My Daughter is a Fawn

Last year, on one of my escapes from the city during the pandemic, i came across a baby deer. It was truly a magnificent sight. We locked eyes for several minutes. I tracked its posture and racing heart. She stayed perfectly still, trying to blend into the forest floor she had been napping in. She looked so much like the depiction of Bambi that i thought i was making her up.

As someone who has been immersed in trauma therapy and continues to train in the area of somatic therapy, using our animal friends as reference is commonplace in therapy trainings. I have watched several videos of various animals following their survival instincts, as a lesson to see how humans also react to stress or fear-based moments in a similar way.

Most of us have heard of the concept of “Fight or Flight”. It is something that i have written about here several times. This past year, even more of us have heard of Freeze and maybe even Fawning. Well, this actual fawn did not fawn to me, or presumably its mama that was most likely close by. She froze, or rather feigned dead. She stayed perfectly still for several moments, tracking me with her eyes, nose, ears and surely a 6th sense. When she saw me whisper to my partner (who was able to witness this beautiful sight and therefore vouch for the authenticity of my story), she took that moment to Flee. Maybe she ran to her mama, but i could see no other 4 legged creature nearby.

We can learn a lot from our animal friends. In truth, we are not that different from them.

Take my daughter for instance. She has perfected the art of a good compliment. I’m not exactly sure where she learned this as she’s only 9. She will do it to just about anyone. I think it’s a wonderful trait as it softens people and she sees the humanity in them. Even today, on our first adventure to the world of shopping after a long term lockdown, she complimented the cashier on her shirt. It was a cool shirt – a classic Empire Strikes Back retro tee. It led to a long chat about our favourite Star Wars characters and why. My daughter knows how to break the ice. She’s social and extroverted for sure. She also is good at connecting with others. This shopping trip was surely in the area of a safe and relaxed outing, so she was happy and relaxed – in a Ventral Vagal Part of her Nervous System. But she does this too when in conflict with her family – this is where the fawning comes in.

The other day, we got into a conflict over doing a chore that i asked her to do several times. This is a pretty typical argument, and yet i was not as regulated as i’d like to admit (i’m a human first, mom second, and then therapist after all). She picked up on this – co-regulation and neuroception goes both ways. So, she complimented me on my 15-year old bathing suit that i was wearing at the time. To be fair, i love it too and it is a gem. But, i knew she was doing it to stay on my good side, and to feel safe. My partner called it manipulative, but i now see it as Fawning. As a younger child, she used to do it more physically, with running to us for cuddles, or being close. Now, as a very articulate and socially aware young human, she has a deeper sense of co-regulation and helping clear the air. This is where appeasing the other person comes in.

To be clear, my daughter lives in a safe and loving home, with parents who are present and attunement, albeit re-parenting their own wounded parts (some that were activated during the pandemic). Her instinct to appease is not because she is in harm’s way, but rather how her body responds to stress she takes in from conflict. It is in her DNA and Nervous System level where the instinct comes. In other words, it’s not her, but her nervous system responding for her. All creatures, humans included, have this instinct to survive under duress be it fight, flight, freeze or fawn.

For the record, my son is a Fighter and I’m a former Freezer. Plus my daughter also plays a role in starting a lot of fights. There’s an inner fighter in her too. As a feminist mom, a part of me is relieved. But that’s a story for another time.

In some children, this instinct is definitely linked to a stronger need to survive.

In childhood, where most of these survival instincts start to form, children who fawn learn to put their own needs and feelings aside as it feels safer to appease the other person. For anyone who grew up in an abusive home environment, fawning is used as a powerful safety strategy and survival skill. Children learn quickly that saying ‘yes’ is safer than saying ‘no’, even if it goes against their own wishes. Self-sacrifice and people-pleasing becomes the default to stay safe, even when there is violence present. Repressing their own needs becomes an adaptive strategy to de-escalate any further potential danger.

