finding your inner worth

img_4676

I bought this poster two years ago from my favorite LA-based street artist, Morley. The words resonated with me at a deep level at the time, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how deep.

For those of you who felt invisible in any capacity will understand the feeling. Maybe it’s being passed on a job position you wanted, getting turned down by a pretty lady you wanted to take on a date, or being left out of a friend’s gathering. If your worth rides on the success of these things, it feels like a big blow on your esteem.

I know this feeling all too well. Before, what would come to my mind would be the times kids at school made fun of me, when crushes would never like me back, when I struggled and struggled to make friends because I never felt like I fit in. I was too weird, too different. But recently, I created a project (dubbed my “revolution project”) to address my inner issues/demons, increase self-love and self-compassion, and accelerate my self-growth. What became clear to me was that I did not only feel invisible at school… but at home. My family always criticized me, pointed out my flaws to me, expected me to adjust to them or else label me as “selfish,” and tell me that they “never understood why I was the way I was.” Some people are blessed to have families or parents who see them for their strengths and weaknesses, for what they are worth and what they could potentially offer to the world. Not me. Not even to this day. My family still does not know who I am. And sometimes I still feel like I’m in the fruitless battle of getting them to see me.

This has been the theme of my life: getting people to see what I am worth. Getting validation for who I am. It’s one of the most severe lacks I’ve had, and one that I’ve tried to recreate.

But as a therapist, I can tell you that what we seek to recreate never bodes well for us. Why? Because of this: you become attracted to the people who are a match to the people you have unresolved issues with (mom, dad, brother, etc) in order to change the “ending.” In my case, I’ll finally be seen for who I am. I’ll finally feel emotionally supported. But these people we seek have the same incapabilities as the people in our past. So it’s like going to hardware store after hardware store needing and asking for a cup of sugar–and getting disappointed when they don’t yield what you need.

But the question to ask yourself is, am I seeking the right people? Am I going to the right shop? That’s what happened to me. All my past relationships, including my last one, and even many of my past friends, fell into the same category. People with narcissistic traits, people more concerned with meeting their own needs than acknowledging mine. The problem was, I was seeking the wrong people. I was going to hardware stores for sugar, only to get beaten down by their hammers. All these people were a match to my family. All these people never saw me for who I was or my worth, and as a result, actively devalued me. I always went back to square 1.

I am at square 1.

But for all of you who are in the same predicament as me, this is my advice to you: first and foremost, learn to see your worth. Start to wipe the fog away from the mirror and see your true reflection–your flaws, yes, but also all your strengths and beauty. Just like any other human being, you have them… it’s just a matter of seeing them. Maybe like me, you’ve never had the luxury of having your strengths pointed out to you growing up.

The other piece advice I have is this: allow only the people who see you for who you truly are into your life. The reality is, not everyone will see you. Not everyone will want to be with you. But that says nothing about your worth as a person. Going back to the poster, those who matter, those who see us, are going to be the ones that cut through the crowd. Do you want to be with someone who does not see your worth or all the amazing qualities you have to offer, or someone who does? Those who do see us are our truest loves–whether they are romantic partners, friends, employers, etc.

I know both pieces of advice sound like tall orders–I could probably expand into multiple blog entries on how to embark on both (and possibly will). But as someone who is taking this advice to heart and fighting to revolutionize her life, I can say with confidence that it is possible. But it’s a choice you have to make. It’s a journey, a process. And it all starts with you–loving yourself and recognizing you are worthy, regardless of how people treat you.

People with narcissistic tendencies still come to my door, but now I am choosing not to answer. Because I only want the people in my life who can see all of my strengths and flaws, and love me anyway… the people I don’t have to fight to get them to see me, but the people who already see, appreciate, and choose to be with me–those are my true loves.

And I don’t know about you, but I only want true love in my life. I’m done with the shallow and fake.

Advertisements

overcoming what other people think

98908

Oftentimes people will say ad nauseum that you shouldn’t care what other people think. My response to that used to be, “Easier said than done.” I think this is a sentiment that echoes with many people.

