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Emotionally abusive parent

I am in lock-down with an emotionally abusive mother. She constantly makes disparaging comments about my job and my degree. She is not good at emotional regulation, and when she is in a bad mood she always takes it out on myself and my two siblings. When she is in one of her bad moods, she will say whatever she can to hurt us. It is so deliberately spiteful, because she always targets the things that she knows will hurt us the most. Even though I try not to take it personally, it gets to me sometimes. For example, in second-year, I didn’t get the internship I wanted. She brought that up WHENEVER she got angry at me. “Other people got an internship at Deloitte! How come you don’t have anything?” Well, now that I have a job, she hasn’t stopped trying to make me feel bad. She’ll say stuff like “other people got the good jobs and you got the leftover job”. Once she said that she had “lost two jobs” because of me. This is not true – she got fired due to constantly making mistakes at work. When I call her out on things, she will try to gaslight me. For example, she hates Indians and constantly says that they are “evil” and “try to use others”. So I called her a racist. She then called me a terrible daughter for talking to her this way. I feel terrible hearing her say such things though. It’s not right. Things really hit the fan today because she was upset about screwing up her interview (and is in general feeling very bad about not being able to find another job). She exploded at my younger sister when my sister got a math problem wrong, and my sister started crying even though she’d done nothing to deserve being yelled at. I can’t help but really hate my father when this happens, because he has been an absent parent his entire life, in the sense that he lives with us but rarely spends time interacting with us. Whenever my mum goes into one of her moods (and screams hurtful things at everyone around her to make them feel as bad as she does), he always goes downstairs to his “man-cave” and leaves my siblings and I to take the brunt of her anger. It really makes me sick. Kind of feel a bit better putting all that down.. any idea of what I can do to keep myself safe at home

Dear student,

Thank you for getting in touch and reaching out for help, it was brave of you to share your story and ask for support. It sounds like you have you have been going through an extremely stressful time. I am sorry to hear your relationship with your mum and dad has been so challenging, I imagine the current restrictions have exacerbated these issues. Despite everything you have been going through, it sounds like are very caring about your siblings and their wellbeing.

Given your circumstances, I understand why you are feeling emotional and overwhelmed. Being in lockdown must make life even more difficult because you can’t have a break from home. I’m sorry that you have been experiencing such critical and disparaging comments. University can already be stressful without additional pressure or unrelenting expectations at home. It must also be difficult feeling distant from your father and not being able to rely on him.

Right now, it may be most helpful to focus on your own self-care and what you can control. As hard as things are for you right now, connecting with friends and engaging in activities or experiences that are meaningful to you are really important for your mental health and wellbeing. Scheduling time for physical activity, particularly an outdoor activity like walking that will get you out of the house and expose you to direct daylight, will be really helpful. Also consider practising mindfulness or relaxation to cope with stress at home. There are an abundance of online mindfulness and relaxation resources available at no cost. Using an online app is always convenient and easily accessible. I’d suggest Smiling Mind or Insight Timer – these are two great apps with a variety of guided exercises.

I am glad you felt a little better from noting down your feelings and experiences. Writing and journaling your thoughts and feelings may help to relieve some of the stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You may also find talking to a counsellor helpful, which will allow you a safe space to explore your family issues and home environment in greater detail. You can book an initial consultation with a CAPS counsellor here.

You can also access a mental health care plan from your GP for longer term support. This means you can access between 6 and 20 counselling sessions with a Medicare rebate. One-to-one counselling will assist in addressing issues with boundaries and communication at home. The University of Melbourne’s Safer Communities Program also provides confidential advice and support for students who are experiencing emotional abuse from family. Given the volatile situation you are currently facing at home, this may be another helpful resource.

Thanks again for being brave and reaching out!


