Get More Out of Life

Do you want more out of life, something different, a new way of doing things and yet you do not have a clear idea of how to bring this about? Perhaps you have tried everything you can think of but things are not improving. You may be feeling overwhelmed by the events in your life. You may have experienced a catastrophe, loss or trauma (recent or buried in the past) and your coping skills have been stretched to the limit.

Have you considered speaking to a counsellor? It’s a way of building on assets you already possess. Courage, openness, clearly defined goals, accepting personal responsibility, hope, belief that things can change and a support system are some of the assets that a client can bring to counselling or learn during the counselling process.

It takes a great deal of courage to approach a stranger and ask for help. It takes courage to try new strategies and courage to be willing to make mistakes, evaluate what has happened, make adjustments and move on. It takes openness to discuss problems; listen to new ideas; try new behaviours; think about yourself and your life in new ways.

Knowing where you want to go is an important part of ensuring your arrival. You may start off with general goals such as wanting more out of life, wanting someone to change, wanting to be happy, wanting to be a better parent or wanting a better marriage; perhaps you may not have any goals in mind at all. Your counsellor will ask you questions that will help you understand how you will be behaving and thinking differently when you reach your goals. When you begin with the end result clearly stated and understood, the way to move forward becomes clearer and helps ensure that the results of counselling are what you really want.

In order to effect changes in your life, it is necessary to accept personal responsibility for bringing about those changes. When you wait for circumstances or another person to change, you adopt a “victim” stance. Accepting personal responsibility for discovering how you can change your life and implementing those discoveries removes you from a “victim” stance to a stance which is proactive and empowered.

When life is tough, hope helps you believe that somewhere there are answers that will stop the pain and help them obtain the life you desire. You may believe that it is only desperation that drives you to seek help, yet, the fact that you are considering reaching out speaks to the fact that you have not given up, that you are still willing to try at least one more thing.

Belief, like hope, can be faint when you approach your first session. As counselling progresses, you will develop the belief that you will be able to effectively use their newly obtained knowledge to bring about the changes you desire.

Lack of a support system can be a major drawback to success. Counselling will provide support and can be the first step in building a strong support system. Belonging to a support group helps you begin to lose their sense of isolation. It can be great encouragement to realize that others share the same burden, but survive and move on in life. Belonging to a church, athletic association, social group, or volunteer organization can also provide support. I usually discourage the use of the internet or finding support. there are just too many pitfalls and landmines!

Counselling helps you to modify behaviours and attitudes, find solutions, develop skills, and access your inner resources in order to move toward your chosen goals. If you believe the therapist understands your problems and has the skills to help, and you are ready to build on your personal resources, counselling will probably have a successful outcome

This article originally appeared in our PsycHealth newsletter, Winter 2007 issue.

Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Marriage & Relationships, Personal Growth, Retirement & Aging, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy

Nature is Good For Us

How fortunate we are to live in a rain forest! Even as I’m sitting at my computer, looking out the window at the snow, sleet and grey skies, I’m grateful. Not for the grey skies, but for the trees surrounding us and a climate that allows us to get outside and be active year round.

Regular physical activity is important at all ages, but as we grow older being active becomes increasingly important. There is a significant and growing body of research showing that physical activity is beneficial in many ways. Exercise give us energy and strength, increases metabolism and reduces the risk of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It reduces bone loss. Research is also showing that regular physical activity can improve brain functioning too and may protect against dementia in later life.

Regular physical activity has psychological benefits too. It lifts our mood, reduces stress and decreases anxiety. People with mild to moderate depression derive significant benefit from regular physical activity. Our sleep improves; our ability to cope with stress (resilience) improves. We gain a sense of self-satisfaction and confidence when we are fit and strong. We can achieve a better balance between work and relaxation. If our work involves lots of thinking, computer work, and sitting at desks, it’s especially important to make time for physical activity.

But does all that research about the physical, cognitive and psychological benefits of exercise motivate me to go to the gym, to sweat, lift weights, run on a treadmill, or pound the pavement? Well, not really. What does get me motivated to move is the opportunity to be in nature, among trees. Several times a week, I like to hike or run trails in the mountains or parks. No music or counting kilometres to distract me, just moving. And looking, listening, smelling, sensing. It’s meditative, it’s relaxing, it’s stress busting. On sunny days, the rays of light shinning through the trees trunks and the green glow of the tree canopy are magical. On rainy days, moss covered rocks glow brilliant lime green while decaying cedar trees on the paths glow in red orange contrast. The sounds of birds are captivating. On windy days, the trees squeak!

I recently came across some research showing that being in nature is good for us whether we run, hike or walk. While walking in nature may not give us cardiovascular fitness, it does provide some important benefits, just like we get when engaging in more intense activity. Studies are being conducted, especially in Japan and South Korea, in which people walk quietly in the forest. This activity has been given the name shinrin-yoku (“nature bathing”) or Forest Therapy and it’s being touted as the latest fitness trend. Shinrin-yoku means taking in nature, using the five senses: seeing, hearing, sensing, smelling , tasting. (Please note: tasking doesn’t mean nibbling on unknown plants, which may or may not be poisonous!). At it’s simplest, forest therapy involves quietly walking and attending to the environment around us rather than thinking about other things such as that work project or the week’s schedule waiting to be sorted out. IT doesn’t include listening to music, checking emails or talking on the phone. Being in nature in this contemplative way is showing benefits such as reduced blood pressure, relief from depression and anxiety, improved cognition and reduced stress.

Walking quietly in nature gives our brains a rest. This can be vital to our well being when we consider how much time we spend on our devices and computers, working, checking social media, texting, playing games and so on, and sometimes all at the same times. Our brains are stimulated throughout the day. And our busier lives require more planning, organizing, scheduling and problem solving. How refreshing to put away the phone, turn off the pings and buzzes alerting us to incoming messages, to stop multitasking for an hour or so to just walk, breathe, look, listen, notice. This is what one researcher refers to as “soft fascination”.

Soft fascination requires that we feel safe and relaxed. For example, if I’m walking near a cliff edge my brain is on high alert. I can’t engage in soft fascination. But walking on a well travelled trail that’s familiar, with no cliff edges in sight, I can attain that sense of quiet interest in my surroundings. It’s restorative and rejuvenating. I come away from the forest happier, calmer and more grounded.

Here’s some more good news. If you’re unable to get to the woods, or have mobility issues, it turns out that looking at images of nature can provide stress relieving benefits too. So, whether running, hiking, walking, or gazing at images, nature is good for us!

Posted in Depression, General, Internet, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy

New Possibility: Executive Coaching

Having trained in and practiced psychotherapy for 35 years, I have decided to apply my skills in a new arena. I have been undergoing training through the College of Executive Coaching, based in California, toward becoming a certified Business/Executive Coach.
Business or Executive Coaching differs from psychotherapy, in that it addresses career issues in the present and future, and doesn’t treat emotional symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. Business Coaching also is different from Life Coaching, in that it is primarily about flourishing in the workplace.
Work is such a big part of our lives, and we want to be happy in what we do. Coaching is about helping you make your mark career wise, while still leaving space to enjoy satisfying personal relationships and to breathe.
In 2001, the Manchester Consulting Group conducted a study designed to examine the effects executive coaching have on an organization’s profit and loss. Regarding overall satisfaction with he coaching process, 86% of executives and 74% of stakeholders reported being “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied.”
Coaching may be about sorting out your goals, and basing your work life on your most precious personal values. An initial interview question might be: If you could take one step today toward your envisioned future, what would be most meaningful?
The coach might ask you to talk about a time in your life when you were very energized, hopeful, and excited. What was going on, who was involved, and what was it that made you feel so enriched by that experience? “Would you enjoy it if we could bring something like that type of energy and satisfaction again through our coaching work together?”
A coach gives intensive support for developing and achieving career targets. The process may also examine work relationships. Team or corporate organizational problems. Coaching may help you challenge “self-derailing” work behaviours.
Typically, the process starts with some assessment procedures, which could involve personality testing, and explorations of values, strengths and weaknesses. A coach may liaison with your company’s Human Resources, your boss, and/or coworkers to help you advance.
Your coach can be an accountability partner, helping you stick to and manage your targets. He may assist with strategies for coping with competitiveness, favourtism and other “office politics” problems; or address fears around confidence, confronting negative evaluations.
A coach can be a trustworthy confidante, sounding board, adviser and thought partner. She may at times be a counsellor who lets you vent your feelings, and provides emotional support; a cheerleader and reinforcer, who expresses confidence in your current abilities, and encourages your ability to learn and grow; she can be a mentor, who provides long-term support and guidance.
      A coach can also be an educator and a resource provider, can help you develop Your Own Brand of Directors, and may steer you to useful books and resources, such as Who’s Got Your Back, by Keith Ferrazzi.
      Other issues coaching might look at:  What do I need to unlearn? What new information and knowledge do I need? How can I become more competent? How can I invest my values in leadership roles? What are my best learning environments? Who are my best teachers and mentors? (Hudson and Mclean, Lifelaunch, 1995).
If any of these questions are of interest to you, or to someone you know, please contact Denis Boyd & Associates at 604-931-7211 to book a coaching session.

Posted in General, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy

Using Pop Culture to Impact Positive Change

Seven years ago, a colleague and I attended an annual conference in Washington DC called the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium. We were excited about meeting one of the key note speakers, John Gottman, a marriage and relationship researcher and expert whom we learned about while in grad school. We kept seeing a man of similar stature walking through the hallways of the hotel but were disappointed each time to realize that he wasn’t John. Upon arriving home and looking at the conference Facebook page, we discovered that the guy who reminded us of John Gottman was actually Steven Spielberg! We had been so fixated on meeting a certain psychologist (whom most people have never heard of) that we failed to recognize and have an opportunity to meet one of the top directors of our time!

I was curious to know why Steven was at a psychology conference. In my research, I read that his films have an element of psychological sophistication to them. Through cinema, Steven often incorporates challenges he has faced in his life, such as parent-child discord, parents who are reluctant or absent, and bullying. Although they depict such challenges, his films are designed to be optimistic overall and usually have a childlike sense of wonder and hope to them. Steven, along with many other directors, writers, producers, game makers, etc., design their artistic craft to appeal to a person’s psyche, by making it relate-able, exciting and moving. If we can find a way to utilize the powerful imagery, stories, metaphors, messages, and icons of pop culture, we too will access a plethora of resources for growth, change and healing.

My intention is not to encourage more screen time as it is my opinion that kids have way too much of that already. But pop culture, if we like it or not, is very appealing to children and teens. The goal is to meet them where they are and to use pop culture to assist in creating a more balanced routine and ultimately cut down on the amount of screen time moving forward. In this article, we will explore how I have used pop culture while working with children/teens: to help develop and enhance the relationship, to gather information, and (in part 2 of the article) to help facilitate positive change in their lives.

Developing and enhancing the relationship:

Finding common ground or a shared interest with a child/teen makes creating a sage and comforting environment significantly easier. Asking a child or teen about his or her favorite show, band, video game, and/or sports team can generate dialogue. If you know what they are actually talking about it can lead to a more engaging discussion. I started playing Minecraft because that’s what most of my younger clients were playing (to be honest I still play it every few days and find it rather relaxing). My knowledge of that game has paid dividends for connecting with kids. But even if  you don’t know what the child/teen is referring to, it’s important to have a genuine curiosity in what he or she is saying and be willing to explore the different areas of interest. Even if you don’t enjoy it or agree with it, we need to be interested in pop culture because our children and teenagers are interested in it and we are interested in them. (Note: I am not advising that you should explore any aspects of pop culture that are morally offensive to you.)

Gathering Information:

Working with children and teenagers involves a relentless pursuit to uncover positive traits and indicators of resiliency. Once you know what shows, games and songs the child/teen is interested in and have explored them yourself, go more in-depth by learning about their perception of them. What do the pop culture preferences say about them? I typically do a value clarification exercise with my clients. Our values need to be our compass for navigating through difficult situations; if we foster our values we feel good, if we contradict them then we can feel bad.

If a client is unsure what values are most important to them, I often explore what their favorite Netflix shows are. I once saw a teen who was referred to me due to intense behavioral issues and he was on the verge of being kicked out of school. During our intake session I learned that he was a big fan of the Walking Dead. I was thrilled to find out that his favorite character was Daryl (who is loyal, caring, reliable, tough and calm) and his least favorite character was Nicolas (who is two-sided, cowardly, and self-centered). His preferences told me about the values and traits he has, aspires to have, or at the very least, respects.

