Not all cultures value college education equally. I grew up in a culture that recognized the necessity of becoming self-sufficient but college wasn’t necessarily the only path, and in fact, vocations were equally as valued. However, in this culture it is different and parents start thinking about this almost immediately after their children are born. They think about how they can best prepare and help their children gain admissions into the best colleges, and “good” parents are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this. “Good” parents feel it’s imperative to give their children a competitive edge, and are willing to do almost anything, and in some cases “anything”, if you look at the recent college scandal, to achieve this. Unfortunately, in the process we undermine our children’s competence and self-reliance by doing too much for them, and by being so involved in their lives, we also silently convey the message that their accomplishments are what we value, and their achievements are their worth. They may come to believe that only perfection is acceptable and anything less is insufficient.
Since getting into the “best” college was so desirable we were scared that any misstep would ruin our children’s chances of getting into the most desirable universities. We wanted to protect them from making mistakes that might jeopardize this, and in the process we denied them the experience of natural consequences of their actions. We have therefore raised children who feel entitled to have things go their way and are lacking resilience to withstand the challenges they will have to face alone when they leave the safety of the nest. By being overly protective and fixing their problems, we sadly have robbed our children of the kinds of opportunities necessary to cultivate resilience. Let us begin to make adjustments in our parenting. Let our children experience the natural consequences of their actions on the small things so they don’t suffer the larger ones that can truly follow them into their futures. Let’s teach them self-reliance so they don’t become emotionally dependent and then anxious at the prospect of growing up. Let’s teach them that making mistakes is less important than learning from them and that being imperfect is not the same as being flawed. Finally, let’s teach them to be flexible in their thinking, willing to listen and assimilate new information so the world can be seen as complex and people in it not simply seen as good or bad.
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The toxicity of social media and how it is destroying the self-worth of an entire generation
By Debby Fogelman, M.A. Psy.D
It is a natural impulse for people to make comparisons in order to evaluate themselves but the problem with comparison making is that by using another as a yardstick for self-evaluation, one person will always be on the deficient end of the comparison. The purpose of social media is to showcase and so it is automatic to make comparisons, and because what we see is only a moment in time of a person’s life, carefully selected to project an ideal rather than a true reflection of a real life with ups and downs, and imperfect moments, we usually end up feeling bad about who we are and our lives. We know that our lives are not perfect and that we often feel insecure and filled with self-doubt. We know that we are not always happy and sometimes we feel sad, anxious, and lonely. When we see the pictures however posted on social media we are easily fooled into believing that other people are always more than what we are; they are always happy, and confident, they appear to have closer friends and more loving families, and in fact, they appear to have perfect lives and so we believe there must be something wrong with us.
Once this feeling of deficiency is internalized, it creates an internal belief of not being “good enough”, and now everything is seen through that filter. We see ourselves as being a disappointment and imagine that others see us in the same diminished way. Since our brains have a confirmation bias we seek information that will support our beliefs and dismiss information that will challenge or contradict them. This can easily create difficulties in our interactions and relationships, which can then be used to support the original belief of not being as good as or less than what others are.
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It is in your best interest to invest more time in your own personal development, focus on becoming a better version of yourself, aspire to act consistent with noble values and spend less time on social media.
How to cope as best you can during Covid-19
By Debby Fogelman, M.A., Psy.D
Often anxiety comes from fears that are unfounded. Worry about things in the future that have yet to happen and may never happen or worry about our inability to cope if bad things do happen. In our current reality the worry is real, and everyone is worrying to greater or lesser degrees depending on their circumstance. Just like the meme says, we are in the same storm but each one of us is in a different boat. Since we are not omnipotent and cannot change things that are not in our control, we need to change the things that are in our control, and that is where we choose to focus our attention and the choices we make.
Each person is of course different, and so some of the following suggestions may work better than others.
Suggestion 1: Make your bed. It is actively doing something, which combats a felt sense of futility, and the experience of accomplishment activates the reward center in the brain to releases dopamine, a feel good chemical, which will motivate other actions. This can turn apathy into productivity.
Suggestion2: Create structure to your day by designating time for whatever you choose to do. Create a schedule and stick to it.
Suggestion3: Balance your day with self-care, gesture of kindness, fun and productivity. Each of these is how you define them.
Suggestion 4: Learn to breath. In the body there are two systems, the arousal system and the relaxation system. These two systems can’t be active at the same time. Worry activated the arousal system, which manifests as irritability, low frustration tolerance and anxiety. Breathing turns off that system and turn on the other. Set time aside to practice belly breathing. There are many videos that are instructional.
Suggestion5: Utilize your sense of sight, sound and touch to ground you when swept up by anxiety. Listen to sounds of nature. Breathe in the aroma from something pleasant like a fragrant candle or even a spice. If you have a pet then stroke their fur.
Suggestion 6: Use this time to consider how you can become a better version of yourself. Think about the values you admire and strategize a plan how to begin to aspire to emulate them.
Suggestion 7: Set aside worry time. If it creeps in and becomes intrusive imagine worry as being like an impatient child wanting your attention. Tell you child you recognize their urgency but it isn’t an emergency and you will attend to them later at a designated time. At that time set aside 15 minutes engage in your worry thoughts. This will put you in control and you can decide if you want to spend your time with these future driven thoughts.
Suggestion 8: Capture your worry thoughts on paper so they are no longer just in your head. This simple act will reduce some anxiety, just like the act of labeling your feelings reduces some of their intensity. Once your thoughts are written down, imagine they are the thoughts of someone important to you and your role now is to be the voice of comfort and reason for that person. What would you say?
Suggestion 9: Panic and anxiety are normal bodily reactions and they won’t harm you. You don’t need to do anything but sit with them patiently because they will dissipate. All emotions are equal, both the positive and the negative, and just like happiness and excitement don’t last forever, so too don’t the negative.
Suggestion 10: Recognize a human tendency to engage in emotional reasoning and catch your self when this is happening. This is the tendency to believe how you feel is the way things are. Feelings are not fact and even if you feel something with great intensity, it is still just a feeling and not a reflection of reality.
Suggestion 11: It is not helpful to engage in thoughts of “should”, since this generates negative emotions. When ‘shoulds’ are applied to us we can feel like we have failed, and then become angry and anxious. When they are applied to others we can feel they are bad, and we can easily feel victimized. When we are scared, it is human nature to want to generate anger since anger hides fear. So be aware when you find your mind engaging in these thoughts, and when you do immediately replace them with a more compassionate understanding response.
Suggestion 12: If you are focused on predicting a particular outcome then force yourself to consider others even if you believe they are far fetched. Simply engaging in this exercise will create the space in your mind to consider other possibilities that are less catastrophic.
Suggestion 13: Practice gratitude. Gratitude is an antidote to all sorts of negative emotional experiences.
Suggestion 14: Limit reading the news. If you are checking constantly you are likely engaging in behavior motivated by an unconscious wishful fantasy, that maybe this time the outcome will be brighter. The outcome will be brighter in the future but not by compulsively reading or watching news.
Suggestion: 15: Find reasons to laugh. Read jokes, watch comedy sketches. Laughter releases pent up feelings.
Suggestion 16: Engage in self-soothing activities. For many kneading dough and making bread is one of those activities, and this is why flour is in limited supply.
Suggestion17: Teach yourself something new.
I hope this was helpful. This list is in no way exhaustive so please post what you have found to be helpful and share because it may be helpful to others as well.
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When comparing the survey results posted by the American College Health Association Fall 2017 to those from Fall 2011, it appears that rates of anxiety have doubled, and rates of depression have risen by 50% during that period. These numbers are alarming, and so it begs the question: Why has anxiety and depression become such a pervasive problem. We know that most emotional difficulties, if they are going to occur tend to manifest in early adulthood, which is just around the time that these young adults are leaving for college. I believe that young adults today are more emotionally vulnerable now than ever before because of a weakened emotional core that cannot easily withstand the stress associated with the demands and challenges of this new stage of development. And I believe there are several reasons for this phenomenon: social media, the increased competitiveness of college admissions, bullying especially cyber-bullying, and the need for two income families.
