Making the Time to Care for our Partners: Why Couples Care Really Matters ​​​​​​​

By Heather Sutter, LCSW   

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Our daily lives are full of non-stop personal and professional commitments that can create unmanageable levels of stress.  For most of us, it feels as though there is never enough time to relax and ground ourselves. As a result, stress and its impact on our minds and bodies is constantly building up.

Recognizing how stress affects us while building a regular practice of self-care is important. However, it’s also crucial to examine how stress impacts our relationships and manage its natural effects on a couple. While this may sound very basic, we need to remind ourselves to make time for one another.

When discussing stress management, many couples think, “there’s just no way around it, this is life.”  In truth, they are right, stress is always a part of our lives.  Research actually shows that appropriate levels of stress are healthy for us, keeping us in tune with the world around us. But there are many ways to jointly manage stress and still make time to remain connected as a couple.

Communication

Speak to your partner about the good and the bad things that happen to you over the course of the day. Support one another by talking about sources of stress and identify what you need from each other in that moment. Use of “I-Statements” can be helpful in expressing your needs, like,  “I need to vent about something that happened to me at work” or “I need a little space to gather my thoughts.”  Instead of playing devil's advocate, aim to provide empathetic listening and to validate what your partner is saying, . Be an ally

When we don’t talk to our partners about what’s going on in our lives, we tend to bottle up our frustrations. Letting our partners know that we’re dealing with stress or we are upset about something will allow them to understand how to best support you.

Accept Influence

Marriage experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman state you cannot be influential unless you accept influence. This starts with valuing your partner's opinions and point of view, even if they are different than yours. If your partner communicates to you what they want and need from you, try to truly listen, respect the feelings they share, and understand the point they are making. Try not to be defensive or dismissive. Allow yourself to be impacted by the needs your partner expresses. 

Traditions

 In my work with families, I speak a lot about traditions and customs which hold a powerful place in family dynamics. The same is true for couples. Whether it’s a daily, weekly, or monthly tradition, rituals can act as built in opportunities for you both to enjoy spending time together.

As we grow as individuals, our hobbies and interests can change. Therefore, it’s important to remain connected to your interests and hobbies as a couple and make time to enjoy them togetherEating at least one meal per day together with your partner can also act as an important tradition and ritual.

But don’t stop there….commit yourselves to putting away your phones and computers and really be present with each other during meals.  Several couples I’ve worked with have dedicated one night per week to preparing a meal together and have found that the process of researching recipes and cooking side by side is a great way to spend quality time together.  Sharing an activity is also a perfect opportunity to check-in with your partner about new hobbies and interests and find out what's happening in their lives. 

Couples Counseling

Many couples I work with reach out to me for reasons other than conflicts.  They see couples therapy as a time that they can dedicate to their relationship. Even though they are still communicating with one another during the other 167 hours of the week, this hour feels different to them.  Therapy sessions are free from distractions and allow couples to truly focus on themselves as a unit.

You may be thinking, “Sure, but we can also just set aside time to go out to dinner and accomplish the same thing?” While that may be helpful, when you aren’t committed to a specific date with a counselor in a neutral environment, it may just fall into the “we’ll just do it next week” bucket.

Celebrate Anniversaries and Milestones Together

 Although a special dinner or weekend getaway is a good way to celebrate an anniversary or milestone together, there are other ways to celebrate your relationship that don’t cost money. On your next anniversary, take some time to watch your wedding video together or look at pictures of a trip or event you enjoyed together. Reminiscing with each other often helps us appreciate our time together and to develop a stronger appreciation of one another.

These ideas involve planning ahead and maintaining open communication with each other. Scheduling time with your partner may seem strange, but our busy agendas mean we may never follow through unless we commit to a time.  No matter what stage your relationship is in, they can be hard work. At A Good Place Therapy, we’re committed to helping couples establish strong foundations and, more importantly, build lasting and fulfilling relationships.

Heather is a therapist with A Good Place Therapy. To learn more about how therapy with Heather can help you achieve your goals, or to schedule a consultation with her, please visit our contact page here

Therapist Spotlight: Heather Sutter, LCSW

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Get to know Heather Sutter, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, at our practice.

