February 15, 2011

Compassion: The Nasty Girl Despises It!

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:36 pm by kellyfdennis

Some say that the essence of self-esteem is compassion for yourself. When you have compassion for yourself, you understand and accept yourself.  Does that mean is OK when you do something that is truly against your values and beliefs?  No, but you can accept that as a human being you make mistakes.  Instead of ignoring your pain when you are having a difficult time, when you believe you have failed or notice something you don’t like about yourself, compassion for oneself involves recognizing and admitting “This is hard right now. How can I care and comfort myself in a healthy, functional way in this moment? How can I learn from this mistake without berating myself for it?” Compassion for self involves kindness and understanding when confronted with your own shortcomings. Things will not always go the way we want them to; we will encounter frustrations, losses, discover our own limitations. This is part of the human condition…we cannot be perfect! The more we accept and understand this, the more we can have compassion for ourselves.

When we can allow ourselves to feel compassion toward ourselves, we discover how to really feel compassion for others.  We will notice when another person is suffering, we will feel more compelled to gain understanding of the other person, thereby accepting them rather than judging or condemning them. We will realize that others cannot not achieve perfection either and may fail, reject us, or hurt us in some way occasionally. When we operate in the world with a compassionate mind, we recognize that we are all trying to get our needs met in one way or another; we all have beliefs or awareness (or perhaps limited awareness) that influence our behavior in the moment; and we all have experienced pain and hurt.

How would your life be different if you could think of yourself, your behaviors, your mistakes as well as the mistakes of others from a place of understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness…the Nasty Girl inside your head would be gone.

February 4, 2011

That Nasty Girl’s Assumptions

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:48 pm by kellyfdennis

Up to this point we have been exploring “automatic thoughts”, the actual images or words that the Nasty Girl uses to keep you in line.  This post is about the deeper, often unarticulated ideas or understandings that you have about yourself and your world that give rise to the Nasty Girl’s words. These particular ideas, beliefs, and values are made up of rules and assumptions that have been developed as a result of your lifelong learning, experiences, and interactions with others. Once again, beliefs are formed in response to a basic need: love and approval from parents, acceptance and belonging from peers, and the need for emotional and physical well-being. In our growing up years, we internalize the “rights and wrongs” (rules and assumptions) of these beliefs. Then we operate and make decisions in our lives, based on these beliefs, values, rules and assumptions.  Sometimes when we don’t live up to our standards of the rules and assumptions, we judge ourselves to be” bad” or” unworthy”.

There is nothing dysfunctional about holding beliefs and values…as long as they are healthy and functional.  Matthew McKay, a well-known author on the subject of self-esteem, identifies the following differences between healthy and unhealthy values:

  • Healthy values are flexible.  They allow for exception to the rule when circumstances warrant.  Unhealthy values are inflexible and universally applied “no matter what”.
  • Healthy values are owned rather than accepted without exploration. This means you critically examine the values and make sure that they represent what you believe; that they fit the uniques circumstances of your own life and worldview, not someone else’s.
  • Healthy values are realistic. They promote positive outcomes and healthy living in your life.
  • Healthy values are life enhancing. they encourage you to do what is nourishing and supportive, except in cases where the long-term effects would be painful for yourself or others.

Here are some common assumptions and rules for living that give rise to the Nasty Girl’s attacks:

  • I must be perfect in everything I do.
  • I should never fail at something.
  • I have to receive approval from others to like myself.
  • If someone thinks less of me, then I must think less of myself.
  • I shouldn’t have any negative emotions.
  • I should criticize, punish or reprimand myself if I make a mistake.
  • If someone hurts or offends me, I should get back at them.
  • It’s bad to let anyone down.
  • I should always be happy.
  • I should be totally self-reliant.
  • I should always protect my children from pain.

As before, this list is not all-inclusive, but do you make any of these assumptions?  What might be some others that you make? Are your rules and assumptions healthy or unhealthy based on the criteria above?  Remember, it’s ok to have beliefs and values if they are healthy and make sense in your current view of your life.

