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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

Prepping for lifelong love Part 1

- by Carolyn Bergen

One month ago today, something very important happened in my life.

It's true that it was likely more important in a Junior Tribe Members life…but this is my blog :) and so I'm making this about me. After all, I am now a MOTG (mother of the groom).

It was in summer that he began talking about the proposal around the dinner table. They'd been dating each other since early high school…they have a solid relationship with no drama. She's been a part of our family dinners and occasions for years…now it is time to make it official.

JTM would throw out ideas, and we would toss around possibilities for how to make it special. He was in charge of what would happen…but he made it fun by letting me suggest tweaks. Some he took. Some he didn't.

He got T's input on the ring by casually browsing with her over the spring. She had some ideas…and they evolved and developed over time. He knew what T liked. What she didn't know was that he took her ideas and had the ring of their dreams made. All those years of seeing each other and dreaming and planning suddenly became a concrete expression of love in the ring.

Only trouble for me was that special ring was in the house for almost 3 months before the big reveal. That's a long time to hold such an exciting bit of news quiet. My life as a therapist is holding the confidences of many--I'm a pro at keeping quiet--but when its a JTM and its about the love of his life and the ring is beautiful and I'm excited…well, my well honed steel trap was tested significantly (but prevailed, I proudly say).

Sometimes boys cut corners. A JTM can think he cleaned up supper when the dishes make it from the table just to the counter. The laundry is as good as put away when the laundry basket reaches the bedroom. 

Sometimes boys recognizes there are places and times where cutting a single corner just won't do. All stops are pulled out. There is an investment in getting Every. Detail. Perfect.

This proposal was one of those times when he rose to the occasion--he put in a ton of effort and paid attention to each little aspect of the moment when he would ask her to spend the rest of their lives together. He loves her, and the extravagance of the proposal was significant to him to be able to have her know and remember that forever.


Sometimes those JTM's do make a mama's heart fairly burst with pride, joy, love, and a whole buncha other stuff. I mean, seriously…there are days in raising these children where you wonder if they will ever be able to match socks, actually put the laundry into the hamper, or say thank you without being reminded. And then one day, you turn around, and he is spending the fall season dreaming about how to make a moment in time the memory of a lifetime for the love of his life. I'm crazy thrilled about his efforts.

That's awesome (and I don't use that word lightly!)

So…in the weeks before the big day, Engagement Central (aka our living room) the crack in the ceiling was repaired. The entire room was repainted a beautiful soft white. The ceiling and trim and fireplace got a fresh coat too. We went and ordered flowers and purchased candles long before. We made ice candle holders, got an ice bucket ready, and made the lists. He planned his speech, and I made plans with her for a pedicure for the appointed time and day to ensure that T kept her schedule open.

The before we ironed and hung curtains (long overdue to be done--better late than never), removed the furniture, ironed tablecloths, and checked the final lists. He wasn't sleeping from excitement…which was ok, as it gave him hours in the night to practice and refine his speech.

The day of the engagement, I took the day off work..ran errands in the morning getting last minute details done. It was a family day helping one of our own fulfill a dream--that's the best sort of day. And in the afternoon, we picked up the roses. 23 is this couple's number…they started dating on the 23rd, and they often mark special occasions on that day…and now they were getting engaged on the 23rd. So…we trimmed 23 dozen roses and put them in vases. We arranged 23 candles all over Engagement Central. We lit candles in ice holders by the sidewalk, and into the room. We curtained off the rest of the house. We set the table for a romantic dinner for two. He showered put on his suit…and then T said she'd arrive in 10 minutes. The room was beautiful…it was enchanting. 

We were hoping for exquisite. It exceeded our expectations. It was magical.

We lit the few last candles and everyone except the future groom tore out of there in 4 minutes. Turns out her 10 was actually 3.75 minutes. We were just getting in the car to leave when T pulled up. 

I panicked. And did the first thing that occurred to me. We ducked. 

Not my finest momentNothing graceful about it. After what seemed forever, she got out of her car and walked past our car, curious about where we had disappeared--but she wasn't suspecting anything. 

He cued the music, turned on the camera, and the two of them formalized the commitment for a lifetime together. They have the video…no one is allowed to hear the private moments they shared…but he did share a still photo from that specie moment with me that I now share with you…

I love you for all that you are, all that you have been, and all you are yet to be. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

I had no idea it would be so great to have a JTM get engaged. I had no idea how wonderful it would be to officially be expecting a daughter. 

He put so much energy into the engagement. Now they are officially planning the rest of their lives together. The relationship is wonderful…it has matured from a junior high crush to high school sweethearts to college aged boyfriend-girlfriend to now future husband and wife.

The maturation does not stop now. The relationship doesn't climax with engagement…or marriage for that matter. This relationship, as with all relationships will continue to move…and relationships that don't move forward and develop and deepen..those relationships--well they deteriorate.

I trust them not to do that. I do. But we have talked about the value of good premarital counselling. Deliberate, mindful attention to their relationship. 

  • To celebrate the strengths. 
  • To work out the kinks that all relationships have.
  • To talk about topics that might not have occurred to them to have.
  • To wrestle with how they resolve differences and to recognize patterns that are healthy and ones that may need shifting to become healthier
The engagement was planned and executed with excellence…now they intend to plan the marriage with the same attention to detail.


FAQ's about forgiveness

- by Carolyn Bergen

Seriously, you're gonna write about forgiveness? You're gonna make me feel bad for how I angry and upset I am. I already feel bad enough! How dare you!

Yeah, I get that. Living in a state of enormous hurt and pain after someone has hurt you, often with anger and resentment, that's bad enough. But to read on a therapist's blog about forgiveness--because, let's face it, things can look so simple in black and white on a computer--is likely to create more feelings of covered by a layer of shame feeling like you should be able to get past this. 

Like you need that, right?

Please don't read this feeling like I think you "should" forgive someone. That somehow its a character flaw if you hadn't forgiven and choose not to, or that you are a failure if you've tried and the feelings of resentment and betrayal and wounding persist.

This is merely an invitation to consider how forgiveness can create internal shifts that give life to the forgiver. It's not easy. Not at all.

What does forgiveness look like?

