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Relevant and Practical Information about Wellness and Therapy

Embracing rather than avoiding emotional pain

November 16. 2016

One of the main reasons people seek counselling/therapy is because they are experiencing discomfort or pain in their life. Emotional pain is simply a part of the human experience and can have many causes including death, loss, broken relationships, disappointments, trauma to name a few. In addition, being disappointed in your life or career direction can lead many to experience emotional pain and disappointment. Although emotional pain and ensuing sadness is normal, prolonged suffering is not and it is usually a good idea to seek professional help if you cannot move past a difficult experience. It is quite common to feel overwhelmed by emotional pain and therefore try and avoid it but in the long term trying to avoid emotional pain leads to more suffering. Many studies have shown suppressing emotional pain can be exhausting and takes a tremendous amount of energy, so suppressing pain is not the answer.

In our Western society it is possible to grow up without much experience with adversity or emotional pain and lack of experience with pain can make us less able to cope when it appears. Addictions are a good example of a maladaptive way of coping with discomfort or pain which often only reaps more pain but offers a short term escape. There also seems to be an expectation of “being happy” in the West which was a foreign notion to earlier generations and most people in non-industrialized countries today. The prevalent Western belief that we should be happy most of the time leads many to disappointment when sadness and emotional pain appear. As a couple therapist one of the main complaints couples present is "I'm not happy", which is problematic because our happiness cannot be dependent on another. A relationship of course can have problems/challenges but it isn't your partner’s job to ensure you’re happy.

Many painful experiences modify beliefs about ourselves in some cases it can lead to negative beliefs about self being more prevalent. Painful experiences can make us less trusting and lead to avoid people, relationships or other aspects of life. By far the most effective way to deal with way through emotional pain is to embrace it, if embraced is an opportunity to grow and learn more about ourselves, see our strengths and receive support. For thousands of years’ writers have advised us to accept life challenges and the move towards pain not away from it, early Buddha teachings state “acknowledging and listening to pain is sufficient to lessen it”, the Apostle Paul wrote “but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance”.

New research is showing that emotional pain is lessened when we are supported by a loved one and other studies have shown that the lasting effects of trauma or pain in childhood can be mitigated by having a good support system. A key ingredient for our support is that we are able to express our thoughts and feelings honestly, healthy couples and families do this often. Therapy is another way of getting support to embrace pain, people express their pain to a supportive accepting therapist and the experiences are processed which leads to a greater understanding and awareness. The bottom line is our beliefs or experiences lead us to feel we cannot embrace or share our pain but that is the very thing we need to do to work through it, avoiding it only leads to more suffering.

Jim Squire MDiv RP.

The Value of Self-Compassion

May 28, 2017

Self-compassion is defined as extending compassion to one's self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Why is it we can be so compassionate to others but not ourselves? When others fail we encourage them, when we fail we often let it reflect on who we are as person such as "I’m not good enough". As a psychotherapist I know these patterns develop over time and are very common but we can break them by intentionally being more compassionate with our self.

One of the easiest ways to start being more compassionate is after a perceived failing just ask ourselves how would I feel if a loved one made the same mistake? Chances are you will immediately see the difference in how you react and notice you are much more critical with yourself. Another way to encourage self compassion is to view failings or suffering as an opportunity for growth and learning, we call this a growth mindset. Last but not least practice gratitude more in life, start each day listing three things your grateful for and practice gratitude in your daily life, it will reap a more compassionate mindset and attitude towards life.

Jim Squire MDiv. RP.

Your Anger problem is probably not about anger

July 29,2017

Anger is an intense emotion that signals something is wrong, anger has many positive benefits but can also lead us to do and say things we regret. Unfortunately, many people with an anger problem either think it’s about the anger or look at external factors such as relationships, circumstances or environment to explain the anger away. In the counselling or psychotherapy anger is understood as a secondary emotion in most instances which means another emotion precedes it. Consequently, unless we uncover the primary emotion that triggered the anger we will not have the understanding to prevent our anger although you can learn some coping skills to manage the anger. For example, if the root of your anger is feelings of rejection you cannot make substantial progress with your anger issues unless you explore your feelings of rejection.

A primary emotion can be a variety of emotions although with anger it is commonly fear or any kind of hurt since anger is an emotion that protects us it often is triggered when vulnerability appears or we feel threatened. Therefore, when we discuss anger problems the question should be what emotion came before the anger or what triggered it. Since the primary emotion may only appear briefly many of us are not even aware that is what’s happening. In many cases an individual needs the help of someone trained to figure this out but there are answers available; a good place to start is to look at what proceeded the anger and how we processed it. A willingness to look at aspects of ourselves we may not like is of great importance and will help you get to the root of the problem, this knowledge can ultimately lead to lasting change.

Jim Squire MDiv RP

 Emotional Intelligence Explained

October 15, 2017

Most of us are familiar with IQ but not everyone is as familiar with EQ or emotional intelligence. EQ is considered much more important than IQ in working well with others such as managing groups or maintaining relationships. Emotional intelligence is basically the ability to perceive others emotional states and self-awareness of your own including the ability to manage or self-regulate emotions which is an invaluable skill. Many people with high IQs are successful but often have difficulty connecting with others whereas those with high EQs are the opposite. In my experience people that have success in certain areas of life but do poorly in relationships are rarely happy. For most people success in life has much more to do with their EQ than IQ since relationships and connecting to others is so integral to personal fulfillment and good mental health. EQ is fairly easy to improve upon because it involves greater awareness of emotional states and therefore certain exercises or personal therapy can give an individual gains in EQ and conceivably a better quality of life.

Jim Squire MDiv RP

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy or EFT?

October 27, 2017

Emotionally Focused Therapy or EFT was co-developed by Dr. Sue Johnson and is based on the scientific study of human bonding, adult love and attachment theory. EFT is founded on the premise that our partner is an attachment bond which is just as important for emotional wellness as an infant's first attachment to a caregiver is. Basically the comfort of knowing we are loved never goes away as we age. In a healthy secure relationship our partner provides a place of safety, where we can be vulnerable, to share our hopes and fears without worry of criticism or rejection.

EFT addresses the distress which is so common in intimate relationships and provides a roadmap for creating close, nurturing supporting relationships. When couples have trouble in relationship, they are struggling with a basic attachment issue, according to Johnson. They want answers to questions such as, “Are you there for me” “Can I count on you” and “If I call, will you come? However, if a couple is not in tune or emotionally connected asking those questions can be troublesome. The signals they send can be distorted and misinterpreted which can trigger negative cycles that so often create distress for couples.

When couples first meet the connection is strong but over time lack of attentiveness, not feeling heard or unresolved hurts create distance in the relationship. According to Johnson, a breakdown in a couple’s communication system typically leads to one of two patterns either anger or shutdown with no response both of which do not encourage connection. Lack of connection can trigger a range of emotions such as fear, sadness, shame or loneliness. Protests to this change in connection are what Johnson calls "demon dialogues" which are negative cycles. These negative cycles can be triggered for a variety of reasons including a certain look, tone of voice or anything that is perceived as criticism or rejection. These fights can become frequent in some relationships, but if they gain momentum, they can take over, resulting in devastating feelings of aloneness and distress. EFT offers a research validated process to help couples understand how to self-correct when these demon dialogues surface. Once couples understand their negative cycles they can work towards finding more loving adaptive responses to meet each other’s needs for connection. One of the main reasons EFT is so successful is it changes how couples experience each other in the relationship. EFT has been shown to help 75-90% couples move from distress to recovery in 8-20 sessions which is significantly more successful than other approaches for couples.

Jim Squire MDiv RP

Attunement is a Key Ingredient in Healthy Relationships

November 18, 2017

  Emotional bonding is a basic need of all humans and is even necessary for survival.  Awareness of our emotional connection to another is called attunement which refers to being “at one” with another person. Basically attunement alerts us that something is not right in the connection therefore it is necessary for maintaining healthy relationships.  As a psychotherapist I see first-hand that attunement and openness are critical to having healthy relationships. Unresolved hurts create distance in relationships and in many cases these hurts go unnoticed by partners or are mishandled in attempts to resolve them. Sue Johnson a prominent psychologist and the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) writes that lack of emotional attunement and safety are the reason desire and passion fade with couples rather than familiarity and time. Therefore understanding the needs of those we love most is critical to staying connected or repairing any injuries that happen to the connection. Unfortunately when people don’t feel safe they do not allow themselves to be vulnerable and we cannot resolve problems in relationships if we are not willing to be open and vulnerable.  Families or couples can increase attunement by having frank discussions about their relationships, checking in with each other regularly and being open to resolving issues or misunderstandings. Striving for more attunement will also demonstrate caring for those around us and be a tangible reminder that they are important to us and that we care about the health of the relationship.

Jim Squire MDiv RP

How do I become a More Authentic Person?

December 6, 2017

  All of of us have moments when we are not authentic usually when we try and adapt to a specific environment or social setting. The reason for being inauthentic is very simple we all fear rejection and presenting an idealized self often seems like the best way to ensure we are accepted. An idealized self is basically a projection of who we want to be rather than who we really are or what we feel is our best self. Unfortunately, when we don't present are real self people don’t get to know us and we aren't in touch with what we really think and feel which isn't healthy. Usually the work involved in being more authentic involves gaining more self awareness and accepting who we really are, embracing our strengths and weaknesses. Second, you must deal with the discomfort of feeling exposed since you are presenting the real you to the world which is much more uncomfortable than presenting an idealized self. Being more authentic can begin with simply being honest about how you are instead of always saying "good" or "fine". Usually when you take the risk and are more authentic you will see people change how they relate to you, and you generally attract people that are drawn to your genuineness. I have never encountered anyone who tried being more authentic and didn’t find it a positive experience. The challenge is we must push through our fear of rejection and discomfort of feeling more vulnerable.

Jim Squire MDiv RP

Making New Year Goals? This Will Help you Succeed

January 3, 2018

 There is a lot being written about how to succeed with goals at this time of year so much so that it almost seems like the topic is exhausted. However I am writing about an area that I believe can help you succeed and it isn't talked about as much. I'm referring to the attitude that we approach ourselves while striving to achieve goals. In my years of experience the more open and forgiving we are to a set back has a lot to do with whether we will succeed with our goals. Everyone for the most part has a bad day or couple days during the change process. However how we perceive that set back makes all the difference. Do we accept it as a minor issue evaluate what went wrong, learn and move on or do we end up being stuck in a sense of failure?

Viewing ourselves as a failure triggers guilt and often shame which robs us of the mindset and motivation we need to succeed. Bottom line if we don't believe we can do something we never will, we will hit some obstacle and give up thinking we are accepting the reality we can't do it.

Certainly setting realistic goals is also important but being compassionate with yourself as you try and change ingrained habits will lead you to success far more often than a rigid unforgiving mindset. 

Jim Squire MDiv RP

Is the Route to Happiness Self-acceptance?

January 28, 2018

 We are inundated with images and messages that happiness is something we acquire, that the new iPhone or Mercedes will give us the sense of fulfillment or happiness we are lacking. Billions if not trillions of dollars are made each year under these false assumptions. The reality though is happiness is an inside job, yes we have the power to create happiness for ourselves. Self-doubt and harsh self-judgment can rob us of positive feelings and keep us from feeling a sense of fulfillment in our life which can erode our happiness. Self-doubt and self-judgement often have their roots in negative appraisal from peers, parents or teachers which can fuel a negative bias towards ourselves or the habit of “beating ourselves up”. So how do you start accepting ourselves, first of all look at your intent instead of the outcome, top comparing yourself to others and allow yourself to fail. In a nutshell start being more understanding and compassionate with yourself and try treating yourself as you would a close friend, you'll be surprised how much difference it makes 

Jim Squire MDiv RP

The Five A's of Love

February 6, 2018

David Richo a well respected psychotherapist and author has described the five essential elements of love.  I would agree these five A's are necessary for couples to have a basic needs met in a loving relationship. The five A's are Appreciation, Attention, Acceptance, Affection and Allowing a person to fulfill their deepest hopes and needs. Appreciation is a tangible reminder our partner matters, Attention if absent leads to us feeling ignored/ invisible or rejected. Acceptance is a fundamental need that feeds our self-esteem and sense of self worth. Affection is of course linked to desire and we all need to feel desired by our partner, Allowing gives us the freedom to pursue our life goals and be who we are. Take some time and reflect on how your meeting the five A's in your relationship

Jim Squire MDiv RP

Improved Mental Health through Exposure to Nature

February 26, 2018

Research has shown exposure to nature or proximity to green spaces leads to reduced depression, anxiety, improves emotional regulation, benefits working memory, leads to increased energy and improves physical health (CMHA, 2013). A study by the National Academy of Science found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area showed decreased neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. This is an area of the brain that is active during rumination, in other words repetitive thoughts focused on negative emotions were reduced for those spending time in nature.

  Other studies have shown reduced levels of cortisol which is indicative of reduced stress levels, a Swedish study showed that being in nature was most helpful for those with higher levels of stress.With mental health issues on the rise and more and more people living in urban areas the question has to be asked is reduced exposure to nature contributing these mental health issues? That is difficult to answer since the way we live as a society is changing so rapidly however there seems to be overwhelming evidence that exposure to nature leads to increased well-being, and improves physical and mental health.

Jim Squire MDiv RP