Anxiety and depressed mood after relationship break-up

Hi there, thanks for providing a platform for me to talk. I have been having troubles sleeping at night for months and perhaps for years, but it’s getting worse nowadays. I am facing stress from uni study as well as breakup I had with my ex before uni started, which ended a one and a half year long relationship. I thought I was over it, but now I am afraid of dating and of being betrayed again. Recently a guy told me he liked me but instead of telling him how I felt, I shut down my emotions and didn’t talk to him anymore. I have also developed some feelings of hatred towards my ex. Is this normal and how can I ignore this? I have also lost the ability to socialise and chat with people, I can’t sleep at night, because my mind races a lot and I am sensitive to even tiny sounds. Also, I want to stop thinking about the past all the time. I know there’s no use in going over the past again and again but don’t know how to stop racing thoughts in my mind. 

I’m glad that you reached out for support because it isn’t always easy, well done on taking time to get in touch. From what you are describing it sounds like you’re going through a tough time with relationships, sleep, friends and managing your thoughts. This may be amplified by the COVID 19 restrictions even if you don’t mention it explicitly 

The break-up of your relationship and impact of grief and loss seems to have had a big influence on your ability to trust and reach out to others. Everyone can experience grief and loss differently and may go through different stages of processing this. From what you’ve described it sounds completely reasonable and normal to be having these reactions. There are some useful tip sheets on the CAPS website and the headspace website, which may help you to understand grief and loss a bit better  

I am sorry to hear that sleep has been an ongoing issue for you and it is common to have difficulty sleeping when your mind is ruminating on issues that are worrying you. Sleeping difficulties can often lead to or contribute to mental health problems creating a vicious cycle. You may find it helpful to try some relaxation strategies to help you slow your thoughts down, such as progressive muscle relaxation or breath training exercises. There are guided exercises on these topics available here. You may also find that using meditation or mindfulness practices are useful ways to gain a different perspective on your thoughts, which may assist the quality of your sleep. 

An app could be helpful if you want further guidance in doing this, check out Smiling Mind, Headspace or My Life apps. We also have some more tips around sleep on our website. If you’re interested our webinars on getting better sleep and unhooking from unhelpful thoughts may be really helpful for you 

It would be a great idea for you to talk to a counsellor who can listen and explore your concerns in more detail. If you wish to do this you can book an initial consultation with one of our counsellors here.  Alternatively, you might wish to speak to your GP who can assess your mental health and refer you to a psychologist for longer-term-counselling which may give you access to between 6 to 20 sessions funded by Medicare for local students, or which may be covered through your international student health insurance for international students.  

Thanks again for reaching out and using your initiative to seek some support. Stay safe and take care. 

Lack of interaction with tutors and peers

I am a first semester student at Unimelb and have found that online delivery courses are much less efficient than face-to-face classes. I am in a lockdown situation by myself and my communication with the school is limited, which I believe has led to unsatisfactory academic outcomes. Outside the classes, there is little chance for communicating with peers or tutors. When I do ask questions of tutors by ZOOM, they are online for 20-30 minutes and I can’t get much helpful information to solve my issues. I emailed tutors for advice, but sometimes the response takes so long that I can finish my assignment before I see it. I know it is a tough time for everyone, and tutors are busy, but I really need help at this time. What should I think about writing to get good grades? In one subject, I followed exactly what the tutor suggested, but I could not even pass the assignment. How often should I collect tutors’ or peers’ suggestions? Whose advice should I follow? What is wrong about my communication and understanding? I know it is a tough time for everyone, but I am a beginner and have a huge barrier in classes. What should I do?

Dear first semester student, thank you for getting in touch and for your questions. I imagine that you are feeling pretty frustrated that you are clearly putting a lot of effort into your learning and subjects, but not getting the outcomes that you hoped for. As you say, you are not alone in experiencing challenges in adjusting to online learning and the different type of communication with tutors and peers that this entails. I think that it can be particularly tricky for first semester students who are also adjusting to the demands of academic tertiary education as well as often a different style of teaching and learning to what they have experienced before. Another common issue for students in your situation is that being new to the course and University this year means there was limited time to get to know peers in person at the start of the semester who can sometimes be good supports with understanding and completing study.

