“Love yourself instead of abusing yourself.”
Allen came into sessions to work on understanding and analyzing his depressed feelings. Allen was struggling with depressed thoughts and overwhelmed with being hard on himself and, at times, others. He struggled with emotional trauma of the past (relationship with mother), grief (loss of his father), guilt, his oppositional tendencies and low regard to his self-appearance (weight gain). They were all affecting his relationships with others and lowering his self-confidence.
Jada Jackson LMHC in an article entitled. “Understanding Self-Esteem and the Brain | 4 Steps to Improve your Self-Esteem” from Total Life Counseling website, suggests four key areas to explore in changing old thinking patterns.
- Be aware of what you are thinking and feeling. Once you are aware, you can practice new, positive, thought/behavior patterns.
- Identify difficult situations that may decrease your self-esteem ahead of time. Anticipate the negative and inaccurate thinking and challenge initial thoughts that revert to a negative concept of yourself.
- Focus on the positive! Remind yourself of all the good things about your life, all the things that have gone your way in the past week and the skills and talents you have. You truly are more amazing than you may realize. Focusing on the positive will allow you to develop healthier patterns of thinking as you learn to retrain your brain.
- Re-label thoughts that upset you. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that you must react negatively and beat yourself up, step back and ask yourself, “What can I do to make this situation less stressful on myself?” It is important to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
Client’s Response to Therapy:
Allen was open to understanding the causation of his feelings once he was comfortable in opening up to implement changes in his perception of himself along with acceptance to environment from which he was raised.
Allen made strides in opening up to himself and others by not bottling up unhealthy thinking patterns of the past and allowing himself to be true to himself and generating caring friendships.
Over the course of our sessions, Allen began to realize he was empathetic, caring, loyal, driven to succeed and immensely creative and productive. He thinks outside the box and is organized. He’d stated in session work he had a tendency to focus on his perceived faults.
He was hard on himself, had high expectations of others as well as himself, could be stubborn at times, likes to be in control, is distracted easily and finds it difficult to take “no” for the answer.
Relationship Between Depression and Self-Esteem
In Allen’s example and many other clients who struggle with depression, it is, at times, the “squirrel in the cage” within the mind of each client.
Reoccurring and sometimes never ending thoughts reinforce the feeling–the “I am not worthy of feeling positive about myself.”
In sessions, it can be a point of reference to an analogy of one who feels he is drowning. One can reach out at times for a life raft (medications) but until he learns to swim again, can he override that negative concept of self?
We are creatures trapped in perceptions of self and until we can allow ourselves to break that negative pattern, these thoughts will support out negative thinking of self and decrease the opportunity for a positive interaction with oneself as well as others.
Allen has made great strides in learning to love himself and is able to easier express himself to his family and friends. In so doing, he’s reinforcing positive aspects of himself and lowering his past negative outlook. He still has deep regrets and questions why his past growing up experiences had to be so difficult.
But as Jada Jackson premised, he was able to process his feelings of self in a more accurate representation by:
(1) being aware and acknowledging the thoughts in his head instead of just letting them go on and on;
(2) once aware of thoughts, engaging in a thought process within himself in how accurate these thoughts are to reality;
(3) combating negative thinking with positive aspects of character; and
(4) relabeling so as not to allow the instant response emotion to a thought dominate our self perception
“When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert