Some of the main questions I get asked by clients during emotions week is “How do I calm down my emotional triggers?”, “What is the answer?” and “Can you give us the exact formula?”

As I’ve gone through the experience of figuring out how to calm myself down over the years, and as I’ve counselled many clients including children, I’ve learned there is not, nor will there ever be a one size calculated answer for these questions, and that frustrates many clients! Especially the ones who are more prone to wanting fast answers and quick results. It depends how they process their emotions (verbal processors vs. thinkers; crying physically vs.  talking it out) it depends on their personality (quiet, talkative, serious, silly, introvert or extrovert). It depends on the trigger or situation(private or public) and it depends on their underlying unresolved issues like shame and mental health as that will determine to what extent they distort the information in their heads and emotions and it helps give an idea of how long that distortion trigger may last.

I have learned there are 3 categories of regulation (which is just a fancy word for calming down emotions and getting back to baseline).

  1. Limbic brain regulation – right brain to right brain claiming of the fight, flight or freeze system – calming of the emotional/ body part of the brain. Remember this is the part of the brain responsible for immediate relief, instant pleasure/ reward, emotions, senses, smell, sight, sound, taste and body.
    • This is where you connect with the emotion of the person who is upset by empathy and validation of pain (even if it may be distorted! They will come around in a bit once they’re calm)
    • Empathic facial expressions, validation of he emotion through empathetic sounds or short phrases such as “Hmmm”, “That sounds hard” “I’m sorry that happened to you”, “That is really overwhelming” or “I can’t imagine how you feel”
    • Naming the emotion. In child counselling this is called “name it to tame it” – science states that simply naming the feeling that someone might be feeling will release dopamine into the brain and calm down the limbic system. For example: “Does that hurt?”, “That is scary”, “Do you feel lonely?” or “You must be angry”. All of these phrases help organize the chaos of the limbic brain.
    • Just look at them and listen, put your hand on their shoulder and not say anything.
    • Art activities or expression of emotions
    • Calm the body down or get emotions out through the body (yelling, screaming, hitting pillows)
    • Connecting with the earth elements is grounding for the senses (earth – sand, grass, rocks, trees; fire, wind; water – hot baths, hot showers, swimming, beach, a long slow mindful handwash)
    • Massage, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxing, body scan, mindfulness visualizations (PTSD coach is a great app)
    • Yoga and deep breathing together or apart
  1. Logic – left brain to left brain connection – connecting with the thinking part of the brain. Remember this is the part of the brain that is responsible for long term, big picture multiple perspectives, logic, reason, details, order and language. Some ways to calm down with logic:
    • The person that is helping you try to regulate fills out your thinking with other pieces of the puzzle that you may be seeing due to your emotional reactions (essentially they speak for your cortex that is currently out of order). They may remind you of the big picture rather than the immediate moment with phrases such as “I don’t think that person meant they do not like you by making that comment. Look at all the ways they have been consistent with you and cared for you over the years(and they list examples).
    • The person may help you calm down your emotions by problem solving the issue – helping you make a pros and cons list, or thinking about it and analyzing it from many different angles.
    • The person may help you by thinking of the long term consequences of giving into your emotions and impulses – “You will feel really bad about yourself tomorrow if you binge eat tonight, and you will probably feel worse than you do right now with shame and feeling heavy in your body”, “Maybe journaling is better” and “Let’s talk it out”.
    • Again, the focus here is words, language and using the mind – challenging distorted thoughts exercise through Cognitive behaviour therapy would fall in this category.
  1. Space – sometimes people just need to put the problem, situation on the ‘back burner of the stove’ of their mind for a while and distract themselves for a bit (with the intention of coming back to it later to process it). This could include:
    • Going for a walk, drive
    • Going to your room and watching a funny show, reading a book, completing some work or another task
    • Just going on with day to day life until you are ready and have the time and energy to sit down and do the internal work of processing. This may be a few days or a week or even longer and that is okay, again, if you have the intention of coming back to it.

A person who prefers space needs to hear phrases like “I love you, and I am here for you when you are ready to work this out”, “I’m making you a snack while you take a break from this”, “I will be sitting right outside your door ready to talk when you are” and “I’ll be praying for you while you take some space”. These phrases help the person know you are still with them in the space and they are holding you in their thoughts and heart, even in the space. It helps them not feel abandoned, but rather very supported.

Activities that can use logic and emotion: poetry and music

Sometimes a person needs a mix of all three. Sometimes they need emotional before logic. Sometimes they need logic before emotional. Sometimes they never need the emotional and only the logic. And sometimes they just need space and then they can engage in one or both of the styles. Another point is some people need to and prefer to engage in these styles on their own, and others need other people often. If you noticed from the above descriptions there are two ways to regulate – by yourself and with another person (or with your higher power). The ones that involve another person form amazing brain circuits to help the person calm down. This is called co-regulation (a fancy word for describing that another person is present in your pain and mirroring you for how to calm down which actually calms you down better and faster). The design of co-regulation is that a child is supposed to get co-regulation from their parents consistently. It is not until that age of nine that a child has the capacity to take all the skills their parents taught them and try to calm down on their own.

The goal is that consistent co-regulation helps one self-regulate more consistently and confidently. They are then able to reach out for co-regulation only then they really need it or are really stuck rather than every single time they feel uncomfortable.

My style is a mix of all three; but I generally default to needing the limbic brain regulation first. Once my limbic brain is calm either through a hug, crying by myself, with Jesus, with my friend, or a hot shower, then my cortex comes back online and I’m able to sort things out much better.

What is your mix of regulation or preferred style(s)?

With Love,

Marie Thiessen

If you are like me, you will have realized that one of the results of social distancing has been that internal boundaries have been more difficult to maintain. On some days, I haven’t struggled with them at all; but on most days, they have been more difficult than normal. What that tells me is this: I don’t change my internal boundaries unless my limbic brain has been triggered and has trumped my cortex. So, this social distancing has had a big effect on my limbic brain; and often, I am initially unaware that it is happening. That means that a very important battle for me everyday is to keep my limbic brain under the control of my cortex. This involves three things:

  1. Regularly stop and take an inventory of what is going on inside of my brain. Be self-aware
  2. Coach myself – talk to myself about what is healthy
  3. Do what I can to resolve a negative headspace

That may involve connecting with my Higher Power, talking to a friend or doing activities that motivate me and lift my spirits. Recovery and boundaries are easy to talk about, but hard to consistently implement, but this is where the battle is often won or lost. I hope you feel that, after this week, you have more tools to help you in this battle.

With Love,

Tim Fletcher

When I first learned about narcissism, a couple things stuck out to me. First of all, I realized that gaslighting as a child set me up to fall for gaslighting as an adult. After someone would act abusively towards me as a child and I would finally break down, they would ask, “Why are you crying?” and be even angrier than before because I was showing emotions. The message I received from this was that there is nothing wrong with my behaviour but rather the problem is that I was too sensitive. As a result I got into a relationship with someone with a lot of anger. When someone was abusive or treated me disrespectfully I just thought I was too sensitive to take it. I needed to actually set boundaries around the unhealthy behaviour.

The second thing that stuck out to me about narcissism was grieving the image of the narcissist portrayed. I coped with childhood pain by becoming the invisible child at home and the hero outside the home, which made me an excellent conarcissist. Unfortunately I couldn’t see it, because I only saw the issues in the people who hurt me. After being in a relationship for a long time I wanted that charming, sensitive, person back and had to accept that they weren’t real. You never get the ‘good’ side of the narcissist back, only a void of intimacy and unmet expectations. As a hero I tried to work harder to get the love I wanted, I was doing everything and getting resentful. As the invisible child I hid or denied my real desires, because I didn’t think they mattered.

The other trap is to blame or hate the narcissist and complain about them to everyone. I had to come to a place where I could say “This issue is hurting me and I need you to address it, whether or not you see it as a problem. If you don’t, I will have to step back from this relationship regardless of how you feel about the issue.”

How do you heal? I had to start with my own baggage. What was I afraid to lose? Why don’t I value myself? How do I let go of my fantasy of someone? These are all things that we need to face! I find that if people don’t do any inner work they don’t stick to boundaries. Indeed a little bit of narcissism can rest in all of us. I have had times where I felt like I couldn’t apologize even though I knew I was wrong. Pride is the root of narcissism and it’s a trap we all need to be aware of! Otherwise we can easily become the thing that wounded us in the first place.

With Love,

Kayla Nyugen

People will try to manipulate your boundaries, and it’s extremely useful to know how, before it happens. This way you can be prepared with a response. Often, manipulation occurs when they can’t trust us to meet their own needs out of our own free will. They have to learn that if they find healthy people, the healthy people may actually care about their needs.

