Returning to wholeness

Women Returning to Wholeness

codependency

February is often considered “the month of love” or “ Heart” month. This may be a time when you think more about relationship than usual. Whether you have a partner or not, I want to invite you to  make February the month where you fall in love again… with YOU.

When you’re falling in love with someone, you’re  not only excited to spend time with them, but you’re also focused on wanting to express how you feel about them and make them feel wanted. Are you familiar with the languages of love?  In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman identified that we can  use five channels to express  love. Most of us  have one or two predominant languages that we use and that make us feel special.  Today I want to invite you to explore and utilize these languages as you rekindle your love affair with YOU.

Counselling for women Burnaby and North Vancouver love affairOne of the love languages is words. Do you speak nicely to yourself or is your inner critic alive and well? What would it be like if you made a point of not judging yourself? What would it be like if you practiced self compassion? How might you feel if your inner narrative was patient, kind and loving?

A great way to change your narrative is by shifting focus.

Exercise: between now and the end of the month start your day by looking into the mirror and saying “I love you.”End  your day by writing down five things about yourself that you appreciate, that you are excited about or that you are proud of.

Another love language is touch.  Do you receive  enough loving touch in your life? Do you offer loving and sensual touch to your body or do you tend to engage with your body in a more “functional” or perhaps even critical way?Sex Therapy and intimacy counselling for women Burnaby and North Vancouver

Exercise: between now and the end of the month, I invite you to focus on a mindful engagement of your senses. Treat yourself to a special cream or body wash.  Get a massage.   Slow down when you eat and truly enjoy your food. Luxuriate in the feeling of fresh sheets or special lingerie against your skin.  When you put cream on your face (or your body), touch your skin with love and mindfulness. Honour this body of yours  with its scars, stretch marks and fat rolls. It is carrying you thru life. 

The third and fourth love languages are “acts of service” and “time.” Do you tend to put your own needs at the bottom of the list?Do you have a long list of things that you “should” be doing? (If you have done the 21 day practice of “Letting go of “I should” you have probably shifted that dynamic in your life 🙂 )  When is the last time that you just spent time being rather than doing?

Exercise: Make a list of things you love to do but haven’t done for a while. Whether it is reading a book, going thru you closet and letting go of all the things you don’t love anymore, meeting with a good friend or just “hanging”…write down at least 12 things that make you feel good. Between now and the end of the month,  plan your next day on the evening before. Schedule and prioritize one of the things from your list. 

Finally, the fifth language of love is “gifts.” If you had just met this amazing person that totally stole your heart, you would probably delight in spoiling them with small gifts here and there. Whether it was that specialty coffee you know they loved or something else. Gifts don’t have to be expensive.

Exercise: between now and the end of the month, extend that delight, love and care in gifting something to yourself. Find at least 5 opportunities to make yourself feel special with a treat.

As you read this article, did you have any thoughts about being too busy or too tired to do any of these things? Busyness and fatigue or often a place of resistance. If you close your eyes for a moment and go back to a time when you had just fallen in love and connect to that energy in your body – would you have felt too busy or tired to do any of the special things suggested today? Would you have thought that this person you loved didn’t need all that fuss, that there shouldn’t be so much focus on them or that they weren’t good enough yet? I’m sure the answer is NO 🙂

I hope you enjoy the journey of falling in love again…with YOU because it is the most important relationship of all for you to nurture and care about.Counselling for Depression and anxiety relief Burnaby and North Vancouver

Are you wondering if you are a perfectionist?  Take a look and see if you can relate to these statements: how true are they on a scale of 1 to 10?

  • Nothing good comes from making mistakes
  • I must do things right the first time
  • I must do everything well, not just the things I know I’m good at
  • If I can’t do something perfectly then there’s no point even in trying
  • I rarely give myself credit when I do well because there’s always something more that I could do
  • Sometimes I’m so concerned about getting one task done perfectly that I haven’t have time to complete the rest of my work

If your total score is higher than 32, your life is undoubtedly being affected by perfectionism.

As a perfectionist you’re every employers dream. You’re usually willing and ready to work overtime and always go the extra mile. Your colleagues come and hand you projects they don’t have time for because they know you will take them on… even though your own to do list is stretched to the max.

