I have been reflecting on what my clients get out of therapy. They invest a lot of time, money, and energy to resolve what brought them to me in the first place. My general impression about their experience is that they are given a safe space to talk about their feelings and discover new things about themselves. A lot of therapy is centered around increasing self-understanding, awareness, and pinpointing what our automatic thought patterns are. We do a lot of work discussing what makes my clients who they are. Time is spent discussing responses to external factors, and identifying where adjustments can be made in order to better cope or change circumstances. All said, I still reflect on what I believe are “lightbulb” moments that can happen in the therapy room.
Though my caseload is diverse, I can identify several themes that cut across this broad group. One common “lightbulb moment” that I see with clients is their realization that their actions are a direct reflection of how they see themselves. Your actions and decisions are motivated by how you feel (in the moment) and are also derived from your sense of self-worth (your narrative). Here is an example of how circumstances can influence our actions while also being motivated by our sense of self-worth:
A woman who is recently widowed is left to take care of her children alone. Not only is she grieving because of her deceased partner, but she is thinking about what the future looks like for herself and her children. She will be mourning the loss to the family and she will be put to the test of figuring out where the vulnerabilities are and what she can do to help her family through them. Some thoughts that she could be having are “Will I be enough?” or “I can’t raise these kids alone.” These thoughts come from feelings like fear. They are coming from valid emotions (our response to death) and are also be generated out of a lens of inadequacy (our perceived sense of self-worth). Below I have taken both thoughts the person has had and re-worded it to highlight a stronger sense of self-worth. I have also included a small analysis of the thought processes.
- “Will I be enough?” vs. “My kids and I will get through this.” The first thought comes from a sense of guilt that the children will have a void in their life. The dynamic in the house WILL be different. Different does NOT mean that it will be detrimental. You are enough when you put forth your best effort to make your children feel loved. Some days will be harder than others and that is when you will have to give yourself self-compassion to keep yourself going.
- “I can’t raise these kids alone” vs. “My kids need me the most right now, I need to figure out a support system.” The first thought comes from feeling overwhelmed with taking on ALL parenting responsibilities. Though this may not have been a planned circumstance, your response to it does not have to come at a cost of your self-worth. Will it be hard? Yes. Will you have all the answers? Absolutely not. One thing is clear: you will get through this, one day at a time.
What you tell yourself drives your actions because your actions are coming from your narrative. If I told myself: “I can’t do this,” I am going into the situation with a sense of defeat. However, if I tell myself, “I am persistent and will find a way to make it work,” I will go into the situation with motivation. I may not be perfect at it, but I’ll have a positive push based on my belief in myself. Below I have outlined two techniques to help build towards a positive narrative.
- Self Love: This refers to your relationship with yourself and the goal that you have an overall positive view of yourself. This is not to be confused with feeling positive about oneself all the time. There is room to feel disappointed in one’s actions, but without having to tear one’s character apart based on a single event. Think of self-love the way you would view a healthy parent-child relationship. For example, I can feel disappointed in my son’s actions while also still having love for him. The love I have for my son allows me to forgive him, see his point of view, and meet his needs. The love I have for myself allows me to do the same. Take a moment and think about one thing you can do today (whether it be thought, or action provoked) to show yourself love today.
- Gratitude practices: This refers to how we engage our outlook of daily situations. By practicing gratitude, we relish good experiences while also equipping ourselves emotionally to deal with adversity. It allows us to practice patience and humility while we appreciate different aspects of our lives. The more we create an atmosphere of appreciation, the more we extract the benefits while also not taking things for granted. One method of a gratitude practice can be through writing. There are some great weekly prompt ideas here. By writing your answers down, it not only gives you a tangible tool to reflect on, but it also keeps this positive focus on the forefront of your week.
We can become so complacent to our narrative, that we may not see a bigger picture or alternative to our circumstances or decisions. I want to assure you that your narrative is always fluctuating, and you are in control of your response to the things changing around you. When we have a high sense of self-worth, our actions reflect a confidence in our capabilities while also creating room to evolve (learning from mistakes, accepting our imperfections and refining our strengths).
As your sense of self-worth increases, you realize you deserve better and you take action to change your circumstances and your response to them. Before you embark on your journey of self-worth, I will leave you with this: “A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.”-Author Unknown
Diana Nesko, MS, LGMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Diana.