Join Me for a Live Workshop: How to Develop Self-Acceptance

 

Do you want to: 

  • feel more calm, contented and fulfilled with life
  • manage emotional problems such as irritability, anger, anxiety and depression 
  • strengthen your relationships
  • be truly self-confident
  • and learn to love yourself!

If you live in the Southeast Michigan Area join me for a live 8-week workshop on How to Develop Self-Acceptance. 

Learn how your mind, brain and body can be harnessed to provide self-soothing, rather than repeating negative, fear-provoking habits of self-shaming and self-criticism. Develop mindfulness skills to learn to calm down, be present for yourself and others, and manage your emotions in healthy ways. 

How to Develop Self-Acceptance Class Flyer

Signaling Calmness with the Voice

 

My speaking coach, Eleni Kelakos, has posted a good blog on the importance of vocal tone, pitch and timbre in communicating authority, presence and confidence.

In addition, I’d suggest that the voice can send signals about our emotional status, such as anxiety or depression — even when we’re not speaking in public.

Just as fidgeting or hyperactivity can mark an anxious person, a tense voice can signal emotional fear states to others. I know many people who speak with voices that are high-pitched or lacking in prosody, the “melodic” or “sing-song” quality that a relaxed voice possesses. This is a sign that their throats are tense and that they are anxious. 

Others talk too rapidly or too haltingly, perhaps signs of anxiety or of “having  the self-criticism filter turned up too high.” Others may speak with a lack of positive energy or enthusiasm, that clearly messages others about their low mood and lack of confidence.

Eleni’s blog as an excellent suggestion as to how to improve the voice. I didn’t realize I used this technique, but I do, so that may explain why my voice is considered self-assured and calming. (An essential skill for someone who teaches meditation!) 

I also believe that being aware of your speaking voice and working to change it can be a very helpful exercise in mindfulness. Because you have to “be in the moment” to notice and change your voice as you speak.

be kind to yourself…

 

 

 

The Price Tag Incident: Conflict Avoidance as a Protection Against Shame

price tag with copy space isolated on white

A few nights ago when I got undressed I discovered that I had a price tag hanging off the back of my shirt. It was clearly visible all day long to 10 different clients as they walked behind me to my office,  yet not one person said anything. 

I was first mildly embarrassed for a minute — although I would have been mortified for days before I became self-accepting!

Yet my next thought was of those people who saw the tag and said nothing. I learned a lot about how they handle shame. Yes, shame again shows up as driving so much of human behavior. 

Certainly, it can be difficult to point out something embarrassing about another person. People have difficulty criticizing others because they do not want to make others feel uncomfortable. Not speaking up seems polite.

My clients wanted to protect me from a shaming experience by not pointing out my flaw — the forgotten price tag. They did not know that to me it would not have been shaming, but rather helpful. I would have appreciated being told about the price tag sooner, rather than not at all. 

By their (lack of) behavior my clients also showed me about their difficulty tolerating shame. 

They know all too well the pain of this emotion and experience. So when they see someone else doing something embarrassing they have difficulty saying anything largely because they themselves don’t like the feeling of shame. 

Conflict avoidance can often be about protecting someone from shame due to your own fear of being shamed. 

A common scenario I hear in therapy is clients who have difficulty breaking up with someone they’ve been dating who is clearly not right for them. They don’t enjoy the shame of being rejected and they imagine that the other person does not like this either. So they avoid the conflict of rejecting this person, and continue to date far longer than they should. Of course, now they have a very big job. Wouldn’t it have been easier to reject this person after the first or 10th date, rather than after 6 months? 

How would you handle conflict differently if you could tolerate shame with equanimity? What would you do if you could be certain the other person could also tolerate shame well?

Preventing Caregiver Burnout with Self-Acceptance

Heather Forbes, LCSW, is one of my favorite parenting experts and the following Q&A by her is a great explanation for “burnout” — and applies not just to parents, but also mental health professionals and other caregivers. 

7f907f_e1c2608554e14f65a5474a20ca0a699aIn Self-Acceptance Psychology I describe those who are “Self-Blamers.” Burnout is due to a Self-Blamer’s high need for the approval of others to gain a feeling of validation. (Because they lack self-acceptance!) The Self-Blamer believes: “If I care and help you, and you don’t change, I am a failure.” This triggers shaming and blaming messages that lead to anxiety, depression and other emotional distress. 

One must gain self-acceptance so that one can let go of a need to gain approval. This is the healthiest way for all of us, especially caregivers, to go through life. 

 

From Heather’s Daily Reflections: 

“In order for children to open up to their past trauma memories, the parent has to be willing to be a ‘parental sponge’–acknowledging, absorbing, and experiencing every feeling, every tear, and every fear associated with the trauma. Now that is connection!”

Q: I just read my first reflection, regarding being a parental sponge and while I agree with the spirit of it, my concern is this: “Experiencing your child’s or client’s trauma at such an intensity, couldn’t that create trauma for the person being the ‘sponge’?” I feel I am very empathic but how can I do that without hurting myself?

A: This is an insightful question. Traditionally, most of us are empathic and give compassion in a way that ultimately drains us. This is because of a core belief that tells us that by giving empathy, we will be able to make this person better or that we have the ability to “fix” the problem for this person.

We own that it is up to us to get this person to shift into a calm, peaceful, and regulated state. Their issue then becomes our issue and we stay focused on the outcome of them being better.

It becomes a simple mathematical equation. If I give empathy (E), if I listen (L), and if I spend my time with this person (T) , he will be better (B). E + L + T = B

Yet, when we give these three and the result is not what we expected, we feel a sense of failure. We turn it back on ourselves and hear the old negative tapes playing in our head, “I didn’t try hard enough.” “I’m not good enough.” “I should have done something different.” BAM! The negative feedback loop then feeds on itself right within our own mind. Fatigue, overwhelm, and even resentment begin to brew within our internal selves.

In order to be a sponge, the only action we need to take is to simply be present with our child (or friend, spouse, coworker). It is not up to us to make this person better. The reality is that we cannot change or fix another person. We can surround them with support; we can love them unconditionally, free of judgment or control; we can set appropriate boundaries, and we can align with their pain. Yet in doing this, it is still ultimately up to them to make their life work.

Additionally, if we enter into an interaction with a child, expecting him to be better, we are actually adding more stress to the equation, which will create more fear and hinder the healing process. We must stay focused on giving our love without expecting anything in return. That is the essential definition of love.

Entering into an interaction with an expectation of an outcome is not true love. This is conditional love. Conditional love drains us. Unconditional love energizes and liberates us.

So that is the theory and I know you are reading this and wanting some meat to chew on–you want application to your 16-year-old teenager whose girlfriend just dumped him and he is feeling like the entire world is coming to an end. You see how his past abandonment issues are being triggered and how this situation is being magnified due to his early adoption history.

Reprogram your thinking to see that what he needs is your support, your attention, and your unconditional acceptance. It is not up to you to make this okay for him. Trust that it is in the struggles of life that we learn and grow to our maximum potential.

By being empathetic, by listening, by spending time, and being present with him you are doing EVERYTHING for him. Stay focused on the outcome of you being the absolutely best parent you can be, no matter the outcome of his emotional state at the moment. Your “success” cannot be tied to his feeling better instantaneously.

Keep being the sponge for your child’s pain. Become energized by the power of putting unconditional love into action. There is no greater state to be in on this planet! 

Press on,

 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,

Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

Accept Emotional Experiences to Decrease “Fight-or-Flight”

It may seem counterintuitive, but truly accepting emotional experiences is actually the best way to manage them, as this blog notes.

I’d add some neurobiological information: One reason that acceptance works biologically is that it reduces the threat or fear response, also known as “fight-or-flight.” When a person becomes distressed emotionally by an experience — say they feel ashamed, then criticize themselves for doing the behavior and maybe also for feeling ashamed — this lack of acceptance triggers the “fight-or-flight” response in the brain. The brain is sensing something is threatening, not in the environment (“Look, a bear!”) but due only to the person’s thoughts (“I’m a loser!).

The brain senses physical and emotional threats in the same way and the limbic system “turns on,” triggering the release of neurochemicals such as cortisol and epinephrine (adrenalin).

So calming an internal, mental response by being self-accepting also calms the body and mind physiologically. 

Be kind to yourself…

 

What Mass Killers REALLY Have in Common

A blog on “What Mass Killers Really Have in Common” asserts that to prevent domestic terrorists and mass killers we should scrutinize those who commit domestic violence. It posits that it is the patriarchal attitudes these men have toward women that also cause them to be violent toward large groups of men and women. 

While I do agree there are similar behavioral and psychological traits between domestic abusers and mass killers, completely lacking from this article is any understanding of the psychology of people who lash out in a rage at others, whether it is at their wife or a random group of strangers. Even many experts on domestic violence do not understand why these abusers behave as they do. 

As I explain in “Self-Acceptance Psychology,” the real reason these men became violent is they lack an ability to tolerate shame in healthy ways. The connection between anger and shame is clearest in violent people.

Domestic abusers and mass killers are extreme examples of a personality type I have labeled  an Other-Blamer. Likely due to childhood trauma, these individuals have low self-worth and are hypersensitive to shame. Any perceived or real criticism is felt as devastating. 

Trauma also makes them more likely to over-react and lack cognitive control of their emotions. When they become fearful of being denigrated, humiliated, rejected or abandoned, they react with the “fight” response. They attack emotionally or physically, often by criticizing and blaming others. They generally lack accountability for their actions. Anger is used as a psychological tool to protect them from feeling shame, which is unbearable to them.

In extreme cases, Other-Blamers can become so ashamed and then enraged that tragedies can occur.

Anger is an emotion essential to survival and can be helpful if it is used as a self-protective response to boundary violations in relationships. If someone does something morally wrong, you should get angry. It is actually healthy for you, the other person, and the relationship.

However, anger is often used as a defensive response to feelings of shame. The root cause of the shame/fear connection is an intrinsic sense of low self-worth combined with a natural fear of exclusion or rejection by the social group.

I am certainly not a fan of patriarchal attitudes if, rather than leading men to be protective of others, they instead lead to denigration of women. However, shame and anger are far more potent causes of violence than patriarchal attitudes. 

Mindful Self-Compassion Makes Me a Better Therapist

I couldn’t have written this better myself — an excellent blog on how “Mindful Self-Compasison Makes Me a Better Therapist” by Kristy Arbon.

I was also trained by Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer on  Mindful Self-Compassion and it absolutely makes me a better therapist. (Although I had coincidentally trained myself go be self-accepting long before I knew that this training and concept existed formally.)  

I have no “burnout” after even 8 straight hours of sessions with client. This is because I am not fearful of their judgment of me because I am unleashed from needing their approval. So much “burnout” is due to the therapist becoming anxious and judgmental about her abilities.

As Kristy notes, clients also are aware emotionally that the therapist is calmer and more present, not anxious and worried. This makes the client more likely to enjoy and profit from therapy. I can also resonate emotionally with clients, especially during Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, and I can tell when real, heart-felt emotions are being expressed because I can feel them empathically. This is not something I could do before I gained self-acceptance. 

Meditation is the foundation for this process and essential at developing a balanced, centered, fearless  emotional state with which to meet clients. 

Writing Your Way Toward Mindfulness, Self-Acceptance and Self-Calming

 

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Writing a journal can actually lead to more than just insight. It can improve mindfulness, self-acceptance and improve relaxation. 

New  research shows that writing about feelings is key to handling difficult emotions – like regret — and leads toward self-compassion and self-acceptance.

“Being kind to oneself is an excellent way of letting go of past disappointments, embarrassments and failures.”
It often seems best to be self-critical when we’ve done something shameful and then move on past that “icky” feeling quickly. This research confirms that actually living with it — or writing about it — and then accepting our faults actually leads to healing. 
I have journaled for many years, diving deeply into emotions, thoughts, and relationship issues. It has been a form of self-therapy that has been incredibly helpful.  I would find it very powerful to journal immediately after a therapy session to record and deepen the experience and emotions. Journaling helped me sort through difficult relationship problems, make decisions, and get to know myself after a lifetime of disowning my thoughts and feelings. 
According to the Center for Journal Therapy, journaling is the “the purposeful and intentional use of reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health and, wellness .”  

gratitudejournal can be especially helpful at building self-compassion skills. 

It is fascinating that other recentresearch is even showing that handwriting is similar to meditation in that it calms our brain and balances the right and left sides of the brain. Computer use strengthens the left side of the brain, while handwriting strengthens the right. 

Handwriting also slows us down and keeps us in the present moment, a more relaxed state than over-thinking and worrying.
Because I am a very fast keyboarder, I often wanted to write my journal on the computer. But I intuitively knew that this would not lead to the most evocative experience. Handwriting forces us to slow down our mind and body, so that we can access our feelings. It was amazing how often insights would spring up even as I journaled about a dream, experience or feeling. I would be writing about what I thought was the real meaning, when a second, deeper meaning might pop into my brain. I’m not sure that would have happened if I had been keyboarding furiously. 
I think for me one aspect that is key to the value of journaling as a healing tool is being non-judgmental. Many people avoid writing a journal because they fear sitting with pen hovered over paper and having “nothing to say.” This is often related to fear of not writing something that isn’t “perfect” and feeling self-judgment about that. Yet learning to write without self-criticism can be a valuable exercise in learning to be less self-critical in our thoughts.
So just let it flow out, with no filter or worry about what others will think — because no one will read the journal, anyway! You’ll gain the benefits of self-acceptance, emotional regulation and mindfulness. 

Why I Started Self-Acceptance Psychology — To Start a Revolution!

psychiatry5By learning self-acceptance and how to tolerate shame, I transformed my personality in large and small ways — 22 ways that I detailed in my last two blogs – here and here. My experience provided me with solid anecdotal evidence that developing self-acceptance works.

My experience also revealed that I not only have a talent for self-transformation, but I seemed to have good skills for helping others with their emotional and behavioral struggles. 

So I decided to become a clinical psychologist. But even before I started undergraduate or graduate psychology studies I recognized that the labels used by the psychiatry profession — “depression,” “bi-polar,” “OCD,” etc. — were arbitrary and largely meaningless. Intuition and common sense told me that human behavior was more easily defined and understood by looking through a lens that considered natural, primal reasons for these human choices and reactions. 

After I graduated and completed my clinical training, I began work as a psychotherapist, wrote an award-winning book on related topics, and continued to refine these ideas.

The more I understood about the mental health profession, the angrier I got seeing people mislabeled and stigmatized and even drugged for what were merely normal reactions and adaptations to their life experiences. 

Every case showed ways that the current system failed through its fundamental mischaracterizations. 

Because I never bought into the propaganda that mental disorders were caused by brain malfunctions, I easily saw things through an entirely different lens. 

  •  Kids raised by angry and anxious parents developed angry and anxious behaviors that were labeled as “ADHD” or “Oppositional-Defiant Disorder.”
  • Teens emotionally neglected or rejected by alcoholic or emotionally withdrawn parents grew up “depressed.”
  • Many people who failed to get loving, nurturing, warm care as children failed to learn to trust the secure bonds that should come in human relationships. Not surprisingly, they struggled in their adult relationships with uncertainty, disconnection, loneliness, anger, or jealousy. They then felt anxious and depressed because they also naturally craved normal human emotional connection, acceptance and understanding.

As I refined these ideas I studied extensively about five key concepts: 

  1. The Primal Threat Response or “Fight-or-Flight”
  2. Fear of Social Exclusion
  3. Shame as an Attempt to Prevent Social Exclusion
  4. Developmental Trauma
  5. Attachment Status

(If you want to jump right into learning all the details about Self-Acceptance Psychology ideas, such as these Five Causative Factors, click here.)

I was amazed that traditional psychology training did not address any of these topics in any depth. In fact, I didn’t learn about any of these topics in psychology graduate school.

Yet I continued to see the powerful influence of these ideas and kept wondering: Why weren’t more people talking about how these five ideas work together to explain human psychology?

Well, certainly authors and researchers are talking about ideas such as self-compassion, trauma, attachment, and shame. However, because of the academic system, individual researchers study one topic or even a small subset of a topic. It seemed as if no one was tying these concepts together, which to me was the answer. 

Researchers are forced to use the current DSM diagnostic categories and grant funding ties them to hold onto the traditional biomedical or disease model.

Perhaps a clinician needed to propose a solution to the DSM and its ills. Psychotherapists see people every day and see the many ways their behaviors are influenced by their psychosocial environment and experiences. We see the big picture, where researchers may not be able to. 

At first I hesitated to speak up: I’m not an expert, after all. And these ideas seemed so obvious that surely others must have considered them before. 

But I finally gave up waiting for others to speak up. I had to take a risk to address this very important problem that affects millions of people. 

Since training as a psychologist, studying huge volumes of material and working with clients, I am even more convinced that the labels used in the DSM are not only inaccurate and misleading, but downright harmful. 

What if there was a system for understanding human emotions and behaviors that:

  • was more useful and accurate than the current psychiatric diagnostic model of the DSM?
  • could bring about a real understanding of the causes of human behavior?
  • could improve relationships with others?
  • could improve the relationship you have with yourself?
  • could lead to real, permanent change — bringing contentment and an improved sense of connection to others and to yourself?

I finally decided to propose a simple, but powerful new paradigm for understanding emotional difficulties called Self-Acceptance Psychology. In stark contrast to the disease model, Self-Acceptance Psychology is based on five well-accepted and well-researched psychological concepts, which, when considered together, provide a powerful new framework to understand and promote permanent change in mood and behavior.

Self-Acceptance Psychology reframes emotional problems as adaptive and self-protective responses to experiences of fear, trauma, shame, and lack of secure attachment.

Critics may state that these five ideas are not new. But combining these ideas and using them as a paradigm to confront the current mental health diagnostic and treatment system is new.

I believe we must tie these Five Causative Factors together to really give us a weight of evidence with which to fight the medical model and DSM. 

To dispel other critics: I’m branding and packaging this as Self-Acceptance Psychology to give it the weight needed to directly combat the DSM diagnostic system — not just as a method of making money for me personally. Quite frankly, this project is a risk for me professionally — there are far more financially profitable ways for me to spend my time and effort than on this campaign! 

Because of my transformation and what I see happen to my clients every day, I knew I had to speak up. Self-Acceptance Psychology does more than help those who have minor emotional or personality issues, as I did. It provides a paradigm shift for how society and the mental health profession can view “mental disorders.”  I feel compelled to speak up because I want to prevent any more children harmed by ADHD medication and blamed for their behaviors, teens labeled with “Major Depressive Disorder” and stuffed full of brain-damaging drugs, or an adult labeled as “Bi-Polar” and told they have an incurable, lifelong “illness.” Mental-Illness_5

My goal is outrageous, but essential — to start a revolution in how we define and treat mental illness. I had to fight against the current system that labels, stigmatizes and over-medicates people who are merely having normal, natural emotional reactions. 

