Uncategorized

Understanding why we personalize: How to move away from guilt and blame

Many of us fall into the trap of personalization. This is a type of thinking pattern where we take responsibility and blame ourselves for something, irrespective of whether we had any control over the outcome.

Consider the last time your partner was upset, your child had a meltdown, or your boss didn’t give you a promotion. What was the story in your head? For those of us who personalize, our thoughts are something along the lines of:

Saying sorry for things that are not our fault. If you personalize things, this post will help you better understand this part and what you can do to reduce this pattern.
  • I didn’t work hard enough
  • If only I had tried harder.
  • What could I have done differently?
  • I’m not good at this. I’m a screw up
  • They’re going to hate me.

When we personalize, we assume that we’ve done something wrong. We make meaning of the situation: it’s our fault and our actions have caused this screw up. Personalization does not take into consideration others’ influence. It does not take into account any external factors that could have affected the situation. Instead, we are to blame.

How we tend to deal with personalization:

Personalizing makes us avoid, stay quiet, work harder, and take on all the blame. Kasi Shan Therapy can help address patterns of personalization.

No one actually enjoys personalizing. It’s lousy to hear, “it’s all on me.” So our system tries to compensate when we are overwhelmed with guilt, shame, or low self-worth. Whether consciously or unconsciously, our minds find ways to prevent personalization from happening. We avoid people and situations who make us feel like screw ups. We work even harder to prevent mistakes from taking place. We stay quiet so that we don’t accidentally say something offensive or incorrect. We learn to accommodate and focus on pleasing others so that they won’t become upset with us. Sound familiar?

On the other hand, we’re human and we get triggered. Because there’s a tendency to take on all that blame, at some point in time, we fall into the trap of personalizing once again. When this happens, our systems try and extinguish that blame. We find ways to self-soothe, distract, and get rid of this internal discomfort. If you’re like me, you may go down the rabbit hole of researching “how to handle emotions”. Perhaps you go for a run or an intense workout trying to shake off these uncomfortable feelings. Or, you may become fraught with disgust and anger towards yourself. Ironically, when your system is filled with this self-hatred, it’s attempting to punish the guilt. It’s hoping that all that anger will somehow compensate for that uncomfortable feeling.

The Opposite of Personalizing: Blaming

blaming to balance personalizing. IFS. internal family systems therapy and polarizations. balancing your internal system.

Our minds are constantly attempting to find equilibrium. So when we personalize, there are also parts of us that try and compensate by blaming. We blame friends, colleagues, babies, family members for putting us in this position. We start to feel upset with them about who they are, their behaviours and their decisions. We may have thoughts like, “if only they weren’t this way… they are being so difficult… they are causing their own problems”. In hopes of trying to reduce the internal blame, we bring our attention outwards to other people.

The caveat here is that you still feel lousy. Now you’re balancing that line between being upset with yourself AND being upset with another person. There’s limited self-compassion in this space, and there is limited kindness towards the other person.

What can I do?

#1 Recognize that it is a part of you, not all of you.

Internal Family Systems therapy introduces the concept that our mind can be divided into various parts. There is a part of you that takes things personally. It is one part of your mind, your consciousness, your emotional state, your personality. When this feeling takes over, it gets incredibly big. However, it is one part. It is not all of you.

You have thousands of moments during the day when you shift out of personalizing to a different state of mind. You are filled with self-loathing, then become angry, then you try to distract yourself, and so forth. These are all parts and they step in and step away at any point in time. Our internal struggle worsens when we say, “I’m horrible. I’m a terrible person. I should have done something.” Instead, we can shift our perspective by recognizing that, “in this moment, there is a part of me that feels it’s horrible, believes it’s a terrible person, and wishes it had done things differently.”

# 2 Notice how this part shows up

There’s a huge shift in intensity when we start to identify and label our emotions. When we are in the emotion, our amygdala (the feeling centre in our brain) is highly activated. Naming the feeling activates our prefrontal cortex (considered the planning, decision-making and moderating behaviours part of our brain).

mindful awareness of body sensations. Emotions held in the body. personalization and Internal family systems therapy.

When you personalize, start with acknowledging this part. Slow it down and notice how you’re aware of this part taking over. Does it show up as a thought? What happens to your body when you personalize? What starts to feel heavy, tense, or jittery? Where in your body do you feel this sensation? Are there images that come to mind as you slow it down and focus on the personalization? Sometimes memories come up. Sometimes a visual comes to mind. See if it’s possible to stay curious and keep noticing.

These steps of naming and noticing help you shift out of being IN the emotion into becoming more aware and observant of your emotion.

#3 Take note of what you influenced and what you could not control

When we are no longer in an emotion, there is more space to see the bigger picture. When this happens, we can better appreciate the aspects of a situation that were and weren’t in our control. When we are no longer overwhelmed by shame, guilt, or blame, we know that we cannot control others, read their minds, or know what is going on in their worlds.

When we personalize, we come up with moral meanings about a situation. When we are not in this emotional state of personalizing, we can step back and look at the scenario more objectively. We can recognize that there are many other reasons that could impact these circumstances. Consider the following scenarios:

SituationMoral Meaning that Personalization takes on:Other Explainations
Baby will not stop cryingI am bad at parenting. The baby is learning a new skill, going through a growth spurt, is adjusting to sleeping independently. or feeling uncomfortable.
My spouse looks unhappyI am not making my spouse happy. I am not worthy of being in a relationship.My spouse had a tough day, slept poorly, heard some difficult news, needs some self-care time.
I did not get the promotionI am incompetentThere were others who had the required skills, have been at the company longer, have more experience, had more flexibility in their schedule and tasks.
They did not invite me to join them.I am unloveable. They did not invite me because they did not think I’d enjoy the activity, wanted to spend some time alone, intend to invite me for other activities in the future.
I made a social faux-pas I am a horrible human being. It is human to make mistakes. I can apologize and take accountability for my impact. I can trust myself to take the time for repair work in these relationships.

#4 There’s always a history

childhood trauma and personalization. learned behaviours for safety. Internal family systems therapy in Kitchener, Ontario.

We don’t automatically start to personalize from the moment we are born. This is a learned behaviour. As you get curious, notice if you can become open to understanding this history. How did your system learn to personalize? At what point did personalizing feel like the safest option? Perhaps you got blamed as a child. Maybe your caregivers continued to shame and tell you that you didn’t try hard enough. Maybe conflicts felt really scary during your lifetime. In these circumstances, it may have felt easier to become upset with yourself, rather than acknowledge the other person’s influence.

These initial onsets are what triggered this pattern of personalizing. When these initial wounds are addressed, your emotional state softens and no longer personalizes. A large piece of therapy is getting to these core wounds. Whether it’s that moment when your caregivers shamed, or that time when you got blamed as a kid, these moments stick with you. With therapy, we work at a slow and trusting pace to process these memories and unload all of the meaning, distress and vulnerabilities we’ve taken on from these moments in time.

Reach out

Let me know your thoughts about personalization. What do you notice about your system? What strategies do you use to reduce this internal distress?

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Uncategorized

When you can’t logic your way out of feeling

Your way of coping with the world is to intellectualize. You use your logic to talk yourself out of feeling a certain way. You’re able to stay away from the vulnerabilities inside by managing the situation with reason, problem solving, logic, and planning. Sounds pretty good, right? What could go wrong?

logical brain. Intellectualizing our feelings involves suppressing our emotions and using logic (planning, reasoning, problem solving) to avoid feeling vulnerable.

Intellectualizing feelings often means you’re telling your anxieties that they don’t make sense. Rather than creating space for that worry, you’re able to come up with reasonable explanations. That rude comment your friend made? No biggie, he’s having a bad day.

When you attend therapy, you can remain logical. You can list details about the traumatic event. It all feels matter of fact. No need to cry big tears about these things; it’s all in the past. In fact, it’s quite annoying that the therapist keeps asking about your feelings. You just want some tips and tools so you can move on.

Your logical brain is brilliant. It quickly steps into problem solving and reasoning. It figures out how to get rid of crummy situations and feelings. It’s a beautiful defence mechanism. The problem, however, is that the tough emotions and vulnerabilities don’t go away. No amount of logic actually fixes this problem.

The positive intentions behind intellectualizing feelings

Intellectualizing parts can play manager or firefighter roles (Internal Family Systems Therapy). These parts come up with a plan, reason, problem solve to prevent vulnerabilities from coming up or soothe when vulnerabilities are triggered.

Before we dive in, let’s take a look at what this logical brain of ours is trying to do. Internal Family Systems therapy recognizes that this pattern of intellectualizing as a part. Meaning, it is a part of our personality with its own agenda, fears, and perspectives. Sometimes, intellectualizing is a manager part that is trying to prevent a vulnerability from getting triggered. For example, you need to have that awful conversation today to ask your partner to help out more around the home. This stresses you out because you know it may lead to conflict. Rather than dealing with your fears of conflict, your intellectualizing part starts planning instead. It comes up with a schedule for what needs to get done, who will do what, the acceptable quality of completed chores, and so forth.

