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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

Post-summer parenting shame

- by Sabrina Friesen

It's that time of year again, where parents pull out school supply lists and dust off indoor shoes to see if they still fit for the upcoming year. Lazy summer routines make way for structure, and boxes of KD head back to the pantry in favor of bagged lunches and portable snacks. 

For some people, it's the most wonderful time of the year. It means the end of keeping bored kids busy, of scrounging change for slurpees, and a blessed return to the structure of a school calendar. 

For others, it's a time where they lament the lazy, hazy days of summer where children played and adults relaxed with a drink by the beach. 

For many it's a mix of both.

What it can be for a lot of parents, too, is a time where post-summer shame kicks in. As colleagues return to the office from their weeks away and kids make their way back to school, the summer activities are reviewed and compared. It seems the days of letting kids run loose around the neighborhood with local kids are gone, with structured camps, day trips, and sometimes elaborate family holidays taking center stage. 

What some people may not realize is how the end of summer can weigh heavy on the hearts of parents, as they step back and take stock of what they did (or didn't) do.

A few conversations with mom friends confirmed a truth I had already suspected. Lurking sneakily beneath the surface as we chat about the upcoming school year, I hear it

In lingers in heavy sighs and tired eyes, and surfaces in every conversation about the upcoming end of summer. 

It's the dreaded parent-guilt. 

As we compared the events of this summer to last, one friend wondered, "Did I do enough to make it feel like summer break? We went on a 3 week vacation last year, and this year we stayed home."  For another friend, the demands of work were dramatically increased over the summer months - which meant more time in daycare and less 'fun' time with mom for her young ones. She too has looked back with regret - and perhaps a side of fear, wondering if her kids begrudge the summertime schedule. As I think of my own summer and of the interruptions of regular life that didn't pay heed to the short sunny season we have - I found myself tempted to 'make up' for the parts of the break that really didn't deliver for my own crew.

When did summer break turn into a two month long event? 

And when did we start getting scored on our performance?

I am curious what would happen if we were to look back on the summer with a side of "que sera sera", rather than with a dip in deep pools of regret. How would we feel about the transition to a new season of school if we were able to step back and realize summer is over and done, and there is not a thing we can do to change it

What if we were to give ourselves a break and stop comparing the events of our summer to those around us

Maybe that sleepover in the backyard that you thought was amazing, until you heard of a friend's two week trip to Florida, really was as special as you thought it was. Perhaps puddle jumping or frog hunting or that singular s'mores episode were all you had in you. Maybe you were stressed out to the max, and simply signed your kid up for every daycamp out there so you could simply. get. through. Or perhaps yours was the kid who stayed home and watched TV every day while you worked, because there were no room for extras in the budget.

Your summer could have been great. Or maybe it was total crap. 

Could we, parents, take a collective deep breath, and give ourselves permission to have done the best with what we had at the time

Could we stop kicking ourselves for all that we didn't do, and give pause to think of one thing this summer we enjoyed?  

It doesn't have to be something worthy of an Instagram post, just something that filled your heart with some measure of joy. Even if it was dropping your kids off at overnight camp. And while you're at it, maybe hug your kids. Or ask them about their day, or their favorite summer memory. 

Whether it's summer or spring, or the dark days of winter that are coming, what would happen if we compared less and showed up more for those we love? 

What if we traded the time we spent fretting over whether or not we are enough for our kids, and spent it trying to connect with them instead? Quote by Sabrina Friesen, Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg  

Let's give ourselves permission to opt out of the event-based, one-upping culture that we so often get tangled in and give space to celebrate what we have to offer, no matter how big or small it seems.

And while you're at it, why don't you take a moment and share something about your own summer that stood out for you - parents or not. We'd love to celebrate the small things with you.



The Mask of Humor

- by Carolyn Bergen

Robin Williams died last week. 

A man who made us all laugh. I think this was where I first met Mr. Williams:

A man whose movies challenged us to not only laugh but to see how laughter fits in with challenge, and war, with growing up, and loving your kids so much it hurts. Robin Williams' movies were hysterical…but sometimes tears aren't so far away from laughter, eh? 

Dahlia Kurtz sent me this article last week from Psychology Today, looking at how folks use humour in ways that allows a person to hide behind the joke, or conceal their pain underneath the humour. She suggested that we talk about it on air during our next weekly chat.

I asked folks who follow us on Facebook to comment on their perspective of the article. I'm grateful for those who did…some commented on the article on Facebook, others messaged me privately. I'm grateful to you all.

Ways in which humour works to hide pain:

1. It works as a decoy.

Remember those old black and white movies, where we would see a coupla guys (usually wearing a suit and tie) want to rob a bank? And their plan was to light a small fire at the other end of town. We would watch, slapstick comedy style, as all the emergency vehicles drove towards this fire, leaving the crooks free to rob the bank at the other end of town.

It was a diversionary tactic--and it worked with varying success.

A reader wrote:

Humour is always what I used to direct away from the pain, If I was up enough to do it. My friends thought I was hysterical, my husband thinks I should do stand-up (seriously!). I am on antidepressants and I am in therapy. I am okay, for now.

Humor is an attempt to fool people…to have them look over here at this joke, and away from over there at that pain.

2. It works as a mask.

It covers the pain.

Another reader wrote:

A friend once asked of me, "Promise me that you'll always laugh at my jokes!" His humour did make me laugh all the time; he was quick witted, clean thoughts, great at puns and word play, could imitate voices, etc. However, others, even his own wife and family, didn't think he was funny and said so. They saw his humour as a bid for seeking attention and frowned on that. Seems that when they needed him to be serious, he couldn't be what they wanted. His request of me to always laugh at his jokes, may have been a humour mask - to hide insecurities or to be in control and do what he pleased, rather than do the bidding of his family members, or to carve out his own unique niche in his social circle.

Humor is a way to attract a sort of connection…laughter, is after all, a wonderful way for folks to connect. But when it is a way to avoid authentic connection, rather than create it, it becomes a problem.

Some folks will do anything to avoid getting serious. They refuse to talk about the tough stuff.

The very sad part?

For some folks who have used humour as a mask for so long, it's like the mask gets fused to their face. If you ask them to really talk at deeper levels, they aren't even quite sure what you mean. For some folks who use humour often and long enough, they lose connection with parts of themselves that are more complex, that has experienced pain and loss.

no one, for any period of time can wear one face to himself and another to the magnitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.  Quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Poster by Bergen and Associates

They aren't able to empathic with those who reach out to them…and others may stop reaching out…and then it gets lonely. 

The "class clown" who joked to get others' approval now ends up distant and alone.

3. Sarcasm is a "funny" way to get some digs in, but not really

There is a difference between teasing and sarcasm. Sarcasm cuts--it uses humour to make a point, and often hides critical messages. Sarcasm can a way to be mean without owning the anger, or being direct about it.

You know that joke that somebody says about the deadline you missed, or the meeting you forgot…only you're not laughing? Yeah…that's sarcasm…and it can be an indirect way to express pain. It's tricky though, because you're expected to laugh at sarcasm even when it's not funny…and to name it and ask about what's behind the dig often elicits a shrug, and some hands up in a defensive way with a comment about "Don't take it so seriously--I was only joking!"

And the person using sarcasm--not getting their underlying hurt/anger/disappointment dealt with directly--and often, not at all.

4. Self Deprecating humour is a way to cut yourself down

Often self deprecating humour, where one makes jokes at one's own expense is often a way to beat others to the punch. After all, if you're harder on yourself than anybody else, then you can prevent hurt--theoretically, anyway. (What a person might not realize is how traumatizing it is to be beat up by oneself.)

People often use humour that is self critical as a way to ensure that others can't hurt them.

One reader wrote a contrasting idea:

My own sense of humour is self-deprecation, sarcasm, quick retorts. I have my own permission to poke fun at myself rather than joke at the expense of other people. I do find it annoying when on occasion someone felt that poking fun at myself meant that I was hiding deeper emotional issues and my own insecurities. I, on the other hand, felt that because I can poke fun at my own insecurities, I'm in a much better shape to deal with them - I don't deny them. Everyone has issues with something - and I'm coping well with mine.

5. Humor is an authentic expression appropriate to the situation, as a temporary mask.

I talked about the use of humour as a mask with a teacher this week. And her response was, "Well, sometimes you have a choice between laughing and crying, and when a whole class is watching, crying doesn't really feel like an option."

There are times in our lives when we'd like to curl up in a ball and hide, or rail against the world while beating our chest, or scold and ridicule a child for their actions…only doing so in that moment wouldn't be authentic to one's core values. There are times when it feels authentic to be professional, or "be the bigger person" or be a parent, and not act on strong feelings that threaten to hijack our ability to be present in the moment the way we authentically want to be.

Humor is a great way to soften the situation, and turn it around…to reconnect with someone under difficult circumstances. To do this may allow you to align with your core values in a real way.

What makes this use of humour different than the standard mask of humour is to consciously choose to use it in the situation (rather than an unconscious default strategy)…and then to later "unpack" the other emotions that weren't attended to, on your own, or ideally, with a friend. 

The mask is something that is used temporarily and consciously, and then removed to acknowledge what is happening. It helps maintain integrity in the situation, and after the situation…it is fully honest.

Humor in it's most pure form, isn't a mask at all, but an acknowledgement of common humanity, of enjoying the lighter side of life:

From a reader:

My sweet husband, who passed away 1 1/2 yrs. ago now, asked me to tone down my sarcasm and I chose not to use it with him - just with my women friends. His sense of humour was a quiet, well-timed, dry-dead pan response - that usually took some time to catch! Miss those so much! No mask there - just delightful interactions with each other for 46 blessed years.

Humor is designed to connect people. Masks, of any kind, disconnect people from each other.

Humor lightens life up. Masks weigh people down…they get heavy and burdensome.

Humor creates energy. Masks consume energy.

Think about the use of humour in your life?
She had blue skin, And so did he. He kept it hid And so did she. They searched for blue Their whole life through, Then passed right by- And never knew. Quote by Shel Silverstein. Poster by Bergen and Assocaites Counselling in Winnipeg

The privilege of grumbling

- by Carolyn Bergen

We can complain that rose bushes have thorns or rejoice that thorn bushes have roses. Abraham Lincoln.  Poster by Bergen and associates.When I was a little girl, I couldn't decide between being a teacher or a nurse or a ballerina when I grew up. But I knew that no matter what, I wanted to be a mother.

