Are You Really Experiencing Your Life?

We live most of our lives mindlessly. We may be doing one thing, but our minds tend to be on other things. We live in the present moment, but our minds are on the past or the future.

I first learned about the technique of “mindfulness” on a PBS television program, called “Healing and the Mind.” The host was the excellent reporter, Bill Moyers, and each episode featured a clinic, somewhere in the world, that specialized in mind/body medicine.

On this particular episode, he featured a clinic at Massachusetts Medical Center, a major teaching hospital where many Harvard medical students do their rotations and internships. People come there from all over the world for assessment and treatment of serious medical disorders.

In that hospital, is a clinic that was originally called “The Center for Catastrophic Illness,” and was founded by a psychologist, named Jon Kabit-Zinn. Patients are referred to this clinic who have any illness that has proven to be a catastrophe in their lives. The clinic has been enormously effective in helping these patients deal with their various illnesses.

The clinic teaches the technique of mindfulness. The technique has been practiced in Asia for about four thousand years, but has only been applied to healthcare in the US for about twenty years. While mindfulness practice cannot directly cure many physical illnesses, it can help patients deal with their difficulties with much less distress and discomfort. It has even been shown to cure some stress-related illnesses.

The technique involves three components, (a) noticing, (b) without judging, (c) in the present moment. To notice means to truly experience, to really be in the moment. Focus your attention on that event. Experience it with your five senses. If you are somewhere, really be there. Focus your mind on what you are doing, rather than something in the past or the future.

For example, if you are driving, notice the experience of driving. What do you see? What do you feel? Notice the unconscious movement of your hand on the steering wheel. Notice the subtle rumble of the road noise. Do the same with any experience. If you are interacting with a loved one, really focus your attention on that person and the interaction. If you are washing dishes, notice the various aspects of the experience, the feel of the water, the feel of the soap or the movements of your hands.

Now, try to recall some of the favorite moments of your life. I would bet that you experienced each of these favorite moments mindfully. You were focused on what you were doing at the time. If you experienced the moment mindlessly, you wouldn’t recall it as a favorite moment. I wonder how many other moments could have been favorites, if we had experienced them mindfully rather than mindlessly.

The second part of mindfulness is to notice “without judging.” This means to not analyze our experience in our minds, but to just experience it. We don’t focus on whether the experience is good or bad. It just is. For example, patients are actually taught to be mindful of their pain. This may seem strange, but we find that, when patients notice pain, without thinking of it as good or bad, the pain lessons, or at least becomes less distressful. We usually try to escape from our pain, and in doing so, make ourselves more tense. This tension actually worsens the discomfort.

The last part of mindfulness is “in the present moment.” This means to focus your attention on the present moment, rather than experiencing the present moment with your mind thinking about something in the past or something in the future.

Let’s think about time for a moment. All time can be divided into three parts; the past, the future, and the present. Everything prior to this moment in time is the past. Nothing in the past actually exists, except in our memories. Everything after this moment is the future, and nothing in the future actually exists except in our imaginations. The only thing that actually exists at any moment is that thin slice of time we call the present.

Yet, we live most of our present moments thinking about something in the past or something in the future. We don’t really experience the present moment, because we are analyzing, reminiscing or regretting past events or anticipating, dreading or worrying about future events. We thus miss the experience of the present moment.

Take a moment now to be mindful of the present moment. Notice what your five senses are experiencing. Notice your breathing. The act of noticing the breath can always bring you back to the present moment. Your breath is always with you. Let yourself simply be in the present moment now and experiencing this moment fully. If your mind wanders to the past or the future, it’s okay. Just gently bring your attention back to your breath and the present moment.

Practice this for a few moments at a time. If you can stay in the present moment for a few seconds, that’s good enough at first. After being mindful of the present moment experience for a little while, notice what you feel. Most people report that they feel a sense of calm or peace.

Practice mindfulness several times per day. You don’t have to take time out of your day at first. Just be mindful of whatever you’re doing. Then, if you like, take a few moments out of your day to get in a more extended time of present moment awareness. Give it a try!

Question: If you have tried present-moment mindfulness, what did you experience? Also, report any difficulties you experienced in trying the technique.

