I came across this passage on Facebook which perfectly captures how I feel about COVID-19. Although we are in stressful and uncertain times, I believe there are many hidden blessings. In my view, the most important thing you can do to help the world, starting on a personal level, is develop self-compassion. Times like these tend to bring out the harsh inner critic as we blame ourselves for things that are out of our control. Worry is a natural default emotion as the economy struggles under intense pressure, for many people bringing out their deepest fears and insecurities about survival. Harshness and judgement towards the self results in harshness and judgement towards others. This contributes to a collective loss of kindness that can have far more disastrous impacts than the virus itself.
It is more important now than ever before to create time in your schedule for self-care. It positively affects your energy and vitality all throughout the day and by extension improves the quality of your interactions with others. During this precious time, be kind towards yourself, and renew your sense of joy by trying something at home you've not had time for in months or even years that once was a great passion. Pleasure reading is my favourite activity in the world. Until I was in my mid-twenties, I never owned a book that I did not read and now I have several books untouched in my library! It's been a delight discovering their wisdom.
I want to do my part in healing this collective trauma that we are facing. So, if you are a health care provider on the frontlines, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 ( or are a care-taker of someone diagnosed), or have lost your job or business due to the economic impact of forced shutdowns, please feel free to reach out to me for psychotherapy sessions. I am taking on a limited amount of clients who are each eligible for up to 5 free sessions over the next 4 months.
To learn more, CAMH has some good information about the mental health effects of COVID-19 and how to cope with them. Stay safe and be well.
I enjoy reading this poem by Rumi to remind myself and my clients of the practice of consciously tolerating your emotions. Pleasant emotions are experienced as pleasurable but people tend to avoid feeling the negative emotions. Usually negative emotions and thoughts are buried, and sometimes they are numbed with alcohol, smoking, drugs or another addiction to take your mind off of what is bothering you.
Refusing to acknowledge or talk about negative emotions does not mean you have gotten rid of them or that you have risen above the tendency to feel them; they influence you both consciously and unconsciously and can manifest in negative behaviour towards a person who has hurt you at a later date. Buried resentments manifest in uglier and uglier ways as time goes on and future incidents are interpreted in light of betrayals that happened in the past. Therefore when someone says or does something that causes you to feel hurt, angry, betrayed, sad and/or unfairly treated, don't be afraid to tell them so. You could say, "I feel______when you say_____ this to me or do_______. I'd appreciate if you could keep this in mind for future." Invite others to do the same for you. In this way, there is a chance for both you and the other person to correct your behaviour in the future, rather than continuing to hurt someone you love and care for. Speak your truth and let others do the same. Consider if the other person has valid points to back up what they are saying or if you can imagine what you would feel like if you were in their shoes. If something is bothering you and you tell someone nothing is wrong when they ask you out of a belief that they should already know or talking about it won't help, you are damaging the future of the relationship. The other person will act in less affectionate ways towards you, which will cause you to do the same in return and start a cycle of emotional distance. You will not be as inclined to spend time with this person and gradually the relationship may taper off.
Realize that just because you told someone (or continue to tell them) that their words or actions hurt you and you elaborate on what they can do to rectify the situation, it does not necessarily mean they will change their behaviour or do what you are requesting of them. Sometimes they are unable to make adequate change despite their efforts to do so, sometimes they don't think they are wrong and sometimes they know they are wrong but don't care enough about you to treat you in the way you would like them to treat you. In any event, for the sake of your own happiness, you must make a decision to forgive them or make allowances if you choose to stay in a relationship with them. If they are family, you must develop coping strategies to deal with the family dynamics that are operating.
