Caution: Sarcasm Ahead

Sarcasm is one of those tricky forms of humour. Using irony as a way to prove a point can be a skillful way of bringing some laughter to the moment; however most people will use sarcasm as a way to mask their hostility. Those on the receiving end of a sarcastic remark will feel the put down; you can say something but because it’s masked in “humour,” you will most likely be accused of not being able to take a joke.

Using sarcasm consistently as a way to get a message across to others is a form of anger and can lean into bullying behaviours. The intention of using sarcasm, then, becomes not to look for a solution, but rather to feel justified or right, to prove a point, or to “get back” at someone. No clear communication there.

So let’s move instead, to clever wit; being able to use humour when communicating can be very productive. People will know when you’re using humour because of your non-verbal signals; sarcasm almost always brings with it an underlying look of anger, being witty will have your face open and smiling. And if you are on the receiving end of a sarcastic remark? Call them out on it:

“Hmmm, that sounds a bit sarcastic. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to take that.”

“Geesh, can’t take a joke or what?” 

“Sure, I can take a joke when it’s funny.” 

Short and sweet; delivered calmly. It will carry more weight than trying to just ignore it or getting angry in retaliation.

Bottom line? Use caution when choosing sarcasm as a form of communication. Being witty is more effective and will not hurt those to which you’re teasing 🙂

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Grief and the Inheritance of Joy

When grieving, a feeling that can be common is that of guilt. In the midst of our sadness, when we struggle to process a loved one’s death and their physical absence from our life, we often experience guilt for feeling any amount of joy. Sometimes it can even catch us off guard and we immediately feel as though we have somehow failed our loved ones. From this, there can develop what we consider to be a homage of sorts; that while we still grace the earth with our presence, we will dampen our joy so as not to let anyone doubt the depth of our love for the one who has passed.

When this occurs and it is brought to our attention, a common question gets asked of us; “Would – your loved one – want you to be this sad? Would they ask that you contain your joy for the rest of your life?” And the answer is always “No, of course not.” I have never heard a client or otherwise answer that question with a “Yes, I think that is what they would want of me.”

The reason that this question resonates is because of the inheritance of joy. It is in the energy of the universe. Just as we want the very best for our loved ones in our life, so, I believe we would want that in our death. That by grieving our loved one’s passing and by honouring the special relationship that we had with them, we also move towards the renewal of a life of contentedness and peace. The inheritance of joy – a lovely way to think of the parting gift of our loved ones.

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Getting Ready for Mental Health Week

May 3 – 9th, 2021 marks mental health week. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has a catchy theme this year:

#GetReal about how you feel. Name it, don’t numb it. “This CMHA Mental Health Week, we focus on how naming, expressing, and dealing with our emotions — the ones we like and the ones we don’t — is important for our mental health.”

They offer downloadable toolkits and lots of information and articles about naming your feelings and understanding your emotions. You can also subscribe to get updates. This is a great resource and with almost a month before the event, we can spend some time exploring and learning about emotions.

Follow the link for more information: https://mentalhealthweek.ca/

Photo credit: CMHA

What Anxiety and Anger Have in Common

You’re running late, feeling keyed up about not being on time; no one seems to be co-operating and the littlest one is starting to have a meltdown because she can’t find her favourite hat. Before you know it, you are yelling at the kids and yanking the closet door practically off of its hinges.

How did you go from anxious to angry so easily? Simply answered, our bodies set us up for it. When we are anxious, our body’s muscles tense up, our blood pressure rises, our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes more shallow and our attention narrows. The same thing happens when we are angry. Both our anxiety and our anger activate what is called the sympathetic nervous system which gets us ready for action. It becomes very easy when feeling stressed, to simply shift into anger because our bodies are already there.

It is our parasympathetic system that gets us back to a relaxed state. Eventually, whether anxious or angry, built in mechanisms eventually bring us back to calmness (picture driving to work after having dropped off the kids, coffee purchased and music playing). In the midst of feeling stressed, we can help that process along and allow it to get us there sooner by taking some deep breaths.

Focusing on slowing down our breathing pushes the reset button on both our physiological state and our mindset. We are much better served to stop, take some deep breaths and state to ourselves “It’s okay, like every other morning, we’ll get there.” Leaving everyone less rattled and the door still on its hinges 🙂

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Check Yourself at the Gate

When we feel passionate about something, our emotions can run high. When we feel hurt by something our partner does, we can get pretty steamed. When our teenager acts disrespectfully towards us, we can see red. Natural response? Absolutely. But how do we want to react to these intense emotions?

I worked with a man a few years back who sought counselling due to his short temper. A 34 year old father of a 4 year old and 2 year old, he came in after having realized that his 4 year old was now yelling and swearing at his little brother, just like ‘dad.’ We did some exploring as to what was happening for him when his temper peaked; what his biggest triggers were and how anger, at the time, seemed like the only answer….”Well, they sure listen when you yell.”

I also asked him what he learned about anger growing up and how anger was expressed in his own household. It would seem that much of his own lessons about anger were learned from his father, who “had a quick temper and a fast backhand.” Although the man in my office felt he had improved in his own parenting for never physically touching his boys, he had begun to realize that his yelling and swearing were producing the same feelings in his children as they had for him; fear and mistrust.

He experienced some “aha moments” in therapy; followed by news ways of coping with anger and some strategies for change. He came in for our last session, sharing with me his own understanding of anger:

“I now know that a charging bull is not going to be satisfied until it hits something. My job with those boys and my wife is to check myself at the gate.” That, it would seem, is pretty good advice 🙂

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The Anger Iceberg; a visual way of understanding anger

In the article entitled “The Anger Iceberg” by Kyle Benson and featured on The Gottman Institute Relationship Blog, Benson writes: “Think of anger like an iceberg. Most of the iceberg is hidden below the surface of the water. Similarly, when we are angry, there are usually other emotions hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to see a person’s anger but can be difficult to see the underlying feelings the anger is protecting.”

In therapy, one of the most useful bits of information I provide to clients is about anger. Learning that anger is an emotion that tends to come after a feeling sets up a good understanding for why we use it; it keeps us safe. Safe from the other emotions that as Benson points out, hide under the surface. Beginning to recognize what feelings are prompting the anger is a good first step in beginning to process not only the anger, but the hidden feeling as well.

Benson includes a downloadable PDF graphic image of the Anger Iceberg that is worth checking out. To read the full article: https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-anger-iceberg/

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Jealousy and How it Damages Relationships

Secure attachment is a safe place; one in which we feel a sense of reciprocal loyalty to our partner. Within the context of a healthy relationship, there may be times when we feel a bit territorial; if you are at a social event and it appears that someone has decided to put the charm on your partner, you may get a little prickly feeling, a natural response to someone invading your space.

But what happens when it moves to jealousy? And what does that do to a relationship? The short answer…..it erodes it. Jealousy is a feeling that can border upon and include emotions such as envy, resentment, and bitterness. Jealousy is about unentitled ownership, mistrust, and suspicion; all of which will do nothing to contribute to the health of a relationship. Jealousy is about feeling insecure and placing that vulnerability on the shoulders of your partner; clearly not their job.

When feeling jealous, it is our job to ask ourselves why; to begin to take ownership for how those feelings developed and what we can do to change them. If our partner is excessively flirty or there have been questionable moments of infidelity in the past, that becomes a relationship problem; jealousy may be growing out of what now has become unhealthy.

In any case, jealousy is an emotion we need to keep in check. Leaning into it not only erodes the relationship, it also wears away at our own sense of a confident and secure self.

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Observe and Describe; Getting Back to our Emotions

Our emotional system is quite amazing. We are born with a set of emotions that innately work for us and yet that same emotional system is shaped by the world around us. The experiences and lessons we have been taught by our caregivers will influence and guide us into our emotions and our reactions to those feelings, healthy or not.

We know that emotion trumps reason every time. In reclaiming our emotional system so as to begin to feel more emotionally regulated, the first step is to simply observe and describe our emotions at any given time in our day. This is easier said than done 🙂

Our emotions as adults often come with judgement: “Crying is a sign of weakness,” “I go from 0 to 60 when I’m angry and I know its wrong,” “I feel guilty because I disappoint people.” Judgments,; however, tend to be a precursor to action; so we are much better served to set our goals on observing and describing: “I feel sad right now,” “I can feel a tightness in my chest,” “I can feel my anger rising.”

This may not be easy, but with practice and patience, you will begin to see your emotions in a different light. Freeing them from their cages, you will feel lighter and less tied to developed patterns; giving you a sense of agency and direction in your own emotional world.

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10 Ways to Distract Yourself from an Uncomfortable Emotion

Dealing with an uncomfortable emotion can wreak havoc on our comfort system. We can try to avoid a prickly feeling, but it likes center stage; it will keep poking at us to the point where emotion trumps reason, leaving us feeling flustered and possibly regretful for things said or done in the heat of an all encompassing emotion.

When we attempt to bring our rational mind into the picture, one of the ways we can do that is with distraction. It is important to note that distraction techniques are not avoidance; rather they are useful activities that help shift us into a position that is closer to wise mind. Taking a few deep breaths to start, here are ten ways we can distract ourselves from an uncomfortable emotion:

  • Get moving on a task you need to get done. Focusing on something allows you to feel productive.
  • Pay it forward; doing something kind for another person allows you to feel altruistic, a higher-level emotion.
  • Watch a funny show or movie.
  • Complete a word puzzle such as a crossword. Work on a Rubik’s cube.
  • Count to 10, forwards and backwards. Repeat song lyrics or a prayer.
  • Get outside; fresh air and walking always help.
  • Organize something; a closet, your calendar, your plastics cupboard 🙂
  • Call a friend; inviting them out for coffee.
  • For 15 minutes, resist the urge to act. Very often, that is all it takes to resist unhealthy behaviours.
  • Use sensation; hold an ice cube in your hand, take a hot shower, wash your face in cold water.

Any one of these distraction techniques opens up the space for your rational mind to get a bit more wiggle room in the space that your emotions are occupying. When we allow some common sense to temper our emotions, we feel more grounded and prepared to deal with the situation in a calmer state.

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The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

Guilt is one of our healthy emotions; if we manage our feelings of guilt in a way as to help us repair, it can strengthen our relationships and help contribute to a sound regulation of our emotions. Although there is a belief that shame is an extension of guilt, that is a misconception. Shame may share some characteristics with guilt; they are both self-conscious and fall into the class of “moral” emotions; however, shame differs from guilt as it is tied to self-worth.

When we feel guilty, we did something bad; when we feel shame, we are bad. Guilt will make us feel regret; shame will make us feel small. When we feel guilty, we desire to apologize; when shame strikes, we desire to hide.

People who struggle with shame often have experienced childhoods that planted the seed of worthlessness. Trauma, attachment injuries, abuse or being made to feel shameful can all apply. Although the working through of shame does often require therapy, it is important to remember that if you or a loved one struggles with shame, experiencing a shameful act or being made to carry the weight of shame by a parent does not make you a shameful person. You may have been affected by the experience, but you are most definitely not defined by it.

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