Category: Self-esteem

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.

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

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.

 

7 common negative beliefs and the problems they cause

A great way to start looking into the reasons why you feel so unenthusiastic about life or constantly on edge is to explore your cognitions. Your thinking, or what you believe about yourself, the world and others, can say a lot about you and the mental health problems from which you might be suffering. In CBT, beliefs are commonly explored in their hierarchical order, from the most apparent and present in personal discourse (intermediate beliefs), to the least obvious but more fundamental and deep-rooted ones (core beliefs). Below you will find a list of core and intermediate beliefs such as attitudes, rules and assumptions, as well as the mental health issues to which they are connected:

7 common negative beliefs and the problems they cause
Your negative beliefs have an impact on your mental health

1- I need to be successful in order to have a right to feel good about myself.

Making your self-esteem conditional and dependent solely upon achievements and other positive external stimuli, such as material goods or the approval of others, is a sign that you may be suffering from issues surrounding self-esteem. High self-esteem is nurtured from the inside out. A confident attitude means that you have enough psychological resources to accept yourself in a loving and compassionate manner, regardless of what is going on in your personal, academic or professional life. The more your emotional well-being is bound to appearance, social status or the impact you have on others, the more susceptible you become to developing problems with excessive worrying and self-criticism, perfectionism and low self-esteem.

2- If someone rejects me, it is because there is something wrong with me.

Personalization, or the assumption that peoples’ negative behaviours are related to you, is a classic cognitive error that is either reflective or leads to feelings of low self-esteem and social anxiety. A productive way of thinking which will boost your self-confidence instantly is to be suspicious of any cognition that influences you to judge yourself negatively too quickly and easily. Peoples’ social behaviours are products of their own psychological and emotional states. Before rushing to blame yourself for the reaction of others, remind yourself that the world is much bigger and people much more complex than your biased perspective cares to explain.

3- I cannot get anything right.

Really, nothing at all? Even on your worst day, it is humanly impossible to get everything you do, absolutely wrong. Magnification/minimisation – or focusing on the negative in a global and exaggerated fashion – can make you feel incompetent and small, even when it does not correspond to factual truth. Such prejudiced and inaccurate core belief is at the hearth of feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem.

4- If I don’t worry, something bad will happen.

Worrying that takes over your time and does not lead to a solution – a process also known as rumination – is not productive. If thinking did have magical powers, there would be no such thing as anxiety disorders. The assumption that worrying gives you a sense of control over reality is not only false, but it stops you from trusting yourself, getting things done and enjoying life.

5- I should have total control over my emotions, especially when negative.

There are two big no-no’s in the above rule. Firstly, should statements are counterproductive, since they do not make you feel relieved for whatever you think you may have done wrong, but only add to your suffering, resulting in even more feelings of powerlessness. Secondly, the habit of supressing or rationalising every single negative feeling you experience, as if they lacked purpose entirely, is extremely prejudicial to your psychological and emotional health. Perfectionists as well as anxious, depressed and unconfident people often use should statements when ruminating over their problems, in a maladaptive attempt to regain a sense of control over themselves (without success).

6- If I feel insecure and inadequate about trying something new, it is because it won’t work.

Emotional reasoning is another cognitive error that makes one believe his/her thoughts and feelings are the same as actions. Thoughts are what they are – just thoughts. Feelings of inadequacy, such as insecurity and anxiety, are not predictors of an outcome, but a sign that there is an internal conflict that needs to be addressed and dealt with.

7- If people found out who I truly am, they would reject me.

That assumption is wrong for the great majority of its believers. Somehow along the way towards becoming an adult you have registered the message that being yourself is unproductive, or simply not good enough. You may have felt rejected by your parents whenever you expressed negative emotions or acted in a way that went against their own beliefs and/or expectations of you. As time went by, that knowledge created a barrier between your true self and your self-esteem, as if to be accepted by others you had to supress your essence as much as you could. That myth is not only damaging to your psychological wellbeing but it significantly affects quality of life. Incongruence between the self and behaviour can lead to intense feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, personal frustration and a depressive attitude of general discontent towards life.

In order to help yourself adopt a more positive attitude or feel more in control over your moods, be mindful of beliefs that are too rigid, be they intermediate (rules, attitudes and assumptions) or core. To correct negative beliefs that are causing you to feel depressed and/or anxious, challenge automatic thoughts whenever you feel a negative shift in your emotional state. Ask yourself, “What does this thought say about me?” repeatedly, or until you get to the root of the problem. Then, restructure your belief so that it reflects a flexible and compassionate perspective.

Questions to ask yourself when worrying excessively

Excessive worrying feels very debilitating since it gets you stuck in rumination mode. Going over the same thought without dealing with it productively can be a mood killer. The best way forward for those who often find themselves struggling to let go of negative thoughts is through self-awareness. Start actively monitoring your thoughts. More importantly, begin to challenge them whenever they fail to lead you to any useful or creative solutions. Then, if you are new to CBT, use the questions below to help you problem-solve.

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself when worrying excessively:

Does my thought make sense from a realistic perspective?

Would this thought be considered logical?

What is the evidence for my thought/belief/evaluation?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of believing in this thought?

Would the intelligent and mature people I know agree with my thought? Why?

Am I am being too hard on myself?

Would I think/say the same about/to my best friend?

Am I being reasonable?

Is this situation as bad as I am portraying?

Are people as judgemental as I am imagining them to be?

Am I equating my thought with a fact?

How would I evaluate this situation 2 months from now?

Is this going to matter to me tomorrow?

Is this worry productive?

Is this criticism constructive? What – if anything – have I learned from it?

Am I only focusing on the negative?

Am I basing my thoughts on mind reading?

Am I exaggerating the relevance of this thought?

What is the worst-case scenario? What is the best-case scenario? What is the most likely outcome?

How is this thought affecting my mood?

Is it guiding me towards my goals or is it distracting me from them?

Am I using labels to define the situation in a way that does not do it justice?

Am I being overcritical?

Am I being fair?

Am I problem solving in an objective way?

How could I consider this problem more objectively?

Am I blaming others or myself for things that are – realistically – out of our control?

Have I considered all the facts before jumping to conclusions?

Am I taking things too personally?

How am I assessing my/others’ ability to handle this particular problem? Am I overreacting or being too negative?

It is worth reminding yourself that thoughts are just thoughts, not facts. As we tend to negotiate meaning via our internal dialogue, make it work for and not against you. If you display a biased inclination towards perfectionism and self-criticism, for instance, expand your perception investing in a more flexible attitude. Restructure your rigid beliefs so that they reflect a more compassionate and forgiving outlook. Use metacognition as a tool against automatic thinking and learn how to gain more control over negative emotions.

questions to ask yourself when worrying excessively
Challenging negative thinking is a great way to deal with unproductive worrying