Being self-critical is an epidemic in our society. It’s almost a national pastime to beat ourselves up over real and imagined imperfections. We became unwitting devotees watching our parents and teachers direct their anger towards us with their negative judgments and demeaning labels. In fact, they just needed to deal with their own emotions in constructive and appropriate ways. Being receptive little beings, we pledged allegiance to those unkind messages and also began to see ourselves as stupid, unlovable, or unworthy. Today we know the words by heart and repeat them to ourselves without even thinking.
The more critical our parents were the deeper the messages penetrated. Today, we rarely feel satisfied with ourselves. We try to measure up against an invisible standard or believe if we had or did something else – got married, earned more money, looked more beautiful, had more time – we’d finally be happy and feel worthy.
As we know, none of these strategies work. With these beliefs firmly implanted, we have a license to beat ourselves up in any possible situation. Our mistake is that we identify with our actions rather than our true essence.
To stop being self-critical and show yourself more love, you must learn that you are whole, complete, and worthy, no matter what. You must realize your essence of your being exists from the first day of your life until the day you die and doesn’t change.
According to Attitude Reconstruction the root of a bad attitude about yourself, such as never feeling “good enough,” is to express the underlying emotion, in this case sadness, and then to continually rewire your crummy thinking.
To change deeply rooted destructive thoughts, you first must identify and then determine what contradicts your old messages. Pick just a couple from the list below and write them down. Post them conspicuously where you will see them and repeat them often.
Make repeating your truths a daily practice. Remind yourself who you are several times a day for just a minute or two. You can do this in the shower, while driving in your car, exercising, doing chores, or before bed. Relentlessly repeat your new thoughts, especially when you’re judging yourself poorly or when you’re crying and feeling down. Interrupt the “yes, buts” and other discounting thoughts that surface and continue to repeat your new truths. I tell clients 100,000 repetitions should do the job, considering how many times you’ve chanted the opposite.
Another way to raise your self-esteem is to shower yourself with kindness in the form of self-appreciations. Name a specific positive trait, talent, or quality and look at yourself from this new perspective. Try writing one, two, or three self-appreciations each day, and at the end of a week, read your list out loud with enthusiasm, conviction, and a smile. In this way you are steadily rebuilding your self-esteem.
See how wonderful you feel when you relentlessly focus on your good and fill your black hole of unworthiness yourself. Emphasizing your positive qualities and contradicting that internal critic will give you an unshakable positive view of yourself no matter what.
Ron and Connie came in to see me. Their marriage was already in peril. They had been married less than a year, later in life after living together for four years. Then, while they were out listening to music and drinking, disaster struck. Ron was getting too cozy with a mutual acquaintance.
Since then, Connie had a pit in her stomach. Her long-standing jealousy ramped up. She started to think “If it’s going to be this awful, I can’t take it. I’m out of here.”
Please note: Connie’s jumping into the worst-case scenario was only fueling her fear. It wasn’t helping her deal with what she was feeling right now. Her job was to reel herself in when escape thoughts started to play, and realize she needed closure on the specific event she had observed.
But even more, she needed to hear the reality from Ron. In all sincerity, he said he wasn’t interested in anyone else. He had committed to her after dating so many women he couldn’t count.
He said (and I wrote down):
I am not interested in an affair or leaving you.
I married you because you’re the one.
I want us to be as solid as Jeff Bridges and his wife.
Connie started to cry, having relayed seeing them at the airport last week and observing their nonverbal connection.
I instructed Ron to repeat what he had just said to Connie every day until it really sank in for her. He was not her philandering father who had strayed from her mom. Connie didn’t need to be suspicious. She needed to hear the reality from Ron and as well, remind herself of the truth over and over.
Tip: It’s so important to write down what you know but forget, like how much you love your spouse, or how much you need to keep working at your job because you need the money right now. Holding on to what is true and repeating it over and over to remind yourself, is a powerful antidote when all the doubts and emotions that can carry you away into torrents of murky waters. One of the things that happens when we are in the grip of fear is that we forget what’s true when we are clear.
Yesterday I had a chance to help out a dear friend, Molly, who was about to take her grueling CPA test the next day. She called, relaying that she had lost several hours of sleep the previous night. I knew it was her fear that was between her and feeling calm and relaxed. The fear was affecting her thinking, and now she was telling herself “I’m not prepared enough” and “I didn’t study enough.” Her mind was also racing into the future, “What if I don’t pass? What would I tell people?”
Having identified Polly’s destructive thoughts, we set about finding truthful contradictions. For the first two, “I’m not prepared enough” and “I didn’t study enough,” I asked her what was true. Had she been eating bon-bons and watching mindless television these last months? She answered straight away, and I hurriedly wrote down what she said.
I’ve definitely been on it.
I’ve done all I can do.
There’s nothing more that I could have done.
