Posts by Monique Mercier

Happy New Year!

I am pleased to announce that I will be offering two 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion groups in Thunder Bay over the winter months.

We all know how to be kind to others when they suffer or struggle, but there are many blocks we have toward extending the same kindness to our own suffering.

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) is a scientifically supported, training program designed to cultivate the skill of self-compassion based on the groundbreaking research of Kristin Neff and the clinical expertise of Christopher Germer.

This group involves guided meditations, exercises, education, and discussion of relevant material that enable participants to respond to difficult moments in their lives with kindness, care and understanding.

This group will help you to be able to:

· Practice self-compassion in daily life
· Understand the empirically-supported benefits of self-compassion
· Motivate yourself with kindness rather than criticism
· Handle difficult emotions with greater ease
· Transform challenging relationships, old and new
· Manage caregiver fatigue and burnout
· Practice the art of savoring and self-appreciation

MONDAY EVENING MSC GROUP:

Facilitators: Monique Mercier & Jennifer Lailey
Dates: Jan 20th – Mar 16th (no session Feb 17)
Time: 6:00-8:30 pm
Place: 1119 Victoria Ave East (Main floor of Community Midwives Building)
Cost: $400

WEDNESDAY MORNING MSC GROUP:

Facilitator: Monique Mercier
Dates: Jan 22nd – Mar 11th
Time: 9:30am-12:00 pm
Place: 129 Algoma St. South (Lakehead Unitarian Fellowship)
Cost: $400

Call to inquire with your extended health benefits/insurance provider about possible partial or full cost re-imbursement under ‘psychological services’.

You can also read more about MSC here:
• The Centre for Mindful Self Compassion website: https://centerformsc.org/
• Dr. Neff’s website: http://selfcompassion.org/
• Dr. Germer’s website: https://chrisgermer.com/
If you have any questions or would like more details, please email me at info@moniquemercier.ca.

Call or email me for registration or more information.

Warmly,
Monique

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Tomorrow is the last session of my first MSC group (winter session) – and it was fantastic! Lots of heartfelt and courageous moments where people were able to connect to their hearts and learn how to begin to make peace with themselves and the inherent suffering that comes along with being human.

I will be offering a spring mindful self-compassion group starting April 3rd, on Wednesday nights from 630-9pm at 1119 Victoria Ave E. in Begin Yoga Studio. Dr. Jennifer Lailey of Mindfulness Thunder Bay will be assisting me in delivering the group.

There are currently 5 spots left in the spring group – but if there is enough interest, I may consider running another group at a different time.

See more info and details in my poster and email (info@moniquemercier.ca) or call me for registration (807-630-5926)

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I will be offering the 8 week Mindful Self Compassion Course in January 2019 with Dr. Jennifer Lailey.

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) is a an empirically-supported, 8-week, training program designed to cultivate the skill of self-compassion based on the groundbreaking research of Kristin Neff and the clinical expertise of Christopher Germer.

MSC teaches core principles and practices that enable participants to respond to difficult moments in their lives with kindness, care and understanding.

Rapidly expanding research demonstrates that self-compassion is strongly associated with emotional wellbeing, less anxiety, depression and stress, maintenance of healthy habits such as diet and exercise, and satisfying personal relationships. And it’s easier than you think.

This is a skills-based group – it does not involve sharing personal details about your life or past. You will be guided through different exercises and practices (opportunities for sharing about these experiences is optional) to support relating to yourself with more self-compassion.

See more info and details in my poster and email (info@moniquemercier.ca) or call me for registration (807-630-5926)

Anger can be a difficult emotion to experience. It is highly activating. It gives us adrenaline and energy to act – or REACT. It can be quite automatic and often feel out of our control.

In interpersonal situations, anger is an important messenger – it communicates to us that our boundaries have been crossed, feelings have been hurt, and it can motivate us to communicate our feelings and assert our boundaries. But anger can also be intoxicating. We can become overwhelmed by it and it can take on a life of it’s own, causing us to react and act out in ways that we may later regret.

