Holistic Divorce Counseling

Holistic Divorce Counseling Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM. Free support, resources, and comfort for all life's issues and transitions.

Why Do Most Therapists Care So Much About Your Childhood? September 16, 2016

Filed under: Childhood's Impact on your Life — chocophile @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

 

“What’s past is prologue.”

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

 

The thing about the past is that it’s not the past.

Irish saying

 

 

People are often deterred from starting therapy because they think they will have to dredge up unpleasant things from their childhood, which can feel daunting. Yet, childhood experiences will surface, as they typically influence your present relationships. That doesn’t mean you have to excavate every disturbing event from your past, but it usually includes dealing with the issues and patterns that keep paying undesirable emotional and behavioral dividends in the present.

 

If you are working with a seasoned therapist you trust, the journey is fascinating. After all, who or what is more interesting than you? Good therapy helps you develop compassion for whatever you went through, as well as appreciation for how resilient you are, both of which can lift your spirits.

 

It’s perfectly natural to have some anxiety about retrieving unhappy childhood memories as you might fear being flooded with feelings of worthlessness, rage, depression, and anxiety. Fear of being retraumatized and feeling as helpless as you did growing up is a real concern that deserves attention. Therapy can help you manage those concerns, while only going as fast as you feel safe to go.

 

No matter how inconvenient and annoying it is to have childhood issues still affect you as an adult, it makes perfect sense when you think about it. Imagine you plant a tree. Every year as the sapling grows you force the trunk in another direction. One year you bend it to the right, the next you bend it to the left. After a decade you let it grow straight. For the entire life of that tree its base will be jagged. No matter how big and strong the trunk grows, the base will never be straight. The tree is incredibly healthy, but its early years are still obvious to anyone looking at it. Humans are far more complex than trees, and can cover up the effects of their early years in myriad ways; yet, those childhood experiences exert an influence.

 

Another reason therapists care so much about your childhood is evidence gleaned from the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE) which showed definite links between the amount of adverse childhood experiences and an increased incidence of health, mental health issues, and social problems. You can take the ACE questionnaire here: http://www.acestudy.org/the-ace-score.html. (You can read more about the study here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-ellen-stevens/the-adverse-childhood-exp_1_b_1943647.html)

 

Of course, you did not need to have major traumatic childhood experiences to have issues. New research talks about the difference between what researchers are calling “little t” and “big T” trauma.  “Little t” are things like incessant put downs, devaluing you as a person, snide remarks and sarcasm, while “big T” usually refers to war, rape, childhood sexual and/or physical abuse. Their findings show how anything that feels like family betrayal can actually be worse, long term, than cataclysmic events. The theory is family betrayals, or betrayals by an intimate, go to your very core and make you feel unsafe. Unsafe in your body, unsafe with people you desperately want to trust, and unsafe in your world. After all, if you can’t trust your family, whom can you trust?

 

It’s healthy to avoid pain, and revisiting traumatic experiences can be difficult. Luckily, there is a therapeutic technique called Internal Family Systems therapy that is both gentle and deep. It greatly limits the chances of being flooded with unpleasant or disturbing memories and their attendant emotions. IFS allows you to get to know your various parts, how they might be polarized, and whom they are protecting (vulnerable child or teen parts that still carry heavy emotional burdens). In addition, it helps you appreciate all the creative ways your protective parts have been trying to keep you safe, even when some of them have used alcohol, drugs, random sex, gambling, hoarding, etc. to keep your emotional Mount Vesuvius from erupting.

 

If the idea that you have a multiplicity of internal parts seems alarming, think of all the times you said something like: “Part of me wants to go to the movies, but part of me knows I should study for that exam tomorrow.” It’s second nature to notice different parts of you that want different things. What is less intuitive is how some parts use extreme behaviors, emotions, and thought patterns to protect you from feeling shame, grief, inadequacy, worthlessness, etc. IFS puts you in the driver’s seat. You control how fast you want to go, and if you start to feel flooded with an unpleasant emotion your therapist can help you unblend from the part creating it.

