Mental Health

Overcoming 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 overcoming 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.

Mental Health

The fear of abandonment: Why am I trying so hard?

Does the fear of abandonment push you to act in undesirable ways? How often do you jump through hoops to suit another person? Do you feel a constant pressure to do more and be more so that others are not upset with you?

To cope with these fears, you may have learned to keep your guard up. Rather than acknowledge your humanness, you may try and hide inabilities or flaws. By demonstrating only these “acceptable behaviours”, you have managed to stay safe. This way, others will not walk away, be upset or disappointed with you.

Sound familiar?

The need for connection

I hope the above words do not cause shame or embarrassment. I am writing them to emphasize the commonality of this experience. Many of us fear being alone. This is normal. In its own complicated way, the fear of abandonment is meant to be helpful. To be human is to want connection. From an evolutionary standpoint, those who had community, had more resources and support.

“We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.

Dalai Lama

Understanding the roots of our fear:

The fear of abandonment does not come out of nowhere. It is a learned survival mechanism that comes after experiencing some form of hardship. I want you to consider how your own history. How did your experiences influence having this fear? The following questions can help you explore further:

  • Grief and Loss: Have you lost an important person in your life growing up? Did this experience cause you to worry about others leaving you?
  • Learned messages from parents: What were the rules growing up? What did your parents require of you? What behaviours did they praise and what did they reprimand? How did your parents respond to your successes versus failures? Did your parents’ love feel unconditional?
  • Learned messages from culture and society: What was idealized in the media? What were the rules that your parents followed, and then, asked as of you? If you witnessed others rebel outside of these standards, how were they treated?
  • Friendships: What messages did you pick up from your friends about fitting in? What caused fights? Did you experience rejection from peer groups? How did this come about? What did you do to “repair” the relationships?
  • Romantic relationships: How did your romantic partners treat you? What did your partner expect in a relationship? How did you handle things when the relationship ended? What happened when you set boundaries? Were your words respected or were they questioned?

Managing the fear of abandonment:

If you’ve ever struggled with the above scenarios, chances are that your system learned to protect itself with some careful strategies. There are two common protective patterns that show up to manage this fear of abandonment. The first strategy is to work incredibly hard to meet the expectations of others. These folks tend to:

  • Predict what will make others happy
  • Be hyper-alert about verbal and non-verbal cues (tone of voice, facial expressions, comments, etc)
  • Feel triggered by negative feedback because they fear it means others no longer like you.
  • Focus on people-pleasing tendencies to maintain peace
  • Say “yes” often (despite it feeling uncomfortable with their boundaries)

The second protective pattern that arises is the urge to stop trying all together. After all, if something scares you, why put yourself in that situation? These folks often appear dismissive. They may spend a lot of time alone. They prefer not to rely on others, or avoid getting close to someone. They fear that these actions will put them in a vulnerable place where they get attached to another person, and this person could have the power to hurt them.

What do I do?

fear of abandonment. Fear of being alone. How to address.

Working hard to meet others’ expectations is a form of coping. You don’t have to face the fear of abandonment so long as you follow these expectations. Staying isolated or avoiding any close relationship is a form of coping. You will not deal with rejection so long as you never get to a place of vulnerability.
At the end of the day, coping strategies are meant for short-term relief. They address the anxiety in that moment, but they do actually fix the core issue. Unfortunately, the fear is still there. So what else can you do? The following options can lead you to more long-lasting relief:

1. Seeking therapy to address the underlying wound.

If you have survived hardships like the loss of a parent, bullying, or abusive relationships, these are not small issues. Your system has experienced rejection and loneliness. It learned to cope in the safest way it knew at the time. Trauma approaches like EMDR and Internal Family Systems Therapy are wonderful strategies to help address the root causes for the fear of abandonment. Your system can feel less fearful once these underlying wounds have been healed.

2. Assess if your relationships are healthy.

This is obviously easier said than done. There is a lot of grief and stress in acknowledging unhealthy relationships. However, I want you to consider what may happen if you did not comply with someone else’s expectations. Will they abandon you? Is their love truly unconditional? Sometimes we need to break away from our unhealthy attachments to make space for new healthy relationships.

3. Is there truth to your fears?

Sometimes are our thoughts are just thoughts. They don’t have a lot of evidence behind them, but the fear alone drives us to stay complacent. If it is safe, talk to the other person and ask how they’re feeling. Clarify what you’re seeing or hearing, and ask about the other’s intentions. You may perceive a look or comment to mean abandonment, whereas the other person has zero intention of ending the relationship.

4. Take small steps to trust.

For those who are fearful of committing to a relationship, consider what feels like a safe starting place. You may not be ready to let your colleagues know about your deepest secrets, but you may feel more comfortable sharing how your weekend went, or discussing a difficult work project. In this situation, exposure therapy may be helpful in creating a shift.

5. Slow down

In similarity with exposure therapy, I encourage you to take a step back from the “do more, be more” approach. What happens when you don’t work so hard? What happens when you make small mistakes? I know this option isn’t easy, and I suggest you take the smallest step manageable in creating this change. It’s important for your system to be cautious and monitor how change is perceived. You may surprise yourself in seeing that a) others do not leave when you show your human side, or b) you start to step away from these difficult relationships.

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about your own system, or you’d like to address fears of abandonment, 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.

Mental Health

How to help someone who is grieving

What has been your experience with grief? Have you gone through the process yourself? Do you feel overwhelmed when others experience loss? Working in the perinatal field, I am surrounded by parents who have survived loss. These experiences vary vastly from the endless cycles of hope and loss during IVF treatment, to processing a miscarriage, or coming to terms with the dissolution of marriages. Grief can be isolating, and I hear repeatedly how much these parents yearn for understanding from their friends and family members. This post is for those who would like to help a grieving friend or loved one. I hope the following strategies will give you an idea of what you can do in these times of need.

8 Things to Consider when Supporting a Grieving Loved one:

1) Know that your job is to listen

Listen to what your friend is sharing and how he or she is feeling. Focus on maintaining a safe and nonjudgmental space for him or her to experience emotions openly. Respect boundaries if this individual is not ready to talk.

Listening to help someone grieving. Validation. Loss and support.

Supporting a grieving individual involves being genuinely present. This involves actively listening, reflecting back, asking questions, showing interest, validation, and providing compassion. There is no need to fix things or make it better because this is not possible. We often worry about being effective support persons, but I encourage you to consider what “effective” truly means in this context. You are not able to bring back the person or experience that has been lost. The best way to support is to be available and present if or when the grieving party is ready to talk or have company.

2) Show that you care

There are lots of ways to show you care from visiting, calling, dropping off food, offering practical help, or giving a hug. If you’re not sure that you’re properly supporting the other person, just ask. We sometimes worry about being a nuisance. Trust that the other person will tell you if they do not want this type of support.

Sometimes our own uncertainties get in the way. We question how often we should stop by, or whether we’re making much of a difference. In these scenarios, listen to your own capacity. Burning yourself out in the process of helping someone’s grief will not work well for anyone at the end of the day. Offer as much as you can comfortably manage.

Again, remember that the goal does not involve the other person necessarily “feeling better”. Sometimes we look for reinforcement that we are doing the right thing because the other person responds back, smiles, offers reassurance, and so forth. Depending on the intensity and recency of the grief, your loved one may not be able to offer this feedback.

3) Stop giving advice

A lot of bereaved individuals are provided support through advice giving. They hear endless phrases like:

  • You should talk about it more
  • It’s important to let it go
  • “Make sure to take some time to do the things you enjoy
  • You can always try again
  • Count your blessings
  • Think of your other children

These phrases are not meant to be malicious and the speaker has good intentions. However, it’s important to recognize that in these remarks are subtle messages informing the bereaved that they are grieving incorrectly. They are being told to feel or act differently from how they are currently experiencing their loss. Recognize that your role in this scenario is not be an advice giver, but to be a friend. Let the person feel how they feel, and trust that this is their way of processing.

4) There is no set time for when a person is done grieving

Some people come to terms with loss within a few months, whereas for others, it will take years. There’s really no set timing when it comes to grief. As far as the support role, the difficulty comes with being patient when the other person’s grief continues despite a lengthy time. I get that you want the other person to feel better, but be cautious of how this comes across. So long as the person is safe and not a danger to themselves (e.g. suicidal intent), step back. As worried as you may be that they are stuck, continue to let them know you are available, and let go of the pressure for them to “move forward” until they are ready.

