Episode 35: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion with Dr. Rami Nijjar

Uncategorized Mar 29, 2021

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion with Dr. Rami Nijjar

Kendall:  Welcome an amazing guest coming from Montreal. I'm so excited to introduce you to Dr. Rami Nijjar. I would love just to have you introduce yourself and share a little bit about how you shine your light on the planet and what your mission is here.

 Dr. Rami Nijjar: I am a psychologist who specializes in sex and relationships. I practice across, Canada so in Montreal and in Vancouver, with some colleagues in the Bay area too, so kind of  been around learning with a whole bunch of different folks over the last 15 years, 20 years almost. I just opened a clinic called resilient psychotherapy and our specialty is sex and relationships, but through a mindful and self-compassionate lens. We're kind of looking at how we balance out our attachment needs in a way that helps us be secure and calm in relationships and in our sex lives in such a wonderful journey over the last year and just, you know, training, associates and students and developing new workshop materials that have been well received so far and just seeing how effective this work has been. It's really exciting to get to talk about it, really exciting to get, to share it with the world. It's kind of like the combination of, of, um, a lot of, you know, a lot of work with a lot of fantastic experts.

Kendall: Can you give us some of your wisdom and background on what helps somebody move through those different attachment styles and recognize their own attachment style so that they can feel really calm and secure for themselves?

Dr. Rami Nijjar: I've come to really appreciate over the years that it's a lot more of a dynamic than, you know, strict categories, helpful when we move away from the binary is and just appreciate what can happen within a relationship when the balance is off. What I mean by that is, you know, in any relationship in order to like create health in the relationship and also maintain health for yourself, you have to have that balance between being focused on yourself and being focused on the other person. If one person in the relationship for whatever reason might that be illness, might that be life stress, might that be processing trauma? If they become too, self-focused, it, it kind of sets the other person into being too other focused. 

Mindfulness is a wonderful way to work with our attention. Though when we're processing, uh, relational trauma, when we're talking processing or attachment stuff, it's hard to put attention on ourselves because there's just so much going on inside, right? So the self-compassion piece blends this really beautiful container and tool for one to be able to be with themselves and what's happening with themselves or that they can then, um, also be, um, responsible in their relationship. Right. So that's how I would, I have come to understand and to work with attachment.

Kendall: Tell me a little bit more, a little bit more about your container of self-compassion, because I think that, that really is kind of the key to be able to access to mindfulness is that space of compassion.

Dr. Rami Nijjar: There's a couple different psychologists that work with, you know, really are pioneers in this field of understanding how we create a self-compassionate container, one being Kristin Neff, who really uses the three components of mindful self-compassion. One being aware of oneself to connecting with the common humanity of whatever we might be feeling and then three treating what we're feeling with kindness. It's kind of mixed of, you know, noticing that we're feeling something validating that it's human to feel. Then also giving ourselves the nurturing that we need to, um, to kind of, you know, hold and work with those emotions process, those emotions really right, as they say, if you feel it, you can heal it. Right. And in our lives, we have co we often out of, you know, out of innocent, the innocent need to survive. We've created a lot of ways to kind of escape the emotional experience because it feels alienating. It feels like there's something wrong with us appeals invalidating, so that mindful self compassion across, validate themselves in their emotions to nurture that of cells. And then of course the Buddhist psychologists who are abroad would take more of like a rain approach because it also really similar, which is like recognizing what's going on in your body, recognizing how you're feeling, you know, acknowledging it fully investigating it during it. Also just really getting, getting intimate with one's emotions in a way that's not overwhelming, nor is it kind of invalidating.

Kendall: What are some tools or ways that you can help people move through that emotion without it feeling so overwhelming and all consuming?

Dr. Rami Nijjar: I believe that the amount of emotional we're going to experience is kind of, it's related to the amount of stress that we're under, right. And, uh, when we're overstressed and under-resourced, uh, we're going to have more, are, are the volume on our emotions are likely going to be turned up. They're going to be more overwhelming. Right? And so sometimes before even going into the container of our bodies, we kind of have to look at our environment and scenes and see what self care looks like in order to bring the stress levels down to a level where the emotions aren't aren't as overwhelming. Right? So that could be, um, looking at creating boundaries for yourself in your relationships that could be taking time for self care and that could be, you know, taking time to connect with nature or to, to do soothing kind of calming activities for the body, yoga baths, et cetera, et cetera, in order to then make it so that your, the emotions aren't so overwhelming when you're going in.

Then also if it's hard to kind of change the environment around oneself, which can often happen if you're in, you know, complicated relationship that it's hard to get out of, or if you're living in your family home still, um, it can be really hard to change the environment to the point that your emotions are going to be palatable. Right? So DBT dialectical behavior therapy has a beautiful set of tools around just being able to, um, regulate those emotions out of overwhelm. So really using your senses a lot, like holding an ice cube, smelling something strong, learning how to tolerate ways of just stress in your body and that kind of a thing. I you know, the shorter answer then would be, regulating overwhelming emotions really depends on, you know, it depends on both factors within the person and outside of the person and you know, what the broader resources are.

Kendall: What are some different ways to maybe frame their experience that you can think of that might help them think about their situation in a different way?

Dr. Rami Nijjar: If I'm understanding the question, if someone's been to therapy kind of long-term, if they've tried a lot of things and they're still getting overwhelmed and they understand their experience well to that kind of model of stress and resources, like looking at the idea that as people we're more similar than we are different, you know, and our early environment and early relationships can kind of teach us, create stories that we have around ourselves and the world around us that make us more inclined to moving into stressful environments. Right. And when we can look at ourselves in context and kind of see all the experiences that we've been through with that may have created storylines around our lives or our, who we are as a person or our self-worth, that might propel us towards stress, you know, that can help, help being able to look at without the lens of shame that often comes with it, which is really useful for one can kind of look at okay. So it makes sense that I would, I would gear myself up for stressful environments now that I know that I do that out of an old survival instinct, what kind of understanding of myself might need to change in order to self, right.

Kendall: I've often heard people come to me and come to other people in the community who say, well, I understand where this is coming from. Like, they have the conscious awareness of their, the way that they were raised, their past storylines, the things that they're sort of creating in their own environment to perpetuate the situation, but it's then making that shift into, okay now how do I change my experience or my narrative of the experience so that my reality becomes something different. And they think, um, that's where I think sexuality can be a beautiful tool to kind of bridge that gap between the, the thoughtfulness and the overthinking, and really starting to justify and looking at a situation between making it a human reality. I think that sexuality is that physical bridge to maybe bring it into the body to start to transition some of those things. What's your perspective or, or what thoughts do you have on that?

Dr. Rami Nijjar: I think that the body and sexuality, and even being able to connect enough with your physical experience, to be able to know what you like and what you don't like that in and of itself can be pretty, it packages so many aspects of therapy, right? Focusing in, on oneself, relaxing the body, being present with what comes up in the body validating the body, you know, and also then noticing your own unique needs and learning to communicate those, right. In that way, sex in and of itself is therapy. It can be therapy, right? And it can especially be confusing when it's not working for some reason, whether it's like a difficulty orgasming or with a rectangle, like issues or desire, sex community come this very refusing the zone. And we don't often talk about sex, especially when, all right. So folks really get lost in that experience of this must just be me. I must be the only one who's having these kinds of problems. I shouldn't talk about it. I'm broken, like all these kinds of this negative self-talk around it, um, where I've come to really appreciate sex as being this, like this vantage point from what she can really understand here, most basic, you know, needs desires wants the key to your mental health, your physical health, your relationship.

Kendall: Can you tell me a little bit more about how you can create a safe space for people to explore that part of their lives? As we said, it's kind of one of those things that not everybody is comfortable exploring. They feel like they're maybe on an Island and this is only happening to me, but really it's very, very common across the board for a lot of people. So, um, how do you start to guide people into that container, to where it is a safe place to explore sexuality?

Dr. Rami Nijjar: I think giving folks the permission to even talk about sex in and being comfortable enough to bring it up, sets the tone for it being a safe space to talk about in my experience, when given the chance a lot of people have a lot, they would like to say about their sex lives and just haven't really had the place to do so or the permission to do so and then in terms of working with a deeper this is this is kind of a passion project of mine over the last year, where after doing my training in parent, like doing a whole bunch of research in parent child relationships and, um, the relationship patterns of the parents, of children with bipolar disorder, the training in sex and couples therapy, I then started my career in Vancouver, where I worked, um, running a lot of different sex related groups at the Vancouver general hospital and their sex medicine department, including groups for women with low desire, men post prostate cancer treatment women with vulvodynia, which is a vulva pain that interferes with intercourse. At the same time, um, got training and experience in mindful self-compassion. I've kind of picked and chose the things that over the years, seem to be most effective across the board for folks together into an eight week group that can be taken by couples or individuals that helps us explore attachment and use sex therapy as a way to or sex therapy tools rather as a way to navigate that sphere.

During today's episode we talk about:

  • What is Dr. Rami Nijjar's mission?
  • What are some tools or ways that can help people move through emotions without it feeling overwhelming and all consuming?
  • How are mindfulness and self-compassion connected and why are they important? 
  • What are some of the different ways people can frame their experience to help them think about it in a different way?
  • How can sexuality can bridge that gap between thoughtfulness and the overthinking?
  • How does Dr. Rami Nijjar create a safe for people to explore their sexuality? 

Memorable Moments:

  • "in any relationship in order to like create health in the relationship and also maintain health for yourself, you have to have that balance between being focused on yourself and being focused on the other person" -Dr. Rami Nijjar
  • "I've come to really appreciate sex as being this, like, um, this vantage point from what she can really understand here, most basic, you know, needs desires wants the key to your mental health, your physical health, your relationship." - Dr. Rami Nijjar 

Connect with Margie:

In light, in love, and in gratitude, K


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