self-talk

Shame and Contempt, Part 4: Countering Self-Righteousness & Other Righteousness

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

In my earlier blogs in this series, I explored Shame and Contempt as unhealthy and unproductive mutations of Guilt and Judgment, and the ground that Shame and Contempt grow from, and the flipside of Shame and Contempt. Now that we’ve named Guilt and Contempt as potential major players in our inner worlds, as well as looked at the places from where these fickle foes plant seeds and grow, I would like to discuss how to counter the powerful pulls of self-righteousness and other righteousness.

The truth is that we are all good at some things, and we are all bad at some things.  Neither one can ever speak to our value as a human.  Performance, skill, ability, and aptitude are all completely irrelevant to our dignity and worth.

When we stand either over or under another human, we are out of place, and it wears on our souls.

The beginning of change is in observing what has always been automatic, accepted, or unquestioned.  Pay attention to the thoughts and voices with which you speak to yourself, and with which you speak of others.  Notice the elements of self- or other-righteousness.  The more you notice them, the more they will bother you (hopefully).  That dissatisfaction is necessary to finding the change you need.

If you feel stuck, seek an external observer: a mentor, pastor, friend, or counselor who is not overly impressed with you, who will be honest with you, and with whom you can be honest in return.  Work together to identify the places you need to work on.

Stepping out of self- and/or other-righteousness is a challenge, but when you find the room, you will discover a great relief in your being, and a larger amount of freedom and acceptance with and for your fellow humans.

Shame and Contempt, Part 3: The Flipside

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

In an earlier blog, I explored Shame and Contempt as unhealthy and unproductive mutations of Guilt and Judgment, respectively, and how we live as though we believe them even though they are profoundly untrue.

Here, I would like to discuss the ground that Shame and Contempt grow from.

Self-Righteousness

The most obvious and familiar feeling that engenders shame or contempt is self-righteousness.  We are most often aware of self-righteousness in others, especially when it is directed at us.  It is identifiable by our reactions to it: “How dare you look down your nose at me!?”  “Little Miss (Mr.) Goody-Two-Shoes” (I know I’m dating myself here.)  “What a stuck-up jerk!”  “Think you’re better than everyone else, do you?”

It seems apparent to me that we would regard self-righteousness as a negative character trait or behavior when we see it or experience it from anyone.

However, most of us actually practice this at some point ourselves. We experience self-righteousness in ourselves when we say or think things like, “I would never…” or “How could you…”.  When we shake our heads and “cluck our tongues” to say “Tsk, tsk, for shame.”  When we say, “THAT person deserves to be…” . It is at its core an internal feeling of being better than the other person.

What makes self-righteousness distinct from contempt?  Self-Righteousness is the soil from which Contempt grows and flourishes.

Contempt is the external expression of the fundamental (and often unquestioned) internal belief in our own goodness (self-righteousness).

The trap of it is that we tend to highlight the things we are good at or things that we think make us look good, and exclude the things we are less good at or embarrass us.  When we operate from self-righteousness, we act as though we have the right to determine the worth of another person.

Other-Righteousness

Other-Righteousness is a term that I am pretty sure I made up.  I use it to describe the sensation that others are by nature better than oneself.  It functions in relationships when we “know” that our significant other is smarter, better, wiser, etc.  We put them on a pedestal that says, “You know more about XYZ than I do, so I will always yield to your opinion on this.” Socially, we experience the sensation that everyone who sees us is judging us or pitying us.  We feel that they are worth more than us.

Not only do we have this feeling, we believe it.  Not only are we judged, but we deserve to be judged.   We automatically believe that others have no real compassion when we make a mistake, that they are laughing at us or scorning us, and that we deserve it.  It is the core belief in our defectiveness and shame.  It is a wearisome way to live.

What makes “other-righteousness” distinct from shame?  The answer is the same as to the similar question above:  Other Righteousness is the soil from which our sense of defectiveness grows.

Shame is the external or surface expression of the core (often unquestioned) belief in others’ superiority.

Also similar is the trap.  When we believe in our own worthlessness, we highlight and expect all the screw ups and shortcomings and exclude examples of our genuine goodness.  When we operate from other-righteousness, we live as though everyone around us has the right to condemn us.

My next blog will look at how to counter these formidable foes.

Shame and Contempt, Part 2: In our Daily Lives

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

My previous blog is this series proposed that shame and contempt shape our worlds more than we know.  Do they? Here I am going to look at the vicious villians of shame and contempt in our daily lives. Listen to your words and your thoughts.  Pay attention to your verbs.

It may surprise you how often you use “being” verbs in your daily life to describe yourselves and others.

Daily Contemp

Every time I shout at another driver in traffic, “Idiot!” (the full sentence by implication is “You are an idiot!”) I express contempt.  I express my feeling that the other driver’s intelligence is defective, that they are in their very being worthless.  And this, because they did something careless or something that I didn’t expect.

Daily Shame

When I make a mess of things, make a mistake or deliberately do or say something hurtful, if I beat myself up about it, I am operating in shame.  “Idiot!  I can’t believe I did that.”  I am expressing self-contempt, saying that because of this thing, and maybe others like it, I am of no real value in the world.  I believe that everyone who hears of it would agree, and that they would be correct in having me summarily executed, that the world would be better off without me.

Living Truthfully

Of course, we don’t articulate either of these thoughts fully.  If we were to articulate them fully, we would have to retract our statements.

So if (a) Shame and Contempt themselves are lies in their essence, and (b) most often we don’t really believe in the full extent of what we are actually saying, then there is a lot of falseness in our daily lives that we simply accept as “normal”.

Listen to your verbs.  I challenge you to change your being verbs into descriptive action verbs and see what changes in your experience as you walk about your life.  –JH

(Coming Soon: The Flipside of Shame and Contempt)

Shame and Contempt, Part 1: What are they?

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

Shame and Contempt.  These are feelings we have a hard time making sense of.   Both are loaded words, powerful concepts to consider.  As internal feelings, they are more common than we realize, and often shape our worlds more than we know.

Shame (v. Guilt)  (see this blog for a more long-winded examination of this distinction)

Shame is a feeling of being defective.  This is different than guilt.  Guilt is the knowledge of having done wrong.  Shame is the sense that “I am wrong,” or that “Something is wrong with me.”

The clue to distinguishing these two feelings from each other is the verb.  

Guilt uses action verbs: did/didn’t, acted, failed to act, etc.  Shame uses State-of-Being verbs: am, is, was, were, can/can’t, etc.  Guilt says “I did [a thing that was wrong].  I crossed a line, I lied, I acted in this way or that”.  Shame says, “What was I thinking?  What is the matter with me?  Why can’t I …?”.

Distinguishing between shame and guilt is important for two reasons:

  1. Guilt is a healthy emotion that leads us to learning to do better things and resist doing harmful things.  We appropriately don’t like how guilt feels, and because we don’t want to feel that way, we make different choices.
  2. Shame is always a lie.  Shame never results in real change or learning, it only self-reinforces.  “What did I expect?  This is what I get.  I am such a screw up.”  Most often when we evaluate ourselves in this way, we are evaluating our whole being on the basis of our bloopers reel.  It is to feel worthless, pointless, and without value to the world at large.

Contempt (vs. Judgment) (see this blog for a more long-winded examination of this distinction)

Contempt is at its core the shaming of another.  In similar fashion to Shame, Contempt uses being verbs, whereas (like Guilt) Judgment uses action verbs.

It is to measure the person or thing as inherently defective.

Judgment is objectively or subjectively describing something.  “I like/don’t like this thing/person”, or “You hurt me when you said…”, or “I like/don’t like how you talked to me.”    Contempt makes the evaluation about the being of the person or thing itself.  “You are such a fool.”, or, “What is wrong with you?”, or “What were you thinking?”

Again, this distinction is important for two reasons:

  1. Judgment itself is not a bad or hurtful thing.  Contempt is the sentiment most folks are referring to when they say “don’t judge”.  We all make judgments every day, and these are healthy and needful assessments of our world.
  2. Like shame, Contempt is always a lie.  It is to speak as though we are authorized or have the capacity to determine the worth of another human’s existence.  To express contempt is to say that the person or thing is worthless, without value, and that destroying them would be a non-issue.

So What?

Shame and contempt shape our worlds more than we know.  My next blog in this series will look at how we use shame and contempt in our daily lives to describe ourselves and others.

Perfectionism and Blogging

Perfectionism and Blogging

by Frank Theus, LPC

In my line of work as a therapist writing a blog or contributing to one is considered part and parcel of the profession; in fact, I know many fellow therapists who attest to how much they enjoy writing informally via a forum that invites conversation. Perfectionism has stood in my way before now.

“Every time I write a [blog], I have to remind myself that all I have to worry about is the next paragraph.” – Donald Miller

However, what does a therapist-blogger do when the writing becomes de rigueur du jour and try as best they can simply can’t lift a pen, or type out the next word much less “…the next paragraph” (Miller)?

Ignore the panic attacks? Obfuscate, deny, and delay regarding the topic and proposed deadlines? Stop writing? Quit the job? Does any of this seem extreme to you? Well, hello, I’m that guy who has been there, done that, and has those t-shirts.

You see, I hate to write. Duh!

Writing’s a powerful medium that can expose the author’s heart-life leaving them vulnerable to evaluation and critique – real or imagined – by others; and, my basic survival instinct wants no part of that. Perfectionism won out. Are you able to relate?

You see I’m recovering from perfectionism, triggered by the thought of writing, grammar, punctuation, and (reasonable) expectations of me around this topic. For a variety of reasons I failed to learn the basics in secondary school and later in my undergraduate years. In Abba’s infinite and providential sense of humor I was thrust into leadership roles within professions that required me to write for the sake of other’s careers. No pressure there. Right?!

But writing didn’t get easier for me then or by the time I went through graduate school as a 50-something reinventing retiree, or afterward here at Avenues Counseling. Finally, I shared my angst with my boss and we agreed I’d take a mini-sabbatical from writing. I wish I could say I used this holiday to constructively reflect, engage in intense psychotherapy to get at the root causes of my graphophobia, become a modern day contemplative Reformed-Benedictine, to journal (God forbid) but I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I more often than not simply disengaged from any thought of ever writing again. I was good with that.

But here I am. Writing. Haltingly so. Imperfectly, and [relatively] free. What happened? I’m not sure; and, I don’t know that I have to have it all figured out.

Whatever the “it” is in your life that keeps you stuck or otherwise diminishes your quality of life maybe the first step is to be kind and gentle with yourself and to simply acknowledge it aloud.

But don’t stop there. Risk, yes, risk being vulnerable enough to tell someone that’s trustworthy what the “it” is. Ask for help, learn, grow, heal, and re-engage with enjoying the whole of your life. L’chaim!

What if I don’t feel grateful?

What if I don’t feel grateful?

by: Andy Gear, LPC, EMDR trained therapist

20648028973_184236efa9_mRecently I was in a group where they talked about how important gratitude is for living a happy and healthy life. I remember thinking “yeah, sure, that’s all fine and good, but what if you don’t feel grateful?”

They explained to me that gratitude isn’t primarily a feeling; it’s a discipline. It’s like a muscle that we can strengthen or allow to atrophy. And there are a number of ways we can exercise our gratitude muscle:

Make a list of what you have to be grateful for every day

Keep a gratitude journal. It can be just a simple notebook or something more elaborate. Schedule a time to write five things you have to be grateful for daily. If you do it every morning, you will remember it throughout the day. If you do it at night, then it will shape how you look back at that whole day. (After a while, you’ll find that you’re having a lot more good days). The list doesn’t have to be of big things. In fact, it’s better if they’re not. Even the smallest positive event counts.

The simple act of bringing to mind the good things in your life has a huge impact on your wellbeing. But it takes intentionality to notice the good. We are much more skilled at noticing the negative things that happen to us. They tend to stick out more than the good. (And when you’re depressed your brain actually goes to negative memories more easily). So it takes an act of the will, a habit, to make your brain notice the positive. You will be surprised by the results. In time, your feelings will follow.

Strengthen gratitude by looking outward

Another way to exercise your gratitude muscle is to notice those around you in difficult situations. They can be close to home or on the other side of the world, but they can’t be people to whom you usually compare yourself. Comparison is toxic to gratitude; it is like gratitude kryptonite. The purpose of comparison is to judge (either your self or the other). This leads to dissatisfaction on one hand or pride on the other. Either way, it’s destructive to gratitude.

Looking outward is different. Its purpose is to empathize and help. Helping someone is invigorating, provides a sense of purpose, improves self-perception, and helps put your blessings in perspective. Not only that, but it benefits someone who needs you and gives them a reason to be grateful.

Purposefully remember in hard times

There are times where it is hard to be grateful. This is just reality. Seasons in life are hard, painful, and seemingly hopeless. During these times it can be difficult to think of current things that make you feel grateful. In these periods, it helps to look intentionally at the past and the future. Remind yourself of good events from your past and dwell on potential positive opportunities in the future. This is a habit that you have to nurture; it won’t happen automatically.

Our brains can get stuck in a negative rut, but we can short-circuit our brains by forcing ourselves to consider other options. Think of yourself as a lawyer cross-examining your negative brain. Bring evidence of any positive experience to the jury of your mind. Look back for anything, however small, that disproves the case being made that your life has been uninterrupted tragedy. Then look forward for any possibility that things will be better than you are currently expecting.

Extra Credit

For extra credit, you can make a list of five positive outcomes that could happen in your future. Developing a positive view of your future is a great antidote for hopelessness. (Notice that I said developing a positive view). A life of gratitude doesn’t just happen overnight; it has to be nurtured, exercised, and grown.

Having an attitude of gratitude is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Consider starting a gratitude journal today. Your brain will thank you.

What does your Inner Voice tell you?

What does your Inner Voice tell you?

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

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“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” ― Peggy O’Mara

I came across this quote and was struck by its simple profundity. Such a sentiment can surely cause you to step back and reevaluate your typical interactions with the children in your life, which I do believe was the author’s intent. But we can also use this insight to look into the inner voice we each carry and what has informed it over the years. This inner voice has often been born within us from significant people around us as we were growing up and learning to make sense of the world.

I’m not talking about audible voices in our heads, I’m talking about the way we talk to ourselves inside ourselves. We tend to trust this voice; often to the extent that we don’t even notice it. It flows in and around us like the air we breathe. It feels true and informed. It feels like the one we can trust to keep us from believing we are capable, we can depend on others, and we are worth something.

I often find when talking with people that this voice is unkind, unforgiving, shaming, and critical. It’s cynicism feels trustworthy and it’s avoidance of hope or longing feels safe. And yet, it is all too holding us back from developing deep relationships, learning how to care for ourselves, striving to take risks in life, and hoping for something better.

Often, this voice is so embedded it can never be completely silenced. However, it can be identified, labeled untrustworthy, and we can learn to react differently to it. We can learn to tell it to be quiet, we can learn to ignore it, mistrust it, or even argue with it. We can learn to walk through our lives with a different narrator, one that is informed by the present, by reality, by trustworthy people. Counseling is a very effective way to begin to label that voice and learn new ways to talk to yourself.

Stop Verbally Abusing Yourself

Stop Verbally Abusing Yourself

Avenues Counseling

“You’re so stupid!”

“Of course you failed at that. It’s what you do.”

“No one could ever love you.”

These are extremely painful statements to hear; ones I cringe to even write out. And if these things were said out loud to you, they could easily be called verbal abuse. No one should be told those things. No one.

And yet, how many of us have a tape that plays in our heads that sounds remarkably similar? Or maybe not quite as extreme as the statements above, but still carries with it the same underlying critical, harsh message and/or lack of compassion?

Why do we think it’s okay to talk to ourselves the way it is not okay for anyone else talk to us? Or maybe we don’t even consciously realize how severe our self-talk is. Day in and day out. An endless reel of criticism and condemnation in the face of life, that by its very nature is just hard.

These voices can come from many places – maybe they were given to you by the ones who are supposed to love and encourage you most; maybe they are what you think is needed to keep your drive alive to excel at life; maybe it’s in your DNA to be self-critical and perfectionistic; maybe it’s how you try to remain “humble”. Wherever they come from and however they’ve been formed, I wonder what it would look like to say, “It’s not okay to talk to me like that,” and to start replacing them with the voice of compassion for yourself.

Drawing upon the research of Dr. Kristin Neff, below are some practical ways to begin to better relate to yourself with compassion and to respond to the critical, harsh reel in your head:

1)   Be kind to yourself. Pain, failure, disappointment are part of this life. We are not perfect beings and never will be. Extend to yourself the same grace, forgiveness or understanding you would extend to others when you mess up or things don’t go the way you hoped they would.

2)   Remember the bigger picture. You are not alone in whatever you are experiencing. Sometimes this is hard to believe because we are all working really hard to cover up our own places of shame (and unfortunately, we’re really good at it), but I guarantee you are not alone. It is often our weakness that connects us the most to each other. Stop using this against yourself or allowing it to isolate you and start looking for ways to connect to others in our shared human experience of weaknesses.

3)   Be mindful. To begin changing the way we speak to ourselves, we must start by being aware of how we do it. Being self-compassionate does not mean avoiding your negative thoughts or difficult emotions. It means experiencing these thoughts and feelings with the posture of kindness and in the context of being human. This keeps us from over-identifying with our negative thoughts and emotions and allows for thoughtful consideration of how there might ways we could do things differently next time around.

So…as some version of the tape is currently playing in your head now, please remember: your words have impact. Instead of continuing to verbally abuse yourself, please be kind, remember the bigger picture, and be mindful as you talk to yourself today.

by:  Melinda Seley, PLPC

The Power of And

The power of and: Bonnie and Clyde.  Chocolate and peanut butter.  Bert and Ernie.  They just go together, right?  The “and” works because we know (or have at least learned from others) that they fit together.  You can have one without the other but most would say neither would be quite as good or complete.

 

“And” is good.  “And” is how it should be.

But sometimes in life, we encounter circumstances that simultaneously press on both joy and sadness, hope and fear, relief and great grief.  Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.

Avenues Counseling

You just had a baby; you are excited to be a mom and also really sad to lose the independence and freedom you used to have. You have a workaholic dad who doesn’t always have time for you; you love and respect him and have also been really hurt by him.  Your spouse just lost a long battle with cancer; you are devastated by the loss and also relieved that you are no longer overwhelmed by being the 24/7 caregiver.

Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.  And in the midst of trying to make sense of them, we hear those voices in our head (or perhaps very audibly from those around us) that only one side of that “and” is the acceptable response or proper set of emotions to feel given the circumstance you are walking through. The way you “should” feel.  So the other, very real side of the “and” gets stuffed down inside with a sufficient dose of shame heaped on top.  It’s not allowed to be felt or talked about or acknowledged with anyone.  What would they think if they knew? How can both of these seemingly conflicting feelings be real?

For those of you who resonate with this, what would it look like for you to allow yourself to sit in the tension between your “and”? To be honest with yourself to see that you are feeling both the “acceptable” response to your circumstance as well as the “unacceptable” or less acknowledged response.  And to give yourself room to feel both sides of your “and”.  To grieve where there is sadness and identify what has been lost.  To rejoice where there is goodness or something gained. And to realize that giving way to one emotion does not negate the very real experience of or reality of the other.

And when you encounter a friend experiencing an emotion that “shouldn’t” be felt, I encourage you to sit and listen. To take a moment to put yourself in their shoes…really in their shoes.  And consider whether you might also be feeling a similar seemingly conflict of emotions. And then give them room to experience both sides of their “and”.

The power of “and” is freedom – freedom from shame, freedom to be honest, and freedom to be whole.

 

By Melinda Seley, PLPC