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. 

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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.

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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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When Words Aren't Enough, Dig Deeper

Part 4 of this 4-part series on assertive communication is about the role of assertive communication in situations that are not so straight forward. We will address how to create a safe space, manage difficult situations, and understand the role of assertive communication when there are subconscious dynamics that operate below the surface.

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Say it out loud: Communicating for Success in the Workplace

With assertive communication, you must communicate your needs while acknowledging and respecting the needs and requests of people around you, without necessarily fulfilling those requests. Specifically, when it comes to your relationship with others,assertive communication is about getting what you need without bulldozing over others or neglecting their needs altogether. Effective communicators can address the needs of their colleagues and the organization while building up credibility and respect in the eyes of the community. 

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