Interestingly, there is often a more vulnerable feeling underneath our anger (like a hurt feeling, feeling disconnected from another, a need that wasn’t met, or not feeling heard, seen, or valued by another). Rather than feeling that “softer” more vulnerable feeling, anger comes in to protect us. And there is nothing wrong with protection, but when our angry reactions become habitual patterns leave us feeling worse, then they may no longer be so helpful. While the anger is valid, in that it is signalling a hurt, the volume (intensity) is just turned up a little too high. That is, the *feelings are valid,* but when we slow down the reaction, it give us more space to *respond more skillfully,* rather than succumb to old ways of reacting that may leave us feeling worse.

Mindfulness helps us to slow down this process and reflect on:
(1) what happened (the situation)
(2) the feelings experienced
(3) the thoughts (interpretation) of the situation
(4) the urges (in response to that interpretation)
(5) the action(s) we take
(6) the consequences of our action(s)

Our thoughts (interpretations) can be VERY convincing, especially with a whole lot of adrenaline behind them. But remember that not all thoughts are facts and that our perception is highly influenced by strong emotions.

Tara Brach, psychologist and mindfulness teacher discusses a mindful approach to anger, involving responding rather than reacting in her article and talk: https://www.tarabrach.com/anger-responding-not-reacting/

I recently completed the Mindful Self-Compassion teacher training this past June with Christopher Germer, Dawn MacDonald, & Michelle Becker. While mindfulness is quite the buzz word these days, most people are left not really having an understanding of what this self-compassion business is about.

First of all, mindfulness and self-compassion complement one another and are actually meant to be practiced together. Think of a plant in a pot. The mindfulness would be the moment-by-moment changes in our awareness of what is happening with the plant. The self-compassion would be the pot and soil, providing a container that nourishes the plant. (and for the purpose of my compassionate plant analogy here, the pot and soil are very gently and lovingly holding this awareness of the plant). In sum, the self-compassion is HOW we relate to ourselves, as we observe WHAT is arising in our awareness.

Second of all, self-compassion is slightly (maybe more than slightly) neglected in our culture. Most of us never really learned that it is OK to be kind and gentle toward ourselves and the complexities involved in being a human being. (Where was the “how to” guide??). How many of us experienced consistent messages in school or from our parents that we were loveable even if we were mediocre with our academic performance, athletic skills, or (fill in the blank quality) ____________? Consequently, we can at times be our own worst critic, self-policing to be better, and beating ourselves up when we perceive we’ve fallen short… Enter the need for self-compassion (i.e., to be gentle with our flaws and humanness).

Self-Compassion research is actually relatively new (within the past two decades). The focus has historically been on self-esteem and how to raise self-esteem in children. But what the research has showed us is that self-esteem doesn’t actually promote a stable sense of self-worth. In fact, it has be found to promote narcissistic tendencies, thereby preventing us from really being able to look at ourselves honestly and be vulnerable in our relationships. Self-esteem says that we’re good enough when we are making the mark, but leaves us quite defeated during periods of mediocrity, mistakes, and “failure” – all of which are a natural part of this journey of being a human being. Self-compassion on the other hand, says that we are worthy of kindness just for being human, independent of what we *do* or accomplish.

The Self-Compassion research has been pioneered by research psychologist Kristen Neff. She combined forces with clinical psychologist Christopher Germer and they created an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion Course designed to teach human beings to re-learn how to relate to themselves with kindness. (Links to their books below)

There are Mindful Self-Compassion courses offered online (https://centerformsc.org/lomsc/). I also plan to offer an in-person group in Thunder Bay in January of 2019. Stay tuned for details!

