As seen in Today's Parent 

As seen in Flare Magazine

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Anu Sharma-Niwa,
M.A., R.Psych.
Registered Psychologist 

Phone: (403) 990-4159
(confidential voice mail)


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501, 1550 8th Street SW
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Calgary, AB 

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Entries in Self-Care (4)


What's in Your Glue?

It is no big secret that falling in love is and exhilarating experience filled with all sorts of wonderful bits and pieces of joy and loveliness.  Staying in love, however, can be where the work is.  As stressors increase, so can the hostility, irritability, arguments, emotional disconnect, and exhaustion levels.  Not surprisingly, this most often results in a dramatic decrease in passion, sex, romance and fun.  

So what tends to keep couples together?

I like to use the analogy of glue and how it has a way of keeping people stuck together…for the good and the bad!  

Negative Glue:

  •  Social Pressure
  •  Financial Pressures
  •  Children
  •  Fears (of divorce, abandonment, failure, etc.)
  •  Moral Factors
  •  Concern for your partner’s welfare
  •  Poorer lifestyle if alone 
  •  Codependency

Positive Glue:

  •  A collaborative couple identity (“we-ness” as opposed to a “I” or “me” focus)
  •  Inner passion and happiness that is not dependent upon your partner
  •  Priority of the relationship
  •  Feeling happy about your choice of partner
  •  Healthy giving and sacrifice (reciprocity)
  •  Respect, appreciation, admiration, fondness, and love
  •  The partnership is a lifetime plan with shared meaning

Research by John Gottman indicates that the balance between negativity and positivity appears to be the key dynamic in what amounts the emotional ecology of every marriage…kind of like there is a thermostat that is operating in healthy marriages that regulates this balance.  He goes on to state that the “magic ratio” that keeps this thermostat in balance is 5:1…as long as there is 5 times as much positive feeling and interaction between partners as there is negative, the relationship is likely to be stable over time.  

Counselling can be very helpful in providing you and your partner with the right tools to communicate more effectively, understand one another better, strengthen sources of intimacy, and bring that positivity back into your relationship…and YES (!!) that can include romance, passion and great sex! 

So, after you assess the ingredients of your glue, consider evaluating its effectiveness.  Is it really working for you, your partner and family? Or is it time to launch the new glue product that is heavy on the positive side?


Just Say NO!!!

Today I found myself marveling at how easy my five year old seems to be able to say “No”.   I admired him for being able to eloquently say “No” without guilt, shame, fear, or social pressure.  I plan to do my darndest to preserve this quality in my son...without getting into the land of oppositional defiance, of course!  What I am striving to do as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and psychologist is to spread the word that there is no shame or blame in listening to your needs and being honest about what you can and cannot do.  The word “No” need not always be connotative of negativity, guilt, shame or disappointment.  Not surprisingly, what actually tends to happen for people who say “yes” to things they really don’t want to do is that it leads to exhaustion, time away from self-care and potentially even resentment and burnout.  We all have needs, priorities, tasks on our to-do lists and responsibilities.  It is important for you to value your time and space and to be able to find some semblance of peace and tranquility amidst all of the chaos that is life these days.  

Why is it so difficult for many of us to give ourselves that same compassion as we tend to automatically give others?

Many people find saying “No” to be incredibly difficult because there are so many internal (i.e. personality, temperament, etc.) and external (i.e. cultural and social pressures) factors that contribute to what this resistance is all about.  Some of these include:

1.  You are a nice person and genuinely want to help someone out...even if it puts you out.

2.  You are afraid of being perceived as being “rude” or “disrespectful”.  

  3.  You conform to others’ thoughts and opinions for fear of being rejected from the group…there is a                     need for wanting to belong and feel accepted.

4.  You fear that saying “No” will cause conflict and you have a tendency to want to avoid conflict                           whenever possible.

5.  You are worried that you may lose an opportunity or prevent yourself from getting ahead (i.e.                         professionally).

 Most of you can probably identify with at least one of the above factors that promote resistance to saying “No”. However, the reality is that these are HUGE misconceptions!!! In fact, you will likely find that saying “No” is not nearly as catastrophic as you may have imagined it to be in your mind’s eye.  Not saying “No” has the potential to cause more conflict, rudeness (i.e. via resentment or contempt) and to promote symptoms of anxiety and depression.  You cannot please everyone all the time, so try focusing on HOW to say “No” as opposed to giving in to others reluctantly.

Bottom line: Our fears about saying “No” are just our mind’s way of playing tricks on us.   It is not really about saying “No”, but rather HOW to find the right way to say “No”. 

Here are some “nice” ways to say “No”, while still being supportive, encouraging and respectful.

1.  “I appreciate you asking me as I admire your organization, but unfortunately my schedule does not allow for me to accept your offer at this time” or “I would so enjoy doing that with you but I’m not able to make it that night”.  Beginning with a compliment can soften the refusal, but be sure that the compliment is genuine.

2. “That’s an excellent offer but I’m not in a position to take advantage of it right now”.  This        helps put a positive spin when declining an offer but does leave the door open for future                              communication.  As such, you might want to ensure you are sincerely interested in the offer as it                     might invite this conversation again in the near future. 

  3. “I can’t commit because I am swamped with other priorities at the moment” This works great when you are too busy, but lets the person know that you aren’t rejecting them or their idea, but have too much on your plate at the moment. 

  4. “Now is not a good time because I’m in the middle of something, but how about we chat more at _______ time?”  This works when you want to gently put off a request for a short period of time. 

  5. “I am not able to plan your party at this time due to some pressing commitments at the moment but let me give you the contact information for suppliers I had used at my last party”.  Most often providing a great lead for someone to follow through can be just the kind of help they need.   It only take a few moments to pass along information and resources! 

  6. “Let me think about it” This is a very valid way to respond to a request as there are few occasions where you need to make a decision on the spot.  This allows for you to take time to consider your options, but ensure you respectfully get back to the person within a reasonable time frame. 

  7. “I really like this idea and would love to do this, but….” Ensure you say this if you genuinely like the idea and just want to say no in a nice and gentle way.  You are being honest about your limitations but complimentary and encouraging about their idea.  Sometimes, just knowing that you are backing a person from an emotional standpoint can be incredibly helpful!

  8. “This is not something I do” This is a nice and pleasant way to say "No"for requests for donations or contributions.  You are not obligated to take on something if it is not the right fit for you. 

  9. “I love you but I’m just not in the mood to make love at the moment” It is important to create a ritual for initiating and refusing sexual intimacy with your partner so that he or she is not hearing “No” to mean that you would rather wash your hair than make love.  Create a soft and gentle way to let your partner know you do desire and find him/her attractive but just want to take a rain-check this time given your circumstances. 

  10. “I’m really not the best person to help with this one”.  If you feel the request is not within your area of expertise or something that cannot be done easily, it will quickly drain you of energy and time.  Recommend others who may have the core area of specialization the person is looking for – they will appreciate you for doing them the favor of pointing them in the right direction of the best person for the task or job. 

  11. “I know I have been out of touch, but I did get your message.  I’m going to say no, and it is my hope that my delay in getting back to you hasn’t caused you any inconvenience”.  This works well when you have been avoiding someone for fear of saying "No".

  12. “I’m horribly overbooked right now so can’t meet up with you right now, but I get the sense that there is something in particular that you wanted to discuss.  What’s up?” This works for the person who periodically wants to get together in the name of ‘friendship’ but who you suspect just wants something from you.  By putting him/her on the spot politely via text or telephone can put an end to these lunch invitations that seem rife with secondary gain. 

  13. Grab person’s forearms and stand back to say “Look at you!”  In order to avoid having to follow through with that uncomfortable social hug that you don’t want to deal with from that guy who squeezes you just a little too tightly. By grabbing his/her forearms and admire the would-be hugger’s sheer fabulosity, you can avoid the uncomfortable hug you have been dreading. 

  14. “No” A simple and direct “no” can often be more effective than a long and drawn out “maybe”.  Lengthy justifications are often not necessary.  Saying “No” without a long and drawn out explanation can be empowering and won’t look abrupt or cold when stated in a firm and respectful tone. 


By learning how to say “No” in a firm, but respectful way, you can take charge of your life.  It is actually easier than you think! The challenges of saying “No” are most often more imagined than real.  With a little repetition and consistency, you can change the negative belief your mind had created regarding the meaning of “No” and replace it with more positive and realistic messages. Saying “No” is important for respecting and valuing your time and space.  It is integral for living your life from a place of self-care and self-love.  We teach people how to treat us and it is important to give ourselves the same compassion that we often give so freely to others.  This is not selfishness, but self-care and self-love at its best. 


Do you have trouble saying “No” but can be quite empathic and understanding when others say decline your requests or offers? 

Do you think that these challenges or resistances to saying “No” are, indeed, more imagined than realistic?

If you have a preferred way of saying “no” that I have not included in this entry, I would love to hear from you! 




The Quest to be the Best

 Are you motivated by fears of failure or a sense of duty?

Do you feel driven to be #1, but despite however great your accomplishments might be, they don’t seem to satisfy you for long? 

Do you feel you must earn your self-esteem by being “special” or intelligent in order to be loved or accepted by others?

Do you feel so terrified by failure that not accomplishing an important goal leaves you feeling depressed?

Do you think you must always be strong and in control of your emotions…especially vulnerable feelings of sadness, insecurity or anger for fear that others will think less of you? 


If you have answered “yes” to all of the above it looks like you could very well be a “Perfectionist”.   Perfectionism is very common and also a very hot-topic in my practice.  I also like to consider myself to be a “recovering perfectionist”.  I have been in the “maintenance phase of healthy pursuit” for several years now, but it took a bit of work to sway this way.  It is pretty common to have an inner drive to improve your performance but it is important to remember that perfectionism is NOT a healthy pursuit of excellence!  

The healthy pursuit of excellence is when: 

  • You are motivated by enthusiasm
  • Your efforts give you feelings of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, even if you are not always the greatest at the task at hand. 
  • You enjoy a sense of unconditional self-esteem because you don’t feel you have to earn love and friendship by impressing people with your intelligence or success. 
  • You are not afraid to fail because you realize that there isn’t one person on earth who can be successful at all times. Although failure is certainly disappointing, you perceive it as an opportunity to grow and learn. 
  • You are not afraid of being vulnerable or sharing your feelings with people you care about because you see this as an opportunity to form a closer bond and deeper, more meaningful relationship with them. 

Many people (including myself at one time) will argue that they would not be able to succeed if they did not have some element of perfectionism.  And while many perfectionists are undoubtedly successful, what is important to be cognizant of is that this is likely due to other reasons. There is no evidence that perfectionists are more successful than their non-perfectionistic counterparts.  However, there does exist, empirical data to support that given similar levels of talent, skill and intellect, perfectionists perform less successfully than non-perfectionists.  


Perfectionists tend to be filled with all sorts of negative and self-sabotaging internal chatter that promotes low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, which can significantly interfere with your social, academic and occupational functioning. Perfectionists tend to be “all-or-nothing” or “black or white” thinkers (i.e. see things as only good or bad, but nothing in between), which often leads to trouble in a world that is not black and white but many shades of grey. This line of thinking promotes feeling overwhelmed or paralyzed by anxiety, therefore decreasing productivity and increasing procrastination. 

The work involved with making the shift from perfectionism towards a healthy pursuit of excellence involves setting more realistic goals and using cognitive therapy to replace that negative self-condemning chatter with more realistic and reasonable thoughts.  It will involve taking some pretty simple strategies and applying them consistently with practice in order for them to become more automatic.  In the meantime, try making a list of the advantages and disadvantages of trying to be perfect.  In doing this cost-benefit analysis, you may find that this line of thinking has been causing problems with your relationships, feelings of inadequacy, “workaholism”, burnout, body image issues, disordered eating, or substance abuse issues. If this is the case, the costs may actually be outweighing whatever advantages perfectionism holds for you…


Adapted from: The Feeling Good Handbook (David D. Burns) 


The Superwoman Syndrome

 Are you a woman who feels like you are constantly juggling balls in the air, always afraid of the chance that one might drop?

Do you find it near impossible to make time for yourself because you are so exhausted from meeting everyone else’s needs? 

Do you feel guilty because you feel like your efforts are never good enough?

Has anyone every referred to you as a being a Superwoman when all you feel like is a failure? 

Many contemporary women today were raised with the belief that the most appropriate roles for women were caretakers, nurturers, and emotional supporters of their partners, children, aging parents, etc. The term “Superwoman seems to have essentially become synonymous with the expectations placed on women who try to be the best mother, partner, daughter, sibling, friend, and employee in a single bound.  The reality is that the majority of women take on paid roles in addition to being the core provider of unpaid caregiving and support within their families.  Women tend to be constantly juggling multiple roles and responsibilities on a daily basis, continually trying to get more done in less time.  This juggling act makes it much harder to focus and be fully present in what they are doing and may also result in diminished feelings of satisfaction.  This relentless pace at which tasks are performed can also leave many women struggling to find any personal time, placing self-care on the “back-burner”, thus creating a slippery slope for stress and guilt to rear its ugly head and promote more symptoms of anxiety , depression, eating disorders,…and possibly even exacerbate other health problems.  

So what is a Superwoman to do in order to feel more human again? 


So the reality of it is that “self-care” has become a great new buzz-word…but what does that really look like??

I like to use the example of an automobile….we don’t think twice about taking our vehicle in for regular maintenance appointments and to keep it filled with fuel but we will let this happen to ourselves.  You must make a conscious effort to ensure that your tank does not run out of fuel and to keep up with regular self-care in order to be able to fulfill your roles and responsibilities with feeling more balance, confidence and peace. 

Part of self-care entails prioritizing your roles and responsibilities so that you can become more clear about what is truly most important to you at this particular stage of life.  Once you identify your real priorities, you can focus your energy where you need it most.  

One of the biggest barriers to self-care is perfectionism.  Perfectionism is when you feel compelled to be all things to all people, yet continue to feel inadequate regardless of how much you accomplish because your measure of self-worth now becomes things that you do, as opposed to who you are. Your fears of failure then drive you to produce more and do more…even when you are low on fuel.  When you try to take on more than your fuel tanks will allow, you become susceptible to feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy anxiety, and depression.  You become convinced that you are never good enough or that you are a failure and continue again to be all things to all people in an effort to fill this void.  This is what referred to as the Cycle of Over- Functioning.  

Part of healthy self-care involves maintaining healthy boundaries and learning to say “No” in a kind and respectful way.  A boundary is the invisible barrier protecting and enhancing the integrity of a person.  We need boundaries to protect and take care of ourselves. There are essentially three types of boundaries: 

1.    Rigid: characterized by strict rules and guidelines; very closed.

2.    Diffuse:  significant difficulty with saying “no”; fragile; others make decisions about entering this boundary.

3.   Healthy: when you are in charge but flexible about letting people in or out, depending on the situation at hand.  

 It is so important for you, as women, to give yourselves permission to ASK FOR HELP!! Noteworthy is that Superwomen rarely do this.  Assertiveness and consistency with boundary setting are both learned skills. We don’t come out of the womb communicating and setting healthy boundaries…. we LEARN to be good communicators.  We LEARN how to take care of ourselves.  

I often ask the Superwomen that I encounter to imagine that there is a loved one living inside of them and to consider how they would treat that person. Most often it is with much more care and compassion than they give themselves.  I then ask them to treat that person (themselves) with all the respect that they deserve in an effort to break this double standard. With a bit of practice, this can become a new and healthy learned habit!