The questions you can ask are endless! Ask about what they like or don’t like about the plot or story-line. Empower them to think critically; it’s an important life enhancing skill that is often underutilized in our childhood and youth. If they are playing a video game, focus on how they play the game; the skills that are entailed to be successful in the game can be transferred to life’s challenges.

In part 2, we will explore practical ways in which I’ve used pop culture to facilitate positive change in the lives of the children and teenagers I work with. Stay tuned!

Posted in Family & Parenting, General, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety

The Gift of Failure

I recently watched a wonderful documentary, The Barkley Marathons, about an ultra endurance trail race that takes place in the Tennessee mountains.  Only 40 runners are accepted into the race each year.  Covering the entire distance of 160 kilometres (100 mile) or more also requires climbing and descending the equivalent of Mount Everest – twice.  To be successful, runners must complete the course in 60 hours.  In most years, none of the racers finish the race.  In some years, only one or two people complete the distance within the time limit.  In the film, the race director muses about the runners who undertake this incredible challenge, knowing there is a high likelihood they will fail.  These runners may be successful in other areas of their life, they learn something about themselves by challenging and testing their limits of physical and mental endurance, and failing.  According to the race director, “people are better for having done the race.  They’re not made of better stuff, but they’re better for having done it”.

This approach goes against a common attitude toward failure – that failure should be avoided, sometimes at all cost and that to feel good about ourselves we need to succeed.  The assumption is that we learn and benefit from success but not failure.

From this perspective, failure is often seen as humiliating which leads to feelings of deep shame and negative beliefs such as “I’m a failure”, “I’m a loser”, I’m nothing”, “I’ll never get it right”.  Procrastination and avoidance may ensue, in an effort to stave off such painful feelings and negative beliefs about oneself.  Later, fear of failure may develop to the extent that risk analysis is employed, posing questions such as “Why bother trying”, “What are the chances I’ll be able to do it?”, “Will I be any good at that?” and may occur without taking the opportunity to actually try, or learn the skill.  The implicit belief now is “I can’t do it” – without having tried.  Opportunities are lost due to fear of failure.

In my practice, I see many people experiencing a sense of failure with its attendant negative beliefs.  They experience failure, not just from activities, but from loss as well.  Loss can take many forms: loss of control of one’s body during pregnancy, labour and birth, athletic pursuits or physical careers such as dance, loss of physical capacity due to chronic debilitating illness or traumatic injuries, loss of financial security whether from choices made or unforeseen circumstances.  There may be losses associated with aging (for example, loss of physical or mental capacity, loss of purpose when work life ends or children grow up and leave home), loss of relationships due to divorce or death. These experiences can lead to shame and thoughts such as “I am a failure” and “now I am nothing”.  There is a loss of sense of self, a loss of self-worth.  Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a world renowned Vancouver development psychologist draws very good distinctions between achievement and self-esteem.  In his workshop, which I attended years ago, Dr. Neufeld made it clear that achieving something feels good and positive, but it doesn’t make you a good person, just as failure doesn’t make you a bad person.  Our self-worth is immutable, unchanged whether we succeed or not.

Loss is not “less than”.  Failure doesn’t make a value statement.  Failure and its attendant frustration and disappointment is to be acknowledged.  Loss is to be mourned.  With failure we can learn that changes and loss can be met, acknowledged, experienced, LIVED and lived through.  Challenges can be faced – the challenge of getting up and trying again, of adapting, growing, and accepting (accepting our limits, of accepting help).  This is the territory of humility, of being humble and using the experience to move beyond.

Failure, approached with humility and curiosity leads to learning, growth, openness, connecting.  As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.  Failure experienced as humiliation, leads to a sense of being ‘less than’, to emotional shut down, avoidance, retraction, disconnection from self and others.

Consider the words of J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books in her convocation address to Harvard graduations: “…some failure in life is inevitable.  It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all 0 in which case, you fail by default….The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.  You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.  Such knowledge is a true gift…”

Posted in General

Secrets to Replenishing Sleep: How many sheep can you count?

The Question: ‘How are you?’. The Answer: ‘Tired’.  The Problem: All too common.  Whether it’s walking through a crowd or sitting in a coffee shop, I hear too many conversations starting just that way.  People are sleep deprived! Makes me wonder if Mr. Sandman is on vacation…so how does one start to improve sleep?

Tip 1: Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime.

Caffeine is a tricky thing.  Some associate caffeine only with coffee or energy drinks.  It’s also in soda, tea, and chocolate.  When we suggest ‘no caffeine for 4-6 hours’ it means all of the above items.  Now for why…the effects of caffeine (the alertness) peak 2 hours after consumption and then start declining after that.  To be safe, stay clear of caffeine well before bed; perhaps try substituting your post-dinner java with an herbal tea or warm milk.

Tip 2: Avoid alcohol at least 2 hours before bedtime.

I know some of you are thinking, ‘But that glass of wine helps me fall asleep’. It may help you get to sleep, but once you are there it tampers with your quality of sleep.  During sleep we go through different sleep phases.  Alcohol disrupts the phase process and keeps us out of the area that would leave us waking up feeling replenished and alert.  No wonder people are sleepy after a night of partying!

Tip 3: Avoid smoking at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Believe it or not, nicotine (the active ingredient in cigarettes) is a stimulant.  This means nicotine activates your system and prevents you from feeling tired.  As a substitute, try practicing some breathing exercises or stepping outside for some fresh air.

Tip 4: Keep exercise to more than 2 hours before bedtime

Working out and exercise gets the blood pulsing through your body.  Engaging in these activities within 2 hours of bedtime may not give enough time for the body to cool down before lights out.  If you can, keep exercise to earlier in the day.

Tip 5: Follow the same routine.

We are creatures of habit.  If we do the same routine enough times, our body will pick up signals and follow along.  A night time routine may look like the following: 2 hours before bed stop any highly mentally engaging activity such as studying or working, turn lights down so everything is dim, have a light snack if hungry, prep things for the next day (such as lunch, outfit, to-do-list, etc.).  One hour before bed, wash face and brush teeth (random fact: brushing teeth can increase energy levels by 30%!), put on some PJ’s  settle in for a light hearted book or show.  Other things to keep not of include keeping your room cool and dark.  Try to hit the feathers around the same time every night and get up around the same time every morning.  Doing so will help  re-set your body clock.  Keep in mind, these things take time.  Repetition is key when trying to form new habits and routines.

Tip 6: Avoid taking naps.

Napping is dangerous when you have night time sleeping problems.  Of course you are going to be tired during the day if you have had a poor night’s sleep.  Fight through! By bedtime you will be super sleepy and on a fast track to Slumberland.

Tip 7: Avoid being hungry or eating heavily before going to bed

Creature comforts.  If we are not comfortable, or our physical needs are not being met, it becomes very difficult to do anything else until they are met.  If we are hungry, our tummies will send signals to our brains yelling ‘Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me!’.  On the flip side, if we eat a large amount, our brain is pre-occupied with over-seeing digestion and ignores sleeping signals.  If you are hungry, have a light snack.  Save the full-meal-deal for breakfast.


Tip 8: Get up if you do not fall asleep within half an hour

No point in lying there wishing you were sleeping and counting down the minutes until you need to be up.  Get up and get out of the bed.  Go into a separate room and do something relaxing with dim light.  Perhaps this means flipping through a magazine or a paper.  Try to stay clear of highly engaging activities such as social networking, video games, studying, work tasks, etc.  Once you feel your head bobbing and your eyes long-blinking, get back in bed.

Tip 9: Make your bed comfortable and only use for sleeping.

Back to the creatures of habit statement, we will pair activities and behaviours with environments.  If we use our beds for work, studying, games, social networking, etc. our brains will be ready for that when we are in that environment.  If we only use beds for sleeping, our brain will know it’s time for sleep and we will fall asleep faster.

Tip 10: Keep worries out of bed.

Feeling stressed about tomorrow’s tasks? A conversation that went sour earlier?  Is Negative Nancy bombarding you while you are lying in bed?  Time to sit up, potentially get out of bed, and write down everything you are thinking about.  Your brain will know it’s somewhere safe and you will not have to worry about it until the next day.  Keep a note book bedside so when Nancy visits, you are ready.

There you are folks! 10 tips to help you get better sleep. Sleep Tight.


Posted in General

You Gotta Do the Work


I woke up on a recent Saturday morning feeling tired and lethargic.  I thought of my list of things-to-do and decided that the best course of action was to enjoy my coffee in my easy chair. This plan didn’t require as much energy or focus.

I waited to feel the motivation necessary to get on with the day.  It didn’t come. However, I knew that if I didn’t force myself to get “up and at ‘em”, the hours would whittle away and the tasks would still be waiting for me to complete. (Plus I would probably feel guilty for my inaction!) I knew with certainty that the only way to feel like doing the work was to get on with doing the work!

I arose from my chair and before long I experienced the energy I had been missing, and it had nothing to do with caffeine.  That morning my willpower won out over my mood and my mood was transformed in the process.

When you think about it, anything worthwhile takes some effort.  It is the same with relationships and marriage in particular.

In the early stages of a relationship, finding time to be together is a top priority for a couple, even if life is chaotic and demanding.  At this stage of a friendship, the connection is exciting and energizing.  Part of the buzz can be the newness of the bond but mainly it is the realization that you are important to someone else and that spending time with you is more important for that person than any other commitment. You each make the effort to sustain and improve that special something that is being generated.

When couples marry, life can become very hectic with raising children and stabilizing careers.  Time is already limited and becomes stretched; as a result, we become distracted and fatigued and the marital bond is “taken for granted.”

Marriage doesn’t operate on “automatic pilot.”  Like any other friendship it takes time and effort to keep it strong and healthy.

We know that couples can stay connected by making time to talk and listen to each other a few minutes every day.  I call the strategy “T-Time” or “Talk Time.”  During this crucial one-on-one time, explore the feelings of the moment, the feelings of the day and then discuss necessary family business.  It can take as little as fifteen minutes to do this effectively.

When couples don’t make the time and effort to stay connected, they drift apart and over time begin to resent many of the qualities they used to admire in each other.  Bob Dylan once wrote “we’re either busy being born, or busy dying.”  Marriages and friendships are like that.  There is no middle ground.

A past client shared a conversation that unfolded between two of her friends. One friend mentioned that she was struggling with marital issues. The other friend responded with a suggestion that she go to our practice for marriage counselling, but said that there was something she needed to know first. “You gotta do the work!”

Some may bristle at the thought of working on their marriage or working on resolving their grief over a loss.  Peace and happiness should just unfold naturally or magically. Right?

Unfortunately not. Nothing just happens in relationships, whether it be with a friend, a spouse or a child.

Let me share an experience from long ago. My son was sixteen and becoming very independent.  He would be watching a TV show and I would sit down to join him; he would then leave the room!  One Sunday afternoon I was doing some chores and it occurred to me to invite my son to shoot some hoops with me.  I was busy and didn’t really have time to play but I invited him just the same in order to spend time with him. We had an enjoyable hour together.  Lots of laughs.

Later that day, I asked this same son to help me with some heavy lifting and instead of responding with a grunt or a promise to do it later, he said yes and got it done right away.

It occurred to me that I was receiving an unintentional return on the investment I made that Sunday afternoon when I found the time to do something my son wanted to do.

During counselling sessions, couples receive tools to assist them in making changes in their interactions with each other.  However, the real key to success is heeding the advice of a sage friend: “You gotta do the work.”


Posted in General

Is Your Child Highly Sensitive

       Five-year-old Johnny is a quiet little boy who is hesitant about new experiences. He likes to observe activities before he joins in, and he spent his first few weeks of kindergarten hanging back and watching the other children play. At home, he gets very absorbed in pretend play with his LEGO, and he tends to be easily startled when interrupted. He thinks things through before he acts, so his parents rarely have to worry about him climbing furniture or getting too close to the stove.  Johnny’s feelings are hurt easily and he becomes very upset on the few occasions where he needs reprimanding. He cries when he sees other children injured or watch movies where anyone is hurt or sad. He only eats familiar foods and refuses to wear clothing with labels, saying they are too “scratchy.”

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, your child may be one of the 15-20% who are born highly sensitive.  Elaine Aron, PhD, the author of The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them, explains, “Highly sensitive individuals are those born with a tendency to notice more in their environment and deeply reflect on everything before acting.”
There are many benefits to being more aware of your environment and thinking things through. Parents often describe their highly sensitive children (HSCs) as being “wise beyond their years.” They are often kind and caring, empathize with others, and have a great sense of humour. They can have vivid imaginations and think deeply about things, frequently startling the adults around them with their insights. They feel emotions strongly and often excel in creative activities such as music, dance and art. And because they tend to think things through and anticipate consequences, they can be more conscientious and need less discipline than other children.


There are challenges to being highly sensitive as well. Taking in and processing more information from your surroundings brings with it an increased potential for becoming over stimulated. Too much noise, strong scents, bright lights, and itchy clothing can all overwhelm a HSC, and they may feel pain more strongly than others. They often need time to think through decisions, and may become overwhelmed when asked to make a choice or preform a task under pressure.

Along with their potential to become overwhelmed, their very active imaginations can lead HSCs to think through very detailed “what if” scenarios, which can increase anxiety. Just as they feel positive emotions very strongly, HSCs may also experience negative feelings such as sadness, anger, and worry more deeply than other children.

What Can Parents Do?

Here are some tips to help parents support their highly sensitive children.

  • Respect your child’s sensitivity. The goal is not to “get rid” of this trait, but rather to help your child learn to manage it. Even if you are not sensitive yourself, and your child’s view of the world seems foreign to you, try to understand it and respect it as his or her reality.
  • Make home a safe haven. You can shape your child’s home and environment to meet his or her needs by making it as calm and predictable as possible.  If your child feels rejuvenated by being at home, he or she is better able to face the challenges of the world outside.
  • Manage your own emotions. HSCs are like sponges—-they pick up on and absorb the emotions of those around them. So if you are feeling stressed or anxious, your child will too. Make sure that you have healthy ways of coping with these feelings yourself, and try to minimize conflict in the home as much as possible.
  • Educate and advocate. As a parent, you know best what your HSC needs, and you may need to educate others. This might mean letting your child’s teacher know that he or she needs a quiet place to retreat during the school day, or simply responding to unsolicited parenting advice by  saying, “This is how we do things in our family.” It is empowering for your child to have you stand up for their needs.
  • Talk to your child about sensitivity. Your HSC will have noticed that he or she experiences things differently from other children.  Talk with them about this in an age-appropriate way to help them to understand there is nothing “wrong” with them, and make sure they understand their sensitivity comes with some unique and wonderful strengths.
  • Get help. If you have concerns about your sensitive child’s self-esteem or ability to manage emotions, make an appointment to see a family counsellor. A therapist can also help you manage the challenges associated with parenting your sensitive child.
Posted in General

Marriage Can Be Miserable

When a couple marries, they can be truly miserable if they follow a few simple rules!

When life is busy and stress levels are high, it is important to “do one’s own thing.”  Take time to unwind and relax; this is far more important than conversing with your spouse.

If a conversation should happen to break out, be sure to react and avoid understanding what is being said to you. Feel free to be upset or annoyed; it is their fault, and they enflamed the discussion on purpose.

When your spouse gets irritated with something you have said or done, be sure to get angry with them for being irritated and ruining your day.  Ignore why they were upset in the first place.

It is predictable that you will have a difference of opinion with your spouse.  Be sure to dig in and lock down with your point of view.  Collaboration and  compromise are highly overrated.

There is nothing quite like a good power struggle to get one fired up.  Who do they think they are to be disagreeing with your opinion which makes perfect sense?

Feel free to yell and repeat yourself several times.  Or if you prefer, shut down, withdraw, and speak only in monosyllables for several days.

If perchance you should say or do something they dislike, that’s their problem, not yours.  If they do something to annoy or upset you, hold a grudge as long as possible so as to teach them a lesson.

Be sure to buddy up to your children and take their side when your spouse is being strict.  If on the other hand you are the strict one, lay down the law with the kids and ignore your spouse’s point of view.

You are quite happy just the way you are. Why change? On the other hand, your spouse needs to change in so many ways.  Be sure to let them know, as often as possible, what changes you want them to make.

Don’t worry about telling them when you are going out with friends or how long you will be out.  This would be a major hassle.  Your spouse, on the other hand, should ask your permission to do something on their own.

Having a miserable marriage is easy, no really!!


Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Marriage & Relationships, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety

The Gifts of Introversion (or being quiet)

Very few people are completely extroverted or introverted, but for those who are closer to the introverted end of the spectrum, please read on.  Extroversion has been seen as the ideal personality type. What we are now recognizing is that introversion is also a normal variation of personality. Research shows that the brains of introverts are more active than those of extroverts. This explains why introverts limit how much comes in, while extroverts go where the action is.  In brief, these mostly biologically determined traits can be defined as:

Introverts if given the choice, devote their social energy to small groups, preferring coffee with a close friend to a party full of strangers. They prefer to think before they speak, have a more deliberate approach to risk, and enjoy solitude. They feel energized when focusing deeply on a subject or activity that interests them. When they are in overly stimulating environments (too loud, too crowded, etc.) they tend to feel overwhelmed. They seek out environments of peace and sanctuary;  have an active inner life and are at their best when they tap into its riches. They need privacy and time to be alone. They can be socially engaging and funny but being with a large group of people for too long is emotionally draining for them. Introverts draw their energy from quiet and looking within.


Some of the most successful introverts in history include, Einstein, Bill Gates, Spielberg, Newton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Zuckerberg, Abraham Lincoln, JK Rowling, Gandhi,  Michael Jordan,  Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Dr. Seuss, Chopin, and Barack Obama.

Extroverts on the other hand tend to relish social life and are energized by interacting with friends and strangers alike. They’re typically assertive, go-getting, and able to seize the day. Extroverts are great at thinking on their feet; they’re relatively comfortable with conflict. Given the choice, extroverts usually prefer more stimulating environments that give them frequent opportunities to see and speak with others. When they’re in quiet environments, they’re prone to feeling bored and restless. They are actively engaged in the world around them and at their best when tapping into its energy. Extroverts draw energy from others.

One could ask Why does it matter what you are?

It matters because introversion and extroversion lie at the heart of human nature. They are the “north and south of temperament.”  When you make life choices that are congruent with your temperament—and allow others to do the same—you unleash vast stores of energy. Conversely, when you spend too much time battling your own nature, the opposite happens: you deplete yourself.

There is pressure in North America to live up to extroverted standards.  Thus, introverts may attempt to mold themselves in to individuals who possess these characteristics because that’s what they been told will help them achieve success, happiness, wealth, and popularity. Thus, individuals who should truly feel at ease to embrace their introversion, are made to feel as if they are flawed in comparison to their more extroverted peers.  And who can blame them? If society emphasizes grades based on class participation  and employers favour those that can deliver a stellar presentation, it seems as though the only way to “win” is to take on traits that feel foreign and unfamiliar to half of the population.

Being told for most of their life, by their parents, the school system, friends, co-workers or partners that they need to be “bolder, socialize more, talk louder, talk quicker, think on your feet, do team sports, etc.”  can create a sense of shame that they are flawed and inadequate. The realization that a natural trait such as introversion has been perpetuated for over a century as a sign of pathology or disappointment is an epiphany to people who possess these “quiet” and “inward” traits.  The fact is, few people until recently seemed to know or understand how important introversion is to our society.

Many  individuals who have presented  with symptoms such as low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety may struggle because they are introverts who have spent too much time and energy comparing themselves to those who are extroverted. They end up concluding they are flawed.  If it is seen as the norm to be extroverted,  individual’s  may not understand why those characteristics do not come naturally to them or why they feel so uncomfortable in certain situations. Attempting to be someone that they are not can result in internal conflict and difficulties in relationships with peers, parents, partners and work.

When they can  stop looking at extroversion as the ideal to be achieved and realize that extroverted traits are as natural to some people just as introverted traits are natural for themselves an inner acceptance can be achieved.  There should not be the internal critical dialogue of which one of the two styles is inferior or superior.  Each has its own powerful and rewarding merits and it is as important for introverts to see the value in the extroverted nature just as it is for the extrovert to see the same in the introvert.

What is needed is for those who have the gift of introversion is to recognize and embrace their qualities, while at the same time gaining a greater understanding of how to peacefully navigate a world designed for extroverts.

Posted in General