Is it really a problem or just a challenge?

By: Alain Langlais, Registered Professional Counsellor.  
Is it really a problem or just a challenge?

Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!”.

The way we choose to think about the problem and the way we choose to adopt the problem determines the outcome of the problem. As we do that, we are becoming aware of choices. Changing how we think about things, changes how we feel about things. For it is our own mind that directs our thoughts.

Allowing “it is what it is” and surrendering will help us seeing new solutions to the “challenge” which will then create space for growth.

Alain Langlais
Registered Professional Counsellor

The emotional side of our brain

By: Alain Langlais, Registered Professional Counsellor.  
The emotional side of our brain

Have you ever felt something tickling the back of your neck and right away panicked at the thought of a spider or a giant scary bug having landed on you? To then realize that it was just a fly or someone teasing you with a feather or a simple stick. The instant reaction is because our instant response to a danger is insanely fast with minimum thought. We often react, then think and analyze.

It is important to understand that the mind is divided into parts that will sometimes conflict with each other. The deliberative part of the brain will react, calculate and consider evidence. The emotional part of the brain is fast, quickly acting on intuition and mostly automatic, and most of all, not very accessible to conscious awareness.
Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at NYU, framed this dual process as the low and high road. Threat is processed through two pathways. Our initial fear response is often not something that we deliberate. We feel it before we are fully aware of what that danger is or even whether there is a danger there. However, conscious control over emotions is weaker and emotions can flood consciousness. This explains why it is easier for emotional information to overwhelm our conscious thought than for us to gain conscious control over our emotions.

Evidence shows that individuals with relatively strong emotional system and weak inhibitory control are vulnerable for the development and maintenance of excessive worries especially around big decisions, life changes, new challenges, etc. Thus, sufficient levels of inhibitory control might have a protective function in reducing the risk for developing anxiety and fears. New studies have also shown that training attention away from threats, take the time to analyze the fear for what it really is to then often realize that, it is either a fake threat or a fake perception of fear from an old trigger. Training our mind to do so, can actually reduce symptoms and general anxiety disorder and the anxiety around the fear we are facing. People with better attentional control can disengage attention from threatening stimuli, and channel their thoughts in the direction they want and not dwell on threatening thoughts or experiences.

Alain Langlais
Registered Professional Counsellor

What is a negative attitude?

By: Alain Langlais, Registered Professional Counsellor.  
A negative attitude is something that happens when we feel out of control and see the situation in the worst possible way. It is when our mind gets in a manner that is not very constructive, cooperative, or optimistic.

It can easily take control over our life and big decisions or choices such as; a new career, divorce, getting out of an abusive relationship, standing up for ourselves, and more. It can show up when we don’t expect it or when we feel challenged and, 99% of the time will be charged with a lot of anxiety.

From a physical and mental standpoint, when it happens for too long, we can easily become subject to depression, fatigue, ulcers and heart disease, only to name a few.

There are many action steps that can be taken to change and recharge our attitude into an effective and positive attitude. The minute this happens, our mind goes into “constructive mode” where it is way easier for us to see ways and opportunities in how to solve or overcome the situation instead of focusing on the obstacles and therefore feeling stuck.

When adopting a positive attitude, we will instantly notice more ease in handling problems, stress and anxiety. It helps in feeling self-assured and confident. As our attitude changes from negative to positive, you may even notice that people respond to you in a different way.

Alain Langlais
Registered Professional Counsellor

The Couple Brain Trap

By: Patti Langlais, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist.  
The human mind is an incredible and complex machine It absorbs and processes an enormous amount of material every second and can recall and use that information with often little effort. One of the primary ways our brain is successful in doing this is by automating familiar information. Think of learning to drive. As a new driver we spend so much time and energy focusing on all the new information barreling at us…its exhausting. In the beginning stages we are consciously seeing and reacting to the environment and learning habitual manoeuvres. Over time, and more importantly through repetition, these complicated processes become automated and before we know it we are driving and focused on other things.

Committed relationships can be similar in the learning and automatizing aspect. At the beginning of courtship our partner is new and exciting and our brain is consciously focused. It’s as if we are studying and downloading all the ins and outs of our partner and the uniqueness of them. As like driving, our brain is working hard to automate all this new and exciting information, as if to be able to predict their thoughts, feelings and behaviours so we can focus on others things. Sounds great, and from the perspective of energy and concentration efficiency it is. There, however, lives the couple brain trap. The misperception that we “know” who our partner is. Through familiarity and experience we feel we can almost predict how they think and feel. Worse yet the assumptions we then begin to make on their behalf. Not only do we make assumptions, which in of itself is never a good idea, but we additionally begin to place expectations on each other. This communication breakdown is a breeding ground for the conflict and hurt feelings in the relationship.

So if this process is natural and automatic, and really an important aspect of how we function, how do we not let it compromise the quality of our relationships? A starting point is simply slowing down and being mindful that although you likely know a great deal about your partner, especially after many years together, they are a separate person and ever evolving. Stay curious and wanting to know what they think and feel rather than assuming when possible.

If you are finding yourself disappointed or frustrated with your partner perhaps check in with yourself and your expectations of them. Did you actually discuss what you need and want from them or is it expected they should just know? It can feel validating when our partner knows what we need or want and that sense of knowing can create a feeling of love and closeness. Just use caution to ensure you communicate and advocate for your needs.

Our lives and responsibilities can have us running full speed in our life, increasing the risk for communication breakdown, unfair assumptions or unspoken expectations. Open, loving, and honest communication is the cornerstone to a successful relationship.

Patti Langlais, M.A
Couples & Family Counsellor

Effective Communication with Adolescents and Teens

By: Patti Langlais, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist

Parenting has never been easy and it only seems to be getting more complicated in today’s busy, high pressure lifestyle. It can feel almost overwhelming for many parents to balance the pressures of career and finance with the complexity of supporting their children physically and emotionally. Although every family has its unique set of challenges, the need for effective and non reactive communication is universal. Effective communication is especially important to both navigate and cultivate strong relationships through the adolescent and teen years.

Effective communication begins with first listening and allowing your child to express their thoughts, feelings and perspectives. It is important to monitor your tone of voice, body language, facial expressions and overall reaction. Children and teens find it very difficult and intimidating to share their inner world with their parents for fear of judgement, conflict or rejection.

It is important to create common ground and a place of connection. Begin with an agreement in a part of the conversation before attempting to influence their logic or disagree. It is important to be conscious of your emotional state through the conversation and consider taking a break if you or your child need it. It is easy to undermine the conversation and connection with emotional reactions or statements.

As with any respectful dialogue, be sure to not interrupt or become distracted with forming a response. It is valuable to notice your expectations. Often we have unspoken and, therefore, failed expectations that lead to emotional injury and conflict. Do your best to set them aside while listening. When appropriate negotiate your expectations with your child or teen to ensure they understand what’s expected of them.

Ideally communication with your child is done in a calm, open and loving discussion, however when emotions run high and the conversation derails into conflict or disconnect, it is important to repair communication. Honest reflection is a skillful part of effective communication and can be done when both of your stress levels have decreased.

Like so many things practice is the key to mastery and often includes its fair share of failure. Inviting your children to engage in discussion with you allows you both to practice, creates a sense of familiarity which reduces stress in more challenging dialogues, and enhances the connection and bond you share.

Patti Langlais, M.A
Couples & Family Counsellor

Vulnerability – the glue of intimate relationships

By: Patti Langlais, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist

So here I go! I suppose that’s an odd intro to an article on relationship vulnerability, however to those familiar with my resistance to starting this journey it’s a great breakthrough. I choose to go forth and challenge my comfort, publicly sharing my thoughts with all of you.

couples intimate relationships

While counselling many couples and families in my practice I have observed again and again that vulnerability is the glue to intimate relationships. Through risking vulnerability there is a closeness and unity, and through fearing and avoiding it we create distance.

Ah emotional vulnerability…that scary fear of exposure, potential failure and the possibility of rejection or pain. I have struggled most of my life with vulnerability due to my core fear of rejection and potential failure.

But why is being vulnerable such an essential component of relationships? And not just sexually and emotionally intimate relationships between couples, but also intimate relationships between family and friends? Our closest relationships are, just that, close. Created due to our willingness to allow the people we care about to really see and know us.

Here lies the beginning of the end for many of the couples and families that I am grateful to be trusted to work with. As we slowly expose ourself to the important people in our life, and begin to reveal the dark corners and blemishes of who we think we are, we become vulnerable. As we share and express our inner thoughts and feelings we develop a closeness, and intimacy that feels so loving and powerful…yet terrifying.

Our mind races! “What if they learn too much about me and don’t love me anymore?” “What if I make a mistake?” “Maybe I shouldn’t have shared all that?” Or worse, that ugly little voice that whispers “what if I’m not good enough?” Sharing and exposing who we are can leave us feeling naked and afraid. Perhaps we self impose the idea that we have to be perfect. Have it all together and avoid mistakes and failures.

But what about actual hurt because of vulnerability? Many of us have in fact been hurt in those very intimate moments and learned to protect and avoid emotional injury from happening again. Over time we can become less willing to share and risk in the very relationships that require it for intimacy, Eventually we find ourself in this state of conflicting emotions. Loving and wanting to regain that closeness with the one’s we love but afraid and unwilling to go there again. Often this is the place that I find many clients fighting to make their way through. Lost in the years of risk and hurt and unsure how to get back.

So how do we turn it around? I believe that it begins with ourself. Our personal willingness to be honest with ourselves about how we feel, what we fear, what we need, and risking asking for what we need. Vulnerability with ourself spreads into our relationships with others. Brené Brown has spent the last 12 years deep in the study or vulnerability and shame. Her research and books share her discovery and insights and have become an important part of my own journey towards choosing to be vulnerable with both myself and the world.

So I will share what I practice as I continue on my journey towards increasing vulnerability and overriding my instincts to retreat and protect myself. First, I have committed to consciously checking in with how I feel, without judgement and minimizing. This has been surprisingly difficult as I have spent so much of my life downplaying my feelings to minimize creating waves or being considered irrational. Feelings are irrational.

Next is the uncomfortable conversation with my fears. What are they? What purpose do they serve? Often fear is a subconscious caution sign to warn us of dangers ahead. I am constantly working to honour my subconscious warnings, yielding in my life, and working to challenge them when they are no longer are needed or impeding my growth.

Lastly, questioning “what do I need?”. If I don’t know and advocate for what I need, how can I expect the world to respond and support me effectively. The “what do I need?” question has often landed me in my most vulnerable of needs which is boundaries. Boundaries are often overlooked as vulnerability, but sometimes they are the most vulnerable of all. Setting boundaries or saying “no” to protect what’s important to me like my family and downtime, in a world of productivity can be risky. It can also disappoint or upset others, which for me, as I said has been very difficult to do.

The journey towards vulnerability can be bumpy and is almost always uncomfortable. Be kind with yourself, forgive your imperfections, and remember you’re worth it!

To be vulnerable is to be brave…

Stay tuned for my next article on empathy and its power in the relationships which we value the most!

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