Tag Archives: self-esteem

Over It

Holly told me she wasn’t suicidal. I disagreed.
“I guess you’re right,” she said after some thought. “I’ve been killing myself off for years.”

Holly was referring to staying with a man who frequently deflates her spirit—her husband, Lance.

She related the events of an evening they had some friends over. When it was time to call it a night, Holly stood with the front door open while saying good-bye as each guest left. From the living room Lance shouted, “Hey, dummy, close the door!”

I asked, “Could a casual passerby talk to you that way?”

“No,” she said.

“Then why do you take it from someone who supposedly loves you?”

“I’m not so sure I want to anymore,” she said in our counseling session. “I’m afraid to leave him . . . to be on my own. But I’m more afraid of staying. I look in the mirror and wonder who that dismal-looking person is. Where did Holly go?”

For some, contemplating divorce is rooted in valuing oneself, a recognition that greater respect is deserved. One could even say that breaking from someone who is toxic to our well-being is an act of compassion—self-compassion.

It’s typical for people to be drawn to those who treat them as poorly as they treat themselves. If we’re self-harming or self-condemning we automatically feel deserving of harm or condemnation from others. Conversely, those who treat us respectfully are rejected or ignored. Kindness can feel foreign and make us uncomfortable.

But when we begin to cherish ourselves, something interesting happens. We simply cannot tolerate demeaning or abusive treatment anymore. Indigestion is experienced at the core level. Our gut cries “foul” every time we’re subjected to degrading behavior or remarks.

This is what’s happening to Holly.

“His nasty jabs make me boil inside,” she said, “and I cringe every time he puts down the kids.”

That’s understandable. A sense of outrage when treated horribly is not only appropriate but a sign of being mentally healthy. We’re supposed to think protectively of ourselves and of our children.

She recalled an incident in which he tripped over her shoes. He erupted, blasting her for leaving them in his way.

“If it’s not me, it’s the kids,” she said. “I used to fold—letting him get away with being a jerk. But I can’t do that anymore . . . I fight back.”

Abuse should never be permitted or swallowed no matter what form it takes—physical, verbal or emotional. All have a flattening effect on self-esteem.

When I first saw Samantha, another client, she was putting up with physical abuse. “Whenever he would beat me I used to believe it was my fault,” she said. “But I don’t anymore, so what can I do?”

“Why don’t you leave this man?” I asked.

“I’m thinking of the kids,” she answered.

“No you’re not,” I said. “Thinking of the kids includes considering what they’re exposed to day in and day out. Watching mommy get hit isn’t good for children. Period.”

Although Holly isn’t a victim of physical abuse, she’s a constant target of her husband’s verbal and emotional abuse, which is just as devastating. Eventually, I met with Lance, who seemed clueless about his behavior and the effect it was having on his wife.

“Why would she want to divorce me?” he asked. “I love her!” I presented him with the simple truth: “The love in your heart doesn’t count unless it’s translated into actions.”

Instead of feeling loved, I pointed out, she feels like a whipping post.

If Lance wants to save his marriage, he’ll have to make some changes. Real changes. Superficial change—merely going through the motions—won’t cut it. She has to see and feel a changed heart. It’ll show in how he consistently relates to her and the children. Because he seems so blind to his mistreatment, I’m afraid Lance has an uphill battle ahead of him.

While Lance tries to change his side of the equation, Holly is starting to take her life back.

She’s been liberating herself from everything that debilitates or saps her spirit, including him.

She’s growing beyond the belief that she deserves insulting attacks to her dignity. And  she’s realizing that her children need a climate that’s esteem-enriching. She also sees how unhealthy it is for them to observe their father’s cruelty and her mere endurance of it.

Ultimately, if Lance continues in his spirit-deflating ways, she and the kids will be out of there. As they should be.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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Your Inner Judge Is a Liar

image-self-love

“Talk to yourself the way you talk to someone you love.”  

Brené Brown

Self-criticism is learned—we don’t come out of the womb with that tendency. I’m talking about the self-esteem-destroying self-talk that buzzes around in one’s head endlessly. Like a virus that invades the brain, it constantly judges and condemns its host.

Infection takes hold early in childhood after repeated exposure to pathogens like belittling comments, looks of contempt, and ridicule. In time, we start to believe what the virus is saying. It tells us we’re bad for messing up, selfish for wanting something, cowardly for being cautious, mean for speaking up, weak for crying, and a loser for our failures.

