautifying yourself. So what can we do for our self-care without a lavish budget? TSBU explores.  When it comes to self-care, so often it’s the little things that count most, and we love how clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu describes the journey, saying it “begins with emotional self-care”. There are so many easy ways to nourish our inner selves, especially when we feel overwhelmed. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at five of our favourite self-care tips that you could start today.Detox from technologyThis is especially important since so many of us are working remotely. Technology can be fun and entertaining, but it can also make it almost impossible to close that digital office door. Reading that late night email from your boss can nudge your anxiety levels into overdrive. Browsing social media feeds could eat away at your self-esteem. And a flood of negative news stories can compound depression, anxiety, and feelings of doom – all of this is made harder by worries about entering stricter Covid-19 lockdown conditions.It’s almost always a better idea to start small, and one healthy way to do that is to pretend your devices are little kids with an earlier bedtime than you. Some people find that putting a rubber band around their phones helps prevent them from mindlessly picking them up all the time. That little rubber band (especially a brightly coloured one) is a great tool to help you snap out of autopilot. And why not take advantage of our load shedding schedules? Make them work for you instead of against you. It could be your perfect excuse to get into some journaling or take a step outside. Play some musicGive yourself the luxury of an entire hour with absolutely nothing but you and your favourite tunes. Music can boost your mood, release feel-good chemicals and hormones in your body, and help you express what you’re feeling. Whether you choose to sit quietly and let the music wash over you, or you’re in the mood to get up and dance like nobody’s watching, or sing like you’re on stage, choose music that uplifts you in some way.The golden rule here is that you shouldn’t be multi-tasking. This is not the time to squeeze in a few household chores or send an email while you’re listening to your music. This is the time to allow your body and your mind the freedom to play the way they want to play. Your mind might start daydreaming, your body might start moving, or you might find both your mind and your body settling into a calming stillness. Whatever happens, this is your time for doing purely whatever serves you best.DoodleMeditative or mindful doodling is gaining more and more attention as a tool for relaxation and mental health. Doodling is a free-flowing and spontaneous exercise that can create a quietly reflective space for you to be present, to soothe your mind, and still your body from everyday busyness. And all you need is a pen and paper!There is no right or wrong way to doodle. You don’t even need to be able to draw. But if you’re lost at first, it can help to hold an image or an affirmation in your heart while you doodle. Repetitive images like clouds or hearts are lovely and gentle images to play around with. Affirmations that resonate with you in an uplifting way can be ‘I am worthy’, ‘everything is okay in this moment’, or ‘I am calm and confident’.Make your own gratitude jarGratitude jars can be like joyful eye candy in our homes, adding a creative visibility to all the things we are grateful for, no matter how small. It’s like a jar full of thankfulness that quietly shows us we still have good things in our lives. And if even Harvard writes about the association between gratitude and greater happiness, it’s definitely worth a try, right?The act of making your own gratitude jar is not just about letting your creative side out to play; it’s also about creating the jar that just feels right. Whether it’s a box, a jar, or a tin, it’s something that inspires you and lifts your heart just by looking at it. Play with colours, designs, shapes and textures, stickers, ribbons, wrapping paper, magazine cut-outs, old photographs, buttons … literally anything! And then, written on a piece of paper, add to it one thing you’re grateful for every day. Even if it’s just your morning cup of coffee. Everything counts.Take a trip down memory laneKhasu reminds us that we can also find joy in taking trips down memory lane, and encourages us to find the things that can trigger-happy and nostalgic moments. “This is possible,” she says, “when the past has happy memory associations. Focus on transporting yourself to a time you felt hopeful, loved, cared for, powerful, calm, resilient, or any moment that elicits feelings of being protected right now.”Some of Khasu’s best advice is to include listening to songs we enjoyed as a family when growing up, looking through old photographs, and connecting with loved ones. She also suggests cooking your favourite childhood meal or a meal you ate in happy moments. You could watch a movie that evokes happy sentiments within you or re-read a book that helped you understand your sense of self at a time when you felt confused.But perhaps the most important thing we can all do, no matter which self-care ideas we embrace as part of our personal mental health programmes, is to be self-compassionate. Especially now. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a lot of turmoil and unknowns in our lives, so alongside this new normal we’re all learning about, let’s also learn a new self-kindness. Let’s do this. Let’s practice self-kindness like never before.Sign up for our Cultivating Self Care Workshop for a treasure trove of more tips, skills, and tools to help you create a more resilient you.

How to grieve in a socially-distanced world

The rituals of grieving are shifting before our eyes during the Covid-19 pandemic. But how do we cope with loss and grief in a socially-distanced world?Grief has always been what so many describe as an almost unbearable agony. Losing someone you love, or even losing a way of life as you know it is a lot for one person to take on. But dealing with death during a pandemic, losing someone during lockdown, and grieving alone during Covid-19 has added whole new dimensions to the grieving process. And if you’re hurting and feeling lost or hollow or overwhelmed right now, we’re here to help. So take a few quiet moments for yourself as we gently guide you through new ways of finding a little healing.There is no ‘right’ way to grieveLet’s start with something that hasn’t changed. And that is, clinical psychologist Linda Mthenjane assures us that the grieving process is not linear. There is no set of boxes that you need to tick, there are no rules you should be following, and there is no one way you ‘should’ be feeling. This is a deeply personal journey, unique to each individual, and so there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Many people find the five stages of grief (the Kübler-Ross model outlining denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) as a helpful guide to what they might expect, but grief can often be untidy and unpredictable. Whatever you’re going through, acknowledge your experiences and your emotions. You’re feeling whatever you’re feeling for a reason. Allow those feelings and experiences to unfold in a way that you are comfortable with.Remember that we are honouring our living, tooAs far back as history remembers we have always honoured our dead. And while traditional leaders and religious figures still honour the transition from this life to the other, they are also now trying to protect the living in the pandemic. In that way, the funeral ceremony, perhaps, honours both the living and the dead in equal measures more than ever before. And so, in the midst of our grief, let’s carry that sentiment in our hearts, too … that while we’re saying goodbye to a loved one who has passed, we’re also protecting the loved ones still with us. It’s a more empowering way to frame our perspectives and help us find new ways to say goodbye.There are other ways to say goodbyeFuneral and burial traditions are a bridge between the death of the ones we love and the new meaning we must find in a life carved out of that loss, and Mthenjane encourages us all to find ways to create meaning in death that honours our loved ones. “It’s your last act of loving that person,” she says, “and your way to transform their suffering to eternal love.” Thankfully, technology is almost endless in the way it can evoke a sense of unity and community. You may not be able to have an open house anymore but you can have a virtual open house with an active link so that family and friends can still ‘drop in’ and pay their respects. You could host an online memorial event, a prayer group, or take turns in singing or sharing hymns. This is not the first time in history that we’ve had to reshape traditions during a crisis; we can find courage in the fact that we are incredibly creative and adaptable beings, even in our anguish.Create new ritualsRituals have always brought us a sense of safety, stability, and comfort. Dealing with death during a pandemic may mean that so many of our time-honoured rituals have been washed away but it doesn’t mean that we can’t find solace in new rituals. Because the true power of a ritual lies in what the ritual offers us on an emotional and psychological level. A ritual can help us recognise change. It’s a way of being still, of opening ourselves to the moment, of reflecting on what we hold dear, and gently accepting our new reality and all the emotions that come with it. Rituals don’t have to be extravagant or elaborate. Planting a tree can be an empowering and life-affirming ritual that can bring years of comfort and beauty as we continue to nourish new life. Lighting candles at a certain time of day or night is another invaluable practice in ritualising grief in the way that it helps us acknowledge our loss. Mthenjane also suggests journaling as a ritual, or creating a dedicated space in a room for quiet moments of reflection. Remember, it is the intention with which you perform the ritual that matters most.Make it sacredLosing someone during Covid-19 means we’re dealing with loss in a world where everyone feels separated. Mourning can be a confusing and alienating experience, and so it is more important than ever that we make a conscious effort to keep connected with others. We are social beings, and the very act of sharing our experiences with others, spreading the burden across many shoulders, can give us a little space to breathe. And when we’re truly present, our moments of connectivity are made all the more sacred. Storytelling and sharing memories is an age-old way to help us reconcile our grief and shift through the swirl of our own complex emotions. Mthenjane says, “Because grieving is such an individual process, there’s no way of knowing which memories will hurt less to think about, or when. So allow the space to retell the story until a new frame emerges.” Expression is healthy and helps us normalise our feelings. It also helps, Mthenjane says, to know that we’re not strange or “odd” – that our feelings are valid and that this is a real wound we have experienced.No matter what new rituals you create, or how you choose to express your grief in this socially distanced world, remember that even though you might be feeling like you’re grieving alone during Covid-19, there is always help and guidance available. The Dealing with Loss webinar is invaluable to help you navigate your loss, while therapy can help you restore a new sense of mental health, resilience, and wellbeing. You are not alone.

How to cope with seasonal affective disorder

What is it and how do you know whether the change in seasons is affecting your mental health? Find out to cope.What is seasonal affective disorder and how do you know whether the change in seasons is affecting your mental health? Let’s look at how we can cope with this type of depression.Winter may not be your favourite season, but it could be affecting your mood more than you realise. Summer-loving South Africans bemoan the cold, frosty windscreens, and the shorter days, but for some, it goes deeper than a morning gripe over a cup of coffee. For some, seasonal affective disorder, or winter depression as it’s also known, is a cyclical reality that can be overwhelming and disturb the quality of everyday life.So, what is seasonal affective disorder?If you feel great throughout the year but find yourself feeling tired and depressed come winter, you may well be affected by this seasonal pattern of depressive episodes. For some people with bipolar disorder, this seasonal component may express itself as depression in winter, and mania or hypomania in summer. And for some people, the oncoming spring or early summer can trigger sadness instead.Most commonly, however, seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder that normally kicks in during autumn and the early winter months and may become more severe as winter progresses, as the days continue to shorten, and our mood-boosting sunlight is in shorter supply. This link between sunlight and mood shifts is why seasonal affective disorder is believed to be caused by a shift in the body’s biological internal clock – or circadian rhythm.What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?While it’s normal to feel a bit down sometimes, if you’re feeling down for days on end, if you’re sleeping more than normal, and if you’re turning to food and alcohol for comfort, it’s definitely time to start listening to your body and reaching out for support.Symptoms can also include:Feeling sad, depressed, cranky, agitated, or hopeless.Feeling worthless or guilty.Wanting to be left alone.Losing interest in things you normally love doing.Having trouble concentrating or making decisions.Having less energy.Feeling sluggish or fatigued.Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much. Noticing changes in your appetite or your weight.Having thoughts of death or suicide.In the case of a summer-onset, also known as summer depression, symptoms may include:Feeling agitation or anxiety.Having trouble sleeping.Having a poor appetite.Experiencing weight loss. How to deal with seasonal affective disorderClinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu says treatment depends on the severity of the condition. It’s also dependent on whether you have bipolar disorder or other types of depression. A psychiatrist might prescribe medication if you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope. Psychotherapy and light therapy, or a combination of both can also be effective. However, light therapy must be used with caution because it could trigger a manic episode in those with bipolar disorder.There are also plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to help. Here are Khasu’s top suggestions for coping with seasonal affective disorder: Get movingExercise can be a helpful mood enhancer. This is evident in people with depression as well as with anxiety, and is known to both improve and stabilise moods while enhancing self-esteem and boosting physical wellbeing.Get outsideEven if the air is a little fresh, or there’s still a little frost on the grass, spend some time outdoors to avoid the feeling of being trapped during those cold and dark winter months.Get some sunshineSoak in natural light; open your blinds and curtains to let light in, arrange your work space to be near a window, go outdoors, take a walk, and enjoy Africa’s radiant sun (responsibly, of course).Get connectedSpend some time with your loved ones, even if it has to be on a video call. Being surrounded by meaningful relationships can be fulfilling and fortifying.Get mindfulReduce screen time and try mindfulness instead. Exercises like yoga, breath work, guided meditations, and positive affirmations that resonate with you can help you reframe your thoughts and your perspective.Get a journalConfessing your struggles and expressing your emotions into a journal every day can help you understand your thoughts and make the world around you seem a little lighter, a little clearer.Get a routineFind a balance and create a rhythm in your daily patterns of living. Draw up a schedule and stick to it as much as possible. It can help reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.Get good foodEat as well as you can. When moods are low, we may be tempted to either skip meals or indulge in some emotional eating, but our entire being benefits when we eat more healthy and wholesome foods.Get resilientSeasonal affective disorder is linked to the change in seasons and winter’s dwindling sunlight … and resilience, in part, is the ability to adapt to changes, and to be able to work through them. Since you’re able to anticipate the possible return of seasonal affective disorder as autumn swings around, you can start making plans on how you’ll spend your days as they start getting shorter. You can also sign up for webinars on building resilience – a sense of control over your own environment can feel quite empowering.For those of us affected, Khasu also encourages us to try and understand its inception. “There may be a root cause for its recurrence,” she says. The anniversaries of traumatic events, for example, can be very intense, manifesting in anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and many other symptoms.But no matter what your journey, Khasu says, “Keep celebrating the little steps. Whenever you’re improving, keep reflecting on it, acknowledging it. It can give you a sense of confidence in jumping other milestones.”

6 myths about depression and mental illness unmasked

What is depression, really? Does it really exist? And in the face of the extreme pressure of Covid-19, what do we need to know about it? TSBU explores the biggest myths about depression and mental illness in South Africa.Much of what we learn about depression and mental illness comes from movies, television, and the ‘word on the street’. And let’s be honest: those aren’t the most credible sources. The truth is that depression is a common medical disorder that, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a leading cause of disability worldwide. And that was before the Covid-19 pandemic created a surge in mental illness. So let’s dispel the myths and instead, learn the real facts about depression. Myth 1: There’s no word for depression in African language, so it doesn’t existDepression does not always manifest itself in physical ways and as a result it is often misunderstood. Clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu says that over the past few decades, there have been improvements in articulating the disorder across cultures and languages. But with more and more people finding themselves affected by depression and anxiety during Covid-19, perhaps it is time that our languages truly reflect an issue that is making its presence known more than ever before. The more we talk about it, the easier it is to talk about.Myth 2: Depression only affects women or is a ‘white people disorder’Psychologists come across this myth all too often. The truth is that depression can affect anyone of any gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Almost one in three South Africans will suffer from a mental disorder in their lifetime, and many local celebrities are starting to share their own stories about dealing with depression, or are opening up about mental health issues. Most recently, this has included Miss South Africa’s Shudufhadzo Musida, Jacaranda FM presenter Rozanne McKenzie, singer songwriter Simphiwe Dana and columnist Gasant Abarder.Myth 3: Depression and mental illness is a sign of personal weaknessDepression is not a sign of weakness nor is it a choice. Not in men, not in women, not in leaders or parents or bosses or employees. Actually, some of the strongest people around are those who have coped with depression or mental illness all their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. is said to have suffered several bouts of severe depression and tried to end his life twice before the age of 13. And just look at his incredible strengths and accomplishments. Khasu reminds us that, “depression is not laziness or weakness; it’s a sign that there is real emotional pain that needs to be attended to and not ignored”.Myth 4: You can just ‘snap out of it’People seem to believe that depression is something you choose when you ‘wallow in sad emotions too much’. However, no one chooses depression. Depression isn’t just a sad feeling. It is a highly complex and serious mood alteration that can cause changes in your personality, appetite, weight, and sleeping patterns. Left untreated, depression and mental illnesses can lead to suicide. So no, this is not something that you could just ‘shake off’ or ‘snap out of’ and it is important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional – especially when there are suicidal thoughts. Myth 5: Depression can only be caused by a traumatic event While it is true that trauma, grief, big life changes and struggles like severe lockdown restrictions can trigger depression, there are many other possible causes. Other illnesses can trigger mental health issues. For example, depression is very common among people living with HIV/Aids. Depression can also be hereditary, or caused by brain chemistry, imbalanced neurotransmitters like dopamine, changes in your hormone production, and even changes in seasons. A history of abuse and the use of drugs or alcohol can also have an impact on mental health. Myth 6: Talking about depression only makes it worseYou may not feel like talking when you’re in a vulnerable or lonely place, but opening up to supportive people can be an effective way to get the help you need. Talking doesn’t mean that you’re dwelling on the negative or reliving traumatic experiences. Rather, the focus of therapy is to bring you relief, on uplifting you and giving you a new perspective, new skills and tools to help you manage your symptoms. It’s important to know that it is okay not to be okay. Which means it’s very okay for you to ask for help. And remember, there are many different forms of therapy for clinical depression, bipolar, and other mental illnesses.If you’ve been thinking about harming yourself or are struggling with what you think might be a mental illness then reach out immediately to a qualified mental health professional, talk to your doctor, or consider signing up for webinars like the Taking Control in the Covid New Normal. Because in the New Normal we could all use as much help as we can get. 

The myths and truths of healing after loss

The rituals of grieving and the culture of how we mourn are shifting before our eyes during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are all experiencing loss in some way and we are all in need of solace. But how do we cope with loss and grief in a socially distanced world? TSBU explores.“Courage isn’t having the strength to go on – it is going on when you don’t have strength.” Napoléon Bonaparte.Courage, in the face of grief, can be described as confronting loss by giving yourself permission to feel it. Today, we learn to heal with courage and to find courage in our vulnerabilities.Grief is a normal and expected intense emotional and physical reaction to the loss of a loved one and is mostly a very personal experience. No two experiences can ever be the same and reconciling these losses plays a critical role in the healing process.It is important to explore some distinctions between what is viewed as societal myths and the truths about grief and healing.It’s just a myth …Myth #1: Sharing your own experience helps the aggrieved know they are not alone.Even though it may seem like the most natural thing to do, the worst thing you can do is share your own similar experience. The message it sends tends to minimise the other person’s pain, making them feel unheard.When we don’t know what to say, we often project our own experiences onto others. So what do you do, when you don’t know what to say? You encourage them to continue to share their experiences, their emotions and their journey. The message you want to send is, “I may not understand how you feel right now, but I am here for you”.The most sorrowful and complicated grieving process is “unshared grief”, where the loss is experienced by one person only (for example, the death of a child, a divorce, death of a spouse, loss of a job, etc.). In this case you want to meet the person where they are and not categorise their experience as a common occurrence. Instead, show pure love and support, by being present and make it all about them.Myth #2: Seek trauma debriefing as soon as possible after the trauma or loss. Contrary to popular belief, rushing counselling is not always the most effective way to achieve acceptance and meaning. Being with family and surrounded by loved ones is the first step towards healing. Talking about your emotions and how you feel too soon after experiencing trauma, on the other hand, not so much.Shock and numbness are the natural first phase of grief and in an attempt to protect oneself from impending threat the brain shuts down emotions while it attempts to make sense of a painful reality. Forcing someone to start talking about their emotions when they cannot make sense or name the emotion is futile and will only make it harder to open up later when the rawness of the emotions surface. As the numbness wears off and one is confronted by the harshness of reality, this is a perfect time to guide the person through the emotions and help them validate both the positive and negative feelings. While there are no specific timeframes to emotions, clinicians recommend that this should be no less than 48-72hrs after the news of the trauma.Myth #3: Too much crying brings about more trauma or sorrow.This is a common African myth to culturally help others not to dwell too much in sorrow and by so doing move them quickly through to healing. There are cultures where crying is discouraged, especially in public. As a society we tend to shun anything that makes us feel uncomfortable, including tears.Crying is, in fact, a natural emotion to any grief process. It can be viewed as an intense release of emotions that were controlled during the numbness stage. It is safe to gently lead the bereaved through their vulnerability, with courage, to confront and release the emotions. In one anecdote, US author Rory Vaden describes the courage of buffaloes during the threat of a storm, “as the storm rolls over the ridge, buffaloes will turn and charge directly into the storm … and by running at the storm, they run straight through it, minimising the amount of pain, time, and frustration they experience from that storm”. Nature teaches us that until the person has gone through the process of confronting the pain, they will take time to let go of their attachment to the lost person and move on to discover new meaning and personal purpose. The truth is …Truth #1: Children do grieve.Grief is a complex emotional process for an adult, and for a child it can be extremely confusing. As adults we don’t often understand “death and dying” ourselves and what we know is what we have all been told by our own parents, authority figures or have read about. It is a normal human behaviour to fill in what we don’t know with facts to create our own meaning. This is called fantasising, which in most cases is quite normal for us adults, since we often know exactly why we choose to replace facts with fiction but for children fantasy is reality. Try not to fill a child’s mind with too many unknowns, for example, “she is gone” to a child means she will come back and “he is sleeping” means he will wake up again. This is later replaced by disappointment, resentment or distrust. By skirting the issue, we tend to cause more confusion. Children understand stories with a beginning and an end. It is alright to tell stories that end in tragedy, it helps children deal appropriately with the disappointments of life. Instead, create an end point that constructs positive meaning for the child, while helping them to confront the current reality.Truth #2: The expression of grief is a redefinition of not just the loss but of potential relearning and growth.Reframing the loss enables healing and shifting to new meaning and this is expressed by David Kessler at the final stage of grief; I call it rediscovering your purpose. We tend to attach meaning to the tangible things and people around us, and when those things are no longer there to give us the meaning and purpose we are accustomed to, we experience a sense of loss. When our sense of inner meaning has been deconstructed, how do we reincarnate our lives into the present? It starts by deciding what you want to move towards and starting with an end in mind. Finding your purpose means finding your own reason for existence and often ends with yourself being a gift to a greater purpose that creates personal fulfillment.Truth #3: There is no “right” way to experience or respond to loss.The stages of grief can be viewed as a universal way of understanding the process but it may not be a reality in the mind of a griever.We have also learnt to find meaning in the expression of our grief through societal and community norms that seem to dictate the way we grieve. These social constructs tend to undermine the uniqueness of our personal experiences and robs us of authentically mourning our loved ones. In what way are these social constructs useful for human grief? They enable the sharing of the loss by the family or the community, showing the one who grieves that they are not alone and serves to compartmentalise the grief process in a meaningful way, for all involved. When all the rituals are over, the griever is left to process loss by themselves. The complication of Covid-19 regulations, for instance, is challenging how society experiences bereavement. Take courage and heal yourself first before you gain courage to be there for others.To quote Rory Vaden, “We don't get to choose whether or not we have storms. The only choice that we have is how we respond to those storms.” 

How to relate successfully while working remotely

We all need healthy relationships and knowing how to maintain them in a Covid-19-induced remote working environment has become a key skill. We all have relationships, what is important is having healthy ones and knowing how to maintain them in a Covid-19-induced remote working environment. As Ms Lwanele Khasu cautions, “Be kind with one another and rather over communicate than assume.” We asked Ms Khasu about what she views as the critical elements to successful working relationships within a remote working environment and this is what she had to say: What do successful interactions with colleagues look like?Successful interactions with others, whether colleagues or family, start with a good understanding of the self. When you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you are more likely to avoid projecting your own insecurities onto how you think others treat or perceive you. Self-awareness allows you to know what to address within the team and what to work on privately. Then communication becomes the trading currency in successful interactions with colleagues. Communication is key to developing trust and respect for one another. It is also the basis of building collaborative efforts for a productive workforce.Be on the lookout for ways to connect beyond work content; sharing similar views or interests with colleagues assists in seeing them as people beyond their work duties.Interpersonal skills become important as well. Know how to talk to people professionally. Thank them for the work done. Know how to correct people respectfully and be able to acknowledge when you are at fault. Be accountable and take responsibility. A fusion of these and more interpersonal skills and consideration build successful interactions.How have relationships with colleagues changed while working remotely compared to an in-office scenario?In an office or in-person environment, tension can be palpable, which means conflict is recognised sooner and dealt with fairly quicker. Remotely, it may take time, when not communicated explicitly, for some people to recognise that a team member is unhappy about something, which may allow for passive aggression to linger. Passive aggression involves acting indirectly aggressive rather than directly aggressive. These indirect behaviours may affect productivity but also the relationship within the team. Protocols may be ignored, procrastination may loom, and sarcasm or unreliability may emerge, to name a few. These relationships struggle to be genuine and may cause a lot of conflict.Additionally, communication via email may leave a lot of room for misinterpretation of expression and tone.To relate successfully, the team has to meet regularly - either via video or audio - to understand that everyone is still on the same page. Ensuring relationships are healthy and that all conflict is resolved timeously is also important. When a team member raises a concern, it's important for other team members to mirror them to ensure they understand what the problem is and where it stems from, in order to resolve it. Mirroring, in this example, refers to a conscious imitating or matching of what one is doing to build rapport and understanding. Further to this, it is important for people to repeat what they hear to ensure they have captured the essence of the emotions or complaint and only suggest a solution after all parties have agreed what the issue may be. When the team is genuine with one another and people feel free to raise concerns and their concerns are addressed with respect and dignity then the team has reached a successful level of interaction. This level needs to be continuously maintained. It is important to note, conflict and offence cannot be avoided, it is how the team addresses it that becomes the key differentiator for successful interactions.What tools can I use to relate successfully with others?Be self-aware so you don’t impose your insecurities on others. Self-awareness also helps individuals to be more empathetic to their teams’ needs and struggles which boosts relationships.Communicate and express your emotions and concerns, don’t repress them. They will come out in bitter bits and pieces in your interactions.Understand what you would like the outcome of the interaction to be, so you know how to engage others meaningfully.Actively listen to others and if you struggle to understand them, try to mirror what you think they are saying for confirmation.Keep criticism constructive.Be open and care about others enough to understand the parts of their personal lives that they are comfortable with sharing.Respect and trust others, allow them to find their own ways of working, don’t impose yours.Show gratitude and recognition of others’ efforts. People want to be seen and heard. This validates them and ensures they feel valued. What threatens relationships with colleagues when working remotely?A medley of things can break down work relationships but a lack of communication of expectations tops the list. Managers have expectations of their teams but these are rarely communicated and since colleagues are not a stone’s throw away, reaching them to clarify or brief appropriately is compromised. Others assume that everyone is on the same page and some assume they will have to micromanage to get the results they are used to in the office environment. When a team doesn’t function on the same level, frustrations occur and breakdowns emerge.Additionally, colleagues have different lives with differing responsibilities in their homes. Some people struggle to balance work and children (home schooling or supporting family). Colleagues may be oblivious to some of the struggles their counterparts face and therefore create a gap in relations as well.  Studies have shown that when colleagues are not in one’s immediate surroundings, empathy of their situations, whether at work or at home, diminish which may cause for some to believe the organisation doesn’t care for them or has forgotten about their struggles.According to the study, people are generally nicer when in front of you than when out of sight.  How do I go about healing work relationships that have been damaged in a remote working environment?The first step is to recognise that something is different and acknowledge what that is. Then you can begin to explore:What may have caused the rift and enquire from the colleague in question what they think occurred.Communicate and take responsibility for your part and let them account for theirs.Escalate to human resources if not resolved.Ultimately, talk to them and share your views and let them share theirs. Don’t be defensive, hear and understand and find a way forward.How can the workshop help me to relate better with my colleagues? What will I learn from it?The workshop extends beyond just relating to colleagues. It has information on relating with the self, children, and others. When you have a good understanding of your family and close relationships, you will feel better equipped to engage work relationships as well. The workshop will teach you how to understand how you respond in interactions; are you an avoidant type, a defensive type, or collaborative and how you can adjust your response style in suitable situations.It will also help you understand how to engage with different kinds of managers and how to relate better with them without denying yourself your own emotions.Find out more about this holistic workshop here. Ms Lwanele Khasu is a clinical psychologist with a special interest in empowering self-filters into relationships with others, development in career, and self-fulfilment.

