¿Podemos liberarnos del trauma? Descubriendo y trabajando las secuelas del trauma infantil

Can We Break Free? Navigating Healing and Self-Discovery from Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma, defined as significant experiences that deeply affected us during our early years, doesn’t just fade away. It leaves lasting impressions that influence our mindset as we grow up. These experiences not only leave immediate scars but also imprint evolving core beliefs that persist into adulthood. They shape the way we perceive ourselves, others, and the world at large. Childhood trauma can affect anyone, transcending demographics. However, with intentional effort and support, it is possible to overcome these challenging experiences and embark on a journey of healing and self-discovery.

What constitutes Childhood trauma and when does it leave its mark?

Childhood trauma includes a diversity of highly emotional experiences that affect an individual during the stages of childhood and adolescence development. Trauma is often popularly associated with near-death experiences, accidents, terrorism, wartime situations, and natural disasters. However, childhood trauma can also include other emotional experiences such as neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, exposure to violence, or the sudden loss of a loved one. The impact of childhood trauma is extensive, affecting cognitive, emotional, and physical development and often establishing the groundwork for long-term psychological effects in adulthood.

A key to identifying whether something in childhood has affected you may lie in discovering if you hold core beliefs about yourself, the world, or others that do not align with the «rational» evidence available but nonetheless generate significant emotional intensity.

The Illusion of a Happy Childhood

It is interesting to observe the paradox of childhood trauma. At times, some individuals find it challenging to recognize emotional neglect and may perceive their early years as if they had a happy childhood. This happens when obvious abuse is not evident, giving the impression that everything is good enough. The thing is, we might not realize that we missed out on important emotional support. Emotional trauma, therefore, becomes one of the most challenging to address, as often we are not aware of the deficiencies, such as the lack of emotional validation. It is difficult for us to understand that emotional neglect took place if we didn’t even have the opportunity to learn and recognize our emotional needs.

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Symptoms of Childhood Trauma

Figuring out the signs of childhood trauma is key to understanding how it affects individuals. Each person experiences its influence differently; some exhibit all the symptoms, while others show a combination of them. The most common indicators are as follows:

  • Emotional ups and downs: Confronting emotions is sometimes experienced as a roller coaster, with intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, and/or shame, as well as joy. In fact, many individuals with childhood trauma often come to the first session wondering if they suffer from bipolar disorder.
  • Cognitive beliefs: Being self-critical or holding the belief that we are not worthy of love, success, or happiness. This can manifest as difficulties in connecting with others, feeling inferior, or simply not paying much attention to oneself. "I'm not enough," "I'm unlovable," or "I have to be good" are some examples.
  • Interpersonal challenges: Some people experience distrust when emotionally approaching others, or, at the opposite extreme, have difficulty setting boundaries with certain individuals due to a lack of tools to identify warning signs.
  • Behavioural patterns: Sometimes, it may involve doing things that are not good for us, engaging in risky behaviours, acting impulsively, or even avoiding places or situations that bring back emotions related to our traumas.
  • Physical symptoms: Our body can also provide some clues, such as changes in sleep, frequent health problems, or changes in appetite and eating habits.

Where Do Trauma Responses Manifest?

Identifying responses to childhood trauma entails recognizing how the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn instincts manifest. These innate reactions can be triggered in various life situations, influencing both behaviour and emotional well-being. Emotional flashbacks are also a symptom of childhood trauma.

Recognizing Childhood Trauma Responses:

1. Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn Responses:

Recognizing these instinctual responses: facing the situation (fight), fleeing from situations (flight), becoming paralysed (freeze), or adopting a people-pleasing or appeasing stance (fawn) can indicate the activation of childhood trauma triggers.

2. Emotional Flashbacks:

These episodes are intense emotional experiences in which the same emotional intensity as in the past event is relived. Recognizing emotional flashbacks involves identifying sudden and overwhelming feelings triggered by a current situation, which can be very intense and distressing. Thoughts of self-criticism may be experienced, along with intense feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. The emotional intensity is perceived as disproportionate to the event that triggers it. Emotional flashbacks, often triggered by returning to past environments such as family visits, can be overwhelming. Coping strategies include recognizing triggers, practicing grounding techniques, using self-talk statements, journaling, physical activity, creative expression, and setting boundaries. Additionally, it may also be beneficial to connect with our social network, maintain self-care rituals, employ cognitive-behavioural and emotional validation and acceptance techniques, and seeking professional help if necessary.

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What happens during trauma-focused therapy for childhood trauma?

The treatment plan is not one-size-fits-all but is an individualized plan agreed upon between the individual and the therapist. As a psychologist, my primary goal is to understand the person’s needs and expectations and incorporate them into the treatment plan. Childhood trauma is not something we can address unless we are fully equipped and prepared, and the pace depends on each individual. In some cases, we may first work on addressing trauma-based triggers, while with other people, we may focus on establishing a routine and addressing unmet basic needs first. If it were a fire, we would have to extinguish it first and then discover what caused it.

Here is an example of a possible treatment plan:

  1. First session: We may discuss the reasons you think you could benefit from therapy. I will provide explanations about your symptoms and some exercises for you to apply in your daily life if you wish.
  2. Feeling safe and secure: We may work on techniques to stay connected to the present moment and strategies to manage intense emotions, preparing for when they arise. Trust in the therapeutic bond is also crucial. The idea is to build a strong relationship and keep communication open so you can feel supported on our journey together. Therapy should be a safe space where you never feel judged.
  3. Basic information: We may talk about symptoms, how trauma can affect your life, emotions, and beliefs you have about yourself, and what kind of progress we can expect in therapy.
  4. Delving into trauma: Only when you are ready and being very respectful of each person's pace, we may be able to talk about the history of trauma, process those memories (or emotions if you don't remember some parts of your past), and address any core beliefs that you may have. Our plan will involve a slow exposure to emotions related to trauma, taking solid, safe, and steady steps, always at your own pace.
  5. Emotional skills and coping strategies: You will also learn techniques to manage those intense feelings related to trauma. These are emotional coping strategies for difficult moments.
  6. Relationship patterns: It is common for trauma to affect the way we relate to others. We can also analyse these patterns in order to determine if there is something we need to work on regarding forming healthy and safe connections.
  7. Self-discovery: It's easy not to have a clear idea about your own interests or your identity when you have experienced childhood trauma. We will work on building a more positive and empowered "self." We can also explore personal values and set achievable goals.
  8. EMDR work: If you are interested, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective tool for working on childhood trauma. Before starting, we will ensure you have all the necessary coping skills.
  9. Conclusion: As we approach the end of our sessions, we will develop a relapse prevention plan and explore the next steps on your journey.
  10. Follow-up: Continuous adjustments will be made to the treatment plan as necessary. Your feedback is crucial for you to feel heard and supported.
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Recognizing when to seek help

Seeking help, whether from understanding friends, supportive family, or mental health professionals, demonstrates strength, a genuine desire to change and it also represents a significant step toward healing and personal discovery. Part of a trauma response is to try to resolve things on our own or feel undeserving of support. Asking for help on the path to healing is crucial for effectively addressing the aftermath of childhood trauma.

