No Bad Parts

No Bad Parts

I really enjoy watching the Disney movie “Inside Out,” and I often recommend the film to my clients. The protagonist of the movie is a little girl named Riley and her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. These emotional characters help Riley face her daily trials and tribulations. For instance when Anger takes over the console of the mind, Riley starts throwing temper tantrums. Our emotions are similar to having these characters inside us, when different Parts become dominant, different thoughts and beliefs, carried by their perspective Parts, may have control over our behaviours. The modality called the Internal Family Systems (IFS) refers to our inner characters as Parts, which are like family members within us, who interact or argue with each other as our family members sometimes will do in real life.

In the book “No Bad Parts”, Dr. Richard Schwartz, the creator of IFS, talks about how Parts can be divided into the three main categories below:

Exiles: Exiles take on the painful emotions of past traumatic events. They often act like a wounded child, being exiled deep inside our psyche, feeling unloved, worthless, shame, and emptiness. In order to ensure that the Exiles are hidden from our consciousness, the Parts that are called Managers and Firefighters are forced to be generated.

Managers: Managers are protectors who try to control everything in our lives, ensuring that we don’t come in contact with our vulnerable or traumatic experiences, and avoiding emotions that we don’t want to experience again. The Critic is a common type of Manager that only sees mistakes and uses criticism as a means to help, thereby motivating us to attain higher job achievements, greater wealth, and positive affirmations. There are also other types of Managers such as Workaholics, Perfectionists, and the Highly Educated one to name a few, but no matter how hard these managers try, they can never heal their Exiled inner child.

Firefighters: Firefighters are a different kind of protector. If the Manager is there to prevent any incentives that can trigger the Exile, the Firefighters mission is to put out the fires at any cost when the Exile’s pain is triggered. The Firefighters will numb or escape painful feelings with more aggressive actions than what the Managers use, such as addictive behaviours with alcohol or drug use, eating disorders, sex, self-harm or even suicide, in extreme cases.

Now let’s pause for a moment and examine our different Parts. I may have a Part that wants to lose weight, while at the same time, I have another Part that tells me I must dine at a buffet. It is also possible when a Part wants to take a good rest, but another Part suddenly tells us not to relax in order to achieve success in our pursuits. I have a client who has several internal Parts and are working very hard every day. For example, when the Hard Working Part is writing a business proposal, Anxiety might interfere by saying, “Are you sure you can meet the deadline? Will the client like this proposal?” Meanwhile the Critic Part also might say, “Why are you so stupid? You can’t do anything well.” When facing the discomfort caused by Anxiety, Play might suggest watching TV, swiping the phone or playing video games. Then Smoking may invite you to enjoy a cigarette, and Binge Eating may start ordering lots of takeout. These Parts appear just to divert attention and escape to face anxiety.

Many psychology modalities try to correct these so-called negative behaviours or thoughts in different ways, but IFS believes that we do not need to push away these emotions or behaviours that might be dragging our lives down, nor is it necessary to beg these Parts to change. Just like the Movie “Inside out”, Joy tries to push Sadness away from Riley’s life, but in the end, she accepts Sadness for who she is, understanding that she serves an important purpose in Riley’s life. Joy is only one element of true happiness, Sadness and other painful emotions make life more meaningful. 

IFS believes that every Part is there with good intentions, and even with extreme, sometimes seemingly unhelpful or destructive actions like Managers and Firefighters, they are doing their best to protect us. Through listening, understanding, and discovering the purpose of each inner Part, we can improve their mutual relationships. When we find our true self (Self) who is caring, curious, empathic, and compassionate, as the leader of the internal family, the healing journey begins. 

​If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Articles by Cecilia:

The Benefit of Laughter

The Benefit of Laughter

Did you know that healthy children can laugh 400 times in a day but adults only average 15 times? It seems that we all need more laughter in our lives. But, does it really matter? Is laughter the best medicine?

The Benefit of Laughter

Well, research indicates that laughter is beneficial for our stress levels and our overall wellbeing. There are immediate short-term benefits and there are great long-term effects:

Short Term:

  1. Reduce stress: Laughter changes the perspective of stressful events and we can view them more as challenges and therefore less threatening. The relaxation of your muscles makes you less tense which reduces the symptoms of stress.
  2. Stimulation: Laughter increases your breathing and the oxygen boost stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. And, the brain releases more endorphins.
  3. Exercise: Laughing is an exercise for the diaphragm, abs and shoulders and also leaves them more relaxed.
  4. Contagious: Laughter is contagious. It effects the others around you and brings increased benefits to a group. You will laugh more at a comedy with a group than on your own.

