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What is emotional neglect?

For the first month of our relationship, my boyfriend and I were really close and were texting each other almost every day, even if just for a little bit. Then my boyfriend spent significant amounts of his time and mental energy supporting his troubled coworker. He started cancelling plans, I don’t hear from him now for anywhere between two to four days, yet had been spending time with other friends of his over that period of silence.

I can’t tell whether or not I’m actually being emotionally neglected or if I’m just being selfish and not showing enough sympathy for him and his coworker. In truth, I haven’t even told him about how much all of this has been hurting me yet because I’m trying to be supportive. So, yeah, what is emotional neglect and how do you know when to look for it?

Emotional neglect is the failure to provide reasonable emotional support for another person within a relationship. This can be subjective however, as different people will have different ideas of what is reasonable or normal within a relationship and will also have different emotional needs.

It’s normal for things such as quality time and physical affection to fluctuate over the course of a relationship, particularly as outside influences such as stress or external demands can affect someone’s ability to be present and supportive. However, it is still important that your needs are respected and taken into consideration, and that overall you feel supported and cared for.

You mention that you haven’t communicated your concerns to your partner, so it may be that he is unaware of how this affecting you. Even if it’s not possible for him to be around as much as you would like at the moment, how well your partner listens to what concerns you have, respects your feelings, and then takes your needs into consideration will give you important information about the relationship.

If you and your partner have different ideas of what is reasonable in a relationship, for example, how much time is spent together, how much physical affection there is etc., then this is important to discuss so that you can both find a way to meet each other’s needs, while still being realistic about the pressures of every day life that sometimes get in the way.


Is it ADHD?

I am concerned that my poor study habits, time management, distractibility and inability to maintain attention or retain information is caused by ADHD but I am just not sure what to do, and what resources I can access? What are the actual symptoms of it?

Hi, thanks for your question. The issues you describe can be very common, particularly in university students, but in some cases can be symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Regardless of what is causing these issues, struggling with time management and concentration can be distressing and often impacts on academic performance so it’s a good idea to find out what is behind it so it can be addressed.

ADHD is a neuropsychiatric normally diagnosed in young children. It involves a heightened amount of connectivity in the front of the brain, which can lead to disorganization, impulsivity, hyperactivity and intermittent swings between poor and hyper-concentration. This condition also typically involves being sensitive to things such as to noise, touch and movement. You can find some information and resources here. ADHD needs to be diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist with an assessment. You can do an initial self-test here.

Another option would be to attempt to alter some of your study habits in some small way and see if that makes a difference. Academic Services run workshops on study skills which can help with this. Sometimes anxiety, stress, high workloads, or external factors can also impact on memory, motivation, focus and attention. If you think this may be an issue then consider making an appointment with a Counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS).


Feeling frightened after a breakup

My ex-boyfriend forced me to accept some uncommon sexual views and touched my body disrespectful in public that led me uncomfortable and disgusting. And he tried to persuade me to follow his uncommon sexual actions by using numerous dirty talk with extremely high frequency. In this Easter we broken up, but now I still feel uncomfortable and frightened. Because he know my course schedule and home address and he used to cry in the lobby of my apartment.

It’s important that you always feel safe and respected in a relationship, regardless of any differences in views that the two of you may have. Healthy relationships involve caring for each other and respecting the other person’s right to say no. It’s understandable that you are feeling uncomfortable and frightened, as it sounds like your feelings about these sexual views were not respected and you were forced to engage in unwanted sexual behaviours during the relationship. This is not your fault.

Even after a relationship has ended, it’s normal to still feel uncomfortable or distressed about this behaviour, especially as the break up was recent. It can be helpful to talk about this to someone you can open up to, such as friends, family, or one of the counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services. If you would prefer to speak to someone anonymously, you can also contact 1800Respect via their phone helpline (1800737732) or online chat.

It’s important that you feel safe both during a relationship as well as when it has ended. If you are not feeling safe in your home or on campus due to your ex-boyfriend’s behaviour, then it’s a good idea to talk to someone about what steps you can take to look after yourself. A first step can be speaking to Safer Community. You can book an appointment to talk about this issue and find out what your options are and what steps you can take.


How Do I Feel Happy Being Gay?

