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Unless you have been living in a sound proofed room with no internet connection or TV for the past few months, then you might have noticed that there is a lot of anger out there, both on our doorsteps and seemingly across North America. The pandemic has brought with it anxiety, financial insecurity, grief, loneliness, and fear for many people and these emotions can often be the good friend of anger. In addition to the pandemic, society currently seems to be permanently on the brink, with anger toward governments, individual politicians, anger toward the opioid crisis, anger toward people living on our streets, anger toward systemic racism, police brutality, and for some people anger toward progress, anger toward change, anger toward diversity and open-mindedness.


Anger is our brain’s response to something perceived as a threat. This could be a threat to our or someone else's physical safety, or it could be a threat to our psychological safety and our emotional safety. Though anger feels intense and all encompassing at the time, it’s not usually the emotion driving our response. For this reason, it makes sense to think of anger as a secondary emotion, that means if we look underneath what’s happening, there’s usually something else there pulling that trigger. Often what lies beneath is related to fear, sadness, embarrassment, shame, disgust, or hurt.


The Purpose of Anger


Anger has a purpose and like all of our parts, anger has good intentions. Think of it like anger is our emotional bodyguard and like an effective bodyguard when it senses a threat it acts immediately. Act first, think later. This happens because anger triggers our fight, flight, freeze, fawn response – it is a response to something our emotional brain sees as a threat and when our brain’s threat detector goes off, we have no access to our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that allows for logical and rational thought. It is offline.

Here’s an example of how anger works for us. If we see something that is horrific, like someone hurting someone we love, that anger we feel gives us the energy to act. That is its purpose, it gives us that drive to do something, to object, to stand up for something, to stop harm happening. Another way our anger part works for us is by protecting our emotions. For instance, if a person is scared of their partner leaving them because they have a core fear of being abandoned, then being angry is going to be easier to handle than being emotionally overwhelmed and upset. This is especially important for men as society tends to devalue emotional expression in men, but it promotes and rewards aggression and anger. Watch a game of NHL hockey if you aren’t convinced of this.


Anger can also protect us by pushing people away. If our brain senses a threat to our emotional safety, say perhaps a friend has betrayed us or a family member said something cruel, rather than face that hurt and pain our brain chooses to react with anger to push away any possible upset. This is safety from emotional overwhelm by avoidance.

So is Anger a Problem?


It’s true, anger is a part of being human and it absolutely has its place in our world. Anger though can be frightening for others and it can be dangerous for those who have a tendency to lose it. In addition to the interpersonal risks, out of control anger and rage are also hard on our physical selves. In fact, anger can activate physiological changes that put us temporarily at a higher risk of a heart attack, or other cardiovascular event, for two hours after the bout of anger. Prolonged periods of anger have also been linked to chronic headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and poor immune system health. These physiological effects are due to the chemical and hormonal changes our bodies put into effect to help us deal with the perceived threat. So you might experience an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, more shallow breathing, blood flowing to the limbs or face, a shaking feeling, or a higher temperature (hence the expression "made my blood boil").

Anger Solutions


Pushing anger away, or suppressing it, just doesn’t work. What we can do is change how we react to our anger, it may not seem like it in those moments of rage, but we do have a small space in which we can change how we respond to situations. It's not about not feeling angry, it's about not acting on the anger. By breaking down the brain's programming we can start to work on practicing new ways of reacting and new ways of calming our nervous system.


To get to the root of the anger, it’s incredibly important to figure out what the threat is that you are responding to and it might not be what you think. Just because the anger comes up in certain situations (like when driving or when at work) it doesn’t mean it’s actually anything to do with that situation. It’s likely that situation is just triggering some event that happened previously, weeks or months or years ago. When we figure out what that trigger is, we can be curious about why it’s showing up and how to best work with it. Try to take a look under your anger and see what’s there. It's also important to remember that anger is just a part of you, you are not your anger and most people really don't enjoy losing their sh*t.

Therapy cannot fix 2020, but if this article resonates with you and you would like to book a counselling session about anger issues then please email me on info@helenwhitehead.ca or visit my website www.helenwhitehead.ca

Thank you for reading!

Helen Whitehead, M.C., R.C.C.

Registered Clinical Counsellor, North Vancouver, B.C.

#anger #rage #selfdiscoverycounselling

Updated: Sep 12


What is Trauma Anyway?


It's a word we hear all the time, but a topic that we maybe don't speak about enough. Trauma in general is an emotional and/or physical reaction to an event or ongoing experience that is beyond our ability to cope. Experiencing trauma can have long lasting effects on a person’s ability to feel safe, ability to regulate their emotions and navigate interpersonal relationships. The symptoms of trauma can be emotional and they can also be physical due to the constant triggering of the nervous system, often leading to digestive issues and sometimes chronic conditions related to stress and irregular levels of cortisol seen in trauma survivors.


Types of Trauma

  • Acute Trauma: a single incident that is completely overwhelming for us, such as a car accident, a traumatic death, a sexual assault, witnessing a violent crime, a workplace accident, or experiencing a natural disaster.

  • Complex Trauma: this occurs when a person has experienced chronic trauma over a long period of time, months and often years. It is often interpersonal (as opposed to something being witnessed or an event) and ongoing. People experiencing complex trauma usually have little or no control over their situation and are completely trapped. It can include child sexual assault, child neglect, intimate partner violence, and living in a war zone.

  • Intergenerational Trauma – is untreated pain passed down through generations. This has been seen to a devastating effect here in Canada where it’s common among children of survivors of the Canadian residential school system and their communities. This type of trauma was also noticed with children of holocaust victims. It can be seen in individual families too, when the emotional and unspoken burdens of our parents and grandparents take their toll on us.

The Four Threat Responses: Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn


Our brain, specifically our limbic system, does a great job in scanning for and responding to threats. It will activate our sympathetic nervous system to get our body ready to run (flight), to fight, or in really threatening situations it will go into freeze, by putting our slow down system or parasympathetic nervous system into overdrive. The fawn response is the last of the four trauma responses where instead of freezing, we go into an appeasing or codependent state that can leave traumatized individuals extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

When we have experienced trauma, especially trauma in our younger years, those fear responses can become very sensitive to triggers. Our brain just doesn’t recognize the difference between a trigger and a real threat and for some people they can become stuck in what seems like a permanent fear response that is often seen in folks with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Other symptoms often seen include flashbacks of the trauma, that may appear in small nonlinear fragments, as often our memory is impaired (our brain’s way of trying to protect us) at times of overwhelming emotional stress. There may be nightmares, insomnia, depression, trouble concentrating, numbness, a reliance on substances or alcohol to escape distressing thoughts, and sometimes feelings of intense shame. There is no “normal” way to react to traumatic events, they are, by their very nature, outside of our scope of understanding and the way individuals react to trauma is as unique as the experience of trauma itself.



Trauma Informed Counselling


You might have seen the phrase “trauma-informed” as you’ve scrolled through the websites of therapists (yes, including mine) but what does it actually mean? Well it’s a statement that is designed to demonstrate that as trauma counsellors we are aware of the possible emotional and physical effects of trauma and the prevalence of different types of trauma. We understand the importance of safety, the importance of figuring out exactly what safety is; and we are knowledgeable about the neurobiological impacts of trauma and we have strategies and approaches that can help with nervous system regulation. Most importantly, in my view, is that we appreciate the uniqueness of trauma, the importance of the individual experience of it, the strength of those who survive it, and the hope for better.



Reaching Out


Though it can be difficult to reach out for help, especially for trauma that happened many years ago, it is never too late to get support and never too late for healing. Trauma counselling is a process of finding safety, understanding the triggers that your nervous system reacts to and the different parts of you that have developed to try and feel safe. Those parts of you are often very young and it can take some time to build up trust and connection between you as you are now and the younger inner parts of you.

In trauma counselling, we work on this connection and we spend time finding ways to cope with distressing emotions and thoughts. For some people it can be important to openly talk about the trauma itself and for some people they would rather just work on how it affects them in the present. There is no right or wrong way – it’s whatever is needed by you and it is at whatever pace you are comfortable with. If you have any questions about trauma counselling, please get in touch with me on info@helenwhitehead.ca or visit my trauma counselling services page.

Thank you for reading.

Helen Whitehead M.C., R.C.C.

Registered Clinical Counsellor

North Vancouver, B.C.


#trauma #traumainformed #innerchild #ptsd

Updated: Oct 2

There are many definitions that exist under the LGBTQ2+ umbrella. Queer, trans, 2spirit, non-binary, lesbian, bi, and other expressions of diverse sexuality or gender identity. One thing that folk under that banner have in common is that LGBTQ2+ youth and adults in Canada have an increased risk of mental health challenges. Those challenges can include feelings of shame, suicidal ideation, anger, low self esteem, substance use, depression, and can negatively impact relationships.


The mental health disparity between the general population and LGBTQ2+ individuals is often attributed to the theory of minority stress – a term coined by Ilan Meyer in 2003 in his groundbreaking research with sexual minority populations. In explaining this theory, Meyer established four processes that included: prejudice; stigma; concealment versus disclosure; and internalized homonegativity.


Minority Stress

  1. The first process of minority stress, prejudice, includes factors such as workplace discrimination; physical or verbal harassment and assault; and systemic or institutionalized discrimination such as religious trauma or working for a company that has transphobic or homophobic policies.

  2. The second process, stigma, relates to the stress that sexual or gender minority individuals experience in their social interactions. In understanding this, it’s important to note that perceived stigma is equally as harmful as actual stigma, as this causes the minority individual to be chronically on guard for any negative interaction.

  3. Concealment versus disclosure. The third process relates to the stressors involved in concealing identity for fear of discrimination. So this could be a teenager who is bisexual but knows their friends or family wouldn’t approve, or it could be a person in their 50s who works in an environment that is not welcoming to diversity and so they keep their sexuality secret.

  4. The fourth process is internalized homonegativity/internalized transphobia. This process is possibly the most harmful of all, as it takes all the other negative factors into account and turns them inward, creating an effect where the LGBTQ2+ individual can develop an internal sense of self-hatred, low self esteem, isolation, and lack of self value.

These processes help to explain why some LGBTQ2+ folk have more mental health challenges than non-LGBTQ2+ people. In addition, though we live in a relatively tolerant country, it’s worth remembering that hate crimes against the queer community have risen dramatically in British Columbia over the last few years so those incidents of discrimination and prejudice are still happening and they can have a deeply traumatic impact.

Counselling Safety


Along with the disparity in mental wellness, LGBTQ2+ people also tend to seek less help from mental health professionals. This is thought to be due to the fear of rejection and stigma that marginalized folk experience. Can you imagine going to your first counselling session and having your therapist wrongly assume the gender of your partner? It happens, and that type of experience is exactly what stops LGBTQ2+ folk seeking help. This is also relevant for relationship counselling, as it can be challenging for people in non-traditional relationships to reach out for help. Whether it be a gay couple wanting marriage counselling, someone in a poly-amorous relationship needing help with communication, or a trans/cis couple dealing with family conflict. Everyone should be able to get the support they need without fear of being judged or treated in any way other than with care, respect and with empathy. Everyone deserves to feel safe.


Working with Queer Clients


Counselling for LGBTQ2+ clients often includes talking about identity, the coming out process, family of origin beliefs, and personal experiences of stigma and of course resilience and strength. It can also include work around confidence building, processing trauma, establishing a sense of self and finding ways to connect to and create community. In other words – building Pride in identity.

If you are LGBTQ2+ in B.C. and are needing some mental health support, or are starting to question your identity and would like to talk to a therapist, you are welcome to contact me. My office is based in North Vancouver but I also offer online counselling to people across British Columbia. As a member of the community myself, I am dedicated to supporting other LGBTQ2+ folks in whatever struggle you are going through. If you are unable to pay for mental health support, or don’t have extended health, Qmunity have a great free counselling program you can read about here: https://qmunity.ca/get-support/counselling/


If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me: info@helenwhitehead.ca or visit my services page to read more.


Thanks for reading 😊

Helen Whitehead M.C., R.C.C.

Registered Clinical Counsellor

North Vancouver, B.C.

#minoritystress #queercounselling #lgbtq #pride #gayfriendly #loveislove #selfdiscoverycounselling

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