Shift out of Shame

Shame creates a lack of worth within us. It seeps into our body and our emotions, creating a psychological barrier through fear and disapproval and rejection – so why on earth are we using it against ourselves?

If you have been shaming yourself as a means to push towards a change you want, I hereby challenge you to try a different approach. Shame creates a shutting down response in the brain – and I want to keep your brain on-line, and help you achieve your desired change with compassion and energy and determination. There will be no shutting down here friends!

Where ever your inner voice of shame originated from, when you hear it rear its ugly head, acknowledge it for what it is (“Oh, hello there Shame”), and anchor into the present moment with a deep breath. What could you say to yourself instead, to start cultivating an attitude of acceptance and compassion? 

Not sure how to cultivate an attitude of acceptance? Check out the following list and do one item from it every single day. Or, if you have a strategy that works for you, share it in the comments so that we can all learn from and encourage each other!

  • Smile at yourself
  • Laugh at your mistakes
  • Acknowledge the efforts you make, no matter how small
  • Practice not taking things personally (Need help with this one? Check out The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • Acknowledge that you aren’t, won’t, and don’t ever need to be perfect. Go on, exhale perfectionism and inhale “I am enough
  • Practice interrupting negative self-talk (try “There I go again…” and then anchor back into the present moment)
  • Move your body if you start to feel stuck in negative thoughts

You can not shame yourself into change – shame will serve only to deflate your energy and dampen your self-esteem. So what is the smallest thing you can do today to be more self-accepting? 

Protective Figure Imagery

The Courage, by Lora Zombie

The image feature in this article is titled The Courage. When you look at it, what qualities do you see? Power, strength, fearlessness, confidence, protectiveness, loyalty? For years I have had artist Lora Zombie’s work in my counselling office. Everyone asks about the art, and for many, the artwork is equally as powerful for them as it is for me. But when The Courage came out (the image featured in this article), I felt the need to share why I find some of Lora’s art so powerful.

When working with trauma in counselling, it is important for individuals to feel emotionally prepared. In EMDR therapy, preparation is done with information sharing and psycho-education, collaboration and transparency, and emotion regulation strategies such as distancing, containment, and resourcing. It is resourcing that I am going to be specifically talking about in this article. 

Resourcing, (also referred to as Resource Development, and Ego Strengthening), is about cultivating strategies that will enable clients to shift out of overwhelming emotions and also to connect with positive resources within themselves. It is the “secret sauce” in trauma work because in order to do the work, clients must be sufficiently stabilized and they must have some ability to regulate emotion

There are many strategies used to assist individuals in developing these abilities. One such strategy is about connecting, through visualization, with a protective figure. A protective figure can be real or imagined, and it is unique to each individual. When we connect with an image of our protective figure being ferociously protective of us, we take the time to notice all the qualities our protective figure possesses. We connect with the sensations in our body that shift as we connect with the image, the emotions, and the positive cognition that goes along with it. As we focus on the protective figure image, emotion begins to settle. What is really happening, is that we activating all those powerful qualities within ourselves. Not only does the image strengthen our ability to settle strong emotion, but it also fosters a sense of empowerment, and cultivates love and compassion

When we lack actual internal resources for processing trauma, the stored negative experience of the trauma can overwhelm our capacity for positive experiences, self-esteem development, and resiliency. Regulating emotion becomes very difficult. Once we have developed the protective figure imagery in counselling, we can later bring up the image in our imagination (in our mind’s eye), perhaps when feeling vulnerable, threatened, or fearful – even during trauma processing. The image becomes an anchor and a source of strength to be drawn upon during healing. (Please note: the resources used during the preparation phase of EMDR are unique to each client).

Lora’s latest artwork The Courage is such a beautiful depiction of the protective figure. I highly recommend it for any counselling space. Check out more of Lora’s work here: https://lorazombie.com

References:

Parnell, L. (2007). A therapist’s guide to EMDR: Tools and techniques for successful treatment. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Parnell, L. (2008). Tapping in: A step-by-step guide to activating your healing resources through bilateral stimulation. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.

