A Potential Flaw in Positive Thinking Psychology

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Photo Credit: ileanaandrei.ro

There’s a lot of talk these days about positive thinking and how important it is to change your thinking to improve your health and happiness. And while I won’t argue that our mindset affects our feelings and behavior (because I believe it absolutely does), I am concerned that we can put too much emphasis on thinking. That’s a big statement for a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) therapist to make! But here’s the balance that I would like to bring to the discussion: Though highly influential, thoughts are not an all-powerful force in our lives.

There are potential drawbacks to believing that everything we think affects our behavior. So even while we acknowledge the significance of our thoughts and strive to have healthier, more constructive thinking patterns, let’s also recognize some limitations of our thoughts. For example, thoughts…

  • do not always reflect what we really believe, feel or want.
  • do not always mean we will act on whatever that thought is.
  • do not always reflect reality.

Let’s take a closer look at why each of these points is relevant.

#1. Thoughts do not always reflect what we really believe, feel or want. We all have had bizarre, maybe even dark thoughts that pop into our heads at times—that is a normal part of being human. It does not mean you are “crazy” or a bad person. Some people struggle with these types of thoughts more than others, particularly people with issues like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or postpartum depression. On the extreme end, I’ve had clients who had intrusive thoughts about things like stabbing their spouses or molesting their child (even though they had no reason or desire to do such things), and they worried it meant there was something evil inside of them. Being bothered by your thoughts is a sign that they don’t reflect your wants or values. In cases like these that go beyond the “normal” occasional bizarre thoughts we all have, there are often biological causes for these thoughts. There is sometimes trauma in that person’s past that can be influencing these thoughts.

#2. Thoughts do not always mean we will act on whatever that thought is. Thoughts do not automatically manifest into behavior. None of my clients who had bizarre, or even violent, intrusive thoughts ever acted on them because that is not who they were.

Now, sometimes our thoughts do line up with our feelings and that makes it more likely we will act on them, but it doesn’t mean we have to. This is key for my clients in eating disorder recovery, who might have obsessive thoughts about not eating or about thinking they are fat (and also feeling fat). Though it can be incredibly difficult, they can choose not to act on those thoughts. In her book, Life without Ed, Jenni Shaefer describes it as “disobeying” the eating disorder. We can have thoughts and feelings about harming ourselves and decide to call a friend instead. A tape can play in our head about how that big presentation at work will be a flop, but then it turns out we nail it.

#3. Thoughts do not always reflect reality. Thoughts, like feelings, are not facts. Research confirms that much of what we worry about doesn’t even happen.¹ And just because we think something doesn’t make it true. We can think we’re ugly and actually be attractive. We can think we’re an idiot and be very intelligent. We can think we are boring and socially awkward while in reality, people find us engaging and pleasant to be around. The stories we tell ourselves are just that: stories. And sometimes stories are only partially true or sometimes they are completely false.

It is really, really good news that while we work on changing detrimental thoughts, we are not completely at their mercy until they change or go away. We can still choose to ignore or to act opposite of our thoughts when they aren’t healthy. Remember friends, we are not just thoughts… we also have a will and a conscience and many other elements that make up who we are and drive what we do.

Much love,
Cherie Signature

¹References: “85 Percent of What We Worry About Never Happens” By Don Joseph Goewey (www.huffingtonpost.com/don-joseph-goewey-/85-of-what-we-worry-about_b_8028368.html)

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

When You Can’t Fix Your Family

Dare 2 Hope_sad kid

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sometimes the people in our life who should love us the most and treat us with the most care, actually treat us with the most indifference. Or worse… inflict the most harm on us. It’s awful and it’s not fair, because we don’t get to pick our family. The good news is that as we get older, we get to decide how close we will be, emotionally and physically, to those family members. (See my previous post about How You Can (Finally!) Disengage from a Toxic Parent.)

A lady I used to do therapy with has a very dysfunctional family she struggled to detach from, even though their toxic behavior and comments provoked disabling anxiety for her, as well as profound feelings of shame and isolation. At 61-years-old, this woman was still trying to earn their approval and acceptance, and blaming herself for their maltreatment, thinking on a subconscious level that if she could just do things ‘right’, they’d finally love her.

