Psych Central

Archive for April, 2009

A Mindful Way to Boost Self-Esteem

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

 

There are a multitude of reasons we might suffer from low self-esteem or low self worth. Some of us might have grown up with challenges of anxiety, depression, dyslexia or attention deficit disorder and weren’t graded as high as their friends. Others maybe had parents who got divorced and internalized the message, “It’s my fault, I’m not worth them staying together.” Or maybe a parent left altogether leaving a sense of not worth love. It could also be that some may have suffered a trauma of physical or emotional abuse and felt they deserved it and therefore felt less than.  The bottom line is that we internalize such intense self-judgment that our self worth is nowhere to be found. We are constantly re-traumatizing ourselves with this barrage making it impossible to climb out. We do not accept ourselves and self-love is a distant, if not rejected concept.  

It may seem so simple to say, “Just love yourself”, but it is anything but easy. The practice of increasing our self worth is the process of learning how to come home to ourselves, becoming more aware that the self-judgments stem from somewhere and they are only interpretations, not facts. We who have low self worth are doing it to ourselves at this point. What I mean by this is that we are hating ourselves day in and day out and this energy of hate gets directed to a part of us that we dislike. That part of us is still “part of us”, therefore this toxic energy get sent inward and we are the ones who are infected by it keeping us feeling rejected, unaccepted and unworthy.  It’s almost as if we have this blob of wounded energy inside of us and what we do is keep sending spears and arrows at it wounding over and over again so we always feel vulnerable.

Somehow our minds believe that if we keep judging it and avoiding it, somehow it will go away. Is that how healing works? If you have a wound and do not care for it, avoid it, and at times even rub dirt in it, does …


What Everybody Should Know About the Dangers of Meditation

Monday, April 27th, 2009

In his recent article, Enlightenment Therapy, Chip Brown writes about a real life story that conveys the pitfalls of meditation, the importance of therapy and personal narrative, and the potential benefits of a combined approach. The story is of Zen master, professor, poet, and essayist, Louis Nordstrom. For the purposes of this blog I’m not going to get into the differences between the various different approaches to meditation (e.g., Zen, Vipassana, etc..), but explore Brown’s illustration of the importance in being aware of the subtle motives we may have to engage in meditation and how we might be using as a form of escaping our pain.

Many of us have experienced much wounding in our lives and some of us have even cultivated defensive coping styles as children to disengage or disassociate from these feelings in order to not be overwhelmed by them. Nordstrom experienced his own trauma and abandonment as a child and said:

“The Zen experience of forgetting the self was very natural to me,” he told me last fall. “I had already been engaged in forgetting and abandoning the self in my childhood, which was filled with the fear of how unreal things seemed.”

For Nordstrom, meditation felt like a natural fit as there was a familiarity and calmness that came from detaching from thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It was attractive. However, his own depression and challenges continually arose throughout his life. He decided to go back to therapy. In therapy he came to understand a subtle, yet subversive motive he had to engage in meditation. In one way he was using meditation to cover up the pain he felt from the past, and by detaching from his thoughts, feelings, and emotions, so there was no self, he was saving himself from the possibility of his “self” ever getting abandoned again as he had by his mother in childhood. In other words, by using meditation to abandon himself, he saved himself from feeling the overwhelming pain of being abandoned by another in relationship. In doing this, he remained walled off and alone even in his relationships, which can be an instigator for depression.  