You would think that with all this extra effort you would be particularly appreciated. Instead your boss has grown to expect you to be always available and the promotion went to Jane in accounting. Furthermore, your boyfriend, partner or family is not impressed. What is wrong with this picture you wonder?

As a perfectionist you’re also every employee’s nightmare. You can’t relinquish control over anything and your stance is: why bother delegating to get the job done with mediocrity when you can do it yourself perfectly the first time. Your team is used to receiving mostly criticism rather than praise and everybody has long stopped to come up with innovative ideas.

At home you wonder why you always have to do everything yourself. The truth is that others just don’t do it well enough for you. Because, didn’t you know, there is a right way and a wrong way to stack the dishwasher…

Perfectionists can be in the habit of engaging in a number of unhelpful behaviors to make sure that they continue to meet the incredibly high standards they set for themselves.

 

Difficulty in making decisions is one of these unhelpful behaviours that you might be engaging in if you have perfectionistic tendencies.

Let’s say you’ve had a long day at work and all you really want to do is have a quiet evening in front of the TV. The voice in your head however is of a different opinion. It is suggesting that really you should be going to the gym because otherwise you’re going to gain weight. Or, you should work for another hour on that report you have to present tomorrow. Or, you should have sex tonight because that’s what your boyfriend or partner has been hoping for. When you have all these shoulds going on, it can become very confusing and feel overwhelming.

In the end you don’t know what you really want to do. All you do know is, that you want to do the right thing, you don’t want to upset anyone and you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Every should has a whole chorus of voices advocating its validity.

So here you are, struggling to make a decision.

If the should virus has taken over your life and your trying to figure out what you really want to do, you need to go back to the body. Remember, while all the voices in your head are competing for your attention, your body already knows the truth.

 So the next time you’re undecided, take a moment and close your eyes. Take a few breaths to become calm and grounded. Then visualize each of the options proposed by the should voice. Finally visualize your original thought of what you wanted to do.

Notice how your body feels with each image that you produce in your mind. When your body feels open or relaxed, you have connected to what you really want to do and ironically what you should do.

The short-term benefits of allowing your inner truth to be your compass are authenticity and an increased ability to be fully present with what you’re doing.

Confronting the double edged sword of perfectionism isn’t always easy. It requires courage and a certain willingness to feel vulnerable as you show up in the world as your authentic self. The long-term benefits of this act of courage and of letting go of perfectionism are deeper connections with others and yourself.

 

Do you listen to “I’m too fat FM”? Over the years of counselling women I have discovered that perfectionism and low self-esteem or poor body image are often connected.

Being synchronized to “I’m too fat FM” is a painful experience with ripple effect.

Many women pretend that they don’t listen to this station by putting on an air of self-confidence when they go out into the world.

Only closest friends and partners become privy to the painful internal struggle that gets triggered with every glance in the mirror. What happens is that once in a while, “I’m too fat FM” gets interrupted by spontaneous broadcasts of messages from “Maybe I’m ok FM”.

In these moments, the woman usually turns to her spouse or friend asking for reassurance. What follows is a dialogue which, repeated often enough,
leaves both parties frustrated and / or annoyed.

Can you relate to this scenario?

“Honey, do you think I look ok in this dress?”
“You look great babe! How many times have I told you that I think you’re sexy and I love your body?”
“Oh, you just say that because you love me. I guess I wouldn’t look too bad, if only I didn’t have ____________ (choose from these options – this big belly, such bad skin, fat thighs, bigger breasts ecc).”
“That’s nonsense! I’m telling you, you look great!”
“You don’t really understand. Like I said, you love me so of course you think I’m ok.”
“If you don’t believe me, why do you even ask?”

 While listening to “I’m too fat FM” or “I’m not good enough FM” maybe a habit you’ve picked up during childhood, today, as an adult, you have a choice to choose a different radio station.

You have a choice regarding the thoughts you think. Perhaps you feel  that changing these thoughts is difficult if not impossible.

If you can’t seem to break the habit of negative self-talk, ask yourself these questions:

What is the benefit of negative self-talk or keeping yourself small?

Here are some answers I have heard while counselling women for anxiety and depression: It makes me work harder and always strive to be better, it allows me to see nice things in other people, it makes me a good friend,

What is the cost of negative self-talk?

