Almost Love: Better By Monday

“Bad feelings like depression, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, frustration, and anger are often caused by distorted thoughts. When you can put the lie to these distorted thoughts, you can change the way you feel.”   – David D. Burns, M.D.

In his workbook, Ten Days to Self-Esteem, Dr. Burns writes about different ways people think about their own self-esteem. The list includes positive statements which seem like good things but which can become unhealthy when overused or misused.

The list from one exercise includes the following statements:

  • I am worthwhile if I have close, loving relationships with others.
  • I am worthwhile if I am attractive and in good physical condition.
  • I am worthwhile if I treat other people in a fair, generous, and ethical way.
  • I am worthwhile if I’m happy and like myself.
  • I am worthwhile if I work hard and do the best I can to fulfill my potential.
  • I am worthwhile if I contribute to society.
  • I am worthwhile if I am talented or outstanding in at least one area.

You may find a few of the ideas listed to be similar to statements you make. You may also think that there is nothing wrong with thinking the way you do – especially if you are trying to be happy, generous, hardworking, and loving to others.

While each of those behaviors and or attributes are desirable, using them to feel worthy turns them all into counterfeits for self-acceptance. One theory about why we use specific positive thoughts/words to measure our worth is based on conditions we learned in childhood. A shift occurs in some families away from the unconditional love enjoyed in the first year of life to years of childhood where conditions must be met before love is given.

The first year of life is often the worst behavior year (babies fuss often) with the most acceptance (babies are loved anyway). Once conditions for love are introduced and reinforced – the child who enjoys receiving love begins to learn the “rules for love” in their family. These family rules for being loveable can become internalized and turn into a life script. Instead of fulfilling our worth they become our way to pursue the condition or counterfeits for love such as approval, success, status, and importance.

One Thing to Do:  Write down the statements from the Self-esteem list which you have used.  Then circle the first three words and cross out every word after that.  Re-read the circled words over and over without adding conditions.

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

The Chase: Better by Monday

” Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing. I would choose pain.”

– William Faulkner

I heard a joke when I was in Elementary School about some kids going to an old, abandoned, and dangerous castle. They had to travel across fields and over the moat, through the dark and winding hallways, down the steep and narrow stairs, to get into the basement dungeon. More searching ensued through darker hallways with doors needing unlocking, until the last and biggest iron door with multiple locks and chains was standing between you and the prize inside. The door opens, and the most horrible, ferocious, kid eating monster lurches towards you. You run. You have to run all the way back through all the doors, down every hallway, up all the stairs, and over the moat to get out into the fields where the monster finally catches up with you. He then says, “Tag you’re it.”

I found this joke entertaining, and I remember retelling it to many patient friends and siblings.  The joke came to my mind after I listened to a client explain how her pain seemed to chase her through her life. Once we processed through what her pain was trying to tell her, she exclaimed, “Where have you been the past twenty years!?” (I took this as a statement of relief)

The metaphor of being chased by pain fits many different client narratives. The client will feel their pain get-the-jump on them, from out of nowhere, then the client will retreat or run from it but never seem to get far enough away because the pain finds them again. The pain seems bigger and scarier when it becomes a chase scene which seems inescapable.

I am not going to complete the story by saying that once your pain catches up, it simply wants a game of tag.  If that were the case, we would all play with our pain instead of running from it. I believe something more poetic is happening.The chase is about the pain racing to rejoin the other aspects of you that are acceptable.

The pain has been neglected, abandoned, or rejected by our misunderstanding. When we reject part of our story, we have something (a part of us) we believe is not worth sharing. That belief can grow into a fear of being unworthy.

It is a returning to self, not a pursuing of you, occurring.  If you turn and see it, listen to it, let it cry or complain, and accept it back into your life story the chase ends and new chapters of your story begin. This is practicing self-compassion.

One Thing to Do: Turn towards your pain through writing. If you have a place to record your hurt, angry, afraid, or desperate feelings, you are giving them importance. They are no longer a discarded part of your past – they can become a valued part of your life story.

Even if you don’t like every part of your story, you can love the person it’s about.

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Freedom: Better By Monday

Is forgiveness enough to set us free from the pain others cause?

A student wanted to understand forgiveness, so he asked a wise teacher. The teacher instructed the student to think of all the people who had been unkind to him in some way. Then the teacher had the student carve the name of each person who had been hurtful onto potatoes. One by one the potatoes with the names on them were loaded into his sack.

The teacher instructed the student to carry them around for a week. As the week wore on – the sack grew more burdensome to carry. The odor from the rotting potatoes was becoming unpleasant. The student returned to the teacher at the end of the week and reported that he knew the moral of the lesson.

The child explained that he knew he must forgive each person who caused an offense instead of carrying the memory of the hurt with him because the weight and stench of the offenses make his life harder. He further reported that he had worked to forgive each person who had hurt him.

The teacher instructed the boy to unload all of the potatoes of the forgiven people from his sack. He then asked if anyone had been hurtful this past week?  With dismay, the student knew he had new names to carve into new potatoes. He was frustrated and worried that his sack would never be empty of the burden of being offended by others.

“I can’t control what others do to me!” The child exclaimed. “It isn’t fair that I must carry a burden because others cause me harm.” The student was overwhelmed by the perpetuity of the process of forgiveness.

The Teacher then inquired, ” Why were the potatoes put in the sack in the first place?”

The student didn’t grasp the question, but he guessed out loud, “To learn to forgive.”

The teacher helped the child see he knew how to forgive all along but what he didn’t know how to do was not to carry a sack which collects and holds old pain.

The child had a new question, “If the potatoes are offenses, what is the sack?”

The question made the wise sage smile.

“Is it my capacity to personalize offenses?” The student answered his question with another question.

The answer was profound, “Remove the sack you carry and no offenses can fill it.”

(This is a short and simplified version of a story found in Chapter 12 of the book, The Tao of Daily Life by Derek Lin.)

One Thing to Do: Do you have a sack which collects personal injuries? Instead of carrying it around with you, set it down for one day. Don’t carry a hurt that is offered to you – say to yourself, “That is not about me.” 

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S, LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Soften: Better By Monday

“We already possess these, but they can be ripened: precision, gentleness, and the ability to let go.”   – Pema Chodron

It may not be that we are bad people because there is something bad inside of us. We aren’t always good. Therefore, we aren’t always bad either. It may be that we are human beings having experiences that we don’t always know what to do with, what the Buddha referred to as – a kind of innocent misunderstanding that we as humans share which makes us seem foolish, ignorant, and wrong (sometimes).

Pema Chodron promises us in her book, The Wisdom of No Escape, that we have a way to see how we limit ourselves and make corrections. That understanding comes through “clarity, precision, gentleness, goodheartedness, and kindness.”

The wholeness we seek is found in being more open to ourselves “less shut off and shut down” and able to look at who we are with truth and trust. Truth means telling yourself what is real for you and then trust that you can handle what you hear yourself say. To seek solutions for why you do something “bad” is only knowing part of yourself. Pema suggested, “Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you throw out your wisdom.”

Take a look at any recent choice you have made and examine it from more than one angle. If you don’t know why you did or said something (good or bad) – assess what purpose you may have had or what purpose it may have served.

There is an old technique using a four-sided pillow, an Objectivity Pillow. The first side is labeled me, one turn to the right and label that side other(s), another turn to the right and label that side community, then on the last side write world.

When you want to process through any confusion, get the pillow and start with the “Me” side. Then ask this question, How does this affect me? Once you write down or think about the answer, move the pillow to the right one turn to see the word “Other” and ask, How has this affected the other person(s)?  Keep doing this with each side.

Get to know yourself better by thinking through why you act the way you do in one particular incident. It may be a reoccurring problem with family, friends or a partner. Use softness as you think through what your motivation for your behavior is. What does the action get you? How does the new awareness help you love yourself more?

One Thing To Do: Make an Objectivity Pillow and take a question through all four sides. Then repeat the process with any other questions you want to process.

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, ED.S, LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Stop Controlling to Lower Anxiety

“Remind yourself that you don’t have to be in charge – that, in fact, it’s impossible for you to be in charge.” ` Wayne Dyer

We charge a lot of things. We charge batteries and credit cards – we charge ahead and take charge of meetings – we charge devices and hope to be in charge of our own lives. But, we are less in charge than many of us prefer to realize.

Being in charge sounds like the best way to live life but what if the opposite is just as good? Some people think that letting go is the opposite of taking charge? Letting go is the opposite of holding on – reception is the opposite of being in charge.

Instead of controlling people or events you receive them, as they are. Reception is the precursor to gratitude because you won’t be grateful for something you never receive. Being in a state of reception can be something that feels totally open and without any expectations or it can have just enough structure to allow for some personal comfort.

Life is lived somewhere between the opposite poles of enjoying freedom and needing structure. That space is where we can either lean into structure to the point of controlling, with an outcome of more anxiety or leaning the other direction into freedom from requirements.

One Thing To Do: Find your sweet spot between the structure that gives you a sense of security and the freedom that allows opportunity by practicing reception this weekend.

Dawna Daigneault

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.