 

Of course, IFS is not the only path to freedom from the effects of adverse childhood experiences and trauma. Mind-body practices like yoga are extremely helpful in creating a new internal landscape, while fostering a different relationship with your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.

 

Philosophical approaches like Buddhism can help you sit with unpleasant emotions, watching them come and go with curiosity and interest, knowing they won’t last. Buddhist techniques also help you reframe whatever painful experiences you might have so you can see and experience them differently.

 

For those of you who have often thought people should just stop blaming their parents and get on with life, I am not suggesting anyone blame their parents. This is simply a way to explain how childhood experiences have a long term influence. While you can work wisely with them and feel better, it’s impossible to completely overcome their effects.

 

“Your suffering is your benefit,” is a Buddhist phrase often invoked as a reminder of the hidden gems in even the worst pain. Tibetan Buddhist monks go even further with their practice of seeking out suffering. No, they are not masochists, they simply believe suffering ignites the fire of compassion for yourself and others. Just as in the Buddhist practice of loving kindness, or metta meditation, you start with yourself.

 

For more information and guidance about metta meditation see these links:

http://www.buddhanet.net/metta_in.htm)

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

Advertisements
 

Family Secrets: How to Overcome their Toxic Legacy  December 14, 2015

 

Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.

Paul Tournier

 

We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.

Robert Frost, The Secret Sits

 

 

In families where there is addiction, abuse, criminal behavior, or mental illness, there is usually a code of silence that dictates the actions of the whole tribe. This unstated but powerful family trope has the potential for creating an internal shame-based environment that perpetuates a sense of worthlessness and can leave a legacy of self-destructive behaviors and difficult relationships.

 

What motivates people to keep family secrets? Fear of social rejection, fear of rejection and criticism from the family, fear that articulating these truths will somehow make them more real and demanding of attention (whether by oneself, other family members, or the authorities). Yet, the path to releasing shame, cultivating self-acceptance, and creating a new life paradigm is through speaking one’s truth. By openly acknowledging the challenges of your unique childhood you unlock much of the power those secrets had over you, and can connect with everyone else who faced similar issues. Instead of feeling isolated and unfit for human company, you can re-join the human race.

 

Of course, after years of denial and keeping secrets, it is not easy to start speaking honestly. Thankfully, there are ways to heal from these patterns and their fall-out. 12 Step programs provide support as you navigate unfamiliar emotional seas. Therapy bolsters you as you become your authentic self and learn to speak your truth, while shedding light on family dynamics inculcated at a very impressionable age. Therapy can also help you deal with the parts of you that feel disloyal when choosing a different path from the one you were taught at home. In addition, it can assist you with the emotional, physical, and behavioral reactions that come from unleashing a boat load of family secrets. These consequences can be very hard to handle as they often include outright denial of events, and pushback from people who have known you one way and resist your changing. (A therapist can also help you with the cascade of feelings these reactions might trigger.)

 

If you grew up in a family with big secrets you were trained to deny your reality. If your childhood included abuse you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress. Luckily, there are a number of incredibly helpful ways to heal through much of that trauma.

 

The more people refuse to keep family secrets and open the gates to their truth, both past and present, the more likely everyone will realize: we all suffer, we all feel rejected, we all face physical, emotional, and social difficulties. The sooner that happens, the greater the likelihood we can create a compassionate world for ourselves and others.

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

How Your Tone of Voice Effects Relationships July 5, 2013



If you can remember everyone’s behavior is a reflection of them and not you, even when the fall-out directly effects you, then their tone or attitude doesn’t have to send you into a tailspin.


The benefits of shifting cognitive gears and thinking, “This has absolutely nothing to do with me,” are truly beyond belief. Instead of taking things personally, you detach with love from other people’s issues, agendas, and projections. You become less defensive, reactive, and easily angered. Reframing your thoughts does not come easily or naturally, and takes a bit of practice, so let’s get started.


Say, for example, someone close to you takes a tone you think is sarcastic, impatient, or condescending. Does that press your buttons? Does it trigger past memories of someone, perhaps a parent, who took that tone and catalyzed feelings of shame, embarrassment, ineptitude, or unworthiness in you? If so, join the club. Everyone has had those experiences. Of course, that doesn’t make it good, just part of life. The question is: How can you deal with it?