Answers women have shared: Depression, anxiety, I don’t go out and do things I want, I hide my body, I’m inhibited in bed, I become obsessed about being perfect in other areas, I obsess about my body and weight loss, I’m unhappy

What would be the benefits of listening to “I’m perfect just the way I am FM”?

Answers women have shared: I would have more freedom, I would have more energy, I would feel great about myself, I would do more things, I would have more fun, I would dress differently and wear what I want, I would initiate sex and feel less inhibited

 What would be the (imagined) costs of stopping negative self-talk?

Answers women have shared: Having to step out of my comfort zone, people thinking I’m conceited or arrogant, losing friends, conflict with partner or family, realizing that I want to live my life differently,

Here are 4 tips to help you stop negative self-talk and shift low self-esteem / poor body image:

1) Do mirror work: Many of my clients resist this exercise, but mirror work is very powerful. To avoid getting distracted by your body, start with a hand mirror and look into your eyes when you say the following:

I love you. It’s not what you do but who you are that I love. You are perfect just the way you are. You are special to me. I have confidence in you.

Start with one of these messages. Take a couple of minutes in the morning after you wake up and in the evening before going to sleep to connect with yourself. Breathe into these messages. Notice any voices in your head that disagree and just let them go. You may choose to journal about what the voices in your head are saying.

2) Practice gratitude: Thanks to your amazing body, you get to experience life. You get to enjoy the beauty of nature, taste good food, touch the people you love, hear beautiful sounds, do the work you do. You might think you’re thighs are too fat… but imagine missing a leg. You might worry about your breasts being too small but imagine losing them to illness.

3) Start a daily practice of writing and saying positive affirmations to yourself. There are lots of great books that you can use to inspire you.

4) Start doing some of the things you now don’t allow yourself to do because you imagine everybody is looking at you and thinking horrible thoughts. Learn anxiety management techniques such as EFT and thought stopping to help you cope.

You don’t have to be a hostage of your inner critic and “I’m too fat FM.” You can and you deserve to own your greatness.

Do you have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you.

Ina Stockhausen is a psychotherapist in Burnaby and North Vancouver, specializing in counselling women for anxiety, depression and stress management. She offers solution focused counselling and helps women navigate life transitions.

Do you make negative associations with Anger? You’re not alone. Few of us had “healthy anger” role models. For many, expressing anger or being at the receiving end of anger brings up a whole range of uncomfortable emotions.

If you’re a woman, you might struggle even more, because you may have been taught to internalize your anger.

When anger has you heading to the cupboards, you can easily end up overeating while trying to express or rather repress what you’re feeling.

Did you know that suppressed negative emotions have been linked to causing serious illness like cancer?

Scientific research shows that negative emotions can affect the pH level of your body. Feelings like anger, revenge or hate create metabolic acids. When you suppress these emotions, over time, you increase your potential of high acid levels that can impact the potential for cancerous growth in your body.

So let’s step away from hurting yourself and look at some ideas for expressing your anger rather than stuffing it down.

  •   Vent on paper – do “the angry opera”

Use your journal or perhaps you have a file on your computer… and tell it like it is. Don’t  hold back. You don’t have to worry about anybody hurting you back, or about stepping on someone’s toes.

Express how you feel and how angry you are and get it out of your system. You could even write a letter (that you may choose to send or not) to the person who hurt you or who you are angry with.

Often getting it all out without holding back can give way to calmer feelings.

Because in my counselling practice, I  use an integrated mind – body approach I always encourage you to also release that pent up energy in some physical way.

Writing gives shape to your thoughts of hurt and anger.

But what about your clenched jaw, your tight throat, the knot in your stomach and the tension in your body?

Ideally you would have a safe space where you could shout or holler, make faces to stretch your jaw. Jump up and down, stomp your feet, do an “anger dance” or pound a pillow. Your car (not moving in traffic or with passengers) can be a great place to give vocal expression to your anger.

And always… don’t forget to breathe. Belly breaths activate the para-sympathetic nervous system and will calm you down.

  • The Serenity Prayer

Do you know the serenity prayer? It starts like this

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

When you’re angry or frustrated about something, it helps to have some sense of control. Take a look at what’s going on for you and decide if there’s anything you can do to improve the situation.

