Grief

When we think about grief and grieving, we usually think of the death of a loved one or perhaps if we are experiencing a chronic illness for which there is no cure. However, grief can surface for other reasons, also. A type of grieving takes place when we lose a dream or ideal that we embraced for many years. Loss of dreams or ideals can have a devastating effect on our sense of well-being. We may remain in denial about the loss of these dreams, and as a result may feel disconnected to our self or discontent. The grieving process is one of letting go. I often meet with clients who feel stuck in their anger, disappointment, or resentment. Perhaps they feel that their life has not taken them where they wanted to go. Sometimes they may feel anger or sadness that their partner isn’t able to give them the ideal relationship that they had dreamed he/she would. Another example is feeling disappointment that their parent(s) couldn’t give them the type of love and support that they craved. These scenarios often cannot change to a great extent. We can’t change our parents or it may be too late in our life to fulfill a dream we had when we were young. What do we do when we feel stuck in it? Most of the time, we just try to push it away, but then it tends to resurface at inopportune times and we feel blind-sided by our emotions. Just like grieving the death of a loved one, when we grieve our ideals and dreams, we have to tap into...

What’s Your Marriage Dance?

Every relationship creates its own dance – whether it be with your spouse, your children, or your siblings. These dances are about security and connection, but unfortunately sometimes the emotional connection gets lost in the shuffle. In the secure marriage relationship, couples can have disagreements, but still remain connected at the core. They experience security and love in enough of their interactions that times of disconnect are not threatening to them. However, when the times of misattunement become more frequent, couples find it difficult to find the attachment and security they crave in the relationship – they begin to feel lonely even when they are together. Dr. Sue Johnson identifies three “Demon Dialogues” in her book titled Hold Me Tight. The first dialogue is called “Find the Bad Guy”. Good to its name, the partners each try to blame the other for the problems in the relationship. It’s much easier to point a finger at another than to look at our personal contribution to a negative relationship cycle. We look at our partner’s faults and ignore or dismiss any concerns expressed to us about our behaviour. The second dialogue is called “Protest Polka” and is considered the most common cycle in which relationships get stuck. In this dance, one partner steps forward and the other steps back. One partner pursues dialogue because he or she is protesting the disconnection and the other retreats because it feels like criticism. To the ones that withdraw, the pursuit feels like: “I’m not good enough,” or “You think I’m a failure in this relationship.” They then withdraw because they feel stuck and do...

Am I depressed?

Sometimes clients come into my office wanting a diagnosis of depression. They may feel that this diagnosis validates their low mood, which they then can take back to their significant others and to help give explanation for their experience. Although psychologists have guidelines to make such a diagnosis, I often hesitate before doing this, explaining to my clients my view on depression. For many people, depression can be placed on a continuum and most people move along this continuum throughout their life span—ranging from happy and content to major depression. Depending on your current life situation, the coping skills you learned throughout your life, traumatic life experiences in your childhood, and the amount of support you have in you life, you can move along this continuum in your lifetime, at times feeling happy or content and at other times feeling discouraged or depressed. What is depression? Following is a list of symptoms for depression. These symptoms can be a normal part of life. However, the more symptoms you have, the longer you are living with them, and the stronger they are, the more severe the depression: Sleeping too much or too little; Feeling hopeless or helpless; Difficulty concentrating; Major change in appetite; Irritability; Hard on self and/or increase in negative thinking; Suicidal thoughts (seek help immediately if this occurs) What should you do? How do you know when you should go on antidepressants? Are there alternatives? How do you know when you should seek therapy? Many of my clients who experienced some or many of the above symptoms were uncertain whether they should seek help, and thus, may have...

Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion

Clients come to see me for a various reasons, however, a pattern that I often see is difficulty with emotions, especially anger. People often try suppressing anger by shoving it down or trying to rid themselves of it, only to find themselves exploding at inappropriate times or boiling over for minor infractions. This situation then reinforces their belief that they need to get rid of their anger. Anger turned inward can have a detrimental affect on an individual. If individuals feel that it’s too dangerous to express or feel angry towards a situation or person, they may turn it inwards, berating their self for feeling the emotion in the first place: “Don’t overreact.” or “You’re being silly.” This self-criticism leaves them feeling shameful and deflated. Holding your anger in can prevent you from accessing your needs. By not accessing it, you avoid making clear statements of what you need, want, or think. People often avoid accessing this emotion because they are afraid that if they express what they truly feel, they will hurt those around them, or create a conflict that they feel is unmanageable. Unfortunately, this over-control can lead to resentment and bitterness. People also experience physiological stress if they over-control their anger. By tightening the jaw and muscles, stifling a shout, or holding your breath, stress occurs. This type of stress reaction from constriction of emotion can contribute to health problems such as stomach ulcers, high blood pressure or tension headaches. Sometimes we use anger to avoid the feelings underneath that anger, such as hurt at being criticized, rejected, or low self-esteem. Rather than feeling sad and...

