18 May

Self-Compassion is not

Demystifying self-compassion

In my last blog post I introduced the concept of self-compassion. In short, it is the ability to look at your own physical and emotional distress, realizing that you are experiencing some form of human suffering, and asking yourself “What do I need in this moment to make my suffering less?”. It is the realization that all suffering will pass, that suffering is a global human experience, and that you have the ability to move your life onto a healthy and happy journey.

Sounds great right?

Read my last blog post on “Taming your Inner Critic” here

If it was that easy, we would all be very self-compassionate. One of the pitfalls we allow ourselves to fall into, is to mistake self-compassion for inner experiences such as self-criticism and self-pity. We tend to hold ourselves up to very high standards, perfectionism if you will. This may be cultural, taught in childhood, or brought about by social norms. As people, we like to have an explanation for everything. It creates the illusion of control. Self-compassion teaches us that not everything is within our control, and that is ok.

Self-compassion is not…

Self-Criticism. There are two different kinds of self-criticism: the positive kind, just like positive self-feedback. And the negative kind, the one I am referring to. The mean, harsh, and unnecessary self-talk such as “I’m no good” and “I’m a failure”. We feel that punitive self-criticism is somehow needed for motivation, that it will allow us to do better, to strive for perfection (there is that word again).
“I am such a loser, why can’t I get this right?”
How are those thoughts working out for you?
Self-criticism is based on fear “I am not ok if I fail, so I must succeed”. This way of thinking can lead to depressive thoughts, losing faith in yourself and creating a fear of failure. It’s like the picture of a carrot and a stick. I want to get that carrot, but I’m afraid how much the stick will hurt me if I fail.

In the words of the English poet Alexander Pope “To err is human”.

Self-compassion is to motivate yourself, by realizing you are human and can make mistakes. It means to ask yourself what you need to encourage yourself.

Self-Improvement. Again, this leads to creating a false sense of control, wanting to be perfect. If I can’t improve myself, if I can’t be prettier, or run faster, or write better blog posts, it means that I have failed. Therefor I’m a failure, so why even bother?

In the words of American Psychologist Carl rogers “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change”.

Self-compassion is about self-acceptance, to see yourself clearly, accepting your flaws, and working with what is within your control.

Self-Pity. It is not a way of telling yourself “Poor me”, rather a sense of “This experience would be hard for anyone”. Self-pity emphasizes ego-centric thoughts and feelings, creating a notion that you are alone in the world. That no-one has ever experienced a similar event. This creates a false sense of self-soothing, feeling better in the short term but feeling guilty and ashamed in the long term. Self-compassion is allowing yourself to see yourself and the world around you clearly, to be vulnerable and to take responsibility for your mistakes. Followed by the question “What would I need to make this suffering less?”.

Self-Indulgence. This allows for avoidance of painful feelings and emotions, while indulging yourself in some form of short term emotional release. Have you ever thought “I had a rough day, I’m going to sit on the couch, with a tub of ice cream, and watch movies for the rest of the day”?
Self-compassion is not allowing yourself to do whatever you want to do. It is realizing that sometimes you need to do things you don’t feel like doing, because you realize that it will be beneficial to you later on. It means to realize what you need in the moment to make yourself feel better about you in the long run.

Self-Esteem. Feeling good about yourself and your achievements, meaning that (again) if you have not succeeded and have not reached perfection, you failed. Self-esteem has long been a measure of our mental well-being. If you feel good about yourself, you must be in a good head space. But, if you’re not feeling good about yourself, [enter the self-criticizing thoughts]. In our North American society, it is not ok to be average. Imagine receiving an average grade on a test, or an average review on your work performance, or being described as average by your friends. Of course, this would want us to reach perfection, otherwise we’re not good enough.

Self-compassion is being true to yourself, realizing that sometimes we will not succeed at something. But that is a human experience, and it’s ok to not always succeed. What do I need to not make the same mistakes next time?

