Monday, June 30, 2014

Secure Attachment and Sexual Desire: Building a Richer, More Fulfilling Erotic Life

Written by: Darcy
Minick, M.A. and Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

Welcome to our blog on Relationships and Sex. In this blog, we will be sharing information
about building a more fulfilling sexual relationship.

In a previous blog on Sex and Attachment, we explained how sex can be viewed as an attachment behaviour, and how our attachment style can affect how we engage emotionally and sexually with others. How we are attached to our partners has an impact on how we experience sex in our relationships. Our physical desire for our partners increases when we feel safe, secure and connected. An emotional connection is often viewed as an aphrodisiac. So first things first - a rich and fulfilling erotic life starts well before we hit the sheets! Our sexual relationship can also deepen our sense of connection to our partner, and allow us to feel better about ourselves and our relationship. Sex
can be a place of connection and healing as well. We have to be securely connected to our partners, both inside and outside the bedroom.

When we are securely attached to our partners outside and inside the bedroom, we are freer
to talk about ourselves - our thoughts, feelings, needs, desires and preferences. We can talk about our sexual self in a more open and candid manner without feeling fear, discomfort, shame or guilt. Secure attachment also allows us to be able to bear witness to our partner’s emotional and sexual world - and
to celebrate and cherish our partner’s sexual being. We are better able to process negative emotions experienced and/or associated with all aspects of emotional, physical and sexual intimacy, and to join our partners in more positive emotional experiences of joy and excitement involved in exploring
ourselves, and each other, and engage in sexual exploration and play. Being able to connect to our partner’s emotional and sexual experience inside and outside the bedroom leads to more connected interactions and improves our chances of having more “better sex”! The more “better sex” - the more connected - the more you desire sex.

Here are a few factors that you need to consider to create a more secure, richer, erotic life
with your partner:

Emotional Connection and Better Sex: The relationship must be a safe haven. With a safe, secure connection, partners can risk exploring their own, and their partner’s sexual world ... we are close
enough, and safe enough, to attune to our partner’s feelings and experience, as opposed to being focused on sex as a performance and task simply to relieve tension, please our partners, or gain their reassurance and approval. When our connection is not secure, attachment fears and general negative emotional distress in a relationship can dampen sexual passion, and hamper sexual curiosity and exploration.

Accessing Erotic Potentials: Learning about ourselves and partners sexual “hot spots”, and
risking sharing and exploring these hot spots requires an environment of trust and respect. Many of us long to discover our true selves - to go inward and come in touch with deeper passions and erotic interests - to be courageous enough to diminish anxiety by reducing shame and guilt about finding our desires, passions and owning our sexual selves; ultimately integrating these deeper sexual interests into the fabric of our sexual relationships. Eroticism is about finding our own hot spots and stimulating our partners psychologically - meeting them in their hot spots during sex - joining them in their sexual world of play.

Exotic is Erotic: Less exploration of our sexual selves, less novelty - the less desire we have for
sex. Sexual routine, or sex that is offered from a place of duty, dampens sexual desire. Again, we need to feel safe to have fun, and safe to explore ourselves, find something new in or selves, to be able to then try something new with our partners. Novelty is important as it increases dopamine, which increases androgen levels ... as Marvin Gaye said, Sex “is good for us”. Fun, interesting sex may be even better. Novelty creates that excitement and desire, and keeps everyone interested. For some of us, our partners sexual differences - what’s exotic to us - can be exciting places of exploration.

Mindful Sexual Presence and Embodiment: When we are emotionally safe - peaceful and relaxed inside - we can become present - really present - to sensation, touch, and the moment. When we are embodied (“of the body”), we are aware of sensations, sexual desires, feelings and wants, and are able to follow the flow of these sensations and strivings, the essence of a good sexual experience.

At the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, a therapist can help you find and create a more
fulfilling sex life by working with you individually and/or as a couple. A therapist can help you understand your sexual desires, emotional reactions and needs, and help you communicate these to your partner more effectively. A therapist can also help you learn how to respond to your partner’s desires, feelings and wants to help you build a more secure and satisfying sexual relationship. A therapist can help you to create greater security in your relationship - and then facilitate sexual growth and intimacy.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Treatment Service.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Perfectionism vs. Healthy Striving

by: Dr. Marie-Pierre Fontaine-Paquet, Psy.D., C.Psych.

In this post, we will define perfectionism vs. healthy striving, describe when perfectionism is a problem, and we’ll offer strategies for overcoming perfectionism.

Defining Perfectionism 

Wishing to do things well and having high standards is often adaptive and can help you to pursue and achieve your goals in life. This healthy striving can be contrasted with perfectionism, which is a felt need to do things perfectly and to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable. To help clarify the distinction between healthy striving and perfectionism, here are some characteristics of each one.

Characteristics of Healthy Striving:

  • Striving for high but achievable standards that result in feelings of satisfaction and increased self-esteem
  • Motivated by enjoyment of the process, enthusiasm, enjoyment of what you do, and desire for success and mastery
  • Efforts (not just results) give you satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment
  • Self-esteem is not based on accomplishments and performance
  • Rewarding self or others for good performance
  • Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
  • Bouncing back quickly from failure or disappointment

Characteristics of Perfectionism:

  • Repeatedly setting goals for yourself that are beyond reach and reason and not being satisfied by anything less than perfection
  • Motivated by fear of failure, obligation or duty
  • Driven to be the best, but unable to enjoy accomplishments
  • Feeling that your sense of self-worth and acceptance is based on accomplishments and performance
  • Criticism and judgment of self or others
  • Seeing mistakes as evidence of unworthiness
  • Becoming depressed when faced with failure or disappointment

When is Perfectionism a Problem?

Like many things, perfectionism can be viewed as a problem when it interferes with a person’s wellbeing and happiness, relationships, or functioning at school or work. This is not always easy to know. If you struggle with perfectionism, the high standards you hold for yourself or others may be so long-standing and ingrained that they may even be unconscious and outside of your awareness. You may have a self-critical internal voice that constantly judges and berates you for not being “______” enough (fill in the blank: smart, hardworking, rational, strong, attractive, thin, sexy… and the list goes on), but you may be more aware of ensuing feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, inadequacy, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness. You may also be aware of feelings of anger, frustration and resentment when others fail to live up to your expectations, and perhaps this has caused difficulties in your relationships.

Perfectionistic thoughts and behaviours can place an individual at higher risk for depression (see blog ‘Depression: How Your Thinking Can Lead to the ‘Blues’’) and anxiety. Research shows that perfectionism is associated with several psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, worry about being judged by other people, excessive anger, body image and eating disorder problems, and obsessive-compulsive behaviours.

Strategies for Overcoming Perfectionism

Building Awareness:

The first step to change is to first build awareness of what it is that you want to change. Since perfectionistic thoughts and behaviours can be automatic and unconscious, this may not be an easy task! One way of identifying perfectionistic thoughts is to notice situations in which you experience emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration or shame, and to reflect on thoughts and interpretations that may be contributing to these feelings. You can also pay attention to situations in which you find yourself engaging in  perfectionistic behaviours (e.g., checking and rechecking your work, spending too much time cleaning, excessive organizing and list making, difficulty making decisions, procrastinating, exercising excessively to stay thin, etc.), and notice what you may be thinking and feeling in these situations.

Evaluating Your Standards

Here are some questions to consider when evaluating whether your standards are serving you well or whether you might benefit from challenging or altering them:
  1. The excessiveness of the standard (e.g., Can this goal be met?)
  2. The accuracy of the belief (e.g., Is it true that this standard must be met?)
  3. The costs and benefits of imposing the standard (e.g., Does it help me to have the belief or standard?)
  4. The flexibility of the standard or belief (e.g., Am I able to adjust my standards and change my beliefs when necessary?).

If you determine that a particular standard cannot be met or that the costs of having a particular standard or rule outweighs the benefits, you may want to consider loosening your standards for that particular issue. If you are unsure, you may consider asking the opinion of a friend or loved one whom you trust.

Making Changes to Perfectionism:

Rather than being unwilling to accept anything less than perfection, remind yourself that no one is perfect nor do we need to be in order to be worthy, lovable and valuable as human beings. Think about what is good enough and possible in your current life situation rather than how things should be in order to be perfect. Work on developing self-compassion in place of harsh self-criticism and perfectionism, and more compassion for others. Coping statements like “It’s okay to make mistakes” and “Nobody’s perfect” can be helpful in challenging perfectionistic thinking. People who struggle with perfectionism tend to go to great pains to control many different aspects of their lives, including their own behavior, the behavior of other people, and the environment in which they live. Because you often cannot control or predict things that occur, it can be helpful to find ways to tolerate some degree of uncertainty and ambiguity in your life.

If perfectionism is a problem for you, chances are that the high standards you hold for yourself or others are long-standing and ingrained. The thought of giving up these standards may be very frightening for a number of reasons, and changing these long-standing patterns can be difficult. You may find that it is too difficult to overcome your perfectionism alone or with the help of your family and friends. A psychologist can help you better understand your perfectionism and the role it plays in your life, and support you in changing these long-standing patterns. A psychologist can also support you in addressing problems often associated with perfectionism, including anxiety, depression, anger, eating disorders and relationship problems.

This blog is based on some parts of the book: “When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism” by Antony & Swinson (1998)

Read more about our Anxiety, Stress & Obsessive-Compulsive Treatment Service.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Childhood Anxiety: Early Warning Signs

Do you have an anxious child?

Childhood fears are a part of normal growing up. Fears of the dark, monsters under the bed, starting at a new daycare or school - all of these may be part of typical child development. Anxiety is also a signal to help all of us protect ourselves from situations that are dangerous- a warning signal about a lack of safety in your child’s world. Under normal circumstances, anxiety diminishes when a child’s sense of security and safety is restored—anxious thoughts and feelings subside.

When is your child's anxiety something you should be concerned about?

Anxiety is considered a disorder not based on what a child is worrying about, but rather how that worry is impacting a child's functioning. The content may be 'normal' but reach out for help for your child under the following circumstances:

  1. when your child is experiencing too much worry or suffering immensely over what may appear to be insignificant situations;
  2. when worry and avoidance become your child's automatic response to many situations;
  3. when your child feels continuously keyed up, or,
  4. when coaxing or reassurance is ineffective in helping your child through his or her anxious thoughts and feelings.

Under these circumstances, anxiety is not a signal that tells them to protect themselves but instead prevents them from fully participating in typical activities of daily life-school, friendships, and academic performance.

What to look for:

If your child is showing any of the following it may be time to seek help from a qualified professional:

  • Anticipatory anxiety, worrying hours, days, weeks ahead
  • Asking repetitive reassurance questions, "what if" concerns, inconsolable, won't respond to logical arguments
  • Headaches, stomach aches, regularly too sick to go to school
  • Disruptions of sleep with difficulty falling asleep, frequent nightmares, trouble sleeping alone
  • Perfectionism, self-critical, very high standards that make nothing good enough
  • Overly-responsible, people pleasing, an excessive concern that others are upset with him or her, unnecessary apologizing
  • Easily distressed, or agitated when in a stressful situation

A CFIR child, adolescent and family psychologist can help you and your child to diminish unhealthy anxiety. A thorough assessment of your child will provide you and your child with valuable information about the sources of your child’s anxiety, and evidence-based psychological treatment will be employed to help your child deal with his or her anxiety symptoms.

(This post was originally written by Dr. Rebecca Moore C.Psych.)