nurture

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.

Self-Care Saturdays: Treat Yo' Self

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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. 

If you’re familiar at all with the NBC show Parks and Recreation, you’ll be familiar with the phrase (and holiday) that’s gained popularity in our everyday vocabulary: “Treat Yo’ Self!”  The premise, as described by Donna and Tom, is to spend a day shopping, eating delicious food, and generally doing fun things for yourself that you wouldn’t normally do otherwise.

Treating yourself, while inherently fun, also has health benefits that make this practice worth it.  When you practice self-compassion, or being kind to yourself, research shows it can improve your psychological well-being and physical health .  It improves your productivity at school and at work to take occasional breaks.  It can increase your happiness and positive mood, make you more resilient, and help you respond more positively to negative events or beliefs about yourself.  Self-care as a whole has huge benefits for depression, as it directly combats the negative patterns of thinking that so often characterize this disorder.

A huge component of treating yourself is the idea of self-nurture.  It is unfortunately common to grow up without a good understanding of how to nurture ourselves.  We may have had parents who struggled to nurture or care for us, or didn’t have the financial resources to provide that care.  As an adult, however, it is crucially important to practice this self-nurturance to improve your self-worth and self-value.

If you find yourself skimping or depriving yourself often, treating yourself can be a big gift to yourself.  At the same time, it’s important not to go overboard.  If you splurge too much or too impulsively, you can get hit with financial stress or regret afterwards.  If it’s out of a heart of self-indulgence, this can develop into an addiction or unhealthy reliance on that “treat” to cope.  It will leave you feeling like you never really get what you want, or it's not enough.  Avoid this trap by making a specific plan ahead of time to treat yourself, rather than doing so impulsively.  Then if you feel uncomfortable with the treat, you can adjust it to what feels right.

What are some ways you can treat yourself?

Splurge.

Every once in a while, take the opportunity to spend a little extra money on yourself. 

  • Get a fancy manicure or pedicure: go a tier up from what you usually get.
  • Go out to a nice restaurant that serves your favorite cuisine.
  • Purchase something beautiful from your favorite store.
  • Put together an outfit at a clothing store (from shoes to shirt to earrings) and buy it.
  • Gift yourself a floral bouquet.
  • Buy a gift for a friend just because.
  • Take a class on a topic you love (cooking, art, music).

Spa.

The most physically relaxing and comforting experience might be giving yourself a day at the spa, whether that’s inside or outside of your home. 

  • Soak in a bath with essential oils.
  • Give yourself an at-home manicure or pedicure – and don’t skimp on any step! Soaking, buffing, cuticle care, filing…make it as much like a spa nail treatment as you can.
  • Wear comfortable clothes, like a fluffy robe or fuzzy slippers.
  • Get a massage.
  • Care for your skin with a face mask.

Sabbath.

I can’t seem to get enough of talking about how important it is to take a day of rest (likely because it’s the area where I need to grow the most).  Rest can feel countercultural and like a treat in our busy, fast-paced lives.

  • Sleep in.
  • Indulge in your favorite hobby for an entire morning or afternoon.
  • Go to see a new film in theaters or watch an old favorite.
  • Plan a vacation using websites like Groupon or LivingSocial.
  • Play a game you enjoy.
  • Have a dance party!

Snack.

They call it "comfort food" for a reason: having a delicious treat can fire up the feel-good neurochemicals in your brain.  Take care to make this an occasional practice, rather than turning to food every time you need a boost.

  • Bake a delicious dessert or craft a savory treat.
  • Make a special breakfast or meal that reminds you of your childhood.
  • Cook yourself your favorite meal.
  • Buy your favorite coffee or tea drink from a coffee shop.

What are the ways you can treat yo’ self this week?

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Do you long for a day to treat yourself, but feel too busy or guilty about taking one?  Are you struggling with depression and believing that you aren’t worth nurturing?  At Restored Hope, we’d love to come alongside you on your path to healing from painful thoughts and experiences.  At our Novi and Ann Arbor therapy offices, we offer counseling to help you experience freedom from depression and anxiety.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with us today.