Being a ballerina was out pretty quickly, as I never actually took ballet. (Apparently having beautiful ballerina pillow cases doesn't realize a dream). And while I have taught at the university, I'm not actually a teacher. And nursing was out because of the shift work…because it didn't fit for the kind of mother I wanted to be.

Becoming a mother was fraught with trickiness for me…I'm grateful that I am, and I soooo don't take it for granted. Multiple high risk procedures made it possible…and even then, it was only because of an extended hospital stay both before and after the youngest was born.

I am not one to take my Junior Tribe Members for granted. Achieving Motherhood was precarious for me…it then has had a preciousness to me that I've been mindful of these last years.

But that hasn't stopped me from wanting to pull my hair out at various points

One of the JTM's was a highly sensitive child which meant that clothing tags, smells, the sight of food he didn't like, having to choose only one of two good things would send him into a full on meltdown. This, combined with a speech delay which meant I often had little clue about what was upsetting him until his fourth year. Tantrums weren't just daily…often they were hourly…those can wear a mama down.

Motherhood for me, as it does for all mothers, meant there were times when I was foggy with sleep deprivation and I muddled through the day with the only thought of making it until I might collapse into bed. There were times I was absolutely convinced I would never, ever, in my entire lifetime (and quite possibly the next) ever eat while the food was still hot. 

One year, there were long dark nights staying at a friend's cottage where I sought to keep the little one quiet so as not to wake up our hosts, with "imaginary reading". I'd read "Molly moves to Sesame Street" and others so many times I could quote it word for word to the little one in the dark. The others were sleeping--and needed to sleep--and I was awake trying to keep JTM quiet…even though it felt I needed sleep more than anyone else.

I forgot sometimes how much I wanted motherhood, and how I had earlier anguished there would be days that it wouldn't happen. Sometimes I even wondered to myself, "Seriously? This is what I longed for? What was I thinking?"

As the JTM's got older, I did begin to eat a meal while it was still hot. 

I slept through the night and woke up with a clear mind (and I wandered around marvelling: "Does everybody feel this good when they are awake after they've slept through? How come they don't appreciate it as a wondrous wonder?") 

But now, they left a trail of crumbs as they got their own snacks, they left their socks lying on the floor wherever they had taken them off (which was anywhere...and everywhere), they had to be reminded to get ready on time for birthday parties and sports practices which they LOVED (but were still never ready on time for). 

Loud and rambunctious, running full on through the house, grabbing hold of walls with dirty hands as they turned with breakneck speed. It was loud…and the smudges left traces of JTM's everywhere.

Sometimes it felt like I had only one nerve left, and they were busy trying to fray that one!

One JTM is leaving the tribe. 

Oh, he'll still belong to us…but he's moving to a dorm across the country in just a coupla weeks. I didn't think it would end so soon. I didn't know it would feel so fast that the time would come.

Last evening, I sat down to watch a show last night, and had to move a couple dirty socks before I sat. I walked by the washer, and there was dirty socks and Tshirts littered over the floor…right beside the hamper. Seriously?

"Laundry thrown carelessly on the floor right next to the hamper is something I won't miss"

..was what I thought I would think…but it wasn't.

I will miss it. 


In an odd space between the almost but not quite, I'm regretting all the times he won't be in the next room playing his music too loud, or leaving his dishes on the counter, or his flip-flops in the middle of the entry way so I can't even close the back door. I'm gonna miss how he looks suddenly guilty when I ask if he has done the chore I asked him to do yesterday. 

Pretty soon he won't be leaving socks around the house anywhere for me to decide if I should clean up myself, or call him over to learn to take responsibility.

No more socks all over the place.

And in an odd twist that is surprising me, I'm already missing the messiness.

In a world where an unarmed black son gets killed while standing in the street, terrorists end lives and celebrate with arms raised in videos, and a famous comedian who made the world laugh and loves his family can't see a way out of the pain…I realize how blessed I have been to complain about socks and tantrums, and crumbs, and dishes on the counter. 

And how very much I will long for the days when eye rolling and harumphs of frustration could be part of my daily existence…because those frustrations said my JTM was likely in the next room. It meant that he would burst through the door soon wanting to tell me something funny that he saw on YouTube. It meant that we would soon go to a smelly gym where two teams would give their body's best to become a team…it meant this good little boy was on his way to becoming a fine, young man--and I had a front row seat.


Let's celebrate the privilege of grumbling!

…grumbling because our loved ones are around messing up with crumbs and crusts and crying, being inconsiderate, tripping over their foibles as they make their way through life. 

Let's celebrate that grumbling over our loved ones means they are around for us to grumble about.

I know that I'm gonna miss grumbling about him.

Hump Day Nudge: Great Dads

- by Carolyn Bergen

"My name's dad…and proud of it…all dads should be."

I love peanut butter. 

But I'm not at all sure about mixing peanut butter and Cheerios.

I am completely sure that this is the sort of dad that is inspiring… I think it's something about the encouragement, empowerment, boundaries, playfulness, affirmation towards his children and confidence in his own ability to pull it off in a crazy, imperfect, messy sort of way that just warms me.

