Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Are Self, Mid-Life and Existential Crises?

by: Dr. Lila Hakim, C.Psych. & Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

Many of us will experience a self or existential crisis during our lifetime. These crises are usually precipitated by life transitions. Life transitions that can trigger a crisis include: aging, changes in relationship status (i.e., marriage, separation and divorce), betrayals and loss of loved ones (e.g., death of parent, partner or child), changes in our identity (e.g., children leaving home, loss of youth, and perceived attractiveness), and recognition of our own mortality and the end of our life. Such moments may spawn a search for meaning, purpose, and connection to others and the world around us, or result in a downward spiral and deepening crisis involving hopelessness, despair and anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Some individuals struggling with such crises have spent numerous years disconnected from their own selves by virtue of not pursuing their authentic feelings, needs, and desires in the world. Instead, these individuals may have surrendered to the expectations and demands of others. Recognition of the freedom to create one’s entire world may be daunting for some individuals in these circumstances, but is key to the recovery from such a crisis. 

Some individuals experience a mid-life crisis brought upon by specific concerns about mid-life transitions and an impending sense that a decline is imminent. Mid-life can involve a reframing of life and deep reflection on life in terms of years left to live. With parents passing away, children moving out of the family home, and dissatisfaction with self (i.e., physical and bodily changes related to aging, dissatisfaction with relationship, career and accomplishments), some individuals will experience despair and hopelessness. A crisis can ensue upon realization of the passing of time with very few opportunities to change life’s course. This realization may precipitate intense emotions, a desperate search and effort to change one’s life. Seeking out younger partners, drastic changes to physical appearance, or career may ensue.

The Self-Growth and Self-Esteem Service at CFIR supports clients to deal with particular life issues that involve one’s questioning of the purpose, meaning, and value of one’s life, and difficult feelings associated with being alone and isolated. Such moments can leave us questioning past and current decisions related to our choices in occupation, residence, and relationship partners.

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Self-Esteem: The Impact of Low or Overly High Self-Esteem in Our Lives

by: Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C. Psych.

Our deepest sense of our own worth or value is an important part of our self-esteem. Having a positive sense of self-esteem involves being able to hold a solid sense of being a good person, making life decisions that are respectful toward ourselves, and having a sense of worth and competency. Our early childhood experience in our family of origin has a significant impact on how our self-esteem develops. Peer relations and then relationship partners also have an impact on our self-concept. Our relationships to others will play a role in how we view ourselves, the confidence we have in our selves, and our deepest sense that we are good and competent individuals; in short, we are more likely to have a good sense of our own value and worth. This good sense of our own value and worth affects how we talk to ourselves, the choices and decisions we make for ourselves in everyday life, and how we will experience and manage our relationships with others. Healthy self-esteem adds to our sense of resilience.

Individuals with low self-esteem often struggle to come in touch, or maintain, a sense of being a good and competent person. Typically, individuals with low self-esteem experienced challenging early life environments that may have involved harsh criticalness about appearance, intelligence, or clothing by family members or peers, bullying and teasing, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and neglect, obstacles that blocked achievement, or mistreatment based on social identity (e.g., gender, sexuality, race) or on a learning or physical disability. As a result of these experiences, one might be more self-critical, preoccupied by doubt and uncertainty, overly driven by perfectionistic standards and ideals, have less belief in one’s ability to achieve or accomplish, or experience an increased sense of anxiety, loneliness, and shame that block them from building relationships with others.

When we did not develop a positive sense of self-esteem, we are less able to tolerate challenging life moments and sudden life changes, to cope with adversity and perceived failure, or to deal with work and relationship issues. Lower self-esteem diminishes our ability to deal with these moments. Life challenges and financial, relationship, and career difficulties or failures can also have an impact on our self-esteem.

Some individuals have overly-inflated self-esteem or fluctuating self-esteem. In cases of overly-inflated self-esteem, an individual may be compensating for low self-esteem. Typically, this includes over-working, or over-achieving at the expense of mental, physical health, and relationships. They may also overestimate what they are able to achieve or accomplish, and set unrealistic goals with the intention of improving their sense of value and worth. Sometimes individuals oscillate between periods marked by anxiety and depression as they shift from experiencing low to overly high self-esteem.  

There are many dimensions to self-esteem. CFIR psychologists and clinicians in our Self-Growth & Self-Esteem Service are skilled in being able to understand how your self-esteem developed, and the necessary steps to foster a positive and healthy sense of self-esteem in the ‘here and now’.

Communication in Relationships

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. & Dr. Lila Hakim, C.Psych.

Being able to communicate in an efficient and effective manner in a relationship is important. Each individual in a relationship will have his or her own feelings, needs, wants, desires, opinions, and values to share on a wide range of topics from intimacy needs, children and parenting issues, relationship to in-laws, household roles, duties and tasks, finances, and balancing life-work and family demands. Inevitably partners will have different expectations about how to address these topics. Effective communication strategies allow individuals or couple partners to be able to navigate life’s issues in a manner in which both partners feel valued, seen, and heard. Individuals or couple partners who are also equipped with conflict resolution, problem-solving, and negotiation skills are able to deal with difficult relationship moments in which there is disagreement and when problem resolution seems impossible.

When partners are distressed, they tend to fall into negative communication patterns that escalate into negative displays of emotion or withdrawals. Couples who are ill-equipped to resolve problems and are unable to negotiate, stay stuck in conflict and eventually engage in high-conflict interactions or distancing.

CFIR psychologists and clinicians are skilled in supporting you to develop solid relationship communication skills. We help you to learn how to resolve your problems, express and assert yourself, and negotiate with others on topics of great concern to you.

The Relationship and Sex Therapy Service at CFIR offers clients comprehensive assessment, psychotherapy, and counselling to address a wide range of relationship and/or sexual issues for both individuals and couples. In terms of treatment, we offer individual, couple, and group therapy to help you to develop stronger relationships, heal relationship injuries, improve or add new relationship skills (e.g., communication, problem-solving and negotiation skills), and address sexual issues that interfere with sexual satisfaction and fulfilment, regardless of sexual orientation.