If you are experiencing overwhelming feelings, your strategies and coping mechanisms are not having the results you expected, symptoms persist or intensify, or they begin to affect your daily functioning, whether at work, in relationships, or overall well-being, or if you find yourself socially withdrawing or experiencing feelings of isolation, it will mean you could benefit from extra support.

Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and there are resources available to support you in your process.

Helpful Self-Help Books

  • "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk: This book explores the impact of trauma on both the body and mind, offering insights into effective therapeutic approaches and self-care practices.
  • "Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving" by Pete Walker: Walker provides a comprehensive guide for understanding and healing from Complex PTSD, offering practical strategies for self-help and personal growth.
  • “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)” by Philippa Perry
  • “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, Or Self-Involved Parents” by Lindsay C. Gibson
  • "The Courage to Heal" by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis: Focused on survivors of childhood sexual abuse, this book provides a compassionate guide to healing, with exercises and insights to aid in the recovery process
  • "Running on Empty" by Jonice Webb: Webb delves into the concept of Emotional Neglect, offering readers a path to recognize and overcome the impact of a childhood marked by emotional absence.
  • "Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself" by Kristin Neff: Self compassion does not mean to feel sorry about yourself, but treating ourselves with kindness as we would treat a loved one. Neff explores the transformative power of self-compassion, providing practical tools to break free from self-critical patterns often rooted in childhood trauma.
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The process of unlearning core beliefs developed from childhood trauma is a nuanced and individualized journey. It requires commitment, patience, and often the support of mental health professionals. In addition to professional guidance, self-help books can serve as valuable resources, offering insights and strategies for individuals navigating the path toward healing and self-discovery. Recognizing and addressing fight, flight, freeze, fawn responses, as well as emotional flashbacks, are integral steps in unravelling the tightly fabric of evolving core beliefs, paving the way for a more positive and fulfilling adulthood.

Breaking free from the lasting effects of childhood trauma is possible. It requires finding the correct formula that works for you, including self-reflection, external support, and a commitment to navigating the intricate terrain of healing and self-discovery.

About the author:

Marta Gray is a licenced Psychologist working at Sinews. She has a flexible approach combining different scientifically proven methods (Acceptance and commitment Therapy, CBT, EMDR) depending on the patient’s needs. Her main field of expertise is working with adults and she is specially interested in complex trauma, anxiety disorders, emotional deregulation and couple’s therapy.

Marta Gray Nuñez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Marta Gray Nuñez
Clinical and General Health Psychologist
Adults and couples
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

¿Por qué me siento vacío? 8 estrategias para lidiar con el sentimiento de vacío

Why do I feel empty? 8 strategies for coping with the feeling of emptiness

We all experience feelings of emptiness from time to time. It is part of the secondary emotions being sadness the primary one. Other secondary emotions related to emptiness are: feeling abandoned, hopelessness, feeling depressed, loneliness, boredom, feeling ignored, feeling victimised, helplessness, defenceless, feeling apathetic, feeling vulnerable, indifferent and feeling melancholic.

There is an enormous amount of social pressure to having to fill the void and to be happy. The emptiness feeling is like any other unpleasant emotion, but there are some emotions that we tend to perceive as more unpleasant than others, and the feeling of emptiness is one of those unpleasant ones.

The truth is that feeling empty sometimes just indicates an unmet need that a person is experiencing, it frequently means being excited about something, experiencing a positive emotion, or having a concern about something that we don’t know how to name. The feeling of emptiness invites us to reconnect with our inner self and can help us identify what our unmet needs are.

The physical symptoms of the emptiness feeling usually include: A physical sensation in the pit of our stomach, a knot, or a feeling as if there is something to fill, a void inside of us (sometimes we eat, smoke, drink, seek physical contact and put other strategies in place to manage those physical sensations).

Where does the emptiness feeling come from?

The feeling of emptiness is a normal emotion and is part of the human repertoire and that we all experience every once in a while. It is sometimes related to different matters, such as low self-esteem, core beliefs (the ideas we have about ourselves, others, the world, etc.), loss of identity, having a diffuse identity, emotional dependency, experiencing a loss (something or someone), not having goals, not finding meaning, not finding a purpose or feeling that we are not doing something meaningful or we feel we are meaningless. Occasionally it can be related to personality disorders and/or depression.

Every time we have an emotion, it is an indicator of something. It is a message from our brain that there is an unmet need. For example, we may feel empty when we feel lonely, we have lost a relationship, a friend, a job, or our health in some way. We can then ask ourselves questions like: What are we loosing? To get to the root cause. Many patients ask themselves: Why doesn’t my uncomfortable emotion go away? Is it useful just to know where does it come from? Yes, because the main problem is wanting that unpleasant emotion to vanish. We are used to living without discomfort. Unpleasant emotions are very uncomfortable, but they always have some important message to give us. When that message is covered, or listened to, the emotions usually tend to dissipate. When those emotions arise, we can ask ourselves what we need without making any judgements.

Sometimes it is not enough to meet our needs or to deduce what we have lost. The feeling of emptiness occasionally activates something in our past, coping mechanisms that we used at some point in our lives to be able to survive.

When we name the emotion and its cause and detect which part comes from the current situation and which one comes from the past, it makes it easier for us to find a solution.

Let’s imagine a friend who all of a sudden starts to be cold and distant, and we don’t understand the reason. We analyse repeatedly what occurred and we can’t find a possible explanation. This can generate feelings of emptiness, guilt, anger…; but the emotion that emerges in that moment will depend on our previous experiences, together with the moment we are going through, the needs we have and our core values.

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For example, when we have felt abandoned many times or as children, it will be easier for us to feel abandoned in this kind of situations. If justice (a value) is very important to us, we will be more likely to feel this as an injustice and feel angry about it. If we think we have done something wrong because we are often self-critical or concerned about what others think of us, we may feel guilty. If we don’t have anyone else right now, and they were the only person we talked to, we may feel empty or lonely. If it is a person with whom we shared a goal, we may also feel emptiness, loss of purpose or meaning in our lives.

How does this feeling affect our mental health?

No unpleasant emotion can affect our mental health, it is instead the ways we put in place to manage them or the unpleasant emotion’s intensity that play a role in our mental health. Emotions increase in intensity when we don’t give ourselves the time to be in touch with them, or when they are related to some thought pattern or emotional wound from our past. The most common thing we find in therapy is that people actually tend to tell themselves emotions shouldn’t be there, even when they think they are actually paying attention to them. The more we tell ourselves an emotion shouldn’t be there, or do things in order to fill the void or remove the emotion, the more intense it usually becomes.

¿Por qué me siento vacío? 8 estrategias para lidiar con el sentimiento de vacío 4

Our brain is smarter than we think. The more we avoid something, the more we perceive it as dangerous and the scarier the situation will become next time. We tend to avoid what we find unpleasant. When we come into contact with an emotion that we have been avoiding for a long time, it will feel really intense and therefore we will avoid it even more.

How can these feelings affect interpersonal relationships?

Feeling empty might lead us to choose relationships that are not convenient for us to try to fill that void. For example, it is not the same to choose a relationship coming from a place of needing a partner than choosing it from a place of preferring a relationship, and this change between needing and preferring something can only be achieved when our personal needs are already covered.

When our start point is feeling empty, we may treat people differently. We may feel unlovable or not enough, and then we will act accordingly towards people around us. We then might leave relationships or get angry more often, or perceive things as a threat more regularly. We can even create a self-fulfilling prophecy by blaming ourselves for feeling empty: we feel empty, that leads us to react that way, then we receive consequences we don’t like, and we blame ourselves for starting from that point, which lowers our self-esteem, makes us feel empty, and then we start the cycle all over again.

¿Por qué me siento vacío? 8 estrategias para lidiar con el sentimiento de vacío 5

What do we usually do when faced with such feelings, and how do we react to fill the void?

The main strategy all human beings normally use to deal with the feeling of emptiness is avoidance. Avoidance is a survival mechanism, and it is sometimes the only strategy we think we have that will work for us, because it actually reduces our distress in the short term. Avoidance consists on doing things so we can evade the unpleasantness of feeling empty. Some examples include: being endlessly busy, constantly seeing friends, using social networks regularly, trying to incessantly improve ourselves with self-help books, substance abuse, doing overtime at work, etc.

When we are in touch with our emotions it becomes easier to do something about them. Not having this emotional awareness can lead us to dedicate our effort to avoid these unpleasant emotions.

Sometimes in therapy we encounter people having trouble falling asleep at night. The reason for this is usually not giving ourselves enough space to process emotions during the day (analyse them, empathising with ourselves, look for solutions). As human beings we have emotions, and those emotions need to be processed sooner or later. When we don’t give ourselves the space to process our emotions our brain eventually processes them for us when we are not as busy (for example when we go to sleep). Procrastination is also linked to this phenomenon in which, when emotional needs have not been met, our brain tries to meet them at some other time (by postponing work). One thing is clear: the more we avoid the discomfort, the more intense it becomes.

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What can we do when we have a feeling of emptiness? Strategies to follow

As acknowledged before, it is better when we don’t avoid our emotions. There are numerous social myths around the benefits of avoiding unpleasant emotions: we mistake having emotions with doing behaviours, we believe emotions will become unmanageable if we don’t avoid them and then we will become dysfunctional, or we tell ourselves these emotions are “silly” and therefore should not be there, or we think we already know what the problem is and it is not necessary to validate our experience.

Just imagine for a moment we have a healthy horse, eager to run and learn and in need of daily exercise. Now let’s visualize we lock our horse in a small stable for 2 months. How would the horse feel when he goes out for the first time? The first time we take that horse out he’ll gallop crazily, and he might even break a leg and would be impossible to ride on. It will definitely seem scary but that doesn’t mean we have to lock him away again for a longer period of time. This is what we tend to do with our emotions when they seem too scary. The ideal strategy to follow should be the same as the method we would do with our horse, to take them out every day until they become more bearable. We usually don’t allow ourselves to be in touch with our emotions because they seem too intense and scary, but the reason for this is not giving ourselves the space and time to process them. Some people believe they are too emotional and the main reason for being “too emotional” is not being in touch with our emotions enough. Emotions pile up the more we supress or avoid them.

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Steps for handling unpleasant emotions and the emptiness feeling:

  1. Finding our emotions. To be able to observe and pay attention to them. What are you thinking about? What are you feeling? How does your body react? Do you have any physical sensations? Investigate the emptiness feelings´ possible cause. Does it remind you of something from your past?
  2. Experiencing the emotions as waves that come and go. To not try to block, suppress, push away or get rid of the emotions we are experiencing. To prove to ourselves that we can tolerate unpleasant emotions. This moment will pass if we allow ourselves to experience them long enough.
  3. Remembering we are not what we feel. To make peace with that specific emotion. To be able to accept it without judgement and without making it a part of our identity. It's just something we are feeling, it doesn't define us, and it is definitely not saying anything about us.
  4. Labelling. Naming it. Defining it. What does it mean? Can we describe it? How would we call it?
  5. Acceptance. Why is it normal to have that emotion? What would we tell a friend if they felt that way? Why do we have the right to feel that way? Keeping in mind an emotion is not and will never be a behaviour. They are two different things. Any emotion is valid, what we can sometimes work on are our behaviours. Emotions are just a result of physiological reactions to internal or external stimuli. We cannot force ourselves to not feel a certain way. We can only change the behaviours resulting from our emotions. We can also work on the association between situations and emotions in the long term.
  6. Emotional analysis. We can analyse which aspects of the situation have made us feel that way, and also understand the connection with our past and our way of understanding the world. It can also help us to analyse the emotion’s message (its function) and detect when it is a false alarm (something we learnt to survive in the past and that is no longer useful, because now the danger has passed).
  7. Using our strategies to support that emotion. Some examples of strategies to take care of our emotions are the following:
  • Problem-solving techniques. To look for a solution to those emotions by asking ourselves what can we do (and is under our control) to cover the emotion´s needs.
  • Emotional regulation techniques and distress tolerance skills.
  • Mindfulness and meditation.
  • Working with our core beliefs and with the cause that originated those beliefs about ourselves.
  • Using self-compassion and self-care techniques. To see if we are being too hard on ourselves and to work on reducing our self-criticism.
  • Seeking social connection, pleasurable activities and dopamine sources. To meet our basic needs such as hygiene, sleep and food.
  • Time out. To spend time each day processing our emotions and accepting them as they are without making any judgement.
  • To spend time with ourselves. It can help us find our identity, purpose, things we identify with and activities related to them.
  • Defusion exercises. When everything becomes too overwhelming, we can practice disidentifying from those emotions with some practice.

8. Writing down our thoughts. When do we feel empty the most? Is it a very intense discomfort that lasts for a long time or can it be pinpointed to a specific situation? What does it inform us about? What happens right before we feel it? What do we usually think about when we are experiencing it?

Sometimes it becomes a real challenge for us to take a moment and see what we need when we are experiencing intense uncomfortable emotions or spirals of negative thoughts. What I always recommend in these cases is to rate our emotions from 0 to 10. When the emotional intensity is below 5, then we can stop, take a break and analyse what is happening to us and what we are feeling and needing. When we are running in front of a lion (and this is exactly how we feel when faced with an unpleasant emotion) it is really difficult to stop and ask ourselves the reasons why we went to that place, why are we not running fast enough, and whether or not the lion’s fur is beautiful. When the discomfort is over 5 out of 10, we can only devote ourselves to manage it in the best way possible by taking a cold shower, breathing techniques, cuddling a pillow, talking to a friend, doing an activity that calms us down, doing exercise, etc.

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The feeling of emptiness is a basic human emotion that we all experience from time to time. When emotions feel too intense, unbearable or unmanageable or that last too long then we can put the above mentioned strategies in place. We can also work on raising our self-awareness about the times we try to avoid our discomfort and work on regulating those emotions in a different way.

Therapy can help when, after some time practicing these strategies you still feel that the feeling of emptiness is too intense and difficult for you to thrive. An experienced psychologist can also help you to explore other possible causes that might make you feel this way. They can also provide you with tools for emotional regulation and introspection in order to get to know what your needs are, be more in touch with yourself, your values and interests. Therapy can also help you understand if there are any wounds from your past or core beliefs that are getting triggered and affecting you in the present.

When we reconnect with our inner self, our self-esteem increases, unpleasant emotions become less intense, and it helps us to be able to communicate from the awareness of knowing what is happening to us and what we need and therefore act accordingly.

About the author

Marta Gray is a licenced Psychologist working at Sinews. She has a flexible approach combining different scientifically proven methods (Acceptance and commitment Therapy, CBT, EMDR) depending on the patient’s needs. Her main field of expertise is working with adults and she is specially interested in complex trauma, anxiety disorders, emotional deregulation and couple’s therapy.

Marta Gray Nuñez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Marta Gray Nuñez
Clinical and General Health Psychologist
Adults and couples
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

Why has the arrival of our baby been a challenge to our relationship as a couple?

Why has the arrival of our baby been a challenge to our relationship as a couple?

Reasons and possible solutions to the difficulties experienced by a couple since the arrival of a baby.

Marta Gray is a licenced Psychologist working at Sinews. She has a flexible approach combining different scientifically proven methods (Acceptance and commitment Therapy, CBT, EMDR) depending on the patient’s needs. Her main field of expertise is working with adults and she is specially interested in complex trauma, anxiety disorders, emotional deregulation and couple’s therapy.

Having a new member in our family usually means a crisis in a relationship and that is when many couples decide to start attending couples therapy for the first time. Many studies show a significant decrease in relationship satisfaction with the arrival of a new member in their family (Otero Rejón and Flores Galaz, 2016).

In a first couple’s therapy session, one of the members told me, quite angry and saddened, «I don’t know what happened. My boyfriend was my best friend, my rock. We have always been there for each other and, although we have had difficulties, we were always able to solve them without much difficulty. Our son has been a very wanted baby and he makes us very happy. But since he was born there has been nothing but reproaches, anger and defensiveness between us and I can’t quite understand what has happened. Out of a sudden we have become enemies». As her therapist I said to her this was completely normal and common; even when the relationship was healthy and stable and the new arrival was a very wanted baby. She was very surprised. How was it possible?

Anger is one of the most common emotions we encounter in couples’ therapy. Anger appears to inform us that we feel as if our rights were being disrespected in a specific situation. When we feel our rights are not being respected, it is very difficult to understand and empathise with the other person’s rights and emotions. There are several reasons why we feel discomfort in our relationship when a baby arrives and also different strategies to work through them.

In this article I will talk about the main 8 challenges a couple faces with the arrival of a baby and some possible solutions to them:

1. Fatigue and extreme tiredness:

I recently saw a meme on a social network that I found very funny. It said «You don’t really know what tiredness really means until you become a parent». Tiredness and fatigue play a very important role in the challenges a couple faces when a baby is born. You are never as tired as when you have a child.

Have you ever tried to come to an agreement, to empathise, to communicate assertively or to have an objective point of view at work with only 3 or 4 hours of sleep a day?

¿Por qué la llegada de nuestro bebé ha supuesto un desafío en nuestra relación de pareja

The same thing applies to your partner. Caring for a baby is a 24/7 job. It requires a lot of effort and becomes a stressful situation, no matter how nice your baby and your parenting skills are. Imagine you are in a beautiful beach. Do you think you would be happy or calm drinking pina colada on only 3 hours of sleep and not being able to do anything else? Not even talking to anyone or taking a walk? Just lying on a deserted beach drinking pina colada over and over again around the clock?

When we are tired, we cannot have an objective point of view and we need help. Now imagine the only adult person around is also feeling the same way. Tiredness and fatigue then become a real challenge and a source of stress.

Possible solutions:

Talk to your partner and take turns to rest. Rest is not just sleeping, but it also includes disconnection. Find time for both of you to rest and disconnect. Getting external help can also be a solution. Covering your basic needs such as eating, sleeping and hygiene is crucial for an emotionally stable mindset. Everything becomes way easier when your basic needs are met.

2. Sharing household chores and baby care. Asymmetrical dynamics:

Another challenge couples may face with the arrival of a baby is when the relationship doesn’t feel balanced or equal and there is an asymmetry in the sharing of tasks, responsibilities, power, free time, individuality, or anything important to the individuals and this is felt as unfairness.

¿Por qué la llegada de nuestro bebé ha supuesto un desafío en nuestra relación de pareja

Task sharing means distributing both the physical and emotional workload and also mental tasks.

In a different couples’ session someone told me the only thing their partner would participate in is doing the laundry while looking at their phone. After analysing the situation we were able to discover they were not just on their phone but also managing the mental workload: anticipating there would be not enough food for the baby and doing the grocery shopping, texting the nursery staff to let them know the baby would go to the doctor next week, finding photo printing shops in the area to have some pictures ready for the baby’s birthday that was soon coming up, or looking at the weather and buying a rain cover for the stroller to go out for a walk on Saturday.

It is the responsibility of both partners to keep up with taking care of the baby and the household chores. I have also encountered people who say things like «but just tell me what needs to be done and I’ll do it» to their partner. This kind of dynamic result in only one person carrying the emotional workload even if the physical workload is fairly distributed.

The same couple said to me: «Sure, we can share the household and baby tasks but in my case I work in the office 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and my partner only goes to her workplace 3 days a week, so I am therefore not as involved in the household tasks and the baby care». Yes… and no. Household work is hard work too, sometimes I have even had patients telling me that they feel they rest more when they go to the office than when they take care of the baby! If, for example, one member takes care of the baby and household chores 8 hours a day while the other person is in the office during that time, that leaves us with 8 hours of household tasks to be shared equally and that would be the fair thing to do. It would also make sense that the person who has been working in the office all week wants to spend more time with the baby during the weekend and for the person who spends more time with the baby during the week to want to spend more time doing something else in the weekend.

Some studies indicate the most satisfied members of a relationship are those who feel that their partners care for, educate and attend their children (Otero Rejón and Flores Galaz, 2016).

Possible solutions:

The truth is some people are better at certain tasks than others and therefore it is important to talk about what each of us is good at, and to write down all the different chores including the physical, emotional and mental ones. Make sure that both you and your partner are covering areas that are important to your sense of self. For example, imagine one member likes to play tennis and the other prefers to spend time with friends, make sure that both partners’ needs are met (when you have time) in a balanced way. With regard to the household, it is a good idea to have a schedule and assign tasks to both of you. Organise them from most urgent to least urgent and from most important to least important. Assign different tasks to specific days. A helpful tip would be to also focus on dividing free time. The relationship satisfaction increases when the spare time is assigned equally to both members just because it feels fairer and more balanced.

3. Communication, decision-making and conflict resolution:

Good communication is a great indicator of a healthy relationship and it increases the relationships´ satisfaction. A good communication implies using a flexible, optimistic and accurate style when communicating, doing our best to respect our rights as well as the other persons’ and with the aim of reaching an agreement. (Pérez Aranda & Estrada Carmona, 2006).

When we are trying to reduce our discomfort and to find middle grounds or agreements, some of the challenges we face include becoming defensive or avoiding conflicts. You can read more about it here.

¿Por qué la llegada de nuestro bebé ha supuesto un desafío en nuestra relación de pareja

Before the arrival of the baby each member used to dedicate more time to rest, to their friends and hobbies, to their individuality, and to their partner. There was also enough time available to find middle grounds and to plan a good communication with the other person. The challenge starts when the available time is limited and that leads us to cover the urgent and practical matters first. Limited time also means not regulating our emotions in a healthy way which leads to not using an ideal communication style when talking to our partner.

Possible solutions:

To use an assertive communication style (respecting both our needs and the other person´s), to empathise and to listen actively. Find a middle ground, be flexible. Be aware of your needs and communicate them to your partner, and then compromise on what the other person needs and is not so important to you. A very helpful strategy is to take time out from discussions when emotions become very intense. Less intense emotions lead to a better communication. You can read more about time-outs here.

4. Affection, closeness and intimacy:

¿Por qué la llegada de nuestro bebé ha supuesto un desafío en nuestra relación de pareja

One of the challenges couples may face with the arrival of a baby is the disconnection with their partner in terms of intimacy, sexuality, activities, finances and, in general, time spent with their partner. Healthy sexual relationships, physical health, emotional support received from your partner and intimacy in particular are important predictors of psychological well-being in a relationship (Pérez Aranda and Estrada Carmona, 2006).

Possible solutions:

We can focus on demonstrating small daily gestures of affection (even when time is limited), and on doing activities inside the house with our partner (such as playing a board game together, doing crossword puzzles, preparing a romantic dinner when the baby is asleep). These tips can help us reconnect with our partner.

5. Different emotional languages or different love languages:

¿Por qué la llegada de nuestro bebé ha supuesto un desafío en nuestra relación de pareja 8

Our learning history, family background and individual experiences shape and influence the way we express love to others. (I suggest you to read the following book: “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love”. You can find a summary here.

Not understanding your partner’s love language or the way your partner relates to the baby is another challenge couples experience with the arrival of a baby. There are also times when one person has more emotional experience than the other, and, for example, is faster at understanding the baby’s needs, or sometimes one person tries to «educate» their partner, or feels overwhelmed when the other person finds it harder to grasp the baby’s emotions and even their partners, etc. Having different emotional languages is not necessarily a challenge on itself, but it may become one when each partner uses different styles when covering the baby’s needs and when each of them believes their strategies are crucial for their survival.

Our family background and our own ways of viewing life, our upbringing and our personal learning experience may influence our way to nourish and nurture our child and there may be disagreements about this within a couple. For example, there may be one partner who thinks it is best to focus on covering the basic needs and saving money, while the other person believes in always finding the best alternative for their child and therefore spending more.

Possible solutions:

To be able to communicate with empathy and to understand that different people have diverse ways of loving, educating, and seeing the world. I suggest people to find and read scientific information in regards to the education of their child, and to find middle grounds and compromises with your partner as long as the basic steps for a non-violent and positive discipline education are met.

6. Families of origin influencing the couple:

It is a good thing to ask for advice from people who have raised us and helped us become the people we are today. The challenge begins when families of origin give unsolicited advice, or meddle in matters that are solely the couple’s business, or cross the boundaries that the new family has set. A different challenge people experience is when they feel their partner does not set appropriate boundaries with another family member.

In my practice I have observed the above-mentioned situation can create feelings of loneliness, lack of affection and empathy, helplessness and anger, and a feeling that their partners do not prioritise their new family as much as their birth family and therefore feeling not important enough, which can lead to disagreements. For example, another patient explained to me: «My partner and I agreed that no one would visit us after 7 p.m. so that our baby could be calm and ready for bedtime, but my partner’s parents visit us after 7 on a weekly basis. My partner does not communicate our needs to my in-laws and the baby gets nervous”. In this case, she is finding it hard to set boundaries to her birth family and it creates tension within herself and also with her partner and baby.

Possible solutions:

Talk about what respect means to each of you. Discuss the different parenting styles, and create rules that work for you both in your new family. Learn to set assertive boundaries to the families of origin in the event that these agreements are not being respected. An example of assertive boundaries for this couple’s family of origin would be: «I really appreciate you coming to see the baby and we are very grateful you want to be part of their life, but when you visit us at this time of the day, the baby usually gets nervous. I understand that you can’t visit us earlier in the day, what do you think about seeing each other this other day in the morning instead?” Respectful limits and boundaries are a good strategy we can use and will not make the people who love us feel upset.

7. Our self-concept and individuality. Postponement of individual plans. Grief:

When an individual loses something important to them (even if it is temporary), they experience grief, sadness and loss. With the arrival of a baby, one of the challenges is the loss of individuality, hobbies, the idea of what we thought we were, spare time, social connection, exercise, rest, body image, individuality, etc. The baby is a great source of happiness, and at the same time this happiness can coexist with a sense of loss and grief.

Possible solutions:

It is important to understand that your partner is also going through a grieving process, and to try to find time to meet those needs that are not being met and to also give that opportunity to your partner.

8. Trying to control what is not under our control, perfectionism, fears, and individual problems that affect the couple:

Other things such as individual fears and issues can become a challenge in the couple’s relationship with the arrival of a baby. Some of them include to try to control what is not under our control: for example, to need things done in a specific way even when we are not around, or to want our partner to be a certain way or to adopt a particular attitude, etc. Other times it can be perfectionism, to try to do everything perfectly and expecting the same from our partner. Similarly, people sometimes anticipate the future (thinking that something horrible will happen if certain requirements are not met) or have individual fears and these can influence the relationship dynamic. Please note we can only apply these tips to balanced and equal relationships.

Possible solutions:

Ideally, we should take responsibility for our own emotions and discomfort and only focus on the specific things we can do ourselves to improve the couple dynamic, rather than on what the other person can do, and reduce our demands as much as possible.


As we have seen before, the arrival of a baby can lead to challenges in some couples, even when the relationship was healthy and fulfilling beforehand. Extreme fatigue and tiredness, difficulties in communication, asymmetrical dynamics, the influence of families of origin, difficulties when it comes to balancing work and private life., losses to our individuality and personal goals, time limitations that affects the intimacy, conflicts or challenges when finding middle grounds and compromises, that lead to a reduction in affection. In addition, different ideas about education, respect, and our own individual variables can become a great challenge with the arrival of a new member to the family.

The keys to increase satisfaction in a relationship would then be respect, understanding, good communication, an increase in affection and intimacy, good skills for conflict resolution, being flexible, the capacity to set boundaries, empathy, and finding time to meet both our own and our partner’s needs (Armenta Hurtarte and Díaz-Loving, 2008).

If after putting these tips into practice you continue to find your relationship challenging you can contact a specialised psychologist. At Sinews we are happy to help you get through this period in the best way possible, giving you practical tools to make your relationship more satisfying.

Your partner is the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with, and the person you spend the most time with. It is therefore a priority to give your relationship space and time to nurture and cultivate it.

Marta Gray Nuñez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Marta Gray Nuñez
Clinical and General Health Psychologist
Adults and couples
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

Self-criticism and being demanding with one's self

It has been scientifically proven that self-criticism, perfectionism and self-demandingness (or imposing extremely high standards to ourselves) play an important role in the occurrence and maintenance of mental disorders such as anxiety, mood, and eating disorders.

The psychological treatment of these factors produces a decrease in the number of symptoms in different areas and also reduces some symptoms that have not yet appeared. Many studies exist which have proven the significant reduction of anxiety and depression with the treatment of self-demandingness and perfectionism as the only treatment.

Being demanding with one´s self

Self-criticism and being demanding with one's self

The majority of patients have learnt this mechanism from their parents or during their upbringing. There are healthier ways to accomplish our goals, but the self-demandingness begins as a response to the environment that “helps” people achieve their goals. It appears that in fact, it gives people a leg to succeed, grow and evolve. But distress or intense negative emotions is the best indicator to know that it is time to change these patterns.

When self-criticism and self-demandingness cause distress

Our pattern of thoughts and coping mechanisms are based on our experiences and what worked well in the past. But when the self-criticism and self-demandingness cause distress or intense negative emotions it´s time for change.

Imposing extremely high standards to ourselves means to constantly notice our failures and the need to be perfect, strong, good enough, efficient enough and a wide range of endless non-flexible and self-imposed requirements. It becomes a judging and blaming inner voice that finds errors even when the mistakes are minimal or non-existent. The self-demandingness usually comes together with the self-criticism.

When the desired result is not within our reach but we still impose its achievement to ourselves, that is when we start to feel intense negative emotions such as guilt, anger or sadness. We are then not considering other circumstances or variables that may be influencing on the achievement of that outcome. We can also feel distress when we think we made unpardonable mistakes and there is going to be catastrophic consequences.

For example: It is actually impossible to be 100% focused on your studies and get perfectly good grades during a pandemic, or to be super productive at work when you are looking after your two kids at the same time. In these examples, the self-demandingness is not taking into consideration all the circumstances that have changed and it´s talking from a black and white perspective. How can we run a marathon with a broken leg? How can we be 100% productive at work when we are not feeling well? How can we focus while studying if, social contact is the most important thing for us and we cannot have it?

Self-criticism is the root of a low self-esteem. Self-criticism is our inner voice making subjective judgements and interpretations of ourselves, without taking into consideration objective and reliable data.

Tips for reducing self-demandingness and self-criticism

These are some steps you can follow:

  • The first step is to detect our critical voice, paying attention to the specific situations where it occurs; for example, when we make a mistake, in social interactions, …
  • Second of all it is important to see if there are unhelpful thinking styles within our thoughts (“shoulds”, labels, name-calling, etc.) and try to eliminate them from our internal language. For example: “I shouldn’t have told my colleagues about my problems, I am sure they all must hate me right now, I am very immature”. In this case, we are using the “shoulds and musts” (“I shouldn’t have said that” and “they must hate me”), also “mind reading” (I believe people will not like what I said, even when I don’t have evidences for that thought), “labelling” and “name-calling” (thinking I am immature) and the black and white thinking (now they ALL HATE me). When we eliminate this unhelpful thinking styles from our internal language, the result would be something like: “I would rather not tell my problems to other people, but I cannot tell if they have negative thoughts of what I did, I have no evidences. I am assuming that the vast majority of a group is going to hate me, but it is more possible that only some of them are not going to like my comment. According to my own standards about the world and social interactions, people my age don´t usually communicate their problems to their colleagues, but being immature cannot only be based on a specific behaviour or situation.”
  • It is not about giving ourselves a positive message but to give ourselves a message adjusted to the facts and reducing the risk of biasing our vision.
  • Last but not least, understanding the self-criticism purpose can help us overcome it. Once we are aware of its role, addressing it becomes an easier task. We may ask ourselves: “what does this self-criticism statement invite me to” and then understand where does it come from, or what is its purpose.
  • We can also change the self-criticism for a more compassionate and realistic point of view, challenging the behaviours the criticism invites us to do.

In conclusion, when we start to change the self-criticism, we feel anxious or guilty at first. We need then to remember that the self-criticism has been helping us to survive for a very long time. However, when we persist on challenging it, it ends up being less intense and we can then achieve an even more fulfilling life.

Marta Gray Nuñez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Marta Gray Nuñez
Clinical and General Health Psychologist
Adults and couples
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Winter blues is not a diagnosis but a general term and it means feeling sad and down, melancholic and unhappy and it´s related to the shortening of daylight hours and Autumn or Winter approaching. They are often linked to something specific, such as stressful holidays or reminders of absent loved ones.

On the other hand, Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of affective disorder related to changes in seasons. The symptoms usually start in Autumn and continue into the winter months, and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. The symptoms may include:

  • Feeling depressed
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Low energy
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Changes in your appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having thoughts of death

Winter blues are usually temporary and the symptoms disappear, while Seasonal Affective Disorder can last for several months.


The specific causes remain unknown, but some factors that may come into play include the changes in the circadian rhythm (your body´s internal clock), and a drop in the serotonin and melatonin levels.

Usually the happiest days are those in which we make plans; weekends.

Some people also change their activity when Autumn starts. Since it´s colder and darker outside, they find it more difficult to keep up with the activities they used to do and enjoy during Spring and Summer and so when they stop or reduce these activities, there is a drop in the dopamine levels too.

