5 things that I like about myself

Can you think of five things you like about yourself?

This is something people often find hard to do.

Ask people to list the things they hate about themselves and a lengthy list will often be the result.

Why is it so hard to find things to like about yourself but so easy to find the things you hate about yourself?

Part of this problem is our culture. We are taught not to talk about the things we are good at. To talk about those things is seen as immodest and boastful. To be boastful is to be really bad. So you feel you can’t talk about what you are good at without feeling shame at speaking of it. There is a difference between being honest about what you do well and being boastful. It is okay to admit to something you do well in the right context in a conversation. The obvious time for that is a job interview. Another good example is when someone pays you a compliment. Maybe another person comments on how the colour of your clothes suits you, or that your hair is lovely. The fearful response is to make a disparaging response to that. Like the “this old thing” response. Of course that is quite a rejection of the other person. The healthy response is to say “thank you”, or “I love this colour” Being boastful would be dominating a conversation talking about your prowess at something at length when it is not the right time to discuss that.

Another part of the problem is that many people are so used to seeing their faults, they cannot see their good points.

One thing I do with clients who have difficulty with positive self worth is to ask them to fill in the list of their good points.

Here is a challenge. Can you list five things you like about yourself?

 

The 8 ‘C’s of self-harm

There is a lot of misunderstanding about self-harm. It is frequently linked with suicide, although not all people who self-harm feel suicidal or take action to end their lives. It is however always a good idea if you ever become aware of someone you care for who self-harms to ask them if they feel like killing themselves. But remember, their answer may be no. So what is self-harm about? This is what the ‘C’s are about:

Coping and crisis intervention

If you talk to someone who self-harms they will tell you they self-harm as a way of coping in life’s crisis events. A good example is of a young woman who is out walking. A child walking in the opposite direction bumps into her. This triggers feelings of “why am I always picked on”, “Why do people always hurt me”. These are out of proportion to what has happened, but links to past experiences that were more traumatising have been triggered. The young woman starts to feel angry at the unfairness of life, while at the same time feeling powerless. These feelings lead her to feel anxious and unsafe. Her response to that is the dissociate herself from the feelings and she feels numb and out of it. Now she feels no pain. She self-harms and doesn’t feel it, but her body does and her brain releases endorphins, our natural pain killer. The endorphins act to reduce her feelings of anxiety. So she feels better. This is the first ‘C’ of self-harm – self harming to feel better.

Calming and comforting

In the example above, the young woman found cutting herself was calming and comforting. This is often referred to as self-soothing. Self-soothing is something a child learns from being comforted by its parents. A child who does not have that comfort will not learn to self-soothe. Self-harm is a coping strategy that is used to calm and comfort. It is highly effective as a tool for calming, but it is a tool that is harmful in other ways. A person who self-harms needs to learn other calming strategies. That takes time.

Control

Another aspect of self-harm is the feeling of control. For someone whose life has been one of powerlessness and limited control, self-harm can be a way to feel in control. Another aim of therapy is to help the person so feel empowered and in control so that self-harm can be replaced as a strategy.

Cleansing

For some people, self-harm is a punishment for things they think they have done wrong in the past. In those circumstances, self-harm can feel very cleansing, as though their guilt and shame is being expunged by the act of self-harm.

Confirmation of existence

Many who self-harm will report they feel alive when they self-harm. It is a way to turn off the numbness. Some who cut themselves and draw blood say that they know they are alive when they see the blood flowing. When life has been traumatic, the person often dissociates from reality and self-harm brings them back. It helps the person feel more alive and connected to others.

Creating comfortable numbness

For others, the self-harm makes them feel numb. They report that is a good place to be because they do not have to feel any unpleasant feelings but instead can retreat into a place where feelings cannot be felt.

Chastisement

Chastisement is similar to cleansing, but it is more about things happening in the present. A boy desperate to get top marks in his exams may self-harm as punishment for not working hard enough to get top marks.

Communication.

Although the person who self-harms hides what they have done, it is a form of communication. The marks say “I need help”. Because they are hidden, they are not often seen. It takes a lot of trust in a person for one who self-harms to show what they have been doing. For the person themself, the wound of self-harm is visible evidence of the pain they are feeling. Having a physical injury makes it okay to have pain. Should anyone else see the wounds, then the pain can be witnessed by others. For people who have suffered abuse in childhood, the wounds become a narrative of the abuse they suffered. For many children suffering abuse, the abuse is kept quiet and the child can be punished for speaking about it. In this case the wound is a way to speak of the abuse without saying anything.

