Workaholic? Stressed by work? You may be lacking in self-acceptance.

Do you work long past quitting time or answer emails on the weekend? Or worry a lot about work even when you are not on the job?

Now, certainly it is important to perform well at work. Losing a job is serious stuff. But scratch the surface of these behaviors and many people report excessive worrying about how they are perceived at their job. 

They may put in long hours hoping to get a bit of praise from a boss or client. Or they may labor diligently to avoid making a mistake and earning a reprimand.

Certainly, good quality workmanship is not a negative. But this striving for approval or avoidance of disapproval can be seen as an effort to avoid experiencing shame. This may indicate a lack of self-acceptance and the poor shame tolerance that results. 

If you are overly focused on gaining a feeling of approval from your work environment, it may be that you are overly needy for that approval because you are not giving it to yourself. You may be seeking emotional fulfillment and validation through work, rather than through interpersonal relationships — where you should be seeking it. 

I experienced this myself in an interesting fashion. Before I was a psychologist, I was a freelance journalist. This job had many benefits, such as working from home, not having a boss, and flexible hours. 

But one downside was the nearly complete lack of feedback from clients. Once I wrote something I rarely heard much about any reaction. And despite being very independent and not a needy type of person, I believe this weighed on me — largely because I was lacking in self-acceptance at that time in my life. As a result, I felt slightly resentful or easily irritated by clients for very little reason. 

Once I gained self-acceptance, these experiences completely changed. 

I had the same irritating experiences and unresponsive clients, but I enjoyed my job much more. The only thing that had changed was my ability to give myself approval and compassion. So I was no longer looking externally for that validation. I did not rely on my job for a feeling of emotional satisfaction and connection. I had connected with myself in a healthy way. 

I knew I was a good person, irrespective of my performance on a project for a client. I did not hope for that positive feedback to affirm my self-worth. 

I see this issue arise with couples. Let’s say the husband may be a workaholic. The result? The relationship becomes distant and lacking in warmth. But it is more than just his long hours or his head in his laptop. He is looking outside the relationship for emotional connection and “intimacy,” rather than toward his wife. She senses this disconnection and distance and feels hurt and unimportant to him. 

Learning self-acceptance and mindfulness is the way forward to an improved balance in life, improved relationships, and reduced work “stress.”

Workaholic? Stressed by work? You may be lacking in self-acceptance.

Do you work long past quitting time or answer emails on the weekend? Or worry a lot about work even when you are not on the job?

Now, certainly it is important to perform well at work. Losing a job is serious stuff. But scratch the surface of these behaviors and may people report excessive worrying a lot about how they are perceived at their job. 

They may put in long hours hoping to get a bit of praise from a boss or client. Or they may labor diligently to avoid making a mistake and earning a reprimand.

Good quality workmanship is not a negative. But this striving for approval or avoidance of disapproval can be seen as an effort to avoid experiencing shame. This may indicate a lack of self-acceptance and the poor shame tolerance that results. 

If you are overly focused on gaining a feeling of approval from your work environment, it may be that you are overly needy for that approval because you are not giving it to yourself. You may be seeking emotional fulfillment and validation through work, rather than through interpersonal relationships — where you should be seeking it. 

I experienced this myself in an interesting fashion. Before I was a psychologist, I was a freelance journalist. This job had many benefits, such as working from home much of the time. But one downside was the nearly complete lack of feedback from clients. Once I wrote something I rarely heard much about any reaction. And despite being very independent and not a needy type of person, I believe this weighed on me — largely because I was lacking in self-acceptance at that time in my life. 

As a result, I felt slightly resentful or easily irritated by clients for very little reason. 

Once I gained self-acceptance, these experiences completely changed. I had the same irritating experiences and unresponsive clients, but I enjoyed my job much more. The only thing that had changed was my ability to give myself approval and compassion. So I was no longer looking externally for that validation. I did not rely on my job for a feeling of emotional satisfaction and  connection. I had connected with myself in a healthy way. I knew I was a good person, irrespective of my performance on a project for a client. I did not hope for that positive feedback to affirm my self-worth. 

