One Thing You Should Never Say to a Loved One

I tend not to rely on the “shoulds” or the “shouldn’ts” when giving suggestions to clients as those two words lock us into some rigid thought patterns which work against movement and growth. When it comes to relationships; however, there is one thing you should never say to a loved one:

“Make me happy.”

We grew up with notions of fairy-tale love; love that completes, love that comes in on its’ white horse and whisks us off to a castle to live happily ever after. (That does sound kind of nice!) But it isn’t realistic. It doesn’t show the work of love, the investment of love, the time and effort of love. Sometimes we may not say those actual words to a loved one, but it is believed, implied, or understood as being a part of their job.

We are not responsible for another person’s happiness. We are responsible for our own happiness. Are we responsible for how we make other people feel? Of course we are. We make choices every day that either feed the health of the relationship, or foster its dysfunction. Do we want to be with someone who cares about and shares in our happiness? Absolutely! But when it comes to happiness, it is our responsibility to work towards a feeling of contentment across all fields, including the love we have with others.

And so, love compliments. It compliments the love and respect we have for ourselves, it builds upon inner contentment, it becomes woven into our being through action and intent. Love will compliment and give power to the happiness we set out to seek for ourselves. 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Marion Michele on Unsplash

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A Little Reminder About Rest

I love this quote by Morgan Harper Nichols:

“A restful approach to restless uncertainty provides strength and endurance for the rest of the journey.”

– Morgan Harper Nichols

Very often, we seek rest at the end of our day. Our work and home duties completed, kids off to bed, we sink into the couch for a good dose of Netflix, catch up with a friend, relax with a book, take a bath. We reward ourselves with rest.

But what about the days that catch up to us? What about the stressful days? The restless ones? It is on those days that carving out time to rest is essential for our self-care, for those are the days we need it the most. Sometimes it may not seem possible, but it is. It may mean consciously putting every thing aside for some quiet time outside with your face to the sun, or taking 20 minutes for a leisurely stroll in the park. It may mean taking a power nap, or spontaneously calling a friend to meet for lunch. It may mean unplugging for a solid 30 minutes.

Making rest an important part of our day, regardless of its tone, builds our resilience; providing strength and endurance for the rest of the journey 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Angelina Kichukova on Unsplash

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My Child is Gay; Now What?

In an article entitled, “Modern do’s and don’ts for parents of gay kids coming out” by Ryan E. Thompson and featured on CBC Life, Thompson writes about the things to say (or not say) when your child comes out to you. Written with some cheeky wit, Thompson lists 5 key pieces of advice:

  • Foster a positive LGBTQ atmosphere.  “Create a sense of diversity/openness in your home where your kids can feel comfortable if they are questioning. Don’t assume everyone in the world is straight, and your kids will feel less out of place in your home.”
  • Refrain from saying “I’ll love you no matter what.”  “It translates to ‘I love you even though you are gay’ as if gayness were an illness or aberration.” As for a suggested alternative? “How about just ‘Thank you for telling me. I love you.”
  • Don’t make it about you. “Coming out is a big deal in a gay person’s life. For some, it ends up being the most important moment in their lives. It’s a big deal for parents too. Often mothers and fathers need time to adjust, be re-educated and mourn the loss of expectation they had for their kid. Your issues as a parent do deserve attention, but shelving it for a while helps as you and your kids adjust to a new dynamic.”
  • Have an open dialogue. “This one is key. Getting comfortable with your kid’s sexual identity demands conversation but….If your son or daughter doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you right away, or if you don’t feel comfortable talking about it right away, try consulting another gay person or organization.”
  • Refrain from asking if it’s a phase. “Your gay son or daughter knows who they are attracted to the same way you do. Yes, sexuality exists on a spectrum and yes it can be fluid, but If they are coming to you with this information, it’s safe to say they are currently quite sure.”

Some wonderful advice for not only parents, but for aunts and uncles and grandparents too. To read the full article (it was very well written, funny, and goes into much greater detailing than I have included here), go to: https://www.cbc.ca/life/wellness/modern-do-s-and-don-ts-for-parents-of-gay-kids-coming-out-1.4065509

A great resource for parents is Pflag Canada: https://pflagcanada.ca/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

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And the Band Played On Podcast; a worthy listen

I recently finished a podcast series entitled “And the Band Played On,” hosted by journalist Julie Ireton and featured on CBC Radio. It was a 7 episode podcast which featured stories of historical, sexual abuse at the hands of three teachers, spanning four decades, involving forty-four identified victims. And it all happened from the 1970’s – 1990’s in an Ottawa high school.

The podcast itself was very well done; there were many interviews with the victims, we were able to follow along through the paths of justice, and it shone a light on not only the importance of individual accountability for someone’s sins, but also systemic responsibility for allowing the abuse to continue.

For anyone who struggles in understanding how high school students can “let themselves be abused,” just listening to this podcast will give you a greater understanding of how power differentials create not only a blind trust in those who lead us as children; it also forges an internalized shame that is isolating and long-lasting.

In the final episode, I appreciated one victim’s account of having to potentially face his accuser in the courtroom:

Julie Ireton explains that Bob Clarke (accused teacher) was already in prison when police laid new charges against him in John Coady’s case. Coady braced for a court appearance. “I thought if he pleads not guilty, then we are just going to have to go to court and fucking testify in front of people so we’re going to play this cat and mouse game. I’m not doing that. And then I said “Oh, hold on a second, I am fucking doing that.” No more secrets for John Coady. “I’m not a secret keeper.”

Very often, those who have been sexually abused as children, do become the secret keepers; the keeping of that secret can be devastating. And the Band Played On provides its audience with an honest view of what it feels like to not only keep a secret, but also the healing qualities of having finally let it go.

And the Band Played On is a worthy listen. Visit the website at: https://xd.wayin.com/display/container/dc/30d9e51f-0909-428b-a5ea-ba4c734a96b8/details

Photo credit:http://Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

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A Quote About the Storms of Life

Thank you to my friend Gurlie who sent this quote my way:

“Not all storms come to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path.” – Unknown

When we are in the midst of a storm, we are often preoccupied. We are focused on what is happening outside, we are at times anxious, wondering if we should be taking greater shelter, we are focused on the unknowns and we worry about the aftermath.

When we are challenged by a storm in our own life, we often focused on the unanswered question of “why?” This is a natural response as we are curious creatures; we also feel comforted by knowledge and understanding. Sometimes we will never get the why question answered. Sometimes we get the answer years later.

It is important while in the midst of the storm to not get too preoccupied with the storm itself; rather to try and ride the storm, seeking shelter in our support system and having faith that we are going to be okay. If we never weather the storm, we also won’t see the rainbow when we step outside.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

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Healthy Coping Strategies for Family Systems

In our third and final post in this series about family systems, we look at steps we can take when dealing with a closed family system and/or fostering an open one. The first step begins through understanding and acceptance that the relationships we have are not always the ones we want. I often refer to our propensity towards eternal hope, and we can often stay stuck in a place of wishing that our familial relationships were easier/better/kinder, etc.

Understanding that sometimes we have to manage our familial relationships, gives us the permission to put some much needed steps into place:

  1. Boundaries. Boundaries are an important part of a healthy family system. Giving people their space for privacy, trying to understand their position in times of conflict, aiming for balance in terms of time spent together, the expectation of good manners and kind behaviour towards each other, rules for repair.
  2. Take space when you need to. If you are trying to work with a closed family system, there will be times when you will need to distance yourself from the chaos of it. And that is okay. Communication is key in letting family members know that space is important right now as some much needed processing needs to take place. In a open system, members tend to be able to find some balance between time spent together and time spent apart to best maximize both the individual and the group.
  3. Use your voice. One of the ways we focus on good communication in families is to be able to tell others how something makes us feel. There are times that we can overlook a slight or a jab, and other times we can’t. Very often, we will sacrifice our own needs or wants in order to not create conflict. Beginning to recognize what can’t be overlooked is an important step in telling a loved one that their behaviour hurt you in some way. Being able to say something calmly, focused on fact and feeling, short and sweet, will allow you to feel as though you said what needed to be said regardless of the outcome.

Relationships can be tough. They also require work. But they are also the most rewarding and fulfilling social connection that we have; working towards the health of a relationship becomes our number one goal in living a life that is focused on meaning, love and overall contentedness.

Photo credit:http://Photo by Ian Parker on Unsplash

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Open Family Systems; Optimal Growth

Continuing our exploration from yesterday in which we looked at closed family systems, today we will examine what an open family system looks like. In an open family system:

  • Individuality is regarded as just as important as the group dynamic. The family as a group is an important element – it is one of the things that provides its members with stability and consistency. In an open system; however, there is just as much emphasis on who its members are as individuals, and those qualities are honoured.
  • Unconditional love is present. In an open system, family members are praised for their successes and forgiven for their mistakes. The group does not suffer as a result of an individual’s mistake. That is not to say that the family does not struggle at times through challenges, and there can be conflict, but an individual is supported through that process and not outcasted as they would be in a closed system.
  • Other people are accepted into the system. In an open system, families accept the partner choices of its members. Again, there may be trepidation or concerns about who a family member has chosen, but the emphasis to conform is not present.
  • Chaos is not typically present and there is a focus on repair. Conflict may arise at times in an open system, but generally speaking, it doesn’t reach chaotic levels. If there are disagreements, there is a also focus on repair. This allows resolution among the individual parties which in turn, strengthens the group.

If you were lucky enough to have been raised in an open system, you are most likely carrying on quite nicely. The lessons we learn from an open system allow us to bring those principles to our own children. If, however, you were not raised in an open system but wish to have one, begin first by examining these characteristics, reading about secure attachment, and adopting a flexible and open thought process to what each individual brings to the group as a whole. Tomorrow we will close out this series with some coping strategies for dealing with a closed system as well working towards an open one.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Charles Postiaux on Unsplash

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Closed Systems and How They Affect Relationships

When we look at family dynamics and what is healthy versus what is unhealthy, one way to do that is through the perspective of whether or not the family works from the position of a closed system or an open one. Today’s post will look at the closed system and how it affects the relationships within it. If you come from a closed family system, here are some of its characteristics:

  • Conformity to the system is required. Both for the spoken and unspoken rules, members of the family are expected to conform. As a result, family members struggle with issues of control and rigidity.
  • The group is regarded as greater than the individuals within it. Very often, in a closed family system, children are raised with their parent’s intentions and not their own and as a result, little emphasis is placed on individuality. Acceptance comes at a cost.
  • There is often enmeshment in a closed system due to co-dependence. It is often quite common to have adult children continuing to live at home in a closed system (*note: there is a trend for young people to return home after college to save money – this is not the same as adult children living at home due to enmeshment.)
  • There tends to be more chaos. With greater need to control, rigid thinking, and oppression to individuality, you are creating a breeding ground for conflict.
  • No information comes in and no information goes out. The closed system wants allegiance and is very protective of its group. This can often create hesitation in someone seeking therapy, as they feel a great sense of disloyalty to the family.

Growing up in a closed system is an oppressive process. Some people will take the path of least resistance and will adhere to the system; others will begin to believe in the system as being the “best way” and will continue its dynamics in their own families; others will decide that what they want is an open system; one that is based on healthier principles and optimal growth. Tomorrow we will look at open family systems, followed the next day by healthy strategies.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Charles Postiaux on Unsplash

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Victim or Survivor; the preferential difference

I sat with a client recently who told me that she didn’t like the word survivor. Having suffered through sexual abuse by an uncle for almost four years of her childhood, she noted that the word felt wrong to her. She also didn’t particularly like the word victim; she felt that both defined her in a way that didn’t fit her experience.

From a therapist’s perspective, when someone is victimized, they experience an event to which they had no control over. The traumatic experience happens to them and their power in those moments are taken away from them. When we talk about being a survivor, it is in the context of having lived through the experience, of having endured the trauma. As a therapist, I often use those two words interchangeably in order to try and validate a person’s experience with trauma. But I couldn’t with her.

And so we stayed there. We worked through both words, we explored why she felt they didn’t fit her. We spent time on how the experience of being sexually abused  and the consequential division of the family left its mark on her, the ways that she has healed and the path that is still in front of her.

And then we looked at new words; ones that she felt better defined her. And she said “I was brave. I continue to need courage. I am a champion.”

Sounds good to me 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash

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Am I Dating A Narcissist?

As I often note, everything exists on a continuum. The same can be said for narcissistic behaviour; if it goes to far, it can develop into a disorder. Unfortunately, if you are dating someone who exhibits narcissistic traits, you will most likely be left in their dust, as they require a whole lot of time and attention and often have difficulty giving it back. Here are some traits that tend to be narcissistic in nature and can lead to you wondering if you are dealing with a narcissist.

  1. They have a sense of entitlement and tend to feel they are superior to others. Although a narcissist is in fact, insecure, they present themselves in the beginning as being quite charming and confident. Not too long into the relationship, you will begin to notice that the narcissist only feels safe in top position, and they feel entitled to getting their own way, all the time.
  2. They have a constant need for attention. From you and from others; which often leads to narcissists either being unfaithful or finding someone else at the tail end of a relationship so that they aren’t alone. It is a process of validation that is tiring and without end.
  3. They have trouble taking responsibility for their actions. Narcissists tend to carry shame (that is masked of course by their sense of superiority), and so admitting that they made a mistake will threaten their tightly veiled system.
  4. They don’t tend to have a lot of empathy. Because their emotional capacity is limited, and they put lots of energy into producing a false sense of self, they really don’t have time to think about how you feel.
  5. They can turn on a dime. You are either the love of their life or their worst enemy; and they reflect both in their actions towards you.

As we all know, we can’t change another person. There are times in relationship, when changing our reactions or our choices can influence the relationship in a way that can produce a desired effect. Dealing with a narcissist; however, can prove to be a very unsatisfying experience as their need to maintain their false sense of self trumps their desire to have a healthy relationship.

Bottom line? If you see the red flags, heed them 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Jansen Yang on Unsplash

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