Wanna Feel Glad? You Gotta Make Room for Sad, Mad and Bad

Managing Emotions | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Managing Emotions | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

We are often hit over the head with the message that we need to “think positive!” or “look for the silver lining” or “there’s always someone who has it worse than you” when we are faced with a difficult situation.  When bad things happen, the old adage "everything happens for a reason" is whipped out at least once to try to change how we feel about it. When we are struggling, we may downplay our own experience so that we don't make other people uncomfortable.  We just don't want to feel bad. However, this can get us into emotional trouble. We all came into this world with a full and complete set of emotions, ranging from the most joyous to the depths of despair.  We are meant to feel them all.  Our feelings are responses, messages, information for us to use to make sense of our world.

Despite the usefulness of all emotions, we seem to have a tense relationship with the "negative" emotions.   We may pile on judgement and criticism for feeling very reasonable and normal responses to stressful situations.  We may be shamed by others for our feelings. Every day I work with people who are beating themselves up for having normal, human reactions to incredibly tough situations (one of my most commonly used phrases in therapy is “it would be weird if you were okay with that”).Let’s stop shaming ourselves for having normal feelings.

If you are struggling with infertility and desperately want a baby, it’s okay to feel sad.

If you are concerned about your job security, it’s okay to feel anxiety.

If your child is struggling in school, it’s okay to be worried about it.

If you can’t remember the last time you really connected with another person, it’s okay to feel lonely.

If you have lost a loved one, it’s okay to feel grief.

If someone has taken advantage of you, it’s okay to feel anger.

There is nothing inherently bad about these feelings.  Yes, they feel uncomfortable.  Yes, they may bring some painful truths into our awareness.  Yes, we much rather feel the more warm and fuzzy feelings, but there is nothing inherently bad about “negative” emotions.  Where things can start going off the rails is when we start piling on unrealistic expectations about feelings on ourselves.

“I need to be strong.”

“Why am I being such a baby?”

“This is not a big deal; I don’t need to freak out.”

We judge and criticize ourselves for normal reactions, which is the equivalent of dumping a canister of gasoline on a fire.  Or we try to avoid the feelings, which is kind of like trying to shove one more thing into an already overflowing drawer.   However, by interfering with the negative feelings, we also interfere with our ability to experience positive feelings.  We can't just stop one part of the system, without impacting the entire emotional system.  Feelings can get too overwhelming, too intense or we feel emotionally paralyzed or detached.   This is usually the point when people end up in my office; they are confused, overwhelmed and tired of their own feelings.

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, in order to make room for happiness and joy, we also need to make room for the negative feelings.  We need to accept our own responses and reactions.  However, this can be tough, especially if you have been struggling with your feelings for a long time.  It can be hard to regain emotional balance.  A large component of the therapy process is identifying feelings, understanding why those feelings are present, accepting the feelings for what they are and adjusting expectations about feelings.  Your feelings don't need to be a battle.

Is Counselling for Me?

Counselling | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Counselling | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services


If you’re on this website and reading this blog, you may be trying to figure out if counselling is something that you may want to try out.  First of all, welcome and thank you for taking the time to read this blog!  It is totally normal to be unsure about this whole therapy thing.  There are so many stereotypes, misinformation, and mystery about counselling and how it all works and whether it is the right choice.  I have had many clients confess that they had been debating whether to start therapy for years.  It is a big decision, and a very brave one. So how do you decide whether to give it a try?

Counselling may be the right choice for you If:

  1. There is something in your life that is bothering you.  You may be feeling down.  You may be feeling anxious all the time.  You may be grieving a loss.  You may be having problems in your relationships.  You may have experienced a trauma and are having difficulties coping with it.  You may still be going to work, meeting your obligations, socializing, but something just doesn’t feel right.  I don’t decide whether something is “therapy worthy” – you do.
  2. You want to feel better.  You want to get through a day (or hour, or minute) without feeling bad.
  3. You feel ready to talk about what is bothering you.  You may not feel ready to talk about all of it just yet, but you’re feeling ready to start.  Only you can determine when you are ready.  It can’t be when your partner/parent/friend/child tells you that you should seek therapy.  If you’re not ready right now, that’s okay.  One day, you may be.
  4. You are ready to work.  Being in therapy is hard work.  You will be acknowledging things in your life that are painful.  You will likely need to make some changes.  You will leave some sessions feeling like you’ve just run a marathon.  It will be hard at times.
  5. You are ready to make the investment in yourself.  Being in therapy is a big commitment.  It takes time and money.  You will need to find a time to come to your appointment on a regular basis (most people begin coming on a weekly basis).  You will need to earmark money for your counselling.  If you are covered under benefits, you should look into the amount of coverage that you have and when your benefits are renewed.  Some people like to begin therapy at the end of the calendar year to use up the current year’s entitlement and move right into the new year’s entitlement.
  6.  You aren’t looking for someone to tell you what to do.  It would be presumptuous of me to tell you how you should live your life.  My role is to help you look at your life from different perspectives, but ultimately, only you can decide what is best for you.  Despite the image of the therapist who tells you what to do (Dr. Phil, I’m looking at you), that is definitely not how things happen in therapy.
  7. If you’re totally honest with yourself, your own well-being has been sorely neglected.  It is difficult to imagine having a whole hour that is dedicated just to you, your feelings, your experience (it may be even a bit overwhelming to think of all that attention devoted to you!).

Counselling may not be the right solution for everyone, but if the above resonates with you than that may be a sign that you’re ready to give it a shot.  It is totally normal to feel nervous.  It is totally normal to wonder whether counselling will make any difference at all.  Making that first appointment is a huge step.  Take a deep breath, pick up the phone, give us a call.  You can do this.

A Grief Like No Other: Surviving Pregnancy and Infant Loss

Grief Loss Miscarriage | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Grief Loss Miscarriage | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Your period is late.  You feel a little off, maybe a bit nauseous or you’re running to the bathroom all the time.  Something is up.  You go to the drugstore, pick up a pregnancy test and chug a litre of water.  You pee on the stick and then you wait.  Whether you were trying to get pregnant or this is a bit of a surprise, you feel an overwhelming wave of emotion that comes over you as the positive symbol appears on the test.  It’s official, you are pregnant.  If things go according to plan, in the next nine months (plus or minus a few weeks), there will be a new addition to your family.  You may start envisioning what your baby will look like.  You may start making plans around the due date.  You may buy a pregnancy book, or sign up for pregnancy update e-mails, or buy a cute onesie as a way of telling your partner.  The baby has already become a part of your life.

Unfortunately, for many women, things do not always go according to plan.

All too often, women will experience the horrifying knowledge that they are no longer pregnant and their baby is lost to them.  The pain of the loss is often compounded by the general silence around the experience of pregnancy and infant loss.  Society does not want to talk about it.  There is an unspoken code of silence that exists.   Women are left to suffer in silence, for fear of making others uncomfortable.  However, these losses are very real and deserve to be grieved.

If you were only a few weeks pregnant, you deserve to grieve.

If you had to make the devastating decision to terminate a pregnancy due to a medical condition, you deserve to grieve.

If you had a stillbirth and only held your infant for a few brief moments, you deserve to grieve.

If you have lost your baby, at any stage, in any manner, you deserve to grieve.

Grief can come in many forms.   You may want to wear a piece of jewelry that symbolizes your baby.  You may want to acknowledge your child’s birthday or the date of their loss each year.  You may need to spend some time away with your partner. There is no wrong or right way to grieve; you need to do what works for you.  The most important thing is to acknowledge how you are feelings; do not try to minimize, avoid or shame yourself out of your feelings.  Be prepared for the grief to come in waves.  It may be months or years since your loss, but the intensity of your grief may be triggered by an anniversary, a song, the cry of a new baby.  While the grief may become less intense, more tolerable, there may always be a sense of loss.

One of the most powerful healers can be talking about your loss.  Many women who have experienced a loss, such as miscarriage, find that talking will often open up a floodgate of women who have experienced something similar and are desperate to talk about it.  Considering that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage there is a good chance that someone you know has had a loss.  Today, October 15 is Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Awareness Day.  Reach out.  Grieve your loss.  You are not alone in this.