What’s really sad is we give the virus more credibility than the nicer treatment and messages we receive from kind-hearted people. Their messages are seen as inaccurate.

The good news is that the virus can be annihilated. We can unlearn self-criticism.

Sophia—a client in her 20’s—is a good example. She began the process of unlearning by becoming aware of the constant babble of negative self-talk occurring in her head. Before that, she accepted it as a valid part of herself—it seemed to belong.

That’s all changed. Acting as her own ever-vigilant investigator, she became determined to root out and destroy any belittling self-talk that deflates her self-esteem and joy. How are they destroyed? By questioning the validity of all thoughts that tell her she’s defective, guilty, bad or inferior in any way. Increasingly, she—not her conditioned brain—is the master of her opinions about herself.

I’m proud of her!

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

Names used in this post are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Call it Parent Power!

colorful explosion2

Laura’s petrified that her teenage daughter may be headed down a dangerous path.

While she and Kaitlyn sat across from each other in my office, Laura rattled off her string of concerns. Among her worries were slipping grades, Kaitlin’s recent choice of friends—some have been in trouble with the law—and a controlling boyfriend who habitually puts Kaitlyn down.

As her mother talked, Kaitlyn made every attempt—frantically—to disagree and voice her opinion. Understandably so. None of us likes to be cast as a loser, and in Kaitlyn’s eyes that was exactly what was happening. To Kaitlyn, her mother wasn’t listing concerns, she was listing failings. This same scenario was often played out at home, and with even more intensity.

I explained to Laura that during those times, Kaitlyn was defending her self-image. “She must resist your impression of her, because she has to believe in herself,” I said. “If she doesn’t, she’s wide open to all those things you’re worrying about.”

“Your influence as a parent skyrockets as you believe in your child.”

In fact, there’s no better way to arm a child for the challenges of daily life.

As parents, we have little control over what happens after our children become teenagers. A smaller child is much easier to influence. As they head for some danger zone, such as a stairwell, we swiftly reach out and grab them. We can’t do that with teenagers. But we can convey that we have confidence in their ability to master life’s risky stairwells on their own.

Laura won’t be able to dictate Kaitlyn’s choice of friends, and criticizing them will only backfire. Like all of us, Kaitlyn needs to feel valued and accepted, so if her friends are the only ones providing that fundamental need, she will lap it up like a starved kitten. And, let’s face it, when we’re starving, we’re not picky about what the food is and where it’s coming from.

When Kaitlyn feels good about herself, she’s more likely to make choices consistent with that good feeling. Her grades will likely go up, and putdowns will no longer be tolerated.

Laura can help make that happen. I advised her to do the following:

  • Instead of saying: “Be careful,” as Kaitlyn leaves the house, say, “I know you’ll be careful.”
  • Avoid lecturing her about all the dangers out in the real world. She’s heard them a zillion times from you already. Instead, tell her you know she will use good judgement no matter how tough the challenge.
  • Convey that you have confidence in her ability to handle controlling people by saying to her, “I know you’ll stand up for yourself.”
  • When she does well, acknowledge it and praise her. We too easily point out errors.
  • When she falls short, don’t lose confidence in her—she will be less likely to lose confidence in herself.

I also suggested that Laura add the following phrases to her everyday vocabulary:

  • Keep up the good work!
  • You can do it!
  • You must be so proud of yourself.
  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you’ll do the right thing.

By believing in her daughter, seeing her in a positive light, and trusting her ability to navigate life’s various challenges, Laura will indirectly bolster Kaitlyn’s self-image while safeguarding her with the strength of confidence. Consequently, she can’t help but influence Kaitlyn’s life for the better.

I call that extraordinary power!

 

Names are changed to protect client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

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Leaving Your Cage

flying+bird+out+of+its+cage+the+best+for+the+post

A cage is anything that confines, reduces, inhibits or limits us. This includes our distorted ideas about ourselves.

In  Meet Your True Self,  my previous post, Brad woke up to the fact that his inner roommate, also known as an inner critic, was a liar. In that mere flash of an instant, Brad freed himself from a cage.

Brad didn’t stop with that single insight. In fact, on that day, he was on a roll and I wasn’t about to stop him. I just sat back with a big grin on my face.

He said he realizes that his inner roommate is a product of his conditioning and that it operates automatically “just like breathing . . . most of the time we’re not even aware of it.”

Nor are we aware of the constant stream of dialogue swirling around in our head. “My brain just keeps playing the same tape over and over,” Brad said. “What I have to do now is reprogram myself.”