I was in first year university the year Candace Derksen went missing. She was a student at the school I had just graduated from a few months before. I would wear my school jacket on the bus and folks on the bus would ask me if I knew her.

She was found, murdered, in the dead of winter in a cold shed. And the whole city grieved.

The evening she was found was recounted in the book, David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Her parents were closing the door after a full evening of visitors, when a stranger came to door, announcing he also was the parent of a murdered child. He came with the mission, "I'm going to tell you this so let you know what lies ahead." He proceeded to go through his notebook, explaining the process of the trials, the bills, the sense of injustice, and his anger. The father of this murdered child couldn't work, his health was poor, and he had a shell of a marriage. Wilma Derksen, Candace's mother, said, "The whole process had destroyed him…He didn't talk about his daughter. It as just this huge absorption with getting justice."

The Derksen's decided that evening to use his words as a warning shot across the bow…"This is what could lie ahead." They chose to process their daughter's death differently.

The next day, when they faced the press after the funeral:

"We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people's lives." Cliff said.

Wilma went next. "Our main concern was to find Candace. We've found her." She continued, "I can't say at this point I forgive this person," but the stress was on the phrase, "at this point." "We have all done something dreadful in our lives, or have felt the urge to."

(Page 253, David And Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell)

Wilma Derksen's words remind me of a story in the Christian Bible (in the book of Matthew, in the 18th chapter for those of you who would want to look it up) where a metaphorical story is told of a fellow who owes a large amount of cash to the king…a boatload of money. He can't repay it, panics at the thought of he and his family being sold into slavery to pay the debt, begs for the king's mercy and receives grace. His debt is pardoned. He leaves the king's palace and happens upon a man who owes him a fraction of what he was just forgiven. The man pleads for time to pay it back. The fellow throws him in prison because he can't pay it back on the spot. The king finds out…and let's just say it doesn't go well.

In my mind, I conceptualize forgiveness as "cancelling the debt"

It's a way of simply saying, "I have been wronged, but I'm not gonna hold out hope of payment. I'm gonna consider the debt gone." It's acknowledging that you aren't gonna be able to collect on the debt, and are choosing to not still have it on your books.

So forgiveness isn't about "forgiving and forgetting"?

Forgiveness is not saying, "It doesn't matter."

Because being wronged matters. It does.

Forgiveness is not saying, "I'm fine."

Because being wronged hurts…and the hurt doesn't magically disappear with forgiveness. If you forgive someone who has hurt you--the wound doesn't disappear.

Forgiveness is not saying, "You can keep hurting me."

Because forgiveness is not about giving permission for the same behaviour to continue that is so hurtful. In fact, I would suggest that part of forgiveness is ensuring that you won't be further hurt. If you cancel a person's debt to you…to loan money the next day to that person isn't part of forgiveness. I think that's foolishness.

Forgiveness happens best from a place of safety. If you are in an abusive relationship, forgiveness best occurs after the relationship is over. If you are in a healthy relationship where someone messed up (because messing up is a part of every single relationship on earth), the wrong is acknowledged, healed with plans in place to move forward to reduce the likelihood that this wrong will occur again. (but it will, because that's how us humans are.)

Forgiveness is not easy.

When you choose to cancel a debt, that costs a person. When you cancel a financial debt, you are out that money…and that may bring anger back when you realize that you have to make tough choices or go without because that money won't be coming back. Of course that is going to require re-processing. It's gonna be hard. Forgiveness is a cognitive choice first--it's a thought--that can take a long time to sink into a person's soul so that they feel the forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation

Forgiveness may be a part of reconciliation, but they are not the same. Sometimes, forgiveness occurs long after the person who wronged you has left your life. Sometimes, forgiveness occurs but distance is still required to maintain boundaries for healthy living.

What's in it for me to forgive?

Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behaviour. It prevents their behaviour from destroying your heart.”  ― Hemant Smarty Poster by Bergen and
Huge, huge benefits. Forgiveness has huge benefits for the forgiver. Mayo Clinic says the benefits for forgiving are:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Higher self-esteem
Forgiveness is a way of removing the power of the damage from your life and stops the power of the damage from wreaking further destruction. Notice I said the power of the damage, not the damage itself. It stops the poison from infecting other relationships.

But I tried to forgive. I've put in the effort, and I want to put it behind me, but I can't. I'm still feeling the feelings of unforgiveness. What do I do?

Yeah, oh that it were as simple as saying, "I forgive you" and then it's done. For most of us, it's a lot more complicated than that. And harder. 

Forgiveness comes in layers…and sometimes takes years. And then when you think you're done, and you've arrived at a place of forgiveness, life throws you a curve ball and you need to re-enter it all over again. Painfully.

The choice to not be vindictive or revengeful was a conscious choice for Wilma Derksen. 20 years later, when her killer was charged…the theoretical forgiveness came very real and tested hard. She had to work through anger and vengeful thoughts at a whole different level. To look at the man who ended her daughter's life to satisfy his sexual perversion filled her with rage. She is free to admit that she is not always forgiving: "It's the last thing you want to do." …but she made choices. She challenged herself in painful ways about her anger, her injustice and encouraged herself to look forward. She debated not forgiving as she heard more details about the murder and thought of the advantages of holding the hatred and resentment, and then thought:

But then it would have gotten harder. I think I would have lost Cliff, I think I would have lost my children. In some ways I would be doing to others what he did to Candace.

I admire Wilma's courage to think "big picture" in ways that shape her well being.

I've been wronged, big time, in my life. I've struggled with the rage and resentment as I deal with the impact of being screwed over in ways that cost me huge over a long period. I have personally decided, for myself, that an important value for me is to live in positive spaces, not negative ones. my mind, what I do is this: I ask myself, "What direction am I facing? Am I facing the one who owes me, or am I facing the direction of having been forgiven?" It helps me refocus and redirect my spirit to life-giving directions…to ways in which I have been forgiven. To be reminded that I wish to have forgiveness extended to me on an ongoing basis for decades to come by people who I will hurt--because I am human. I choose a life of forgiveness and forgiving--and remind myself of this often when I am pulled to the ugliness of unforgiveness. In my brain, I shift my posture and decide who I face…I turn around.

For the record, there are days I suck at it.

What does forgiveness do in relationships?

So much. So much.