It sounds like you have already been proactive in contacting your tutors with extra questions which is great, but as you are aware the tutors are also limited in the time they can give to students and have a lot of different students to respond to. I’m not aware of your specific faculty or subject areas but here are some broader suggestions that you may like to try:

Academic Skills:
In addition to study support from your tutors and faculty, the University has an Academic Skills support service for students which includes online resources, workshops, as well as opportunities to book a one on one appointment with an Academic Skills staff member to help with specific study issues.

Peer mentoring program:
If you are an undergraduate student, the University offers a peer mentoring program that you can participate in. Part of this program is to match you with a later year student peer mentor and a group of first-year peers from your course. This can be an opportunity to receive personalized advice about study from others who have been through it or are also in the same position.

Graduate Students Association:
If you are a graduate student, I would recommend having a look at the GSA website as they offer study, work and social events and information to help support you in your University experience.

Study Melbourne:
If you are an international student, Study Melbourne is a Centre in the Melbourne CBD set up to support international students who are studying in Melbourne with a range of areas including adjusting to study.

Counselling & Psychological Services:
Some students find it helpful to book an appointment with a Uni Counsellor from CAPS. This is a free and confidential service. This can be an opportunity to talk through how you are feeling and receive tips on how to enhance your study such as support with time management, goal setting, communication and motivation. CAPS also offers regular workshops on study-related topics that you might find relevant.

The Social Connection – Social Breakouts:
If you want to chat to other students to share ideas or just for fun, there are Social Breakouts running on Tuesday and Friday nights for students to meet a few new people in a relaxed and fun way.

I think it’s great that you are motivated to improve. The first year of University is a pretty big learning curve for most people at the best of times! The additional changes with Covid-19 have made this even more so for first year students in 2020. So be kind to yourself and know you are not alone with this. I hope these suggestions are helpful and hang in there – it will get easier.
All the best.

Loneliness, anxiety and low self-esteem

It’s my last semester in the Uni, yet I feel like I have never had a close friend since my arrival in Melbourne two years ago. Everybody has their own circle since they are here since their first year or met during a foundation year. I have tried so hard to approach people to make friends. It’s sad to have nobody here, to not talk to anyone for days, to have nobody to study together with. I always think there is something wrong with me, so I push myself more to approach friends, such as taking the initiative to work together in a group assignment. But, as expected, it’s only a formality and once the assignment ends, we lose contact. I also hate myself at some points. Every time I hang-out with someone or have group discussion, there are voices in my head saying bad things like “they think you are weird”, or “they must feel uncomfortable around me” “they must want this to be over soon”. I went to a CAPS consultation but can’t seem to really tell the counsellor everything that’s inside my head. I was so stressed out with my thoughts and problems but can’t say much during the consultation. Please help.

Thank you for your message – I really feel for you! It sounds like you are having a difficult time and feeling very alone. I can see you’ve made a lot of effort to try to build connections with others – you have taken great initiative and been brave. It also sounds like it can be hard when your mind comes up with those difficult thoughts when you’re trying to connect with others.

I want to encourage you that you’re not alone – it is quite common to feel lonely, sad and like everyone else has made friends but you. Making friends does take time and can seem very daunting, but it definitely isn’t too late. It sounds like you have felt like this for a while. This period of lockdown has magnified feelings of social isolation for many people and changed the way we can meet others; however it is still possible to meet people at this time. Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has a resource page that talks about skills for making friends. Look out for the University’s Social Connection online events, which are designed to help new people meet. You may also like to join some other UMSU groups and societies.

It also sounds like the thoughts about feeling judged or unaccepted can make it hard for you when you’re trying to connect with others.  This kind of social anxiety is very common and there has been a lot of research on it, meaning there are a lot of good evidence-based treatments available. Every semester CAPS runs webinars and workshops about these kinds of experiences, with lots of information and practical tips on tackling social anxiety.

I am glad you have come to see a counsellor at CAPS. I wonder if you might consider telling the counsellor you have seen about this Ask Counselling question? Some people find it easier to write down their thoughts instead of talking about them – and you’ve done a great job sharing about your feelings in this online forum. Perhaps you and your counsellor could look at this question together – we really want to support you.

