There have been points in the last few days that I have experienced doubt. I have written about experiencing doubt, and it is unlikely that during any period of transition that one never experiences doubt. Thus, I will not harp on this subject. Rather, I wanted to write today about an experience that actually caused me to confront my doubt… And it wasn’t that scary.
Things you believe
Everyone engages in self-talk, which can be positive, neutral, or negative. More often than not, however, I find that people engage in a great deal more negative self-talk than positive. This process of negative self-talk can, undoubtedly, have a lasting impact on one’s self-esteem and one’s view of the world. Often our negative self-talk stems from our earliest experiences, e.g. during childhood, and are based upon both direct and indirect external messages heard expressed about ourselves by others. These messages are then internalized and become part of our self-talk, specifically automatic thoughts. Again, automatic thoughts, like self-talk, can be positive or negative. There are three important factors when it comes to automatic thoughts.
- They are repetitive.
- They are typically self-statements. (For example, “I’m such an idiot!”)
- They are reactive, tending to occur in response specific stimuli, but are not based upon any reflection, thus they are called automatic.
Now, why am I going on about this? Well, remember my earlier statement regarding my experience of doubt? My doubt surfaced due to some automatic thoughts that I had been having, which were reactions to number of different experiences. Just as my automatic thoughts brought my doubt, so did my self-talk take away my doubt. The key is how you choose to understand the people and the situations around you. More importantly, it is how you choose to support a healthy self-esteem, or not.
Things you say
I have been spending a great deal of time sitting in front of my computer screen lately. This process can have its benefits and drawbacks. The benefits? Well, I am always connected to family and friends in distant places, and I have a wealth of information available for consumption at my fingertips. The drawbacks? Well, I am always connected to people, some in distant places and some quite near. The wealth of information available for consumptions sometimes can be poisonous.
My Italian language book and dictionary sit on the nightstand next to my bed. Often, I open the dictionary; rarely, I open the language book. I have been learning Italian sort of piecemeal, a little immersion and a little grammar translation. Where I am is a fairly comfortable place: slowly acquiring vocabulary words and being able to express my thoughts in present and past tenses. What, however, I would like to begin focusing on is superlatives and second conditional, amongst other things. I decided at some point on Friday that perhaps what I needed was a tutor in Italian! So, I began searching online for one in the Boston area. Guess what? I found several, but decided to send one person an email of inquiry. I received a response that same night.
Saturday, I arose to find, however, to find a secondary email, stating that the tutor needed to “finalize” the teaching schedule, and whether or not I was ready to begin lessons – Now, I try not to make too many sudden decisions in my life, and prefer having time to reflect. Given that there was a sense of urgency on the part of the tutor, I sent back a response, stating my thoughts on making quick decisions and wishing the best of luck. What happened next was quite shocking to me, unnecessarily hurtful, and resulted in negative automatic thoughts. I received an email that stated, and I paraphrase, but not very much:
Based upon your attitude, I can tell that you would not have been a good student. Also, your “decision-making” process in regards to moving to such a difficult country as Italy is equally foolish.
Wow! This was a message from a stranger… a person I had never laid my eyes on, but had sent a message of inquiry regarding language services offered. Hardly did I realize that in choosing to allow this person to “finalize” an important schedule, while being able to maintain my ability to take my time making decisions that it would result in the above statement. I will state that I had not mentioned moving to Italy in my email. Rather this person took the time (and I offered thanks) to read my blog, and then to craft a message that I perceived to be quite malicious.
I always try to find the good in every situation, however. And I took my time to reflect on my emotional and intellectual responses to this unsolicited message. I realized two very important facts that I needed to address immediately:
- I had been engaging in negative self-talk… and very much of the automatic nature.
- This tutor had expressed one of my thoughts very clearly to me, “I was foolish to think to move to Italy, because it is so difficult to do.”
I had been so busy engaging in a bit of “faking it till you make it” that I had not realized (or was engaging in a bit of psychological denial). I had been suppressing an intolerable thought, i.e. I was “foolish” for choosing a seemingly difficult path. This is why the message was so hurtful – I got stuck on an automatic thought. A very simple statement, “I am/was foolish.”
Things you do
This thought played on repeat in the background of my mind as I made my way through the day on Saturday, and then into Sunday. At times, I felt a sense of despair, and I decidd that I needed to change this, but in way that would be most helpful for me, and allowed for me to both self-forgive and to forgive the writer of the message. I turned to some simple activities to improve my self-esteem and mood. These are the same activities that I have used in therapeutic practice.
Three Steps to Better Self-esteem
Rebutting the inner critic –
Practice self-nurturing –
Take care of basic needs – sleep, hygiene, etc.
Take care of fun needs – relax, go to the movies, meditate, etc.
Take care to reward yourself – celebrate achievements: large and small; spend time with friends; compliment yourself
Remind yourself of your strengths and achievements
Forgive yourself when you do not do all that you had hoped
Self-nurture even when you feel that you do not deserve it
Get help from others –
Ask for support from your family and/or friends – ask them what they like about you, have them listen to you vent, ask for a hug, etc.
Ask for support from teachers, professors, advisors, counselors/therapists, etc.
Thus, I went through each step: confronting my thought through rebuttal; taking care of my emotional and physical well-being through self-care; and asking for support and advice from those close to me, and those who have experienced similar challenges. Thereafter, I practiced a healthy dose of being a “good parent” to myself.
What is being a “good parent” to yourself? Well, it is a process by which you respond to yourself in a way that a nurturing parent would (the definition of “good” is really left up to the individual, but “good” can be continually re-defined). The process is known popularly as re-parenting. Thus, I practiced this skill, and reminded myself to let go secondary emotions, such as guilt and shame. I have come to a conclusion that an important daily goal is…
always to move forward with better understanding and regard for one’s self.
Dolores Juhas is an award-winning Croatian photographer.
During her childhood she lived in Hungary, but returned to Croatia after the completion of her primary school education. She has been fascinated with art and artists since childhood.
Dolores’ work focuses on the subject of the human form, which she conceptualizes through the elements of romanticism and fantasy. Her goal is not only to capture authentic human expression and emotion through her subjects, but to personify those emotions by pushing visual illusions and pursuing innovative directions in which to do so. As a result, she seamlessly combines photography with various visual components to create a fusion of reality and imagination. (From Dolores Juhas Photography, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dolores-Juhas-photography/139549639391372.)