Category Archives: Communication

How to Overcome Conflict in Relationships


People are afraid of the dark. It stands for everything that is unknown and frightening. Yet there is something intriguing about it, as people often hesitantly inch into the darkness of the haunted house with a racing pulse and a hint of excitement at the same time.

When it comes to the darkness that is most intimate to ourselves, however, we are more likely to be oblivious. It never leaves our side, it is there whenever light is shed, and there is no getting rid of it—it’s our shadow. The emergence of our shadow is accompanied by various negative emotions, desires, and impulses that usually manifest in horrific dreams, visions, and fantasies. The shadow comprises of everything that we don’t want seen, either by the world or ourselves. In suppressing these emotions into our unconscious, it ends up being expressed through other channels. For example, when interacting with others, a common type of channeling is projecting the shadow onto others. Since the shadow is the part of the personality that we ourselves resent, perceiving these aspects in others with whom we have a relationship will certainly create unpleasant tension.

To use Jung’s wise words, “…It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness,” which means the shadow is always going to be a part of us, and it is indisputably a reality that the shadow is entirely capable of harm. The result of any kind of willful blindness might just end in yielding control over to the shadow. The notion that repressing the shadow is insidious for our relationships harbors the promise that when it is faced and embraced, the relationships might be better. But it must be done in entirety.

First we need to identify the shadow, and expose it in its holistic form in front of our own eyes. Because of the projection mechanism, one way we can do this is to observe our own negative emotional reactions towards others. Secondly, try to identify the emotions as clearly as possible. By articulating what we are feeling, we are better able to find the root cause, which sometimes has nothing to do with the shadow. Then we need to closely observe ourselves, and ask these questions:

  • Are we exhibiting the traits or behaviours that we “see” and repel in others?
  • What tends to trigger such perceptions of others? What are the precipitants?
  • What kinds of belief might underlie the inexplicable feelings towards such traits?
  • What are the things that can be done to improve the situation? Can this part of the shadow be resolved, or does it have to be dealt with in the company of others?

Lastly, it is always helpful to make this aspect—the rediscovered shadow—of our personality known to those we have a relationship with. It is definitely a scary and by no means easy thing to do, but exposing the shadow, being honest to those we hold close, gives us a chance to be more authentic and will ultimately bring about a sense of relief. It’s an opportunity for open conversation with your partner, which may resolve many of your conflicts. People are more likely to show their vulnerability if we have the courage to show ours first.

To face and to accept the shadow as part of ourselves is a task that makes the fearless crumble. But it is very useful and helpful because when we are challenged with difficult situations we are going to need its strength and the embrace of it promises a better future for us and those closest to us.

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

How to Acknowledge our Biases


In this modern society, many people are developing a tendency to equate objectivity with better results. Consequently, many people now strive to attain an “objective” mind, utilizing only observable data, driven and guided by logic and reason, free from any personal biases. This goal is definitely one that’s worth attaining since it seems to meet the demands of present and possibly future society. However, what does it mean for a person to be free from personal biases? Is it truly achievable? And how can we do it? Here’s my thought.

There is sometimes the misconception that the way to attain an unbiased mind is to increase knowledge in the area one wants to avoid bias in. It is true that by knowing more about a subject we can be more aware of the biases that exist, but an unbiased or biased mind can only be reflected in our thinking, which in turn is reflected in our behavior and language. In order to do that, increasing self-awareness of our own minds and actions is necessary. It is only when we become aware of what we are thinking and doing, that we being to learn if we are being biased.

However, as we have seen in a multitude of psychology experiments, most people have the tendency of seeing themselves as unbiased. This can lead to a well-known phenomenon called confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

So what should we do? If the increase in knowledge can help, but tends to be trumped by our personal presumptions, then we can start by learning about ourselves from our friends, acquaintances, family, etc. This is not to implicate the role of our predisposition, but to identify a pattern in behavior and thought process. Getting past this step can help us acknowledge any propensities we possess towards certain kinds of biases. The next step is to learn to be more mindful of our behavior and thoughts as we go about our daily interactions and professional endeavours. Without striving to do better in this area, all other efforts would be in vain.

To answer the questions from the beginning: no, we will always have our biases – note that this is why we set the goal to become UNBIASED in the first place; to reduce personal biases, we must know what we tend to biased against (or for), acknowledge that we are under its influence, and then increase self-awareness of our actions and thoughts. To be free, or more appropriately, to loosen the grip of personal biases on ourselves, is to always know that we ARE biased, and always will be.

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

 

Is it a toxic friendship/relationship?

Many of us have friendships/relationships that are unhealthy for us and may not even be aware. I will list 5 ways that will help you know whether you are in a toxic friendship/relationship.

