As we all seem to be spending a lot of time with the same people, tension is bound to brew. For some it is simpler to just be easy going and put ones own needs aside in order to avoid confrontation. For others, not feeling respected or heard brings out a more aggressive tone to communicate ones needs with urgency and attention. The down side to both of these communication styles are that putting others first, never prioritizes your own needs, and being aggressive often does not lead to respectful and healthy relationships. Rather, we aim to be assertive so that we can communicate our needs and self advocate while also being able to listen to the perspectives and needs of others. But the boundaries between passive, assertive, and aggressive communication styles are often blurred together.
The esteemed couples therapist Esther Perel stated in one of her Youtube videos that assertiveness communicates confidence whereas aggressiveness is defensive. She also noted that assertiveness is a dialogue whereas aggressiveness is a debate.
If we think about these different styles of communication and how they are present in our lives it is clear that our communication styles can impact our professional, social, romantic, and familial relationships. No matter what context we are in our communication has an impact, and the demeanour and tone communicates much more than the literal meaning of our words. It may be helpful to think of times when we tend to be more passive, and environments that bring out our aggressive communication style. The assertive communication style is ideal because it allows both parties of the conversation to express their needs and heard and facilitates collaboration rather than competition.
The last few months I have been working on creating more awareness in my own use of communication in order to create more intentionality. Where some people find it is their natural tendency to not be assertive enough, others struggle to maintain assertiveness without crossing into aggressive territory. There are moments where each of these styles of communication are necessary and appropriate, but more often the middle ground of assertiveness may be most productive.
How do you find a healthy balance in your communication styles?
Let us know on our Instagram account which style of communication you tend to find yourself in.
Image used under Creative Commons license CLICK HERE for the source.
Five months have passed since all of our lives changed. At this point all of us have had to make at least one sacrifice, one compromise or experienced one challenge due to the pandemic. Whether it was the financial burdens of losing a job, reduced income to a business, increased childcare responsibilities, the loss of a milestone event, or a reduction of socializing and physical intimacy in our relationships the current Pandemic has affected us all. But these times have also brought on reflection and a forced change that has for many of us led to new perspectives and personal growth.
One of my favourite authors that I have come across is Victor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. I read this book years ago and have never forgotten it or the effect that it had on me as graduate student training to become a psychotherapist. Frankl, a holocaust survivor, neurologist and psychiatrist, describes his experience in death camps of Eastern Europe and how making meaning of the horrific experience allowed him to survive when others in the same circumstances did not. The other half of the novel guides us through how his experience as a survivor of the Holocaust led him to create Logotherapy, a form of existential psychotherapy that is based on helping individuals to cultivate meaning from their struggles in order to cultivate resilience.
Some of my favourite quotes from Man’s Search for Meaning are:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Although our current situation is not remotely close to the hardships of surviving the death camps of the Holocaust, our challenges and hardships are real and have brought personal struggle to many of us in significant ways. If we can start to look for areas of personal growth, changes in perspectives, or begin to see meaning in our struggle than perhaps we can all begin to cultivate our own resilience.
Let us know how you have made meaning of the hardships of the current circumstances on our social platforms.
For those who are interested in reading Man’s Search for Meaning here is a link to access the book from the Toronto Public Library:
Or buy the book on Amazon:
COVID19 has given many of us the opportunity or the mental push to focus on starting new habits. Whether they are health related, creativity oriented or professionally directed these habits are only helpful if they are maintained long term. I did some reading about habit maintenance, and I learned about five different techniques that help to maintain new habits.
What other techniques do you find helpful? Let us know on our social platforms.
Image used under Creative Commons license. CLICK HERE for the source.
While we undoubtedly go into therapy with the goal of feeling better, it is true that one can sometimes feel a bit worse after an emotional session. As unfortunate as that sounds, it is normal to sometimes feel upset or drained when revisiting tough emotional experiences or uncovering difficult insights and truths that have not been so obvious to us in the past.