When a negative emotion comes up, don't feel the need to respond to the person right away because harsh words and impulsive actions cannot be taken back. My philosophy is that how other people treat you is their karma and what you do in response is your own karma. Rather than immediately responding, retreat to a place where you can be alone, and welcome the emotion you are feeling. Stay with it a while, don't force it away with future plans, distractions, thoughts of the past or positive thoughts and feelings. After you have sat with it a while, let it go and move on with your day. You don't need other people to validate your feelings, they are valid because you are feeling them. Do not allow others to convince you that what you are feeling is wrong. You do not need to consider in the moment whether your feelings are justifiable in the circumstances. Just allow yourself to fully feel the emotions in your body. By sitting with and tolerating the emotions, you build resilience. It will become more natural for you to deal with your emotions in a healthy, conscious way and not let them unconsciously dictate your behaviour.
Ultimately, life has its ups and downs and the beautiful emotions in life can not be truly appreciated without the more challenging ones. I believe a full life is one filled with the entire range of human emotions, as this develops empathy for others. Emotional regulation is a skill to be perfected over a lifetime and there is no better time to start than now.
Starting in April 2020, I will have office space available located at City Centre in Mississauga. The office is suitable for professionals holding client meetings. It is located at less than a 5 minute walk from Square One. The rental rate is $25 per hour or $150 for the day. Please contact me for further details if interested.
"Christmas waves a magical wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."- Norman Vincent Peale
May the miracle of Christmas fill your home and bring your family warm memories of love, laughter and happiness. Wishing you a fresh start to the magnificent New Year 2020!
Every year in late December, I reflect on the past year; my ups and downs, successes and failures, memorable relationships, and most important lessons. I dream up a vision for the New Year and the dreams I would like to manifest. I learned that journalling thought-provoking questions leads me to live life with more passion and purpose. The following are questions I created and answer myself every year. I'd like to share it to assist you in shaping your life for 2020:
To all my clients, I am beyond grateful to have worked with each and every one of you this past year. I feel blessed to be a guest into your inner world, and a guide for your personal, spiritual and emotional growth. Our sessions together give my life a profound sense of meaning and purpose. I look forward to a 2020 filled with even more healing and transformation.
Setting healthy boundaries is a crucial skill for creating mutually satisfying and healthy relationships with a variety of people in your life including your spouse, partner, family, friends, co-workers, supervisors, clients, teachers and students. Sometimes boundary setting can be thought of as rigid, but on the contrary, boundary creation and enforcement are an act of self-compassion. Thinking about boundaries helps you to anticipate what will make you happy in a relationship. Therefore, it adds a tangible, measurable structure for behaviour that will assist in building a long-lasting relationship. There is no one size fits all approach to setting boundaries within the context of each unique relationship yet when both people are happy with the structure, the prospects for a mutually satisfying relationship are enhanced.
Your boundaries teach people how to treat you by communicating what you will tolerate. Boundaries also communicate how much you value yourself. People will not place a higher value on you than the one you set for yourself. It is the same as in a store, if the sneakers you desire are marked at $100, would you pay the cashier $120 for them? If you offer a product or service at $50, will people offer to pay you $80 for it? Just like in business, when you set a high value upon your time, effort and resources, other people will learn to as well. Moreover, you will attract people who appreciate, love and respect you for who you are.
A major fear around setting boundaries is that people will leave their relationship with you or you will become less close over time. It is true you will lose people by changing what you will tolerate, perhaps many people. You won’t be manipulated as easily and some people will not like that. You will need to be happy with your own company as you will probably spend more time alone. However, if you communicate a genuine feeling or concern and the other person does not make any effort to meet you halfway, is that person worth your investment in them? Maybe it is a blessing in disguise that you go your separate ways. Engaging with people who do not care for you will gradually chip away at your self-esteem, as you find yourself in the habit of creating excuses for their unfair, inconsiderate and at times cruel behaviour. Learn to look for what they do rather than relying on what they say. Anyone can say anything with little or no intent of following though on it. Apologies without change are an insidious form of manipulation and keep you trapped in toxic, abusive relationships.
A written exercise I use with clients is one assessing the short and long-term consequences of breaking or blurring the boundaries for different relationships. To do this exercise, make three columns. The first column is the boundary. The second column is the short-term consequences of breaking the boundary. The third column is the long-term consequences of breaking the boundary.
