The Gifts of a Non-Linear Path

By Nasreen Gulamhusein

A client recently came in for counseling and during our session, she hit a wall of frustration and exclaimed, “Why am I here again? I thought I had solved this problem already!” It was a beautiful question that many of us can relate to: why do we keep circling back to the same issues?

One common misconception about personal growth is that the journey should be linear. We identify our problem, work on it, solve it, and move on. However, the reality is that growth and expansion are often non-linear, with many steps forward and back.

While this might not sound ideal, it’s actually good news… and here are a few reasons why:

First, lasting change requires rewiring our brains with new habits and ways of thinking. Repetition is crucial for this rewiring process, and taking two steps forward and one step back allows us to go over our learning again and again. Our brains are wired to see things in a linear way, but this desire for clarity can sometimes lead us to overlook the importance of repetition. The messy and frustrating feeling of repetition is necessary for us to learn and grow in a lasting way.

Secondly, each layer of the onion is exactly that – a layer. We might think we have solved a problem, only for it to crop up again in a different context. For example, if we work on setting boundaries in friendships, we might later find ourselves struggling with boundaries as a parent. But each time we revisit an issue, we are in a slightly different place on our life’s path, and this makes the moment of growth unique.

Lastly, expanded perception can make all the difference. When we are trying to solve a problem, we tend to see it from one angle. As we get more entrenched in that single perspective, we can become stuck. When life brings us back to that struggle, it can be an opportunity to see it from a different perspective, which can widen our horizon and give us a clearer view of the issue as a whole. This can help us move through the struggle with greater ease the next time around.

The gifts of a non-linear path are many. Each time we revisit an issue, we have the opportunity to learn and grow in a new way. This, in turn, makes us better at learning and growing in general. So, the next time you find yourself circling back to an old struggle, embrace the messiness and remember it is leading you to good things.

The Paradox of Resilience

An image of two young girls in karate uniforms. One is doing a kick in the air and smiling.By Nasreen Gulamhusein

The other night I was driving and listening to this brilliant podcast by Dr. Becky – a well-known Child Psychologist who has a book & a podcast called Good Inside. The focus of this particular episode was about children & praise. At the end of the podcast she said something which made me pause the podcast, pull my car over, and rewind. I wanted to hear it again with my full attention because it was so important to fully take in.

She named something we all struggle with as parents – helping our children build resilience. We struggle because we all want the very best for our children and when they experience something hard or painful, we feel pain too. They are so precious to us and we work hard to protect them, and protecting them often means we work hard to help them feel better (as quickly as possible) when they feel emotional discomfort.

We all have certain knee-jerk reactions to managing our own pain: blame someone, fix it, ignore it, “look at the bright side” or distract from the hurt, just to name a few. These knee-jerk reactions to our own pain become the same reactions we have to our children’s pain. However, these reactions (which feel helpful in the moment) protect our children from the wrong thing. These reactions prevent our children from being in touch with the discomfort of their struggle and instead rushes them over it, around it or right past it.

If our children never get the chance to move through their pain, how will they build this muscle?

Being with the pain is where the gold is. And I know, this sounds like it makes no sense. It is what Dr. Becky would call the paradox of building resilience. Um, why would I WANT my child to feel their pain? This doesn’t sound like a good idea! And you would be partly right. You don’t want them to get STUCK in the pain. But you do want to encourage them to feel the discomfort of the hard moment, learn that they can survive it, and then move through it. Resilience is built by moving through.

So how do I help my child move through without getting stuck in their pain? And how do I handle the parts of me that start to react in those knee-jerk ways when I am helping my child?

This is where your personal work as a parent comes in. When you can encounter your own pain/discomfort with compassion, patience and a willingness to be with yourself, then you will become more able to offer this to your child. What we grow in ourselves, we find easier to extend to others. This work is most powerful when it is not done alone, and personal counselling sessions are a great way to give yourself the space you need to make this growth.

And while you are doing that valuable and important personal work, Dr. Becky has some great tangible and simple resilience-building steps you can take when your child shares a struggle with you:

1. Thank your child for sharing. They trust you enough to bring the hard things to you so start by honouring that.

Use words like:

“Thank you so much for telling me”

“I really appreciate you sharing this hard thing with me.”

2. Help them to remember that struggle is normal and it’s a part of being human.

Use words like:

“Ooof, it’s so hard when X happens isn’t it?” (and X can be anything – not being able to colour in the lines, being picked last during gym-class sports, not making the debate team …etc.)

“It’s okay to feel X. Anyone in your shoes would probably feel that too.”

“I remember feeling X when I was your age” (X can be anything from sad or scared to overwhelmed or angry)

3. Be willing to be with them in their hard place.

When you aren’t scared of their big or hard feelings, they will become less scared of them too. It is here, with you, that your children get to remember that they are worthy of love no matter what is happening to them. And this experience of worthiness is something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives – and there is no greater gift than that.

If you are interested in more Dr. Becky, you can find her here.

Feeling Into Phase Two

By Nasreen Gulamhusein

About 3 months ago our world slowly came to a halt. Statistics filled the news, local shops closed, institutions that we always thought would be accessible shut down. We put on masks and gloves, and stocked up our pantries and grabbed extra toilet paper. As a collective we felt BIG feelings – terror, relief, uncertainty, hope, self-protection, gratitude and more. We rode the waves of this unchartered and unmapped territory together.

In many ways we were tested like we never have been before. We felt the anxiety of uncertainty and got angry, scared, quiet, sad, and took these feelings out on each other. And in those rare moments where we could breathe maybe we remembered to be kind to ourselves, and those around us. Forgiveness and gentleness became our friends.

We also showed up for each other like never before. We redefined what it means to parent, to teach and to love. We surprised ourselves with how much we could get through. We realized we are human, and in the middle of global upheaval, we are doing the best we can. And then we got up and did it all over again the next day.

It took a few weeks and then a new way of life settled it. It looked nothing like our old life but the dust was settling and we found a weird new groove. There was certainty in the uncertainty.

And now, Phase 2 is unfolding. Schools, coffee shops, hairdressers (and more) are slowly reopening their doors and we find ourselves in a state of change, once again. Even when change is “good”, it can be hard to make the adjustment. A shift of any kind takes work. Good doesn’t necessarily mean easy.

Phase Two might bring with it another phase of feelings for you. Another wave to ride. Another set of uncertainties or questions like – should I send my kids to school? Do I still need to wear a mask? Who can I visit with? How long will the distancing last?

You might find yourself energized one day, and exhausted to the bone the next – this is natural to feel.

You might find yourself excited about things being open, and feeling the heartbreak that social distancing is here to stay for a while – this is natural to feel.

You might be in grief from lost experiences, jobs or loved ones that are no longer part of your world and nothing feels okay – this is natural to feel.

You might be happy, grateful and going with the flow – this is natural to feel.

Your whole, beautiful, messy human experience is okay and allowed. There are no wrong feelings or experiences when we are all navigating something we have never done before. Give yourselves the permission to allow all that is there, to be there.

Permission looks like this: Name your emotion. Naming it can provide you with a sense of solidity because your brain can wrap itself around something your body and heart are experiencing. It helps your brain and body connect, which helps your nervous system to calm down.

Remind yourself that this is how you are SUPPOSED to be feeling (no matter what it is, your feelings are valid!). There is no right or wrong here. Getting angry at or berating yourself can often trigger shame and a desire to hide. Big feelings need connection to soften and release.

Connect – with yourself by taking deep and steady breaths. Getting out into nature. Journaling. Or connect with a trusted friend. The one you know has got your back when things get hard.

And perhaps you read this and tomorrow, when life takes over, you forget. Come back to this post. And come back again. Because you deserve to know that all that is happening inside you is okay. It won’t last forever because change is the foundation of the human experience.

Phase Two, here we come. Let’s keep holding hands and remembering: we are literally all in this together.

I Don’t Need to Plan for Threats That Don’t Exist

By Shahaa Kakar

I Don’t Need to Plan for Threats that Don’t Exist.
I Don’t Need to Plan for Threats that Don’t Exist.
I Don’t Need to Plan for Threats that Don’t Exist.

This is a mantra I have been repeating to myself today.

For people with anxiety, our minds are constantly playing out every possible disaster scenario and planning how to respond to them, should they occur:

“What if this happens? What if that happens? How will I cope then? How will I deal with that? What if something happens that I haven’t even thought of!”

Our minds go spinning off into all sorts of imagined apocalypses. Even though these threats are not real, this thought process is anxiety-inducing in itself and triggers a stress response in our bodies. Our nervous systems don’t know the difference between real and imagined. Our heart rate speeds up, the adrenaline starts pumping and we go into fight-or-flight mode (or maybe live there), ready to respond to the non-existent threat.

Have you ever noticed this when you watch a really scary TV show, for example? Your back might start tensing up, you may notice yourself holding your breath. It’s the same physiological response at work – and over time it has a toxic effect on our beings and our bodies. It’s not a nice way to live!

When you notice your mind running down these paths, pause, take a deep breath and remind yourself, you are safe in this moment and everything is okay. You don’t need to prepare for impending disaster. You are perfectly capable of responding to anything that actually happens.

In the meantime, come back to this moment. Physically turn your head and look around in all directions. This act of turning our heads signals to the brain to take in the current information. Perhaps you notice a beautiful painting in your room or a lovely tree outside your window. Take a moment to really notice it. Breathe it in and notice what it feels like in your body to be present with the beautiful painting or the lovely tree.

Then, if you want to take one step further, put your vivid imagination to good use and imagine the situation you were worried about now working out. See it fall into place in your mind’s eye and imagine how great you will feel when that happens. If you have a mind that needs to plan, plan how you will celebrate when this happens! 🙂

Repeat as needed. Everything is okay. You got this!