In returning to …


Finding Religion to Forgive

Friday, April 24th, 2009

 A recent comment to the blog Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free said:

I really enjoyed this article but I could not help wondering why in my opinion, God was not mentioned? I feel that it is truly helpful to recognize that our sins are forgiven on a daily basis. This allows humility and reality to help ease the blow. ~ Jenny Wood

First let me say that as a reader of this blog you may have a deep understanding or a particular spiritual or religious tradition and I’m hoping you will interact in the comments below to expound on this important topic of religion, spirituality, and forgiveness. Across the board, religious and spiritual traditions support the practice of forgiveness. If you are find meaning in a specific spiritual tradition it can be a great strength to use the processes set forth in that tradition to go about forgiveness. It’s important to note that while most, if not all, spiritual traditions promote forgiveness; they go about it in different ways. This may be a great opportunity for you to become more intimate with the process of forgiveness in your own tradition. If you are a believer in a higher power, how can you draw on the strength of this power to support you in forgiveness so you can let go of the suffering you are feeling.

The bible begins with sin and forgiveness as Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden and then forgiven by God. Therese Borchard, author and blog writer, writes about how her faith in Christianity supported her in the act of forgiveness.  In Matthew 21, Jesus declares that those who, “sin boldly” and then repent, will enter the kingdom before those who think they’ve got it all together.  Millions of people can benefit from these beliefs. In the Jewish tradition, there is a mandate to take action to seek forgiveness from those who you wronged. It’s built into the yearly calendar. In between the two holiest days of the year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you are to spend …


When You Can't Forgive: Hope is Not Lost

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

In an earlier blog Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free , a community member asked the question:

How can you forgive the same person for the 100th time after they have repeatedly engaged in the same behavior and offense towards you – after you have truly forgiven them in the past yet they continue to lie and cheat — now there is no more trust and forgiveness left in you and you are left with constant distrust, hate and resentment, and self doubt.

I don’t think you can really forgive someone who is continually violating you, but all hope is not lost. This question is touching on a fundamental topic in the field of human relationships, integrity, and self respect and that is self-worth and boundaries. One common understanding that most people can agree on is that we simply cannot change other people if they don’t want to change themselves. So, when you are staying in a relationship with someone who is continually offending and disrespecting you to the point where there is constant distrust, hate and resentment, it’s important to turn the spotlight off of them and onto you. What do I mean by this? It’s time to take an inventory of why yo are still engaging with this person. The fact of the matter is, more often than not there is often an underlying belief and self-judgment that you are worthless. When we begin to become present to the reality that this erroneous self-judgment and belief is there, we can begin to work with toward feeling a greater sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

How did this thought get there anyway? The thought “I am worthless” can be deep seeded from the time we are children. If we were continually violated or picked on in any way, the mind goes to work, as it does, searching for a reason why this is happening.   ”Oh”, the mind says, “I get it, I am getting violated or picked on because I am worthless,” and the mind is satisfied and the belief sets in. As a child the mind doesn’t struggle as …


How Do We Forgive Ourselves?

Monday, April 20th, 2009

This blog is a response to a question around self-forgiveness that arose out of an earlier blog Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free. It is clear from the responses of this blog how much pain we all have that is associated with our own actions and the actions of others. I started this blog with the intention of answering all the questions that came up and soon realized that that would not do them justice. Instead, I will do a series of blogs on forgiveness that addresses these questions. These were excellent questions and are all worth exploring. Some of them overlap so as this series progresses, I will do the best I can to synthesize them.

I thought it was appropriate to start this series with us. So, how do we forgive ourselves?

So many things happen in our lives that we blame ourselves for. We may blame ourselves for shouting at our kids or not protecting our siblings from abusive parents when we were young, or hating ourselves for having an affair. One of the first things to do is understand that you are not the first person who has made this mistake; it has likely been made thousands if not millions of times before you by other people. I am not condoning the action, but simply letting you know that you are not alone and that many people have made this mistake in the face of common human challenges. One of the common things we do as humans is taking things personally to a fault. When we come to understand that no one is immune from being unskillful, we can begin to take it a little less personally. This helps us in the process of forgiveness.

Another thing to remind yourself of is that this act you may have committed is now in the past, it is not present, and you are not currently doing it. Notice when the mind trap of blaming yourself for past events arises, see if you can acknowledge its presence and the remind yourself that you did …


Nothing Working? Maybe Your Mind is Asking the Wrong Question

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Let me tell you a story.  A couple had just landed in Venice, Italy carrying heavy bags on their backs nad looking for a hotel to rest after a long journey. Every time they entered a hotel they would greet the concierge with the same question “Do you have a room available?” And every concierge would reply with the same answer, “So sorry, no vacancy.” After hearing “no” so many times they started to feel hopeless wondering if they were going to have to sleep in the street that night. The wife turned to her husband and said, “Are we asking the right question? I wonder if they even have any dirty rooms open.” They went back to the last hotel they visited where the concierge greeted them quizzically. They then asked, “Do you have any dirty rooms?” The concierge immediately replied, yes we do have a dirty room, it has two dirty towels in it, but the bed is made. The husband replied, “We’ll take it, just give us two new towels.”  The deal was done.

I would argue that when we’re not feeling well, our minds are in a perpetual state of asking the wrong question to find the solution. There’s no question that when we’re not where we want to be a switch goes off in our minds that asks “what is best solution to this problem?” In that drive to find the solution, we’re automatically focusing on an idea that we are sub-par and this makes us even feel worse. As we feel worse, the mind begins to recollect and associate with all of the memories in life that were unsatisfactory and begins to think of a future shaded with the color “bleak.”

Our minds are simply asking the wrong question. Instead of focusing on the gap and asking, “what is the solution,” we need to be asking, “what is the most skillful response to this feeling right now?” In doing this, instead of the mind racing off focusing on this dissatisfaction, it can become more present with the discomfort, allowing it to be as it is. In doing this, we may realize …


Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I see it every day. We all hold grudges against other people who we feel have hurt or offended us in some way or another. We even hold these grudges for people who aren’t even alive anymore. We do this with the false idea that somehow we are making them suffer by being hurt and angry with them. Now, there is nothing wrong with being angry with someone, but it is how we express this anger that makes all the difference on us and our relationships . What is a grudge anyway? May it is harboring ill feelings toward another in the need to settle a score.

Let’s try a little experiment. Think of someone in your life right now (maybe not the most extreme person) who you are absolutely holding a grudge against right now. There is no way you are willing to forgive this person right now for their actions. Picture that person and hold onto that unwillingness to forgive. Now, just observe what emotions are there; Anger, resentment, sadness?  Also notice how you are holding your body right now, is it tense anywhere or feeling heavy? Now bring awareness to your thoughts; are they hateful and spiteful thoughts?

Most people who I do this with find this to be an uncomfortable experiment that elicits feelings of tension, anger, and thoughts of ill will toward the other person. This is not conjuring these feelings out of nowhere; this is just bringing to light what is already within stirring around. There is a common misperception that forgiveness means condoning the act of the other person. Forgiveness simply means releasing this cycle of torture that continues to reside inside.

Forgiving does not mean forgetting or condoning! Forgiveness is for the person who was perpetrated, not the perpetrator. It is saying, “I have already been offended against, I am going to let go of this so I don’t continue to be burdened by it.” You have already been tortured once, why continue letting this torture you by holding onto it with the erroneous belief that holding onto it is somehow hurting the other person. In a chapter titled “Give …


What to Do When Crying Feels Like Giving In

Monday, April 13th, 2009

In a recent PC blog by Erika Krull explores a personal journey with the act of crying and how she has come to a more accepting place with it. She writes about her past:

I also spent some years crying in private shame from depression that no one really understood or knew about. Perhaps because of that, I’m both more easily triggered and more ready to be open about it.

Many of us have grown up with the messages that crying is shameful and others have had so many tears in connection with depression that the simple act of a tear making its way through the duct triggers fear of depression’s return. We now know that thoughts, feelings and emotions are inextricably tied together and the event of one can trigger another. So when we cry or feel sad, the past negative depressive thoughts (e.g., I am worthless, hopeless, unlovable) come screaming back even if the crying has nothing to do with them.

Erika writes about the potential that these tears could have other meanings:

Some of these are tears leftover from grieving a death, some of these are tears of joy for passing on traditions, and some of these are tears of nostalgia for happy experiences that shaped my life.

However, as a result of these strong associations of tears with depression, shame, or other negative moods, many people don’t allow them to release and just hold them back. In a recent interview in Therese Borchard’s blog, Beyond Blue, I explore how to cultivate the ability to cry in a healthy way.

Our culture has a lot of judgment about crying and many of us learn from a very young age, especially men, not to cry and just to “stuff it.” It’s unfortunate and I think this is changing little by little. Depending on a person’s situation, I support going to a therapist who can act as a guide to discussing some of the wounding that may have occurred earlier in life. There will be a lot of fear covering up the tears as they may seem foreign and be riddled with judgment from earlier years.

That voice that says “crying …


Mindful Parenting

Friday, April 10th, 2009

While there may be many books out there on parenting, there really isn’t any definitive guide because every baby and child is unique and all parents come with our own unique baggage from childhood and genetics. Becoming a parent is wonderful for stirring up all of those old memories and connections from our own upbringing for us to deal with. For many, childhood can be a time of betrayal and invalidation where our parents were potentially disconnected from their inner worlds of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As a result, security and trust wasn’t fostered and this bled into our intimate relationships and we swore that it would be different with our kids. Low and behold, life increasingly becomes stressful and hectic, and it’s all too easy to find ourselves in the past patterns that we had with our own parents where we aren’t attuned with our own children. With this in mind, it is becoming increasingly important for us to learn how to attune to our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions, so we can have the ability to do that with our children.

One of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is their presence, validation, and security. When we’re present with our children it lays the path for attunement and resonance. Attunement is when the parent is aware and present to the child’s inner world of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When attuned, a state of resonance occurs where the child “feels felt”. Think about anytime you felt completely understood. It breeds a sense of safety and when a person feels safe they cultivate the ability to trust.

Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, MD has a great acronym for this:

PART (Presence, Attunement, Resonance, Trust)

He notes that this attunement and resonance builds regulatory circuits in the brain that supports the child’s ability to foster empathic relationships and be resilient in the future.

This is an invaluable gift to give a child.

Easy enough, right?

Um…no. It can enormously challenging at times to be a parent. Author and professional blog writer, Therese Borchard often writes about her struggles being a mom and suffering with depression. As a parent, we are …


Watering the Seeds of Happiness

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I often write about the demanding and criticizing voices in our heads a lot because it is so amazingly prevalent and I figure just about anyone can identify with that and almost all of us need support with them. Every day these voices kick in out of habit telling us “you can’t do that right” or “what a failure you are.” More often than not we become overwhelmed by them and indulge them, and as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “water the seeds of our own suffering.” What if we were able to see these voices as having good intentions? How could this ever be?

 Many of us have past wounds in our lives whether it was parent seeming too busy to pay attention to us or losing someone early in life, or being the victim of assault. Voices start arising inside us to help us maintain some control over our environments to keep us safe from being wounded again. These voices may judge us or others so we don’t get too close and run the risk the danger of either losing them or being hurt by them. Or maybe the voices just criticize us so we don’t have to face the discomfort inside and spend all of our time taking care of other people. Although at the end of the day, these voices aren’t effective in maintaining a life of health and well-being, they can be viewed as really trying to help. The end result is that we can learn to be more kind and caring to ourselves instead of damning and hating.

So, rather than damning and hating these voices that keep us down, we can learn to be a bit kinder to them, acknowledging their presence, and then choosing a different path. For example, if the voice arises “you’re not good enough, don’t even try it”, try and notice it and see it as a part of you that is simply trying to keep you safe from a past wounding experience. You can acknowledge and view this wound coming to life and rather than entertaining it, thank it for trying to keep you safe and …


Mindfulness & Psychotherapy



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