Teal, A. (2018). Super resourcing: An integrative protocol for healing early attachment wounds. (EMDRIA Approved training)

EMDR in your Therapy Session, Part 2

Ever wondered what EMDR looks like in a counselling session? EMDR – which stands for eye movement desensitization and processing, is a therapeutic approach with a wide range of applications. Research has demonstrated that EMDR is effective for working with experiences of trauma (and post-traumatic stress), anxiety, phobias, addictions, to name just a few. To learn more about the components of EMDR, please read Part 1 by clicking here.

There are eight stages to the process of EMDR therapy. It begins as many therapies do: building rapport, gathering intake information (your backstory, so to speak). Knowing your story helps your counsellor understand your needs in counselling, any troubling symptoms that need immediate attention, and also helps you both collaboratively create a treatment plan.

The next stage shifts into preparation, or resourcing. “Resourcing” is the common name for developing those emotional coping skills. It involves helping folks develop the tools they need to self-regulate. This phase involves learning to notice and move through strong, over-whelming emotions as they arise. It’s the part of therapy that works with the treating the symptoms (the pounding heart sensation of anxiety, excessive worry cycles based on past experiences, sleep disturbance, etc.). In EMDR, we work with a rating scale called the Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS for short). It’s a rating scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is the most distressed you’ve ever felt and 1 is no distress at all. The scale is a helpful way for therapists to attune to their clients, and also for client’s to notice their own progress in a session.

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Developing and strengthening emotional coping skills is important, because moving into processing trauma too soon could cause a person to feel unsafe and emotionally flooded. Our job as your counsellor, is to help you be present with emotion without being over-powered by it; learning to turn down the volume on some emotions as you need to, and ultimately helping you feel safe with the counselling process.

Many folks who have experienced trauma have an overall feeling of being unsafe, so cultivating a sense of safety has to be a primary focus.  You need to feel comfortable with your therapist before you disclose all the tough stuff. And, it is super important that you build the emotional coping skills to be okay after and between sessions. EMDR respects these important features of trauma work. 

With the ability to regulate emotion and connect with a degree of internal safety developed, we can begin the next stages of EMDR: Desensitization.  I know you remember what that means from Part 1! This is where trauma processing begins. For those of you wondering what on earth this part of therapy looks like, let me demystify it for you. 

During this trauma processing stage of EMDR, a session starts out with resourcing, then moves into target selection (which just means you choose what the session focus will be). Because I work with trauma, that often means we want to start out with the first traumatic memory or the worst traumatic memory. Wait! Please don’t slam your laptop shut and storm off – I know that can sound frightening, but you will be ready for this stage because of all your hard developing and practicing emotion coping skills during the preparation stage! 

Once we’ve got that memory selected, we connect the negative belief that goes with it, the emotion it evokes, and where you feel it in your body (the sensation of the emotion). 

Side Note: Why do we Need to Cultivate Awareness of the Felt Sense of Emotion?

Cultivating awareness of how we feel emotion in our body is super important. Trauma can often leave folks feeling disconnected from their body. They can get caught up in staying in their head (thoughts), because perhaps it feels safer. However, our body still carries all that tension. Maybe it gets experienced in the form of stomach aches or digestive problems, holding the breath/shallow breathing, muscle tension, or a clenched jaw. This disconnection from the felt sense can become so habitual, that many folks stop noticing it. But all that tension and unrecognized dis-ease can cause all kinds of health problems. 

So, with the pairing of the trauma memory, with the negative belief, the emotion it evokes and how distressing it feels, and how you sense it in the body, we add BLS and start processing that old memory. Whatever your distress level was at the beginning of the session, your therapists goal is to guide you through the processing to get that number down so that you are anchored in a sense of internal safety when the session ends. 

And here is the amazing part: as the BLS is repeated, the brain is processing the trauma to reconcile it as a past event. When your brain and your body can reconcile trauma as a past event, it means you can anchor into the present moment. You shift out of survival mode and can more accurate attest that you truly are safe now. 

Emotional Activation (Feeling Triggered):

Have you ever noticed that when something in the present moment reminds you of a trauma you experienced, the emotion that arises feels completely raw and overly-excessive to the present situation you are in? That is what unprocessed trauma can feel like. There is an amazing little brain system we all have, called the limbic system. Its sole job is to keep us alive. Experiencing trauma can keep us popping into that limbic system survival mode way too frequently. Constant survival mode living can leave people feeling emotionally reactive (as though we are constantly in fight, flight, for freeze), and emotionally exhausted. The brain just doesn’t recognize that the trauma is over, that you are safe now. That is why counselling is so important for your overall health and functioning.

During processing with BLS, emotion becomes less intense. One of the session goals is to keep reducing activation – getting your SUDS number going down, so that you are shifting more and more out of distress. 

EMDR_Congition_ListAs a result of all that emotion process, you are able to connect with a positive belief, and we install it with BLS (the next stage in our 8 stage model). Instead of the negative belief a person started the session with, such as perhaps “I am not enough”, folks now get to decide what positive belief is more preferable, (such as “I am worthwhile”, or “I did the best I could”). We link the positive belief in with BLS so that when the client thinks about the past experience, he or she is no longer washed over with thoughts of being not enough – and in fact, that old negative belief feels distant. The past event really does feel over and anchored in the past, and linked with the positive belief. It may still evoke a degree of emotion (after all, we can not erase the past from having happened), but the sadness or fear that arises going forward when the memory is recalled, will be less intense, and will fit the situation you are in.

Containment metaphors amight be used at the end of a session, as well as a body scan. The body scan is a super useful tool to strengthen the positive sensations associated with the positive belief, and also for identifying any distress still present. The final stage of the session (but not yet the 8th stage of EMDR), is a debriefing of sorts, where we can review strategies for anchoring in the present moment, handling emotion as it comes up, and discussion what to expect after the session in terms of emotions percolating and taking care of self between sessions. 

The subsequent session starts out with an exploration of anything that came up between sessions, and a re-evaluation of thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and sensations connected with the work from the previous session That’s the eight stage of EMDR, and then the process continues until folks feel as though they have worked through the pieces they entered into counselling to address. 

I hope this summary of what EMDR in a therapy session looks like has been helpful. Remember,  while we can not erase traumatic experiences from your memory, with EMDR the brain can reconcile it as a past event. We can lessen the intensity of the emotion the memory evokes, as well as the meaning attached to it. We learn to notice when we are shifting into the limbic system and either act to maintain safety or anchor back into the present moment acknowledging the memory as well as our present moment safety.  

If you want to learn more about EMDR, please check out the EMDR International Association website, or EMDR Canada. Both of those websites also list EMDR therapists by location, so you can even tap into those resources to find a practitioner close to you. 

Be well.

Relaxation for Children

Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Kids

(Free PDF Printable Script Included!)

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Scroll down for free pdf

Having difficulty falling asleep at night is one of the most common symptoms folks I work with present with. Whether it is part of the anxiety they are coping with, the fallout from a stressful day, or a trauma symptom – not being able to fall asleep at night can be an incredible source of additional stress.

One technique that can help with settling down at bedtime is a type of meditation called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR, for short). Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that guides and directs focus on one area of the body at a time, first tensing the muscle and then relaxing it, to promote full-body relaxation (Anxiety Canada; Schwartz & Knipe, 2017).

This type of meditation has benefits that reach even beyond the bedtime routine. Helping children develop a habit of using PMR to settle can help with:

  • learning to relax chronic tense muscles
  • release patterns of holding the breath and taking shallow breaths
  • notice the difference between tense and relaxed muscles, in order to cue a relaxed state when the first sign of stress rises (a super helpful skill for kids who experience anxiety and need strategies to ease out of the anxiety state)

Remember Compassion for Distracted Minds
When learning something new, remember to encourage your children to go easy on themselves. It is normal to lose focus during PMR, and any meditation, for that matter. When this happens, remind your little one to gently return his or her attention to the muscle group, with kindness toward self, and continue on.

When Self-Doubt Rears it’s Head
Trying something new can be a little daunting for many people. It can even crack open the door for self-doubt to creep in. You know self-doubt, it’s that low voice that incessantly asks, “Am I doing this right?” or shuts you down with the louder “I can’t do it!”. Honour that little voice of self-doubt by using a guided PMR script. Check out the attachment, or give a listen to the YouTube link.