In a world that is too quick to tell us what we need by what we haven't got, I'm kinda inspired by a model that is respectful to dads, and celebrates the contribution of men in the lives of their children.

Go Cheerios! You're not just for amusement of little-tiny-preschoolers-whose-desperate-parents-put-cheerios-on-their-high-chairs-to-get-5-more-minutes-peace-to-finish-their-dinner anymore!

Cheerios…you nailed a model of fatherhood that is fun and gentle and encouraging and validating. Thank you.

Dads are important. The research says it, and my walls have heard it over and over.

Listen to dads and boys talk about it:

"BEing there counts" Poster by Bergen and Associates

Meet our new intern...Heather Pringle

- by Carolyn Bergen

Introducing Heather Pringle!

Heather pringle is an intern counsellor with affordable rates.

We, at Bergen and Associates Counselling are thrilled to let y'all know that Heather Pringle is joining our team, beginning to see clients at the beginning of September.

It has been tradition, ever since our first loved intern, Rod Minaker, phoned me up and told me how much sense it made for us to have an intern. I'd never really thought of it before, and had no idea what it would look like, but with his workhorse ethic, he assured me that it was do-able, and he could help me figure out how to make it happen. He literally created his own internship--he did an excellent job doing so, and actually helped create the template for interns that then followed. He is leaving us at the end of this month, and while we will certainly miss his input to our clients--way more than than, we're just gonna plain miss him. We have come to love his learning spirit, his passion for the profession, his playfulness and his giggle…and all that makes Rod…well, Rod.

A lovely line of interns followed…each one meets with myself (Carolyn Bergen) regularly to consult about the situations and the clients they are working with…we brainstorm together how they might help a client approach their issues in fresh and life giving ways; how they might authentically connect with clients as they explore matters that are deeply personal and troubling; and how they might help create space and momentum for moving forward in ways that create new energy and life.

Last Thursday, it so happened that I met Kevin Beauchamp, our intern from 2011-2013 for breakfast. He introduced me to his lovely fiancé, who was actually a student that I taught at the University of Manitoba last year. He was excited to tell me of his life post internship…and it was beautiful to hear him reflect on what life has taught him, and the joy he has. 

I drove from the breakfast to my office where I met Yok Knight, our intern from 2009…and she introduced me to her baby, named after a civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Yok's sense of justice, and desire for reconciliation and authentic peace is powerful. She caught me up on her travels and adventures as she has furthered her education and lived in various parts of North America. It was cool to see her growth, and to meet her little one.

Now..Heather Pringle joins us. We value our interns…and she comes to us soooo highly regarded. We've been impressed with her right from the time we received her first interest in joining us. I spent a couple of hours with her last week, explaining some of how we do things…and you know how sometimes you can tell it's a good fit? Let's just say, we had a great orientation. 

I got a good feeling about having her around.

She will be seeing clients for 60 minute sessions on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons with a rate of $45.00 per session (including GST). She is at the end of her studies, and is nearing completion of her degree…and she, like all the other interns, will be regularly consulting with Carolyn Bergen.

We recognize that the full clinical rate is out of reach for a lot of people who would still value therapy…and so we are delighted to give the public an option that is within reach for more people.

Contact us via our request form or call us at 204 275 1045 to book a session with Heather Pringle!

**Please note that Heather and I are "as is" on the above photo…no blemishes photoshopped out, no wrinkles smoothed, no teeth whitenedWe present the shot unretouched--intentionally

Clients are their honest, truest, most authentic selves with us…the least we can do is be the same with you. 

This high quality photo taken by Doug Little, our next door neighbour at the office…but only until the end of the month. We will miss you, Doug!

6 Facts about Mental Health and Money

- by Carolyn Bergen

How does mental health and money intersect?

Well, so glad you asked!

As I've been doing some reading and listening lately, the topic of a person's relationship to money and how that impacts the relationship to themselves and others has come up lately.

What I've discovered is this:

1. A minimum amount of money is important to mental health and to raising kids well. But too much money can be a barrier to parenting well.

It is stressful to be stretched and strained…to wonder how the rent will be paid, or wonder if the grocery money will last until the end of the month. When finances are so tight that there isn't enough for basic expenses, it affects mental health. 

It's a lousy feeling to not know if you can provide for your kids. Absolutely.

Poverty is exhausting and stressful. And having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet is hard on relationships.

However, we often have the notion that happiness can only increase as income increases. The more money one has, the common thinking goes, the easier it is to provide for children, and give them what they need.

"The scholars who research happiness suggest that more money stops making people happier at a family income of around $75000/year" (David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, p. 50) And actually, "when the income of parents gets high enough, then parenting starts to be harder again"…as teaching a work ethic and modelling a successful struggle to achieve family success becomes difficult. It's harder to say, "No, we won't" than, "No, we can't".

2. Our culture of scarcity is what can create the problems

We live in a scarcity culture…one where the fear of "not enough" is ever present. Media/advertising often tell us that we should be using better shampoo, have a nicer car, have a phone with more features, bump up our RRSP contributions…and we are often chasing "more" to ensure we have "enough".

This is despite the fact that our houses are much larger than 20 years ago, and there is double the square footage of home per person today than a generation ago. Things that didn't even exist a hundred years ago and were considered luxury a generation ago are not considered standard (think air conditioning, dishwashers, cell phones).

In our pursuit of "enough" in this scarcity culture, we become anxious and focused on what's not right/enough and become single minded in correcting this. Consumer debt load continues to rise. We are more in debt than ever before.

Debt creates its own stress. 

3. Money does buy happiness…but only if you spend it in a certain way

Love this TED talk that makes the above claim:

Money does buy happiness…but only if you spend it the right way…on others. When we use our money to be kind…we experience a greater level of joy and life satisfaction

A guy named Michael Norton did some research at UBC in Vancouver had scientists give folks some money in the morning--…and if they were told to spend it on themselves, it had no effect on their mood. Others were also given money, only were told to spend it on others in whatever they chose…they bought someone a coffee,gave it to the homeless, or bought a small toy for a child…when they got a call at suppertime later that day, the folks who spent it on others…they had improved mood. 

The research found that even small ways of spending money on others gave just as powerful an effect. you don't have to do amazing things with your money to make yourself happy. You can do small, trivial things and yet still get these benefits from doing this.  

Turns out that when you give the members of a team…from a financial sales team or a dodge ball team…when you give each team member money to spend on themselves, it’s spent with no effect.  It’s gone.  When you give team members money and ask them to spend it on their team members, something quite incredible happens.  Spending money on others has a much bigger return. Sale numbers of sales teams go up…substantially.  Dodge ball teams start cleaning up in the league.  When team members are provided with resources and encouraged to be kind to each other, team work gets better, and the team becomes more successful. 

This group looked across the world—how broad is this effect that being kind with your money improves life satisfaction. Michael Norton and his team got data from the Gallup Organization. They ask people, "Did you donate money to charity recently?" and they ask them, "How happy are you with your life in general?" …In almost every country in the world where data can be gathered, people who give money to charity are happier people that people who don't give money to charity. 

4. Words communicate messages more clearly than money. Talking by money does not enhance relationships.

One of the most common things for couples to fight about is money. 

One of the main reasons couples fight about money is that they use money to say things in the relationship.

  • "I love you unconditionally" translates into saying nothing when one partner is overspending…and a spouse doesn't know how to raise a conversation about the bank balance
  • Anger at a spouse's excess work hours or excessively expensive tastes becomes expressed by overspending oneself on one's own interests or clothes or whatever. 
  • or conversely, anger at one's spouse is expressed by the withholding of money, "I can't give you any more money for groceries this month" (even though there is still money for other things)
  • Shame (that feeling of being flawed and therefore 'not good enough") means that a person shops for prettier clothes, fancier furniture, or more expensive steaks to ensure that a spouse is/stays happy in the relationship. 
  • Wanting to "make up" for a deficit of working too hard or really being insensitive by purchasing an expensive gift or meal at a fancy restaurant that one can't really afford but is a huge gesture to demonstrate a desire to repair the relationship
Using money to communicate anger, fear, or love may work, but it's expensive. And not just monetarily. 

Using your words to communicate the desire to be close, to feel good enough, to express disappointment or love will always be more effective than communicating with money.

5. Spending money is a only a very short term buzz to improve mental health

People who enjoy shopping will often buy an item when feeling especially stressed after a hard day's work, or getting dumped, or after an argument with someone important to them.

The purchase gives a bit of a pleasant buzz…it feels good to have something new. It is an attempt to numb the uncomfortable/painful feeling with a shiny new object.

Truly, a cute dress doesn't really numb the pain…and if your closet is already full, and your credit card already has a balance…it actually will increase the pain in the long run, after the immediate buzz wears off.

Spending money to feel better doesn't work.

5. Your approach to time affects your spending habits

Researchers [Clements and Zimbardo] looked at how [3000] people view the past, present and future.

They found that people who are excessively focused on the past—for example, the grandmother who says stuff like "things were so much better when I young"—aren't likely to take financial risks.

For people who focus on the present, there are hedonists and fatalists.

A hedonist is a pleasure-seeker and tends not to think about consequences. People in this category aren't typically in good financial situations, even if they are good at math.

For example, Clements said he has known investment bankers who used payday lenders. They could deal with incredibly complex financial problems, but they couldn't control their impulses, he said.

Fatalists are the people who feel stuck and hopeless in their situation, he said. It might be a single mother who is making trade-offs, working endlessly and feeling like she isn't making a dent in her debt.

Banks love hedonists and fatalists, Clements said. All they have to do is get a credit card into the hands of a hedonist and give a fatalist a bad deal so that their situation doesn't improve.

People who are future-oriented tend to rank themselves high in financial literacy, but their excessive focus on what might happen can be to their detriment, Clements said.

For example, they might overpay for insurance because it sounds like a good deal and they want insurance.

Further…some languages do not have a future tense--"futureless languages"--(e.g.Keith Chen says, "A Chinese speaker can basically say something that sounds very strange to an English speaker's ears. They can say, 'Yesterday it rain,' 'Now it rain,' 'Tomorrow it rain.' In some deep sense, Chinese doesn't divide up the time spectrum in the same way that English forces us to constantly do in order to speak correctly."

In languages that do not have a future tense, the speakers see the present and future more fluidly…and that changes their spending patterns: "futureless language speakers, even after this level of control, are 30 percent more likely to report having saved in any given year. Does this have cumulative effects? Yes, by the time they retire, futureless language speakers, holding constant their income, are going to retire with 25 percent more in savings."

For more on this intriguing idea...

6. We tend to place a disproportionate amount of emphasis on money for happiness

Our culture often equates income with happiness. We esteem those who have more disposable income. Our culture often measures success by the size of a person's home, the number of bells and whistles on their vehicle, or the manufacturers of their clothes. This occurs for both genders, but men tend to be more harshly evaluated on their "ability to provide".

I wrote a series about the regrets of the dying. When folks are in their last days, confronting their own mortality, they are not wishing they had made more money, or had a bigger house. They are wishing they hadn't worked so hard, that they had put more emphasis on relationships and quality of life.

Bronnie Ware writes: "By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle."

Anybody who thinks money will make you happy, hasn



- by Carolyn Bergen

Could be worse. Not sure how, but it could be. Quote by Eeyore. Poster by Bergen andASsociates Counseliing in winnipeg

Complaining costs a soul…and being mindful of complaining can change your life.

The world conspired to have me think on complaining this last week. Dahlia Kurtz suggested a week ago that we talk about "complaining" for our weekly radio chat this week. She suggested an article to springboard off: I went 21 days Without Complaining and It Changed My Life. Only the day before, a buddy of mine emailed the same article to me to let me know about an experiment he decided to engage in.

The article outlined a practice--a thought experiment--first suggested byWill Bowen, a Kansas city minister:

Will designed a solution in the form of a simple purple bracelet, which he offered to his congregation with a challenge: go 21 days without complaining. Each time one of them complained, they had to switch the bracelet to their other wrist and start again from day 0. It was simple but effective metacognitive awareness training.

The idea was premised on the knowledge that word choice determined thought choice, which determines emotions and actions.

Think of it this way…imagine your brain as a series of roads…some are regular roads, some are superhighways, and some are dirt paths. Habits become formed when roads are used repeatedly…and as with all traffic…when roads are heavily used, the system adds extra lanes and reinforces them to withstand heavy traffic. Other roads, as they are used less become over grown, develop cracks with weeds growing up through them, and the shoulders began to disappear…the less the road is used, the more it deteriorates, and so it is used even less.

The idea is that complaining puts our brains into negative space. Most of us, if we are conscious about our complaining/gossiping/criticizing, we'd be surprised at how negative we are in our thoughts. By switching the band from one wrist to another when we complain, we become aware of our negativity…and as mindfulness is increased, we quickly move to being able to proactively choose to not complain and therefore, be in a more neutral or constructive space.

So…my buddy has been giving me updates…He would be quite quick to say he is generally a "cup half empty" kinda guy. He had to switch the band three times in the first several hours as he noticed himself muttering under his breath about lousy parking and poor driving of other drivers while on the road. However, when he began work later that day…and corporate culture is a great place to exchange complaining banter with colleagues about how lousy the company is, about how other staff are lousy at their jobs, and to complain about family with each other. He noticed that he was able to stop himself several times at work from engaging in this sort of conversation.

Several days in, he was choosing not to complain in heavy traffic anymore as he was catching himself begin to go down that road, and he would choose not to criticize others' driving. To his surprise (he is a cynical sort)…he found that his time in the car was more pleasant when he chose not to be grumpy on the drive. 

He is recognizing the value of the thought experiment and is now playing with ideas to remain authentically engaged in live without complaining. To be incessantly cheerful about all of life would be foolish and ignorant. Life has challenges, and to not recognize difficulties and hurts would be ignorant and potentially dangerous.

So…some ideas to curb complaining:

1. Don't sweat the small stuff: 

I tried this experiment too. Shortly after beginning it, I happened to pass by a cute house that had an "open house" sign on it…and I had some time and interest and stopped by just as it was starting. I noticed the real estate agent parked right in front of the house to take open house signs out of the trunk. And I immediately thought to myself, "How rude for the host to take the best parking spot. It's bad for business to not leave it open for a buyer, and just inconsiderate for those who want to come see." Busted…I switched wrists 20 minutes after I started. 

But seriously, what's the big deal? What's the damage involved in this act? What business is it of mine where the agent would park? This was me having a negative opinion about something that was quite inconsequential…why let myself get affected by something that doesn't involve me, and is so minor?

2. Practice empathy:

Think about the last time that you acted in a way, that if another was watching, they would say you acted like a jerk. Maybe you went through a very yellow light, or were impatient standing in line…or even cut ahead in line. Now think about what was happening that created the context for that behaviour.

There are jerks in this world. Absolutely. But they are relatively rare.

Generally, when people do something that looks rude or nasty or hurtful. there is a reason behind it…we may just not be aware. A boss is harsh and demanding…but can an employee know how the boss is getting pressured from his/her boss to produce "or else"? Someone that cuts you off in traffic…maybe they are late for daycare pickup…and we know how kids can be when a parent is late. I was upset about the service a company was providing to us, and I wrote a letter of concern…only to find out that a critical piece of the work was being done by someone who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  Quote by Plato, Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winnipeg

3. Be aware of the suffering of humanity

The temptation of complaining is to believe that we are uniquely suffering by the injustices of the world, which has complaining "make sense". 

By being aware of how others may also have to deal with hassles, it feels a little less lonely to struggle. By being aware of how others may only just wish to have your hassles, it helps to provide a context that creates for gratitude rather than complaint. Dirty laundry means there are clothes to wear, an empty gas tank means there is a car, and fellow employees who avoid work that trickles down to your desk unfair means there is a paycheck coming in.

This Eeyore-type buddy of mine was facing some distasteful tasks at work this week…and on Monday he was grumbling to himself about having to carry out these tasks. Later on Monday, he became aware of a tragedy at a neighbouring worksite where there was a workplace fatality. He texted me Monday evening, suddenly profoundly grateful that he was alive to be in a position to carry out the distasteful tasks. 

4. Be creative and playful with a sense of fun

Situations can be grumped about…or giggled at. There can be a "other side of the coin" perspective that can be lost if the focus is solely on being critical. For example, you may be upset that you end up having to do the company presentation to the clients--but it may put you in a position to be noticed and considered for the next promotion.

My Eeyore buddy is finding himself quite the jokester…he texted me this week that the annual, dull and dry safety seminar that he needed to attend all day set him up for a fantastic night's sleep. He texted this with a wink, and a specific note that he had found a way to be candid about his experience without complaining about it. 

I don't think it was lost on him tho, that he was joking about something that he would have ordinarily snarled about…and that his perspective had authentically changed.

5. Be constructive

Tim Ferriss, the author of the article I referred to earlier, found that if he noticed something and found a way to be positive and constructive about it…finding a strategy for improvement or some other way to have it be productive to think about and comment on, it reformed the complaint into awareness and more precise thinking that was helpful.

He gives an example:

Complaint: "John can be such an a**hole. Totally uncalled for."

instead becomes:

Constructive: "John was a bit of muppet in there, wasn't he? I suppose I'll just send the e-mails directly to Mary in engineering for the next two weeks to get buy-in, then he'll have to agree."

The idea is to reframe complaints as opportunities to find better strategies. It moves a person from being victim to being proactive.

6. Be aware of the cost of complaining

resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping the it will kill your enemy.  Quote by Nelson Mandela. Bergen and Associates Counselling poster

I think complaining is first cousins with resentment. Who really suffers with complaining?

The complainer.

Complaining puts your head into negative space in an unproductive way. When done with friends and co-workers, it may create connection…but it's not a positive one.

Put an elastic band around your wrist…Switch it every time you whine, complain, criticize or gossip. Be mindful of the need to switch…and challenge yourself to see if you can avoid switching the band…and notice what happens when the superhighways of complaints gradually turn into dirt roads.

Will Bowen has given out almost 6 million bracelets of folks who found the challenge worthwhile. 

Wanna change your life? You in?

Hump Day Nudge: Shake the Dust

- by Carolyn Bergen

Quote by Anis Mojgani: So when the world knocks at your front door, clutch the knob and open on up, running forward into its widespread greeting arms with your hands before you, fingertips trembling though they may be.  Poster by Bergen and Associates

This stirs my soul in the way only exquisite poetry can. It pulls tears in unknowing, curious, only half understood ways with it's pulls and turns. 

It somehow challenges me to grab life, to reach out hard, and run forward bravely…knowing many other also reach out terrified but brave…opening up to all life has to offer.

Shake the dust, huh?

For those of you who feel like it's time to shake it up in your life…clean up those dust bunnies in your life that fear has you avoiding, enter some areas of your life that have been collecting dust and need some brave revitalization, or you've been letting the dust settle on you rather than forging forward hard…consider The Daring Way™ August 13-15, Wed afternoon-Friday morning. We'd love to have you join us so contact us to express your interest, and ask your questions!

FAQ's about Adult Bullying

- by Carolyn Bergen

Bullying sucks, at any age.

Bullying hurts…the irony being that the bullies in the schoolyard are often the ones being bullied in another arena. They feel hurt and powerless…and so exert power over another to push away the helplessness.

Those that are bullied are often hesitant to disclose to others that they are bullied…no matter what the age. The reason why bullying works is cuz there is a little part of the bullied that believe the messages of the bully…that they are fat or a fraidy-cat or dumb or worthless and they do "deserve it".

You are not alone.

Enjoy the beauty, feel the understanding, cry with those who are hurt:

To this day, those who have been bullied are affected.

To this day, those who felt vulnerable to the names and labels that hurt more than sticks and stone remain vulnerable to those names and labels that are more sophisticated and layered and nuanced as adults…but no less subversive to one's sense of value.

What is adult bullying?

Sarcasm, yelling, name-calling, threats, intimidation, withdrawal of love, physical attacks. When someone threatens your emotional or physical wellbeing, or tears your character down--rips apart who you are…that is bullying.

Critique addresses behaviour. Bullying attacks the person.

Feedback is phrased carefully. Bullying is dumped carelessly.

Real relationships cross boundaries, but are open to feedback, circling back and apologizing…and then doing things differently. Bullying says, "you're being too sensitive", "stop being hurt, it's no big deal", "because I don't see the problem, it's not a problem"

When you feel like you are made to feel small, weak and powerless in the relationships--that is a bullying relationship.

