I was always the type of kid who cared about what other people said and took everything personally. Pleasing other people and doing whatever it is that other people wished we did and staying true to what we truly want to do will always be a conflict that results in unhappiness and other negative consequences. I will never forget the day that I stopped binging and purging. I was 24 years old and had been struggling with an eating disorder for over 10 years when I had the biggest realization, which might be obvious for some people but clearly was not obvious to me at the time. I realized that the way that I was behaving was happening mainly because I was constantly seeking acceptance and approval from other people. When I had the realization that there was a huge gap between what I truly wanted to do and what I actually did in reality, it was like a lightbulb turned on in my head and after that day I never binged and purged again.
For the next several years, I had to learn to speak with myself in a more loving, compassionate way and find ways to accept myself exactly the way I was. Well, what I thought was the end of my eating disorder was just the beginning of a much more challenging journey where I had to actually face my demons and get real with what was happening to me. It was as if I was now standing naked in front of thousands of people and I couldn’t move. My job from that day on was to work on myself and learn to just stand there and get better at being me without all the layers of “dirt” that I had collected over the years from my environment (other people’s opinions, societal standards, cultural norms and expectations). Then, I had to learn to recognize my negative thinking and redirect my thoughts to a more productive place and learn other skills that can allow me to feel better and be more confident. Because I had been bottling my emotions up for so many years, it was the most challenging thing that I had to do.
This was not a simple or a short journey. How can anyone do all those things without the right skills? How was I supposed to overcome my fears, anxieties, and whatever else that was happening that I didn't even know how to name? What I realized during that difficult process was that as much as I wanted to get better, I didn’t have the right skills. So what did I do instead? I cried and I felt sorry for myself and I kept asking more and more questions that I wasn’t equipped to answer. Why me? What is wrong with me? Why does it feel like I have no control over my thoughts and emotions? What would other people think if they knew that I was having all these crazy thoughts in my head? Am I really crazy? What if I am? So many questions, so many nights staying up, and no answers while I cried and screamed inside for help.
Over 20 years and many therapy sessions later, equipped with education and extensive training in cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy among other modalities, I am astonished that none of my therapists taught me any of the strategies and techniques that I have now studied and practice with my patients. It might have been because psychological techniques may seem complex if they aren’t presented in the right manner or maybe some therapists believe that talking will solve all the problems. Whatever the reasons are, one thing is obvious to me. Clients suffering from eating disorders, anxiety, depression or any other psychologist disorder need guidance and support, but most importantly, concrete skill.
While it is nice to have the approval of others, the best way to get it is by having self approval and self respect. How can you have that? There are lots of ways, but in the interest of keeping this blog short, I will give you a few steps that can get you started.
As a sort of continuation of my last blog in which I gave some tips on overcoming fear, I thought that it was important to offer some simple communication skills that you can use with yourself to help you feel validated and more secure. Yes, you read it right! I am actually going to convince you that talking to yourself will help you alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and allow you to live a happier more fulfilled life. You might be wondering what self validation is and how to do that. Self validation is your ability to recognize and acknowledge your own internal experiences and agree with or accept your thoughts. This might sound confusing, but once you try it on yourself or others and see how well it works you will change your mind.
When I think about relationships, the most important relationship that I think of is our relationship with ourselves. Relationships are complicated and since we don't have a guide for the best relationship with ourselves, it’s one I like to focus on a lot. What is it that you are telling yourself when you are anxious? Let’s take the example of going to a new college or starting a new job. You might be anxious because you will be in a new environment and be meeting new people. You might tell yourself the following: What if no one likes me? What if I can’t perform well at school or at my new job? What if people judge me and don’t accept or approve of me as a new team member? So many questions race through an anxious mind and most of the time we don’t take the time to answer them. Why do you think that might be the case? Write down some of your answers for now.
Keeping your anxiety or other negative feelings to yourself and not expressing them in any way, can prevent you from overcoming them. What if I told you that if you practice the following three steps when communicating with yourself you will feel much better and be more likely to achieve your goals and overcome your anxieties?
One of the most important skills that I have included and simplified in my KARMA Coaching Method is The Imago Dialogue technique, used in Imago Relationship Therapy, developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix. While this dialogue was developed to assist hurting relationships and help couples to be reattached in love, I found this method extremely helpful in assisting in other relationships including the one you have with yourself.
The Imago Dialogue has specific guidelines and instructions but for the purpose of this blog I’m going to make it very simple and provide you with simple three simple steps that can allow you to have a deeper understanding of yourself and your feelings, validate yourself, and bring yourself to a place where you are capable of making more rational decisions and lead a happier life.
Step # 1: Mirror or reflect on what it is that you are feeling.
Since this is a very challenging time and many of us are afraid or anxious of going out and socializing with other people, I’m going to use the anxiety around contracting the Coronavirus while going out as an example. If you tell yourself that if you go outside, you will get sick, this will create a reaction that produces fear, which will most likely lead to the avoidance of going out or alternatively going out with a very high level of anxiety.
When we feel very uncomfortable, we tend to push our feelings away and avoid feeling whatever it is that is uncomfortable. What if instead of reacting to the uncomfortable feeling produced by the fear, you simply reflect on whatever it is that you are feeling? This means that you simply repeat what you are feeling and name the emotion. The most important thing is that during this step you are NOT allowed to criticize or modify what you feel. How about you try this now? Did you feel better? It might be challenging to mirror or reflect on your own thoughts and feelings but I promise that with practice you will be able to get there!
Step #2: Validate yourself.
After you have reflected and mirrored upon what it was that you were thinking or feeling, you have to validate your thoughts by telling yourself that what you think makes sense and that you are NOT crazy to feel this way. Let’s continue with the same example as above where you are scared or anxious to leave the house because of COVID. What if instead of criticizing yourself or judging yourself or using negative behaviors to make whatever it is that you are feeling worse, you tell yourself the following, “It makes a lot of sense that I am scared and anxious of leaving the apartment when there is a pandemic happening and so many people are getting sick and dying.”
Do you think that you are going to feel better or worse if you validate yourself and understand your own perspective and where you are coming from? Clearly, understanding yourself will help you feel less scared and less negative, which will result in a more positive behavior. Go ahead...give it a try.
Step #3: Show yourself empathy.
If we stick with the same example, then think about what you can do in order to make yourself feel that what you said to yourself doesn’t just make sense but also that the feeling that is being produced is acceptable and very normal. This means that you will be considerate of your emotions and attend to them. One way to do this is by using phrases such as, “I can now see how this makes you feel scared because...” finish this sentence. It’s okay to repeat this to yourself and notice how with practice, you will feel so much better.
Once you have mastered the Imago Dialogue, I encourage you to continue the conversation with yourself as if you are your best friend. The reason I say talk to yourself is because we tend to seek validation from others when the first important person who needs to validate you is YOU. The simplest way of doing it is pretending that you are your own best friend and when you feel the need to go ask someone for advice, first ask yourself the answer as if it were someone coming to you for help. This might sound silly and you might think that talking to yourself is strange or weird (like many of my teens tell me), but self talk is extremely important and with practice it can lead to taking the next step—even if it is just another tiny step toward freedom from anxiety, fear, and other negative feelings. After all, what we tell ourselves is the most important thing.
When you communicate with yourself effectively you will learn to truly listen to yourself and quiet down all the noises around you that interfere with who you are and who you were meant to be.
If your struggles seem overwhelming, learning the right skills and techniques can make all the difference and at Bespoke Wellness, our therapists are here to help.