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Posted on October 11th, 2018 in Communication, Relationships by

There always seems to be at least one person in our lives with whom we don’t feel we can share our true thoughts and feelings about. There can be several reasons for this. Maybe we want to be liked. Maybe we’re embarrassed, or we’re simply afraid of what might happen if we tell them. If you were to confront the person or people with whom you have an issue, just imagine how this would free up space in your brain to think about other things.

There are three ways in which people often communicate that are NOT effective. One is not saying anything and letting resentments build. This is called being passive. Another is aggressive communication. This might seem obvious, but aggression doesn’t really do anything for us either, except maybe land us in jail. Aggression can take the form of verbal or physical violence. Trying to control someone else is never the answer, nor should this be an option.

Another is being passive-aggressive. Although passive-aggression might spark memories of high school girls, the truth is we all communicate in passive-aggressive ways at some point or another by accident or on purpose. For example, not inviting that one person to a get-together because he said something at the last gathering that made you feel stupid. Making a pot of coffee after you’ve repeatedly asked your spouse to do this chore and she hasn’t followed through. Telling your supervisor all the frustrations you’ve experienced towards a coworker without confronting the coworker first. These examples are extremely easy traps to fall into, and engaging in passive-aggressive behavior only ignores the real issue, leads to resentment, and reinforces our lack of solving our problems effectively.

I get it. Communicating openly with others is hard. It’s scary. And no, I’m not perfect at it either. I talk about communication on a daily basis in my practice. There’s one thing in particular that communicating openly solves: Resolution. The truth might hurt, catch us by surprise, feel warm and fuzzy, or downright scary; but talking openly with those in our lives allows us to have authentic relationships based on sharing our true selves.

Assertive communication is the way to communicate openly with those in your life with respect while also respecting your own goals and values. This healthy communication is calm and fair while both parties listen to what each other has to say without interruptions or blaming. It requires understanding. Resolution may be reached on the first try, or it might take several times of going back and forth. If you incorporate healthy communicating into your life I would expect you to notice a reduction in anger, resentment, grudges, and betterment in your overall well-being. Your relationships will become more authentic and trustworthy. You will find that at first communication is hard, but with practice, it becomes more and more like second nature. If you are looking for help on your journey to better communication and healthier relationships, please contact me at sarah@nullnorthsidementalhealth.com.


Posted on March 30th, 2017 in Relationships by

Characteristics of Codependency

You may have heard the word, “Codependent,” but do you really know what it means? Definitions and descriptions of a codependent person can be expansive. Occasionally, I hear people mistakingly believe this term applies to only those who are within some type of addicted or chemically dependent relationship. They aren’t completely wrong. In fact, the original term for this concept was “co-alcoholic,” as researchers initially examined settings where addiction was present and they found a variety of behavior patterns in the family members of these chemically dependent people. In looking closer, they noticed a range of emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual issues in these family members and loved ones. As the concept continued to expand, it was not long before we realized that these patterns continued even after a relationship with an addicted person ended. What’s more, these things were also being exhibited in non-addicted relationships and families.

There are numerous definitions of codependency, but certain characteristics often include obsessive “helping” or “fixing,” caretaking, low self-worth, controlling behaviors, self-repression, communication problems, and intimacy problems. I often work with people who feel a “need to be needed,” have a difficult time saying “no,” even when they want to, or experience a sense of emptiness when they don’t have someone to help, a problem to solve, or a crisis to which they must attend. Many times, people derive good feelings about who they are only when they feel they are liked and accepted by others. Or, they describe themselves as sort of a chameleon, feeling that they change themselves based on their setting, often in order to fit others’ expectations, behaviors, or preferences.

Similarly, a codependent relationship is one in which you might find yourself making a lot of sacrifices for your partner’s happiness, often at the expense of your own fulfillment and needs. You might sense a general feeling of one-sidedness in your relationship(s) or feel that you equate yourself with the other person. This other-centeredness results in an abandonment of self and can have deep and long-term implications. Self-worth can become diminished. Personal identity becomes lost.

Less known about codependency is the different forms it can take. Some codependents are more consumed by controlling other people in their lives, which hinders not only personal growth, but also the growth of their loved one. Others might feel they are more controlled by their loved one. At times you may be both, depending on the situation or particular relationship.

The good news? These patterns, just as they were learned and practiced over time, can be unlearned. New ways of being and relating with yourself and others can occur. This might begin with learning new communication skills and assertiveness training. Practicing self-care and efforts aimed at self-awareness, exploration, and cultivating a new (or renewed) sense of self are also helpful.

It is a move from Jerry Maguire’s, “You complete me,” toward something resembling more like, “You compliment me, but I am complete within myself.” It is learning to appreciate yourself as being a worthy and complete individual with your own personal identity outside of the context of your relationships.

Approaching change with a gentleness and genuine curiosity toward yourself is important. Lastly, seek support from a therapist and others who will uplift and encourage you along this journey. Happy discovering!


Posted on March 29th, 2017 in Mindfulness by

Mindfulness is one of the four core skills introduced in a highly effective type of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT incorporates the Eastern practice of mindful meditation into talk therapy. The combination of practicing mindful meditation and evaluating negative thought patterns can significantly increase relaxation and help one cope with strong emotions.

So what exactly is mindfulness and how do we become more mindful? Being mindful is a state of mind that can be achieved with regular practice. Mindfulness is the act of simply observing our thoughts and feelings without imposing judgement on those thoughts or feelings such that they are “good” or “bad”. Let’s be honest, to refrain from judging and criticizing our own thoughts and feelings is a hard feat to conquer. We judge ourselves constantly throughout the day; therefore, it will understandably take a fair amount of practice and time to eventually master this art.
Another component of mindfulness is to accept that we experience positive, negative, and neutral emotions and continue to live in the present moment regardless of how uncomfortable an emotion we’re experiencing. When we feel strong emotions such as anxiety or depression, naturally the inclination is to get rid of the overwhelming feeling. When approaching our emotions mindfully, however, uncomfortable emotions aren’t pushed away but rather experienced in the moment until they eventually fade away. No one has a panic attack that lasts forever!

Here’s how to start your mindful meditation: Identify a time of day that you can set aside 5 minutes to yourself. If this time doesn’t present itself immediately, don’t worry. If you need to tell your kids, roommates, or whoever is in your general vicinity to give you some alone time go right ahead! Putting aside time for yourself is important! Once you are alone in a peaceful, quiet place begin to focus on your breathing. Your breath serves as an anchor throughout this exercise. When you notice your thoughts beginning to wander, return your thoughts back to your breath and remember that you are living in this moment and no other. This is the time you become an observer of your thoughts, you are not your thoughts themselves. During this mindful meditation, there are several ways to remain in the moment. Here are some examples:

  1. Imagery
    To help ease any physical tension or anxiety, imagine a scene you find peaceful. For myself, I find peace in imagining a thick forest in the middle of autumn with a stream running through it. For others a peaceful image could be lying on a beach watching the ocean waves, or lying in a field of tall grasses watching the clouds drift by in the sky. Choose whichever scene appeals to you and please, be creative!
  2. Self-talk
    This part relates back to our tendency to be critical and judge ourselves. When you notice yourself thinking negative thoughts (for example: “this exercise is dumb”; “this will never work”; “I haven’t been able to relax before, therefore, I won’t be able to relax now”), notice and observe these thoughts, but then let them go.
  3. Body-mind connectionBe sure to check in with your physical self. Do you feel tension anywhere in your body? Do you tend to carry stress in your neck, shoulders, or hands? If you notice that a particular part of your body is more tense, use your breath as a tool. When you breathe in slowly and deeply, imagine that you are inhaling relaxation into that part of your body, and then, as you exhale, let go of that tension. Repeat this process as many times as you need to until your feel the tension in that part of your body melt away.

Once you’ve mastered the skill of mindfulness feel free to use it whenever and wherever! Since being mindful is a state of mind, you can access this state of mind in all kinds of situations – before a presentation, when driving in your car on your way to work, at a dinner party, when drinking your morning coffee, etc. Use this skill on a regular basis to reduce stress and increase relaxation in your life.


Posted on November 22nd, 2016 in Psychotherapy by

Like most adults participating in any sort of small talk with someone you’ve just met, I often am asked what I do for a living.  It’s curious to me that some individuals seem to struggle with my answer.  I say “I am a therapist” and they say “oh yeah?, like physical therapist?” or “cool, my sister is a massage therapist” or “I thought about going in to speech therapy too”.  Then I usually say something like “no, no, I am a psychotherapist”.  “Oh, okay”, they reply.  And, then, this is usually the end of the conversation.   So this leaves me wondering – are we still not comfortable, even in 2016, with the idea of tending to our mental health? Is there still such a strong stigma attached to mental illness or even just emotional struggle that it’s a conversation ender or a small-talk buzz kill?  Unfortunately, it seems like the answer is still yes. 

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Posted on November 16th, 2016 in Divorce, Parenting by

There are many growing pains in those weeks, months and years after a divorce occurs. Ex-spouses adjust to their new normal and often experience feelings of fear, sadness, relief, joy and confusion as they try to rebuild their lives. During this time, they may also find themselves in situations where they are still communicating to each other in ways that contributed to the divorce. These interactions are often combative, malicious and hurtful. Unfortunately, many of the negative characteristics that were present in the failed marriage will often transfer over to the post-divorce relationship, which, in turn, continue to affect the children.

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Posted on October 15th, 2016 in Eating Disorders
Written by Lauren Collins

My name is Lauren Collins. I am an outpatient, registered dietitian, specializing in disordered eating; this includes binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, and/or general disordered eating. I am extremely passionate about helping others repair and improve their relationship with food while simultaneously learning to love themselves. Although, it is considered “best practice” to address disordered eating within the context of a treatment team, some individuals suffering from an eating disorder may be reluctant to see a dietitian. You may ask, “I am seeing a therapist, why do I need both?” I am here to tell you the 5 Reasons Why Seeing A Dietitian is Essential to your Eating Disorder Recovery.

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Posted on September 14th, 2016 in Anxiety

Everyone has experienced occasional stress or anxiety. A busy day at work, overwhelming schedule, or unexpected flat tire can throw anyone for a loop. However, for those with chronic stress, anxiety takes on a whole new meaning. The feeling of panic, fear, or foreboding seems to never go away, and can actually grow over time.

There are many ways to treat both short-term and chronic anxiety, including therapy and medication. These approaches can help a person build coping skills to deal with anxiety as well as providing some relief from obsessive thinking and worry. Therapy and medication in combination can be a particularly powerful approach to address the mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety.

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Posted on August 14th, 2016 in Parenting by

Often times in my practice I am asked for my advice to parents raising kids. Number one, it’s the hardest job in the world, and here is what I think…

BE the kind of person you want your children to be.

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