Balancing Wants and Shoulds

Where has the time gone?  The end of 2014 is rapidly approaching, likely in part due to the increased activity that occurs during the month of December for those celebrating Christmas and other holiday traditions.  I enjoyed reading Brene Brown’s recent post dated December 3, 2014 “The show must go on. But at what cost?” She is referencing the chaos that occurs at Christmas and sometimes we are the ringmasters of the Circus that ensues this time of year.

One of the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) concepts that can be useful to manage the “circus” is “Balancing Wants and Shoulds”.  Dialectic essentially means the art of investigating seemingly opposites to achieve the best outcome.  “Wants and Shoulds” at times appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.  I want to stay home and rest, but I should go to the Christmas party.  I want to buy people I love gifts, but I should be paying down my debts.  I want to eat all the delicious food, but I should be sticking to healthy eating.  I want to go out and visit friends, but I should get housework completed.

If we are only following through with our “wants” there are several consequences that may happen using the above examples.  We may miss a great event if we stay home, we may cause ourselves financial strain, we may gain weight, and our chores get neglected.  Alternatively, if we just focus on “shoulds” we may miss out on some much needed rest, we may feel bad we didn’t buy our loved one a gift, we may miss the pleasure of a food we enjoy, and we may miss the opportunity to connect with friends.

As you can see some consequences are seemingly good and some bad.  There is no right or wrong.  Every individual has different needs, so the consequences will alternate depending on the person.  Each of these scenarios represents a dialectical dilemma.  Take the opportunity to practice dialectics to contemplate situations that arise for you to find your inner truth; the right balance of wants and should for you.

The results for some will be a clear decision that falls one way or another.  You will either go to the party or you will stay home.  For others, you will make an appearance at the party and then go home early.  Some will strictly keep to their budget or diet, and others will spend or eat in varying degrees of moderation.

Remember there is no right or wrong.  The key is to explore what the right balance is for you.  Pause to seek your inner truth, contemplating both “wants” and “shoulds”.

The Power of Gratitude

GratitudeOne of the anecdotes for anxiety and depression is gratitude.  As humans we have a variety of life experiences; joys and hurts.  We chase the dream (illusion) of being happy 100% of the time; especially since we live in a world where marketing experts create the impression that we will obtain happiness in their product.  Instead, the reality of many is the experience of anxiety and depression (inherently, in part, a result of those same marketing schemes).

Gratitude does not take away the experience of hardship, however, it allows us to have a more holistic, integrated perspective as opposed to being trapped in a “negative filter” – a world view of only considering what is wrong.  When we are consumed by these negative images and thoughts, we suffer.

Don’t get me wrong, being oblivious to a concern that we need to attend to can also cause suffering.  For example, consider someone who has the experience of chronic pain.  When the body signals pain, the intention is to get our attention.  Perhaps we need to slow down, discontinue repetitive movements, or go and see our health care provider to investigate the problem.  Completely ignoring the pain signal may result in further injury to our body worsening our situation.

Being overly focused can be damaging in a different way.  A hypersensitivity to pain can cause us to immobilize and shut down.  The focus becomes what we cannot do; self-worth and confidence can decline due to interpretations: “I am not contributing enough”, “I’m broken”, “I have no value”, “I am a failure”.  A solution is to acknowledge the pain, and then shift your focus to capabilities rather than limitations.  “Even though I have this pain, I am able to enjoy spending time with my family.”

Rather than remain stuck in whatever your problem area is (chronic pain, money, relationship, work, loss, ________) consider something that provides gratitude.  The mental shift that occurs is profound.  When you fill the space with gratitude there is less room for sorrow or anxiety.  Acknowledge the problem area and then orient to gratitude.  “Even though ___________, I am grateful for family, our home, living in Nova Scotia, my ability to make choices, a career I love, caring friends, learning, experiences that allow personal growth.”

Global gratitude is helpful; such as, “I am thankful for my home”.  However, contemplating the seemingly smaller things in life provides us the details that matter, because these are the things that really do matter!  “I am grateful for my cup of coffee in the morning, the warm embrace of my daughter, the kiss from my husband, watching the eagle fly by, having an engaging conversation with a friend, the look of realization/insight/relief on a client’s face, the warmth of my comforter as I crawl into bed.”

To make room for contentment and peace of mind, I encourage daily practice of gratitude – both routine and random moments of gratitude!

Falling in Love All Over Again…with DBT


Last night a package arrived at the post office with my new books: DBT Skills Training Manual and DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets.  Yipppeee!!!!  I was so excited to start flipping through the pages to see what revisions have been done.  However, I had to delay that gratification because my husband gently reminded me that it was time to get out of work mode for the night.

I have to confess that I’ve had a love affair with DBT since I was first introduced to it in 1997 when a wonderful mentor, psychologist Dr. Donna McDonagh, worked tirelessly to bring DBT to Correctional Services of Canada to help rehabilitate women inmates.  That is a whole other topic though.  When it came time to train trainers (to ensure treatment integrity) Donna set the bar at psychologist’s being the trainers.  Her bar also was set at PhD level psychologists.  Because of my passion for DBT, and a vote of confidence from another colleague, Donna hesitantly agreed to allow me to be trained as a trainer.  Something I am forever grateful for!

In case you are wondering, DBT stands for Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.  DBT was developed in the early 1990’s by Dr. Marsha Linehan to help those with chronic suicidal behaviours with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Simplistically the goal was to help them with emotion regulation and improve relationship functioning.  Her first manual was published in 1993 and over twenty years later research shows that a variety of individuals can benefit from the various DBT skills.  In fact, all of us can benefit from some (or all) of the skills in the manual.  I regularly incorporate skills in my practice for a variety of concerns ranging from situational stressors to severe disorders, and I regularly try to practice what I preach!

My initial assessment from flipping through the pages –  the manual and handout companion are amazing!  Revisions are extensive because of widespread application of DBT that research has empirically validated, as well as feedback from users of DBT.  There is expanded information including specific targets for addictions.

I feel like I am falling in love with DBT all over again and cannot wait to further “get to know” the additions and changes and incorporate them into my practice.

Desiderata poem – so beautiful and full of meaning!



Every time I go one of my friend’s house I admire a wall hanging that he has of the full Desiderata’s poem written by Max Ehrmann.  There is a lot of value in these words and I think they speak for themselves.  I encourage you to read the poem when you have a moment to reflect fully on each sentence.  Enjoy!

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”


Part 2: What Gets in the Way of Living Your Truth?


Once you orient to your truth, which encompasses goals, relationships, self-respect (values), there may be some barriers to living your truth.  Barriers include Circumstances, Absence of Skills, Perfectionism/Fear of Vulnerability, People Pleasing, Avoidance, Cognitive Distortions, Expectations, Habits, Pathology (self or others), or Attachment Disruptions/Traumas.

Circumstances can include relational losses, financial difficulties, lack of resources, and environmental restrictions.  Solution: Work within your limitations rather than completely give up. 

Absence of Skills is such things as not having knowledge as it relates to regulating emotions, setting goals, ingredients to healthy relationships, assertiveness skills.  Solution: Opening yourself up, and finding opportunities, for learning.

Perfectionism/Fear of Vulnerability Perfectionism is different from healthy striving.  We are driven to do more – and be more – for fear of being judged (by self and others).  The result is we are driven to overachieve, or paralysis and we do nothing.  Solution: Develop a plan and build mastery/confidence one step at a time.

People Pleasing is when we put other’s needs ahead of own to avoid judgement or conflict. Solution: Dr  Brené Brown’s mantra “Chose discomfort over resentment”.  Be true to yourself so you aren’t resentful and do it in a way (if possible) that minimizes damage to the relationship.

Avoidance is when we are numbing out, escaping, or simply avoiding because making changes is too difficult.  Solution: Behaviour Activation to face what you are avoiding by simply doing what you know you are supposed to be doing.  I know, easier said than done, but it works!

Cognitive Distortions includes “all or nothing thinking”, “jumping to conclusions”, “emotional reasoning”, “catastrophizing” –basically our thinking has run amuck.  Solution: Cognitive restructuring to create realistic awareness and self-talk from a “Wise Mind” perspective.

Expectations versus reality is as it sounds and the greater the gap, the more distressed and out of balance we become.  Solution: Change expectations, or reality, or both

Habits are something that we repetitively do without awareness.  What we continue to practice is what we manifest.  Solution: Create new healthy habits, which will initially require effort but after a period of time will become second nature.

Pathology is when we, or someone in our life, have a non-treated mental illness, addiction or personality disorder then intrapsychic and interpersonal chaos is guaranteed to exist.  Solution: Insight into the disorder, diagnosis, boundary setting, and treatment.

Attachment Disruptions and other Traumas create emotional injuries (stuck points/hot spots) we carry with us because the trauma changes our world view, belief systems, brain wiring, and the trauma settles into our body.  Solution: Psychological treatment is proven to help change brain neuroplasticity through insights, and encouraging environmental and behavioural changes.  Therapy also helps clear the trauma from your body reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Fill in Your Blank _____________ Because we are all unique beings, we each have our own barriers to living our truth.  What is yours?

“What’s Your Truth? Live Your Truth: Part 1


“What’s Your Truth? Live Your Truth” was the topic of my presentation at the May 3 Well-Within Chiropractic Mind-Blown event specific for Well-Within Women.  Also on stage were Dr. Joan Rosenberg, psychologist from Los Angeles who spoke about Emotional Mastery, and Dr. Celina Spence, Chiropractor and organizer, who spoke about the Mind Body connection.  It was a high energy day with an equally high energy audience.  The message from all three of us was about the importance of getting to know yourself and how to navigate the rocky terrain of life without losing yourself. My talk began with identifying needs within and orienting using Mindfulness skills to three areas of effectiveness to enhance functioning.  These are adapted from Dr. Masha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy modules on Core Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness.  Here is a post that reviews the Core Mindfulness skills  These skills are then applied to assessing your health in the areas of Objective Effectiveness, Relationship Effectiveness, and Self-Respect Effectiveness.

I would suggest starting with Self-Respect assessment.  What are your values and beliefs?  Is it health, wealth, simplicity, learning, fairness, growth, solitude, companionship?  When you know your values and beliefs it helps you prioritize demands in your life.  Second is the objective assessment.  What are your goals?  Immediate, short-term, long-term?  Finally is the area of Relationship Effectiveness and includes all relational interactions.  Are those relationships healthy and if not what needs to change?  Next you need to ask: How do the areas of objectives and relationships line up with your self-respect?  Is there potential conflict between them and how do you make adjustments without losing your self-respect? Are there competing values that I need to be aware of (e.g. solitude and companionship)?  Moment by moment we need to be assessing these areas and making adjustments accordingly.  Rigid but Flexible is the key, think of a backbone…oooohhh…Dr. Celina will like this analogy…the backbone is a rigid structure, but bends according the demands placed on it – internal and external.  Keeping in alignment will increase efficiency.  The three areas of efficiency are like your backbone and we need to bend without breaking.  Asking yourself “What’s My Truth?” is like your chiropractic adjustment keeping you aligned.

Here is an example of how this works.  Self-respect focus is the value of friendship.  The objective is to find an activity to do with my friend, let’s call her Linda. Wink Wink.  :)   The key is to find an activity that maintains the relationship without damaging it.  Sooo, my friend Linda LOVES shopping, and I, on the other hand despise shopping.  (Note: She was the perfect person to call to help outfit me for the event.  As well, thanks to the staff at Lou Lou Clothing and Accessories on Prince Street in Truro, NS for their help!)  Alternatively, while we both like outdoor activities, I tend to push the envelope and when I suggest a little hike, Linda knows that this is much more daunting than how I innocently present it and likely will be a 10km rough terrain hike – all uphill!  So our goal is to settle on something more suitable so we are not avoiding each other, thus causing damage to the relationship.  Dinner out tends to be a safe terrain for the two of us so we can meet all three of our needs.  Well, there is one downfall to that as it tends to conflict with the value of health because it usually involves potato skins and chicken fingers.  But sometimes we need to compromise one value for the sake of another.

Rather than being stuck in autopilot or at the whim of whichever direction the wind decides to blow you, I encourage you to tune into yourself to be the captain of your life and direct your sails accordingly.

Part 2 will focus on the things that get in the way to Living Your Truth.

Settling In To The Change


We did it!  We finished the majority of the office with only minutes to spare before my first client walked through the doors Monday afternoon.  Honestly, it felt like I was on a television show trying to meet the deadline before the host yells “Move That Bus!”  We worked all weekend putting together the furniture and trying to finish the trim work (and realized we needed more so that is on the agenda for this weekend).  On Monday the tools and saws were still in the room, along with sawdust.  My family scrambled to help me get everything ready: moving the tools out, vacuuming, mopping, and putting the furniture in its proper place, literally with minutes to spare!

Client response has been great about the new location, which is a huge relief.  I am grateful for their support.  Feedback included:  “The space has more warmth” and “It is a very relaxing environment”.  The transition was intended to make life more organized and less complicated without compromising the therapeutic milieu (environment) and therapeutic alliance.

Along with some finishing touches with the trim work this weekend, moving all my books into one place will help with getting more organized – and lessen the clutter in my living space.  As mentioned in my previous post, changes are unsettling; however, as time passes the unsettled feeling turns into contentment.  As well as contentment, I feel deep gratitude that is hard to put into words but the feeling is incredible!  I am especially thankful for the support from my husband and daughter; support in the decision to have a home based office and help making it happen.

There are many components that aid in making positive changes in your life.  First, there is the decision.  Then there is determination and taking the steps toward something new, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in the changes.  Finally, support from others makes these transitions much easier.  It is important to note that this final step can be complicated.  I often advise new clients that making changes can actually put a strain on relationships, because, more often than not, those in our lives will resist the changes.  To mitigate this, enlist those who are advocates for your betterment, and, most importantly, trust yourself!