I’ve been out for 10 years now and have helped numerous people over that period find their niche, but I still don’t feel like I have found mine. I actually feel like at home I’m ‘too gay’ and then with my friends, most of whom are straight, I am ‘not gay enough.’ I don’t fit any of the stereotypes which I initially thought is a good thing, but, whenever I am forced to watch Queer Eye or RuPaul I feel like it’s not me, and that everyone around me is kind of disappointed that I’m not that kind of person. I think this has also prevented me from ever having a boyfriend or successfully dating. I’m proud of who I am, but I feel like the community to which I so badly want to be a part, reject me.

Although you mention that you are proud of your identity as a gay person, it sounds as though you are struggling with self-acceptance which may be stopping you from fully embracing your sexuality and pursuing meaningful intimate relationships. Sometimes we can become stuck in narratives, labels or expectations of who we ‘should be’ (such as ‘too gay’ or ‘not gay enough’). We can lose touch with who we actually are, which prevents us from embracing and nurturing our true sense of self. It can be very tiring to keep up with social expectations of how we ought to be, and I wonder if you would feel less pressure if you could learn to ‘let go’ of those expectations and labels, and just ‘be’ with yourself. I’m wondering what tells you that others think you are ‘too gay’ or ‘not gay enough?’ Is this something that has been said or shown in their behaviour? Or is this something that you worry about yourself through comparing yourself with common stereotypes?

You mention helping others with their coming out experiences over the years, which tells me that you an empathic, compassionate person who people turn to for support. It also might suggest that you put pressure on yourself to have already ‘figured things out’ as you have been ‘out’ for some time. However, sexuality is a lifelong journey, of which coming out is just one part. It’s ok to not have all the answers, to fluctuate in your feelings, to change and to grow. Sometimes it can be helpful to imagine a friend coming to you with a similar issue to the one you are facing. How would you respond? Try approaching yourself as you would a dear friend, with acceptance, compassion and love.

Another way of developing awareness of unhelpful expectations and fostering acceptance is to develop a mindfulness practice, which involves paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and without judgement. Many people who practice mindfulness find that, over time and with regular practice, they can develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship to their thoughts and emotions, therefore becoming less stuck in unhelpful thoughts and narratives. There are many mindfulness resources and apps out there – you might like to try Smiling Mind, Headspace or 1 Giant Mind.

If you feel like you would like to discuss your concerns in more depth with a counsellor, our website lists a range of available resources for LGBTQI+ counselling. We also have a LGBTQI+ counsellor at University of Melbourne Counselling and Psychological Services.


Feeling lost

I’m starting my final year this year I still don’t know what I want to do after I graduate. I find most of my subjects interesting but I’m not passionate about my course, and my results are just average. Everyone else seems to know exactly what they want to do and where they’re going except me and I’m finding it hard to stay motivated. I’ve heard that if you find something you love then you’ll never work a day in your life, but how do I find my calling?

Thanks for your question, this is actually quite a common source of stress for many students, and you’re certainly not the only one who feels this way! It can feel stressful to not have a plan in place, and it’s easier to feel motivated in your studies if you know your degree is going to lead you to a career you feel positive about.

Regarding how you feel about your current studies, remember that the experience of studying a subject and the experience of working in that field can be very different. You’ll also often be using some different skills in your degree than you will once you start working. For this reason, it can be helpful to keep an open mind and consider that you will learn a lot more about yourself and your field of work once you get your first job, and this may give you more information about where you want to go next. Many people find they learn more about what they want to do and what options are available after they’ve started working. Sometimes it’s best to have just the first few steps planned and to be flexible about what you’re going to do after that. Try not to put pressure on yourself to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life right now!

It would be great if you could feel absolutely sure about your ‘calling’ and know that you’ll love every day of your working life, but it sounds like this expectation is making it hard to make any decision. For many people, passion about their work grows over time and with experience, and even people who are very happy in their careers will not love everything about it. Consider some more realistic expectations, such as finding something that is interesting or that has some meaning for you, and use this as a base to improve on.

If you’re feeling anxious about this, try doing some research on what job options there are with your current degree, and see how much you can find out about the day to day realities of doing those jobs. You may find yourself getting excited about some of them, or be able to rule some options out, and then start to form a clearer plan in your mind that will help with your current motivation. In the meantime, don’t forget to work on other areas of your life that bring you joy or satisfaction, so there is less pressure to find the ‘perfect’ job straight away.


New to Melbourne, what do I do?

I am a first year international student. I’ve recently arrived in Melbourne and I’m finding it hard to get to know the city and find some interesting things to do. I don’t know anyone here, apart from a few students I’m staying with who are also new here. What are some ways of meeting people and finding things to do in my free time?

Living in a new city or country is challenging. It’s useful to move slightly outside your comfort zone while adjusting to a new place or culture – this allows you to establish more interests, activities and friendships. The first step is to be proactive, such as by asking other students what they do on the weekend, which can give you some new ideas as well as open up many socialising opportunities. It might take some time but if you are curious and can set some time to go exploring, it can be a lot of fun. Here are some ideas to get you started.

What’s On Melbourne provides ideas on things to do and see in Melbourne – markets, music, events, festivals, and guides to local areas. Lonely Planet also has an online guide for popular things to do in Melbourne.
• There are many activities happening in the University as well as wide range of clubs to join. Melbourne University Sport provides sports and recreation facilities including group fitness, gym and pool, as well as sport clubs to join, or you could find somewhere to volunteer.
Counselling and Psychological Services run workshops on adjusting to life as an international student, check out our website for information.
• Make sure you’re aware of what support is available to international students now in case you need it later.

We wish you all the best with your studies and settling in to Melbourne.


Shy and anxious being around new people at uni

I am really shy and don’t like meeting new people and I don’t like crowds either, they make me nervous and I get really hot and my heart pumps fast. I am also gay and I haven’t told any one yet. I am not really close enough to anyone to be able to tell them with trust. Melb uni is so big and there’s so many people it has made be not want to be here, to stay away from the crowds, even the lectures, and so it has affected my studies a lot. I just don’t know what to do, I don’t want to fail because I just didn’t show up because I get nervous around other people. What should I do?

It sounds like you are facing some major personal struggles at the moment. Well done on persevering with your studies, even though your shyness has made it uncomfortable for you to be on campus.

The physical responses you describe sound like symptoms of “social anxiety”. Anxiety is often very tied up with being comfortable with who you are and taking the risk of being accepted by others. It may best be addressed by finding some safe places and relationships where you can start to build your confidence in relating to others and being accepted. If you would like some more assistance in managing the shyness/anxiety that gets in the way of this, Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) regularly runs workshops on anxiety, social anxiety, mindfulness and creating connections with others. Or you can book an individual appointment with one of our counsellors.

The anxiety you describe is often present for young people who are gay due to fear of judgement and the fact that it can be difficult to feel connected to others when we are holding back a part of ourselves. The University of Melbourne has a Coming Out Support Group if you would like to explore this in a safe place and meet other people who are experiencing something similar.

In the meantime, try out some of the relaxation, meditation and breathing exercises on our website to help you manage the physical sensations of anxiety while you attend classes. Remember that shyness and social anxiety are both very common, but it is possible to overcome them so they don’t get in the way of living your life.


Fantasizing too much?

So I have this crush and I’ve been fantasizing about them for the past year. I make up scenarios in my head and some of them can be quite ridiculous and extreme but I can’t help it. I think about this person when I feel bored/sad/lonely and then I just feel better… And I feel kind of bad because I don’t even know them that well but in my head it seems so real. So I was just wondering if this is healthy/normal?

Thanks for your question; the short answer is yes, fantasising is normal. People have daydreams about various scenarios that they’d like to happen,often about relationships with people, winning the lottery or achieving great things.How often they occur will depend on a person’s personality and situation. For example, people who are creative and open to experience may be more likely to have a rich fantasy life. You also don’t need to know someone well to fantasize about them; many people have very strong crushes on celebrities they’ve never met

Perhaps you’ve been using fantasies to cope with some negative feelings, or just to add some excitement to your day. As coping strategies go, this one can be healthy if it’s not likely to lead to any negative consequences and can help you to explore your own dreams and desires. However fantasizing should not get in the way of real-life experiences, become a way to avoid anxiety, or lead you to withdraw from your day-to-day life. If you feel you are continuing to live your life in a fulfilling and engaging way and still take risks when you need to, then your daydreams can be a pleasurable pastime.

If you would like to get to better know the person you have a crush on, but are finding this hard due to anxiety, have a tendency to feel sad or lonely quite often, or your fantasizing is getting in the way of you living your life, it might help to talk this over with a counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services. The service is free of charge, confidential and counsellors are experienced in helping students manage similar situations to what you describe. You may find that your tendency to fantasize decreases as you feel better and more engaged with your real life, or as you develop a fulfilling romantic relationship. Either way, having unrequited feelings for someone is always tough, so don’t make it harder on yourself by worrying about being abnormal.


Can you give me some advice about dating?

I’m wondering whether you can provide some advice about dating – I’m in the last year of my degree and I’ve realised that I’ve been neglecting the relationship side of my life for a long time! The last person I ‘dated’ was in high school and since then I’ve had pretty much no experience with guys, which I’m really embarrassed about. I would love to put myself out there, but at the same time I’m worried my lack of experience would show. I’m not sure how I should go about tackling this issue.

First of all, well done on reaching the final year of your degree! Your question raises an important issue faced by many students, that is, now that your study career is drawing to an end, how to begin focusing on other important life areas, such as intimate relationships.

Clearly you are worried about lack of experience in dating. However, successfully dating and then building a relationship usually has more to do with how two people relate to one another than the amount of previous experience they have had. Even someone who regularly dates may find the experience awkward or difficult with someone they have nothing in common with, while someone who has never dated may have an enjoyable and relaxed time with someone they naturally connect with.

Try not to think of dating as something completely new that you have little experience with. Remember it’s just another way of getting to know someone and seeing if you enjoy each others company, which is something you will have done many times in your life. Take the pressure off yourself and enjoy the process.

Finally, what are your interests, hobbies, passions in life? If you are not so sure, it might be time to broaden your horizons. Taking up an interest is also a great way to meet new people. Enthusiasm is infectious and people are often attracted to someone who is really passionate about a hobby or interest. By focusing less on your ‘lack’ of experience, and more on the positive attributes you can bring into a new relationship, you will be more likely to relax, be yourself and approach dating with an open mind and a sense of fun, which is really what it should all be about! Good luck and all the best with your studies this year.


Unsure about going back home

I have changed a lot in the last three years. I am very independent and have a lot of freedom, have many good friends and like my life here. I am feeling quite sad because I have to go back home after 3 years here. I don’t know if I will be able to live up to my family expectations, they want me to get married and look after them. I don’t know if they will understand that I have changed a lot, I worry that will miss Melbourne and all my friends, that I will not be happy at home.

Many of the things you are worried about are related to reverse culture shock. Think of the time when you came to Melbourne, the initial worries and difficulties, periods when you doubted yourself, moments when you wanted to go home. That was related to culture shock while adapting to living in Melbourne. As you have adjusted well and grown more independent it is quite normal for you to be concerned about going back home. It is good that you are thinking about adjusting to issues you might have when you go back home. All of this does not have to be negative, there will often be many positive reactions as well.

Some things to do and consider:

• Give yourself time to relax and consider what is going on around you, how you are reacting to it, and what you might change. Ease in to the transition. There will be much “catching up” to do, with, social, economic, entertainment and current events (and may also include new slang). Give yourself some time to adjust to what has changed at home since you’ve been away.

• List different issues and devise strategies and solutions, key things you need to do before going home and in the first few weeks immediately after you arrive so you don’t feel too lost.

• Just as you had to keep an open mind when first encountering the culture of a new foreign country, try to resist the impulse to make snap decisions and judgments about people and behaviors once back home. You may need to act like a ‘tourist’ just like you did when you first came to Australia.

• Showing an interest in what others have been doing while you have been on your adventure is the surest way to re-establish rapport. Be as good a listener as a talker.

• Making comparisons between cultures and nations is natural, try to see a balance of good and bad features and avoid the tendency to be an “instant expert”.

• Keep as many options open as possible. Attempting to re-socialize totally into old patterns and networks can be difficult, but remaining aloof is isolating and counterproductive. It’s good to catch up with old friends and find out how they are doing. You may need to take the first step but it will go a long way in re-establishing old connections. Make sure you also keep in touch with friends you have made here.

• Seek new support networks while re-establishing old ones. There are lots of people back home who have gone through their own re-entry and will understand your concerns. University study abroad and foreign student offices are some of the places where you can seek others who offer support and country-specific advice.


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