When it’s used time and time again to diffuse a conflict, the body stores this default and people-pleasing becomes a maladaptive coping strategy. As adults, our body remembers these acts of appeasing or fawning, but our cognitive brain struggles with connecting the dots.

How I might respond to someone and fawn is a way to keep myself safe when I feel in conflict. For instance, I recently noticed myself fawning in response to a potential conflict with a neighbour. While the details are irrelevant here, it was only when i was reflecting with my friends later did i notice my instinctual response. My need to be safe and people please over-rode my own internal felt sense of knowing we were not doing anything wrong. I avoid conflict and yet have had to deal with it firsthand many times. As a child and youth, i definitely had a fawn response to conflict. My go-to fawn response to conflict with others is something that i have been working on recently. This is especially important in unpacking my own white privilege and internalized stories. Looking back, it reminded me of a recent newsletter article by Rachael Maddox (if you don’t already know of her wonderful work, this is your chance). She spoke about the difference between humility and fawning. Humility is about acknowledging the humanity in everyone involved, with sovereignty. Fawning is the instinctual motivation to be safe when we are afraid to cause harm, and it doesn’t inherently provide space to grow trust and collective healing. Reflecting on this, it showed me again how the two concepts are two sides of the same coin, showing up based on where i am in my nervous system regulation and how my vagus nerve is tending to me.

There has been a lot of talk in the therapy world about the concept of ‘fawning’. Cathy Malchiodi wrote a powerful article recently, using a feminist lens to unpack the inherently sexist connation of the term. New words have been created to speak to its truer meaning. Appeasement, fitting in (a slightly different practice actually) and now Feigning. I do think that there is a place for fawning though, as i have seen and felt it firsthand in my own children. I am not entirely sure if the Fawn response is gendered, and yet it is girls who are taught the art and reward of compliments, as well as finding cuddles acceptable. There may be an inherently internalized sexism at play. It might come from our own mirroring. I do know that these 4 F’s are nervous system instinctual responses, so there is no thought to it.

Connection, attunement and co-regulation are necessary for all creatures. Being close to others is a safety resource and a right (thank-you to Polyvagal Theory we get that info now even more). I don’t want my daughter to stop her desire to connect to others. She has remedied and repaired a lot of conflict with her fawning and quick bounce back. In fact, she is pretty good at repair for a 9-year old. For anyone actually. And i do know i need to support her in her need to fawn. So this change starts with me – scanning my response that might make her fawn in the first place. It’s hard work to be more regulated with a child who has pushed my buttons time and again. And yet, no one said parenting is easy.

This is tenfold when you are healing your own trauma alongside parenting.

So many of us may be starting to see the toll people-pleasing, fawning, and fitting in have on our our self-agency, autonomy and sovereignty. But don’t worry, there are ways to start to heal this survival strategy.

To start, it is very helpful to learn more about your own Limits and Boundaries. Ugh, i said the word Boundaries. Yup, they have a lot to do with healing our Inner People Pleaser. Play with your invisible moat – how close can people get to you physically before you start to feel like they are invading your space. In a world healing from the pandemic of Covid19, this practice is especially timely and poignant.

Fawning is very connected to that felt sense of ‘walking on eggshells.’ This is where you know that there may be an imminent explosion and your instinct is to de-escalate the situation by sacrificing your own needs or people pleasing. So, track your body’s response – put your arms out to see where your border is for instance. Follow your heart rate, tension on your legs, or tightness in your shoulders. Sometimes we don’t catch our survival response until later. So, use some time to reflect on what happened. Can you track your body’s response at the time? Think of what could have happened if you didn’t try to make this right, or manage other’s responses to you. What would happen if you expressed a disagreement openly?

Before answering a hesitant ‘yes’ to someone’s request of you, take a Sacred Pause. Breathe out a slow exhale (think of a breath out 1-2-3) and then see if you can access a gentle but firm ‘no.’ That exhale activates your parasympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve – the shift from a reaction to a more intentional response. It relaxes your body from going into fight or flight, which can spawn the drive to fawn.