First, remind yourself:


This is not about me.

This is not about my parent.

I am no longer a child.

I do not have to take this personally, even if it feels like an attack.

This is not about my past. This person is not consciously trying to press my buttons. Perhaps, they feel threatened, angry, or vindictive and are unconscious of how those emotions might be influencing their behavior.


Even if they are saying things in a tone of voice that reminds me of old pattens and pain, I do not have to react without recognizing I have a choice. I can choose to see their behavior as a reflection of them, not me.


If someone’s tone is consistently pressing my buttons I can talk with them, look at my own responses, and own them. By taking responsibility for my emotional reactions, I reclaim my power over myself.


In the moment, when you feel your sympathetic nervous system engaging its flight, flight, or freeze modes, consciously take a deep, deep breath. Feel it infiltrate every cell as you inhale and relax each one as you exhale. Feel yourself grounded in your seat or feet, connected to stability and firm resolve. Your agenda is to keep breathing, feel secure, and only speak once you have thought about your response. This may mean there are longer pauses between their remarks and your retorts. Let that be just fine. It’s not chess, and no timer will chime if you take a few extra seconds.


By allowing yourself to notice your reactions on physical, emotional and cognitive levels without rushing to react, you can calm down and process what is happening.


Assume the best. Choose to believe this person is not trying to push your buttons. However, if you know they are itching for a fight, let that be another reason to keep calm.


If you feel threatened, ask yourself: Is there any real danger? Naturally, if you think someone might assault you get away as fast as possible. More typically, it is emotional pain or interpersonal conflict we want to avoid. If that is the case, remind yourself how you have lived through plenty of pain and conflict in the past. While it wasn’t pleasant, you survived. That should help calm you even more, enabling you to respond thoughtfully, rather than lash out defensively. Later on, when you can leisurely assess the situation, you may decide to spend less or no more time with that person; or, if they are very close to you, you may want to work through things. That may mean talking about it once tempers cool, or enlisting the help of a therapist.


Another way people typically get defensive is when their expectations meet reality. Expectations are a sure-fire way of setting yourself up for disappointment on a good day, and anger or depression on a bad one. If you keep cultivating unrealistic expectations about all the people in your life you will find yourself reacting badly to their tone of voice or attitude.


Perhaps, you discussed someone’s sarcastic or condescending tone of voice and are surprised when they talk to you that way again. Just because you alerted them to their verbal patterns does not mean they will change them. Thinking other people will adjust their habits to suit your desires is a guaranteed path to disappointment, as is trying to motivate them to want to change. Rather than embark on a fool’s errand, you might want to work on the only person you can change: you.


Last but not least, resist the urge to think, “If they really loved me they would change.” and “They know how much this bothers me. Obviously don’t care enough to behave differently.” Those thoughts may sound rational but aren’t. They are a perfect example of unrealistic expectations and assuming you know what motivates someone else’s behavior. Since each head is its own universe, you can’t possibly know. Resist the urge to analyze other people’s actions and erroneously attribute negative motivations to them. Sometimes, people are just oblivious, distracted with their own issues, or forget how much something bothers you. Hard as this may be to believe, even if someone adores you, you aren’t the center of their universe every minute of every day. They are.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

Patience: How To Cultivate It May 16, 2011



How poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees.
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)


Patience is the best remedy for every trouble.
Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC)


“Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.”
Barbara Johnson


Many years ago, when I was studying with Albert Ellis, he told a story about a man standing on line at the grocery store with half a gallon of ice cream. The line wasn’t moving, and his ice cream was getting softer by the second. He was feeling increasingly annoyed until he realized the line was held up by an elderly blind man. Suddenly, the ice cream didn’t seem so important.


Al brought that up to show us how quickly our feelings change when we think differently. The man adjusted his thoughts in a split second, and his feelings went from impatience to gratitude. The story also illustrates how patience is a beautiful thing once we open to it.


During my childhood, I recall my father saying, “All good things come to those who wait.” If I still felt impatient about something, he would add, “Act in haste, and repent at leisure.” While I now believe he was right, I had already inculcated America’s predilection for instant gratification, and didn’t have the slightest interest in delaying it.


