Heart Talk: Better By Monday

“It’s not who you are that holds you back. It’s who you think you’re not.” -Unknown

The clients in my private counseling practice have all started therapy with differing levels of pain. I have a few clients who arrived in my office this year needing a level of healing that seemed to rival open heart surgery for their emotional pain.

The metaphor of needing open heart surgery is powerful – their hearts are broken, and the emotional burden weighs on them creating a heaviness which most of our hearts won’t sustain without damage. Dying (or not living well) of a broken heart can be the result of not attending to the things which keep breaking us down.

There is a range of pain tolerance for the level of broken heartedness we’ve experienced. When clients know that they are in pain, explain the pain, and also can describe what magnifies the pain, they begin mending. The degree to which the heart is broken depends on how we think about our brokenness.

In his song lyrics, Al Green, asks the question, “How can you mend a broken heart?”. Many people coming to therapy are asking that question too. It’s a great question because living and loving can cause bruises and make us feel too fragile to try again. It can be challenging to try to love and be loved and to feel the positive and negative experiences living brings us.

The Gottman Institute has a booklet called How to Avoid the Four Horsemen for Better Relationships. The Four Horsemen are behaviors like Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling, which damage hearts. These four behaviors are problematic, not only when they come from someone who loves us but also when we do them in our own minds. What the mind thinks the heart feels.

One Thing to Do: Take a few tips from the Gottman Institute booklet and let your head be kinder to your heart. Use gentle self-talk, take responsibility for your own thoughts/feelings, know what your personal needs are, and use self-soothing techniques.

Dawna Daigneault

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.



Negativity: Better By Monday

“Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.” -Michael Jordon

The Client Intake Form I use in my counseling process asks the new client to list her strengths and limitations. Many clients can fill up the section on limitations, and a few have added negative items by utilizing the margin. It is curious why so many of us can label negative aspects of ourselves, or perceived negatives, more easily than listing strengths.

I remember hearing a lecture in one of my college classes about not using the word “weaknesses” to identify any shortcomings of a client. Limitations, as a category, was decided to be less harmful and therefore adopted by the professionals who created my Intake Forms.

Some of the limitations clients have written down over the years include, lazy, overweight, afraid, anxious, too angry, too sad, overwhelmed, underpaid, bossy, controlling, pleaser, tired all the time, too trusting, can’t trust, and no motivation. There are at least a hundred more limitations which I have seen listed.

McKay and Fanning in their book, Self-Esteem, 3rd Edition, have readers write alternative language for their list of personal limitations. A list they use for an example of a client’s self-talk included having Buckteeth, Blabbermouth, Wishy-washy, and Know-nothing.

The exercise to reduce or rename the negative qualities includes using specific language about each one. The labels a client uses to define herself can become damaging descriptors. The following is the list of derogatory labels with a correction added.

I. Buckteeth became Prominent front teeth.
II. Blabbermouth became “On two occasions In the past year I told something I shouldn’t have.”
III. Wishy-washy became “Tend to defer to others who have strong opinions.”
IV. Know-nothing became “Know little about current events or history; don’t read the newspaper. Know a lot about psychology, pharmaceuticals, children, modern dance, making a family work.”

The new list of limitations is fact based without being a criticism. It helps a person to see how the language they use about their self-perception can cause harm. Also, it helps them see that a fact-based version can be true without being hurtful.

One Thing to Do: Make a list of your limitations and then use filters to write an honest but kind version of each item on your list. (Self-Esteem by McKay and Fanning page 50-51)
1. Use accurate language, not pejoratives.
2. Be specific about incidents of occurrence of the limitation.
3. List exceptions and corresponding strengths.


Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling

Inferior: Better By Monday

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” –Eleanor Roosevelt.

Self-esteem seems to cause confusion among parents and professionals. Some professionals say it is necessary, others contradict its essential goodness and say that the self-esteem movement has created false positives for young people.

An article in Psychology Today about the downfall of self-esteem by Dr. Jim Taylor argued that “Self-esteem is commonly thought of as how we feel about ourselves, our appraisal of our own self-worth. But real self-esteem is a complex attribute that has become one of the most misunderstood and misused psychological characteristics of the last 40 years.”

Self-esteem is misunderstood because it is more than having a positive feeling about yourself. If the feelings you have are good and a less than good performance doesn’t change your appraisal – are you using facts to make that assessment? When we protect ourselves from feeling less capable, we set up the belief that when we are less than capable – we are bad or wrong. If we hope feeling good will carry our confidence forward without the skills to back it up – we start feeling fear. Confidence comes from being true to self, not from pretending skills exist before they do.

Dr. Taylor goes on to address this problem, “Sometime back in the ’70s when the “self-esteem movement” started, a bunch of parenting experts said that raising well-adjusted children is all about self-esteem. And I couldn’t agree more. This is also when America’s self-esteem problem began because parents and other influences on self-esteem (e.g., teachers and coaches) got the wrong messages about self-esteem from those experts. Instead of creating children with true self-esteem, our country has created a generation of children who, for all the appearances of high self-esteem, actually have little regard for themselves (because they have little on which to base their self-esteem).”

Learning a new skill, practicing it, and enjoying the feeling of being a little more capable is the fuel of self-esteem. Not everyone wins the game, but that doesn’t make the team who lost losers. However, making both teams believe that there is no difference between a win and loss (to protect self-esteem) replaces esteem with a false positive.A faulty equation is: Winning feels good, kids deserve to feel good, so let all the kids win.

The better equation is: Reality is grounding, winning and losing happens but doesn’t change your worth, let kids learn from developing skills which help them win games and handle losses.

On Thing to Do: Don’t attach labels about personal worth to playing a game. Enjoy winning and learn from losing. Achieve a better sense of self for all of your efforts.

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Affirm Up: Better By Monday

“We all have health inside of us somewhere, even if we do not believe we do.” – John & Linda Friel

The family system a child grows up in includes a repertoire of relational moves which he will believe are “normal.” The moves are sometimes referred to as a dance because once the first move is made, two people (emotional dance-partners) may continue making a series of moves which are repetitions of canned reactions.

The grown-up ready to find a partner is more likely to accept a companion who recognizes his dance moves and responds with similar moves to the ones he has memorized. Sometimes these moves include using hurtful words. The Gottman’s suggest that criticism is one of The Four Horsemen to stop in your relationship. I have learned that when a client is using criticism towards his partner, he is also self-critical.

In a counseling session, we can explore how much berating is happening towards a partner. I believe that verbalized criticism comes from years of practicing silent, internal condemnation, so I suggest the use of introspection. The client who is accused of being overly-critical is invited to report a best-guess ratio of inner to outer negativity. I have heard reports that the rate criticism is happening is at least 4 to 1 (some clients reported a 10:1 up to 50:1 ratio) where for every 1 negative thing the criticizer says to his partner he has thought/said at least four negative things about himself.

A personal repair technique, which has been made fun of on television, is using an affirmation. You may have seen Stuart Smalley on a popular late night comedy series using affirmations to make himself believe he is “Good enough and smart enough.” The audience laughs as he attempts to convince himself of things he obviously isn’t feeling are true. Maybe the disconnect is familiar to us, and so it is funny?

Affirmations have been used to bolster confidence, but confidence and self-esteem aren’t mutually inclusive. Pete Walker suggests, in his book on Complex PTSD, that self-esteem develops from the practice of accepting an emotion as real and valid. So, affirmations which keep us detached from our feelings, or move against our real feelings, may not help build our esteem. Using a positive phrase just because we like the way it sounds is akin to merely cheerleading our inner-child.

The right-for-you affirmative statement could champion your inner child with her own emotional reality as a solid storyline. An affirmation which attaches us to our truth, our life story, and feelings, may be helpful in building self-esteem.

When choosing an affirmation pick only the words which make sense to you. It is important to assess which phrases you wish you would have heard your parents use. You can also write down the negative phrases which your parents used and find an affirmation with the opposite (noncritical) language. If they said, “You always let me down.” The phrase you may have needed to hear is, “Mistakes happen and we learn from them.”

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

One Thing to Do: Use the list of Reparenting Affirmations, provided below, to pick out an affirmation which has a meaningful effect. If you needed to hear it when you were a child – your inner child still needs to hear it now. Write it down where you can see it and say it to yourself several times each day.

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.
Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Reparenting Affirmations by Pete Walker
(Complex PTSD: Surviving to Thriving)

  • I am so glad you were born.
  • You are a good person.
  • I love who you are and am doing my best to always be on your side.
  • You can come to me whenever you’re feeling hurt or bad.
  • You do not have to be perfect to get my love and protection.
  • All of your feelings are okay with me.
  • I am always glad to see you.
  • It is okay for you to be angry and I won’t let you hurt yourself or others when you are.
  • You can make mistakes – they are your teachers.
  • You can know what you need and ask for help.
  • You can have your own preferences and tastes.
  • You are a delight to my eyes.
  • You can choose your own values.
  • You can pick your own friends, and you don’t have to like everyone.
  • You can sometimes feel confused and ambivalent, and not know all the answers.
  • I am very proud of you.

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.

Rejected: Better By Monday

“A person with a well-differentiated ‘self’ recognizes her realistic dependence on others, but she can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality.” –The Bowen Center

When we pin our self-worth on acceptance or love from someone else – we only feel good while that person loves us. But no partner is always a loving partner, so, we set ourselves up for small rejections.

Adding more people to our circle seems like the solution to the limitations of one partner but spreading the need for incoming love around to friends and family doesn’t guarantee a perfect amount of love. The more sources of love you use to fill-up with the more you are open to feeling rejected when the people you need love from are having an off day.

I do believe that the more people who love you – the better. However, that is only if the love from others supports your self-love. There is a difference between outside love which props up a broken sense of self and receivable outside love which honors true self-worth.

If you need the love of others because you don’t love yourself – you will run out of it from time to time. If you practice self-love, and all the love you get supports this personal practice, you will feel full of love.

We need both. The equation starts at birth with being loved by others. A time when we do not know how to love them back yet. It seems that being given love just because we are alive is the best way to develop self-worth. Once you believe you are worth loving – you get to keep that feeling. You can feel worthy from good parenting, or you can parent yourself into feeling worthy.

One Thing to Do: Remember your worth by using positive self-talk. Don’t cheat yourself with a pep talk or false dialogue of what you wish you were. This Self-esteem Self-Talk is about what you deserved to hear as a baby. “I’m okay.” “I matter.” “I am enough.” “I have made mistakes, and I am learning.” “I make a difference.”

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.