There already exists a natural impulse for people to make comparisons in order to evaluate themselves. The problem, however, with comparison making is that using another person, as a yardstick for self-evaluation, will always place someone on the deficient end of the comparison. The purpose of social media is already to showcase and so it is automatic when on these platforms to make comparisons, and because what we see is only a moment in time of a person’s life, carefully selected to project an ideal rather than a true reflection of a real life with ups and downs, and imperfect moments, we usually end up feeling bad about who we are and our lives. We know that our lives are not perfect and that we often feel insecure and filled with self-doubt. We know that we are not always happy and sometimes we feel sad, anxious, and lonely. When we see the pictures however posted on social media we are easily fooled into believing that other people are always more than what we are; they are more confident, and more content, they have closer friends and more loving families, and in fact, they appear to have perfect lives and so we believe there must be something wrong with us.
Once this feeling of deficiency is internalized, it creates an internal belief of not being “good enough”, and now everything is seen through a filter of failure and inadequacy. What this means is that we see ourselves as being a disappointment and therefore imagine that others see us in the same way. In addition, if everything is seen through a filter of inadequacy then it is easy to experience others in a negative way, and conclude that people are untrustworthy and unreliable, and that they will ultimately fail us. It is therefore more helpful to spend less time on social media and invest more time in being productive, engaging in personal development, and interacting with real and not virtual friends.
Increased competitiveness of college admissions
Not all cultures value college education equally. I grew up in a culture that recognized the necessity of becoming self-sufficient but college wasn’t necessarily the only path, and in fact, vocations were equally as valued. However, in this culture it is different and parents start thinking about this almost immediately after their children are born. They think about how they can best prepare and help their children become impressive enough to gain admissions into the most prestigious colleges, and because “good” parents are devoted, they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this. They want to give their children a competitive edge by either finding that one thing in which their child can excel and distinguish him or herself above the rest or creating a child that is simply impressive in their accumulated accomplishments. Unfortunately, we undermine our children’s confidence and competence in the process by doing too much for them, and at the same time also silently convey the message that accomplishments are necessary to be valued, and that they are only important to us if they achieve. Of course, this mostly isn’t the intended message but all actions communicate messages and this is how children often assign meaning to our focus and, often-inflated praise of their achievements. They may come to equate being a worthwhile and desirable human being as needing to be the “best”, and if not then they are inferior.
I also believe a generational ‘Ziegeist’ is also a factor at play. Children, for example, who were members of Generation X were known as “latch key” kids and were called this because of the prevalence of both parents being in the workforce or the prevalence of divorce. These kids had to take care of themselves because parents were absent, and at this time there weren’t a lot of options for childcare outside of the house. It is possible that these children may have felt unconsciously or even consciously resentful and questioned whether or not they were important to their parents. The up side is that they were a generation however that learned to be independent and self-reliant. They didn’t turn to or expect their parents to be there to problem-solve or manage their lives. They became confident that they could sort things out, handle adversity, and find solutions to problems.
This current generation, the ‘Millennials’, have unfortunately been robbed of that experience because we, the ‘Gen Xer’s’ were so concerned that a misstep would ruin our children’s chances of getting into the most coveted universities that we didn’t allow our children to make mistakes or let them suffer the natural consequences of their actions, which would have made them more resilient to adversity. We were reluctant to let our children problem solve because we couldn’t risk that the outcome would not successful. We couldn’t take the chance that forgetting a homework assignment at home would reduce their grade, and so we rushed to school to drop it off because anything other than an ‘A’ we feared would jeopardize their chances of getting into the ‘best’ universities. We were even willing to arrange accommodations on tests even if our children didn’t really need them, just to guarantee a higher score. Unfortunately, now, when our kids go off to college, they don’t feel competent; they are already filled with self-doubt and question whether or not they can succeed. Knowing that they may have gained admission to college not entirely on their own merit only exacerbates this feeling of being an imposter, which further undermines their self-esteem. It creates an ever-present anxiety that they will not succeed and then be exposed for not being ‘smart enough’ to be there.
Bullying has always been an issue but it appears that since 2005 those who have reported being bullied increased by almost 25%. Perhaps the reason for this is that it is easier to humiliate and cause another human being distress when you don’t have to look them in the eye. Using the Internet as a bully platform creates a distance and an immediacy that also makes it easier to act impulsively without considering the consequences. In addition, the humiliation felt from the old fashioned type of bullying was restricted to those that witnessed the event or were closely associated to those who perpetrated or witnessed the event. With the Internet however, the humiliation is magnified because it can’t be contained but rather spreads like wild fire and causes much destruction.
