Truth or Fiction?

Okay, we are going to get very philosophical about truth.  Ready?

Truth is True (For You)
One of the therapeutic frameworks I use in counselling is Narrative Therapy (NT) and, as you might guess, it works primarily with a person’s relationship to the stories they tell about themselves or others.  Criticisms of NT generally centre on whether or not the stories people tell actually represent the truth.

Can something be true for one person and not for another? Do we make things up to suit our personal ‘lenses’ and biases and, if so, what are the repercussions of that?  Why do the accounts of the same event differ between people and, perhaps even more mysteriously, why does the telling of the same story change over time for the same person?

Is our truth actually truth? Is it fiction? Or is it a mixture of both?

Is Truth Relevant or Immutable?

A lot of interest (and research) has been undertaken on the subject of differing stories of eyewitnesses who testify at the scene of the crime or accident and then again months or years later.  Inconsistencies in the self-reports abound; this is especially true if the memory is traumatic or if the brain has been primed with other ideas and suggestions in the meantime.

We might think that memory represents an undisputable fact, event, or a sensory experience—we remember it, so it happened—but does that really represent the truth of the matter?  Studies on memories suggest that they often degrade quickly depending on many internal and external variables.  More often than not, memories will change over time.

The basic premise of recent research: each time we retrieve a memory it is informed by our current experience and lens and, thus, it is altered a small amount.  Metaphorically, memories are neuronal shape-shifters. Memories can hijack our current experience or can be ‘forgotten on purpose’ forever. We can create memories, repress memories, play with memories, implant memories, and all of it may be done unconsciously. They are very malleable and, therefore, quite unreliable over the long haul.

Personal Truth or Fiction

If you have lived for more than a few decades you may have, upon occasion, expressed some mild confusion about the stories you hold.  Examples: Did I dream that memory or was it a real experience? Was it something I was told so many times that it feels like I experienced it?  Why does my sibling have a completely different story about ‘that time’ in my childhood?

So, the next question might be, “Are my stories (or memories or accounts) completely true?”  Answer: maybe.  The truth might be a mix of both fact and fiction. There are indisputable truths (yes, gravity is a thing).  But these truths are probably fewer in number and less pristinely tucked away or retrievable than we think.

Does the Truth of a Story Matter?

We love stories. We share stories and we live stories and we live out our stories in community. But we may not always be able to convince that community (or ourselves) of their veracity or value. In other words, what do other people think of your stories and, therefore, you?  What do you think about theirs and, therefore, them? Which of your stories are shared and which are not?  Who has the storytelling rights to your story?

The answers to these questions might indicate what we believe about the world, others, and ourselves. When we author and hear our own stories, we discern more clearly what they’re about and what we’re about. Stories hold space for our beliefs, goals, values, dreams, and longings and they ensure the transmission of knowledge, experience, and culture through generations.  They are our truth…sort of.

It Takes a Village to Write a Story (and to hold all the truth)
But our stories are not written entirely by ourselves.  We are vulnerable to the ongoing contexts and systems we live in and our stories may take a sudden plot twist in a myriad of ways. Others may help us see and remember things differently.  We may present our truth differently at different times because we want to set the story straight about us or because we want to live into (or out of) the stories told about ourselves.

Re-storying is one therapeutic tool of Narrative Therapy that I use a lot and it can be a vital process for those who have had tragic or depleting stories woven into their life narrative. A hoped-for future life can be written with current and old stories used as reference points—for inspiration or motivation, both negatively or positively. The inclusion of other voices and versions can also be an important part of this process.  For example: How would your partner or best friend tell that story?

The Paradoxical Nature of Truth
So, what is truth and what is fiction? Is truth only that which is proved by empirical science (also subject to biases, unfortunately) or is it an ongoing, unfolding revelation in each person, subject to change with the vagaries and seasons of life?

Paradoxically, the opposite of what is true may not be that which is false.  It may simply be another truth…or another fiction. Time will tell.  Or, maybe it won’t.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, RCC, CCC
IG: @gottasecond

FebUP! Small But MIGHTY Practices to Help You Feel Better: Week 4

Basic Idea?
Each day in February, I have posted a pic and some practices (IG: @gottasecond) designed to up your mood, relieve some heaviness, and increase your flourishing.

They are doable (even if exhausted and stressed).
They are informed by research and real life.
They will require a bit of work on your part. Not too much, though. You can handle it.

Do one or 28.

Do what prompts vitality and leave the rest. (But more is probably more.)
Do them as consistently as you can.
Do them by practicing, not by perfecting or performing.

Ready To Begin?
This is the summary for Week 4 of the practices.  You can also read through the other weeks on this blog or follow along on:
Instagram: @gottasecond


You know this one, but it bears repeating; stay away from the crap you NEED to gobble or guzzle RIGHT! NOW! If you really, really want that sugary, boozy, or salty thing, find the most nutritionally dense option you can. Everything in moderation, including common pain relievers like alcohol and weed. Sloooowwly eat that ice cream you want to shovel in your hungry belly (or soul or spirit). Be present to what is actually giving you life. If there doesn’t seem to be anything on your ‘love my life’ list, start with things that used to give you pleasure. Look for a spark of the old interest: hobbies, crafts, interests, learning, meet-ups, cooking, art, reading, etc. Practice: Enjoy life; savor life. (Savor means slowing things down to a satisficing or umami level of enjoyment.) Eat and drink to be merry (not numb and sad). Embrace the sensorial delights that are still all around you—with Italian gusto and flourish.


