Recognizing and Redefining Resilience

In this age of buzzwords and self-help topics it is often easy to get overwhelmed with all of the recommendations of what we need in order to manage difficulties in our life; one of those very concepts is “resilience.” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines resilience as: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change. 

What if we expand that definition to include the ability of “moving through?” As Eric Greitens explains in his book, “Resilience: hard won wisdom for living a better life,” we can never go back from a trauma or difficulty to who we were before, there is no bouncing back. We change because of it, we move through it.  

Situations of death, loss, work stress, family problems, infidelities, health problems and even academic challenges have the ability to make us feel alone, weak, vulnerable and confused. These are the situations that can, at best test our resolve and at worst shake the foundations of our life. It is our choosing how to deal with them that defines our resilience. 

Part of being able to move through difficulty is having someone by our side, helping us when we feel like we can’t do it anymore.  Resilience requires courage and vulnerability to allow others to support us when we don’t feel strong enough to carry on. Building better resilience is not a solo act; it requires a troupe.

Resiliency involves not only the courage to reach out and connect; it also involves learning from life’s painful experiences.  Learning how to use the experiences to deepen our sense of self and honoring what we have been through. Using painful experiences as an opportunity for self-discovery is an important aspect moving through misfortunes. 

 In order to be able to discover and appreciate who we are in light of our circumstances, we need acceptance and compassion, not comparison. In tough times, it is important to not compare ourselves to how others handle difficult situations.  Nor should we judge ourselves based on how we think we “should” handle a stressful event. By accepting ourselves and where we are in our own journey, we give ourselves permission to “move through” and heal from traumatic events. Compassion and self-acceptance reminds us that resiliency looks different for everyone. 

When tragedy strikes and it takes all our effort to even breathe let alone brush our teeth; we call on our resilience. We breathe, we get up, we persevere. There is no measure for how well we are doing it.  Just keep moving through, keep discovering and keep remembering our darkest times are the alchemy of our soul.

So often we think we aren’t strong enough to handle the problems that life throws at us, we get lost and confused in the details. The truth is we are all resilient; we all have the capacity to overcome, adjust and develop skills to cope with difficulties. We only need to recognize them and develop those tendencies that support us in the “moving through” and growing from challenging times.  

By redefining resilience, we are able to recognize it when we need it.   What we go through, overcome and learn from, are all defining characteristics of who we are.  And who we are is resilient.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilienc
Eric Greitens, “Resilience  Hard won lessons for living a better life”

Written by: 
Kimberly Fisel
Counsellor
Marriage and Family Therapist



Managing Your (Consuming) Mind (PART 1)

Our ancestors grew up in a very different world to us; over the 2 or 3 million years we have been evolving into Homo Sapiens, they didn’t have any choice about whether to exercise, and eating fatty foods were not something they had a choice about. So our modern problems of diet, exercise and sitting still for hours were not things we have evolved to deal with. We have to learn ways to deal with them – but how? Here are the first four of eight simple slogans:

Your environment matters
Much of what we do we do by habit. Our environment cues our behaviour – often without our being aware of it. So if we want to change we may need to alter the environment. So if you need to diet, you may need to start by getting rid of the snacks usually lurking in the cupboard, perhaps using smaller than usual plates and glasses, and eating before you shop (you buy more when you are hungry). If you need to change study habits, start by tidying and finding places for the essentials, put up some new posters (or take the old ones down), and put the desk in a new position.

The future you matters:
We tend to worry about the present and the immediate future, and not think enough about the longer term. Brain imaging studies suggest that when we think about the future, the areas dealing with the self are surprisingly inactive, while areas dealing with other people are active. We seem to be strangers to our future selves. But we can tweak this: we can put more colour and feeling into images of our future selves. This helps make the longer-term choices more real, and more likely to alter what we do. We can talk about our futures with someone we trust – the more detail we can put in, the more likely it will influence our behaviour.

You aren’t aware of all of yourself:
Habits are difficult to change; most of the time, we go on doing what we are used to. If you really want to change, you may need to become aware of this and admit you are not consciously in charge of your own behaviour. But if you believe you can change, you are more likely to be able to change. In other words, will power is important and it can be developed through practice. Don’t expect to become strong willed all at once – but don’t give up quickly either. By choosing steps of the right kind for you, you can change direction.

Stress can change things:
Under a lot of stress we tend to choose less well, for example eating less healthy but more attractive food or drinks. We cannot avoid all stress, and it’s not so much the levels of stress hormone in our bodies but more the way we think about the stress that affects our choices. So learning to manage stress is very helpful. This includes making wrong decisions – we do best when we learn from the mistakes without beating ourselves up about them!

Four more good thinking habits to come in Part 2!

Written by:
Dr. Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist

Press “Pause”

In today’s workaholic culture, the success of our day is measured by what we accomplished and how much we got done. Being always hungry for more and planning what’s next is certainly a drive towards amazing achievements. However, this mindset can also be associated with high levels of stress and exhaustion. The sessions I have with my clients are filled with “I will take a break once I do this”, “I will celebrate after I am done with that”, “I will use my day off to catch up on X, Y, Z”, “I need to work really hard now so that one day I can finally relax”.

Those statements are the testimony of our tendency to postpone living until that “one day”. We can become so focused on the destination that we forget to notice and appreciate the journey. The risk of putting off living until tomorrow is to wake up one day and feel like we have never lived.

Your ability to entirely enjoy and savour every minute rather than just counting and filling them can be practised through adopting a “slow-life philosophy”. Self-care doesn’t have to take the appearance of another “to-do list” filled with “I should” activities that can add on to your already busy life and create feelings of guilt. What if it was not about doing more, but rather doing differently? For instance, by allowing yourself to pause, to take notice and be present.

To help you get grounded in any situation and catch your breath, you can focus on your five senses. Actively notice what is happening in your body and mentally describe it to yourself. It is then possible to be fully committed to what you are doing as well as connected with your surroundings. Practice by focusing on one activity at a time rather than multitasking, especially if you are doing something that matters to you. For example, turn off the screens whenever there are not necessary like at dinner with your family or while working out. Any notification can wait at least these 45 minutes. You can also start paying attention to the nature around you and finding beauty in the shape of a tree or the vibrant colour of a flower. You may listen attentively to the words and instruments that fill the music you like without using it only as background noise. You can even allow yourself to do absolutely nothing once in a while. The Italians call it “Dolce far niente”. It’s a special “me time” during which you don’t do anything in particular: no sleep, no massage, no reading… You pause, open your eyes and admire life in its simplicity.

By slowing down and being more aware of how you live your life, you are creating space to unwind, to reflect on your choices, to adopt a more balanced life and move forward in an empowered and more committed way.

Written by:
Lucie Ramet

Clinical Psychologist

Discovering Our Nature in an Unnatural World

One of the areas we can explore in psychotherapy is discovering oneself and one’s different modes of being. What is interesting about us humans is that we are the only species who has “separated” ourselves from nature and therefore made ourselves not fully natural.

In nature, everything exists in an intricate and complex interconnection, and yet everything is being fully authentic. No one would question the authenticity of a tree, a river, a lioness, or a bird. A tree is always being fully and authentically a tree, and expressing itself in the world without any internal disruptions or distortions. In that sense, it is always in a state of a “flow.” For us contemporary humans, though, authenticity is a constant struggle. We can never be fully authentic, and yet we desire to express ourselves and live as who we are! We want our energy to flow freely within and between us, and yet we continually stumble upon obstacles.

In the process, we’ve created many artificial ways to help us, if not go back to our nature, then to at least come closer to experiencing who we naturally are. Psychotherapy is one of these ways. Yoga, meditation, art, dance, singing, and different spiritual experiences are some of the others. If we fail to find ways to catch moments of authentic being, we start to feel a sense of disconnection from life itself — to the point of becoming more robot-like and withdrawn from everything alive within us.

Times change, and the ways we create contexts for authentic experiences and reconnecting with ourselves are also changing. The way people engage in religious rituals are not the same as hundreds years ago. The ways how contemporary people meditate, dance or play music are also contemporary.

Several years ago, I happened to witness a performance of sorts that totally mesmerized me. It seemed like every atom of this being I was observing was vibrating and glowing with a kind of a presence that is impossible to miss, overlook, or experience partially. It took my total attention immediately. I have no memory of the content itself, but this woman’s presence was so captivating!

