In the Driver’s Seat

When we think about our sense of psychological well-being, what often comes to mind is how we rate the general satisfaction of our lives. How good do we feel about our lives in general? How content are we?

If we sat and thought about the elements that contribute to either a valued sense of well-being or a poor one, we would most likely come up with many factors such as the strength of our support system, our job satisfaction, our financial state, the condition of our health and so forth. Interestingly enough, while all of these factors can certainly affect our sense of well-being, what comes up as the number one reason we feel good about our lives is the amount of personal control we have within them.

It becomes about a feeling that despite the challenges that come our way, of which are often not in our control, we can still have a sense of agency in our own lives. Knowing that we have some ability to make decisions and have choices within the confines of our difficulty, allows us to move to a place of feeling more settled again in our sense of who we are; giving us the courage perhaps to say “Move over please, I’m driving.”

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A Poem About Growth

A little poem that caught my attention by Rudy Franciso:

Of all the things I could’ve been,

I am so glad to be this.

Thank God I didn’t actually become who I pretended to be

Back when I had no idea who I was. 

What a lovely thought about growth and giving ourselves permission to “just be.” Sometimes it is the expectations that society places on us that get in the way, other times it is our own reckoning about what it means to be successful, and sometimes the messages we get from others help put us into the mode of pretending and we end up living a life that can feel misrepresented to some degree. It is the process of self-reflection, through experience, that allows us to move towards a more genuine place, both with ourselves and others; ultimately bringing with it a courage to be who we are. 

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The Rational Brain

When I was a little girl I can remember being very fascinated by the moon. If we were traveling home anytime at night, I believed the moon was following me home. I even recall telling my mom that once and although she kindly told me that it “just felt that way”, I can also distinctly remember thinking that she was wrong. 🙂

When we are children we have a lot of magical thinking; it is why we can tell our kids that a big, jolly man comes down the chimney at Christmas and leaves presents by the fireplace. Our four year old may, in fact, question how Santa comes down the chimney, but because the rational part of their brain (before the age of seven) is very underdeveloped, all we have to tell them is that “Santa uses reindeer dust” and they are wondrously back to believing in the magic of Christmas.

Our rational brain is found in the prefrontal cortex and is involved in planning complex cognitive behavior, decision making, and mitigating social behaviour. It is not fully formed until we are in our early twenties. This is important knowledge in helping to inform us when it comes to working with and understanding our teenage children. Interpreting reality is dependent on a fully functioning prefrontal cortex, as is feeling guilt or remorse. It is often why we, as parents, feel as though we need to be the rational voice to our teenagers ~because in many ways we are. The trick I suppose is being able to do so with an open mind to their own process, so as to allow enough freedom for their growing need to make decisions while conscious of having to protect them at times.

And although we need a fully formed rational brain, I am also quite happy that the magical part of our brain does not fully go away; it is what allows us to believe in the possibility of fairies and hobbits, of the imaginable world of the Velveteen Rabbit and the ability to walk into the gates of Disney World and still feel enchanted. 🙂

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The State of Change

A recent quote got me thinking: “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance.” – Alan W. Watts.

Although we have often heard that the only constant is change, we frequently hesitate to welcome it, much less plunge right into it. Perhaps this comes from the element of the unknown as it compromises our level of comfort and safety; perhaps it comes from the transitional element of change. Even good experiences (like weddings and babies) bring with them a time of flux that can be both exciting and stressful at the same time. Another potential reason for our apprehension can come from our past experiences where change brought us sorrow or heartbreak; the very thought of impending change can then default us into trying to avoid it. In any case, change often puts us into some form of limbo, and that is a difficult place to be; we need some sense of direction, plan and intent to feel secure.

Perhaps we can begin to view change instead as transformation; a process that requires our participation, perhaps cautiously but still present. The idea that moving with change then, seems achievable as it implies a willingness to simply stay the course, opening up to our feelings in order to discover where movement and growth will take us.

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The Winds of Luck

In a Ted Talk entitled, “Tina Seelig: The Little Risks you can Take to Increase your Luck,” I was impressed by her three pieces of advice that in many ways can be applied to having a healthy emotional life as well. They are as follows:

  1. Change the relationship with yourself: “Be willing to take some small risks that get you out of your comfort zone.”
  2. Change your relationships with other people: “You need to understand that everyone who helps you on your journey is playing a huge role in getting you to your goals. And if you don’t show appreciation, not only are you not closing the loop, but you are missing an opportunity.”
  3. Change your relationship with ideas: “Ideas are neither good nor bad. And in fact, the seeds of terrible ideas are often what grows into something truly remarkable. You need to look at ideas through the lens of possibilities.”

Tina Seelig refers to chance as the “winds of luck” and how it is very often the setting of our own sail that helps to capture those very winds.

To listen to the 12 min Ted Talk:

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Still Point

According to the Webster’s dictionary, the definition of still includes: to quiet, to still one’s fears; to become motionless or silent. The concept of a still point in therapy is an important one. Although we often talk about the importance of movement to facilitate growth, there are times when stillness facilitates movement. It perhaps comes after having made a major decision, it may be necessary during grief or loss, perhaps it is sought when life’s frenetic pace catches up to us; regardless of it’s reason, the purpose of a still point is to reset, recharge, renew. When we give ourselves permission to seek quiet it will lead to peace; a still point is a valuable stepping stone in life’s journey.

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“Before You Put the Cuffs On….”

I want you to ask yourself, “Did I actually do anything wrong?” This is often the counsel I give to clients who are struggling with guilt. The definition of guilt as written in  Webster’s Dictionary: “the fact of having committed a legal offense // the fact of having transgressed the moral law // a feeling of culpability.” In my “Dictionary of Emotions by Patrick Michael Ryan,” he lists guilt as: “remorse caused by feeling responsible for some offense.  In either example, there is the element of having made some form of a transgression that elicited the feeling of guilt as a direct consequence of the mistake. Seems pretty straight forward, right? And yet many of us struggle deeply with this emotion.

Guilt is actually one of our healthy emotions because it allows us to repair. But we also learn a lot about guilt growing up; from our caregivers, our communities such as school or church, our extended family and so forth. If one of the people in our life used guilt as a way to elicit compliance, then it can sometimes become a default setting for us.

So before you put the cuffs on, ask yourself “Is this guilt warranted?” “Did I do something wrong?” “Did I hurt someone’s feelings by my words or my actions?” And if you did, fix it. Say you’re sorry, ask for understanding, reflect on how you can change that behaviour in the future. If the answer; however, brings you to the conclusion that you, in fact, did not do anything wrong but rather have slid into default guilt, then acknowledge that too. Take a deep breath and remind yourself, “I didn’t do anything wrong in this situation. It is what it is, I am going to move on” and let Officer Guilt know on the way out the door that he had the wrong suspect. 🙂

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The Science Behind a Hug

It’s really all about touch. We are inevitably a relationship species and because of that we seek out connection with others. As a way to bond with others, we use touch. The science behind that comes from a hormone called Oxytocin; often referred to as the “hormone of love,” it triggers nurturing and loving feelings and helps to promote trust. In a study conducted by Dr. Kathleen Light, she discovered that “warm touch” between couples (which included a 20 second hug) increased Oxytocin in both males and females. In a separate study, she was able to connect warm contact to a positive effect on blood pressure and heart rate. An important aside worth mentioning is that she states that the quality of the relationship made a big difference to the lasting effects of the hug. Even more reason to keep our relationships healthy and our hugs in good supply. 😊

To read the study:

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Emotional Agility

In a Ted talk that I was listening to entitled “Susan David: The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage,” she talks about the concept of emotional agility. She says, “How we deal with our inner world affects everything; how we love, how we live, how we parent and how we lead. The conventional view of how we see emotion, as good or bad, positive or negative is rigid, and rigidity in the face of complexity is toxic.  We need greater levels of emotional agility for true resilience and thriving.” Susan continues with her own personal story of living as a child in South Africa during the midst of apartheid and how her father’s death greatly affected her. She goes on to say, “Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions, with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take valued-connected steps.”

We remain open to our emotions simply by observing them; to not place judgement on them, trying to decide if they are good or bad. Rather it is to simply acknowledge that “I am feeling sad,”  “I am feeling disappointed,” or “I am feeling content.”  This is essentially the concept of emotional ability; the openness to our feelings no matter what they might be.

To listen to the full 16 minute Ted Talk:

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Four Statements that Lead to Wisdom

I was sitting in a colleague’s office and I noticed a poster she had on the wall and it made me think about how we attain wisdom. We certainly see our elders as wiser than us, but does it just come from the process of maturation? So I looked up the the definition of wisdom in  Webster’s Dictionary and I especially appreciated reading: intelligence drawing on experience and governed by prudence. 

The poster quoted:

Four Statements that Lead to Wisdom:

  • “I don’t know”
  • “I’m sorry”
  • “I need help”
  • “I was wrong”

When we can find a place of humility, it will almost always carry with it the opportunity for creating wisdom as it allows the process of learning from our experiences to integrate and hopefully contribute to our worldliness. When we can admit that we might have been wrong or feel regretful, we strengthen our relationship wisdom. When we can concede to the fact that we are always learning, we open ourselves to a landscape filled with opportunities to grow.

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