Self Esteem, Solutions, Support, Toolkit

Silencing Your Inner Critic

By request, this is the transcript from a video made almost 5 years ago. I hope you find it helpful 🙂

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Most of us have had the experience of negative self talk – criticizing yourself, beating yourself up over things you wish you could change or had done differently. What I have noticed as a therapist is that these little nasty voices in your head in no way help you change for the better. In fact, they more often get in the way of you being able to move forward in your life and feel good about yourself. This video is going to talk about negative self-talk, how and why so many of us experience this, and how to substitute the critical tape playing in your head, telling you you are not good enough, for more positive and realistic messages.

People typically judge and criticize themselves for their appearance, financial status, relationships, parenting skills, weight, and the list goes on and on. Where do these messages start? A variety of places. Sometimes we receive critical messages as children – from our parents, family members, even in the schoolyard. The media is quite often not self-esteem friendly, making you feel that if your skin is not flawless, you are not a size two, your earning potential is not what you want it to be, your relationship is not perfect – you are a failure. And finally, we make mistakes in life. We show poor judgment and we don’t always do the right thing. So guilt can linger from past mistakes, and we find we can’t let it go and forgive ourselves.

Let me ask you this. What type of language do you use with yourself when you notice a flaw or make a mistake? Do you insult yourself, beat yourself up, or do you take a more compassionate and understanding
tone? Many of us are our own worst critics, and our inner voice is unforgiving and harsh. Let’s say your inner voice is highly critical – does this help you feel better about yourself? Or does it tear you down, making you feel flawed and like a failure?

– When you notice something about yourself you don’t like, instead of feeling cut off from others, or do you feel connected with your fellow humans who are also imperfect? Do you tend to feel cut off from others when things go wrong, with the irrational feeling that everyone else is having a better time of it than you, or do you get in touch with the fact that all humans experience hardship in their lives?

– Ask yourself about the consequences of being so hard on yourself. Does it make you more motivated and happy, or discouraged and depressed? If being hard on yourself doesn’t make you a happier person, then clearly it’s not working. Time for a new perspective.

– Another question to ask yourself – how do you think you would feel if you could truly love and accept yourself exactly as you are? Does this possibility scare you, give you hope, or both? I have had clients tell me they felt self-acceptance was narcissistic or selfish. It’s neither.

– When you run into challenges in your life, do you tend to ignore your pain or struggle, and focus exclusively on fixing the problem, or do you stop to give yourself care and comfort?

– When you come up against problems or mistakes, do you make a bigger deal out of it than you need to, or do you tend to keep things in balanced perspective?

If you feel that you lack sufficient self-compassion, check in with yourself – are you criticizing yourself for this too? If so, stop right there. Try to feel compassion for how difficult it is to be an imperfect human being in this extremely competitive society of ours. Most of us live in cultures that do not emphasize self-compassion, quite the opposite. We’re told that we’re being self-indulgent if we don’t hold ourselves to harsh standards. We may feel that no matter how hard we try, our best just isn’t good enough. It’s time for something different. We can all benefit by learning to be more self-compassionate, and now is the perfect time to start.

Here is an exercise to not only help silence your inner critic, but to instead create your inner friend.

Create in your imagination a friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and
compassionate toward you. Imagine that this friend can see all your strengths and all your weaknesses, including any aspects you criticize yourself for. Think about what this friend feels about you, and how you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, with all your human imperfections. This friend recognizes the limits of human nature, and is kind and forgiving towards you. In his/her great wisdom this friend understands your life history and the thousands of things that have happened in your life to create you as you are right now. Any perceived faults are connected to so many things you didn’t choose: your genes, your family history, life circumstances – things that were outside of your control. Your friend sees through these human imperfections to the core of the real you, and accepts and loves you the way you are.

Now. I’d like you to sit down with a pen and paper, or in front of the computer. Write a letter from this friend to you. What would this friend say to you about your mistakes or flaws from the perspective of unlimited compassion? How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for the pain you feel when you judge yourself so harshly? What would this friend write in order to remind you that you are only human, that all people have both strengths and weaknesses?