Often we approach emotions in a pathological way, by chasing good emotions and ignoring or avoiding the bad. We grow, change, and move forward in our lives by experiencing a full range of emotions and using that experience to shape our future intentions. While we might feel like we went into therapy just to feel better, many of us have also tried a bit of consumer therapy by spending money on a chocolate bar or a new dress. While you may have felt better in that exact moment, did it really lead to any long term gains?
In reality, we go to therapy to build a stronger and more resilient relationship with ourselves, work through difficult experiences, and gain insight into the complexities of our choices. These gifts often only come with the recognition that we are not perfect and that negative emotions deserve to be felt. Those emotions give us important information and act as an emotional compass. Talking about difficult experiences may feel worse in the moment, but that experience also blossoms awareness of those elements of our lives and our experience that we pathologically avoid. These moments of discomfort, especially supported by a therapist we trust, can empower us in the future and slowly lessen the impact and the emotional charge that lay behind these traumatic narratives. If we do not bring these narratives forward we lose the opportunity to rewrite their endings.
What have you been avoiding thinking or talking about lately?
Anyone can get stuck. We face problems, we know they are there, but we feel at a loss on how to move forward. Sometimes the best path forward is to have a structured way to consider and tackle the concerns we are experiencing in our lives. Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, discusses four options that can be applied to any challenging problem. These four options provide a good path to clear one’s mind and help clarify a direction when one feels utterly stuck in a difficult situation.
So the next time you feel stuck and upset ask yourself what it would look like to employ each of these four options and then decide which option will be most satisfying for you and the desired result. You may not be able to solve the problem, but you might be able to avoid staying miserable.
Last week we discussed the importance of looking behind us and trying to be open to honest feedback before looking ahead. Today we explore what looking ahead really entails and how to set goals for the new year.
Making resolutions is something that is commonly associated with the start of a new year. Seeing as this year is also the start of a new decade, it is definitely a good time to set some goals and plan out how you are going to work towards reaching them.
I find that writing things down helps to make goals and intentions a stronger commitment, at least to yourself. Sure, your personal journal is not a formal contract, but seeing things in writing can be helpful in making you feel more accountable.
In the past, I have written down both short and long term goals. I find that having both are important to consider, as short term goals can help momentum, while the long term plans can give you a direction to aim for.
While some of us may feel more comfortable working towards these goals privately, the push of a supportive group of peers can also help move you towards success. An increasing trend is to get together with a few peers, perhaps with some optionally healthy snacks and drinks, to make a fun evening out of goal setting for the new year.
Goals can be as common as going to the gym, eating healthier, taking that exam you have been putting off, or as unique and personal as having the resolution of being more mindful of others feelings when in family settings.
What is important when writing down your resolutions is to have in mind the framework of SMART goals: Specific: Measurable; Attainable; Relevant; and Timely. If we are clear on why a resolution is significant to our lives and how we plan to go about working towards it, it is much easier to assess our progress and start turning that goal into action.
This year, as I contemplate my own resolutions, I am asking myself what change will lead 2020 to be a better year than 2019.
As we approach a new year and begin to think about our goals for the year ahead, it can be helpful to reflect on the year that has passed. This reflection should highlight our successes, how we have grown, and what we have learned, but should also include considerations of areas where we could continue to seek positive change.
While we can all be critical of ourselves from time to time, we also can have blindspots and may struggle to be attuned to the flaws that others have even explicitly identified in us. Thus, it can be helpful to take the time to reflect on the feedback of others and to challenge ourselves to accept what others are saying.
Accepting constructive feedback can be tough. It may feel like rejection, because it reminds us that we are far from perfect. When someone else points out our flaws, even in the most constructive and sensitive way, it can still make us cringe and result in us reacting defensively.
We should recognize that it is natural to respond defensively and say “but what about all the times that I wasn’t like that”, but letting go of that initial response is necessary to facilitate growth. Indeed, it can be really difficult to fully hear another person’s critiques and see that they are giving us this information because they have not given up on us and think that this information can be invaluable in moving us forward as a person.
My resolution this year is to be more open to feedback, listen when it is given to me and try to take something away from it other than anger.
Why not ask yourself what feedback have you learned from in the past and how this allowed you to grow. Then, ask yourself if there is more recent feedback that you have been trying to discount that may help you grow even further.