Family issues during the COVID-19 pandemic

Due to Covid-19 restrictions I decided to move back to my family home before borders closed. My parents have had an uneasy marriage since I was born, but it has steadily gotten worse and came to a breaking point just before I went home.
Their relationship is highly conflictual, and they are in the process of getting a divorce. The environment at home is very difficult, my parents are verbally aggressive towards each other and will often speak critically about the other in the presence of myself and my younger siblings. When I speak to them about their behaviour it has not changed anything and leads to conflict. They are both at fault from my perspective and have not taken the steps required to create a better environment for my siblings.
My dad is very busy at work and often avoiding conflict with my mum, and my mum is preoccupied with her feelings about my dad. As a result, I end up being the role model to my younger brother and sister. This is taking a toll on the time in which I could be studying.
I’m afraid that when I leave to go back to Melbourne in the holidays nothing will change. I can’t focus on my exams and frequently find I am tired. I guess I just want some reassurance that I’m not crazy and that this isn’t okay, even though my parents treat it as the norm.

Thank you for sharing your story– what a difficult experience for you! I can see that you care a lot about your younger siblings and I’m really glad you reached out. The way you are feeling sounds like a normal response to a difficult situation and when we are experiencing hard times, we sometimes need extra support.

It sounds like you feel pressure from many sides: trying to be a good role model to your brother and sister; feeling stressed and angry about the conflict at home; concern about the impact on your siblings when you return to Melbourne; sleep difficulties; and also the challenge of keeping up with your studies and exams. This is a really tough situation and it makes sense that you are struggling with it.

When there’s conflict in a family (whether it’s expressed or not), it can feel a lot like being on a boat in a storm. A seasoned captain knows they need to make some adjustments (drop an anchor, let down a sail, get more sailors on deck) in order to get through the period of rough weather. They also understand the kinds of things that are in their control, and the things that aren’t. From your description of the situation, it is likely that you are not able to directly change the source of stress, your parent’s relationship and their behaviour, for which they are solely responsible.

So, as you find yourself in this storm the following suggestions may give you tools to help you to navigate this difficult time:

  • Look after yourself. This is a tough time. Studying at Uni is hard enough, let alone when there are other personal challenges. Check out the CAPS resources on supporting your Wellbeing, including information on how to improve your sleep.
  • Acknowledge your feelings.  When we are facing challenging situations, it is normal to experience intense emotions. Emotions are a form of energy, which may become overwhelming when we find ourselves in the midst of a personal ‘storm’. Allow yourself time to observe and express what you’re feeling. This could be through journalling, talking with supportive others, mindfulness practice, or creative activities such as drawing, painting, poetry, music.
  • Practicing mindfulness is also an effective way to cope during stressful situations. It helps us focus on the “here and now”, rather than on worries about the future or ruminating on the past. You might considering registering for the CAPS ‘Midday Mindful Moments’ sessions that are held via Zoom on Wednesdays and Fridays. There are also commonly used mobile apps, such as Smiling Mind and Headspace, which include mindfulness exercises and other helpful tips to manage stress.
  • I also suggest that you take time to connect with friends, and do things that you find enjoyable, such as a walk outside. There are established benefits for our mental health that come from connecting with others and from spending time in nature.
  • Consider booking an appointment to see one of our counsellors at the CAPS service. It may be helpful to have some one-on-one support to learn more about things like: personal boundaries (how to be responsible for our stuff, but not take on other people’s responsibilities); interpersonal effectiveness (such as assertive communication); and value-guided living (living a meaningful life).
  • Finally, although you didn’t mention being concerned about your safety, or the safety of your siblings, the Safer Community program at the University can provide support for students who are concerned about family violence.


Coping with isolation

I’ve been locked at home for almost three whole months. I was isolated for two months in China, as the virus situation was extremely bad in January and February. To continue my study, I transferred to a third country and was isolated for a fortnight while there.

When I finally got here the only result was that I have another 14-day isolation period, with a high study load. I feel I’m spied on by the hotel I live in now as I can’t even open the door to have ventilation. If I do, I get a phone call from the reception telling me not to do so.