Why should we blindly accept the falsehoods promoted by psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies who merely want to make money from suffering? 

Don’t stop learning about this powerful idea! Join the Self-Acceptance Psychology revolution and help change the future of mental health! Read more in “Self-Acceptance Psychology“, sign up for email updates, and follow me on social media.

Be kind to yourself…

“Empathy Trap” or Lack of Self-Acceptance?

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An excellent article on “How to Avoid the Empathy Trap” offers many good points.

However, I disagree with the terms and premise of “empathy trap.” In true empathy, there is no trap. There is actually no such thing as an overly empathic person. This is actually the description of a submissive person that I describe in “Pack Leader Psychology.” 

Empathy is resonating emotionally with others without conscious thought. As a psychotherapist I experience this on a daily basis with patients — I become tearful when someone is truly sad or distraught, my heart warms when I feel the joy of someone coming to a peaceful sense of self-acceptance, I can feel the fear of a child new to therapy or a spouse in attachment distress or a person who has been traumatized. 

However, what most people describe as empathy, and what this article describes,  is really approval-seeking in a submissive/dominant relationship pattern. It notes that “overly empathic” people “have diminished ability to make decisions in their own best interest… deflect their own feelings…”  This occurs because the submissive person is highly focused on the needs of others in an attempt to manipulate others into liking or at least not confronting the submissive person. This is not empathy. This is manipulation.

The submissive person believes: “I am going to care a lot about what you are thinking, feeling, doing. I am going to attune to your needs so that I can respond and cater to you, while disregarding my own needs.” This is not an “empathy trap”, this is submission. 

Submissive people do this because they lack self-acceptance and good self-worth. They depend on others for their need for approval, leading them to value the emotions, thoughts and needs of others too highly. 

The article states: “Highly empathic people are good at spotting the emotions of others—but not necessarily interpreting them correctly.” I disagree. Truly empathic people (not submissive) are good at interpreting the emotions of others correctly, as I can attest. 

It is submissive people who don’t interpret feelings well. If one is overly attuned to the emotions of others as a means of gaining approval, the submissive person actually disregards dangerous signals from more high-power or dominant people. In the extreme, this leads to abusive relationships. 

I know this because I used to be very submissive, and was in abusive relationships, because I was overly attuned to the needs of others. Now that I have achieved self-acceptance, I can truly resonate emotionally in a physical and heart-felt way without conscious thought. I can more accurately sense the dangerous predatory dominant person, as well as the more fearful, submissive person. 

I attended a weeklong Mindful Self-Compassion training last year and experienced a partner meditation with a complete stranger. We were instructed to think of our partner in this silent meditation 1675-e1436897007241-740x357as a child, needing compassionate care and consider her from this perspective. Immediately and without conscious thought tears began to roll from my eyes. It was not a sense of sadness, just tender-hearted compassion. 

I would never have been so able to resonate emotionally in the past when I was submissive. Now that I am self-accepting it occurs without any conscious thought or effort. 

I am also not sure if it is possible to “teach” empathy. Perhaps caring and compassion can be taught, and this needs to be the baseline. But without self-acceptance and self-compassion, true empathy is impossible. Those who are busy anxiously seeking the approval of others are not calm enough to really allow intuitions and feelings to bubble up in their body. Their focus is on others, not on themselves. It was only when I gained self-acceptance that I was able to tune into my own experiences in a balanced way so that I could experience the emotions of others in a felt sense. 

This is a very difficult experience to describe because it occurs as a deep, primal level. We lack descriptive words for this experience. I guess it must be felt.

One key is to gaining true empathy is to slow down thoughts and become present and mindful. Recognize that if your first goal is the get that person to approve of you and you are worried about their judgments, then true empathy is impossible. 

If you are seeking something back emotionally from another person, you will be unlikely to be truly attuned and empathic with them. It is only in the balanced, non-striving position of wholehearted acceptance that real empathy can be experienced.