Monthly Archives: May 2013
Because Life Holds Infinite Possibilities

Self-Love Is Not A Crime.

When working with depressed people, I’m amazed at how often there’s a theme of self-neglect. When I ask them about how they treat themselves, or what they do to care or have love for themselves, often I get the same strange look while they utter the same words, “why would I love myself?”.

I’m not saying it’s everyone but many, many, many depressed people (and not just depressed people I may add) have little sense of what it means to have love and acceptance for one’s self. Now I’m not talking about loving one’s self to the point of narcissism, that’s an entirely different thing, but often people think that’s what self-love is. They’ll often tell me, “but that’s being selfish.” No, it’s not! It’s being selfish not to love yourself.

Depression often happens when people conclude they’re not good enough, or a failure. Most people I’ve worked with, who are depressed, are hard on themselves to the point of recklessness. The amount of pressure they put on themselves to be all things to all people means they spread themselves so thin they have absolutely no time to care for themselves.

“But Drew, doing things for others makes me happy.” If I could ethically slap you right now I would! Doing things for others doesn’t make you happy; how you perceive yourself for doing things for others means you feel happy, there is a difference.

I would estimate 98.6% of depressed people I’ve worked with are conscientious, thoughtful, and like to help others, which is great. But they often do it to feel good about themselves because they have limited ability to feel good about themselves without others feedback. Now isn’t that more like selfish behavior, because they are using the positive feedback from others to bolster their sense of being ‘good enough’?

If people had more love and acceptance for themselves, that feedback wouldn’t be so important. They would be able to do things freely for other people and not be so concerned with receiving positive affirmation (feel free to disagree in the comments section). They would be more emotionally balanced because they have a healthier sense of what it means to be accepting of themselves – the good, bad and everything in-between.

If a person can only feel good about themselves by doing things for others, they then leave themselves open to the mercy of others feedback, and their sense of worth can go up and down like a yo-yo.

Let me give you a general example:

With self-love: if I give you a gift, I give it because it’s what I want to do and I do it without expectation. If you don’t like it I might feel sad or disappointed, but I can accept that’s your choice. Either way, I still know that what I did was a kind thing and I still have a good sense of love and acceptance of myself.

Without self-love: if I give you a gift, I give it because it’s what I want to do, but I do it wanting you to like it and, by association, like me (with expectation). If you like it and praise me, I might feel warm and good about myself. If you don’t like it I might feel very sad and disappointed, leading to thoughts that I have failed and let you down. My sense of self has decreased because I didn’t fulfill my goal of you liking my gift and giving me love and acceptance back.

So why is self-love important and how do I get it?

First it would help to realize that you are as important as anyone else, and what you think and feel is as valid as anyone else. For many, this is the most difficult part; maybe you’ve grown up thinking that others are always better than you, and you don’t matter, and people aren’t interested in you unless you please them. But that thinking will only lead you to conclude that others happiness is more important than yours, and it isn’t.

Self-love entails self-care. Self-care means you treat yourself just as kindly and thoughtfully as you would anyone else. If you are uncomfortable doing something, then you don’t do it and that’s OK. Just because somebody might be disappointed in you not helping them, that’s their choice to feel that way.

Self-love means you consider your needs, and if that means others don’t get all of you, all the time, then that’s also OK. People can learn to adjust and be responsible for themselves.

Self-love means that you still try hard to care for others, but you care for yourself with the same level of effort. That might mean you don’t always fulfill your goal of helping others because you’d prefer to spend time doing something for yourself. That’s not selfish.

Self-love means that you accept yourself for all that you are – your positive aspects and your human fallibility. You cannot be all good all the time. That’s OK. You can work on self-improvement, but that doesn’t mean you discount the parts of yourself you don’t like as much. Those aspects are still part of your whole.

Self-love means you can say ‘no’ to others requests. That’s OK. You are not totally responsible for everybody else’s needs.

Working towards self-love and acceptance can take time. If you are somebody that has little regard for yourself, then you might want to start with self-like-a-little, working up to self-like and, hopefully, in time, you’ll learn to self-love and accept yourself for all that you are.

Self-love is not a crime, self-neglect is.

What’s in a Name: Washington Redskins, Time For a Change.

This blog is a slight departure from my usual posts as a recent news story has raised some thoughts for me that I wanted to write about.

As a therapist, I’m always interested in human behavior, especially when it comes to inequality. I understand that humans often act irrationally, and I think discrimination is often based on learned thinking which can be overcome with time and education.

So I’ve been following the latest debate on whether the Washington Redskins American Football team should change its name. This question has been going on for at least the last 30 years and last week, owner Daniel Snyder, publicly came out and proclaimed: “We’ll never change the name, it’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

What I’m curious about is why, in 2013, we’re even arguing whether the name should be changed.

It seems clear that the Native American population feels strongly that the use of the name Redskins, coupled with the team logo of a red skinned Indian, is derogatory and offensive (which I tend to agree). If that’s how the Native American population thinks and feels, surely the organization has a duty to address their concerns and seriously consider changing the team name; or at the very least hold discussions to understand their concerns?

But to hear Daniel Snyder exclaim “NEVER” seems highly insensitive and offensive.

I understand there’s history in the name Redskins as it’s been used since 1933, but society has moved on since then. Attitudes towards minorities have changed, and we’re more educated and aware of what constitutes discrimination towards people of all creeds and colors.

So why does the owner of one of the most popular NFL franchises seem to have little empathy or understanding of why the name Redskins is offensive to a section of the population? Unfortunately, my guess is it all comes down to money, and we’re talking big money.

Forbes rates the Washington Redskins as one of the top 5 sports franchises in the world, worth around $1.6 billion, and my personal guess is Mr Snyder is worried that a name change will cost him a lot of money in fan recognition around the world.

Interestingly, the Washington Redskins are no stranger in being tardy when it comes to changing with the times. In 1961, the federal government planned to bring a civil suit against the Redskins because they refused to hire black athletes. With the threat of not being able to compete (and make money) with a segregated team, they began hiring black athletes.

Now 52 years later, they still don’t seem to understand that what they are doing and, more importantly, what they are saying is offensive to a whole race of people.

It’s not like people can’t change how they think and act towards different races of people, and it’s not as if sports franchises can’t change the team name.

Take the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a Major League Baseball team. In 2008 they changed their name to Tampa Bay Rays. The New Orleans Hornets, an National Basketball Association team (NBA), will be changing their name to New Orleans Pelicans in 2014. And let’s not forget the Washington Bullets (NBA) who changed their name to Washington Wizards in 1997 because of the negative connotation of the word “bullet” in Washington, which had a high murder rate.

People often find it hard to empathize with something unless it affects them personally, and it’s also difficult to understand the intensity of the hurt that’s caused by using certain words for objectifying a race of people unless you’ve experienced being a victim of hate abuse and discrimination.

To think words are just words is naive. Words are powerful and have a direct influence on how we think, feel and behave. As George Orwell wrote in his outstanding book 1984, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

My hope for the end of this story is that Daniel Snyder will reflect on his comments and realize that even though the name’s important to him and many sports fans, in 2013 it’s not appropriate and it’s time to change.


Redundancy Fallout.

In a previous post, I mentioned there was a rumor of redundancy for some friends of mine. Unfortunately it happened and some people were let go from the company. Fortunately though, not my friends.

Redundancy for most people sucks. I’ve worked with many people that have been made redundant and struggled with the aftermath. On the whole, these individuals have been hard workers, intelligent, and loyal to their companies; so when the hammer finally fell, they often went into an emotional tailspin.

After the initial shock of being told it was them, and even though many had been compensated well for losing their job, it’s interesting to note money wasn’t the most important factor to them anymore. What really mattered was suddenly losing direction and meaning in their lives.

Without work, they became unsure and lost.

One executive I worked with, received a very healthy financial package when he’d been made redundant. With money and time on his side, he could have used this opportunity to take his family away for a long needed vacation, something he hadn’t done in many years. But instead, all he started to focus on was, “I should have done better at my job. I’ve failed.” This became his daily mantra and within a week he started to become very depressed.

His sense of self had been totally shattered by this turn of events. He’d worked with the same company for twenty years, he was the VP of a large multinational company, and his identity was wrapped up with what that meant: the power, the prestige, and the financial trapping that came with the title.

In his eyes, he’d absolutely failed – therefore he was a total failure. Period. There was no rational thinking going on. He wasn’t able to step back and rationally examine the work situation, and what might have lead to him being let go. He couldn’t see that after his company had been taken over, the new management structure meant there where two people in his position.

Too many chiefs and his position was superfluous. Nothing personal.

To add to his depressive emotional state and irrational thinking about being a failure, he began to create anxiety by asking his wife over and over, “I will be all right, I will get another job won’t I?” At the beginning she would reassure him, but as is the way with anxious thinking, his incessant need for reassurance meant she lost patience with him, causing a rift in their relationship, which he then used to reinforce his belief that he was a ‘failure’. Down, down, down he went.

Anyway, long story short, he tried to hang himself, and fortunately failed. This is when I met him and started to help him on a long road back to being a confident, capable, man.

Redundancy can be a shock to the system, and that’s completely natural, as it threatens our sense of safety. But when our sense of safety is threatened, our emotions can take over, so it’s important to keep calm because anxiety and depression are not good bed fellows. The last thing you need to do is have your cognitive abilities impaired because you’re thinking irrationally about yourself and the situation you’re in.

Don’t let your thoughts overwhelm you. If you catch yourself constantly thinking things like, “I can’t stand this, I must get another job” or “I’m going to lose everything, I’m such a failure”, then there’s a good chance you’re going to become anxious and depressed – and that’s not going to help.

If you are in this situation, I always think it’s a good idea to talk to somebody else, quickly. Often people feel shame for being made redundant and will hide away, but don’t ruminate on your plight, talk. Friends and family are helpful, but they may not be objective enough. Also, family members tend to have their own anxieties about you not working and this might influence your thinking and mood.

I do think one of the best early options, is to talk to a coach or therapist. This can be an efficient way in helping you organize your thoughts, while setting realistic goals, and addressing how you’re going to achieve them.

Some people worry about the cost of this help, but it’s quicker and cheaper to spend a few hours with a coach forging a sense of direction, than it is to ruminate on your plight and becoming depressed. Because if depression takes hold, like the man I mentioned earlier, you probably won’t be in a good place to think rationally, or function well enough to look for work, let alone be able to work.

In the face of redundancy, it helps to be calm, be smart, and get support.

Facing Redundancy Rumors?

I have some friends who have heard a rumor their company will be making big redundancies soon, and I really feel for them, because one thing that’s guaranteed to cause instability in a person, and an organization, is the rumor of redundancy.

For many the security of having a job is essential for their well-being. If you know anything about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and employment are in the second level, just above breathing – so it’s pretty important.

If you are facing the threat of redundancy then I imagine you’re going through many different emotions right now, but there are some things you can do to help you deal with these rumors a little healthier.

Take my friends for instance. There are a few of them that welcome the idea of redundancy and are actively seeking to be made redundant, yet others are struggling with the idea. The reason they are struggling is mainly due to their unhealthy thinking about redundancy and how it will ultimately affect them.

It’s important to learn to deal with unknown threats well, otherwise anxiety thinking can become overwhelming, and once that happens, it’s very easy to cause ourselves even more emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems.

So what can they do?

First understand that this is a rumor and may not be true. Worrying about something that doesn’t exist or that you have absolutely no control over is waste of time and effort. Secondly, check that you are not causing yourself anxiety by creating unhealthy thoughts and putting yourself in a loss-condition.

When we do this, we’re focusing so much on the potential loss, that we then magnify that loss and take it to a catastrophic conclusion. For example, a person in a loss-condition might start thinking, “What if I lose my job? I can’t lose my job, that would be awful. What if I don’t find another one and can’t afford to pay my rent? My children won’t be able to go to school and my wife will leave me. I’ll then be alone and homeless on the streets. Oh God, I can’t stand it. This must not happen!”

The problem with creating this loss scenario is that once you think it, your mind will create a visual story of that thought and react accordingly. Your brain will begin to believe that thought is true and the more you think that irrational belief, the quicker your brain will recall that devastating visual and it’ll react to the threat accordingly, by creating even more anxiety symptoms. Before you know it, you won’t be able to think clearly and cope with the threat or the reality of redundancy.

Essentially you’ve created a fictitious scenario that your brain believes to be true, and therefore you’ll be convinced that this will be your ultimate outcome – this thinking is very dangerous to your health.

Thirdly, while you are focusing on the loss scenario, you are not focused on what you might be able to do to help yourself if the redundancy does become real and it does affects you. While you’re becoming more anxious and spending more time thinking about how awful life will be, you could have been making sure your résumé is up to date, get an idea about the state of your finances, check out insurance policies to see if you have unemployment payment protection, and so on (there are many good sites that offer practical advice).

It’s perfectly healthy to have concerns over being made redundant, because it’s not a small thing. It’s also healthy to be cautious and prepared for the possibility that you may be made redundant. But it’s too easy to let our healthy concerns turn into unhealthy anxiety.

With just a small change in thinking, while rationally assessing the situation, you will be putting yourself in a healthier position to react, and manage any potential loss situation in healthier, more productive way.

Sex With Your Ex – Bad Idea or Harmless Fun?

Divorce can suck for most people. It’s probably one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through, next to the death of a loved one, or getting a letter from the IRS. Yet for others, it’s a blast of freedom, a chance to reset and start again.

But one aspect of getting divorced, which can, and probably will, cause all kinds of problems is if you end up having sex with your ex. Oh yes, it happens. Hey, don’t look so shocked, you know you’ve done it.

Sometimes it’s not a planned thing. Sometimes it just ‘happened’ that one night when they came over to collect their Eminem CD’s, Slanket, and favorite Big-Bird mug. Or you may have a regular thing going on because your ex is ‘so damn hot’. Whatever the circumstance, you might want to ask yourself, “Is this really a good idea?”

Whom you choose to have sex with is up to you. However, sex with your ex could be setting yourself up for a drawn-out experience that’s ultimately unsatisfactory.

For both parties, the idea of losing a long-term relationship and being alone can be scary as hell. Often the attachment with your partner is still going to be strong in the early stages of divorce or separation, so letting go of that is going to be incredibly hard.

You’ll have so much shared history and familiarity, and thinking you can just turn your back on that and move on overnight is unlikely to happen. Which is why, if your ex calls, it’s easy to give in and go running to the safety of someone who knows you.

The trouble is sex probably isn’t going to solve past problems, especially if those problems were around communication, appreciation, emotional support or trust.

It’s amazing how the world looks like a better place after sex. That sense of happiness that intimacy brings is due to endorphins being released into the brain which cause feelings of well-being. Essentially, sex is crack for your brain. For that brief period after sex, anything will seem better. You’ll forget the midnight arguments, verbal abuse, and how sick you feel when they clip their toenails in front of the TV while you’re trying to watch Castle.

If you’ve got to a place in your relationship where divorce is the only solution to your differences, then there’s a good chance sex with your ex will only complicate matters. But if you still want to go ahead and do it, then go do it. There is no right or wrong in this situation, only what you think is right for you.

However, here are a few things to think about before making a choice to get jiggy with your ex:

  • Why did you get divorced in the first place? Did you have a good reason? Will sex make that right?
  • Do you still have strong feelings of love for your partner, or do you just have fear of being alone?
  • Are you or they using sex to try and keep the relationship going instead of facing the discomfort of ending?
  • Will having sex muddy the waters? If you plan on moving on from your ex, being intimate with them means you’re not moving on.
  • Is this an exclusive thing? Are you OK being a sex-buddy? Who else are they having sex with? Are you using protection?
  • How will you feel if your partner tells you they’re seeing somebody else?

Remember, the reason to get divorced is to dissolve a marriage – dissolve, as in make disappear. Getting back with your ex for the occasional night of passion might seem fun, but it usually prolongs the inevitable ending, which can make it harder to forge new healthy relationships.

An ending that you face and accept, no matter how uncomfortable in the short-term, will be better in the long run. Still, the choice is yours.