I’ve been locked in prisons for doing nothing wrong, deprived with freedom or even the right to see the sky. So many troubles, the policy change, time difference adjustment, study load, sleeping problems, no food, apartment rental, life plan, parents’ divorce issue, Chinese discrimination… nothing is right. Who can help? I see little hope.

Thank you for reaching out, it is clear that you have experienced very challenging circumstances in these unprecedented times. It is understandable that you are feeling overwhelmed during this period of isolation. Like you, many Melbourne University students are experiencing stress and anxiety as they try to manage academic demands in addition to the far-reaching impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. You can find specific strategies and advice for coping during the Covid-19 pandemic here or you may wish to enrol in one of the Counselling and Psychological Services workshops on boosting your resilience and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

For most people, there is likely to be some impact on mental wellbeing when in circumstances of extended isolation from other people.  Hearing your story, I can imagine that there is a cumulative effect from multiple experiences of isolation which must be very hard to cope with.  It may be helpful to remember that although your period of isolation is very restrictive, that it is temporary and aimed at keeping you and others around you safe from Covid-19.

It may be helpful to try to build structure in your day to reduce feelings of restlessness, sadness or demotivation. Many activities that usually provide structure to the day have been affected for students, leading to difficulty focusing on tasks and remaining motivated. Socialising and regular exercise or sport are common activities that have been impacted and many students are turning to online platforms as a way of re-engaging with friends, family and other resources.

We know that social connection and physical exercise are both very important for our mental wellbeing. The Melbourne University Sport centre has developed some online resources to guide students who wish to exercise at home. There is also a new Melbourne University student resource called The Social Connection that has been designed to connect students and foster and sense of community while the University as a whole operates remotely.

If you think that speaking to someone would be helpful, then I would encourage you to book an initial telehealth consultation at Counselling and Psychological Services. As a student of the University this is a free and confidential service that can be delivered remotely and safely while you are in isolation.

Stress and anxiety over novel coronavirus

I’m writing this because I suffering a lot since last month. I’m from mainland China. I noticed the news about an unknown virus are spreading. I cannot shut down my internet to seek a moment peace. I began to experience nightmares. Every day I woke up, I worried about the food, water and even the air. I feel unsafe. I start to feel anxious. Then, comes the travel ban, followed with more anxious. The good things is, I’m getting better. I kept myself from the intense news. But I have strong uncertainty about the future, or I may say the real world. I feel unsafe.

Thank you for your question. The situation that you’re in right now is a very stressful one, particularly as there is a lot of uncertainty about what is happening and what will happen in the future.

When experiencing these distressing events, it’s normal for stress levels to continue for a while. Sometimes this includes a sense of being unsafe. Sleep is often affected, as well as the way we feel about the future. Too much exposure to distressing information in the news can also exacerbate the stress response, as this increases our sense of being in danger, even if we are actually safe.

When a stressful event is continuing for a long period of time, the symptoms of stress can often build up. It’s great news that you feel you’re getting better. Limiting exposure to the internet and news can be helpful, as it’s important to be able to have some breaks from receiving distressing information.
It may be helpful to remember that for most people, the effects of stress will continue to reduce with time, and there are some things that you can do that will help you manage this difficult time. Where possible, try to keep to a routine and communicate with supportive friends and family. Engage in activities that you find enjoyable or comforting. Click here to stay up to date on advice from the University on what support and options are available for students who are affected by the travel ban, and click here for some more information on managing stress associated with the Coronavirus (covid-19).

Mental health

How I can I limit my reactions on negative issues, what I don’t like to talk in front of people about it directly, sometime it ruins relations, people also find me rude.

Hello and thank you for your questions. From my understanding, you are asking how you can limit your reaction to negative issues, as you find you don’t like to talk about it with others or that talking about it with others can have a negative impact on your relationship with them. You also may have had the feedback that others find it rude if you talk about it. Sorry you have experienced this.

As I am not sure what the negative issues are or what your reaction is, therefore I will answer the broad question of how to process negative emotions in a healthy way, without impacting on others.

As humans, it is normal for us to feel a whole range of emotions – some we label as negative and others we label as positive. These ‘negative’ emotions often include things such as anger, sadness, boredom, jealousy, frustration or feeling low in mood.