Our culture is far more oriented towards immediate gratification than ever. We seem to have a collective notion that, as long as we put the pedal to the metal, we can achieve whatever we want. I believe both concepts are true and compatible, even though they may seem contradictory. Waiting, resting, and allowing things to develop are just as crucial to our creativity and productivity (whether in work, relationships, or hobbies) as is forging ahead with vision boards, imagery, affirmations, and good old grit.


In America today, waiting is often a close cousin to slothfulness and reviled with every Calvinist molecule we breathe. Patience with the process is not only undervalued, it is often scorned as laziness. But laziness and patience are as different as chalk and cheese. Allowing things to unfold takes a ton of energy and vision, especially, if you are someone for whom “moving forward” is an inner mantra.


Some people actually fear resting and taking it easier because they secretly believe if they ratchet down their activity level they will never be able to crank it up again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rest rejuvenates and energetically prepares you for the tasks at hand.


My colleague, Robyn Posin, PhD., has often said, “Rest is a sacred act.” I couldn’t agree more. By resting you show yourself compassion, recharge your batteries, and allow time for new knowledge to sink in, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual. In addition, by cultivating patience with yourself it becomes easier to bestow kindness on others.


Advertising would have you believe that working yourself to the bone is fine, as long as you crack open a beer at the end of the day, go to a spa, or splurge on some other luxury. This lets the stress accrue until it feels as if you have to take a break. On the other hand, regularly giving yourself small treats, as novelist Iris Murdoch once said, is one of the secrets to a happy life. The joy you feel when you take a real break to do a little yoga, eat a leisurely lunch, or read a book softens the challenges of day-to-day living.


Life can be stressful enough without adding extra bricks to your load. Rushing, always pushing yourself to do more, thinking you are only as valuable as what you do, adds as much, if not more, stress than all the things on your to-do list. Often, these stressors feel like “shoulds.” Many years ago Karen Horney, a psychoanalyst, wrote a famous essay called, “The Tyranny of the Shoulds.” She was right in her assessment of how easy it is to be hard on oneself. By challenging these “shoulds” you can free up more time to be patient with whatever you want to achieve, whether it’s personal, professional, or avocational.


When you rush the process, whatever it is, you miss opportunities for growth, peace, and being in the moment. Of course, sitting with what is can be very challenging, especially, when it’s something you don’t want. It’s natural to crave the next better-feeling thing and want it instantly. Giving yourself the gift of patience allows you to digest what is happening now. What’s the rush? Hurrying can keep you from healing self-awareness, being in the moment, and just sitting with your thoughts and feelings. They may not always be fun, or pleasant, but rushing through them is often a guarantee you will have to learn that same lesson, whatever it is, again. If one of your goals in life is radical self-acceptance, practicing patience is surely a helpful strategy.


Here are a few ideas you may want to try if you notice yourself rushing frenetically from one thing to the next:


What “shoulds” rule your life? Take a few minutes to brainstorm. Once you have a list ask yourself where you can scale back, do less, or simply take more time to get something accomplished.


Do you have trouble saying no? If you want more time to rest and slow down, you need to practice feeling the discomfort that can come from not always giving others what they want, and possibly incurring their disappointment or rejection. This is especially true if you think your sense of worth depends on what you do, rather than who you are. Try saying no to one thing every day. How does it feel? If even thinking of saying no creates anxiety, ask yourself if it’s ok for you to really nurture yourself.  Saying no to one thing always means you’re saying yes to something else. Often, it’s the super nurturers who neglect themselves. If saying no has always been a challenge, you may want to read a basic assertiveness book like, “When I Say No, I feel Guilty,” or “The Assertive Option.”


Notice when you are impatient with yourself. Is there a correlation between those times and being over-scheduled? Have you taken on more than you can comfortably do? Practice talking back to that inner voice always egging you on to do more, and radically choose to do less.


Think back to a time when someone was patient with you. Perhaps it was a parent who taught you how to ride a bike, a teacher who helped you learn the alphabet, or a coach who cheered on every little improvement you made. Allow yourself to really feel that expansive, generous space in which you could learn something without rushing, and let it settle in your heart.