Let us consider boundaries in dating. Say for example, you have been dating a person for about 5 months who has a habit of making last minute plans for going out, often on the same day. You enjoy this person’s company yet would prefer to make plans at least a week in advance considering your own commitments. Your partner claims that it is “impossible” for him to know in advance when he can go out, yet he has not communicated any justifiable reason for why this is the case. You’ve had to cancel plans with both your friends and family at the last minute to accommodate his schedule several times now.
A healthy boundary in this case is that if he wants to take you out, this should be communicated at least 3-4 days in advance. If at that time, you do not have other plans, you can agree to go out with him. Otherwise, his invitation would have to be rescheduled for a later date. This is a compromise between a week in advance and making plans the same day. You do not agree to go out at the last minute, even if you do not have other plans. Short term consequences of breaking this boundary are that you communicate that you regularly do not have anything else to do, that you are lonely, that you value him above other important relationships in your life and that you are willing to sacrifice the quality of your other relationships to build a relationship with him. Friends and family are hurt that you aren’t around as much. Long-term consequences are that your friends and family view you as unreliable and inconsiderate. They may question your judgement. You become more isolated as you don’t spend as much time with other people. The person you are dating takes it for granted that you will always be there and does not treat you as well. He learns that if his other plans fall through and he has nothing else to do, he can spend the time with you, as a plan B. He does not need to impress you, so he does not spend time planning fun dates, instead preferring to “hang out”. In other words, you are not a priority for him. He will never learn to make you his first priority because he does not see you as an equal partner. You unwittingly teach him to view you as a short-term fling rather than a future wife.
From this example, you can see the immense damage it causes when you fail to create and maintain effective boundaries in your life. You will become resentful that people are taking advantage of you yet you will notice that you keep attracting more and more people who drain your energy. It takes courage to recognize people who make you feel crazy or guilty for enforcing your own boundaries. Sometimes that means cutting someone out of your life after they repeatedly fail to respect your boundaries. Sometimes it means not having as much contact with someone who previously you were close to or imagined that in the future you would become closer to. Dare to dream of a future where most of the people in your life truly value you for who you are and treat you with love and respect. You deserve it.
Think about who you spend the most time with. Who are these people and how are they influencing you? The people we spend the most time with impact our thoughts, feelings and energy, and shape our life direction. I’ve learned to trust the wisdom of my body when making decisions about people in my life—how do I feel when I leave the interaction? Do I feel joy? Uplifted? Lethargic? Drained? Sad? Resentful? Hopeful? Angry? Inspired? Excited? Loving? Not good enough? The mind can rationalize and justify many things that are said but the body is intuitive; the gut reaction you have towards someone is a very powerful indicator of how the relationship will turn out. I’ve met numerous people who can say all the right things, deliver compliments with false sincerity, make promises with no intent to deliver, and can lie to your face without blinking an eye. When the time for action comes, they will disappear with no accountability or remorse. Such people discard you as soon as you discover their real agenda and/or are of no use to them anymore because they did not genuinely care for you in the first place.
How do you recognize such people early on? I’ve observed that there are behaviours you can look for and the common denominator is respect. People who respect you value your time, energy, skills and personality. If the answer is no to the following questions, it is best to minimize the time spent with that individual, even if they are family or have been in your life for a long time.
Invest in people who invest in you. People learn how to treat you by the behaviours you tolerate. Setting clear boundaries and communicating what is not acceptable is key to attracting and maintaining healthy relationships. Choose to spend time with people who leave you feeling uplifted, inspired and encouraged. Engage with people who value your personality, strengths and skills, and make you feel optimistic and confident about the future. Avoid people who are harsh, critical and speak negatively. Because if they talk to you about other people in a negative tone, they will have no problem discussing you in a negative tone with others.
If you have people in your life who treat you well even if they know you would forgive them if they didn’t, consider these people as diamonds in the rough. Cultivate self-love by spending time with the right people.