These emotions can produce a ‘negative’ reaction such as being irritable, crying, ruminating (thinking too much) about different situations, feeling unmotivated and low on energy (or sometimes feeling agitated and restless), wanting to isolate yourself from others or pull away from friendships or situations.

There are a lot of healthy ways to help process emotions we label as negative.
– Regular exercise has an important role in our mental health and can make us feel more alert and clear headed, and able to handle the challenges we may face in life
– A balanced diet and making sure we get enough sleep are also important
– Crying is a very healthy response to life’s stressors and frustration. If you feel to cry, allow your tears. You will find you usually feel better after allowing yourself to cry.
– Journal writing helps people to process their emotions
– Writing a letter (without sending it!) can be useful if your frustration is about a situation or directed towards someone in particular
– Thinking about how much the situation will matter in five or ten years can be a good way to gain some perspective and to ask yourself if it is worth reacting negatively
– Although you say you don’t want to talk to others about it, sharing our frustrations with others in a safe and supportive environment can often make them easier for us to deal with
– Talking to a counsellor about your reactions can be another way to help process them

Also make sure to check out the upcoming workshops, as we often run workshops that address ways to improve our wellbeing, manage stress or to communicate more effectively.

Anxious about travel restrictions

I am in China currently and I don’t know when I can get back to Australia. I’m worried about how this will affect my studies and whether I will still be able to graduate on time. I feel extremely anxiety and I could not sleep for more than one week and I feel sadness all day. I don’t know what should I do.

Thank you for asking this question, as you are definitely not alone in experiencing uncertainty and anxiety about this issue. First, it’s important to try to stay up to date on advice from the University of Melbourne. You can do this by going here to get information about what support is available to you, as well as advice that may be specific to your course. Also make sure you are regularly accessing your student portal and ensuring you are reading any updates that may be sent from the University.

Even with this information, it’s normal to experience stress, anxiety and sadness. When situations are uncertain and evolving such as this one, it can be very difficult to manage the anxious thoughts and worries that come up. This anxiety can also have physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep. Where possible, make sure you are communicating with supportive friends or family, try to keep a healthy sleep routine and practice self-care. For some more advice on how to manage stress and anxiety, have a look at the Counselling and Psychological Services website.

Emotion management

I feel I’m too sensitive. 1. I feel I actually don’t have friends. When I talk to them, some of their behaviours and words make me feel they actually don’t care about me. 2. I can easily feel anxious or angry. 3. I have issues in relating to my family. I try to manage my emotions, but sometimes I couldn’t help myself to argue with them. 4. Last semester I failed one of my subject. For nearly one month, I did not want to talk to anyone.

It can be hard to know what is ‘too sensitive’. Sometimes our emotions may seem stronger than we think they ‘should’ be, and sometimes they seem stronger than other people’s, but that doesn’t mean that they are wrong. Strong emotions can also be helpful as they are our brains way of telling us something important.

If you are finding your emotions to be overwhelming, or they are affecting your ability to relate to other people or your studies in a helpful way, then it can be useful to learn some new ways to respond to them. Being able to understand why you feel so strongly about something is important, as is treating yourself and your emotions with self-compassion. Judging your emotions as too strong or yourself as too sensitive will often lead to more distress, whereas responding with compassion and without judgement will make it easier to manage and communicate your emotions and in turn help you take more effective action in your life.

Self-compassion is important as we as human beings are inherently flawed; we are not supposed to be perfect. Self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal shortcomings and can re-focus your attention to ways of improving yourself for next time. A simple self-compassion strategy is to imagine how you would treat a close friend if they disclosed a similar situation to what you have experienced.

There are many useful tools that can help people better understand their emotions without judgement, and to manage those emotions in a healthy and more helpful way. If you’d like to try some other techniques on your own there are several resources you can try, such as mindfulness. However, you may find it easier to learn and practice these techniques with the help of a counsellor. Counselling and Psychological Services provide short term, confidential counselling, as well as well as a range of workshops throughout semester that you may find beneficial.

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