Firefighter parts (IFS) step in to help soothe your nerves when baby will not stop crying. Intellectualizing parts can be firefighter parts.

Sometimes, this intellectualizing part plays a firefighter role. It jumps in to extinguish those extreme emotions and vulnerabilities when they are triggered. For example, your baby is up for hours howling and refusing to go to bed. Your mind starts spinning about how you’re a terrible parent and how you’re not cut out for this whole newborn phase. Your intellectual part steps in to put out the fire and settle your insecurities. It goes down the Google rabbit hole of researching sleep training ideas.

This pattern of intellectualizing is a protective attempt to reduce the vulnerability underneath. We don’t have to sit with our our fears of conflict or deal with our insecurity of being a lousy parent. This logical part is aware that addressing these vulnerabilities feels too challenging. So, it comes up with a way to rationalize out of the situation. Having a plan feels more comforting than sitting with distress. So, how could this possibly go wrong?

What happens when you suppress feelings

Our vulnerabilities don’t go away just because we’ve intellectualized our feelings. While coming up with a plan may feel like we’re addressing the issue, we’re not actually getting to the root of the matter. Sure, your logical part may have a bunch of wonderful ideas, encouraging you to take a deep breath, see things differently, or research further. Doing these steps, while helpful, does not stop your heart from pounding, your mind from racing, or that sense of dread from taking over.

Intellectualizing feelings involves suppressing our emotions. This does not work as long-term solutions. Internal Family Systems Therapy in Kitchener, Ontario.

Unfortunately, your head cannot win over your heart forever. Despite using logic to push away or minimize emotions, that vulnerability keeps coming back up. If we’ve been suppressing these insecurities for a long time, they tend to erupt out of us in the most inconvenient ways. Despite sleep training research, you feel overwhelmed with helplessness whenever you’re around the baby. Irrespective of the chores list, you become fraught with guilt and start to doing everything yourself. That resentment towards your spouse continues to fester and grow.

This is the hardest consequence of using logic to address our emotions. While coming up with a coping plan works in the short-term, that vulnerable feeling is still left unaddressed. Those feelings keep showing up, reminding us over and over again that we still feel awful. We are simply pushing aside our fears for one more day, without actually dealing with those feelings.

When intellectual parts try to lead therapy

Intellectual parts leading therapy. Internal family systems therapy recognizes that logical or intellectual parts can try and lead therapy. Struggles with logic trying to work through emotions. stuck points in therapy. IFS therapy in Kitchener, ON

Sometimes our intellectual parts know therapy. They’ve been in enough sessions that they have a strong understanding of how they ought to be thinking or behaving. These parts will pipe in with comments like: “I know I should be more compassionate towards myself,” or, “If only this anxious part stopped showing up, I know things would get better.”

Our logical parts are really helpful and aware. They have good insight, and it’s important we listen to them. However, when they lead therapy, little transformative work gets done. Knowing something is different from feeling it. I can say, “I should be more self-compassionate”, but it doesn’t mean I have an iota of self-compassion when I’m anxious, or overwhelmed, or scared. Often times, these intellectual parts share feedback of what is the logical next step. But, rather than create change, these comments lead to more frustration that change is not happening. We rarely see improvement or healing despite knowing what to do.

Working with your intellectualizing parts

Get to know their fears:

what to do if you are intellectualizing your feelings.

Take some time for self-reflection. What is it that this logical part fears will happen if you get to the messiness underneath? Is it worried that you will become overwhelmed? Does this part feel like it’s pointless to review the past? Is it worried that others will judge you if you become emotional? When we understand why this intellectual part is stepping in, we can better support its fears and concerns.

Work with the fears in a safe way:

Once you understand the fears that trigger these intellectualizing parts, you are more aware of what is needed to build safety. This step will look differently for each person. For example, if your intellectualizing part is worried you’ll be judged if you were to open up, this part may remain cautious until the other person has gained your trust. One possibility is to open up about safer topics and see how the other person reacts. This helps your intellectualizing part continue to monitor for judgment. When it receives enough evidence that it’s okay to open up to this person, it will step back.

Addressing the core wound:

Until the underlying vulnerabilities are resolved, our protective system will want to keep protecting. This means actually working with the parts that feel like a lousy parent and the parts that fear conflict. The way to support these wounds will vary depending on the therapist you meet. The modalities I use to address these wounds include EMDR and IFS. These are just two therapy styles and there are many other options that different clinicians will take to work through these difficult, stuck points.

Reach out

 If you have any questions about the above details, reach out for a free consult. Your intellectualizing parts are working over-time. Therapy can offer a safe way to work with your intellectual parts and the vulnerabilities they are trying to protect.

Take care,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

Drinking and Postpartum Depression

Your world feels chaotic and there’s no escape. There are endless hours between naps, feedings and the constant fatigue. There is no one around to talk to and you feel overwhelmed and frustrated all the time. Having one more drink feels awful, but it gives you that escape you’ve been craving. Sound familiar?

Whether you want to call it an addiction or not, you’re noticing that you’re drinking more than usual. What was initially meant as a treat at the end of the day is starting to become a coping strategy (and, unfortunately, this one comes with some consequences).

If this sounds like your life right now, I get that you’re really struggling. This post is not about judging you or telling what is right or wrong. Addictions is hard. Postpartum depression is hard. For those who are in these circumstances, I hope the following post provides you some clarity and empowerment.

What is drinking doing for you?

Attempts to Self-Soothe:

Life feels chaotic and things feel too difficult to manage. There needs to be an end. It’s not possible to stay hyper-alert forever. You can’t always be watching the baby sleep. It’s overwhelming to be so stressed out at every feed. Drinking helps to balance your window of tolerance. When you’ve become a ball of stress, your body craves a way to settle down. So, a part of you turns toward drinking to help you calm down and relax.

Alcohol is an effective depressant. It forces your body to slow down giving that reprieve you desperately crave. In this way, drinking is an attempt to self-soothe. It’s a coping mechanism for helping slow down, numb out, or block off whatever it is you don’t want to address. You can’t necessarily leave the baby. You don’t want to call it quits as a parent. Drinking provides that mental escape when physical escape is just not possible.

Gabor Mate quote on addiction. Addiction as a coping mechanism during postpartum months. Addressing trauma to address addiction.

Lack of Internal Trust

If you’ve experienced enough trauma, neglect, shame or hardships in your life, you are likely aware that your internal system feels messy. You’re aware that many days you feel overwhelmed by worries, humiliation, guilt, anger, or self-hate. These parts of you are harsh and relentless. However, in their own unique way, they are trying to protect you. For example, you may have a critical part that shames you in order to encourage change. There may be a perfectionist part that nags incessantly so that you do not make mistakes.

Lack of internal trust. Coping with alcohol instead of being with our feelings. Alcohol and postpartum depression

When our system is full of these protective parts, it’s an indicator that there is limited trust inside. Rather than believing you are capable of handling difficult situations, your protective parts take over. For example, when you feel tired of parenting, there may be a harsh part that steps in. It yells at you to be grateful and reminds you of how hard it was to conceive. Your system doesn’t trust you to sit with the distress of parenting. It would rather help you avoid those thoughts by filling you with shame and guilt instead. This is not necessarily a helpful or effective manner of handling things, but it’s been like this for years.

Working with these protective parts are challenging. No amount of reasoning or negotiating in our minds creates that desperately sought after sense of calm. Our guilt, anxieties, shame and internal critics are forever yelling in our minds. So, a part of us starts to drink. It helps to quiet down all of those loud protective layers inside.

Why is it so hard to give up?

You already know that drinking excessively has consequences. But, why is it so hard to give up? If you’ve ever moved towards sobriety or harm reduction, you know this is no small feat. So, let’s take a look at what gets in the way of recovery.

Physical Dependence

So much of the addiction process is physiological. When we drink, the reward centres of our brain become affected. Suddenly, our brain produces an abundance of dopamine (a chemical that makes us feel good and influences our sense of pleasure). Once we get introduced to this experience of high-level dopamine, we start to crave it. By using, our brain is providing us enough dopamine that things feel so much better, calmer, and happier.

When substances are taken away, we feel depleted and depressed. Our brain is not producing the amount of dopamine that we crave. The normal level of dopamine production no longer feels like enough. For many folks, they can work through the triggers and traumas of their addiction, but their brain struggles to find pleasure in normal activities. It’s hard to read a book, talk to a friend, or go for a walk when you continuously feel so flat and apathetic.

Working through Pain Points:

man drinking and postpartum depression. working through trauma and grief to recover from substance use.

When we use substances to cope with our reality, we have to consider what’s happening in our lives that makes us so desperate to escape? Drinking excessively to cope is not anyone’s first solution to fix a problem. Having a baby should not make us so overwhelmed that we’re needing a bottle of whisky every night. So what’s really going on?

When you are no longer drinking, you are left with pain points. Perhaps it is underlying trauma from childhood that keeps coming up. Being around a baby makes you remember all of your toxic and negative experiences as a child. Your pain points may come from unprocessed grief and anxiety. You feel like you ought to be happy with your newborn, but it’s been years of IVF struggles and multiple miscarriages. There’s no way you can let your guard down because what if one more bad thing happens? The part of you that drinks minimizes all of these pain points. Once the substances go, you suddenly have to face your traumas.

Working through pain points means looking at and processing the original trauma. If you continue to be triggered today by situations from the past, that urge to drink will keep coming up in order to protect you.

Russell Brand quote about addiction. Addiction as form of coping. Processing original trauma helps reduce drinking. Working through over-drinking during postpartum months.

Habits

Habit formation can leads us to automatically reach for a glass of wine once the baby goes down for a nap. At the end of the day, we crave those several beers to help feel calm. We don’t even think or question our urge to grab a cigarette or a joint when we start our day. When it comes to these automatic routines, there are ways to change these habits.

4 Tips to Help with Drinking and Postpartum Depression:

1) Address the pain points.

Drinking is not the problem. It’s a means to make the pain stop. Until your postpartum depression, trauma, grief, and other pain points are addressed, that drinking part will want to self-soothe through substances. Healing from these pain points can involve a variety of interventions, including: individual therapy, support from friends and family, psycho-education, group therapy (for those in Kitchener, Stork Secrets provide wonderful care for postpartum depression), or medication.

2) Explore options for self-soothing

For many, accessing the interventions listed above is not possible. If this is your circumstance, you need to find alternative ways to work through difficult emotions. This is where effective coping skills can help. You need quick and reliable ways to slow things down. My favourite recommendation is the DBT temperature change exercise.

3) Find connection

Our shame drives so much of our need to drink. We worry that others will judge us. We assume they’ll reject us or mock us if they knew how much we are struggling. If there are people like this in your life, I’m sorry. These are not the supports you need right now. Find a safe community to talk to about your struggles, such as neighbours, friends, family, partner, colleagues, or a community-based mental health group. Having others who accept you and love you, just as you are, plays a significant role in healing.

4) Get to know your cues and rewards

One of the best tips for changing our habits is understanding our cues and rewards. Pay attention to what triggers you. Are you most likely to use when the baby refuses to go down for a nap? Are you prone to having a bottle of wine starting at supper time? Pay attention to the time, the place, the people and circumstances. Next, notice the rewards that you get when you drink. Are you able to pass out? Can you suddenly tune out the crying and shrieking? Are you able to manage boredom or frustration? Does your anxiety reduce?

understanding cues and rewards for addiction. Changing our habits to help address addictions and postpartum depression.

When it comes to changing habits, we want to make sure that we intervene with a different habit for these cues AND still receive a similar reward. For example, once the baby has done screeching for an hour and finally falls asleep, you may experience an urge to drink. It’s the only way to release all of that pent up anxiety and tension inside of you. In this situation, the cue is the baby shrieking before nap time. The reward is releasing anxiety. We want to bring in an alternative habit that will lead to the same result. You may find that running on your treadmill for ten minutes releases some anxiety. Perhaps playing loud, angry music on your headphones provides you some relief. You could work with a foam roller and target those parts of your body that are carrying the most tension. Pairing these new activities shortly after the baby has gone down for a nap leads to shifting out of the original habit.

Final Thoughts

Addictions is not simple, and one blog post cannot address the complexities of this mental health struggle. If you are struggling with drinking and postpartum depression, please speak with a safe and trusted person or a therapist. This is not a matter of will power. You are worthy of effective support and help.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

7 Tips for Parents Going Back to Work

How are you feeling about going back to work? The past few months have been all about baby, and now you’re suddenly expected to balance work, childcare, and other needs. There’s no way this can go smoothly.

If you’re among the many, returning back to work after maternity leave (or paternity leave) can be a difficult transition. Here are seven tips that can help you along your emotional journey and set you and kiddo up for success.

#1: Change habits ahead of time

changing routines. Transitioning back to work from parental leave. Kasi Shan Therapy offers therapy for trauma and perinatal mental health. Online and in-person appointments in Kitchener, Ontario

Unfortunately, your schedule will look different. You won’t have the same flexibility with your morning routine. Things you may have fobbed off (e.g. getting ready on time, wearing clothes that are not pyjama/sweats, putting baby in clothes) have to be reintroduced into your routine. Changing your habits can be challenging, and it’s best to give yourself some time with these transitions.

Take a look at your routine and consider what you can do to fine-tune your schedule before going back to work:

  • What is getting in the way for you to have a successful day?
    • Are you staying up late at night scrolling on your phone? Do you drink too much caffeine to fall asleep on time?
    • Once these problem areas are identified, create ways to make them harder to repeat. For example, put the coffee machine away after 11 AM, turn off the wifi after 10 PM. It may sound silly, but any barriers that get in the way will make these problem areas less desirable
    • e.g. If the cookie is right in front of you, you’re going to grab it. If you have to grab the kitchen stool and reach to the top shelf on your cabinet to get the same cookie, you may reconsider if it’s worth it.
  • Consider the habits you’d like to introduce into your schedule: Do you need to wake up earlier? Are you intending to pack your lunch the night before? Do you have a regular night out with your friends? How will you get your child to eat breakfast on time? This step may involve some creative problem solving. You may also have to rely on the support of friends, family, or childcare providers to make it work.
  • Work on introducing one new habit at a time. Rather than manage all of these changes from the get-go, give yourself plenty of time to get used to forming these habits.
  • Have reminders to cue you about your new habits. e.g. Place your gym clothes near the foot of the bed so that you have it ready to go when you wake up in the morning.
  • Use rewards to motivate. Behavioural psychology works! If you pair your new changes with a reward, you’re more likely to follow through. E.g. If your child finishes breakfast on time, you will set aside 10 minutes to play or read before heading out the door.

It takes time to get used to things. Going back to work is huge change from your daily routine of the past few months. If you’d like to learn more about creating changes, check out Atomic Habits or The Power of Habit.

#2 Remember that you will still have a strong attachment with your baby

A big fear of returning back to work is about losing the bond you have with your child. If this is you, remember that attachments and relationships are not so delicate that they will break with having a few hours apart.

If you’re in a secure relationship, you may notice this pattern more easily. In all likelihood, you go to work, hang out with others, pursue your own interests, and you come home to this person knowing that the relationship is still strong. The time apart has not shifted your feelings towards this person. It’s the same with your child. Your infant trusts that you will come back. Your infant will have strong relationships with other peers and adults. You will always be a solid person in his/her/their life.

Going back to work from maternity leave. parental leave. Kasi Shan Therapy offers postpartum and prenatal counselling in Kitchener, ON. Online and in person counselling.

Rather than focusing on the amount of time you have with your kids, focus instead on the quality of the time. Engage in play, conversations, snuggles. Make sure that your kids feel seen and heard by you. This doesn’t mean you have to provide 100% of your attention when you’re at home with them! Instead, try and create some time in the mornings, afternoons and evenings for hanging out. Some examples can include: sitting down together for meals, having chats in the car, splashing around during bath time, or having snuggles while reading a story at bedtime. Going back to work does not have to stop you from having these wonderful moments.

If all of this does not convince, you, there have been studies have shown that babies do not suffer when their caregivers return to work following parental leave. Instead, the results show that children learn they are being left in safe and nurturing spaces AND that their parents always come back to them.

#3 Talk to People

Returning back to work from parental leave. It takes a village. Build a community. talk to people. Kasi Shan Therapy offers online and in-person appointments in Kitchener, Ontario.

Every single new parent I’ve talked to has varying degrees of concern and worries about going back to work! It’s an adjustment and it’s perfectly normal to feel cautious towards change.

Managing childcare, work, relationships and your own interests is hard. Rather than sitting with these frustrations alone, please reach out to your community. Let your work know about needing time to pump. Talk to other parents at your workplace to see how they managed. Work with your family members to access emotional and practical support. There’s a reason that the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” exists. Gather your village!

#4 Get to know your childcare provider

Get familiar with your daycare. Ask for a tour. Have a list of questions. I promise you, you are not alone in being anxious. Your daycare provider has answered these questions many, many times.

Talk to daycare providers. Transitioning back to work from parental leave. Nervous about going back. Build a community.

If it’s financially feasible, arrange a few half-days for your child to participate in childcare ahead of time. By having this short time period away, you will both become familiar with the routine of doing drop offs and pick ups. This trial period also provides an opportunity for you to see how your child manages when spending time away. Your childcare provider will be able to provide you some feedback (did they cry for 5 minutes or 15 minutes? Were they able to settle? Did they make friends?). You both get used to this routine ahead of time, which is helpful for when you do officially go back to work.

#5 Create a balance between needs and wants

You may have had all the time, energy and resources to invest in twelve different interests and hobbies prior to having your child. But, it’s hard to keep up at that pace. What can you feel comfortable dropping? What are you willing to be a little less “good” at? Be honest with yourself in what you really want vs. what you really need.

work life balance. going back to work from maternity leave. Support with transitions. Kasi Shan Therapy offers online and in person counselling (Kitchener, Ontario).

Find a balance between work, family life AND you-time. It may feel hard to carve out that space for your own interests, but it’s so important to make time for self-care. Without this time for your own needs and interests, it’s easy to burn out, grow resentful or lose yourself in the process of parenthood.

#6 Acknowledge the feelings

No matter what happens, there are going to be feelings. Some good, and some not so pleasant. Rather than pushing these emotions down, allow yourself some time to reflect on what’s coming up as you go back to work. You may experience rage, guilt, anxiety or overwhelm. If this is the case for you, the solutions may vary. You may ned some time to adjust to the transition. It may be helpful to reach out for support. Or, you may require some specific problem solving to address these emotional needs.

Alternatively, you may experience a sense of calm and peace now that you have some time with other adults. You may feel proud that you and your child are handling the transition as well as can be. If this has been your experience, enjoy it! Everyone adjust to change differently, and this transition may be a smooth experience for you.

#7 Cut yourself some slack

Going back to work after so many weeks or months with your child is a huge transition for you and your baby! Give yourself permission to feel all the feels, make a bunch of mistakes AND learn from your experiences. Trust that you are capable of adjusting, and that it will take time before this becomes second nature. Set up manageable expectations for yourself. You are not always going to crush it every day. Sometimes you will half-heartedly parent. Sometimes you will rely on cartoons to occupy your kiddo while prepping a meal. You are human. You are loving. You are doing your best.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum · Anxiety

Postpartum Anxiety and Feelings of Overwhelm

It may seem that being overwhelmed is just a given. You’re up to your eyeballs in dirty diapers and wet burp clothes. You can’t remember the last time you had more than a few hours of rest. What even is breakfast? You run on a steady stream of coffee and fistfuls of cheerios. When you put this all together, postpartum anxiety (PPA) and feeling overwhelmed seems to be par for the course.

If being overwhelmed or anxious has been your experience for the past few weeks (or months, or years), it is not fair and it’s not okay. It does not have to be like this. Postpartum is not meant to be a painful or miserable time. If you’re struggling with PPA (or similar symptoms), here are some tips to help.

Know the Signs of Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum mental health gets overlooked because so many of its symptoms are normalised. Unfortunately, because having a new baby comes with lots of questions, PPA can get mistaken as “normal” adjustments to parenthood. Someone out there has claimed it is acceptable that you are this tired and irritable and anxious.

Yes, it’s normal to have questions and worries. This is part of being human, and certainly a part of being a new parent. However, it’s not normal to have these worries keep you up at night, cause conflict with your partner, or make you avoid time with the baby. Anxiety is only considered “normal” when it’s within your capacity to address it (a.k.a. your window of tolerance).

Postpartum anxiety is a genuine illness that requires attention and help. Here are the symptoms to look for:

  • Inability to stop worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty with sleep or appetite
  • Difficulty with focus and concentration
  • Inability to rest or relax
  • Feeling on edge
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability or rage
  • Physical cues: tightness, tension, dizziness, nausea, hot flashes

One quick way for you to check about the severity of your postpartum anxiety is through the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale. This is a screening tool that is used to identify postpartum mental health struggles (including PPA). Specifically, any score above 12 on this depression scale indicates a high probability of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

Three quick grounding techniques

If you’re struggling with overwhelming anxiety, you likely want these feelings to calm down ASAP. Here are three quick grounding techniques that can help reduce the panic and overwhelm.

1. Butterfly Hug

The Butterfly Hug is a popular technique used in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to quickly settle your body and mind.

Why it’s helpful:

  • Does not require much thinking: This approach does not need you to think through things calmly. You don’t have to “logic” your way out.
  • Helps your brain process in a unique way: EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to activate both your left and right hemisphere while addressing extreme anxieties, traumatic memories, or distressing events
  • Activates your parasympathetic nervous system (the parts of your brain needed for relaxing)
  • Reduces your cortisol level (a.k.a. your stress hormones)
  • You can use this strategy anywhere. It does not require any “equipment”.
The following video shows the steps of the Butterfly Hug:

2. Temperature Change

The temperature change exercise is a great strategy that comes from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. This approach triggers the mammalian dive reflex. This reflex occurs when we are submerged in ice cold water. In order to survive, our body is forced to slow down our heart rate and oxygen is only sent to key organs that are needed. Everything that is considered “non-essential” is overlooked.

Why it’s helpful:

  • Tricks your brain: Your body cannot go into “survival mode” and panic at the same time. Your heart rate is forced to slow down. Your oxygen level drops, thereby making it hard to panic.
  • Provides about 5-20 minutes of calmer thinking. This gives you some time to problem solve or find alternative coping strategies.
  • You don’t have to “think through” it to feel calmer.
The following video shows the steps of the Temperature Change technique

3. Mindful conversation with another person

Using distractions is really helpful to get through a distressing moment. However, if you cannot find a distracting enough activity, your mind tends to wander back to its original anxious thoughts. Participating in mindful conversation with another person face to face is more effective in helping you stay out of the overwhelm. Rather than focusing on the anxious thoughts, you’re turning your attention to the other person, asking and answering questions, and staying present.

Why it’s helpful?

  • When your postpartum anxiety is highly activated, your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system work overtime. Your body turns to survival strategies like fight, flight, freeze/shut down in order to cope. Social engagement, on the other hand, activates our ventral vagal pathway. This pathway tells our brain that we are in a safe and socially connected space.
  • Focusing on topics outside of your postpartum anxiety helps your system recognize that there are still safe options in your world.
  • Gives you the option to engage with someone else outside of your baby.

Working with your anxiety

So now that you’ve coped more effectively in reducing the anxiety, you may be wondering about your next steps. After all, these earlier coping strategies only resolve things for a short time. They’re not actually fixing the issue, and instead, providing brief respite. This is where the hard work of listening to our anxiety comes into effect. In order for you to gain more clarity, you will need to work with your postpartum anxiety.

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) explains that there is always a positive intention to our worries (even though it rarely feels “positive”). It’s challenging to slow our body and mind down enough to hear what your postpartum anxiety has to say. But, we can break down the steps to better support our mental health.

Step One: Find where your anxiety is in your body.

Daniel Siegel coined the term “name it to tame it”. Basically, when you are able to find the feeling in your body and label it, you can get a bit of space from that feeling. Rather than “being” the emotion, you can observe it. So, call out what and where you are feeling things: “I am feeling scared… There is a ball of anxiety in my chest… my shoulders are feeling tense and stressed.”

Step Two: Stay curious

In this step, you will use a bit of mindfulness to approach your emotions. Now that you’ve noticed the emotion, keep your awareness on this feeling. Be aware of the thoughts, sensations, memories, and whatever else comes to mind as you focus on this feeling.

This step involves staying curious about your anxiety is telling you without judging it, trying to get rid of it, or needing it to change. Your anxiety will start to share more as you stay open to it.

As a word of caution, your anxiety may not share the nicest feedback. It may share beliefs such as: “Get me away from this baby! I can’t do this! What was I thinking? I need this to stop!” Stay aware of these thoughts so long as you are within your window of tolerance.

Step Three: Understand what your anxiety is trying to protect

IFS recognizes that our anxious parts are trying to help out in some way or form. Because they tend to communicate in harsh and overwhelming ways, it’s often difficult to understand what our anxieties are trying to achieve.

As you complete step one and two, you will start to identify what your anxiety is telling you. Then, ask yourself, what would happen if these anxious thoughts stopped? What is your anxiety trying to prevent? For example, if your anxiety is often saying, “Get me away from this baby”, what would happen if this warning was no longer present? You might presume that you’d be calmer. While that’s true, what else would happen? Would you suddenly be considered calm enough that others encourage you to parent independently? Would you spend more time with your newborn and make a mistake? What if your baby keeps screaming and you’re reminded that you’re not cut out for this whole parenting thing?

Sometimes your anxiety gets triggered, and it forces you to escape the circumstances. Your brain says, “This is too much, I can’t cope,” and you turn towards avoidance, drinking, zoning out in front of your phone or some other strategy. I’m not saying that these are effective ways to manage things. In all likelihood, this form of “self-soothing” will create new problems. But, as far as your anxiety is concerned, it is satisfied that it has reduced your distress and gotten you away from the “danger” (e.g. time alone with baby).

Step Four: Befriending

Have you seen “Beauty and the Beast”? The Beast is known for being a lousy character. He’s rude, ill-tempered, and scary. But, we see that meeting the Beast with compassion (mixed with assertive boundaries) helps him shift out into a kinder character. (For those who are cringing reading this example, humour me. It’s an analogy. I’m not trying to condone Stockholm syndrome).

In many ways, your anxiety is like the Beast. It’s loud, frightening and has awful manners. However, what happens when you approach your anxiety with compassion or confidence? Have you ever shown any desire to get to know this part of you? What happens when you acknowledge what your anxiety is actually trying to do? Imagine what it would be like to approach your anxiety by saying: “I get it… I get that you’re really scared of me making a mistake… I know this feels like the only way you can help me.” How would it respond to you?

Becoming kinder to yourself

IFS brings in a different level of self-compassion. We are not only meeting our inner system with kindness, but we’re also identifying what our anxious parts are attempting to achieve. When we treat ourselves in this manner, our anxieties will soften. These steps don’t cure postpartum anxiety. We have to address the actual issue, whether it’s the fear of making mistakes, feeling insecure about parenting, or addressing our own childhood traumas. But, meeting our anxiety in this way will reduce the overwhelm.

Curious to learn more?

Postpartum anxiety is treatable. If you found the above examples helpful in reducing your overwhelm, please let me know. If you have any questions about the above steps, or want to work with your own unique circumstances, reach out.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

Struggling with body image during pregnancy

struggling with body image. weight scale. prenatal appointments and weighing in

The worst part of prenatal visits? Going to your healthcare provider’s office and stepping on that scale at Every. Single. Appointment. As if you need any reminder that your weight is increasing at an alarming rate. You know this. You feel huge. No other pregnant mom looks as big as you do. You shouldn’t have eaten that extra serving. Why won’t these pants fit anymore? … Do any of these thoughts sound familiar? Struggling with body image is a huge frustration during and after pregnancy.

Being pregnant can be incredibly challenging if you’re struggling with body image or disordered eating. Yes, rationally you’re aware that this peanut growing inside of you is taking up a lot of real estate. You’ve read all of the instagram posts about body positivity, and know you “shouldn’t” be feeling this way. But, all of that aside, you still feel lousy when you see your reflection or step on the scale. So what can you do? If you’re struggling with body image, here are some thoughts to consider:

Re-assess “normal weight gain” in pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, your body is truly being taken over. Your metabolism shifts, your energy wanes, stretch marks suddenly appear. It’s natural, and it’s hard. When you’ve spent a long time meticulously taking care of your weight and appearance, these drastic changes to your body feel jarring. Check in with yourself about how you are seeing these changes. Is there shame and personalization involved? Are you feeling at fault for gaining “too much”?

body mass index (BMI) and impact on body image. Addressing BMI during pregnancy. healthy weight gain guidlines

Unfortunately, we have been given guidelines that it’s “normal and healthy” to gain 15-30 pounds during pregnancy. But this number is based on BMI, which research continues to point out is a flawed system for assessing health. Your recommended weight gain varies on so many factors. This number shifts based on whether your BMI was over or under prior to pregnancy. Your weight gain will vary if you are having twins. The number on the scale will look different if you’re struggling with hyperemesis gravidarum or if you’re managing your nausea by eating differently. In reality, only a third of pregnancies stay with the recommended weight gain, while about 50% gain beyond this number.

Speaking for my own body, with my first son I gained 45 pounds during my pregnancy, whereas I gained 20 with my second. I didn’t do anything differently. Bodies changes and babies are different. It isn’t personal. You’re not doing it wrong. That number on the scale doesn’t say anything about you or how well you are doing this pregnancy.

It will not be forever

This is not your forever shape or size. I do not have a crystal ball to confirm you will go back to your pre-baby weight, and I won’t deny that perhaps you’ve gained weight. However, the size you are while pregnant does not stay on forever. Whether it’s 6 weeks postpartum or 6 months postpartum, your body will change after delivery. Remind yourself as many times as needed that it took you 9 months to help your baby develop. Give your body at least 9 months to settle back to what it considers is the “new normal”.

Find safe others

Talking to safe person about body image. Struggling with body image during pregnancy.

It’s easy to feel isolated with our crummy feelings. Body positivity is an amazing trend that our culture is trying to lean into; however, it doesn’t leave much space to acknowledge when we are struggling. When we feel ashamed or alone in our thoughts, it can be debilitating. We become worried that others will judge us, shame us or minimize our feelings. If you have judgmental folks like this in your life, they are not the ones to turn to right now.

Find those who truly appreciate how hard this is for you. They know that you want to be healthy AND they respect that body image is something you’re struggling with today. This person doesn’t need to know how to fix the situation. Instead, they just need to let you know that you’re heard, you’re loved, and you will always be safe with them irrespective of how your body looks.

Use movement

using movement to help address prenatal weight anxiety. walking to help with pregnancy and body image

During pregnancy, find ways to move whenever possible. Let go of the standards that you used to meet whether it was a certain distance, speed, repetitions, or weight level. Focus instead on what movements means to you. For me, movement provides me opportunities to let go of stress, it helps my body feel strong, and it helps me feel energized. Once I stopped trying to meet my old standards, it felt easier to accept that this is what exercise could do for me today.

Our Society and Thin Privilege

I won’t deny that being thin and beautiful doesn’t have privileges (read more about thin privilege). Thin privilege allows for your weight to not define you and how you move through your environment and world. There is an awful amount of discrimination with fat phobia. People living in a larger body have been overlooked, groaned at, or mocked because of their weight. In these situations, being thin means they will finally receive respect and courtesy from other people. Being thin means the ability to walk into a store and actually be able to buy clothes. If you’ve been subjected to others’ fat phobia, you may have coped by maintaining a certain weight. Pregnancy has thrown this weight plan out the window.

If being pregnant or weight gain puts you into a space of losing your self-respect or self-worth, that’s not okay. It’s not okay for society to put you in this position or for you to suffer simply because of the way your body naturally flows. So how do we learn to externalize this? How do we shift from assuming there is something wrong with us to there is something biased and unfair about the culture we live in?

Tips for boosting body image:

tips for improving body image. shifting the way we think about our bodies. diet culture. comparing.
  • Diversify what you see: Follow influencers of all shapes and sizes. Follow those who look like you and don’t look like you.
  • Stop the comparison game: Envy is a tough emotion to contend with, and it leaves us feeling lacking. Start by checking the facts: do you know for sure that this person truly has more than you? Do these factors make them better or happier than you?
  • Highlight your own positive attributes: Notice what is awesome about you, and spend time acknowledging these positive traits. e.g. expressing pride in your career or grades, appreciating the health of your relationships
  • Become critical of toxic diet culture: We all know it’s out there. Start by challenging these constantly shifting body ideals. Unfollow or speak up about the companies and individuals that make you feel bad about your body.
  • Focus on what your body is doing for you: What are your thighs, arms, and belly meant to do? What are their functions? Focusing on their role as a function vs.

What are you avoiding by focusing on body image and food?

Sometimes body image acts as a (horrible, awful, exasperating) scapegoat for our actual struggles. By focusing on that number on the scale, you may find that you can avoid addressing other things. You spend hours staring at the fridge, planning meals, going to the gym, organizing your closet with “comfy” clothes, that you don’t have time to deal with the real stuff.

We all cope in different ways. Previously, you may have turned to a glass of wine, a cigarette, or going out dancing to get rid of all your stress. Now that you’re pregnant, these coping mechanisms aren’t as available. Food, on the other hand, is always there and doesn’t take as much effort. It soothes our stressors and pains. But, using food as a coping mechanism offers a temporary solution. It doesn’t allow us to address the actual cause of stress and turmoil in your life.

So ask yourself, if you didn’t spend all this time on body image and food, what would you be left with? Would you suddenly have to address your loneliness? Are you more aware of your anxieties about work, the state of your finances, or your struggling relationships? If we looked at negative body image as a coping mechanism (again, not vouching that it’s a nice or effective one), we realize it’s trying to prevent you from dealing with a deeper vulnerability.

Addressing the original trauma: When did this struggle with body image start?

body image and teenager. Struggling with body image in pregnancy. trauma from childhood

Body image rarely shows up in pregnancy without some form of history. Consider when else in your life have you struggled with this issue. Have you been painfully aware of your appearance since adolescence? Have you managed to shove aside any struggles with your appearance by exercising and maintaining a “healthy” diet? When did you make the connection between your appearance and your self-worth? How was this message taught to you?

When it comes to body image struggles, pregnancy makes things worse. However, it’s not the culprit. After your little one is born, things may feel manageable with dieting and exercise, but it’s a fragile set up. Anytime that weight starts to increase, that same panic may come back.

If this has been your experience, then it’s important to recognize that there is some earlier trauma to be addressed. Your body image struggles could have slowly formed while participating in gym class, listening to your mom comment about her (or your) weight, looking at skinny actresses and models, or a myriad of events. These moments stayed with you. That vulnerable part of you still worries about your appearance, fitting in, or whether you will be considered “worthy.” This is where therapy can be helpful in processing these earlier emotional burdens.

Reach out

If you or a loved one is struggling with body image during pregnancy, reach out. Therapy is a safe space to voice your concerns and work through these difficulties. Schedule a free consult call to see if we would be a good fit.

Take care,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Mental Health

How to overcome shame

Your system holds a lot of shame. There is shame about who you are as a person. You feel that you do not belong and are unloveable. You have been rejected by others. There’s no way you’ll put yourself out there again. You carry shame about earlier decisions. Because you acted this way, you feel raw and exposed. There is a constant sense of dread that reminds you, “Never again will I make that mistake.” You hold a lot of shame about failures. You’ve messed up, said the wrong thing, wrote the wrong answer. Your stomach goes in knots just thinking about it. You feel ashamed about inaction. It repeats incessantly that you should have done something, acted differently, or reacted faster. You feel ashamed about who you are as a parent. You keep thinking your kids would do better with someone else. When all of this is hurtling towards you, how do you overcome shame?

Dealing with Shame

Overcoming shame. Why it is so hard to deal with shame.

It’s hard to acknowledge our shame. We worry that others will judge and reject us for our deepest insecurities, so we don’t speak up. Because shame is so uncomfortable, we tend to push it away. We avoid addressing it, only to have it repeatedly show up. We feel awful, alone, and hopeless in this pattern.

Thanks to Brené Brown, most of us have are familiar with the benefits of addressing shame and vulnerability. In theory, we know one of the best ways out of shame is to be nice to ourselves and accept that we are imperfect human beings. Dealing with shame involves validation, self-compassion and seeking connection with others. That’s the simpler answer. The more complicated answer involves addressing all of the parts of us that block this work. To overcome shame, we have to deal with many other internal layers (e.g. our inner critics, our avoidant parts, our self-hatred, our panic, and other struggling emotions).

Getting to know our parts:

Internal Family Systems therapy recognizes that our mind is compartmentalized into protective categories or “parts”. There are three different parts inside of us: Managers, Firefighters and Exiles. In order to overcome shame, we need to understand how these parts play a unique role in improving and delaying our healing.

Exiles

Overcoming shame. How our early experiences create exiled parts. Internal Family Systems therapy. IFS and shame

During traumatic and painful events, our minds suffer. We struggle to get through these horrible events. As time goes on, we start to carry negative beliefs about ourselves based on what we experienced. We suddenly feel we are insignificant, weak, unattractive, incompetent and don’t belong. These wounded parts of our personality are what IFS refers to as “exiles.” Exiles absorb the impact of traumatic and difficult events. Exiled parts carry our vulnerable emotions and beliefs. They learn to feel ashamed of themselves, that there is something fundamentally bad and flawed about them. Shame is not an innate feeling. We are not born feeling ashamed of ourselves. It is something we’ve learned based on our environment and experiences.

Sitting with our shameful exiles can feel unbearable, so we form some protection. We do whatever we can to prevent these parts from becoming triggered. We do whatever we can to shut them down quickly if they are triggered.

Managers

Manager parts. IFS and how to overcome shame. Internal family systems therapy. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling support in Kitchener, ON

“Managers” are the first layer of protection. These parts help us stay safe by doing whatever is possible to stop our exiled parts from getting triggered. For example, if your exiles believe that you are unattractive, your manager parts may pester you to work out daily or wear makeup. If your exiles cannot trust your own judgement, then you may have manager parts that constantly seek reassurance from others. Worried about being stupid? Your manager parts prevent you from every trying or moving up the career path so your intelligence will never be assessed.

Manager parts focus on preventing us from feeling hurt, wounded, ashamed, or any other exiled emotion. They do this by pushing us, criticizing us, reminding us to keep going, doing more and never becoming vulnerable again.

Firefighters

firefighter parts.IFS and overcoming shame. protective layers to deal with shame

The second layer of protection is referred to as “firefighters.” When our exiled parts are freaking out inside, our firefighters know it’s important to contain that flame. So they react. They work on quick fixes to settle the fire down. They use distractions and various forms of self-soothing when our system gets triggered. For example: someone calls you unattractive, your firefighters seek comfort in a nice bottle or three of wine. You realize you made a mistake at work, your firefighter parts draw attention away by yelling at other colleagues. Your exiled part is triggered for overeating, your firefighters compensate by purging and over-exercise. Firefighter parts are aware that the pain has come up, and they focus on getting rid of that pain as quickly as possible through any means possible.

Shame Starts Young

When we are young, we long to be loved and accepted. We want to belong and feel significant. When our parents meet these needs, we’ve struck gold. Our system can relax when we make mistakes. We don’t personalize it, and we move on fairly quickly.

For those of us who have not “struck gold”, our system gets hijacked following a mistake. We fear reproach, criticism, disappointment, anger, or any form of negative feedback from our caregivers. As kids, we don’t have a whole lot of resources, so we internalize these messages. We start to believe that there is something wrong with us: We are a screw up, we are incompetent, we do not deserve good things. This moment creates our exiled parts.

How our parts become intertwined in the shame pattern

exiled parts. Internal Family systems therapy and overcoming shame. IFS

Despite knowing that we will continue to be hurt and rejected, we can’t help but reach out to our caregivers. What other choice do we have at a young age? Our exiled parts are always looking for a better ending. They want redemption. They want our parents to somehow stop their patterns of anger and criticism, and instead, turn to us with love and warmth.

Our manager parts are also paying attention to these attempts. Our managers learn what is and is not effective in keeping your exiled parts from getting in trouble and feeling ashamed. They are aware of what pisses off your parents, and triggers your exiles to feel ashamed once again. For example, if you know that being slim and attractive gets your mom’s approval, your managers will continue to berate you to go to the gym and start another diet. Ironically, these managers shame us for making the wrong choices in order to get us to learn. You don’t need your mom to continue to shame you, your manager parts will repeat her words for you.

endless cycle between manager and firefighter parts. IFS and handling shame.

Unfortunately, our exiled parts keep trying. Your mother may present as biting and cold, but this doesn’t stop your exiled part. You continue to invite her to outings, provide thoughtful mother’s day gifts and call every Sunday. When you are hurt and rejected by her lack of interest, your firefighters come in trying to extinguish the pain. They encourage you to drink, hook up with a random person, lash out at your partner, or any other means in hopes of releasing this shame. And, once again, our managers (e.g. that harsh inner critic) attack for making poor decisions.

Working with our protective parts to overcome shame

ogres, onions and protective layers. Dealing with shame metaphor

Forgive me for using a Shrek reference here. IFS reminds me of Shrek’s comments that ogres are like onions: we all have layers. There are layers and layers of protection we use to keep our exiled parts safe. We can’t deal with shame if we do not address the managers and firefighters that maintain our shame cycle. As Donkey wisely reminds Shrek: “”You’re so wrapped up in layers, onion boy, you’re afraid of your own feelings!” We get so caught in protecting ourselves, we get scared to actually help our exiled parts.

To overcome shame, we have to first work with our protective parts. It’s hard to show love and self-compassion if a harsh critical voice keeps dismissing your kindness. You may have difficulty forgiving yourself if a firefighter part continues to binge drink. Shame rarely works alone; it always come with protection. So to overcome shame, we have to work with your entire system. We have to gain trust and permission from these protective parts to give you some space so that you can work with your exiles.

Internal Family Systems Therapy and your shame

In therapy, I focus on creating a safe space for your entire system to show up. This includes all the parts of you that are eager to get started, as well as the parts of you that dread working on these issues. This is normal. When we have experienced shame or been shamed by others, our system launches into a protective stance. It’s braced for rejection and judgement, even in the context of a safe therapy setting. It’s important to take the time to build that therapeutic trust before launching in to your most vulnerable concerns.

Shame deserves self-compassion, belonging and validation. Healing comes from witnessing these painful moments, learning to see the safety in today, and trust in your own capacity to handle things differently. The resources you had back then are not what you have available today. Your exiles and protective layers aren’t always aware of that. They often see you still stuck in that place of trauma, and react accordingly.

Reach out

If you are struggling with shame, and would like to work with your internal system, reach out. Schedule a free consult to see if this is a good fit for you.

All the best,

Kasi


Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

Shame and the postpartum experience

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

One of the biggest aversions to attending postpartum therapy is shame. You feel ashamed that your emotions are messy. This isn’t like you. Normally, you’re calm and cool. But, suddenly your hormones are all over the place, your hair is a mess and you can’t remember the last time you showered. There hasn’t been a single day where you haven’t burst into tears or rage.

You feel ashamed about your relationships. It feels like a huge risk to acknowledge how you truly act around your family. What would the other person say if you admit you don’t really like your baby? What if you told them you sometimes screamed at your children? Are they going to judge you if you tell them you’ve stopped breastfeeding? Would you get mocked for admitting you haven’t had sex in months? What if you revealed that you suddenly can’t stand your spouse? How will the other person react?

It’s incredibly vulnerable to open up to a stranger, especially if you worry how he or she will respond. So rather than talk, you stay silent. Shame feels awful, but it protects you. It keeps you safe from being judged. But it also means you are stuck with all these difficult thoughts and feelings bubbling inside.

The shame of mental health

Despite all of the social media posts, campaigns, and recognition about mental health today, there is still a stigma in admitting we are struggling with mental illness. You may worry about what it means to be attending therapy or starting medication. Does it make you incompetent? Are you still able to say you are a good parent if you also admit you are mentally unwell? How do you cope with your family members telling you to “suck it up” or “get it together?” All of these shameful questions and thoughts prevent you from admitting that you need help.

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are genuine illnesses. During pregnancy and postpartum months, an individual could live with anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, or PTSD. The chance of experiencing any one of these illnesses is not uncommon (e.g. approximately 1 in 4 Canadian mothers reported experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety).

As with any illness, you deserve appropriate treatment and care. It is not a matter of will power. We cannot wish it away. My favourite recommendation is to consider how you’d talk to a friend in a similar position. Chances are you would be more compassionate and open-hearted. For example, following a surgery, you would encourage said friend to attend medical appointments, take prescribed medications, and follow their health team’s recommendations. In the same way, would you be able to give yourself the permission to seek the treatment and attention that your mental health needs?

What if the therapist judges me?

Every therapist claims they are nice and nonjudgmental. That doesn’t mean you truly believe it. For those cautious and skeptical parts of you, I want you to know, that’s okay. It’s absolutely okay to have your guard up. Starting therapy feels awkward. As with every relationship, it takes time to build trust.

Take the time to share slowly, if that is what your system needs. Watch how your therapist responds to your words and concerns. You will notice that you either feel more settled and at peace, or if your shame increases. Trust this internal feedback. If you are comfortable, let your therapists know you feel this way, and see how they respond to your words.

Will I get in trouble?

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

One of the biggest fears that pushes clients away from voicing their experiences is the fear of how others will react. In prenatal and postpartum therapy, I see many clients hesitate to talk about how they truly are with their children and relationships. Not only are they managing their internal shame, but they are weary of judgement and negative consequences. Clients are often fearful because they fear the truth will lead to the therapist ending the relationship, calling the Children’s Aid Society or disliking the person. So let’s address these fears:

1) If I am truthful, my therapist will end the relationship:

In most cases, therapists will only end the relationship if they are outside of their clinical scope or the treatment goals have been met. If you have met your treatment goals, that’s wonderful! Celebrate all of your hard work. You don’t necessarily have to end your relationship with your therapist, but you can talk about tapering off sessions or increasing the time in between appointments. If it’s loneliness that drives you to stay, your therapist will support you in exploring how to improve outside relationships. It is not okay that the therapy room is the only space where you are heard, validated and supported.

If your counselling goals are beyond your therapist’s knowledge and skills, they will admit this to you. It isn’t personal. Consider your experiences with other specialists. You may really love your hairdresser, but this is not the person who can necessarily answer your medical concerns. You connect with the clinician who is best able to meet each of your needs. If you keep asking your hairdresser for advice on all things medical, neither of you will leave satisfied or confident that your goals can be achieved.

2) What if they call the Children’s Aid Society (CAS)?

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

This is a common myth that prevents parents from reaching out for postpartum therapy. Postpartum depression often shows up as rage, anger, outbursts and distress. I see many parents who are frustrated with themselves and with others, but are too scared to ask for help in fear of being reported. Postpartum depression deserves respect, compassion and appropriate support. The only reason to reach out to CAS is if there is a genuine concern about a child’s physical or emotional safety. If there is a worry about abuse or neglect, your therapist will ask you directly. However, yelling at your child does not mean an automatic phone call for outside authorities. Having negative or intrusive thoughts does not mean we are automatically contacting outside authorities.

3) What if my therapist dislikes me?

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

I can’t speak for other therapists, but I can speak for myself about this worry. The beauty of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is that IFS therapists are always looking for positive intentions. This means, irrespective of the behaviour, words, or emotion (anger, infidelity, jealousy, disgust, etc), your IFS therapist is always trying to understand how there are parts of you trying to get you through a difficult moment. It’s not about assessing whether the outcome is successful or whether the efforts are worth it. It’s about understanding the actual intention.

IFS therapists go to their own therapy. It’s how we do the work we do. If I feel triggered in a session, that’s an indicator that there is some part inside of me needing support and attention. It has nothing to do with you; it has to do with my own history and experiences. That part, similar to yours, will need support and processing. I take it to my own session or my supervisor. IFS therapists’ intentions are always to keep our parts out of the session, because in therapy, it really is about the client. It’s not about my agenda or my needs; it’s about yours.

The shame of not meeting our own expectations:

You had lots of hopes and dreams of how your pregnancy or postpartum months would turn out. Chances are you did not wish for mental illness.

Many of us struggle when our expectations are not met. We feel a sense of shame and inadequacy in falling short. You may have hoped to be a Pinterest-parent, and realized you have zero interest in arts and crafts. Perhaps you thought you’d enjoy spending days with the baby, and found you were bored out of your mind by week 4. Maybe you thought you’d ace the whole sleep training thing, only to be struggling 15 months later with a toddler who refuses to go to bed. Somehow these results create a sense of failure that we equate into our self worth.

For any parent who struggles with this sense of “inadequacy”, please know that you are not alone. We all have moments where we worry about being good enough parents. Remember that you have so many years ahead of you to figure this out. We often label ourselves as success or failures, but we fail to pay attention to all the efforts and practice we need to improve our skills. We will screw up many times, and we will learn constantly. In this way, there is always space for us to grow.

goals, high expectations. shame and parenting

It isn’t fair to assume we’ll be great at parenting from day one. Think about how it was like when you first learned to drive. In the start, you were in the “conscious incompetent” stage where are very aware that you have no idea what you are doing. However, with time, you get to a place where you can automatically drive your car. Unfortunately, when we are at this place of “unconscious competence” (a.k.a. “I don’t have to think about it, I can do it in my sleep”), we forget how much we initially struggled. We forget the intensity and shame of not doing well.

Make it safe

We can all play a role in reducing the shame of mental illness and perinatal mental health. Talk about your experiences openly with safe others. Offer validation and compassion to those who are in this phase of life. Reach out to a therapist that you can trust. We can work to shift away from judgment, and instead, appreciate that we are all doing our very best.

Warmly,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Trauma

Starting trauma therapy? Tips to support those initial fears

It’s normal to feel a bit nervous when you’re connecting with a new therapist especially when you’re starting trauma therapy. This is the person you intend to tell your vulnerable history, and pray that they know what to do with all that information. The idea of opening up to share your lowest times can be an aversive factor in starting the work. I hope the following tips will provide you comfort and guidance as you consider starting trauma therapy.

Acknowledge the hesitation

starting trauma therapy. nervous. anxiety

There are parts of you that are cautious of opening up. Why wouldn’t they be? If you are nervous, there is a reason for this caution. So take a moment and pay attention to the thoughts and feelings showing up right now. What are those cautious parts of you needing in order to feel safe? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is your anxiety asking you to go slowly?
  • Are these cautious parts of you concerned about becoming overwhelmed?
  • Are these parts worried how your therapist will react once you share your experiences? Have you been shamed by others in the past about this experience?
  • Does your system need time to feel safe and build a relationship before it feels willing to open the door to the past?
  • Are your anxieties worried about what they will find out if you start this process?

Everyone has reasons for hesitating, and it’s important to make space and create safety for those fears. When it comes to trauma therapy, sometimes going slow IS moving fast. Parts of you may be frustrated that you’re working at a glacial speed; however, taking the time to process slowly may be the safest option. There are safe ways to process traumatic memories without reliving or re-experiencing the events. The point of therapy is not to trigger you. Therapy should not make you reenact horrible events that you have already survived. It’s more about dual awareness: your system will slowly learn to talk about these events knowing that you are safe in the present moment.

You get to lead

This may sound obvious, so humor me as I clarify this point. Most folks come into therapy with the goal of “feeling better”. However, there are parts of their life that are an open book to review and many topics that are completely forbidden. This is fine! However, let your therapist know these boundaries. You may have experienced an eating disorder as a child. Perhaps you survived a sexual assault. You may be grieving the loss of a parent. Despite knowing this history, you may not want to open the door to these topics. Your therapist should be respectful of this boundary. At the end of the day, you are the boss in therapy. This is your life, and this is your wellbeing. You get to decide what feels most important to address. There will be times as you start trauma therapy when you realize these old wounds keep coming back. When this happens, your therapist will be honest with you and point out the value in addressing these topics. However, you are ultimately in charge of deciding whether this issue is worth exploring.

Your feedback matters

You can let your therapist know when something is not working. This may feel very unsettling, but protecting your therapist’s feelings provides only short-term relief. It doesn’t actually help you in your recovery. That isn’t fair to you, and your therapist may not be aware that you are going through this internal battle.

You can ask questions, clarify where treatment is going. When it comes to starting trauma therapy, many folks are not clear on how therapy works, or what a session will look like. You are welcome to ask at any point in time about your questions. Whether it’s been a few weeks, or a few years, it’s fine to clarify! Therapy is meant to be a safe space to build a relationship. It should feel safe to ask questions or voice uncertainties.

Therapy takes time

This may seem obvious, but it’s an important factor to consider with starting trauma therapy. You may have seen TV shows where a sassy, brilliant therapist says some profound statement and the client walks away completely changed. This isn’t really the case in real life. Sure, you may learn more about yourself at each session. You may also have a deeper patience and openness to those difficult parts of you. Therapy is about having a better relationship with yourself. Having insight into your internal system is helpful and can absolutely make you look at the world differently. Understanding what all of your “problematic symptoms” are trying to do can help you shift to appreciating these parts of your personality. However, as with every relationship, it takes time. It takes time to build this understanding about yourself. It takes time to start to trust yourself.

Therapy is not forever.

Sure, therapy can sometimes take a few years to work through old wounds and feel regulated. You may continue more for the sake of check ins and maintenance work. But, this does not have to be a permanent arrangement. You are at the lead of deciding when your goals feel complete. The beauty of working in private practice is that clients can reach out when they want to work on something, and can leave when they feel this has been adequately addressed. If you hesitate to start trauma therapy because you fear you will be ongoing, please know that this is not the case. Your therapist is forever working him or herself out of a job. That’s the point of our roles. We support you in creating internal leadership so that your emotions can show up, express themselves, and feel safely supported by you.

Don’t settle

Just because you start with one therapist does not mean you are stuck with him/her forever. Research shows that the relationship matters. The quality of the relationship you have with your therapist is a solid predictor of how treatment outcome (irrespective of the type of therapy that is offered). What does this mean for those who are hesitant to start therapy? Ask yourself if you feel truly comfortable with the therapist. Is your clinician hearing you and understanding your needs? Do you feel judged? While you may not enjoy vulnerability, does it feel safe to be vulnerable in front of your therapist? Is there compassion? Your therapist should have a positive regard for you. If not, this isn’t the right fit.

Reach out

 If you have any questions about the above details, reach out for a free consult. Starting trauma therapy could finally provide that relief you’ve been searching for.

Take care,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Uncategorized

Little Known Ways to Surviving The Newborn Stage

If you are in your first few days of parenting, congratulations! Welcome to the club! 🙂 The newborn stage is exciting and petrifying. If you are a first time parent, you may be tested in ways that you’ve never dealt with previously. I hope the following tips will help you during these early days.

The 5 S’s.

A fussy baby is one of the hardest part of the newborn stage. It’s not like they can communicate through words, and chances are you’re starting to feel frustrated when you can’t figure out how to settle your little one. If you have heard of Harvey Karp and the Happiest Baby on the Block, this tip will seem familiar for you. Dr. Karp encourages a method that helps calm a fussy baby very quickly, which he refers to as the Five S’s:

Step 1. Swaddle:

Yes, it may seem that your baby hates being swaddled. Your baby may kick up a storm or try and escape those tight confines. However, the swaddle resembles the safe and snug cocoon of the womb, which will feel comforting and familiar. Keeping your little one swaddled also prevents him from accidentally waking himself up due to the Moro reflex. Rather than give up right at this stage, get your baby swaddled and move forward to the next step. (TIP: Using swaddles with a velcro attachment will make life much easier because it reduces the likelihood of babies wriggling out).

Step 2. Side/Stomach position:

When babies are lying on their back, it often feels like they are falling. They are likely to display the Moro reflex when this occurs. While sleeping on their back is necessary, holding them on their side or stomach is a fast way to help soothe a fussy baby.

Another influencing factor is that your little one is watching you trying to comfort her. Although you are using a soft and soothing approach, you may end up stimulating her by maintaining eye contact. The next time you are trying to settle your little one, try holding her in this hold, and see how she responds.

Step 3. Shushing:

Your current strategy may involve ensuring the house is completely silent when it’s time for baby’s nap. After all, having a quiet and dark environment is the ideal way for you to go to sleep. Ironically, a silent environment is not as helpful for babies. When babies are in the womb, things are loud. They can hear all sorts of noises coming from inside of you (e.g. blood flow) and from your external environments (e.g. conversations). Rather than keeping a quiet space, it’s best to include white noise to mimic these familiar rumbling and indistinct sounds. Try setting up a white noise machine (or using a free app on your phone) to help introduce some sound to their sleep environment.

Step 4. Swing

The fourth step: Swing

While gentle rocking or swinging motion will be helpful, what is most effective in calming a fussy baby is using a bobblehead-type movement. The womb is not a smooth, gentle place. Instead, it’s quite jiggly. Take a look at the following video to demonstrate how to create the right swinging movement.

Step 5. Suck/Soother

The soother is either your best friend or your nemesis at this point in time. Many parents find that their baby takes the soother right away and it is a fast way to stop the tears. There is an equal number of parents who have bought 14 different soothers and feel frustrated that their baby continues to gag or spit them out. I find this video really helpful for introducing a pacifier.

Seeing it all in action

The following video shows Harvey Karp incorporating all of these tips together. Again, the newborn stage involves a lot of tears. Putting the 5 S’s together is a fast and effective option to help your little one settle.

The 5 S’s in action

Beware of the Google Trap

google trap. anxious parents. Surviving the newborn stage.

It’s easy to keep researching things. If you are anything like me during my first postpartum experience, you will have diagnosed your baby with 20 medical issues (none of which were actually the case). This is super common, and everyone is aware of the vulnerability of searching on WebMD when anxieties are high. Rather than getting into this spiral, reach out to your health care team (e.g. lactation consultant, family doctor, nurses, social workers). You may worry about “bothering” your health team, but I promise you, they are used to parents reaching out. It is common to have questions , especially if this is your first baby. Whether you are struggling with breastfeeding, worried about baby’s health, questioning your relationship, you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself.

Stay Connected

Whether it’s an online forum or with your fellow friends and neighbours, it’s important to have others to talk to. Getting through the newborn stage is tough. There are a lot of questions and anxieties as the baby does new things (or doesn’t do new things). Please know that with every worry you have had, another parent has dealt with the same fear. Anxiety is normal.

Online communities (e.g. What to Expect) are especially helpful for addressing fears that occur in the middle of the night. There is almost always someone available to support you irrespective of the time of day. Speak to your friends, family, and partner. Sometimes our anxieties can escalate. In these moments, it’s helpful to talk them through with a grounded and non-judgemental person.

Get some sleep

In the beginning, when you are on a two-hour feeding cycle, it may seem that sleep is impossible. The idea of sleeping when baby sleeps feels like a joke. This baby never rests unless being held. Whatever the circumstances are with your baby’s sleep patterns (or lack thereof), you still need some rest. I encourage all parents to find opportunities for shift sleeping. Decide among yourselves who is a night owl and who prefers early mornings. Have a bottle ready and let your partner be in charge for those hours. Ideally, you are trying to get a 4-hour chunk of sleep so that you have the opportunity to enter REM sleep. Remind yourself that this is not permanent. While, it’s hard and challenging, your little one will eventually sleep through the night.

Know when your baby is in Active Sleep

I remember that I used to rush in whenever my kids made the slightest noise during the night. I’d assume they were awake, needing another feed, and that I would have to help them settle in some way or form. Unfortunately, my attempts to intervene only frustrated them. This is because I was actually interrupting their active sleep.

Active sleep is noisy! It involves grunting, squirming and even crying. Of course, in my sleep deprived and anxious state as a first time parent, I would see these cues and rush over to “soothe” my eldest, not knowing he was still resting. This tip involves identifying active sleep, and learning to stay out of the way when baby is resting. This video is a great resource to help you identify active sleep:

Attachment can take time

Some parents feel enamoured with their baby from day one. However, many parents do not feel this way. Building an attachment with your baby can take time. It is perfectly normal to feel scared, overwhelmed, confused, nervous or a variety of other emotions when you first meet your child. The newborn stage is meant to be a time where you develop a relationship. You get to know your child, and like any other relationships, you build trust and communication.

Will this tiny person ever stop crying?

There is a hormonal surge that kicks into full gear as soon as we hear the baby cry. You may be among the few who dash from one end of the house, leaping through obstacles in order to stop the tears ASAP. Alternatively, you may feel a rush of anger coursing through your body when you hear your baby wailing. Both responses are common. Our lovely friend, oxytocin has turned things up a notch making parents incredibly sensitive to a newborn crying.

When you hear someone in distress, it triggers you to respond. You will reach for your baby and start to sing, rock, or nurse. You will use any old tricks to help her calm down. However, if you have found this experience tiring or unsuccessful, those tears can make you feel plagued by helplessness and anger.

What to do if you feel anxious or angry about your baby’s tears:

  • Pause for 15 seconds. Yes, your natural instinct is to rush and rescue, but give yourself a moment to regulate. Give your baby a chance to settle.
  • Remind yourself it’s not personal. Your baby is not mad at you. You are not a bad parent. Babies cry. All. The. Time. It’s their only way of communicating. Sure, it makes your blood pressure skyrocket, but it’s the only way they can let you know something is up. Trying to decipher those tears will take time and practice, but you and your baby are doing your very best in figuring it out.
  • Write a plan for yourself. When your baby is fussy, what will you do? Perhaps you will follow the 5 S’s listed above. You may choose to sit in a rocking chair. You might whip out a bottle to nurse him back to calmness. Whatever option you decide, it’s helpful for you to feel confident and aware of your next step.
  • Ask to switch out. If you’ve already been taking care of a fussy infant all day, you may feel at your wit’s end. Tap out. Have your partner, friend, family member take over for an hour. Try and get out of the house during this time if you’re fighting the urge to run in and fix, correct, or offer suggestions. Take this time for self-care.
  • Shower yourself with positive affirmations. Ideally you’re saying these positive thoughts to yourself. However, if that is too hard, have a loved one reassure you. Get your daily reminder that you are doing your best. These difficult moments do not make you a bad parent.

Reach out

Postpartum anxiety and depression are common and difficult struggles. They go beyond the stressors of the newborn stage. You may find that you are constantly irritable, overwhelmed, unable to sleep, feeling miserable, or disinterested. If you are struggling, please do not stay silent. Your moods can get better. Reach out to find out more.

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.