Tag Archives: acceptance

The Struggle for Self-Compassion


Is self-compassion good or bad? If asked this question, most people would agree that self-compassion is a positive thing. It’s also likely that the majority of those people have spent their lives cultivating a harsh inner self-critic and readily indulge thoughts such as “I made such a stupid mistake, people must think I’m an idiot” or “I’m not a good parent/friend/partner/employee…why is it so hard for me to just get it together?” So what causes the discrepancy between our belief about self-compassion and our resistance to practicing it?

Even though they know that it makes them feel bad, many people subconsciously rely on self-criticism as a way of coping with rejection or failure. This could be attributed to the messages we receive and internalize as children whenever we acted in a way that was deemed “unacceptable”. These criticisms served to teach us how to behave according to the unwritten rules of society. Thus, when we experience failure as adults, we may use self-criticism as a way of “teaching ourselves” not to make that mistake again.

While healthy introspection is a valuable tool for self-improvement, self-criticism can be counter-productive for several reasons:

    • no amount of self-criticism will change the past and undo whatever bad thing happened. 

 

    • self-criticism is demoralizing and discouraging. The more discouraged we feel, the less likely we are to overcome a failure by “getting back on the horse” and trying again. Imagine teaching a young child to ride a bike and saying “you fell off? How embarrassing. You must feel like a real idiot.” That kid is going back inside and will never think about riding a bike again until he talks about it with his own therapist 20 years later. 

 

    • self- criticism encourages a perfectionistic mindset, which is less about “striving for excellence” and more focused on “not making mistakes in an attempt to avoid the judgement of other people.” 
 

Where does self-compassion come in? 
Self-compassion is the antidote for self-criticism. Self-compassion does not mean resigning yourself to life’s circumstances. On the contrary, people who are successful in reaching their goals are shown to have higher levels of self-compassion. This is due to the fact that compassion fosters resilience and perseverance, rather than doubt and hopelessness.

Here are some ways to practice self-compassion:

 

  • remain mindful of when self-talk turns negative. Ask yourself honestly the extent to which that inner dialogue is true. 

 

  • shift into a more flexible mindset. Hardly anything in life is black and white, so get comfortable sitting in the gray area. When you make a mistake tell yourself “well that wasn’t my most shining moment but in the grand scheme of things it’s hardly reflective of my true character.” 

 

  • avoid internalizing small mistakes. You might have done a bad thing by forgetting about your lunch date with a friend, but it does not mean you are a bad person

 

  • talk about your feelings with a friend. Chances are, they will automatically treat you with the compassion you are having trouble giving yourself. 

 

Remember that everyone makes mistakes and experiences failure – it is part of the universal experience of being human. When we are able to be vulnerable and acknowledge fears and insecurities, we build stronger bonds with others and learn how to remove our own self-worth from the stakes. Go ahead and incorporate self-compassion into your life today – you deserve it!

Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Declutter your Life

 

After a long, hectic year, autumn is a time for “new beginnings”. A new school year begins, leaves start to change and weather feels less oppressive.  It makes sense, then, to take advantage of this time by taking inventory of the things in our own lives we wish to change or get rid of. This mental and emotional clutter can build up over time, leaving us in a constant state of exhaustion, depression, irritability and stress.  As we proceed into yet another season of change, incorporate the following to achieve maximum serenity:  

1. Spend Your Time Carefully
It’s hard to be calm if you are surrounded by toxic people, those who leave you feeling exhausted, rather than energized, after each interaction. While constant complaining or gossiping are the usual M.O. for toxic people, they can also operate in coverts ways by being flaky, perpetually late, or even throwing subtle digs and backhanded compliments your way. Treat your time and energy as sacred things and spend them only on relationships that benefit you in a positive way. Do not be afraid to take space from those who are not invested in your well-being. 

