It had never crossed my mind back in March that the second half of the month will witness the birth of a new lifestyle for most of us. Working from home, ending my lease of my Vancouver office and limiting myself to Surrey, and launching my virtual practice! Social distancing, wearing a mask for in-person sessions, and sanitizing, tons of disinfectant wipes, and PPEs. These vocabs have gradually crept into our daily life dictionary and apparently they are here to stay and will probably continue to alter the way we perceive our work, socializing, and self-care.
Two months and two weeks in the beginning of 2020 was the total duration of “normal life” as we knew it back then. Waking up in the am, getting children ready for school and rushing to our busy days running between offices from one meeting to another, and driving! A lot! Meeting various people throughout the day in different locations. Looking back, I smile. How on earth did not we opt to virtual meetings back then? Why were we so naïve to think that we had to run between cities to attend meetings or trainings? Suddenly, these patterns came to a change of direction. For many of us, the previous life style has dramatically over flipped. For others, life continues as before yet with added precautions and practices. Our collective experience since mid-March of social (physical) distancing has introduced a new way of living, working, socializing, shopping, and even dating. How has all these changes impacted you on various levels; biologically, psychologically, socially, emotionally, and even financially?
One of my clients was sharing the other day that this altered lifestyle has significantly diminished their lifelong anxiety. It seems that the change in societal expectations and interaction have had some positive impact especially on us “the introverts”. I personally proclaim that I am one! I would need to recharge with a book, a movie, or a solo walk along the seaside as opposed to run excitedly to attend a social function after a stressful work day. Nonetheless, this made me think of the impact that this new normal has been affecting us as a species introverts, extroverts and in between. We now can wake up, drink our coffee at the comfort of our own homes while still in Pajamas and log into our work accounts; all at the same time with couple of quick steps. Voila! No need for tedious commutes, stressful morning traffic, and/or overwhelming morning hallway small talk. We work on daily projects, virtually meet with coworkers as required. Lunch break is only a short trip to the kitchen with various assortment of healthy fresh meals. After work, some of us work out, eat well, socialize within our bubble or sit on the beach. Future plans? Who cares! Let’s enjoy the present moment; life is too short to waste it worrying about the future! Smell the wet soil, hug a tree and enjoy sunsets. This is paradise!
Unfortunately, while some of us have been enjoying this quieter pace of life, it has not been this rosy for others who got infected with the virus, struggled with physical and emotional pain; or even lost loved ones during the pandemic. Moreover, shutdown has separated families, and increased the isolation of many elderly and special needs individuals while others have lost their jobs and still have to juggle homeschooling or sending children to school. In certain less fortunate cases pandemic life arrangements have disrupted domestic peace increasing violence and marital disputes. Let alone the messy financial situation that many are struggling with; over expenditure, CERB eligibility and repayments!
Oh dear! What a mess COVID-19 has created!
This is unarguably overwhelming. Nonetheless, as an adaptable species we have been through a lot and even worse. Yet, we are still here stronger and more competent than before.
Regardless of your own experience, I would like to leave you with this: “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger!”
Why do our relationships really matter? What is a healthy relationship that ignites your motivation and helps you to soar like an eagle? To answer these questions and more, let’s embark on a short trip in the world of relationships.
As young versions of ourselves we yearn for security, safety, and connection. We are hardwired to survive; that’s why we instantly begin to map our direct and indirect environment assessing risks and concluding what level of vulnerability and openness can we utilize. We observe and notice and gradually learn to trust some people and avoid others. Our young brains internalize and record events and interactions creating certain neural pathways for connections. Some of them would become the foundation of healthy relationships based on belonging and mutual support while others alienate us. In case we have been fortunate with support and care we end up confident and interdependent. Otherwise, our brains learn to be on the edge; hypervigilant, dysregulated, and/or avoidant.
Nonetheless, such patterns may change along the journey of socialization. At home, school and later on we continue to assess levels of trust and healthy connections. However, the very same neural pathways and cognitions gained throughout early years continue to affect our relationships in various ways. We continue to record events and experiences that provide us with cognitive and emotional maps of how to feel, what to expect, how to behave. We base the assessment of current relationships on the past and build future ones based on the current ones. We project on others, and others respond based on their own maps maintaining suffering between couples, families, friends and even at work.
So how can we break such vicious cycles and begin to repair towards resolution and reconciliation? How can we really create this intention of “That’s enough?” This is the most important insight “intention”. I notice the breakthrough that many clients experience once we visit intentions.
To help the readers to visit their own intentions I recommend that you begin with scanning your overall life satisfaction. Rate it in every single are of your life, then figure out which area you want to focus on. For example, you might notice that you have recently been dragging yourself to work. You are not content anymore and only show up for the paycheck. Fair enough! The next step would be to take couple of days off work to distance yourself from the daily hassle. Spend some time on your own or (if possible) with a close friend or even a professional. Practice self-compassion and begin to ask yourself a series of “Why” questions. Explore the root of such diminished motivation and faded passion. You will be surprised to find out that such dissatisfaction might have roots in a very early experience. Process your event and explore perceptions of self, and others. Explore your yearnings and unmet needs.
A word of caution is necessary here, begin such exercises with self-compassion and curiosity. Validate your fears, your unresolved insecurities and stay away from judgement and blame. Remind yourself of your strengths and all the resources that have helped you along the way. Write down a list of all these resources whether they were/are internal or external. Have fun in the process to come up with a sincere intention to change the status quo into something you yourself want for yourself. You deserve to surround yourself with safe, supportive environment, and healthy relationships at home, or anywhere else.
Best wishes towards a life full of meaning and healthy connections.
Oppression is not only disturbing and overwhelming, it is also disgusting! As humans we need to transform greed, and egoistic desires into conscious understanding and resolution of long standing power differentials, conflict and aggression. We need to confront the root cause of injustices not only on the societal level but also on the personal level. As a clinical counsellor who works from an anti-oppression approach, I personally felt angry, then sad then ashamed of our fellow humans who harbor hatred and grudges towards their fellow humans. Regardless of the perceived difference between ourselves and our fellow humans; whether it is based on skin colour, socio-economic status, religion, origin or whatever it is always the same! Oppression has one face; that of fear, scarcity, and disconnection. Oppression actually comes from a place of inferiority, insecurity, and inadequacy. It feeds on beliefs of scarcity as opposed to abundance and welfare. Nonetheless, it is a never satiated ghost that will come around and back to where it originated from unless we break the vicious cycle of greed and fear.
We as conscious humans need to advocate for individual and societal wellbeing. We cannot be neutral in the face of oppression. We need to unveil its face whether it is hiding behind violence, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, or cultural imperialism. Nowadays, we live through times during which everyone needs to remind themselves that doing nothing in the face of oppression is complacency. Divisive beliefs weaken our public lives and destroy our personal wellbeing in the process. Societal wellbeing is holistic and integrative similar to that of an individual. Everything is connected and impacted by everything else. Taking care of your physical health, for example can never compensate for ignoring your mental health. Similarly, focusing on your social wellbeing while suppressing your emotional needs will only maintain your agony and alienation. By the same token, turning our backs to the damage of oppressing and suppressing social justice will only perpetuate the vicious cycle leading to collective demise.
I invite you to observe oppression in your personal life as well on the public sphere. How does this instead of balance and harmony affect your overall wellbeing? Think about your own specific role as a game changer. What role can you play towards your own holistic wellbeing and that of your community and society? What responsible role can you play towards social justice, equity, and inclusion? Remember, we all are responsible in a way or another! Oppression is a contagious virus that everyone can play a part to maintain or extricate. It is a choice that we need to consciously make! We have a role to notice it and catch it and fight it whether it is wearing racial discrimination mask, domestic violence mask, or gender inequalities mask, homophobic-oriented aggression or any other mask. Never underestimate your role regardless how tiny you believe it is! Educate yourself, your children and immediate family about the various masks of oppression. They all boil down to greed, taking advantage of, disrespect, and exclusion. We need to operate from a place of curiosity and willingness to question our preconceptions, prejudices and biases so that we do not unconsciously play a complacent role in the maintenance of oppression. We need to become agents of growth and transformation towards harmony, wellbeing and balance on the personal and societal levels.
In this blog, we will embark on a journey to own our emotions, feel them and learn to express them. But first, let’s take a minute to answer couple of questions.
Think about a time where you felt emotionally attacked. Did you space out, smile or disengage? Do you ever struggle with negative thoughts, judging others or yourself? Do you drown yourself with work, over eat, or over exercise? Do you struggle with obsessions, and/or addictions?
I do not only want you to notice some unhelpful coping patterns that block emotions. Rather we want to learn to own our emotions, respect them and trust them. Living a life of meaning, happiness and gratitude entails authenticity. This is only possible if we embrace our whole being; mind, body, and emotions. Why? Because emotions are our personal guidance towards what resonates with our unconscious needs and yearnings.
Sadly, children are often taught that some emotions are negative; hence not acceptable. They learn to tune their emotions down and disown them. Growing up within a dismissive attachment style, they internalize such concepts of suppression. What happens to this inner guidance then! It gets disconnected. We feel lost, unhappy and lacking compass.
As we were waiting to go into the dentist’s office, my father quietly told me that crying means weakness and as a good and smart girl I was not expected to cry at the dentist’s. Until many years later, I would never cry for the life of me. I would rather tell a joke, shut off, or get sarcastic in a sad situation. Understandably, our parents taught us what they learned from their own parents. Their programming impacted us and our children. Nonetheless, evidence based studies have recently proven that trying to avoid emotional intimacy with a child by dismissing their emotions would not toughen them up or enhance their resilience as expected by many parents. On the contrary, this would only program them to disconnect from their own emotions.
Is there a way out?
I often get this question from clients. Struggling with fear of losing control cuts us off our emotions. Yet there is a way out. Our mind and body store suppressed emotions. We tend to resort to negative coping patterns of thoughts and behaviour. In order to get a sense of your patterns, go back to your answers above.
To get in touch with your emotions and expedite your healing and resolution of entrapment, get in touch with your body, scan it regularly and observe any unpleasant sensations. In contrast to the abstraction of emotions, bodily sensations can be easily observed; temperature, pressure, discomfort, unease… Scan your mind for images, sounds, smells, colours and/or shapes. What do you notice? How does discomfort express itself in your body? Be curious to the triggers and realize that these sensations are your system’s expressions of suppressed emotions. Admit that part of you is consciously or unconsciously avoiding to feel. Face the things you are trying to resist! Then gradually develop a new intention of getting to know your emotions. Embrace them with compassion and acceptance!
Unwillingness to feel the negative emotions is understandable especially when we have been programmed to feel good all the time. Nonetheless, I am here to encourage you to give yourself permission to face this vulnerability; and not feel good all the time. You do not have to demonstrate that you have it all figured out simply because nobody actually does!
In this blog I want to discuss the importance of a multicultural approach to clinical counselling.
I have been extremely fortunate to get the benefit of exposure to a culturally diverse clientele. As a matter of fact, I can pride myself for gradually developing a multicultural professional lens. As a clinical counsellor practicing in the widely diverse lower Mainland of British Columbia, I feel extremely honoured to work with clients who identify with various cultures. Each cultural background brings a wealth of resourcefulness, strength, and resilience. Surprisingly, I believe that my experience has really helped me not only to support my clients in their therapeutic journey; but also to better understand my own cultural identity. I also witness the universality of our suffering, needs and yearnings as a human species regardless of any superficial differences.
I am extremely grateful because this scope of work has acted as a continuous reminder for ongoing self exploration of my personal biases and preconceptions. It has also encouraged me to put in additional efforts to educate myself and expand my knowledge about the nuances of the various cultures I cross paths with. Nonetheless, the ultimate outcome for such endeavours is growing sensitivity to work with my clients towards holistic, ethical and appropriate therapeutic progress. Although I perceive “cultural competence” as an elusive goal; aspiring to enhance our sensitivity will definitely pave the way for more authentic and less judgemental therapy. I believe that coming from a place of sincere intentions to learn and understand our clients’ background, worldviews and values; strengthens our empathy towards clients’ perceived pain, trauma, and/or injustice. With this in mind, this journey needs to begin from the inside. To improve cultural agility you need to begin with yourself; understand your own worldviews, values and beliefs.
As counsellors we need to become cognizant of our own intersectionality; gender, religion, ethnicity, geographical connections and affiliations, sexual orientations, socioeconomic background and past and present status, as well as socio-political views. We need to be curious about our own experiences of discriminatory practices that might consciously or unconsciously impact our views and prejudices. Nothing comes from the void! Our beliefs and values are our own operating systems that need to be unveiled, identified and willingly processed. In order to improve multicultural sensitivity and get a real sense of our clients’ struggles we need to understand their life challenges and their impact on their cultural groups. Only then can we claim that we can work from an appropriate, holistic, ethical perspective.
Let us think about the following scenarios; a sudden lay off, divorce, infidelity, or sudden loss of any kind. What goes into your head? What do you tell yourself? How do you feel and behave? What fears haunt you? How would this chaos affect you and your loved ones?
The challenge here is mainly that change is a foreign element. First, it is external, outside of your expectations and assumptions. Then, it throws you into the unsafety of chaos. Suddenly life seems unpredictable, unfair and overwhelming. Your usual behaviour does not work. You feel sad, anxious, angry and hurt. Your mind races and tries to make sense of what happened. You blame or placate or even disengage and retreat. You might focus on one small part of the problem, ignoring the chaos happening around you. Some of your actions work and some do not. Your feelings fluctuate from moment to moment and your distress and confusion increase.
Eventually you come up with a transforming idea, an action or change of attitude. You try your new findings and integrate them in your life. Gradually you start to notice progress and develop an understanding of what works and what does not, you build your skills and become more confident. You sense that you are moving toward the light. You bounce back to growth and transformation.
How could you do so?
Your own resources have helped you out. You embrace them and learn to utilize them consciously in the future to solve problems and evolve. The question here is how to hone and strengthen your resources?
First, know yourself
It all begins befriending yourself showing curiosity and self-compassion. Seek answers with nonjudgmental acceptance. Become aware of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviour. Explore your expectations from yourself and from others. Face your fears and open up to your yearnings. Remember: you are the author of your own life.
Despite all the discomfort created by change try to look through this new window with fresh eyes. Widen your horizons and think out of the box. Remember: rumination about the past and worrying about the future will take you nowhere. Be present, here and now and open your heart to this moment.
Set goals and take action
Start with setting SMART goals that are in harmony with the change. Create goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound. Take action one-step at a time and prioritize. Remember: be proactive.
Recharge your physical, emotional, mental wellbeing
Eat healthy, exercise, meditate, and practice self-compassion and gratitude. Set a daily reminder for self-care and healing. Take responsibility in your holistic wellbeing. Remember: you can never pour from an empty cup.
Give and receive social support
Do not hesitate to reach out and connect with others. You will be surprised with the amount of support and understanding. Remember: when in doubt seek professional support.
To conclude, change is challenging and chaotic. However, chaos is where we grow and transform. It is where we learn to master one level of the game of life and qualify to the next.
As Abraham Maslow once said “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”
Stay safe and well!
The current pandemic crisis has undoubtedly caused us heightened anxiety, fear, sorrow and worry. Such emotions are undeniably normal given the abrupt change and unpredictable repercussions on various levels. Little did we know that our lives will be turned upside down within couple of weeks! None of us has ever anticipated this global crisis. Nonetheless, we as a human species are adapting creatively. This in itself is an encouraging fact that highlights our resilience and unbreakable resourcefulness.
In this blog, I am inviting you to observe such courageous endeavours in yourself. What have you done to tolerate this distress or even turn it into positive outcome? Have you managed to create your “work-from-home” space despite all hurdles? Are you spending quality time with the significant people in your social circle? How about cleaning and taking care of over due household errands? Do you enjoy short walks with family and go back to take care of submitting your children’s homework online? Are you feeling the immense love and care towards the elderly members in your family, neighbours and community? Are you consciously taking care of yourself and others while contemplating on this precious however short life that we as humans have on this earth?
If any of the above applies to you then you probably have been practicing resilience, tapping into your own resources and turning helplessness into hopeful adaptation. With this in mind, I would like to invite you to ponder on such endeavours and acknowledge your own efforts and strength. Ask yourself about your strategies to wisely bend till the storm passes by. You will be surprised of how creative you have been!
In addition to the changes you have incorporated in your life I would like to encourage you to consider the following:
In conclusion, living a life of meaning and value can make more content and resilient through hard times, and more likely to positively influence the lives of others. As quoted from Avjeet Das “Sometimes life does not give us every thing that we want. But then that is what life is all about. You can't have happiness all the time. And neither can you have sadness all the time. But you can create a symphony out of happiness and sadness!”
Stay safe and well!
Ola is a Registered Clinical Counsellor offering a holistic approach to healthy relationships, life transformation and fulfillment.