Santa Monica Counseling, Therapist in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Culver City, CA, California - Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

The Power of Self-Talk

Positive Self-TalkAre you aware that you talk to yourself all the time? We all do. Our self-talk makes a huge difference in our lives for better or for worse. The question to ask yourself is whether your inner voice is your friend or foe.

Our unconscious is impacted by the words we say in the same way that it is when other people talk to us. Thus, how we speak to ourselves can be a powerful tool. Self-talk is the most underutilized available resource to master our minds and improve our lives. Our thoughts influence our feelings, choices, and actions. Positive thinkers are more optimistic, confident, and successful. Their effect is contagious and uplifts friends, coworkers, and loved ones.

Our Role Models

Starting in childhood, our self-talk develops over time. If you’ve ever watched young children play, you’ve overheard them talk to themselves, their dolls, action figures, and their friends in words and tone similar to what they’ve heard from influential adults, especially their parents. How parents talk to them and also how they talk to themselves and each other provide role models. Gradually, children internalize that voice.

This is a positive development that helps children master tasks, comfort themselves, and learn to interact with peers. Patient teachers and parents teach children patience with themselves, but undermining, critical, or angry role models teach children to talk to themselves with doubt, frustration, and scorn.

Codependents grow up in dysfunctional families where parents generally provide ineffective role models, ranging from neglect, emotional reactivity, over-control, disapproval, or blatant verbal abuse. Even when well-meaning parents tell their children they shouldn’t feel ashamed or sad, parents are inadvertently shaming their children’s authentic feelings. This can lead to internalized shame, which can have a major deleterious effect on adult functioning. (See “7 Parenting Essentials.”)

The “Tyrannical Trio:” The Critic, Perfectionist, and Pusher

In Codependency for Dummies, I describe the “Tyrannical Trio” comprised of three inner voices: The Critic, Perfectionist, and Pusher. They work in tandem reinforcing one another and can make life hell. The Perfectionist sets up idealistic standards, the Pusher pushes us to achieve them, and the Critic faults us for never succeeding.

The Perfectionist expects us to be superhuman, ensuring that we’ll fail to meet its unattainable standards; the Pusher is a relentless taskmaster, depriving us of enjoyment of life and pleasure; and the Critic tells us we’re never good enough. The Pusher and Perfectionist can help us achieve our goals if we have positive perfectionism. But of all three, the Critic does the most damage and can significantly undermine our self-esteem. Moreover, trying something new and making decisions can be near impossible because of anxiety that things won’t turn out well. In actuality, we’re afraid of our own inner Critic. The Critic is also the essential difference between positive and negative perfectionism. The trio create anxiety, depression, and inertia. (See “I’m Not Perfect, I’m Only Human”– How to Beat Perfectionism.)

Most people aren’t even aware of the extent to which they accuse, blame, and deny themselves. Many people live with the “tyranny of the should’s.” They order themselves around and second-guess themselves after the fact. There are those individuals who believe that they must push and punish themselves to improve or achieve anything; otherwise, they’re afraid that they’ll end up as lumps on the couch. Never mind that they’re pushing and reproaching themselves into depression by creating greater unhappiness and dissatisfaction in their lives and those of their families.

Our self-talk can swamp us with anxiety and rumination and overpower us with shame attacks and painful emotions. It can offer comfort and encouragement or make us feel anxious and inadequate. It can provide self-discipline and organization or make us feel overwhelmed and defeated. It can ruin our lives, job opportunities, and relationships, or it can be harnessed to raise our self-esteem, achieve our goals, and uplift our outlook and enjoyment of life.

Changing Our Self-Talk

Although we’ve grown accustomed these inner voices, they can be changed. It first requires our becoming more aware of them and developing mindfulness about our self-talk. There are a number of steps to reform these voices that include gaining an understanding of their motives and standards and learning to modify and counteract them. 10 Steps to Self-Esteem: The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism is designed to succinctly lay out specific steps and exercises to do just that. (Learn more about raising self-esteem in the webinar, How to Raise Your Self-Esteem. Watch a Youtube excerpt.) There are several things you can begin doing immediately.

Mindfulness

Until you’re acutely aware of your inner voices, you can’t change them. Write down your negative self-talk on a daily basis. (Watch this Youtube.) Writing down your negative self-talk, including all the “should” and “shouldn’t’s,” will make them more conscious and provide you with choices.

Self-Distancing

Practice positive self-talk by addressing yourself in the third-person. This has the effect of “self-distancing” by shifting the focus away from the self.

Research has shown that by calling yourself by name, you begin to talk to yourself as you would a third person. It helps you regulate your emotions, because you’re less emotionally involved and acquire a larger perspective. In effect, your emotional brain is less triggered, and you become wiser. This small change has a profound positive impact in reducing shame, anxiety, and depression. It provides you with increased clarity and better judgment in dealing with work  and relationships.

Affirmations

Build positive thinking habits. Spend time each day and throughout the day repeating positive self-talk. If you say a prayer each morning, but negate yourself the rest of the day, which words do you think will have more impact? Try to make your positive self-talk outweigh any negative self-talk. This way you can develop an improved outlook and attitudes, which can lead to better health and decisions and greater success in your relationships and work. There are tips and guidelines for creating affirmations discussed in 10 Steps to Self-Esteem.

©Darlene Lancer 2017

5 Life-Changing Habits that Build Self-Esteem

Featured

Raise Your Self-EsteemOur thoughts are powerful – for better or worse. Thoughts can set off chain reactions that build self-esteem or undermine it. Authority over our mind is the ultimate power. “Mind is everything. What you think you become,” said Buddha. Thoughts affect not only our mental health, relationships, and the ability to achieve our goals, but also our physical health – our digestion, circulation, respiration, immunity, and nervous system.

Next are our actions. Change begins in the mind, but is manifested and amplified by our actions. How we behave can change our thoughts and feelings. They change us. Spend 15 minutes doing the following each day, and watch your whole life change: more

Codependency Addiction: Stages of Disease and Recovery

stages-of-codependencyCodependency has been referred to as “relationship addiction” or “love addiction.” Our focus on others helps alleviate our pain and inner emptiness, but by ignoring ourselves, it only grows. This habit becomes a circular, self-perpetuating system that takes on a life of its own. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our behavior compulsive, despite adverse consequences. Examples might be calling a partner or ex we know we shouldn’t, sacrificing ourselves, finances, or values to accommodate someone, or snooping out of jealousy or fear. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction. more

10 Habits that Cause Low Self-Esteem and Depression

self-love, self-esteemWhen our self-esteem is low, which is typical of codependency, we’re at greater risk for depression. Codependency is learned, and so are self-esteem and the beliefs and habits that cause both low self-esteem and codependency. Self-esteem is what we think about ourselves. It includes positive and negative self-evaluations. Good self-esteem is a realistic, positive self-concept. It reflects self-respect and implies a feeling of worth that’s not determined by comparison to, or approval from, others. Self-acceptance (which some writers include as part of self-esteem) is even deeper. It’s a feeling of being good enough, neither perfect, nor inadequate. We feel we have worth and are lovable, not merely because of beauty, talent, achievement, intelligence, status, or popularity. It’s a sense of inner contentment. more

Steps to Be Empowered and Not a Victim

Featured

victimIn recovery circles, being a “victim” is frowned upon. Decades ago, when I heard people say they were no longer a victim, I had no idea what they meant. Actually, a victim is an individual who has been fooled, hurt, or harmed, due to his or her own emotions or ignorance, an unfortunate event, or the actions of someone who deceived, cheated, injured, or killed him or her.

At the time, I really was a victim. I was in a relationship where I experienced systematic, emotional abuse, but due to my ignorance, I didn’t know it. Many people, particularly codependents, are in relationships with addicts or abusers, including relationships with partners or parents who have mental illness, such as a bipolar mood disorder or borderline, sociopathic, or narcissistic personality disorders. They suffer from frequent and often malicious verbal and sometimes physical attacks, betrayal, manipulation, and other forms of abuse that can alter their perception, self-image, and ability to protect themselves. Many victims in abusive relationships don’t recognize it as such, because it’s reminiscent of the shame, neglect, or other mistreatment they experienced in their families of origin. As children they were unprotected victims; hence, they didn’t develop adequate self-worth or learn how to stand up to abuse. more

The Challenge of Forgiveness

forgiveness, how to forgive, broken heartForgiveness can sometimes feel impossible or even undesirable. Other times, we forgive only to be hurt again and conclude that forgiving was foolish. Both situations arise from confusion about what forgiveness really means. Forgiveness doesn’t require that we forget or condone another’s actions or the harm caused. In fact, for self-protection rather than anger, we may decide to never see the person again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we justify or play down the hurt caused. Often, codependents forgive AND forget, and continue to put themselves in harms’ way. They forgive and then rationalize or minimize their loved one’s abuse or addiction. This is their denial. They may even contribute to it by enabling. more

Codependency, Addiction, and Emptiness

empty1Emptiness is a common feeling, and there are distinct types of emptiness, but it’s psychological emptiness that underlies codependency and addiction. Whereas existential emptiness is concerned with your relationship to life, psychological emptiness deals with your relationship to yourself. It’s correlated with depression[i] and deeply related to shame. Depression may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including sadness and crying, anxiety or restlessness, shame or guilt, apathy, fatigue, change in appetite or sleep habits, poor concentration, suicidal thoughts, and feeling empty. more

The Power of Personal Boundaries

Featured

futureLove can’t exist without boundaries, even with your children. It’s easy to understand external boundaries as your bottom line. Think of rules and principles you live by when you say what you will or won’t do or allow. If you have difficulty saying no, override your needs to please others, or are bothered by someone who is demanding, controlling, criticizing, pushy, abusive, invasive, pleading, or even smothering you with kindness, it’s your responsibility to speak-up. Boundaries also are also internal, discussed below. more

Recovery from Rejection and Break-Ups

Featured

rejectionBecause our nervous system is wired to need others, rejection is painful. Romantic rejection especially hurts. Feeling lonely and missing connection share the evolutionary purpose of survival and reproduction. Ideally, loneliness should encourage you reach out to others and maintain your relationships.

A UCLA study confirms that sensitivity to emotional pain resides in the same area of the brain as physical pain – they can hurt equally. Our reaction to pain is influenced by genetics. If we have increased sensitivity to physical pain, we’re more vulnerable to feelings of rejection. Moreover, love stimulates such strong feel-good neuro-chemicals that rejection can feel like withdrawal from a drug, says anthropologist Helen Fisher. It can compel us to engage in obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. This proved true even for tsetse flies in lab experiments. (See “Obsessions and Love Addiction.“) more

Sons of Narcissistic Fathers

Sad boy, lonely boySons of narcissistic fathers are driven by lack of confidence. Raised by a self-centered, competitive, arrogant father, they feel like they can never measure up or are enough to garner their father’s approval. Their father may be absent or critical and controlling. He may belittle and shame his son’s mistakes, vulnerability, failures, or limitations, yet brag about him to his friends. He may boast about inflated versions of his achievements, while disparaging those of his son. A narcissistic father may ruthlessly bully or compete with his son in games, even when the boy is a less-capable child. Similarly, he may be jealous of his wife’s attention to the boy, compete with him, and flirt with his girlfriends or later wife.

Lack of empathy is typical of narcissists. Many narcissistic fathers are authoritarian and rigid about how things should be done, the correctness of their opinions, and getting their way, portrayed by Robert Duval in the movie The Great Santini. (Pratt & Carlino, 1979)  Franz Kakfa articulately describes a literary example of such an imposing intolerance in Letter to His Father: more

Can You Love Too Much?

Detach with LovesmConventional belief is that we can never love too much, but that isn’t always true. Sometimes, love can blind us so that we deny painful truths. We might believe broken promises and continue to excuse someone’s abuse or rejection. We may empathize with them but not enough with ourselves. If we grew up in a troubled environment, we might confuse our pain with love. Although relationships have disappointments and conflicts, love isn’t supposed to be painful and hurt so much. By not having boundaries, we harm ourselves and the relationship. We might also confuse love with being someone’s caretaker. more

Trapped in an Unhappy Relationship?

Featured

Woman Confined Behind a Chain-Link FenceDo you feel trapped in a relationship you can’t leave? Of course, feeling trapped is a state of mind. No one needs consent to leave a relationship. Millions of people remain in unhappy relationships that range from empty to abusive for many reasons; however, the feeling of suffocation or of having no choices stems from fear that’s often unconscious.

People give many explanations for staying, ranging from caring for young children to caring for a sick mate. One man was too afraid and guilt-ridden to leave his ill wife (11 years his senior). His ambivalence made him so distressed, he died before she did! Money binds couples, too, especially in a bad economy. Yet, couples with more means may cling to a comfortable lifestyle, while their marriage dissembles into a business arrangement. Homemakers fear being self-supporting or single moms, and breadwinners dread paying support and seeing their assets divided. Often spouses fear feeling shamed of leaving a “failed” marriage. Some even worry their spouse may harm him or herself. Battered women may stay out of fear of retaliation should they leave. Most people tell themselves, “The grass isn’t any greener,” believe they’re too old to find love again and imagine nightmarish online dating scenarios. Less so today, some cultures still stigmatize divorce. Yet, there are deeper fears. more

Spiritual Transfomation in the Twelve Steps

Book Cover arial-1People don’t understand the 12-Step recovery process, unless they have participated in a 12-Step program. Although they may encourage others to attend, they may feel perplexed or act patronizing. Often, therapists don’t realize that the 12-Steps are not merely an for addiction, but are guidelines for nothing less than a total personality transformation. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics was influenced by Carl Jung, whom he wrote seeking a treatment for alcoholism. Jung replied that the cure would have to be a spiritual one – a power equal to the power of spiritus vini, or alcohol. He thought that addicts were “misguided ‘seekers for the spirit,’ …in the world of Dionysus, the god of renewal through the light from below, from the earth rather than from the heavens…” (Whitmont, 227)

The 12 Steps provide a spiritual remedy. They outline a process of surrender of the ego to the unconscious, God, or a higher power, and very much resemble the process of transformation in Jungian therapy. Jung believed that unity and wholeness of the personality, which generates a sense of acceptance and detachment, occurs when both the conscious and unconscious demands are taken into account – when not the ego, but the Self, is at the center of consciousness. (Storr, 19) He felt his life was “a story of the self-realization of the unconscious,” and rediscovered, as suggested by the 12 Steps, that God was “a guiding principle of unity.” (Storr, 24-25) more

Affirming Your True, Authentic Self

MS thumbs upEach time you affirm your true, authentic self, every cell in your body cheers “Yes!” When you negate yourself, it has negative biological consequences. To build self-esteem and affirm your true self, try this:

Take action to meet your needs.
Express who you really are.
Think good thoughts about yourself.
Take action to do what you really want. more

Transforming the Codependent Mind

brainCodependency is learned – learned inaccurate information that you’re in some way not enough, that you don’t matter, that your feelings are wrong, or that you don’t deserve respect. These are the false beliefs that most codependents grow up with. They may not have been told these things directly, but have inferred it from behavior and attitudes of family and friends and events. Often these beliefs get handed down for generations. Changing them isn’t easy and is difficult to do on your own, because it’s hard to see others, let alone yourself, through a lens that’s different than the one you grew up with. more

Why Breakups are Hard for Codependents

rejectionRejection and breaking-up are especially hard for codependents. They can trigger hidden grief and cause irrational guilt, anger, shame, and fear. Working through the following issues can help you let go and move on.

– Codependents often blame themselves or their partner.

– They have low self-esteem, so rejection triggers shame.

– Relationships are of primary importance to them.

– They fear this relationship may be their last.

– They haven’t grieved their childhood.   

– Loss and trauma from their childhood are triggered. more

Put the “I” in Independence

independenceWhere is your power center? Is it in you or in other people or circumstances? Control is important to codependents. They struggle with independence. Paradoxically, controlling people often believe that they don’t have control over their lives or even themselves.  Many attempt to control what they can’t – other people – rather than controlling what they can – themselves, their feelings, and their actions. Without realizing it, they’re controlled by others, their addictions, fear, and guilt. People who control their lives and destinies are happier and more successful. Rather than feeling like a victim of others or fate, they are motivated from within and believe that their efforts generate results – for better or worse. Both belief and experience enable them to function autonomously. This article explores autonomy, locus of control, and self-efficacy as important factors in motivation and offers suggestions to help you feel a greater sense of control.

Autonomy

The word “autonomy” comes from the combination of two Latin words, self and law. Construed together, it means that you govern your own life and that you endorse your actions. You may still be influenced by outside factors, but all things considered, your behavior reflects your choice.  more

Acceptance is the Beginning of Change

serenity prayerAccepting reality enables us to live in reality. What does this mean? When life pleases us and flows in accordance with our needs and desires, we don’t think about acceptance. But when our will is frustrated, or we’re hurt in some way, our displeasure causes us to react, ranging from anger to withdrawal. We might deny or distort what’s happening to lessen our pain. We might blame others or ourselves, or we try to change things to our liking and needs. more

Recovery from Codependency

Codependency is often thought of as a relationship problem and considered by many to be a disease. In the past, it was applied to relationships with alcoholics and drug addicts. It is a relationship problem; however, the relationship that’s the problem is not with someone else, but the relationship with yourself, and that is what gets reflected in your relationships with others.

Codependency underlies all addictions. The core symptom of “dependency” manifests as reliance on a person, substance, or process (i.e, activity, such as gambling or sex addiction). Instead of having a healthy relationship with yourself, you make something or someone else more important. Over time, your thoughts, feelings, and actions revolve around that other person, activity, or substance, and you increasingly abandon your relationship with yourself. more

Letting Go

Have you been told, “Just let go of it,” or tell yourself, “I have to let go,” but wonder, how? I’ve asked myself that question. Sometimes you want to let go of a worry or an obsession about someone else. You may try to detach, but can’t. Other times, you can’t move forward after a major loss or you need to unwind from a busy work schedule. Each case has different challenges, but fundamentally, they all require a shift in attention from the mind into the body and from the past or future into the present. Letting go can be a rejuvenating practice that brings the mind and body into balance for clarity, peace, and heightened functioning.

Depending upon what you’re letting go of, it can take moments or years. When you’re letting go of someone you love, it’s not easy, nor pain free. However, it’s human nature to avoid pain, even if the price is long-term misery. When the source of frustration, loss or stress is ongoing, letting go becomes a process of developing a new, beneficial orientation toward life. more