 

What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

I enjoy helping others become more self-aware and gain the confidence to overcome the various obstacles and challenges they face. It’s such a privilege when people let you into their lives to connect on such a personal level. I’ve also learned to appreciate that everyone’s experiences are unique, so I love that treatment can be customized and no two sessions ever feel the same.   

How have your own life experiences made you a better therapist?

I wouldn’t say that any one experience has made me a better therapist. My own personal experiences have taught me the power of positivity and hope in any situation or challenge. In my own life, if I lose that positivity, I lose my motivation to overcome the challenge and I feel stuck. So in my work with others, I always try to help them build a foundation of positivity and purpose in any situation.

What is most important to you?

To me and for those I work with — happiness is the most important thing. “Happiness” can mean different things and look or feel different to everyone. In its essence, happiness can be an appreciation of knowing what you have and what your strengths are. It is seeing the positives and learning from every obstacle we face.

What are your passion projects or interests?

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I enjoy traveling any chance I can. I find traveling to be a great opportunity to practice self-care and to relax, but I’m also fascinated by different ways of living and cultures all over the world. Traveling allows me to remember that, as diverse as New York City can be, it is still only a small area of the world and there are so many cultures and ways of life out there.

What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

Throughout my life, I have always wanted to understand human behavior and provide a positive influence in the lives of others. Growing up, I knew I wanted to work with children and always imagined myself becoming a teacher. However, during my junior year of High School, I met a social worker who started talking to me about her work and I quickly became intrigued by the field of social work. Ultimately, my desire to work with children led me to my specialty providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents and families.

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

I’ve spent the majority of my career working with adolescents and families and I absolutely love it. Many people find it challenging to work with adolescents, but I’ve never given it a second thought. Teenagers don't hide anything and they’ll tell you exactly how it is, whether it makes you feel good or not. I appreciate their honesty. As tough as they can seem at times, adolescents are a very vulnerable population. They are trying to form their own identity and can be so impressionable. The adolescent years are an important time for a teen to connect with someone positive to provide them with a healthy outlet for their stress and feelings, and also to keep them from turning to unhealthy options.  

I also love working with couples, not just premarital but in every in stage of their relationship. Couples therapy is often viewed as a sign of a failed relationship. However, I have found that couples that are aware and motivated enough to seek out therapy are also that much more committed to making their relationship work again. I work from the Prepare/Enrich model, which helps couples identify and openly work through similarities and differences together. Therapy can be daunting for a couple and often one partner isn’t too excited about being in the room. So I try my best to help both partners identify their own individual goals as well as goals they have as a couple.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

I would have to say that my use of humor in treatment with clients makes me unique. In my own life, I have found that humor helps me get through difficult situations and can lighten up really difficult times. My humor also seems to increase engagement with adolescents and couples and allows everyone to feel more comfortable.

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

With any client, my #1 rule is to always meet the client where they are — whether that is sitting in long awkward silences or letting them vent and feel validated and understood. The second I start inserting my own agenda, I lose the client’s buy-in and engagement decreases. It’s an important part of forming a therapeutic connection with someone. With every obstacle there is always a strength, but sometimes it needs to be discovered. When someone is stuck and feeling hopeless it is nice to be able to give him or her a glimpse of the positive in that moment.

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

Self-care is the driving force behind any therapist’s work. Without self-care, inevitably there will be some level of burnout. As a therapist, it’s hard for me to shut my “work brain” off after sessions. So while I may always be thinking about my clients and our work together, I try my best to make sure my mind is focused on my own family and relationships as well. I feel most able to disconnect from work at the gym as I feel like I’m focusing 100% on myself during that time.

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 

An old friend used to always tell me, “This too shall pass.” This concept has stuck with me and has continuously reminded me that no matter how big or small the struggle, there is always a way to get through it.

 

Heather is a therapist with A Good Place Therapy. To learn more about how therapy with Heather can help you reach your goals, or to schedule a consultation with her, please visit our contact page here

Therapist Spotlight: Michael Mantell, LMSW

Meet Michael Mantell, a Licensed Master Social Worker and therapist at our practice. 

What is your favorite thing about being a clinical social worker/therapist?

Because I work with children, adolescents, and adults, in a variety of settings (homes, schools, an outpatient clinic, and private practice), my environment is rich in diversity. It is not limited, and it allows me to be creative. 

I also love that I get to hear so many different peoples’ stories. I think everyone has so much to offer: therapy is just as therapeutic for me as it is for my clients. I get to help people better themselves and it is great to be part of that change.

 

What is a personal challenge you've overcome that makes you a better therapist ?

I have three that have all contributed to making me better at life, and in therapy room:

1) I am a member of the LGBT community. Growing up, there was always a part of me that felt different from others. Through socialization I learned to devalue myself. I didn't think I was normal. But, overcoming what I never thought I could overcome — identifying as gay, coming out, and actually loving who I am —allowed me to see the other side of things. At first thinking I couldn't do anything and not loving myself, then finding out who I really am and being proud of that person. It gave me greater power to see what I can accomplish. 

 

2) I lost someone very close to me several years ago. Knowing this part of the human experience and seeing the changes through time has made me more humble as a human being. It has made me even more thankful for what I have and what I have had. 

3) Long distance running. I do marathons and ultra-marathons. My longest (so far) was about 40 miles. Being able to do something that I once thought was insurmountable physically and being able to accomplish that physical feat has allowed me to see what can happen when people change their state of mind. It takes work, energy, and effort but I saw that it's possible to make even the smallest change. This has really helped to solidify my way of thinking - that our mental health is so intertwined with our physical health and lives.  I believe understanding this makes me a better therapist. 

What's most important to you?

First and foremost being happy and content in life; and the health and happiness of those around me.  Knowing that you have done the best you can and having as little regret as possible. Also — human connection. To me, everything that we do needs to have this human connectedness. It is one of the reasons that I went into this field.

What are your passion projects/interests?

Running is definitely one of my passions. It is also a coping mechanism for me. I go for a run when I want to be alone or when I feel stressed. I go for a run if I want to do an important project or assignment and nothing is coming to mind. I have also made it into something more personal and important. Every year I raise money for charity when I run. I have supported a number of local and national organizations — raising over $20,000 under the alias Mikey Runs it. It is very important to me to make that human connection. Every year I try to up the ante and do something more. One year it was one marathon, another year it was an ultra-marathon, one year was five marathons; I even did 3 marathons back-to-back in three weeks). I try to always strive for the greater good. 

What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

Growing up knowing that there was something different about me, I really wished there was a safe place where I could explore and talk things out. I really wanted to talk about my feelings but I didn't feel like I had that kind of place. I want to be able to provide that environment for others to be able to establish a sound and healthy living.

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

First and foremost, I try to meet clients where they are at. Before formulating any plan, first I get to know the client . I want to engage them and build a rapport. I assess what work we need to do in the therapeutic process, their goals, and, of course, ask them for their input. My work is very insight oriented and strength-based. I look at their core conflicts and utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which looks at thoughts, feelings, and reactions and how these interact with each other to shape our existence. I subscribe to narrative therapy, too. Everyone’s life is their story. Sometimes we create a story and stick with it but that can be one-dimensional. We work on 'thickening' the story and making it more three-dimensional. Narrative Therapy helps our clients gain a sense of control over their lives.

Additionally, skills such as problem-solving, conflict resolution, active listening, empathy-building, anger management, communication and coping skills are so important to the work I do, whether with children and families or adults and couples. I think this also makes for excellent results.

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When working with kids, especially, I use play therapy. Play is the how children communicate and the lenses through which they see and engage with the world around them, so it becomes a natural and creative way to provide therapy to young people. 

What makes you unique as a therapist?

I am not sure I would say it is unique but I am extremely good at individualizing services and sessions, which comes with the territory when you work with both children and adults. I also find that I have a good sense of subtext, understanding what's below the surface - the real problems or concerns - and helping clients label and understand them. I have a very diverse background and utilize different approaches. I do not have a cookie-cutter approach. I am also very honest with my clients when I provide feedback. I don’t hide things. I think that is counter-productive to therapy. I try to stick with this methodology first and foremost, and I think that is what makes me unique.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

I believe everyone essentially wants the same thing. They want to be happy and get their needs met, and for the most part, I believe, they want others to be happy, too. I love helping individuals, couples, and families with communication and problem-solving skills to prepare them to resolve conflicts at home and prevent them from happening in the first place. When you work with families and couples it's so gratifying to witness the positive change they can experience through therapy. You can see the relationship become elevated and that is just awesome.

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

Running is my number one. It is an enjoyable hobby that allows me to destress and unplug from the world. I also enjoy taking in a Broadway show or a musical, spending time with family and friends and surrounding myself with the people I care about and love. I also like to get out of the city when I can to regain balance and recharge my batteries. 

 

Michael is a therapist with A Good Place Therapy. To learn more about how therapy with Michael can help you reach your goals, or to schedule a consultation with Michael, please visit our contact page here

The Benefit Of The Doubt: Growing Through Giving

The Benefit of the Doubt-Growing Through Giving is Part 2 of  two-part series on challenging your negative thoughts. We are hard-wired and conditioned over time to self-protect. Our inner critic keeps us in check, but is also not so easy on others. We automatically categorize, judge, and make assumptions about the worst, all in the name of self-preservation, To do differently, requires intentional energy towards opening ourselves up to love, hope and possibility. 

Read More

Quieting Your Negative Self-talk

Our feelings are directly influenced by our thoughts, and reinforced by our behaviors and actions, not just by the situation itself. Over time, this cycle of thoughts, feelings, and actions become reinforced, like a well-trodden hiking trail. The good news is that we are capable of learning new patterns through practice and rehearsal.

Read More

Conquering the Fear of Mediocrity and Learning From Your Vulnerability

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In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we examined ways to help you embrace your values and your own choices through a process of self-awareness and reflection. This post will help you understand the underlying fear that perpetuates the vicious cycle of perfectionism and mediocrity. As part of this journey, we will also focus on the role of vulnerability.

Sharon Martin, LCSW, is a Perfectionism expert. In her “Psych Central” Blog “Happily Imperfect” , she explains that many of us grow up believing perfectionism is equal to excellence. The act of striving to achieve standards that are impossible to attain breeds anxiety, feelings of low-self worth and results in procrastination.  These byproducts interfere with our goals and  our ability to lead happy and fulfilled lives.  A life of perfectionistic striving is a total killjoy. You are likely caught in a pattern of misery, and are probably making other people around you miserable in the process.  

Let’s look at this more closely and come up with some ways to counter the fear of mediocrity, the fundamental breeder of perfectionism.  

Fear of Mediocrity and the “Basic”

As if we needed another one, there’s a relatively new female derogatory term that’s surfaced on the internet: “Basic Bitches”. The urban dictionary defines a “Basic Bitch” like this:

"someone who is unflinchingly upholding of the status quo and stereotypes of their gender without even realizing it. She engages in typical, unoriginal behaviors, modes of dress, speech, and likes.”  

Because pop culture and the media have cleverly coined a new term, all women who enjoy pumpkin spice lattes, pinning Lobs to Pinterest, and yoga must be ashamed of these small pleasures?

The fear of being basic leads to the striving of unattainable or unsustainable ideals that can make you miserable. When you read on a fashion blog that Adidas Superstar sneakers are “basic”, will you decide you must wear the special edition Stella McCartney for Adidas, even if that means they’re triple the price (and your credit card is maxed too!)?  Do you have to really stand out from the “basics” in the crowd by shrinking your 5’6 frame to a size zero? This behavior in particular can lead to eating and body image disorders. It can spiral beyond emotional and mental hardship and even become lethal.

The truth is that enjoying things that universally enjoyable, and living a life of certain “basic” standards, helps you connect more, and makes you relatable and human.  Most of us are searching for belonging and human connection. If you are regularly tweeting about Zumba, for example, you connect to a community of people who share an interest in Zumba. This is affirming to who we are and what we like. You can embrace these “basic” interests and qualities and also focus on other dynamic parts of yourself.

Take a self-inventory. Just because you might identify with things on the “basic” checklists, it doesn’t mean that YOU are basic!  Ironically, there are also way too many "Basic" checklists, featuring the same Pumpkin Spice Lattes! Let me make this point clear with my own “are you basic?” checklist:

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1) Do you breath? 

2) Do you wear socks?

 3) Do you like puppies?

 4) Do you enjoy a good back scratch?

If you answer yes to any of these then you are basic. Remember your values and what makes you unique. Yes, you enjoy Greek yogurt, but you also are fluent in French. You Instagram your lunch on occasion but you also have a ridiculous laugh that by nature sparks others around you into laughter.

Given perfectionists often are as critical of others, you may also judge others for what you see as their basicness. The same rules apply here. Instead of searching for what you see as sameness, take the time to pay attention to what makes that person unique. Instead of writing someone off, look for a point of connection and shared belief or value. You can learn something from anyone and everyone.

Learning From Your Vulnerability

The beaches may be white and sandy and the water crystal clear blue, but who is there to enjoy that island with you?  When you are a perfectionist, you are often feeling isolated and alone because you are afraid to be honest with yourself and with others for fear of appearing not good enough.

The path to belonging, love, human connection, these things that are universally desired by most people, including perfectionists, includes learning how to be your authentic self. This means embracing your flaws and mistakes as well as your strengths and achievements.   

It may help to stop and think for a minute; has being better than someone in some area or another has helped you form a deeper connection with him or her?  What does it mean for you to be the best? Who does that serve? You? Others?  It could garner admiration, but it is probably not the best method to connect with people, because we connect when we take the risk to be vulnerable.

There is value in this precisely because if you are holding it all together out of fear of “what will they think”, you may not learn that you are not the only one struggling with an inferiority complex, or secret shame. In reality, if you share it, you will learn you are far from alone. You are not the only one who grew up with an alcoholic mother. You are not the only one whose brother died by suicide. You are not the only one who scored a 1500 when you first took the SATs.

The fear of “what will they think” also plays out in avoiding certain risks that could help you go further in you life and career. If the most important thing for you is to achieve a high GPA or receive recognition at work, perhaps you will shy away from a more prestigious school or a more competitive company.

Brene Brown, author, speaker and researcher on human connections, is an advocate for the courage to be imperfect. In her famous Ted Talk, she describes vulnerability being at the “core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness”, but she also found it to be “the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging and of love.”

Recognizing your vulnerabilities and understanding how to make them work for you instead of against you, facilitates your feeling of connection and also helps you recognize others’ humanness. You are abusing the power of your own vulnerabilities when they serve to fuel your low self-worth instead of as a way to connect with the world around you. This feeling of connection also can improve your when you relinquish the desire for you and those around you to be perfect.

Perfectionistic Thinking Patterns

There are two types of thinking patterns that I see as particularly problematic for perfectionists.

Seeing things in “All or Nothing” terms

Just like a BuzzFeed checklist cannot categorically define you as "basic bitch", you are not likely to be the best or the worst at any one thing, let alone generally perfect and amazing. It is more helpful to challenge this absolutist thinking by exploring the shades of gray instead of seeing the black and white.

A good example that many can relate to is not getting the job. Let’s say it was down to you and one other candidate and they were offered the position. A perfectionist may think- I really bombed it. When in reality, you obviously made a good impression to get that far in the process. Or it is “I either get the job at Google, or I’m a loser”.  What are the other possibilities for you?  What is a more balanced and fair way to look at this scenario?  And how will this perspective help you achieve your goals?

Discounting the Positives

This is a common trap for perfectionists. You may not automatically see the positives when the particular result you identified is not achieved. You automatically cancel out the good and focus on the bad.

Here are some examples. Your boss entrusts you to send out a company wide email on a product launch, which elicits positive and encouraging responses from your coworkers. You, however, deem this as a failure in handling the important task of a company-wide communication because you notice a typo. In this example- there was some good here and part of it worked out.  Again, challenging your critical self-talk, you can focus on the positive takeaways to motivate yourself the next time you need some courage. You should also ask yourself- what could I learn from this? Seeing pathways for improvement can serve as powerful motivation.

Stay tuned for the fourth and final post on this series on perfectionism, countering the fear of failure.

Kerrie Thompson, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in NYC. To work with her, contact her here. 

How To Love Your Imperfect Self

Part 2 in 4-part on a blog series on dating that aims to offer insights and tools to change your perspective and show yourself some compassion, so you can thrive in the present and open yourself up to the hope and possibilities of the future.

 

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about putting your own needs first in a relationship as well as the need for self-compassion. This post aims to explore exactly how we can begin to love and honor ourselves, with all of our imperfections.

Mother Teresa will be canonized as a saint in 2016. What makes her worthy of this title? It's her profound unconditional love to children and others in need, thought to be miraculous. 

Mother Teresa will be canonized as a saint in 2016. What makes her worthy of this title? It's her profound unconditional love to children and others in need, thought to be miraculous. 

Here is a theme I noticed with many of my single clients. They pick one situation, or one self-perceived flaw, zero in on it, and ask themselves, “who is going to want to be with me when”: 

  • I am a single parent” 
  • I am a caregiver for a sick parent” 
  • “I am 10 pounds overweight”
  • “I only make X amount of money”. 

I have also had clients who cannot attribute their feeling on diminished self-value to any one personal flaw other than the feeling of feeling unloved deep down in their core.  When the feeling of being unloved is combined with the impression that they are somehow deeply flawed, it can be a lethal cocktail for one's concept of self.

Self-Awareness

Recognizing these negative core beliefs can be important in getting to the recovery stage. If you are seeking love outside of yourself, don’t be discouraged by the common adage “you have to love yourself first before you can truly love others.” It’s just plain wrong.  You can build up your inner strengths and feelings of worth and at the same time, actively date and pursue love in a partner and yourself.

Learning to love yourself can take many years of intentional effort, therapy, and practiced mindfulness. But it also might occur when you find the person who, when you look into their eyes, you see back a reflection of love. 

I am unlovable

“I am unlovable” is an example of a core belief, meaning you developed this idea of yourself in early childhood through messages you heard and accepted as true. Our parents and caregivers have the most influential role to play in shaping the thoughts we develop about ourselves. Other important people in our lives, such as teachers, siblings and coaches, also play a role in shaping our beliefs of ourselves and the world around us.

These core beliefs are not something we are typically aware of.  They manifest themselves every day in your choices and behaviors, and also through an inner dialogue we replay in our minds. It is apparent in thoughts like, “why bother, she’s never going to go for someone like me” or “there’s a reason why I’m 45 and still single, I may as well just give up”.

I am unworthy

Some people’s inner critics work overtime, constantly reinforcing the core belief that “I am unworthy”.  People with perfectionist tendencies tend to fall victim to this trap, because they hold themselves up to impossible and unrealistic standards in all areas of their lives.   People with core beliefs of unworthiness, often strive to achieve, driven by a belief that their value lies with their accomplishments, appearance, status, and the objects they surround themselves with, the Rolex on the wrist and the BMW 7 Series in the garage. These are all artifices that do not reflect the core of who we are. This cycle of acquisition and striving to achieve unreachable goals heighten their feelings of unworthiness.

Unconditional love

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If you grew up in a household where there was abuse or neglect, or love was withheld, then knowing how to love yourself at your core will require intentional focus and work.

There is no magic formula to but there are a few questions you should ask yourself about your early childhood: 

  • When you think back to your childhood, do you recall feelings of being nurtured, valued, and loved?
  • Do you recall what you believed about yourself and the world?

If these questions resonate with you, you should understand that blame and resentment towards parents, exes, and others often interferes with healing and growth. It’s important not to blame your family or others for everything that might be wrong in our lives, but rather to examine these relationships. Why do they make us feel this way? How does their attitude and behavior reflect on who I am as a person? 

Dating

When we are dating, which is often a time of uncertainty and vulnerability, we internalize the messages we receive.  Usually we remember the most negative ones, and completely disregard the positive. If you have core beliefs of unworthiness, then you are more likely to file these away as accepted truths, rather than see it as that person’s projection, often stemming from their own self-esteem issues. People who degrade and abuse others are likely struggling with these same beliefs of that they aren’t worthy of love. They bring others down to feel better about themselves,  through behaviors that are destructive to themselves and everyone that surrounds them.

When you can see this clearly and understand the impact negative messages have had on your life, you can distance yourself from the harmful behaviors and destructive habits they evoke. With clarity around the contributing factors that evoke feelings of low self-worth, we can proactively work towards positive change.

How do I learn to love myself?

You absolutely can challenge your inner critic. You know, the one that recycles and reinforces all the negative messages you internalized about yourself over the years.  We can strive to develop unconditional love in ourselves, the kind that doesn’t waver after a bad day or a big disappointment.  Here are some methods I love using with clients to help them feel this love:

Self-compassion

Dr. Kristen Neff is a student and researcher on moral development, author and meditation practitioner and teacher. You can find out more about her research on theories on self-compassion through her website or her book. 

Dr. Kristen Neff is a student and researcher on moral development, author and meditation practitioner and teacher. You can find out more about her research on theories on self-compassion through her website or her book. 

Ask yourself, how can I develop self-compassion?  The idea of self-compassion is about objectively viewing yourself through the lens of your positive qualities as well as your shortcomings.  It is an awareness that we are part of a shared human experience, with all its strengths and flaws, and that we are all connected. When we take a minute to feel our pain, it is helpful to also recognize other’s pain, because we all have it. This can also help encourage and reinforce our own feelings of self-worth. We can build our self-compassion by understanding our place in the universe when we feel pain and suffering.

The practice of compassion is as simple as complimenting a friend on an accomplishment, saying you’re sorry when you bump into someone, smiling at a stranger, or looking a homeless person in the eyes and saying good morning. This outward expression of compassion comes a lot more easily to most people than self-compassion. The next step is to then ask yourself, this compassion I feel for X’s pain, can I develop that for myself?

In his groundbreaking meditation book, “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” Jon Kabbat Zinn recalls a story of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama was perplexed about the concept of “self-esteem” when he heard a Western psychologist speak of it at a talk in 1990. After asking for the concept to be explained to him several times, he was sad to learn that so many in the Western World suffered from feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy.  What is it about our Western way of life and our expectations that make low self-esteem such an epidemic?  It may have to do with the way we chase happiness outside of us. We are destined to feel inadequate when we constantly compare ourselves to others, and measure our worth by what we have or don’t have.

Clarify your values

Who are you, at your core? Make a list of your values and your characteristics.  Strip away the ones that concern your appearance, status, personal achievements, and mistakes. Do you value kindness, justice, and humility?  Do you value loyalty, curiosity, forgiveness, or humor?  Have some of the hardships you have experienced made you stronger? How so?  Ask yourself- what makes me feel the most beautiful?  Which of my qualities make me feel capable and strong?  

Challenge your thinking

In times of distress, we can develop some pretty negative thoughts. These thoughts occur automatically, and usually we don’t even realizing they are occurring. These patterns of thought can take over and distort our vision of the world.  Click here for a List of these common thinking patterns. If you have ready examples, try the following:

1.)   Identify your automatic thought. i.e. I feel so rejected. He hates me. She has ruined my life. I’ll never find someone as smart, funny, or who “gets” me as much.

2.)   Identify the unhelpful thinking pattern (i.e. are you mind reading, predicting, emotionally reasoning)?

3.)   Think of a more balanced and reasonable response. i.e. No one can ruin my life. I will recover from this and look forward to new opportunities.

Even though…. Nevertheless (Be like the Dalai Lama)

According to the principles of self-compassion, to achieve a balanced view we must accept the good with the bad. To do this, we must also stop making sweeping judgments about ourselves and our appearance, skills, or social standing. Like the Dalai Lama, we must avoid the trap of social comparison, a game that no one ever truly wins at.  

Try it yourself: Even though (external event that has happened) Nevertheless, (some statement of worth).

I hope this helps the courageous part of you kick your fear to the curb, where it belongs. Love is a feeling, and it evolves and grows over time. Consider these practices and commit daily to loving yourself and you will start to see opportunities for more love out there in the world for you.  You are strong and you are loved. 

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, which will be about how to know whether to hang on or walk away from a relationship.

 

Kerrie Thompson, LCSW is a psychotherapist in downtown Manhattan. Contact her here for a complimentary 15 minute consultation.

Forget About What He Wants, What Do You Want?

Navigating the dating scene on top of a demanding career can cause anxiety, insecurity, and self-doubt for many. Fear becomes the modus operandi over hope. 

This blog series aims to offer tools to change your perspective and show yourself some compassion, so you can thrive in the present and open yourself up to the hope and possibilities of the future.

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