For more information on Mindful Self-Compassion, check out the websites and books of Kristen and Chris:

KRISTEN NEFF:
Website: http://www.selfcompassion.org/
Book: Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (2011)

CHRISTOPHER GERMER:
Website: https://chrisgermer.com/
Book:The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions (2009)

Shame is a very difficult, universal human emotion. We all feel it. And it’s normal to not like feeling it. So naturally we resist shame when it arises in our lives. The same way we close up over an open wound or the muscles around an injured part of the body tighten or clench.

Shame is different than guilt, where guilt says “I did something bad” shame says, “I am bad.” Nobody really likes to talk about shame, because the very nature of shame is to keep it secret. Brene Brown talks about the three conditions necessary to “grow” shame: Secrecy, Silence, and Judgement. Don’t talk about it, lock it in the vault, and judge yourself harshly for it.

But self compassion researchers, Chris Germer and Kristen Neff have found that despite shame being a challenge for most of us, that many paradoxes exist when we look a little closer. These include:

1. Shame feels blameworthy, but it is an innocent emotion. The need to be loved and belong is one of the strongest desires that human beings have. Shame makes us believe that some part or all of us is unloveable, that we are too flawed to be accepted by others. So shame actually comes from our innocent desire to belong, to be approved of, and to be accepted. If we can have compassion for our desire to belong, it can take us out of the self-blame story.

2. Shame makes us feel separate and alone, but it connects us to the rest of humanity. The majority of humans all across the world, no matter what their differences experience shame. Despite being something that makes us “feel” different, it actually indicates that we are “more alike” other humans than we are different.

3. Shame feels old and all-encompassing, but it is a temporary state- like all emotions- that reflects just a part or who we are. Emotions come and go. But because we resist shame and don’t like to feel it, it can feel like “why is this still here?! What’s wrong with me?” When really, shame will always be there, just like all the other emotions that come and go.

So next time you find yourself in shame, see if reflecting on any one of these paradoxes helps you to feel some compassion for your shame, or perhaps less alone and more connected to your humanity.

Perfectionism is a very sneaky trait that a lot of people who have anxiety and depression struggle with (sometimes unknowingly). Perfectionism involves a lot of striving. It is a form of black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking where if we haven’t met our perfectionistic standard, then we feel like we’ve failed. This failure is usually taken quite personally and tends to lead to bad mood and more negative thoughts (i.e., racing or ruminative thoughts).

David Burns shares several types of perfectionism that can lead to low mood:

1. Moralistic Perfectionism: “I must not forgive myself if I have fallen short of any goal or personal standard.”

2. Performance Perfectionism: “To be a worthwhile person, I must be a great success at everything I do.”

3. Identity Perfectionism: “People will never accept me as a flawed and vulnerable human being.”

4. Emotional Perfectionism: “I must always try to be happy. I must control my negative emotions and never feel anxious or depressed.”

5. Romantic Perfectionism: “I must find a perfect mate and always feel infatuated with him or her.”

6. Relationship Perfectionism: “People who love each other should never fight or feel angry with each other.”

7. Appearance Perfectionism: “I look ugly because I’m _____ (self-judgement here).

Taking a little deeper look under these beliefs can be helpful to see what the fear is that is driving them. Ask yourself what is the thing I am worried happening if I don’t achieve my perfectionist standards? Is it a fear of rejection? Of disapproval?

A helpful technique is to use is the IF/THEN technique….
IF this is true about me (worst fear), THEN it would mean __________ (this about me, my relationships, my future).

Now that you’ve identified the sneaky little fear driving your perfectionistic beliefs and tendencies, you will want to ask yourself the following:

1) Is this helping me to believe this? What are the consequences, both positive and negative of believing this?

2) Is it realistic to think this way? Does it work? Is it sustainable?

3) What would happen if I confronted my fear? Would the world really come to an end if I changed this attitude?

4) Could I start to look at this aspect in shades of grey rather than just black or white?

David Burns offers GREAT Cognitive-Behavioural techniques like this. If you are interested and want to read more, I recommend his book “The Feeling Good Handbook”

We’ve all got one…. An Inner Critic. That little voice in our heads that is really, really, really mean sometimes. It might get louder during periods of stress, disappointment, personal failure, or when we are down. It’s there, judging, comparing, assessing every little aspect of our experience. The consequence of believing our inner critic is often worse mood and a narrowing of behaviours that would make us feel better (i.e., feeling stuck).

Getting to know your inner critic dialogue is one of the most important things we can do in order to reclaim our power over it. Asking ourselves: When does it get louder?
What are it’s top 5 favourite critical statements? Does it like to tell us that we are failures, that our relationships are troubled, or that our future is doomed?

The fact is that we all have an inner critic. IT IS NORMAL. But how we relate to our inner critic- or how much we believe what it tells us – will be a big factor in determining the status of our mental health and well-being.

To begin to track down the inner critic dialogue, we notice when we’ve been triggered and go write it down. The first exercise I give my clients in my practice is a worksheet with the headings Situation, Feelings, and Thoughts.

Ok so step one is to become familiar with inner critic dialogue… Step 2 involves applying CBT techniques to begin to challenge the truth and helpfulness of believing these self-critical statements (stay tuned for future posts on these techniques!).

Check out the Resources Section for the Thought and Mood Tracking Form if you want to try to catch some of your own inner critic dialogue. Happy Inner Critic hunting!

Untwist your thinking by “putting your thoughts on trial”. This is a very useful CBT technique where we actually look for evidence that DOES and DOES NOT support our negative thought. Writing this out can help to shed some light on how truthful and/or helpful the thought is.

Take for example you did poorly on a test, and you were saying to yourself “I always fail and now I’ll never get into the profession I want.” Evidence you might want to look at would be how many times have you failed in the past? How many times have you passed tests? Does this test mean that you’ll fail the entire course? How much is this test worth of your entire mark? Does it really have an impact on whether or not you complete the course/graduate and fulfill your future ambitions? In six months will you still believe this thought to be true? What about in one year? What about in five years? Is it true that people who are successful in their professions have never failed or done poorly on tests?

Try out the Thought Record/Examining the Evidence worksheet in the Resources section when you get hooked by your next negative thought. It can be challenging when you first start to find evidence that isn’t based on your emotions. But try to stick to the facts just like a lawyer or a detective. And see how looking at these facts might change your perspective even a little bit!

Did you know that our brains are actually hard-wired to detect danger cues over safety cues? Evolutionary psychologists explain that by being slightly more attentive to danger cues, the likelihood of survival of our ancestors was increased. For instance, if a rustle in the bush was ignored it might mean a deadly snake bite or predator attack. So being slightly more vigilant was adaptive. Because this trait/tendency was adaptive, it got passed down through their DNA to us.

It makes sense… but only to a point, right? In today’s culture there aren’t too many physical threats in our day to day lives. Rather, this tendency most often gets (over-)activated in response to cognitive, emotional, and social cues (e.g., think about how safe you feel after watching the news, doing speeches, being evaluated in an interview, etc.) … enter anxiety, stress, and mood difficulties.

So if fear is stickier than safety, how do we cope with this tendency of the mind? Well, one place to start is getting back into the PRESENT moment. Once present, we can ask ourselves “Am I in danger right now in this moment?”. If the answer is no, then try to use your senses and gratitude to help you to anchor to this moment, where you are indeed safe.

Simple things work best, like feeling the warmth of the coffee cup in our hands, smelling its aroma, and feeling the gratitude of savouring those first few sips.

Bringing gratitude and presence into our lives can feel like swimming upstream. But with practice, it can help us to slow down and appreciate that we are in fact more safe than our minds will allow us to perceive.

Check out this 5-minute gratitude practice from Mindful.org:

A 5-Minute Gratitude Practice: Focus on the Good by Tapping into Your Senses