Forgiveness is an act of grace. It is kindness and gentleness in action. It restores relationships. 

We are wired for connection. But we are connected with human beings…and we are humans. And that means, despite our best intentions (and face it, we aren't always giving our best, either), we mess up. Forgiveness is the means of relationship repair.

To receive mercy from a loved one says to the forgiven restores relationships.

Forgiveness…it's hard. But it's worth it. If you have a struggle with it, talk to someone about it? Talking about it--connecting about forgiveness--can help move the process forward.

Last week: Part 1, Apologizing

Hump Day Nudge: National Hug Day

- by Carolyn Bergen

January 21st is National Hug Day

Today is National Hug Day:

Tips for Hugging:

  1. A lot of people would love a hug…and rarely get hugging opportunities. Be generous with offering hugs--you'll be surprised how many people will take you up on your offer! Many people don't get a lot of hugs in their lives and have a skin hunger that longs to be met with a hug.
  2. Offer to give a hug rather than just going in for the squeeze suddenly. Some folks very legitimately have touch issues…and uninvited touch can feel intrusive. Being asked for a hug may be essential to being able to receive one. Being provided with the opportunity of choice for physical touch makes receiving the touch of a hug possible--and perhaps even redemptive. Others would prefer not to hug and being able to tell you that is important. Don't take offence when a person declines a hug…it says something important about what they need to feel safe in their bodies. 
  3. A hug is a cooperative venture that is co-created by the huggers--let the other person help define what the hug looks like. Enjoy the hug…but be attuned to "reading" the other person about how long it lasts and how close the hug is. 

FAQ's about Apologizing

- by Carolyn Bergen

The first of a series on apologies and forgiveness...

Even when it is totally obvious that s/he has messed up, my mother/husband/friend/child has huge trouble apologizing. It drives me crazy. Why is it so hard to apologize?

Apologizing is hard. Absolutely.

Apologizing takes courage, because it puts a person in a vulnerable space to apologize. It is opening yourself up to the possibility of criticism and lecture, of blame and anger. 

It is humbling to apologize…and in our culture, humility isn't always a prized value.

There is one important thing to remember that makes apologizing a great deal more possible: Remember that you are apologizing for something you did, not for who you are.

That sounds really basic, and maybe even obvious, but it often doesn't feel that way. The hard part about apologizing is that it can feel like a person is, in essence, saying that they are a loser/screwed-up. 

If apologizing means that you are saying you are a screw-up, then apologizing simply isn't possible. It becomes a soul destroying thing to acknowledge to another.

An apology doesn't make you a lesser person. It makes you a bigger person…it means putting your brave on and owning something in a way that garners respect from others.

What are the components of a good apology?

There are several basic components of a good apology:

  1. Own it. Let the other know that you take responsibility. Great lines are: I goofed, I made a mistake, I need to apology for how I blew it. It doesn't mean you are saying you are a terrible person, it means you are acknowledging that you did something out of alignment with who you want to be.
  2. Keep it simple and real. Short is better than long…don't try to talk your way out of it, rationalize or become defensive. Authenticity is huge--let the other person see how you have been affected.
  3. Make the other person's perspective important and clear. Use empathy. Demonstrate an understanding for the impact on the other--this would suggest more than "I understand". Something like: "When I didn't show up for lunch that day, you would have felt your time was being wasted, and you probably felt hurt that I was disrespectful to you as a friend." Have them be seen in your words.
  4. Work to make it right. This might be done by letting the other know how you will handle it next time: "I will be certain to let you know well in advance if something else comes up." or perhaps by making restitution: "The next lunch is on me as an expression of my apology." You might want to check with the other to know what s/he needs from you to make it feel right for them.

I apologized, but the other person hasn't forgiven me. What can I do?

Apologizing and receiving forgiveness are two separate entities. You may be sincerely regretful of your actions, but the other person may not be ready to forgive. Sometimes a good forgiveness takes time. Do you ever remember your mother prompting you to say, "I forgive you" when you were young…even tho you were still spitting mad? Your outsides were apologizing, but your inside was still furious. Don't rush forgiveness. Significant ruptures in relationships like infidelity, or secrets leading to financial disaster can take years to forgive--inconveniently long for everyone. Hang tight.

Apologies can ring hollow and not be accepted when your actions don't change. When you apologize for being late…and this is the 10th time in a row that you're late--well, it gets old, quite frankly. Your apology doesn't come across as sincere, and the other disregards your apology, already anticipating that you will mess up the 11th time. If you apologize and then go back to old patterns, your apology won't be heard as valid. Part of a sincere apology is making a concerted effort to change your behaviour (though it may well still not be perfect). Complete the apology with lasting changed behaviour (and little hint here: you may have to be on time 10 or more times before the changed behaviour is trusted and forgiveness is extended)

Right actions in the future are the best apologies for actions in the past. Quote by Tryon Edwards. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

You are responsible for looking after your behaviour; the other person is responsible for looking after theirs. You can apologize sincerely, but that doesn't mandate the other person to forgive you. Some folks are wounded and have been hurt by others often--it's like their forgiveness tank is running on empty, and bitterness is safer. Other times, you may have blown it so badly, the other person simply is not able to forgive--childhood sexual abuse, infidelity etc. may just be more than what the other is able to get past.

It's not part of an apology to demand or expect forgiveness--it's a huge bonus to be forgiven, for sure, but not a requirement for a sincere apology.

I want to apologize, but that won't undo the damage. So what's the point?

There are times when an apology seems a little like putting your finger in a broken dam…a nice gesture, but infinitely ineffectual. Other times you may be sorry, but it won't be heard.

That's hard.

Apologies may have to be repeated, until they "land". Some apologies come in layers…for example, after an affair, you may need to apologize initially for cheating on your spouse. The next month you may apologize for how trust was broken. The following month you will need to apologize for creating the situation in which she is nervous whenever you are out, even with the guys, for an evening. The next month you may apologize for how your infidelity created the distance between you that lingers, for how it changes the hot vacation, and so on.

Apologies are important for you to be able to move on. It's taking care of old business. Expressing regret is a way of owning up to one's mistakes, and challenging yourself to be the person you want to be, giving you an occasion to determine how better to line up your behaviour with your values. 