If your imaginary friend might suggest possible changes you could make, how would these suggestions express unconditional understanding and compassion? As you write to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend, try to infuse your letter with a strong sense of acceptance, kindness, caring, and desire for your health and happiness.

Once you have finished this exercise, sit quietly for a bit. Step away from what you have written, and come back to re-read the letter in a little while. Maybe an hour or so. As you return and read, allow the compassion expressed in the letter to flow into you. Become aware of how it feels to experience kindness, loving acceptance, and forgiveness.

This experience can become a part of your daily life, in the way you speak about and to yourself. Replace your inner critic with an inner friend. Your work will not fall apart, I promise you. You may find that holding positive feelings about yourself allows you to increase your motivation and lessen depression or internal criticism. If you’d like to, take a few of the positive sentences expressed in your letter, write them on a sticky note or a piece of paper, and put them up around your home so that you can see these positive words as you go through your daily life.

It’s not enough to silence your inner critic. You have to fill that void, with positive self talk and an idea of friendship toward yourself.

I hope this simple exercise will help you begin to let go of being your own worst critic and begin to become your own best friend.

You can watch this video on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/tDm50j5m9Po

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Anxiety, Mental Health, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Self Esteem, Solutions, Stress, Support, Therapy, Toolkit

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder

In this blog we will be revisiting the topic of Social Anxiety, including a couple of updates from the new DSM 5, or the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Social Anxiety Disorder, which was formerly called Social Phobia, is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.

A person with Social Anxiety Disorder basically feels fearful that he or she will make mistakes, look bad, and be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. The anxiety can be severe enough to build into a panic attack. As a result of the fear, the person either tries their best to endure certain social situations even though they are in extreme distress, or may avoid them altogether. To receive a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety must be “out of proportion” to the actual threat or danger the situation poses. Symptoms may include blushing, sweating, heart palpitations, trembling, dizziness, and nausea.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder often suffer “anticipatory” anxiety — the fear of a situation before it even happens — for days or weeks before the event. Most of us may feel nervous before a job interview or a public presentation. For the person with Social Anxiety Disorder, the way they feel is far beyond a simple case of nervousness. It can be crippling, and can prevent the person from fully participating in their own lives.

In many cases, adults tend to be aware that the fear is unreasonable, but they are unable to overcome it on their own. Children may not have the maturity yet to recognize that their anxiety is extreme.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder may be afraid of a specific situation, such as speaking in public. However, most people with Social Anxiety Disorder experience fear more than one social situation. Other situations that commonly provoke anxiety include:

  • Eating or drinking in front of others.
  • Writing or working in front of others.
  • Being the center of attention.
  • Interacting with people, including dating or going to parties.
  • Asking questions or giving reports in groups.

Although worries about some of these situations are common, people with Social Anxiety Disorder worry excessively about them before, during and after the event. They fear that they will do or say something that they think will be humiliating or embarrassing, or that those around them are judgmental or critical.

Social Anxiety Disorder can have a negative impact on a person’s functioning, disrupting normal life, interfering with social relationships and quality of life and impairing performance at work or school. People with Social Anxiety Disorder may misuse alcohol or drugs to try to reduce their anxiety, and in some cases, alleviate depression which can co-occur with anxiety.

Social Anxiety Disorder can sometimes be linked to other disorders, such as Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and depression. Without treatment, Social Anxiety Disorder can negatively interfere with the person’s normal daily routine, including school, work, social activities, and relationships.

Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder

As with most mental health disorders, there is no one answer for the best way to treat each individual case. Nor is every person with Social Anxiety Disorder the same. That said, I will do my best to give you an overview of the most common thinking about the disorder, and some links below where you can investigate and learn more.

People with Social Anxiety Disorder are thought to suffer from distorted thinking, including false beliefs about social situations and the negative opinions of others. I can give you a couple of examples to help this make sense. A faulty thought which can contribute to anxiety looks like “If I speak up in this meeting and ask my question, I will look like a fool.” Or “I am no good with making conversation. People at this party are going to hate me.”