One of my goals with each weeks #WellnessWednesday is to inspire readers to think a bit deeper about their day to day experiences and use that thoughtfulness to encourage either acceptance or action. I similarly spend a lot of time perusing the internet for my own personal inspirations, during which I came across a great article from NPR that had me thinking more deeply about how mainstream North American culture teach children to regulate emotions compared to how other cultures approach this. While we have certainly moved forward in this regard over the decades, it also seems that other cultures are approaching this in a unique, and sometimes better, way.
The Other Side of Anger: How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger (Authors: Ichaeleen Doucleff and Jane Greenhalgh) explores an alternative parental response to anger. Specifically, the article touches upon how the Innuit community traditionally responds to tantrums and outbursts through demonstrations of patience and storytelling rather than time-outs or consequences.
The article explains how responding through narrative can be a tool to help children understand the repercussions of their actions in a dramatic creative way. This approach to behavioural outbursts reminds us that mirroring back anger through yelling and threats are rarely successful for young children who need time to learn to self regulate. The Inuit community informs us that yelling only teaches children to respond with a raised voice when they are angry or to run away from you when they are upset. By not yelling, we model self control in moments of anger and then when the child is calm we can explore other ways that they could have reacted. This practice further helps children to learn perspective taking and critical thinking, which underlie the development of empathy.
The article is an interesting read and can act as a reminder to caregivers who already act in such a fashion or a valuable alternative approach for those who find themselves stuck in a retaliatory emotional battle.
You can find the original article by clicking here.
Over the past three blog posts we have explored the concept of change, the stages of change, and the fear that often prevents change from happening. This week we are exploring how to assess whether or not our change journey is something we should pursue alone or whether we could benefit from a helping hand. It may feel like going it alone will be the most discreet and easiest way to approach the change. The desire to change independently might come from not wanting others to know if we fail, not wanting others to know that we currently partake in a negative behaviour, or from the satisfaction of knowing that your success is entirely self-earned. These thoughts are not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes the desire to go it alone prevents us from receiving the assistance and support that will allow change to be successfully implemented and maintained.
Assessing a plan of action and whether you need support is best done by asking yourself if you understand the barriers in place and have an actionable plan to move forward. Are you equipped with the resources needed to take each step in making the change? Would you benefit from having the emotional support and encouragement of a trusted friend or family member? Would you like a friend to help you stay accountable and check in with you daily or weekly about your progress?
Determine what resources you have available around you to support change. It might be friends, family or your romantic partner, but it may also be a professional. This could include booking an appointment with a personal trainer, dietician, or even a therapist to help you tackle some of those barriers that can emerge on your change journey. Alternatively, there may be groups in your community or even online that you could join. Being part of a group that is moving towards a similar pursuit can help us feel empowered and focussed on our goal. This could involve a running group to help you with your fitness goal, a substance abuse support group to help you with your sobriety, or joining a baseball team to help with your goal of being more social. The simple act of telling others that we are committed to change can encourage us to take our goal seriously, even if it is out of pressure to not disappoint others.
Essentially, you need to ask yourself if starting the action stage of this goal feels overwhelming alone and whether accessing supports might help.
For the next few weeks, Wellness Wednesday is exploring the concept of change. Recognizing that things need to change is a key first step towards wellness. Join us over the next month as we dig into change and the barriers that can emerge along the way. This week features the return of Wellness Wednesday's editor Michael Decaire.
Last week on Wellness Wednesday we discussed the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. This model can help us identify where we are in our change journey, but can also assist us in identifying barriers those seeking change may face along the way. It can also be a process that is derailed by fear, an emotion that many of us will experience surrounding a process of change. How fear presents itself during change can be a shifting pattern, with each major stage of change reflecting a different type of fear that may either move us forwards or backwards in our journey towards wellness.