Personally, I have moved boundaries for multiple reasons. One was simply a fear of losing what I thought I was getting out of the relationship and another was a fear of losing approval or respect. I also feared people’s anger, feeling at times like I was on the edge of being physically hurt. I had the sense that no one would protect me because my dad in his passivity did not protect me from my mom’s anger. Rather he would make excuses like “That’s the way she was raised.” I was also taught as a Christian to see the beauty in people but some of these messages led me to overlook negative behaviour as opposed to confronting it. I held onto their “potential” even if they weren’t taking the necessary steps to fulfill it.

I used to get sucked into pity as well. If I felt sorry for them, I was powerless to maintain boundaries. That is probably one of the biggest adjustments I have made and allows me to stay in a helping profession without losing myself. I have to be honest that I have gotten into the “silent treatment war” where it’s basically a contest to see who can use the silent treatment the longest. I actually had to laugh when I wrote that, because the immaturity is kind of ridiculous. I have also caved to ‘love bombs’ at some point and realized that I needed intense pursuit to soothe my insecurity.

If I had this information back then, things might have gone a lot differently! That’s why getting the knowledge and tools is so powerful. The thing I encourage you to do is to get a lot of support for yourself when you first start setting boundaries with difficult people. It can feel like a vulnerable time and it’s easy to give in without any help.

With Love, 

Kayla Nyugen

It takes courage to get out of unhealthy relationships that are wounding you. There are so many fears surrounding ‘abandoning’ codependent relationships such as:

  1. Being alone and without them
  2. Hurting them if you leave
  3. Never meeting anyone who will love you again

There is also so much fear in general when it comes to changing and facing the unhealthy things inside of us.

I first met Tim 11 years ago when I decided to reach out for counselling. I had already been sober for 5 years through AA at this point, but I had just lost an old friend that I previously used with through suicide so I reached out for counselling with the goal of processing that loss. Although it seemed as if Tim wanted to help me with that loss, he also saw that even though I had worked through the AA steps, I had many underlying issues that I had not dealt with. He definitely had another agenda in our sessions. One of the issues he told me I should deal with was the fact that I was holding onto an old using friend out of “loyalty” because we grew up together. We had been writing each other emotional letters and our romantic feelings would come and go over the years. I did not want to lose him but Tim said something to me that hit me like a baseball bat in my gut. He said “If you don’t let go of this guy, your growth will be very limited.” What?! Let him go?! I was terrified! I thought to myself, “How could I let him go? He would hate me! We’ve been friends for 15 years! I would feel so alone and empty! I have no one else!” I painfully wrestled with this decision, but I wanted to grow more than I wanted my old life and old friends, so I wrote him a letter saying goodbye. It was then that I began to form friendships with people on the same path as me, who loved Jesus with their whole heart and wanted to live a life of love, service and growth.

Once I let go of my old life, as hard, painful, and scary as that was, God was able to fill my hands with better things – healthier friends! Making true close friends in recovery was, and is, never easy for me.

It brought up a lot more of those ‘underlying issues’ Tim was telling me I had to deal with such as my insecurity, jealousy, shame and abandonment fears. At times, I coped with this well, but at other times, I would let control, manipulation, and anger get the best of me. One of my friendships in particular started off really well. We both encouraged each other spiritually; we travelled, danced, had awesome deep talks and she helped me heal from a lot of my issues. I had never had a close friend like this before in recovery! We blessed each other with wonderful things for many years! It felt so good to get that love, attention, and validation that I so desperately craved my entire life. After a few years, she went through some deep suffering and she changed, and I felt more insecure because of this and our friendship was never the same.

This triggered me a lot and after a while I began to think (subconsciously) that this friendship was the solution to my abandonment, insecurity, and shame issues. I pursued her even more intensely. I looked to her to look out for myself so that my emotional needs that were not met from childhood would now be met. I was hoping SHE would solve the soul wounds. I took one of the 12 needs (relationships) and overindulged that to feel okay emotionally. Thus, addiction to a person began, codependency took root and I began displaying some narcissistic tendencies making the entire relationship about my needs (most of the time). Addictive behaviours came out – impulsivity, terrible boundaries, using each other, etc. At times, we struggled with communicating needs and resolving conflict and just like an addiction, it gradually got worse and worse. I had become blinded and was in total denial at how unhealthy I had become for both of us. I got to a point over the years that the unresolved issues felt like a boulder we were trying to push up a hill. Due to a variety of factors on both our parts, we both were not in a good place where we were healthy enough to deal with all this baggage. We were feeding each other’s shame, wounding each other and making ourselves sicker. So again, I found myself back in Tim’s counselling office having that hard discussion about how I need to let go or it would keep me stuck in these shame and codependency behaviours. Thus, it was time to say goodbye for now. Grieving this friendship has been one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done in my recovery. I was in the anger stage of grief for about six months before I was able to move onto the acceptance stage. The song below is a break-up song: the lyrics are incredible, and it has really helped me put words to the toxic part of the friendship and come to terms with its end. I hope it speaks to you about a relationship where maybe you need to “let it go”, as much as it may hurt.

You Say by Lauren Daigle

“I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough. Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up. Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low? Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know, ooh oh.

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak and you say I am held when I am falling short and when I don’t belong, oh, you say I am yours and I believe (I), oh, I believe (I) What You say of me (I) I believe.

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me. In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity, ooh oh.

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak and you say I am held when I am falling short. When I don’t belong, oh, You say I am Yours and I believe (I), oh, I believe (I) What You say of me (I) Oh, I believe.

Taking all I have and now I’m layin’ it at Your feet. You’ll have every failure God, You’ll have every victory, ooh oh.

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak. You say I am held when I am falling short. When I don’t belong, oh, You say I am Yours and I believe (I), oh, I believe (I) What You say of me (I) I believe. Oh, I believe (I), yes, I believe (I) What you say of me (I) I believe (oh)”.

I’m carrying you all in my heart.

With Love,

Marie Thiessen

Tim has talked about examples of boundaries in dysfunctional homes and although I believe I can write a novel on this from my own family history and life experiences, I will keep it brief.

As children, boundaries were not an option, we were to do what we were told with no questions or pushback and never challenge authority, as it was viewed as disrespectful even when a child’s needs were not met.

As I got older, my self respect and knowledge of what I was allowed to say no to, got blurred. If someone challenged me or told me I was unworthy of a boundary. I accepted it and diminished my own being. Encompassing all this pain I eventually turned to vengeful acts and became manipulative and shameful towards others.

It was not until I reached recovery that I came to realize my boundaries were what could protect me, build me up, and give me back my value. That boundaries would and should be respected by those who care for you.

To this day, I constantly remind myself I am worth the boundaries I have set and I am allowed to protect my own peace.

With Love,

Kari Keam

We are going to talk about trust and respect. As children or in past relationships, so many of us have had our trust broken to the point where we think we may never trust again.

For me personally, there was one major event that broke my trust as a child and I believe that it was the beginning of my Complex Trauma. I was raised in a Catholic family and we had many ‘rules’ of how to and how not to act. When I found out that one of the major rules that had been preached to us had been violated, I had such a sense of betrayal and it was the event that put a stop to my spiritual growth. I felt like my parents were hypocrites and they nor God could be trusted. I also feel like if my parents had admitted the mistake, owned it, and apologized I could have gotten over it but because it was swept under the rug and we were not allowed to talk about it, I did not have a chance to process the situation and allow my trust to be repaired. This one major event has impacted me my whole life and I had a lot to deal with when I entered recovery.

Today, lying is a huge trigger for me and I will not tolerate it in my relationships. Throughout recovery I have learnt to form relationships with people I trust and respect. Having those relationships is an integral part of my recovery and I believe everyone needs to work on building friendships and relationships with people that they can trust.

Relationship red flags are something that I found to be very revealing in my own life. Having had few boundaries growing up, I tolerated a lot of unhealthy boundaries in my relationships with both family and friends. As I journeyed the road of healthy boundaries, I learned which red flags I was not willing to put up with. The boundaries were hard and often painful but the resulting freedom and peace that I received in the healthy friendships was well worth the work put into it. I learned and often continue to learn that the relationships that are healthy will be those who respect your ‘no’ and will encourage you to maintain healthy in your choices.

With Love,

Shannon Block

I find it very helpful to observe the patterns in my relationships so that I can work towards establishing healthier ones. Let’s discuss the type of people we meet in recovery and the kinds of supports we need to have a successful recovery.

A healthy relationship consists of two well-intentioned people with good character freely sharing mutual resources of time, money and energy. On the other hand, we often get caught up in one sided relationships where one person is doing most of the giving.

When I first got into counselling, I had the desire to help, but my motives weren’t pure. I was often in relationships with needy people, or nobody at all. By finding people with more obvious issues, I could ignore mine and pretend I had it all together. In a sense, codependent relationships gave me a sense of worth and protected me from myself. However, this is not satisfying! I would live, work and volunteer in the inner city all day and every day. Eventually, I became exhausted and realized I needed to let go. Sometimes setting boundaries is hard because people can see me as selfish or like I don’t know how to love myself without feeling ‘useful’. The rescuer can easily become the rescued by falling trap to the lie that someone else’s affection is the antidote to your pain and weariness. I now realize that whatever I’m struggling with needs to be dealt with directly and comfort is only a temporary solution.