Two Income Households
It is not just that it is more expensive to live today that it was before, which necessitates both parents often working but rather it is also that parents want to provide so much for their children that it requires that both parents must work. I spoke earlier about the competitiveness of college admissions and the desire to give children a competitive edge and to distinguish them selves as being better than others. This is a costly goal. It is expensive to pay for dance class, hockey equipment and tennis lessons; to learn to play the piano, the violin, and cello or to pay for ACT and SAT tutors, boot camps and college counselors. Parents are so busy providing for their children that they often don’t get to just spend time and appreciate being with their children, and children don’t get to spend time and enjoy being appreciated by their parents.
In life, we all look to understand and make sense of things that happen to us. We all process information differently and therefore assign different meanings to similar events. Children also have unsophisticated cognitive reasoning abilities and so draw simple cause and effect conclusions. They often believe that things that happen to them or around them are because of them. What this means is that they often conclude that if they are bullied, or have parent’s that are absent, that they are lacking in some fundamental way. When a belief of not being “good enough” is internalized everything is seen through this filter of inadequacy and failure. Since one of the most common cognitive biases from which we all suffer is a confirmation bias. We will always find evidence to confirm what we believe by ignoring any informing that would challenge our beliefs, and if a situation is ambiguous or confusing, we will unconsciously manipulate the information to conform to our existing belief.
These reasons may explain why anxiety and depression is increasing, and why when young adults go off to college emotional disorders are becoming so prevalent. These young adults have not internalized self-worth and since this is the foundation on which self-esteem is built, if it is not solid then the self-esteem won’t be solid either. It will be susceptible to external events, and since a belief of defectiveness already exists, all negative experiences, even those that are beyond their control are seen as confirmation of their inadequacy. Going off to college is a new experience, and so stress and moments of self-doubt are inevitable. However when these feelings are experienced today, because of this fundamental insecurity, all positive self-regard is lost and the ego or self-esteem is devastated.
In order to strengthen the emotional core of young adults today so that they are able to withstand the stress of this new stage of development, I believe they must understand the concepts of self-worth and self-esteem and recognize whether or not they are afflicted with low self-worth. They need to recognize that having feelings of inadequacy is not evidence of being inadequate, it is just a feeling drawn from the false conclusions of their negative experiences. The reason acknowledgment is important is twofold: It is necessary to dis-identify from the feeling of failure and secondly, to understand that when low self-worth is present, negative thinking patterns and self-defeating behaviors will also be present.
If we can therefore identify our negative thoughts and destructive behaviors then we can replace them with more realistic and reasonable ones that don’t continue to reinforce low self-worth.
To learn more on how to begin to recover from low self worth and emotionally prepare for adulthood I have created a free program, www.preparetoleavethenest.com, on emotional preparation for adulthood and on my blog are articles pertaining to this topic and podcasts on emotional healing.
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In childhood, if we are exposed to invalidating experiences at a time when we don’t have sophisticated reasoning capabilities, the way we often make sense of these negative experiences is by falsely concluding that we don’t matter. This childhood trauma carries over into adulthood and leaves us feeling deficient and not “good enough,” or lacking worth.
Self worth and self-esteem are often used synonymously but I see them as different concepts. Self-worth is the foundation on which self-esteem is built. If self worth has been internalized then a person’s self-esteem will remain relatively stable in the face of challenge and adversity. Self-esteem will always fluctuate because it is impacted by external factors like accomplishments and failures but if self-worth has been internalized then it will only oscillate within a narrow margin. If it has not been internalized however, then the self-esteem can easily become devastated.
It’s important to realize that having low self-esteem is not a character flaw or a personality defect but rather the unfortunate outcome of the false conclusions that we draw about our worthiness stemming from childhood. Since these conclusions are based on the quality of care we receive from the important people in our lives, if we feel loved, we come to see ourselves as “loveable” and a feeling of positive self-worth is internalized. If we are treated unkindly or with indifference, if our feelings are ignored or minimized, we come to see ourselves as “unworthy”. This internal belief is accompanied with many anxieties, and the way we manage these anxieties often results in behaviors that are self-defeating. We sadly undermine our self-esteem and reinforce our belief of being deficient at our core.
The following are fears that result from failing to internalize self-worth.
A fear of confirming one’s inadequacy
There is a self-disparaging internal voice that you suspect is true but would like to believe is false. This critical voice creates an ever-present fear or anxiety that something will happen and you will no longer be able to question whether or not it is true because you will now have proof of your internal defect. In order to defend against this possibility there is often the relentless pursuit of success. Achievement becomes all-important because those who doubt their self-worth use achievement as a measure to confirm their worth. Life therefore becomes constricted and devoid of pleasure since all the focused attention is put exclusively into achieving or put into avoiding situations in which one might risk failure. Since success can never be guaranteed, and the prospect of ‘failure’ is terrifying there is a reluctance to learn new things, and pursue challenges. Failure and success, however, exist on a continuum. There is no such thing as absolute failure because with each failed attempt we move a step closer to achieving success.
Another common self-defeating behavior is that of procrastination because, after all, if you don’t try hard then you can tell yourself that had you put in the effort or completed the task you would have succeeded.
What’s unfortunate about this tendency is that it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy because it increases the likelihood of failure.
Denying weakness is another way that one’s fear gets expressed because weakness or limitation is felt to be a confirmation of the depth of their deficiency. This is unfortunate because none of us is equally strong in all areas, and in fact, if a weakness is denied, the difficulty will become more obvious as time passes, and then one’s fear of inadequacy will become a reality.
Fear of exposing one’s inadequacy to others
This fear is displayed by self-consciousness and a high sensitivity to scrutiny and judgment. There is also a reluctance to disclose thoughts and feelings with others for fear of jeopardizing the relationship if you “true self” were to be revealed. Relationships, therefore, often take on a superficial quality, lacking real intimacy, and resulting in feelings of loneliness and isolation, which is then used as evidence of internal defect.
Fear of losing what one has
Since a person suffering from low self worth feels like an imposter and fraud their accomplishments are often not attributed to their hard work and competence but rather to chance and luck. Since chance and luck are unpredictable, and not within one’s control, there exists an ever-present anxiety that their achievements and accomplishments cannot be repeated. This is unfortunate because a capable person afflicted with low self-worth is unlikely to step out of their comfort zone and reach their full potential.
Fear of abandonment
For some people, their anxiety stems from a belief that they are bad, and undeserving of anything good. Filled with insecurity they are likely to reject desirable people and healthy relationships because they are suspicious as to why a desirable person would want them. They believe it is just a matter of time before they will be truly seen and rejected, and so they often sabotage their own relationships so they can silently tell themselves that they were the cause through their own actions.
In order to begin to recover from low self-worth that gets expressed in all the ways discussed, we must recognize the common self-defeating behaviors that produce the kinds of outcomes, and responses from others, that reinforce this negative self-image.
The problem with this heightened state of attention is that the threshold for perceiving danger is so low that you are likely to see threats even when none exist. Imagine you are hiking along a trail and you see signs posted along the way, “Beware poisonous snakes”. In this context, with a heightened sense of danger, you might be more likely to see a stick lying across the pathway in front of you as a snake. If these warnings, however, were absent, you would not be anticipating danger, and in this less vigilant state you would be more likely to see the stick as just a stick. In its application to relationships, a person is likely to be hypersensitive and perceive rejection even if it doesn’t exist.
A Low Threshold for perceiving insult
Since a person with low self worth will see him or her self in a devalued way their feelings get projected and they imagine that others see them in the same diminished way. With this internal belief everything is interpreted through a filter of negativity and so they respond to others as if they have been mistreated. This reaction is likely to provoke a negative or even aggressive response, which once again will sadly be used as evidence that they are being wronged.
Viewing mistakes as unacceptable
For a person with low self-esteem making a mistake is unacceptable. Mistakes are not seen as unavoidable because we are human beings, and not perfect beings, but are rather seen as indicative of flaw and defect. A person afflicted with low self-worth will find it difficult to acknowledge fault. They will have a tendency to blame others and not see their own contribution to the difficulties in their relationships.
Attribution of Accomplishment to external factors
Since a feeling of efficacy is absent, a person with low self-worth doubts their ability to be impactful, and believes that the outcome of a given situation has less to do with them, and more to do with chance, and so they feel helpless to change their situation.
A compulsion to please
There exists a wishful fantasy that doing for others and making them happy will secure their love. They also have this idea that there is a ‘universal’ rulebook that others must treat you in the same manner that you treat them. So, even though people pleasers choose to put the needs of others first, they also unconsciously expect others to do the same for them. This usually creates a conflict in the relationship because it is as if an agreement has been drawn up by one person, and then imposed upon the other. In this way people pleasers set themselves up for disappointment and a feeling of being failed or wronged by others.
A Need for external validation
Since a feeling of positive self-worth has not been internalized, external validation is needed in order to maintain the self-esteem, just like oxygen is needed to maintain life. Since attention, approval, and admiration become a necessary source of esteem, it is easy for self-worth to be tied to the attitude of others, which gives them power over you and your self-image. This renders them vulnerable to manipulation and abuse.
A Tendency to engage in controlling behaviors
Finally there is a tendency to engage in controlling behaviors, which are often used to defend against unwanted negative outcomes. Those afflicted with low self-worth mistakenly believe that they should be unaffected and impervious to life’s set backs and disappointments, and if they occur then this is taken as evidence of their unworthiness. The fear of experiencing negative feelings will therefore result in controlling behaviors because, after all, if you are able to control the actions of others then you are able to bring about the outcome you want.
In conclusion, in order to recover from low self-worth you must acknowledge your insecurity without judgment but rather simply as fact, and not evidence of flaw or defect. You must then recognize the kinds of self-defeating behaviors that you engage in to defend against the anxiety of feeling inadequate. It is only then that you can begin to recover from low self-worth because in order for change to happen, there must be a willingness to take the opposite action even if it is anxiety provoking. What is new and unfamiliar is always scary, but fear is not a reason to remain stuck in the same patterns of self-defeating behaviors that reinforce low self-worth.
To learn more go to www.preparetoleavethenest.com, a psycho-educational program for emotional preparedness for college and adulthood and recovery from low self-esteem.
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Research shows that there is an inter-related connection between our thoughts, feelings and actions. Psychologists call this the cognitive triangle, and the way it works, is that if we have negative and disparaging thoughts about our selves or act in self-defeating ways then we will feel bad about who we are. Since our feelings are mediated by our thoughts and actions, we can change how we feel by changing how we think and how we behave.
It has also been researched by social psychologists that the mind tends to get stuck on the negative. Studies have shown that when a positive thought exists it can be flipped with relative ease to a negative one but it is much harder to shift from a bad thought to a good thought. What this means, is that negative beliefs are resistant to change, we have to work harder to see the positive but we can train our mind to do a better job at seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty.
One way to reshape the mind and stop the cycle that perpetuates feelings of inadequacy is by becoming mindful. Mindfulness means that we pay attention to our internal chatter, and bring it into conscious awareness so that it can be challenged since the inherent bias of the brain is to focus on the negative and to ignore the positive. David Burns, a psychologist, was inspired by the work of Albert Ellis whose approach challenged and replaced irrational thoughts and limiting beliefs with healthier and more constructive ones. David Burns popularized his work, and made it more accessible by assigning a name to each irrational pattern of thought. By becoming cognizant of these patterns we can identify our own negative thought patterns, recognize that they are unreasonable and irrational, and then understand that they serve no purpose other than to make us feel bad and inadequate.
Below are a few examples of cognitive distortions or ways in which our mind convinces us that something is true when in fact it is false. More examples can be found on my site Prepare To Leave The Nest.
This cartoon is illustrative of catastrophic thinking. Unfortunately for those with this habit, when faced with uncertainty they automatically engage in ‘what if’ thinking, and imagine the worst possible outcome. This thinking creates an anxious mind, which generates a fearful expectation that any emotional discomfort will be so overwhelming that they will not be able to cope, and so the feeling of anxiety must be avoided at all costs. Since avoidance doesn’t reduce anxiety but rather makes it worse, it is more helpful to address the fear head on.
A solution would be to write down the anxiety-provoking belief in the form of an, ‘if-then’ statement because once a belief is clearly articulated as a hypothesis it is easier to evaluate and assess whether or not the belief is valid. You are then likely to discover that even though your negative beliefs are not true they are responsible for your increased state of anxiety.
Emotional reasoning is another kind of thinking error, in which we reason from how we feel and, then falsely conclude that our feelings are an indication of the truth.
A solution would be to pay close attention to the explanations you give yourself when evaluating the veracity of your thoughts. If you find yourself saying things like,’ I know’ or ‘It feels ‘, without any objective and concrete evidence then this is a red flag, and what you believe is really being generated by your own negative thoughts.
Since our actions also influence our feelings, below are some examples of self-defeating behaviors that reinforce feelings of inadequacy. More examples can be found on my website, Prepare To Leave The Nest.
Avoidance is a behavioral strategy that may bring temporary relief, but will magnify the threat in the long term, and increase anxiety. Since actions influence thoughts, your mind will silently tell itself that the situation must be threatening because if it were harmless you would not be avoiding it, and so sadly, each time you avoid something that causes discomfort, you unwittingly give it power, and create anxiety in anticipation of it.
The solution is to acknowledge your fear but to also make a distinction between rational and irrational fear, and then to tell yourself the following: that despite your fear you will not retreat because you know that each time you do you will make the fear stronger, and each time you don’t, your anxiety will lessen because you prove to yourself that it wasn’t as bad as you had imagined, and you were able to cope.
Using a Passive style of communication
Those who communicate with this style of communication engage in self-defeating behavior because they remain silent while others often disrespect, and mistreat them. Passive communicators rationalize their passivity by telling themselves that they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings because they are good, and taking the moral high road. This may be partially true, but the real fear is the fear of being disliked or a fear of retribution. After a while though, the frustration from continually appeasing and pleasing others can no longer be suppressed, and like any container, will eventually become filled beyond capacity and overflow.
When this happens the anger is expressed in one of two destructive ways. One way is like a volcanic eruption. All the pent up frustration, hurt, anger, and resentment gets thrown onto a stunned target. This reaction is so excessive that the aggressor immediately feels guilty, and with remorse, returns once again to suppressing their feelings, and ingratiating themselves as a way to make amends for their aggressive outburst. The other way is hidden and indirect because they fear retaliation and know no other way to express their anger in a way that feels safe. Even though the hostility is covert, it can still be felt as hostile because it is being expressed in a passive-aggressive way.
The Solution is to practice assertive communication and to know that communication when done in a way that is respectful and not threatening or demeaning is never inappropriate but in fact a sign of self- respect.
If you would like to learn more about how we are responsible for causing our own feelings of inadequacy, a program addressing this issue and the broader topic of self-worth, in general, can be found at www.preparetoleavethenest.com.
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Change is an inescapable part of life and even if it is exciting it is also stressful because embedded in change is loss. It is the end of something, the closing of a chapter, and just like grief, it takes time to adjust to the new reality. People also have an innate need to assign meaning to events that happen in their life, and since stress magnifies negative thoughts, feelings of discomfort can easily become interpreted as an indication of inadequacy, and disappointments, which are normal, can easily be seen as a never-ending cycle of defeat. It is therefore important to manage your level of stress so that it doesn’t reach threshold and then result in these kinds of thoughts and feelings that render a person vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
How to keep this from happening?
Stress must be managed proactively, and one of the most effective ways to manage stress is through self-care, meaning attention must be focused on health, relaxation, socializing, and fun. Some people unfortunately, when they begin to feel mounting stress, begin to panic, and have a tendency to double down, and do more of the thing that causes stress as a way to try to reduce stress. The problem, however with this approach, is that life becomes constricted, and devoid of pleasure and meaning other than achievement, and therefore you magnify the importance of accomplishment in your mind. You unwittingly tie your self-esteem to achievement, which is now needed to validate your worth. If you succeed then you will experience yourself as a worthwhile, and competent human being, but if you don’t meet the hoped for expectation you experience yourself as inadequate and hopeless.
Other people, however, when they feel mounting stress, have a tendency to avoid any situation in which they may risk failure. They are afraid to put their competence to the test, because their negative thoughts have convinced them that they are unlikely to succeed. The fear of failure often manifests in opportunities being ignored, and also procrastination, which sadly is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy because when you put off what needs to be done you rob yourself of the time to adequately prepare.
The following are 10 tips and conversations to have with your child to help them manage their stress so it doesn’t become problematic in their lives.
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- Emphasize to your child the importance of accepting who they are, just as they are, and not tying their self-esteem to others by making comparisons or being overly concerned about their opinion and judgment of them. Your child should understand that not everyone will like them, and that they should always be kind and respectful of other people’s feelings but their goal should not be to ingratiate; some people will appreciate them for the exact same reason that others might not. And also, making comparisons provides no meaningful information because we are not equal; we all have different strengths and weaknesses.
- Teach your college student about the paradox of self-confidence, and that is, if you wait for this feeling to manifest you will likely wait forever. Self-confidence follows action and doesn’t precede it. It is only with accumulated successes, and feelings of pride that you will begin to internalize a feeling of competence. Just like with happiness, you need to do in order to feel happy and not wait for it to strike. Encourage your child to take action despite their lack of confidence because this will reduce their stress in the long run. Short-term stress is uncomfortable but long-term stress is debilitating.
- Discuss with your child the importance of having realistic expectations since accumulated disappointments can easily become internalized as a feeling of failure. If your child is capable of getting great grades, and identifies as being smart let him or her know that they are now competing with a larger group of students and that they are no longer a large fish in a small pond. Often grades are scaled on a curve and they must prepare themselves for the possibility that they may no longer be in the upper tail of the curve, and that this is okay because what is more important than the grade are qualities like effort, tenacity, and integrity. By emphasizing qualities you also convey to your child that you value who they are more than their intellectual ability, which is an inherited immutable trait no different than the color of their eyes.
- Share with your child that stress is inevitable, and that it is best tolerated when the source of the stress can be expressed. Encourage your child to talk about his or her concerns and insecurities, and reassure your child that there isn’t anything wrong with them because they feel insecure and vulnerable. Feelings must be discharged in order to keep stress from causing emotional difficulty or getting expressed in unhealthy ways.
- Educate your child that too much stress creates an anxious mind, which has a tendency to both overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen, and that they will be unable to cope. Instead of anticipating choppy water, for example, the mind will anticipate a tidal wave or tsunami. It is helpful to reduce your stress level by exercising, and getting enough sleep and eating a diet that doesn’t cause spikes and then sudden drops in blood sugar. Our level of frustration tolerance is much lower when we are overwhelmed with stress and so a molehill can easily be experienced a mountain.
- Encourage your child to set aside some quiet time each day to reflect back on the day, because when we are busy, we distract our mind from thinking about things that cause us stress. By not addressing these issues however, they cannot be resolved, and problem solving is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Educate your child that there is often an irrational belief that thinking about what makes us anxious will increase the anxiety and make it intolerable. The truth is that the anxiety is growing and becoming intolerable because there is something that needs to be addressed but instead it is being pushed aside and ignored.
- Stress often causes a feeling of alienation and so having a support system is necessary to combat these feelings of disconnection and the desire to withdraw and isolate. Encourage your child to join some kind of club immediately. Moving into a new and unfamiliar environment is lonely, and being with other people that are navigating the same terrain feels less lonely.
- In times of stress and moments of self-doubt help your child reframe their experience. The following is an example: Even though I am feeling lonely and worried that I don’t belong and fit in, I will persevere for the year because it is likely that I need to adjust to this new reality.
- Teach your child to feel empowered by cautioning them against pursuing the idea of being “best” and “perfect” and encourage them to rather aim to be the best version of themselves since this goal is healthy and attainable. This will help reduce their stress stemming from the foolish belief that they must be exceptional or perfect in order to be acceptable.
- It’s important for your child to accept the reality of limitations even if it is unpleasant since we all have them; none of us is equally strong in all areas. For example, your child may want to be a doctor but if science isn’t his or her aptitude then they are setting themselves up for failure, and undermining their confidence in the process. Remind your child that there are many roads to the same destination, and that they can be perfectly happy and find fulfillment doing something else.
A program designed to address these issues and others pertaining to low self-worth and self-esteem in general can be found at: www.preparetoleavethenest.com