2. Pay Attention to Your Thoughts 
While other people can negatively impact our mood and emotions, sometimes we are our own worst critic.  People who experience chronic anxiety and worry tend to feel guilty for things that were outside their control or label themselves as a “loser” or “unworthy.” This thinking error, or “cognitive distortion”, occurs when we rely on inaccurate or biased logic to process information. As a result, we act and behave in irrational ways without understanding the real reasons for we did so. Our skewed perspective on reality also leaves us with feelings of anxiety and distress. Common types of cognitive distortions include:

    • All-or-nothing thinking: thinking in terms of black and white. “Everything must be perfect, or I am a total failure.”

 

    • Overgeneralization: applying the outcome a single negative experience to all current scenarios. “The last interview I had was terrible. This interview will be a disaster too. I am not employable.”

 

    • Fortune-telling: immediately jumping immediately to worst-case scenarios. “I just know that something is going to go horribly wrong.”

Are you still ruminating on something you did or didn’t do six months ago? Stop now. This does not mean resigning yourself to all the bad things that have happened or might happen. Rather, forgiving yourself means giving yourself permission to not spend mental energy getting angry, fighting the feelings or assigning blame. The long chain of events and decisions that led you to the current situation all have a cause—to change reality, you must first accept the reality without judgement. 

3. Take a Time Out
It may sound like an obvious concept, but setting aside time for yourself can easily get swept away by daily, weekly and monthly routines. Identify one activity you want to get back into, or try for the first time. Then, make it a priority. Mark it on the calendar and hold yourself accountable by not making the plans contingent upon whether other people will be able to join you. Trying a new activity is a great way to meet like-minded individuals and take a break from your usual routine. 

While fall is a great season to start cleaning up your mental health, don’t forget to check back in with yourself frequently throughout the year to reflect on whether you have any baggage that might be weighing you down.

– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Letting Go of Resentment

 

In previous blog posts, we talked about the role of forgiveness in alleviating resentment. The main take-away here is that forgiveness can help us to unload emotional weight we’ve been carrying around and achieve peace of mind. The tricky thing is that holding on to resentment and anger came happen so automatically that it can be extremely difficult to even know when we’re doing it. 

 
The first step in identifying resentment is understanding the two types. It is important to know which type you are experiencing because the way in which you cope with it will be different. 
  • Current resentment: this type of resentment is caused by something that is happening day-to-day in the present. These are things that feel unfair but are also difficult to change. We may think to ourselves “this keeps happening and I don’t like it”. An example would be being continually saddled with an unreasonable amount of responsibilities at work or at home.
  • Past resentment: this relates to old hurts or “unfinished business”. While we may have decided to “let it go” mentally, we are unable to do so emotionally. Past resentments are usually tied to attachment wounds, when we experienced a significant amount of betrayal or disappointment from the person we are angry with.

Tune into your anger and identify which type of resentment resonates most. It is important to keep in mind that one is not better or worse than the other. Regardless of what you are experiencing, it will affect you in relationships because resentment makes it hard to show kindness, generosity, appreciation, gratitude and warmth toward the other person. 

 How do we cope? 

While it is tempting to push negative feelings down, doing so will only cause them to keep building up. 

    • to cope with our anger, we have to make contact with anger. Acknowledge the emotion and ask yourself “what am I angry about?” 
    • for past resentments, it is important to revisit the past and process what happened. Experiencing the pain and anger instead of shutting down. This could be an opportunity to practice the skill of forgiveness in order to let go of the emotional burdens that have been weighing us down. 
    • for current resentments, identify what relationship feels out of balance. We can ask ourselves what we would like it to look like instead. What needs to happen day-to-day? What would be fair to both parties? While this may be more difficult to do in a work relationship where the power dynamics are different, there is usually some room to negotiate agreements.

Remember, resentment happens due to feeling like we can’t talk about your anger, which leaves us feeling “stuck”. Staying silent fuels resentment and breeds hostility. Eventually, that hostility will cause us to behave in less than ideal ways toward the person we are angry with. This person, not being able to read our mind, will likely be completely unaware of why we are irritated and why we are acting the way we are. The key point to remember is that people cannot understand your anger until they can connect it with something they can deal with. The way to help people connect is by talking about emotions, rather than pushing them down. Focus on “fairness” and be willing to negotiate and compromise. You may find that taking just this first step can be surprisingly cathartic in itself!– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

What is Creative Hopelessness?


In past blog posts, we’ve talked about how to use mindfulness and acceptance to cope with uncomfortable thoughts, sensations and emotions. The take-away message is that in order to avoid unnecessary suffering, we must let go of any ideas about the way we wished things could be and instead accept the way that we are in the present moment. Once we accept our reality without judgement, we are better able to see things for what they are. This allows us to shift the behaviors that we control and take steps towards the fulfillment of our goals and values. 

 “Creative hopelessness” is tool used to promote acceptance by encouraging people reflect upon what they have been avoiding in their lives in their efforts to avoid distress. The logic behind this focuses on the theory that these avoidance behaviors make pain and suffering worse over time. For instance, not taking part in meaningful activities can trigger depression and anxiety, which makes pain and distress feel more severe. The heightened pain and distress then further decrease motivation to engage in activities. This cycle can be powerful, leading many people to believe that they have to wait until their unpleasant life circumstances go away before taking steps toward fulfillment. 
 
If you have ever been caught this trap, thinking “I’ll start [positive goal] when [unpleasant current circumstance ends]”, creative hopelessness could be useful for you. The important thing to remember is not to conflate feelings like “anxiety” or “sorrow” with “suffering.” Equating uncomfortable emotions with suffering can easily make us feel tortured by those emotions. Consistent anguish and torment will ignite the hopelessness that adds fuel to the cycle of avoidance and misery. 
 
Creative hopelessness encourages the use of acceptance to acknowledge struggles for what they are. It goes a step further by asking the questions: “What you would do if your struggle never goes away? How would you live your life differently?” Chances are, you would find ways to take steps toward whatever bring you joy and purpose, even if you have to bring sadness or anxiety along for the journey.   
To practice this yourself, think about your goals (or learn about how to set effective goals). Ask yourself what avoidance behaviors have prevented or slowed down your progress toward these goals, and what that avoidance has cost you. Then, make necessary adjustments to those goals by accepting what you cannot control and identifying what behaviors you do have control over. Although it may not be the path you initially envisioned, getting “creative” with hopelessness can be a powerful tool in helping you decide what path you were meant to travel.
 
Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Riding Out the Ups and Downs of Life

 

The one thing in life we can count on to remain constant is fact that things are always changing. Change is like the undercurrent of an ocean. It’s always there, surrounding us. It affects us whether we like it or not. One minute, the waves of change are imperceptible and we float along feeling peaceful and safe. And then, without warning, the tide suddenly shifts. The waves grow bigger and become more threatening. They crash down on us, creating a sense of panic and instability. How do we navigate choppy waters when we find ourselves up the creek without a paddle?

Water puns aside, the ocean offers a good metaphor for how to cope with unexpected and challenging times. Take a look at some key lessons:

The balance between acceptance and change
When we find ourselves in unpleasant and distressing circumstances, our first instinct as human is to spend a lot of energy resisting or avoiding the situation. It seems helpful in the moment because we are preventing ourselves from experiencing suffering. But how would it play out if we caught in an actual riptide? Would we say to ourselves “hmm, this is quite unpleasant…maybe I will feel better if I pretend this isn’t happening to me”. Of course not. Nor would we resist the situation by fighting against the current–that would be self-sabotaging and just lead to more unnecessary suffering.

This is where the balance of acceptance and change takes place. To cope effectively with any unpleasant situation, we must let go of any ideas about the way we wished things could be and instead accept the way that we are in the present moment. That is not the same as approving of the situation or resigning ourselves to our fate. Once we accept our reality without judgement, we are better able to see things for what they are. It is then that we can begin to look at all the pieces of the puzzle, determine what we have control over and identify potential action steps. Just like the riptide, reality will not change for the worse or better just because we accept that it exists.

The virtue of patience
Just like a fisherman at sea, it is natural to experience fear and uncertainty when conditions are tumultuous. It can seem like that the storm will never pass and we wonder how we will survive. But eventually, the storm does pass and things do quiet down. Embracing reality can be distressing. But it is important to ourselves that life is inherently full highs and lows downs, and that we have experienced and survived all of the ups and downs in the past. In times when we don’t have control, all we can do is patient and ride out the storm.

Reflect upon what strategies you have been using to deal with unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself honestly if those strategies resulted in less suffering and made the problems go away. Most people would likely say that they intentionally or unintentionally “check out” from unpleasant feelings or ruminate on them—making things feel completely out of control. If this sounds familiar, remember that you are the captain of your own ship. Keep the two simple lessons in mind and know that you have the freedom and competence to chart your own course though life.

– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

‘This Shouldn’t Be Happening to Me!’ How to let go when things aren’t going right

 

Sometimes, life can feel unfair—not just mildly inconvenient but, like, really unfair. We have all been there. Maybe your offer for an apartment didn’t get accepted. Or you got rejected from the job you really wanted. Or months of diet and exercise are “undone” by an unexpected injury or week of stress-eating. If several of these events happen close together, the unfairness of it all can feel overwhelming. You tried so hard! You prepared for so long! You replay the situation over and over again and think to yourself “this shouldn’t be happening to me!” 

Even if you consider yourself an easy-going person who is an expert at “not sweating the small stuff,” it can be hard to shake the feelings of distress when something truly discouraging happens. But have you ever really thought about why “letting go” of these emotions is so difficult? If you’re like most people, your brain probably automatically reassures that it’s perfectly reasonable to get upset. Its helpful voice chimes in to say “you should be upset, anybody would be upset! Let me get rid of any lingering doubt by replaying the scene for you again. And again. And once more for good measure.” Sound familiar? 

Listen, it’s totally okay to acknowledge your emotions and feel angry, or sad, or irritated. However, ruminating as a way of dealing with situations doesn’t usually feel too great. Replaying a situation in your head is the brain’s “helpful” way of giving you the perception of control over a situation that is causing anxiety or uncertainty. But the more tightly you hold on to these feelings, the tighter their grip becomes on you. This can leave you feeling constantly overworked and overwhelmed by anxiety, despair, distress and frustration. Who’s really in control now? 

There are actions you can take to regain power and control over those overwhelming feelings. Here are a few general tips: 

    • Put distance between the situation and your anxious thoughts or feelings. Take a step back and acknowledge the circumstance from a neutral point of view by simply telling yourself “I’m getting myself worked up because I wish this wasn’t happening. This anxiety isn’t serving any purpose.” 
    • Accept what is happening instead of wishing for a different circumstance. Remember, avoiding feelings by thinking “this shouldn’t be happening to me” only feeds into your anxiety. By staying in the present moment, you gain power and control.
    • To better handle frustration and stress, change your perception. Think of difficulties as challenges or opportunities instead of threats. “This happened because I took a risk instead of staying in my comfort zone. The outcome wasn’t ideal but I might have felt even worse if I had never tried at all.” 
    • Change what you can in the moment. Don’t just hope that the situation ends and that your feelings eventually go away. When you decide not to ruminate, you free up mental energy that can be spent focusing on action steps. Try to identify one simple step you can take in the moment to improve your situation, whether it be applying for a new job or meal-prepping for the week ahead. 

If you still have difficulty avoiding the “emotional build-up” of stress and anxiety, you might consider seeking mental health counseling for assistance in problem-solving and letting go of past anger. Take comfort in knowing that with practice and little self-compassion, you can find relief from chronic voice that says “this shouldn’t be happening!” 

– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC