Few things are as common to our relationships as our asking for, if not demanding, change from one another. These may begin as requests and over time descend into full-blown demands as frustrations arise and hostility grows. The ensuing adversarial energy then often pits each party into a defensive posture whereby conciliation and cooperation retreat and the impasse is fortified. What begins as an earnest request for change devolves into a mindless tit-for-tat exchange. Picture each person with their arms folded in front of them saying, “Why should I go first, when you have done such and such to me?” This leads to stagnation, if not an outright death knell for the relationship. Read more
To further our exploration of developing authentic self-esteem, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Self-Esteem Workshop, a live, interactive videoconference, beginning Tuesday, August 13th.
In my previous articles in this series on self-esteem, we’ve considered how low self-worth surfaces as an array of psychological, emotional, and relationship challenges, and then we looked at how we misunderstand what we actually mean by self-esteem, seeking it in futile ways. We’ll now turn our attention to how we can free ourselves from the debilitating grip of self-denigrating beliefs and thoughts that script those lives tragically limited by low self-esteem.
I often assist my therapy clients in surfacing and articulating their core beliefs about themselves. Subtle or overt messages or treatment, typically in childhood, set up and mold our sense of self. Those who struggle with their self-worth have invariably secured negative imprints of themselves. These themes may play out in one’s head as “I’m not lovable,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or simply ”I’m a loser.” Once we internalize these messages, we integrate these beliefs deeply in our psyche. The beliefs become self-fulfilling. Our potential as human beings collapses and narrows as our limiting beliefs of self become our truth. And we act out our lives correspondingly. Read more
Year after year, we make New Year’s resolutions that over time wither and fade into failed attempts to transform some aspect of our lives. The goals may range from health, exercise, relationships and finances all the way to spiritual and personal growth. The moment that we elect to make a significant change, we may begin to feel a bit of an endorphin rush as we fantasize what it would feel like. Yet, what begins with hopeful optimism gets swallowed into the basin of our life’s disappointments. Once again the high derived from the vision of change surrenders to the dulled resignation of the status quo.
It’s curious as to how we try to evoke change in the same way — year in and year out — with similar results. If we conducted a survey six months after the New Year and asked people about the success of their resolutions, we’d no doubt find an abysmal rate of failure. Our struggle with change is resoundingly stubborn and scant attention is devoted toward understanding why that’s the case. Let’s take a look.
Change begins as a thought, underscored by a wish or even stronger, an inspiration. This may set in motion an even stronger feeling, an intention. Most people find themselves somewhere within this continuum. Clearly, where you fall within that range is important toward the eventual outcome but nevertheless insufficient for an assurance of reaching your goal. Read more
I’ll be happy when… I fall in love.
I’ll be happy when… I get married.
I’ll be happy when… we can buy our dream house.
I’ll be happy when… we can furnish the house.
Still, the anticipated happiness is elusive so we tie it to more future events.
Is it always a good idea to do the best you can do? This question came up recently in a therapy session and catalyzed me to look more deeply into the nature and implications of this common assumption.
The man with whom I was working felt it essential that he always do his best. In his case, this inclined him to constantly measure himself as to whether he had acted at this optimal level. He confessed that very often he was stuck in analyzing the past, debating whether his words or behavior were the very best choice. When he wasn’t stuck in that groove, he was typically fretting over future decisions, concerned that they also might not be the very best choice. The nature of his inner voice was highly self-critical, addicted to measuring his actions.
Crises come into our lives, no matter how we may try to avoid them. They are troubling, unwanted experiences or events that take us out way out of our comfort zone. Typically, crises result in some type of loss. The very nature of crisis is antithetical to our core values of certainty and predictability as they vanish in an instant.
We desperately try to restore order to our lives, as chaos seems to prevail. Yet, if we learn to reframe how we see crisis, we might actually take advantage of it. There is the potential for alchemy as the crisis unfolds into a gain, provided we learn to stop resisting the unwanted change.
Some of the remarkable discoveries from quantum physics can be adapted to help us break free from the groove of our past and unleash real change in our lives. The quantum world reveals that light has a somewhat schizophrenic nature. It has the dual capacity to exist either as a wave or a particle. This tendency is referred to as the wave/particle duality. This seemingly illogical notion is naturally counterintuitive and rubs against our common sense of logic. Ordinarily, we believe that things either are or are not. This is not the case here, however.
It appears that when the light photon is not being observed it exists in waveform, but at the moment of observation, the wave collapses and becomes a particle. The act of observing actually collapses the wave. Prior to making the observation the wave represents a state of pure potentiality. That potential only becomes manifest into a fixed state when we look at it. I have come to see that a very similar phenomenon occurs in our lives.
For those of us old enough to remember vinyl records, we might recall that when there was a scratch on the album, the needle would sometimes get stuck in the groove. The same sound or lyrics would keep repeating. In the groove, the tone arm couldn’t find its way into the next groove. This is exactly what happens with our thoughts. They tend to keep reiterating the same messages, time and again. When they do so, we summon old memories and feelings and we become stymied in trying to change.
The replay of old thoughts and feelings indicates that we aren’t truly present. The past is not dead in these circumstances, but alive and kicking in the present as we continue to replicate the past. This is such a wasteful way to live our lives as we move from moment to moment – wanting for change – but not understanding how to achieve it. The continuous repetition of old thoughts and feelings robs us of new experience. As well, it deprives us of the discovery of new ways of being. The groove is where fear reigns supreme. Coming out of the groove is where self-actualization appears.
Our Most Intimate Relationship
The most intimate relationship we will have in our lives is not with our parents, our spouses, our children or closest friends. It is with our thoughts. They are our constant companions. Our thoughts will impact our lives far more than any relationship. In fact, they will greatly impact those relations. The quality and nature of what our thoughts tell us will largely script the experience of our lives. Learning to break free from the confines of old thought is the key to personal growth.
Thoughts can either be our supportive allies or our critical antagonists. They are the very filters through which we experience our lives. A particular thought – embedded as part of a larger belief – can either imprison or liberate us. Our thoughts very much tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies.
We recently announced a new feature at A Shift of Mind called the Question of the Week. The following is my response to Louise, who wrote:
People say “move on” but how can you when the toxic job is the last on your resume and their comments (or lack) are a plague to you; or the spouse refuses to finalize the divorce, or the parent refuses to understand that his lack of emotional support and outright favoritism of the sibling has resulted in pain and suffering (physical attempts and cheated of inheritance) to you? How not to feel a failure? or inept? How to “deal” with Life?
Mel Schwartz Psychotherapy & Marriage Counseling • 246 Post Road East, Suite 275 Westport, CT 06880
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