PMR Script: (printable pdf):  PMR_revised2020

YouTube PMR: Live Happy Counselling Narration

There are also some great books designed to teach kids PRM:

  • Angry Octopus: Children Learn How to Control Anger, Reduce Stress, and Fall Asleep Faster, by Lori Lite

Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Rarely do we truly have control. But, the illusion that we do sustains us in our daily life. It gives us a sense of the world around us as a predictable place. Right now as our world is battles with the COVID19 virus, we don’t have that sense of predictability. And that can leave many folks worried, fearful, and desperate. I’d like to offer a few simple ideas for you to consider bringing into your daily life. In the face of uncertainty, these mindfulness-based tools can assist you in returning to the present moment.

Please know that these ideas are not ‘one size fits all’. Please take what works for you, adapt it, or grow it to make it more suitable to your daily life.

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Start your day with a Reflection: Take a quiet moment before the action of your day amps up. Listen to meditation on your smart phone, or just draw your attention inward and ask yourself what you need to stay well this day. Then, set your intention for the day. Setting an intention can just foster an area of focus for the day. For example, it could be “Today I will be present and kind”. It creates an anchor for you to return to throughout the day. Writing down the intention and placing it somewhere you will see it throughout your day can help ensure your bring your attention back to it as needed.

Get out of Bed and Get Dressed: If you are isolated or in quarantine at this time, and your daily life has been interrupted (you are no longer going to work, to school, etc.), please still get up and get dressed. Maintain your morning hygiene routine, or start the one you’ve always wanted and never had time for.  Your mental health with benefit from the day being bookended with getting up and getting dressed in the morning, and washing up and putting on pyjamas at the end of the day.

Daily Goal Setting: Regardless of your living situation, set 3 small, achievable goals for each day. These goals can range from “I will get out of bed at 8am and take a shower this morning”, to “I will sit on the floor and play a game with my child today”. Set 3 small goals every morning, and take a moment to reflect on them each evening. Achieving the small daily goals will build self-esteem and integrity with yourself, because you accomplished that which you intended to accomplish.

Go Outside: If you are socially distancing or in quarantine, take a few moments to go outside. You don’t have to be in a public place to be outside. Take a short walk or even just sit outside. The change of scenery will help bolster your mood.

Connect with Love: if you are living with children or have a spouse, make sure to connect with them with love each day. These are uncertain times for them as well, and they are likely also feeling fearful and/or worried. Try speaking their love language at least twice a day. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of love languages, check out: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/

Don’t Stop Connecting: If you live alone, please maintain your social connections. Call, text, or e-mail with at least one person a day. Do not go this alone.

Take care, and please stay safe.

Settling Activation with Intention

savingPNG-3We humans are attuned to each other in very complex ways. We can feel uplifted by a person who’s in a good mood, understood by a person showing compassion, and even anxious when someone else is anxious.

Be the conscious creator of your mood. If you start to feel ungrounded in the company of others, take a moment to assess what’s going on. What is the conversation about? What body language and tone of voice are those around you using? What energy are you picking up on from them?

Then, take a moment to connect with your breath, and the connection of your feet on the ground. Breath in deeply and fully through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Acknowledge your ability to be kind, and to live with intention. Project that outward, and watch what happens. Chances are you will start to influence the energy of those around you. And, you’ll feel way more grounded in the process. 🙂

But What are We Going to Actually Do?

Trauma Therapy Explained

People tend to know they need counselling for a long time before they reach out to start it up. Making that initial phone call can stir up fear and uncertainty. And once an appointment is scheduled, actually attending it can stir up anxiety and doubt. I believe it does take a tremendous amount of courage to start up counselling: to entrust your story to a stranger invites vulnerability. Yet for each courageous soul that takes the first step, there is hope. Hope says “This will help”, and “I can get through this”.

So for all the folks out there wanting to take that first step but feeling weighed down by uncertainty, I’d like to demystify the counselling process.

When it comes to working with trauma, I use the Three Stage Trauma Recovery Model, which was developed by Judith Herman in the 1980’s. I use the model as a framework within which all therapeutic interventions launch from.

Please Note: Each client is unique, and therefore counselling is not a one-size-fits-all service. While you read the following information, please know that it might look a little different for each person. Also, rarely do we move through the model in a fully linear manner, (stage 3 often initiates during stage 2 work).

