Self-Compassion

We can be really hard on ourselves.

"You could have done better."

"Why did you say that?"

"I should be able to do more?"

Often, we think (and hope) our criticisms are motivating. Instead, their destructive and painful. 

Self-compassion offers a kinder, gentler way to speak to ourselves. Check it out for yourself.

Working Women and Self Doubt

"I just feel like I'm battling impostor syndrome all the time."

"This project is proving I can do this job, so any little mistake feels like I'm not capable."

"It's like I've had the wind knocked out of me."

All quotes from my female clients in the last week about work. The self-doubt and insecurity is stunting.

It's not a problem unique to women, but perhaps faced by women more often than men. Am I faking it? Do I really know what I'm doing? Am I not getting a promotion because I'm a woman? Will I get fired if I mess this up? Shouldn't I be more confident in myself?

It's easy to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and insecure. Unchecked, these thoughts of inadequacy and insecurity turn into anxiety. Suddenly every task feels daunting, there's no way to get started, and the world feels heavy and scary.

Working with a trusted professional therapist can help remove these roadblocks, empowering you to move forward with confidence and ease.

 

What I'm Reading

Constructive Wallowing, by Tina Gilbertson
I'm not far into it yet, but Tina Gilbertson suggests wallowing, or allowing yourself to feel "negative" feelings, leads to a fuller life. Instead of pushing "negative" feelings aside, accepting and embracing difficult feelings gives you power and understanding over yourself.

So, what is it you practice anyway? (Part 2)

This is the second part of a series on identifying the types of therapy I practice. Read Part 1 here.

What's the meaning of life? Why are we here? What's our purpose and passion? These are the kinds of questions I wanted to help people discover through therapy and turned to Existential therapy for framework.

Existential therapy is an optimistic approach that firmly believes in the human potential. It's a therapy that asks clients to confront and resolve conflicts of the human condition to live a meaningful and purposeful life. 

Irvin Yalom identified four themes or conflicts to the human condition: death, freedom (& responsibility), isolation, and meaningless. These four themes are the root of psychological problems and do not have real answers. They're used to conceptualize and address problems.

Death: Confronting the reality of death is a central pillar of Existential therapy. The goal is to encourage awareness of death with resources to not allow someone to become overwhelmed by it. Existential therapy works to identify denials of death through avoidance (afterlife, distancing), and/or uniqueness. "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? How would you live differently?"

Freedom (& Responsibility): Freedom is choice, agency, and awareness of constructs. Existential freedom helps one understand the influences one has been subjected to and encourages taking ownership for thoughts and feelings. The responsibility that comes with freedom is acknowledging what one has done and recognizing defensive patterns. This is where change happens.

Isolation: Yalom identified three types of isolation. Interpersonal isolation is separation from oneself and others. Intrapersonal isolation is splitting oneself off from their relationships as to not be fully present. And existential isolation is the concept that we're never able to truly overcome our isolation, as it's part of the human condition. Understanding how and why we isolate is important to recognizing defensive and destructive patterns. 

Meaningless: Existential therapy maintains that humans are meaning seeking and/or meaning creating being, depending on your world view. I hold that to a degree both are true - life can be meaningless and we create meaning out of it. However, I also think there are aspects of life that have meaning, we're just seeking them out. It is in this theme we explore coping versus growing, and seek to help individuals move from just coping with perceived problems into growing and fully living.

Existential therapy believes that humans are essentially alone but long to be connected. Though we seek connection, our own validation must come from within. We cannot seek validation from others. 

Existential therapy is a powerful and deep framework I use to conceptualize some of life's greater problems. As a counterweight to CBT, it works well in identifying patterns and motivations, resolving life struggles, and dissecting the root of the problem.

So, what is it you practice anyways?

This first in a multi-part series exploring the types of therapy I practice.

I've been a big believer in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) since studying it in graduate school. The simple premise behind CBT is that your thoughts influence your feelings, which influence your behavior. Understanding this pattern allow you to change it, right at the core.

Say you're in a meeting with your boss and she's not saying much. 'Is she annoyed with me?' you think. 'Maybe what I'm saying is totally off base.' These thoughts might make you anxious and start second guessing everything you're saying. These emotion-filled thoughts are called automatic thoughts, and they pop up based on beliefs about ourselves and the way the world works. Instead of automatically thinking your boss was annoyed, wondering if your boss was tired or preoccupied may change how you behave.

Automatic thoughts rely on perceptions about yourself and others called core beliefs. Core beliefs are developed from childhood experiences, cultural influences, your environment and more. Common core beliefs often follow themes of abandonment, un-lovability, defectiveness, helplessness, and entitlement.   

I have to be in control to be ok.

I'm unsuccessful.

If I don't succeed, I am worthless.

It's not ok to ask for help.

I'm stupid.

I'm bound to be rejected.

Challenging these automatic thoughts is the key to accessing and changing these core beliefs. Asking yourself questions like "Am I jumping to conclusions?" or "Am I condemning myself as a total person based on a single event?" or "Am I using all-or-nothing thinking?" can help challenge these thoughts. 

Noticing these automatic thoughts and changing them to a more realistic view can relieve distress. Changing the thought pattern from 'My boss is thinks I've done a terrible job; I'm worthless' to 'She's had a busy day and isn't saying much; Can I ask for feedback?' will change your behavior.

CBT is effective in treating:

  • alcohol use and abuse
  • substance abuse
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • chronic fatigue
  • eating problems
  • health problems
  • relationship problems
  • sleep problems

It's a short-term, problem-focused therapy that aims to systematically change the way you think about yourself and the world. 

Pokemon Go: Helping Players' Mental Health

It's only been out for days, but Pokemon Go is taking the world by storm. The app-based game combines the virtual world with the real world by tasking players to hunt Pokemon in the real world. 

Intended or not, players are getting out and about, what researchers have proven to be effective in treatment of depression

It's a great step in the gaming world, connecting the virtual and real worlds to encourage movement and socialization.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion, where one extends compassion to themselves in instances of struggle, failure, or inadequacy, can be a tremendous therapeutic tool. Instead of ignoring or piling on to pain, it's reminding yourself how difficult this is right now, and asking yourself what you can do to comfort yourself.

Dr. Kristin Neff, the leading researcher of self-compassion, has identified three key components to self-compassion: 

  • self-kindness - being warm and kind toward yourself in times of personal failings instead of critical and judgmental.
  • common humanity - recognizing that we all make mistakes. Suffering is part of the human experience.
  • mindfulness - a non-judgmental, receptive mind state that allows you to have a more balanced approach to emotions

The more you open your heart to disappointments, frustrations, personal failings, and imperfections, the kinder you are to yourself and others.

In the therapy room, I use self-compassion on client's who are intensely critical of themselves. I often ask questions like, "How can you be kinder to yourself?" or "What would you say to a friend who was experiencing the same thing?" I'm aiming to pull the client out of their destructive thinking cycle and introduce a more compassionate and kinder way of thinking.

Test it out for yourself. Take the quiz to see how self-compassionate you are. 

Women suffer from anxiety more than men, research suggests

A paper published in the Journal of Brain and Behavior finds that women and young adults are more likely to suffer from anxiety than other populations.

The review found women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety, and the highest proportion of people with anxiety was in North America.

"Our study helps to clarify and shed light on the following important issue: Anxiety is common not only in people with serious chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, but it frequently develops in healthy, young people," says lead researcher Olivia Remes. "Once it develops, it can lead to a host of negative outcomes. Anxiety can develop in anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or race, and it affects populations around the world."

Exercise can help emotion regulation

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New research suggests that aerobic exercise can aid in emotion regulation.

Harvard University researchers measured the amount of change a moderate amount of exercise had on emotional responses to an upsetting film clip in study participants. They found that the clip produced a negative emotional response in all participants, but those who'd participated in exercise before watching it were able to recover more quickly than those who hadn't.

Additionally, participants who exercised reported feeling less sadness than those who hadn't.

Healthy living has always included recommendations for exercise, and this new research seems to suggest the benefits extend beyond physical well-being.

Intrinsic Motivation, or how to get yourself to do something

Motivation can be tough to come by. 

Watching a movie sounds so much better than doing the dishes. Going for a bike ride is way more fun than doing the project you brought home from work. Grabbing a beer with friends sounds so much better than taking the dog for a walk.

So how can you get yourself to do the things you're supposed to?

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is when we're compelled to do something to avoid a punishment or earn a reward, like a child cleaning his room because he doesn't want to get grounded. Intrinsic motivation is doing something because it's personally rewarding, and it's the real key for finding and staying motivated.

So how do you tap into that intrinsic motivation? What's the secret to unlocking your potential?

It's simple, really. Focus on why you're doing things. Align them with your values (which may take a little more soul searching.) Pay attention to the moment. Keep your attention and awareness on the moment instead of allowing your mind to wander. And look for the enjoyable moments. Sure, doing the dishes may not be fun, but pay attention to how much better it feels to have a clean kitchen.

Quick Mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation can feel like a commitment. We can often find excuses or reasons not to practice. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months, and months into years. Break the cycle.

Do one action mindfully.

Just one!

It could be something you do everyday, like brushing your teeth. Notice how the bristles feel against your teeth and gums. Notice the water, taste the toothpaste. Take a minute to be truly aware of the moment, without judgment.

Notice your train of thought. Bring it back to brushing. Feel the toothbrush in your hands, listen to the sounds it makes. 

Carve out the time. You can find it. 

Emotional Flooding ... and how to stop

The dog won't stop barking, the kids won't listen to anything you say, you're tripping over shoes strewn over the house. Before you know it, you're furious - an uncontrollable rage that's pulsing through your whole body. You're ready to blow. 

It's flooding. You're so consumed by your emotions you're drowning in them. It's the opposite of numb. You can't NOT feel what you're feeling to the infinite degree and you don't know how not too. You've lost the ability to use your higher thinking and you're acting on impulse. 

Yelling at the kids to listen to you.

Hitting the dog in a desperate attempt to get him quiet.

Throwing shoes across the room.

Suddenly you've turned into this monster, doing the very things you thought you'd never do. How can you stop yourself before it gets too far?

1. Recognize the physical signs of flooding. Is your heart starting to beat faster? Are you clenching your fists or jaw? Take a quick body scan to see where you're holding your tension and try to release it.

2. Take a minute to focus on your thought stream. Are you taking these actions as personal attacks against you? Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you turning toward blame? In what ways can you change your thinking pattern?

3. Take a break. Take a few deep breaths and watch your belly rise and fall. Close your eyes if it feels right. 

Using these calming strategies, engage your higher thinking to productively problem solve. 

Relationship Activity Questionnaire

When relationships are in crisis, we often forget how or why attraction started in the first place. Use this worksheet to learn more about your partner, turning the focus temporarily away from problems.