Self-care is an important part of maintaining a healthy mind. It is easy to slip into "auto-pilot" at the beginning of the day when you don't take the time to centre your thoughts and engage in a spiritual practice. Failing to feed the spiritual self on a daily basis can result in burnout, pessimism, lethargy, repressed emotions, unbalanced/ unhealthy relationships, and distorted expectations of the future.
My favourite form of self-care are retreats. In September I had the opportunity to visit a retreat centre in Ontario for 4 days for an self-directed retreat. I engage in a retreat at least once annually as a form of energy clearing, contemplation and planning. The energy of being near the lake and out in the forest for an extended period of time assists me in coming up with fresh ideas to old problems, and to replace stagnant energy with a renewed vibrancy. The healing effects are superior to visiting the lake or a trail for a day because on the retreat you have the benefit of having the property to yourself and just a few other guests. The privacy aids in emotional release. You may speak your deepest thoughts and emotions out loud to release to nature what does not serve you and at the same time breathe in that fresh energy to create a brighter future.
Walking the labyrinth is a particularly powerful way to receive new insights and ideas, to aid in healing and transformation. I find that it assists me in getting rid of stress, replacing self-doubt with self-compassion and being able to see people and relationships in a more forgiving light. At the beginning of the labyrinth, you ask a question you are seeking guidance regarding, or state feelings you are trying to let go of. You may also ask how to make a certain trait a stronger part of your character, if you have lost touch with that part of yourself. Some people choose to repeat a word, phrase or statement repeatedly as they walk, or others just walk being open to any guidance that may arise. In the centre, you take some time to integrate any revelations that came to you as you were walking.
I'd like to share some photos with you of my retreat and hope you will find the time to take one of your own soon.
Thursday October 10th 2019 is World Mental Health Day, a time to reflect on how powerful it can be to share your authentic feelings and experiences with someone whom you can trust. People often see physical illness as worthy of empathy because it is visible. For example, you would not fault someone in a wheelchair for not being able to run at a certain speed. In contrast, because mental illness is invisible, it is less likely to garner that same extent of empathy. Other people may blame someone with clinical depression or anxiety for not being able to work because they perceive that person to be lazy. People are more forgiving of physical illness than a mental illness, even though on a global scale, one in four people will experience mental health issues at some point in their lives.
There is a lot of pressure exerted on individuals to put on a strong face; to give the impression that everything is going well in their lives despite adverse, unfair, unexpected and traumatic events that have happened or continue to happen. It can be painful to suffer in silence, or to think that even if you screamed, other people would pretend that they could not hear you. Someone may be brave enough to speak their truth on a public forum, and notice that some of their social media 'friends' or followers have unfollowed them. Or perhaps you make people aware of an injustice happening at school, work, or other public setting, and other people term you "unprofessional", minimize contact with you, and/or inflict unfair punishments simply because they have the power to do so. Systemic power imbalances perpetuated in society allow certain people and organizations to get away with horrible things on a regular basis and rarely do these people show any remorse for what they have done or continue to do. It shows great strength of character when you stand up for yourself in the face of opponents with considerably more resources than you.
Especially today, remember that speaking your truth allows you to step into your personal power, regardless of how other people label you, or what consequences are inflicted on you. On a daily basis, you need to define your own self-worth, and not let this be determined by other people's opinions and projections. It takes courage to share your story, knowing that you may not get the outcome you want or you may be criticized or ostracized for doing so. Sometimes people label someone as 'negative' or a 'troublemaker' because they were brave enough to call out the evil and immoral actions of other people. At the same time, you know that in the future, other people in your position may be in a stronger position to tackle the injustices you faced. There is tremendous potential for change in sharing your personal narrative, whether it is in person, online, in the media, or through the written or spoken word. Everytime you share your story, you influence other people, and those people influence other people. You never know how large your circle of influence really is or who you are indirectly influencing at any given time. If you have overcome your own personal mental health stuggles, or are currently working through them, please do share your story. You never know whose heart and soul you will touch in the process.