Most people who self-harm seek to hide what they are doing. They may not be willing to let anyone know what is going on. It takes a lot of courage for a self-harmer to let another person know what is happening. Some of the things that prevent people from revealing their self-harm are:

  • feelings of embarrassment and guilt;
  • being frightened of how their parents or the person they have told will react;
  • not knowing their parents to know and being frightened the person they tell will not maintain confidentiality;
  • fear that they will be judged negatively and labelled negatively;
  • fear that their parents will not be able to afford counselling;
  • a negative experience with seeking help in the past;
  • now knowing what support is available for them;
  • not perceiving what they are doing as being dangerous.

The job of counsellor is not to judge the person who self-harms or force them to stop. People will stop self-harming when they are ready to. What I can do as a counsellor is help my client to learn new coping behaviours to use instead of self-harm. One approach is to teach my clients self-harm is a form of communication and offer other ways to communicate such as art, poetry, story writing or journaling.

The release of endorphins is an important way people who self-harm soothe themselves. There are many safe ways to release endorphins and I will help my clients explore those safe ways and learn how to replace self-harm with a safer way.

I will also teach my clients alternative ways to self-soothe that are not harmful.

These three things form the acronym CARESS (Communicate Alternatively, Release Endorphins, Self-Soothe). Once my client has identified other strategies to use I encourage them to use CARESS whenever the urge to self-harm arises, before self-harming. In other words, they are to try a different form of communication, such as painting, then release endorphins, for example by taking a brisk walk, then self-soothe by movement such as rocking or calling a friend.

Over time, clients learn to use different strategies to deal with the 8 ‘C’s and learn how not to self-harm.

I want to acknowledge Lisa Ferentz from whom I learned the CARESS approach to working with self-harm.

6 plus 3 equals 9

So does 8 plus 1, and 7 plus 2, and 5 plus 4.

There are many different ways to get 9.

My point?

In life there are many different ways to do things. Often we have a set idea of how to achieve something but others have their own ideas. That does not make your idea wrong and it does not make the idea of others wrong.

Similarly, you have your own opinions on things, and others have theirs. That does not make your opinion wrong, or the opinion of others.

In life there is a lot of diversity.

There is also diversity in abilities and in the way our brains work. You may have heard the terms neurotypical and neurodiversity being used. In a world where an increasing number of people are being diagnosed with autism those terms are becoming more common. Neurotypical is used to describe people whose brains are considered to work in a ‘normal’ way. That would be the majority of people. But it is becoming increasingly clear there are different ways for people’s brains to work and this is what the term neurodiversity refers to.

There are not really that many more people with autism than in previous generations. There are just more being diagnosed. Early autism research was first published in the 1940s. This research studied groups of people who had been well known for generations. There were two research papers. One by Leo Kanner in America was research on people who were non verbal and had limited functioning. The other research paper was by Hans Asperger and was published in Austria during World War II. This paper was in German and was only known in the rest of the world in the 1980s. Asperger studied those people who functioned in society very well but had different ways of thinking and behaving. These are the people described as having Aspergers. Nowadays they would be referred to as people with Autism but who have a high level of functioning.

Because of the difficulty with communication of those who were non verbal, and the difficulty coping with academic assessments based on neurotypical people, many people with Autism were diagnosed as learning impaired and considered to be less intelligent than others. What is now known is that many on the Autism Spectrum are actually more intelligent than others and with support can achieve academically.

Children with Autism require support to help them achieve in a neurotypical world. There are those who argue that those children are a drain on the economy because of the amount of money it is perceived is spent on them, but it is important to remember that many other children need support as well. And they receive it. It is increasingly difficult for children to manage in this world. As a society we should be alert to the needs of all children and seek to meet them.

We should always remember that there is more than one way to get 9 as an answer and there is more than one way for a person to be a contributing member of society.

I have a lot of experience with autism and last year conducted research into the experience of parents whose adult children were diagnosed with autism in adulthood. I have a personal interest in this, my own daughter was diagnosed at age 25 with autism. So I have experienced some of the ups and downs described by other parents. I have found that I work with a lot of parents who have a child with autism. One thing my research participants and the other parents I see all say is that other people “don’t get it”. For this reason I am diversifying my practice to include support for parents in that situation because there is a great need for that level of support.

I will be writing blogs on the subject of autism in the coming months.

In the meantime, if you are a parent of a child, or other person you are close to, with autism and you want support, please ring me to make an appointment on 0409396608.

Why you should forgive yourself.

There will always be times in our lives when feel we have done something wrong and seek forgiveness because that is what we think we need. Certainly being forgiven by the person we seek forgiveness from allows us to feel unburdened. We feel we have done something wrong. And that may be something we have really done wrong, or something we think we have done wrong. These wrongs possess energy that is negative and ties us into the relationship with the person we believe we have wronged. Every person we feel we have wronged is energy we carry that ties us to that person. Imagine all those ties for all the people we feel we need forgiveness from. We get so many they get very tangled. They impact on our relationships and carry over into all aspects of our lives.

At the core of this energy and the ties accompanying it is the belief that this can only be released through being forgiven by the other person. That is all and good, but if we give the other person the power to give us forgiveness we lose our own opportunity to reclaim our worth and goodness.

Forgiveness for our wrongs lies with us. We have to forgive ourselves for failing to be perfect, for hurting someone else, for saying the wrong thing, for what we have done that we judge is not perfect.

When you are caught up in feeling bad about what you feel you have done to another person you need to let it go and move on. Letting it go and moving on means forgiving yourself.

Below are the five reasons you should seek your own forgiveness.

1.The other person may not forgive you.

It may be that the guilt and shame you are carrying is so far into the past that you are no longer in contact with the person whose forgiveness you seek. Or they may not want to forgive you for whatever reason. It is you that needs to forgive you, not the other person.

2. If you don’t forgive yourself then how will you keep going?

There is never just one incident in life that we seek forgiveness over. There are always multiple ones. Imagine carrying all that pain and unforgiveness for the rest of your life. It would be like carrying a ton weight around with you. Release it so that you can get on with your life.

3. You can’t forgive others if you can’t forgive yourself.

It is a valid lesson to consider that if you cannot forgive yourself, you will never be able to forgive others. It is important to accept that we all make mistakes. Mistakes are a great learning opportunity. So instead of beating yourself up about mistakes you have made, treat yourself with compassion and forgive yourself. Once you have learned to give this to yourself, you can give it to others.

4. The shame of the past can only be transformed through forgiveness.

Much of unforgiveness is tied up in shame at your own behaviour. Shame impacts on your behaviour and can lead to you hurting people even more as you react angrily in response to your own shame. Approach that shame with compassion and release it.

5. To accept and value yourself you must embrace both virtues and flaws.

Compassion for yourself means you accept you do good things and also things that are not good. You are not perfect. No one is. You will make mistakes in life and you will cause hurt to others. Your mistakes are not you, they are just mistakes. Acknowledge you are not perfect. Give yourself compassionate acceptance and choose how you will live your life.

There are some things you can do to reduce the hurt you cause others:

  • Learn to practice conscious living. This means paying attention to what is going on around you. It means stopping to think about what may be going on for another person. It means listening to others. When you do that you are less likely to inadvertently hurt others. So often, we hurt others because we are ignorant of their situation or we do not understand their situation enough to have empathy for them. If we don’t stop and pay attention to what is happening to another person, then we will be more likely to be harsh with them and do something to hurt them. In the process you will also become a better friend and colleague, because you will be more likely to notice the difficulties others are facing and act with compassion.
  • When you do something to hurt another person, or make a mistake, accept what you have done. Don’t try to deny what you have done. Also don’t seek to justify your actions or put the blame on someone else. Take responsibility for your actions. It may not seem that way, but this has a positive outcome. Taking responsibility for your actions is very empowering. It allows you to feel more in control of your life. It won’t necessarily prevent things happening to you, but it will guide your effective response to them. When things happen, you will feel better able to make calm, effective decisions on how to act.
  • When you take responsibility for your actions you will notice that the sky doesn’t fall on your head! People are a lot more understanding of someone who admits what they did than you may think. Yes, doing the wrong thing often hurts. Ouch, that hurt. Acknowledge that and allow yourself to feel the pain and heal from it. Forgiving yourself is an important step to take to allow that pain to heal.
  • Increase your self awareness of your emotions and do not be afraid of them. Be willing to admit when you feel anger, or resentment, or sadness or any other feelings. So often those feelings are the ones that cause you to react defensively and cause hurt to others. Don’t allow that to happen. Be aware the feelings have come and learn how to respond to them so that you don’t react defensively.
  • Mindfulness is a wonderful thing to learn to allow yourself to become more self aware and better able to put those emotions aside and not react to them.
  • Do remember that you will slip up every so often. And when that happens don’t judge yourself or expect yourself to be perfect. Forgive yourself your human weaknesses.

So often we feel we do not have the power to stand up to the things life presents to us. We hide that fear by trying to be perfect, using that as a defensive strategy. That makes it hard because it reduces our ability to ask for help when we need it.

Some people hide under perfectionism, feeling unworthy of love or good things. They judge themselves harshly and feel very bad about themselves. They can seek to protect themselves by being harsh and judgmental towards others. The trouble is, if you judge others then you also judge yourself. It is not possible to be understanding towards yourself and judgmental to others. If you judge others you will judge yourself. If you forgive yourself, you will forgive others.

Another problem that can be faced on the journey of learning self compassion and self forgiveness is the knowledge that there are people that do not like you. That is such a terrible rejection. It is part of our nature to feel shame when we are rejected. Sometimes that shame is tied up in memories of past times we have done things we regret. It is important when on this journey to acknowledge that bad things you have done in the past and apply forgiveness and compassion to them. These shameful aspects of ourselves, when we were not perfect, were referred to by Carl Jung as our shadow side. We are frightened of our shadow side because it does not match what we want to believe about ourselves as good people. The shadow side is scary and imperfect. It is full of remorse and shame.

Remorse is not a problem, but shame is. Shame says I am a bad person. I can’t do anything right. I am awful. Remorse says I wish I hadn’t done that. What can I change to reduce my chances of doing that again? Remorse acknowledges it happened and moves forward to change responses in the future. It accepts we are human. Shame tries to halt our progress. Remorse is a positive sign our level of awareness is increasing and we are growing into the person we want to be. Remorse brings with it its companions of compassion and forgiveness. It allows us to accept our human failings, take a deep cleansing breath and let go of the past. From that point we can step forward.

This can be summed up as acknowledge, forgive and start anew. Remember, the path to forgiveness is not an instant one. We will have to keep revisiting it, whether it is about forgiving ourselves or forgiving others. You will occasionally remember those shameful things, but with self compassion and a commitment to forgiveness, you will be able to move forward. You will find that remembering will happen less and less until a time comes when you rarely remember, if at all.

Four things you cannot control and four things you can

One of the most stressful things in life is trying to control things you have no control over. It can leave you feeling powerless. Below are the four major ones. Do you recognise any of them in your own life?

1. You cannot control what other people choose to think.

It is hard when people think badly of you, when they judge you, or when they say nasty things about you. It hurts when that happens. But you cannot stop other people doing that.

2. You cannot control what other people choose to feel

You have worked hard to consider others when planning an event. Then some people are upset about the way you planned it. You make a decision and others are unhappy with that decision. All you want to do is make someone happy and you try so hard to do what you think will make them happy. You can spend a lot of time and energy trying to do things that others will be happy about. But there is no guarantee they will like what you have done. And it is quite likely you will not be happy with the decision either. You cannot make other people happy or sad. Only they can do that.

3. You cannot control what other people choose to do.

You try hard to get someone to do what will be easier for you, but they choose to do something that makes things harder for you. You try to help a friend stay out of trouble, but they do what they want anyway. You cannot control the decisions other people make.

4. If you attempt to do any of the above, or any combination, you will feel inadequate, frustrated, angry and depressed.

This one speaks for itself. In my workshops I often have a warm up exercise where a participant is given a ball and a scenario. A common one I use with people who have children is about your adult child making a bad decision. I nominate other participants to represent various people involved in the scenario. The participant is then asked to throw the ball to the person who is responsible for the decision. Frequently, the participant will hold onto the ball and not pass it on.

This is a classic thing we all tend to do. It is that belief that we are responsible for others. That we can control others. And when we fail we feel that we should have tried harder, or are angry that person didn’t do what we wanted.

So what do you do? You focus your attention on what you can control. Below are four things you DO have control over:

1. What you think.

Instead of trying to control what others think, focus instead on what you are thinking. Accept you cannot control what others think and accept that. Life is a lot less stressful when you focus on your own thinking and accept others will likely think quite differently. And that that is okay.

2. What you feel.

You may not be able to control what other people feel, but you can control what you feel. Again, accept others will feel what they want to and focus on what you feel.

3. What you do.

Controlling other people’s actions without resorting to abusive behaviour is not possible. You need to accept that. Instead focus on what you can do and accept others will do their own thing. If what someone else is doing has an impact on you then you can respectfully negotiate with the other person and seek to come to a mutual decision on what you will both do.

4. How you choose to respond to what others directly express and do.

You cannot control how another person responds to you, but you can respond to what is done to you. You do not have to engage with someone whose behaviour you don’t like. That is a wonderful thing to remember.

So with the ability to control what you think, feel, do and how you respond you have a lot of control in your own life. What a wonderful feeling to have that power.