Stage 1 – Safety and Stabilization

Counselling often begins with history taking. I typically ask about what brings a person in for counselling, and gain an idea of their history in a “newspaper headline” manner. I use the newspaper headline approach because at this point, I am still a stranger to the client, and he or she may not yet feel comfortable sharing a detailed portrait of their life. Then, we collaboratively develop treatment goals.

Within the first stage, the focus is on safety and stabilization. That refers to external (living environment) and internal (emotional safety). Elements in this stage may include:

  • External safety: advocacy, growing a support network, information-sharing on topics relevant to the individual client
  • Internal safety: Resourcing to tap into and foster inner strengths to shift out of strong emotion. This involves learning to regulate emotion and manage symptoms that may be causing suffering or causing a person to feel unsafe
  • Information sharing to assist folks in understanding symptoms, their felt sense of emotion, and the effects of trauma
  • Exploring impacts to core beliefs
  • Developing and strengthening skills to manage painful and unwanted experiences, and minimizing unhelpful responses to them.

According to Judith Herman (1982) the goal of stage 1 trauma work is to create a safe and stable life-in-the-here-and-now, which can enable folks to safely remember the trauma, and not continue to re-live it.

I often have folks tell me they want to jump right into trauma processing. They feel a sense of urgency to “feel better” or to “heal this right now”. However, there is great importance of stage 1 work, and we can not skip over it. Think of it this way: If you had a car with shoty brakes, no seatbelts or airbags, no horn, bald tires, and a foggy windshield – you could still get from point A to point B. However, you would likely feel terrified the entire way. The resourcing and affect regulation strategies of stage 1 are like the safety features in a car: they enable you to get from point A to point B without full-blown panic and emotional overwhelm.

Stage 2 – Coming to Terms with Trauma

Once an individual has developed the ability to regulate emotion and achieve a level of internal emotional safety, trauma processing can begin. As we work through a trauma, I keep a keen eye on resourcing to ensure a client isn’t become too flooded with emotion. Techniques are used to modulate this process, and I employ several end-of-session strategies to assist folks in stabilizing emotion prior to leaving the office. Here are some elements stage 2 may include:

  • Trauma processing using EMDR
  • Art, play or sand tray-based approaches (for children and teens)
  • Exploring and re-working the inner trauma narrative
  • Working with negative cognitions resulting from trauma and movement towards installing positive adaptive beliefs and cognitions

Stage 3 – Integration and Moving on

As we work through trauma processing, elements of the third stage begin to show up. Some of these elements include:

  • Working to decrease shame
  • Developing a new narrative and life goals that reflect post-trauma meaning making
  • Working to foster a greater capacity for healthy attachment and decreasing alienation

As a result of doing the work of trauma therapy, the trauma starts to feel farther away, as something that happened but that is no longer a daily focus disrupting life.

If you are thinking of starting up therapy, and have some questions, please feel free to reach out and ask. The decision to move towards self-growth and healing can be empowering and freeing. I hope you give it a go!


If you’d like to learn more about the Three Stage Trauma Recovery Model by Judith Herman, check out these resources:

Swapping out Trigger Thoughts for Coping Thoughts

polar bear and cubThis morning I was running late for work. Last night, rather than tidying and preparing lunches for school, I was tired. I decided to put my feet up: I watched tv, and I chatted with my husband. Shirking the evening household responsibilities felt great! But as a result, this morning I was running late. My morning agenda read: get ready, get kids ready, get lunches ready, drive kids to school, drive self to work. However, my six year old daughter had a different agenda. Despite the many times I informed her that I was running late and that we needed to get out the door, she dawdled.

The reality is, I was frustrated with myself for not being prepared for the morning – and sadly I found myself directing this frustration at my daughter. As I saw myself nagging ineffectively, I noticed my inner dialog also changing: “Why can’t she just help me with this? She is so disrespectful…”. Funny thing about such negative, labeling comments – they seem to always intensify angry feelings.

Researchers McKay and Fanning (1996), call these ‘trigger thoughts’ because the thoughts tend to trigger in us negative emotions. When parents are stressed, thinking thoughts that serve to magnifylabel, and assume intent distort the situation – these thoughts make the situation seem worse than it is, and make your child’s behaviour seem deliberate and bad.