Once, she described a vivid dream that she had when she was just four years old: “I was on a battlefield in the middle of a war and there was shooting and bombs were going off. I was lost and terrified at all the chaos and violence, when my parents and brothers and sisters drove up in a Jeep. I thought I was being rescued, but they looked at me, and then just drove off, leaving me there. I remember I woke up bawling, I was so scared and hurt that they left me.”

I asked if her if that little four-year-old girl deserved to be rescued, if she deserved more love and protection from her family than she got—not just in the dream but in real life.

“Yes!” my client almost shouted, angry tears welling up in her eyes as she grieved for that little girl.

“You are that little girl still. You’re just older. But there wasn’t a point, a specific age, when you stopped deserving those things.”

Friends, it’s so tempting for us, especially when we’re children trying to make sense of a confusing world, to believe that our family’s chaos or the abuse or neglect we suffer at their hands is our fault. Because if it’s our fault, then we can fix it, right? If it’s not our fault, and it is actually theirs… well, then that means we have no control over their behavior and that is scary—again, especially when we’re vulnerable children dependent on those very people.

Now you are grown up. And you still can’t fix them. And you can’t change them by ‘fixing’ yourself. But you can put in boundaries to minimize the degree to which they continue to rob you of joy, peace, and self-esteem. You get to decide now what you will and will not accept. And I hope you’ll stop accepting anything that is wounding your heart and soul. Believe it yet or not, you do deserve better.

Much love,
Cherie Signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

The First Step to Being Happy

Dare 2 Hope_chasing joy

Photo Credit: Psychology Today

Some of us just never really seem to find or hang on to happiness for long. And yet there are some people who are happy even when life is really hard. During our lifetime, we will, without question, experience heartbreak or undeserved tragedies. No one is immune; suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition. So how do some some people manage to stay relatively happy or more quickly recapture their happiness after devestation?

Those types of people take responsibility for their own happiness, and that starts with choosing to be happy.  It is always a choice to be made—and not just once, but daily, maybe minute by minute—even as we are bombarded with reasons not to be happy.

It can be tempting to abdicate our happiness responsibility by blaming our circumstances or others, and sometimes, it would even be perfectly understandable given what’s going on in our lives. But that leaves us helpless. Helplessness is scary because it means we will be stuck and miserable until something or someone else changes. When we realize we can take control of our happiness and are brave enough to own that process, joy becomes possible again, whether or not other things change. Taking responsibility means we are powerful instead of powerless. It’s not easy at all, but it is life-changing.

Ask yourself what keeps you from choosing to be happy. Does taking personal responsiblity for your feelings seem too hard? Does it feel like letting people who have hurt you off the hook? Make a list of all the ways that believing you have no control over your happiness prevents you from having the life you want. Now, make a list of the ways your life would be different if you could cultivate more happiness for yourself instead of waiting for it to happen to you.

After creating each list, consider making a commitment to start choosing happiness and learning how to live that out. Go ahead, it’s okay to chase joy! If you’re a reader like me, a fun book on the topic is The Happiness Dare by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

P.S. Depression can be a biological condition, not just an emotional one, needing medical treatment such as medication so please don’t think I’m saying depression can be cured by thinking happy thoughts! Sadness and depression are not only unavoidable at times, I don’t even think we should try to always avoid them. Though painful (I know from personal experience), they can serve a purpose by adding meaning and depth to our lives. They can grow us and teach us important lessons, like how to reach out for connection or to slow down and take care of ourselves. The point is just DON’T STAY STUCK there longer than you need to!

Be well,
Cherie Signature

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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9 Questions to See if Your Perfectionism is Hurting You

Dare 2 Hope - Perfectionism

For most of us who have it, perfectionism is probably both a blessing and a curse. The obvious upside is that perfectionism is associated with exceptional performance and achievement. Perfectionists tend to be driven to do whatever it takes to meet the high standards they set. But there are drawbacks to perfectionism too. In a recent article, psychologist David Burns says we are especially given to troubled relationships and mood disorders. It can also be detrimental to our physical health. Consider these ways it may be taking a toll on your life and well-being.

#1. You’re stressed out. A lot.
We perfectionists are usually black-and-white thinkers, placing situations at the extreme end of the continuum. Anything less than an A+ is equivalent to an F. Overcooking the chicken ruins the whole dinner. This all-or-nothing mentality produces intense pressure and anxiety to perform flawlessly at everything all the time. Of course, that is unattainable and we will make mistakes at times. But whereas this knowledge leads to self-compassion in others, it acts like a ticking tomb bomb for us…we’re just waiting for that inevitable (and in our minds, horrible) moment we finally fall short.

#2. Things are personal.
Perfectionists don’t separate themselves from things they do, so we view those things as a reflection of who we are. Take the above scenarios. Anything less than an A+ is the same as an F…and that means I’m stupid and I’ll never get a good job. Dry chicken ruins dinner…and that means I’m a terrible cook and mother because I can’t properly feed my family.

#3. You avoid challenges.
Because perfectionists usually have a fear of failure, we often procrastinate on things we don’t feel confident we’ll succeed at…if we even try them at all. This certainly means missed opportunities of all kinds—even valuable opportunities to learn and grow from failure (did just thinking about that make you break a tiny sweat like it did me?). Or maybe we avoid challenges because we’re afraid we will succeed…and then we’ll have to keep it up, and that can feel like too much pressure.

“Perfection is an illusion and those who chase it will find themselves unfulfilled their whole lives.”

#4. You’re emotionally fragile.
Whether it’s a getting second place or missing a typo in the office memo, every mistake is such a catastrophic event that we can obsess over it for days. Because perfectionists blow minor things into ginormous proportions, we don’t have the same level of resiliency that others have. If we’re honest, we’d probably have to admit that even small setbacks can produce emotional meltdowns, existential crises, and even temper tantrums.

#5. You have a hard time taking criticism.
No one likes to hear about their mistakes or flaws, but constructive criticism is essential for personal growth and healthy relationships. How can a marriage (or any relationship for that matter) be the best it can be if one or both people won’t hear anything from the other about a needed change? Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” We don’t want to look at the “unhealthiness” within us, but just like a disease, it’s there whether we acknowledge it or not.

#6. You’re a people-pleaser.
We find people not liking or approving of us borderline unbearable, so we have trouble setting appropriate boundaries. We end up saying yes to requests and accepting treatment that we secretly resent. We might make decisions based on what others think instead of being true to ourselves.

#7. You avoid opening up to people.
Being vulnerable means being okay with others seeing your messiness. If we equate having flaws with being unlovable, we will always be in hiding. The problem is that no matter how much we put our flawless front, people will see through the cracks at times. Our lack of authenticity just ends up getting added the shortcomings list. These kinds of walls lead to isolation and loneliness, which is a steep price to pay for a strategy that doesn’t even work.

#8. You’re always struggling to feel good enough.
Perfectionists have a long list of ways we don’t measure up to what we “should” be and all the ways we want to be better. Growth is not a bad thing, but constant, self-defeating striving driven by shame robs us of so much joy. Controlled by perfectionism, we never feel at peace being who we are right where we’re at. It’s like running on a treadmill and seeing that for every mile run, another one is added to the odometer. Talk about exhausting!

#9. You’re highly critical of others.
Yes, we perfectionists are certainly hard on ourselves. But it’s important to realize that we’re probably hard on others too, and that can deeply hurt people we love and our relationships with them. Are you hard to please? Overly demanding? Do you expect flawlessness from people all the time and react negatively when they fall short? We might be intentionally inflicting stress and feelings of inadequacy on our family, friends, and colleagues. If you’re not sure whether you are…ask them. If they seem hesitant to tell you, you should probably assume the answer is yes.

#10. ________
You tell me…What are some other costs of perfectionism you’ve experienced? How do you take advantage of the positive while minimizing the negative aspects of being a perfectionist?

Be well,

Cherie_signature

 

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

Letting Go Is So Cliché

Dare 2 Hope - Letting Go

We’ve all heard the phrase “let it go’ so often, it’s easy to gloss over. I almost yawned typing it.

And yet, living it out is so much more than a feel-good catchphrase. It’s profound and painful… and utterly life-changing.

There are two parts to this Letting Go Lesson, and today I’ll focus on the first. It’s about how so much of our unhappiness is because we are entirely mixed up about what we can and can’t control. We are desperate to control things (and people) that we can’t, and often don’t want to take control of what we should.

I want to control everything. Everything. From the other drivers on the road, to how fast the line at Walmart moves, to how my husband behaves. Does that sound familiar to anyone else? I cling to the idea that all these things and people should be a certain way. And perhaps sometimes I’m right. I mean, yeah, I think we can all agree that many people should be more considerate.

Reality check: They aren’t.

I always kept coming back to the fact that I don’t want to accept reality because it should be different, and it feels like accepting = okaying it. It doesn’t. It means that I finally realize keeping a death grip on my shoulds comes at a cost. Wanting to control things we can’t will inevitably lead to feeling angry, depressed, indignant, impatient, helpless.

Being mad doesn’t actually change any of the things we’re mad about, it just spoils our happy.

This pattern is not just pointless, it’s harmful. An old saying compares holding onto anger like holding a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned. Can you see that whether our anger at that person (or situation) is justified is irrelevant? Because everything will go on as normal while you stand there getting burned. Now, I’m not advocating against anger in general, because sometimes, that’s an appropriate response, such as when our boundaries are crossed. What I am saying is that when anger takes up too much space in our hearts, it will inevitably crowd out the happiness.

While we can’t control everything and everyone else, we can control ourselves. It’s just that’s the very thing we often don’t want to control. We’d rather say we’re the victim of crappy events and can’t help being unhappy about it. But even when we have no say in someone else’s behavior or how something turns out, we do have a say in a how we react.  We can choose to be perpetually angry or we can choose to let go and respond in a way that adds to our wellbeing.  We can decide to drop the coal…not because we’re necessarily wrong in thinking that things should be a certain way, but simply because we don’t want any more third-degree burns. In the psychology profession, we call this practice Radical Acceptance (a term from dialectical behavior therapy [DBT]).

So let’s learn to let go. I know, easier said than done, right? Stay tuned…next post I’ll talk about how we can do actually do it.

Be well,

Cherie_signature

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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7 Strategies for Surviving the Holidays

Surviving the Holidays - Dare 2 Hope Counseling

The holidays can be a wonderful time for many people, but for some, it can be a time of immense stress, anxiety, and even depression. Since Christmas is just a couple of days away, I wanted to offer some strategies for dealing with these emotional challenges, and also specific ideas for those struggling with an eating disorder.

Strategy #1: Put Things in Perspective and Prioritize
Sometimes, we simply take on too much. We want to be able to do it all and so we set ourselves up to be stressed and anxious. Decide what’s really important for you to do. Is it hosting a party? Decorating? Cooking for the family dinner? Making homemade gifts? Once you know what is most important to you, balance that with that you can realistically afford—both in terms of time and money!

Strategy #2: Take Time-Outs
It’s tempting to just go-go-go! all season long. Getting overwhelmed and tired makes us vulnerable to feeling stressed and sad, so take some time to slow down. Find some time to do things just for yourself that rejuvenate you like reading a good book, watching a favorite holiday movie, or whatever brings a few moments of peace to your spirit. You don’t have to say “yes” to everyone and everything (see #5).

Strategy #3: Get Support
Reach out to people you trust who can support you when you need it. A listening ear and encouraging word from someone who cares can make a big difference, so don’t hold whatever you’re struggling with inside. And if there are specific ways other people can help, let them! Relationships are built on reciprocity and while many of us are always happy to help others, we find it difficult to accept kindnesses in return. But rejecting people in that way isn’t good for you or those relationships.

Strategy #4: Grieve If You Need To
Unfortunately, the holidays can bring up a lot of emotional pain for some. Perhaps they are reminder of childhood trauma or they make the loss of someone special even more difficult. Whatever it might be, take some time to grieve the pain. By acknowledging and honoring it, it often feels less overwhelming.

Strategy #5: Put Up Boundaries
The holidays bring up many expectations from others, especially family. There can be a lot of demands for your time and attention, and sometimes, it’s just not healthy. Maybe because it’s simply impossible to please everyone since it’s not possible to be in two places at once (e.g. both you and your spouse’s mamas want to see the grandkids on Christmas morning) or maybe it’s because you simply don’t want to do something you’re being pressured to do. If your family is a dysfunctional mess and spending time with them is detrimental to your or your family’s well-being, it’s perfectly okay to put up boundaries and do your own thing. You really can say “no” to people, even family…just decide ahead of time you’re not going to board whatever Guilt Trip Express pulls up when you decline because you know it’s probably coming!

Strategy #6: Express Gratitude
Take just a few minutes to write down what you are grateful for in your life. It’s amazing how focusing on the good in our lives can help us feel happier. I had a professor in college that would always say, “The key to happiness is an attitude of gratitude”…and I think he was right.

Strategy #7: Get Outside Yourself
There’s nothing as uplifting as getting outside yourself. Try donating some time or money to a cause that you feel good about. Some ideas could be taking meals to shut-ins, adopting a Christmas Angel child in need of gifts, making and handing out blankets to the homeless…the options are endless because there’s a world of need out there and we each have gifts to offer! I promise, you can’t help but feel good after doing good.

Additional Strategies for Those With Eating Disorders:

  • Follow a structured eating plan
  • Find out the menu in advance
  • Determine where and when you will be eating
  • Identify a support person to help
  • Avoid “fat talk”, diet talk or food conversations that could be upsetting
  • Be assertive with people who pressure you to eat more/less
  • Get right back to structure if you engage in any eating disorder behaviors
  • Communicate feelings to support person
  • Have an “exit strategy” planned if things become too overwhelming
  • Suggest and develop family traditions that do not involve food (caroling, games, and activities)
  • Plan a variety of foods to help prevent bingeing on “Forbidden Foods” (from Best Practices for Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays)

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Much love,
Cherie_signature

We Are What We…

You Are What You Think - Part 2 - Dare 2 Hope Blog

We’ve all heard the expression, you are what you eat. I think something else is much more defining for us…and we’re actually a product of what we think.  Earl Nightingale said, “We become what we think about most,” and the Bible teaches us to “Keep vigilant watch over your heart because that’s where life starts” (Proverbs 4:23 MSG). This is an overlooked truth for people with eating disorders that can make a big difference in achieving and maintaining recovery. If you continue to obsess over things that reinforce eating disorder thoughts and behaviors, then you’re climbing a very steep uphill battle!

That means raising your awareness about what you think about and putting up some boundaries against things that aren’t constructive. Fashion and fitness magazines are one of the biggest offenders. I have a background in marketing and using Photoshop, so I thought understanding that the images were airbrushed made me immune to their power…but I eventually had to be honest and admit they affected me negatively. I still compared, still wished, still felt not-good-enough after looking at them. Pinterest fitness pins can be another serious problem. So can all the pins of ridiculously good-looking foods. And honestly, Facebook can be pretty triggering too.

If you’re serious about recovering, it’s time to take stock of the things you surround yourself with that are undermining all the hard work you’re doing to get healthy and get rid of them. It’s hard at first, but after awhile, you’ll be so amazed at how much freer you feel! Wouldn’t it be so much better to read a book or talk with a friend or do something else pleasant that makes you feel happy and peaceful inside?

But there’s one more thing…these messages don’t just come from the outside. They also come from within, and those need to be guarded against as well. Standing in front of the mirror for long periods of time and picking apart your body fills your mind and heart with destructive thoughts that feed the eating disorder. Next week, I want to talk more about that, and to give you a challenge. Until then…start noticing all the obsessing you might be doing that is completely counterproductive.

What are the worst offenders for you that work against your recovery? Could you possibly quit them cold turkey or start weaning off of them?

Much love,

Cherie_signature

Feelings – Fact or Fiction?

Feelings are like waves...

Emotions—particularly intense ones like depression, anxiety, and anger—can be so powerful that our judgment is sometimes clouded by them if we’re not careful. We can even find ourselves in a habit of being ruled by them, which is not fun for us or the people around us.

It’s an easy trap to fall into because feelings feel so real. I mean, when we look in the mirror and see certain flaws, we feel ugly, so we believe we must be. When our boyfriend doesn’t call, it feels like he doesn’t care, so we assume he doesn’t. While it’s hard to believe something other than what our emotions are screaming at us from the inside, we need to remember that feelings aren’t facts. Everyone has flaws and they don’t mean we aren’t beautiful. Our boyfriend didn’t call because his cell phone died, and he hasn’t gotten home to charge it yet. Assumptions and generalizations will get us in all kinds of trouble if we don’t watch out for how they play with our emotions!

And yet, feelings aren’t fiction either. We can struggle just as much and stay just as stuck when we tell ourselves that our feelings aren’t valid as we do when we believe they are the end-all-be-all. Peace finally starts to come when we stop struggling against our feelings from either angle and just accept them for what they are—feelings! In their own right, they are neither fact nor fiction, good or bad.

Instead, view feelings as red flags that something needs to be paid attention to. Learning to recognize and analyze these signals in a healthy way is whole other topic, but at least being able to remind yourself that feelings are okay but they aren’t facts is a place to start.

What do think is the hardest thing about dealing with feelings?

much love,

Cherie_signature