Sometimes there is no way to "make up" for the mistake. An apology can seem hollow…like I said, hanging in there is important because righting wrongs takes time. Work hard to be responsive to the other person (which often will be respectfully giving him/her the space and distance they request).

S/he expects an apology from me, but I don't think I did anything wrong! What's up with that?

An apology is often a way to acknowledge the pain of the other. Canadians are often mocked for how we "over apologize". If a person and I bump into each other in a busy mall, chances are both of us will apologize to the other. That's just what we do. I would be acknowledging the bump, not that I was out to hurt the other. Heck, if someone fell in the middle of a mall, I might say, "I'm so sorry you fell", even if I was nowhere near the person. The apology, especially in Canadian culture, is simply a social convention that acknowledges the negative impact of something on another. It's an expression of compassion.

Generally, a person is acutely aware of their own feelings, and less aware of others. So, say for example, you are an hour late for special anniversary dinner for your spouse. But you are late because on the drive to the dinner another car hit you. You had to exchange information, wait for the police, call a tow truck and get a cab…and you didn't have a chance to call the restaurant. The anger and fear and frustration of your spouse may have them needing some understanding--and an apology--even though you had every good intention of being on time, and you were late for no fault of your own. This is about empathy and expressing understanding for your spouse's feelings while waiting for that hour. 

In some relationships, the dynamic is set up for one person to do all the apologizing, no matter the circumstances. There are people who expect you to do it the right way (i.e. their way) and you're wrong if you don't read their mind and know exactly what to do. This is a red flag of an unhealthy dynamic in the relationship. No one needs to apologize for breathing, or signing their signature the way they like to sign it. 

Apologies are hard--they are uncomfortable and vulnerable. Are they worth it?

Absolutely. Apologies are essential to healthy relationships.

This is not a news flash: You are not perfect. That is no surprise to anybody. You will mess up. And because you will mess up, all of your relationships will experience ruptures of various sizes. Relationships are, at their best, a series of ruptures and repairs. Apologies are essential to relationship repair. 

An apology is the super glue of life. Quote by Lynn Johnston. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

In very real ways, the best relationships are ones that have worked through those relationship ruptures with integrity, that have had carefully processed, thoughtful apologies--and emerged stronger for it. Scar tissue often has a strength that normal tissue does not. 

One of the best parts of my job as a therapist is to see a couple come to see me in crisis, and leave therapy better for the experience, with a stronger relationship because they have wrestled with the pain of a relationship rupture, extended and worked through an apology, with an improved connection.  They leave better able to be available, responsive, and emotionally attuned to the other.

Next week: Part 2, Forgiveness-now available 

(Oooooh, that's a doozy! Help me get ready for next week's topic (or let me know what you think on the above topic) in the comments section below)

Hump Day Nudge: Giving the Best

- by Carolyn Bergen

Imagine! You want to give your kids the best in life, and the best is yourself.  Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winnipeg

Y'know how we often say in December…Wouldn't it be nice to keep the Christmas spirit the whole year through?

Y'know, that feeling we feel so powerfully between Christmas and New Year's of:

  • family is important 
  • relationships are stuff of life
  • slowing down to spend time with friends and family is life-giving?
Yeah, I say that too.

And so I rewatched this video I saw at Christmas time, and decided it was a good idea for me to see it again in January…and I thought I'd share it with you:

Go home and hug someone today?

Remember, remind, and re-enact the truth that we are important to each other, that we do better when we live in meaningful community, and that connections are what count.

Embracing the Internal Discomfort

- by Carolyn Bergen

I went walking with a friend last week at the Forks. There were people skating on the ice in front of the Forks…but nobody was on the ice past the orange pylons and yellow tape. 

Good thing…because as cold as it was, there was open water on the river. My pal and I walked on the river walk beside the river, unlike many winters when we have walked on a path directly on the river.

I didn't try walking on the river's ice last week. Why?

Because it scared me to try. Thin ice terrifies me.

The orange pylons and yellow tape was a warning that I and the rest of the public listened to. The fear of what would happen if we went on the thin ice kept us alive.

The fear kept me safe. 

I'm glad I was scared. It was a good thing for all the others to fear going beyond the safe zones, too.

There is a movement in our culture to "be happy". It seems every other article, blog or picture on Facebook is about becoming happy, being happy, staying happy, and pursuing happiness. Heck, "the pursuit of happiness" is entrenched in the American Declaration of Independence.

We have decided that happiness, joy, peacefulness, calmness are "good emotions" to be pursued. 

And things like sadness, anger, jealousy, guilt, regret are "negative emotions" and to be avoided.

We feel guilty about feeling guilty, we are anxious about our anxiety, and we get angry at how angry we are…we somehow berate ourselves for feeling what we feel.

I'm not so sure about that. There is some discomfort experiencing sadness, anger, guilt and disappointment. Allowing ourselves to feel those emotions, and gain insight and information by the experience of that leaning into that feeling, we can move forward with greater wisdom, insight and richness in our lives.


"The primary benefit of anger for an individual," [researcher Aaron] Sell says, "is preventing oneself from being exploited." 

When your husband forgets your birthday, and he works late, long into the evening, yet again…and you let him know you are pissed off when he walks in the door--well, that won't be a moment that will be comfortable for either of you. You may rage at him, he may get defensive. You will let him know how angry you are. Hostile words may be exchanged. You will let him know how upsetting it is that he has not priori zed you with his time, or in his mind to take note of an important event of your birthday. It will have the feeling of ugliness to it.

The energy the anger gives you will propel you to let him know that this relationship isn't working for you like he. He will have a chance to see how upset you are. He will have the opportunity to realize how much it bothers you and it can serve as a wake up call.

Those sorts of arguments/fights/animated discussions aren't pleasant, but they are often the catalyst to making important shifts that are of significant long term benefit.

Regret and Disappointment:

I had company a while back…and it had been a busy week. I left it to the afternoon of the party to purchase the food, get my house ready and prepare the food. When they arrived, I was still scrambling to get the last of the food ready, and while I'm hardly the 50's type of woman to put a fresh frock on before company arrives, I would have loved to change my tomato sauce stained shirt and run a brush through my hair. I felt behind and scrambling the whole party…and it felt a little frantic and not so much fun for me. And I'm guessing my guests could tell.

