In my practice as a trauma and relationships therapist, I am often asked about the connection between healing and forgiveness. I believe that the origin of such confusion comes from convoluted understanding of the relationship between an entity that inflicts harm over a recipient of it. To claim that healing would never happen unless forgiveness precedes sounds like a free pass oppression. It also indirectly burdens the survivor with the duty of forgiving in order to feel better.
Then how do we perceive forgiveness. In psychology forgiveness is usually defined as an intentional decision to release emotions of resentment toward someone who had caused us harm, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. I definitely agree with the above definition. However, I do not perceive forgiveness as a conditional prerequisite towards healing from trauma. It is actually the other way round! In order to heal from trauma, injustice or any form of oppression, you need to identify, acknowledge and process the act.
The pain and hurt are entities that cannot be dismissed or brushed under the carpet. They should never be denied or suppressed. Similarly, the impact of an offense against you is not something to undermine or find excuses or justifications for. On the contrary, acknowledging such unfairness inflicted on you, restores your sense of internal strength, and provides you with a foundation to reclaim your power.
The trick here is to draw a line between the past and the present. Harm did happen indeed (in the past). The hurt and the pain are still happening in the present. When things happened to a past version of you in the past, it was not the same present self. We develop and transform with every interaction. We gather information, experience emotions and act in certain ways based on the present moment, then up spiral with that to a higher level of awareness and consciousness. The present self starts to reclaim a sense of change that begins with an intention to be in charge, acknowledges the past then moves ahead based on a value system that acknowledges self worth, justice, freedom and choice.
Now is the time to draw a line between your past and present. Make a conscious decision of moving forward towards healing because you deserve it. Conscious forgiveness begins with forgiving ourselves for unintentionally being on the recipient end of harm. By the same token, it is a step forward from rumination and despair towards validation and hope.
Though forgiveness can help repair ruptured relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with someone who harmed you. Moreover, it never means to release them from being held accountable. Once you process the pain, you are responsible towards yourself to make a decision of letting go of pain and allowing room for the light of inner peace to flourish within to transform and progress with confidence and pride - only then can you really forgive!
It is one of the greatest therapy goals to identify and acknowledge our deep seated emotions such as anger, fear and sadness connect with them and heal them for good. This is what we call the process of healing the wounded inner parts of ourselves. Whether such wounds were caused by an incomprehensible childhood loss such as a family member’s death, physical or psychological abuse, or a broken relationship; the pain that results from such experiences lives with us for the rest of our lives until we decide to let go of it, heal it and integrate such experiences in the here and now. We do so through reconnecting with some of the reasons for our fears, unexplained repetitive patterns, and addictions. The magic of healing leads to channeling and transforming the wounded self and eventually integrating them with other parts. In this process, we learn to reparent such parts and move forward with independence and resiliency.
Many of my clients inquire about and express interest in ending unhealthy coping habits such as binge eating, shopping, or repetitive insure attachments. I often explain this work of healing the inner child pointing out to the sad fact of learned helplessness, as well as internalized suppression of emotions, and negative self beliefs. When negative experiences and losses such as divorce, death, relocation …etc. are not discussed with children openly, children are left to create their own narrative about such experiences.
They internalize emotions of shame, guilt and resentment. As we grow, we are reminded of such suppressed memories once we encounter experiences that resonate on a subconscious level. This activates the same neural pathways in our nervous system. We over-react, experience a panic attack or just withdraw and lose interest. We might also present with unexplained confusion or overwhelm.
How can we heal this inner child and help heal negative emotions we might be holding on to. Such baggage we carry from our childhoods can be very difficult to release, especially when we’ve been exposed to deep trauma. We just need to begin with acknowledging the inner child and treat them with respect, compassion, and acceptance. In that sense we derive a lot of wisdom from Buddhist practices of mindful awareness of emotions to restore ruptured relationships through meditations and exercises that aim to acknowledge and transform the hurt that many of us may have experienced as children. Various modalities we practice rely on such philosophical foundation; ACT, AEDP, and even EMDR.