February 3, 2011

Marsha’s here to Help

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:11 am by kellyfdennis

Marsha (not her real name) went to therapy for help with her lack of motivation, sadness, and difficulty sleeping.  During her initial session, the therapist realized she had a very active pathological critic (aka Nasty Girl). Her therapist introduced the concept of the pathological critic and helped her learn how to talk back. She describes herself as “shy, a homebody, frumpy, and not well liked by others”.  What follows is the thought log she completed when trying to decide whether or not to attend a party, which is something she frequently avoids. (You’ll use the five columns; I couldn’t figure out how to show you that in this format.)


I was invited to a party by some co-workers.


The others at the party will reject me. Emotion- Anxious    Rating 90%  Cognitive Distortion-Mind Reading

They’ll see how nervous and awkward I am and they’ll think I’m weird.  Emotion-Anxious   Rating-80%   Cognitive distortion-Overgeneralization

I won’t know what to say.  Emotion-Nervous   Rating-50%   Cognitive Disotortion-Castrophizing

I’m a social loser.  Emotion-sad  Rating-100%  Cognitive distortion-Labeling

They’ll all be looking at me.  They’ll notice that I’m fat. Emotion-frustrated   Rating-80%  Cognitive Distortion-Mind Reading

I’m hopeless; there’s nothing I can do.  Emotion-sad  Rating-90%  Cognitive Distortion-All or Nothing thinking

I’ll just stay home. Emotion-relieved   Rating- 70%

Best Friend (healthy voice) answers to the challenge questions for the two highest rated thoughts:

I’m a social loser.

Evidence for:

I am quiet at parties.

I don’t get invited often.

I feel nervous around other people.

Evidence against:

I enjoy having one or two people over to my house.

My personality is quiet, that doesn’t make me a loser.

I have friends who say I’m fun to be around.

What’s the effect of believing this Nasty Girl message?

I feel badly about myself.

I feel lonely because I stay home.

I miss out on the chance to maybe have a good time.

The others at the party will reject me.

Evidence that supports this thought:

I perceive that people get quiet when they see me.

I didn’t have much to say at the Christmas party and Tommy moved onto another group to talk.

I stood alone at the buffet table at the Christmas party.

Evidence that doesn’t support this thought:

I have no way of knowing what others are thinking.

John came up and talked to me at the Christmas party.

February 2, 2011

It’s Time to Fight Back!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:20 am by kellyfdennis

By now, that nasty Girl inside your head might be making comments such as, “this isn’t working; this is boring; this is too hard.”  She’s getting worried.  Remember, she doesn’t want to be silenced.  On some level she’s worried that you won’t get your needs met without her, or that the psychological pain you’ll feel when she’s quiet will be too great.  Vigilance is the key here.  Keep at it.  Continue to identify her voice; talk back to her with the balanced view of yourself list; identify the cognitive distortions that you may be making.  The next step in the process is to actively challenge the messages she’s sending you.

 I mentioned creating a “healthy voice”; today we’ll begin to use that “healthy voice” to challenge the nasty girl.  As I mentioned previously, this healthy voice can be a trusted friend, a compassionate mentor, a beloved teacher.  It can be a real person from the past or present, or someone you’ve created.  This healthy voice will be rational, objective, supportive, and compassionate. The objective is to “hear” the healthy voice talking when you challenge the Nasty Girl.

In order to begin challenging the negative messages, it is helpful to return to the thought log exercise.  This time create five columns on a piece of paper.  When you notice that you are experiencing a negative mood change (remember it can be a subtle shift in mood), write down the situation in the first column.  In the second column write down the thoughts you are having (the messages from the Nasty Girl); the third column is for recording the emotions you are experiencing.  The fourth column is a new column.  In this column rate the intensity of the emotion at that moment, on a scale from 0-100. In the fifth column write down any errors in thinking (from yesterday’s blog) you may be making.

Eventually, you’ll challenge all the negative messages from the Nasty Girl, but for now, pick the thoughts on your log that created the highest emotional rating. Now, using the “healthy voice”, look at those thoughts (messages from the Nasty Girl) and answer some of the following questions about that thought:

  • What evidence is there that the thought is true? 
  • What evidence is there that the thought is not true?
  • Is there an alternative explanation?
  • What’s the worst that could happen? Could I live through it?
  • What’s the best that could happen?
  • What’s the effect of my believing what the Nasty Girl is saying?
  • What would be the effect if I didn’t believe her?