11 May

Taming your inner critic

[A stress management technique]

David is a typical Grade 12 student, he strives to get good grades, does his homework assignments on time once in a while but prefers to hang out with his friends. His final exams are coming up and he has just realized that his procrastination has gotten in the way of his studying. He is starting to feel anxious as the first exam date comes into sight. Sleepless nights, worrying, and even a slight feeling of panic. As his parent, or older sibling, or teacher what would you tell him to do?

“Stop your wining, just focus on what you have to do. Worrying about what you have to do
won’t help you. You did this to yourself. You need to be more disciplined or you will never make it in life.”

Or would your approach sound more like this

“It’s not too late to come up with an action plan. You’ve got this, I have faith in you. Let’s sit down together and figure it out. But first, let’s work on calming you down. What do you  think about a walk around the block? We’ll go get you your favourite ice cream.”

I am hoping you would choose the second approach, showing David compassion, empathy and kindness. You would show David that you understand, try and motivate him with your words, and distract him from his anxiety so he can be more productive.

How about your self-talk? Think back of the last time you were feeling stressed, or anxious, or worried. How did you talk to yourself? What words did you choose? Were you compassionate and understanding? Or self-critical and self-judgmental?

I’m willing to bet that your thoughts are mostly self-critical, harsh, and unmotivated. It seems to be easier to show compassion for someone else, than to be self-compassionate. But what does it mean to have compassion? The three main components are
1. Notice that the person is suffering
2. Feeling the suffering of others, a desire to help, a kindness towards the person for their mistakes
3. An understanding that suffering and pain are part of the human experience

Self-compassion is all this, towards yourself. It is realizing that you are in some form of discomfort, be it physical pain, emotional distress, or when you dislike something about yourself. And with this realization you add a sense of acknowledgement and you ask yourself

“What do I need at this moment to make myself feel less stressed/anxious/angry/etc…?”.

The goal of self-compassion is striving towards feeling happy and healthy in the long run, that you honor your own humanness, allowing yourself to make mistakes without beating yourself up for it.

What does your inner-critic sound like? When you are feeling stressed or worried, write down your thoughts. What do you sound like? What words do you use? Are they helpful? Do your words motivate you? And lastly, ask yourself “In order to not feel stressed/anxious/worried, what do I need?”.

24 Mar

Fun things to do from home


There are many blog posts out there that give you tips on what to do now that most of us are quarantined at home. Of course, you could
Watch funny videos
Facetime friends and family
Cook or bake
Do a puzzle

Besides the generic stay-at-home activities, here is a list of things you can try out.

I will be updating this list when I discover new #KeepYourselfBusyTherapy activities. Feel free to email me if you know of an activity I could add to the list.


Found on Instagram:

Work-out classes without leaving your home.  A variety of 20min to 45min workouts from gyms across Toronto

  • Sweat and Tonic (@sweatandtonic) – including a 10 minute meditation, HIIT, Qi Gong and Slow Burn
  • Fit Factory To (@fitfactoryto) – exercises include Abs and HIIT
  • 6ix Cycle (@6ix_cycle) – mostly cardio inspired
  • Fit Squad (@fitsquad_training) – life workouts daily at noon, no equipment necessary
  • Planet Fitness (@planetfitnessca)

Watch wildlife right from your living room.

  • The Georgia Aquarium (@georgiaaquarium) has life cameras so you can observe marine life on demand (but in real-life). Watch beluga whales, take a ride on their ocean voyager cam, watch other fascinating undersea creatures.
  • At Aquarium Pacific (@aquariumpacific) you can watch beautiful wildlife, an awesome shark tank, and colourful jellyfish float by. Who needs to go scuba diving when you can watch it on your phone?

A fan of the orchestra? Look no further. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra (@mtlblog) is broadcasting virtual concerts so you can enjoy a night out, at home.

Virtual painting classes. California painter Wendy MacNaughton (@wendymac) offers virtual painting classes, daily at 10am PST.

Found on the web:

Bored of watching Netflix by yourself? Social distancing all the way. Download the Chrome extension and have a cinema-style night out with friends.

Always wanted to go to Disneyland? Now’s your chance, virtually that is.

Get brainy. Now that you have all the time in the world, why not expand your knowledge on different topics? Udemy calls themselves “the largest education site” and now they offer a lot of their courses for a fraction of the price.

17 Mar

Why choose online therapy?

Our “normal” lives have been paused for a little bit. Covid-19, novel Corona Virus, the pandemic, you’ve heard all these terms in the past few months or so. One of the policies, or good practices if you will, to help #flattenthecurve is called “social distancing”. Some articles say it’s best to keep a distance of two feet between yourself and the next person, other articles say three feet is best.

Experts on the spread of the virus say that social distancing is not only for those who have fallen ill with the virus or for those taking care of people who are sick. Even people who don’t feel sick right now might be carriers of the virus. Meaning that even though you might be feeling fine, you can still spread the virus onto someone else.

In an effort to help limit the spread of the virus, I, as have many other therapists all over the world, have decided to take my brick-and-mortar practice online. Hopefully this switch from face-to-face to laptop-to-laptop therapy is a temporary measure. Personally, I find that in-person therapy works best for me. However, this does not say anything about the efficacy of telehealth therapy. It might say more about my self-criticism when I watch myself talking life on my laptop screen.

Telehealth therapy has been around for more than 20 years, but seems to have increased momentum over the past few months. Several research studies have shown that online therapy is as effective as face-to-face therapy, and this has led to various CBT-based online programs to be created and globally used.

So what are some of the benefits of online therapy?

From the comfort of your own home. As long as you can plant yourself somewhere where you won’t be disturbed and you have privacy, you can sit anywhere you want. Place some pillows around you, have a box of tissues handy, and away you go (well not really, stay seated just like in an office therapy session, but you know what I mean).

Remotely accessible. Now that we are pretty much in lock-down mode, I have heard many people seeking the cozy surroundings of their cottage. No matter how remote your cottage is, if you have wifi or some sort of internet connection, we can keep working on our goals together while you overlook your cottage-lake, mountains or forest view.

No travel time. No more need to schedule in to-and-from driving time to the therapy office. Just make sure you are either behind a laptop or have access to your mobile phone by the time our virtual session starts.


16 Mar

Telemental Health Appointments only starting March 17 2020

I’m reaching out in light of the recent progression of the Coronavirus, to share how I plan to continue working with you while also protecting our health and that of the people around us. There is no right or wrong way to feel about the spread of the virus. I have met people who keep their lives going as usual, visiting friends and restaurants. I have met others who prefer to stay at home as much as possible and limit contact with friends and family.

For me personally, I like to walk on the side of caution. Using the social distancing protocol as a guideline, I will start offering telehealth sessions from Tuesday March 17th 2020 until March 31st 2020. This will be a temporary safety precaution and I will be keeping you updated on any in-office changes in the near future.

Why did you decide to opt for telehealth appointments only for a while? Even if I am as careful as I choose to be, washing my hands for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer after touching objects, not touching my face, not shaking hands and keeping a safe distance of at least 3 feet between my self and the next person, I can still be a carrier of the virus. And even if I don’t become sick, I can still pass it on to an elderly or someone with chronic immune disorders.

What does a telehealth appointment session look like? We will be using a secure online platform called VSee, very similar to Skype. Along with this email, I have sent you an attachment called “Telehealth Therapy Agreement Form” which I ask you to read through, sign and send back to me.
You can use VSee from your computer or from your phone. The first time chatting over the internet might be a little funny, especially since we will both have a small video window with our own faces staring back at us. I would suggest using a post-it note and stick it over this window. Nothing more distracting than seeing myself speak and judging my own bad hair day.

What if I need to cancel my appointment? No problem at all. As with our usual in-office sessions, I ask you to give me at least a 24hr notice, as I do reserve this time for us to speak and work together. If you cancel our session within this 24hr window, you will not be charged a cancellation fee.

When can we start our regular in-office sessions? I will be keeping you updated on any changes I make regarding regular appointments. I will be emailing you with regular updates, sending out more newsletters with tips on how to manage Covid-10 related stress and anxiety.

When can I book in a session? I will be making my schedule more flexible than usual. As you know, most of my availability is during the day, with limited availability in the mornings and evenings. In the context of current events, I will be opening more morning and evening hours and possibly weekends to accommodate your needs and mine.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions

Stay safe and healthy.

Marleen Filimon, RP

20 Dec

When Christmas is not your most wonderful time if year

In my work as a psychotherapist, I see a lot of people working through feelings of grief and trauma. Any other time of year, it is pretty tough to try to wrap your head around rollercoaster-like emotions and upsetting thoughts. It’s about re-establishing a new you, in a new reality, while making an effort to keep moving forward. And at the same time, mentally preparing yourself for those “first occasions after”, the first birthday of the loved one who passed away or the first time you will go back to work after the incident. It feels like you’ve taking three steps forward and two steps back.

Now Christmas time is a whole different ball game. Happy carols blasting out of every speaker system in all stores, radio VJ’s broadcasting all the fun can’t-miss-out-on festivities in Toronto, and most “fun” of all – wishing complete strangers a “Merry Christmas”. A lot of people I work with do not find Christmas the most wonderful time of year. In fact, they dread this time of year more so than any other first-occasion-after.

Norman Vincent Peale could not have said it any better

Change your thoughts and you change your world

Easier said than done, but the principle behind thinking positively has been widely tested and confirmed. I’m not saying that it’s simply a matter of repeating to yourself “It’s the most wonderful time of year” and that you’ll start believing it. What I am saying is that changing the wording of your thoughts will have a big impact on how you feel. What makes this season different from other seasons? Personally, I love it when it’s cold outside and I can see my own breath, wearing sunglasses because the sun is so bright, whilst being bundled up in a comfy sweater and rocking big winter boots. This is not just a Christmas feeling, I could have the same feeling when it started snowing in November or when there is still snow on the ground in March. That is my wonderful time of the year.

Another great quote on the same topic is from Roy Bennett

Start each day with a positive thought and a grateful heart.

When we are faced with loss or a trauma, we tend to avoid thinking as this usually leads to painful thoughts. People will try to isolate themselves so not to be engaged in conversation, they distract themselves in an attempt to block hurtful thoughts. Everyone needs a little reminding of the positive at times. One thing you can help yourself with is starting a gratitude journal. Name three things that happened today that you are grateful for, happy about or made you laugh. They cannot be the same things as yesterday.

A last quote comes Abraham Lincoln

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

This is not the same as avoiding feeling upset or ignoring the past. It’s about changing your outlook on things, trying to see the glass half full instead of half empty (gotta love those cliché’s). What you are going through at the moment is not ever lasting. It is temporary and has an expiration date, when that will be depends largely on your frame of mind, self care practices and resilience. Having a goal to work towards to, having a daily routine, and working out are all great ways to keep your mind focused and resilient.

01 Aug

Meet my intern, Dorothy

By: Marleen Filimon

We are so excited for Dorothy to join are team starting September 2019. She will be a valuable asset to the world of psychotherapy and we can’t wait to see this motivated and ambitious student flourish as a psychotherapist.

Dorothy is looking forward to working with adults on a variety of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and stress. As an intern, she will be under direct supervision of Marleen, ensuring professional counselling services at a reduced rate.

Why did you decide to become a psychotherapist?,

I have decided to become a psychotherapist to further develop my skill-set of providing clients with healthy strategies to become stronger and more resilient in managing the various difficulties they are experiencing. I love helping people and I enjoy working along side clients to strengthen their skills and coping strategies. Life is hard and we all can use a listening ear and help to manage it.

What does a typical session with you look like?

A typical session with me includes me listening and being empathetic to the struggles and hardships that my client is experiencing. I offer a relaxed environment where there is no judgment. Together with my client there is a collaboration of treatment strategies and actions to be worked on. Hope is inspired.

What three words best describe you as a psychotherapist?

Friendly, Empathetic, and non-judgmental

What are your goals after you graduate?

After I graduate I hope to be registered as a psychotherapist and continue my work with individuals who have experienced trauma and other mental health concerns. I also hope to be certified as a Mindfulness therapist, a CBT therapist, as well as continue to learn other effective therapy treatments/strategies. I also hope to travel more and experience other cultures first hand. 

29 Jul

Fight-or-Flight, what does it really mean?

By: Marleen Filimon

You’ve most likely heard of the term “fight-or-flight” system when talking about anxiety and stress. Sometimes it’s referred to as the “fight-or-flight response” or the “fight-flight-freeze system”. But what does it really mean?

During a stressful situation such as preparing to write an exam, or bungy jumping for the first time, or speaking in front of an audience, the body reacts by firing the fight-or-flight response which results in a cascade of hormones that cause physiological changes in the body. This stress response starts in the brain when our eyes or ears detect a stressor and activates the limbic system.


This system sits on top of the brainstem and is made up of three main brain regions (the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the hypothalamus) and a couple of other nearby brain regions. It plays a role in emotional regulation, formation of memories and intuitive responses to our environment.

If the amygdala interprets the images and sounds as a threat, it immediately sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus (aka the command centre of the brain). The hypothalamus maintains homeostasis in the body and communicates through the autonomic nervous system with the rest of the body. It sends out signals to control involuntary body functions such as heart beat, pupil dilation, blood pressure, and digestive processes.

The autonomic nervous system can be subdivided into two further systems

  • The sympathetic nervous system, aka the activation system, that fires the body up to either fight or flee during a stressful event
  • The parasympathetic nervous system, aka the relaxation system, that helps the body to calm down after the stressor is no longer perceived as a threat.

After the hypothalamus receives the distress signal, it sends a signal through the sympathetic nervous system to the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline) into the bloodstream. As this hormone makes it way through the body, some significant physiological changes occur that will help the body to either fight, flee, or freeze in response to the stressor. The heart rate increases to speed up the blood flow through the body, so the muscles get more oxygen to be ready for muscle movements. At the same time, the person breathes more rapidly, blood flows faster to the lungs, dilating the bronchioles, which in turn allows more oxygen to be sent to the brain to heighten alertness. A bunch of other physiological changes occur at the same time, making our body a perfectly functioning machine.

As the initial surge of epinephrine dwindles, the hypothalamus activates a second stress response that consists of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary Glands-Adrenal Glands Axis (HPA axis). The HPA axis makes sure that the sympathetic nervous system remains activated and involves the release of the stress hormone cortisol. With cortisol rushing through our bloodstream, the body stays on active mode and remains alert.


Another brain structure not yet mentioned but extremely important in understanding the fight-or-flight response is the Prefrontal Cortex which sits right behind our forehead and is important in

  • Personality expression
  • Decision making
  • Goal formation
  • Differentiate between conflicting thoughts
  • Differentiate between good vs bad, better vs best
  • Understand the implication of decisions on future consequences

During the fight-or-flight response, the prefrontal cortex receives less blood, resulting in a diminished ability for rational thoughts, cause-and-effect analysis, an inability to focus on small tasks, and incapability of engaging in meaningful relationships.


Once the ears and eyes realize that the threat is over, cortisol levels in the bloodstream decrease and the parasympathetic nervous system sends signals to start a body relaxation reaction. This part of the nervous system is regulated by the cranial, spinal and vagus nerves. The main neurotransmitter released by the parasympathetic nervous system is acetylcholine which helps to reduce the stress response. By reducing this response, the body flows back into homeostasis, meaning that the heart rate and breathing slow down, thus allowing the to body to return to a resting state.

When the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, we regain access over our brain, including the prefrontal cortex. This reinstates the ability for planning, conscious thought, and socialization.

Works Cited

Boeree, C. G. (2009). The Emotional Nervous System. Retrieved from General Psychology:

Bohren, A. (2018). Parasympathetic Nervous System: A complete guide. Retrieved from Cognifit’s Blog:

Greenberg, M. (2018). How PTSD and Trauma Affect Your Brain Functioning. Retrieved from Psychology Today:

HHP. (2018). Understanding the stress response. Retrieved from Harvard Health Publishing:

Hurley, T. (2018). Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System to Decrease Stress and Anxiety. Retrieved from Canyon Vista:

NUROBODI. (2018). The Limbic System. Retrieved from NUROBODI:

SoP. (2017). Prefrontal Cortex. Retrieved from The Science of Psychotherapy:

03 Aug

Are you stuck in your comfort zone?

By: Marleen Filimon

When you evaluate your life, the way it is now, are you happy with where you ended up?
Or do you look at your life now and say “This is not what I had in mind for myself”.

If you are not where you want to be in your life, it is probably because you are stuck in your comfort zone.

A comfort zone is not necessarily a good zone to be in. It is a zone where you feel at ease with who you are, you know what to expect and how you will react. It’s a zone where you feel (somewhat) in control of your environment and where painful emotions such as stress and anxiety are at its minimum.

Sound familiar?

Being comfortable is great and sometimes needed. But being too comfortable in your own surroundings, while wondering why you have not achieved all the goals you have set out for yourself, creates a sense of stuckness. It sucks you into a vacuum of vicious cycles, in which you suffer internally but are not able to come up with the next move.

The good news is that there are ways of getting yourself unstuck and moving forward, learning more about yourself and challenging yourself. Growth is something we all strive for, but also something that is difficult to obtain. Stepping out of your comfort zone, into the unknown, can be scary. Don’t let fear tell you what you can and cannot do.

Here are four ways to get you started:

  1. What is out there?

What is out of your comfort zone? What are some things you would like to achieve but are afraid of because of possible failure or embarrassment? Start becoming familiar with your fears and discomforts. You can only work on what you know, not what you don’t know.

  1. Goals

Set some goals for yourself, but keep them small. Minimize the risk of “failing”, keep your goals small and set yourself up for success. Daily goals are better to start you off on the right track than yearly goals.

  1. Don’t let fear weigh you down

Get comfortable with the discomfort of pushing yourself. Some challenges will be tougher than other ones, but how else will you step out of your comfort zone? Fear is not something to be afraid of. Let it guide you and motivate you to keep pushing yourself.

  1. Be honest with yourself

You know when you are making excuses for why you should start working out tomorrow instead of today. Don’t kid yourself, be honest. You want success? You go get it!

Enjoy the little successes that you will accomplish. Be proud of what you have achieved.

12 May

Why bad things happen when you make assumptions

By: Marleen Filimon

Assumptions… Everyone makes them, every day. They are automatic thoughts, clouding our judgements, and fueled by our inner language.

Assumptions are different than gut feelings. Whatever your subconscious, or your ID in Freud’s words, is trying to tell you, is what makes up our gut feelings. That little emotion you get when you first meet someone. Not the little voice, but the very first feeling, instinctively knowing whether someone is a good or a bad person.

Then that little voice inside your head, your assumptions, takes over. It’ll tell you why someone is a good or a bad person, or why the situation is good or bad for you. This little voice might sound like it’s wording your gut feeling, but it’s actually made up of values and morals you’ve learned from society, from your parents, and from the world around you.

We take this little voice for the truth, and follow its commands and suggestions. Does it tell you that people will laugh at you if you speak your mind? Or that your spouse was too friendly with the waiter so they must be flirting? Or that people will judge you when you go to the gym, so you stay at home instead?

Learning to distinguish our emotions from our thoughts, is an important factor in learning to see things for what they are. Not for what we think they are. Making assumptions does not always mean that it is the wrong assumption. Sometimes you might get lucky and assume right. But 95% of the time, making an assumption means that you have made up your mind and are not accepting other explanations. This in turn can lead to feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, stress, and so on. It can lead to fights and arguments, misunderstandings, and even divorce.

When you learn to put some space between you and your thoughts, you start seeing different possibilities, and create a different relationship with your thoughts. Instead of taking them for the truth, you start to see them for what they are. You stop assuming, start seeing the reality, and become aware of how your thoughts influence how you feel.

Next time you have a negative thought, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Is my thought the absolute truth? For example, if you’re thinking that people will laugh at you when you go to the gym, is that the truth? No, it is more likely that everyone’s too busy focusing on their own workout and won’t notice you at all.
  2. How does this thought make me feel? What feelings are you holding on to? Notice any anger, resentment, feeling of guilt, or jealousy.
  3. How would things be different if I did not hold onto this thought? What are the possible benefits, alternate beliefs, or feasible alternatives that open up if you would not go along with your initial negative thought? 

Ready to give it a try?