Boundaries and Barriers: in Relationships

by Trish Murphy

We develop many boundaries as we engage with the world and by the time we are in our late teens, these are often hardened and solid. We do not want the world to find out that we are needy so we create an exterior that says that we don’t care or we can’t be hurt. Sometimes this boundary is developed through childhoods that are full of difficulties such as bullying in schools to family difficulties or external adversities, but they are built to protect us from being hurt or discovered to be other that what we are putting out to the world.But in our teens, desire develops and it challenges these boundaries to a huge extent: the romantic desire to know someone, to be known entirely plus the sexual desire to reach out and touch another delicious human being.

Of course the rise of these desires can be terrifying because it means breaking down our barriers and all our fears of rejection and pubic shame come to the fore. But without allowing desire to take its course, we might never take the risk of opening up and thus never discover the terror and joy of letting someone under our skin. It does not always work out as desire can also cloud our intuition and our usual good judgement can be hampered by applying wonderful characteristics on our object of desire when they do not actually exist. The lesson is to take the risk, fail and try again until our judgement finally clicks with our sense of attraction. To learn to fail and not be daunted by it is a core factor of wisdom and confidence and this is worth cultivating. But do we allow our barriers and boarders to be demolished or do we find ever ingenious ways of keeping them up while appearing to be open and self-confident?

But do we allow our barriers and boarders to be demolished or do we find ever ingenious ways of keeping them up while appearing to be open and self-confident?

Porn allows for desire to be satiated without ever taking a risk. Multiple partners or casual sex can be a method of keeping any actual intimacy at bay. Bad past experiences can lead us to decide never to drop our boundaries again and we put intimacy and risk on the long finger. Often, it is only when the pain of extreme loneliness kicks in that we are willing to challenge our safety by seeking to connect with another human being.

We are all born fearless, confident and open and these natural qualities get covered over by fears, comparisons, self-criticisms and harsh comments from others.

We are all born fearless, confident and open and these natural qualities get covered over by fears, comparisons, self-criticisms and harsh comments from others. Our job is to take the risk of letting go these blocks and discovering that what is then uncovered is our natural selves. It is through our vulnerability that we actually discover the joy of getting close to someone and the pleasure to be found in intimacy. In fact, it is often through our lovers’ hands that we discover our true boundaries and outlines and it is worth letting down our barriers to experience this freedom. It may be that we have to take this risk many times but as we chip away at our defenses, we become lighter and better able to choose what is best for you.


Borders Boundaries & Mental Health is the theme of the 2018 conference. More information is available here.

Why do we say yes when we mean No?

Why do we say yes when we mean No?

by Trish Murphy

yes no

You know the situation:  someone asks us to do something and immediately No resounds powerfully in our gut – but surprisingly out of our mouth comes a tentative ‘yes’ or ‘I’ll try’.

We end up disgusted with ourselves – muttering under our breath of how unjust it is and how we don’t have time or…. We spend hours trying how to figure out how to get out of the commitment.

We can speak to lots of people about how terrible the person was who was asking us to do something that we had no time or resources for and yet…. There is a niggling feeling that it really was up to us to say no – wasn’t it?

‘So why does yes come out when we actually mean no?’

So why does yes come out when we actually mean no? The proposal here is that it is always based on fear:

  • Fear of loss of friendship, loss of position, loss of trust etc.
  • Fear of not being liked
  • Fear of being judged as unhelpful or un cooperative
  • Fear of letting someone down
  • Fear of causing upset
  • Fear of recrimination
  • Fear of imagined consequences


What is the effect?

We are upset at ourselves and the other person. We feel put-upon, used or abused.  We spend a long time in conversation with ourselves and justify the feeling of victimisation we are experiencing.  But of course it is not up to the other person – they merely asked us a question.


What to do?

‘The effect on us of speaking truthfully and clearly is that our confidence will grow and people will trust what we say.’

I learned this from a wonderful teacher of mine, Brian McGeough and it has been extremely useful in my life!

There is no one way of saying no that will suit everyone.  We need to take our direction from the person who is doing the asking and the way to manage this is to ask:

‘What does the other person need to hear?’

The answer will come instantly; they need to hear ‘no’ but each person will need to hear this in a unique way e.g.