That leads me to one of the most widely accepted therapies for Social Anxiety, which is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If we can work with you to help clear up any distortions in your thought patterns, improve your self-concept, and develop a realistic perception of the likelihood that others are evaluating you in a negative way, it can help develop new ways of thinking that are more realistic and healthy.

We also sometimes include assertiveness and social skills training in helping people overcome Social Anxiety. There may be a genuine sense of not knowing what to say or do in social or work situations. Speaking up or meeting someone new can be stressful if you aren’t sure how to do it.

Relaxation training can be an enormous help in dealing with any type of anxiety. We work with clients to help them recognize the signs that they are becoming anxious, and then set up steps to relax and calm any fears.

Finally, there is medication available to help with anxiety, usually in conjunction with the therapies I have already mentioned. My suggestion in most cases is to try therapy first, and if we don’t see improvement within an agreed-upon period of time, we will discuss a referral to a physician who can prescribe medication.

As I mention often, I want to know what my client with anxiety is eating or drinking. If you feel anxious, and you are drinking coffee or soda with caffeine every day, your symptoms are likely to be worse. I would say the same for a diet with lots of sugar and processed food. There does seem to be a correlation between diet and mental health – be kind to your body, feed it nutritious food, and chances are your mental health will benefit as well.

Thank you for reading, and feel free to add your comments below about Social Anxiety Disorder.

Video on this topic: http://youtu.be/Wma-UXKVfNg

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Writing Your Personal Story

Here is the written version of my recent interview with author Johannah Warren. The interview can be seen here: http://youtu.be/Dsa5AdiEBuo

“Hi and welcome back to TalkTherapyChannel on YouTube. Today I am going to be talking with Johannah Warren about the experience of writing your own life story.  Johannah is the founder of Saint Columba Press, where she publishes and promotes these unique treasures.  Welcome, Johannah.”

1. What are the benefits of writing down your story?

People write down their stories for a variety of reasons; usually to leave behind a personal accounting of their life.  Whether they served in combat or were a farmer’s wife, it offers a sense of purpose and meaning that these experiences will not be lost forever; that they have some wisdom or “life lessons” to pass on.  [There is a quote that I like from The Bridges of Madison County, from a mother who leaves behind a story and prefaces it with, “…as one gets older, one’s fears subside.  What becomes more and more important is to be known.”]

However, you don’t have to approach the end of your life to be able to reflect on it.  For the writer, it can be transformative.  Writing down your story is a form of taking personal inventory.  Some of it is just plain nostalgic, like the childhood curiosities and blunders.  But traveling down memory lane is not 100% uplifting.  When I shared with people that I had been writing my own memoir and some things were coming up that were unpleasant, I heard things like, “What’s the sense in digging up the past,” and “There is a reason you’ve put these things out of your mind.”  I disagree, because understanding one’s self is critical.  It’s completely natural to want to put things behind us, focus on the positive, and keep moving forward.  I’m not suggesting dwelling on negativity, but anyone familiar with the expression, “sweeping things under the rug” knows that these little things build up.  We are a collection of our experiences, and the rug starts to get lumpy, maybe even turns into a mountain – and it can affect our judgment, our relationships, and our well-being.

Some of the experiences are not traumatic but simply have not been processed appropriately because they happened in the developmental period of childhood before we were emotionally mature enough to understand their significance.  But with a pen and paper (or laptop), in a non-judgmental environment, recalling the details can give a shape to these events – a story with a beginning, middle, and end and ideally an acknowledgement of how you became the person you are.

For example, I was able to recall vividly a humiliating comment by my 2nd grade teacher about how I smelled like cigarette smoke.  Of course it was from my parents, but I was already self-conscious about their lifestyle.  And everyone deals with things differently.  The same comment made to my sister would have provoked a response that landed her in the principal’s office, but I internalized it and let it contribute to my already existing sense of isolation.  I never thought about this again until I began writing, and now as an adult I can put it into perspective.  It certainly wasn’t positive but it was very influential, and I believe being the recipient of such insensitivity made me more empathetic, which is something I’m quite proud of.  I could only see that in retrospect.  Overall, the process was cleansing and changed the way I looked at myself.