I’ve done my best.
I asked Molly if what she was saying was true and she acknowledged how diligent she had been. That was easy! These truths were about her.
I had her repeat these four lines out loud a few times and we could both hear in her voice that she knew in her heart that it was true. Whew!
We then attacked Molly’s other group of destructive thoughts that had to do with what others would think. “What will I tell people if I don’t pass?”
Being the smart cookie that she is, she paused, laughed, and said, “I’ll tell them the same thing”:
I don’t know how I could have prepared anymore.
I guess I’ll just take it again.
With great relief she repeated these truths a few times. We could tell that she knew was in synch with what she was saying.
I reminded her that she now had some powerful weapons to combat her old doubts if they resurfaced between now and test time. I also encouraged Molly to repeat the two sets of truths several times throughout the day and night because they would bathe her in the reality.
Before we hung up the phone, I felt compelled to get on my soapbox and remind her that her bad thoughts indicated she was just feeling fear. Since fear is just a pure physical sensation, pure energy in the body, she should copy what animals do when they are afraid. They shiver, tremble and shake until the danger passes. We need to follow their lead and do the same.
Shiver up the spine, though your legs, out your arms and hands, in her hips, and in your neck and jaw. The key is to do it hard, fast, and with abandon. I knew it seems silly but it really works. Try it for 90 seconds and I guarantee you’ll start to laugh and the spell will be broken.
This simple activity is the rx for whenever we can’t sleep, or feel anxious, nervous, overwhelmed, agitated, etc. Shake that energy out of your body while just making sounds or saying something like “It’s just fear. I have to move it out of my body.”
It became clear to Molly that just like before a big bike race or ski competition, it didn’t make sense to work out all day. Likewise, it was going to be most helpful for her to attend a yoga class, take a run, or prepare a special meal and relax. All the months of training were behind her. She would be doing what calmed her down so she’d be fresh as a daisy in the morning, and even enjoy the test, since she’d be sure to know most of the answers.
I got a text from Molly, the next day, saying “I passed!” She was one happy gal. All her preparation had paid off.
“Why do you think you put it off” I asked.
She said “fear … I’m afraid it won’t be perfect. I know it stems back to not meeting my father’s expectations as a child. He would give me a lecture about how I could improve instead of telling me what a swell job I did.”
“What did you want to hear from him?”
Terry paused then said, “I’m proud of you. Look at what a marvelous thing you’ve accomplished.”
“So you’ll need to start saying it to yourself, I said”: I’m proud of myself. I like all that I’ve accomplished.
We came up with these additional support statements to repeat over and over every day before sitting down at her desk to work on her class plans.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect right now. It’s just a first draft. It’s a work in progress. No need to judge it. It’s part of a process.”
She was smart and realized the need to break the big task into small doable pieces and focus on each one, one at a time. This is “being specific” one of the 4 constructive attitudes associated with peace and sooth, not stimulate fear.
After she repeated these phrases over and over with single focus for several blocks of 90 seconds, she had a realization and said, “I’ve had and have enough stress in my life. I don’t need more.”
She realized she’d enjoying doing the creative project she enjoyed so much… putting together a course on local history to graduate students.
These insights and truths became her anchors and would be ideal repellent whenever she felt the procrastination bug starting to buzz around her head:
I don’t want to feel stressed. I’ve had enough stress in my life.
It doesn’t have to be perfect right now. It’s a work in progress. It’s part of a process.
I’m proud of myself. Look what I’m accomplishing!
When we next emailed she reported that she was way into her course creation. Easy breezy. She knew she was changed forever. She didn’t want to feel stressed when there was a good alternative.
Tip: When the tendency to put something off, rears its ugly head, tenaciously remind yourself that you’ll feel so much better if you attend to it in a timely fashion. Combat your bargaining mind that justifies inaction, with what is true. Repeat that over and over, until you win the battle and take the necessary action. It might be scary to do, but you’re going to feel it regardless of when you do it, so you might as well not compound the issue by getting down on yourself or denying the repercussions that procrastinating brings.
Sarah came in confessing of drinking daily and wanting to look at it. She knew this habit had increased since she retired. I asked her what time of day was the urge the strongest. She said when she was at home without any plans, that 5 – 7pm time frame was the hardest. Sarah would feel sad, and start to put herself down, feeling unlovable and unworthy. Sarah started to drown her sorrows, those thoughts, feelings, and emotions. If she made it past 7 she was fine.
And Sarah, what happened at that time when you were growing up? My mother came home from work. Instead of paying attention to me, being excited about hearing about my day and me, she was preoccupied with her own plight and the big drama with my father. She was so critical and put me down instead of loving me and seeing my wonderfulness. I was so lonely. I felt so sad and often cried.
What did you want her to say and do?
“I wanted her to tell me she loved me and that I was beautiful.”
You’re never going to fill that old hurt and extreme feelings of isolation without having the truth to support you. Together we came up with these truths: “”Stop. Breathe. Cry. I love myself unconditionally.” “You’re so beautiful. I love you.” She was instructed to repeat these phrases over and over, especially from 5 to 7pm, while hugging herself and crying.
She also decided to rejoin a club where she could take an afternoon swim and sit in the Jacuzzi.
Tool: Figure out what was missing at the time you want to indulge your addiction and what emotion you were feeling. Express that emotion, cry (sadness), shiver (fear), or pound (anger), while thinking and saying to yourself what you yearned to hear from others back then and now. To soothe and comfort ourselves and our fears, we must remember the higher reality everyday until we get on a cellular level what we needed to hear back then. In Sarah’s case, and most frequently, it goes back to loving and honoring ourselves.
I recently came across this book that a couple of clients really found life altering. It’s by Jack Canfield and Dave Andrews and called, The 30 Day Sobriety Solution: How to Cut Back or Quit Drinking in the Privacy of your own Home. You might want to check it out!
Rachel was crying frequently for the last months. She was so sad that her younger sister, Irene, the one she’d always looked out for, was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Rachel had already told Irene that she would send her money each month to help ease the financial burden that she and her husband were experiencing. But somehow that didn’t seem like enough and it didn’t ease Rachel’s pain.
They lived two thousand miles away. Rachel had to accept that she couldn’t protect Irene from her cancer and couldn’t visit her but once a month.
More importantly, Rachel had to accept that she was doing everything she could. She needed to face and internalize the reality. She repeated, There’s nothing more I can do. I can’t do anything. This is the way it is. Irene had cancer.
Then she needed to stop projecting into the future about all the what-ifs. So in addition, she repeated over and over, “I’ll handle the future in the future.” Rachel realized that all that she could do was to be there for Irene on the telephone and by Skype, as frequently as Irene so desired. She could listen and offer emotional support over the phone. That was all she could do, and that’s was exactly what she needs.
Rachel realized that she was doing everything she could. And that indeed, she was there for her sis. She felt a palpable relief wash over her.
Tip: Accepting the reality doesn’t leave you feeling passive and defeated. It creates the foundation for you to listen within and decide what is your best course of action, and then do that without the mental static of beating yourself up and feeling sad.
I wish you or someone would provide an approach to dealing with the corporations which run our lives. Corporations who collect our money (telephone companies, dating services, TV providers and many more), seduce us with promises to give a service, and then are totally unreachable to hear our voices about their LACK of service. They bury themselves in cocoons of automated telephone numbers, leaving messages which don’t get answered, writing emails which receive form letters… endless issues which don’t get addressed. It’s often impossible to reach a human being, and when one does, he is a powerless robot of the company.
How can one deal with them, or how to adopt an attitude that doesn’t ruin ones equilibrium? I so dislike how anonymous we have all become: just numbers and more numbers.
According to Attitude Reconstruction, the first step in finding an approach with the corporations that run our lives is to truly accept that here in 2015, that’s the way it is. That “People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.” Accept that the services we receive are impersonal. Repeat these phrases over and over, until you truly get it that, “that’s the way it is.” Also do the same and accept that we have all become anonymous — just numbers and more numbers. “We have all become anonymous — just numbers and more numbers” “Yes. That’s true and I have to accept that fact if I want equilibrium.”
True acceptance takes you from anger to love, from perceiving the corporations as the enemy to figuring out what your heart tells you is the best course of action – for you.
This process is accelerated by expressing your anger constructively and physically because non- acceptance yields feelings of separate, alienation, and isolation. We have to deal with the emotion on an energetic level. That means while you are releasing the pure sensation you feel in your body by pounding, or stomping, or yelling nonsense words, just make sounds or repeat over and over, “that’s the way it is.” (Saying that should increase your anger, because the impersonal-ness feels like a violation or injustice and so naturally evokes the anger pure sensation in your body — hot extremities, wanting to strike out aggressively.) Use as your model, a little kid having a temper-tantrum. If not interrupted a child will dispel the anger energy and then move on getting interested in something else in the present.
Then from a state of equanimity you can look within yourself, your heart, and determine on a case by case basis, if there is something you can do or not. If so, do it. If not, make peace with the reality (repeat until you get it: “Corporations run the way they do, not the way I think they should run”) and you can easily move on back to grooving on what works, paying attention to what is in your power to change.
Tip: From a stance of true acceptance, you can look within and determine what resonates in terms of action. Without acceptance, you can take action but it’s easy to distract from your point by your destructive and blaming delivery style. Repeat the old adage coined by Dr. Albert Ellis “People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.” And you will feel more loving and handle the situation more constructively.
You’re rolling along, and then all of a sudden that familiar feeling returns. There is a knot in your gut, your heart rate jumps, you can’t breathe, and your muscles tighten. You feel like you’ll die. Anxiety sets in. It doesn’t matter what triggers you: thoughts about an upcoming surgery, a job interview, pressure at work, or being around someone with a temper. Your survival feels threatened. You’re in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. You feel frantic and numb. All thinking stops and confusion and indecision descend.
Overwhelm is what happens when we have too many responsibilities to do or too many topics to address and not enough time. It’s easy to lump everything together. Typically, we leap from specifics that need attention to global generalities. We launch into exaggerations and drama. Small things become earth-shattering and nearly impossible to do. We feel like we’re in a pressure cooker.
Stress is feeling there’s too much to do and too much pressure. It manifests as a need to control. Stress defines our culture today. We’re trying to juggle too many things–and sacrificing our health and well-being in the process. All of the feelings of overwhelm are interfering with our ability to truly relish the moment and enjoy our lives.
Regardless if we call it anxiety, overwhelm, or stress, the underlying emotion we are feeling is fear. The price we pay is agitation and a loss of perspective. It’s difficult to enjoy the journey or present moment when entertaining thoughts about all there is to do in the future. We lose efficiency. And because our minds and bodies are racing, we can’t hear what other people are saying and lose personal connection.
The Rx is simple. I offer 7 solutions
If you practice any one of these strategies, you will notice a shift towards ease. Do several, or do them all, and you will find yourself feeling more content, more calm, and better able to get the upper hand over your life.
Some of our biggest emotional challenges come from family dynamics. It’s a rare situation where everyone in the family gets along. If you tend to be the peacekeeper, you’re usually the one carrying around the heavy emotional burden of the discord.
If this role is getting old but you can’t seem to stop yourself from meddling in the middle, read about the session below with my client Tom. You’ll find practical tools on how to let others handle their own drama, without getting caught in the crossfire, no matter their age.
Big-hearted Tom just wanted the three brothers and their families to get together and celebrate Bob, the eldest sibling, big 40th. But there was a problem. David and Bob were barely talking. Bob was upset (and experiencing stomach aches) over David’s wife borrowing money two years ago and never paying it back. Bob wanted Tom to take his side.
Tom had recently visited Bob, who was still going on and on about the unpaid loan. Adding to that, on the phone and in texts, David kept wanting to know what Tom and Bob had discussed when they were together.
The biggest (and most challenging) thing for peacemaker Tom was to not get drawn into the middle. He needed to tell Bob he saw how much pain he was in, but he wasn’t willing to arbitrate in business that was between him and David. He reminded Bob how much he valued their brotherhood, but he didn’t feel right about talking about David and his wife, since he had no idea about their side of the story.
In terms of a gathering, Tom felt it was best to put this off until the spring. He didn’t see himself trying to make the visit happen until David and Bob resolved their conflict.
So, to take care of himself and work to get out of the middle, he practiced saying, “I don’t want to talk about it. Please take this up with David/Bob yourself.” Tom repeated this message over and over like a broken record, until he felt confident that he would not succumb to the pressure to intervene.
When he felt rooted in the freedom of not getting caught up in the middle and letting people communicate directly, Tom called Bob and spoke his truth and delivered the message that he felt it was best to put off their reunion until David and Bob cleared the air.
Tom wanted to tell Bob it would be better if he held positive thoughts about David and his wife for his own sanity and so he wouldn’t continue to have digestive issues. As the counselor, I stepped in and told him that was a dicey proposition. Giving unsolicited advice is never a good idea. If Tom wanted to offer his perspective, he needed to first ask and RECEIVE permission before tendering advice.
Then to shore up his relationship with David, Tom made the same communication, offering him reassurances and reminding him “I like our relationship and want to share that.”
It took a while but David finally reached out to Bob. In talking and listening it became apparent to both of them that there had been a misunderstanding about the loan, money, and a payback schedule. They were both relieved after they spelled out a clear agreement. Both confessed how much they had missed hanging out with each other and their families. They were eager to keep the channels of communication open going forward and make plans to get together for the belated celebration.
Regardless of age, stay out of the middle and encourage family members to talk directly with those that they have the issue with. You need to let their plight go. It’s not yours. You’ll just be fueling side-taking accusations and muddy the waters even more. They need to learn how to speak what’s on their minds in a constructive manner.
Your job is to focus on enjoying each person individually and not get sucked into a discussion where you are expected to take sides. Just offer encouragement for them to “go direct” and praise them for their successes.
Also, giving unsolicited advice is a slippery slope without checking and double- checking to see if the recipient is really open to hearing your opinion. Your job in the midst of family upheaval is to take care of yourself and relish a new authentic role rather than that of the perpetual peacemaker.
Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients, students, couples, and families as a licensed marriage and family therapist. It is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.
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