Are the nasty bosses, or the drunk buffoon at the bar the adult bullies in our lives?

Yes, they are. People in a position of power--a supervisor at work, your landlord, your banker…they can be fullies.

But parents can be bullies to their adult children. Adult children can be bullies to their parents. Spouses can be bullies to their partners. Friends can be bullies to friends.

When close relationships have bullying elements, it can be subtle and insidious and difficult to name and change…which makes those close relationships of bullying pretty darn tricky.

How does bullying work?

Bullies seek (consciously or unconsciously) to have the person feel vulnerable, weak and powerless. That's when bullying works most effectively to control the other. Each incident of bullying demonstrates to the bully that it works to exert power over that person.

Without intending to, each time a victim acquiesces to the bully, it is a message saying that the bullying is worthwhile and effective and worth continuing.

Those in close relationship with a bully often feel like they are taking the path of least resistance, or avoiding a fuss, or "keeping the peace" by giving in. What this is actually doing is reinforcing the behaviour. Bullies know that if they keep at it, you will give in. By smoothing things over, and giving the bully what s/he wants, a victims increases the intensity of the bullying.

Carolyn, are you blaming the victim? 

No. I'm not.

To be clear, it is never OK in everyday relationships to hurt another, belittle them, take away their power or self esteem or sense of well being by intimidation or coercion. Tantrums or manipulation or threats don't have a place in relationships. Even on your bad days, you don't deserve that. Nobody does.

However, I remember going to a workshop many years ago where the leader said, "There are three kinds of kids on the playground. The bullies, the victims, and everybody else…most people are in the 'everybody else' category". The workshop leader went on to point out that a bully may go up to an "everybody else" person and say, "you're ugly and fat" and throw spitballs at the person.

An "everybody else" person will respond to the name calling with something like: "That's rude, dude. Stop it. So not cool." and turn back to spend time with their friends. Bullying doesn't work on a lot of people cuz they simply won't buy it. 

And the bully will move on to try somebody else…cuz it's no fun trying to bully somebody who doesn't do their part by playing the victim.

The "everybody else's" may be intimidated by a landlord or a boss, and may have to be subjected to some unfair treatment…but inside, they won't really be bullied…because they will know, at the core of their being, that this is unfair, and they don't deserve it.

And that's the key. Deserving it.

When there is a small part of you that believes the nastiness…that you believe you deserve the names, the criticism, the abuse…then you allow it.

So what do I do with the bully in my life?

First…look after yourself. Typically, a bully seeks to isolate his/her victim. Don't let that happen.

Share your story with someone you believe in and you trust. Risk telling stories you are embarrassed or ashamed or humiliated about…letting the other person know it's hard. Have them speak truth into your life. 

You need to hold onto who you are--to be emboldened and empowered in yourself to engage with the bully from a position of feeling strong…of knowing you are worth being treated well.

This will help you know that you have more power than you realize. You can say "no". You can walk away. You can choose not to engage in a dance you know isn't going anywhere. You can protect yourself from something that is gonna get ugly.

Sometimes that takes advance planning. Sometimes it takes bringing other people in as witnesses, or doing things via email so it can be documented. 

Almost always it's terrifying.

And generally, the bully doesn't like being stood up to. Things can get worse for a while, as s/he tries harder to bully you into submission…that's when it gets really hard--until the bully knows you mean business and you won't be backing down.

You need support to help you stay calm, stay in the space of what's true, and work towards a solution, rather than escalating a problem. Bullying a bully rarely works.

Any last piece of advice?

One simple, but complex line: 

You teach people how to treat you.

Talk to friends. Watch videos. Read books. Get counselling. Invest in developing strategies that will have people understand how to relate to you. 

This is not easy, and often those who are bullied as adults were trained to be bullied because they were bullied as children…when someone approaches them in an intimidating way, they are very naturally intimidated.

Know that it's not easy, but it is do-able--to learn that you are worth more than that, to know that you can make decisions not to put up with that crap…and to have the bully understand that the old patterns simply aren't going to work anymore.

Teach people to treat you respectfully…know that you are worth it!

We teach other people how to treat us. Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winnipeg, a therapy clinic

Hump Day Nudge: You don't have to try

- by Carolyn Bergen

Watching and listening and gazing into the eyes of the women in this video chokes me…it narrows my throat, and tears well up…I feel a knot when I swallow. Somehow this video says something deep and profound and wonderful and beautiful…

Don't a lot of us try hard to be who we think others want us to be?

Don't a lot of us decide we need a certain image and try hard to fit that image?

Don't a lot of us look around and try to be like the others?

Colbie Caillet reminds us that we don't have to try so hard.

you don

It is true that some in this world will judge you on how you fit in, how you conform, and if your lipstick matches your shoes.

The question is if you will choose to listen and put weight on that critique.

When you show up in life as yourself…to live fully and authentically…that's something that is priceless. Just getting up…showing up and being fully alive…and knowing you are accepted and valued by those who matter in your life…that releases you from trying so hard.

And frees you to embrace your life.

Older posts »

Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

August 23, 2014

The mask of humour…what is it costing you?

In celebration of grumbling. What? Yep, you read that right!

Hump Day Nudge: Celebrating and Enjoying Great Dads!

Introducing Heather Pringle…we love our interns!

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