The Violin Nobody Wanted

ImageThis post is a little longer than most. I have had several requests to share the following story from my book, “Parables for a Wounded Heart.” I hope you enjoy it!

Once there was a family that bought an old house. The prior owners had moved out of the house some time earlier, so this new family never met them. On the day they moved in, they had some items that they wanted to store in the attic. When they climbed up the attic stairs, they found that the previous owners had left some junk piled in one corner. The new owners didn’t have time to go through the stuff and throw it away, so they just stacked their things around the leftover pile. They didn’t think of it again.

After several years, the family decided to do some spring cleaning. They planned to have a yard sale to get rid of some of the things they had stored in the attic. When they went up to get their items, they saw the pile of things left by the previous owners. They decided they might as well try to sell those things too. Perhaps they could make a little extra money.

As they sorted out the pile, they found several items they could sell including an old violin in a case. The violin looked in pretty good shape, but the case was very dusty and all scratched up. They decided to put a $20.00 price tag on it and see what they could get.

On the day of the yard sale they put all the items on tables, and  people began to stop and browse. They sold many of their items and were about to call it a day. There were a few stragglers milling around the tables checking for any last minute buys. A car pulled over and a tall, thin older man got out. He too browsed the tables for a while.

He came to the table with the violin in the opened case. It seems no one had needed a fiddle this morning, not even for $20.00. He leaned over and studied the dusty violin for a couple of minutes before he spoke to the owner behind the table. He inquired, “Do you mind if I take it out of the case?”

“No”, the owner replied, “Help yourself.”

He picked the violin up very slowly and carefully, as if it were going to fall apart in his hands.

“May I tune it?” the old man asked.

“If you can,” the owner answered.

The old man slowly tuned the violin until he seemed to be satisfied with each string. The owner waited patiently since most of the crowd had dispersed; and this seemed like the most promising chance of getting rid of the instrument.

“May I play it?” the old man asked.

“Sure, see how it sounds,” was the owner’s reply, now feeling that a sale was in the making.

The old man slowly placed the violin under his chin and began to play. The straggling shoppers stopped and stared as the notes drifted across the yard in the spring sunshine. The old man crafted the most beautiful music for several minutes before he stopped. He lowered the violin from his chin and placed it very gently back in its case. The owner moved in to make the sale. “You make that thing sing, mister” he said with a grin. “You can have it for only $20.00.”

The older man’s face was somber. “I can’t give you $20.00 for that violin,” he replied.

“Well, how about $15.00?” said the owner, now thinking a sale was slipping away.

“Sir, you don’t understand.” noted the old man, still serious. “I can’t take that violin from you for $20.00. It wouldn’t be right.” Looking directly into the owner’s eyes, he lowered his voice and smiled slightly, “I don’t know how you came upon that violin, but you don’t know what you have there. You see, that violin is a Stradivarius. You can tell from the markings in the sound hole. It was made by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona. His instruments are the best in the world. You see, his mark is there in the sound hole. This violin is worth at least $1,000,000 and probably much more. It’s a very, very special instrument and very precious. You just didn’t realize what you had.”

The violin had always been precious. It was valuable because of its creator. The violin was valuable because its creator only made precious instruments, and it carried the unmistakable mark of that creator. The earlier homeowners who left it in the attic obviously didn’t know what they had and treated it like trash. The new owners didn’t know what they had either and left it in the attic with the trash. The yard sale shoppers who left it on the table didn’t know what they were leaving behind. They treated it as if it was not even worth $20.00. It took the old man to recognize the violin’s value. He didn’t have to play it to recognize that it was precious. The old man knew it was precious because he knew about its creator. He knew that it had the mark of its creator.

You may be like the violin. You may have grown up in a family that wasn’t able to recognize your true value. They may have acted as if you were in the way or just something to be tolerated. Or they may have made you feel that you couldn’t do anything right or were always messing up. Later in life, you may have dealt with others who also acted as you weren’t worth much, who acted as if you were trash.

It’s important to remember that the violin never actually lost its value. It was just as valuable when it was left in a corner of the attic as it would have been in a symphony hall. It was still valuable when it was passed over by the rest of the customers in the yard sale. The creator had left his mark on it, and that made all the difference.

Every child is valuable. Each child is as valuable as any other child. We all know this to be true. There is no defect, deformity, characteristic, or behavior that can make a child less valuable. We also know this to be true. A child’s actual value is not diminished when her family doesn’t recognize or act as if she is valuable. You know this to be true.

The child is hurt, of course. The child learns to believe that she is not valuable. Such lessons are learned deeply. Such beliefs are hard to change. Just because a belief is deeply learned doesn’t mean that it is true.

Question:  Share your thoughts about the meaning or moral of this story. Do you agree that all children are valuable and deserve to be treated as such? Can you apply that truth to yourself? Can you begin to do that now? What do you think?

This story was inspired by the poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra “Brooks” Welch (1921).

The Impact of Terrorism

Terrorist attacks can change our perceptions and choices in more ways than we imagine.

Recently, the world woke up to yet another terrorist attack in Europe. A small group of men had killed several peoplepsychological impact of terrorist attacks and wounded many others. The victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They did nothing to deserve the attack, and had no warning. It could have been you or me, and that’s the point.

Terrorism acts are usually small in scope. The number of people killed or injured are fewer than those killed in traffic accidents on that particular day. The force of terrorism cannot defeat an army or take over a country. So, how does it work?

The most obvious impact of terrorism is psychological. Those survivors in the immediate vicinity of the attack will often experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and family members of the deceased experience grief. More broadly, however, the terrorist attack impacts the psychological well-being of the entire society.

As humans, we maintain a constant background impression of our relative safety. We have a general sense of how safe we are in any particular situation. We tend to feel safer in our homes than we do in public places, safer in our hometown than when traveling, safer when surrounded by friends than when in the company of strangers, and so on. Of course, we feel safer in our daily routines than we would if we were soldiers fighting in a war zone.

Terrorism disrupts this impression of safety. Watching a terrorist attack, where people were killed or wounded while carrying on their daily routines, eliminates our assumption of safety. These victims weren’t fighting in a war. They weren’t doing some dangerous activity. They were doing what we all do. They were busy living their lives. If it can happen to them, it can happen to us.

Our estimation of the danger is exaggerated by our distorted perceptions of probability. When we see an event occur, we tend to overestimate the probably of it happening again. This can be illustrated in several ways. Watching news coverage of a plane crash creates the feeling that planes crash frequently. This feeling can occur, even when we remind ourselves that thousands of planes take off and land every minute, and that we are in greater danger while driving to the airport. Likewise, seeing some lucky winner of the lottery makes people buy tickets, even when the odds of winning are almost zero. So, seeing a terrorist attack makes us overestimate the danger that it will happen to us.

Since terrorist attacks increase our perceptions of danger, they tend to make us less trusting in general. We tend to become more defensive and hardened in our opinions. Brene Brown, Ph.D. has suggested that the 9-11 attacks had the impact of polarizing our country. She said that our decreased feelings of safety made us more entrenched in our positions. And the division between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals is greater than I have seen in my lifetime.

So, what can we do? Of course, we must take the necessary steps to identify and prevent attacks when we can, and to fight the groups that carry them out. But, we also need to remind ourselves of the truth that terrorism has a much greater chance of changing our lives than it does of ending our lives.

The Loss in Loneliness

Loneliness or feeling disconnected from others can impact your mental and physical health.

We were created for connection. We are naturally social animals. It begins in infancy. From the moment of birth, the infant needs human contact and connection for survival. Years ago, we discovered that babies deprived of humanloneliness hurts mental and physical health connection fail to thrive, and sometimes die.

As humans grow, the impact of isolation continues. Disconnection from peers is a major reason for school dropouts. Teenagers, who identify themselves as outcasts, often slip into delinquency, other forms of antisocial behavior, violence or suicide.

In adults, extended loneliness can lead to depression, alcoholism, and physical illness. Studies show that a lack of social or family support can increase the risk of heart disease. It tends to elevate blood pressure, make the heart muscle work harder, and raise the levels of stress hormones. Loneliness can also heighten our perception of stress and cause insomnia.

