Emotion Trumps Reason

We have both a rational part of our brain and an emotional one. And it is important to remember that emotion will trump reason every time. We can make decisions when we are angry, fearful, guilty etc. and those decisions made in the midst of twirling emotions, often also come with regret. The “why did I say that” or “what the heck was I thinking” will come in the aftermath of a decision made in too much emotion. That being said, decisions made with pure logic can also go sideways as it will negate the feelings altogether. The bottom line is that either end of the spectrum will get you into trouble.

It is much better practice; therefore, to move towards the middle; when feeling too emotional, it is best to slow things down; giving yourself time to process what is happening so as to allow your rational brain to have a say in how to respond – give yourself the 24 hour rule and sleep on it – and if you sense that your decision is not being informed enough by both emotion and reason, then ask those around you what they might do. Often times, they will provide feedback to you that will focus on the neutral. Being able to make a decision that is based on both emotion and reason is what we like to call “Wise Mind” and comes from the world of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT).

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Dumbo’s Advice

One of my favourite quotes that I use in therapy comes from the movie Dumbo, featuring the lovable, Disney character born with larger-than-life ears. Having been mercilessly teased for his big ears, he has learned to dislike his appearance and his growing lack of self-worth reinforces what becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; Dumbo begins to feel and act as a bumbling, useless elephant who can’t get anything right. Eventually separated from his mother, he befriends a mouse who helps him to accept himself as he is; advising Dumbo that “the very things that held you down are going to carry you up.”

The themes in this 1941 movie are still relevant to our own understanding of the often long-lasting negative effects of the experiences we may have had as a child. Ingrained as part of our inner self, we begin to feel certain of these core beliefs, and in turn we carry the torch and inadvertently contribute to their reinforcement, bringing them into our adult lives. It is only through our own self-exploration and challenge of these core beliefs; in asking ourselves “whose voice am I actually listening to?” and “does it have to be this way?” that we can begin to wear away at those schemas.

It took Dumbo a bit of fumbling for sure and he had to have both faith and support to push past his lack of self-worth, but he eventually learned that the very things that were holding him down, indeed carried him up. He was able to push past his fears, challenge his belief that he was just a useless elephant and he saved the day when his larger-than-life ears allowed him to fly.

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The Link Between Love and Approval

The association that exists between love and approval is one I see over and over again in therapy. Formed usually in childhood, we begin to make links as to how to get affection and attention from our caregivers. Sometimes this comes when we are good or quiet, other times when we ‘take care of.’ Very often, love and approval is linked because of an emphasis on achievement or success; talent or beauty.

Our attachment system is one that guides us to seek unconditional love; when we associate love with approval, we have been taught that love is conditional. Patterns can get repeated with our intimate partners and with our children, as we often carry that association into our adulthood.

But you can never be free when love and approval are linked. What brings us freedom is acceptance. And if we couldn’t get it from our caregivers, the greatest gift we can give ourselves (and therefore our loved ones), is to begin accepting. That we can’t always get it perfect, that we sometimes make mistakes. That it isn’t our job to be responsible for someone else’s happiness, that we can have confidence in our own identity. We can remind ourselves that beauty comes from the inside and that we can live simply and still be rich.

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How to Push Back Against Indifference

Yesterday’s post explored 5 facts about indifference. Sometimes we can be indifferent in our relationship, sometimes we can lean into it when it comes to a specific situation such as our health – in any case, the first step is to recognize the indifference and how it might be affecting us in both  the short and long term. It is often easy to overlook the little things we used to do to take care of our loved ones, or ourselves, but this will create a cumulative effect, and before we know it, the issue has become larger than we anticipated.

  1. Examine and recognize. Take some time to self-reflect as to where indifference might be playing a role in your life.
  2. Write out some goals as to how to begin the process of caring again. Do a little online research, figure out attainable goals that you can begin to incorporate into the area that best needs some care.
  3. Action. We will never get there if we don’t put our goals into motion. Not only does this help with combatting the indifference, we tend to automatically feel better when we are focused on movement.

When we can address the areas in our life to which we have become complacent, we can also begin to recognize how that might be affecting others in our lives as well. Pushing back against indifference is an important step in creating a healthy emotional life.

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The Importance of Appreciation

Although I would say that feeling accepted is one of the greatest boosters to our emotional health, I would say feeling appreciated is a close second. When we are acknowledged for the deeds we embark on that help or aid others – whether that be at home, in our families, at work, or in the community – we feel strengthened and supported.

And just as important as being appreciated is showing appreciation. When we consciously make a point to appreciate, we build trust in our relationships. Remembering to say thank you is a simple and effective way to start; if you are thinking it, say it. If someone has gone out of their way to make your life richer, easier, or more joyful, make sure to send along a little note of appreciation. Give them a hug, buy them a coffee, remember to one day return the favour.

Being able to appreciate allows us to achieve a higher level of emotional health. Much like gratitude and seeking joy, we are reminded that our spirit and soul is fed by grace. As this quote reminds us, appreciation is an action:

“Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don’t unravel.” – Unknown Author

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The Energy Within

There is no doubt we live in an extroverted society; there tends to be a greater value placed on being social, outgoing and gregarious. I have noticed in my practice that often times when I mention to someone the possibility that they might be a tad more on the introverted end of the scale, there is almost a look of doubt on their faces. The reality about introversion that it is not about being reclusive or hermit-like and it is not about “hating people.” The biggest difference between an introvert and an extrovert is where they get their energy. Introverts get it from within and extroverts get it from other people. This is why a person at a party who tends to be more introverted, will be looking at their watch at midnight thinking “Okay time to go; I need some home time” whereas the extrovert will be staying until the lights go out. 😊

Introverts internalize more (can think about something for days), tends to dislike small talk, avoids confrontation, doesn’t like being the center of attention and wishes they could be quicker on their feet when it comes to needing a swift verbal response. They also tend to be empathic, thorough and can manage silence well. Introversion is also a temperament quality; we tend to be born with those tendencies, and will look to skill building and understanding versus trying to change who we are.

If you are interested in learning more about introversion, two great books worth mentioning: “The Introvert Advantage” by Marti Olsen Laney and “Quiet” by Susan Cain.

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The Benefits of Volunteering

If there are two things that have been confirmed to me as a therapist, it is that we like plan and purpose. We feel better when moving forward (no matter the pace), and when the essence of our being aligns with purpose. We feel comforted by meaning – in our work, play, family life, community. One of the ways to achieve this is through volunteering with an organization or cause that is dear to us. Being service oriented allows us to focus on other; to make a difference:

  • Volunteering decreases the likelihood of developing depression. When we volunteer, it most likely includes social interaction which helps to fend off loneliness and depression. It also helps to keep us engaged – an important element to keeping the blues away.
  • Volunteering improves our physical health. An article from Harvard Medical school notes that “A growing body of evidence suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health—including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.”
  • Volunteering builds empathy. When we are service oriented, our focus is the other – we are more likely to experience what it feels like to be in another life position. We will begin to understand and relate to people in a more empathic way.
  • Volunteering can help your career. Never underestimate how volunteering can add to your overall work life – my first job right out of university was with an organization I had volunteered with the previous summer.
  • Volunteering allows joy into our lives. In our busy lives, we often forget to actively seek joy. If we volunteer on a regular basis, we are allowing moments of happiness and fulfillment into our life experience.

We are always comforted by plan and purpose. As Mahatma Gandhi once said The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

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Beginnings and Endings

When we think about the beginning of something, usually something exciting comes to mind. The start of a holiday is always filled with the thoughts of adventure, a new relationship is saturated with the honeymoon phase, the nervous jitters of a new job is often tempered with possibility.

When we think about something ending, usually unpleasant thoughts are quickly enveloped with feelings we wish to avoid. Endings bring about change and a new and potentially uncomfortable reality; they remind us of the fragility present in our lives, the passing of time and how unpleasant being out of our comfort zone really is.

And yet endings are a necessary part of our life’s experience:

  • Endings signify transition. We can’t avoid transitional periods in our lives; good ones (birth of a new baby) or painful ones (death of a loved one.) Endings allow us to envelope a new reality; one that allows us to integrate the transition into our lives in order to adjust our comfort zone.
  • Endings allow us to gather strength. When we spend time grieving, when we give the loss adequate space, we give ourselves the gift of a strengthened spirit. We tend to not sweat the small stuff quite as much as we used to.
  • Endings allow us to move forward. With every beginning, we have the gift of choice. With every ending, we also have the ability to choose.
  • Endings allow us to see the beginning. It is never quite so clear at the ending; after all, we must give ourselves the time to let go. But in looking back, we can often see that the ending brought about a different purpose for us. One we may not have chosen, but have gathered strength in along the way.

Beginnings and endings are a part of our journey. Change is a part of our reality and sometimes we have no choice but to adjust our sails and reset our course. As Lazarus Long quoted “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”

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The Importance of Why

A client remarked to me the other day, “When the why is strong enough, the how will follow.” As I reflected upon this with her, I was once again brought back to one of my favourite words: curiosity.

People come to therapy because they want something to be fixed; they want to feel better. Sometimes that comes with a clarity as to what they are struggling with; other times it is obscure or hidden from them and they are basing their presenting issue on feelings or symptoms. In any case, whether they realize it or not,  what they are seeking is the ‘why.’

We often rush to seek solution which makes total sense – after all, we are feeling crummy and want it to end. If we can find immediate relief, we alleviate the symptom. Unfortunately, this type of relief is usually temporary (think of the way we soothe ourselves with food, alcohol or marijuana), and the more encompassing issue is still present, just waiting around for us to do something about it.

And this is where the ‘why’ comes in. When we can gain a greater understanding of how our patterns, core beliefs and relationship dynamics were formed, we can move towards acceptance. The freedom of letting go of something that weighs us down is what allows structural change to form.

When the why is strong enough, the how will follow. Bottom line: we can allow ourselves to push past fear to where curiosity is patiently waiting for us.

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AQ Continued

Yesterday’s post examined the concept of AQ –  the Adversity Quotient, a concept developed by Dr. Paul Stoltz which looks at our ability to endure hardship. We continue in today’s post by looking at CORE, four key components that help build our resilience skills.

C –  Control: Do what extent can you control what happens next? We often speak about how hardship and challenges are presented to us that are out of our control. The circumstances of any given situation can create uncertainty, difficult feelings and a sense of weightiness that can threaten our resolve. When we focus on what we can control, it helps us to process the feelings that come from hardship; it also reinforces movement – an important element for growth.

OOwnership: How likely are you to step up to do anything to improve the situation?  This is the point where we either stay on the poor me cycle, or we decide that we can do what we can to improve the situation and learn from it.

RReach: How far will it reach into and affect everything else? What a great word and concept – reach. This encompasses the idea that our ability to handle challenges affects not only our present moments but also our future ones. It also reminds us that how we handle adversity reaches the people in our lives and how we can make a difference to them by overcoming adversity.

EEndurance: How long will it take to get past this situation/adversity? The ability to stay the course will greatly affect our thoughts about endurance. Sometimes the challenges that we faced with, we can get past. Others, become integrated into our story.

CORE is a lovely reminder that adversity also brings elements of growth, a building of strength, and courage to endure. Challenges in life are inevitable; we can however, build for ourselves and our loved ones, a strong foundation upon which to rest.

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