You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Pyschologist Gwen Villebrun

Pyschologist Gwen Villebrun

We’ve all been in relationships, romantic or otherwise, that made us cringe inwardly. Overly close, painfully distant, perpetually irritating, frighteningly explosive – whatever the problems were, none of us want to experience those hurts again. But creating healthy relationships can be challenging and confusing.

Our relationships are central to our mental well-being. During Mental Health Week, registered psychologist Gwen Villebrun visited DECSA to discuss healthy relationships. Gwen explained that as children we developed ways to handle the challenges of living in our families. For example, a girl with a very angry mother might become very quiet and submissive to avoid conflict. The patterns we created as children, though, often do not work well when we become adults. If that quiet girl doesn’t become more assertive as she grows up, others may take advantage of her vulnerability.

The Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, and the Edmonton Police Service paint a picture of healthy relationships. Here are a few concepts they mention.

Relating healthily with another person involves:

  • Open, honest communication: In healthy relationships, you address concerns and conflicts honestly.
  • A variety of feelings: In healthy relationships, you may feel happiness, sadness, excitement, disappointment, anger, and other emotions.
  • Support: In healthy relationships, you support and affirm the other person.

Relating healthily does not involve:

  • Physical violence: Hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, pushing, etc.are not healthy ways to relate to others.
  • Verbal and emotional abuse: Threatening, insulting, intimidating, ridiculing, constantly monitoring, and stalking are not healthy ways to relate to others.

“You know that saying, ‘Can’t teach an old dog new tricks’?” Gwen asked during her talk. “Now we know about neuroplasticity.” Our brains are neuroplastic, which means that our brains can change at any age. You can teach an old dog new tricks! No matter how dysfunctional our childhood families were, and no matter how long we’ve lived out those dysfunctions as adults, we can still learn better ways of relating. But changing isn’t easy. It takes honesty, awareness, effort and consistency.

For anyone who wants to learn more about developing healthy relationships, Gwen recommendations these books:

  • Leaving the Enchanted Forest
    By: Stephanie Covington and Liana Beckett
    (Available at and
  • Codependent No More
    By: Melodie Beattie
    (Available at the Edmonton Public Library and
  • The Dance of Intimacy
    By: Harriet Lerner
    (Available at the Edmonton Public Library and

DECSA wishes you the best in your relationships with your family, friends, and coworkers.

Posted on May 13, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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