5) Pay attention to your own discomforts

The pressure we feel to make the other person feel better comes from our own agendas. It comes from our own discomfort in seeing a loved one in pain. Of course, you want the other person to feel better. This is your spouse, your sibling, a dear friend, and you would never wish this type of sadness on them. However, it’s important that, in the grief process, the focus is not about you, but about the other person. We can easily shift into noticing our own systems feeling uncomfortable with intense emotions and wanting to help the other person shut down these feelings. This can be incredibly invalidating, and reinforces a sense of isolation for the grieving individual.

It is helpful to reflect on your own experiences with grief and intense emotions. How have you been supported during times of distress? Were you forced to manage on your own? Did your family members display big emotions? Were feelings welcome, or were you taught to bury your emotions? Did you witness your parents experience big emotions and start to fear them?

Understandably, we can have avoidant parts of our system that shy away from intense emotions based on childhood experiences. We want our caregivers to show us that the world is safe and that they can keep us protected. We need our caregivers to provide a safe environment for us to feel and process our emotions. When parents continue to present in dysregulated manners (e.g. intense grief, shaming us for experiencing distress), children have a hard time coming to terms with these emotions. They may learn to fear strong feelings as unbearable or a problem that must be resolved.

6) Try not to personalize.

If a loved one is grieving, chances are their emotional capacity can feel incredibly restricted. They may not have the space or awareness to consider how their remarks or feedback is landing on others, and you may bear witness to significant mood swings. It is normal to have ups and downs during grief. As a support person, this does not mean you tolerate becoming the emotional punching bag. You are always encouraged to set boundaries if someone is treating you poorly. However, in situations where the other person turns down spending time together, presents as moodier, is not emotionally available, or appears uninterested in your updates, try not to personalize. They are not doing this to be intentionally unkind, but are caught in their own feelings of loss.

7) Don’t be afraid to bring up the loss.

Grief. Supporting grieving individual.

Grief can be a taboo topic, and we are cautious about triggering the other person by avoiding bringing up the circumstances. Simply avoiding the topic does not mean the other person is not thinking about their loss. They are well aware of what’s changed in their life, and need the opportunity to talk about it. Rather than avoid, acknowledge the grief. Comment on milestones, anniversaries, birthdays, and other important dates. As time goes on, your loved one will appreciate that you are not forgetting their loss, and use the opportunity to talk, if it’s needed.

8) Be genuine.

If you truly understand the other person’s pain and have been through a similar experience, let them know. Otherwise, avoid saying phrases like “I understand” or “I know how you feel.” While these types of phrases are meant to offer comfort, they can unfortunately feel really invalidating. Pay attention to whether you use platitudes. While you may find comfort in trying to find the silver lining, the other person may not be ready or wanting to these hear these comments. Again, try not to personalize this, but work with the reality that this is not the way that this person processes grief.

Reach out

reach out. contact for therapy. counselling services for grief. postpartum loss

Whether you feel overwhelmed by witnessing grief, or if you feel your loved one can benefit from additional support, therapy can provide a safe space to process these emotions. It helps to have a neutral party to discuss intense feelings without fear of repercussion, needing to stay strong, or concern about overwhelming others. It takes a lot of courage to seek out for help; reach out when it feels right for you.

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.

Depression · Mental Health · Parenting · Pregnancy and Postpartum

Support for the avoidant parent

Sure, you and your partner have talked about having a child. In theory, it seemed fine. But now that your baby has arrived, it feels harder than you ever expected. It is exhausting trying to connect with this unresponsive baby. It feels like everytime you pick up your child, he or she knows to scream at the highest decibel. And while you’re feeling stuck, your partner has somehow become the baby whisperer, whipping out breasts, bottles, and toys and magically making this tiny human succumb into a peaceful and serene state. This post is for parents who are feeling avoidant and helpless. It is for the fathers and mothers who are painfully aware of feeling incompetent, and continue to think “I’m not good at this”. I want you to know, it can get better. I hope the following points leave you comforted and empowered. 

Stop comparing yourself with your partner

I hear a lot of fathers commenting that their partners can do it better. They see their partner staying patient and rocking the baby, doing midnight feeds, and changing multiple diapers. They see how the baby settles shortly after these interactions.  While it’s wonderful to see your partner becoming a successful parent, it can bring up a lot of our own insecurities. It’s really hard not to compare. When your partner picks up the baby, the baby calms down. When you pick up the baby, your adorable little human screams bloody murder. It makes a lot of sense that you feel avoidant.

avoidant parent. new parent. difficulty bonding. perinatal mental health. postpartum depression.

If you have always found security and confidence by doing things well, parenting can bring you outside your safe zone. Rather than work with this struggle, it’s easier to encourage your partner to take the lead since he or she is doing it better. I imagine you already know the consequences to this decision. Sure, the baby is calmer, but your partner is fried. Their arms are aching from constantly holding the baby. They haven’t slept or showered properly in days. And, chances are high, that they are frustrated with you for not taking a more active role. Meanwhile, your own insecurities of being a competent parent continues to worsen. 

Parenting is not always about doing things right. It involves time, patience, and some trial and error to figure out how to best help your little person. Chances are that you have a screaming infant on your hands for the first little while. Please know that this is normal. Your partner has also gone through this trial and error period of being hollered at, and it does get better. If you hand over the baby, your confidence does not improve. It only reinforces to you that your partner is capable and you are not. 

Forget perfection

There is a steep and fast learning curve with parenting. We make mistakes, work through the stress, and try again. We don’t have the option of quitting, and so we keep going back and figuring things out. The stress of doing things perfectly can make us avoidant in getting started. Rather than perfection, please accept that you will screw this up. Accept that you are going to make mistakes, and this will lead to tears (some of it will be yours and some will be from the baby). This is perfectly normal even though it sucks.

avoidant parent. struggles to bond with baby. postpartum depression.

While there are umpteen books and blogs out there about parenting strategies, no one has published a book for your child. Take what you know and try it out. Watch your baby’s cues to see if he or she responds well, or freaks out. It tooks me months of rocking my child to sleep and feeling frustrated before I realized this strategy wasn’t working. We’ve all gone through the nightmare of bathtime and the stress of barely keeping the baby above water. Some of us keep losing the soother- the only thing in the whole world that will make your child stop wailing. It happens. We all make mistakes, and it makes us human.

 We don’t know what will work until we take the time to try it, evaluate its efficacy, and continue or introduce a new habit. This is a normal part of learning new skills. We all start with a keen awareness of our incompetence. We practice and fine tune our skills, and eventually get to a place of being unconsciously competent. Wanting to be a perfect parent right from the start prolongs this very normal learning experience. 

Making mistakes is not the issue. Usually that error in judgment lasts a mere seconds before it’s done. However, our mind can keep us fixated on this mistake, and we get easily sucked into a world of shame, embarrassment or guilt. That small moment plagues us for days. Gently remind your system that you are human and you are learning. Mistakes are inevitable, and you did not do it maliciously or intentionally. You can and will learn from these errors. 

Assess if you have postpartum anxiety or depression

While we often think of postpartum mental health as a mom’s issue, this is just not true. 1 in 10 dads have postpartum depression, although only 3% of dads actually seek treatment. 1 in 7 mothers have postpartum depression. Unfortunately, there is limited research available about sexual minority couples, and the published statistics vary widely. That being said, postpartum mental health does not discriminate based on sex, culture, socioeconomic status, education, or age. It can happen to anyone. 

avoidant parent. struggling to bond with new baby. new dads. postpartum depression and perinatal mental health.

When it comes to depression, symptoms can include lack of energy, disinterest, poor sleep or eating habits, or limited social interaction. Postpartum mental health shows up differently. We want to pay attention to signs like irritability, anger, excessive worries, avoidant behaviours, and poor concentration. Because these are painful struggles, many people try to cope by drinking, avoiding parenting, or getting into arguments. Unfortunately, our friends notice that we are drinking a lot and disengaged with the baby, but they don’t recognize that we are struggling with postpartum depression. 

When it comes to mental health or any diagnosis, we need a treatment plan. This can include: help with emotional processing, behavioural changes, professional interventions, medication, or increased social support. Mental health does not go away with sheer will power. It is legitimate and painful, and requires proper attention. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is a helpful assessment that can confirm if you are struggling with postpartum mental health. I would encourage anyone who is questioning their postpartum experience to take this self-assessment.

Exposure therapy can help

If you are struggling with your mental health, you do not have the effort or patience to invest into a new relationship. Depression will make you feel irritable and unmotivated, and anxiety will cause you to worry or panic. Your system just wants to shut down. When we shut down from our relationships and our environment, we address the problem briefly. We find temporary relief because we don’t have to spend time with the newborn. This relief is short-lived because, let’s face it, that baby is not going anywhere. Unfortunately, we fall into this repetitive pattern of feeling overwhelmed by our emotions, and avoiding the stress. This works temporarily until we face yet another scenario where we feel overwhelmed.

 I encourage you to take small steps to help your system see that you can become a strong parent. Exposure therapy involves creating a consistent and gradual plan to do things that you are fearful or avoidant of in order to build your confidence and reduce your fears. We want to first create a list of tasks that provoke anxiety and avoidant behaviours. Then we start with fears that are unpleasant, but manageable, and practice this repeatedly. It is only when the distress goes down and the confidence increases, that we move on to a more challenging task. Everyone’s exposure plan will differ based on his or her comfort zone and anxiety level. The following post explains exposure therapy in more detail, and I encourage you to reach out if you’d like to fine tune or problem solve your specific circumstance. 

Finding the balance between Me and We

Parenting can be a serious buzz kill for our social lives. Chances are that your kid is passing out by 7 PM, which means you’re likely starting a bedtime routine by 6:30 PM. It’s hard to nurture our hobbies, interests, or social lives if you need to be home by that early hour. Parenting can also influence our career path. Signing up for that new project or taking a promotion are incredible opportunities that you’ve worked so hard to accomplish. That being said, these activities mean more hours away from home. 

There is not a simple answer that will help you find balance between your interests and ambitions with your new parenting role. However, I’d recommend first sitting down with your partner and working on a plan. Parenting should not be an all-or-nothing experience. You should not give up all your interests, friendships, or goals. However, being a parent does involve some compromise. You may not be able to take on every project at work. Or, if you do, you will face the wrath and frustration of your kids and partner. It’s hard to win at everything, and we need to let go of the expectation to achieve it all. Instead, pay attention to your priorities. Some activities will feel easy to drop, whereas others may cause a lot of resentment. Fight for the priorities that matter.

While routines and schedules are not sexy, they do ensure you have time for yourself. It’s helpful to speak with your partner to ensure you both have time to do your own things. This might involve you taking on morning chores in order for your partner to go to the gym. As a result, he or she is more flexible about you playing hockey and hang out with your friends during the evenings. The predictability in knowing Mondays nights are yours to do as you please will help settle your anxiety.

There will come a time when your child is old enough to be more self-reliant. He or she will not need you to play such a supervisory role. When this happens, sign up for more things. Until then, work with your spouse in understanding what priorities you would like to invest in during the next few months. Talk about this plan regularly so that there are no surprises and there is room to make changes. 

The pressure to do it all

As the sole parent attending work, you may feel a huge financial responsibility on your shoulders. You may also come home to a very drained spouse, and your guilt prevents you from taking time for your own self-care. Perhaps the added stress of taking care of another person can feel overwhelming. 

avoidant parent. stressed new parent. building a better bond with your baby. postpartum mental health.

If you are feeling these types of pressure, pay attention to how you respond. Some parents will work more hours in hopes that they can manage this new financial burden. Some will feel resentful towards their baby or family because these changes feel so hard. Others will become avoidant, and spend all of their time outside of the home. All of these reactions are understandable given how much this postpartum year has left you unsettled.

If possible, take a moment to slow it down and reflect. What is it about this responsibility that is worrying you the most? What makes you doubt your capacity to manage these new tasks? Is your system aware that the financial strain will improve once your partner re-enters the work force? Would it be helpful to look at your budget and make changes so that you don’t spend all day working ? Are you feeling guilty because you are struggling to “fix” your partner’s exhaustion? Does your partner want you to take on this role? By understanding the root cause of our pressure, we are able to make wiser choices. We don’t have to react in impulsive or avoidant ways, and can instead focus on problem solving, communicating, or setting realistic expectations. 

Talk about it 

There are many supports and resources for new mothers, and I recognize that the same level of support is not readily available for dads and partners. A highly effective intervention for postpartum mental health is an increase to our support network. There is significant healing that happens when you are supported by others who truly understand and appreciate the hardships of the postpartum year. This can involve leaning on your parents, friends with older children, neighbours with newborns, or a local support group. It’s helpful to speak up, and receive support and compassion from the other end. It helps to talk with others who can share advice or normalize your experiences. 

Reach out

There are many ways you can build a bond with your baby. While you can remain avoidant, this behaviour tends to bring a lot of consequences. If you or your partner is struggling with this new role of parenthood, reach out. You do not have to struggle in isolation. 

Best wishes, 

Kasi 

Depression · Mental Health · Parenting · Pregnancy and Postpartum

Will I have postpartum depression again?

For anyone who has survived postpartum depression, you know how painful and unsettling life felt after your baby arrived. During that first year, you are overwhelmed with feelings of irritability, helplessness, anger, rage, sadness, and anxiety (just to name a few). The fear of ever facing this experience again causes many parents to hesitate about having another child. There is nothing that they want to avoid more than those intrusive thoughts, hours of sobbing, or crippling anxiety. I hope this post will offer you some support and guidance in considering your next steps.

You have the right to say no

Pressures for nuclear families are constantly pushed at parents. I hear many well-intentioned family members asking when moms will be pregnant again, and expressing concerns that their children will be lonely if they do not have siblings. Firstly, let’s all agree that these folks need to chill out. No one should tell you what your family should look like. There are many, many single-child families who have wonderful, happy lives. If you have decided that one is enough, please rest assured that you are making the right decision. After all, it is your body, your lifestyle, your family, your income, and all of your resources. While loved ones may comment, at the end of the day, you have to take care of this little person. You are absolutely entitled to decide that you don’t want this option.

Many factors will influence your mental health

postpartum depression. Mood and anxiety disorders. Kasi Shan Therapy. online counselling. Counselling in Kitchener.

There are a lot of vulnerabilities that influence mental health. When it comes to postpartum depression, the list can include: poor sleep, stress, hormonal changes, physical wellness, relationship struggles, financial worries, history of mental health, multiple children, and complicated pregnancies/deliveries. This is not an all-encompassing list; however, it does address some important influencers during the perinatal period.

History of mental health struggles (including postpartum depression with your first child) is only one contributing factor. Postpartum depression symptoms typically decrease between one postpartum period to the next, showing that we have the capacity for healing. Research has found that there is high variability of whether parents’ symptoms of postpartum depression increase or decrease in future deliveries.

What does this all mean for you? Just because you had postpartum once does not guarantee you will have it again. If you had experienced significant distress in your first experience, err on the side of caution and seek support as soon you are pregnant. Postpartum depression is treatable. Your recovery experience improves when you do not prolong suffering.

You know more today than you did during your first pregnancy

Many first time parents feel nervous and uncertain about taking care of their babies. I mean, why wouldn’t we? If we are not surrounded by babies all the time, or if it’s not within our line of work, it makes sense that we are not experts on this topic. Since there are many unknowns during the first year with our child, we can feel inundated with worries about the baby’s well-being and our own capacity to parent.

Postpartum depression. perinatal mental health. Worries about having a second child.

As cliché as this may sound, practice makes perfect. Consider how vulnerable you felt when you first took your little one home versus how you felt six months or even 2 years in to parenting. You’ve gone from feeling incompetent to suddenly having a knack for diaper changes, effortless feedings, and confidence in bedtime routines. That level of skill and knowledge took you weeks of trials and errors before you could confidently move forward. This is the beauty of having a second child. That level of uncertainty and worry still exists; however, it is significantly more muted than the first time experience. You are much faster at handling all of those questions from your first time simply because you have the experience in your tool belt.

Understand your vulnerabilities

postpartum depression and experiences. journal. mental health.

As painful as it may seem, I encourage you to sit down and reflect on your first-time experiences of pregnancy and postpartum months. What was hardest for you? When did you struggle the most? Did you have support available, and was your support team actually helpful? Were you able to rely on your partner? What kept you down on your hardest days? When did circumstances improve? Did you use medication, or were you able to manage without? What resources did you bring in the last time?

Knowing what was hard the first time can give us a working plan of how to handle the situation differently this time around. Some moms are so clear that they do not want to have another child while COVID-19 is still a concern. Other moms are aware that sleep training is what they needed in order to feel more stable. Many moms know that attending counselling and couples counselling helped them work through anxieties as they surfaced. It sucks to have to learn from our hardships. Knowing what did and did not work can help you decide what to do differently this time around. When you have the awareness, you have a lot more control and influence over the situation.

Find a community

The stats are very clear. About one in seven mothers and one in ten fathers experience postpartum depression. Yet, we live in a world where we suffer silently. Joining a support group, or connecting with other safe parents is one of the best things that you can do for your system. Let go of the pinterest-moms in your world. Don’t try and find validation from your next door neighbour who always looks well-presented and has the most well-tempered baby. These people will (hopefully, unintentionally) make you feel lousy. FInd parents who help you feel less alone. Your worries are similar to the stressors that others have also experienced. Find those who have survived postpartum mental health, and hear about their experiences. Learn what worked for them to not only have this level of encouragement, but to also find strategies that you want to employ.

If you experienced postpartum depression with your first child, it’s highly likely that you felt overwhelmed or frustrated with parenting. The circumstances are much more complicated if you are a single parent, or if your partner works long hours. While this is no one’s fault, feeling isolated in your parenting is an important factor to keep in mind. Gather your support team and come up with a plan that will support your needs. This may involve asking your mother to stay with you for the first week, or asking a friend to check in daily. You might contact resources like a lactation consultant, a postpartum doula, or a sleep-training specialist earlier into your postpartum experience. Your support team can be informal like friends or family, or professionals. Irrespective, these folks are helping you to fill in the gaps. There is a reason for the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” No one should be expected to do it all alone.

Move your body

When we struggle with depression, our body wants to shut down, isolate, hide, or retreat. This makes a lot of sense when the world feels too much. Of course, you want to escape and disengage. It’s far safer in your home than to socialize, take the baby out, or pretend that everything is normal. When we stay hidden away, we can get caught in this safety net for a long time. Sure the world may feel safer when you’ve stayed away, but it’s also felt bleak and painful everyday that you’ve been hidden. If you are ambivalent to have another child because of this shut down experience, there are strategies that can help. There are many coping strategies that can be employed to use address anxiety and depression. The key is to find the right set of skills that fit for you.

One effective distress tolerance skill is to increase our activity level. I get that exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I want to emphasize how quickly it can help you in getting out of a funk. When it comes to a crisis situation, getting even 2-5 minutes of intense exercise will force your physiology to change. Your shut down system is forced to be more alert with this sudden intensity. After this burst of working out, we have about 15-20 minutes of reprieve. We feel more regulated and think more clearly. This gives you a chance to look at your current setup and schedule. You may find you have more capacity to get out of your room, go for a walk, or call a friend. Things that felt unmanageable, suddenly feel more accessible.

Seek treatment

Postpartum mental health is not based on will power. Crying everyday, or stressing about spending time alone with the baby is not a normal part of parenthood. If this is your experience, I want you to know that it does not have to be like this. Postpartum myths can prevent us from seeking out help, and I can appreciate that these are genuine barriers. Whether it’s due to internal shame, external pressures, cultural expectations of motherhood, or any other factors, it can be hard to shift away from this perspective. However, the best part of working in perinatal mental health is that I know it gets better. I see mothers improving within a year or two of delivery. This may involve regular therapy, a community of support, various coping strategies, use of medication, or a combination of interventions. With support, postpartum mental health can improve.

Postpartum depression does not have to define your experience

If you are feeling scared of having postpartum depression again, please reach out. Just because you struggled with your mental health the first time does not mean it will happen again, or that it has to get as bad. There are numerous preventative and reactive interventions that we can incorporate to help you feel more resilient. Reach out when you feel ready.

Take care,
Kasi

Mental Health · Pregnancy and Postpartum · Trauma

“They’d be better off without me”: Suicide and Postpartum Mental Health

“They’d be better off without me.”
“I can’t do this. What am I doing here?”
“How am I supposed to do this everyday for the rest of my life?”

I hear sentences like these frequently in my work with postpartum parents. It is heartbreaking and I know that when someone gets to this place of rock bottom they are feeling helpless and overwhelmed. I’d love for the postpartum months to be an amazing time for parents, but oftentimes it’s not easy. Sure, the baby is cute. But the baby also keeps crying, won’t latch on properly and refuses to take a nap. It’s easy to get caught in a negative spiral of fatigue and insecurities. When this phase goes on long enough, many parents start to have passive or active thoughts of suicide.

Suicidality and postpartum care. Internal family systems therapy. Kasi Shan Therapy, counselling support in Kitchener, ON.

Suicide is a taboo topic, and it’s hard to talk about having these thoughts openly. Unfortunately, keeping our feelings buried tends to backlash for the majority of us. Postpartum depression does not necessarily mean you will have suicidal thoughts. However, when we are vulnerable, it’s not uncommon for our thoughts to shift into this space. Whether we are struggling with our baby, handling new stressors as a result of the baby (e.g. financial burdens, isolation), or addressing our already existing mental health diagnoses in combination with a baby, we want an escape. Suicide provides us one of the fastest option for escape. My hope today is to help you recognize that there are safe ways to support you. We can talk openly about suicide and get you to a place of feeling more at peace so that you no longer feel the desperate need to escape.

Step One: Name it

Mental health sucks. In our culture of independent, pinterest-loving super moms, it’s so hard to say that we’re struggling. The statistics for postpartum depression is 1 in 7 moms and 1 in 10 dads; these parents are not all seeking out help.

I appreciate the strong desire to be independent and feel competent. I have parts of me that also feel adamant to manage on my own. We can play this game for a long time and test our limit of how much we can handle. However, there comes a point when we recognize that even our best efforts are not actually effective. Despite going for a walk, eating well, or calling a friend, at the end of the day, you still feel bleak and beyond help.

Postpartum support for suicidal thoughts. Online and in person counselling in Kitchener, ON.

The first step in getting better involves accepting that you’re struggling with postpartum mental health. This is not your fault. When it comes to postpartum moods, there are so many lifestyle changes and hormonal changes that are beyond your control. This is not just a matter of will power. If you truly could manage to get through these months with determination and grit, I promise, you would have done it. However, if you realize that something is still feeling off, name this. Acknowledge that there is a part of you that is really having a hard time and is feeling helpless. This part deserves the space to talk, process, and recover.

Step Two: Reduce isolation

Suicide and postpartum care. Internal family systems therapy to help work through suicidal ideation. Kasi Shan Therapy, counselling support in Kitchener, ON.

There is a reason that we have the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Childrearing should be done with support, and in our culture, we don’t often have the network nearby. In line with our independent values, we are not always comfortable reaching out to these village members.

In encouraging a stronger support network, I ask that you reach out to any means of support that you feel is genuinely helpful and compassionate. This may include contacting family members, friends, neighbours, support groups, mental health counsellors, health care professionals, really, anyone who you feel safe around. If our loved ones are unaware of how much we are struggling, they may not recognize the need to offer help.

Suicide and postpartum care. Internal family systems therapy to help work through suicidal ideation. Kasi Shan Therapy, counselling support in Kitchener, ON.

I know that some of us do not have the best support team. Sometimes our family members cause more harm than good. Their offering of help may come with judgments, criticism, or other consequences that make you feel worse than when you started off. Sometimes our family members become overwhelmed when we share our mental health struggles. Ironically, you may end up spending more time consoling them that your own needs are not addressed. In these situations, I encourage you to reach out to a local therapist (if financially feasible), or to find a non-profit counselling agency. Connecting with postpartum programs (e.g. Pregnancy and Postpartum Mood Disorders Program, Stork Secrets, Postpartum Support International) can help you find safe others that truly understand and are capable of helping with thoughts of suicide.

Your internal system

In Internal Family Systems Therapy, we recognize that our internal system is divided into parts. There are parts of us that are carrying wounds from the past (e.g. abandonment, betrayal, shame). These parts of our personality are often pushed away because they are too painful to acknowledge. In pushing away, we form protective layers. There are managerial parts of our system that work to prevent these wounds from getting triggered. These manager parts can appear as perfectionists, hard-working, critical, or conflict-avoidant. Their roles in our system is to run our day-to-day functioning without having our deepest burdens and wounds show up.

As I said before, when we push our feelings away, they tend to backlash. At some point, we get triggered. At these moments, we have reactive parts of our system that take over. They work to get rid of these vulnerable feelings as quickly as possible (e.g. drinking, anger, suicide). Ironically, whether our parts are playing a reactive or preventative role, there is a protective intent to help you from being overwhelmed by your wounds.

Step 3: Meet the key players of your internal system

Suicide and postpartum care. Internal family systems therapy to help work through suicidal ideation. Kasi Shan Therapy, counselling support in Kitchener, ON.

In therapy, I work with clients to get to know all of the parts involved in pushing you towards or protecting you from suicide. We work on skills to separate from these intense emotions so we can observe them, hear them out, understand their fears and concerns, and have a better relationship with them. Can you imagine how you would feel if, when sadness took over, you could actually have the capacity to listen to it calmly without becoming overwhelmed? That is the beauty of IFS. When we can step back and listen to our system, we can begin to hear the fears, concerns and protective intent of even our harshest emotions. We are able to access those underlying wounds and support their recovery so that the rest of your system does not have to work so hard at preventing or reacting to triggers.

I understand this may sound unbelievable to many people. After all, you may have experienced suicidal thoughts for months and come to terms that you are “just an anxious mess” or “a pathetic parent.” Therapy can help shift this outlook. You are more than your anxieties, depression or other extreme parts.

Step Four: Address your coping mechanisms

In therapy, we take a close look at the patterns that your parts take on when they are active. We pay attention to what triggers your extreme emotions. We look at all of the coping mechanisms that are used to manage these extreme emotions.

Suicide and postpartum care. Internal family systems therapy to help work through suicidal ideation. Kasi Shan Therapy, counselling support in Kitchener, ON.

For many postpartum parents, their biggest fear is feeling incapable of taking care of their baby. When this fear gets triggered, these parents respond in anyway or form to self-soothe. Some of parents turn to drinking to help these thoughts calm down. Others look to their partners, parents or loved ones to take over, and avoid any time alone with their infant. Some parents get caught in a spiral of self-hatred, focusing on criticising themselves for being incapable. In therapy, we look at all of these coping mechanisms without judgement. These are the strategies that have kept you going all of these months, and we want to work with each piece respectfully, and discuss opportunities for change.

Change comes in many different ways. Each parent is unique and I don’t want to give generic advice when your needs may be significantly different from the next person. What’s important in understanding our system is that we learn to slow down to get to know these key parts better. We want to build trust that these coping mechanisms no longer have to be employed to keep us safe. We want to have permission to address those underlying wounds so that you have permanent healing.

Suicide is a quick fix for a problem with many alternative solutions

When it comes to postpartum care, I get that suicide is a fast response. We are struggling and we want the struggle to be over. Ending our life would be the fastest option out. While this may be true, this is a decision you can never take back. Before any part of you makes that ultimate choice, it’s important to ensure all of your alternative options are tested. The struggle in this request is that we may need some time to try out these other options. Your suicidal part is taking a risk in working with me. Rather than having a quick fix, I’m asking that we make some permanent shifts so that life does not feel so miserable.

If you would like to talk further, please feel free to reach out.

Take care,

Kasi

Mental Health · Parenting · Pregnancy and Postpartum

A Note for all “Mothers”

On Mother’s Day, we are bombarded with social media posts doting on all the maternal figures in our lives. While there is no denying that there are some fantastic mothers out there, not all of us feel lucky to have this type of positive influence. Many mothers do not feel confident enough to call themselves fantastic parents. Working in the perinatal field, I am surrounded by mothers who struggle with this internal assessment of whether they are good enough parents to their children. On this Mother’s Day, I wanted to gather a few quotes that I hope will offer some comfort and guidance as you move through your own journey of understanding or experiencing motherhood.

What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.

I love this quote for recognizing that, as parents, we are working with a blank slate. Our interactions, guidance, compassion, and boundaries are all critical in teaching our children how to navigate in the world. In many ways, we will do an excellent job in offering the secure attachment to let them explore and gain independence. However, some of our own anxieties can come forward to affect the ways in which we influence our children. This does not have to be a deal breaker. Relationships grow. They can strengthen and weaken. Making a mistake or being imperfect is not a life sentence for your children or your relationship with them.

What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.

We all carry wounded parts within our system. These wounds stem from trauma, heartbreak, grief, or other hardships we have endured in our lifetime. Sometimes, however, our wounds are not our burdens but those of our parents and the generations before them.

Your mother will pass many adaptive and effective qualities on to you. Other times, she will pass on teachings from her own hardships. Experiences like war, poverty, and racial injustice have taught the generations before us how to survive. Your mother’s emotional system had to change in order to adapt to these events. Accordingly, she may be anxious around police officers, she may push for frugality over spending, and she may express bitterness or anger towards a certain group of people. These behaviours are learned survival tactics. She needed them to manage in her world. It’s easy to pass on these tactics to you. These adaptive needs suddenly become part of your story, and you learn to navigate in the world using these behaviours, even though they may, or may not, be as relevant today.

What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.

I loathe when social media bombards us with pictures of idealistic parenting. I’m referring to those images of a parent serenely staring at her child (who is dressed to the nines and displaying perfect manners). Let’s face it: that is not reality. My child has meltdowns, just like yours. There are times when I have to coach myself before going to a grocery store or completing errands because I know my patience will tested. Being a mother can be very fulfilling. It’s full of love, laughter, elation, warmth and so many other beautiful feelings. Just as equally, motherhood knows exactly how to push your buttons. Your child is incredibly brilliant in knowing what will make you explode. And it is absolutely normal for you to want to some compassion and understanding (as well as a break!) during these moments.

What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.

Following a birth trauma, we can get stuck in the narrative of how we conceived, carried, or delivered our child. This unsettling onset of motherhood can hold us in a state of frustration, guilt or even anger. Our traumas keep us caught in the past, and prevent us from fully enjoying the present moment with our newborn. Moreover, our trauma can keep us stuck in grief when we did not have the chance to welcome our baby into our lives.

For any parent who has experienced a birth trauma, I want to emphasize that healing is possible. Working through traumatic events can take time and support. Every mother goes through processing and acceptance at a different pace. However, PTSD does not nullify the fact that your life has changed. No matter how your birth experience turned out, your world has suddenly shifted. You may have brought home a new addition to your family. Your family may have lost the possibility of including a new member. No matter what has happened, your world looks different today than it did yesterday.

What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.
What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.

I love comparing these two quotes. Our kids can ground us and guide our lives. It’s easy to get sucked into their world doing after school activities, focusing on their development, and helping nurture their interests. However, as parents, our ultimate goal in child rearing is that our kids become independent people who no longer rely on us in this same way. In preparation for this eventual transition, I like to remind all mothers to not lose themselves completely in the process of parenting.

When we’ve done parenting right, our kids will leave us to live their own lives. It’s a big shift to suddenly focus on ourselves instead of them. To prepare for this change, nurture parts of yourself throughout their entire development. This may involve taking an hour to yourself at the end of the day, or going on mini-vacations on your own. It may mean developing your career alongside your childrearing. You were your own person before becoming a parent, and it’s important to not forget this pivotal detail.

What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.
What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.

These are messages that I love to remind my perfectionist side. While my education has taught me how to provide therapy and support the emotional side of life, I am not an expert in all things related to motherhood. I recall panicking the first time my child had a fever. I remember feeling overwhelmed when I had to help my little one learn to sleep independently. There are countless memories of us trying to rush out the door on time for work, and of me losing patience.

While we want to be experts at everything, it’s next to impossible to achieve this goal. Your child did not come with a manual, and they will constantly throw new issues at you to figure out. Give yourself the time and patience to screw up and learn from these mistakes. You will not always be calm, you will not always know the right answer, and you will not always look like you have it together. That’s okay. We learn from all these experiences. Surround yourself with others who are also learning and can resonate with this need for patience and forgiveness. This is your support system that will get you through those hard moments. Mothers come in all different shape, sizes, capacities, histories, strengths and weaknesses. There is no formula that will be make us perfect parents, but we can do well in this job.

What does it mean to be a mother? Mother's day. Maternity. motherhood. kasi shan therapy offers counselling for mothers experiencing trauma and perinatal mental health.

I had to include this quote only because Matilda was one of my favourite books as a kid. But in many ways, Roald Dahl is right. Our kids can be ridiculous. They can be the obnoxious and make terrible fart jokes. They can be surly and give us the sassiest comments that make us want to scream. However, by the end of the day, we (usually) have our rosy-colored glasses back on and finding them to be magnificent, charming creatures.

To my fellow mothers, mothers-to-be, women who wish to be mothers, and maternal figures, I hope you all recognize your strength and patience in this process. Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be a special day if you don’t wish to celebrate it. Mother’s Day should not be only one day of the year that you are appreciated. I hope these quotes and messages offer you comfort and get you through this day. If you need support, please reach out.

Warmly,

Kasi

Mental Health · Pregnancy and Postpartum

Postpartum Rage: I am going to lose it!

I feel like society normalizes feeling overwhelmed, insecure, and stressed as a new parent. While our society is more compassionate towards these vulnerabilities, there is much less acceptance when it comes to our anger. Postpartum rage is a common occurrence during the first year with a baby. It can show up as a symptom of postpartum depression, but it can also show up on its own. Unfortunately, since there is so much stigma about anger (especially anger towards an infant), parents hesitate to reach out for help. For this post, I’d like to open the conversation about postpartum rage. I’d like to normalize this anger, explain the ways it can show up, and strategies we can use to feel better.

What is postpartum rage?

Postpartum rage are short or lengthy bursts of overwhelming anger. Parents feels completely out of control, and struggles to get their temper under wraps. Everyone expresses anger differently; however, common signs of postpartum rage include:

  • screaming/swearing
  • physical expressions of anger (e.g. throwing items)
  • violent thoughts
  • inability to stop thinking about the upsetting situation
  • difficulty getting their emotions back to state of calm/neutrality

There is no one issue that triggers postpartum rage. Sometimes it’s the baby waking up at the middle of the night for the third time, other times it’s your partner forgetting to do the dishes. This can make it really hard for parents to predict when they will become upset. Or worse, they feel a lot of shame that a simple event, like forgetting to do the dishes, caused them so much distress.

When postpartum rage comes out, it’s extremely difficult to manage. For many parents struggling with this issue, they face a backlash of overwhelming emotions once the rage has subsided. This often includes guilt, self-hatred, shame, helplessness, or hopelessness. These reactionary thoughts and emotions can keep us spiraling in a low place well after the anger has passed.

Emotions last in our body for 90 seconds. After that, the physical sensation dissipates, UNLESS our cognitive brain kicks in and starts connecting our anger with past events.

Jill Bolte Taylor
(Neuroanatomist, author, and public speaker)

Anger as a secondary emotions

Working from an Internal Family Systems‘ perspective, I know that anger comes from a protective intent. It is often an impulsive act or last-case resort in responding to another issue. For many parents, postpartum rage is a result of feeling overwhelmed, resentful, isolated, uncertain or guilty. Unfortunately, these are all very common emotions during the postpartum year.

It’s easy to feel resentful of our single friends who can go out at night or sleep in on weekends. Many of us feel resentful towards our partners who have the option to get away from the baby for several hours a day to attend work.

A sense of isolation during maternity leave can feel debilitating. We are stuck at home with our insecurities, and only the company of a (demanding) baby for entertainment and companionship. The impact of isolation has become exponentially harder during the pandemic when activities like baby/mom groups, gyms, libraries, and other resources are no longer available.

photo of mother dressing an infant
Photo by William Fortunato on Pexels.com

The first year with a baby is full of so many overwhelming anxieties. From the baby’s first cold, to poor latches, and low weight, there are ample opportunities for a new parent to feel distressed. When we have had time to breathe, or if we have older children, we are more confident in our approach to parenting. We can forgive ourselves more easily after making a mistake. However, when we are vulnerable (e.g. being a first-time parent), the guilt and overwhelm can take over whenever we make mistakes.

Anger allows a safe option to cover up these underlying and more vulnerable emotions. It is an instinctive coping mechanism. Anger gives us a quick and fast way to release all of our pent up feelings. Once those feelings are released, we have more space to manage life, or we can push aside our resentment for one more day. In order to have anger soften, we have to work with these underlying issues. This can take time and trust with a therapist. After all, who actually likes acknowledging that they feel resentful or incompetent? Once these underlying factors feel more at peace, our anger will slowly start to shift. It no longer needs to take over in order to protect you.

What you can do on your own

Not everyone wants, is ready to attend, or can afford consistent therapy. Exploring your own underlying emotions is a unique journey. It will lead us to understanding your vulnerabilities, where they stem from, and what these parts of you may need from you in order to heal. However, if this is not an option for you today, there are things you can do independently.

  • Pay attention to triggers. Write down when your bouts of anger happen, and start paying attention for commonalities. Is it a specific person that gets you going? Is it a certain time of day? By noticing when you are most likely to get angry, you can have more options to problem solve or work around this trigger.
  • Recognize your body cues. Your anger will often show up in the same way somatically. Take a moment to think about the last thing that really pissed you off. How does your system respond? Does your body start to tense up? Does your mind start to race? Do you notice if there is a certain location in your system that carries the most activation? Once we are aware of our somatic cues, we can start to respond to them faster. Similarly to knowing our triggers, it’s helpful to know our bodies. For example, if your heart starts to race and your hands get clammy, that can be a wake up call to have your partner take over while you take a break.
  • Evaluate your expectations. A lot of our guilt comes from high expectations of how we ought to be as parents. Consider if these standards you’re setting are fair. The best way to consider if you’re setting yourself up is to ask if you’d push these same expectations on a friend or loved one.
  • Address loneliness. It can be incredibly challenging to ask for help or voice to others that we are feeling isolated. Yet, if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, we need to stay connected. As human beings, it is in our nature to be social. This does not mean you have to plans everyday; however, scheduling a weekly check in with a friend, or going on a regular walk with your neighbour may be enough to shift out of the loneliness.
  • Prioritize sleep. I have written earlier posts about sleep hygiene, and I encourage you to try out these strategies. Your little one may be waking up several times at night, in which case, I recommend coordinating with your family members to have at least 4-hours of consolidated sleep. This allows you to have the opportunity to complete one full sleep cycle. It’s okay that this deep rest comes at 6 PM. As long as you are having these four hours daily, your mental health has a chance to be less distressed.
  • Make time for your own interests. You can be an incredible parent AND be your own person. It’s easy to lose ourselves in becoming parents. All of your interests, hobbies, and passions get dropped to the wayside to focus on your little one. While this is normal at the start, we want to ensure you create some balance. This little person will always be in your life, and it’s important you don’t lose your good habits (e.g. self-care, exercise, extracurricular activities, time with friends) while parenting. When you carve out some consistent time for your own interests right from the beginning, it can be an easier habit to maintain long-term.
  • Reduce your to-do list. Sometimes, in the sake of being productive and managing all of our expectations, we create a lengthy lists of tasks to accomplish. Postpartum rage is often a result of feeling overwhelmed, and one of the simplest ways to manage is to look at what can be dropped from your list. I get that we’d love to have a pristine household, be incredibly fit, have time for work, and manage a full social calendar. However, it’s not possible to achieve all of these needs at once. So consider what needs to be prioritized and what you’re willing to be flexible on.

Postpartum rage can get better

Postpartum rage is awful and it’s incredibly common. Unfortunately, for many of us, we carry so much shame in getting triggered. Postpartum rage is one of the many postpartum mood and anxiety disorders that can take place in the first year. As Postpartum Support International wisely tells all parents in this phase, “You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.”

Warmly,

Kasi

Mental Health · Trauma

Working with unwanted feelings

When I am feeling anxious, unhappy or generally lousy, I hate the idea of mindfully noticing these unwanted feelings. There is intense resistance to “sitting with” or accepting my emotions. During these low moments, I have zero understanding or time for my feelings. My only goal is to get rid of them. I imagine many others feel the same way. When it comes to our harsher feelings, they can be intense, and often cruel. These parts of our personality know exactly what to say to make us want to crumble.  

I struggled for the longest time with Internal Family Systems therapy in telling me that my emotions, my critical voice, or my less healthier coping behaviours are not bad. IFS encourages that every part of us is welcome (to learn more about IFS and parts work, read this post). I struggled to accept this viewpoint when I felt every part of me was, in fact, not welcome. Parts of me could be a jerk some days, and there was no way I was going to cater to that nonsense. For those with anxiety, depression, or other mental health struggles, I’m sure you can relate to how badly you want to get rid of these unwanted feelings.

My own turning point

regal pan pizza on box
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For me, my willingness to change my perspective came from recognizing that pushing away my unwanted feelings wasn’t actually getting rid of the pain. When I wanted to deny my urge to eat another slice of pizza, that part got louder. When I pretended I wasn’t feeling angry with my family, that part made sure it vented in my head. Wishing parts away rarely works in getting rid of the pain, or having them stay quiet.

It’s too hard

I get that it’s really hard to do therapy. It’s hard to sit with our emotions. It’s hard to create space for these distressing parts of our personalities to talk and voice their feelings. Can you imagine allowing those parts of you that are suicidal or have urges to self-harm to actually be given the space to talk? Understandably, there is fear in letting these voices have space because, what if it creates more distress, more extreme behaviours, or more danger? 

I had these fears as well. I didn’t want to hear any of my anxieties. They were annoying and they would make me feel lousy all day. Who would sign up for that willingly? However, IFS teaches us a way to work with these parts of our personality safely so that they do not take over. There is a way to do the work carefully and slowly, so that other parts of your system do not get overwhelmed. We can continue to hear these parts of our personality, understand their fears and intents, build a better relationship with them, and negotiate for space or a shift in coping strategies.

There’s no way I can get better

Working with unwanted feelings. Kasi Shan Therapy: Kitchener ON, Online counselling.
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Sometimes, we’ve lived with these unwanted emotions and behaviours for years. Some of the clients I’ve seen have gone to various therapists and tried different coping strategies to help with their healing. Understandably, if they feel stuck, they are pretty certain this is an unchangeable and fixed part of their living experience. They are confident that nothing will help, and there’s scepticism that healing can happen.

I felt this way as well. For the longest time, I’d focused on traditional talk therapy, using modalities like CBT and DBT. These are incredible counselling approaches that work for many folks. Coping skills, working through exposure treatment, and recognizing unhelpful thinking patterns are effective for treating many struggles. However, when we focus on treating just our thoughts, we are forgetting the rest of our body.  Our body, ironically, is what carries traumas.

Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.

-Bessel van der kolk, “The body keeps the score”

You experience feelings throughout your body. Sure, you can challenge your thoughts, you can try new behaviours, you can learn ways to cope. But for many of us, this isn’t enough. Knowing how to do a thought record isn’t enough. We want our emotions to catch up to what we know. In order to do that, our therapy styles cannot just focus on thoughts, but has to include experiential change. This means constantly returning our awareness back to the body and the system to see how it is affected by these interventions. Healing involves taking the time to notice our physical sensations, and understand what these subtle cues are trying to communicate.

This is the only way I can survive

Working with unwanted feelings. Kasi Shan Therapy: Kitchener ON, Online counselling.
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Sometimes it can feel scary to let go of our current coping mechanisms. If you know that the only way you can manage your challenging family is by having a few glasses of wine at the end of the day, it is going to feel incredibly hard to give that up. I have clients who are cautious of telling others about self-harming behaviours because they fear repercussion or worry they will be shamed into stopping. The thought of changing our patterns can prevent many of us from starting the work.

For anyone who has hesitated to reach out for help because of the need to stop a specific coping mechanism, please know that this does not have to be the case. My job is not to tell you to stop drinking. I understand that there is a part of you that feels drinking is the only way in which you can survive this current hardship. However, if we were able to explore the underlying fears related to your family, would you have to keep drinking? What are you actually protecting by drinking? If you were no longer feeling threatened by this fear, would you need to keep coping in this way? Drinking patterns, and other coping mechanisms, can slow down if underlying fears are addressed. Once your system no longer feels threatened, it no longer has to survive by turning to wine.

I don’t want to know

Working with unwanted feelings. Kasi Shan Therapy: Kitchener ON, Online counselling.
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A common reason that I see clients hesitating to do trauma work is that it will involve looking at the past. One of our strongest survival mechanisms is denial. Going back to a painful period in time can feel like we’re asking for trouble. It hurts to revisit difficult memories. We may feel cautious of how we will see our loved ones after exploring what those memories mean and how they have impacted us.

With EMDR, IFS, or any other trauma-based treatment, the goal is not to discover a big, bad secret from the past. However, with trauma-based treatments, we can become aware of details that we’ve kept hidden from our conscious awareness. When these details come to light, we have options. Clients can chose to share these details with me, or they can keep this awareness inside. Clients can decide whether this knowledge requires intervention. There are options to bring in new coping mechanisms or more self-compassion. We can work towards understanding the impact of these moments and unburdening our system of these wounds. Finally, clients can chose to keep doing what they’re doing and pretend this awareness does not exist. There is no set agenda for how we move forward. We know the pain is there, and we shift to addressing this pain, only when you are okay to go there.

Reach out

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Part of me was nervous about writing this article. I can talk nonchalantly about being a perfectionist, but acknowledging that I can also have messy feelings is hard. The fear of others’ judgements prevents us from reaching out (even though our system is desperate for help and relief). At the end of the day, hiding has not helped us feel better. Talking to a therapist who you feel is safe and effective is one way towards healing. If you have any experiences with the above battles and wish to talk, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

Warm regards,

Kasi

Mental Health · Trauma

Why am I feeling stuck in my trauma?

Even years after a traumatic experience, we can feel stuck in a place of emotional distress. In therapy, I noticed that many trauma survivors would struggle to find self-compassion. They would get caught in an endless loop of self-blame and resentment. Other clients were keen to begin therapy; however, they were easily overwhelmed once they started to talk about the trauma. Many clients felt unable to deal with their past because their current coping mechanisms (e.g. self-harm, substance use) were causing so many problems.

Feeling stuck in trauma, therapy. Internal family systems therapy

These clients are intelligent, capable, and well-versed in therapy lingo. Many of the folks I see can recite CBT and mindfulness principles to me. Despite knowing how they “should” think or behave, they were still feeling stuck. As a clinician, learning Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS) transformed my counselling practice and helped me better understand these stuck points. I hope this blog post will help you recognize what may be affecting your own recovery.

Healing wounds

Feeling stuck in trauma, therapy. Internal family systems therapy

When it comes to trauma, we develop strong emotions and negative beliefs about ourselves. We carry these wounds with us, not always recognising the subtle ways in which they influence our behaviours and actions. For example, after a rape, a survivor could start to believe “I deserved this”, “I did something wrong”, or “I am unlovable”. She may feel an intense level of shame or fear. If she is carrying these beliefs and emotions, she will develop protective methods in order to adapt. These protective habits ensure that the beliefs and feelings stemming from the traumatic event are never experienced again.

A Parts-led System

Before we dive into the topic, let me give a brief explanation of Internal Family Systems Therapy. IFS recognizes that our mind is divided into sub-personalities; each “part” or personality can be active at different points in time. When I am calm, confident and feeling at peace, I feel like myself. However, there are times during the day when I get triggered and parts of my personality get activated. At work, the therapist-part of my personality likes to coach me in what I should say to clients. When I’m home, my mother-part can narrate all the ways I need to my take care of my child. My self-conscious part gets loud when I am shopping for a new pair of jeans. My over-achiever part can take over when I’m signing up for courses, agreeing to tasks, or managing my calendar.

Having our mind divided likes this is not the same as multiple personality disorder. We all have parts. At various points in time, these parts get triggered and feel the need to push a certain agenda (e.g. attending therapy, avoiding treatment).

Managerial Parts

Feeling stuck in trauma, therapy. Internal family systems therapy

In the IFS model, we recognize that there are two types of protective parts that develop following a trauma. The first type of protective parts are called managers. Managers are the parts of our personality that try and prevent bad things from happening. Managers are proactive in preventing us from feeling the same emotions that we experienced in the time of trauma. They try to ensure safety by keeping our environments and relationships in balance.

A sexual assault survivor may create one or many managerial parts to prevent an assault from happening again. Her managers will try to avoid triggers that bring about similar emotions and beliefs to her experiences following the trauma. For example, she may have a part that refuse to go anywhere by herself at night, a part that turns down dates, a part that numbs emotions, and a part that is fearful of strangers. All of these parts protect her from being vulnerable again.

How do managers affect therapy?

Managers can show up in a variety of ways in the therapy context. From their perspective, they are attempting to the help the client. Bear in mind that these reactions are not always within our awareness. These parts of our personality become triggered and react oftentimes outside of our conscious decision-making. These parts are not intentionally trying to cause harm, but using their own capacity and knowledge to keep us safe.

Before we can start processing trauma, my job is to work with these protective parts of your system. You have survived all these days by using these protective mechanisms. Unless every part of you is on board saying, “Yes! Let’s talk about this!”, it is perfectly natural for some type of blocking to show up.

Common manager blocks:

  • People-pleasing parts: This part tends to agree to all of the therapist’s comments despite not truly believing the therapist’s feedback. It may often accept a task or homework, despite knowing that other parts of the system are not ready to take on a certain challenge
  • Avoidant parts: This manager often misses appointments, or is late to therapy. In attempts to prevent the client from talking about a difficult experience or feeling vulnerable, this part can take over and avoid therapy all together.
  • Achievement-oriented parts: This part tries very hard to ensure that the client is doing his or her best. This part will often read therapy textbooks, learn about different diagnoses, and speak about trauma 24/7, if allowed. Unfortunately, the client can easy become overwhelmed or burned out if this part takes over all the time.
  • Critical parts: This part is often trying to be a cheerleader to the client; however, its words are harsh. The client can feel too distressed by the criticisms to work on the traumatic memory.
  • Denying parts: This part often minimises traumatic events in order to protect the client from truly recognising the impact of these horrific moments. Often these clients will say “it’s not a big deal”, or “that’s just normal at my house.”
  • Socially-avoidant parts: In fears of experiencing another distressing social encounter, this part will avoid any situations in which the client may stand out. This can prevent clients from spending time with friends, attending school, or dating. This socially avoidant part can also avoid situations where the client has to speak assertively or set boundaries.
  • Caretaker parts: This part will often forego the client’s own healing in order to take care of others. I often see this manager role in many postpartum parents as they learn to balance their own needs with that of their newborn child.
  • Intellectualising parts: This part will focus on analysing the situation, or thinking of the right answer versus allowing the client to sit with, or experience an emotion.

Firefighters

fireman standing near fire on building
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IFS explains that there is a second type of protective personalities that they refer to as firefighters. Whereas manager parts are in the role of preventative care, firefighter parts are reactive. They see a fire, and quickly work to put it out. In this way, firefighter parts are extremely helpful. Rather than letting the client feel burdened by traumatic wounds, firefighters are quick to find ways to stifle these intense feelings and beliefs.

Consider an example where an individual has recently been dumped. The impact of this breakup can be incredibly intense, worthy of hours of sadness, loneliness, and perhaps, hopelessness. This individual may also start to develop beliefs about himself following this experience, such as: “I don’t deserve love”, “I am ugly”, or “I am not good enough.” In reaction to this vulnerability, firefighters try to quickly eliminate these thoughts and emotions. They do this through any means, irrespective of other consequences that can arise. For example, this individual may have a part that is angry at his ex, a part that pushes others away when they talk about feelings, or a part that has him moving out of this neighbourhood.

Common Firefighter Blocks:

Feeling stuck in therapy. feeling stuck in trauma. IFS, internal family systems therapy

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  • Cancelling appointments parts: Following a difficult appointment, this part may feel it’s too vulnerable to return to therapy.
  • Angry parts: In response to feeling vulnerable, these parts want a way to feel empowered and lash out through anger, oftentimes projecting on to safe people.
  • Dissociative parts: These parts have the client “check out” during or after therapy. They can also cause clients to forget parts of traumatic experiences. Clients may present as distracted, or they have limited recollection of what happened.
  • Self-harm/Suicidal parts: In hopes of distraction or reducing pain, these parts practice self-harm or focus on suicidal urges.
  • Substance-dependent parts: In order to numb out emotions and thoughts, these parts turn to alcohol and drugs.
  • Food-dependent parts: These firefighters turn to food for comfort (e.g. binge eating, purging, excessive exercise). In hopes to feel some semblance of control, some firefighter parts focus on caloric restriction. Unfortunately, this food-dependent part tends to get push back from other parts of the system (e.g. parts that are ashamed in having to cope this way, part that resents being stuck in treatment because of food).
  • Body sensations/Illness: These parts can take over during sessions through headaches, body pains, upset stomachs, and other uncomfortable body cues. This can make it hard for the client to be fully present during the therapy experience.

Working with a Self-led System:

There is a common phrase in IFS, which is “all parts are welcome”. When it comes to therapy, every part of you is welcome to show up. Your therapist recognizes, like a family, you have various members in your internal system. As with families, each member has a different role, a different set of fears, and (sometimes) a different agenda. In IFS, we are not fearful of these managers and firefighters. Instead, your therapist will focus on the intentions of these parts to keep you safe. By taking the time to slowly work with these parts of your personality, your system begins to build more trust and there are fewer “stuck points”. It is at this point that we have permission to work on our underlying traumas.

IFS believes in the concept of “Self”. This is the true version of you. Not the one addled by anxieties and symptoms, but you at your very core. This is the confident, calm, curious, compassionate version of you that has been hidden due to firefighters, managers, and traumatised parts taking over. In IFS, we work to have a better relationship with our protective and traumatised parts so that there is more space for your true Self to come forward.

Parts-led versus Self-led

When we have a chaotic leader guiding us, our nation reacts with volatility. We become divided with one party screaming that their perspective matters most, and the other side counteracting with the same level of intensity. In similar ways, when our internal system is led by our managers, firefighters, or wounded parts, the rest of our system goes into a fight-or-flight mode. When we are led by Self, the system believes this leader has our best intentions at heart. There is more space to trust, listen, and negotiate.

When there is enough trust between Self and our protective layers, managers and firefighters can step back so that we work with the actual traumatic wounds. This process can take a session, or it can take a few months. The more vulnerable you felt during and after a traumatic experience, the more intensely your firefighters and managers will work to ensure these vulnerabilities are locked away safely. Therefore, therapy can take time in order to build trust with these protective parts of your personality.

Your therapist’s parts

The last piece that can create stuck points in therapy is your therapist. As your therapist is human, it is natural for him or her to also have managers, firefighters, and traumatised parts. In order to stay Self-led, I am regularly assessing whether my parts are interrupting the work in order to protect my own wounds. If a part of me reacts, then I am no longer feeling open-minded or curious. Instead, I am deterred by the agenda of my own anxieties.

If a therapist is triggered, this can impact a client from receiving effective and genuine support. Clients may feel that their therapists do not understand, and that they seem impatient or defensiveness. If this is the case, please know that this is not your fault. It may not be your therapist’s fault either, especially if he or she is unaware of these parts taking over.

Shifting away from feeling stuck

When we take the time to get to know our internal managers and firefighters, we build trust with these parts of our personality. We allow space for these parts to assess if it is safe to stop their protective roles. With this trust and safety, they no longer feel the need to react as strongly. We are finally able to move past these stuck points in healing.

If you are interested in learning more about IFS, or if you would like to discuss stuck points in therapy, please feel free to reach out.

Cheers,

Kasi