There is a direct link between the number of pleasurable activities that we do and the quality of our mood. Usually the happiest days of the week are the days where people do more pleasurable activities: the weekends. In the weekends we usually spend more time with friends, we read our favourite book, play sports, and do other activities that boost our mood. This also happens when we are on holidays. When we do pleasurable activities, we increase our dopamine levels.

Strategies to deal with the symptoms

Our mood is a result of imaginary scales, where we weigh the quantity and quality of negative and positive events. The days getting shorter, the reduction of sunlight hours and the worsening of the weather conditions may lead to the reduction of outdoor activities and therefore, the reduction of positive events. If we want to improve our mood, we will then need to increase the positive events and activities and reduce the negative events when possible.

The first step would then be to increase the number of activities that we used to do and go back to the activities that we stopped doing before we started to feel low. We may use our memories and our reason and leave our actual mood aside in order to complete the following table:

Difficulty Level of Satisfaction
Past Pleasurable Activities (Activities that we used to do but stopped doing)
Present Pleasurable Activities (Activities that we still do)
Future Pleasurable Activities (Activities that we never tried before but that we think we would enjoy)

The first step will be for us to choose the present and past activities, and the activities that we know will take a very low effort but will provide a high level of satisfaction. For example, we cannot start by going to the gym three times a week when we have never been to the gym before. It would be easier to play guitar first if we used to play guitar in the past (low effort, high satisfaction).

Second, we will need to focus on completing the time we set for the specific activity: E.g. Playing guitar for ten minutes, instead of focusing on the results (playing a full song perfectly).

The goal is overcoming the inertia, not to obtain outstanding results in our chosen activity. So even when we don’t achieve a perfect performance, we have met our goal (to stop the circle of loss).

El círculo de la pérdida

Here are some other tips for you to beat the Winter Blues:

  • Waking up an hour early to benefit from the sunlight (So we increase our melatonin levels)
  • Our brain is usually very grateful when stimulated. As winter approaches, everything gets darker and colourless. Seeking a colourful life and exposing ourselves to those colours can stimulate our brains. For example, you can go outside to a place where there is grass and colourful buildings; you can watch videos full of colour.
  • Doing exercise: it is proven that exercise can increase our energy levels and reactivate our mind and body (we may need to start with low effort and high pleasurable activities and set very small goals to ourselves at first).
  • Trying not to anticipate the darkness. Being conscious of the present moment and enjoying the daylight hours as much as we can.
  • Being creative: Using these months to work on a goal that we set to ourselves can be a great motivation. It is important to start by taking very small steps towards that goal.
  • Another suggestion is to purchase SAD lights. They do not “cure” Winter Blues but have proven to improve our Melatonin and Vitamin D levels and therefore ease the symptoms.
  • Improving our diet. There are some foods that make us feel better. Eating foods with high amounts of tryptophan will naturally increase melatonin production. Tryptophan is an amino acid that our body does not produce naturally, but it is needed in the production of melatonin. Tryptophan can be found in most foods that contain protein, including almonds, oats, turkey, chicken, and cottage cheese. Also having a balanced diet and drinking lots of water can make us feel more energetic.
  • Last but not least, it is very important not to be hard on ourselves. There is an explanation for our symptoms, and putting lots of pressure or judging ourselves is not going to make the symptoms better. Positive reinforcement (giving ourselves nice treats) has been proven to be more effective than punishment (self-criticism).

Remember: The more we do, the better or symptoms get, the more activities we include in our routines, the more dopamine we obtain, so the more activities we do, the less and less difficult gets to get going.

If after following these tips you still feel low and moody, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) has been proven to be the most effective treatment for these symptoms. A qualified therapist can guide us to get through the Winter Blues symptoms.

Marta Gray Nuñez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Marta Gray Nuñez
Clinical and General Health Psychologist
Adults and couples
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

The Treatment of Emotional Trauma With EMDR

The Treatment of Emotional Trauma With EMDR

Emotional trauma and its components

Trauma is an emotional response to an event. Traumatic events include physical, psychological and sexual abuse, terrorism and war, accidents, witnessing a life-threatening event or violence against others or yourself, natural disasters and domestic violence. Even having a childhood with no support or warmth can create a trauma in some people.

Short-term reactions include flashbacks, shock and denial, and long-term reactions may include flashbacks, mood swings and symptoms like nightmares, insomnia, somatic disturbances, difficulty with intimate relationships, loss of trust, depression, substance abuse problems, or even suicidal behaviours. Survivors often wait years to receive help while others never receive treatment at all.

Sometimes the way people interiorize these traumas is by creating dysfunctional beliefs about one's self. These beliefs may include: “I am worthless, I am not important, I am disgusting, I am unlovable, …” amongst other beliefs.

Possible treatments for emotional trauma

There are a wide range of effective treatment interventions that can help to diminish the severity of these symptoms.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy,
  • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and
  • Acceptance and commitment Therapy

are evidence-based techniques that alleviate some of the trauma´s symptoms, such as the mood swings, the dysfunctional thoughts and even the suicidal behaviours, the insomnia and the difficulties with intimate relationships. But there are some cases where some of these symptoms are unlikely to disappear with the treatment interventions described above. When this happens, it is important to add different approaches in our treatment plan.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can be a good option for these cases.

EMDR, stress and the processing of traumatic events in our brain.

In some cases when someone goes through a traumatic experience, their brain tends to isolate the synaptic connections between neurons related to that specific event. This is a “survival” mechanism that our brain uses so we can continue with our normal lives after the event. Say, for example, that we witness an accident. Stress begins with something called the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis, a series of interactions between endocrine glands which controls our body’s reaction to stress. When our brain detects a stressful situation, our HPA axis is instantly activated and we then secrete a hormone called cortisol, which primes our body for instant action.

Sometimes stress can even increase the activity level and number of neural connections in the amygdala, our brain’s fear centre. And as levels of cortisol rise, electric signals in our hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning, memories, and stress control, deteriorate.

The information is stored in the central nervous system, together with the negative core beliefs and the emotional and physical sensations that the person experienced when the traumatic event took place. All this information remains stored as if the trauma was still happening right now. These patterns of thoughts are stimulated, activated or originated by current stimuli that lead the person to react in a similar way as how they reacted in the past.

EMDR enables the person to process all the traumatic memories so they can develop adaptative behaviours. Once all these memories have been processed, there is also a physiological change.

The EMDR allows the person to generalise the positive cognitions by processing the Traumatic memories. These memories are distributed throughout the neural networks and the processing thus enables the person to perform adaptative behaviours in the present.

Once the memories have been processed, a physiological change takes place so that the traumatic memory softens together with the corresponding associated beliefs, feelings and physical sensations. We would have then reduced the blockage (the dysfunctional stored information) and reprocessed, reduced or eliminated the negative beliefs associated with the trauma.

Some human reactions are learnt behaviours. They might be very convenient and serve us for a certain period of time. For example, a woman that suffered repeated sexual assaults from a family member during her childhood, may have developed a dissociative disorder. That was her way to deal with fear and trauma at the time.

Dissociation ranges from a mild emotional detachment from the person’s surroundings to a disconnection from physical and emotional experiences.

It is a coping mechanism in seeking to tolerate stress and involves a detachment from reality and is very common among people who have suffered from trauma. As an adult, that same person might now find herself also dissociating from stressful work-related situations. When she was a child, dissociation was the only way she found to deal with the stressors and it was an adaptative behaviour. As an adult, the dissociation may be hindering other areas in her day-to day life, such as work, family or school.

Another example can be a person that has a completely adaptative life but that feels extreme and intense negative emotions that seem to come “out of the blue”. These emotions are usually triggered by stimuli that remind the person of the trauma, and that the person might not even be conscious of.

EMDR works with eye movements, focusing on memories, thoughts, emotions or physical sensations related to memories about the past, the present or situations that may happen in the future.

Do you think you can benefit from EMDR? Get in touch with us!

Marta Gray Nuñez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Marta Gray Nuñez
Clinical and General Health Psychologist
Adults and couples
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

Living Together and Quarantine. Tips for Couples

Living Together and Quarantine. Tips for Couples

Life as a couple is another aspect that has been affected by the coronavirus crisis. Spending 24 hours a day with your partner at home without other distractions such as work, daily routines and leisure activities outside the home can generate a tedious or even conflictive climate. This could highlight differences and create tensions in the environment different from those we are used to in our relationship.

Therefore, it is important to better understand this situation and seek to create a harmonious space at home, helping each other as a team to deal with the reality of social isolation and to cope with this crisis with mutual support.

There are some difficult aspects to endure when living as a couple, and they become even more challenging when going through a situation full of uncertainty, worries and temporary loss of our freedom among other losses that we are all experiencing at the present time.

After listening to some testimonies from the couples we attend, we are able to distinguish different dynamics during the quarantine. Some couples had “hidden” conflicts that have become apparent since they are spending 24 hours a day together. Other couples are enhancing the positive aspects of their relationship as their work-related stress and workload has diminished and therefore, they have more time and motivation to strengthen their relationship. There are some others that have come to the conclusion that the problem was not their relationship but the emotional burden they would take home when working outside.

There are some steps to follow in order to enhance the enrichment of the relationship during quarantine and are described below:

1. Assertiveness, Empathy and Communication

It is beneficial to be assertive when communicating with our loved ones and therefore it becomes essential during quarantine. We use assertiveness in order to communicate in a concise and safe way so we can reduce conflicts while we respect both our point of view and the other person’s. To do so, assertiveness requires “I” messages (For example: “I feel” instead of “You make me feel”), empathy (there is always a reason why they behaved as they did, even when we find it difficult to identify that reason), and detailing the situation or describing facts instead of making interpretations (for example: “you have left the dishes unwashed” instead of “you are trying to annoy me”). The last step would be to put forward suggestions so we can prevent the same conflict to happen in the future.

There is always a reason behind someone´s behaviour. By communicating and questioning the motives of those behaviours, we will increase our wellbeing and decrease the possible negative interpretations.

We have the right to be a little bit more anxious these days, but our partner might interpret our behaviour in a negative way if we don’t communicate. It will never hurt to say “Today I woke up a little upset, I am sorry if I am acting differently”. We have the right to feel negative emotions provided that we don´t behave in a hurtful way.

2. Happy diary and enhancing intimacy

We and our partners both usually try and do things for the other person. Communicating our partner that we really liked that little gesture he or she had with us today can be very beneficial. Our partner can do the same back. The only way to eliminate negativity is by introducing positive incentives and stimuli. We can also pay attention to all those positive things that had happened today thanks to our partner and communicate it to them.

Another way of introducing positive stimuli is by enhancing intimacy, for example by hugging each other more often, sitting closer to each other, holding hands while watching a film, …

3. Avoid perfectionism

It is not the right time to be perfect. It is completely normal to behave differently when we are feeling negative emotions or when we have completely transformed our routine. We are not perfect; we are human beings under difficult circumstances and therefore by being more flexible and understanding both with the other person and ourselves we can feel a lot calmer during this period of time.

To do so, we can use self-talk statements. Would we ask someone to be 100% perfect when they had just lost their freedom? We can say to ourselves something like: “This is a difficult time; we are both losing an overwhelming number of important things and I am trying my best considering my circumstances and abilities”. As human beings, we are constantly trying to improve and to become the best version of ourselves. If we are not doing that right now, we might consider our circumstances are stopping us to achieve our goals and that we are not to blame.

4. Time to ourselves

Sometimes we tend to think that the best relationship comes as a result of sharing all our spare time together. There are lots of activities and hobbies that we can share with each other, but some of them might only be enjoyable by one member of the relationship. We cannot expect our partner to like the same activities and to have the same attitude towards a specific hobby. At the end of the day we are different human beings with diverse preferences and desires and demanding our partner to meet all our expectations can be a source of unnecessary conflicts and become strenuous.

Having time to ourselves give us space to reflect and to manage our emotions in a healthier way, as well as time to process what is happening now and the opportunity to enjoy all those activities that are only enjoyable on our own.

For example, since your partner never used to go with you to the gym in the past, do not try for him/her to join your daily exercise at home these days. If, for example, your partner used to enjoy playing videogames but you´d rather read a good book, allow your partner to have that me-time. The reality is that we all need activities that make us feel happy so we are emotionally balanced and stable, and we do not need our partner to share all their time and activities with ourselves. We can also look for all those solo activities that make us feel good, on top of sharing other activities with our partner. It is crucial to be able to find happiness within ourselves too.

5. Emotional understanding

We can keep a record of what are we feeling (name of the emotion), how intense it is (from 0 to 10) and what are the strategies that will help us to alleviate those symptoms each day. When an emotion is understood and given solutions to, it eventually fades away. This can also help us for communicating our partners how we feel so we avoid possible interpretations of our behaviours.

For example, when we feel anxious, we can try to find out what we are worried about and make a list of possible alternatives or solutions to this worry. If the worry continues or it´s too intense after doing so, we can try to distract ourselves. Psychologists recommend to worry for just a little amount of time during the day.

If we are sad, we can make a list of activities that usually make us feel happier, for example watch documentaries, sewing, talk to our loved ones…

It is also important to understand and validate our partner´s emotions. Understanding the reason why our partner feels anxious or sad may not always be possible. We are different human beings and therefore we have diverse past experiences and different coping strategies. Our partner might have learnt other abilities and may be experiencing the situation from another perspective.

If you find yourself struggling after trying all these strategies, do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We offer psychological and psychiatric therapy in multiple languages.


Marta Gray

General Health Psychologist at Sinews MTI

Marta Gray Nuñez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Marta Gray Nuñez
Clinical and General Health Psychologist
Adults and couples
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé