kindness

Breaking Through Destructive Beliefs: How Discovering Your True Identity Transforms Recovery

Have you ever done an exercise where you’re asked to write down 10-20 adjectives that describe who you are?  This task can stir up all kinds of emotions.  Maybe it’s relatively easy for you to come up with several descriptors.  For me, I usually run out of ideas after about five or six. 

But what if the words that immediately come to mind are so negative and critical that you would never speak them aloud to someone? 

Often those hidden, negative words we wouldn’t say aloud cut to the core of who we are. These words embody the messages of shame that we either inflict upon ourselves or that we hear from others.   When we name ourselves with these words, we give them power.   

What are some of the negative labels that you apply to yourself?

For the female sex and love addict, there are plenty of labels that echo through her mind.  Whore.  Slut.  Dirty.  Easy.  Needy.  Too much.  Not enough.  These words give a glimpse of her low self-esteem with feelings of little value or worth.

For the addict, condemning herself can feel good.  Hatred toward herself or others can mask the shame that she feels.  If she can become angry at the behaviors in herself or at other people who practice them, maybe then she can force herself to stop.  Unfortunately, all the negative words she uses as a way of trying to motivate change in herself only increase her shame.  Since shame is one of the primary motivators of addictive behavior, she may instead cope with the pain by acting out more.

These shame-filled messages only increase the feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, and longing that drew her to the addictive behaviors in the first place.  They echo stories of trauma and pain from her past. Addictive behaviors provide a temporary relief, but they don’t solve the problem at the root: the issue of identity.

What are we to do about this?

Instead of using condemning labels and heaping shame on yourself, take a closer look at your identity.  Exploring and establishing a strong sense of personal identity is not work that can happen overnight.  It is a gradual process that is steeped in self-care, relationships, and substantial shifts in your way of thinking about yourself and others.  But If you rest in a true and authentic understanding of who you are, you are much less likely to act in ways that contradict that identity.

Here are some ways to explore your identity and have a more accurate assessment of your self-worth:

  • Practice nurturing yourself. If you’ve experienced any level of trauma or pain in your childhood, you’ve likely learned ways of coping or surviving that are more destructive than helpful. Begin to practice healthy ways of coping and self-care.

  • Identify what you need. Addictive behavior often stems out of a legitimate desire that either wasn’t met in childhood or earlier experiences, or that you’re feeling now. Ask yourself, “what do I need?” and look for opportunities to meet that need.

  • Speak words of kindness to your vulnerable self. In the moments when you feel the weakest and in pain, your tendency may be to heap more shame upon yourself. Instead, speak to yourself with words of love and kindness.

  • Make a record of your accomplishments. Giving yourself credit for accomplishments – no matter how small – can uplift your self-esteem and help clarify what’s important to you. This can pave the way for identifying areas of purpose and value in your life.

  • Spend time with a close friend or loved one. The people we are closest to can affirm positive aspects of ourselves to which we are blind. Ask them to name the positive qualities they see in you.

  • Spend time with God or reading the Bible. As Christians, our identity is founded in Christ. When you feel desolate and alone, reflect on God’s love and grace toward you, and become more firmly rooted in how He defines you as created in His image.

As you begin to explore your identity, you’ll develop a greater understanding of who you are, what makes you feel alive, and what gives you a sense of security and confidence in yourself.  My hope for you is to remind yourself of your true identity daily.  Make a collage of these words.  Write them down.  Place these words somewhere prominent so you can see them each and every day.   Be encouraged by these reminders when the messages of shame begin to grow.

This article was originally posted on July 27, 2017.

Are you tired of struggling with issues of identity?  Does your sense of self-worth feel shattered by past trauma and pain?  At Restored Hope, I know that addiction and trauma can wreak havoc on your sense of security and confidence in yourself.  Therapy can be a helpful tool for you to step into a more solid understanding of who you are.  I offer support through counseling sessions at my Novi and Ann Arbor offices, and I’d love to hear your story.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to schedule an appointment.

How to Brighten Cloudy Days: Dealing with Depression

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Have you ever had those days where nothing seems to go right?  I had one recently.  I woke up early one morning with full intention to do some work-related writing.  Instead of starting work right away, I spent an hour on my iPhone playing games and reading articles on Pinterest.  When I finally did get up to start my day, I sat down at my computer and got distracted by more articles on Pinterest and in blogs.  Once I finally forced myself to write, I was only able to finish an outline for an article before I felt discouraged and “needed a break.”

I felt disappointed in myself that morning, as I couldn’t check much off my to-do list.  As I moved on to the rest of my day, I thought to myself – how in the world do I cheer up after this?

Here’s a few thoughts that came to mind for ways to boost my mood.

Listen to Upbeat Music

True confession: I love boy bands.  One Direction and N’Sync are my pop idols of choice.  For me, putting on a 1D album will almost instantly change my mood.  In fact, a 2012 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology indicated that listening to upbeat music with the intention to boost your mood can cause you to feel happier.  Find whatever music is your favorite and put on a CD or radio station that plays it!  If you’re in search of ideas, I like flipping through Spotify’s mood playlists, like Mood Booster or Confidence Boost – even without a self-made playlist, you can still find some positive tunes.

Give Yourself Credit for the Good

When I reflected on my morning, my first instinct was to see all the things I did wrong, ways I procrastinated, or work I didn’t accomplish.  But, in reality, I did plenty of positive things.  I had time for meditation and Scripture reading in the morning.  I prioritized my to-do list and completed my top 3 tasks for the day.  I showered (that counts, right?)  David Burns, in his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy*, identifies a distorted thought pattern he names “disqualifying the positive,” in which people can tend to believe negative thoughts or assumptions about themselves, but discredit any positive beliefs.  If I look at my day through the lens of everything I did wrong, of course I’ll feel discouraged.  But giving myself credit for those things I did will give that lift to my self-confidence.

Get Outside in Nature

There’s something about looking at beauty that makes it hard to focus on the negative.  I spent some time that afternoon sitting out in the backyard with my niece, basking in the sun and watching birds and squirrels.  We even saw a baby deer!  One evening earlier in the week a friend and I watched a giant cloud pass to the south of us, heat lightning flashing in the outline of the cloud.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Research shows that spending time in nature (or even viewing it from a window!) can have positive effects on mood, focus, and health.  Use the beauty you see to connect you back with a sense of awe and gratitude for the world around you.

Talk it Out 

A conversation with a friend can be an instant pick-me-up after a rough day.  There’s something powerful about knowing you’re not alone in the world.  Everyone has bad days, and having someone to sit with you in the middle of yours can make a huge difference.  Having a close network of friends has been shown to help people recover from depression. Give your friend a call, send a text, or even send a quick email to ask for encouraging words.

Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break

So you had a terrible morning trying to accomplish something that you couldn’t finish.  So the dishes are piling up in your kitchen, the crumbs have formed a layer on the kitchen floor, and you can’t remember the last time you wiped down the stove.  So your to-do list is a mile long and just keeps getting longer.  When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed to a point where everything feels like too much, it is okay for you to take a break.  Sit down, sip a cup of coffee, read a book, watch a quick YouTube video or TV show – whatever you love doing that refreshes you rather than drains you, give yourself a half-hour to do just that.  By giving yourself a short break with intention to return to your work afterwards, you’ll come back refreshed and ready to go.

On that day, did I remember to do these things?  Maybe not as much as I would’ve liked.  But when I have another discouraging day in the future, I’ll remind myself to return to some of these ideas and make them happen.

This article was originally posted on January 12, 2017.

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Have you found yourself feeling down or depressed more often?  Do you keep trying to help yourself feel better, but nothing seems to work?  Are you tired of feeling tired?  Restored Hope is a Novi and Ann Arbor based therapy office offering counseling to help you if you’re facing the clouds of lethargy, lack of motivation, and sadness that just won’t go away.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to get more information about changing your pattern of depression. 

 

 

 

*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local  associates policy.

Self-Care Saturdays: Nourish Your Body

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

For most of us in the US, we’ve just finished off a massive meal on Thanksgiving Day.  Thoughts surrounding food can go one of two ways.  On one side, food can provide an unhealthy source of comfort.  It can lead to overeating, obesity, or weight gain.  In extreme cases, an eating disorder can develop.

But food can be used for self-care as well.  Food is meant to nourish our bodies.  The right kinds of foods help our brains to work better and stave off the effects of mental illness.  Staying fed and hydrated gives us the energy to make it through the day.

I would love to change the way we think about food.  We might see food as something we manipulate to gain or lose weight, or to make our bodies look a certain way.  Instead, I would love to see food as a tool for our health.  Food can provide self-care as long as it isn’t the only means through which you receive comfort.  I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with eating a piece of candy, as long as it doesn’t become a binge (which is good, because I love candy!)

Here are some ways to practice self-care with food.

Make a delicious meal.

Several years ago, I loved Olive Garden’s delicious risotto dish with shrimp and asparagus.  It was my go-to meal at that restaurant…that is, until they took it off the menu.  I was heartbroken, but one day I stumbled across a copycat recipe for the meal online.  Within a few hours, I was able to make a delicious dish that was a near imitation of my favorite!

Take some time at home to make a copycat recipe for one of your favorite restaurant foods, or make a home cooked meal that reminds you of a certain time in your childhood.  If you’re not much of a cook, treat yourself to a meal at a restaurant that you love. 

You can also make a meal with your loved ones.  Cook with your kids, and set aside any worries about how messy the kitchen will get.  Make a meal for someone you love, like a friend who just had a baby, your spouse, or your parents. 

Eat mindfully.

In an earlier post, I discussed several ways to use mindfulness exercises to reduce anxiety.  These same exercises can be used while eating to remain connected and present.  In particular, I like using the 5-4-3-2-1 senses exercise.  Smell the food as it cooks and as you take your first bite.   Listen for the sounds of sizzling in the saucepan.  Listen to music while you’re cooking or eating.  Look at your plate of food.  What textures do you see?  Does it look appetizing?  What colors do you see?  Notice the taste and the texture of the food in your mouth as you chew, paying attention to if it is warm or cold.  Notice the taste: is it sweet or sour, bitter or flavorful?

Be mindful as you bake or cook a slower dish.  This is easier when you have time set aside to take as long as you need.  This past Thanksgiving, I decorated an apple pie with the shape of a turkey, and I knew I was able to have fun because I set aside a whole day to do it.  While this might not be practical for every day, it is a great idea to set aside a chunk of time to cook or bake.

Pay attention to your body.

Mindfulness extends past the present moment of cooking or eating a meal to the way you feel throughout the day.  Pay attention to how your body feels after eating.  Did you eat too much and feel overstuffed?  Are you still hungry?  How is the food sitting with you?  Are you thirsty or well-hydrated?

One way I love to pay attention to how much water I’m drinking is the Plant Nanny app, which encourages you to track your water intake by “watering” a plant on your phone.  Notice how increase in water intake or eating of different foods makes you feel throughout the day.

Learn about new foods.

Pick up a cookbook from your local library or read an article in a magazine for a new recipe.  Learn about the nourishing qualities of food by reading studies about the effects of different foods on your body.  I love to watch Food Network to learn about new recipes and techniques to try.  As a baker, I’m currently reading through a baker’s cookbook to learn about the chemistry behind how ingredients combine.  Learn about and follow health guidelines for food and portions.  In particular, pay attention to the foods you eat after exercise, such as taking in more protein.

Care for your allergies and sensitivities.

As you observe your body’s response to foods, you may notice the effects of a gluten allergy or sensitivity to dairy, or you might see how eating greasy food wrecks your stomach.  Think about the foods to which your body doesn’t respond well.  It can be self-care to give yourself something that is not so hard on your body.  When I worked at a Starbucks, I learned that dairy-milk lattes affected my stomach.  I switched over to soy milk, and it’s made all the difference.  Yes, that means that when I go in now to order a drink, I have to pay and extra 60 cents for my soy milk, but it’s worth it because it makes my stomach feel so much better (and it tastes delicious!).

Be aware of your mental attitude toward food.

When dieting comes into the picture, our food intake can become harshly restricted.  When we have endless rules about what we can and cannot eat, it’s easy to fall off the wagon.  Dieting focuses energy on thinking about our weight such that we pay more attention to it, which discourages us and can lead to emotional eating .  Instead of becoming wrapped up in following a certain diet and then feeling guilty and shame-filled when you break it, set realistic expectations and don’t beat yourself up.  Take baby steps.  Celebrate the little victories, looking more at the positive than the negative.

If you have difficulties around food, seek professional help.

If you struggle with an eating disorder, binge eating, obesity, eating to escape or self-medicate, insecurity about your weight, or guilt or shame about food, it is imperative that you get professional help.  You deserve to see food as a self-care comfort rather than a burden for you.  If you notice this article is triggering for you, or you identify with a difficulty listed above, seek help.  You deserve it.  You can call the hotline for the National Eating Disorder Association at 1-800-931-2237 or look at their resource page for a trained professional in your area.

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Do you often feel insecure about your eating habits?  Do you tend to run away from painful emotions with food?  Have you tried several diets and failed?  At Restored Hope, we believe food should be a source of nourishment and energy, not of shame and guilt.  We offer counseling services at our Novi and Ann Arbor therapy offices, and we’d love to meet with you to make a plan for your relationship with food.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how we can help.

5 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself in the New Year

It’s here: the new year.  For some of you, it feels like a fresh start full of new opportunities and hope for the future.  You may just want to leave 2016 behind and forget it ever happened.  For others, it might feel like time is passing too quickly, you’re disappointed in the past year, or you’re not sure what to hope for in 2017.

When you look back at 2016, what stands out to you personally?  Do you have hope for 2017?  If so, what are you hoping for?  Maybe you’ve made some resolutions or goals for the year and you’ve already broken them - I know I have.  It can be easy to blame ourselves or feel disheartened as we see dreams or desires not come to fruition.

How can we look back at the last year with kind eyes?  What do we do when our resolutions start to fall through, 2017 looks discouraging, or change isn’t happening as quickly as we’d like?

Here are some tips on how to be kind to yourself as you look back over the past year and plan for the new.

Celebrate the good from this past year.

If you’re facing depression or anxiety, it can be more natural to focus on the negative from the past year.  We can get hung up on things we did wrong, dreams we didn’t accomplish, goals gone unmet, desires left unfulfilled.  Instead, take a moment to look back on the year and make a list of things for which you can be grateful.  Give yourself credit for successes, no matter how small.  Celebrate by creating a symbol of those memories: it could be a collection of photos, a quote or verse that sums up the year for you, or a theme word or phrase.

Accept the things that have remained the same.

I’m a big journaler – it provides a release for me, but it’s also a helpful tool for reflection.  This New Year’s Day, I opened one of my journals from the beginning of 2016 to review the year and realized that I had written down almost the same disappointments and desires for change this year as I had the previous year.  My perfectionist self was unhappy. I could (and almost did) believe that nothing would ever change.  Instead, I had to choose to see myself as an imperfect person.  I needed to accept the ways in which I hadn’t changed this past year and know that I will be okay, even if I am not perfect.

I may always tend to experience life in a certain way due to my unique personality and emotions.  But instead of feeling worse by trying to fit the mold of what I “should” be experiencing, it is important accept both the gifts and the drawbacks of that personality trait and love myself through it.

Grieve the losses you’ve experienced.

Many of us have likely experienced loss in the past year.  It could’ve appeared in many ways: the death of a relative, a divorce, friendships coming to a close.  Loss can also come with positive changes, like a new job or a move to a new city.  Any of these could have made 2016 feel tinged with sorrow and sadness.  It could be easy to close the door on the year and choose never to think of those things again.  But pain can fester and affect us if we don’t give ourselves time and space to grieve the losses we experience.  Allow yourself to experience the sadness that may come, and seek out safe people to talk to and help you through your grief.

Set one small goal.

Set yourself up for success!  Resolutions can tend to be a bunch of vague goals, like “lose weight, exercise more, organize my house, be a better parent/spouse/friend.”  No wonder no one keeps resolutions like that – they’re overwhelming!  And since they aren’t particularly specific, it can be hard to find a next step to take for them.  This year, choose one small goal that has a baby step you can take in the first week of the year.  Make sure your goal SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound), as that means you’re more likely to make it happen!  Better yet, choose something that you’ll find fun or enjoyable – the more you like doing something, the more likely you’ll be to keep doing it.

Choose one value to focus on in the year ahead.

There is a practice that some people take toward the new year where they name a word or short phrase that they want to be their focus for the upcoming year. Maybe you’d like to experience more calm, hope, or adventure in your life.  This can be a helpful tool to narrow down your vision for the year to just one item. Choose a value in which you desire to grow, and allow your choices for the year to be defined by that core value.

This year, instead of beating yourself down into the ground with those failed resolutions and negative views of the past year, use these ideas to both celebrate the year that’s gone by and create a rewarding 2017!

For some of you, it might be difficult to reflect back on the past year and experience hope in 2017.  Maybe this past year has left you in a place of hopelessness, depression, worry, or grief.  If you’re experiencing overwhelming emotions and desiring relief from the pain, we're here to help.  Contact our Ann Arbor or Novi therapy offices to talk to someone at 734.656.8191, or fill out the form at the link here.