I was intrigued to learn that it was not what we would normally consider a performance, but her authentic way of expressing herself in the world at that particular moment of time. She allowed and encouraged herself to be seen, heard, and felt by others. This involved movements of her body, sounds she produced, words she said, and the energetic connection she made with the people witnessing her. She used a particular frame, a particular mode of being, to do this, as every beautiful creation needs a frame. Hers was created by her and named “Wisdom Bones”. This was my first encounter with Robyn Lynn. I have had many personal experiences with Wisdom Bones since that time, and had always wondered: “Isn’t it intriguing to find this kind of dimension in our contemporary world?”

I have been going around the world through different cultures and times (as I become older), and I have been encountering different people and experiences to learn from. Many of the times there were some amazingly rich professional workshops, and sometimes, as well, I could learn something deeply “therapeutic” from people, who are not directly related to professional psychotherapy.  Wisdom Bones was one of those gems, because it is probably closer to an expressive art rather than therapy.  

Basically, when I engaged myself in practice of Wisdom Bones first I was invited to connect to what was present to me not through my thoughts and words, but through the way my body wanted to move and make sounds. This idea was not new to me, so I could do it with a relative ease; but the next step, when this nonverbal presence had to create words and meaning, – was a challenge for me. Because, in everyday life things are either verbal or non-verbal, and most often, most of us don’t really connect them together, moreover, not on purpose. At the same time, we can always distinguish when someone is speaking from their heart. And in that case the words really do not sound from that person’s head, so to say, but from their whole being. In my therapeutic work I use Somatic Experiencing, as one of the approaches. And because this method is also emphasizes awareness of the body that would allow one to reconnect with one’s natural innate abilities to self-regulate and to come back to the flow of life, I could resonate with Wisdom Bones modality immediately. Whereas, Somatic Experiencing is really a therapy method, it can be seen as a framework for an authentic self-expression in some moments of therapy process as well. And this aspect is what is connecting therapy, art and aliveness. Therapy is like a kaleidoscope with many colours and shapes making always different constellations.

Written by:
Oksana Okhrimenko
Counsellor, Somatic Experiencing Practioner & Leadership Coach

Connecting with the feeling and meaning beneath children’s behaviour

There is a little and loved book in our house that was given to my children. The bearer of this book declared it a long time favorite in their house, one often requested at bedtime. The children’s book follows a young girl who runs through a series of potential mishaps with her Mother – and asks, “Would you love me?” Finally, running out of scenarios in which to test her Mother’s love the girls asks, “What if I turned into a polar bear and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp, shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?” The Mother replies, “then I would be very surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you.”

It strikes me that so often our children’s challenging, explosive, angry, jealous, sad and tricky feelings are waiting to be understood in this way. That when they are most out of control, and most uncontained that this is the exact moment they need us to see the “the real them inside the bear” and help them find a way back to themselves. Janet Lansbury and the RIE method offer many practical and effective ideas for parents to help their children find their way back to themselves in these moments. Here are 3 ideas that can allow children to discharge the emotion they are experiencing and stay connected with their caregiver. For, it is the relationship above all else that is important.

1.) Reflecting Emotions with Empathy: Welcome emotional expression, it is how children (and adults) calm their arousal from stressful experiences, yelling, crying, “tantrums” of stamping feet are not things that a parent can control, and in fact they help the child discharge the emotion they are feeling. Often once the child has the experience of being heard, seen and accepted in their big feelings they are then open to hearing the rational wiser ideas that parents or caregivers can offer. Dr Daniel Siegel and Dr Tina Bryson in “The Whole Brain Child” call this ‘Connect and Redirect’. The Whole Brain Child is a tremendous book that I recommend to anyone who is interested in children, the brain and making parenting more enjoyable.


2.) ‘Sportscasting’ (or ‘Broadcasting’): Is the term given to the “just the facts” reflection of the situation. This verbalization of the events is done in a comfortable, non-judgmental, neutral tone. The adult demonstrates understanding and ideally empathy for the child’s position, yet does not accept the invitation to fix, find fault or favor. As parents we all have an instinct to protect and solve disputes for our children. However, just like helping them in other matters that they can resolve themselves we may be taking from them a great opportunity to learn. What children deeply need in these moments is connection. They want to know the adults understand the feeling, see what is going on, they want to know we are there for them, and are available to step in when they really need us. When they do need an adult to step in and stop them is when things are about to, or have already crossed the line into, pushing, hitting, biting, or kicking.