I have been asked this question recently by new clients. I thought that writing this blog about it would prepare potential clients and provide some orientation. Emotionally focused therapy EFT is an intervention based on empirical research of adult bonding. This modality is utilized in individual, couples and family therapy with the purpose to identify and address distress in relationships. EFT is a beneficial approach that helps to understand one’s emotional responses and those of significant people in our lives.
In therapy, our goal is to enhance the perceived security and connection in relationships through focusing on emotions and emotional responses and those of partners and family members. This can help to address attachment-related insecurities and how to interact in more loving, responsive, and emotionally connected ways, that lead to more secure attachment.
EFT is based on attachment theory which highlights the importance of
emotional contact and safe connections to develop healthy relationships. Lack of which can go back to abandonment, neglect, and trauma during childhood. Such unresolved issues and unmet need might lead to repetitive negative patterns of conflict caused by insecure attachment and lack of trust. EFT is a non-directive approach to treatment in which clients gain better understanding through nonjudgmental expression and attentive presence and validation.
EFT involves nine treatment steps that begin with the identification and assessment of interaction styles and de-escalation. In the middle phases of treatment, the therapist collaborates with the clients to find ways to form stronger bonds in the relationship. The therapist reframes key issues in terms of negative patterns of interaction, underlying emotions and fears, and each client’s attachment needs. Changes are consolidated in the final stages which eventually helps clients become better able to identify the attachment issues underlying conflict to express related emotions. The therapy is considered complete when clients can reliably engage in changed interaction patterns learned in therapy outside of the therapy environment.
Couples counselling is usually provided by a trained therapist who helps individuals involved in a romantic relationship gain clarity into their relationship, resolve conflict and improve satisfaction utilizing a variety of therapeutic interventions. Many couples who are committed to their relationships want to explore the process of reconciliation and intrinsic connection. Others ignore and adapt to emotional stagnation and damaging behaviour for too long before eventually seeking support. This blog is an invitation to normalize reaching out instead of sweeping the issue under the carpet.
Emotions can be complex, painful and sometimes scary. Nonetheless, the only way to live authentically is to open ourselves to our emotions as much as we do to our thoughts, sensations and behaviour. First, let us agree to destigmatize the process of opening up instead of suppressing emotions. Suppression never resolves challenges or rekindles lost connection. Facing such issues courageously with sincere intentions to change is the only way to work on building trustworthy connections.
Romantic relationships occur between whole selves; mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We contribute with our past and present experiences, dreams, and aspirations. Yet whenever something goes wrong we think it is only communication or resort to victimhood and blaming. The problem is that communication does not happen in void. Healthy communication requires solid foundation of safety and trust. This requires negotiating internal and external factors that contribute to the relationship to identify unhealthy coping such as sulking, anger, bitterness, sarcasm or resentment as well as damaging behaviour that sustain vicious cycles.
Once we point out the trigger, the feeling, the meaning and the action we bring to light such emotions to collaborate to navigate emotional experiences and listen and empathize to one another. This helps to resolve relationship issues that might be related to life transitions such as the birth of a child, sudden or chronic illness, unemployment, or mental health issues. Such issues between couples can be noticed between new couples during the initial adjustment period or between couples who have been together for many years. Fighting indicates that the relationship can still be worked on through facilitation and growth in order to resolve the actual underlying issues such as childhood trauma or attachment based unresolved issues. This can be transformative and healing. Many couples find it humbling as they get close to one another.
Some popular orientations in couple’s counselling are emotionally focused therapy EFT, Gottman Method, Narrative therapy. If your relationship has reached the point where you think you need counselling, it might not be a great idea to try to do it alone. Choosing the right couples counseling therapist can make it easier to succeed.
All the best!
As a potential or existing client you might wonder on how this voluntary involvement works and what it entails. In a nutshell, therapy is a collaborative agreement between a client and a therapist. This partnership is guided by ethical principles and professional best practices that aim to protect clients and provide them with the required information of their rights and responsibilities; and what to expect and how therapy works. I will try to summarize the process here and provide rationale why we as therapists need to spend some time with clients on informed consent throughout our work together.
As mentioned above, informed consent stems from the acknowledgement of the client’s rights, and freedom to determination to initiate, pursue, or discontinue therapy at all times. Informed consent is an ongoing process that begins with the very first interaction between the therapist and the client; even before the first session. It actually begins at the time of the initial consultation which many therapists provide free of charge. Client can obtain insight about the therapist’s professional background, credentials and theoretical orientation as well as their approach to counselling. Additionally, counsellors may direct you to their websites or publications to learn more about their work in order to better determine if you want to contract them. This transparent interaction is beneficial for the client and the therapist as both of them have stake in a good fit to work effectively and comfortably. As therapists we always encourage clients to play a proactive role in choosing their therapist based on various criteria; their needs, preference and style; just to name a few. Other important factors are cultural competency, as well as specific training. Obviously, this role that a client plays right in the beginning in finding the right counsellor is the spark to empowerment and resolution..
Once clients and therapists determine that they want to collaborate they identify the presenting issues that made the client seek counselling. This step only provides a general platform for the work as therapy is a process where we would continuously revisit our goals and plans requesting feedback and assessment. Often times clients identify other issues later in the process. Whether this happens due to enhanced awareness or enhanced therapeutic alliance is equally commended as both will become more equipped to resolve the relevant issues.
To reiterate, consent is an ongoing process of reassessing the client’s needs and obtaining their commitment to the work. This alignment acts as a catalyst to the efficacy of the mutual work especially if the identified goals were SMART; S-specific, M-measurable, A-achievable, R-realistic, and T-time bound. Another level of consent includes the approach of therapy as well as alternative approaches. The therapist’s role is to illuminate their clients with options. This further maintains the initiated trust required for effective work. That is why, it is essential to collaborate with you as the client and engage you in the process. This is based on the conviction of your autonomy, agency, and independence.
Needless to say that due to the intricacies of therapy work, it is almost impossible to predict the process with exact precision. It is a reiterative process that requires ongoing assessment and evaluation and continuous informed consent to obtain direction of this shared venture towards hope and healing
The new PIXAR movie Soul underscores the importance of living life in alignment with our aspirations and talents. Through telling the story of Joe, we are inspired to think of our own unique passions with sincere conviction. On another note, the movie highlights mindful presence in the here and now; living every single moment to its fullest while enjoying the simple pleasures in life; a leaf falling off a tree or a pepperoni pizza. It is an invitation to curiously find out the “spark” that connects us to life.
Joe, a middle-school band teacher whose life has not gone the way he expected is passionate about jazz. Although he is so good at it, his mother dissuades him from playing with a band. Instead, she encourages him to accept a teaching job to guarantee financial security. Joe’s heartwarming conviction drives him in a different direction. When Joe hangs between the two realms of life and death after an accident he meets another Soul that has yet to find her passion. Soul helps her to find her path back to life. As audience, we are inspired to awaken the dormant genies that make our heart sing.
A Child-Friendly Discussion of Soul
The movie depicts the afterlife abstractions which makes me recommend parental guidance especially if you have young children. Our perspectives as adults around life and death varies a lot especially that children may see things in black and white. Just make sure to be around to answer your children’s questions. Validate any potential anxiety and help them make sense of the abstract concepts. Whilst you want them to notice the positive message of pursuing one’s talents and dreams, it is also important to ground them in the practical application of such pursuit such as practice, and training. Reassure a sense of control by encouraging them to practice what they love and enjoy. Ask them about the things that they value and love. Encourage them to follow their passions with persistence by allocating daily tasks and schedules and connecting them to relevant community resources. Finally, make them realize that you have faith in them and their dreams and assure them of your support. Hopefully, this movie will encourage you and your family to open your hearts and minds to creativity and passion.
If you're like me, curious and contemplative about deep existential questions and what makes us happy and content then read on!
Many years ago, my answer to what happiness is would have been related to achievements and success as the key factors that make up that elusive state. Nonetheless I have always known that such things are only means to an end. While realizing on a subconscious level that the real answer is the small pleasure in life I have been aware that some order and discipline is necessary for the pursuit of happiness. My answer now is that happiness is the peace with ourselves and the world around us. It is in the gratitude that we practice and express and the acts of kindness that we extend to others and receive from the people who we care about and love. It is music and rain, and the laughter of a child.
When asked about happiness, the Buddha answered that “To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”
I believe this sums it eloquently and wisely. Maintaining a life of order and contentment that celebrates everything and everyone in this enormous cosmos is the gate to life satisfaction. Every second spent enjoying our connectedness with awareness generates loads of happiness and positivity. This is possible despite the prevalent ignorance of greed and insatiable fear, anger and desire to more status and power.
I was walking down a trail the other day enjoying the peaceful squirrels bouncing from one fallen branch to another. They seemed so happy and content. No drama, or quarreling over their food or space. Observing them gave me hope and serenity while it made me think of the human condition and the complexities that we have willingly created in our lives and are so eagerly trapping ourselves in. Comparing ourselves to others, and trying to be better or stronger or wealthier! The weird thing is that most of us are well aware that the capacity to enjoy happiness from gathering material possessions is in fact dependent on satisfying less obvious needs.
Our emotional and psychological needs for connection, validation, expression and love are what really matters. This has been repeatedly confirmed by doctors and nurses who ask their patients on their death beds about the things they regret not doing. None of these people had ever mentioned gathering more money, or buying more real-estate. Almost everyone says something along the lines of spending more time with loved ones, enjoying life, and working less.
With such awareness, how can we consciously practice self compassion and allow ourselves to be happy for no reason other than celebrating a sunny day in the forest or by the beach or even from behind the window.
How can we practice gratitude more, spend more time with the people we love and care about, and be generous with acts of kindness. How can we open our minds and hearts to life, love more, and laugh more and remind ourselves that we can only recognize happiness as we experience sadness just the same way as we enjoy the light by experiencing the darkness.
I wish you all happiness and love.
In this blog, I will be discussing strength-based practices that help create and maintain a culture of wellness and resilience. This goal pertains to three levels of care: personal, social and professional.
Our number one go to practice to enhance overall wellbeing needs to begin from the inside. This includes mental, physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Diet, exercise, sleep and regular medical follow ups as required are key to this. You might need to change some activities, add strategies and utilize techniques. It is sometimes easier said than done especially when we lack the motivation and/or encouragement. This will take us to the second step.
Community plays a huge role in our overall well being. If you associate yourself with active outdoorsy groups for example you would eventually lead a more active life. Whilst if you surround yourself with party goers for instance, you would get impacted by that lifestyle despite all your initial resistance. Responsibility towards self requires honest reflection and authentic exploration of who and how we want to live our lives! Are we around people who motivate us to go forward or we are stuck in some negative codependence that maintains unhealthy patterns? Do we need to change our social map? Explore your strength, and resourcefulness and incorporate more of what you want to improve. For example, if you plan to change your diet, ask yourself about the dietary choices of the people in your household and your circle of friends or colleagues. Do you need to change your grocery shopping habits for example? Let’s say you want to learn to become more optimistic, reflect on your company. How can you build on your strength and your social network resourcefulness to move both parties to an attitude of gratitude and positivity?
Reflect on your behaviours, habits and impulses. If you identify the areas and context you need to change then do not hesitate to seek professional support. A clinical counsellor or psychologist might be your gateway towards wellness and balance. Be curious about triggers; where do you experience such unwanted behaviours? At home or work? Do you think you could use new techniques and skills towards rehabilitation, healing and/or resolution? It is quite important to act fast and continuously recognize when and how to reach out for professional support in order to protect ourselves from fatigue and burnout.
Adopting a strength-based perspective towards wellness guides how people live their lives and function both personally and in their relationships. It is biopsychosocial perspective towards flourishing and living life to its fullest. The key point is to maintain a level of self awareness that motivates us to reclaim our strength and resourcefulness to function as the best version of ourselves and seek balance and wellness for ourselves and others.
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.
Ola is a Registered Clinical Counsellor offering a holistic approach to healthy relationships, life transformation and fulfillment.