I was disappointed in myself, and regretted how it happened.

But feeling those feelings was really helpful. Now, when I have parties, I'm more deliberate about doing most of the shopping a couple of days ahead, and doing some of the prep ahead of time. I host a party differently now…and I have more fun. It's good for me, and for those I host.

Sadness and Grief:

Grief is a normal reaction by a normal person to losing someone or something that matters. It is a way of acknowledging the hole that is left behind with the loss. It is a way of experiencing that hole and mourning it…and, over time, developing a clarity about how to move forward with clarity.

As painful as grief is, wouldn't it be even more sad to not ever have reason to grieve?

From Psychology Today:

Sadness comes in response to a real or potential loss and signals that restoration is needed. As a result, it motivates change, and different types of sadness stimulate different types of fix. In one study, subjects imagined losing a loved one to cancer, failing to achieve an important goal, or just going to the grocery store, and then listed all the things they'd like to do. Those who felt a relationship loss outlined the most social activities, and those who felt failure listed more work-related activities. We try to make right the cause of our anguish.

Sadness makes you more rational, your thinking more concrete. It reduces gullibility, forgetfulness, and susceptibility to stereotypes. It also makes you more sensitive to social norms, increasing politeness and fairness. By contrast, happiness can lead to superficial thinking, hubris, and risk taking. Accepting negative feelings such as sadness can, ironically, lower depression; it doesn't compound the problem by making people feel bad for feeling bad.

So…these emotions are not comfortable…but they are adaptive in that they motivate us to take care of ourselves, they compel us to move forward to reduce the need for those feelings.

Some tips for experiencing uncomfortable emotions:

1. Allow yourself to feel them, to lean into them, and to move through them. 

A lot of people avoid uncomfortable emotions because they are worried they will get stuck in them, or overwhelmed by them. Ironically, it's the avoiding of the anger that creates the problem. Imagine if a neighbour scoops his snow from his walk onto yours repeatedly. You avoid feeling the anger and therefore don't deal with it. He continues to scoop onto your walk and your anger and resentment builds.

Allow yourself to feel these emotions with the understanding that you can and will move through it. You won't always feel such rage at your ex-partner, or your cheating boss. 

Glennon Melton writes: "When the feelings come, let them – because letting them come is the only way they GO."
When the feelings come, let  them – because letting them come is the only way they GO. Quote by Glennon Doyle Melton, Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

2. Feel these feelings, but choose not to immediately act on them.

Often the painful part of uncomfortable emotions is the acting out in "knee jerk" sorts of ways that aren't well thought through. 
  • Anger has a person punch a hole in the dry wall…or at another person
  • Grief has a person begin to date far too quickly--with disastrous results
  • Disappointment has a person drown their sorrow in a drink or ten…and then things are said and done that increase regret the next day
Allow yourself to feel them, but to be mindful to not impulsively act out of them. The emotions we feel provide us with valuable information that may take some time to discern. 

3. Trust that difficult emotions have something to teach us.

Emotions have a critical job to do. They provide us with critical energy, insight, and motivation that is important.

Often people come to counselling because they feel a feeling that they don't understand and want to develop insight. It's confusing when:
  • a co-worker's daughter dies and you fall apart at the death, even though you hardly know her (but maybe this has to something to do with your sister's death 20 years ago that you never got to grieve?)
  • you give birth to a beautiful baby whom you love dearly…but you have such feelings of sadness and loss and being overwhelmed
  • you love your partner very much, but there is a fear in becoming sexually aroused
It's a powerful thing to uncover what those feelings have to teach you.

4. Work to act on behalf of those emotions, rather than out of those emotions

My Junior Tribe Members have driven me to rage at times…like all kids do and can. My better parenting moments have been when I have given myself some time understand my anger (I've got a canned line in my back pocket that goes something like, "If I continue to have this conversation with you right now, I'm not going to represent myself well, so let's continue this when I've had a chance to think about myself"…said between gritted teeth on occasion). 

Then, after I've thought about it, I speak on behalf of my anger, "There is a part of me that feels very taken advantage of when you don't clean up after yourself in the kitchen. What is happening now isn't working. If we don't figger something out, I'm gonna lose it one of these days, and neither of us wants that!" 

That works better than when I yell out of my anger in the moment: "You NEVER clean up your dishes. How dare you treat me like the maid. I'm tired of being treated like dirt and I'm not gonna take it anymore." and then I proceed to provide a consequence that is completely unreasonable…and then I have to apologize.

Take the emotion and roll it around in your head. Feel it, move it this way and that…and look at all sides…and decide what it needs you to know.
  • Grief often has us pull to isolate when it is actually calling for connection
  • Embarrassment often has us desire to hide, when what it may be calling for is to normalize an awkward social situation to have everybody feel at ease (for example, if you said some things you shouldn't have when you were tipsy last night, it may be a sign to give a few people a call and apologize--and then decide how much you are going to drink next time)
  • Tears are often something we avoid in front of others…but they are important social cues to another that you are in some distress. That's not always a bad thing for others to know you are struggling and could use an empathic moment.

5. Trust yourself

When you feel something, you feel it. It's validThat's important.

You may need to understand the layers of it (for example, you may be enraged at your boss…but on reflection it's because this is the third boss who hasn't been respectful of your time. That may mean you watch how much you unload on this current boss--but it may compel you to figure out a working situation with a boss that treats you right (and why you apparently unconsciously set yourself up that way).

Your feelings are important. Even the ones that make you uncomfortable. Even the ones that make others uncomfortable. 

Let people who have earned the right to hear your story, hear of the uncomfortable emotions you have--trust them enough to give voice to them, and explore what it is that creates them, and what those feelings are telling you to do.

EMDR now offered

- by Shanna Kelly

And now…(drum roll please)…introducing Shanna Kelly to the blog, one of the interns that works with us. She is taking a course on EMDR and is now offering therapy incorporating EMDR techniques in ways that make sense for each client. She sees clients on Sunday afternoons at a rate of $45.00 per 60 minute session. Contact us for more information or to make an appointment!

EMDR is another approach to Therapy now offered by Shanna Kelly, EMDR intern at Bergen and Associates Counselling

I have just completed the first component of EMDR basic training. I am really excited about this. In fact, I was excited about learning this method even before I began working on my Masters degree. This is finally happening! :)  

So, what is this EMDR thing anyway? I'm glad you asked. 

Back in the 1980's, Francine Shapiro was out leisurely walking one day when she noticed that moving her eyes in specific pattern decreased the level of distress she was experiencing. This experience prompted Shapiro to test this method further. She discovered that there was indeed something to this seemingly strange phenomenon. After many years of research and clinical trials, Shapiro's method came to be known as EMDR, or Eye-movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. 

EMDR is considered a first-line treatment for decreasing and eliminating the distress related to disturbing memories. It is recognized as an effective treatment by the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and many other health agencies. 

In the simplest of explanations, EMDR involves the client following the therapist's hand movements with their eyes. Bilateral sounds or bilateral tapping on the client's hands are sometimes used in place of eye movements. The client remains in full control the entire time and can stop the process at any point if they so wish.

Skeptical yet? 

Okay, even I will admit that the idea of it sounds a bit ridiculous. A woman walking through a park one day suddenly invents a magical cure for distressing memories. A therapist waving their hand in front of someone's face will decrease their level of distress. 

Riiight [eye roll]  

If this was anything like your reaction, I don't blame you

The concept of EMDR does seem strange. However, once you understand the mechanics behind the brain's response to trauma, EMDR makes sense. 

Let's look at this together. When a person is faced with an experience that is overwhelming, the limbic part of the brain senses a threat and automatically responds through either fight, flight, or freeze. The more sophisticated part of the brain that would normally work to make sense of the experience is turned off during the intensity and for this reason, the memories of the experience are often "stuck in limbic" or survival mode. This all means that an individual can sometimes feel like they are re-experiencing the intensity of an event through thoughts, pictures, avoidance and numbing, or increased alertness. 

In order to achieve resolution, the limbic part of the brain and the other part that is more sophisticated need to link up. This is where EMDR comes in, as eye movements have been demonstrated to activate the opposite side of the brain. Merely talking about a traumatic experience is less likely to address it at the limbic level. Shapiro knows that "after effective EMDR treatment, the memories are stored with less disturbing picture, a positive cognition, and the appropriate affect." 

Distress related to disturbing memories is a pretty subjective thing, meaning that what is distressing for one person may not be so for another. 

What I mean to say is that EMDR is not restricted to big, intense, traumatic events. EMDR can work with almost any issue that causes distress, be it a memory from the past, an anticipation of the future, or a negative self belief that just will not go away. 

However, as I learned in the first component of EMDR basic training, the method will not bypass normal emotions. For example, it will not eliminate the sadness associated with losing someone. If there is a particular distressing memory attached to that loss, EMDR can help decrease the distress of that memory so that the person is able to grieve. However, it will not eliminate the grief process altogether; The person will still feel sad. 

Similarly, EMDR will not eliminate anxiety associated with an upcoming presentation if the person has done nothing to prepare for it. In that sense, anxiety is a normal response to being unprepared. Make sense?

What is especially interesting about EMDR is that distress is very much temporary. Although things can feel quite intense for short periods of time while doing EMDR, there is no extended periods of exposure; in her book, Shapiro uses the analogy of scenery passing by through a train window. Furthermore, if the client is uncomfortable talking about the memory, they do not even have to tell the therapist details for EMDR to be effective.

Interested? If you are struggling with something that you just cannot quite get past, I would encourage you to consider EMDR. If you would like to read more about it, check out the following links:

To see it in action:

 I look forward to meeting some of you over the next few months.


- by Sabrina Friesen

(Sabrina Friesen wrote and sent this to me a few weeks ago in mid-December…back when it was warmer and much slushier…it is being published now with Carolyn finally finished her family gatherings! :) 


It’s not a new word. We’ve all heard it. We apparently should all be striving for this in our lives in some way, shape, or form. We hear about it in regards to exercise, eating, activities, seems that just about every area of our life can be tweaked and twisted to accommodate things a little better, to make things a little more even, or a little bit more...well, balanced. Every now and then it slips out of my mouth in a session, then I make a cringey-face, apologize, and try and explain again what I meant without using that “B-word”.

Perhaps it’s a word you love; maybe you have it plastered on a poster in your kitchen or tattooed it on your left forearm.  Maybe it reminds you to take a breath and slow.  

If it works? Go for it. 

Please enjoy it and continue to find it meaningful.  I personally just have a little beef with balance so I do my best to steer clear. 

There is no work-life balance. We have one life. What

To me, finding balance feels a little like trying to find a rainbow-eating unicorn.

The past few days in Winnipeg have been exceptionally disgusting to drive in. We are (thankfully) having a bout of warmer weather, but it is not a vehicle- or a cute boot- or a nice new parka-friendly kind of spell.  It’s a disaster out there.  After figuring out how to open up the hood of my once-grey-but-now-perma-brown van, I messily spilled a whole jug of washer fluid in and I’m sure it’s going to require filling in the next few days again. While it’s nice to not be chilled to the bone in mid-December, it seems impossible to escape the mess.

And then I was thinking about how sometimes life is like that too. There are good things and hard things and seasons where mess is everywhere, and no matter what we do or how hard we try it seems that we can’t get out from under it

We do our best to clean it up and before we know it our tank is dry and windows are splattered yet again. 

And this is where the idea of balance kind of falls apart for me.

When I think of balance what comes to mind is a scale—like the scales of justice. 

Google defines it as an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. 

But what happens when the mess is piled on thick and the weight of life is distributed anything but evenly? Or when life is in a peachy place and everything is coming up roses for you?  Do we want a little balance then to remind us that life can be crappy, or can we ride the upswing and just enjoy it?

I often use the image of a pendulum on a grandfather clock in session. Sometimes folks are inclined to try and live at either end of the spectrum, making life a little black and white as they try to stick to the extremes. 

  • We want it to be perfect, or we give up.  
  • We want to feel close to our partner in just the right way, or we shut them out. 
  • We want it our way or no way.  
So to combat this tendency to polarize life I talk with people about of learning to sit in the middle, in the expanse of grey that fills the space between the seemingly safe and certain black and white that we often gravitate towards. 

I am becoming more and more convinced that part of our task of life is to learn to sit in the ambiguity of grey spaces, which if you think of how much time a clock pendulum spends swinging from one side to the next, it’s quite a lot. Those black and white moments only happen for a split second before the pendulum swoops low and carries on. 

So when someone talks about ‘balance’ what I hear is that we should strive to have that pendulum sit in the middle, at the perfect shade of grey between the black and white extremes.  I imagine someone sitting in front of a clock pendulum willing it to stop at center and being frustrated when it swings by time and time and time again.  

I think sometimes trying to find balance in life is like that, we set up this goal of a peace-filled, tranquil existence and get disappointed when life keeps swinging in ways we cannot control. I wonder if the pursuit of balance can actually be a shame-inducing exercise, as we feel discouraged and like we’ve failed when we can’t quite get the pendulum to stop for us in just the right spot.

But if not ‘balance’, then what

What comes to mind for me is the idea of hanging out on the ocean. What does it mean to see the ebb and flow of life as normative, rather than something that needs to be escaped?  What if we could learn to roll with the crappy things that happen—where we paddled hard to stay afloat when the waters are rough, and then enjoyed the surf when things were going well?

For me the past six months have held some unusually demanding stuff...heavy stuff...overwhelming stuff.  Life hasn’t been super smooth in many respects.  The reality is that although I would like to rest more, see friends more, get more done, spend time alone, or do different things with my time—I can’t.  Life circumstances have made it impossible to take care of myself in a way that some folks would consider a ‘balanced’ fashion.  

And yet I don’t think that means I’ve failed myself or those I love during these months.  Rather than trying to shift the pendulum to a different spot, I’ve worked hard to be present in the mess, where I keep spraying the windshield of my life so I can move a few hundred feet ahead before more mud get splattered.  It’s meant buying more pre-cooked chickens for supper, cleaning my house less, and disconnecting from friends a bit more than I’d like.  

But it’s a season.  

I am confident that this wave will hit the shore and calm waters will come.  And when they do I’ll rest and relax and enjoy them then.  Striving for something other than the life I have been living would only have served to add to the stress, making me feel like I ‘should’ be floating gently on the ocean rather than paddling frantically to keep my head above water.  It’s hard to float peacefully on stormy seas.

In theory, I think that balance is a lovely idea.  

Kind of like the idea of finding a perfect spouse.  

But when rubber hits the road we meet life at full speed, finding out quickly it is full of twists and turns and surprises. Perhaps, rather than willing life to stop in a steady middle position, what would it mean to get comfortable with legs wrapped around the post on the pendulum, to hold on tight, and work at being present in each swoop up and slope down rather than wishing ourselves into some other space?

The Long Winter

- by Carolyn Bergen

Years ago, I was in the hospital on bed rest, with a high risk pregnancy that threatened to turn into a premature birth at any moment. I was to have as low an activity level as possible…which sounds like a dream come true for the mother of a toddler…but it got old pretty quick. I was worried about my toddler who was sick and therefore couldn't visit me in the hospital, I was worried about the health risks for the little unborn one I was carrying, and there was nothing I could except…nothing. Nothing to do was my job for almost 2 months.

I was grateful for visitors…they brightened my days considerably. One day, Anne dropped by. Anne was someone I didn't know very well, but we attended the same church. Anne was a stay at home mom to her children, and her husband had been laid off from his job. Things were tight at their house. It was February and it was cold--we were in the middle of winter…it was hard to remember the leaf turning fall, and it was too soon to anticipate the first shoots of spring's crocuses. 

When Anne dropped by the hospital one day, she told me how she gave herself a weekly treat to help her get through the stress of the uncertainty of unemployment and the drudgery of winter. It was something to look forward to. That week she chose to share her treat with me.

She brought two fresh bagels and two little containers of fresh cream cheese (one of them was salmon flavoured--I remember that)…and we feasted on this mid-winter's treat like it was caviar and champagne. It was an extravagance at the time that was an act of rebellion against the dark forces of winter and discouragement. 

Those bagels were a symbol of, "I will not let my circumstances crush my delight of life. I will not let myself become discouraged."

“When darkness falls, beauty is lit from within.”  ― Johnathan Jena Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

I've never forgotten Anne's choice to create hope, to find optimism, and to establish opportunities for anticipation. Anne let me in on her celebration…and taught me something about pushing back the drudgery and dreariness of the winter months. She was a rebel fighting for joy…and she won.

We do better when we celebrate life!

The hard part can be figuring out how to make it through the next three months. The Long Winter isn't just the title of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book…it's what we all live here in the 'peg.

  • After New Year's Day, some of us will get Riel Day off in February (some won't), and then there isn't a long weekend until Good Friday.
  • It's cold…windchill is below -40 degrees Celsius today. A person thinks twice before going to the gym or for the jug of milk. A walk around the block isn't something considered for fresh air.
  • There's not a lot of light out these days…they are getting longer, but at a glacial pace. Most of us get home from work in the dark. All that darkness can wear on a person…it feels discouraging
  • With the onset of the New Year, many of us set "resolutions" or goals for the new year. They often aren't sustainable. So, ironically, we set ourselves up to feel like failures by mid-January.
So…I'm thinkin' January-March is a good time to extend grace to oneself and those around you…to be kind to yourself without earning/deserving it. Can you act favourably towards yourself cuz it's a hard time of year?

A few ideas to get you started:

  • Get yourself a therapeutic light source that will allow you to feed your body the sunlight it craves.
  • Establish some interesting, gentle and fun "experiments" in the New Year of 2015.These aren't resolutions that set you up to fail, but rather small shifts that open up new space to be with yourself in different ways
    • Decide to say to yourself "I choose not to" rather than "I can't" when it comes to taking a second piece of dessert or the third glass of wine.
    • Decide to say to yourself, "I want to.." rather than "I have to.." about going to gym, or cleaning up the closest. Because while part of you is dreading it, another part actually does want to…remind yourself why this activity is in alignment with your values and you choose to make it a priority.
    • Let yourself say, "Not yet" rather than "I failed". Sometimes it just takes some time and some practice.
  • Practice accepting compliments for what they are: expressions of kindness. When somebody compliments you, respond with a simple, "Thank you"…and work to let their compliment soak in. 
  • Play a little game with yourself…Every time you notice yourself being mean to yourself, change up your language to be constructive and kind. Work to reduce the inner dialogue of self hatred, and demeaning thoughts. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a good friend. It's not easy, but it is worthwhile.
  • Pick some realistic "treats" for your life stage and lifestyle and budget and put them on the calendar. Space them out and give yourself something to look forward to. They need to be affordable--not all of us can spend a couple of weeks in the sun.
    • a trip to Starbucks, an outing out for dinner, sledding at a nearby hill
    • get a manicure at a spa that has a steam room and/or therapeutic spa pool and plan to spend a goodly long time enjoying the time
    • look for specials to spend a night at a local hotel with a pool and skylights…enjoy a day at the pool with the kiddos
    • have the kids eat supper without you, put them to bed a little early and make a few appetizers and have a romantic dinner for two
    • celebrate an odd "National" day that for something…it doesn't have to make sense, and it can be a little off the wall…but it can be a ridiculous distraction from the mundane routine of a winter in Winnipeg. January 3 is National Drinking Straw day, January 13 is National Rubber Duckie Day, January 24 is National Compliment Day, January 28 is National Blueberry Pancake Day--go a little silly, google some hilarious ways to celebrate that day.
  • Find ways of moving in the warm. Go for a walk at the Pan Am pool or one of the other indoor tracks in the city. Go the mall and take a couple of laps around the mall…feel your body move without being cold.
  • Remember little things that give you pleasure…ones that are good for you--and indulge. I have a candle in a jar lit and burning most winter days in my house. It's gently scented. I often turn off the lights and light a dozen candles in the room. Put on music that lifts your spirit or soothes your soul. Heat a rice bag to put on your lap in the cold car in the mornings. This morning, I put a pair of those little dollar store heat packs on the bottom of each of my socks. It's frigid outside but I've had the pleasure of warm feet all morning…it's a beautiful thing.
We may not have a choice about enduring the long winter in Winnipeg. 

Years ago, we would have a Mid-Winter Summer picnic.  When Bergen and Associates Counselling shared space with Reimer Advertising, we annually put on beachwear, put on a beach soundtrack with waves and chirping birds, spread a picnic tablecloth on the floor and ate devilled eggs and biscuits with devonshire cream and strawberry jam. One year we even had plastic ants crawling on the tablecloth to give us the true picnic feel. It was a silly brightness in the dreariness of winter. It was something to anticipate and a great distraction.

 A friend of mine would get downright silly in her desperateness to deal with the winter blues with her children. They would have birthday parties for a stuffed animal in their house. One year, when one of her children became fascinated by Tycho Brahe, an astronomer, at school, their household celebrated Tycoe Brahe Day. They made stuff up to honour Tyco Brahe, and had a special meal in his honour. The family still remembers the Tycho Brahe Day fondly…and not because of Mr. Brahe himself (with all due respect)--but because of how the day transformed a bleak season. (Though he would have made for an interesting character to celebrate, given that he lost his nose in a duel to a fellow student, and he died from a burst bladder at a function that he would have been seen as rude to leave to relieve himself…but I digress--I just looked him up today after I got his name from M.)

Misery is optional.

We do have a choice about how we respond to the trying months of Winnipeg. With a little bit of optimism, a spoonful of grace, a quarter cup of planning, a dash of kindness, and a generous sprinkling of silliness we can make it through the winter.

Slow deeply

- by Carolyn Bergen

I love Christmas Day. One of my favourite things of the whole year is to be outside in the quiet on Christmas Day. In the middle of a large city like Winnipeg, on Christmas Day there is a quiet hush. The stores are closed. No one is bustling to get anywhere…there may be some cars out to go to a church mass or to a family's house, but no one is going to pick up dry cleaning, or rush out to get groceries, or is frantic to get to work. The city stops and all is closed. The downtown Y is open 364 days a year…it is closed on Christmas.

There were years that my favourite part of Christmas Day was that it was a day I could stop and rest, go for a walk, read a book, or sit silently by the fire--and not get farther behind. Nobody else was doing anything that day and so I knew that I wasn't missing meetings or deadlines, or have people that were going to need me to do tomorrow what they had asked me to do that day. 

Stillness is a rare commodity in our culture.

Slowness is a quality that is often belittled as laziness, or ineptness or incompetent.

I'm not so sure about that.

Slowness, I think is something to be admired and valued and treasured:

Relationships are like baby birds. Don

Don't rush the hatch--

all that struggle gets you the strength to make it through life

Going faster gets you there slower,

worse off or not at all.

from the Video, written by Zach Kempf

Sigh. The wisdom in that has me want to capture the slowing-down-ness of Christmas Day and bottle it…and distribute it to the world throughout the year.

I got a Nike fuel band in June to prompt me to walk more. I walked a lot this summer. Listened to stories or music on my iPhone sometimes. Walked often and walked long. Took life slower. Drank in the green of the grass, the colour of the flowers, the song of the birds, the flowing of the river. 

And often I walked with a friend…with no agenda except to listen to stories that begged to be heard, and respond to his requests for my stories. No agenda except to laugh about the day's events, the antics of Junior Tribe Members. No rush to get anywhere--it was wonderful. Indeed, there was not "anywhere" to get to.

No need for pretense or posturing. No need to get anywhere in the friendship…just a pleasant walk with pleasant conversation. 

Just a slow, deep listen on quiet nights.

Turns out trust develops when you aren't especially setting out to develop it…it just slowly evolves so slow a person doesn't even notice…but it turns out that's the sort of trust that is truly trustworthy.

It seems that getting to know another happens best when you aren't trying to determine suitability, or trying to impress…but simply both want to enjoy a meaningful conversation on a quiet evening. And quietly, almost beyond awareness, love was born.

I'm learning that slow…taking it gentle as I please.

And it pleases me to be slower and gentler. I'm better off.

So much better off.

I'm gonna be a tortoise in 2015. Join me?

Older posts »

Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

January 23, 2015

A month today it became official…I'm expecting a daughter…they are preparing for a lifetime of love

FAQ's on Forgiving…forgiving is the stuff of healing in relationships, and in yourself!

Hump Day Nudge: National Hug Day. Hugging tips for all.

FAQ's on Apologizing…apologizing is hard but it builds relationships!

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