I have a confession to make! I didn’t get my newsletter out last month and it wasn’t because I was too busy. I was busy, but it would be a lie to say that was the reason.
The truth was more personal and here is my confession: I got off track, got into a temporary funk and lost confidence that I had anything worthwhile to say!
And why was this? Lets just say a few triggers crept up on me, and next thing I knew, some old negative self-talk tapes started to play outl in my head. These kind of old recordings tend to play so loudly, we think ‘they must be true, they sound true!’ So despite all my therapeutic experience, these mental tapes convinced me I had nothing really valuable to say. I believed them temporarily, and as a result, there was no newsletter in your inbox!
The reason I am sharing this with you is I know I’m not alone. I often meet people, especially in my work as a counsellor who are very successful in life, and yet still struggle with low self- esteem. They don’t feel good, and it distorts their sense of how valuable they actually are. So I wanted to offer some tips from my own experience that may help you when that low place happens. I too have walked that walk!
But first, what and where do these mental tapes come from? I don’t believe we are born with them. Most babies are delighted with themselves. We acquire the tapes as a result of painful experiences, especially from childhood, at a time when we are open, dependent and impressionable.
If your childhood was mostly happy, you probably had enough positive messages that you mattered and were capable. This helps you retain your natural confidence, be more resilient when things get hard and be a better problem solver.
But when you had a lot of unhappy childhood experiences, and let’s face it, who doesn’t have some, these painful events can leave scars and damage your self-esteem.
This isn’t meant as a criticism of parents, because most do their best, and after fostering for a decade, I know it isn’t easy. Many parents struggle to provide for their family somtiems under tremendous stress, whether due to financial problems, marital conflict, mental health, alcoholism, family violence, or even death. Stressed parents affect children growing up. How can they not?
But even less significant childhood experiences can still leave their mark. Maybe your family was reasonably stable and happy, but stress came from the role you played in your family, whether pressure to be the success story, or criticism associated with being a scapegoat.
Or maybe school was the problem. You had some trouble learning or didn’t have many friends or were bullied. Childhood can be wonderful, and it can be terrible!
I have come up with a saying ‘the past has long arms’. What I mean is that if you struggle with low self- esteem as an adult despite being successful, there is probably something from the past still affecting you.
The good news is although the past is over and can’t be changed, the effects of it can. It is possible to release the emotional charge, adopt a new viewpoint and finally put old experiences to rest. I know because I have done this healing over and over in my own life and help others do it too through my counselling. In fact it is one of the most exciting parts of my work.
Talking with friends helps, but if you know there are traumatic events back there, you will have more space and safety and recover more easily, if you see a counselor. The goal is to free yourself from painful experiences form the past, and that requires the telling of important stories from your life and releasing the pockets of emotions stored up in them.
But many people shy away from doing this work. Deep down they fear their feelings. They worry they will get depressed, or fear getting stuck back in the past.
The trouble is if you don’t pay attention so you can heal from old painful experiences, they don’t go away. They continue to affect your life. Signs may be that you may feel depressed, or anxious or find yourself falling into old patterns from the past. You may sound just like your parent for example, even though you always swore you would never be like them! Unhealed experiences tend to keep repeating.
Negative self- talk tapes are one example of how the past keeps popping up. These tapes tend to belittle and confuse us, and feel true even though they are not. They are just a relic from the past, but they colour how we perceive our value, lovability and competence.
How do I know about this? Well I happened to have been a sensitive child who for a variety of reasons, despite a family who loved me, grew up lacking in self- confidence. I made an important decision in my late teens to seek help, because I felt so insecure. The positive results of having invested a huge amount of time and money into my own personal therapy over the past 30 years, have been huge!
The biggest proof that doing this work works is this: I have a much better life as a result I am happier than I have ever been, especially compared to my teenage years. I never want to be that age again! I also enjoy being married, love having my own business, have many good friends, am fit and healthy and have fun learning new things, like playing the piano for example.
So why this dip in confidence then? We are all works in progress, and that includes me. So sometimes triggers stir up the last remaining bits of old tapes, and they start to play again. The result is I start to doubt my value again, and rehearse old negative self-talk. In my case I become self critical, lack appreciation for all I have accomplished or compassion for where I struggle. What is so interesting is that can happen, even when there is lots of evidence to the contrary! These recordings persist, they confuse and they make us forget, but they are not based on any reason or logic.
Right now for example many things are currently going well in my life. I am writing a book on emotional eating, developing my first teleseminar series for parents of special needs children, and learning new piano pieces for my next piano exam. These are all good things and they make me happy. There is every reason to be hopeful.
The truth is that these tapes have nothing to do with the present. They are habits of thinking, patterns from the past, which when triggered feel real and true in the moment. They are not. They are not. They are not!
So nowadays when I experience these temporary relapses, despite all the work I have already done, I don’t worry. I just interpret them as a sign that I am ready for the next layer of work, my next edge of growth, and I get to work.
I have people who support me, so I don’t do it alone. You can do some of it alone through writing, reflection and meditation, but there is something wonderful about having someone else to help you, to listen, to feel safe with.
But shouldn’t counsellors have done all their personal work already? I don’t believe any of us are ever really finished. The work is lifelong, because there is always more to learn and more areas of growth. It has never made any sense to me that some counsellors have not done their own personal therapeutic work. Having done so much of it myself has helped me be a good therapist for others.
So what are some strategies that can help the next time you find yourself falling into a depression, feeling bad and lacking confidence? Here are a few thoughts…
1. Get some support – talk to someone. Find a good friend you can trust or arrange some sessions with a counsellor you feel comfortable with. This is not the time for a solo job.
2. Take some time to check in with yourself. Write your thoughts and feelings in a journal, reflect on what is going on, search out what is happening inside you.
3. Do a reality check. Is this negative tape recording really true? What are the positives that are going on in your life right now?
4. Change the channel. Decide to pay attention to what is going well around you.
5. Meditate – it will ground you again and help you access spiritual support
6. Pray for help. Maybe something is trying to get your attention so ask for guidance. What do you need to learn here? If we were happy all the time, we wouldn’t look inwards, so there are gifts in the experience of feeling low.
And what helped me get out of my temporary funk? All of the above! I tuned in to my inner feelings, talked it out with trusted people, cried lots when I needed to, written journals (always useful) and decided repeatedly to switch my attention to more interesting things, rather than spend it rehearsing old tapes! I also meditate every day and even pray for help when nothing else works. Interestingly despite my skepticism, it always helps!
Nowadays it doesn’t take long for me to recover from these confidence attacks. And this November newsletter is proof this time around that I have recovered. I have reconnected with my confidence, have lots of ideas again I want to share and appreciate all the gifts I have been given.
So sharing my struggles in this article is my gift to you this month! I’d love to know how your life is going, the pluses and minuses. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and if I can help, I will.