Sometimes there is and sometimes all you can do is learn from what happened so it doesn’t happen again.Consider that by eating you are stepping into the passive role of the victim. By taking assessment of what you can do, you also take some of your power back.

  •  Be assertive

Do you eat when others talk down to you, criticize you or take advantage of your good nature?

Don’t forget that you have a right to your own views, emotions, values and opinions. You have the right to say NO. And you have a right to feel good about yourself.

Get into the habit of sticking up for yourself. Someone picks on you – tell them to stop it. Set boundaries. By being assertive, you may find that some people will back down. Nobody has the right to treat you badly.

If you’re not used to asserting yourself, you might consider taking an assertiveness training class.

If anger has caused trauma in your life and is impacting how you respond and deal with this emotion today, solution focused counselling can help you.

 

Becoming a caregiver can activate a lot of emotions. Particularly when women become responsible for the care of a parent, I have noticed how easy it is to get caught in the perfectionism trap.   It becomes important to do a perfect job, to be a perfect caregiver…adding an extra layer of stress.

I have yet to meet a woman who isn’t familiar, at least to some extent, with the notion of not feeling good enough.

Today I’d like to share a story of how the need to do it right  can contribute to overstepping boundaries.

In the last little while I’ve been counselling and supporting women who are navigating that life transition piece of becoming a caregiver.

The story of Joan (name has been changed) illustrates how perfectionism, or  “extremely high standards” can be driven by the need for approval of others.

Joan’s mother is a widow in her late 70s. In the months, she’s been struggling with vision loss and recently she broke her ankle.  Because mother hasn’t felt very safe to go out on the streets alone or to do her shopping, Joan has stepped in and has been taking care of providing her with groceries.  Now that mother is fairly immobilized with a broken ankle, Joan has taken over the cleaning of her apartment as well.

When Joan came to see me she was feeling very frustrated.  Her mother was complaining to everybody that all she was doing was cleaning.  Here I am trying so hard and all my mother does is complain, Joan shared with a mixture of sadness, anger and confusion.

Then the other day Joan and mother had a big fight about mother’s housecoat. In her efforts to keep everything clean and tidy, Joan had also decided to wash mother’s robe. It was then that she noticed that the robe was starting to look a little worn and ratty.

She told mother that she thought she needed a new housecoat.  But mother didn’t agree. Not only did she love that housecoat – it had been a gift from Joan’s father. She  thought it was still good enough. Joan spent about 30 min. arguing but couldn’t sway mother.

So she decided to take matters into her own hands. The next time she visited, she replaced the housecoat with a new robe and took the old one with her for disposal. Instead of being grateful and pleased about the gift, Joan’s mother was furious and Joan felt very unappreciated.

As we worked together, Joan was able to identify what had happened. She’d been afraid that someone would come and visit her mother and see her old worn-out robe and decide that Joan was neglecting her parent.

Her cleaning frenzies had been motivated by the same fear. So rather than enjoying time with mother and keeping her company, she’d been driving herself crazy cleaning the apartment from top to bottom… even though her mother had asked her to stop.

Have you ever experienced anything similar?

Have you felt embarrassed by the behavior or circumstances of someone close to you because you felt it was a direct reflection on you?

Perhaps you worried about being judged a poor parent, an incompetent pet owner or a “not good enough” daughter or son. While this is a good example of how the desire for approval can activate perfectionism, it also illustrates the loss of boundaries.

The next time you feel an urge to step in and fix something or somebody, or take care of something for somebody that isn’t really your responsibility, stop and take a deep breath.

In fact take several deep breaths. Then connect with this mantra or truth:

“I don’t have the power over, control of, or responsibility for other people’s lives. I was taught that I had these powers. This is a lie I now tell myself.”

Of course you are responsible if you’re caring for an infant or child. But as the child grows and becomes more independent or when you deal with adults who have full mental capacity you are no longer responsible for their well-being, appearance or feelings.

While you may mean well when you step in and fix something, as the story of Joan illustrates, you’re not really doing the person a favour. Furthermore while it may look like it’s all about them, upon closer examination, you will most likely discover that you’re meeting a need of your own.

 If you’d like to ease the stress that perfectionism can create, I invite you to check out my new tele-seminar series about “Embracing the gifts of imperfection and letting go of perfectionism” in the Events section.

As always I welcome your comments and feedback to this blog post.