So, is loneliness the same as being alone? Not really. Feelings of loneliness are experienced most acutely when other people are around us, but we feel disconnected. In his book, “Traveling Light,” Max Lucado points out that “Loneliness is not the absence of faces. It is the absence of intimacy. Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.”

There are many potential causes of loneliness. As we get older, we experience the death of more-and-more relatives and friends. The older we get, the more likely we are to lose our core social connections. The feeling of disconnection is a major cause of depression in the elderly.

Sometimes, loneliness in adulthood can be traced to negative childhood events. Children who experience parental distance or rejection are more likely to feel lonely as adults. They tend to see themselves as less likeable or lovable, making them less likely to approach others. They may reject others before others have a chance to reject them.

Often, we feel lonely because of inaccurate perceptions. We do mind reading, where we assume others are thinking critical or disapproving thoughts about us. We assume they don’t like us or don’t care about us. We may assume we are disconnected, even when others like us or love us. We assume that we are different from others.

So, you were created for connection. Your mental and physical health will benefit from having positive relationships. Put some energy into reconnecting with old friends, strengthening current relationships or creating new ones. Don’t assume that they won’t like you or won’t have time for you. Make a call. Set up a lunch date. Start a conversation. You’ll feel better for the effort.

The Oppression of Other’s Opinions

Worry about other's opinions will increase your stress, and limit your life.

So, how much do you worry about other people’s opinions? Do you guage your choices or behaviors on what othersworry would think? Is your life measured by anticipation of their approval or disapproval? Does it limit your joy, your peace, or even your life?

 

It’s a common problem. We all do it sometimes. In fact, a total disregard of other’s opinions may be pathological. It can be one symptom of a sociopathic personality.

 

The habit may even have survival value. In primitive times, your survival depended on the approval of the tribe. If your actions earned their disapproval, you may have been ostracized from the tribe. You wouldn’t survive in the jungle alone.

 

Fear of disapproval may have served our ancestors, so it is a natural tendency. But today, it can do more harm than good. Worries about other’s opinions doesn’t protect us today. In fact, it hurts us because it creates significant stress. Imagining and fearing negative judgment creates the same bodily reactions as a physical attack. Our hearts race and breathing speed up. Our muscles tense, and our bodies release stress chemicals, which damage our organs and speed up the aging process.

 

So, let’s imagine that you have messed up. You made a bad choice or a mistake. You did something embarrassing. You imagine that everyone is judging you or disapproving. Let’s consider some reasons why such thoughts are a waste of time and energy.

 

Most importantly, you need to remind yourself that you are mind reading. You can’t read their minds. You don’t know what they are thinking. You may feel quite sure of your imaginings, but the ultimate truth is you don’t know. You are only imagining. Also, you are more likely to assume disapproval than approval. We tend to assume the negative.

 

Breaking the imaginary “others” into categories can be helpful. The people you’re worrying about can be divided into the following groups.

 

  1. Most others fit into the group of “don’t know or don’t care.” Many people don’t even know what happened. News of your mistake has not spread as much as you imagine. It has not been a focus of everyone’s conversation. Some may have heard about the mistake, but haven’t thought about it since. They are focused on their own life events and haven’t given your mistake much thought.
  2. A second, much smaller, group has heard of your mistake, and are busy judging you. They may take pleasure in gossiping about your mistake. They may feel superior because they haven’t made the same mistake. They may look down on you. But, do these people really count? Most likely, they are simply judgmental people. They like to judge and gossip. If they are judging you, they are giving someone else a rest. It seems to me that Jesus was hardest on the Pharisees, who were the most judgmental people of the day.
  3. The last group consists of those who have heard of your mistake, but view the event with caring and compassion. Their opinion of you hasn’t suffered. They are supportive and understanding. They don’t think less of you.

Try this mental exercise. Think of someone you like and respect. Now put them in your shoes. Imagine that they were in the exact same circumstances, and that they made the exact same mistake. How would you judge them? Would you think less of them? Would you be as harsh in your judgment of them as you are with yourself? I suspect not. The people in group 3 perceive you in the same way, and group 3 is the only one that counts.

Monitor your thoughts for worries about the opinions of others. Treat such thoughts as a bad habit, and remind yourself that such thoughts are destructive. We should always strive to do the right thing in any situation, but we shouldn’t allow our lives to be limited by the opinion of others.

Holding On To Our Hurts

We worsen the pain and long-term damage when we hold on to our hurts.

What do you do when someone hurts you? Notice that the question is when, not if. Everyone gets hurt at times. It’s unavoidable. The important issue is how we respond to those hurts.holding on to our hurts

Some people strike back. Their hurt quickly turns into anger, frustration or irritation. The transition is usually so fast that they don’t even recognize the hurt. They only feel the anger. They may claim that they don’t feel hurt, just angry. I would argue, however, that underneath all anger is a sense of being hurt.

Some people hold their hurt in. They don’t say anything to the offending party. They just get quiet and withdraw. They protect themselves by distancing. It’s harder for them to hurt you if you distance from them. This distancing can be physical where you stay away from them altogether, or it could be emotional distancing where you just build a wall around your heart. Either way, you distance.

In many situations, the most effective response is an assertive one. An assertive response lets the other person know they their words or actions hurt you, but does so without being aggressive. Your tone and words are direct and serious, but not angry or attacking. An assertive response addresses the hurt without damaging the relationship.

But what about your long-term response to being hurt? Are you able to let the event go, or do you hold on to your hurt? Do you replay the event over-and-over in your mind? Do you continuously analyze what they meant, why they did it, or what you wish you had said to them? Do you find yourself thinking about it as you lie awake in bed?

Holding on to our hurts or anger creates several problems. Here are a few:

  1. Sustained anger or irritation creates harmful chemical changes in our bodies. When we experience resentment, irritation or anger, our bodies release cortisol. This chemical helps our bodies prepare to fight or flee when we are faced with physical danger. However, it is intended to be released as brief bursts, where we defend ourselves and then calm down. Holding on to negative emotions keeps the cortisol elevated, which damages the body over time. For example, research shows a clear connection between sustained anger and heart disease.
  2. Continued ruminating about a hurt can increase our general negativity. When we replay negative events in our minds, we are more likely to anticipate future negative events. We expect the worst. We tend to distrust others more. Our negative expectations of others can hurt other relationships.
  3. Repeatedly replaying hurtful events or analyzing them to death takes up valuable mental space. Our negative thoughts can ruin times we could have enjoyed. When we obsess today about a hurtful act that occurred last year, we give that hurtful person our afternoon. We don’t enjoy the afternoon because of our ruminations about the person who hurt us. And, by the way, that person is probably enjoying their afternoon without think about us at all.

So, the best immediate response to a hurtful act is usually an assertive one, but the best long-term response is always to let it go. It isn’t easy to let go of our hurts, but it’s always best for our well-being.

The Dangers of Desensitization

There are some events that should never become acceptable.

As I write this, the FBI is investigating yet another mass shooting in America. Apparently, a lone gunman with a history of mental illness shot unarmed strangers in a Florida airport baggage claim area until he ran out of bullets. At this time, five people are dead and six are wounded.

The tragedy of the incident is overwhelming. We can only imagine the pain and loss. Some were preparing for a cruise. Others were meeting family.

There are more mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world. A CNN report from July, 2016, indicated that, while the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, we had 31% of all the world’s mass shootings.

And the frequency of mass shootings is increasing. An FBI report indicated that the number of incidents of mass shootings and the number of casualties have risen since 2000. The FBI defined mass shootings as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

The time interval between incidents seems to be decreasing. An analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University found that between 1982 and 2011 mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. Between 2011 and 2014, shootings occurred every 64 days.

Of course, I’m concerned about the phenomenon. I question what it means. I feel compassion for the victims. I wonder what we can do about it, but I have another concern.

Are we getting accustomed to it? Are we becoming desensitized? You see, we get used to anything that we repeatedly experience. This is called desensitization. It applies to everything. Over time, we get used to loud noises, heavy traffic, warm or cold temperatures. We also tend to get used to hearing cursing and seeing sexual and violent content on television and movies. We are no longer shocked or appalled. Unfortunately, we can also get used to mass shootings if we see them often enough.

It seems to me that the attention given to this most recent mass shooting in Florida was a bit less than expected. Actually, I think that I have heard a little less shock, concern and fear for the last few violent events. Are we becoming desensitized to random, senseless acts of violence? Do we see it as just “one more shooting.”

I hope not. Some things should shock us. Some acts must remain unacceptable. We should be alarmed. We may not know what to do about the problem yet, but we can’t accept it as the norm.

A Time for New Beginnings

Start the new year right with the best personal goals.

As we celebrate the new year, we often think of new year’s resolutions. I don’t hear people talk about them as often as I used to, but the topic still comes up. I think most of us consider resolutions a waste of time, as they’re usuallyProper goal setting can bring success. forgotten by February.

But still, a new year can be thought of as a new beginning or a new start. We hope that this year will be better than the last, that we will finally make that positive change, or at least have better luck. We look toward the future.

While New Year’s resolutions often fail, there is a benefit to setting goals. Research shows that most top athletes and business people set goals. They often attribute their success to proper goal setting. Their goals help them focus their efforts and increase their motivation.

So, how do we set goals that actually make a difference? Here are some guidelines to consider.

  1. Make your goals measurable.

    A goal should be specific so it is easy to determine whether it was or was not met. Saying you want to be a better person is nice, but your success will depend on the day of the week and who you ask. Saying that you will show some act of kindness every day is a little more manageable. Saying you will be healthier is too vague. Saying you will love twenty pounds is measurable.

  2. Give yourself a time frame.

    Set a specific time where you will check your success or failure. Saying, “I will lose twenty pounds by March first” will increase your motivation and focus.

  3. Don’t set too many goals.

    We can become overwhelmed by too many goals. Keep the number at three or less at first. If you succeed at those, you can add more.

  4. Visualize your success.

    There is tremendous power in visualization. Picture the time when the goal is a reality. Imagine yourself twenty pounds lighter. Picture the project as already completed. Be as detailed in your visualization as possible. Notice what you see, feel and hear in that moment. Notice the look on your face. Notice how good you feel with your success.

  5. Avoid self-criticism if you fail at a goal.

    You will not succeed at every goal you set. When you do fail, just start over. Try to identify why you failed and make corrections. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up with them. Self-abuse never helps. It just crushes your motivation and morale.

 

As this new year rings in, consider how you want your life to look. Self-growth is a good thing. You often can improve your circumstances. For years I have said, “I want to live my life deliberately.” Be intentional. Set a goal or two this new year, and see what happens.

 

The Dangers of Self-Pity and Benefits of Self-Compassion

While self-pity can ruin your day or your life, you can benefit greatly by learning self-compassion.

“There’s something about self-pity; it’s just so satisfying.”

                                                                   Unknown

 

It’s a strange thing. It is true that feeling sorry for ourselves can be oddly satisfying. We can easily drop into a state ofself-pity can ruin your life self-pity and then wallow in it. It can seem to provide a momentary comfort from the pains of life. When we’re in it, we just want to sit, and do nothing. For some reason, we humans can be drawn to it.

But self-pity is a bit of a trap. The mindset that feels comforting in the beginning soon turns into a crippling condition. It never serves to improve our circumstances, but rather, worsens them. We lose the motivation to take action. We wallow.

There’s little to recommend self-pity. But we all do encounter painful life events, and have to endure difficult circumstances. When life is particularly painful, how can we react? What mindset should we choose when life becomes especially difficult?

We know that self-pity isn’t helpful, so we often hear people admonishing themselves, or others, to avoid having a pity party. Such critiques are not helpful. They only add to the pain of the situation. They certainly offer no kindness or compassion.

A better alternative to self-pity is self-compassion. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. defines self-compassion as extending compassion to one’s self in situations of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering. To be self-compassionate, we must be open and aware of our hurt feelings, be kind to ourselves, and recognize that we are only human. Basically, we try to show ourselves the same compassion we would extend to a loved one who was experiencing the same painful circumstance.

When we are self-compassionate, we are more likely to take steps to recharge or heal. We may allow ourselves a day of rest, seek out the support of a friend, or do something nice or ourselves. We try to think kind thoughts about self. We avoid the harsh self-criticism that so easily floods the mind.

With self-compassion, we don’t wallow. After a brief moment of self-kindness, we take action to improve the negative situation, when possible. If we have hurt someone else, we apologize or try to make amends. When possible, we try to fix, or improve, the problem. We take steps to prevent the difficulty in the future.

With self-compassion, we recognize that we make mistakes, that we have weaknesses, and that sometimes life is painful. We recognize the truth, treat ourselves with kindness, and then move on to improve our lot. Seems pretty healthy to me.

Ten Negative Consequences of Self-Esteem Wounds

A self-esteem wound can impact the victim in many different ways.

Most would agree that a low self-esteem is harmful to the individual, but we may not realize that self-esteem woundsdepressed_man_001 can present themselves in many forms. People rarely come to see me complaining of low self-esteem, but they often come in because of the results of low self-esteem.

 

Self-esteem wounds can be the driving force behind many psychological difficulties. Here are a few.

 

  1. Depression:

    There are several types of depression. Some are primarily cause by a chemical imbalance, and can be inherited. Most depression, however, is brought about by negative life experiences, and negative thinking patterns. Self-criticism fuels depression. The individual is bombarded by negative thoughts about himself, and negative thoughts about his future. Treating depression usually requires helping the person alter negative thinking patterns. When the self-esteem improves, so does the depression.

  2. Anxiety:

    Self-esteem wounds often come in the form of inadequacy feelings. The person doesn’t feel prepared to deal with difficult life tasks, and anticipates failure. Everything begins to feel overwhelming. Anxiety is the natural result.

  3. Social Anxiety:

    This is when a person feels anxious in social situations. She assumes that others are judging her, and is afraid of saying the wrong thing or not being able to say anything. She assumes that others are better than she, are more comfortable in social situations, and therefore, are judging her inadequacies. With treatment, she learns to see herself as equal to others, thus lessening the social anxiety.

  4. Withdrawal:

    Similar to social anxiety, here the person avoids interactions with others. He may withdraw because of a fear of judgment, or simply because he no longer enjoys social interaction. He may see himself as less competent than others, or as less likeable or important. Assuming that he will not be liked, he avoids occasions where rejection is possible.

  5. Irritability and Temper Outbursts:

    When the person perceives herself as inadequate, she may assume that others are judging her. Her reaction may be anger. When she perceives herself as unlovable or unlikeable, she may perceive rejection even when it isn’t there. Her reaction to the perceived rejection may also be anger.

  6. Poor Relationship Choices:

    It may sound strange, but people tend to find themselves in relationships, that deepen their self-esteem wounds. The abused girl often grows up to marry the abusive man. The rejected boy is often attracted to the distant woman. The criticized boy often marries an overly critical wife. These choices are unconscious, but are common results of self-esteem wounds.

  7. Arrogant Behaviors:

    This one may surprise some people. We usually assume that someone who displays arrogant behaviors actually thinks too much of themselves. While this may be true at times, most arrogant people are actually compensating or hiding insecurities. They see themselves as less than others and try to hide that by bragging or acting like they are better than others.

  8. Underachievement:

    People with self-esteem wounds will not pursue opportunities as frequently. They doubt themselves. They expect failure, so they don’t attempt things. They dismiss their dreams because they think they are possible.

  9. Overachievement:

    This may sound strange, but some people with low self-esteem put too much effort into achievement. They sacrifice everything to succeed. They try to succeed to prove their former critics wrong. Such attempts are like pouring water into a bucket with a hold in the bottom. No matter how much you pour in, it never gets full. No amount of success will heal an inadequacy self-esteem wound.

 

The list could go on. Self-esteem wounds impact people in many ways. You may have seen yourself or a loved one in this list. If so, take steps to address the wounds. Self-esteem wounds can be healed with time, treatment and persistence.

 

Comments: Can you think of any other consequences of self-esteem wounds? Please share!