Sometimes all you can do is to just keep working through the day as best you can and then, finally, you get to go to bed. Hopefully, your room is peaceful, dark, comfortable, and cool. If not, make that a priority for tomorrow (sleep hygiene). Good sleep is all about training your brain through rhythms, routines, and calming your body (sleep conditioning). Practices: Manage or eliminate common sleep-blockers such as alcohol, stress, lack of exercise, screens in bed, hunger, etc. If sleep doesn’t come in 30 minutes, get out of bed and do some non-stimmy projects/hobbies so you will feel productive while waiting to get sleepy-tired. Don’t go back to bed until you are tired enough to sleep right away. Repeat this if necessary. If you’re sleeping too much, set an alarm for the same time every morning and get up when it buzzes, regardless of how little sleep you’ve had. Sleep like a baby (same techniques).


Contrary to popular opinion, mindless screen viewing doesn’t actually alleviate a down mood or anxiety. Mindless anything is not that helpful, checking out is not the same as distraction, and “a-musement” (not-thinking-ment) creates mental cavities, not relief from what’s bothering you. If you are to fully live into a healthier life, it will necessarily begin with your full attention and the disruption of what’s not working—by engaging in something else that has meaning, purpose, pleasure, and/or a point. Practice: What could you bring into this day that engages your whole being and reduces the restless boredom common to depression? Need ideas? How about mindfulness meditation, creating flow or beauty, snuggling a pet or a baby, doing some bodywork, such as yoga or Tai Chi, or creating some future-dreaming plans with a counsellor?

Lighten Up

Adding light is a powerful resource to anyone with winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder. As is increasing your exposure to other kinds of light. There are a few things that can help even if it is dark outside, although 15 minutes under the rainy skies is underrated but still very helpful. Practice: Turn on all the lights in your space at night. If you live or work under fluorescent bulbs, replace them with the full spectrum kind. Or buy some OTT bulbs for your lamps and sit under them every day. Wear colorful clothes or scarves. Cook with red, orange and yellow veggies. Buy something bright and place it directly in your line of sight. When it’s sunny—you are out there soaking up all the Vitamin D, right!


We need to hear each other into speech into having a voice that’s valued. Our life narratives hold a great deal of power. What we say about ourselves colours every part of our living and being in the world. When we listen to others intently, notice how they open up and how this creates the deep connection we all crave. When soul and story meet, our isolation and separateness drop by the wayside. We are now joined together to bear up under the pressures and problems of life; it creates conditions for health and wholeness because you have bonded your humanity with another. Practice: Craft a couple of stories about your resilience, strengths, character…write them down and soak up their positivity. Once in a while let them become the dominant narrative. Or, at least let them take up some space in your thought life. Also, start drafting the narrative you want to live into. What is your opening paragraph?


One of the best ways to stabilize moods is to richly sprinkle your life with rituals, habits, and rhythms. Think: traditions, routines, regular times ways, patterns, and favourites. From a meta perspective: rhythms either embrace or exclude our priorities and purposes in life, whether consciously or unconsciously. Practice: Draft/look back to a schedule of your last week or month. Include or notice all of the regular stuff of life. Then, notice where the following showed up: steps in following your dreams, restorative practices, reflection, non-screen time, celebrations, comforting rituals, and connection points. Anything missing? Have no clues as to what you did with your time last week? Take some time to conduct a macro or micro survey of how you regularly move through the world.  When chaos rules, bring in order.  When order rules, bring in chaos.


Build onto all the good practices you’ve begun. Add habits to habits and break them all every now and then. Live into generous spaces. Thomas Merton states:

I no longer believe that our life’s task is to change or even improve “self”.
Instead, I see it as a turning toward, a graced movement bringing us more and more into congruence with the person we were meant to be.

If this was true and you could fully live into this evolution of self today, would that change anything in your life…or maybe everything? Change may be less about striving and gritting your teeth to do, do, do, and more about a “graced movement” or simple orientation toward health.

I hope FebUP! Has encouraged or empowered you in some way. This is the last post in the series but I hope you stick around. Next UP!? Some quotes from people on the street (#overherd) and more resources for anxiety and depression. You can always contact me with comments or questions via this website.

You are unique. Not everything that can be done should be done by every person. Not everything has a singular cause; not everything has a singular effect. Always confer with your doctor or a health professional before starting any new health initiative.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, RCC, CCC

IG: @gottasecond
Twitter: @sharivs
Medium: @sharivs

©2018 Shari van Spronsen and Second Story Counselling

FebUP! Small But MIGHTY Practices to Help You Feel Better: Week 3

FebUp!  Basic Idea.
Each day in February, I post a pic and some practices on Instagram designed to up your mood, relieve some heaviness, and increase your flourishing (about a one minute read).  At the end of each week, I am putting seven of them together with some links to articles and research. This is Week Three’s offering.  check back in a week for the next fab seven.

The Practices?
They will be doable (even when exhausted and stressed).
They will be informed by research and real life.
They will require a bit of work on your part.
Not too much, though. You can handle it.

Ready To Begin? Start by following the Instagram account: @gottasecond or read on…

Clean Up

Creating structure usually helps mitigate anxiety, the fraternal twin of depression. Making lists, organizing closets, setting up an itinerary, cleaning up: these will elicit a satisfied sigh from your soul. But before you begin to compile or compost, a deeper dive into your planning strategy might be helpful. How could you organize/clean up your life or environment so that it is in alignment with your core values, beliefs, and talents? A general life adage: don’t give away, throw away, burn, or abandon anything that gives you life or vitality. Practice: Create some plans or goals—BUT—break them into itty-bitty, manageable parts so small and manageable you could do one tomorrow (with ease).


People with depression often carry shame or self-directed anger or criticism around on a daily basis. Today, begin to deconstruct any totalizing, failure narratives you hold about yourself. Permit the painful thoughts and feelings to ebb and flow without minimizing or maximizing them. But (Important!), make them share your brain-space with encouraging, affirming, and hopeful thoughts. How? Relentless self-compassion. Practices: Be empathic to your own distress. Offer kindnesses to harshness. Remember your shared humanity (we are all imperfect AND glorious). Be lavish with warm acceptance and consolation. Do this…every…single…time…you are tempted to get stuck in defeat and despair. Make the skill of ruminating work for good.


Find something else to think about. Facebook rants are probably not going to give you that oh-so-welcome dopamine hit so just avoid them. Neither will obsessing over someone’s magical-life IG pics. Practice: Challenge your brain with just a smidge of freshness. Need ideas? Move your plants around. Figure out the name of that band you listened to last year. Clean up your floordrobe (you know, the pile of clothes on the bedroom floor right beside the empty closet). Watch a documentary. Check out the library’s “New/Best-Sellers”. Basically, get interested and invested in something new. Get started on a project. Get radical and shuffle your mental deck. Variety is the spice of life because your bored brain lights up for the new and novel (…ping…).

Get Out

Out of your house or workplace, outside, every day, rain or shine, snow or wind. I know you’re exhausted (for real) but this practice will help you sleep, think, and feel better. Tell yourself that you only need to go out for five minutes. Then, very sneakily double-cross your brain and stay out a bit longer. It’s so obvious a trick that it shouldn’t work, but it does. Every time. Practice: Decide you will only walk to the end of the block (wink, wink). Then, head out to that new coffee shop a few blocks away or to that new path in the greenway. Or, take yourself and your lunch to the park, the lake, or the museum. The real deal: Walk or move outside 10 minutes a day to feel 10% better in one month. Guaranteed. Bonus offer: up your happy, healthy feelings if you are outside even longer and hang out with Mother Nature.

Change (1)

Chronic psychological pain can have a helpful side. Um, what!?! True, because it can wake us up and guide us out of a blind alley or a limiting life situation that we wouldn’t deal with otherwise. Depression can be a sign that things are out of whack, that you are stuck in a dark corner. Are you flourishing, living life according to how you are wired/created to be? Are you living for the benefit of someone or something else that doesn’t feel right or true for you? A quick re/assessment of your life might be helpful for figuring this out. If this sounds downright depressing, then it’s going to be very helpful. Practice: Google image “Wellness Wheel’ or find a personal inventory/app online that tracks your daily work-life-energy expenditures. Discern what is out of alignment with who you want to be or what you know about being healthy and happy. Then, create a couple of changes that will orient you back to vitality and authenticity.

Change (2)

Resist the urge to slump—on your couch or office chair or anywhere else—with only your raincloud thoughts to keep you company. Trust me on this: you won’t feel any better by emptying the Kleenex box while rockin’ your decades-old hoodie in front of the telly for hours and hours. Move your glacial-speed body around a bit, especially when you don’t feel like it. Practice: Change the way you move through your day by changing the activity and pace. Alternate between moving and sitting, working and resting, thinking and doing. Feast, then fast; study, then daydream; work hard, then lie down; be alone, then be with others. Your days will feel richer and more purposeful and productive and that feels like golden sunshine to your soul and spirit.


Soothe the savage beast that is your emotional life right now with music and moving your body in a merry way. Practices: Play/learn fiddle/guitar and sing. Drum out some of that nervy energy you’re packing around. Dance: it’s good to move your body. Bonus: if you are as coordinated as I am, you’ll have the added bonus of making other people laugh while you do it. (My moonwalking always cheers people up.) Sex: also good for you…hello happy body chemicals (but love the one you love or this will drain you of all the goodness it brings you, like oxytocin).

You are unique. Not everything that can be done should be done by every person. Not everything has a singular cause; not everything has a singular effect. Always confer with your doctor or a health professional before starting any new health initiative.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC

IG: @gottasecond
Twitter: @sharivs
Medium: @sharivs

©2018 Shari van Spronsen and Second Story Counselling

FebUp! Small But MIGHTY Practices to Help You Feel Better: Week 2

FebUp! Basic Idea.
Each day in February, I am posting a pic and some practices on Instagram (@gottasecond) that are designed to up your mood, relieve some heaviness, and increase your flourishing (about a one minute read). At the end of each week, I am putting seven of them together with some links to articles and research. This is Week Two’s offering. Check here for the first fab seven.


What are some small things you could do to add a flicker of sensory goodness to your life? We’re not aiming for ‘joy, joy, joy’, happy-clappy here (although, if that happens embrace it, obviously). Practice: discover some pleasurable activities that are very sensorial (taste, touch, scent, texture) and then go do one. Make a list and add to it on happier days so you don’t have to think up that helpful idea in the midst of a heavy brain fog.


Pause to really listen to yourself. Ask some challenging questions about how you are interacting with and living in the world and how you are spending your days/resources/talents.  Not in a gritty resolution-ish way but with a compassionate, generous, and grounded gaze inward and outward. Ensure the listening happens within a framework that upholds health, healing, and deliberate attention to what’s working well. Skip over negativity and nihilism that wants to dominate this conversation. Practice: stop and look for glimpses of joy and becoming and awakening and believing. Then, begin to deepen what you hear through small choices and acts of courage.

Give Thanks

Who or what are you thankful for and why? Gratitude is the feeling of thankfulness but giving thanks has an object (a person or thing) and a reason. Ruminate on who/what delights, beautifies, and restores your vitality. Meditate on the hope and goodness you’ve received from others. Who could receive your thanks and appreciation (including yourself)? Practice: Write down 3 or more things you could give thanks for and why. Do this every day for the rest of the month. Also, be vulnerable—tell people how they’ve made a difference in your life. And receive the blessing from others deeply.



Finding peace, justice, beauty, generosity, and kindness in the public parlance is not easy; they’re not the themes relentlessly bloating your social media and news. It’s not exactly the natural default of your brain either. But, disengaging from the barrage of ideas that offer neither an informed opinion nor a viable solution is possible. You can control the flow of information. Practice: do some subtraction and addition. Add a few feeds that support healing, hope, and a focus on what is going well. Meanwhile, work toward changing what isn’t going well. Catch people (and yourself) doing things right.



Many of us have unresolved hurts, disappointments, and regrets skulking around the edges of our hearts and minds. Some can be resolved; others require perpetual renegotiation. But most could use a different kind of emotional catch and release. Practices: Start working through some pain patches with a trusted friend or counsellor. Forgive yourself. Forgive others when you can. Reconcile with others when you can. Courageously grieve what can’t be changed or undone. Lay some of those heavy burdens down and leave. Hurt people hurt people but healed people heal people.



Depression can feel like being untethered and stuck at the same time—restless, angsty yet, paradoxically, immobilized and lethargic. Deep breathing reduces cortisol production and calms your limbic system, which can act like there’s a five-alarm fire in your brain. Breathing deeply situates you into the present moment/experience, which helps moderate big emotions and ennui. It energizes you in a different way. Practice: Diaphragmatic breathing for a few minutes a couple times a day. Put a sticker on a screen to remind you to shake out your shoulders and make some big belly balloon breaths.



Today, adopt a beginner’s mind (fresh thinking and openness to learning). Lay down your weariness and wariness and favour of a more scenic vista. Engage in calming rituals to encourage different ways of thinking, noticing, and believing (e.g., Tai Chi, contemplation, prayer). Sleep more. Delete more. And, as my Manitoban friend used to say, “Sometimes you gotta weed out the fly-crap from the pepper.” Hold onto the peppy, seasoned parts of your life (the meaning and purpose) and leave the rest to fertilize what’s behind you. Learn your rest.

You are unique. Not everything that can be done should be done by every person. Not everything has a singular cause; not everything has a singular effect. Always confer with your doctor or a health professional before starting any new health initiative.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
IG: @gottasecond

©2018 Shari van Spronsen and Second Story Counselling

FebUP! Small but MIGHTY practices to Help You Feel Better: Week 1

FebUp!  Basic Idea.
Each day in February, I post a pic and some practices on Instagram designed to up your mood, relieve some heaviness, and increase your flourishing (about a one minute read).  At the end of each week, I am putting seven of them together with some links to articles and research. This is Week One’s offering.  check back in a week for the next fab seven.

The Practices?
They will be doable (even when exhausted and stressed).
They will be informed by research and real life.
They will require a bit of work on your part.
Not too much, though. You can handle it.

Ready To Begin? Start by following the Instagram account: @gottasecond or read on…

We begin FebUP! with AWAKE. Waking up is hard to do. Getting out of bed is difficult. For someone who feels down, thoughts like, “I don’t want to get up and be a responsible ” can come to mind. Practice: Upon awakening, remind yourself that you will feel a bit better once you’re out of bed (true: your body chemicals will shift), that you can do this (true: you are still here doing stuff), and that you have a new plan for feeling better (true: 28 new practices will make a difference). Awake to possibility. 


Making a decision is as satisfying to your brain as licking a dessert bowl is to your taste buds. Choosing gives you agency and confidence and stops some of the spin cycle thinking. Get some counsel or more info if that’s helpful (but do not get stuck here—TMI) and then dive in. Don’t look back (ruminate/worry/obsess about the could’ve/would’ve/should’ve). Almost everything can be changed back or reworked if needed. Practice: Decide on at least one thing today and let someone know—this makes it real.

Pay attention to your body. This is something people with low mood generally dislike doing (a lot). It is tempting to spend most of our time in our heads thinking about how bad we feel. But what’s going on below your neck? Skip the judgment though; it’s the noticing that we’re after. Practices: Revel in your sensory system; support your body rhythms; notice what is working well; nurture and care for your body. Also, if you haven’t already, talk with your MD/ND to rule out common health problems, like anemia).


Cook, macramé, build, garden…whatever creative work inspires you. Creative work is like comfy pants for the brain. This is not the time to start up that huge project or delve into a complicated solution to a design problem (unless, of course, it is). Practice: Tell your serious, brainiac side it’s okay to rest over yonder for a spell. Cease from all that incessant thinking and mental processing and engage in some imaginative, discovery play-work. Create some flow.


Like yesterday’s practice, this one switches your brain from worrying and rehearsing into building brand-new, contented neurons. Feel like your brain is too foggy? Break it down into mite-size pieces. Persistence will disrupt looping thought-reruns and wake up feelings of accomplishment and self-esteem. Practice: Start with wee bits of learning like, how do you clean up moldy tile (theoretically, if you had the energy and cared)? Move into larger chunks when you’re feeling like a brain-boss: How do I re-grout that moldy tile or, forget the damn tile, how do I make beer? Learn into your lively-hood.

People Up

Coffee shops, art galleries, music festivals: they’re all are full of people making noise. If those noisy people are also your lovely, upbeat friends—double-dip win! Hang out with a friend or coworker and focus on being present to their life. Or, fixate on some positive connections and experiences you’ve had (refresh this site often). People can drain us but they also connect us to what’s real and vibrant. Practice: Inhabit some vitality-enriched, other-world space for a while and then be alone if you need to (but not for too long). Balance people.


Make a meal; pull some weeds; knit a scarf; write a letter (the old way with pen and paper); build something. Then, give it away—discreetly. Or, notice everyone’s need for kindness and encouragement. Gently shove your fatigue aside for a few minutes or hours and hand out with a person or family who could use a lift-gift like your sincere attention and non-heroic service. Practice: Do something purely altruistic today. Set it up today. Buy the wool. Make the call. Serve up some sunshiny feelings and welcome back your inside smile.

You are unique. Not everything that can be done should be done by every person. Not everything has a singular cause; not everything has a singular effect. Always confer with your doctor or a health professional before starting any new health initiative.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC

IG: @gottasecond
Twitter: @sharivs
Medium: @sharivs

©2018 Shari van Spronsen and Second Story Counselling

Breaking Up, Not Breaking Down

Some bad news: More people will break up just before Christmas than at any other time of the year.

The festive season is over and, unfortunately, so are a lot of relationships. According to Facebook stats, December 11 is the ultimate breakup day of the year and break ups are most likely to peak around two weeks before Christmas and again at Spring Break (an ironic title in this context).

Right After a Breakup

Breaking up is gut-wrenching and soul-sucking.

After it happens, a lot of people feel as though they will not survive and maybe they’re not sure they want to and many wonder if the pain will ever go away. But, then, after a lot of heartache has washed over them, the oppressive, heavy sadness lifts just a tiny, little bit. This small shift supplies just enough energy to consider some new options.

Building Up after Breaking Up

Where to start?
Begin by framing this difficult time as a process that you are strong enough and resilient enough to handle.
You are sad but you are also strong.
You are bereft but you are not broken.
You can and will get through this.

No heroics but no nihilism either.

Need some ideas? Here are some to consider (but not all at once):

Keep the Comfy Coming

Soften your path. This is a rough and rocky valley you are trudging through so any small comfort can mean a lot. Schedule concessions and indulgences throughout your week and…

Ditch the “perfect self” myth.
   This is the mistaken belief that you should be able to do everything just like before and that you are weak and undisciplined if you don’t. Note: suffering and grief compromise your whole system so that everything takes more energy, which leads to the next idea…

Value self-compassion.
Treat yourself as you would a best friend—gently, kindly, and compassionately. If you are harsh with yourself, healing will take longer.

Balance energy in and out. Grief is the job you never applied for but got anyway. It’s hard and lonely work that you will have to do for way too long (it’s always too long). Purposefully avoid exhausting your resources. Rest more. Restore more.

Be social.
Don’t avoid people too much. If talking to others i.e., managing people’s responses and discomfort is too painful or tiring, hang around people you don’t know you but will share some space with you (like at a theatre or climbing wall).

Don’t hook up for pain relief.
This would also include not dating others for spite or revenge. Treat the people in your life with respect and respect yourself at the same time.

Learn to cry more, cry less, or by appointment.
If you don’t usually cry, let some emotions flow out of you via tears. If you’re crying more than you want, limit or schedule your crying. As counterintuitive as it seems, scheduling times to cry with a distinct beginning and end time can be a really helpful strategy.

Disrupt the new reality:

If your home feels empty… Fill it up in interesting ways. If all the furniture is gone, the living room floor can become your biggest canvas or organizational platform ever. Or, “stage” your home: create a very comfortable corner. Make an altar with sacred-to-you objects that increase connection to yourself, others, or faith.

If your home feels cluttered and too full of memories
… Clean out a cupboard or a closet or a storage locker. Start small with easy categories: keep, throw, and not sure. Put some things in boxes until you can deal with them with less pain and more efficiency.

If your days feel repetitive or pointless
… Learn how to do something, volunteer or serve someone. These actions generally produce meaning, purpose, and vision and will reduce the harsh, depressing inner voice that tells you nothing matters or that you don’t matter.

If your days and weekends stretch on forever
… Make plans, but resist ones that are too taxing. There are many hard hours to fill with many convincing reasons why you shouldn’t bother: too tired, don’t feel like it, can’t decide, can’t think of anything to do, don’t want to do anything. But ideas don’t have to come from you; check out city guides, goings on at your library, retreats, etc. You don’t have to do things alone if you don’t want to.

Re/Establish Rhythms

Continue. Keep the routines, rhythms, and rituals that you can still manage to do. Maybe dial down the intensity or frequency but don’t give up on all of them. A spin class might be too intense but a couple of laps around your block will keep you moving and avoid an awkward lunch with co-workers.

List and reflect
. Write out your strengths and resources and add to the list often. Use whatever collection process is most unfamiliar to you: paint an emotion instead of listing words; collect objects in a container instead of re-re-rehearsing thoughts. Reflect on the good parts of your life every day and, especially, just before sleeping.

Get outside
. Walk or sit outside for a minimum 20 minutes a day. This is guaranteed to increase your happiness by at least 10%, which is a lot. Create reasons to walk. Get off the bus a few stops earlier. Walk to the corner store for your almond milk.

Overall, remember this is a season, not a lifetime. You will get through this by going through it, even if it is one day at a time. But, if life is really hard for a long time, access more support and resources from people who are trained to help people through these kinds of things.

Peace to you,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond

Q? from the AMA Inbox: Why Can’t I Follow Through with Weight Loss?

Question from the AMA box: I want to lose weight. Why can’t I follow through?

Dear AMA person: This might be the hardest question I’ve had to answer so far from the AMA Inbox. I am not trained or educated in nutrition. Furthermore, the research on how to lose and keep off weight is a vast and contradictory subject with more than one person hacking a ‘snake oil potion’ that promises weight loss nirvana to everyone who will buy the product. It is difficult to know whom or what to trust. I am guessing that these are the very reasons you posed the question.

Many people try diet after diet, endless exercise programs, and/or other lifestyle changes with no discernable change in their weight over time. This has created a burgeoning commercial industry but no reduction in overall rates in what is called ‘obesity epidemic’ in North America. Nor has all our science reduced the human suffering that has travelled alongside the many attempts to lose weight.

Willpower is probably not the problem. Obesity is often viewed through the lens of a lack of willpower; if people just tried harder (or tried at all—so say the shaming messages) they would lose weight, right? Eating less and exercising more over a period of time does work for a few people but, overall, willpower does not explain long plateaus where there is no weight loss despite very little caloric intake, set-points that a person can’t push past, or rapid weight gain after being on a diet despite little change in the overall caloric intake. Therefore, follow-through or willpower might be a red herring in our attempts to lose weight.

Insulin management might be the answer. How does insulin affect calorie use and distribution? Good question. It’s a bit radical to consider that we may have been fed misinformation about the role of calories but Dr. Jason Fung is pretty convincing and seems to have the research to support his ideas.

Create a lifestyle that best supports your mental and physical health and wellbeing. Going on a diet/cheating/starving/gaining-losing/repeat is no way to live your best life. So, begin by creating a way of being that, overall, makes you and your body happy and healthy. You will find it easier to stick to something that supports your values and ethics and has a definable purpose.

Stop the shaming-blaming-naming cycle. You are not bad; food is not bad and you are not a… “insert terrible self-appraisal comment here”. I know our culture is perfect-body, celebrity-beauty, and youth-obsessed but you don’t need to hop on this train. Most human beings will never look like that for very long, if at all, so it is really a train going nowhere good.

Therefore, work on silencing the inner critic in your head and break the unrealistic body image spell. Deeply hold the truth that you are not what others say you are. Weight and character are not equivalent. Beauty and character are not equivalent. Live into self-compassion for your whole self and appreciate what your body can do. Gather some people around you for the changes you want to adopt and add a lot of loving presence via your relationships. It is easier to follow through when you have solid social support.

Also, try not to obsess about calories or consuming empty calories/working off every calorie, monitoring the nutritional impact of every calorie, and so on. Is every calorie used up, accessible in the same way, and stored in the same way by your body? Apparently not! This may be another myth that we are so used to hearing about that we believe it to be unequivocally true. Following through on systems that don’t work doesn’t make sense, so make sure you are accessing information and resources that work for you.

Finally, if you really want to do the diet thing, the Mediterranean diet seems to work slightly better than any other diet and is generally considered a more healthy approach to life in general. This program is easier to follow than others so you might find it is easier to do over the long haul.

Disclaimer: As for any health or wellness information presented, it may not be helpful, safe, or appropriate for every person. Always run everything by your doctor or health professional before you make any changes to any health and lifestyle practices.

The current cultural ideal for a desirable body image is pretty rigidly defined and often carries with it psychological pain if you don’t measure up to what is, largely, an unattainable physical shape. This can create deep frustration and disappointment, self-hatred, public shaming, and a long list of everyday fears and trials that are largely subsumed into a diminished life.

On a personal level, weight management has been a big part of my own life experience and has affected many of my clients, friends, and family members as well. Because of this, I have attempted to offer perspectives about weight management that inspire hope, relieve some suffering, and increase the possibilities for individual flourishing. I hope that these goals will manifest in the life of every reader.

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond

Question from the AMA box: Why does my partner give me the “silent treatment”?

Some thoughts about this:

The Silent Treatment

First off, the silent treatment is best understood as being in the same league as solitary confinement in a prison. It’s not nearly as extreme a measure but, nonetheless, it is a form of punishment especially distressful to human beings. Typically, it includes the purposeful withdrawal of contact with another human being (usually a loved one) to establish power and control over the situation and/or the person.

Why Is It So Painful?

The silent treatment punishes someone by ignoring the basic human needs for companionship, affection, and attention. Essentially, the silence breaks down all three of these ways of relating and is very painful for the person on the receiving end. Isolation and shunning typically continue until the other person offers assurances to do what the ‘silencer’ wants. If you can remember being frozen out of a conversation or out of a group at a party or meeting, you know what the silent treatment feels like.

Motives and Ethics

So why do people use this type of behaviour on other human beings?

This is a complex subject but here are a few questions that might unearth some motives or purposes. Does the silent treatment…?

  • Uphold a relationship or uphold someone’s rights (or self-righteousness)?
  • Increase the flourishing of others or the diminishment of others?
  • Create meaningful change or confer a stubborn challenge?
  • Construct a healthy relationship or destruct a meaningful connection?
  • Heal hurts and wounds or give one of you the upper hand?
  • Make things go right or make things go a certain way?

Furthermore, if you are ever tempted to use the silent treatment…

  • What is your end goal?
  • What will it take for you to break the silence?
  • What will the silence do for you or your relationship?

Silence As a Treatment

We cannot forget this basic premise: the silent treatment is a ‘treatment’—it is not in the same realm as inattention, nor is it a dedicated time away to collect one’s thoughts when one feels psychologically overwhelmed. If that were the case, the treatment would end in a few hours at most with meaningful connection (it usually doesn’t).

Rather, the silent treatment is most often used as a way to make a statement about who will win and who will lose in a conflict between two people. Silence can be held for days or even weeks (in extreme cases) if a person is motivated enough to keep ensuring that his or her point is still being made.

Going Forward

My overarching ethical belief is that I (we) should treat every person with dignity and respect, upholding each person’s inherent value and need for connection. Along with that, I believe that each person should be able to access his or her own agency, shared power, and privilege, especially in intimate relationships. The silent treatment doesn’t fit with ideas about how to work with our humanity and vulnerabilities.

To the person who asked this AMA question:
Ask your spouse (or friend) to consider other coping strategies for working through difficulties, ones that increase connection, belonging, and flourishing for both of you. By all means, take a time out if either of you are fired up about something and revisit the area of conflict as much as you need to in order to resolve it…but return to the conflictual conversation when you are both calmer with your prefrontal cortex (your reasoning, analyzing, prioritizing brain area) firing again and the promise of a healthy relationship a priority.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond

The Inner Critic in Your Head

Most of our conversations happen in our heads—only a small percentage of our words are spoken, although we all know people who would swing on either side of this continuum. The rest of our words run through our heads in a constant stream of thoughts, questions, factoids, nonsensical impressions, and sensory information. There’s a lot of chattering going on in between our ears but only some of it reaches our conscious awareness.

For some people, probably many, there is a running monologue that can be a bit bossy and harsh (aka, the inner critic). This is the thought dictator who tells us everything we are doing wrong, how we always screw things up, that people don’t like us, that we sound weird, that people are either staring at us or ignoring us—basically, there can be a whole litany of failure-talk and negativity and all of it is on repeat.

Where Does the Inner Critic Come From?

A couple of ideas: it might have started as a survival response or a safety mechanism i.e. your brain’s way of working through a threat (perceived or real) at some point in your childhood or adolescence. Maybe there was a harsh caregiver or tough teacher or you were bullied or shy or awkward or maybe you experienced a traumatic event or were shamed by loved ones. It’s a skewed way of thinking that probably isn’t related to a mental health diagnosis but can be, nevertheless, destructive and debilitating.

Threatening Ourselves

Keeping track of potential dangers is the job of your limbic system, the most primal part of your brain. Think of it as a smoke detector, which is an early warning system for a potential danger. It’s meant to warn you, to get you in position to fight, run, or freeze and survive the threat.

However, the threat system can stay activated a bit, or a lot, even after the metaphorical fire has been put out. Ongoing stressors, whether they come via externally or internally, can wreak havoc with our thought patterns. Add to childhood or adolescent factors the current difficulties—insomnia, harsh living conditions, relationship problems, traumatic memories, illness or chronic pain—and you have a lot of threatening situations, at least to your brain.

Stress and the Inner Critic

If you are experiencing ongoing stressors, it’s like the smoke detector keeps warning you over and over to take action, to do something, to hurry up with the answer to the problem. If the threat isn’t resolved, your limbic system stays fired up in a chronic state of readiness that keeps pumping out stress hormones and scanning for everything unusual, unpleasant, or undesirable in your environment and in your memory banks.

What Are You Saying to Yourself?

Over time, this can result in some ways of relating to your self that are decidedly harsh and punitive. The inner critic can become a tyrant and monopolize our conscious thinking. And we often don’t become aware of these negative conversations or think of it as an unusual way of being until someone else points it out. People might point out: “You are really hard on yourself” or “Don’t beat yourself up all the time.”

What’s Next? How Do I Break This Way of Thinking?

How can you talk to yourself differently? Very briefly: begin by reducing your stressors, healing your hurts, and having different conversations with yourself. Be kind and generous and compassionate when you are distressed. View yourself through the lens of a shared humanity with everyone else when you stumble and fall. Seek out reasons to like yourself and catch yourself doing things right. Fill your mind with what is good and beautiful and inspiring. Live mindfully and in the present as best you can. Argue with your inner critic. It isn’t the boss of you, not really.

If you want to consider more practices and components of a more compassionate way to live, refer to the article entitled: Self-Compassion: An Antidote for Shame.   If intrusive thoughts are more problematic for you, refer to the article on trauma entitled Trauma (Part 1): What is Trauma And What are Its Effects?

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond

Self-Compassion: An Antidote for Shame


Shame: it is one of the most painful human emotions but we have an antidote:

Introducing Self-Compassion to Shame

Self-compassion neutralizes the idea that you are a “bad person” and normalizes the experience of setbacks and disappointments encountered in life. It allows you to balance out the lights and shadows in your life and restores you to a more peaceful and compassionate understanding of yourself.

Self-compassion is a more generous, empathic, and respectful way to dialogue with yourself. “Beating yourself up” and keeping secrets is a common way to respond to shame but is typically counterproductive and it tends to burden and isolate us further.

To dislodge shame, a concerted effort is needed, one that moves us forward into healthier and more helpful ways of thinking about ourselves. Consider trying a few of the practices below to quiet the inner critic and access your innate value, potential, and goodness—the beauty of every human being. If it is possible, engage with trusted friends or a counsellor to obtain support for this new way of dialoguing about yourself.

Practicing Self-Compassion

  • Learn to Process as You Go. Notice and process distress (not engaging in denial or dissociation practices).
  • Mindfully Accept All Emotions. Be aware of and accept painful thoughts and feelings; allow them to ebb and flow (not minimizing or maximizing difficulties).
  • Engage in Learning, Not Judgment. Learn from your experience (not overly critical of your situation or behaviour).
  • Be Empathic To Distress. Understand the source of your distress and do what is necessary or helpful to alleviate it (not remaining in the painful story).
  • Offer Kindness to Harshness. Offer understanding, generosity, and kindness in the face of failure or setbacks (not harsh judgment or undue criticism).
  • See Yourself in Your Shared Humanity. View your experiences as part of being human (not believing that it is unique or worthy of isolation practices).
  • Stay Deeply Connected. Offer warmth and emotional connection to others (not punishing or freezing yourself out of relationships).
  • Convey Security. Express your capability for weathering strong emotions (not devaluing your own efforts and abilities).
  • Understand your body’s threat system and brain functions under stress.
  • Plan strategies to cope with and avoid external triggers or threats.
  • Mindfully and compassionately accept emotions and the sensory information associated with memories.
  • Reframe the story with self-compassion and empathy and include other parts of the overall narrative. Your friends and family can help with this.
  • Increase your sense of safety or comfort by making changes to your physical or psychological environment.
  • Practice meditations and visualizations to decrease stress and threat system activation.
  • Increase social support and self-esteem by joining others in talking and working through shame narratives.
  • Increase genuine concern for your own well-being and let others care for you when they offer.

I sincerely hope these practices of self-compassion will assist you in deconstructing shame in your life and constructing a more hopeful and happier future.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond

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