Are you Connecting?

Connecting with others is a great antidote to loneliness. However, while going to a party with a group of friends can seem like connecting, it often leaves you feeling even more lonely and disconnected. And on the other hand, going to the grocery store with no expectations and chatting with the check out clerk can leave you feeling energized and human again.

So, what’s going on?


When we use empathy, we really connect. We read the verbal and non-verbal signals someone is sending us and we understand. And they feel understood. What is happening is that mirror neurons are being triggered, letting us feel the feelings of others. We don’t usually feel their emotions in such full force, nor would we want to, but enough to understand what the other person is going through. This is the same principle as when we see someone drink a tall, cool drink and we start gasping for one. Or when partners of pregnant women feel the pains of labor. It also occurs when sports fans watch their team play and feel as if they’re playing themselves. Contagious yawns are a symptom of a healthy level of empathy.

Empathy is a valuable skill to have in all sorts of situations. Making connections on a personal level is important, as well as in business and social situations. We forgive more easily when we understand the roots of the behavior we don’t agree with. We also feel more trusting because other people don’t seem so random or chaotic. (You might even feel empathy for someone who disagrees with you on a political topic!)

When we’re preoccupied with our own anxieties, it can be difficult to empathize because it takes some outward focus to read the signals we’re being sent. Redirecting our focus to the faces (eyes in particular), body language, and words of the person in front of you, can not only create empathy but also reduce your own anxiety. Notice their breathing – is it shallow or deep? What does that mean to you?


When we empathize we’re more likely to feel compassion for the other. We might not agree with them on any level, but our feelings of alienation disappear. This is a great step towards self-compassion, if that is something you need to work on. One of the components of empathy is to notice our own feelings and reactions as we are focusing on the other person’s. This includes our emotions, thoughts and physical sensations. These are all clues to what the other person is feeling.

For example, someone is talking about an incident they just endured and you feel your jaw tighten – you notice and realize you’re feeling tense and your internal voice is getting loud… did the other person feel frustrated? It can be fun to put together this kind of puzzle and hone your skills at reading your friends. And then it is interesting to notice what we are communicating in return, with all our gestures and words.


Some people over empathize and take on too much of the other person’s feelings. You might want to avoid people or rescue them, when they’re hurting or angry. Maybe you feel over activated. You might think you can only be happy when people around you are happy, thereby being co-dependent. This is something to deal with in counseling as it can get in the way of leading your own life and keeping healthy boundaries.

If you would like to discuss this more with me, please call or email for an appointment.


Just for fun, click here for a quiz from the Greater Good Science Center to determine how empathetic you are.  
(You don’t need to add your email address. And don’t worry about the last questions regarding your political views and income – that is just for their own statistics but won’t be used against you as it is anonymous.)



The Greatest Gift

What do children need?

Any loving parent wants to give their child tools to navigate the world. Perhaps they want to teach them resilience or work ethic, strength of character or creativity. When your child shows an interest in dinosaurs, you rush to buy him books, toys, trips to the museum. How about the child who loves to learn about space – perhaps a hanging mobile with all the planets? Some children love to do a particular sport, so parents invest time and money giving them all the opportunities they can. My bias is for teaching children about emotions.


What better tool can any child have than to be fully fluent in noticing, labeling, accepting and embracing emotions? This includes their own as well as other’s. With a solid appreciation of emotions we can navigate the world and all it has to offer. We have an edge in whatever career we choose as well as being able to thrive in relationships with our partner and children. Our ability to connect with others using empathy enriches our life. Imagine going for an interview with an understanding of your own anxiety as well as an ability to read the non-verbal feedback you’re receiving from the interviewer.

How to start?

From an early age be curious with your child about feelings. Talk about emotions in books that you read together, in movies, in make-believe play, as well as when you see people in the store or on the street. Ask questions like: “What do you think she’s feeling?” or wonder aloud: “That seems scary; I wonder how he feels.” Engage your child in conversations about feelings and allow them to enjoy the puzzle, too. There are rarely right or wrong answers, so be open to discussing the clues. Can they feel more than one feeling at once? Can they notice the scale of the feeling? Talk to them about your own feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. Allowing children to understand that all feelings are acceptable goes a long way to letting them know that they are unconditionally loved.


I sometimes meet 12 year olds in my office who have very little understanding of their own feelings. This is an age when emotions are about to become a lot more intense. In order to survive (and even thrive) through the teenage years, children need to know how to manage their feelings. We often work on mindfulness exercises where they learn to watch their feelings and notice the ebb and flow. Children discover that they can feel without being, so that the emotion doesn’t dictate their identity. For example, “I feel angry” rather than “I am angry,” which makes a surprising difference in your self-identity. They learn that their emotions are normal and that they fade after a while.

It is important to note that I don’t advocate “fixing” feelings. If a child is sad, she needs comfort, but she doesn’t need to have the feeling taken away. Sadness, anger, embarrassment, fear, guilt, and other uncomfortable emotions are all acceptable and manageable rather than something to avoid. When they are acknowledged they become less overwhelming and then they fade away.

It’s never too late to start teaching your child / teenager / young adult / (even yourself!) about emotions, and it’s a gift that can last a lifetime.

If you would like to discuss this more with me, please call or email for an appointment.




It’s Not Too Late!

new years resolutions

We’re a couple of weeks into the new year and your resolutions are floundering. The exciting new you is slipping back into the comfortable old you.

The resolutions seemed so full of potential, didn’t they? Giving up Netflix so you could spend more time doing worthwhile activities. Forgoing sugar, coffee or chocolate to become healthier. You were determined and confident about your new shiny self image. It’s as if you’d put away your cozy slippers and were ready to wear your new Italian leather shoes but by the second week in January those well-worn slippers are calling out your name. Where did it all go wrong? You followed all the rules, making your goals concrete and measurable. But somehow the gap left behind by what you’ve given up hasn’t felt good. What’s the point of giving up those vices when you don’t feel better?

What went wrong?

Giving up stuff leaves you feeling deprived, like you’ve been punished. Instead of taking things away, how about adding treats? For example, instead of saying no to Netflix, how about finding a great book you’ve been wanting to read? How about drinking your favorite herbal tea or fresh water with a slice of lemon in, so you don’t even miss the coffee? Did you know apples can also help wake you up similar to a cup of Joe? And have you considered what purpose your vices were serving? If they were your way to comfort yourself or to allow yourself some downtime, my suggestion is that you find another great way to fill those very real needs.

my advice for your new goals

Start over with new goals, or at least tweak the ones that are sliding, by thinking up positive actions. Make this year great by treating yourself well and end up feeling loved!

If you would like to discuss this more with me, please call or email for an appointment.



Introverted or Shy?

Get to know your introvert

Sometimes people assume that introverts are shy, but that isn’t always the case. Often introverts are people who prefer to observe rather than be part of the action. Introverts want to have the control to interact with others on their own terms and at their own pace. You know how it feels when someone introduces you as “hilarious” and then you have a sea of faces in front of you waiting for your mouth to open and entertain them with your incredible humor? An introvert can feel jarred that way by being dragged into a crowd of strangers. Yes, you can say something funny, but perhaps you don’t want to perform. Contrary to popular belief, introverts enjoy social events, too, and can thrive in stimulating company… so long as they can self soothe. (More on that in another blog post!)

Does your introvert really need help?

Have you considered the possibility that your friend is happy? Maybe s/he is enjoying watching and feeling quite fulfilled with the experience. If your introverted friend strikes up a conversation with someone new it’s likely to be more meaningful to them both than the connection you’d envisioned. You love knowing that you talked with (to? at?) 50+ people in one evening. Perhaps you’ve made a new friend or found a job opportunity from that networking frenzy – congratulations! However, your introverted friend processes relationships differently and would probably find more value in talking with only one or two new people and making a deeper connection.

How to really help your introvert

Supposing your introvert is unhappy in the situation that you’ve both found yourself in. Ask!  First, check out your observation – how is your friend feeling? Then, what would s/he like you to do to support them – don’t make assumptions based on what would make you glow! When well-meaning friends try to help out by introducing the introverted person to all their friends, it can backfire. Would your friend like to be introduced to someone in particular? Would they like to know that you’d be OK if they chose to leave? Perhaps they’d just like to spend a moment hanging out with you. Some people go to social events to meet new contacts, others to enjoy connecting with people they already like. If s/he is looking miserable then your intervention might be welcomed, even if it’s just some gentle feedback on how they’re bringing other people (you) down.

Just a shy extrovert?

OK, so maybe your friend really is just shy and would love to shine like you do. Have you considered where their shyness comes from? Perhaps they have low self esteem and doubt their contributions are worthy. Or maybe they have social anxiety disorder. Accessing your own gentle, empathetic skills will be appreciated and helpful in either case.

Shy introvert..?!

They’re probably not at this party or they’re standing by the door waiting to escape. Let them. Introverts need peace, shy people need a hand to hold, so if your shy introverted friend has over-challenged themselves by attending an event that demands exhibitionism they’re likely to be highly uncomfortable. Let them know that you love them just how they are and give them the right to choose how to proceed.


Get to know your introverted friend and enjoy all that s/he can offer you! Most introverts are good observers of human behavior – your friend might have some great insights that could further your social ambitions. They also make for great conversationalists and are likely to listen to you better than a lot of extroverts.

What type are you?

Are you a confident, well adjusted introvert? Or are you an outgoing extrovert? Perhaps you’re a shy introvert? Or would you classify yourself as a repressed extrovert? Most people are a mix of character types according to the situation. Are you different at a board meeting than when you go visit your parents for the holidays? Where would you put yourself normally? Comments are always welcome on my Facebook page.

If you would like to discuss this more with me, please call or email for an appointment.