I often wonder about capacity – my own and that of others. Will I be able to manage the physical and emotional demands being asked of me throughout my day? Where do I begin?

As autonomous individuals, we are required to make choices. We do so daily. Even choosing not to come to a decision is a choice in and of itself; inaction comes with its own set of benefits and consequences. Some of our choices come easily to us, and we do not tend to give them too much thought. Others weigh more heavily on us and require us to give more of ourselves to the decision-making process. Every choice we make is emotional.

In therapy, one is often encouraged to think about capacity as a finite resource. Often, clients are taught to conceptualize capacity as a battery that will deplete itself throughout the day. If every choice I make is emotional, I need to be aware of the implications. The more I expend my resources throughout the day, the less I have left to work with. By increasing my self-awareness, I can find ways to allocate my daily battery so that I have the capacity to show up in the ways that matter most to me. 

  1. Start with a check-in

It can be helpful to gauge my battery life first thing in the morning to determine my capacity meter for the day. This can allow me to lean into self-compassion and place realistic expectations of myself.

Example: After an adequate night’s sleep, a good amount of physical activity throughout the week, and sufficient nutrition and socialization, I am waking up with 100% battery.

  1. Prioritize by your values

Often, our days are full of non-negotiable tasks as well as personal responsibilities. If everything is important, nothing is important. Therefore, I need to know what is important to me. Asking myself what I value most can help me determine how much of my battery I am going to need to save for the things that matter most to me. Without doing so, I may deplete my battery on tasks that drain my battery, leaving me with less capacity to get through my day.

Example: As I am working on a report for a client, I receive a text message that requires my input on an upcoming family trip. I value work and I value family. I understand that making the decision regarding the family trip is one that will weigh on me, and one that will deplete more of my battery than I am currently willing to give. I can set a boundary by communicating that I will require some time to process the trip and I will not be responding until the following day. This allows me to hold on to more of my resources for the day, and allows me to allocate them accordingly.

  1. Allocate accordingly 

If I know what I value, I can choose to allocate my battery accordingly. I do not attribute the same weight to every decision that I make. As well, the more choices I make throughout the day, the more I deplete my battery. By increasing my awareness of this, I can save more of my attention for the choices that tend to be more emotional for me.

Example: I can choose to schedule the tasks that demand more of me earlier on in the day, or I can arrange to take care of myself in ways that will help my battery ‘stay charged’. 

We all have the capacity to choose. I encourage you to lean into curiosity regarding some of the choices that you have been making lately, and whether they are serving you in the ways that you have intended for them to. As always, the choice is yours.

Oksana Halkowicz, M.Psy works under the clinical supervision of Dr. Ashwin Mehra, C.Psych and provides psychological services to children, adolescents, and adults experiencing a wide host of problems related to mood, anxiety, depression, and interpersonal relationships. She works from a psychodynamic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), cognitive behavoral therapy (CBT), and emotion-focused therapy (EFT).


Attachment – One of our most fundamental basic needs as a human being. Attachment, in its simplest form, is contact, connection, to belong, to love and be loved. 

When a child is born, they have two primary needs. Their first need is attachment and they simply do not survive without it. Attachment remains important throughout our lives and continues to have survival implications as we need it to form societies and communities. The second need is the need for authenticity. At its core, this is the ability to know what we feel, to be in touch with our bodies, to trust our “gut feelings” and instincts. Authenticity is also to be able to identify and express who we are and manifest it in our activities, relationships, and day to day lives. Authenticity is also a survival need as we need to be in touch with our bodies and instincts to navigate potential threats. However, what may often happen, especially during our formative years is that our need for authenticity might conflict with our need for attachment: if I express my true emotions, wants, needs, I may sacrifice or lose out on my attachment need and thus not feel loved, worthy, or connected to those around me. This does not mean that it was done on purpose or that your caregivers did not love you or think you were worthy, but they might have had their own difficulties, stress, hurt, and were also suppressed. This is not about blame or figuring out who is at fault. Their distress and your distress can coexist and there can be space for both! 

As a child, when we experience this conflict, we ultimately learn that we need to suppress our authenticity and thus our emotions for our attachment that our life depends on. As adults, this might look like not knowing what we feel, what we want, or how to express ourselves. These experiences might have taught us that being authentic is too costly and thus we suppress those parts of us and over time lose touch with ourselves. This may then manifest in various forms of mental health and/or relational difficulties. Therapy can help you rediscover, connect and express these suppressed parts of ourselves and help regain your authenticity and identity while maintaining our forever important relationships! 

Kadir Ibrahim, M.Sc., M.A., R.P. (Qualifying) is a clinical psychology resident at CFIR. Kadir provides psychological services to adults experiencing a wide range of psychological difficulties related to mood and anxiety, trauma, grief and loss, and interpersonal relationships. 


By: Garri Hovhannisyan

What typically brings a client to a therapy room is not a problem that they just had last week but problems they’ve been having time and again, trapped in a cycle of repetition with no apparent way out.

It’s important to consider the situational factors that shape our problems into what we experience them to be. It’s also important to understand some of the subtle ways in which we, ourselves, might be contributing to the very cycles of distress we come to experience as already “there,” as part of the world we are in.

Consider, for instance, the case of the “lonely extravert” who has a strong need to be with and around others but whose demanding work schedule does not permit much time for socialization. Consider, alternatively, the introverted counterpart who remains unphased by the fewer opportunities to socialize and is able to go about business as usual. Consider, next, the person whose feelings of self-esteem and self-worth have been deeply affected because their high agreeableness has predisposed them to being taken advantage of by those far less concerned with the feelings of others. Finally, consider the disagreeable individual who is far less bothered by moments of social tension and conflict, and who does not come to view instances of this sort as reflecting deep faults with one’s own self.

These brief vignettes are meant to illustrate how we sometimes come to suffer in repeated ways because certain needs that are associated with our unique traits aren’t being met by the contexts we are in; and that, moreover, those who possess traits that are different than ours simply do not suffer in the same ways because they do not share our needs.

In my research (some of which can be found here and here), I’ve been studying the relationship between people’s personality traits and the pervasive patterns of distress they succumb to in their daily lives, patterns they are repeatedly having to suffer but ultimately hoping to escape.

My work draws on the Big Five theory of personality, one of the most widely researched and esteemed theories in all of psychology for predicting human behaviour. As the name suggests, the Big Five describes personality along five major traits or dimensions: Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness, and Extraversion (an easy way to remember these traits is with the acronym CANOE or OCEAN). At the bottom of this page, you can find a table of basic definitions of what each trait says about a person’s general style of behaviour. If you are feeling especially curious, you can even complete the Big Five test for free by following this link. Completing this test takes about 25-35 minutes (a simplified 10-minute version can be found here) and gives you an opportunity to learn about how you compare to others who have taken the same test.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for guaranteeing a pathway out of suffering of the kind that I have discussed here (i.e., repetitious cycles of distress). Rather, solutions have to be carefully individualized to fit the unique needs and personality profiles of the individual. Having a basic understanding of your personality traits and dispositions can therefore give you a good sense of what kinds of things you might “need” psychologically to better orient yourself toward your situation, a process that is often helpfully leveraged with the expertise of a therapist.

Indeed, learning about your personality traits has the potential to enrich your sense of what counts as “psychological oxygen” for you and offer you clues on ways you can proactively bring important aspects of your Self to fuller realization in the world.

ConscientiousnessHigh scorers tend to live in the future and structure their time around tight schedules and rules for completing long-term tasks
Low scorers tend to be more concerned with life as it can be lived in the present moment
AgreeablenessHigh scorers tend to be polite and compassionate, regarding others’ thoughts, feelings, and points of view as more important than their own
Low scorers tend to place their own thoughts, feelings, and point of view in centrestage even if doing might cause conflict
NeuroticismHigh scorers tend to be more sensitive to negative emotions like anxiety, anger, or depression, and perceive the world as a place of hostility and threat
Low scorers tend to experience less negative emotion and see the world as relatively habitable and safe to their personal projects and concerns
OpennessHigh scorers tend to be more imaginative, artistic, and curious, inhabiting the world of images and ideas and enjoying intellectual conversations
Low scorers tend to be more concrete in their cognitive style and conventionally minded in their approach to learning and navigating ideas
ExtraversionHigh scorers tend to be enthusiastic, gregarious, and assertive, quite opportunistically minded and especially enjoy being around other people
Low scorers can be rather indifferent to opportunities to socialize and to be moved to action through feelings of enthusiasm or excitement

Garri Hovhannisyan, M.A., R.P. (Qualifying) is a clinical psychology resident at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships where he provides psychological services to adults and couples. His approach is integrative as it draws on existential, psychodynamic, humanistic, and cognitive-behavioural perspectives. His dissertation research studies the relationship between people’s traits and their patterns of distress and seeks to develop novel uses of the Big Five theory of personality in the clinical context.


Self-awareness is one of those topics in which Western and Eastern teachings meet. It is a concept that has gained a lot of attention although there are still variations in the names used to refer to it, the concept of it and the applications of this term in different contexts. 

Since the 1970’s there had been efforts to define self-awareness including the idea that this is about individuals’ ability to focus on the self and/or focus on others or the external world. Self-focus could involve the attention in the present moment to emotions, thoughts and thinking, behaviors and physical sensations. Others had referred to it as the “observing self”. Although there are different factors that can affect people’s ability to develop or maintain self-awareness, individuals can still learn to become more self-aware. In daily life, self-awareness could support self-regulation in the interaction with others and could contribute to self-reliance and the ability to sooth and calm oneself when triggered by events or people, the possibility to shift states. It can also help in identifying what is happening internally, recognizing and naming the emotions, accepting them, understanding how the body carries the emotion making it real. The development of self-awareness skills could be supported by mindfulness exercises including breathing, body scans, mindful walks, mindful eating and by openness and curiosity to enquire about individuals’ experiences to make sense of what is happening internally. 

In therapy, the self-awareness of the client and the therapist are critical for an effective therapeutic process. In this context, being self-aware could facilitate clients in a deeper exploration of their internal experiences, gaining more insight about reactions, beliefs and patterns. Self-awareness has been also considered a key attribute of therapists. In this context, self-awareness has been referred as the knowledge and insight that therapists have of themselves, of their own issues, their strengthens and weakness as well as their biases. Self-awareness can be developed and it is a skill that can facilitate both the therapeutic alliance and therapeutic outcomes.

Although there have been efforts to define its attributes, self-awareness can be experienced differently since it is a very personal way to relate to oneself, to others and to the world. Self-awareness would be hardly a state individuals reached and preserve for long. It could be more an instant, a moment of mindful attention involving body, mind and emotions, here and now, that can be expanded with practice. The presence in the present moment gives a unique quality to the way life can be experienced. It could provide a sense of control because it is not about the past or the future; it is only about here and now. It could help individuals anchor themselves in a place in which they could challenge beliefs and re-write life narratives. It may help in breaking patterns developed in the past as a way to cope with distress, even if it is for just a moment. It is a skill or ability that could open opportunities to continue to know one self in a process of self-actualization.

Myriam Hernandez is a Registered Psychotherapist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Myriam provides services to individual adults, couples, LGBTQ2 experiencing a wide range of difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, interpersonal relationships, grieve, identity, gender, sex and sexuality, existential and meaning making issues. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from Psychodynamic, Attachment, Object Relations, Emotion-Focused, Mindfulness, Cognitive-Behavioral and Parts theories. Myriam began her meditation practice since her teen-age years. She works with her clients in developing self-awareness skills to support the therapeutic process and outcomes. 

Reconnecting with Yourself During Social Distancing

It’s been a strange time. There are daily news updates regarding the current pandemic; still, it’s uncertain how long we’ll be required to stay home. Some of us have found this period at home to be calming, while others have found it to be monotonous. The change of pace has left us with time to spend with (and learn more about) our selves. Here are a few things you may wish to explore:

Do Things You Enjoy: When life gets busy, we may start to neglect aspects of ourselves to make time for things that seem even more essential. During this time, allow yourself to reconnect with the things that bring you joy (e.g., art, music, writing, etc.). Reignite those passions and take note of how they affect your wellbeing. 

Unplug: The ongoing dissemination of news can become overwhelming. It is okay to allow yourself a chance to step away and take a breath. Instead of tending to something that may exacerbate feelings of anxiety and being out of control, shift your focus to what can be controlled-you. Do the things that bring you peace of mind (e.g., yoga, reading, cooking, etc.) 

Reminisce: It’s not uncommon to want to press ‘pause’ sometimes during fast-paced times. If you have some extra time now, reconnect with who you are, and how far you’ve come, whether it’s looking at old pictures or looking at mementos; allow yourself to look back on special memories. Reconnect with the forgotten parts of yourself and reflect on how they affect your wellbeing. If distressing feelings or thoughts arise, it may be an indication for you to reach out for support.

Re-Evaluate: With the opportunity to disconnect from ‘auto-piloting’ through life, we may start to evaluate our thoughts and feelings concerning our experiences in the present. Allow yourself to acknowledge this information. Sometimes, we may need to re-evaluate what is working and what is not working in our lives and how it’s affecting our wellbeing.

Social isolation can be a confusing and anxiety-provoking state to be in, but it may also teach you a lot about yourself. Taking the time to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and where we would like to head in life can be a compelling experience. Therapists at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships can help you process different aspects of your identity during this time. We are currently offering virtual sessions that you can connect to from the safety and comfort of your home. Click here to learn more. 

Nereah Felix, B.A. is a registered psychotherapist (Qualifying) at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Ottawa and is under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych and Dr. Natalina Salmaso, C. Psych. The clients who come to see her are provided with an authentic, non-judgmental, safe, and supportive environment to share their experiences and improve their wellbeing. Nereah is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology at the University of Ottawa.

What Kind of Role Does Emotional Intelligence Play?

 by: Dr. Meg Aston-Lebold, C.Psych

Intelligence has traditionally been defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. We often see it represented by an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) score. However, there is growing research indicating that emotions also play an influential role in learning. For centuries, philosophers have contemplated intelligence as more complex than cognitive capacity: 

“All learning has an emotional base.”


In response to this missing piece, the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) has been suggested as a complement to traditional IQ and, as such, has been affectionately dubbed EQ. While there is some controversy about how to measure EQ, it is commonly thought to describe a few key skills:

  • Emotional Awareness: the ability to recognize one’s own emotions and their impact on others.
  • Emotional Regulation: the ability to manage one’s own emotions, for example, by calming oneself down or cheering oneself up.
  • Empathy: the ability to recognize and respond to another person’s emotions.
  • Emotion Application: the ability to use one’s emotions to help guide tasks, such as thinking and problem-solving.

Well-developed emotional intelligence may lead to improved performance and satisfaction in a variety of life areas, including mood, self-confidence, and interpersonal relationships. Competence in emotional regulation allows people to remain calm and collected in stressful environments or situations and allows the brain to remain in a state conducive to effective problem-solving. 

In contrast, poorly developed emotional intelligence may lead to relationship dissatisfaction; general feelings of malaise or distress with seemingly no cause; as well as physical ailments like muscle aches, headaches and stomach/digestion discomfort that seem to have no medical basis.

While many of us may admit to the benefits of emotional intelligence in our relationships, we do not commonly value emotional intelligence in the workplace. This is a mistake. EQ competencies can help you approach an impending deadline with an organized plan, effectively respond to conflicts with co-workers or supervisors, and figure out how to get people on your side, whether that’s by motivating workers or getting buy-in from new clients. 

Without effective EQ at work, you may find yourself blaming others, lashing out, or having difficulty asserting yourself. This could potentially lead to negative consequences for yourself or others.

We are not born with EQ and, while these skills may come more naturally to some, we all must learn how to understand and respond to our own and others’ emotions. But since emotions aren’t part of the traditional school curriculum, how do we figure it out? In ideal circumstances, we learn emotional intelligence from significant adult role models in our early years. 

Unfortunately, not everyone grows up in an ideal environment where their caregivers have their own well-developed EQ. As a result, emotional intelligence often gets stunted, leaving the individual unable to articulate feelings, easily overwhelmed, unable to trust their gut, or wondering why their relationships remain shallow and unfulfilling. 

Psychotherapy can help you learn to recognize, make sense of, and respond to your emotional needs. By exploring your inner world, you can feel more competent responding to challenging interpersonal interactions, managing your stress, and obtain the healthy and satisfying relationships that you may have struggled with. These skills will help you both personally and professionally. Becoming more emotionally competent will help get you out of that rut by improving your mood and relationships, which can ultimately lead to greater productivity and success in all areas of your life.

Dr. Meg Aston-Lebold, C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. She provides psychological assessment and treatment services to adults and couples experiencing a wide range of issues related to depression, anxiety and stress, self-esteem, trauma, and relationships.