Fear in Contemplation. As a reminder, an individual in a contemplative state is beginning to recognize that change might be a good idea or necessary. These thoughts are often fleeting and may not be particularly flushed out to any significant depth. Fear can derail early contemplative states due to the emergence of anxiety surrounding the unknown. While we may not be particularly comfortable in our current state, it is familiar. That familiarity can reduce certain anxieties, where a dive into change without having initiated some early preparation steps can reflect an undefined journey ahead for the contemplator. That lack of definition can often be a substantial barrier to initiating action.
Fear in Preparation. The early contemplator may find that, despite their fears, they have been forced through the unknown by the emergence of a stressor that tips the scales and makes the initial preparatory steps less scary than the thought of inaction (e.g. facing an ultimatum from a partner; a health emergency). While the shifting balance of fears can help facilitate movement, it does not mean that fear of change has entirely subsided. Instead, the nature of that fear has changed.
During preparatory states, an individual may feel overwhelmed by the number of steps they have deemed necessary to move towards their defined goal. They may be fearful that this is a journey that they are not yet capable of taking, pushing them back towards a contemplative state and reconsidering whether change is even possible. The trick here is to recognize that change is a journey and is rarely something that can be completed in a single step. Mapping out a multi-step journey does not mean that we need to successfully navigate each of these steps now, but it does tell us what the first or next step looks like. Generally that next step is not particularly scary. If it is, you are likely combining two steps at once and need to break that next step down to a level that it is not particularly fear inducing.
Fear in Action. The action-staged individual has undoubtedly battled successfully through many fears. This in itself can be an empowering process that fuels change, but the action-stage of change is rarely a short one and fears may creep back in throughout the process. A common fear during early action stages is the fear of failure. This fear
can be a double edged sword; helpful in one way, but detrimental in the other. Fear of failure can spawn increased attunement to threats to successful change, which can help us anticipate and counter those threats as we face them. Fear of failure, however, can also cause us to feel unwilling to take the necessary steps towards change due to discomfort with the idea of failing and what that would mean to our self-esteem and worth. Feelings of hopelessness can often leave us stuck in an unchanging state, but we also may perceive that this feeling will be compounded by attempting change and actively confirming to ourselves that we are destined for failure. The funny thing about hopelessness is that it is really only an accurate feeling if you always fail to act.
Fear in Maintenance. A surprising fear can emerge towards the end of the maintenance stage of change that can be a bit of a surprise, but poses a barrier towards a final transition to termination. A “fear of letting go” of some of the resources used in the action and maintenance stage can emerge due to anxieties of falling back into old habits. This could include something as simple as no longer tracking calories during a push towards increased healthy eating or something more substantial as discontinuing therapy that helped you along the change journey. At times, some of these new resources may be part of your ongoing termination plan. For instance, attending peer support meetings for an addiction may allow you to keep other wellness factors in check or permit you to support others along their journey. At other times, they can be actions that are not meaningfully supporting wellness, but are instead mental crutches that we are holding on to out of fear. Letting go of these “crutches” does not mean they cannot be accessible to you in the future if needed, but judging whether they are legitimately helpful in the here and now is an important step towards termination.
Is Fear a Bad Thing? Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. All humans have the capacity to respond to fear in multiple ways. Evolutionary theories have long looked at the concepts of fight, flight, or freeze, the latter often being excluded in the public lexicon around “fight or flight”. In the process of change, the most common initial barrier to change is a freeze response. In this state, the individual is in stasis and unable to move. Old habits persist and there is either no further consideration of change or they feel paraliyzed with the simple thought of considering movement forward.
A flight response is more likely to emerge during action stages and result in an individual retreating back to their old habits. This can leave an individual feeling like they have failed and may increase the likelihood that the next time they consider change the freeze response begins to emerge.
Successful change comes when an individual’s response to fear is to activate their fight response. The fight response initiates action, but can be followed by a flight response when stifled. The trick is to keep on fighting, looking at failures as an opportunity to reassess what went wrong and to put new action steps in place. The power is in assessment and understanding. It is difficult to fight against something you do not understand. By assessing their own experience and the barriers they have faced, one can reduce the power of the unknown and a fight response becomes a much easier thing to initiate.
Join Wellness Wednesday next week as we tackle this final action. Looking at initiating the change process on your own and recognizing when you may benefit from a little help along the way.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.