Do you find yourself rushing because you try to fit one extra thing into your day? Experiment with crossing things off your list and adding in time to read, rest, listen to music, take an Epsom Salt bath (this replenishes magnesium and relaxes your muscles), have a cup of tea, go for a relaxing walk, or watch the clouds move across the sky. Just be.


Give yourself the gift of more time by scheduling longer intervals between activities. For example, if you routinely take only 15 minutes to get dressed for a night out, leave yourself 30 minutes.


Last but not least, be patient with yourself as you develop this new skill. Patience is like a muscle: the more you use it the stronger it gets.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

We’re All In Recovery, So Welcome To The Club July 26, 2010



  • Whether it was a parent, teacher, grandparent, uncle, aunt, friend, boss, sister, brother, classmate, or co-worker, at some point, everyone has been affected by damaging remarks, criticism, physical abuse, harassment, or sexual abuse.


    You may think it extreme to say that we are all in recovery, but you don’t have to be a mathematician to add up the numbers: at least one in four women is a victim of sexual abuse, one in ten adults is addicted to alcohol, and one in four women is likely to experience domestic violence during her life. Then there are all the other issues flying under the radar, like elder abuse, bullying, and living with someone dealing with depression, guilt, hoarding, or addiction.


    Each person who is directly affected by these issues indirectly affects many more. And how could that be otherwise? Even the kindest soul reacts to abuse either by taking it out on others, himself, or both.


    When we look at the statistics, the chances of not having some toxic interactions are infinitesimally small. If that is true, and we are all negatively affected by verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, perhaps post-traumatic stress is far more common than we think.


    Surely, growing up in a family with an addicted parent leaves one traumatized. The trifecta of unpredictability, lack of primal trust, and insecurity, often all shrouded in a family pact of secrecy, is more than enough reason to embark on a recovery mission.


    If the Buddhists are right when they say our suffering is our benefit, we can all help by first recognizing how pervasive emotional trauma is and developing more compassion for ourselves, and each other.


    What would happen if our society recognized this epidemic of PTS? (I don’t call it a disorder as it’s natural to be incredibly stressed after trauma.) Ideally, we would cultivate gentleness for ourselves and our fellow travelers. We would all embrace a culture of recovery by speaking more kindly, acting more considerately, owning our own issues, cooperating rather than competing, embracing our natural sensitivity, and remembering that everyone struggles at one time or another.


    If we assume that each of us has been hurt, probably numerous times, we might be tempted to chalk it up to human nature and suggest everyone simply buck up; but, isn’t developing a thicker skin part of what led to these issues in the first place? Furthermore, how does burying our true feelings help in the long run? Doesn’t it make it more likely they will come out inappropriately in sarcasm, or even abuse?


    What if we used our collective pain to catalyze our evolution?


    What would our better selves look like?
    Would we be more generous, more patient, tolerant, and sensitive?


    What about how we treat ourselves? Could we show more generosity, patience, tolerance, and sensitivity towards our own sweet selves?


    What if, for one day, none of us took anything personally? Remembering that each of us is carrying far more baggage than is obvious.


    What if after being cut off on the road we thought, “I wonder what that person is dealing with that made them so distracted?”


    What if we assumed that every single person was dealing with something difficult, and we cut them some slack?


    What if we smiled at everyone, whether we knew them, or not?


    What if we practiced compassion?


    These days, there is a great awareness of how we have hurt the environment. When will we own up to how we hurt ourselves, and each other?


    Isn’t our treatment of the environment, animals, and others merely a projection of how we treat ourselves?


    I believe it is.


    By hurting anything we hurt everything.


    Today, why not vow to start a real new age by taking the very best care you can of your sweet self? If you do, you will watch that inner love manifest to everyone’s benefit.




    Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
 

How to Deal With Holidays After a Divorce, Death, or Move November 28, 2009



As you know, the holidays can easily push all your emotional buttons; and, that’s for people whose lives are fairly balanced. If you have experienced a recent death, divorce, or move, your reactions may be more heightened. All that stress can make you extra sensitive to the wrong comment. While you can’t control what people say, you can remind yourself it is all about them, not you. Unconsciously, they suggest what they think would be good for them if they were in your situation. That’s why the best thing to say to someone who is suffering is that you are sorry they’re going through this difficult period, and things will change.  At least, those comments are irrefutable.


Expectations have everything to do with how you feel in any situation.  The holidays are no different. Images of Norman Rockwell paintings, with smiling faces around a festive table, can leave you feeling critical of what the holiday is for you now.  That might be self-criticism, and second-guessing decisions that brought you to a place of loneliness, insecurity, and grief. Allow yourself emotional space to be in this between time, straddling what was and what will be. Understand how whatever is happening now, in this holiday, is not the template for all your future holidays. Take a page from AA, and break up the day into small parts, taking it one minute at a time, if need be.


While you may be tempted to think your lack of enthusiasm for celebration is part of a trend, resist that impulse and remind yourself: It’s only one day. Unpleasant as it may be, it is part of moving forward.  Birth is always messy, painful, and ultimately ecstatic. Telling yourself your current feelings are temporary broadens your perspective and helps you stop awfulizing about your situation. It may be far from your ideal, but is it really 100% bad? This might be a good time to make a list of everything you are happy with in your life. Even a P.O.W. can be appreciative for a ray of light, a morsel of food, or a bird’s song, so focus on what is going well for you and what you can enjoy.


If you find yourself painting a rosy picture of past holidays, reach back and remember how things really were. If you need a reality check, try reading some of David Sedaris’ humorous reminiscences. No one has a perfect anything, and that includes their celebrations.  If you think you know a family that does, you simply don’t know them well enough.  Painting an unrealistically wonderful portrait of other people’s lives is unhelpful, as it leaves you feeling bereft, or singled out for misery.


Watch out for other negative thoughts, like comparing a perfectly fine holiday now to one you’ve embellished over the years as heavenly because you cultivated amnesia for past unpleasant events. This is a good time to take a page from Jean Vanier’s book and love reality. (Just for the record, he’s been working on that for 40 years with varying degrees of success, but it’s still a useful concept.)


No one knows the future, and it only upsets you to assume the worst. Make a conscious choice to assume the best; and, if that seems like climbing an emotional Mount Everest, let yourself feel what you’re feeling. It will pass. I promise.


As you release your old notions of how life should be you make room for how it can be. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have had some wonderful holiday times. Why not remember how you helped create them? By clinging to the past, and an image of what you think your life should be now, you resist new experiences you might like even more.


As a creature of habit, aversion to the unknown comes naturally, and can protect you; but, it may also slow your evolution to the person you are becoming.  It’s natural to feel some anxiety about that, since you don’t know how that person will be. You might shift some values (see Challenge Your Values), like things you never enjoyed before, gravitate towards different people—anything is possible, and that can be scary. We like the familiar. As my mother puts it: “I hate change, even when it’s for the better.”


If you have a holiday that feels off or unsatisfying, remind yourself you were used to things being a certain way for a long time. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way for you now. Whenever you make a change, or one is foisted on you, it discombobulates your entire system.  That temporary awkwardness and dissatisfaction you feel is just that: temporary.  It won’t last. Another holiday will come, and, with it, the potential for something greater than you can imagine now.


To change your brain chemistry right this minute, you may want to fantasize about what that future holiday might be like.  Use all five senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste) to paint a picture of your ideal celebration. Don’t relive one from the past, create a new paradigm. Go with your gut: it can be conservative or outrageous, it’s your fantasy.


If you think your former holidays were idyllic, great! That means you have created what you want in the past and you can create your new vision in the future. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet just means you need more time to heal. Take all the time you need. At some point you will be ready. In the meantime, practice viewing each unsatisfying situation as providing valuable data on what you don’t want. Eventually, your new vision will be so strong it will become your reality. Patience with yourself, and the sometimes agonizingly slow process of change, will make the journey easier.


Copyright Nicole S., Urdang

 

Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem, & Self-Acceptance May 3, 2009

 

Despite what you may have been lead to believe, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-acceptance are all different and produce different states of mind.  Self-confidence is born of repeated experiences at which you eventually excel.  Self-esteem is based on thinking you are accomplished at something and that makes you better than someone else (essentially, you hold yourself in high esteem), while self-acceptance is unconditionally accepting yourself, right this minute, regardless of your talents and flaws.  

 

Self-esteem is the only one that can really wreak havoc on your sense of self, as it creates an emotional roller coaster. Let’s say you are rating yourself very well because you aced an exam.  Your spirits and ego are soaring; there’s no problem. But, now, it’s the next day and you find out you failed a test. The dark side of self-esteem rears its ugly head and triggers a barrage of self-abnegating thoughts.  Unfortunately, self-downing trumps self praise every time.  

 

Albert Ellis, the eminent psychologist and prolific author, said that the one thing you can do to enhance your life is to practice USA: unconditional self-acceptance.  This doesn’t mean that you love everything about yourself, but you accept everything.  Paradoxically, by accepting those traits you may not find especially endearing, you are more likely to change them.  You accept yourself unconditionally, but not all your behaviors, those, you can still rate.  (As someone recently suggested, rate but don’t berate.) If you find ones you like, great.  If you find ones that impede your relationships, vocation, or health, you can work to change them.  Because you have not reviled yourself for being fallible and engaging in some less-than helpful actions, you are more likely to change. Your ego is less involved in the result. You want to do something differently, but you know it’s not a prerequisite to liking and loving yourself, because you already separated your value as a human being from your behaviors.

 

Here’s a pop quiz to see if that made sense: pretend I give you a beautiful wicker basket. You may  not even like wicker baskets, but the craftsmanship is exquisite and you appreciate it. I start giving you fruit to put in your basket.  A cluster of dewy grapes, a brown, soft banana, a luscious looking pear, and a past-its-prime moldy cantaloupe.  What kind of a basket do you have?  If you answered, “A beautiful wicker basket,” you were right.  If you said anything about the fruit you were off track. Why?  Because I asked you about the basket, not what it contained. Practice thinking of yourself as the basket and all your traits, habits, talents etc. as the fruit. Just like with the fruit, you can ditch those pieces that aren’t useful, cook with those that still have some life in them, and add some fresh ones when the mood strikes.

 

Unconditional self-acceptance is a philosophical stance you choose simply because it will make you happier.  It’s no different from Louise Hay deciding that everything was happening for her highest good.  There may be no evidence to support it, but we get to pick what we want to think. It’s our choice to frame something as “good” or “bad.”   Why not choose those thoughts that make us feel joyful and optimistic?

 

One way to actively work to restructure one’s thoughts is to pay attention to all the times you think something disturbing.  When you notice those negative tapes playing, say “STOP!” to yourself.  Picture a huge, red, neon stop sign for extra emphasis. Then, consciously choose a happier thought. It may relate to something you were thinking, or it may be completely different.  If you were ruminating on a possible negative scenario in the future, imagine it working out just the way you wish it would.  There is absolutely no harm in this, despite all the superstitious junk with which we have all been indoctrinated. 

 

For most of my professional career, when people were worried about something bad occurring in the future, I have asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” The idea was, if they could parse through the worst thing and figure out how they would handle it, they’d be prepared and more relaxed.  It’s not a bad strategy, but it focuses on the negative.  Now, I like to ask people to imagine what’s the best possible outcome.  I assume that if they have lived through everything that has happened so far, they can handle anything else that comes down the pike. In the meantime, they can dwell on wonderful images of things working out well.  This does not meant they don’t make an effort to improve their lot, it simply makes it more likely that their lot will improve. Generally speaking, people who assume the best usually attract it.

 

This brings me to an observation I have made regarding the whole Law of Attraction school of thought.  It’s not New Agey, at all.  It’s ancient.  It’s all about changing your thoughts, i.e.: cognitive therapy, and watching what happens.  Not only will you feel better,  but you will be more open to new experiences and to changing out-dated, unhelpful behaviors.  Give it a try and let me know what happens.

 

 

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

 

 
%d bloggers like this: