Covid Uncertainty

I was speaking with a client last week who has been working quite effectively with managing her anxiety. She spoke about a situation which had started out quite confidently – heading into a store with her mask on and her list of items; feeling no anxiety. She noted that upon entering the store, she began to notice how many people were there and a quiet unease settled in. She stated that despite her telling herself that protocol was being followed, her unease began to grow until she decided that she needed to leave.

In therapy, she was hard on herself, stating that she has never had social anxiety before and it threw her off. We explored what had happened and it would seem that it really had less to do with social anxiety and we chalked it up to ‘Covid-19 uncertainty.’

With any event that brings uncertainty, we will have some anxiety to manage. Part of that need comes from our survival brain which is always behind the scenes looking for possible danger. We are also creatures of habit who like to plan with some expectation – uncertainty tends to bring a little adventure to the mix 🙂

Covid-19 has brought with it a time of navigating waters unknown – without a captain, we are steering our ship with some instructions from the coast guard but relying mainly on our selves to determine the best course. As a result, we can give ourselves permission to ‘go with our gut’ and do what is comfortable for ourselves and for our families.

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The Reality of Loss

Loss comes in many forms; in the grief we feel when a loved one passes away, in the sorrow of a break up, in the distress of losing a job. We feel loss when the leaves have all fallen and the trees sit bare, when times as we knew it are gone, when we struggle with a life circumstance that seems overwhelming.

The reality of loss is just that; it is acknowledging that grief is a part of life. It is accepting that in our process of grieving we have also loved.

Here are three quotes about loss that have resonated with me:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”- C.S. Lewis

“Know that I am with you, the only way that I can be. Until you’re in my arms again….remember me.” – Disney’s COCO

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What is Emotional Dumping?

After having walked away from a verbal exchange with someone, do you ever feel more conflicted and confused than before you started?  Then you might have just experienced emotional dumping.

Emotional dumping is used as a way for people to escape from taking any responsibility for their actions, circumstances or state of the relationship. It is also a way to deflect the real issues at hand, as a way to protect themselves from coming into and embracing a vulnerable state. Emotional dumping includes:

  • the need to be right or feel justified trumps the ability to compromise or look for a solution.
  • victim type behaviours and language.
  • defensive with the need to blame you/others.
  • the conversation is overwhelming – either with a ‘dumpload’ of issues, or a constant repeat of the same issue.
  • the conversation happens on their agenda and your time is not considered.

There are times when emotional dumping will be directed at you or you become the emotional dumping ground – in either case, the person in front of you isn’t really wanting your input, advice or perspective. Knowing this can be helpful in allowing yourself to make decisions about how you want to handle this type of behaviour in the future, by taking your space, shutting it down, or politely explaining that you can no longer participate in a conversation that goes nowhere. 🙂

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What is an Acute Stress Response?

I recently sat with a client who had been a witness to a serious car accident. She had been involved in helping those injured and at the time of the accident was in full swing action mode. Three weeks later, she was still struggling with some of the after effects of that incident.

When we have an especially upsetting experience or trauma, we will often experience an acute stress reaction. Very often, that will include a re-experiencing of the event with intrusive images or flashbacks. It can also include a state of hyper-arousal in which we may feel irritable, have trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and feeling on edge. And lastly, an acute stress reaction can lead us to purposefully avoid thoughts and feelings, people or places that are linked to the event. For example, she was avoiding going along that stretch of road to get to work.

Typically, almost everyone who is exposed to a traumatic event will experience an acute stress reaction. Although the reaction may vary in its intensity, it will usually resolve within a few weeks. As we began working through some of the client’s symptoms, she was able to identify that she was sleeping better, not thinking about it as much, and was not quite so consumed with the images that were left behind.

When we are aware that we can experience such a reaction, we can also reassure ourselves that it is a typical response to a stressful event and that a normal recovery will take place. Sometimes, however, the symptoms remain and this is when we are at risk for developing post traumatic symptoms. Tomorrow’s post will look at 5 facts about PTSD.

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A Reminder About Invincibility

I have noticed that during this pandemic, there is an ebb and flow to the attention we must give to Covid-19. We face a change, settle in for the ‘long haul,’ and then we are faced with another change. Those are the times when heightened feelings are up and you can feel a palpable shift in anxiety. With children returning to school in the next couple of weeks, we are in such a state. Decisions have to be made, differing opinions flood social media; we feel braced for the numbers to go up.

I came across this poem by Albert Camus that gives us a reminder about the strength we have within ourselves:

In the midst of hate, I found there was

within me, an invincible love.

In the midst of tears, I found there was,

within me, an invincible smile.

In the midst of chaos, I found there was,

within me, an invincible calm.

I realized, through it all, that in 

the midst of winter, I found there was,

within me, and invincible summer.

And that makes me happy.

For it says that no matter how hard 

the world pushes against me,

within me, there’s something stronger –

something better, pushing right back.

– Albert Camus

The world these days often feels as though it is pushing against us. With our invincibility, we can push back 🙂

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“Something Bad Is Going to Happen”

Over-estimating danger is a common thinking trap. Often tied to a core belief or learned from past experience, we can fall prey to believing that something bad is going to happen. For some people, it can be an accompanying thought to a low-level feeling of anxiety that is often described as “a feeling of dread.”

If your childhood was filled with uncertainty or chaos, you most likely live with low level anxiety. Our fight-or-flight system responds to this low level anxiety as “something is wrong.” The same will occur if you have been triggered to a past trauma. This can create a loop of feelings, thoughts and behaviours; therefore referred to as a thinking trap. When we over-estimate danger, we exaggerate the chance that something bad will happen.

We are much better served when we begin to realize that these thoughts are tied to the past and are now misplaced anxiety. We can challenge the thought by asking ourselves “Am I confusing the possibility with certainty?” It is about using our rational brain to comfort our emotional brain; focusing on the facts of “I am safe, I am in charge of me, I have choices.”

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How We Stand In Our Own Way

Sometimes we create our own roadblock to change. This is not always obvious; after all, denial is a big line of defense. It can happen consciously – we verbally deny observations or questions brought to our attention; and it can also occur unconsciously, where the pull is stronger and it usually involves ‘forgetting’ elements of what has taken place.

Typically, when we sense that there is something we hold back from ourselves, this represents our sore spots, our fears, our deep insecurities. It is usually tied to something from our childhood, and the thought of facing it is too frightening. The result? Self-sabotage. We find it in addiction, patterns of behaviour, automatic thoughts. It weaves itself into our relationships and can affect its functioning.

In therapy, we often reach the point of exploring the resistance; usually when the therapist begins to feel compelled to convince. The first step is to come to the realization that we have created our own roadblock to change, and by sticking to old patterns, thoughts and behaviours, we are now perpetuating the cycle.

From there, we can be curious. Where did this develop and why? Having these answers often makes it okay to give ourselves permission to ask ourselves “Does it have to be this way? Can I push past my comfort zone? Learn new ways of coping?” 

Sometimes, we have to step out of our own way 🙂

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Common Roles we Carry from Childhood

Dysfunction in families shows up as does everything else – on a continuum. Sometimes the chaos and abuse is obvious, other times the dysfunction is more subtle. Through my work with clients, I have learned that the roles we are given in childhood, based on some level of dysfunction, has the ability to be carried into our adult lives as it begins to weave itself into our identity. Here are some common roles we carry from childhood:

  1. The Caregiver. Most often, this role is created when an older sibling is expected to care and look out for younger siblings. Sometimes this may happen out of necessity (single parent), other times from neglect. It can also occur when children feel they must take care of their parent, either physically or emotionally. In any case, the child is placed in this role with little say on the matter.
  2. The Golden Child. This occurs when a family either directly or implicitly deem one child in the family as “the child that can do no wrong.” Parents will deny it – yet all the kids in the family will easily identify who the golden child was.
  3. The Overachiever – Sometimes this role comes from a parent’s need to associate love with success. For the type A child, combining the two can easily lead them into overachieving as they seek their parents approval in order to feel accepted and loved.
  4. The Black Sheep – in large, dysfunctional families, you always tend to find the black sheep – the “child that does everything wrong.” Unfortunately, this child is also the scapegoat for everything the family senses is wrong within its walls.
  5. The Mediator – when there is conflict in the family, one child is usually drawn to being the mediator or peace keeper. This can lead to leaning into being a fixer.
  6. The Sacrificer – this is the child that learned it was safer to fly under the radar, not rock the boat, ‘do as you’re told.’ This can often lead to the feeling that your opinion or needs didn’t matter as sacrificing your own needs was tied to survival.

Childhood roles can become an engrained part of how we function as adults. But they don’t have to be. Once we have identified a role that was given to us as a child, we can begin to give ourselves permission to re-identify ourselves. We can begin to see ourselves in a more objective light, while choosing new skills to avoid defaulting into our old roles. After all, the story is ours and we are free to write a new narrative 🙂

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Managing Change During the Pandemic

We are experiencing a time of change; the pandemic is still rolling along, ebbing and flowing in accordance with society’s adherence or lack thereof. We have reached a point where getting back to “normal” has proven to bring lots of mixed feelings that runs the spectrum –  from those who are outraged about having to wear a mask in public places, to those who experience paranoia and panic. There are those who feel returning to work and life is necessary and those who have settled into a slower pace and are attached to the feeling of comfort that their social bubbles have created.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has brought consistently to the table it is the element of the unknown. From one day to the next, there is very little to rely on in terms of knowing when we are no longer going to be at risk of spreading Covid-19.

From a psychological perspective, this can be experienced as the difficulty in managing change. We tend to fear what we can’t control. Change is inevitably going to show up at our door, and it comes packed with apprehension, discomfort and anxiety. It induces avoidance.

Yet change also comes with possibility, opportunity and growth. It can strengthen faith and courage. It induces development.

We may not be able to fully know what the future brings where the pandemic is concerned, but we can manage change. We can be good citizens and follow the rules; we can aim for a balanced approach to media absorption, we can take it one day at time. We can count our blessings, we can take a deep breath when the worry strikes, we can remind ourselves that we are all in this together.

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Can a Relationship Survive Infidelity?

When one person in the relationship has had an affair, the effects of that betrayal can be devastating. When we are blindsided by the knowledge that our partner has been unfaithful, it can throw us into a vortex of raw feelings and we may wonder if the relationship can ever survive it.

In order for a relationship to survive infidelity, some things need to be considered:

  • Are both parties wanting to move towards reconciliation? Very often, the choice to have an affair is based on wanting to leave the relationship. In order for the relationship to heal, both partners have to commit to wanting to repair, heal, and grow.
  • Is the transgressor willing to 100% end the affair? Not only does the affair have to end, so does all contact. No friendship, no texts now and then, nothing, nada. Allowing friendly contact only puts more weight on the shoulders of the person who was cheated on and they have too much to sort through already.
  • Are both parties willing to get professional help? Because of the extreme sensitivity of infidelity, seeking couples therapy is a safe bet in trying to move forward and heal from the rupture.
  • Are both parties willing to commit to re-building trust? For the transgressor, that means earning back your partner’s trust. If they want to look at your phone, you do so willingly. If they need to talk about it, (as much as you may want to forget about it), answer their questions. Be in a position of empathy. For the partner on the other side of the transgression, it is important that you give your partner the benefit of the doubt that they are remorseful and wanting to earn back your trust. The requests you have of your spouse need to be reasonable – you are working towards forgiveness, and although on a roller coaster of emotions, constant attacks or incessant phone checking will not be helpful in the overall repair of the relationship.
  • Consider individual counselling as well. In addition the the couple’s work, sometimes it is beneficial that both parties have their own therapists. Deeper exploration into personal issues and feelings, as well as an increased sense of support, can help both parties get through the process of reconciling after an affair.

A relationship can survive infidelity; it may take time and invested effort, but it can also put the couple in the resilient position of having weathered the storm.

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