I also kept myself around broken people because I feared the rejection of healthy people. On some level, I thought if they didn’t need me, they wouldn’t stay. When I was growing up, I was given the message that I was undesirable so I thought a healthy, loving relationship wasn’t in the cards for me. Emotional abuse felt normal, so it didn’t raise red flags.

So how did I change this? A few ways! I realized that I stunted my own growth by only focusing on other people and began to work on myself. Sometimes I still crawl back into the familiar cave of codependency, only to drag myself out again when I failed to change another person. I started sharing on a deeper level, so real intimacy became possible. I have developed friendships, and because I am no longer controlled by pity, I can help others. I no longer feel ashamed of getting support. I also realized what is unhealthy, which makes it easier not to fall for things like gas lighting. I also learned that no matter how fun or exciting people are, what matters most is character. When I decide to trust people now, this is what I base it on. Of course these are ongoing issues but I am in a much better place than I was.

And with time, you can all grow and overcome unhealthy relationship patterns in your life too.

With Love,

Kayla Nyugen

“When we have secure attachment, we have confidence in ourselves and others. This allows us to enjoy quality time together, as well as quality time apart.”

This is an important theory that can give you insight into how you respond in relationships. We should have a healthy balance of interdependence, so that we can both take the initiative to meet some of our own needs, and also reach out to our relationships to have needs met. Unfortunately, this security can get damaged very early in life when we try to attach to our parents and find a roadblock. When that happens we often develop an attachment style of hanging on for dear life (anxious attachment), resisting intimacy (avoidant attachment), or being hot and cold in relationships, both leaning in and pulling away (sometimes referred to as ambivalent or disorganized attachment).

We don’t necessarily have a fixed attachment style for life but can grow and adapt depending on the circumstances. When I was young, I had an angry parent and a passive aggressive parent. Having said that, they weren’t bad people, but just weren’t able to communicate love and safety in the way I needed. Because I felt unloved by my parents, I didn’t attach to them very well emotionally. I also was bullied in my youth and got a lot of messages about being different or weird. As a result, I hid my true self, only spending time with others who were ‘different’ or didn’t fit the mold either. In a sense, I was avoidant – not wanting to risk the pain of real intimacy, because any real feelings I expressed in my home were met with rejection and misunderstanding. However, when I finally decided to give vulnerability a shot, I flipped to anxious and/ or ambivalent attachment. I would sometimes put up walls or boundaries, but I couldn’t let go of the connection that filled my longing.

Just like it took years to get past the barrier of shunned emotion and avoidant attachment, it also took years to work through the insane loyalty of anxious attachment. And of course, in order to be healthy in our relationships, we also have to have another person who is willing to work on their attachment issues with us, or who are already securely attached. Even if our parents were not safe havens, we can find new supports as an adult who can become that safety net for us.

With Love,

Kayla Nyugen

Kim and I had been married for about 3 years. This one particular Saturday morning, we encountered the worst fight we had ever experienced.. After arguing throughout the morning, we weren’t any closer to resolving it than when we started. We had remained respectful to each other, communicated as clearly as we could and worked hard to understand each other’s perspective, but we were still not even close to resolving our conflict. In fact, it was beginning to feel like we were at war and that the only way to resolve this would result in one of us winning and the other losing. When we were married, we had made a commitment to each other to resolve conflict.

At this point, part of me wanted to resolve conflict, but another part wanted to win this fight. There was a lot of tension between the two of us so we went to separate parts of the house and avoided being in the same room together. Eventually, I went into the kitchen where Kim was, took both of her hands in mine, faced her and said,

“Instead of looking at this as if we are on opposite teams wanting to win, why don’t we look at it as if we are on the same team, working together to find a solution.”

That changed everything. Within a short period of time, we were able to resolve our conflict.

Here’s what I have learned over the years:

  1. Much of our lives are about relationships
  2. There is nothing more difficult and rewarding than healthy intimate relationships although healthy relationships take a ton of work.
  3. A healthy relationship will only happen if both parties are willing to change and grow. That is the only way to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
  4. I don’t like conflict, but I have learned that it is inevitable and necessary, and if conflict is responded to in a healthy way, much good can come from it.

I hope this story will inspire you to pursue growth, and that you will continue to develop the tools for healthy relationships.

With Love,

Tim Fletcher