TAKE A BREAK

When we get angry or are in heightened conflict, we lose the ability to think complexly. This process is commonly referred to as the fight-flight-freeze response, which is the body’s automatic, built-in system designed to protect us from threat or danger. The fight-flight-freeze response developed early in human evolution and continues to impact our psychology today. While this response was helpful when we were running away from predators as early human beings, it’s less helpful when we are having complex interactions with our partner. It’s important for all couples to recognize when they are angry, as this can trigger their flight-fight-freeze response. Taking a break is one-way couples can reduce this response and be better able to navigate complex discussions.

When:

Any partner at any time can ask for a break. Remember, it’s important to tell your partner a) you need a break, and b) when you will return. Unless your safety is at risk, never leave a partner without telling them when you will return. You may need to take multiple breaks throughout an argument – that’s OK, just ensure you follow the same process each time.

Process:

Using the 20-minute break wisely…

Starting a Break:

Begin by letting your partner know you need a break by saying “I need a break; I’ll be back in 20 minutes”. It’s important to always let your partner know how long your break will be and when you will return.

0-15 minutes:

Spend the first 10-15 minutes on a task that’s unrelated to your conflict. Read a book, listen to an uplifting song, or read a magazine. Focus on an activity that is either relaxing or pleasurable.

15-20 minutes:

Spend the last few minutes reflecting on what primary “hurt” emotions you want your partner to better understand (avoid simply using Anger). Think about how you might communicate these emotions using an “I-statement”. Also spend some time being curious about how your partner may have understood the conflict. To gain greater insight into your partners experience, try to imagine their life “as a movie”, in which you are only a “secondary character”. Now imagine how their movies “narrator” might describe the conflict from your partners perspective.

Tips:

  • Try your best not to use breaks as a “rebuttal” or as a punishment.
  • Avoid spending your break thinking about rebuttals or “who’s right”. Instead, focus on relaxing your mind and body.
  • If you find yourself returning to the same problem repeatedly, this is a good sign that you might benefit from couples therapy to deal with the issue.

Remember: Breaks will not solve every problem, but they should help you think more clearly about the ones that do occur.

Try your best!

Joshua Peters is a Clinical Psychology Doctoral Resident and Registered Psychotherapist (RP) with the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, Ottawa. Over the past decade, he has presented at several notable conferences, including the Guelph Sexuality Conference, the National 2SLGBTQ+ Service Providers Summit, and the Community-Based Research Centre’s Atlantic Regional Forum. Joshua also regularly contributes to online, radio, and television news stories for the CBC, Global News, the Toronto Star, and other organizations. In his clinical practice, he is particularly interested in providing psychotherapy, mental health research, and advocacy for the 2SLGBTQ+ community — especially for those from rural and other marginalized backgrounds. Joshua has obtained a specialization in Psychology at the University of Ottawa, a Master of Arts in Counselling at Saint Paul University, and is currently completing his final year in the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Prince Edward Island under the supervision of Dr. Aleks Milosevic and Dr. Lila Hakim. 

PREMENSTRUAL DYSPHORIC DISORDER: The darker side of PMS

Imagine going about life with everything going relatively smoothly and then waking up the next day to find yourself suddenly feeling extremely low, highly irritable and overwhelmed by the simplest task. You almost feel like a completely different person, as if a switch was flicked and you’re no longer able to recognize yourself. And then, almost as suddenly as it began, a week or so later the switch is flipped back and you return to inhabiting your usual self. The transformation is as unnerving to you as it is to those close to you.

For people with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), this is a very familiar reality that frequently occurs in the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle. Some of the most commonly reported symptoms include fatigue, bloating, depression, anxiety and irritability, along with other typical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). But unlike PMS, symptoms of PMDD are severe enough to affect functioning in everyday life; they might interfere with one’s ability to work or study, or may cause problems in interpersonal relationships. It is believed to be caused by a sensitivity to fluctuating levels of hormones such as progesterone and estrogen that may in turn affect neurotransmitters in the brain that control things like mood and the stress response.

The recognition of PMDD as a distinct and diagnosable mental health disorder is not without controversy, since some believe that it pathologizes the normal experiences of women and people who menstruate. However, others cite the importance of distinguishing between normal PMS, which the majority of menstruating people experience, and PMDD, which affects only around 3-8% of those individuals. For many people in the latter group, it is helpful and empowering to find a label for their more severe PMS, as it can increase their understanding of their experiences and help them access treatment options.

If you think you might have PMDD, speaking to a medical or mental health professional can help you make sense of your experiences, rule out other diagnoses and offer treatment options that may include medications and psychotherapy. There are also a number of online resources such as support groups, websites and podcasts for those who live with PMDD that can help you feel less alone.

Esztella Vezer, M.A., is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) and is currently completing her clinical residency at CFIR as part of her doctoral degree in clinical psychology. She works with individuals and couples experiencing a wide range of issues, including depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties. She also provides fertility counselling and sex therapy, and helps couples who are looking to renew or restore emotional, physical or sexual intimacy, or to repair ruptures related to emotional injuries and interpersonal conflicts. Esztella takes an integrative approach to psychotherapy, drawing on a number of modalities such as emotion-focused therapy (EFT), accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP), cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy (PDT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and mindfulness-based therapies.

TRAUMA AND ITS IMPACT ON EMOTIONS

By Davey Chafe, MA, RP(Q)

Too often emotions are dismissed as weakness or as something that clouds our judgment from more “rational” thinking. However, emotions are very important for effective communication and give us vital information about our environments and the people within them. For example, if someone wrongs us or mistreats us and we become angry, it signals that we may need firmer boundaries with this person. In the same way, if we suffer a loss and feel sadness and grief, it may signal for closeness and support from people around us.

Over time, we learn how to listen to, and trust these emotional cues to help us navigate our worlds. However, if we experience traumatic events that we have difficulty coping with, it is not uncommon for people to develop negative changes in mood which can include distorted views of the self (e.g., self-blame and criticism), persistent negative emotional states (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame), feeling detached from others, and inability to experience positive emotions, such as happiness, satisfaction, or even loving feelings (American Psychiatric Association, 2022). These emotional disturbances can be present even without a diagnosis of PTSD or other trauma-related disorders. When this happens, people will often develop a negative relationship with their emotions, often leading to ignoring, avoiding, or no longer trusting their feelings.

Not feeling our emotions can lead to unhelpful coping strategies over time that allow us to “escape” the severe, negative emotions that can come with experiences of trauma. Unfortunately, avoiding these feelings can often result in new or worsening symptoms as our underlying emotions will look for new outlets. The energy from these emotions may manifest as symptoms such as anxiety, outbursts of anger, feeling low or depressed, dissociation, or substance use to avoid these negative feeling states. This is where therapy can help.

The hard part of this work is facing the feelings we have been avoiding, sometimes for years. If these feelings are not acknowledged and worked through, the emotional signals continue to go unheard, and we will continue to experience symptoms. Therapy can help by creating a safe place to begin unpacking and exploring these feelings through building safety and stability in our bodies and then learning to develop a relationship with our feelings again. As we process traumatic events and memories in a safe and productive way, it allows us to get back in touch with our bodies, our emotions, and the meaningful roles and relationships in our lives.

Davey Chafe, M.A., R.P. (Qualifying), is a Clinical Psychology Resident at CFIR in the final year of his PhD at York University and works with both individuals and couples in therapy. Throughout Davey’s clinical training, he has gained experience in a broad range of settings. He has worked with Emotion Focused Therapy for individuals and couples and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy for couples through York University, CBT for Mood and Anxiety at Brampton Civic Hospital, and with individuals and groups treating PTSD, mood disorders, and anxiety through community trauma initiatives. In addition to clinical work, Davey has been involved in psychotherapy research for over 10 years and has published in peer-reviewed journals and attended international conferences to present his clinical work. He is currently being supervised by Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych, Dr. Lila Hakim, C.Psych, and Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych.

TRAUMA AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM – Part 2

REGULATING NERVOUS SYSTEM RESPONSES TO TRAUMA

Please see blog post: PART I: TRAUMA AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM prior to reading this post

There are many different ways to regulate our nervous system. Body-based or somatic approaches are accessible and can create lasting changes to our feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. 

HYPERAROUSAL:

  1. Hand on heart: 
    • place your hand on your heart and start to notice the gentle contact between your hand and your chest. Notice the weight of your hand on your chest.
    • Notice the temperature (e.g., warm or cold)
    • Notice any sensations (e.g., tingly, spacious, energized, airy)
    • Notice if the sensation starts to spread
    • Notice your breathing 
    • Deep breathing
  2. Deep breathing:
    • Inhale for 4 counts; hold for 4 counts; exhale 8 counts
    • *try: inhaling through your noise and exhaling through your mouth (making an “O” shape with your mouth)
  3. Belly breathing:
    • Place your hand on your belly
    • Inhale for 4 and actively expand your stomach
    • Hold for 4 
    • Exhale for 8 and collapse your stomach 

HYPORAROUSAL:

  1. Posture change
    • Elongate your spine (*imaging your spine being pulled up to the top of your head)
    • Pull your shoulder back 
    • Gently push your chest out 
    • Take a few breaths here
  2. Breathing:
    • Inhale for 8 counts; hold for 4 counts; exhale for 4 counts
  3. Grounding through contact:
    • Stand up and notice your feet on the floor; elongate your spine and start to peddle your feet to apply more weight to one foot at a time; notice activation of muscles in your legs and glutes; bring attention to sensations (e.g., pressure, energized) and temperatures in your feet.  

Whitney Reinhart, M.A., R.P., is a psychotherapist who provides psychological services to adults and couples experiencing a wide range of issues, with a special interest and expertise in trauma and relationships. She uses a variety of trauma-informed approaches, including sensorimotor psychotherapy, somatic experiencing, and parts-based therapies.  

TRAUMA AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM – Part 1

When we experience threat, our nervous system reacts in the best possible way for that situation, either by fight, flight, freeze, submit, or cry for help. When we experience threatening situations or traumas where we aren’t able to mobilize and run to safety or fight back, we will freeze or submit. In freeze, we feel stuck; there is an internal sense of danger and threat, but we are unable to move or act. In submit, we collapse; everything goes offline, our muscles become flaccid, and breathing decreases. 

When we have unresolved trauma (chronic or acute; attachment-based or threat to body), we can go throughout our lives reliving the trauma through our nervous system – often leaving us in a chronic state of hyperarousal (fight, flight, freeze, attach) or hypoarousal (submit). In chronic hyperarousal, our nervous system is geared up and activated. For example, we might find ourselves feeling irritable and on edge (fight), using substances for relief, distancing from relationships (flight), relying heavily on others, clinging to avoid abandonment (attach/cry for help), feeling frozen and/or experiencing panic attacks and flashbacks (freeze). In chronic hypoarousal, our nervous system is shut down and numbed out, and can result in us feeling depressed, ashamed, disconnected, unable to think, and passive.  

If you identify with some of these internal experiences, therapy is a great step for understanding your nervous system responses, what you had to do to stay safe, and how to regulate your nervous system. 

Stay tuned for Part II on regulating your nervous system.

Whitney Reinhart, M.A., R.P., is a psychotherapist who provides psychological services to adults and couples experiencing a wide range of issues, with a special interest and expertise in trauma and relationships. She uses a variety of trauma-informed approaches, including sensorimotor psychotherapy, somatic experiencing, and parts-based approaches. 

DIVERSITY IN THERAPY—WHY IT MATTERS

Imagine having to over-explain your experiences of discrimination to a therapist, just to have that very same experience invalidated. It’s as though what you’ve just shared did not happen. You’re left confused, feeling misunderstood, and questioning your reality. Perhaps feeling worse than before meeting your therapist, why would you even continue?  

This surprisingly common experience highlights the importance of cultural competence—the understanding and acceptance of norms other than your own. This requires more than simply following a checklist; it requires the ability to openly embrace different ways of being, which at times, you may disagree with. In Canada, there is a clear—and striking—underrepresentation of ethnic and sexual minorities in the mental health profession. What are, if any, the practical consequences of this, one may ask? 

The Ontario Health Study tells us that mental health services are consistently underutilized in minority communities. Interview-based research gives us some insight as to why. A common thread in these studies is that many individuals encounter varying forms of discrimination (i.e., both “microaggressions” and overt discrimination) from professionals and begin to feel like “therapy is not for them”.

Mental health does not discriminate—and as unfortunate as this is, the data suggests that your care provider may. While there is an active effort to understand and teach the ability to perceive and appreciate subtle differences in the cultural experiences of any given client, at times there simply may be no substitute for shared experience. 

Demographic factors are not the only thing to take into consideration when selecting a therapist, but clients should not be made to feel ashamed if they choose to do so. By and large, most clinicians offer free consultations. Meet with them. See what they are like. Be explicit with your concerns and ultimately, you make the decision if you feel understood—whether the therapist looks like you or not.

Ola Kuforiji, M.A., is a registered psychotherapist (qualifying) at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships. He provides therapy with for individuals and couples (with a special interest in ethnocultural and sexual minorities) under the supervision of Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych.

COULD MY SYMPTOMS BE DUE TO COMPLEX TRAUMA (C-PTSD)? 

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a relatively new diagnosis for understanding how past events can impact our mental health in the present. If you’re struggling with difficult symptoms, you might have wondered if they could be due to complex trauma. 

Complex trauma involves experiencing a series of events of a threatening or horrific nature, where escape is difficult or impossible. These events overwhelm an individual’s capacity to control or cope with the stressor. They can occur in childhood or adulthood, and could include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Domestic violence
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse, harassment, or assault
  • Neglect or abandonment
  • Racial, cultural, religious, gender, or sexual identity-based oppression and violence
  • Bullying
  • Kidnapping
  • Torture
  • Human trafficking
  • Genocide and other forms of organized violence

Those with complex trauma develop post-traumatic symptoms such as flashbacks, avoiding reminders of the events, and feeling constantly “on edge” or hypervigilant. But due to the prolonged and pervasive nature of the trauma, those with complex trauma develop additional symptoms that are important to recognize.

The first is trouble with affect regulation. This means they might have trouble calming down after a stressor or have strong emotional reactions. On the other end of the scale, they may often feel emotionally numb, or not able to experience positive emotions such as joy. 

Secondly, individuals with complex trauma struggle with negative self-concept. This means they often have strong beliefs that they are worthless, or a failure. They might feel intense guilt or shame in relation to these beliefs.

Finally, individuals with complex trauma often have issues in relationships with others. They might have trouble sustaining relationships and feeling closeness to other people. They might have short, intense relationships, or avoid relationships altogether.

Complex trauma often occurs across generations (sometimes referred to as intergenerational trauma), due to a lack of resolution of previous traumas and prejudice and discrimination that results in the oppression of entire families and groups.

Always consult with an experienced mental health professional if you believe that you may have complex trauma or another condition. Regardless of the cause of your symptoms, there are many treatment options available that can help you achieve your goals and feel better. 

Camille Labelle, BSci, is a therapist working at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) under the supervision of Dr. Lila Hakim, C.Psych. They provide individual therapy to adults who have experienced single-incident or complex trauma or are seeking support for other mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. They use an integrated approach including emotion-focused therapy (EFT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to empower people to process their experiences, understand their reactions, and change their lives. 

References

Ford, J. D. & Courtois, C. A. (2020). Treating Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders in Adults, 2nd ed: Scientific Foundations and Therapeutic Models. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. 

World Health Organization. (2019). International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (11th ed). https://www.icd.who.int/  

    AN ANTI-DIET APPROACH TO COPING WITH POST HOLIDAY FOOD GUILT AND BODY IMAGE SHAME

    As we enter the New Year, we are suddenly bombarded with advertisements pushing weight loss products and filling our minds with the idea that, in order to be our “best selves” this year, we must follow some new diet and exercise regimen. For many individuals—especially those struggling with eating disorders (ED)—this time of the year can make us particularly vulnerable to feelings of guilt and shame as we are faced with increased pressure to “undo” the indulgences of the holidays.

    For individuals struggling with an ED, food-related guilt and body image shame is often dealt with through self-punishing behaviours; for example, following an overly restrictive diet and excessively exercising. On the other hand, some individuals cope with body image shame by hiding under baggy clothes in an effort to avoid painful feelings of guilt and shame. However, in my practice as a therapist, I’ve found that such self-punishing and avoidance behaviours are unsustainable and ultimately perpetuate the cycle of guilt and shame.

    Instead, consider these three more sustainable tips for coping with post-holiday food guilt and body image shame, none of which involve dieting or pursuing weight loss:

    1.   Don’t criticize yourself: Practice self-compassion and Radical Acceptance

    Instead of beating yourself up, or running away from feelings of shame (literally or figuratively), try working towards greater self-compassion. Be gentle with yourself and be reminded that shame is a fleeting feeling, not an identity; just because you are feeling bad, does not mean you are bad. Another self-compassionate approach to dealing with shame is practicing Radical Acceptance, a skill used in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (Dimeff & Linehan, 2001). Rather than ignoring, avoiding, or wishing the situation were different, accept things exactly as they are, including the painful emotions of shame and guilt. Radical Acceptance can help you regulate feelings such as anger, guilt, and shame by approaching them with kindness and self-understanding rather than self-judgment.

    2.   Ask Yourself: Whose Shame is it Really?

    When working with clients who struggle with body image shame, I often ask them to reflect on who their shame really belongs to. This question is meant to facilitate differentiation, the process of recognizing the extent to which one’s body image shame has been taken on as a result of someone else’s shame. This can help you detach from and “disown” feelings of shame by identifying that perhaps your shame does not belong solely to you. Differentiation can protect you from internalizing—and thus negatively reacting to—body shame-inducing comments made by others.

    3.   Swap your “Clean Eating” Plan for a Social Media Cleanse

    Research shows that exposure to media promoting the “thin ideal” or “athletic/muscular ideal” increases body image dissatisfaction and can also lead to negative emotions, depression, and disordered eating (Huang et al., 2021). We now have the ability to control what shows up on our timelines, so consider unfollowing any accounts that promote diet culture and start following body-positive or body-neutral content online. Doing so will ensure such shame-inducing content no longer appears on your feed or negatively impacts your well-being this year.

    Loreana La Civita (B.A.Hons) is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) working under the clinical supervision of Dr. Jean Kim (C.Psych). Loreana provides psychological services to adolescents and adults and has a special interest in treating individuals with eating disorders (e.g., Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, ARFID), body image concerns, neurodiversity (e.g., ADHD, ASD, OCD) and trauma. She integrates emotion-focused therapy (EFT), cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and dialectical-behavioural therapy (DBT) informed techniques to support individuals struggling with concerns regarding eating, weight, and body image.  

    SOURCES

    Dimeff, L., & Linehan, M. M. (2001). Dialectical behavior therapy in a nutshell. The California Psychologist, 34(3), 10-13.

    Huang, Q., Peng, W., & Ahn, S. (2021). When media become the mirror: A meta-analysis on media and body image. Media Psychology, 24(4), 437-489.

    EMOTIONAL COMMUNICATION:  The Cornerstone of More Secure Attachment Bonds (2)

    Blog 2:  Emotional Signaling, Responding And Repairing Ruptures:  Key Interactions in Building Greater Connection

    In this 2nd blog in my 3 part series on Emotional Communication, I will be describing 3 of 6 steps that you might want to consider to ensure that your emotions and needs are being clearly communicated and that you are prepared to respond to the other’s expressions.  Emotions signal that you need something.  Learning how to signal in an efficient and effective manner increases the likelihood that your partner can understand your distress and what you are needing from him/her.  Learning how to attend, and attune to your partner’s emotional experience ensures you are accessible to him/her and prepared to be available to respond to whatever need emerges. This allows for co-regulation of your distress to occur— a reduction of distress as a result of the attention and responsiveness to the other.

    STEP 1: Expressing Partner—Expression of a Feeling/Emotion: Stay in a reflective place (e.g.., thinking about your feelings and emotions as opposed to reactively, intensely, and loudly expressing whatever thought and feeling you are having); otherwise, your partner will not be able to pay attention to you as loud and intense emotions can be disorganizing for the listener. When expressing your feelings and emotions, speak from the “I” position, and refrain from language that is judgemental, and blaming.  Starting with “You” may incite defensiveness.  Reflect on the emotions you are aware of, label the emotion and link it to the incident or context (e.g., “I feel angry/sad/scared/hurt/shame/guilt/excited/

    joyful/proud about ….the situation in which…”).  Remember to only talk about one feeling/emotion at a time, and start your sentences with words like “From my perspective, or my experience”.  Here’s some examples:  “I feel angry about our discussion we had last night and would like to talk about my feelings”, or “I am sad about your working too much and I would like to talk to you about this”. 

    Also, try not to speak in concrete ways about your partner or the circumstances and make sure you communicate that your emotions are coming from your experience and perspective. Using words like “it seemed to me” allows your partner to understand how you have experienced him/her (e.g., “you seemed/seem to be ignoring me” as opposed to “you were/are ignoring me”) and allows you to remain open and curious to the possibility that your partner had different intentions, beliefs, thoughts or feelings than you had originally considered.  Also, stating openly that you are sharing from “your perspective” or “from your own experience of the situation” allows for open dialogue and mutual understanding of each partner’s feelings and emotions about situations (e.g., “from my perspective, it seemed like you were ignoring me”).

    STEP 2: Responding Partner—-Acknowledgment and Interest in Understanding What the Feelings/Emotions May be About: When responding, it’s important to acknowledge what your partner is feeling and demonstrate an interest in his/her experience.  Listen carefully, and fully to what your partner is expressing and make sure not to interrupt until they are finished.  Stay curious, calm, present and open to understanding what the emotional distress is about. Monitor your body language (i.e., do not lean away, but toward). Make eye contact, if possible. Try to empathize with your partner’s feelings (i.e., imagine what they are going through and how this is distressing for him/her).  Your partner’s emotional distress is a signal that they are in need of something—try to listen for what they might be needing from you to help them along with this distress.

    Responding lowers your partner’s emotional arousal and intensity.  It reduces their emotional isolation as you join them in his/her experience. Acknowledgement and interest in your partner’s feelings and emotions can allow your partner to feel more at ease.  Being seen, and understood is very soothing and connecting. Before acknowledging your partner’s emotions or asking questions, ask whether he/she have completed sharing with you (i.e., “Is there anything more you want to share? Or “Is now the time that I might say something?”).  You can acknowledge feelings/emotions by simply reflecting back something like “I can see that you are (e.g., sad/angry/scared/)….I sense that you are (sad/angry/scared/upset etc…)”. You can demonstrate your interest by asking “What’s making you sad/angry/scared/nervous…help me understand what’s going on for you now…or tell me more so I understand how you are (sad/angry/hurt/frightened/stressed) right now”. Reflecting back the feeling and what is it about provides your partner with a sense of presence that further reduces distress.

    Step 3:  Repair Ruptures in Emotional Communication—-Checking in with each other about whether your efforts to express your feeling and emotions and your responses to the other are being understood:  Trying to express and respond to someone’s emotions with your words can create misunderstandings.  Human communication can be filled with assumptions, and misinterpretations.  We might use inappropriate language in expressing ourselves or use words unintentionally that are not capturing what we are trying to express.  We may also in listening not have heard something or misinterpreted what our partners was trying to communicate.  

    Repair requires lower emotional arousal and intensity. Do not react strongly to these miscommunications, and instead, you and your partner have to initiate a repair process. If you become too emotionally reactive due to miscommunications, your capacity to reflect and think about your experience and empathize with the other will be greatly diminished.  Take a breath, relax, and try once again to work clarify what you were trying to convey to the other.  An expressing partner may say to a responding partner, “You got part of it, the part about A, but I don’t feel as though you’ve gotten this part about B. I’ll try again to express me to you and find words that might help you better understand me if I can.”  This step requires patience to ensure clarifications and corrections are made so understanding is achieved. If you are struggling to express yourself or understand, you might both want to express your intentions and willingness to try to understand (e.g., “Maybe I’m saying too much here and it’s hard“, “I really want to make sure I see you here”, or “I’m willing to keep at this until you get the sense I’m getting you here”). 

    In my next blog, Figuring Out Needs and Responsiveness to Needs:  What Ultimately Brings Our Distress to An End, I’ll be looking at the importance of identifying the needs that are at the root of your distress.  I’ll be providing the last 3 steps of 6 steps in emotional communication. Learning how to zero in on what you’re feeling and what you’re needing, and being able to clearly figure out what you need and then communicating this to the other person.

    Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. is CEO and co-founder of the CFIR. He has published book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject of attachment, attachment injuries in couples, and attachment and sexuality. He has taught courses at the University of Ottawa in Interpersonal Relationships, Family Psychology, and Human Sexual Behaviour. He has a thriving clinical practice in which he treats individuals suffering from complex attachment-related trauma, difficult family of origin issues that have affected self and relationship development, depression and anxiety, personality disorders, sex and sexuality-related issues, and couple relationships. At CFIR, he also supports the professional development of counsellors, psychotherapists, and supervised practice psychologists by providing clinical supervision.

    EMOTIONAL COMMUNICATION:  The Cornerstone of More Secure Attachment Bonds (3)

    Blog 3:  Figuring Out Needs, Responsiveness to Needs: What Ultimately Brings Our Distress to an End

    In this 3rd blog in this 3-part series of blogs on emotional communication, I’ll be sharing with you information about the importance of delineating the needs that are at the root of your emotional distress and how responsiveness to these needs is core to bring about change to the feelings and emotions you are experiencing.  After you have expressed, or responded to your partner’s feelings and emotions, and you’ve repaired any ruptures, it’s very important to make that next leap to understand the needs that gave rise to the emotions.  The concerns, goals and needs underlying your emotions have to be stated clearly, directly and be realistic (e.g.., doable by the other).  

    Step 4: Expressing Partner- Expression of Concerns, Goals and Needs: Upon completion of the acknowledgement and understanding phase and any repairs in communication, there has to be some type of dialogue related to the needs that underlie the emotions.  Figuring out our needs can be difficult and not within our awareness immediately.  Try to figure out what you need to reduce the distress and from your partner or for your self to shift your feelings (e.g…, “I really need to just go out for a walk and take a break”…or “I need to be alone momentarily”…or “I need for you to just listen to what’s been going on”, or “tell me everything is going to be okay”).  Do you need to just share your feelings? Have someone listen and validate you? Do you need reassurances? 

    Make the need concrete, doable and realistic.  If you say something like “I need for you to love me” or I need for you to care more”—this might be too vague without clear examples of behaviours, or actions or words that you might require.  Be specific (e.g. “I need more affection” or “I need more support from you around the home and with the children, such as making sure you are present at dinner to help me cook and feed our child”.  Your partner will not be able to meet all of your needs.  Partners can meet many needs, but sometimes maybe only partially, and so be prepared to negotiate and compromise.

    Step 5: Responding Partner- Responsiveness to Needs: Be prepared to respond to the expressed need as described by your partner, after ensuring you understand what is needed in concrete, clear terms. Do not provide any responses until you are clear about what your partner needs from you (e.g., “what I am understanding is that you need me to be more present and helpful by ….”).  Needs for emotional connection, contact, support, affection and sexuality have to be taken seriously as an emotional connection, care, affection and sexuality are cornerstones for the relationship. 

    Make sure you clearly let your partner know that you plan to take steps to address these needs.  If you are unable to meet the needs, it’s important that you be prepared to let them know what is possible, and try to compromise and negotiate what’s possible.  

    Step 6:  Both Partners -Clarifications and the Understanding the Responding Partner’s Emotions and Needs: It’s important that the responding partner’s feelings and needs are also shared about any situation that has caused distress.   Turn-taking is important.  Your partner might have their own feelings and needs related to what you are expressing.  The responding partner can then take his or her turn in becoming the expressing partner related to any situation or incident that was difficult for him or her (e.g., “I would like to share my feelings about the affection in our relationship and what I am needing here”).  Clarifying the responding partners feelings and needs related to the topic will help in the process of trying to figure out what they are able to offer as a response and can be used in trying to negotiate and find a compromise between both partners. 

    Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. is CEO and co-founder of the CFIR. He has published book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject of attachment, attachment injuries in couples, and attachment and sexuality. He has taught courses at the University of Ottawa in Interpersonal Relationships, Family Psychology, and Human Sexual Behaviour. He has a thriving clinical practice in which he treats individuals suffering from complex attachment-related trauma, difficult family of origin issues that have affected self and relationship development, depression and anxiety, personality disorders, sex and sexuality-related issues, and couple relationships. At CFIR, he also supports the professional development of counsellors, psychotherapists, and supervised practice psychologists by providing clinical supervision.