Itchy all over. The problem with self-esteem.

by therapyjourney

I have been reading about itch-scratching and it’s made me think. Everything weak that we do could be considered just scratching an itch. Procrastinating on a project that means the world to you. Not following through on your good habits. Giving up when things get hard. Feeling compelled to check social networking websites constantly. Comfort eating. Saying mean things because you lack compassion and you’ve got some stupid circular thought pattern going round and round your head and you just feel like lashing out.

If we could stop scratching the itch we could probably achieve a lot more. After all, if you can refrain from scratching an itch, you can do anything. The first step is noticing the itch – the unproductive behaviour. Then you realise its harm. Then you make a concious effort not to scratch the itch every time you feel the burning need. Sometimes, give in to the itch, have a good scratch around. It’s delicious. But recognising you’re merely scratching an itch, not doing something fundamental, means you will quite possibly do it less.

The further I travel on this journey, the more I learn that what we consider innate, normal or insurmountable is just conditioning. It’s merely programming that we can break if we put our minds to it. I’m reading an inspirational book called The Power of Accepting Yourself by Michael Cohen. In it, the author says that self-acceptance is the path to happiness.

Too often we equate self-esteem with our successes, and failure as a human being with failing to achieve our goals. This is incredibly damaging and counter-productive because when self-worth depends on achievements, it is by its nature temporary. When the boss tells us, ‘job well done’, there is the temptation to believe that because someone else thinks well of us, this is what makes us a good and worthy person. All people fail from time to time. That is what makes us human. What happens to our self-worth then?

So, making a mistake isn’t the same as being a mistake. Having a failure isn’t being a failure. Doing something bad doesn’t mean being a bad person. Your mistake was stupid, but you are not a stupid person for making it.

The book’s goal is to move the reader from self-condemnation to unconditional self-acceptance and to prove that ‘you never were, never are and never will be a worthless individual’. These are the affirmations that hopefully I will truly believe with conviction in time, after moving from my current purely intellectual understanding.

1) I do not have to agree with other people’s opinions of me.
2) I will never rate myself, only things about myself.
3) If I make mistakes, it is not because I am bad or sad but because I am a human being.

It’s also worth noting down the ABC model, proposed by Dr. Albert Ellis, the pioneer of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. This is important because breaking down what’s really happening when we are affected by an event is the key to being able to change it.

A = Activating event. (Any potentially stressful situation)
B = Beliefs. My thoughts and attitudes about A.
C = Consequences. My feelings and actions.
D = Disputing. Challenging our irrational Beliefs.
E = Effective new thinking.
F = new Feelings and actions.

A lightbulb went on in my head while I was reading these first couple of chapters, as I think I am guilty of giving up on myself too often, and seeking validation and acceptance from the wrong sources. Anything outside of ‘myself’ is the wrong source. I’m painfully dependent on things being peachy with my boyfriend in order to feel that I’m an OK sort of person, and not a lost cause. I crave constant positive feedback from him, and of course it’s not always forthcoming. I will try to implement Cohen’s ideas into my day-to-day dealings with myself. Just like EFT says, I completely and deeply love and accept myself.