Brad also had a good idea about how to do that: “Since we get programmed through repetition, we can also get re-programmed through repetition.”

In other words, instead of telling himself over and over again how worthless he is, his plan is to start telling himself the truth about himself . . . over and over again. In effect, he’ll be arguing with his inner roommate . . . and winning.

Unfortunately, inner roommates don’t simply go “poof” and disappear when we get wise to them. Conditioning, by definition, sticks. Brad calls it a “default setting”—something our brain automatically goes back to. Inner roommates may fade through disuse and neglect, but in all likelihood they will reactivate when life throws us some curve balls or when we hit a low point. So patience is called for.

I told Brad to expect setbacks, but to view them as temporary. Serious backsliding is impossible at this point because he’s too aware to stay lost. He has taken a huge step with his epiphany about his inner roommate being a liar. That’s a game changer. It’s like trying to unripple the pond—it can’t happen. Like returning to a cage after getting a taste of freedom—it won’t happen.

Clear-eyed reflection—seeing something for what it is—makes it impossible to return to our delusions on a permanent basis.

I’d like your comments. Do you agree with that last statement? And what are your insights on reprogramming and cages? Thanks!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

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Meet Your True Self

bird reflection

 

 

When you’re harassed by guilt and self-judgment, you’re vacating your true self . . . and you’re vacating truth. Period.

In my last post, Escape your Jungle, I defined the true self and how it can easily become overshadowed by a bogus self-concept—based on erroneous beliefs about ourselves.

Donna was my example. Her negative conclusions about herself created a strangling thicket which played a significant role in her depression and life dissatisfaction.  Her pathway back to her true self entailed disbelieving those conclusions.

Like Donna, Brad needed to get reacquainted with his true self and identify the lies about himself that he was hanging on to.  I’ve mentioned him before on this blog.

Long ago, when Brad was a child, an inner critic started to sprout. It criticized and shamed him the way his father would. And it picked on him exactly the way his siblings did. In time, Brad grew up and left home but his inner critic went with him. That’s too bad. It meant he would continue to experience internal assaults and guilt on a constant basis.

Another term for “inner critic” is “inner roommate.” I happened upon that term while reading Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Learn more about the inner roommate here.

This nasty brute hangs out in our head, taunting, judging, scolding, bossing, and finding fault with everything we wear, think, eat and do. (And the list doesn’t end there.) 😉

Those internalized messages obscure our true self. I remember Brad once telling me, “My true self is foreign to me, so I don’t feel it’s attainable.” Like so many of us, he had fallen into the habit of giving his inner roommate more reality than his true self.

“How do I figure out what my true self is?” he asked.

“We don’t figure out who we are,” I said, “we experience it.”

I had Brad close his eyes and imagine a time when he felt free from guilt. With barely a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Being out in nature.” His voice cracked with emotion as he talked about finding refuge in a woods near his house. He played near a creek, climbed on logs and built a few forts over time. Nothing disturbed his peace. His siblings weren’t there to pick on him and his father wasn’t there to shame or judge him. He felt peaceful and self-confident. He didn’t need his father’s acceptance out there—he was experiencing self-acceptance.

I urged Brad to tuck that memory away and pull it out whenever he feels a guilt-attack coming on. It’ll key him into the truth about himself.

Another client recounts similar feelings while playing a piano . . . when she gets to a space where the music is “effortlessly flowing through my fingers, and the whole world shrinks to nothing—there is only that moment.”

As for me, my earliest true-self memory goes back to the age of five. It was one of those sunny, deep-blue-sky days, and I was outside on my bicycle. Not a soul was in sight . . . just me, the birds and the serene day.

The inner roommate is relentless and doesn’t go away without an entire arsenal being deployed against it. The inner roommate doesn’t use logic. It can’t use logic, but we can and must. We shouldn’t blindly buy into what our inner roommate says about us. How did it get a monopoly on truth anyway? Questioning the validity of the roommate’s accusations involves logic.

In our sessions, whenever Brad said something negative about himself, I questioned it. I demanded evidence to support the allegations. I got ruthless at times! 🙂 Finally, after enough exposure to this, he began questioning his negative self-talk on his own. That was the idea.

I get excited—call it a eureka moment—whenever clients see their inner roommate for what it is and cease to pay homage to it. Such a moment presented itself not long ago when Brad leaned forward in his chair and uttered these words:

“You know what? My roommate’s a liar!”

We high-fived that one! That moment of clarity, by the way, came straight from his true self.

What are some of your true-self experiences? I’d love to hear them!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

 

 

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Fishing with My Little Brother

 

fishing

Everyone knows dads come in all shapes and sizes . . . but they also come in assorted forms. Lots of children are fortunate enough to have a man—who isn’t their biological father—step into that role. They may either supplement what Dad is doing or, perhaps, fill in the gap where Dad is literally missing. That man might be an uncle, brother or grandfather, or he might be completely unrelated to the child.

I know such a man. Don is a Big Brother to Logan. His father is completely absent from Logan’s life, so Don—along with other key male figures—has the opportunity to significantly leave an impact.

Recently, Don told me about an outing he had with Logan. The two of them headed for a pond with their fishing poles. When they got there, Don prepped Logan by saying: “Today, you’re going to become a fisherman.” Pointing to the bait, he said: “Which one do you think would work best?” Logan chose. Then with some basic instruction, Don coached him on how to bait the hook.

Don explained to me that it wasn’t their first time fishing together, “but it was fishing at a whole new level. I let him fish. I gave up control. My former pattern would have been, ‘No, do it this way.’ That avenue would only rattle Logan’s confidence and reinforce any fear of failure he might have. So I got out of the way and let him have his own experience.”

Logan’s attempts were clumsy at first. “But that didn’t matter,” Don said. “We grownups need to remember the first time we baited a hook . . . it just wasn’t very pretty.”

Within two minutes, Logan caught a fish. The first words out of his mouth were, “I feel really good about myself!”

“I felt happiness for Logan,” Don said, beaming. “I’m positive the reason he felt good about himself was because he mastered something on his own.”

What made that afternoon so special was the fact that Logan challenged himself to try something new. And Don facilitated it by being patient and by having faith in Logan.

 “I’m learning that there’s a difference between doing something with someone and doing something for them,” Don said.

“That’s how confidence is built.”

So true. After catching the fish, Logan asked: “Can I take the fish off the hook?” Ahhh, confidence in action.

“Logan’s success brought joy to both of us as well as a sense of connection and achievement,” Don said. “You know . . . I feel really good about myself, too.”

Hmmm. Looks like making a significant impact runs both ways.

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters, see http://www.bbbs.org/

 

 

 

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Choose to Bloom

 

blooming flower

 

 

Spring.

The sun.

The warm air.

Life blooming.

With the awakening earth, my soul is refreshed.

Like the flowers that push through the hard ground,

I too am now open to possibility.

No one chooses how I bloom but me!

—Kim Thompson

I just love that poem! How does it speak to me? It’s all about birth, change, and personal choice. Life just doesn’t stand still—it can’t. Old eventually gives way to new. We witness it everywhere!

Such a peaceful thought . . . to know we all have a chance at renewal. I’m certainly not the same person I was ten years ago or even ten days ago. “Hard ground”—struggle—is on everybody’s agenda, but so is blooming.

Brad’s a perfect example. For years he’s lived in a cage—a cage of depression. I wrote about him a few months back. Click here to read “The Latest Wow: We Can’t Always Snap Out of It.”

Well, it seems he is snapping out of it—I’m noticing some blooming going on. For the first time, Brad’s questioning what his inner roommate tells him. (For more on inner roommates, read “Meet Your Roommate.”)

His badgering roommate tells him—on a constant basis—what a loser he is. It accuses him of being lazy, wasting time, and generally being worthless. Internalizing that message, giving it the weight of truth, kills all motivation.  “I hesitate to make more of myself . . . to even try,” he said, “because I think: What’s the use? Why try? I’ll never get it right.”

Your busy mind isn’t you. You’re the one observing it.

“What’s the benefit of being an observer of your thoughts?” I asked.

“It allows a person to detach from their roommate,” he said. “It’s a form of letting go. I see that I need to separate from my thoughts.”

I would love the opportunity to get Brad’s inner roommate on “the couch.” The first thing out of my mouth would be: “Don’t you have something better to do? Who’s actually the lazy one here?  As far as I can see, your sole interest in life is tearing Brad to shreds every chance you get. How ridiculous is that? What a complete waste of time and how utterly pointless!”

Of course, I would never actually have a conversation like that with a client, but “roommates” are another matter.  That’s exactly the kind of conversation we all need to have with our bedeviling inner critics.  Brad, I’m happy to say, is well on his way.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

Thanks to Kim Thompson for the use of her lovely poem.  Kim’s talents extend far beyond her gift with words . . . check out her site and see for yourself. 🙂

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