Jul 14, 2018
Everyone has dark side or something they don't like about themselves. We want to learn how to be comfortable with noticing the shadows within without fear or judgement. When we keep secrets about ourselves from ourselves, it sets up an internal world of of confusion and self-denial. Once we bring out the parts of ourselves we've hidden into the light, we start to heal. Shame hides in our secrets, but in our therapy sessions there's no judgement and no reason to hide. Let's talk about the things that you've never said out loud. We'll talk through the difference in feeling ashamed and feeling guilty. Guilt often stems from something we've done that we regret. Shame shows up in a feeling that there's something wrong with us.
Folks that struggle with shame often feel worthless and responsible for everything that goes wrong. When things don't turn out the way we thought, we might let pervasive shame tell us that it's a statement about our unworthiness. We can internalize the tragedy as a punishment rather than simply bad luck.
There may be past sexual, physical, or emotional abuse that we've buried and our afraid to tell anyone about. You are not to blame for other people's mistreatment of you. You are also not defined by any specific event imposed on you by others. You are worthy of love and contentment in your life. You define your own meaning.
When we're struggling with guilt we need to first make amends with ourselves. Forgiving ourselves for past transgressions is a vital part of healing. It's important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. We're all doing the best we can with the information we have. Let's work on self accepatance.
Jul 2, 2018
Just trying to get everything right sounds like a good thing, right? Well, it depends. How far do you push yourself to make sure that there are no mistakes, nothing left out, and you are above reproach? What are your motivations for seeking perfection and what toll does it take on you personally?
On the surface, perfectionism can sound like a responsible and admirable trait. The problem is staying on that surface level of how things look rather than the reality of how things actually are. Social media for instance only shows the results of achievements. The months, years, or even decades of incremental progress and learning from mistakes isn’t often celebrated publicly at all. We can get caught in the trap of thinking that we should be able to do things perfectly right out of the gate. Who are we after all, if we aren’t the award-winning student, highly-paid employee, respected father, or coveted colleague?
Perfectionism often involves basing our self-worth on how well we meet self-imposed standards and high expectations. It starts out as a way to improve ourselves and bridge the gap between what we consider the ideal and where we are now. When it’s adaptive, we understand that we’re going to mess up along the way. Adaptive (flexible) perfectionism presents as setting realistic goals, but accepting ourselves and appreciating our efforts even if things don’t turn out the way we hoped.
Alternatively, maladaptive (rigid) perfectionism shows up as a need to be in control of every aspect of our lives and environment. When it becomes clear that this isn’t realistic, the reaction is extreme and self-critical. When we struggle with maladaptive perfectionism, we are highly self-conscious and develop negative attitudes when things don't go as planned. We assign ourselves tasks to prove to that we meet rigid standards. The trouble is that the more we achieve, the worse we can feel about ourselves. If we meet the standard, it’s not good enough. We should have done it faster, better, and with more panache. If we didn’t meet the standard, we aren’t good enough. We didn’t work hard enough and aren’t smart enough. Either way the result is self-criticism.
Rigid perfectionism increases the risk of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health issues so it’s important to challenge the negative beliefs we may hold about ourselves. In the next article, we’ll look at ways to change patterns of limited thinking that lead to maladaptive perfectionism.
May 16, 2018
If you schedule an office visit, this is your experience as you walk in from the parking lot, through the lobby, and into our office. Sometimes it's comforting to know what it's like before you go to a new place.
For our sessions, I'll come get you in the lobby and have the lights lower. Let me know if you're allergic to lavendar oil because that's usually what the office smells like. We are surrounded by views of trees out of both windows during our sessions.
The expressive arts are for everyone, not just someone labeled an "artist." We all have the potential to reach our creative connection. All it requires is a desire to dig deeper and try something new.
If you want to dip your toe into the expressive arts, it can be anything as simple as listening to music as you silently experiment with drawing images with colored pencils. Right now I'm working through a mandala meditation journal and writing an intention for each day. That sounds pretty easy, right?
So how would we use this in therapy? Well, that really depends on you and what mediums you are comfortable trying. Sometimes we might start with a short meditation, draw or paint an image (no artistic training required), and set your own intention for something personal to you. Other times we might play a drum, tibetan bowl, or a xylophone as spontaneous music (again no classic training required) and then make a movement or sound that feels right in the moment. Because that's really what this whole thing is about...being in the moment.
Experimenting with one creative outlet leads to another and it all culminates with getting to know yourself better. Spontaneous images, writing, music, and movement connect you with your subconscious (all the stuff going on in the background deep inside of you). It's a way to express feelings, events, and challenges that may otherwise be difficult to verbalize. For example, if you know you feel anxiety, creating images of the things that scare you and then writing a story about interacting with it can help change your perceptions and expectations.
It's actually a wonderful way to find joy. Once you see me do it, maybe it won't feel so strange. We can explore all the things that make you uniquely you. Let's have some fun!
Sep 14, 2017
Anxious feelings can stop us from doing the things we’d like to do and connecting with the people in our lives. Have you ever avoided a party or speaking up in a conversation even when you knew something interesting about the subject? Social anxiety is like an anchor we carry with us throughout the day, preventing us from moving forward and engaging with others. What might feel like nervous excitement to some can feel like a moment of sheer terror and enduring torture to a person dealing with social anxiety. The quickening heartbeat, flushed face, difficulty breathing, and the sinking feeling that your voice might fail you leads many people to avoid public situations. This avoidance may provide relief in the short-term, but it often deteriorates into isolation and eventually to depression.
Factors contributing to social anxiety include genetic inheritance, behavioral modeling (how you were raised), and traumatic events. While you can’t change the reasons you developed social anxiety, you can choose your reactions to it. Understanding that how you think influences how you feel can make a tremendous difference in how you approach managing your anxiety.
1. Notice the anxious thought.
When you are around others you may notice your thoughts turning inward to all the things that can go wrong. Take a moment and recognize what changes happened internally. Did you think of something you wanted to say or do, but then froze? What are you afraid will happen?
Sometimes an anxious thought such as “I won’t know what to say and everyone will think I’m stupid,” can result in feeling like you have nothing to add to the conversation and then concluding that you don’t enjoy talking to people. Pressure test this conclusion by noticing what you think when other people are quiet or only say a few things in a conversation. Do you automatically think they are stupid? Probably not…or at least, let’s hope not. More than likely you give others the benefit of the doubt in social situations.
2. Identify the distortion.
We have all experienced distorted thinking. It sounds a lot more demented than it actually is. Common distorted thoughts include:
- Catastrophe - “The worst thing possible will happen.”
- Spotlighting - “Everyone will see what I’m thinking”
- Mind Reading - “I know exactly what they think about me.”
- Social Perfection - “Mistakes are not allowed.”
There are many more distorted thoughts possible, but these seem to be prevalent automatic thoughts for the socially anxious. Automatic thoughts are default settings that result from unexamined reasoning and set off anxious feelings. Once you identify the distortion, it becomes apparent that it is your interpretation of an event or situation that you can manage. For example, if everyone waited until they had the perfect thing to say, there would be an awful lot of silence.
3. Name the feeling.
It’s strange how limited our feeling vocabulary can be when you consider the wide range of feelings that people can experience in a single day. Expanding the words you use to describe how you feel (past the glad, mad, sad, bad rhyming variety) can open up the nuanced meaning you assign to the internal processing of events and circumstances. For now, just listening to yourself as you encounter situations in which you feel uncomfortable can provide tremendous insight into your individual response.
4. Take action.
Our thoughts and feelings influence our actions. When you notice an anxious thought, identify the distortion, and name the feeling, what is your response? These things are all connected to what you do. It is a chain reaction that only you can control.
5. Decide to move toward avoidance or values.
You could decide to avoid the situation, but how does this help you in the long run? Avoiding it this time only means that the pressure builds up and intensifies the next time the same thing comes around.
Moving toward your values; however, affirms growth and courage. Values are anything that is important to you. If you want to grow deeper friendships or relationships, then there are going to be times when you have to leave your house to be there for someone else. If you want to grow in your career, then you might have to speak up at a meeting or give a presentation. It all depends upon on what you choose.
Managing social anxiety takes work, but it doesn’t have to happen overnight. Start small and with people you already trust. If there is a particularly negative person in your life, don’t start with them. Build your confidence by sharing your thoughts with someone you consider kind and patient. You will probably be amazed at how generous other people can be once you give them a chance to get to know you.