One person will need to hear a clear and strong ‘no’

Another will need to hear an explanation such as ‘I would love to be able to help you but it is impossible as I am overloaded’

Or a third will need to hear ‘No, but please ask me again if you are in need of help as I am just too busy this time’.

The effect on us of speaking truthfully and clearly is that our confidence will grow and people will trust what we say.  There will be no behind the scenes talking and we will be more respected.

Everyone wins!

Dealing With Difficult People : A Christmas Special by Trish Murphy


Do you know anyone who gets under your skin, that you’d love to just avoid, but can’t? Feel like you just want to shake them, get them to understand that what they’re doing isn’t right? Get them around to your point of view? It’s often people you didn’t pick for yourself, but somehow got landed with by the circumstances of life – family members, flatmates, lovers, work colleagues.
With Christmas coming up, many people dread encountering the difficult people in our families, but it could equally be a friend or flatmate that circumstances force us to spend more time with. You might normally cope with them by avoiding their company, but suddenly the holidays, your upcoming thesis submission, or the advent of an ex-hurricane puts you in the same place for an extended period of time.

Most of us fall into the trap of thinking we can get the difficult people in our lives to change, and then we’d all get along. If only they’d stop being… them, and be more like us!

The truth is: The only person you can change is yourself. Frustrating as that is, reaching this realisation increases your chances of success.

Quite often, we mentally prepare to spend time with our difficult people by remembering all the bad times we spent with them, and reassuring ourselves that they are the cause of our frustration. Because of this, we exude disapproval, criticism and resentment when we’re around them. Understandable as those feelings are, it doesn’t exactly help our interactions with them that we’re going in armed to the teeth with rejecting anger.

If you think about it, it makes complete sense: Coating your irritation with a transparent veneer of fake niceness and a dangerously thin sheet of patience is hardly conducive to a good time. They sense your resentment, and become even more rigid and defensive.
However, there is hope!  It just requires a lot of maturity and a healthy dose of self-soothing (and possibly a few gingerbread cookies):

You might have to admit to yourself that while the other person doesn’t behave ideally, they are not responsible for your negative feelings.

They are just different than you. They go against the rules you have set up for how it’s acceptable to be in the world, and they don’t live up to your expectations. It’s important to realise that to them, the world may look vastly different than it does to you. With other goals, dangers, and rules than the ones you enter their presence with. Your way MAY be better, but you can’t force it on others.

Instead of reacting, take a deep breath and a candy cane. Detaching yourself emotionally from the situation, and watching it from above, you might see what’s happening, and disagree with it. But you can decide not rise to the occasion, or take to heart every abrasive thing they say or do.

That does NOT mean allowing all kinds of rude and unacceptable behaviour from them, but it does mean dealing with it in a calm and collected way: You need to leave the other person with the consequences of their behaviour, and not take it personally or try to sort it out.

Too often we end up suffering more from our own angry and outraged responses than from the direct impact of the rude or obnoxious behaviour of others. Your mind is your own, and you don’t have to take their prompts to go down the route of ruminating on past transgressions or imagining future run-ins.
The way to manage your own feelings is to accept completely what is in front of you – your family member, flatmate or friend/partner is behaving badly. That’s not good, but neither is it necessarily a disaster. It’s inconvenient and unpleasant. But you can survive it. You are (hopefully!) with them for a limited period of time, and they are the way they are. Ideally, they wouldn’t be this way, but a lot of things in the world aren’t quite right. It’s not your job to fix it, or to fight against reality.

Once you accept the facts, and stop engaging with your inner judgement about the situation (“they shouldn’t act this way”/”how dare they”/”it can’t be right that I have to deal with them”), you are freed up to use your intelligence to decide how you want to handle the situation.

You can decide to just think “that’s unfortunate. How can I make the most of this situation?” Is there anything they have or do that’s useful or interesting for you? In the case of family, maybe they’ve cooked a nice dinner, or remember interesting family stories.  They don’t get to ruin your Christmas – but stepping back and protecting your own space of mind is your responsibility. And it will make you a stronger person in the long run.

Remember as a kid, having to wait to open your presents, and just itching to run down the stairs before it was time? Holding back from reacting to difficult people is the same. When you’ve coped with your share of difficult people over the holidays, don’t forget to reward yourself for your efforts with some good company and Christmas cheer!