3.) Ground and Calm yourself – take a few deep grounding breaths, the purpose is to dampen down your own sympathetic nervous system,  to bring the calm with you. Children will naturally take on the affect you bring into any situation. Triple P’s (Positive Parenting Program) mantra is “Always be, bigger, stronger, wiser and KIND”. Finding one that works for you can be a lifeline to your parenting intentions in times of daily struggles and stressful moments.

Janet Lansbury: https://www.janetlansbury.com/
Triple P: https://www.triplep.net
Barbara M Joose, “Mama, Do You Love Me?”
Dr Daniel J. Siegel and Dr Tina Bryson, “The Whole-Brain Child

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin
Counsellor

Understanding Your Attachment Style in Romantic Relationships


Have you ever wondered about why you act the way you do in your romantic relationships? Or how you have certain expectations of how your romantic partner is meant to behave or even how you are to behave and be in your own romantic relationships?

Attachment theory posits that our beliefs and expectation of ourselves and others, and the ways we behave in close relationships are based on our repeated interactions with caregivers growing up. These beliefs and expectations held are called attachment (or internal working) models, and how these individual differences in our attachment models manifest in our behaviours, attachment styles. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth were the first to classify three attachment styles of Secure, Anxious-ambivalent and Avoidant, and researchers since have applied Attachment theory to adult romantic relationships and found that we could similarly classify our romantic relationships by these styles!  In fact, researchers have demonstrated the presence of four styles that map on the two dimensions of Anxiety (anxiety and vigilance over abandonment and fear) and Avoidance (avoidance of intimacy and discomfort with closeness or reliance on others).

How might these attachment styles manifest in your romantic relationship you may ask- Well, they can be broadly classified like this:

Secure: Secure attachment styles have a positive view of self and a positive view others. They see themselves as worthy and deserving of love, and others as available and responsive if they required help or were in need. They feel safe enough in their relationships to be open and vulnerable, yet secure enough within the relationship to know that they and their partners can weather any ‘storms’ together. 

Some common relationship behaviours that may manifest include: Comfort with asking for help without impacting self-esteem, trusting of others without assuming the worst of their partner even in stressful situations (i.e., having dinner with an attractive co-worker), good conflict management skills and willingness to work on relationship issues together, able to respect, and maintain a balance between autonomy and interdependence.   

Preoccupied: Preoccupied attachment styles have a negative view of the self and positive view of others. There is a prevailing fear of abandonment and the sense of the self as ‘not good enough’ to maintain the interest of the romantic partner who will exit the relationship once they find someone else ‘worthy of them’. Yet preoccupied individuals also tend to idealise the romantic partner and to hold them often to too-high expectations in the romantic relationship.

Some common relationship behaviours that may manifest include: Mind-reading and repeated questioning of your partner’s ‘actual’ intent, Catastrophising the worst of the relationship and your partner, repeated reassurance-seeking but it’s never enough, hypervigilance in relationships leading to frequent comparisons against potential ‘love rivals’ and intense but unnecessary jealousy

Dismissing: Dismissing attachment styles tend to have a positive view of the self and a negative view of others. There is a tendency to rely only on the self, me, myself and I, and to view intimacy and closeness with others as a ‘weakness’ and less desirable. Dismissing individuals tend to minimize being close to others and not to share when they are experiencing difficulties (emotional especially).

Some common relationship behaviours that may manifest include: Engaging in more casual or non-committed relationships, or if in a relationship, avoiding physical closeness or expressions of vulnerability, mentally checking out when your romantic partner starts to talk about their (and your) emotions, or being vague when discussing future (sometimes even weekend) plans.

Fearful: Fearful attachment styles have a negative view of self and a negative view of others. They feel that they themselves are not good enough and are reliant on external approval and others for reassurances. Yet they simultaneously believe that others will hurt or abandon them in some way, and cannot be trusted. Fearful individuals therefore can be avoidant of intimacy and self-disclosure, and demonstrate reluctance to be attached to someone else especially in the beginning stages.

Some common relationship behaviours that may manifest include: Vacillation between being close and being distant in the relationship; being overprotective of one’s behaviours and thoughts, and react badly to criticism; being overly-passive or aggressive in the relationship, and finding it difficult to trust others.

That said, attachment styles are not immutable, and are continually open to revision and change both within and across our romantic relationships. Rather, knowing more about our attachment styles allow us the opportunity to begin to consciously change the way we think about and behave in our romantic relationships.

Be aware: Be mindful of your own thoughts and behaviours in your interactions with your romantic partner. Notice your own reactions to actions and words spoken by your romantic partner and mentally ask yourself, “Why am I reacting this way to what my partner is saying/ doing? ”, “What does this say about my expectations and behaviours in my romantic relationship?”. Try to be as open and non-judgmental about your thoughts and behaviours and document them down so that you can begin to identify triggers, trends and themes.

Identify triggers, trends, and themes: Once you have become aware and have processed your behaviours and thoughts, see if you can identify trends or themes in when you might become more heightened with anxiety, or more dismissive with avoidance. These might relate to how you yourself are feeling at certain points, stressors in the workplace or at home, or how your romantic partner is managing their own stressors or emotions.(Try to) Do the opposite: Take baby steps towards changing some of those interactional patterns that you may notice. For those higher in Anxiety, you may want to notice when your mind begins to wonder to those worst-case scenarios and mentally refrain from going there. Reduce the amount of questioning or reassurance-seeking that you may ask from your romantic partner. For those higher in Avoidance, notice when you begin to distance yourself from your romantic partner or become more reticent with disclosure. Work on communicating more with your partner, even if it’s just about your day at work. Focus on talking about your emotions or explaining the processes behind your thinking.

Some references for the interested:
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1987).Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.
Bowlby, J. (1977). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. British Journal of Psychiatry, 130, 201-210.
Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York., NY: Basic Books.
Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment: An integrative overview. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46-76). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Some interesting websites to read up more on relationships:
http://the-love-compass.com
https://www.luvze.com

Written by:
Dr. Daphne Goh
Clinical Psychologist

PERMAH – From Distress to Well-Being

Moving away from a chronic disease management to an illness prevention model is a slow but gradual change that we are seeing within the local medical community.  Parallel to this shift in clinical psychology is the increasing emphasis on developing and attaining a sense of psychological well-being, as opposed to focusing only on the alleviation of distress or the treatment of psychopathology and mental illness. 

Seligman’s PERMA model (2011) suggests that well-being is cultivated by the presence of the following five areas: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning Accomplishment.   More recently, many other researchers have included Health as a hygiene factor that facilitates well-being, and have combined that with Seligman’s original model to derive at a well-being of model PERMAH (Niemiec, 2019).  Research has also demonstrated that individuals with higher levels of well-being perform better at work and in school, has better health or surgical outcomes, have lower rates of burnt-out, better self-control and more satisfying relationships.  In an increasingly stressful world, working on the following domains through parenting, the workplace and psychotherapy can enhance flourishing, through the cultivation of strengths, grit, and resilience

Positive Emotions:  Feeling pleasurable emotions such as joy, excitement, interest and peace.  It helps people enjoy the daily tasks in their lives.

Engagement: Finding “flow” or the sense that time “flies by” when we are absorbed in activities or the tasks at hand. This engagement helps us to remain present, as well as synthesize the activities where we find calm, focus, and joy.   

Relationships (positive): Being authentically connected to others, creating and maintaining healthy relationships that enriches your life.  Humans are social animals who are hard-wired to bond with others. We thrive on connections that promote love, intimacy, and a strong emotional and physical interaction with other humans. Positive relationships with one’s parents, siblings, peers, colleagues, and friends are a key ingredient to overall joy and support us through difficult times.

Meaning – Purposeful Existence.  Pursuing or experiencing a sense of connection or purpose that goes beyond yourself, such as with another person, community, institution or the larger universe.  Having an answer to “why are we on this earth?” is a key ingredient that can drive us towards a sense fulfilment.

Accomplishment – A sense of success through reaching goals, targets and achievements in more than one domain of your life. Having accomplishments in life is important to push ourselves to thrive and flourish.

Health – Physical health, wellness and sense of vitality goes beyond the absence of disease.   This involves eating and sleeping well, and regular exercise

How would you be using the PERMAH model to flourish and live a life that is worth living?

References
Niemiec, R. M. (2019).  The Strengths-Based Workbook for Stress Relief: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press.

Written by:
Velda Chen
Registered Clinical Psychologist (Singapore)
MClinPsych, BA(Hons)

What does Assertive Communication look and sound like?

Often, we’re encouraged to “Be better at your communication” or “why are you being so passive-aggressive”. The reality is that from a very young age most often we’re taught to look at the ways we shouldn’t say/do something as opposed to what we should. The same may be said for communication styles.

So What does Assertive Communication look and sound like?
One of my favourite assertive communication workbooks The Assertiveness Workbook – How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships, speaks to five categories to most communication styles, including passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive communication.

These five categories include,

  1. Behaviour: This includes making honest, clear and direct statements of my immediate needs to others, while still allowing others to have or hold their own views,
  2. Non-verbal: Take notice of a calm, relaxed body that feels casual and at ease. Notice how you make frequent eye contact – but of course, let’s not glare, 
  3. Beliefs: Assertive communication allows you to recognise both you own and others needs are of equal importance,
  4. Emotion: When expressing yourself you feel positive in your interaction, your self-esteem rises as opposed to feeling rejected, afraid, angry or misunderstood,
  5. Goal: is to respect both yourself and others when communicating – expressing yourself rather than having to win the conversation or feel compelled to “control” the interaction.

Now by all means being aware and mindful of these five elements may not simply bring about assertive communication – however with practice and noticing any of these elements while you talk with others notice how your interactions may change over time. We should of course also factor in others who may have other communication patterns and its effects on us. Furthermore environmental triggers such as stressors, anger and frustration that often accompanies strained communication also play a role.

Now that we’ve reviewed five ways of understanding what assertive communication looks like, here are a few tips and examples of assertiveness skills.

  1. Express your ideas and emotions calmly – this may need a pause or a break in a heated conversation – while using “I” statements such as “I feel”, “I would like” and “I think”. By taking responsibility for your emotions and ideas we normalise and express ourselves clearly.
  2. Be respectful – not only to others but yourself as well – by showing our respect we acknowledge the importance of what we’re all saying and thinking.
  3. Say “No” when you need to – feeling guilty is normal when saying no – however saying yes all the time isn’t making anyone happy either. When we say no more often than not the receiving party could understand your point of view better – providing more opportunities to express your needs.
  4. Check-in with yourself – plan, or review briefly some of the things you’d like to say – this may include knowing your needs and finding the words to express them.

 By engaging in these five traits and four assertive communication techniques when engaging your next conversation, check-in and see if you’re noticing how you’re communicating – get feedback from a trusted partner or friend, and with more frequent and mindful practice assertiveness can become apart of not only your social skills repertoire, but could lead towards mental wellness .

More resources

  • The Assertiveness Workbook How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships by Randy J. Patterson, PhD.
  • Communication techniques by Woody Schuldt on therapistaid.com

Written by:
Alex Koen
Specialist Wellness Counsellor (ASCHP)
B.A. Psy. Soc. (UP), B.A.Counselling Psy. (Hons)(UNISA)
Cert. Counselling, Cert. Art Therapy (HELIOS), Cert. Play Therapy(CPTT)

The Unsocial Consequences of Social Media for our Students

A short time ago I was teaching a critical thinking class for 17 to 21-year-old Singaporean students.

The students arriving for the first day of class came into the room as 25 individual islands, totally focused on the phones in their hands.

Introducing myself, I asked if there were any questions regarding the syllabus or actual content. This was met with silence. Asking the class for their full attention I told them I was going to outline what was required of them to receive an “A”.  Immediately I had their full attention. Also, I had discovered that this group of students was motivated by good grades.

Outlining the class expectations, I told them that they would be working together in teams of five to solve complex and authentic problems. They would be learning how to engage in research. They would learn how to determine valid and reliable sources and evidence. They would develop an argument and then defend it to the other groups of students.  In simple words, I told them that to pass the class, they would have to engage in social exchange with their classmates and with me.

Over the next few weeks, I helped my students discover for themselves the pros and cons of growing up in a culture of social networking. While rarely being asked to engage in actual exchange with each other, these skills had not been developed. Because they had ready accessibility to “information”, they had not spent much time actually learning and retaining knowledge. Yes, they knew how to memorize facts for an exam, but if asked to apply any of their learning, they were left paralyzed.

While my students held the illusion that they could multi-task, checking their social media sites, while trying to engage in research, they were being brought face to face with the realization that our brains are not hard-wired to be able to do this. Slowly, each member of the class was understanding that they were unable to concentrate on the task at hand while remaining connected to social media. Because they were required to work in teams, they were realizing that they had never learned how to socialize in person. Because social media lacked body signals and other nonverbal communication, they had not learned how to pay attention to another’s tone or inflection. They were admitting to themselves and others that they did not know how to skillfully communicate face to face with each other.

Six weeks into the course my students admitted that they had accepted information found online, believing it without question. Having learned research skills, they were astonished that they had never required evidence. They were learning to question themselves and others. They were demanding evidence for positions held.

Towards the end of the term, I had the students research what things potential employees looked for in the people they hired. They were finding out that potential employers often investigated the social networking profiles of their applicants. In response, the students started critically filtering their posts. Reviewing their past, lax postings they began to seriously evaluate their sites with their newfound awareness.

There were other problems I required my students to research.  They researched  the consequences of spending large amounts of time on social media and how this impacted their physical health and well-being. As they researched they found that students who spent large amounts of time on social media sites complained of significantly more stomach aches, sleeping problems, anxiety, and depression. The evidence they were unearthing was overwhelming.

Of greater concern, they found strong evidence that young people, who were spending large amounts of time on social media displayed more narcissistic behaviors along with other psychological disorders, including aggressive tendencies.

While we may not have the amount of time or the same structure that allowed my class to construct their own understandings of some of the anti-social consequences of social media, we can still encourage our students and client’s to participate in solving some of their own problems. As they are encouraged to use their intellects, they can be helped to discover their own important role in finding their own solutions.

For far too many of our students and client’s, social media has not only changed what they do, but it has also changed who they are. While they may have the illusion of being connected, they often walk among the crowd as individual islands in the vast ocean of social media.

Written by:
Vivian Colvin

Tutor & Mentor

What is the Enneagram and how is it helpful?

The Enneagram is a guide/framework to help you reflect upon yourself in a beautiful protected way. 

The Enneagram describes 9 basic world views and each type has its own way of behaving, thinking and feeling. The beauty of the Enneagram is that it doesn’t box/ label you, but allows you to be you. It is a pathway to more self awareness, self discovery and self development.

You will get more insight in your qualities, strengths, motives, gifts, struggles, challenges, blind spots, growth points, fears and defence mechanisms. The Enneagram will lead to self growth, more acceptance and a way to get in contact with and to become more aware of your inner self on a deeper level.

We all resonate with a type of the Enneagram (9 core-types) and a sub-type (27 sub-types, 3 sub-types in every core-type). Below a brief summary of the names of the core-types with their motivation and core fears.

  1. Strict perfectionist.
    Motivation: Have to do the right/good thing
    Core fear: being criticized
  2. Considerate helper
    Motivation: have to be liked and appreciated
    Core fear: being unloved
  3. Competitive achiever
    Motivation: have to outshine the rest
    Core fear: being worthless
  4. Intense creative
    Motivation: have to be unique
    Core fear: being ordinary
  5. Quiet specialist
    Motivation: have to understand
    Core fear: being foolish
  6. Loyal sceptic
    Motivation: have to be safe and belong
    Core fear: being unprepared
  7. Enthusiastic visionary
    Motivation: have to experience it all
    Core fear: being limited
  8. Active conctroller
    Motivation: have to be in control, be strong
    Core fear: being vulnerable
  9. Adaptive peacemaker
    Motivation: have to keep the balance
    Core fear: being in conflict

Be aware you are more than your core type! The description above is just a little bit of information but to find out more I would recommend doing an Enneagram typing test with an accredited professional. At SACAC Counselling I do guide people through the Enneagram journey. More information is available on request.

The Enneagram is a lifelong journey which will help you live a more integrated and fulfilling life.

Written by:
Flo Westendorp
Registered Clinical Psychologist
Extended Health Care Psychologist Certificate, MSc & BSc (Clinical Health Care Psychology)
Accredited by Integrative Enneagram