Long Term:

  1. Immune system: The positive thoughts that accompany laughter releases neuropeptides that help fight stress and general illnesses. While you have banished the negative thoughts that would otherwise flood your body with harmful and stress producing chemicals.
  2. Pain: Laughter is believed to produce natural painkillers to ease pain.
  3. Depression: Laughter provides a long term and beneficial effect by reducing the symptoms of depression.
  4. Fake it: Research indicates that the positive effects of laughter are not dependant on whether it is real or faked. Like many things, faking it works and, as a bonus, usually leads to it becoming real over the long term.
  5. Social: As in ‘contagious’ above, the group benefits of laughter can lead to an improvement in the quality of your social life.

You don’t find that much is funny in life? Just give it a try and try to find the funny side. Laugh at your bloopers instead of cursing. Enjoy a good comedy – live is often best. Observe yourself after a good laugh. Feeling good and relaxed? That’s laughter at work.

Befriend your Nervous System

Befriend your Nervous System


Our brain is wired to constantly scan for potential dangers and safety in our surroundings, even if we do so without realizing it. We read thousands of social cues when we interact with others, such as facial expressions, voice tones, body language, and more. Dr Stephen Porgers developed the Polyvagal Theory which describes the process of the neural circuits assessing whether the situations are dangerous or safe. He called it neuroception. This ability to distinguish cues of safety, danger, life-threatening situations, or people in a split second is learned throughout our early childhood development stages by observing our caregivers and from life experiences.

In Polyvagal Theory, there are three stages of the autonomic nervous system: Immobilization, Mobilization, and Social Engagement. Deb Dana, a US social worker and expert in Polyvagal theory, describes these three responses as an autonomic ladder. When we are at the top of the ladder there is a state of social engagement. We feel calm and want to connect or interact with others. When our bodies sense signs of danger, we move to the middle of the ladder. At this Mobilization stage, our heart rate speeds up, our breath is short, and our body will release adrenaline to prepare us for harm. We might ruminate with negative thoughts, feel anxious, and want to run away or lash out. While we continue to encounter extreme life-threatening danger, our nervous system starts to perform intensely. When all else fails, we will fall to the bottom of the ladder to the Immobilization mode causing us to become frozen, numb, dissociated, shut down, or collapse. You might describe ourselves as hopeless, helpless, abandoned, lonely, or too tired to think or act.

We shift up and down on different levels of the Polyvagal “ladder” every day. By being aware of what ladder level we are on at any given moment and understanding how we move between levels, we can be in control to move up if we are on a lower part of the ladder. We can set a specific time-out moment to check our status according to the schedule. When we notice that we are in the middle or bottom of the ladder we can say to ourselves, “Thank you, nervous system, for trying to protect me from danger. I am safe now.” Then we can do the activities that help us move up to the top of the ladder such as taking a break, going for a walk, doing some exercise, or having something to eat or drink. Social engagement behaviours will occur when the neuroception is feeling safe. 

Here is an example of shifting through different states of the ladder. I was enjoying a conversation with my close friends, feeling happy and connected (top of the ladder). The conversation turned to the current COVID situation and I started comparing my life to their friend’s life overseas. I started to feel frustrated that I haven’t seen my family for over two years or even been able to travel abroad (moving down the ladder). I disconnected from the conversation and was not able to pay attention to what my friend was saying (shutting down and moving to the bottom of the ladder). After dinner, I took a walk with my friend and felt more relaxed (beginning to move up the ladder). I started to tune in to the conversation again. I talked about the possibility of travelling and goals for the future (back to the top of the ladder). 

When we befriend our autonomic nervous system, we can then begin to understand our internal response patterns. When we are aware of our movement on the Polyvagal “ladder,” we can successfully manoeuvre to safety and connection. 

​If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Say No to Emotional Blackmail

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Nonviolent Communication

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Re-entering the Outside World

Re-entering the Outside World

Travelling post-Covid

In the 2015 movie “Room”, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, a mother and her son Jack are held captive in a single-room outbuilding for nearly seven years.  During this time, “Ma” works to keep her son healthy and happy by structuring their days with physical and mental exercises, keeping a healthy diet, limiting TV-watching time, and a strict regime of body and oral hygiene. Because it is all he has ever known, Jack believes that only the things in his immediate world are “real.” Ma, unwilling to disappoint Jack with a life she cannot give him, allows him to believe that the rest of the world exists only on television.  When they eventually escape, Ma must begin the process of relearning how to interact with the larger world, and Jack, who is overwhelmed by new experiences and people (and the realisation that the world actually exists beyond TV), wants only to return to the safety of the world he knows – the world of his Room.

I recently ventured out of Hong Kong for the first time in two years.  My husband and I planned the trip in order to bring our son home – he’d been delayed in Australia because of Hong Kong’s ban on flights from “high risk” countries.  We intended to meet him in Thailand, do a 14-day “wash out”, and then fly back to Hong Kong together.  The trip was functional in nature, with the goal of getting him back to Hong Kong and regular school.  It took weeks of organising, securing various approvals, passes, and certificates, and an off-the-charts level of patience.

About a week before we were set to travel, the HK government rescinded the flight ban, which meant we could potentially fly our son straight back to the city.  This prompted a debate:  Should we still go?  Was it necessary? Should we spend the money?  Would we rather wait and take an actual holiday later?  What if we got Covid while overseas?  Would we be able to get proper medical attention?  Would we be able to get back into Hong Kong?  And on, and on.

Eventually, having reminded ourselves that we both loved Thailand and we hadn’t been outside of Hong Kong for what felt like ages, we decided to go. Being effectively ‘grounded’ (or as some of our friends described it, “imprisoned”) for the last two years had taught us two things:  first, that life is short, and it is richer with travel; second, that we’d taken for granted our ability to see friends and family whenever we wanted.  Like most Hong Kong people, we were used to hopping on a plane at a moment’s notice, and living away from our families had not precluded us from seeing them.  We saw an opportunity to reconnect through this trip.  We decided to turn it into a long-awaited holiday, and invited the rest of our family and some friends to join us.  With the decision made, we felt a surge of joy and anticipation.  We had something to look forward to.

While we fully expected that travel in a post-Covid world would be a logistical hassle, what we didn’t anticipate was how it would feel to be out in the world again.  We experienced walking mask-free down public streets and entering restaurants without checking in.  We went to bars that were packed wall-to-wall with people (again, no masks).  We saw people shaking hands and hugging again.  We made plans and reservations for meals and activities, without having to check whether venues were open.  We were able to go out without carrying our phones.

How did it feel?  Honestly, it was a strange sensation, which led us to reflect on how we’d coped with the last two years.  We felt happy, sad, frustrated, regretful, guilty, optimistic, and resigned all at the same time.  The joy and appreciation of rejoining the outside world sat very uncomfortably against a sense of grief at having missed two years with people we love.  Had we done the right thing in avoiding travelling to see our family and friends, simply because of government restrictions?  Should we have pushed ourselves harder to just cope with multiple periods (and the expense) of hotel quarantine, for the reward of spending precious time with loved ones?  What if something had happened to them (as it did for so many families) and we weren’t there?  This was an experience of simultaneous celebration and self-flagellation.  Being with our family and friends again filled our hearts, and also reminded us of how much we’d missed.  In addition, it highlighted how much we’d gotten used to life with Covid – mask-wearing, contact tracing, vaccination discussions, rapid antigen testing, and avoiding coughing in public all felt normal to us.  The absence of these things felt uncomfortable and foreign.

There is something in this for me that connects back to Ma’s experience of escaping the Room.  She’s been isolated for so long, and the narrow world she’s inhabited for the last seven years has suddenly widened beyond comprehension.  She does not remember how to exist in that world. What was an effective coping mechanism – creating structure, routine, and stories for herself and Jack to deal with a lack of freedom – is no longer needed.  The prison no longer exists.  But she also feels guilt at not preparing Jack for the real world.  Anger for being imprisoned for so long and missing out on life. Uncertainty about how to relate to people other than her son.  Regret at not having been able to escape sooner.  Grief at the loss of time and the experiences she and Jack have missed.  Fear and discomfort at re-entering a world that has been lost to her for seven years.

The tight restrictions in Hong Kong were nothing compared to what Ma and Jack had to endure.  I am not suggesting for a second that travel restrictions are anywhere close to being imprisoned and traumatised on a daily basis for seven years.  What does strike me is the wide range and similarity of feelings that bubble up once a fuller amount of freedom is available to us, whether that freedom comes in the form of post-Covid travel or a release from captivity.

Our ability to adapt to our surroundings has ensured our survival over time.   Covid led governments around the world to implement restrictions on daily living which none of us could have imagined.  And we’ve coped with those restrictions by getting used to not travelling, by learning to be more still, and by adapting our daily routines to fill the void.  Ma coped with her lack of freedom much in the same way – by creating routines to foster a sense of normalcy for her and her son.  We humans have the capacity for profound resilience in the face of adversity.

As our world begins to open up, a new range of choices becomes available to us.  What will we do with that freedom?  We can stay home, avoid the complexity of travel and the risk of getting sick, and remain comfortable in the routines we’ve built for ourselves.  The trade-off is, perhaps, a greater richness in life.  Alternatively, we can start travelling and stepping back out into the world, accepting that we don’t know what will happen when we do, and we don’t know how it’ll affect us.

Regardless of whether you stay put, or step back into travel, you can expect to “feel all of the feels”.  The challenge is to stay in the present and allow the full range of emotions to wash through us.  Nothing can be done to change the past or to control the future.  

What choice will you make?  

Kelly Hutchison

Kelly Hutchison is a psychotherapist, counsellor and executive coach with aMindset, based in Hong Kong. 

To book an individual consultation or discuss mental health & wellness initiatives for your organization, contact Kelly on +852 9179 4454 or 

Other Articles by Kelly:

Find out more about Kelly here


  • Master of Counselling, Monash University, Australia
  • Master of Applied Science (Innovation & Organisation Dynamics), RMIT University, Australia
  • Bachelor of Arts (Liberal Arts/Music), Florida State University, USA
  • Executive Coaching – Level Two Coach, Institute of Executive Coaching & Leadership, Australia
  • Member, Hong Kong Society of Counselling & Psychology
  • Member, Australian Counselling Association
  • Member, Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how Kelly or AMindset can support you, please contact us.

How Meditation Helps Relieve Pain

How Meditation Helps Relieve Pain

It does not matter what sort of pain you experience, pain is very unpleasant and something you all want to avoid.  If you suffer from chronic pain which is a persistent and long-standing ailment anything that can help you be free of that pain is frantically sought. The use of drugs is a natural development but drugs can have negative side effects. Plus the use of prescription medication has to be carefully monitored as the body builds up resistance to the most powerful of medicines. As the dose is increased your mental agility decreases and life can become pretty miserable.  It is therefore good to know that medical research has found in the past few years when you meditate you are providing yourself with some natural pain relief. The fact that scientific research shows that meditation helps relieve pain is a positive step forward for helping millions of people at a global level.

As meditation becomes more common and a normal part of life in the Western Hemisphere more research is being done to find out what the effects of meditation are on the brain. As meditation is researched by these diverse groups the benefits of learning to meditate and making it a part of your daily routine is becoming more evident. A study at the Berth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre showed that meditation helped reduce blood pressure by decreasing the blood flow. With stress the Harvard Medical School reports that meditation helps the brain calm the body. Jon Kabat-Zinn a Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the many authors of Books and CDs using the technique of Meditation as a pain reliever

In her article, Meditation: proven to lower pain, improve memory and focus Jeanette Padilla, an experienced herbalist and iridologist, writes about the studies that are being carried out which show that meditation helps relieve pain.  And not only can meditation help relieve pain it also increases memory function which is the opposite of what the prescriptive drugs did.  Meditation is not just for the people who sit in an Ashram in India it is a proven pain reliever.

Meditation: proven to lower pain, improve memory and focus

Meditation is a powerful tool, but not until recent years has its wide array of benefits been studied so extensively. Once neurologists discovered how meditation creates changes in the brain, research of this alternative tool rose exponentially. Many recent studies have proven that meditation can diminish pain, improve memory, and sharpen focus.

Meditation can help lower blood pressure

A recent study published in NeuroReport suggests meditation can activate specific areas of the brain that may influence heart and breathing rates. Sara Lazar, Ph.D., author of the study, used a brain imaging process known as fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging, to measure blood flow changes in experienced meditators. Senior author of the study and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Berth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Dr. Herbert Benson said, “What we found were striking changes. There was significant decrease in blood flow and activity in specific areas of the brain.”

Meditation is better than morphine

Researchers have also found that individuals who partook in an eight week mindfulness meditation program experienced increased density in sections of the brain associated with empathy, memory, one’s sense of self, and stress response. The study was published in the medical journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging in 2011. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, meditation can reduce pain more than morphine can. The study, led by Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., reported individuals new to meditation displayed a 40% reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness after only a few quick sessions of mindfulness meditation training. For reference, morphine generally lessens pain by about 25 percent.

In the case of Cassandra Metzger, meditation worked to reduce her pain caused by fibromyalgia. Metzger was 34 when she was diagnosed. Doctors prescribed pain killers, sleep drugs, muscle relaxers, mood stabilizers and other drugs to help manage her pain, fatigue, insomnia, and depression but nothing worked well. Metzger credits meditation saying it, “saved me from despair more than once.” She adds, “During episodes of acute illness, I was saved by knowing that the experience of pain was just one moment in time – maybe an excruciating moment, maybe a long moment, but still a moment. I learned this by meditating.”

Meditation benefits everyone around you

In instances of stress and/or severe pain the brain’s natural fight-or-flight response causes the release of adrenalin, which is stressful to the body. Meditation helps the brain calm the body. “People with chronic illnesses often experience a lot of self-loathing and self-blame,” says David Vago, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He adds, “If you can transform those negative emotions toward yourself into compassion and love, it not only benefits you, it also benefits everyone around you.”

For example, people suffering from chronic pain, such as those with fibromyalgia, tend to dwell on thoughts about pain because they frequently experience acute pain. Dr. Vago’s research team saw those types of tendencies disappeared after eight weeks of meditation. Meditation teaches you to recognize pain, anger, or fear without letting yourself be overtaken by negative thoughts or behavior that typically accompany those emotions. According to researchers, meditators have discovered how to effectively manage their emotional response to pain although they still sense it. Katherine MacLean, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explains that meditators are,”…actually more in tune with the sensation of pain, but they don’t have their usual emotional reaction to it.

Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication


Healthy, productive communication is crucial to keep any relationship strong. Dr. John Gottman, the renowned psychologist and relationship researcher, determined that there are four kinds of communication habits that are the most destructive and biggest predictors of relationship demise. Dr. Gottman referred to those four traits as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and they are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Based on the “Four Horsemen,” Dr. Gottman and his research team can predict the probability of a divorce with over 90% accuracy within 15 minutes of observing the communications patterns of a couple during conflicts.

Conflicts, in any kind of relationship, are inevitable, normal, and even necessary. Having conflict is not the problem, but rather dealing with those conflicts is the key to defining the quality of the relationship. Each disagreement can be seen as an opportunity for couples to either achieve deeper connections or the possibility to tear their relationship apart. When conflicts happen, please ask yourself, do you want to argue for a win or want to connect and be heard? If you choose to connect, then we need to practice expressing our thoughts and needs with healthier communications skills. 

One of my favourite models of communication for solving personal conflicts is Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s theory of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). The objective of NVC is to have a sincere and frank conversation while paying attention with empathy and handling potential disputes with respect and thoughtfulness. The basis of Nonviolent Communication is being ready to recognize and proceed towards matters in a non-judgemental way.

Following four fundamental steps can help us to master the art of NVC. The steps are Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests, from the book, “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life,” by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Let’s examine each one individually. 

Observations: Making observations is the act of describing factual information about what happened without judgments or interpretations. For example, instead of saying “He is a bad player,” you can say, “He did not make any goals in the past two games.” Or instead of saying, “You are so sloppy,” a person can say, “You did not change your clothes for three days.” Without emotional or judgmental words, the listener will most likely understand the detail being illustrated.

Feelings: Express your emotions not your thoughts. For example, instead of saying, “I feel misunderstood,” which includes an interpretation of behaviour, one could simply say, “I feel frustrated.” The key is to focus on words that describe our inner emotions. Sentences starting with, “I feel like,” or “I feel that,” usually end with describing our thoughts or interpretations of another person’s feelings or actions.

Needs: Negative feelings are caused by unfulfilled needs. State your needs rather than the other person’s actions as the cause. The key is to connect our inner values and focus on words that describe shared human experiences. For example, one can say, “I feel annoyed because I need more support,” rather than, “I feel annoyed because you don’t do the laundry.” 

Requests: Ask clearly in positive action language. The request must be doable and specific. The key is to focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want. For example, instead of saying, “Please don’t invade my privacy,” one could say, “Would you knock on my door before coming in?”

Here is another example of a wife using NVC to express her concerns. 

“This is the third weekend in a row that you worked during the weekend (OBSERVATION). I feel sad because we don’t have the chance to spend some time together (FEELINGS). It is important for me to feel connected with you (NEEDS). Would you please come home earlier and we can have dinner together (REQUESTS)?”

Nonviolent Communication is a process for us to understand and take responsibility for our own feelings, needs, and inner experiences before communicating with others. It begins with observing the situation, recognizing our feelings, followed by connecting with our needs, and finally proposing the request specifically. Hopefully, the listener will empathize with us, fostering understanding and creating a connection that leads to meeting everyone’s needs. Learning NVC is similar to learning a new language. With practice, a person can speak fluently in Nonviolent Communication in no time. 

​If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Befriend your Nervous System

Say No to Emotional Blackmail

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Say No To Emotional Blackmail

Say No To Emotional Blackmail


Are you always a “Yes” person? If the answer is yes, maybe you will realize people around you always ask you to do something for them and you are the one who doesn’t know how to say no. If you don’t do what other people ask then you might feel very guilty and are probably concerned that something bad will happen as a result. If this seems familiar then you are probably engaged in a cycle of Emotional Blackmail. 

What is Emotional Blackmail?

In the book “Emotional Blackmail,” Susan Forward and Donna Frazier, defined it as the condition when someone uses fear, obligations, and guilt to manipulate another person to give in to their demands. Emotional Blackmailers utilize a person’s fear of displeasing others to compel them to capitulate to the blackmailer’s demands, while also making those who don’t comply feel guilty.

It usually happens to two people with close relationships, especially between parents and children. Knowing that someone close to them wants love or approval, blackmailers may threaten to withhold affection or take them away altogether, making the other person feel that they must earn them by agreement. Some emotionally immature parents use emotional blackmail to control their children often because those parents have low self-esteem caused by a difficult childhood. Those parents can only feel loved and important when their children fulfill all their demands. 

It’s natural for children to try anything to feel connected to their parents. Receiving approval or affirmation from parents creates connections that make children feel more secure. As they  grow up in these manipulative relationships, they might develop core beliefs such as, “What I need is not important,” as well as, “If I don’t do what my parents ask, then I am a bad person.” However, if a person always puts other people‘s needs before their own then sooner or later they might neglect their own emotions and needs.

Since they have given up recognizing their own feelings and demands, others have no obligation to be responsible for their mental health. As a person starts to pay attention to their own feelings and needs, they start to love and take care of themselves. When one starts to know how to reject others for self-protection, they will start to feel their inner strength, which empowers them. During this process, others will also learn how to interact and respect those feelings and boundaries. 

How to Respond

If a person suspects that they are engaging in the emotional blackmail process, they can use the SOS principles, which stands for Stop, Observe and Strategize.

Stop: Do not respond immediately and give some time to think and step away from the pressure. A person could say, “I don’t have an answer for you right now. I need some time to think about it.” Once a person stops complying with the demands in order to calm their fears and deal with the guilt, they can regain control over the situation and their life. 

Observe: Become an observer of both oneself and the other person. Explore the demands objectively and be aware of internal thoughts and feelings. 

Strategize: Use strategies such as non-defensive communications to present boundaries to the blackmailer and hold ground no matter how the other person reacts. You could say, “I am sorry you are upset, let’s talk about it when you feel calmer” or “Maybe you are right, but I think we just see things differently.”

Building Emotional Boundaries

Some people feel very guilty when their parents have negative emotions. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and never build emotional boundaries. However, everyone should only be responsible for their own feelings, not others. When we say no to people, the rejected person might feel hurt and upset. However, it is precisely at this moment that a person needs to accept and allow themselves to be responsible for managing their own emotions and feelings.

If someone is too guilty to take care of their own needs then they are living the life of other people’s expectations, thus making the purpose of life just worrying about how to satisfy others. A person can be kind and caring to others but at the same time avoid over sacrificing. He or she is only responsible for his or her own behavior and actions, not for other people’s emotions. If only one person is allowed to express their feelings and needs in a relationship then the relationship is no longer healthy or balanced. 

Emotional boundaries should also be flexible and not on a thin deadline. Sometimes the boundaries will change, depending on the situation. We all need to learn how to express ourselves, guard our boundaries, and escape from emotional manipulation to live our own life. Otherwise, we may fall victim to Emotional Blackmail.

​If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

By Cecilia Yu

Find out more about Cecilia here

Other Articles Written by Cecilia Yu:

Befriend your Nervous System

Negative Emotions Can Be Good for You

Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Nonviolent Communication

Related Articles:

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

The concept of emotional intelligence is different from other, more traditional concepts of intelligence. It refers to our ability to identify, manage, and respond appropriately to emotions in ourselves and others. Emotional intelligence is related to multiple mental constructs, like empathy, awareness, and problem-solving abilities. It’s not a topic that gets a lot of attention, but putting time into honing our emotional intelligence can have many benefits.

People have a habit of letting their emotions take control of their thoughts and actions. This trait is more pronounced in some, but most of us have had such an experience at least once in our lives. Emotions can be hard to control due to their intensity and abruptness. A high emotional intelligence is associated with an improved ability to manage emotions, either through direct suppression or by using a coping strategy like mindful meditation.


Gaining Awareness

In order to develop our emotional intelligence, we must first become aware of the way that emotions influence our daily lives. Our minds are constantly awash with information that isn’t relevant to whatever we’re doing at the time. Memories, anxieties about the future, and random biological processes are all capable of spontaneously triggering emotions. Even if they don’t cause emotions directly, this background noise can certainly leave us primed to be more affected by environmental emotional triggers, like those experienced during regular daily communications. Becoming aware of these influences is the first step toward addressing their impact on our lives.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

There are a number of ways to improve emotional intelligence, one of which is by practicing mindfulness. A mindful perspective places focus on the present, helping us to better deal with the moment at hand, and reducing the influence of the constant background noise within our minds. As mentioned above, much of this noise can cause us to be more emotionally reactive. When we react to emotions without any type of thought or intervention, we are failing to use our emotional intelligence. Mindfulness helps us develop our emotional intelligence by teaching us to stay in the moment and to become less susceptible to mental activities that don’t directly apply to the present.


Online Therapy – Are there any Benefits?

Online Therapy – Are there any Benefits?


Online therapy is shown in research to be just as effective as in-person therapy. (Ref 1) But it gets a bad rap, as it is still quite a new modality compared to traditional counselling sessions, usually face-to-face. However, technology influences every aspect of life in this modern age, and online therapy is now easily accessible. It is not just for use during a pandemic or lockdowns; it is here to stay, so it is worth giving it a go, no matter your bias. How can you say you don’t like it if you don’t try it? 

Online therapy comes in various shapes and sizes, and it can be done via video, audio or text, making it easily accessible and more affordable. Technology has revolutionised our ability to get therapy no matter the geography or the time of day. If you just want to chat with someone or work on trauma and more profound issues, there will be a therapist available at the tip of your fingers. The benefits are many:

  • Accessible and comfortable, it can be done from your home
  • Time convenient for your schedule
  • Private
  • Cost-effective
  • Allows for social distancing if needed.

However, most important of all, the question has to be asked. Is it as good as face to face therapy? YES! It seems it is. Several studies have found that online CBT results in very effective treatment and even that doing CBT online is more effective than in-person therapy. (Ref 2). Online therapy enables you to have a wider choice of therapists. As the therapeutic alliance (how well you and your therapist ‘click’) is an essential part of a good therapy session, online therapy lets you check out therapists and find someone you trust. 

But it is a personal choice that only you can make. But, significantly, so much modern research proves that online therapy is ‘just what the doctor ordered’ for a healthier, happier you. 

AMindset offers online low-cost affordable therapy – if you want to know more about how we can support you go Here

Liz McCaughey

Find out more about Liz Here

Other Articles:

Online Psychotherapy vs Traditional

(Ref 1)

Meredith S. Pescatello, Tyler R. Pedersen & Scott A. Baldwin (2021) Treatment engagement and effectiveness of an internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy program at a university counseling center, Psychotherapy Research, 31:5, 656-667, DOI:

  1. 10.1080/10503307.2020.1822559


(Ref 2)

Luo, Sanger, N., Singhal, N., Pattrick, K., Shams, I., Shahid, H., Hoang, P., Schmidt, J., Lee, J., Haber, S., Puckering, M., Buchanan, N., Lee, P., Ng, K., Sun, S., Kheyson, S., Chung, D. C.-Y., Sanger, S., Thabane, L., & Samaan, Z. (2020). A comparison of electronically-delivered and face to face cognitive behavioural therapies in depressive disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. EClinicalMedicine, 24, 100442–100442.

Far from Home: Dealing with Homesickness

Far from Home: Dealing with Homesickness

Homesickness is often dismissed as a childish emotion associated with kids leaving home for the first time. While it is a common experience, it isn’t childish or foolish to be homesick. During this pandemic, the yearning for home has been felt more intensely as travel restrictions made home and loved ones more distant than ever before. Whether you’ve lived in Hong Kong for 20 years or two years, the long spell away from home and loved ones overseas – and the uncertainty of when that reunion would take place – can be difficult.

When homesickness begets bigger problems:
Some psychologists view homesickness as a “mini-grief”, in the sense that, like the experience of losing a loved one, there is an element of separation, albeit temporary, which can feel like a loss of control. Like grief, intense homesickness may manifest as sadness, social withdrawal, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and poor concentration. People who are homesick may feel so much distress that it affects their ability to function in daily life.

The word “homesickness” entered the English lexicon in the 1750s. However, it has been commonly observed long before that in military history. Alexander the Great, for instance, retreated from India in 327 B.C. partly because his men were too homesick to continue. 

While homesickness is a manifestation of one’s deep love for family, it also carries a perception of failure or weakness. Today, homesickness has been seen as an opportunity cost. If a student is too homesick to study at a university far from home, they may lose their educational opportunity and potentially diminish their job prospects. Some students may suffer in silence because of the fear and shame of failing parental expectations.

In Hong Kong today, some expats face the dilemma of staying on in a lucrative job or a promising career path, or going back to their home countries for good. For some, the fear of failure comes from not being able to finish a contract or realise a career goal. Suffering spouses may start resenting their partners whose jobs led them to relocate here, leading to relationship disruptions. The stress of the fifth wave in Hong Kong – panic buying, threat of child separations, and school suspensions – simply add to the yearning for familiarity and the security offered by extended family support systems that are not available to them in Hong Kong, especially when many countries have moved on from the pandemic. This may lead to feelings of depression or anxiety for some people.

Other than jumping on a flight today, what can one do to manage homesickness?

Acknowledge your feelings

  • It’s okay to feel homesick. It’s okay to feel sad and cry.
  • However, be mindful of negative coping strategies. Excessive rumination or constantly thinking about it may feed anxiety and cause sleep disturbances. Some may also choose to suppress reminders of home or avoid home triggers (for example, socialising with people from your home country), which may not be helpful as well.

Accept the uncontrollable

We could get frustrated about the ever-changing travel rules in Hong Kong, but these policies are simply beyond our control. Like in grief, there’s a need to come to terms with the current reality.

  • Strengthen the supportive forces around you — friends, office colleagues, a parent group, etc.
  • Practice self-care. Be kind to yourself. Find time to relax, meditate, and do something that’s enjoyable. 
  • Stay connected with family and friends overseas. Set aside a certain day/time for each loved one. Do something together virtually – cooking a family recipe with mom on FaceTime, watching a Netflix movie at the same time.

Revise the narrative

Now that your time in Hong Kong has stretched, use it to your advantage.

  • Be active, learn something new. This could be the time to learn Cantonese or embrace a new hobby. You could also expand your knowledge of Hong Kong by picking an MTR stop to explore or visit once-crowded spots like the Big Buddha or Tai O (whilst following current safety measures).
  • Lend a hand to many charities that need volunteers and get a broader perspective of Hong Kong society. 
  • Clarify your core values to plan your long-term personal and career goals.

Everyone copes differently with homesickness. Should you feel that you need help coping, please don’t hesitate to seek the help of the AMindset team.


1. Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Nauta, M. H. (2016). Is homesickness a mini-grief? Development of a dual process model. Clinical Psychological Science, 4(2), 344–358.

2. Matt, S. (2007). You can’t go home again: Homesickness and nostalgia in US history. Journal of American History, 94(2), 469-497.

3. Strauss, A. (2003). Alexander: The military campaign. In J. Roisman (Ed.), Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great(131-157). Brill.


If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how we can support you, please contact us.

Heda Bayron

Find out more about Heda here

Other Articles:

A Quarantine Survivors Guide

Mindfulness – Dealing with the Chaos