When you first begin to do this, you won’t really believe the challenging statements.  The Nasty Girl will say back “Yes, but…”. That’s normal, just keep at it. Tomorrow I’ll give you an example of a completed thought log and the healthy voice challenge statements.

February 1, 2011

Cognitive Distortions: One of the Nasty Girl’s Favorite Weapons

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:54 am by kellyfdennis

I hope that the last several posts have given you some awareness of what the Nasty Girl is telling you, the ways that she is bringing you down, and some realistic ammunition to use to refute her voice.  I believe the next step in the process is to gain even more awareness and insight into your own thinking processes and patterns. Before we go any farther, I want to clarify the difference between emotions and thoughts.  Emotions are feelings such as, happy, sad, mad, and scared.  Sometimes people will say things such as, “I felt like he really didn’t want to talk when he didn’t call for two nights.”  Really, what we mean here is that we believed that he didn’t want to talk.  This particular belief or thought may have caused us to have the feeling (or emotion) of sadness or anger. As we move forward, I am going to be asking you to log more of your thoughts and the corresponding feelings.  Therefore, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two. (A word clue: if you find yourself using the word “like” after the word “feel”, then it’s probably not a feeling, but rather a belief or thought.)

As human beings we frequently make errors in thinking, called cognitive distortions. These distortions get tangled up in the Nasty Girl’s messages. They are judgmental; they cause us to label people and situations in a sort of automatic manner before we’ve really had the chance to rationally process things. They allow us to look at the world from only one, biased perspective.  In addition, they are usually emotion-based, not rationally based.

Below are 12 common distortions as listed by Judith Beck, a cognitive psychologist:

  • All or nothing thinking (also called black-and-white thinking): You view a situation in only two categories instead of on a continuum.   Ex: “If I’m not a total success, I’m a failure.”
  • Catastrophizing (fortune-telling):  You predict the future negatively without considering other, more likely outcomes. Ex: “I’ll be so upset; I won’t be able to function at all.”
  • Disqualifying or discounting the positive:  You unreasonable tell yourself that positive experiences, deeds, or qualities do not count. Ex: “I did that project well, but that doesn’t mean I’m competent; I just got lucky.”
  • Emotional reasoning:  You think something must be true because you “feel” (actually believe) it so strongly, ignoring or discounting evidence to the contrary.Ex:  I  know I do a lot of things okay at work, but I still feel like (actually believe) I’m a failure.”
  • Labeling:  You put a fixed, global label on yourself or others without considering that the evidence might more reasonably lead to a less disastrous conclusion.     Ex:  “I’m a loser, he’s no good.”
  • Magnification/minimization:  When you evaluate yourself, another person, or a situation, you unreasonably magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive. Ex: “Getting a mediocre evaluation proves how inadequate I am.  Getting high marks doesn’t mean I’m smart.”
  • Selective abstraction:  You pay undue attention to one negative detail instead of seeing the whole picture. Ex:  “Because I got one low rating on my evaluation (which also contained several high ratings) it means I’m doing a lousy job.”
  • Mind reading: You believe you know what others are thinking; failing to consider other, more likely possibilities. Ex:  “He’s thinking that I don’t know the first thing about this project.”
  • Overgeneralization:  You make a sweeping negative conclusion that goes far beyond the current situation. Ex:  “(Because I felt uncomfortable at the meeting) I don’t’ have what it takes to make friends.”
  • Personalization:   You believe others are behaving negatively because of you, without considering more plausible explanations for their behavior. Ex:  “The repairman was curt to me because I did something wrong.”
  • “Should” and “must “statements (imperatives):  You have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave and you overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met. Ex:  “It’s terrible that I made a mistake.  I should always do my best.”
  • Tunnel Vision:  You only see the negative aspects of a situation. Ex:  “My son’s teacher can’t do anything right.  He’s critical and insensitive and lousy at teaching.”

Your task for today is to go back to your first exercise in which you wrote down your thoughts for a few days.  First, be sure that you have identified thoughts, not feelings.  Then, read the above errors in thinking and see if you can identify which ones you participate in most often.  Remember, we all make errors in thinking.  Becoming aware of them give you even more fire power in refuting the Nasty Girl’s messages to you.

Until tomorrow…


ponderings on life, food, God, and love

Grace on the Moon

Do Not Weigh Your Self-Esteem on a Scale

on anything and everything

my thoughts on what I see