And remember: Emotional maturity is hard-earned, but highly valuable. It might be your gift to yourself this year.

Revenge Porn by Trish Murphy

At the beginning of many relationships, couples regularly send pictures on smartphones of themselves in erotic poses. This is playful, teasing and suggestive, and it assumes confidentiality and trust in the relationship.  However, there is now quite a trend for jilted lovers to post naked or suggestive pictures of their ex on websites dedicated to so-called ‘revenge porn’ and to accompany the images with nasty commentary. This elicits much other comment and can be highly derogatory and libellous.  As this occurs in open view, the victim’s work or academic colleagues, children, family and friends are often able to access the material, and it can cause enormous distress and embarrassment.  The victim, and not the perpetrator, often feels the blame and shame in these cases.


‘…there is now quite a trend for jilted lovers to post naked or suggestive pictures of their ex on websites dedicated to so-called ‘revenge porn’ and to accompany the images with nasty commentary.

It is true to say that the victim of revenge porn has nothing to be ashamed of, but saying this does not take the sting out of other people having access to your intimate life.  The message has to be not to send revealing pictures of yourself until you are sure of the relationship and you know you can completely trust your partner.  As Padraig O’Morain states in his Irish Times column ’…even when the image is made with the consent of whoever is depicted, how is it right or fair that these moments of lust-driven gullibility should be punished by sustained public humiliation? And how fair is it that the smirking rat behind it all should be able to inflict this humiliation on his ex without consequences for himself? Not right or fair at all. Bring on the law.’  (25th Nov 2014)


It is easy to blame the medium for the problems we encounter, but of course it is our use of the medium that is within our control.  The issue of revenge porn needs to be tackled at multiple levels: the law is being enacted to put the consequences on the perpetrator but there is a social condemnation that still creates shame and suffering for the victim.  There needs to be more discussion at private and public levels so that this public shaming is not acceptable or indulged in by any of us.


‘The issue of revenge porn needs to be tackled at multiple levels: the law is being enacted to put the consequences on the perpetrator but there is a social condemnation that still creates shame and suffering for the victim.’




Irish Times December 2016:

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is to legislate to make stalking, including cyber stalking and revenge porn criminal offences.

Ms Fitzgerald received approval from Cabinet at its last meeting of the year to draft the Non-Fatal Offences (Amendment) Bill to address loopholes in current legislation.

The Minister will create two new criminal offences, including making it illegal to intentionally post intimate images of a person online without their consent.

The legislative change will also extend the offence of harassment to ensure it includes activity online and on social media.

It will also expand the offence of sending threatening or indecent messages to digital forms of communication.

The Tánaiste said the Government’s legislation followed a report by the Law Reform Commission, which recommended changes.

“The speed and scale of modern online communication can magnify the damage done by harmful communications,” said Ms Fitzgerald.


“Jealousy” – by Trish Murphy

Jealousy is an overpowering emotion and it can make misery of a life.  At its core is a sense of worthlessness or low self-esteem where the sense of self can be threatened by the success or lack of attention of another.  The reaction is often to retaliate, to bad-mouth the other person or seek to bring them ‘down a peg or two’.  This is not fitting with the description of self that anyone would like to have but the danger is that if jealousy is allowed continue without checking, it can become the default characteristic of the person.
Perhaps it stems from the survival-of-the-fittest position where security and success only lies at the top of the pile but there is no doubt that insecurity lies at its heart.  It begins with comparison: the other person is getting more credit than me; my partner will be drawn to someone more attractive than me; my friend has a bigger house, fancier car, more beautiful body; the list is endless.  Instead of tackling the real issue which is the self-esteem issue, we tend to think the problem will be solved by promotion, more success or a more compliant partner.  As anyone who has suffered from jealousy knows, this is not the case and there is always more comparison, always someone who is doing better or is better liked than me.

“If we can delay our response by even a few minutes and calm our bodies down by breathing or observing,

we might be able to access our intelligence and realise where the problem is and how to solve it. “


There is a saying that a person was ‘blinded by jealousy’ to describe the motivation for subsequent actions.  The truth in this is that when we are emotionally flooded by jealousy and rage, our intelligence cannot work and we say and do things that we deeply regret when we cool down. This is the beginning of the cycle of jealousy and anger followed by shame and guilt.  What a destructive pattern to engage in.