In writing my own story, I was able to recognize patterns that I wanted to change, and the sense of isolation that sort of lurked in the background and created a ceiling on my growth.  I was able to admit things that I didn’t even know I felt.  Most importantly, I finally accepted what a colorful kaleidoscope of life I had been a part of.

2. Who might want to try personal storytelling, and why?

Personal storytelling has become very popular for professionals as a way to connect with their audience, fan base, and customers.  Many of us know the story of how Steve Jobs dropped out of college and was ousted by his own company.  Business leaders like to tell the tale of how they overcame obstacles to become the successes they are.  But you don’t have to be the head of a Fortune 500 corporation to do so.  You don’t have to have a rags-to-riches scenario or even have crossed the finish line yet.  Everyone has a story, and inspiration can be found in the smallest things, in any industry, in every walk of life.

People in transition are probably the most likely group to benefit from the therapeutic effects of storytelling.  Divorce and unemployment are just two of the major life changes that can trigger someone to look for answers, and – as cliché as it sounds – the truth can usually be found within.

Not all transitions are undesirable or sudden, like the newly retired or the Empty Nesters, but they still bring about mixed emotions of freedom and restlessness, excitement and fear, as you find themselves with time on their hands to examine the richness and wisdom of a bygone chapter.

There are also those who have overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers – both external and internal.  Sometimes the triumph of the human spirit is heroic in itself, like overcoming addiction.  There are also those who took a painful experience like the loss of a child and channeled it into a movement to help others.  Stories such as these are moving and inspirational for the people who are going through the same thing by reminding them that anything is possible and there is light on the other side of healing.

3. What are a couple of key points to help someone get started?

I would say the most important thing is to identify what’s unique about you.  Some people are naturals – they can talk about themselves all day long with complete strangers – and others take a little more coaxing to share.  The obvious identifying markers are thing like where you were born, marriage, children, career, but these only tell part of the story.  The truly defining moments are usually thrust upon us; the detours that changed who you would become and possibly your worldview.  These stories within the story are the gold.  You can start with the obvious, like immigrating from overseas to New York City fifty years ago.  Or maybe you grew up in an orphanage.  The back story will begin to leak through.

If I’m making it sound easy, my apologies.  And there are many ways to get the thoughts flowing in ink before you dive into the deeper issues.  My favorite prompt is for you to make a list of all your addresses and jot down the first memory that is stirred from each.  Then pick one to describe.  How old were you and who else lived there?  Was there a particular neighbor that aroused curiosity?  Maybe it was on Skid Row.  Imagine that you will take this writing and roll it up into a bottle anonymously, send out into the water, and it will be found by a stranger.  The best advice I ever heard with respect to memoir writing was from Joan Didion who said, “Remember what it was to be me:  that is always the point.”  As a reader, I want you to take me there.

4. If a person needs help in this process, where can they find it?

There are some great books on memoir writing, various blogs, and local writing groups.  I have been involved in an exciting project that will launch this month, so make sure you go to my website and connect with me if you want more information.  There will be a link below.  In summary, it is a hub of resources as well as a Road Map to Writing your own Memoir.  There will be a place to connect with other writers on the journey, collaborate, and share your stories (privately or publicly).  I have been collecting these stories for publication, and I’m really excited about where this will lead.  My hope is to have a positive effect on understanding the human race, beginning with ourselves.

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How to Repair Damaged Trust

There are a number of ways trust can be damaged in a relationship. The first thing that comes to mind might be infidelity, but there are a number of ways partners can betray one another. Abusing drugs or alcohol, gambling or overspending money, lying about how you spend your time, not being reliable or consistent, or not keeping your word…all of those things can affect your partner’s ability to feel comfortable trusting you. The good news is, in many cases broken trust can be repaired. It does take absolute commitment on the part of both partners, especially the one who has betrayed the other. In this article, I will give you a few tips on ways you can rebuild trust in your relationship, even if it has been damaged.

Number one – APOLOGIZE: It is vital that you be able to sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize to your partner. Your apology should contain no excuses or defenses, nor should it be an attempt to minimize the issue. If your actions have resulted in damage to your relationship, accept full responsibility for your part in that. Anything less will make it harder to rebuild. Express your regret for your actions, and your commitment to whatever it takes not to repeat them.

The second tip is TRANSPARENCY. Regaining trust and helping your partner through grief and anger requires perhaps more openness than you have ever show, and a whole set of new rules. It might mean sharing computer passwords, cutting off contact with toxic friends or someone with whom you have had an affair, call or text a couple of times a day, be open about bank and credit card statements, and show up where you say you will be, on time. You and your partner can discuss what kind of transparency is needed, depending on your circumstances. The key to transparency is your willingness to be this open, for the greater good of your relationship.

Third, be willing to COMMUNICATE. Your partner may need to know what exactly happened, and why, as part of his or her efforts to accept it, trust that it won’t happen again, and eventually move on. I don’t mean spending every waking moment discussing the event that damaged the trust between you. But I do mean a commitment to honesty and an understanding of your partner’s confusion and need to make sense of things. These kind of discussions can be delicate, maybe even feeling like you are walking through a mine field.

You may benefit from the help of a couples therapist to help mediate such a discussion, and help you open up the lines of communication about difficult topics, so that they can be discussed in a productive way.

Finally, BE PATIENT: When trying to earn back your partner’s trust, the most common pitfall is not being patient enough. It will take time, maybe more time than you expect, for your partner to move past a major lie or an infidelity. You can’t control how long this will take, and there may be times when you want to say “Get over it and trust me again.” Please don’t. Stay consistent and reliable, and this more than anything will help your relationship heal. Keep following through, show your partner how you have changed and that you are in it for the long term.

On rough days, ask your partner what you can do to help. Express your own needs, as well – it takes both parties commitment to heal and move forward to a healthier place.

With time, patience, and consistent action you will likely walk away with a stronger relationship than you could have imagined. If needed, again, reach out to a trained couples therapist to offer a safe place to explore difficult emotions.

Thank you for visiting, and I welcome your comments below – has your relationship been affected by trust issues? How did you recover?

Mental Health, Relationships, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Self Esteem, Stress, Support, Toolkit

Helping Yourself By Helping Others

Helping others can not only help you feel good, but it may also increase physical and emotional well-being. Several studies have indicated that being generous with your time and energy can have a positive effect on how a person thinks and feels. One such study from researchers at Cornell University uncovered that volunteering increases one’s energy, sense of mastery over life and self-esteem.

If you are in a place in your life where you are feeling down in the dumps or without purpose, helping others can bring a feeling of wellbeing to both you and the receiver of your efforts. When you make others’ lives better, you make the world a better place.

Research shows that people who reach out to help others enjoy higher levels of mental health. Creating a balanced lifestyle that includes service to others can help you feel less stress as well, as you feel more connected to your community, more grateful for what you have, and less caught up in the day to day grind and negativity that affects us all from time to time. Focusing on the positive in life, and creating more positive things in the world, can help you to maintain greater feelings of happiness and fulfillment.

People are generally more happy when they have meaning in their lives, and part of living a meaningful life is having a feeling of making a difference in the world. Whether you donate unneeded household items or volunteer your time, there are many ways to get involved with worthy causes, either as an individual, with your partner, or with your whole family. Getting involved with a cause that you believe in, whether you give a little or a lot, can be a great way to spread some joy this year, and create more joy for yourself while you’re at it! The following are some examples of simple ways to get involved:

Because there are many charities that collect donations and run resale shops, you can clear clutter and help a worthy cause at the same time. While many of us have cluttered homes because we can’t bear to toss something that can still be useful (though unnecessary for us), it can be easier to let go of these items knowing that they’ll help in two ways: they’ll provide someone else a chance to find use in them, and the money from their sale can further a cause you believe in! You’ll end up with increased satisfaction and a more streamlined living space, and others will benefit from your unneeded items.

The gift of your time, even an hour a week, can make a significant difference in the lives of others, or for a cause you support. This a great route for many people as it leads to the satisfaction of making a difference, provides an outlet to meet others who share your interest, and often allows you the opportunity to see the difference you make and the people you help.

Maybe you are feeling too stressed and busy to worry about helping others with their burdens, or plan to think about doing good deeds when you have more ‘spare’ time, energy. The truth is, altruism is its own reward, and can actually help you relieve stress. Altruistic acts can improve your quality of life in several ways, and are absolutely worth the effort. Here are some ways that helping others helps you:

Keeping Things In Perspective: Many people don’t realize the strong impact that their perspective of life has on their outlook. However, your way of seeing the world can make a real difference in your level of life satisfaction. Finding yourself in need of help is something that can happen to anyone – not just the downtrodden. Look at the devastation this week from hurricane Sandy. Natural disasters don’t discriminate. People from all walks of life are affected and can use any help we can give.

When you do something nice for someone else, often the positive effects go beyond just you and that other person, influencing your whole community. When you do nice things for others, you often enable them to do nice things for others, and the phenomenon grows. Maybe you have heard that called “paying it forward.” Your children and your friends may see your good example and behave in more altruistic ways as well. As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” You can contribute to a more positive community. Not only that, when we are depressed or anxious we may tend to isolate away from others. We may pull back into our shell, where our problems become our whole world. Volunteering some time or helping a cause can bring you back into connection with others.

When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, you may feel like you’re least able to give. However, acts of altruism can be a great form of stress relief. Studies have shown that the act of giving can activate the area of the brain associated with positive feelings, lifting your spirits, and making you feel better. Helping others can lead to emotional well-being, a more positive perspective, and can be a healthy means for relieving stress and increasing life satisfaction.

There are many ways to give back and experience these physical and psychological benefits, including:

* helping at a local school,

* volunteering at a hospital,

* assisting in relief efforts after a natural disaster

* donating blood

* donating unused items, like clothes or appliances

* reading to children at a library,

* helping to care for animals at shelters,

* volunteering at a hospice and comforting those at the end of their lives,

* becoming a companion to a senior citizen.

What might you be able to do right now to reach out and help someone in need? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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Anxiety, Mental Health, Relationships, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Solutions, Stress, Therapy, Toolkit

Five Steps to Cope With A Meltdown

A meltdown can be defined as a sort of emotional breakdown. It can last a few minutes or a few weeks or longer, depending on the circumstances and your state of mind.  You may say you “hit the wall,” “fell apart,” or “lost it.” Whatever you call it and however long it lasts, it’s an overwhelming feeling. This article will offer 5 quick tips to help you gain your equilibrium and manage stress.

Step 1 – slow down and breathe. Give yourself a little time to calm down and take stock of what is going on around you. A meltdown can make you feel you are being swept away by emotion. Slow down, breathe, relax your muscles, and become aware of the present moment.

Step 2 – Ask yourself what you need right now. It may be anything from some company or a friend to listen to you, to medical care, or anything in between. Identifying what it is that you need will help you focus on taking the next three steps.

Step 3 – Reach out. Whether it is talking to a family member, a friend, or a therapist or doctor, sometimes we all need support in getting through a challenge. We may sometimes need time alone to recharge, that can be true. At the same time, you do not want to isolate – if you get to the point where you have little meaningful connection with people, you can change that.

Step 4 – Accept help that is offered.  If someone reaches out to you, if there is a community resource that might help, or if your doctor says “Call me if you have any questions or complications” – allow that connection to happen and accept support.

Step 5 – Don’t give up. When we are on overload, we lose perspective sometimes. We can feel hopeless to change, and pessimistic about our present and future. You may not be able to see the big picture right now, but I promise you, there is an optimistic side to every situation, and there is help available. You will have to do your part – but it is worth it.

Thank you so much for reading! A video version of this article is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kICTDK3AzZM