“You can’t truly love another until you love yourself”. After 10 years of being in the field of mental health and wellness, I’ve discovered sadly that self-blame and internalized shame are at the heart of many of the issues that bring folks through our doors. All too often uncontrollable situations such as: abusive or neglectful caregivers, critical teaches or bosses, unexpected health problems or injuries, bullying, an unstable job market or unfair work practices can leave people feeling inadequate or unworthy. Although it is not us but the situations that are to blame, far too often we internalize the critical words or actions of others leading to patterns of limiting or self-sabotaging behaviours. This can often set the stage for mood disorders such as depression or anxiety and make people more vulnerable to chronic pain, illness and even suicide.
Since February is all about relationships, my gift to you this month is ten tips for strengthening self-acceptance and loving kindness:
1. Perfection is an impossible ideal that sets us up to fail. If you struggle with not feeling good enough or unable to please important people in your life, the problem often lies not within you but within the expectations of others and ourselves.
2. Monitor your self-talk. Self-criticism is like a poison, slowly destroying our wellbeing and potential. Externalize the messages by asking yourself, “whose voice is this?” Then use reality checking and affirmations to speak more lovingly to yourself.
3. Many of us live in the shadows of a “successful sibling” or for other reasons adopt a feeling of inferiority. Avoid comparing yourself to others. This is a major contributor to anxiety and depression. We are all unique; blessed with special talents and strengths and we have no way of truly knowing the inner world and struggles of another person.
4. Remember you are the expert on you. No one has the right to judge or label you. Be your own best friend rather than an enemy.
5. When we find ourselves feeling like failures, it is often the situation that is failing us or as Francine Shapiro, internationally recognized creator of E.M.D.R. therapy has discovered; it is the influence of unprocessed memories that are preventing us from reaching our full potential. Avoid the vicious cycle of self-criticism leading to insecurity and future failings by looking at the entire context of your experiences and remembering we can never truly fail if we have learned something about ourselves or the situation.
6. In an effort to feel loved and accepted, we often blame ourselves for the misfortunes of others. Be careful not to make yourself responsible for the wellbeing of others as this can make us vulnerable to questioning or condemning ourselves for their unhealthy choices or situations beyond our control.
7. Just as with children, it is essential that we separate our value and worth from our choices and behaviours. Guilt can help to keep us in line with our values but it can sabotage us into shame based thinking such as “I am no good” or “I do not deserve to be happy.”
8. Treat yourself with the same compassion and loving kindness you would give to a friend or child. When a friend is struggling or a child is in pain, we do not say “you should have known better or get over it”. We validate and express our support in words and actions.
9. Keep a list or symbols of your accomplishments for review on a regular basis as a reminder of your strengths and successes.
10. Self-acceptance flows from remembering that we are all “works in progress”, learning and growing every day as we face the different transitions of life.
Did you know? February 12, 2013 is Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day focussed around increasing awareness of mental health issues and raising money for organizations. Last year they donated $16, 000 to the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council. For more information, “Like” our Facebook page or check out http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/.
If you found yourself relating to this discussion, why not come to our walk-in counselling clinic to discuss your options for healing? Ask about our “Creative Coping” group for women. We all deserve to be loved.