Trigger thoughts lead parents to forget the real reasons behind their child’s behaviour (such as developmental level, reinforcement history, needs, temperament, and so forth). And, as the trigger thoughts spiral us into anger, we are left feeling helpless. Once we cool down and the situation is over, we are still left with an unresolved issue and have now lost an opportunity to problem solve with our child(ren).

Trigger thoughts also have a negative impact on our kids. When our anger prevents us from seeing a situation clearly and acknowledging  underlying causes of behaviour, we send negative messages to our children. These messages can lead kids to see themselves as bad, to grow less cooperative with us, and to become alienated from us and angry. The impact of chronic anger on our children sure is worth our attention in changing our patterns when under stress!

McKay and Fanning, in their 1996 research study, found that parents with low levels of anger tended to use more positive coping statements (in place of trigger thoughts). The seven coping thoughts that seemed most effective were as follows:

  1. It’s just a stage. Kids have to go through these stages
  2. This is natural for his/her age
  3. Don’t take it seriously/personally. Keep a sense of humour
  4. This is just natural (age-appropriate) impulsiveness
  5. He/She isn’t really trying to do this to me. It’s just how he/she is coping right now
  6. He/She can’t help (crying, being angry, interrupting, needing attention, etc.)
  7. Just get through it. You can cope. You don’t have to get angry

These are such fantastic coping statements and parents so often forget to use them. If you need assistance in remembering to use the positive coping statements, you could post them on your wall, or use the sticky dot technique! If these coping strategies don’t fit for your situation, spend some time creating your own. The more the coping statements are unique to your life, the more likely you are to remember to think them in the pace of trigger thoughts.

Most importantly, start becoming aware of how you feel anger in your body. Then, when you feel that sensation, check in with what is going on for you at that moment. What are you saying to yourself about the situation? Are you labeling your child in a detrimental way? Is that problem suddenly feeling magnified? Are you assuming some unruly motive to your child? If so, you are most likely using a triggering thought. Swap it out with a coping statement– and believe the coping statement.

Our children really aren’t out to get us! They are just navigating their way through some significant developmental milestones and often feeling helpless, powerless, frustrated, anger, etc. at the process!

Reference:
McKay, M., & Fanning, P. (1996). When anger hurts your kids: A parent’s guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

This article was originally posted on January 24, 2011, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

You are Worthy of Your Time

beach_italy_2019Think it sounds selfish to nurture yourself? There are tons of great reasons why we should spend at least a small percentage of our time taking care of ourselves. Taking time out to care for yourself will actually sustain you in light of the busy schedules we keep and the fast-paced world we live in. And the best part? What we do to nurture ourselves doesn’t need to take a long time.

If it’s been a long time since you have considered doing something nurturing for yourself, check out this list of potential ideas. Some items on the list might sound great to you, and others might not. Think of the list as a way to get you started on considering  what might be nourishing for you. Nurturing yourself is about identifying what your needs are – and taking small steps towards meeting them. What activity might you do that will bring you a sense of calm, or a sense of joy?

What will nurture you? 

  • Take a walk (or any form of exercise)
  • Work or sit in your garden
  • Try yoga (or an exercise class)
  • Play with your pet (if you have one)
  • Draw, paint, scrapbook, etc. – anything artistic
  • Start reading a novel (or listen to an audio book)
  • Take a moment to say some positive affirmations to yourself
  • Cozy up on the couch with a favourite television show or movie
  • Write in your journal: notice what has been going on for you lately, or explore what your own strengths are
  • Take the time to learn about you – try counselling
  • Walk in nature, take some pictures while there
  • Ever thought of trying out an infra-red sauna?  There are tons of health benefits linked with these and if you like warm temperatures, you might find it to be very relaxing! You don’t even have to buy one: many naturopath Physicians have them available in their clinics
  • Enjoy a relaxing bath (or a soothing shower)
  • Write to a friend (yes, many people still enjoy receiving snail mail letters!)
  • Are you religious? Attend a service at your church
  • Try knitting or crocheting (there might even be a knitting circle in your community)
  • Do some tasty baking or cooking
  • Learn something new (check out the classes offered at your recreation centre or community arts centre, or try an online course)
  • Work on a hobby
  • Start a puzzle
  • Try a meditation
  • Want to try a relaxation cd or guided imagery? The cool thing about guided imagery is that it has been proven effective even if you fall asleep while doing it! If you are interested in learning more, do a Google search for “free guided imagery”.  Here are some additional suggestions if you are interested:
    – Apps: Calm or Headspace
    – CD or iTunes download: Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation); Paul McKenna (visualization and self-hypnosis for optimizing personal potential); Tara Brach (mindfulness meditation). *just to mention a few – there are far too many amazing people in our world who offer meditation or relaxation to mention all of them here!
  • Sometimes are self-nurturing moments involve others: Talk with a good friend or loving family member; Play a fun or silly game with your children; Try hiking together (or plan a fun outing together)

Chances are, if you are reading a blog about mindful parenting, you likely spend a great deal of time caring for others. How about taking a moment each week to treat yourself as kindly as you treat others? After all, you are worth your time!

This article was originally posted on October 3, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Excessive Control is Problematic

IMG_2950A degree of control in our lives can create a sense of security. We also require it in healthy dosages in order to be the autonomous healthy people we strive to be. A degree of control in our parenting is necessary when creating structure, routine, and boundaries in our home and with our children. However, control can also wreck havoc on our interpersonal relationships if it becomes excessive. Before going in to detail, I would like to share a story…

In October 2003, while I was residing in Mississauga Ontario, a beautiful 9 year old girl named Cecilia Zhang was abducted from her home during the night – out of her own bedroom window while she and her family slept. I did not know her, and I did not know her family… but I was forever changed by her. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child. Cecilia’s story was covered on all the news channels, and her picture was plastered in every store window in my community. It is a disturbing story that chills me and brings tears to my eyes even now, 9 years later. As my own precious child was growing inside me, completely safe and protected, I desperately longed for Cecilia to be found and returned home. To her parents heartbreaking dismay, she was not.  As I watched Cecilia’s investigation unfold, the remaining beliefs I held about the world as a safe place began to crumble.

I have worked hard to keep my fears in-check since that moment, so as not to pass them on to my children. But the fears are always there, just beneath the surface. I keep the windows locked at night. I use a home alarm system. I try to get to know parents prior to my children having play-dates. I research daycare providers prior to employing them… But every now and then, when I have had a stressful day at work or some sort of crisis is underfoot, my need for control kicks in to overdrive. I catch myself wanting to tell my kids (and my husband!) what to do. I even start planning it in the car on the way home! And then I realize what I am doing, and I realize that my day has affected me adversely… and I take a deep breath to release it….

I believe that many parents want to have the illusion of control. That illusion helps us feel safe and enables us to believe we possess the capacity to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Trauma researchers Follette and Pistorello (2007) state that when our lives feel out of control, we strive to exert control over our thoughts, feelings, and environment (including the people in our environment!). That control we feel we must exert in order to escape feelings of uncertainty and fear sever only to become the problem!

Too much control is detrimental to our relationships – especially to our children. As parents, we need to successfully navigate the delicate balance between keeping our kids safe and street smart while not passing our own issues on to them.

Are there times when you have noticed a sudden excessive need for control or order within or around you? Have you ever caught yourself attempting to control those around you with threats or coercion? Have you ever caught yourself attempting to control what those around you are doing, even when it has no impact on you? If so, it might be time to check in on how you are doing.

Keeping our kids safe is one of the most important jobs of being a parent. Honouring what is going on for ourselves as parents, is an important step in that process. How can you nurture your need for security, for stability, for a degree of control and so forth, without alienating your children and loved ones?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Recognize your triggers (what thoughts, emotions, or situations bring up strong feelings or kick on a need for excessive control?)
  2. Become aware of your own internal distress(what is your body’s distress signal? For example, holding your breath or taking shallow breaths, clenching muscles or your jaw, pacing or becoming rigid, and so forth)
  3. When you catch your self calling out directions and demanding compliance, take a moment to tune inwards and notice what is going on for you  (Notice what you are thinking, what you are feeling emotionally, and what changes you notice within your body)
  4. Withhold the judgment  (towards yourself, and those around you)
  5. Reassure yourself that you are a normal human being responding to a tough situation – and that you can get through it

(Please also feel free to leave your own suggestions as comments to this post!)

References:
Finding Life Beyond Trauma: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal from Post-traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems, by Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello (2007)

This article was originally posted on October 20, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge