el maltrato en la pareja

Intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence (IPV) consists in any act of physical, sexual, emotional or financial violence exerted by one member of the couple in order to achieve total control over their partner.

It is considered one of the most widespread forms of violence against women, and according to Spain’s government, a 14.2% of the female population has suffered physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. It is difficult to ascertain the real percentage of IPV cases, since the fear of retaliation, lack of support and stigma, hope that their partner would change, or lack of knowledge on how to get help, prevent people from reporting it. This is particularly frequent in cases of emotional abuse, where the violence is harder to see or prove.

What are the types of abuse committed during IPV?

We can organize violent behavior in four different categories, depending on the type of abusive act that is used to corner the person into submission.

  • Physical abuse: This type of violent behavior is aimed at inflicting pain, fear and humiliation through the use of punches, kicks, burns, hair pulling, strangulation, shoves, or any other form of physical abuse. Other methods used by the abuser are threatening to kill or hurt with a weapon, destroying household items (punching walls or doors, hurling objects…), forcing to consume substances or alcohol, driving recklessly, abandoning the person in dangerous places to “teach them a lesson”, preventing the person from getting medical assistance, or not allowing the person to leave the house.
  • Sexual violence: Any act consisting on forced sexual interactions, either through the use of direct physical force, threats or manipulation; or any non-consensual degrading sexual act performed during intercourse. Other forms of sexual abuse can be using demeaning sexual remarks in private or public settings; insisting on having sex even when the other person feels tired/sick; including a third party in a sexual interaction without consent; filming or photographing the person in sexual situations without their knowledge, or using the material to threaten and manipulate; or not considering the person’s feelings during sex.
  • Emotional abuse: The use of verbal violence, shame, guilt, disdain, isolation and intimidation to undermine the person’s self-esteem and instil feelings of fear, insecurity and helplessness. This type of violence is the most difficult to prove and detect, but also the most widespread and insidious. The use of insults; the constant criticism or devaluation of the other person’s personality, physical appearance, hobbies, actions or abilities; spying the person’s physical movements or communication with other people; ridiculing the person in public or private settings; using the silent treatment or giving the cold shoulder to punish the person; gaslighting in order to disorient and confuse, make the other person believe they are crazy or minimize the abuse; isolating the person from their family/friends/loved ones by sabotaging relationships or the use of jealousy and distrust; threatening to hurt or kill loved ones, pets or oneself are other examples of psychological violence.
  • Financial abuse: The use of income, savings or money to control and manipulate the person. The abuser will try to create a sense of total financial dependence in their partner through the control of the couple’s monetary resources; stealing from the other person, or using their money without their permission; impeding access to their salary or savings; or impairing the person from getting a job or education.

How can i tell if I am suffering from IPV?

Most of the time, abusive situations are hard to identify or detect; particularly if emotional abuse is playing a main role in the relationship, as it is usually subtle and hard to pinpoint. Another reason why we might not be fully aware it is happening to us, is the abuse always occurs gradually. Small painful acts that are easy to disregard are slowly normalized within the relationship, which eventually allows for more blatant forms of violence to occur unnoticed. Lastly, human beings tend to protect themselves from harmful or harsh realities. The person might minimize or deny the abuse is occurring in order to avoid the pain and shock of being aware the person they might love the most is knowingly tormenting them with the direct intention of subjugating and controling them.

In order to ascertain if we are being victims of any form of abuse or intimate partner violence, we can observe common behaviors of people who have been through this type of violence and compare them to our own. Victims often hide things from their partners in order to avoid an explosive fit of rage; they might avoid expressing a difference in opinion to their partner for fear of being ridiculed; be wary to contradict the other person to avoid a negative or violent reaction; they might have lost the confidence in their decision making, or the sense of control in their own actions and lives; they avoid to talk to or spend time with friends or family members for fear of their partner’s reaction of disapproval, jealousy or anger; accept to have sexual intercourse without wanting to in order to avoid conflict or tension; tolerate invasions of their privacy, such as the access to their devices and communications with other people; find themselves asking their partner’s permission (not opinion) to do things; be in constant fear of making any mistake that might spark their partner’s anger; suffer from feelings of worthlessness; feel unable to make decisions over their own life, the people they see, how they dress, or how they spend time.

Another way to identify if we are being subjected to IPV is identifying the psychological damage that it generates. The impact of sustained abusive behavior by a partner includes the destruction of one’s self-esteem, chronic stress, sleep and eating disturbances, substance or alcohol abuse, social isolation, apathy or depression, abrupt changes in mood, suicidal ideation and hopelessness, headaches or gastrointestinal problems, constant feelings of shame, guilt or insecurity, and the loss of trust in one’s ability to function as an adult.

How can I cope with the psychological impact of abuse?

One of the ways we can recover from the damage suffered in the context of intimate partner violence (after we have ensured our physical and emotional safety) is to receive counseling or support through psychotherapy. The main goal of treatment will processing the emotional trauma in order to understand, accept and leave it behind. However the restoration and bolstering of our self-esteem and self-confidence will also be a cornerstone of treatment; in addition to working on the symptoms derived from the abuse such as anxiety, depression or substance use.

Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Psychologist
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

Learning the practice of mindfulness, by Vicente Simón

Learning the practice of mindfulness, by Vicente Simón

Learning the practice of mindfulness, by Vicente Simón

To anyone who wishes to live the present moment more fully, escape the “automatic pilot mode” and experience emotional fulfillment, we are introduced to the practice of mindfulness by psychiatrist Vicente Simón. 

The closest definition of “mindfulness" would be "full attention or awareness". Which means: paying close attention to the present moment with full intent and passing no judgement over what is being experienced. Or in other words: being aware of our experiences while they are being experienced. According to the author, mindfulness can also be described as “the universal and basic human ability of being aware of our mind’s content moment to moment”. 

To sum it all up, practicing mindfulness consists in setting our constant worrying about the past and future aside in order to calmly experience the present moment. Instead of ruminating over dreaded future scenarios that fill us with anxiety, we attentively focus on what is happening right this second.

Over the course of this accesible and light guide, Dr. Simón brings us closer to different observations of prominent thinkers and philosophers on the subject of full awareness and experiencing the present; all the while teaching us the most important aspects of a mindfulness practice: observation, not identifying ourselves with out emotional states, acceptance and lack of judgement, curiosity, coping strategies to manage strong negative emotions, self-acceptance and practicing love and compassion for oneself. 

In addition to providing us with the necessary tools to understand and practice mindfulness, Simón offers us a varied array of guided meditations which will be crucial in the endeavor of exercising this newly gained state of mind in our daily lives.

As the author concludes, the constant and overwhelming flow of thoughts that have little to do with the present moment, impedes life itself. Therefore, the practice of mindfulness becomes a basic tool in order to gain peace of mind and happiness.

Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Psychologist
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

A book recommendation by Ines Zulueta: Hyperfocus, by Chris Bailey

A book recommendation by Ines Zulueta: Hyperfocus, by Chris Bailey

A book recommendation by Ines Zulueta: Hyperfocus, by Chris Bailey

For all of us who struggle to focus on difficult, important projects for extended periods of time, suffer when taking too long to complete boring, repetitive tasks; or feel we are not using our time in the way we wished, the book Hyperfocus has arrived to alleviate our burden and worry.

In a time when our attentional resources are continuously being swamped by an overwhelming flow of information, calls, emails, messages and images coming out of every single one of our electrical devices; the ability to focus on an activity without getting distracted by something else, or the capacity to resist the temptation of constantly changing between different tasks, is frequently depleted.

With an easy and entertaining prose, the Canadian productivity expert Chris Bailey guides us through the fascinating universe of human attention, helping us understand why making an adequate use of our attentional resources proves to be such a challenge.

According to the author, in order to have a fulfilling life instead of permanently acting on autopilot mode, we must learn to control and use our attention effectively. It is of equal importance to be able to focus intensely on something in order to be productive and gain a more profound knowledge, than to unfocus in order to be able to replenish our attentional span and come up with truly innovative ideas. The author claims the ability to make use of our attention in a mindful way is one of the cornerstones of human happiness and productivity.

After a thorough research on the limitations and miracles of human attention, Bailey offers us life-changing facts turned into simple steps to: increase our attentional span, avoid distractions, shifting our attention to truly fulfilling goals, recharge our energy, avoid procrastinating on important projects, and connecting with our creative side.

Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Psychologist
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

How to handle Procrastination in the midst of a Pandemic

How to handle Procrastination in the midst of a Pandemic

You might have heard the term “procrastination" before, and it is likely you might have experienced it more than once. The definition of the word is: deciding to delay or not complete a task for no valid reason despite the negative consequences of doing so. Making time for doing something of more importance or urgent than the task we are delaying, would not be considered procrastinating. Neither would be making time for an unforeseen event. We procrastinate when there is no good reason to delay the action.

The procrastination cycle has the following steps: I face a task that generates discomfort or negative feelings (I don’t feel like doing it, it’s frustrating, boring, difficult, makes me anxious…) à I try to avoid that discomfort by engaging in another pleasurable task or postponing my goal à I immediately feel better à I face negative consequences long term.

The problem with this cycle is that we tend to repeat actions that have positive short term consequences, despite them having also negative long term consequences. We are wired to prefer immediate gratification despite the possible long term consequences. That is why we might struggle to keep a diet when offered a chocolate cake, or fail to remain focused on completing a boring report.

The negative impact of procrastinating can be severe, depending on the frequency and severity of the behavior. For starters, it deteriorates our healthfor two different reasons. The first one is procrastinating increases anxiety and remorse levels, which in turn create a state of heightened stress that weakens our immune system (particularly if this state is maintained for long). The second reason is when we are procrastinating, we also postpone other important health behaviors, such as getting enough sleep, exercising or keeping a balanced diet. Another negative effect would be decreasing our work or study performance and having to relinquish activities that matter to us. Lastly, other than creating strong and frequent negative emotions, procrastinating also alters the way we perceive ourselves: as less efficient, therefore lowering our self-esteem.

During the Coronavirus crisis, it is possible you may have noticed your productivity taking a dive. Tedious or difficult tasks require a great deal of self-control, which is a limited resource that needs to be recharged often by resting. Disordered habits, the loss of access to pleasurable leisure and social activities, fear and uncertainty create a great deal of stress that make it difficult to recharge our capacity for adequate self-control. It is possible we might feel overwhelmed or unable to properly respond to the current situation, which impacts our ability to function normally.

However, despite being confronted by a situation we cannot change, it is important we don’t get carried away by the paralyzing anxiety and instead we focus on what is actually on our power: our own behavior and the way we manage our time. To avoid procrastination, we recommend the following strategies:

1.    Identify whats tasks you procrastinate and why.
The first step to stop procrastinating is to identify which tasks you usually postpone unnecessarily and why. First, you can ask yourself what type of tasks you have the most trouble initiating or concluding. Are you postponing your chores or budgeting? Work or study activities? Leisure or social events? Health related or self-development tasks? When we identify the type of task we have the most trouble initiating, we can better prepare for it by mustering all of our self-control and motivation.

On the other hand, as we previously mentioned, we usually avoid tasks that generate negative emotions . In order to gain insight on how our feelings are playing an important role in the difficulties we may be having, we can develop a simple list of tasks we are procrastinating. In that list, we can write how we feel about each task. It is possible we feel the task is not appealing or fun, that we do not know how to start because we lack information, or that we feel we must complete the task perfectly and those rigid standards prevent us from even starting. Identifying why we are reluctant to start or engage in something will gives clues to solve the problem. el porqué de nuestra reticencia nos dará claves para solventarla.

2. Recognize and confront your excuses
When we decide it is preferable to postpone an important task until the following day without a proper reason and despite the negative consequences, we have found an excuse that allows us to feel comfortable with that decision, at least momentarily. The excuses are usually not adjusted to reality despite seeming believable in the moment. Some examples of the type of justifications we might use are: “It is too late to start it now”, “I won’t get much done, so I’ll just leave it for now”, “It is better to do it when I am in the mood or feeling inspired”,“I will do it once this other thing is finished”, “I have plenty of time, so I can do it later” or, “I work better when I am stressed, so I will leave it to the last minute”. We can find a myriad of examples, but it is likely that you have recognized some of the excuses in this list.

Once we have become aware of how our thoughts are mere excuses to cope with the remorse of not having started or completed an important project, we can refute those thoughts. In order to do so, we will use more adjusted thoughts. Some examples are: “I will not be more motivated to start this tomorrow” “Even if I don’t have time to finish everything, I can start this and make it easier for tomorrow”, “It is not true I work better under pressure, I simply finish things faster but my work suffers”, “I have other things to do, but this one is the most important now”.

You can use your list of identified excuses as a sign that you are about to start procrastinating. This way, you can try to prevent it beforehand.

3. Tolerate discomfort
As we have previously mentioned, procrastination is a habit triggered in part by a low tolerance to discomfort: We avoid a task that generates negative emotions so we don’t have to experience or deal with them. Tolerating discomfort is an ability that can be trained with some practice so it does not become such an obstacle.

One way of achieving this is to expose yourself to the dreaded emotion for a short period of time. For instance, if the emotion we are trying to avoid by procrastinating is boredom, we can remained bored (by not doing anything) for 5 or 10 minutes before starting a boring task. After we have done that, we will be more able to withstand the negative emotion when we start working. The more we practice exposing ourselves to uncomfortable emotions, the easier it will be to stop postponing important activities.

Another way of improving our tolerance to discomfort is to think about negative emotions as something temporary, as a wave that we can surf: First, the emotion intensifies or rises, then it reaches its highest point (the crest of the wave), and finally, it diminishes until it disappears. Being aware of the temporary aspect of emotions makes it easier to tolerate the negative ones.

Another effective strategy to combat procrastination is simply starting a task, even if it is during a short period of time, or if everything we will do for that day is creating a new file and write the title, or reading necessary information. We usually overestimate how negatively we will feel about doing a task before starting it. However, once we start it, the discomfort is not as intense as we initially assumed and we can power through it.

When we cannot manage to start an action, we can ask ourselves: What is the amount of time I am currently motivated or willing to dedicate to this task without postponing it? Is it 30 minutes? 15? 5? Once you have set a time limit, you can start the task without dreading it so much. If you feel motivated to continue working once the time limit you had initially set finishes, you may do so.

We hope this advice has been useful to you. We will also like to remind you of the importance of setting rewards for yourself once you have exposed yourself to the task or completed it. This will make you more motivated towards the task, and help you replenish your energies after.

Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Psychologist
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

Covid-19 and Anxiety

Covid-19 and Anxiety

Question

Ines, initially I didn’t feel too anxious about the coronavirus and the quarantine, but I’m finding that as time goes on, and with no end in sight, my anxiety level are rising. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with the fear surrounding the current situation?

Answer

Over the last few days, as a result of the current situation regarding Covid-19, we have all been exposed to alarming information from a variety of sources. Feeling a bit afraid is, therefore, to be expected. However, we should ask ourselves: When does fear become excessive and unhelpful?

Fear and worry are natural human reactions in situations of danger or risk. They are necessary in order to successfully manage the physical and mental challenges presented by a dangerous environment. Fear allows us to better handle obstacles and problems; it prepares our bodies to deal with possible threats, and our minds to consider different future scenarios and potential solutions and strategies. From an evolutionary standpoint the role of fear is to improve our odds of survival.

However, there are instances in which fear and worry do more harm than good. In some instances these feelings can spiral out of control, and we can find ourselves in a situation where our natural reactions, meant to keep us safe, do us more harm than good. We know fear becomes unhealthy when it is no longer productive and creates excessive suffering.

In the present situation with the coronavirus, once we have taken all the necessary precautions to prevent infection, living in a constant state of anxiety has little benefit. We are dealing with an unfamiliar, but temporary, situation and the concern provoked by this uncertainty is what needs to be managed.

A continued feeling of fear and worry can have a lasting negative emotional impact. Worrying can initially provide us with a sense of control and relief, but it can have a detrimental effect in the long term. Some of the potential negative effects are: inability to stay focused, problems falling or staying asleep, muscular tension, restlessness, anxiety, irritability or fatigue.

If we are still worrying constantly about the Covid-19 despite having already taken the necessary steps and measures to deal with the situation, we should turn our attention to reducing the negative emotions we are experiencing; they are no longer of use to us.

Some strategies for reducing excessive fear and worry:

1. Avoid constant information seeking

Information helps us prepare for and navigate crisis situations. However, an excess of information can be counterproductive, as we may become overwhelmed with information which only creates anxiety. For this reason, it is important to limit the occasions in we seek out information regarding the virus to one or two times per day, rather than letting it become a constant behaviour.

2. Practice relaxation

There are a wide number of relaxation, breathing, and meditation techniques that help reduce physical, mental and emotional tension. They reduce the fight-or-flight response, create a sense of wellbeing and deactivate our constant mental loop. It is highly recommended that we practice these techniques in moments in which our anxiety levels might be higher.

3. Focusing on the present

In times of uncertainty, it is natural to worry about the different possible outcomes. When this process does not result in preventing or solving a problem, it is best to avoid letting our mind wander and contemplate the “what-ifs”. In order to do that, we can focus on the here and now. We can try, for example, to focus completely on a task or activity.

4. Remember the positive

When we are going through a difficult time and we feel vulnerable, it is important to remind ourselves of the things that are going well and that make us feel safe. In the case of the coronavirus, we must remind ourselves that this is a temporary crisis, that we are not facing it alone, but in a united and coordinated manner, using the necessary tools and procedures to combat it successfully.

5. Practice pleasurable activities

During difficult times, it becomes even more important to treat ourselves with enjoyable experiences. Everyone has a go-to treat: a nice meal, a warm bath, an episode of our favourite TV series, a call to a loved one, a nice book etc. The list is long and diverse depending on the person!

6. Good sleeping, exercising and eating habits

Having a balanced diet and sleep routine allows our body to maintain a state of stability and to be well rested mentally and physically. In addition, physical exercise releases tension and helps us focus on the present moment and our bodily sensations rather than being constantly in our heads. During the following days, we may have to avoid the gym, but we can still do simple workouts at home.

7. Maintain your usual routine

Although we might have to remain at home as much as possible in the coming days, it is important that we engage in our regular activities. Our routine is something we can control and that will help lend a sense of normality to our days.

8. Doing things we did not have time to do before

We may find ourselves with more time on our hands than usual and we can put that time to good use by reducing that long list of things we haven’t had time to do up to now (ironing, organising the closet, finally finishing that book or Netflix show etc.)

In conclusion, there are countless strategies that we can use to take the reins of our emotional state, which will positively impact how we handle the situation in the days to come!

Proofreading and editing by Gráinne Keeshan

Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Inés Zulueta Iturralde
Psychologist
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé