I had the great honor of doing my first podcast with Jennifer Sanfilippo, check it out: https://www.jenderator.com/podcast/coping-through-covid-a-conversation-with-life-and-career-coach-amy-bloustine/
It's becoming more and more clear that we have to settle into a new way of experiencing the world for a while. So here we are, sheltering collectively in place, each of us left on our own island to manage these hard times. As we settle into our new lives, it’s easy to fixate on all the things we've had to give up to keep ourselves, and everyone around us, safe. At such a time, it’s helpful to have a toolset to help us ground ourselves.
Recently, while listening to NPR I came across Dr. Sue Varma discussing “The Four Ms of Mental Health.” I found them to be so helpful to keep in mind when panic and anxiety hijacks the rational part of your brain. If you're feeling overwhelmed and overZoomed, head over to the Blog to learn how you can incorporate "The Four Ms" into your daily life.
I hope the tools and practices we share below will help you find more sanctuary along the way.
Kerrie Mohr, LCSW
A Good Place Therapy & Consulting
The idea that we can truly separate ourselves from our environment or from each other is a false consciousness. The inevitability of interconnection is particularly obvious right now as the entire world is swept up in a viral storm of uncertainty. This dynamic exchange between you and everything else is ever present, it is the very nature of your breath. The heightened sense that "things" are passing through you, around you, among you, within you requires a radical acceptance that this process is happening all the time...
When we place our attention on different aspects of this exchange we highlight and amplify it, but we can choose how we place our attention and what we want to amplify. Instead of investing further in the illusion of separateness, we can become stronger, better filters with clarity and compassion. We can turn away from our fear and towards our fragile equilibrium to prioritize wellness, not just for a few and fortunate- but for all. Whoever we are as individuals, our singularity is simply a way for us to experience a whole that is far larger than our comprehension...
Have courage. Choose to live your life with purpose and awareness, with grace and humility- for it truly is a gift to be alive. Have courage. Allow and accept the dissolution of things, for death is also inevitable. The fear of death is actually a privilege. Much of humanity is constantly exposed to it and others rarely contemplate it, unless a pandemic is at play. Have courage. Even if you cannot see around the corner to discern what will happen in the next day, week, month, or year- keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the horizon...
I was working with a client the other day, and she kept using the word “risk” when talking about new things that she wants to do, new things she wants to explore and how she wants to look at personal growth, and it started to make me think about why we use the word “risk” instead of the "opportunity."
Why does something new and different have to be looked at as a risk as the default? I think this word has a negative connotation and why try something or even explore the possibilities in such a negative way in the beginning. I looked up the word "risk" so that I am clear on what it means, and here is what the Merriam-Webster dictionary said: The possibility of loss or injury. Someone or something that creates or suggests hazard.”
I then looked up the word “opportunity," and I like this definition much better. "A favorable junction of circumstances. A good chance for advancement or progress.”
It finally hit me, I think we want to explore new possibilities, try new things, but the minute something negative, the “what if’s” pop into our head we put the brakes on it and assume the worst, we automatically default to the “risks.” How sad that we let this dictate how we view new opportunities.
Isn’t that what we're doing is exploring new opportunities and what comes next for us. I like the idea of looking at it with a fresh perspective and not automatically defaulting to what could go wrong or the risks; I don't want that to drive or motivate me. I would rather stay in that place of being positive. Sure, there is a chance that something could go wrong, it doesn’t work out the way we want it to, but should that stop us from trying? After all, there are no guarantees, no absolutes, and at the end of the day, you never know what can happen. It could actually turn out pretty great and exactly what we want.
I would much rather see something as an opportunity rather than a risk.
Think about what’s getting in your way and what are you going to do about it?
Perspective may be one of our most powerful and underutilized tools. How we define our experiences has a lot to do with the way we are looking at them, and sometimes we are challenged to see the entirety precisely because we are standing right in the middle of it. In science this limitation is called The Observer Effect: just by observing something we actually change the nature of it...
There is nothing like a conflict to help draw the power of perspective to the forefront. Two people, facing the same direction but perceiving totally different things. I recently had this challenge with a long time friend, and a painful realization that despite our love for each other, our point of view placed us in opposition. The medicine for that moment is a deep humility balanced with the understanding that both/and creates more space for meaning than either/or...
What a wonderful gift and a terrible burden- to know that our participation is constantly co-creating the situation- that the way we interact with the world collectively constructs it. Accepting that we are having an impact at all times can inspire us to engage more consciously with our choices. We can step up to an often steep learning curve where there is an imperative for change and find the courage to be receptive in the constant remaking of our lives...
We are not separate from, but rather part of the whole.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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?
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:
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 Mohr, LCSW
A Good Place Therapy & Consulting
As I reflect on the meaning of Valentine's Day, I'm reminded of all the missed opportunities we have both to love and to let ourselves be loved. I often tell my clients that the ability to love isn't a fixed trait. We can learn to love, and also how to show the kind of affection that the people closest to us crave. Showing affection is a learned skill. Depending on how we are brought up, we may have different ideas about the way love and affection is expressed and shared.
If you and your loved one's expectations aren't aligned, you should seek to understand each other's upbringings, and the ways affection was (or wasn't) manifested. It takes courage and a certain amount of vulnerability to ask for what you need, and also to try new ways to show how you care, but it's an effort that can reap the richest rewards.
Kerrie Mohr, LCSW
A Good Place Therapy & Consulting
Now that we are a couple of weeks into the new year, some of us may find that our goals are already fading. The key to making behavioral changes is taking small steps. However, our mindsets also play a bigger role than we realize. A positive mindset gets us much further.
In my years of practicing therapy, I’ve discovered that people can sometimes be oblivious to the ways that they are sabotaging themselves simply by the way that they think!
A classic example is when we slip up and order french fries instead of a salad with dinner and then say to ourselves, "What the heck, I already ruined my diet so I may as well order the flourless chocolate cake for dessert!" And to make matters worse, there’s also a little something called a “negativity bias” we have to deal with.
Psychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson describes the negativity bias in this way: bad experiences stick like "Velcro,” while our positive experiences are more like "Teflon.” Neuroscience shows us that we must consciously, and with focused intention, reframe our thoughts to think positively. Once we recognize our negative thinking about ourselves, we can make space for all the other possibilities. What we think, we become. It’s a good thing we can also choose our thoughts. When we practice this over time, we can rewire our brains to think more optimistically and positively! So, as we move into 2020, remember to take baby steps, and always strive to maintain a positive frame of mind.
Kerrie Mohr, LCSW
A Good Place Therapy & Consulting
Life is constantly calling you- forward, onward, upward into growth and inward to greater depths. Everyday, in large and small ways, you are being asked to step into a stronger, clearer, more grounded relationship with yourself and the world around you. There are things to let go of that are blocking your path, dimming your light, holding you back. The ever-present shadows of fear- you might get cold, wet, or embarrassed in your new soft skin of vulnerability. Step into the water anyways. Open up to infinite possibilities and the power of letting life flow through you...
It took me two years to launch this website. I had every excuse in the book- I'm not a technologically gifted person, I don't want to limit my work or make it somehow less true in a virtual format, I don't have time, I could be criticized, I might fail. Yet, again and again students, friends, and family would gently say - is there someway we could take your classes online, you could help a lot of people, Valarie you have so much to give. So finally, I dropped my pretense and procrastination and I decided to step into the water...
It's true that you might get cold, and if you are out there fully living life you will most certainly get wet on some days. But just beyond your warm, dry comfort zone is a new perspective, a fresh and fierce cleanse, a dip into the river that changes the course you are on and connects you to the larger currents of the universe...