14 ways to say "I love you"

February is the month of love. We think about our partner, and at times we wish we could reclaim the passion that we felt early in the relationship, or we wonder where it has gone. For the lucky ones, the passion remains and is incorporated into daily life. For the average relationship, though, the intense passion has subsided, especially if the stresses of life, including family life, are part of the equation. Saying “I love you” often means something different 15 years into the relationship than it did 15 months into the relationship. So, how do we continue to show our partner that we are “in love” when the intensity of infatuation has waned? Of course, “I love you” is still very important. No matter how long you have been together, your partner will always appreciate being reminded that you love him. The next 13 ways of saying “I love you” are divided into Appreciation, Apology, and Influence. Showing your partner that she is appreciated lets her know that you are not taking the relationship for granted. Being able to say “I’m sorry” in different ways lets your partner know that you are willing to keep the lines of communication open, even when you disagree. Allowing your partner to influence your decisions or opinions tells your partner that you still find his input valuable. So, how do we say this in our daily life and relationship? (Taken from Gottman’s Repair Checklist) Appreciation Thank you for (e.g. being open about…) One thing I admire about you is… I am thankful for… I know this isn’t your fault. Apology Let me...

How Loud is Your Critical Voice?

Everyone has a critical voice. It’s that nagging voice inside our mind that comments on our behaviours, feelings, and thoughts. Your critical voice may be manageable—you may be able to consider what it is saying, but then evaluate whether it’s useful for you. Or, it may be unmanageable and a large contributing factor to feeling depressed, incompetent, and less worthy. If the latter is true, it’s important to do some work on your critical voice. Two types of self-criticism seem to be most prevalent: dismissive and punitive. If our critical voice is dismissive, any time we have an emotional response, we tell ourselves “don’t feel that way” or “get over it.” We downplay our feelings and tend not to consider them valid. We have these unacknowledged feelings inside of us that are suppressed. This suppression can lead to depression and feeling disconnected. It can also cause an inappropriate delayed reaction or erupt out of context. If our critical voice is punitive, we place excessive demands on ourselves, and find it difficult to allow for any mistakes. This type of voice is very harsh and often tells us, “you should have done better,” or “you failed.” The critical voice leaves us feeling incompetent and worthless. It’s important to become more aware of your critical voice. Start observing how often it tells you that your emotions are not valid or criticises your every move. Notice how you feel after your critical voice has been very loud or punitive. Do you feel lethargic? Irritated? Overwhelmed? The critical voice is often related to other significant messages that we heard when we were younger....

Is Marriage Counselling Enough?

Couple counselling alone is not the cure for an ailing relationship. Many couples go to marriage counselling in hopes that the therapist can “cure” their marriage problems. This belief can create false expectations of what a therapist is actually capable of doing. When couples come into therapy for their relationship, they need to understand that it takes a lot of work–not just in the one-hour session, but also at home. For every one hour session in the therapist’s office, couples need to work on their relationship for 5 hours at home. What does it mean to work on your relationship at home? Most importantly, you have to spend quality time together. This includes going on regular dates or taking 15 -30 minutes in your day to discuss what is happening in your life. Listen to, empathize with, and reflect your partner’s experiences. It helps your partner to feel that you are on his/her side. If you are having a hard time finding the positive qualities in your partner, you have to actively start thinking about your partner differently. If you enter into discussions  expecting the the worst, you will find proof for it. Meet your partner with an open mind, believing that he/she is not out to make you upset, but rather wants to listen, support and be there for you. Listen closely to what your partner is saying and ask him/her to clarify if it doesn’t sit well with you. Many arguments begin with a small misunderstanding in communication and a belief that the intentions of our partner are negative. When we ask our partner to clarify the...

It's Christmas… ready, set, go!!

Christmas is a time of giving and receiving. We give presents to family and friends and usually receive some in return. We give our time to others by baking cookies for school or hosting Christmas dinner at our house. But how much do you give to yourself? We often get caught up in the hectic pace of Christmas. We end up feeling that we MUST buy presents for this person and that person. We take on too much responsibility because we believe family and friends expect it of us. In the end, we feel exhausted and lose the “true” spirit of Christmas. What would happen if you didn’t do it at all? What would happen if you slowed down a bit and took the time to “be” rather than constantly “do”? What would happen if you said “no” this time instead of taking on one more thing? People often cite that they are afraid of the consequence of saying “no”. Someone might be disappointed in them if they don’t fulfill an expectation. Before committing to something, take some time to think about this expectation that is being set for you. First, is this a real demand or a perceived demand? Sometimes we believe that other people expect something of us, but often it is just a perception rather than reality. Second, what would be the outcome if you didn’t fulfill it? Someone may be disappointed. Is it your responsibility to make sure other people live without disappointment? Sometimes we do things so that other people don’t feel let down. But is this disappointment valid? Should we do things just...

Why Do New Year’s Resolutions Fail?

January is New Year’s Resolution season. Many people chose to begin the New Year with a new goal—be it to lose weight, eat healthier, or find a better job. Unfortunately, we often give up on our goal in the first month and then feel that we have failed. Why do we give up on our New Year’s resolution? Part of the reason may be our critical self-talk. Each of us has a critical voice. Once we expose the critical voice, my clients often tell me that their personal critical voice is much harsher than what they would ever say to anyone else. Our critical voice may call us a failure, tell us we’re worthless, and constantly inform us of what we “should” be doing. We don’t speak to other people this way, but we chose to berate ourselves for every mistake. And then what happens inside? We often feel deflated, exhausted, and feel like giving up. Let’s transfer this process to the New Year’s resolution experience. If we are trying to change a long-standing habit, e.g. eating differently, there will be times that our efforts fall short. At this point, the critical voice often kicks in and begins beating us up for our mistake: “You can’t do this.” “You failed.” “You should be able to do this, but you can’t.” Inside, we feel disappointed and defeated. We feel like a failure. This feeling then weighs heavy on us and exhausts us, and we use up our resources to fight it. We may feel overwhelmed by our inability to make progress. Because our resources are depleted, we then find it...

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