Take some time to reflect on your journey with fawning. This may be a hard exercise so notice if you have capacity for it. Tracking a narrative timeline is a helpful way to also show that your survival response did just that – helped you survive. It may feel counterintuitive to thank it, but showing gratitude for the Part of you that helped you survive is so healing. There may be a younger version of you that just wants you to know that you are grateful and working on healing any self-hatred or shame that may be attached to the trauma you endured. Remember, you did not deserve the pain that was caused you.

Now moving into your present, think of some people in your life who honour your boundaries, who respect you, and who value you for who you are. When thinking of them, what sensations do you notice in your body? Is there any soften that is more accessible, are you breathing deeper, or maybe your shoulders drop a bit and are more relaxed. If you cannot access a person who honours this, think of a pet, or take some time to watch some movies or TV shows where you can witness characters having this healthy boundary practice. This exercise helps you access your social engagement system where your Ventral Vagus Nerve thrives.

I think we also need to do an about-face with being nice. It presents as less threatening for sure, and can de-escalate conflict. But to what end? I know i have been nice more times than i want to admit, and it’s my own self-worth that paid the price. I kind of love the acronym of being a BITCH – a woman who Believes in Taking Care of Herself. We need to reclaim this word as patriarchy as stolen it from us, like so many things. I am sick of being the nice girl who is trying to soften any possible conflict, be minimizing my own needs and worth in the process.

Treat your skin like the border it is. Notice how your feet ground you, how you hands can honour the distance you need from someone else. I bet you have been tracking what it feels like to wear a mask these many months! In the next week, walk barefoot outside and see what sensations is brought for. Nourish your hands as they hold you in resonance. Get naked in bed, just to feel the sheets on your skin directly. Track your skin’s sensations in connection to your stress of safety response. Think of pins and needles, or that sensation that awakens in the back of your neck. Skin is there to help you track your interocetpion – your response to others. So also make time to show it love and attention. Give it a gentle massage or lotion to savour. Show it gratitude.

One final tip is to orient yourself to your physical space when you feel unsafe. I love the somatic resource of Orienting as it helps me titrate the feeling of unsafe in my body. I either give myself a self-hug and say ‘shhhh’ as a way of self-soothing, and relaxing my body, or i look at an item in the room to orient to outside of myself – this is called Proprioception. When i locate something, be it my favourite photo, a bouquet of flowers, a candle, or something that is my favourite colour, it helps me start to relax a bit. Then see if you can take a deeper breath and honour your need to say no or hold a boundary.

Remember, the Shadow side of connection is Fawning. When we are in our Window of Capacity, we can access that need for connection in a healthy way. Fawning is just one other way to get that need met, when there is dysregulation. And yet we are social creatures who thrive in community. This past year has complicated our relationships for sure. Now that we are in a semi-post state of the pandemic, it helps to notice what your body is telling you as you start to make you re-entry into social life.

I’m a book lover and find community in the books i read. This is a good resource for learning oure about healing your Inner Fawn as well as perfecting a boundary practice. Kimberly Ann Johnson’s book Call of the Wild: How we Heal Trauma, Awaken our Own Power and Use it for Good does a wonderful job unpacking this more. She also has a course called Limits and Boundaries if you want to reclaim your rightful boundaries.

Prentis Hemphill has a beautiful quote that is so fitting here: “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and myself simultaneously.”


Two Sides of the Same Coin: The Journey to Embracing Myself as a Sexual Mother

These past couple of years, i’ve been diving deeper in the parts of me that make me whole. It’s been a very intentional journey of getting to know what is important to me, and what has been missing. As i have found a way to integrate the mother role into the rest of me, i have now put all the other pieces back together. This is how matrescence is a journey of re-entry. The metamorphosis of who i have become is based on what i have been already, and than a new version of me arises.

I’m a big fan of the Wheel of Life resource. It is typically used by life coaches to help people make goals for their life, and to see where it is imbalanced. A few years ago, i did this exercise for myself. I use it further as a feminist therapy tool to see where the burn-out may be happening, and if there are parts of our life that we are living for external reasons or expectations.

I also like this way of looking at 6 parts of our Self – Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, Intellectual, and Environmental. It was through this process that i started to see that my Sexual Self was not listed as its own (and well deserving) category. Is it physical, emotional, social or dare i say, spiritual?

I realized it’s important to add a couple of parts of self to this configuration. For me that includes my sexual self, my inner child, and my inner goddess. It also includes my healer, wise woman and warrior. While these may be more archetypes that make me whole, i value them as the parts of me that are steeped in my values, dreams and full essence.

It can’t be an oversight that these various self-help tools and resources don’t intentionally include a category for Sexuality. It’s typically assumed in the relationship category. So what happens if there is no other person to be intimate with? Really, i think we can look back over the centuries and see how our sexuality was always pushed to the shadows. This is especially true for women and mothers even more so. Back in the days of yore, religion and white colonialism ruled over all other parts. Since i’m not a historian, i’m going to skip ahead to how this impacts us now – our spiritual selves are still what is pure and right, and our sexual self is dirty and unholy.

This is where the dichotomy of mother/whore comes in – virginal maiden and mother are seen as wholesome, safe and acceptable. Whore and crone are pushed to the shadows. One is too sexual and the other is seen as unworthy. Yet we need them all in order to live a full life.

Gender roles and sexuality was put into binary lines. Anything that was deemed women’s work was soft, gentle, nurturing, and in the home. A major part of women’s role was to bear children and raise them. It was then that sexual acts were deemed valuable only for reproductive rights, and not for pleasure or connection between the partners.

Research is now showing us now that our brain’s nervous system is designed to include a social engagement system for attachment, connection and safety. While we have made so many gains to reclaim sexuality for pleasure and joy, as well as for connection, there is still so much more collective healing we need to go through. First, i think it helps to look at the benefits of feminine sexuality and energy.

The benefits of reclaiming our sexual self? What’s that, you wonder? For me it’s access to pleasure, attunement to self, and seeing it is a superpower for energy and a life force in and of itself. And yet, reclaiming sexuality takes time, steps and a commitment to do the messy work of unpacking age-old embedded stories. It also takes resilience to do something defiant and subversive.

Most of us have been taught about sex in school, and a very basic overview by our parents, if we were lucky. One way to heal and integrate this part of our Self is to heal our family of origin’s repressed view of sexuality. As women, we are socialized to be modest. So instead, let’s reckon with our desires, body image, internalized shame; this is built from a false idea that our sensuality belongs in our shadow.

Part One: Reclaiming My Sexual Self
Before we can integrate our sexuality into our motherhood, we need to reclaim it in our womanness. Here are some ways i have found this reckoning, and this reclamation of my divine sexuality. It is our birthright after all. As you choose to journey to rediscover yours, think of what your sexual story is. What is the word that honours it? Be mindful that you will need to push past the discomfort to get to a better end. The history of your sexual self is important to acknowledge, as is the future of your reclaimed pleasure.

1) Know your Body and Nervous System
We have been taught only part of the story regarding female arousal, desire, and our reproductive system. It was only when i was trying to get pregnant for the first time that i truly learned more about my anatomy and how it all works. When we know our Nervous System response, we then don’t replay the stuck circuit.

Fo instance, it takes 30 minutes to get blood to engorge the vulva. We are not fully aroused during foreplay, and we can arouse over the course of a day, just by thinking or fantasizing. This helps us get to arousal so it’s important to know what turns you on. And yet most heteronormative monogamist couples centre the man’s orgasm as evidence of successful sex.

Foreplay isn’t just the step-by-step guide that happens moments before sex. It is also the acts of attention and care in the day. It really is the emotional and mental offerings that give us self-permission to relax in pleasure. Women today more than ever are taught to only do self-care acts after getting all the to-do items done. We literally can’t relax if the kitchen is a mess, or the bedroom is not conducive as a boudoir. And if you are a parent, well… Anyone who has been a mother to young children knows the feeling of being touched out. Even if the rational part of the brain can see that partner touch is different than a child’s need, it is hard to disentangle the exhaustion on our body.

For those of us that experienced sexual assault, whatever that looked like, it can be hard to feel safe when aroused. So it’s crucial to find ways to reclaim that felt sense of safety. Learn how the nervous system kicks in with a fight/flight/fawn/freeze response. Learn where the trauma is stored in your body. Find ways to tend to the emotional, physical spiritual parts of you. One way to do so is to remind your brain that you survived: “That was then, this is now”. And this healing takes time.

Self-pleasure is a wonderful way to reconnect with your body, to learn how to attune what you like. Learn more about vagina mapping, sensate focus exercise and mindfulness to get some hands-on awareness. This will help get to a deeper sense of safety. Breath work is also a major component of access pleasure and presence in the sexual realm. Practice vulva breathing by placing your hand on your vulva and simply breathing mindfully. Have a yoni steam – controversial i know, and yet it can be just what you vag has always wanted. Give it the same care and attention you give your face, teeth or hair. Oxytocin, or the love hormone, can work wonders to help access pleasure and desire.

2) Consent Consent Consent!
Learn more about the dance between consent and approval. Betty Martin has a great resource called the Wheel of Consent. In her new book, she dives deep in explaining how to practice giving and receiving pleasure, and sees how consent ins pivotal in both receiving pleasure and giving it.

Planning a date night ahead of time, even when you don’t leave your home, also helps with informed consent. The date is agreed upon, and it can be helpful to explicitly put sex on the table (literally or not, wink!). It is also a chance to track how you feel about the upcoming date, and to plan accordingly.

There are 6 Pillars to Sexual Health and consent is the #1 pillar, for good reason. That’s why it’s so important for couples (whoever and how many they are) to explicitly discuss their needs, desires, worries, and fears. We also need to bear witness to past experiences of sexual behaviour, especially of one partner has a history of sexual violence. As we know that 1 in 4 women (cis, trans or non-binary folx) experience sexual assault in their lifetime, it is crucial to learn how to be a trauma-informed partner.

3) Core Erotic Theme
Once we have a felt sense of knowing what our body feels when safe, we have more capacity to tend to the desire that lives there. Female desire has been stigmatized in such a way that it is hard at times to honour the eroticism that hides even further in the shadows. So, it’s time to bring your sexy self out of the shadows. Spend some time thinking back to old fantasies. Maybe you have favourite not-to-be-talked-about scenes from books or movies. Maybe there is an old scene that you have always wanted to create. Spend some time with a journal and pen, putting these themes to paper. What might be the core fantasy theme. What is sexy to you? Is it that you want to dress sexy? Maybe it’s that you want to be kissed all over, and have your toes sucked. Or having sex in a shower turns you on. Once you have your core theme, then see how you can ask yourself to start putting it into practice. If you’re not partnered, don’t worry – you can still get your sexy on! If you want to know more about finding your core fantasy, adrienne maree brown speaks about it in her book Pleasure Activism or this article here.

Maybe for you, nature is sexy. Nature’s elemental life force definitely is sexy and invigorating. How can you bring more nature into your theme? How about setting up your space for fresh greenery, candles, or a photo of your favourite place.

If finding a core theme is tricky, how about doing an experiment to find what your sexy is? Can you let down your guard a bit? Try being vulnerable – there is courage there! And, definitely try to turn off the inner judgment, move into it, and move through feelings to get them out.

Activate your senses by taking some time this week to put on sexy:
*Sight: Clothes, makeup, visualization, show to watch
*Sound: music, listen to a story, read erotica
*Smells: Lotion, candles, incense
*Touch: texture, skin, massage, water
*Taste: what spices, foods, or treats stimulate your desire

“The way to maintain one’s connection to the wild is to ask yourself what it is that you want. This is the sorting of the seed from the dirt.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes

4) Daily Pleasure Acts
It is hard to know what brings us pleasure with lovers when this feels foreign in our own body or daily life. Pleasure shouldn’t just be about sexual or erotic practices, but daily ways to feel joy in our body. For me, dance, the sense of smell, and being creative with paints and clay are ways i access pleasure. Maybe you can channel Georgia O’Keefe, and paint some erotic flower scenes. Just take a look, a real look, at the painting in this article!

Have a pleasure practice – be it meditation, stroking your body, lotion, masturbation, yin yoga practise, connecting with senses, flower bouquets, anchor smells, being present, candle in the bath. What can you do to make the thing you are doing 5% more enjoyable? Ann Nguyen created this concept of making an event or activity 5 % more pleasurable. This helps to build capacity to enjoy the day more. This increases pleasure IN the bedroom as well.

I also love the idea of working on ways to surrender. I don’t mean to give up, or to be passive, but rather to build up the pleasure muscle: we need to do it mindfully and with exquisite risk. Think of the words of pleasure, alive, vibrant, abundance or ecstasy. These words may be challenging for you. How about Primal – do you need to go to this deeper place, can you dive in? Or how about dipping your toes in that? Our depth of eroticism is tied to self-expression, as well as that energy and full essence i alluded to earlier.

Part Two: The Sexual Part of You and the Mother You are Can Co-exist

Okay, so with those first few tips you now have a good foundation to re-connect with your sexual self. To take it that step further and feel sensual after becoming a mom, we need to claim space for your Self. This is more than just getting regulated and rest. It is deeper because it means intentionally visiting the other parts of ourselves – remember that Wheel of Life resource?

So, how do we do this? It can start by seeing yourself in your body. You may have brought your child into the world (by birth or not), and you existed before them. One simple way to acknowledge this is the voice practice of claiming your body in a moment. For instance, you may want to stand or sit in front of a mirror – and yes mirror work is a vessel for this work. Look at your self (your eyes, mouth, neck, or anywhere that feels safe enough. Then, place a hand there and say “This is my body.” “This is me.” “This is my cheek, these are my lips.” Hold the pose. Breathe into it. Take a moment to notice it.

We can access pleasure with grounding exercises like this. This can be triggering for some of us, so track your breath. Take time away from your kids. Masturbate. Feel the water on your body when you next take a bath. Eat juicy watermelon mindfully. Walk barefoot on some grass.

5) Who’s Your Role Model?
What is your sexual legacy? How you tend to yourself, and take care of yourself builds on this legacy. Who were your actual role models and how did they receive pleasure? This gets stored in our body and psyche. Is there a character from a story that you loved? Is there a person you know (IRL or not) that you can channel. What do you want to continue on you family line, or not?

One other way i have reclaimed my sexual self is to get to know the role models who have paved the way for me. This has helped me feel less shame and has been a beautiful way to get to my authenticity. One of my role models and mentors is Kimberly Ann Johnson. It was through her various courses on reclaiming our sensuality that i found my wild side. Her new book Call of the Wild: How we Heal Trauma, Awaken our Own Power and Use it for Good has been such a gift. My long hair and big boobs have been a source of objectification by other for years. I was sexualized at a very young age. I started a path to get to know the various goddess figures this past year. It was when i saw one that looked like my body that i realized i could reclaim this feminine energy and power. More recently, i have found that my Inner Goddess feels so empowered and confident when on top, in bed. I love feeling my hair flow around us, and feel so in control. I have my own fantasy attached to this, but that’s my story to tell (wink).

Maybe you need to rewrite the story of the Siren or seductress, the Goddess/priestess, whore, vixen or slut. Just think of the term ‘Cougar’ and what it even means. For women, it’s a pejorative word of a woman who enjoys sex with younger men. But maybe it’s because men her age and older don’t turn her on, or they are not seeking her out. When i think of our animal counterparts, i love the idea of a cougar or jaguar seeking out what she wants and tending to her body’s needs. That is powerful shit.

Putting the Pieces Together
Now that you have sat with some of the reflections, tended to some of the body exercises, it’s time to put the pieces together. Similar to a Venn diagram – where is there overlap?

Since it is said that feminine energy is to teach, that means we can guide our children in all aspects of life. Babies and kids share our body territory so it can be hard to feel agency autonomy over own body. The journey into motherhood had been a sexual act for most of us. And yet, the afterbirth experience almost erases the sexual act. In the early postpartum period, we intentionally heal the body to get into wholeness again. We are taught to bounce back – but to what end? To be sexy again, pure? Or to produce more children? I like to think my postpartum journey has been more about moving forward – a process of Self reclamation and putting the new pieces together. It has been about finding ways to be sexual and mother intentionally. It’s like a bouquet of roses mixed with peonies and ranunculus. All separately are beautiful, but a more blended bouquet is even more stunning.

Our society doesn’t value nurturing or pleasure in the same way as being financially successful or productive. So one way i have created an intentional split from this is to not keep my sexuality in the shadows. I dance in front of my kids, i kiss my partner, and we remind our kids that date night is as important and family game night.

My daughter has noticed that the dates her parents use to have, where a babysitter came in, and mom got dressed up, have obviously been put on hold. While we have gotten creative to still be partners in the midst of a global pandemic, that too has been impacted. As my children are getting older, we have updated our conversations about sexuality. We normalize sex and discuss it if they hear about it (from us, from shows, from songs – it finds a way in pretty easily, doesn’t it?). We talk to our kids about relationships, love, pleasure, and dating. I also have updated the books and resources my kids are reading, to complement this information. And more books for adults on this are coming out, be it slowly. While my pre-teen cringes at the kissing scenes in real life and on TV, we still want to model this as natural and right.

There is discrepancy between partners’ desire and arousal after having children. Foreplay can become more emotional and practical. The primary parent is touched out and exhausted by the end of the day. Modern parenting is definitely playing a role in our lack of intimacy. Just read this article to get a better sense of this. The non-primary caregiving partner wants to be intimate to feel connected, and the primary parent wants time alone to feel rested. These are not incompatible needs, and yet they can feel like it.

We need to soften our edges, so that the parts are not so separate. We need to blend them to take the strengths and gifts from both – it is not either/or. We are creators so need to respected and supported, but we aren’t tended to now as mothers are still devalued. Postpartum mood challenges add a further barrier to desire and sexual intimacy. This research article shares more.

Sexuality is not just about an act but rather being part of the parts that make us whole. That includes tending to your feelings, physical body and spiritual rituals. It also includes consent and the felt sense of pleasure. This then connects our body to strength and embodiment.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” ~ Anais Nin

The Makings of a Good Therapist

I love what I do. It may sound strange to think that I enjoy listening to people share their hard feelings, but what I also see is their healing process and transformation. I’m not so vain to think i made a difference, but rather I was there to bear witness to their own change. Going to therapy is still a taboo topic, as we have not accepted mental health needs support like any other forms of health does.There has been a lot of movement towards accepting therapy, both for people to go to someone for help, as well as a bigger societal shift in accepting that a therapist can help someone feel better, just like a dentist, doctor, or nutritionist can. Instagram has an amazing selection of therapists who use that tool as a way of sharing resources for free. While it’s not therapy persay, it is a great starting point for me. It’s a bit like feelings porn for me too. Have you seen this fabulous account, for instance?

I have a love-hate relationship with how therapists are depicted in pop culture. It’s no wonder people have misgivings about coming to see a stranger and unload secret feelings. Naomi Watts’ character on her show Gypsy (the name itself is problematic) really made me cringe. Anne in Working Moms is another example (though I love her new office). Gabriel Byrne’s character on In Treatment, or Toni Collette in Wanderlust, and more recently the therapist in Big Little Lies gives me hope that we are moving towards more positive portrayals. It helps to lessen the stigma – therapy is not just for extreme mental health needs after all.

While watching the second season of Big Little Lies recently (and no, that therapist is not perfect either), i brought me pause to think about what i think makes for a good therapist. Here’s my short working list.

I will bear witness to your process. I have had clients come to me and say point blank that they want me to ‘fix them.’ I so wish that was possible, but it truly doesn’t work that way. I don’t have a magic wand to do that sort of trick, and more importantly, therapy is not for someone else to fix you but rather you must do this work yourself. It is truly our own work that helps us heal.

I know that I hold a lot of power in my role as a therapist. As a feminist therapist, i make that awareness explicit in our work together. I also play a role in displaying a healthy relationship with the people I support. As an attachment-based therapist, I see how unhealthy relationships have been a great cause of suffering. While it’s important to me to build a trusting and respectful relationship with the people I support, I am not their friend. I do think that therapy works best when there is a reciprocal relationship (relational). One big difference between talking to your best friend about a problem and coming to me is that I am not just a positive cheerleader, but someone who will challenge you if you are wrong and also provide you options, not just agree with you. I am like an accountability partner to help you stay on your task and commitment to yourself.

Some of my favourite words as a therapist are vulnerability, feelingful, courage, curious, compassion, resilience, and reflection. I have a toolkit of resources, tools, worksheets, and exercises to guide you in this process. Therapy is goal-based and an opportunity to establish tools and resources, work on the painful memories, and integrating them into your everyday life now. The ultimate goal for therapy is that it helps you live the life you love so that you no longer need to come to therapy.

As a therapist I am a vault that holds your secrets. Therapy won’t work if you can’t trust that person with your deepest feelings, so much so that you don’t feel safe in sharing them. Building this relationship plays a key role in how therapy works best. It’s also hard for me to say goodbye when therapy is ending, and yet I know that the goal of therapy is to have it be short-term with a clearly structured beginning, middle and end. I get ghosted as a therapist and while I know that the relationship is not about me (and I yield a lot of power), it is still a feeling-based relationship that is built on compassion.

With the new Controlled Act of Psychotherapy in Ontario, changes are being made to what therapy looks like. For instance, some people seek counselling as a way to help them with some life goals on wellness, having a better life and get back on track. A life coach also does similar work on wellness work but their focus is more on helping you live your optimum self. Psychotherapy is a deeper dive to help someone who is struggling with something that leads to feeling stuck, and is based on a diagnosable mental health issue (like postpartum depression or post-traumatic stress from the impact of childhood abuse). I am not a life coach, but my work can straddle any of these three areas.

A good therapist, like anyone, sees the value of continuous professional development. I am always learning and am a better therapist because of this. Even seasoned therapists of over 30 years need to keep learning about modalities that are evidence-based and validly researched. I also believe that a good therapist does not only use one modality as each person is their own expert and one size does NOT fit all.

I make people cry for a living. That means, while I follow your lead and have no agenda for my own, sometimes there is no emotional by-passing in therapy like there may be in everyday life. I will validate your experience and feelings, and hold space for you in a less biased way. My whole body is my instrument, especially as I use somatic-based therapies and mindfulness in my work. Going to supervision, therapy and peer consultation is a necessity, if not a requirement. I also practice what I preach as self-care is imperative so that I don’t burn-out or feel compassion fatigue. So don’t worry about me – I am a container that regularly gets my tune-up.

If you’d like to work with me, to live the life you love, contact me here. I’d be honoured to be that vault for you.