I see this issue arise with couples. Let’s say the husband may be a workaholic. The result? The relationship becomes distant and lacking in warmth. But it is more than just his long hours or his head in his laptop. He is looking outside the relationship for emotional connection and “intimacy,” rather than toward his wife. She senses this disconnection and distance and feels hurt. 

Learning self-acceptance and mindfulness is the way forward to an improved balance in life, improved relationships, and reduced work “stress.”

Wisdom from Michael O’Keefe on Acting, Mindfulness … and Therapy

homeland_1000pxI almost didn’t read a blog by actor Michael O’Keefe , because I didn’t think I could relate to a comparison of acting and meditation. But I’m sure glad I did.
At first I just appreciated that it was a well-written, thoughtful, and fascinating take on how meditation helps an actor perform and be present.

However, I was also struck by how many of these thoughts could also be applied to being a psychotherapist — and being a better person!

Not that being a therapist is about acting, but O’Keefe’s observations are exact parallels to what I’ve experienced as a meditator and therapist. 

I became a therapist later in life after I gained self-acceptance and self-awareness. I think if I had been a therapist prior to this transformation, I would not have understood what he was talking about. 

I remember being in conversations with people when I was younger and compare that to my present experiences as a therapist. I don’t think I really experienced emotional attunement with others back then. 

That’s because I was so busy worrying about the other person liking me. Or I was judging and criticizing myself, or making judgments about the other person. I had no emotional bandwidth left for connecting with others.

With mindfulness and self-acceptance, those mental activities and the accompanying anxiety fall away, leaving me free to truly be with someone, whether in therapy or out. 

I really LOVED this very true O’Keefe wisdom: “The practice of self-observation and inquiry leads not only to an informed self but to a self that can be forgotten.”

Also: “…we begin to realize that nothing separates us from others, and the entire universe, but how we engage with ourselves.” This speaks to the Buddhist concept of common humanity. It also links that to mindfulness and self-acceptance). With self-acceptance we stop being both judge and criminal. We  integrate the self and lose the separation of self and self-hater. 

The following comment speaks to a self-accepting therapist’s ability to let go of her own worries, self-criticisms and need for acceptance to be fully empathic with another: “In order to get to this place you have to have the capacity to be not only your best self, but to forget that self entirely and momentarily become another.”

While the next quote is about acting, it sure applies to the need for therapists to be accepting, empathic, and supportive as they develop an alliance with clients: “What better way to ensure that than developing a mindfulness practice that allows you to include, embrace, and empower others while you work together?”

And: “Mindfulness allows us to take care of ourselves so thoroughly that we have no more need to be concerned about ourselves.”

This is essential for therapists, because if we are thinking about ourselves during therapy we are not fully present emotionally for the client. If I am consumed with thoughts of “Am I doing this right,” or “I shouldn’t have said that,” or “This guy is boring.” then I will be elsewhere cognitively and this is sensed intuitively by the client. 

I can personally attest to the change I experienced when I became mindful and self-accepting. I lost the tendency to be self-absorbed. This showed up in small ways — I didn’t worry so much about how I looked or what I said. 

But it also led to a subtle, but powerful, change that is difficult to describe. Because I was no longer worried about the need to gain approval from others, my anxiety decreased. I stopped constantly scanning the environment for the disapproval of others or looking for ways that I had screwed up.  Because I no longer had to protect my tender self-image from the opinions of others or from my own self-criticism, I was free to open up my intuition and emotional experience to include the needs of others. This is true compassion, not just a manipulative “people-pleasing” behavior. 

And O’Keefe’s final thought: “Being intimate with oneself, and others, is the key. It unlocks the gates of beauty, which can then flow freely through us, and the stories we long to tell.”

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.

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. 

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…

How I Made 22 Personality Changes Through Self-Acceptance (Part 2)

The remainder of the 22 personality changes I gained through learning self-acceptance:

13. All my life I was shy — painfully so as a child — and personality tests identified me as introverted. Crowds and social events were tiring. I used to struggle in social situations, overthinking my responses and being fearful of saying the wrong thing. I hesitated to start conversations and often looked and sounded awkward. When my self-judgment and my fear of being judged by others were eliminated, I became extroverted. Remarkably, I did this without affirmations or conscious effort to be more socially outgoing. In fact, I believed what I had been told — that personality traits like extroversion or introversion are unchangeable. Now I can talk to anyone at any time with ease and even feel energized from being with others. Because I am relaxed, I can now react effortlessly and appropriately. All because I was no longer fearful of what others thought of me.

14. I used to be afraid of emotional closeness, psychological openness, and vulnerability. My  transformation could not be more drastic — I changed careers to become a clinical psychologist and I deal comfortably with strong emotions every day. I not only value the power of emotional connection to others, I realize that true courage involves opening up to others.

15. Where I used to tolerate bad behaviors in partners, I now make conscious choices about who to allow into my life. I set clear, healthy boundaries early and often in relationships. 

16. My emotional and social intelligence was limited, largely because I was so busy dealing with my own fears and insecurities. As a result, I failed to tune in to the emotions of others. Because I am not caught up in my own fears and self-judgments or fear of the judgments of others, I can be fully present to my own emotions and the emotions of others. Now, for the first time, I can honestly experience real compassion toward others. 

17. My intuition is a valuable resource that I rely on to guide my decisions. Because I am calm and have slowed my thoughts and emotional reactions, my intuitive insights can percolate up into my consciousness, giving me lots of great information about other people and situations. 18.  calm now also enables me to sense the energy of others. Many people are running at “high alert” all the time, so anxieties, fears, and insecurities over imagined situations are overwhelming the real information flowing in from their instincts and emotions. They may miss out on a wealth of valuable facts about threats from people trying to manipulate them. I know I certainly missed these signals in the past. 

19. This is a big one I hear about from patients a lot who complain abut being unhappy:  I used to be discontented much of the time, always looking for the next thing — trip, job, relationship, project, or event. I realize now that it was because I looked for these sorts of external situations to experience a sense of happiness. I didn’t realize that my sense of emptiness was due to my lack of emotional connection to myself and others and due to my need to look externally to solve it. I had somehow (yes, probably from my parents!) learned to look for approval from others as the meaning of love and happiness. If you are not happy in your relationship with yourself, you will never be happy, no matter what career, house or partner you have. If you, instead, look inward to gain self-acceptance you may find contentment wherever you are, in whatever career or relationship you have. Paradoxically, my endless questing for some ephemeral sense of happiness is gone, yet I am actually very happy and contented in life.

20 .The imperfections of others — laziness, job screw-ups, bad driving — all used to irritate me. I would vent about these injustices regularly to myself and others. Remarkably, when I accepted my own imperfections, I also learned to be much more accepting of the failures of others. I can be more understanding of their motivations and struggles, knowing that we all mess up, make bad decisions and even drive poorly! Plus, my lower levels of anxiety make me less easily irritated by all of life’s annoyances. 

21. In the past, I did not have good eye contact because I was so submissive and deferential. Now I do not become uncomfortable making sustained eye contact with others.

22. I had difficulty making good career decisions and knowing my own passions or interests. When I read about things like “flow states” and “finding your passion,” I never really understood these concepts emotionally. They sounded good, but I had never experienced them so they had no meaning for me. This was largely because I had no emotional or psychological awareness. I was so externally focused on the opinions of others, I dismissed my feelings and thoughts. Now I experience intense flow states nearly every day at work — time flies when I am with clients and I love my job. Psychology is undoubtedly my life’s work.

Have you changed your personality through personal growth work or improved self-acceptance?  How have you learned to tolerate shame? Please share your experiences!

Be kind to yourself!