January 31, 2011

Toward a New Self-Description

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:34 am by kellyfdennis

Did the nasty girl fight you as you were working on a more accurate description of your weaknesses? That’s pretty normal.  Were you able to talk back enough to get a reasonable list of realistic descriptions of your weaknesses?  I hope so.  If not, keep at it, and don’t move onto this exercise until you can complete the last one. While I’m at it, a note about the exercises; it’s not enough to just read about the exercise and “imagine” yourself doing them.  If you want to commit to silencing the Nasty Girl, you need to actually complete the exercises.  To quote the Nike commercial, “Just Do It!”

Now, onto describing your strengths; I touched on the “bragging” issue in the last post.  However, I want to stress that we need to create a balanced list of strengths. We can readily come up with a list of pejorative statements of our weaknesses, but an accurate description of our strengths can elude us. We may believe that someone will “knock us down”, or disagree with us when we state our strengths. That’s your Nasty Girl talking.  Don’t let her get in the way. This is an important step in creating a balanced view of who you are.

Go back to your descriptions about yourself.  On a fresh piece of paper list all the items you circled, the ones you liked about yourself. Also, look at the restated weaknesses; list any that you restated using corresponding strengths. Now, include strengths that you did not list previously. Next, imagine those people that you have loved and admired.  What qualities about them lead you to love and admire them?  List those qualities on a separate piece of paper. As you review what you wrote, do you have any of those qualities?  You probably do, that’s one of the reasons you love and admire them.  Add any of those qualities you recognize to your list of strengths.

Review your strengths. Rewrite them in sentences using accurate descriptive adjectives.  For instance, if one of your strengths was “funny” or “good sense of humor”, elaborate, creating full sentences, such as “I have a quick, perceptive sense of humor that people appreciate.”

That Nasty Girl has spent a lifetime refining your faults and weaknesses, but has ignored your strengths.  Spend this time elaborating, and being audacious about your strength statements.  You do deserve to recognize them. You Go Girl!

The final step in this exercise is to create a new self-descriptive statement that is true, unbiased, and supportive. It doesn’t deny the things you’d like to change, but it also doesn’t deny those qualities that are great about you. This may take a couple of attempts; that’s ok.  Once you get an accurate description, read it to your trusted friend or therapist and ask for feedback.  Incorporate that feedback as you believe is necessary.  Remember, this is how you want to perceive you.

Once you get a balanced, accurate self-description, read it often.  Celebrate your strengths, commit to working on the weaknesses you want to change (remember:  balanced, realistic). Recall your strengths daily, pay attention to times when you exhibit them, remind yourself of past times when you demonstrated specific strengths.  The Nasty Girl has spent years polishing your weaknesses; you can now spend some time polishing your strengths. This is yet another tool you will be able to use to “talk back” to her.

Next post we’ll explore additional tactics that the Nasty Girl uses to keep you in line: Errors in thinking.

January 30, 2011

What the Nasty Girl Doesn’t Want You to Know; part 2

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:34 am by kellyfdennis

There are many ways to assess our strengths and weaknesses.  These guidelines certainly are not all-encompassing; however, they may give you a more balanced view of your strengths and weaknesses.  The second part of this exercise typically the most challenging and the one that I recommend enlisting the help of a trusted friend or therapist*.

We all have internalized a psychological portrait of ourselves. It is based on all our learning, experiences, interactions, success, losses, etc. In a later post we’ll talk about the “filter” that we all have that colors our view of reality, including our inner portrait; but for now, just realize that for most of us, our picture of ourselves is distorted in some way; some of us more than others.  That distortion is yet another yummy morsel for that nasty girl that lives inside your head. The purpose of this exercise is to sift through some of that distortion and get closer to the “real” picture of ourselves.

The first step in this exercise is to write down in as much detail as possible using descriptive phrases, how you perceive yourself at this moment in time in the following areas (judgment, distortion, and all):

Daily living: managing personal needs, hygiene, care of children and family, organizing your day, etc.

Physical appearance: height, weight, skin, style of dress, specific body parts.

Relationships: how you are in your friendships, intimate relationships, family, and acquaintances.

Personality: positive and negative traits.

Academically or in your career: performance, how you handle specific tasks.

Cognitive Functioning: your ability to problem-solve, your general fund of knowledge and wisdom.

 After you have completed your list, go back and circle the things you like about yourself; underline the things you don’t like or would like to change about yourself. Now on another piece of paper make two columns. On the left side make a list of all the things you underlined. (Leave room between each item). On the right side you are going to restate these faults in more realistic terms.  There’s nothing wrong with weaknesses, we all have them.  Your nasty girl just likes to use them to beat you down. She uses them to destroy your self-esteem.

*This is where the mindfulness skill of non-judgment might be helpful. If you were to just observe your weaknesses and not judge or fix them, how would you describe them? Below are the “restating” guidelines.  On the right side of your paper opposite your weaknesses use the guidelines to create more realistic statements:

-Eliminate language that has negative connotations: get rid of words like stupid, fat, ugly, bigmouth, etc. For instance, change “bigmouth” to “two times this year I have told things to others that I shouldn’t have.”

-Use words that are specific rather than general: get rid of words like always, never, everyone, etc. Be specific, for instance, if one of your relationship weaknesses is “can’t say no”, it is more helpful to restate it as “I have trouble saying no to my children.”

-Don’t exaggerate the negative: for instance “huge hips” is language that has negative connotations and it is an exaggeration.  It is more accurate and less pejorative to list the actual measurement of your hips.

-Find exceptions to the weakness: Instead of “lousy at making friends”, say “quiet around strangers in big groups, but able to open up when one on one.”

 Take your time with this exercise; take a break, if you need it. This is an important step in changing the negative evaluations the nasty girl uses to criticize you.

 Next up: strengths.

January 29, 2011

What the Nasty Girl Doesn’t Want You to Know; part 1

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:19 am by kellyfdennis

So, how did non-judgment go for you?  If you are like most of us, it was probably difficult to observe without judgment every time. As I mentioned, we all judge and evaluate pretty much constantly. That’s how we develop opinions about things, likes and dislikes.  The purpose of the experiments was to help you increase your awareness of the frequency and quality of the judgments you make.  For example, let’s say you are a person who likes chicken, but you don’t like sushi (you developed this opinion by making an evaluation about the tastes of chicken and sushi; so far, no dysfunction).  You accept a dinner invitation with a group of people. As you are ordering, you notice that everyone so far has ordered a sushi dish. You know that you like chicken, you don’t like sushi; but all of a sudden the nasty girl pipes up and says, “Look, everyone else likes sushi (comparison).  There must be something wrong (dysfunctional judgment) with me because I don’t like sushi the way everyone else does.” Sometimes the nasty girl will even go a step further and call you a nasty name, “These people will think I’m such a loser because I don’t like sushi.”

Obviously, we need some more ammunition to fight back against this nasty girl. The first tool we explored was to practice your skill of non-judgment; the more you can learn to accept, observe, not judge, the more you will be able to refute what she is saying.  Another tool for “talking back” to her is to explore how you perceive yourself; not through her eyes, through an accurate self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.  This is very challenging to accomplish; especially if your nasty girl has been fierce in her assessment of you.  Remember, you have believed her without question for most of your life. However, this is a very good exercise to participate in to get closer to your goal of silencing her.

Before we get started, there are two road blocks to this exercise you need to be aware of.  The nasty girl inside your head isn’t going to like this exercise. She does not perceive you clearly and realistically. She will want to talk you out of identifying your strengths or describing yourself in objective, realistic terms.  You will hear her say, “Yeah, but…” Also, sometimes we feel as if we are “bragging” when we identify our strengths.  We believe that we shouldn’t “get too full of ourselves.” (Wow, there’s a nasty girl statement!) There’s a difference between “pride goeth before the fall” and learning to honestly assess our strengths. There’s a balance to be achieved. Therefore, it may be extremely helpful to write out the first part of the exercise; next have a trusted friend or therapist help you to stay objective and realistic, not being swayed by the nasty girl, as you are restating your descriptions.  This is the first time that the nasty girl will realize that you are up to something; she’s going to start to get worried and will probably intensify her insults and pejorative language. Hang in! Don’t give up!

I’ll give you the guidelines for the self-assessment exercise in the next post.

January 28, 2011

Observe, Don’t Judge

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:00 am by kellyfdennis

I hope the last post was helpful to you in figuring out how to hear the nasty girl when she speaks and discerning her function and purpose.  I listed some common themes and needs that you may have discovered.  Please realize, though, that you may have discovered additional themes, needs, feelings, etc.  There are many ways in which she criticizes, cajoles, and pushes.  The journey we are going to begin today will help with whatever messages you may have discovered coming from her.

One of the most common themes which seem to plague the people who sit across from me is one of judgment. As I’ve mentioned before the habit of judgment is adaptive and functional to a certain degree.  We need to evaluate situations and surrounding to learn more and make decisions about our circumstances. It becomes dysfunctional, however, when we turn that judgment (good or bad) onto our selves or other people.

One way to silence your nasty girl in this department is to practice the mindfulness skill of non-judgment.  I’ve touched on this before as it relates to our emotional experience. If we can practice a non-judgmental attitude in various situations, we become better prepared to “talk back” to the nasty girl when she makes harmful judgments.

To review the concept of mindfulness:

Goldstein & Kornfield, 1987, say: Mindfulness is that quality of attention which notices without choosing, without preference.  It is a choice-less awareness that, like the sun, shines on all things equally.

Marlatt, 1994, describes it as this: Mindfulness accepts present experience as one of constant change.  All experiences arise and pass away like waves on the sea and mindfulness accepts this on a moment-to-moment basis.  There is not an attempt to control or fix the present moment or what happens next.

So, it’s being in the moment; accepting, observing, not fixing or judging as good or bad. Try the following experiments and see if you can apply the mindfulness skill of non-judgment in these everyday situations.

The Media: The next time you read the newspaper or watch the news, read or watch without judgment.  Practice noticing the facts, realizing that “it is what it is”; stay neutral, stay detached, just observe. After you’ve tried it, take a few moments to jot down your experience.  What was it like to practice non-judgment? How difficult was it to shift from evaluating to just observing? Did you have to do anything inside yourself to avoiding judging?

Strangers:  Ever notice how many times we evaluate people we don’t even know based on their behavior, appearance, etc.? See if you can watch others at the mall or on the street, just noticing the facts, staying neutral, just observing. Realizing that as human beings we are doing what we need to do to meet our needs at that current moment given the information we have at the time. Again, write a bit about your experience.  Was it difficult not to evaluate the behaviors or appearance of others? What was the hardest to accept?

Yourself: This one is probably the most difficult.  We are almost constantly in the process of judging ourselves.  Pay attention to how many times today the nasty girl makes a judgment of you.  Tomorrow try to just observe yourself without evaluation (good or bad). Practice just noticing the facts, realizing that “it is what it is”; stay neutral, stay detached, just observe. After you’ve tried it, take a few moments to jot down your experience.  What happened in your mind as you tried to push evaluation away and just observe?  Was it difficult to just mindfully observe yourself?

In the next post I’ll talk about how to use the concept of non-judgment to work on an accurate self-assessment; something you’ll need to talk back to that “Nasty Girl”.

January 27, 2011

Catching The Nasty Girl in the Act

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:08 am by kellyfdennis

At the end of the last post I talked about figuring out what the nasty girl’s purpose and function is in your own life.  Before you can do that, you need to make sure you can recognize when she’s speaking.  Most of us have believed her for so long that we accept what she’s saying as fact and a part of who we are.  This post focuses on learning how to hear her and then discerning what her purpose is in your life.

There are several ways to catch her in the act.  I think the most effective way is to use a cognitive therapy technique called a thought log. Here’s how you begin to become more aware of her:

                During day 1 of your exploration, pay attention to your mood.  When you notice yourself experiencing a negative mood change, stop and take the time to jot down a few things.  First write briefly about the situation: what’s happening, who is around you, what behaviors you are engaging in. Then write down all the thoughts you can remember thinking (especially ones about yourself) when the negative mood change happened. Next identify the emotions you were/are feeling (angry, sad, scared, disappointed, etc). Don’t go any further with the exercise on Day 1, except for recording situations, thoughts, and emotions.  Do this as many times during the day as you can.

                On Day 2, repeat the exercise from day 1. Repeat this exercise as many times as you need to in order to become familiar with your nasty girl and what she’s saying. You may need to do it for a couple of days, that’s ok.  At the end of the day, review the thoughts on your logs. See if you notice any themes or patterns in your thinking. Some common themes could be high expectations of yourself or others, comparisons, familiar statements from growing up years, perfectionism, fear of rejection, fear of failure, just to name a few.

Ok, so now you can recognize when she’s speaking and what she’s bugging you about.  Now you need to explore her purpose and function in your life; that is, why is she continuing to bug you about these particular themes? This exploration goes back to our discussion about getting our needs met.  Remember, she’s trying to force you to get your needs met and minimize pain while doing it. Go back and look at your themes and figure out which need you are trying to get met.

The “needs” broken down:

-The need to follow the rules and values that your Nasty Girl thinks will keep you on the “right” track.

-The need to feel adequate. She does this through comparisons with others so that you may occasionally come up higher on the social ladder, or setting incredibly high standards so you feel good when you occasionally meet them.

-The need to be accepted by critical parents.  She accomplishes this by making the same critical comments of you that they did when you were growing up.

-The need to achieve. She berates you for not doing better, thereby “pushing” you to try harder.

-The need to minimize painful feelings (fear of failure, fear of rejection, worthlessness). She tells you that “you can’t do it”, so you don’t try and your fear recedes.

 By now you can recognize her voice and you are beginning to learn her purpose and function in your life.

Next time, let’s begin the process of silencing her and finding more productive ways to get your needs met!

January 26, 2011

Why Do We Listen to the Nasty Girl?

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:24 pm by kellyfdennis

I won’t go into all the psychological theory behind this, but the short version is we all have needs that we strive to meet.  We have basic physical needs, but we also have psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs. We have the need to feel secure and unafraid most of the time; to be accepted by parents/caregivers and significant others; to feel effective and competent in the world we live in; and to have a sense of worth and purpose. Our days are spent consciously and unconsciously trying to get these needs met.

This leads us on a problem-solving, evaluating, and decision-making journey.  As human beings we evaluate and make judgments about things in our lives and surroundings.  This is functional to a certain degree.  Evaluating and judging our surroundings helps us to determine our likes and dislikes, what’s pleasurable or distasteful to us.  This process helps us to decide what to include and not to include in our lives. However, that nasty girl inside your head goes one step further.  She makes judgments about you. She makes you an object and judges you as good or bad.  As I mentioned before, when she judges you as bad, you ultimately end up rejecting a part of yourself causing you to feel tremendous psychological pain. We human beings don’t like pain and we’ll do just about anything to avoid it.

Enter the nasty girl. She criticizes and insults you to force you to live by the rules you internalized in your growing up years (acceptance from parents?); she tells you to judge and compare yourself to others so maybe once in a while you may come out feeling superior (effective and competent?); she pushes you to be perfect so that you’ll be pushed to achieve more and more (avoid psychological pain briefly?); she tells you you’re stupid for even trying so you won’t even bother trying and therefore don’t have to worry about messing up. This list of reasons we listen to her certainly isn’t exhaustive, but you get the point.  She’s trying to force us to get our needs met while minimizing pain; the only problem is that even if it does work once in a while, the “feel better” time is very short-lived. 

So the answer to the question is this: we listen to her because in a bizarre way she serves a function and a purpose. Before you can silence her you need to do some exploration to figure out the specific function and purpose she serves in your life.  More on that next time!

January 25, 2011

That Nasty Girl (or Boy) inside Your Head

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:08 pm by kellyfdennis

At the end of the LCW article I asked you to “send your harsh internal critic packing”.  Some of you have said to me “that’s great advice, but how do I do that?” This next series of posts will be written to help you with that task.  As always, self-help in conjunction with face 2 face counseling is extremely effective in helping you to modify behaviors that you desire to change.

The harsh internal critic was called the “pathological critic” by psychologist Eugene Sagan to describe the negative inner voice that we all possess.  I call her the “nasty girl” because I work mostly with women.  However, gender is a moot point.  The pathological critic can take on either gender.  Therefore, your harsh internal voice may be a “nasty guy” if you are male. I’ll use female pronouns, but these principles apply to any “nasty” voice regardless of gender.

The nasty girl gets her fuel from judgments and evaluations. Usually, she makes a judgment and you come up failing; rejecting a little bit of yourself every time she does it, which may cause you great psychological pain.  You may find yourself avoiding anything that might magnify that pain: social interaction, academic pursuits, and relationships, just to name a few. She’s a pain in the !@#$ and needs to leave!  You’ll have a much more functional life without her.

Those of you who are fluent in psychobabble will notice that I have personified the pathological critic so you can create some distance from her. This is an important step.  Even though she is a part of you, you need to begin to see her as an outsider if you want to silence her (or at least turn down her volume). At the same time, let’s personify a “healthy” voice; a voice that will speak realism and positivity into your life while challenging the nasty girl’s judgments and criticisms. This voice can be a beloved teacher from your growing up years, a coach, “my accepting part”, “my compassionate part”, etc. Humor me; it’s an important part of the process.

So, who is this nasty girl and how did she get inside your head? She is a result of your early childhood experiences.  We all receive self-esteem “messages” from parents, siblings, extended family, other caregivers, teachers, and peers.  The negative messages individually are relatively harmless, but when our subconscious catalogs thousands of them, they carve a river in our identity. “What were you thinking?”, “How stupid are you?”, “You’re so lazy.”, “Can’t you do anything right?”, etc. Negative, negative, negative.

Trauma also fuels the nasty girl. Many of us were affected by sexual, physical, verbal abuse which cause feelings of fear and fear makes whatever we believe and learn much more powerful.  In addition, experiences of loss or abandonment  in childhood create a belief system where we may think we are to blame for parents divorcing or a death in the family.

Whether the nasty girl who lives inside your head was affected by negative self-esteem messages or trauma (or both), the result is the same:  a belief that you are flawed and worthless. So why do you listen to her if she is so dysfunctional? We’ll explore that in the next post.

Until next time…think realistically!


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