Notes from “Foundations of Healthy Relationships”

By Nicole Perry

Our second topic of the fall 2017 workshop series on relationships was foundations of healthy relationships. These are the notes from that workshop.

As we try to navigate complex, adult relationships in this wild world, it’s easy to feel lost. Unless we got really lucky in our home lives and formal education, we had to learn about relationships by cobbling together ideas from movies, books, and the people around us. If those representations of relationships weren’t exactly healthy, or didn’t include diverse relationship orientations and styles, then it can end up feeling like we’re carving out new terrain. And let’s face it – there haven’t traditionally been good models to turn to, especially in the LGBTQ* and polyamorous community.

To get ready for this workshop, we put together six pillars of relationships. These are certainly not the be all end all, but we hoped they’d provide a solid foundation to begin with.

Consent – Consent starts with the basics: choosing whether or not to engage in a relationship and the terms of it (monogamous or non-monogamous? Casual or committed? Are you both or all willingly agreeing on these terms?). Then within the relationship, there needs to be consent around sexual touch, physical touch, giving advice, and so much more!

Safety – This involves feeling secure, and an ability to safely assert our wants and needs. It also involves being safe from harm, whether that be physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or otherwise. In the LGBTQ* community, this would include feeling safe to express gender identity without fear of shame or punishment.

Equality – Equality means your sense of personal power is on an equal level with your partner. Neither of you dominates the other or has veto power. Keep in mind that contrary to common understanding, even in sub-dom sexual relationships both people are seen to have equal power – the roles are simply roles that are taken on.

Accountability – This involves taking responsibility for the “stuff” you bring into the relationship, and making sure that you are processing and working through any issues that come up. It also means following through on the commitments you make to your partner(s).

Trust – Trust begins with a mutual acceptance of vulnerability and an ability to respond to it with sensitivity. Trust is something that’s built over time as we get to know someone. As we share more of ourselves and our lives, and the other person shows up for us in that, trust grows.

Respect: Respect involves believing that the people you’re in relationship are just as worthy of love and belonging as you are. It’s appreciating their strengths and their struggles, including their experiences with trauma and oppression.

Since respect is such a big one, I’ve included this handy respect wheel, below!

Respect_Wheel

Again, these pillars are just a beginning – food for thought. Now, if you’re ready to go deeper, we invite you to take the time to reflect:

  • Can you name specifically what each of these elements would look like in your relationship? What, for instance, helps you feel safe? How can your partner(s) best respect consent?
  • What are the other elements of a healthy relationship?
  • How do you know when you’re in one? (In other words, what are the internal cues? What does it feel like?)

Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist with a collaborative, feminist approach. She identifies as an ally and has a ton of experiences working with the LGBTQ* community, including being on the counselling team at Camp Fyrefly and leading the Queer Space workshops. She’s still learning about relationships, but fascinated by them, and is influenced most by: Sue Johnson’s books, everything she has learned from the amazing clients who’ve let her into their lives, and hundreds of hours of her own relationship therapy. Probably hundreds.

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Notes from “Common Relationship Patterns”

By Nicole Perry

Our first topic of the fall 2017 workshop series on relationships was common relationship patterns. These are the notes from that workshop.

I’ve noticed that a lot of the relationship patterns I see have to do with attachment styles. If you haven’t heard of attachment styles before, thedirtynormal offers this great summary.

Once you’re familiar with the concept of attachment, and have an understanding of what your own attachment style is, you might start to reflect on how it’s shown up in your life. In your journal, write down your answers to the following exploratory questions:

  • How do you think your attachment style has impacted your relationships?
  • What does it feel like to see your relationship patterns within an attachment context? (Ie., you’re not being “too needy” or “uncommitted” – just attempting to stay in connection)
  • How do you see yourself using this knowledge in your relationships
    going forward?

Once we know our patterns, we can more easily see them when they happen, and take a step out of the cycle. We can self soothe instead of blame the other person or withdraw from our partner. We can also talk about these things with our partner and discover together what would be most helpful or supportive.

When I worked with couples in the past, I talked with them about the way their two styles interact as a pattern, or a dance. I make it very clear that it’s not at all one person’s fault (like that someone is too needy, or sucks at communication, or doesn’t do enough chores, or is immature, or likes being a nag). Those are just the surface fights we get stuck on. Underneath that, there’s a deeper underlying pattern that very much relates to attachment fears and needs. And if we can understand that the (sometimes bizarre) behaviors we’re seeing are actually coming from a normal human need to be connected, then we can be more empathetic to our partners, and compassionate to ourselves. We can look past the strange behavior and see what’s underneath it – “oh, you just want to know that you’re loved and cared about”, “oh, you’re scared and don’t know how to deal”, “oh, you’re overwhelmed and closing off to protect yourself”.

This can also lead us to better conversations with our partners. We might consider asking…

  • What can I do for you when you’re overwhelmed?
  • What do you need from me when you’re feeling anxious?
  • How do we navigate things when we’re both feeling triggered?
  • How do we make sure that we’re both getting what we need here?

Hope these questions can be the beginning of an enriching ongoing conversation going forward.

Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist with a collaborative, feminist approach. She identifies as an ally and has a ton of experiences working with the LGBTQ* community, including being on the counselling team at Camp Fyrefly and leading the Queer Space workshops. She’s still learning about relationships, but fascinated by them, and is influenced most by: Sue Johnson’s books, everything she has learned from the amazing clients who’ve let her into their lives, and hundreds of hours of her own relationship therapy. Probably hundreds.

You can reach Nicole at www.feministcounselloredmonton.com or nicole@feministcounselloredmonton.com to find out about other workshops and groups she’s offering.

Burnout

By Phillip

Most people have experienced symptoms of burnout before. Burnout can be defined, according to Maslach, Jackson, and Leiter (1996), as a psychological response often experienced in the human services profession and characterized by three things: 1) emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy.

Burnout may be the result of role conflicts and engagement in activities that exceeds current coping strategies and self-care. Some symptoms of burnout may include: chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, increased illness, loss of appetite, anxiety, anger, loss of enjoyment, isolation, increased irritability. Awareness of your personal signs of burnout may help with facilitating change so that you regain balance in your life.

I have recently read an article on “busyness”. The author (Omid Safi) talked about the disease of being busy; according to the author we are in dis-ease when we are not keeping ourselves occupied. Here are a few lines from their post.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?… How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

During our workshop on burnout in relationships we also discussed some coping strategies to protect ourselves from burnout within our relationships. We talked about taking stock on what we engage in on a daily basis. Each participant created their own pie chart of activities they do each day and reflected on the items that they enjoyed doing versus those they felt they “should do”. This reflection activity may assist you in recognizing what you want to do more of what you want to do less of. We also talked about setting boundaries and being intentional in what you want to engage in.

Finally we also talked about having hope and noticing the good things that are happening in the present. Celebrate your daily success and rejuvenate yourself.

Safi, O. (2017). The disease of being busy. retrieved from: https://onbeing.org/blog/the-disease-of-being-busy/#.WQNHW_h8Vvk.facebook

 

About Phillip 

Phillip is a Master’s of Counselling student with Athabasca University. He has previously volunteered with The Landing: A Safe Space for Sexual and Gender Diversity, as a Community Education Facilitator and co-facilitate the Queer/Trans Person of Color (Q/T POC) support group. He enjoys working with youth and adults and how everyone can bring forth their personal and community resiliency. Currently he is a co-facilitator at the Queer Space drop in group at Momentum. 

Why Do I Have Sex???

By Marc Colbourne

If you are like me, you have probably found yourself at one point or another asking yourself this very question. Perhaps it is as your breathing is slowing to normal  following the intensity of a climax, the next morning in the shower, or maybe even during a dry spell when you are trying to convince yourself it isn’t that important anyway.

The answers you give yourself as the warm water washes down your back are likely varied and dependent on the day.  “It is a way to express my love.” “It is a stress reducer.” “Because my partner wants to and I want to please her/him.” “It is fun.” “I’m horny and just want to get off.”

None of these answers are necessarily a problem or cause for concern. In fact, many of them are perfectly valid reasons for having sex.

Sex is a natural expression of our selves and whether we are having it with a partner, several people, or just ourselves, it can be a healthy aspect of our life; one that can lead to greater self-love.

The answer to this question only becomes a concern when the honesty and vulnerability of it causes us distress. If we feel we aren’t in control of the reasons we have sex, the type of sex we engage in, or with whom, it can be problematic. In this case, we may want to examine the reasons behind our sexual behaviour more closely and ask ourselves some additional questions:

  • Is the sex I am having negatively impacting my sense of self or how I feel about my body?
  • Is my behaviour impacting my relationships with others? How about my relationship with myself?
  • Am I putting myself at risk (either physically, emotionally, or spiritually)?
  • Do I feel I am in control of my sexual behaviour?
  • Do I spend an excessive amount of time searching for sex? Is it an obsession?

If the answer to either of these questions concerns you, you may want to find someone to talk to about your feelings. This may be a partner, trusted friend, or counsellor.  Being comfortable and confident in the reasons we have sex is a huge part of a satisfying – and enjoyable – sex life.

About Marc Colbourne 

Marc Colbourne, MSW, RSW, is a sex-positive therapist practicing in Edmonton. He can be reached at mcolbourneRSW@gmail.com

Notes from the Stress Management and Self-Care Workshop

This week’s workshop on self-care took a bit of a different approach to the topic.

We all know the benefits of self-care, and most of us seem to have an idea of the kinds of things that would be nourishing for us, and yet we most of us still struggle when it comes to actually implementing a regular practice of care. So rather than just putting out one more list of “self care ideas”, we opened up a discussion of what gets in the way of self-care, and how we can navigate those obstacles. The group came up with a ton of obstacles to self care, including…

  • social expectations to always be “doing” something
  • a structural system that rewards “productivity” over nourishment
  • guilt around disappointing others
  • internal expectations for perfection
  • fear of judgment
  • shame
  • other people’s values have become internalized

…And so much more.  We encourage each of you to ask yourselves what gets in the way of really putting yourself as a priority. If it’s other people’s expectations, you might ask yourself if those expectations match your own values. If it’s about judgment, you might check in with yourself what the worst that could happen is. Sometimes, setting a boundary and putting ourselves as a priority is much harder for us than it is for the person hearing it. Other times, it means losing people in our life who we had once been close to, but aren’t able to respect our needs.

In this way, the first step to changing our relationship with ourselves is really about becoming mindful – mindful of what our body needs, mindful of what’s getting in the way, and mindful of what might support us to do something different. If you’re new to the idea of mindfulness, you might like this fun mindful eating exercise:

http://hfhc.ext.wvu.edu/r/download/114469

Notes from the Boundaries and Assertiveness Workshop

 

In therapeutic spaces, we used to talk about a boundary as something outside a person, a line that separates and protects them from others. But I’ve come to realize that boundaries aren’t something we create and then put in place. Instead, a boundary is something that’s already within us. It’s our sense of “what’s okay for me” and what isn’t. It’s our internal knowing of “what nourishes me?” and what doesn’t. So the work of boundaries is not in creating something artificial to place between us – on that side appropriate, on this side not. Instead, it’s about first listening to and second respecting our own limits or edges.

That said, if you find yourself acting very rigidly and walled off from situation to situation, or you find yourself unable to say no and put yourself as a priority, this may be an indicator its time to work on your relationship with your own boundaries.

Boundaries seem to land on a continuum. On the one end we have boundaries that are open (meaning we let quite a lot in), and on the other end are boundaries that are closed (meaning not much gets in at all).

On the more “open” side of the continuum, this end is characterized by taking on other people’s opinions of you and allowing that to alter how you feel about yourself. It also involves taking on other people’s feelings, so that their anxiety becomes your anxiety, their disappointment becomes your disappointment, and so on. People on this side may have a harder time standing up for themselves even when they’re feeling uncomfortable. It also might mean sharing a lot of personal information without the foundation of a trusting relationship within which to do that.

On the more “closed” side of the continuum, this end involves being protected, but not influence-able –nothing comes in. Walls can protect us at times, but when overused, tend to keep us isolated from others and closed to the healing potential of vulnerability. When you are behind a wall, you are not open, and you are not listening. There are several types of walls, including walls of anger, words, preoccupation, silence, worry, depression, humor, pleasantry, and seduction. When threatened, we learn to keep our boundary extended and convert it into a fortified wall. This allows us to feel safer but the consequence is that we become cut off from life and sometimes our selves. Many people relate to others from behind their walls, well defended and field dependent (the need to please and control others). This may seem appropriate for everyday interactions at work or in social situations. However, walls do not allow for self-awareness or intimacy (the desire to reveal oneself to another). Once created, walls imprison as much as they protect.

The activity that we engaged in was to reflect on our boundaries within different areas in our lives. Participants drew a line on a sheet a paper to represent the boundaries continuum with one end representing more open and the other end more closed. We then plotted how open or closed we are within our work environment, learning environment, close friends, acquaintances, partners, parents, children, extended family. What did you learn about yourself in terms of your boundaries?

You can also review some handouts on boundaries on Nicole’s website: http://www.feministcounselloredmonton.com/handouts.html

 

 

Notes from the Resourcing and Grounding Workshop

Hello Folks!

I want to upload the exercises we have completed in our first self-care workshop of our five weeks series. The first workshop focused on Resourcing and Grounding Techniques. The exercises we engaged in includes: the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise, Square Breathing, and the Safe Place and Container Exercise.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise (led by Simone):

Sit comfortably in a chair and ensuring that you are relaxed. Now,

  • Name 5 things you can see in the room with you
  • Name 4 things you can feel (i.e., the chair on your back, or your feet on the floor)
  • Name 3 things you can hear right now
  • Name 2 things you can smell in the room
  • Name 1 thing you can taste

You can also try extending the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise by focusing on 5 things you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste, followed by an additional 4 things you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. Keep on going until you reach 1 of each sensory.

Square Breathing (led by Phillip):

Once again sit comfortably in a chair and ensuring that you are feeling relaxed.

  • Begin by imagining a square. You can trace the square in the air with your finger as well.
  • Along one side of the square inhale through you nose on the count of 4-3-2-1.
  • Trace the horizontal line and hold your breath for a count of 4-3-2-1.
  • Trace the next vertical line and exhale through your nose on the count of 4-3-2-1.
  • Trace the next horizontal line and hold your breath for a count of 4-3-2-1.
  • Repeat the steps for 5 breathing cycles

Safe place and container (led by Nicole):

Nicole provided the group with a guided visualization of a safe/calm place exercise as well as a container exercise. You can practice related guided visualizations by going to YouTube and use search words such as “safe space guided visualization” and “container exercises”. Try to find one that works for you!

 

Self-care Guilt

By Phillip 

I often hear from friends and clients how they would feel guilty when they engage in self-care practices. Why would someone feel guilty to take some time to take care of themselves? The guilt appears to be stemming from the belief that if they take time for themselves they are being selfish. The thought then, is that they should be helping someone instead of caring for themselves.  Yet, care-taking roles are oftentimes one of the more stressful roles to be in. So would it not make more sense that they would take more time to care for them-self to ensure they can provide care for others?

It is also interesting how—in a related concept— in our society, we expect everyone to be “productive, contributing citizens”. Organizations push their staff to work hard and to “do more with less”. Yet, we are not machines. Similar to a car, without fuel it would not function. We need to take care of ourselves in order to be productive, contributing members. We need to nourish our bodies.

Self-care does not necessary mean that we should treat ourselves lavishly to spa every day (though that can be nice and we should be able to treat ourselves without feeling bad about it). Daily self-care reflects a healthy, balanced lifestyle (mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually). It can also be as simple as ensuring that we are eating properly, having enough sleep, and feeling energized. It is through these features that will enable us to be the best we can be in the activities that we engage in.

For those who have been on an airplane, they would have heard about the “oxygen mask” speech from the flight steward. Essentially the speech is as follow: if the oxygen mask is deployed, you put the mask on yourself first. Once you got your own oxygen mask on, then you can help your neighbor—be it a senior, child, or loved one—put on their oxygen mask.  The reason is that if you don’t have your own oxygen mask on, you would not be in a position to help others out. In fact, you would have had passed out, and be in no place to help those that you care. This practice relates well with self-care because if we do not care for ourselves first, we would not be in an optimal place to support others too.

So, take care of yourselves. You are important. Your own health matters. If you do not take care of yourself, you would not be in a place where you can help other out either.

 

About Phillip

Phillip is a Master’s of Counselling student with Athabasca University. He had previously volunteered with The Landing: A Safe Space for Sexual and Gender Diversity, as a Community Education Facilitator and co-facilitate the Queer/Trans Person of Color (Q/T POC) support group. He had also volunteered as a Camp Counsellor with Camp FYrefly. He enjoys working with youth and adults and how we can all bring forth personal and community resiliency. 

Self-compassion

By Nicole 

Those of you who read my post last week know a little bit about a difficult experience I had a few years ago when I was dealing with migraines. For those of you who haven’t read it, I shared that I had been in the habit of taking on more and more until my body finally said “stop”. The chronic stress I’d been dealing with over the years, along with the acute stress of a difficult work situation, was too much for my body to handle, and it progressed to a point where I was dealing with high intensity pain on a daily basis. And that went on for a year.

I also talked about how I had to make some drastic shifts in my life in terms of what would actually be nurturing for my body. What I didn’t share is how vital self-compassion was to the healing I went through.

When I was struggling the most with migraines, I would say things to myself like “I should be able to handle this amount of stress without feeling pain” “I should be able to work more than 10 hours a week” – but I couldn’t.

It felt like my body was my enemy, and it was doing this terrible thing to me.

So each time I felt the early signs of a migraine coming on, I braced against it, thinking “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”.  And what happens when you brace against something? Your muscles tense. And so the pain would get worse.

The other trap I got into is that when it came to self care options like working less, or go home early from social outings when I was in pain, I told myself “I should be able to do this” or “it’s not okay for me let anyone know that I’m struggling”, and I ended up avoiding the things that might have actually helped me.

This may seem all really obvious but when I finally admitted to myself “this is a chronic pain issue” I – first of all cried a lot – and then possibilities opened up. Healing possibilities that I literally did not see before.

But again – it took a real shift in perspective.

First I stopped seeing my body as the enemy, and starting seeing it as a PART of me that was in pain, and needed help. (Yes that’s right – your body is a part of you).

I also stopped with the constant barrage of what I should be capable of and accepted what IS – or what was, at least in that moment.

And I want to say that’s not the same as giving up on the possibility that things will change. Instead, it was about allowing the reality of the situation – and the grief of that – in. And from that place, I was able to start healing.

 

About Nicole 

Nicole is a Registered Psychologist with a general private practice in the Garneau area of Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She believe in seeing problems within their context and in being a non-judgmental advocate and support. She integrate a variety of other therapy approaches, including mindfulness-based therapy, Somatic Experiencing, and group therapy. She identify as an ally and have been working with the LGBTQ* community in therapeutic settings from the beginning, including being on the counselling team at Camp Fyrefly.

Self-Care

By Nicole

So I don’t know how many of you have seen a counselor, or if you ever wonder what goes on in the world of a psychologist OUTSIDE the therapy room (“do they really do all the meditating they’re telling me is so beneficial?”) but I’ve got a little bit of insight that I’d like to share with you. I have noticed that in psychology, self care gets talked about a lot… but similar to other helping fields, the actual practice of putting ourselves as a priority is not so good. There’s a lot of TALK about work-life balance, but the structural systems within the workplace – be it nonprofit or private practice – make it really hard to actually have balance. Now, in my early 20s, I was excited enough about the work, and energetic enough, that I could “buckle down and push through”. But by the time I turned 27 – not that old – the effect of “pushing through” was starting to wear on me.

Just to give you an idea, I have worked overnights, shift work, several jobs at once, and I often took on the hardest cases with the people facing the most barriers, with little or no structural support.

I was in the process of dealing with a particularly difficult situation when my body finally said “stop”.  And I knew the signs of burnout, so I listened.

Unfortunately, the signs of stress I was noticing didn’t go away as soon as I exited stressful environment. The chronic stress I’d been dealing with over the years, along with the acute stress of the situation, was too much for my body to handle. I started getting migraines more and more often, even on days when I was trying to take care of myself. It progressed to a point where I was dealing with high intensity pain on a daily basis. And that went on for a year.

So for those of you who’ve ever had a migraine, I probably need to say no more, but for those of you who haven’t, I can tell you that the constant brace against and managing of chronic pain is so consuming that it doesn’t take long before despair and hopelessness start to flood in.

The only thing I could do at that point was drastically change my life. And I did. I significantly decreased my working hours, I changed the hours I was in the office, and I began a practice of ongoing health care including yoga, meditation, mindfulness, biofeedback, walking, and therapeutic massage. I was very selective about what I did take on, because I knew that I might only have a few hours each day to focus on something other than managing my pain.

Now, fast forward a couple years and my health is much better, but I know that I will never be able or willing to take on as much as I used to. And this is different than just tacking on a yoga class at the end of each hectic week. Life had to change.

 

About Nicole 

Nicole is a Registered Psychologist with a general private practice in the Garneau area of Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She believe in seeing problems within their context and in being a non-judgmental advocate and support. She integrate a variety of other therapy approaches, including mindfulness-based therapy, Somatic Experiencing, and group therapy. She identify as an ally and have been working with the LGBTQ* community in therapeutic settings from the beginning, including being on the counselling team at Camp Fyrefly.