But during my self-revolution quest in the past five months, I began to ask myself, why is it hard to not care what others think and not take things personally? And that is a very loaded question… everyone’s answer to that would be different. But if I were to attempt to boil down the reasons in an overview, it would be this:

Family of origin. Any issue or problem in our relationships can be traced back to our family of origin. Why? Because that is where every human being learns how to relate to another human being–be it functional, or dysfunctional. Maybe you were abused, and in your search to feel like a “good boy” or “good girl,” you try to please others. Or maybe you were shamed by your parents or family when you attempted voice your thoughts or assert your individuality. Or maybe your parents pressured you to be someone who they wanted you to be, regardless of what you wanted or how you felt–so you learned other people matter above you. I could write a book on all the possible ways family can affect us. But bottom line, it is helpful to look at how your family may have taught you–explictly or implicitly–to care what people say or think.

Lack of personal boundaries. Although this can be traced to your family of origin, boundaries are important to mention because they affect us in our present relationships. When you have too rigid of boundaries, you don’t allow people in and you suffer a dearth of intimacy and social connection. On the flip side, when you have too open of boundaries, whatever anyone says goes, and you give up all power over yourself and your choices. Both extremes are dangerous spaces to be in. Someone with open boundaries will be the one who overly cares what others think, because they have not yet learned that not what everyone says is right or true (in actuality, a lot of what others aggressively claim can be flat out wrong or illogical). But people with open boundaries don’t consider that possibility, and operate with the belief that everyone else is right and true, and they are wrong. Boundaries are necessary in this light, because it is essential to know where you stop and the other person begins.

Lack of identity. This too can go back to your family of origin. But for whatever reason, a person has not developed a strong sense of self, so they depend on others for acceptance and approval–it is like the cocaine hit to your sense of self. But then it disappears, and the person looks for the next hit, the next person to give them approval. They conform to what “sounds good,” sometimes borrowing others’ identities to gain a semblance of stability. On the flip side, someone with a strong sense of identity may face criticism or rejection, but is able to consider each individual instance with rationality, judging what is true or untrue to them. They can support a viewpoint they agree with without hesitation, or they can reject another’s opinion without growing angry or reactive.

I write this in hopes that this may inspire others. I, like many others, cared what people thought–I would seek to please others and make them happy at the expense of myself, while growing reactive when people said hurtful things. My last relationship was a perfect example. But it is by enduring that dysfunctional relationship I realized how much my thoughts and behaviors were hurting me.

If I were to simplify the many lessons I learned from that experience, and provide some tips to others who may be going through the same journey as me:

1. Boundaries are essential to a healthy relationship, not just for the other person, but for you. You do not have to put up with hurtful or abusive behavior from others if it affects you negatively. Everyone has different tolerance levels, so find what yours is. Our well-being matters and it is up to us to take care of ourselves.

2. How people act or react to you is a reflection of who they are, NOT OF YOU. I would bold this one ten times more if I could. If you’re like me and have a tendency to blame yourself for everything, this is important to know. Even if by chance you are being hurtful to someone else, there are healthy ways of asserting yourself in those circumstances without disrespecting them. And it works conversely. How you treat others is a reflection of who you are.

3. Your thoughts and feelings matter. ALWAYS. What matters most though, is that you understand that within yourself. If someone disagrees and invalidates you, as long as you validate yourself, it won’t matter much what others say. Even if the person doggedly tries to convince you that you should feel something different, or that your needs are not important, remind yourself that that is untrue, because everyone’s needs, including yours, are always important.

4. It is okay to reject another person’s worldview. People have opinions, it doesn’t mean they are always right or true. If you’ve considered someone’s worldview and it does not resonate, then you are allowed to reject it. All of us are trying to find our truths, and not every shoe will fit.

There is hope for change, if you are willing to do the work. I personally am still a work in progress, but I feel like I’m arriving to a place in my life now where people’s thoughts and reactions don’t matter as much to me anymore. The reason for that is because I’ve taken time to know who I am, and in that knowledge, I feel assured in trusting myself and my judgments. Sometimes people are right, sometimes they’re wrong, but it really comes down to discovering yourself and what you stand for–then the answer you seek will come easier and clearer.

 

healing from narcissist wounds

94805

For months I have been toiling over a breakup I did not ask for, and healing from all the pain I had no idea I endured until I was released from my ex’s narcissistic clutches. Breakups operate much like losing someone to death in the emotions your grapple with–waves of grief, loss, anxiety, depression. It is like being thrown into the arena, forced to stare directly at your demons and fight for yourself. You feel your way around the dark, hoping and praying that light will find its way to you someway, sometime.

So understandably, I’ve been tired. Exhausted. But it’s a bone-deep tiredness, one I’ve had for years and years. It took this event in my life to help me realize how subconscious it was. I’m tired of helping and caring for people. I’m tired of giving and giving, while receiving very little in return. I’m tired of being made selfish when I ask. I’m tired of people expecting me to be perfect, to never express any “negative” emotion to save their feelings or ego. I’m tired of being shamed for my feelings. I’m tired of being so understanding, and people asking me to be so, when they have no empathy to give to me. I’m tired of not being valued. I’m tired of being made at fault for not feeling valued. I’m tired of being lacerated for having weaknesses. I’m tired of the emotional abuse. I’m tired of being the victim.

As a therapist, I knew where all this was coming from. I imagine this is how a doctor feels, when he feels a sickness coming on. Monitoring his symptoms and diagnosing himself, treating himself once he checks himself in the hospital. Just like the doctor, I’m in my own hospital, treating and healing my emotional wounds. So what is the cause of my illness? Family of origin. And the diagnosis? Dearth of self-love.

Even before all of the shit hit the fan, I knew this fact: it all starts in you. But it took shit hitting the fan for me to realize what that meant for me specifically in my life. I did not love and value myself. I saw myself as a piece of crap, so therefore, I accepted it when people treated me like crap. I saw my value predicated on how much I gave others, and if they weren’t happy, I was not deserving of love–which made me a perfect match to my narcissistic ex. But I did not even realize he was a narcissist until my own, post-breakup therapist diagnosed him… because I was so stuck in my low self-worth. I did not value my wants and needs, so I accepted it when he shamed me for expressing them to him. I sustained his verbal lashings and took on all the blame, because I did not love myself enough to trust my thoughts and gut feelings.

He is the kind who cannot see how his actions affect others–cannot even see past his own nose. He even told me on the day we broke up, “I don’t like how actions have consequences,” and “I don’t like you having reactions to things.” Aka, he lacks empathy. He projects his fears onto others and lashes out on them, because it is safer to lash out on someone else’s weaknesses than to look at your own. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions… he rationalizes and rationalizes so that he can be made the victim and others (me) are the bad one. He shamed me for my weaknesses and expected me to never express anything bad or negative. He guilt-tripped me, even if I was the one hurt. He has no awareness of how he hurt others, and if he does, engages in mind jujitsu to avoid taking responsibility. This is what we call a narcissist.

But you must always look at yourself, to see what allowed you to keep such a person in your life in the first place… asking yourself, what made me a complete match to this kind of person? Who does this person remind me of in my life? I was neglected and emotionally abused as a child. So I recreated an exact match to my family and past experiences. I sought what was familiar to me. Someone with higher self-worth would’ve seen his actions and said, “Okay, it looks like you have a lot of issues. Thanks for the memories, but you need serious help. I’m out.” I started at a low point as a child and thereon, and presently, it has been my goal to work myself up to that high point.

So what is the antidote? Self-love. And it’s more than just appreciating you strengths and talents. But it is also about loving yourself and giving yourself a right to have wants and needs, and to express them. It means giving yourself permission to not take all the blame for everything… and to blame others, rightly, for their own actions or wrongdoings. It means expecting to be respected by others and valued by those you love… and not keeping those who cannot do either. It means not internalizing every negative comment or blame people shove at you, and giving yourself permission to say, “I understand you feel that way, but that’s complete horseshit.”  It means accepting yourself fully, even the weaknesses, and being unconditionally present with every emotion you hold. It means not denying yourself the right to speak up for yourself… and maintaining ground even when someone pushes against you or worse, shames you. Because you know who you are and you have every right to be exactly that.

In all of this, I also want to add: while you take responsibility for your issues and actions, in the same vein, others are responsible for theirs. So if you’re anything like me, the constant giver or empath, resist the urge to pick up others’ baggage or responsibility, even if they guilt-trip or shame you for it. Because it is not yours to pick up. It is theirs. So leave it there for them… it is their choice to own themselves or not.

behind the facade

9798

It’s been mentioned, time and again, how social media can warp our perceptions of reality, in addition to increasing our anxiety and depression. But it is only a manifestation to a greater phenomenon: we often define ourselves by others’ actions and choices, based on where the herd walks.

Social comparison theory, formed by Leon Festinger, states that humans have an internal drive to evaluate their abilities and opinions, mainly through their comparison to others. Hence why it is not very surprising that social media becomes a means of ultimately evaluating ourselves and our lives, whether we realize it or not. We all want to know we are good in some way… whether it is a good person, a talented pianist, an attractive performer, an excellent engineer, a great writer.

For me, what is also wrapped up in appearing as if I have a good life, is the social expectation to be happy and positive all the time. I post pictures on Instagram of my delicious Italian dinner, or a selfie during a fun day out with friends. Yet again, my mind goes to the same bigger picture. I should be happy and positive and always good. Everyone around me comments on my wise words and my positive mindset, and gives me multiple likes for posts that show my rolling every setback off my back. Thus, the pressure builds and mounts, and soon I am burdened with the need to be a person I am not. Deep inside, I begin to cry out, why can’t I just be honest? Why must I pretend that I am okay when I know that in reality, I’m struggling to stay afloat?

And this is my reality: I’m not always okay. Perhaps I am strong, but I have my breakdowns when I feel quite the opposite. I have garnered many scars in my life, and they have made it difficult for me to overcome as I would like to. And honestly speaking, the setbacks are getting to me. Submitting my novel to multiple agents and receiving rejections one by one twist my insides with pain. I am discouraged and fearful, and losing touch with the passion others have frequently admired. The worst is when they say I should stay positive, not giving heed to the emotions and pain I express. The silent message is not lost on me: just get over it. The pain does not matter, just be happy and positive.

But it’s never that easy. If there is one thing I have learned in my work as a mental health therapist, it is that healing from pain is never as easy as “getting over it.” It’s okay to feel angry, sad, discouraged, fearful, anxious, nervous, etc. Those emotions matter too, just as much as the happy ones. Contrary to what we think, ignoring those emotions only make matters much, much worse. I have seen it too many times in others in order for me to say this with full certainty. It is the pressure, the facade that are now choking my passion, creativity and ability to overcome.

The herd has a tendency to lead people into a shallow, confined existence, one we never come to see until the nihilistic thoughts and empty feelings gnaw us from the inside out. Social expectations can silence us and severely restrict us from actualizing our true individuality and potential. But the antidote is this: we need to give ourselves permission to feel, to experience the full spectrum of emotions in this life. We need to allow ourselves to simply be who we are. We cannot live a whole-hearted life if we do not acknowledge our full humanity. We are wired to feel, and things won’t always be easy or good… so we don’t have to lie and pretend that it always is.

Sometimes putting down the facade, in whichever form we have, is what we need.

freeing ourselves from others

5992

I’m sure that there are those out there who feel pressured and overwhelmed by the thoughts and opinions of others. Everyone has their say, and there are some out there who feel a particular strong need to impress it upon others… even if it means ignoring someone’s free will and individuality. This has been getting to me as of late.

Lately, I’ve been getting headaches. And I knew it’s all been psychological; our feelings can manifest in our bodies in this way (i.e., somatic symptoms). When we get anxious, we feel tense. When we’re depressed, our bodies feel zapped of all energy. Our body, mind and spirit are all connected.

With all the craziness that has been happening in my life, I spent a good hour meditating last night and soon realized why I was having so many headaches. Everyone’s voices have been in my head, mucking up my thoughts and consequently my being. Anna, do this. Anna, do that. Anna, you’re squandering your potential. Anna, [insert opinion on my life here]… on and on it goes, all the things people are telling me to do, telling me how to see it and how to be. Until my brain finally exploded in pain, screaming, shut up! I’m so sick of hearing all of you!

I just want to hear me. I just want to hear what I need, and what my Inner Voice says is best for me. Only I know what’s best for me, no one else. Who makes you think that you know what my potential is? What makes you think you know what’s right for my life? No one knows that, except for my Maker. So don’t act as if you have some authority over my life.

I know I am not alone in feeling bogged down sometimes by the opinions and feedback of others who think they know what you should do with your life. I hope these words can help someone else, as they are the reminders I need constantly. Only you know what’s best for you. Only you know who you can and want to be. This life is not for others to live, but yours. You’re the one who’ll have to face all of the consequences of your choices. Not them. So they don’t get to have any say in how you live your life.

One technique I’ve been doing that has been helping is mindfulness meditation. You can find apps or scripts online, but it helps train your mind to be rooted in the present and to let all thoughts and people’s voices in your head go. And specifically in this case, it also helps to let go of all those opinions and should-bes. Mindfulness is a practice that orients your mind to accept yourself and the world as it is in the present moment. It’ll clear out all the junk in your mind, and give you the clarity you need.

We need to learn to let go of other people’s opinions of us, to stop letting their thoughts control us. It’s the only way we’ll be able to be who we are, our true selves. What they say does not have to go, and does not have to hold significance we do not want it to. It’s a self-care and self-love practice, by not forcing ourselves into a mold or into a kind of thinking that is not truly us. Some people may be too dogmatic, too judgmental, too needy, and try to force you to be someone you’re not, but they are who they are. It has nothing to do with us. Just let it all go. Let it all pass without judgment. It is what it is, and people will be who they are.

And the same also applies to us… allow yourself to be who you are. And let the rest of it go.

facing the unconsious

c673

The fear inside me grows heavier and heavier. All the darkness and pain scare me, yet I have no idea why. It’s as if I am staring into the eyes of a monster, but I can barely make out its face. It resides in the deep recesses of my unconscious, and my startling inability to discern its name, appearance or nature leaves me without any words. All I know if that when I sense its presence, I am overcome by a deep need to abort. I run the other direction.

And here, is where my insight falls short, my awareness runs out, my tendency to shift toward positivity breaks down. Nothing works. I am up against an enemy that I do not know.

Freud argues that our unconscious is composed of unrealized, and often socially unacceptable, desires and wishes, along with traumas and painful memories that our mind has worked to repress. Most of us are only aware of things existing on the conscious plane, unless our developed defenses are challenged and/or we work to build our self-awareness of the ways our unconscious leaks out in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Considering this, my current situation is pushing me up strongly against my normal defenses. I am sitting in the in-between, within the tension of what I want to do, and what is best for me. I am at the brink of self-sabotaging, and I know it, but the other, darker part of me is fighting for control, pushing me to run. Run from what? What truly scares me is my inability to answer that simple question. I don’t know. But here I am, pushing, running, numbing, kicking and scratching, anything to keep me from falling in too deep, from being captured and seen. If I move enough, never stay in one place for too long, I’ll somehow be safe. There is safety in my evasions. And this is why I cannot settle. There is something in the water that will get me if I do.

Nothing makes much sense, because logic and intellect sink like swords in quicksand when you are up against the creatures of your unconscious. There’s a reason why we are running away and repressing them in the first place.

There is one thing I do know for sure. In order to get to the healthier, better place, we have to venture through the thick of the unknown forest. We have to rise up to our monsters, our demons, and make the choice to push up against them. If we run, they win. If we repress, they’ll continue to control us in our ignorance. It’s so much easier to run… but by running, we are choosing to live in bondage. This is uncharted territory, and this is the difficult call: to trust, and to have faith. Trusting in God, trusting in yourself, trusting in the fact that despite the arduous nature of the journey, if you keep trekking, you will make it out of the forest. You will overcome someday. The call is for you to submit yourself to the unknown, and have faith that through all the dark and pain, you are reaching a better place, coming closer to a healing you so desperately need… closer to becoming a better you. The more you challenge and push up against yourself, the clearer your inner self becomes. The more control you end up gaining.

The journey, therefore, calls upon courage. Courage is not a personality trait, as some may believe it to be, but an act that anyone can do. It’s about making a choice. Despite fear, I will press forward. I will enter the tension and allow myself to be moved. Here we stand at the precipice, faced with our choice: to jump, or not to jump? That certainly is the question.

rejecting perfection

g452

Vulnerability is difficult. So difficult, that most of us spend our time avoiding it at all costs. We throw up defenses, guard our hearts, put in electric fences and moats filled with alligators… anything to keep our inner (vulnerable) selves “safe” and from being seen.

Perfectionism is one of the many, many defenses we use to avoid vulnerability. Dr. Brene Brown elaborates that perfectionism is essentially the avoidance of three things: shame, blame, or judgment. In its root form, we attempt to maintain a perfect facade, or force ourselves into an impossible mold of perfection that will, in reality, never come into fruition. Because the concept of “perfect” does not exist, especially as we apply it to humans, who are designed as imperfect.

I am a perfectionist, so Dr. Brown’s words resonate with me very hard. As I chewed and chewed on this idea, I came to see how my “I have it together” facade is a part of my perfectionism. I avoid asking for help as much as I can, I try to figure everything out on my own… and as a result, I don’t allow myself to ever be vulnerable with others. And here I’m wondering why I can’t get the support I need from other people, or develop very intimate connections in my relationships? If you’re putting up a constant front that you have your shit together, then the obvious conclusion is that people are going to assume you don’t need any help or support. You basically look like you only need a relationship with yourself, and no one else. We need to look at our role in creating the dynamics that perpetuate our misery.

Today, I was with my supervisor and she challenged me as I was discussing a case with her. Taken aback, I thought about my reaction, and I realized that I became defensive not only because I got caught in my client’s “sob story,” but also because if I were being honest with myself, I was subconsciously trying to hold up my “I have it together” and “I know it all” front. But the truth of the matter is, I don’t have it together all of the time. I don’t know it all. And I need other people to help me, and to provide me with their perspectives.

In one of my sessions with another client, we talked about this very topic, as she has the same issue as me. I had told her to practice saying to herself, “I don’t have it together all of the time, and that’s okay.” After my meeting with my supervisor, I saw that I needed to take my own advice and do the same with myself. The thing is, as difficult as being vulnerable is, we need it. We need to be vulnerable in order to develop deep, intimate connections with others; intimacy cannot exist without vulnerability. We need to be vulnerable in order to learn, grow and become the person we have the potential to become. We need to be vulnerable if we want to heal our deepest pains, fill the empty trenches in our souls. Embracing our limitations, weaknesses and “ugly bits” in truth empower and liberate us. Yet the funny thing is, many of us choose to avoid vulnerability, and thereby keep ourselves stuck in the hole.

Being a therapist doesn’t mean I am perfect, or have everything figured out. I don’t have everything figured out; no one does. But I am committed to self-growth and self-love, even if it means loving those pieces of me that I internally fight to reject. And I choose not to live by the dictation of shame, blame, or judgment… because no matter what others, or even I, say, I am imperfect by nature. We are all imperfect. Simply, it means practicing what I preach, not only as a therapist, but as a friend or human being. I have limitations and I make mistakes… but that’s okay. I am human. I am me. And we all wired to need one another.