Understanding why I parent the way I do

To become better parents, we need to make sense of who we are, what influences us and what we need to do to move in the right direction of healthy parent-child relationships. We look at historical parenting influences and how our parenting styles impact our children.Parenting – a topic that ignites sometimes explosive thoughts, feelings and opinions.As parents, most of us share the same objective – to raise healthy and happy children. The parent-child relationship has been thrown into the spotlight as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions. In the blink of an eye, many parents were home with their children on a full-time basis, taking on the additional roles of playmate, full time companion and teacher. The stressors of the pandemic were many, including re-establishing and maintaining healthy parent-child and family relationships as well as a healthy home environment.Many people - at various stages of their life - wonder about the things that make them who they are, why they behave a certain way and how to overcome various life stressors and difficult experiences. Some people even wonder why they parent the way that they do and how they can improve the quality of their parenting through learning healthy techniques and strategies. It is important to understand the influences of our parenting styles, including how we were parented.Intergenerational transmission of parenting looks at the process in which parenting by a certain generation can psychologically influence the attitudes and behaviours of the next generation. Despite this, many parents will say that they are aware of how certain parenting influences affected them and are aware of what they do or do not want for their own children. More and more parents have realised the impact, benefits and effectiveness of conscious, present and mindful parenting.A history of traumaIn the South African context, we have a long, painful history of familial trauma, with parents being away from their families (often beyond their control) or cases of children losing their parents at a young age.Many people experienced an absence from their parents - many times a physical absence but also a psychological and emotional one. Parents had slightly different priorities back then – often working hard to survive the circumstances they found themselves in, while caring and providing for their families’ basic needs. While we have similar priorities, our perception of our circumstances plays an important role in the way in which we cope with them.Our grandparents and parents have anecdotes about their childhoods and the impact of growing up with or without their parents, other relatives and caregivers who filled parenting roles. Many of these stories are saddening, painful and traumatic, while others may shed a more positive light on family togetherness and community parenting influences.While there are many theories on parenting styles, how to understand them and how they are expressed; there are some commonalities in how parenting styles can lead to certain feelings and behaviours in children.Adapting your styleParenting styles look at various elements such as warmth, nurturing, communication, behaviour management and our discipline strategies. Let’s look at the four main parenting styles:The authoritarian parenting style is characterised by parents who believe that children should be controlled as much as possible. They believe that children should follow strict rules that are often non-negotiable. Very often these parents do not see the need to explain the rules and why they exist, with disobedience often leading to punishment. The main focus is on obedience so children are usually not encouraged to engage in problem-solving or decision-making. Sadly, these parents also tend to focus on pointing out mistakes and enforcing consequences.This parenting style was often used to cope with the demands of everything they were faced with but various studies have found that children of authoritarian parents are at higher risk of lower self-esteem. While these individuals may grow to be obedient and proficient in their lives, they can struggle with feelings of happiness, display higher levels of aggression and can also struggle in their social relationships.Similar to authoritarian parents, authoritative parents also have rules and consequences but are open to their children’s opinions and take these into consideration. These parents are able to validate their children’s thoughts and feelings, and effectively manage issues before they worsen. Authoritative parents tend to use positive reinforcement and positive discipline strategies to encourage good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour or mistakes. These parents put a lot of effort into maintaining positive relationships with their children and don’t mind explaining why there are rules and why there are consequences.Research has found that children with authoritative parents are more independent, responsible and develop good emotional-regulation skills. Due to the fact that their parents are reasonable and fair, these children find it easier to comply with rules and requests, and they are easily able to internalise information they learn because it has been explained to them. Authoritative parenting has been proven to lead to happier, capable and successful individuals later in life.Many parents of the current generation tend to be more authoritative in their parenting style – they see the importance of providing healthy and firm boundaries for their children but without the need for controlling their children or using unnecessary punitive and damaging strategies.The permissive parenting style is a near opposite of authoritarian parenting where parents are too lenient and only step in when there is a serious problem. Children to permissive parents view them as more of a peer or friend, rather than a parental and authority figure.Studies have found that these children can struggle in school, display behavioural problems and struggle with authority and rules. In some cases they also experience more feelings of sadness and struggle with their self-esteem.While this style of parenting can be the default for many parents, a lack of rules, routine and boundaries can actually be overwhelming for children. There needs to be a balance between rules and a healthy, open relationship with our children.Parents who don’t know much about what’s happening with their children are described to have an uninvolved parenting style. Often these parents will not ask about homework, friends or school, do not spend much time with their children, and are not always aware of the whereabouts or wellbeing of their children. There are very few rules, poor communication habits and very limited parental attention, guidance or nurturing. Children are expected to “raise themselves” as parents may not have the energy to meet their children’s needs (e.g. in instances of parents with mental health issues/a substance abuse problem/overwhelmed parents).Sadly, children of uninvolved parents have been found to have issues with low self-esteem, perform poorly in school and frequently show behavioural problems. These children also struggle with self-control and positive emotions, which affect their ability to relate in relationships with others.So what’s the way forward?With children being the recipients of our influences, parenting techniques and strategies, it is our responsibility to unpack who we are, our thoughts about parenting and our current frame of mind regarding our parenting styles and abilities.On a positive note, many parents are open and willing to do the work that will allow them to grow as conscious parents. Parenting workshops, parental guidance, psychotherapy and parenting support groups have become a norm, as we grow to be a healthier and more self-aware generation of parents.The Integrating Home, Work and Play workshop will focus on important aspects of parenting, allowing for an individual journey into oneself and how to be more present and thoughtful in our parent-child relationships. The space will allow you to gain insight into what your influences are and what more needs to be processed for you to feel like an effective, mindful and conscious parent.Everyone is capable of improving themselves – we just need the time, guidance and resources to do so.

How parents can relate better with their teens

Understanding what your teen is going through can help you transition this development stage smoothly. At the end you both thrive. Let’s zoom in!“The children now love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercises. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize over their teachers.” - SocratesThis quote was penned over 2000 years ago. It’s reassuring to know the more things change, the more they stay the same. The complaints about the changes in teenagers by generation remain constant. How many times have you heard parents and other adults venting their frustration about how “teenagers are not like the old days” or reminiscing about how “in the good all days you would tell them what to do and they would get it done, no questions asked!”? Understanding what happens at a developmental level, current culture, and how you can better support your teens can make this development stage a smooth transition. At the end you win, and your teenager thrives. So, get comfortable and let’s zoom in!The brainThe teen brain is still developing, so don’t be fooled by their adult-looking appearance and grown-up talk. A process called synaptic pruning is taking place, think of it as having many pathways on a map that lead to desired destinations. In this stage of development, the teen brain no longer needs certain destinations, leading to those pathways being washed away. Which contributes to a more sophisticated and efficient brain system. The frontal cortex responsible for logic, personality and decision-making is still developing and is the last part of the brain to fully mature. Another important part of the brain in teens that plays a huge role in emotional regulation is the amygdala, responsible for emotions, that is not fully developed yet. Caregivers need to be mindful of these growth points and practice patience on their teens.Developmental stage and current cultureTeens struggle with identity, perspective, self-regulation and are consumed with the “self”. Our current culture is driven by technology, promoting, and maintaining isolation and confusion in teen years. This culture is problematic because as humans we need connections and we have seen a shift from “we” culture to a “me” culture that’s driven by how many likes one gets on social media platforms. It is also important to note that the economic environment for parents has become more demanding, this means less time spent at home and parents connecting more with their work. This shift has left the teen feeling isolated, meaning more screen time, and seeking validation from peers. These factors make matters worse for teens who are already faced with significant biological changes that would benefit from meaningful adult interactions. This has contributed to a decrease in teenagers’ developing socially appropriate social cues like self-regulation and empathy. The challenges play out differently in African homes, with some being faced with zombie-like teens, more banging doors and flaring tempers, leaving parents feeling helpless and not knowing how to interact with their children.  The “me” culture goes against our four basic needs as humans:AcceptanceBelongingControlMeaningful existence To feel accepted and have a sense of belonging is now determined by one’s social media presence and how liked one is by their peers. Teens can find themselves overwhelmed with no control over their lives. This contributes to feelings of isolation and being unwanted. In the Covid-19 pandemic an increase has been seen in teens presenting in mental healthcare facilities. Isolation and feelings of aloneness have taken centre stage during the pandemic and with it an increase in depressed and anxious teens. Creating a new cultureA great responsibility lies with parents or teen caregivers who themselves may have become participants in the “me” culture. Pause to reflect on your own positioning in our culture of overworked parents or social media parents because this will have a huge impact on how you interact with your teen. In moving forward what is important to note is that more meaningful physical connections are needed with teens, and this can be done through more communication. What we know about teens is that they want more connections, but biological factors may make it difficult for them to fully express their needs. Remember this is a confusing time for them and as a parent you have the role of modelling appropriate social behaviours in your interactions with them. This can be done by communicating four variables that are key to promoting of striving teens and maintaining of healthy relationships:EmpathyIt is important to learn to empathise with children to develop trust and secure attachments. It is important to also practice care for others to help children develop an awareness of other people’s perspectives and needs. ForgivenessForgiveness requires acknowledging the act, understanding the act committed and its impact. GratitudeAcknowledge their efforts and allow them to celebrate their own accomplishments and those of others.HumilityWhen you model humility it helps your child see value in others, build deep connections and promote acceptance.Tips for mending the relationship with your teenOn your parenting journey remember Peggy O’ Mara’s words: The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. If the relationship with your teenager is breaking down, these are some ways to fix things:Identify and frame the issue. Is it a …lack of communication? teen isolating themselves?teen always challenging you?feeling like you don’t know your teen?Self-awareness … How do you parent your child? Have you hurt your teen through comments or rejection?What triggers you to respond in a hurtful manner?Guilt and forgiveness … Remember you are not perfect.Forgive yourself for mistakes.Sincerely ask your child for forgiveness. Make teens feel valued … Listen to and respect their opinions. Tell them you are proud of them. Tell them you love them. Give your teens space Isolation and space are not the same.Speak to kids about how to ask for space. Allow teens to make their own decisions … Allow for them to learn and grow.Practice less shaming when they make mistakes. Guide them through their mistakes. Ask for help …Speak to teacher, doctor or psychologist based on the teen’s needs.Show teens that it’s okay to ask for help.These are just some of the skills explored by The Space Between Us workshop “Integrating Home, Work, and Play Series”. In it we learn to develop skills to deepen connections and quality time with children of all ages, while building a network of support with like-minded parents. The workshop focuses on helping parents live an authentic and connected life, which can assist them in avoiding mental health challenges further on in life. You can book your spot now by clicking here.Hope Magubane is a clinical psychologist.

Finding mental health resilience for township youths

We need to normalise mental health and wellness in townships. Through this we can shine a light on the power of hope and community. You can always count on Archbishop Desmond Tutu to find the words to inspire a nation. Perhaps his words can inspire us now to normalise mental health and wellness among the youth that so desperately need it:“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”Our youth are staring down a tide of mental health problems through unemployment, drug abuse and gender-based violence in townships. Clinical psychologist Thobile Dlamini works to turn this tide on suicide, depression, and other mental health illnesses amid the Covid-19 pandemic.  Shining a light on the power of hope and community, The Space Between Us sat down with Dlamini to find out what she has seen in her work in Soweto and what she sees as the solution.What do the numbers tell us?Unemployment batters the 15-34 age group with an unemployment rate of 46.3%, astounding figures when you consider that well over 20 million people fall into this bracket. Consider it, nearly 9 million young people trapped in a situation not of their making and yet shouldering the consequences. In the absence of work, millions must rely on social grants that are often the only means of support for multiple members of a single family.It’s little wonder then that mental health concerns have become a grave concern for Dlamini who works at the Bheki Mlangeni Hospital in Soweto. She points out that over the last two years she has seen a spike in mental illness.But why? Is it just unemployment or are there underlying symptoms robbing our youth of hope? Dlamini posits four main threats heaping pressure on already overloaded shoulders:Land of (non)opportunityOn Youth Day, the presidency launched the to create learnership and other work opportunities. But, Dlamini says, these portals aren’t effective. “A lot of young people are in the system and go to school and tertiary institutions and then find themselves sitting at home with their qualifications without even the opportunity of employment.”Born free?“The one thing that most parents don’t understand is that jobs are not out there like it used to be. The minute they see you at home, it is perceived that you are lazy. Then the family begins shouting at you,” Dlamini says. This is because many young people from disadvantaged communities are considered the breadwinners of their family.Of course, the problem is more nuanced than that. We have long boasted about the “born free” generation and raised our children to be confident, proud and to challenge the status quo. Dlamini nurses a blazing hope for these youths. “The current generation speak their minds. They ask questions. If they see something is wrong, they won’t just agree. This generation is being interpreted in communities as a person that doesn’t want to follow cultural or religious ways. They’re just a ‘loose cannon’. This generation is misunderstood. We have a new breed of generation – they are free.”Plunged into darknessLockdown has revolutionised education – desks are swapped for screens and bandwidth is the currency of connection. What about accessibility shortfalls in areas like Soweto?This revolution left desperate teenagers scrambling for resources that were never there to begin with. Plunged into vacuous periods of loadshedding with no end in sight, the toll presented itself starkly in November when many students learned that they had failed the school year, plunging them into depression.AddictedThen there is the lure of illicit drugs. While alcohol has always had a big influence on mental health the rise of hard drugs, especially crystal meth has been devastating for Dlamini to watch. “It’s heart-breaking when you talk to a young person who proudly says, ‘I’ve graduated from dagga to crystal meth.’ This has become their lifestyle.”Coupled with this is the rise in online gambling. Desperate people make desperate choices.Mapping the way for hopeThese setbacks aren’t the end of hope. In fact, this is where hope begins.Unburdening ourselves by speaking openly and listening without judgment we can make mental health part of our conversations and lifestyles for the benefit of all. To build a future founded on unity, compassion, and respect, Dlamini shares this advice:To parents and caregivers:You are raising a new generation and their challenges are not the same as the past. Give them space and trust.Don’t allow a young person to close themselves off in their room after school. These children need emotional attachment and without it they’re going to have a lot of psychological problems.Give your children time to find work. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your kids are lazy because they are doing the best they can.To teenagers and young adults:Take one day at a time and never give up on doing what you believe in. If you see others suffering, approach them and offer your support.If we stand up and talk openly about illnesses like HIV then speaking about mental health will help others, too.If you start feeling suicidal, there are toll free numbers (listed below).Talk to your families. What closes you in a corner, is feeling alone and that loneliness is what is heavy.Depression, self-harm and suicideSuicide hotline 0800 567 56724hr Helpline 0800 12 13 14SADAG toll-free line 0800 456 789Drug, alcohol and gambling addictionAlcoholics Anonymous 0861 435 722Narcotics Anonymous 086 100 6962 SANCA 011 892 3829 Gender-based violence and child abuseGender-Based Violence Command Centre 0800 428 428Childline 0800 055 555 Lifeline 0861 322 322 People Opposing Women Abuse 076 694 5911 Solutions for young professionalsThis situation isn’t limited to the unemployed. Those that do have work face similar anxieties in building careers in the face of massive expectation and constant pressure. But there are better ways to close the book on insecurities, to build a more confident you, to effect positive change in yourself and others.The Space Between Us Young Professional Programme builds skills that will enable young professionals to thrive in their life and career. It develops a sense of self, self-esteem and boundaries as key psychological tools used to build healthy relationships with themselves and others.There is help but we need to break the stigma around mental health. If so many people are struggling with similar challenges, then why aren’t we reaching out or sharing our stories to show others that they aren’t alone? If your story helps just one person, isn’t it worth the leap of faith?Do you have a story to share to help others? Send us your stories and connect with TSBU on LinkedIn and Instagram for more advice and tips on mental health and wellness.

Ambiguous loss: Living with unresolved grief

When you are locked in ambiguity, your grief is frozen in time; you cannot move on and you may not know whether you should be grieving or in mourning. Clinical psychologist Bongiwe Sokhela breaks down the uncertainty of ambiguous loss.  Ambiguous loss occurs without any closure and often without answers. No death is easy, nor bears all answers but most types of loss have some form of conclusion or closure. There is a body and a grave that marks the end, there is often a clear target of anger during the grief process.This kind of loss often leaves a person searching for more answers, complicates the process of grieving, and may result in unresolved grief.The term was first coined by psychologist and author Paulina Ross in 1970. She described this type of loss within two main categories, these being “physically absent but psychologically present” (like a loved one who is missing or who disappeared without trace) and “psychologically absent but physical present” (like a loved one who has memory loss).Those confronted by ambiguous loss have been known to fluctuate between hope and despair. Hope because new information sparks a promise of fresh possibility and despair because new revelations can also bring finality with no new answers. The loss one feels is mixed with uncertainty and achieving closure can be difficult. To overcome one needs to learn to embrace the unknown.How would I know I am going through ambiguous loss?Have you lost a child through miscarriage?Have you been separated from a child through adoption?Do you have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?Do you have a relative with a mental illness?Do you have a loved one who disappeared without a trace?Do you have a loved one who died with no answers as to how they died?Do you have a family member who died and the body was never found?Do you have a relative in a coma or that is terminally ill?Do you have a family member who was exiled or relocated to another country and have lost touch with? If you answered yes to any of these questions or similar, and you have been struggling with closure or certainty you may be struggling with unresolved grief and ambiguous loss.What is common among these examples is an obvious lack of finality or limited answers that help you gain closure. You may be left in limbo because you don’t know whether you should mourn their departure or be hopeful that some good news will come one day. The vacillation between the two extreme opposite emotions can keep you trapped in a vicious loop.  Without falling into a trap of naming specific characteristics of someone dealing with ambiguous loss, it is safe to note that whatever you are going through is normal.How do I cope?Face your fears: Start by trying not to avoid the pain. Memories can bring tears and leave you in a state of sorrow and depression. Avoiding these emotions can keep you trapped in a false reality. Unless you find ways to work through the emotions in a safe space, with a professional or a trusted loved one, you may not control the inevitable surfacing of these emotions.Cherish good memories: Try to find meaning to your experience by celebrating the life of the loved one. You may do this by creating a memorial that helps you to focus on positive thoughts and memories.Challenge negative thoughts: Thought stopping is a cognitive behavioural therapy technique that can help you take charge of your emotions, your response to those emotions and take control of the emotional triggers.Do not cut yourself off: It may feel like you are alone in this; a lot of people around you experience their own pain, it may not be the same as yours but that is why you should be sharing your thoughts and fears and find common ground in the type of emotions you all feel and the memories you share.Fluctuating emotion: It is normal, embrace it; normal grief feels the same. Once you think you have healed, a memory or a smell or a thought may surface emotions and pain that you thought you had already overcome. The memory will fade but the reality of the person in your heart lives on.Overcome guilt: Move forward without guilt. Remember guilt will surface but try not to own it, it is part of the healing process and it will pass.Hope: If hope helps, hold on to it, without any denial.Take your power back: Don’t run away from the truth; it will give you the power to make the right choices for those you still need to care for, around you.How do I comfort or help someone going through ambiguous loss?Be a friend or a loved one and be consistent in how you show up. Don’t confuse yourself as their therapist. The person is going through enough ambiguity, don’t add to it.Help remove the angst. Often there are tasks that need to be taken care of with the hospital, the police, filling in reports or the courts and these may bring distress. Be there to offer your assistance.Be kind to yourself and remember you may also be going through the same loss and grief. If you take care of yourself you will have the energy to be there for the one going through the ambiguity of the loss.If you need more answers, talk to your doctor or therapist TODAY and take a positive step towards healing. 

What is post-trauma growth?

After a period of prolonged trauma, like the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, most of us are scrambling to put the pieces back together. So, where do you start? Clinical psychologist Hope Magubane takes us through it.Staying present and navigating life in the Covid “new normal” has come with unfamiliar circumstances for many. It has seen the introverted individual being pulled deeper into isolation and the extroverted moving into unknown territory of less movement and social interaction. These two individuals, although identified differently, have found common ground in uncertainty and feelings of loneliness. This common ground is rooted in the natural human need for connection with other humans. This speaks to the phrase “no man is an island” and if isolation was our fate, we would have been born in aloneness. The isolation has further birthed an existential anxiety among many, seen as an increase in the search for the meaning of existence and life. As we journey through the road of existential anxiety some have been further knocked by multiple losses through death, income and employment. The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced us to an unfamiliar thief that has come to “steal, kill and destroy”. Many have found themselves living in fear of the unknown, wondering when this thief will pay them a visit as it does not discriminate.As the pandemic continues, we find ourselves forced into acknowledging the trauma of its impact. We are constantly in shock and confusion as death continues to plough through our families. Some have not had breathing room to make sense of and accept their losses. This leaves a bitter taste of hopelessness and feeling victimised by the life circumstances we find ourselves in. Shame and guilt have also gained more room during this time. For some guilt stems from not experiencing any of the impactful losses as those around them continue to be shattered by it. Shame also takes centre stage for these individuals as they struggle to relate with those who appear to be experiencing traumatic events and finding themselves self-isolating from them. Friendships are tested based on support and availability during the “new normal” and unfair expectations. Trust is questioned and unanswered because in truth we are all dealing with things at different levels.A shift towards post-trauma growth has become essential. We must acknowledge that for some, the traumas spoken about earlier are ongoing and must be taken into consideration in addressing post-traumatic growth. Researchers identify post-traumatic growth as the ability to be more than resilient in the face of adversities. It speaks to the individual reclaiming control of the different areas that may have been impacted by trauma. This sees the individual effectively utilising resources to help them navigate ongoing and past traumas. The approach I have established in facilitating this process focuses on the following areas; identifying the trauma impacted area, building connections, self-care and carer and care.Moving past traumaOne of the steps towards post-trauma growth is identifying the areas impacted by the trauma and severity. Trauma impacts us on a cognitive level, this is seen in a change in one’s thought processes that sees individuals taking on a more pessimistic outlook on life. Life takes on the role of an abuser that cannot be escaped, so staying in the pain is better than trying to fight for a way out because the abuse cycle cannot be broken. This moves into an emotional level of impact when the individual experiences a range of emotions, such as hopelessness, fear, blame, shame, anger and sadness. Individuals at this level struggle to shake off these unwanted emotions, which may also give birth to increased anxiety. The emotions and pessimistic attitudes consume the individual on a spiritual level, which can be seen in anger and a shift in a high belief in God or ancestors that the individual may have held as sacred. A drop in their performance or absconding with no explanation will become evident in academics and work level. The last area that needs to be explored is the social level as the individual would have no desire to interact with others and move more into self-isolation.If the individual has been severely impacted in these levels it is important to start to speak about the second step of post-traumatic growth, which can be identified as building connections. The rebuilding or building of connections is very important in the African context in echoing the IsiZulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” which loosely translates “a person is a person because of other people”. This also refers to the interconnectedness of people and refers to the actual embodiment of the epistemological stance of Ubuntu. An isolated individual is at greater risk of the impacts of trauma because no one can see their struggles and the individual also has no one to call on for support.This speaks to getting help professionally, spiritually and communally. When it comes to the professional connection, the individual may seek the help of a psychologist who would facilitate the process of the individual overcoming and reclaiming control of different areas that have been impacted by the trauma. The psychologist may refer to other professionals based on their observation, this may include a psychiatrist or other general practitioners. The rebuilding of spiritual connection may speak to individuals seeking the guidance of pastors or traditional healers in helping them mend the relationship that may have been disconnected. The communal connection taps into social or friends the individual may have withdrawn from. The Nigerian phrase “Jejely” which means “little by little” becomes very important in this process to ensure that the individual does not find themselves overwhelmed.  Self-care addresses practical steps one can do on their own or together with the above-mentioned connections: Get an accountability partner/friend who can check that you are able to stick to your daily routine.Develop a daily routine.Sleep seven or more hours.Take multivitamins.Meditate, exercise or take a walk.Eat three healthy meals a day.Clean your house.Find a new hobby.Start journaling your thoughts and what you are grateful for.Remember to bathe.The final part of post-trauma work is the carer and care process, which addresses the individuals that are offering support to the impacted person. This can be those who identify as friends, partners, mother, child, siblings or other. It’s important to remain patient during this period because it may be easy to become bored and frustrated with the individual's process of growth or recovery. It’s important to be able to identify when you have taken on too much and remember that your responsibility is to care. This involves listening and respecting the individual’s needs - be careful not to take on the role of a professional. Doing this will leave you frustrated and feeling drained by the individual. It’s important to exercise self-awareness and self-care at all times.A poem that I find fitting and comforting in putting the pieces together as part of post-trauma growth is Be Gentle with Yourself by Ijeoma Umebinyuo that goes “healing comes in waves and maybe today the wave hits the rocks and that’s ok, that’s okay, darling. You are still healing, you are still healing”.

Confidently moving into a new leadership norm

There is no better time observe the quality of leaders than when a seismic challenge is rocking their world.Since lockdown started in 2020, just about everyone in South Africa’s corporate world has had to adapt to a transformed environment. New rules, norms, challenges and situations and circumstances are all part of this change. For a variety of reasons, some people have flourished while others have battled. The ongoing Covid threat has separated teams from the physical and emotional security of a company office to remote connections where employees no longer work at home, but rather, live at work.In this “new normal”, the leadership world is being drastically challenged. This has severely impacted the many people who willingly took on the responsibility of motivating, inspiring and driving others, while being abandoned by many organisations who provided no insight or support for the role. The “because I say so” mentality had already been losing its power but in a world where people are tucked up at home with little physical presence, this approach is not working.The lack of appreciation and insight as to what it takes to be a real leader has always been worrisome but over the last year, the role of leaders has transformed, and the stresses of the position have become more pronounced.Whatever the circumstances, coordinated productivity needs to continue, away from the previous face-to-face office environment into a far more remote, and sometimes faceless world of internet connectivity. This article cannot deal with all requirements of what it takes to be a good leader. What it can do is emphasise the leadership mindset that is required to thrive during change. Hopefully, future leaders who want to thrive in their role will continue to reach out to learn some of the many other skills that are needed as part of their trade.The ‘new normal’For generations, economic downturns and general business challenges have been a way of life but the ongoing threat of the Covid-19 pandemic has catapulted most corporate workers into a “new normal”.Health, wealth and the blending of the home and work life have become key focuses for many. For the leaders and managers having to raise their game to meet these new challenges, the burden of responsibility and instilling confidence has become more pronounced but the attitude, skills, and tactics of being a great leader remain the same.As we look more closely at the leadership mindset and raising our game, we examine four of the basic priorities aspiring leaders can focus on.1. Self-appreciation and self-careIt may seem paradoxical, but the primary role of any great leader is to ensure that they operate at their own peak performance. The leadership mindset required in looking after oneself throughout the leadership journey is by asking questions such as:Am I getting enough sleep?Do I exercise regularly enough?Do I pencil out blocks of time where I commit quality time to interacting with family and friends?Am I allocating time and a quality of interaction to understand and take charge of my sphere of influence?2. Appreciation of othersMost people are far more resilient, responsible, and cooperative than we give them credit for. A “new normal” leader knows that a positive and appreciative mindset is key to unlocking potential in others.Good leadership happens “one conversation at a time”. Quality conversations underpin a leadership mindset that every person and opinion matters. Asking questions and then using the head, heart, ears, and senses to listen to new thoughts, insights and gain an appreciation of what other people can (or cannot) do is one of the simplest steps in excellent online communication.  The opposite approach is one where the issuing of instructions, negative put-downs and general disrespect create hostile and often emotion-filled interactions where positive interpersonal relationship are non-existent and management threats lose their legitimacy in remote, impersonal environments.3. Planning and preparationAnother leadership mindset underpinning this new context is an appreciation and clearly focused end goal that acts as a guiding rudder.When faced with an array of complex tasks or projects, or mastering the art of skilled communication, strong and focused “new normal” leaders can navigate and overrule their own negative thoughts and emotions that pull them towards the minutiae of the situation, the job, the project, or the team, and instead focus on the inherent “why is this necessary” and “what is my main achievable goal?” Without these two goal posts at the end of the field, there is no specific direction in which to apply a seemingly winning formula.4. Systems and managementOnce you appreciate yourself and others, and have a compelling ideal in each interaction, the next issue is managing the process through to completion. The leadership mindset required in this role is one of organisation and control.Creating effective systems and quality management processes necessitates breaking down complex outputs into clear, unambiguous tasks that can be successfully and accurately managed.The “new normal” leader understands that effective time management is a key ingredient, especially in a remote world. Quality output, confidence and ownership are the outputs of an environment where psychological safety is a key value. When the basics are established monitoring progress, providing clear feedback whenever and wherever the opportunity arises become part of the system that pulls people together. There is nothing really new in the fundamentals of this canvas, but the rules have certainly changed as leadership can no longer rely on interpersonal engagement as the office presence is replaced by distanced people and distanced attitudes who are crying out for leadership excellence.Leadership is not a title, nor a status symbol. Leading others is a privilege and doing this job well requires a mindset that understands that insight, training, and raising the level of thinking are important criteria to make a success of this position. Without these attributes, leading others is demanding and incredibly stressful, particularly when the team is not physically present.Jill Hamlyn is a master executive business leadership and personal coach who partners with The Space Between Us.