  1. Lack of trust. One of the most important feelings to have in a relationship is trust. If you feel like you can’t trust the other individual, then this is probably not the best relationship for you to be in. Trust gives you peace of mind when it comes to relationships. Take the trust away, and it is an unhealthy and emotionally draining relationship to be in.
  2. You are always the hero. Saving the other person in a particular situation is great if it happens only sometimes. I am not saying that being supportive is a negative thing, but being supportive at the cost of your own well being might not be the best of situations. If you consistently have to save the person, whether it be emotionally or financially, then you will likely not have enough time for yourself and it is likely not a relationship of mutual caregiving. We all have our ups and downs, so when you hit a low point in your life, it is important to guarantee that you have the ability and the time to nurture and take care of yourself.
  3. Being constantly judged and criticized. If the other person constantly criticizes you and points out your weaknesses, then that is a sign that you are being put down rather than uplifted in that relationship. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but if your weaknesses are constantly being pointed out and your strengths are being ignored, then that person might not be fully accepting of who you are.
  4. Not being accepted. If you constantly find yourself in a position where you need to defend your opinion or change your opinion in order to be accepted, then you might be in an unhealthy relationship. Feelings of acceptance and belonging are vital for healthy human functioning, and we all have a right to feel accepted without the need to constantly explain ourselves.
  5. Communication issues. Do you constantly feel like you are talking to the other person and they are not listening to you or not remembering what you said? If the answer to that question is yes, then it may be difficult to reach a mutual agreement in many aspects of the relationship or friendship. Furthermore, this could indicate that the other person is occupied with another aspect of their life and are not ready to be an equal partner in your relationship. This type of relationship could easily turn into an “all take and no give” relationship that is unhealthy, and even toxic, for you.

By: Ghinwa El-Ariss

Ghinwa El-Ariss holds an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto. She will be pursuing her Master of Science degree in Psychology at Trent University starting September 2017. She is passionate about Psychology and the Environment. She hopes that her blog posts help you learn a bit about her and her take on certain things. Most importantly, she hopes that you enjoyed what you read!

How to Fight with a Loved one


One of the things that distinguish us from one another is individuality. While this characteristic brings wonderful things like creativity, when it comes to interpersonal interactions, it is also this individuality that brings unexpected friction. Fights occur when two people’s personalities (inclinations, preferences, temperaments, etc.) clash. When this happens, we tend to use our own frame of reference to understand the other person’s behavior. The result, more often than not, is an exaggeration of the original conflict, which still persists despite all the verbal exchange.

Our values are so important to us that we spend a lot of time trying to preserve them. When fights occur, we tend to invalidate the other person’s values in favor of our own because we have a bias towards ourselves. Therefore, the first thing you might want to do is just listen to the person you’re arguing with. It sounds simple, but in the heat of an argument, taking the time to listen to the other person’s perspective can be quite difficult. The good news is that we can train ourselves to be better at listening by starting with daily conversations. One useful standard for judging the accuracy of your understanding of others is to articulate their thoughts as you think you understand it. Ask the person for feedback on your interpretation, so that you can begin to understand other people’s perspective when you’re not in an argumentative situation.

Only after achieving this understanding, can we have a real argument—a fight that actually means something and can produce something. After making sure you understand the other person’s perspective accurately, you should focus on the influence of what that person said to you. That is, how did that person’s thoughts make you feel, or what part of it did you not understand, etc. Ask questions based on these feelings or thoughts that appear in your head as you achieve an understanding of the other party. Don’t furnish it too much, be genuine and authentic—otherwise by the end of it you won’t resolve the real problem, but a furnished, decorated one. At this point, you will should be able to sort out the components of the conflict—what, exactly, was the cause of the fight. With this advance, at least now you both can strive to make the situation better. Remember, this is not about which of you is “right” or whose idea is “better.” This is about building a new house that fits both of you so that neither gets squished out or crushed down.

Fights are inevitable in genuine relationships. For the relationship to survive and evolve, we need to learn how to properly have a fight. And the secret to it is to listen and reproduce the other’s minds before you state your own.

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

There’s a Therapy That’s Right For You


We have all experienced that relief of freely venting to a trusted friend, feeling listened to with total acceptance, with your experiences fully acknowledged and validated. Navigating the ups and downs of life is not an easy thing, and there are life circumstances that test us in many different ways. Sometimes we may need guidance from a trained professional to provide us with understanding and acceptance, and allow us to develop new skills that can help us navigate these ups and downs more easily.

Many people are hesitant to consider therapy, as there is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues. It may seem easier to try and take on your challenges alone or perhaps you are hesitant to reach out for help because you think your problems aren’t “big” enough. But every experience is valid, no matter how big or small, and if you think that having another person to assist you in managing your challenges might be beneficial, therapy may be something to consider to help ease some of your stress. A therapist can provide you with that same feeling that is brought on when you talk to a close friend, but they also have the skills to provide you with ways to overcome your challenges.

There are many different therapy modalities to consider and each of them offers a different style of addressing your experiences and helping you develop new skills to meet those challenges.

1. Client-Centered Therapy

Client centered therapy is a humanistic approach which focuses on the individual. Carl Rogers developed it in the 1950s and he identified 3 core elements that were necessary for the success of the therapy:

– Unconditional Positive Regard

The therapist openly listens to you, without any kind of judgment, and will accept your experience as just that-your experience. This element of the therapy is important, as it allows you to feel comfortable being vulnerable, without fear of being judged or ridiculed.

– Genuineness

The therapist provides genuine, authentic responses to your experiences, which enhances the therapeutic relationship. You are able to trust that your therapist is being honest in how they respond to you, using their education and knowledge base to influence their response.

– Empathy

This is a critical component of this therapeutic approach. Your therapist will do their best to try to understand where you are coming from, to put themselves in your shoes, and understand how you are experiencing your current situation.

The goal of the therapy depends on what you wish to achieve, but ultimately focuses on your personal growth and development. What this means depends entirely on your current situation, and how you define personal growth.

2. Existential Therapy

This approach focuses on increasing self-awareness. Through this sense of strengthened awareness, you are able to understand that you are a free agent in making your decisions and you are responsible for the direction you take your life. It is also concerned with how a person finds meaning out of life. Because of this sense of responsibility and the understanding that we must create our own meaning, anxiety may be the natural response to these realizations, and the existential therapist will help to address this anxiety.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This approach is more focused on structured sessions and often includes homework assignments for completion outside of the therapy sessions. As the approach is focused on meeting goals, these goals are set out within the first couple of sessions, and thus the progression of therapy is very transparent. The therapist may ask you to attend to your automatic thoughts that occur throughout the day in order for you to begin to become more aware of certain thought patterns. Within the session, the therapist will work with you to address these automatic thoughts and whether they are actually supported by your reality. This practice allows you to gain greater awareness of your maladaptive thinking patterns and eventually adapt these to become more in line with reality, which may improve your functioning in day-to-day life.

4. Psychodynamic Therapy

This kind of therapy approach derives from Freudian psychoanalysis. There is an emphasis on unconscious motivations, as well as an individual’s early life experiences, which both influence current problems. Defense mechanisms often operate in the individual to defend against anxiety they may experience. Through therapy, theses defense mechanisms are explored. A key concept of psychodynamic therapy is transference. Transference is the idea that the client unconsciously transfers feelings from an early relationship, typically a parent, onto the therapist. This transference is explored by the therapist, and the reactions that emerge in the sessions often provide useful information about the client.

These different therapy modalities are just a few of many different kinds of therapy that are used to help people deal with issues they may be experiencing. The approach you choose may depend entirely on what it is you need to address and what your goals are. Whatever it is you are struggling with there is someone that can help you, so you don’t have to go through it alone.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

How to Have a Hard Conversation


One complaint that I often hear people making is “How do I speak to that individual?” As humans, we have a tendency to avoid tough conversations because we fear a negative outcome. These hard conversations can create a lot of anxiety, especially when the outcome can affect your work life, education, and/or involve family/friends. Within a professional context, there are all kinds of situations where initiating and engaging in conversation is absolutely necessary. I will list several factors that I believe are necessary for having a successful hard conversation.

1. Manage your expectations. It is important to know that not everyone will always agree with what you have to say. Be open to being wrong and compromising, as the person may perceive the situation in a different manner.

2. Manage your nerves. It is important to know how to soothe yourself in a situation that may be distressing to you. Our minds will often imagine the worst-case scenario when engaging in something this is anxiety provoking. We need to know how to calm our nerves before engaging in the conversation. An approach that I find very helpful is to listen to relaxing music before the conversation.

3. Have an open mind. Enter the conversation with the attitude “I want to learn and get the best out of this conversation.” When you focus on the ultimate goal of the conversation, which is usually to learn about a particular subject, your nerves will subside.

4. Use attentive gestures. I believe that smiling and nodding from time to time during the conversation will signal to the other person that you are carefully and respectfully listening to what they have to say. This will show them that you are paying attention and will also ease the flow of the conversation.

5. Take notes. By taking notes on what the other person is saying, your mind will automatically generate more questions that you probably hadn’t previously thought about. As a result, you will be able to get as much information as possible out of the hard conversation.

6. Believe in yourself. Always know that you have given it your best and that you are a capable person. Even if you think of better ways to reply after the conversation is over, that’s okay! That is a signal that you have learned a new way of thinking about the topic of the conversation. Just by believing in yourself, you are already half the way through the hard conversation!

By: Ghinwa El-Ariss

Ghinwa El-Ariss holds an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto. She will be pursuing her Master of Science degree in Psychology at Trent University starting September 2017. She is passionate about Psychology and the Environment. She hopes that her blog posts help you learn a bit about her and her take on certain things. Most importantly, she hopes that you enjoyed what you read!