Blog

Articles to help you improve quality of life

4 dysfunctional beliefs that get in the way of self-assertion

4 dysfunctional beliefs that get in the way of self-assertion
Dysfunctional beliefs stop you from acting assertively

Dysfunctional beliefs are at the heart of vulnerabilities. For those who struggle with low self-esteem and find it challenging or even scary to assert themselves, exploring the negative beliefs which give these values their strength is a productive exercise. To help you find some of the cognitive foundation to your feelings of insecurity, here are 4 dysfunctional beliefs that get in the way of self-assertion:

 “I shouldn’t make people unhappy”

This rule implies that it is every individual’s responsibility to care for others’ emotional wellbeing. It also assumes that their supposed need for constant happiness comes first. Finally, it suggests that negative emotions are of a dangerous nature – something to be avoided – as if we were unable to recover from them, once “unfairly” submitted to their experience.

“I cannot make mistakes”

Perfectionism makes us behave like insecure children when we make mistakes and/or receive criticism. Even though most people fail to associate their intolerant attitude with perfectionism, mistake and criticism phobia is one of its most common features. Moreover, this inhuman and idealistic belief implies that the consequences of our mistakes are always terrible, too terrible, in fact, to be able to be handled or corrected. For those who hold such rigid belief learning tends to be an unpleasant or even traumatic experience.

“Prioritising my own needs is selfish”

A popular belief amongst the emotionally dependent and codependent that robs them of their right to individuality and self-expression. It suggests that the self only has value in relation to others, or that its right to exist, as well as its worth, relies on one’s ability to negotiate and accommodate it to the needs of others. Quite inaccurately, it also promotes the idea that a compromise is always better than following one’s own disposition.

“When I do not feel like doing what others want me to, I should give them a good reason why”

This belief presupposes that our own feelings, needs and wants only have merit when reasonable. In other words, we have no right to them solely on the basis of their existence, but their significance is dependent upon the judgement of others. According to this principle, feelings are the same as thoughts, since they “should” be connected to rational thought. The authentic and, therefore, highly subjective self, has no means of flourishing under such a rigid rule.

What do the above beliefs have in common? They all come from a stance of weakness and rigidity which annihilates the true and creative self.  Their perfectionist and all or nothing approach to emotions, behaviour, relationships and life itself is too stiff to reflect the complexity of our experience and allow personal fulfilment. To stop letting them rule you and your life, bring them to your full awareness and challenge them openly. Make a conscious and brave effort to establish congruence between what you believe in and how you act and feel, so that being you and inhabiting your own body becomes something pleasant and rewarding.

Common thoughts of the emotionally dependent

Common thoughts of the emotionally dependent
Emotional dependency is a vulnerability

Are you emotionally dependent? If you struggle with low self-esteem and excessive worrying, there is a high probability that you are. Emotional dependency is a vulnerability of those who did not receive enough unconditional love in childhood so to build a solid sense of safety and self-worth. Because they lack self-esteem and that all important inner sense of safety, they become addicted to the approval of others in order to feel at ease with themselves and in the context of relationships. To find out if that fits your profile, here are common thoughts of the emotionally dependent:

“I often worry about what other people think of what I say and do”

“I need reassurance that I am doing the right thing, otherwise, I feel insecure”

“It is hard for me to truly know what is best for me”

“I try my best to make people feel good around me”

“I check in with others first, before making a decision”

“I tend to feel ashamed of myself when I make a mistake”

“If I do not get positive feedback when I do well, I feel extremely disappointed”

“I have been let down by a great number of people”

“I worry and feel guilty when I am not able to be there for others and make them happy”

“I do not trust my own feelings”

“I feel very ashamed and resentful when I am given criticism, even when I am aware that it is constructive”

“I make an effort to be liked”

“I love helping others and making them feel happy”

“When people are not OK around me, I think it is because of something I may have said or done wrong”

“I often do not know if I am doing what is right for me, or if it is what I truly want”

“I try to avoid confrontation because it makes me nervous”

“I am afraid of making mistakes and disappointing others”

“I put others’ need before mine, even when I do not want to”

“I would love to be able to trust and value myself”

“I feel more relaxed when others take the lead”

“I always try to do my best”

“When I say no, I feel guilty”

As with any type of dependency, healing is viable through true emotional freedom. To achieve emotional autonomy and self-confidence, it is essential that you learn how to be yourself, regardless of the consequences. As simple as that sounds, converting that into action requires great courage. That is because in Western culture, authenticity often requires a fearless attitude. Practice increasing you discomfort tolerance and tell yourself you can stand and overcome the anxiety, guilt and shame that arise from honouring your own feelings, interests and boundaries. As painful and as difficult as that may seem, your end goal makes it all worth it. After all, there is nothing more rewarding than living your own life and enjoying authentic self-expression.

Conditional wellbeing

Conditional wellbeing
Feelings of enjoyment should not only follow an act of effort or good behaviour

Do you have a habit of putting your happiness on hold until “something good” happens? Do you say to yourself, “When I buy a house/get married/have a boyfriend/girlfriend/make more money etc., then I will feel good”? If yes, you suffer from what I call conditional wellbeing. Conditional wellbeing is to make good feelings about yourself, the world and other people dependent upon external factors. This approach to life is often at the centre of much of our unhappiness, however, and general discontent. So if it is so unproductive to our emotional health, why do we do it?

I believe that our culture of delayed gratification, as well as our rigid beliefs, have great influence on how we approach our wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. As children, we are often made to believe that good feelings of enjoyment should only follow an act of effort or good behaviour. Parents use rewards to make us do what they want us to do, as in “You can have ice-cream after you have done your homework/tidy up your room”, etc. When such schemes are reinforced through consistent practice, our brains automatically create an association between work and fun, as if we were only entitled to the latter if we did the former.

Our beliefs about “happiness” and “being worthy of feeling good” also interfere with our ability to enjoy ourselves for no reason. What do you usually associate with pleasure and good moments?  Does it tend to involve free time, people and things, eating and drinking? Are you always engaged in some kind of (special) activity when you create this mental picture? If yes, your beliefs about personal wellbeing could be limiting the way you perceive and experience it, making it conditional.

Some people only allow themselves to feel enjoyment after a long day’s work, at the weekend or when away on holiday.  Without noticing, their lives become all about chasing that reward, as if they did not deserve to have it without sacrifice. You need to earn it to enjoy, right? “No pain no gain”, so they say. Those beliefs are, of course, cognitive traps. While they keep you running on that wheel like a deluded hamster, the true satisfaction of living that comes from true, uncompromised self-expression become even more far-fetched.

If you identify with the above, and would like to reconnect with a healthier sense of joy and wellbeing, I suggest the following:

1- Stop over identifying with negative feelings: have you lost touch with life’s little pleasures because you are so focused on the negative? When you only have time for the big fish, life becomes a tedious and unsatisfying waiting game. Try maximising the pleasure that comes from waking up in the morning and having that delicious cup of coffee, or refreshing shower. Anything that gives you a good feeling is worth your attention and can change your experience, moment by moment.

2- Master the art of feeling happy just for being alive: make a point of taking a few moments throughout the day to feel good about being you. To achieve that, show gratitude and appreciation to yourself mentally, while you connect with good feelings in your body. If they do not come up naturally, create them, consciously, and experience them mindfully for a couple of minutes.

3- Drop the perfectionism: challenge thinking that revolves around “If I…, I would…” and “When I…, I will…” and start valuing yourself for who you are and not who you “should have been” in an unfortunate past, or “could be” in an idealised future. The same applies to the people and material things you convinced yourself you should have in order to feel happy. Tell yourself you are worth happiness and joy, right at this moment. When you genuinely feel that way, you attract good things, effortlessly.

How to accept negative emotions

How to accept negative emotions
Mental health is all about emotional connection and acceptance

Mental health is all about emotional connection and acceptance. Our habit of judging and neglecting negative emotions, as well as our obsession with controlling them, often makes us more unhappy and unbalanced. If you are tired of fighting against yourself and the way you feel, and would like to rebuild a healthier relationship with your emotions, here is how to accept negative emotions:

1- Connect with the body

Emotions are expressed in the body. Therefore, anyone who wishes to fully connect with their emotions does so, primarily, through a reconnection with the body. You can achieve that through exploring bodily sensations such as those of tension and lightness. If you struggle to identify emotions, exploring your bodily sensations will give you a good sense of the impact your own thoughts and experiences have on you.

2- Become consciously aware of the presence of negative emotions

Instead of diverging your focus away from negative emotions or doing your utmost to repress or control them, become fully aware of their presence. You can do that by moving your attention towards them and creating a mental map of where they are felt in the body through direct observation of their intensity and movement, as well as the effect they have on you.

3- Observe them without judgement

Most of us were raised in a culture of emotional neglect in which “negative” emotions are thought to be an inconvenience that should be dealt with as soon as possible. Such attitude tends to be unproductive, however, since it has the potential of creating an even bigger problem. Avoiding, denying or repressing negative emotions are dysfunctional behaviours that often lead to emotional and physical problems. To prevent that from happening, just let them let them be and resist the urge to do something about them.

4- Validate their right to exist

Because all emotions are part of us, when we deny their wisdom and value, openly rejecting them through repression, avoidance or denial, we do so to the detriment of our own selves. Even when they do not seem coherent at first glance, they have a right to be brought to awareness. Every time you recognise a negative emotion with openness and respect, you become whole and complete in yourself.

5- Befriend your body

To become more tolerant of negative emotions, it is essential that you see your body as a friend. Self-love and acceptance is only viable through a strong alliance with our whole selves, mind and body. To befriend your body, change your beliefs about “negative” bodily sensations and emotions by regarding them as normal expressions of the self. Seeing them as fleeting also helps you approach them with patience, understanding and kindness.

The benefits of focusing your attention on emotions go beyond emotional regulation and wellbeing, but also help enhance your concentration abilities and regulate impulsive behaviour. To get the most out of the above, be mindful of how you feel and do what you can to remind yourself to think and act differently when worrying excessively or feeling anxious.

10 basic concepts in trauma therapy

10 basic concepts in trauma therapy
A traumatic event is an adverse experience so overwhelming that overcomes one’s ability to cope

If you believe to be suffering from trauma, you could benefit from understanding how it affects your mind, emotions and behaviour. Below you will find a list of 10 basic concepts in trauma therapy so to expand your knowledge and facilitate further learning:

  • Traumatic event: a traumatic event is an adverse experience so overwhelming that overcomes one’s ability to cope. This could be a very frightening or shocking event, such as being in a car accident. Growing up suffering verbal abuse from someone one knows, loves and trusts can also lead to trauma.
  • Types of trauma: trauma goes beyond physical injury, but it concerns any negative experience that affects an individual as a whole person, body and mind. Therefore, trauma can also be of an emotional/psychological and relational nature. Trauma is referred to as “simple”, when it is of a single occurrence, such as in the example of the car accident mentioned above. Complex trauma, conversely, consist of a series of traumatic events that happen over a long period. Childhood or developmental trauma is a classic example of complex trauma.
  • Trigger: it is something or someone that reminds you of a traumatic event. A trigger can be a smell, sound, behaviour or even an emotion that connects you to past trauma. Adults that as children suffered emotional abuse by a parent, for instance, may be triggered by a situation in which he or she witnesses the same type of abuse. Under the influence of triggers, one may have flashbacks and re-experience the negative emotions and bodily sensations related to a particular traumatic event.
  • Flashback: as mentioned previously, a flashback is the activation of a traumatic memory, with or without the intention of the victim/survivor. When one has a flashback, he or she feels as if re-living the adverse experience that led to the trauma. Contrary to popular knowledge, not every flashback has a visual component that follows it. In some instances, flashbacks do not activate images, but exclusively the negative emotions and/or bodily sensations experienced when the trauma took place.
  • Fight or flight response: when the brain identifies a threat to our wellbeing, be it real or imaginary, it prepares our body for action, in other words, fight an enemy, flight the scene or freeze on the spot. When on fight or flight mode, our physiology changes so to adapt to our self-preservation and protection needs: our heart beats faster, breathing becomes shorter and muscles tenser so to get us ready to fight or make an escape. These physiological changes reflect our nervous system state of high alert and survival.
  • Chronic traumatic stress: stress that is experienced in a healthy or manageable manner does not tend to last very long. The great majority of stresses we come to deal with in life are short-lived, such as rushing in the morning to be at work on time. Chronic traumatic stress, however, is not temporary, but it can last for months or even years. A vulnerable victim of domestic abuse or a war prisoner, for instance, may experience stress that does not abate and, as a result, it becomes chronic over time.
  • Hypervigilance: it is a state of constant arousal. When one is hypervigilant, even without awareness, his or her body is on survival mode, or fight or flight. In that state, people are biased to the negative, tend to catastrophize and see threats or dangers where there is none, since their brains are constantly on high alert. For that reason, hypervigilant people are much more likely to worry excessively and have an anxiety disorder.
  • The neurobiology of trauma: simply put, it explains how trauma affects the brain. When studying the neurobiology of trauma, one understands how exposure to continuous stress during development, for instance, can lead to a sharp increase in the activity of the limbic system or the area responsible for the fight or flight response, to a point where the victim becomes hypervigilant and unable to switch that response off.
  • PTSD and C-PTSD: exposure to a single or several traumatic events can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, respectively. PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, sleeping disturbances, hypervigilance and irritability. C-PTSD sufferers also exhibit these symptoms, as well as chronic shame and guilt, built-up anger, suicidal thoughts, relationship and emotional regulation problems, amongst others.
  • Re-traumatisation: re-traumatisation may occur when a trauma victim is exposed to certain people, situations and behaviours that somehow bring out a state of vulnerability similar to when the original trauma took place. A classic example of re-traumatisation is when a woman that has suffered rape is blamed for what happened by the authorities involved in her case, such as a judge or a police officer.

Unresolved trauma can be quite debilitating and compromise quality of life. If you would like help to deal with the effects of trauma, I highly recommend Attachment-Focused EMDR. Please click here to learn about the approach or contact me to request an appointment.

Affirmations for dealing with negative thoughts

Affirmations for dealing with negative thoughts
Affirmations are assertive statements that make you feel more confident and empowered

The tone of your inner dialogue says a lot about you. If you worry excessively or is anxiety prone, your thinking may be biased to the negative and reflect your insecurities. If you have low self-esteem, you may be giving too much power to your inner critic and allowing it to have the last word. Whatever mental health problems you are facing, there is a high probability that they are being fuelled by dysfunctional thoughts. A natural and effective way to revert this scenario is through the conscious use of affirmations. Affirmations are assertive statements that make you feel more confident and empowered. When formulated immediately after an uncomfortable thought or image, they can accelerate change by directing your mind’s focus to the here and now, and the person you want to be. Below you will find a list of affirmations for dealing with negative thoughts to help you regain control over your thinking and wellbeing:

I am now in control of my thoughts

I am now ready to let go of fear inducing thoughts

My focus now is on thoughts that favour me

My focus is on the here and now

I choose to focus on the good

I am good to myself and my thoughts are good to me

I am clearing up my brain of all the cognitive rubbish

I am now ready to let go of negative thinking patterns

My brain is now in harmony with what I want for myself

I am now ready to move on with my life

I now favour positive beliefs about life, myself and others

My healthy self always has the last word

I am calm and centred and can trust my own judgement

I now favour an objective outlook

My thinking is now aligned with my calm and centred self

I always decide what I want to focus on

I am the master of my attention

I am in charge of directing the focus of my attention

As you can notice from the above suggestions, affirmation do not contain the word “not”, be it by itself or attached to another, as in “don’t”, “can’t”, etc. This is because affirmations are about mentally confirming and validating what you want for yourself and your life, or in the words of Gawain (2002), “The practice of engaging affirmations allow us to begin replacing some of our stale, worn-out, or negative mind chatter with more positive ideas and concepts”. To get the most out of affirmations, increase self-awareness and start actively monitoring your thinking and using them whenever your notice you mood being influenced by a negative thought.

 

Reference:

Gawain, S (2002). Creative Visualisations, Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life. Novato, CA: New World Library.