Blog

Articles to help you improve quality of life

Perfectionism and life dissatisfaction

Perfectionism and life dissatisfaction
Perfectionism has the potential to kill the little pleasures that make life worth living

If you find it hard to enjoy your achievements, be they big or small, you might be struggling with perfectionism. Perfectionism makes it impossible to love and accept yourself for whom you are and what you do with confidence. That is because perfectionist attitudes, rules and assumptions take everything a step further. “Big” becomes “bigger” and “good” becomes “better”. The language of perfectionism is never satisfied with the present, but it revolves around past – and often idealistic – future experience. Thoughts such as “if I had done it better, that wouldn’t have happened”, “I’ve done it better before” or “I need to get it absolutely right next time” take the power away from the here and now. You become obsessed with results, like a hamster on a wheel or a greyhound chasing a fake rabbit around a racetrack, focused but slightly delusional.

Perfectionism has the potential to kill the little pleasures that make life worth living. That beautiful moment of lying in bed after having just changed the sheets, while enjoying their fresh smell, can be ruined by the thought of “Designer sheets are much softer”.  Perfectionism also makes your efforts seem pointless. After realising you have managed to meditate successfully for 15 minutes, you feel a little pride building up.  Then, the thought “If I had managed it for 30 minutes, I would be feeling much more relaxed” comes racing through and completely changes your mood. Perfectionism makes you feel as if you were in a constant battle against yourself and the world around you. A moment of joy becomes something unattainable.

Feeling good and fulfilled in life also relies greatly on your ability to have a good relationship with yourself. A perfectionist attitude, however, hinders that process. That is because perfectionist thinking and self-criticism are partners in crime when it comes to murdering one’s self-esteem. Perfectionism does not only make you second-guess yourself, but it fuels self-denigration. Under its spell, you may easily find yourself stuck in a fault-finding cycle that only ends when you feel completely taken by guilt, shame and/or anxiety. Perfectionism threatens your mental health and is at the core of problems such as depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem. Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism does not lead you down the path to success and happiness, but it makes you weak and miserable, as if you had lost your own sense of self and self-direction.

To put an end to perfectionism, start actively monitoring and challenging your own negative thoughts. If you need help with that, I highly recommend starting a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts to identify and target them effectively. After challenging automatic thoughts with a DRDT for a reasonable period, try doing it without the help of a piece of paper, but mentally or even orally if you are in a private environment. Create the cognitive habit of being very suspicious of thoughts that seem to try to convince you that who you are, what you do or achieve is not good enough. Quiet the voice of your perfectionist gremlin by introducing a compassionate attitude towards yourself, as if you were your own best friend. Forgive and praise yourself, always recognising the value of your efforts in the here and now. Learn how to live in the present and for, not against yourself.

4 cognitive errors that make it hard to take criticism well

4 cognitive errors that make it hard to take criticism well
Dysfunctional thinking makes it hard to take criticism well

Your emotions can get the best of you if you do not know how to handle criticism. If you have a history of trauma, had a tough upbringing and was raised by overtly critical and perfectionist parents, or in an environment of emotional neglect, you could be especially prone to taking criticism badly. Even if that does not correspond to your background, criticism has the potential to hurt when it is not delivered properly. What is more, it is often difficult to identify the real motivation behind criticism, if its aim is to foster learning or belittle, or a mixture of both. Notwithstanding all the confusion, it is possible to help yourself deal with either constructive or destructive criticism in a balanced manner and without affecting your self-esteem negatively. The secret is to monitor your reaction to criticism closely and correct any cognitive errors that give your thoughts an antagonistic tone, as the ones mentioned below. To raise your awareness, help improve your mood and the quality of relationships, here are 4 cognitive errors that make it hard to take criticism well:

1- Overgeneralisation

The language of high self-esteem and self-confidence loves a rich and detailed evaluation. Global statements such as “Because I have been criticised, it means I am incompetent”, on the other hand, make one feel worthless instantly. It is inaccurate and irrational to assume that only because you have been criticised about one particular act or characteristic your whole being is as bad as one single – and often quite insignificant – part. You can be a wonderful person and still do something not great. Learn how to embrace your own humanity by accepting that ambivalence. The meaning of our complexity exceeds the dichotomy between good and bad.

2- Personalisation

For those whose negative core beliefs are the most active, taking everything personally can become an unhealthy habit. When your self-esteem is low, you can be easily hurt by others even when it is not their intention to upset you. Caring a lot of guilt and shame, or other unresolved feelings of inadequateness, can make you more susceptible to feeling hurt by criticism. Automatic thoughts such as “He criticised me because I am not good enough” are most likely incorrect because we all have our own motivations for behaving the way we do. Not everything is related to you. Next time you are criticised, take some distance from the process. Look at it objectively and ask yourself, “What reasons – other than myself – could have motivated the critic?”, or even “What can I learn from this person and his/her criticism (if anything)?”.

3- All-or-nothing thinking

Thinking in black and white terms tends to be one of the root causes of a great array of mental health problems, such as perfectionism, depression and anxiety. Cognitive errors such as “Because I have been criticised, everything is a complete disaster” is a self-confidence killer. Learning also takes place through trial and error. If you do not allow yourself to make mistakes, you will not learn. Simple. There is no shame in learning, since life is a long journey of growth. Open yourself to feeling vulnerable and to the experience of learning. Your relationships are bound to be greatly improved by a more compassionate and forgiving attitude to criticism, be it towards yourself or others.

4- “Should” and “must” statements

You have probably made a mistake, were criticised for it and – if that was not enough – decided to punish yourself with “should” and “must” statements! “I should have known better” only makes you feel more miserable. You could not have known better, because you did not or “the right thought” did not occur to you at the time. As obvious as that sounds, it is worth reminding yourself of such technicalities if you would like to handle criticism better. It is humanly impossible to be at your best 100% of the time. While perfectionism is not a skill, self-criticism undermines learning and development. Have a zero tolerance to “should” and “must” statements that are only there to discredit your efforts. Why kick yourself when you are already down, when you could be helping yourself get up and dust yourself off? A good start could be to use “could” instead of “should” whenever you are tempted to chastise yourself, as in “Next time I could try something different” instead of “I should have done (it) better”.

Before feeling like a target, take some time to reflect. Challenge dysfunctional thoughts that are filled with cognitive errors, which are notorious for making us nervous and vulnerable. Objective thinking that allow us to evaluate a situation from a more sensible perspective can us help calm down at such moments. When our emotions are in control concerning criticism, we tend to see it more clearly. If you still find it wrong, unfair or misplaced after considerable deliberation, however, it is OK to ask for clarification when it reflects genuine curiosity.

5 self-limiting beliefs that keep you stuck in denial

Negative and self-limiting beliefs have an impact on your ability to make positive changes in your life. They not only convince you that there is no actual problem, but also of your supposed inability to solve it. Self-limiting attitudes, rules and assumptions are often not the product of objective reasoning, but tend to work as denial’s “little soldiers”. To help you fight against the dysfunctional influence of denial and develop a more positive, honest and active approach to problem solving, here are 5 self-limiting beliefs that keep you stuck in denial:

5 self-limiting beliefs that keep you stuck in denial
Denial limits learning and personal growth

1- “I will never be able to change this”

Just because change does take time, it does not mean you will never be able to make it happen. When considering making a significant change, be it in behaviour or lifestyle, having a compassionate and tolerant attitude towards yourself is key. Give yourself enough time to change and get used to it. Habits take at least two months to be created. Be persistent and prepared for setbacks. Monitor your critical voice and challenge negative thinking that is making you feel less competent. Keep motivation cards ready for when feeling insecure. Have a designated friend with whom you can get in touch when thinking of giving up. Create strategies of support that will help you stay focused when confidence is low.

2- “If I do not feel 100% confident about changing, it means I shouldn’t”

Emotional reasoning is a cognitive error. Thoughts and feelings are not facts and cannot predict an outcome. If they were, we would all be lottery winners by now. Negative thinking is also a habit we create over years of relying on a biased and perfectionist perspective. Be objective, just because you are feeling inadequate it does not mean you are not able to reach your goals. Separate your thoughts and feelings from your actions. Ask yourself what you are doing and not what you are thinking or feeling. Rumination leads to procrastination and inertia. Fight immobility with determination by reminding yourself that your thoughts are not always best friends with reason. Challenge your thinking in a rational and unbiased manner to boost self-esteem and make changes happen.

3- “Everybody has problems”

Even if that is the case, it does not make everyone’s problems the same and as equally important. You can only do what is best for you. Comparisons tend not to be productive because human beings are individuals who behave, think and feel in their unique ways. No one can ever truly know what it means to be you. Trust your honest judgement and honour your humanity. You are the expert in your own life. If things are no longer working out for you the way they used to, it is probably due to behaviours that have no place in your life anymore. Personal growth is all about noticing those moments and investing in change.

4- “It is not that bad, I am OK the way it is”

Denial is not self-acceptance. Denial is indolent, indifferent and negligent, while self-acceptance is active, beneficial and transforming. Be very suspicious of thoughts and ideas that try to persuade you of the contrary. If you believe that life is a journey of personal growth, passivity will get you nowhere you truly want to be. Becoming your own agent of change is committing to living a full and rewarding life. While change does require effort and dedication, it makes your existence relevant through progress and self-expression.

5- “Everyone else thinks I am OK”

Mind reading is another cognitive error. We have no means of knowing what other people are truly thinking. What is more, trying to guess or being worried about what other people think is often connected to feelings of low self-esteem and a need for approval. Even if you were right about others’ opinions of you, to what extent do they improve quality of life? How big and frequent would that approval supply have to be in order to bring long lasting happiness? You are your most reliable source of love and acceptance. Change that prioritises your physical, psychological and emotional well-being is how self-empowerment materializes. The more you believe in the benefits of change and make them happen, the more trust you gain in yourself. Self-confidence, in turn, boosts self-esteem, which makes life more enjoyable and worth living.

Not resisting and challenging self-limiting beliefs, such as the ones mentioned above, keep you stuck in denial. Denial may successfully protect a frail sense of self-esteem and relieve anxiety temporarily, but it restricts learning and personal growth. Behavioural change often follows a new way of thinking or approaching your thoughts and actions. It is never too late to put an end to your denial and introduce healthy cognitive and behavioural habits.

What are the effects of psychological/emotional trauma?

effects of psychological/emotional trauma
The effects of psychological/emotional trauma may be causing you prolonged pain and distress

A traumatic event is an adverse experience that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope and integrate the memories and emotions connected to it. Psychological/emotional trauma is caused by damage that is not of a physical nature, but that severely affects the individual’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.  Making one feel worthless, blaming someone else for one’s mistakes or shortcomings, refusing to acknowledge or accept someone else’s feelings, displaying extreme ranges of mood, being extremely critical of the other person, belittling, humiliating, bullying, being verbally abusive and giving someone else “the silent treatment”, are some of the most common dysfunctional behaviours characteristic of abusive relationships.

Despite being the most common type of trauma, psychological/emotional trauma is the least talked about, understood and recognised by the general public as well as the psychiatric community. Due to its pervasiveness, however, it is vital that we explore the impact that psychological/emotional trauma has on our bodies, brains and emotions – honestly and openly. If you believe to have been psychologically/emotionally traumatised by an abusive parent, relative, partner or any other significant other, the following are the effects of psychological/emotional trauma that may be causing you prolonged pain and distress:

Emotional  

  • Feelings of intense sadness/depression: lack of enthusiasm for life, inability to feel happy and content, inability to enjoy the little pleasures in life, feeling like you do not belong or cannot connect with life, living on “automatic pilot”, only to fulfil your “duties” or the expectations of others.
  • Hopelessness: feeling weak, powerless, incompetent, unlovable
  • Guilt, shame and anxiety
  • Self-hatred and self-blame
  • Feeling like a bad or broken person
  • Vulnerability
  • Panic attacks
  • Intimacy problems: having difficulties to love and accept yourself, hiding or being ashamed of your weakness/vulnerabilities, repressing negative emotions, refusing to share the whole of you/the real you with somebody else.
  • Fearfulness
  • Feeling out of control
  • Anger
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Feeling detached, distanced from others

Behavioural

  • Self-harm: cutting, scratching, pinching, burning, banging or punching yourself
  • Compulsive and obsessive behaviours: fear of being contaminated by germs, of losing control and hurting others, of intrusive thoughts and images, of losing and forgetting things, accumulating junk, double checking locks, appliances and switches, having to have things arranged in a particular way, spending a lot of time washing or cleaning, counting or repeating certain words to reduce anxiety.
  • Addiction: substance abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling, shopping excessively
  • Self-destructive and self-sabotaging behaviours: behaving recklessly and irresponsibly, comfort eating and/or self-medicating to “deal” with negative emotions, procrastinating, difficulty carrying out long-term goals and staying focused
  • Social isolation: refusing to respond, initiate or keep social contact
  • Parenting difficulties
  • Difficulties in relationships: choosing the wrong people as friends or partners, identifying with chaotic, dysfunctional and dramatic relationship styles
  • Pent-up rage: feeling an intense anger towards someone or a situation that does not subside with time
  • Sleep disturbances: difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early or in the middle of the night

Cognitive

  • Difficulty remembering traumatic memories
  • Losing track of time
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Lack of concentration
  • Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Biased perception: displaying a strong tendency to interpreting faces, people’s behaviours and situations as negative, threatening or frightening

The effects of psychological/emotional trauma are as potentially harmful to our general wellbeing as physical trauma. Victims/survivors of this type of trauma tend to feel isolated and misunderstood in their pain, and can go through months, if not years of suffering before they find the correct route to their emotional healing. If you identify with any of the above and feel ready to make some positive changes in your life, trauma counselling can help. For more information about trauma therapy, please click here

3 simple exercises for dealing with excessive worrying

Excessive worrying can make life seem dull and draining. How can we bring ourselves to notice the little things that make life interesting, such as a beautiful sunset on a multi-coloured sky, the value of our efforts or an act of kindness by a total stranger, if our minds are stuck in worrying mode? You know when your worries have started taking over your life when you feel distanced and disconnected from your work, friends and/or loved ones, or when most things you do for pleasure and fun seem to have lost their purpose. To help you regain control over your own thoughts, here are 3 simple exercises for dealing with excessive worrying that will allow you to approach your worries productively:

3 simple exercises for dealing with excessive worrying
Excessive worrying can make life seem dull and draining

1- Keep a worry diary

Diaries are great tools to get your thoughts and worries out of your head. Here you will find a worry diary that will allow you to keep a record of what is bothering you at that particular moment. What is more, it has one section for your triggers and another to register your tested strategies for dealing with excessive worrying. Print out your worry diary and carry it around with you at all times. Whenever a worry starts taking over your thoughts, write it down exactly as you have it, as you can see in the example. After a week filling in your worry diary, read it again and take some time to analyse it. What do your worries say about you? What triggers them? What control strategies were the most efficient?

2- Keep a worry box

Have a plastic container somewhere safe and discreet to store your worries. On a given Monday, start carrying a little notebook or sheet of paper around with you. Whenever a worry hits you, write it down on a piece of paper, fold it and put it in the plastic container. If you prefer to leave your worry box at home, keep your paper in your handbag or pocket for going in the box later. Do that for the entire week, from Monday to Sunday. On Sunday evening, take some time to have a look through the worries you have had that week and notice how you feel in relation to them. Reflect over their content and determine if they still bother you or if they have lost their relevance by then. How do they make you feel? Are you still as stressed as you were when you wrote them down?  After having read them, rubbish or burn them somewhere safe.

3- Set aside some worry time

If you are not very keen on the idea of writing your worries down every time you have them, you can make a mental note and save them for “worry time”. Whenever a worry starts taking over your thoughts tell yourself, “I will worry about this at worry time”, and get on with whatever you are doing at that moment. If you do not trust your memory, write your worry down on a piece of paper or use your smartphone to register it. Worry time is that designated time of the day that you can give yourself just to worry. Schedule your preferred worry time, ideally in the evening and after work. Save all the worries you have during the day for worry time. Then, at the appointment time, sit down and think about your worries for no longer than 15 minutes. Notice how you feel in relation to them. What has changed? How are you going to feel about those worries in a month’s time?

After having completed any of the above exercises for at least one week, ask yourself the following:

What is the main role of my worries (what do I get from them?)?

Are my worries productive (do they lead me to a solution?)

What negative beliefs about myself, the world and others are fuelling my worries (what do my worries say about me?)?

Do I tend to exaggerate the importance of my worries?How well can I cope with uncertainty?

5 healthy rules to treat yourself with love and respect

Self-esteem is a language. The language of self-esteem is kind, tolerant and compassionate. When you use the language of self-esteem with yourself and not just with other people, you treat yourself with enough love and respect to nurture a healthy self-esteem from the inside out. The first step towards changing the tone of your inner dialogue – from self-critical to loving and respectful – is to monitor it actively. Start catching yourself while ruminating or when stuck in a fault-finding cycle. Then, instead of reacting passively to the attack of your own negative thoughts, use the language of self-esteem to challenge self-denigrating statements. Below you will find 5 healthy rules to treat yourself with love and respect that will help you introduce self-acceptance into your life:

1- No more labels

5 healthy rules to treat yourself with love and respect
Learn how to nurture your self-esteem

When someone makes a mistake, do you call her or him “idiot”? If a friend asks how he or she looks, do you answer with “old”, “fat” or “ugly”? Of course not. Labelling – or using words of negative connotations to describe yourself in a global and, very often, inaccurate manner – hurts. Do not full yourself: words are powerful. The habit of calling yourself names is not doing you any favours. Labels neither help nor comfort you, but on the contrary, they put you down and humiliate you.

2- No more “shoulds”

In CBT, “should” is frequently referred to as a tyrant. That is because there is little or no room for negotiation after a should statement. Just imagine: your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere when you realise you have forgotten your mobile phone at home. You are going to be late for work, which makes you deeply annoyed. You tell yourself, “I should have checked if I had my phone on me before leaving the house”. You feel even more frustrated and start questioning your ability “to do anything right”. Your anger builds up even further until it turns into merciless self-hate. Should statements are irritating reminders of one’s faults and shortcomings. They have no productive purpose, except for adding more pain to your existing misery.

3- Praise yourself

You have managed to get through a day’s work on a boring Wednesday. Well done! You were able to keep focused on eating well and consumed a low amount of carbs for two consecutive days. Good work! Why wait for recognition from others, as a desperate approval junkie, when you can give yourself the gift that keeps on giving, namely, that of self-esteem? You have all the right to express gratitude and admiration for yourself and your own achievements, be they big or small. Practicing self-love on a regular basis does not make you a narcissist. Self-love in good measure – acknowledging not only when you fail, but also when you succeed – makes for the basis of our emotional and psychological wellbeing.

4- Recognise your efforts

If you can only praise yourself when you achieve positive results, your self-esteem is conditional. What happens when you do not fulfil such condition of worth? You worry excessively and self-criticise. As a result, you may end up feeling an unpleasant mixture of sadness, frustration and anxiety. Conditional self-love may make sense in theory, but in practice is counterproductive. Those who acknowledge the value of trial and error are less likely to give up on what they want for themselves. Seeing your mistakes as essential elements of a learning journey reinforces engagement and a healthy sense of connection with your life goals.

5- Comfort yourself

You have all the right to feel sorry for yourself every now and then. Addressing your own negative feelings with love and compassion is essential for good emotional self-care. When feeling disappointed by a negative outcome, allow yourself to grieve and process your pain. Save some words of consolation for telling yourself that it is also OK to feel bad when things do not turn out as expected. Validating your feelings enables you to honour your whole self, no matter the circumstances.

Treating yourself as you would a friend can do wonders for your self-esteem. If you believe in the benefits of treating others with kindness through communicating in the language of self-esteem, you can take full advantage of such wonderful piece of wisdom by applying it also in your treatment of yourself. Nurturing a healthy relationship with yourself will give you the strength and confidence you need to lead an enjoyable and fulfilling live.