The first step to dealing with this is self-awareness: usually the jealous behaviour will be pointed out by people who love or care for the jealous person.  The trick is to be grateful to the person for pointing it out and accept that they are telling you for your own best interest.  Of course behavioural change is desirable but more importantly some self-compassion is what is needed.  Rather than make yourself feel better by achieving more or cutting off the commentator, take some time to sit with the difficult feelings and have some sympathy and tenderness for the difficult time you are having.  When we feel slighted or passed-over, our reaction is often swift and rage takes over.  If we can delay our response by even a few minutes and calm our bodies down by breathing or observing, we might be able to access our intelligence and realise where the problem is and how to solve it.


The cause of the problem is insecurity or low self-esteem and the solution is to feel competent and okay right now – not to feel brilliant or the best.  We often indulge and expand the jealous feeling by endless thinking and speculation of how the other person is wronging, ignoring or undeservedly succeeding over us.  Once the feelings are calmed down, this thinking can be challenged by simply focusing outwards and hooking your intelligence on what is actually happening right now rather than on speculation.  If hurt or damage has been caused to others, there is a need to apologise, forgive yourself and completely let it go.  Jealousy is a tough feeling to overcome, so be compassionate and take it one step at a time.

Integrating Healthy Minds with Healthy Bodies by Jean Manahan

Over the past few weeks, it seems that mental health issues have never been out of the news. There was the OECD report highlighting our high teen suicide rate in Ireland, and the growing complaints about the problems faced by suicidal people trying to access emergency intervention in our hospital emergency departments.

Mental health is regularly in the news now, and we are all talking about it more. Thanks to those people who have made their own stories public, and to the advocates for better mental health services, it is now a constant topic for discussion in the media.

Thanks to the widening discussion about the importance of our mental health alongside our physical health, there is also a welcome recognition that resources for mental health services need to be properly ring fenced, to help improve the underdeveloped community-based services people face every day. Stories of people with suicidal tendencies being left in Accident and Emergency departments, or waiting unacceptably long times to be seen by a professional, are putting political pressure on political parties to find more resources for the mental health services here.

Our health is not just about a healthy body; a healthy mind is also essential. We cannot separate the mind from the body when considering our overall health.


Intervening skilfully

While the current openness in talking about mental health is positive, intervening skilfully when necessary is just as important. The state of our minds and our emotions contribute hugely to either negative or positive health including physical manifestations in our bodies. Therefore, skilled professionals who can work in depth across a range of mental and emotional issues are of paramount importance in building a healthy society.

So when someone goes to the GP with a pain, a good doctor asking the right questions and watching carefully can often discover the mental health problem underlying that physical pain. Family doctors can expect about one patient in seven to be depressed, according to the WHO. This can be one of the most challenging problems faced by family doctors in Ireland, due to the lack of a well-funded mental health service for public patients in particular.


A Central Role

Psychotherapy must play a central role within the health services. A move from a hospital-centric approach to a more community-based health service is a priority of the current Minister, Simon Harris TD. It will take time, but the discussion around a reformed health service, with more integrated care, must include the role of psychotherapy within the community-based mental health services.

For this reason the role of Psychotherapy in a healthy Ireland, which is the theme of the ICP Conference in October, is particularly timely.

Funded by Nessa Childers MEP in partnership with The Irish Council for Psychotherapy (ICP) the conference will be of interest to a national audience working in and supporting health across a range of services in Ireland.

The conference will be held on the 18th October 2017 in Dublin. Registration will open in early September.

Click HERE to find out more.


Jean Manahan is the CEO of the Irish Council for Psychotherapy


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ICP Registrant’s Day 24th June 2017 – a reflection by CEO Ms Jean Manahan

The second annual ICP Registrants’ Day took place in the Red Cow Hotel on Saturday 24th June; the morning session with Joseph Knobel Freud on ‘The issue of diagnostic labels’ was both interesting and provocative. Plenty of time was given for questions and commentary from the audience which meant the session was lively and enriched with insights from participants and speaker alike.

I was particularly struck by the question whether labels can be either useful or abusive and the conclusion seems to be both. A further question needs to be asked when making a diagnosis – is it describing disorders or symptoms? It depends on the use we make of labels but what is clear is that when they describe symptoms, we need to understand the fluidity of those symptoms and the fact that change is always present therefore a diagnosis can never be static.  I liked the parsing of the word – ‘dia’, = through and ‘gnosis’ = knowledge.


dia = through & gnosis=knowledge

This highlights the need to avoid a closed diagnosis which cuts off possibility and development. In summary a person is a person with all that that entails and not a label which stereotypes and predetermines outcomes or who that person is.

The afternoon session which involved group work asking the participants to answer a number of questions, was again a very lively affair. The feedback from the groups will feed in to the proposed White Paper to be presented to Government on the necessity for Psychotherapy to be easily available and accessible to people around the country based on need. Many thanks to all who contributed. The feedback will be circulated to participants shortly.

I’m looking forward to the ICP Conference in the Autumn – keep an eye on the ICP website Conference 2017 page for news.

Speaking at ICP's Registrants' Day 2017

Speaking at ICP’s Registrants’ Day 2017

Resilience and the Manchester Bombing by Gerry Myers

The British people have shown great resilience over the last few days in coping with the Manchester bombing. For the most part they have kept true to their values and their way of life. We hear of Mancunians pulling together in the midst of the crisis, offering practical support, food, shelter, care. We read the story of a homeless man overcoming his own difficult circumstances and rushing in to help in the immediate aftermath of the bomb, we read of families offering bed and board to strangers who were searching for missing relatives. And whilst there are those who were quick off the blocks to stoke hate for Muslims and immigrants, the vast majority of people were having none of it. Our TV screens showed soccer fans holding a dignified minute’s silence at a match, and there were vox pop interviews on news programmes where ordinary people spoke out against hate, including hatred of immigrants and Muslims. There was also no shortage of Muslim voices saying “Not in our name” to any of their faith who were thinking of launching any attacks in Britain. It is clear that for some time members of the Islamic community have been co-operating with the police to identify threats to the people of Britain. Those of us who were in London at the height of the troubles will well remember the great Irish demonstration in Hyde Park when many thousands of Irish people said “Not in our name” to our fellow countrymen who wanted to bomb Britain. Back then, as now, the people who make up the great melting pot that is Britain dipped into their resilience and were not cowed by bombers. So what is this thing called resilience? It could be described as communities and individuals successfully adjusting to very difficult circumstances, through psychological, emotional, practical and spiritual means. One of the most important facets of resilience is the capacity for meaning-making. In the midst of the carnage in Manchester this week, and despite a small minority urging hatred, the community remembered what is important to them, they kept to their values and meaning, found solidarity in communal care, rejected hatred and continued to do what they always do. Resilience isn’t just continuing to do what we always do, it is also knowing the meaning, values and philosophy of life that drive us to continue.

What We Know by Helen Jones

Robert Redford’s son is a filmmaker and his latest film is called Resilience. Roughly it’s about the negative impact of difficult childhood experiences….which last a lifetime. He was inspired by research carried out in 1998 by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda into adverse childhood experiences. Examples of these range from witnessing substance abuse; marital breakdown; family mental distress; conflict in the home; being shouted at; physically and / or sexually abused and on and on. These create stress in children which they do not have the capacity to manage. They often have no safe place or person to comfort them. This creates a lifetime of difficulties including learning difficulties; anxiety; depression and on and on. Artists and Writers often develop this theme in their work. I just read an excellent book by J.D. Vance called Hillbilly Elegy which discusses this with great clarity.

Why am I writing this? Why am I exercised enough to do this? Because I am a Psychotherapist and have been hearing about these experiences for over 20 yrs. And I think that we need to be more vocal about what we know and not leave it to writers and Filmmakers.

I am not interested in Blame. However, given what is known about child development going back as far as Freud, Melanie Klein, Winnicott, John Bowlby to mention only a few, we could expand our influence further than the practice room.

The two areas we could increase our influence and stimulate thinking is in Education and Parenting. There are no perfect parents. We all falter and make mistakes but I believe that if every person who becomes a parent had an opportunity to explore their own experience of childhood and how it might unconsciously affect how they parent, that would be a good thing. We may have the best of intentions as parents but it is impossible to deny the unconscious where our repressed and split off memories lie. Parents need support. Single Parents need extra support. Where is it? What are the priorities of our Politicians? Helping the Property Developers get richer for a start. Come on Psychotherapists!

Here’s my list for today:

Decent practical support for all parents no matter what family configuration they live in …. they are minding the future.

Education …for parents, present or future, in schools, colleges, church halls, communities, articles and cultural events.

The Complexity of our Sexual Lives by Trish Murphy

We are all intensely interested in reading about other people’s sexual lives and it is even more compelling to compare ourselves to what appears to be the ‘average’.  On the one hand none of us like to consider ourselves average but there is a comfort in knowing that we are not as strange or weird as we might think.  The Irish Times sex survey offers us a glimpse into the lives of our fellow citizens and compatriots in the western world and some of the results are surprising in that what we imagine to be normal may in fact be wide of the mark.

We often think, particularly when warning younger people of the dangers of sex that our world has become over-ridden with sex, porn and fantasy but this survey shows perhaps that we are having as much sex as our parents and grandparents.  For couples who are together more than a year, the average amount of sex is once a week and it seems that most couples experience orgasm and satisfaction and they almost all rate trust and communication as vital to good intimacy.  This sounds very sane and yet it can provide longevity as those couples who are in a relationship for over thirty years report having a good sex life. There is some truth to the maxim ‘use it or lose it’ and staying sexually active throughout life can keep us open to the world, engaged with the human side of us and keep us generous and kind.  Habit can however be boring and it seems that men (and homosexual and bisexuals in particular) seek to keep the sex interesting and varied and this might be worth noting as desire and intimacy keeps us on the edge of life.

People report that talking about the difficulties appears to be the best way of solving them and this survey shows that dysfunction is not just an experience of aging but is common across all age groups.  That talking and communication can improve your sex life is something that deserves consideration  as many people would hesitate before discussing their intimate lives with friends or family and yet this might be the road to understanding and success.  We often talk to our partners but can find that fear of upsetting or causing hurt can limit our conversations and so perhaps we could risk opening up to other people and we might find perspective and compassion there.

Also, the survey suggests that people have become more flexible in their sexual practices, with oral, anal and fantasy sex becoming part of the sexual fabric and the internet has become both a source for information and a sexual satisfaction tool for many people.  The survey could have gone further here and investigated how much and what type of porn is used and what effect it has on people as individuals and on their relationships.  That porn has become the hidden underbelly of modern sexuality is not in doubt but how this affects us and our choices would be a good subject for discussion across all ages.  Most young people report having a reasonable relationship with porn in that they know it is fantasy and that real human beings behave differently but there are those who become obsessed with it and find that they are having difficulty with reconciling their fantasies with real life relationships.   This can lead to hiding their real desires and the possibility of intimacy with a real person becomes remote as revealing the truth might bring shame and condemnation.  If this is not tackled quickly then the habit can become hardened and it is more difficult to solve when the person eventually meets someone they want to be intimate with. So again talking and opening up at an early stage is the way to go but this might be a very difficult ask of a vulnerable person.  Further surveys on this topic of porn and sexuality might allow people to feel more normal and less alone in their situations but we need information that is more detailed and varied.

The survey reports that the average age of the first sexual experience is 19 (slightly younger for girls) and this something that might take pressure off young people who feel their virginity to be a burden to be gotten rid of.  Most teenagers report that they think the age of loss of virginity is much younger than this and this might offer some relief.  Added to this is the information of the average numbers of sexual partners in a lifetime is also lower than expected (10 on average) and this might also give people time to allow themselves to experience this across the lifespan rather than trying to gather experience in a few short years.

That younger people report satisfaction in the sex education they receive is also heartening as this is new for Ireland and it might mean that there will be a new openness and lightness about sexuality that has not been available heretofore.  However, with the onslaught of internet porn there is no doubt that we will need more knowledge and support than has been required previously.  Having sex surveys that are done by an independent, credible source offers a wonderful alternative to going to the internet for information.  However, we need information that is more in-depth as this merely whets our appetite for more of what is usual, normal and acceptable in our intimate lives.  That there are many people and couples who have no sex in their lives need also to be acknowledged and their experiences and attitudes validated.  Our sexuality in core to our being and it continues to be relevant for the entirety of our lives – this survey validates this notion and further research is needed as the complexity of our sexuality is revealed.