Saturday, August 14, 2010

We Can Give Too Much of Ourselves Away

Were you raised not to ever say "no" to your elders? Do you tend to want to please others? Does someone's anger at you make you cringe away from confrontation?

If any of these fit then you are probably struggling with giving too much of yourself away to others. It's not hard to do. When you think about it, it makes sense. If you have to always say "yes" to people's requests or demands on you, you will be always pushed for time, never able to take time for yourself or to just relax. You may develop resentments towards people and withdraw, creating an overly rigid boundary just so you don't have to face yet another request from someone.

Or, as a people-pleaser your needs are always secondary (or nonexistent) when compared to someone else's. Think resentments and frustrations would build up if you were always aware of what someone else wanted and never allowed yourself to be aware of your own needs, wants, or desires? I would.

And, heaven forbid that someone get angry. Chances are it would trigger our own anger and then things would get said and damage would get done. Regrets would build up and life would feel out of control.

Always giving to others can eat away at our very core. It begins by feeling like we don't know who we are because we haven't really ever spent much time with ourselves. We may be afraid of what we will find, not sure there is anything there, or not sure that we will like what we do find.

Regardless the fears, it is vitally important to not give too much of ourselves away. There is, of course, a balance to this dynamic. You don't want to give too much, but you also don't want to spend too much time on yourself so that you never experience a fulfilling relationship. YOU have to figure out what the right combination is for YOU, separate from anyone else. Though the work is hard, it is also extremely worthwhile.

So, be careful. Take a step back from all your activities. If this is hard to do, then take it one step at a time. A little hear and a little there can make for a good start in the right direction.

Regardless, do it. Take time to find out what you want (in ANY situation). What do YOU feel comfortable with? What don't you feel comfortable with? And, then respond accordingly. You have a right to say "yes". But, you also have a right to say "no". Become picky over where you will give your time and energy, and where you will not. Give your self permission to pick and choose. The people around you will adjust. It will make a big difference, after all, in keeping you from getting burned out, turning in to a crazed-beast when the straw breaks the proverbial camel's back. Who wouldn't want to keep that from happening???

Homework: Take a step back before you respond to requests. Get some time to reflect how you want to respond. Then, find an appropriate way to communicate it. Negotiate if you have to. But, also take care of your self FIRST.

Have Fun! It Makes a Difference...

Yes, believe it or not, having fun can have a therapeutic affect!

Think about it. What happens when you are having fun? Are you worrying during this time? No. Are you upset when you're having fun? No. Are you depressed when you're having fun? No! So, if you are free from all of these things for even just a few moments each day, what do you think the affect would be? I know this is a hard one if you're used to being miserable for most of your day, but take a guess anyway.

Ok, so you're absolutely FEEL better!

And, feeling better can shift us out of anxiety. It can shake us out of depression. It can give us the confidence we need to choose something different to spend out time on! So, what do you have to lose?

Aaah. Yes. Resposibility. It is the one thing that gets in the way. Right? Or, how about, looking silly? Maybe, being childish keeps you from having fun? Or, is the idea of all the horrible things in the world that are happening to people each moment keeping you from having fun? The anger you feel towards the abusive things your mom did to you while you were a child? How about dad? Your ex?

Whatever it is, I ask my clients to put that aside, just for a few moments and go have some fun. It could be to watch a fun movie or a fun TV show that makes you laugh. It could be to play with your niece or nephew, getting down on the living room floor and wrestling with them. It could be to go fishing by yourself, just you and the fish and the sun beating on the rippling water. This last week I had a water balloon fight with some clients and they LOVED every minute of it! So did I! And, even though they struggle with severe mental illnesses, they forgot about it and had fun. It made the rest of their day enjoyable, and that can be rare for someone that has been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder or Anxiety Disorder.

Homework: Look for something fun each and every day. The more minutes that you spend with fun the more you are going to feel better. Even if you don't feel like at first, do it anyway. Make the effort. And, then spend more time with other people that have fun with you.

You will find that this will make the biggest difference in your day!

How Art Therapy Works...

How art therapy works:

We all have walls up that keep people from getting too close. We have them in our language, through speaking to one another in words as well as in body language. We have not learned how to put those walls up when we are creating art. The process of being creative calls people to be fully expressed, not held back. This allows things to come up naturally.

Art does not lie. Things that we did not know were going on with us come out in the art work. Just like it comes out in our dreams, art work is created without a filter that tries to restrain it. In art therapy, this process allows us to talk about what is going on as well as gives the creator an outlet to express him or herself and become aware of self.

This process allows things to come up quickly, so it is important for the art therapist to be aware of this and work with the client to establish trust in the therapeutic relationship first. This is necessary before too much is shared and the client can become scared by her vulnerability. The process must go at the client's pace or it can become detrimental. Have a sensitivity to what can negatively affect the client is important as an art therapist. This sensitivity is acquired through clinical experience and is vital to creating a healthy therapeutic relationship.

When the balance between creating art and being able to open up and trust the process is found, the experience can be magical and more than worthwhile.

The Cards in the Blog Entries Are...

The cards in the blog entries are collages that I have done that represent personal struggles and/or aspects of my personality. They are a version of the "Soul Collage Cards" that were introduced to me by a certified Soul Collage Card Trainer. However, to tailor them to my experiences in art therapy I added words to the backs of them, giving them depth and meaning for me, and a good reason for exploration with my clients.

As you read these blog entries I will be adding them in. Although the cards do not refer to the stories I'm telling directly, they are good illustrations for the work that comes from self-exploration and the joy a person can find in accepting themselves through creativity.

Time to "Reclaim" Your Value/Worth

In all my therapeutic experiences (and possibly even prior to that), the one theme that just keeps coming up over and over, the one that seems to get in the way the most, is the theme that surrounds how valuable or worthwhile we feel we are. So many times, people have grown up in homes where they were either not told they were valuable or not shown. In fact, often, it is just the opposite. Abuse can take many forms (physical, mental, sexual, emotional, etc). However its form, the impact is the same: it is toxic and destructive. Each person that receives such abuse, whether it is a once in a while phenomenon or a regular occurrence, walks away feeling a little less than they did before.

So, how do you change this feeling? And, why is it so important to change? Why not continue feeling worthless? For me the answer is obvious, but for others they seem to ware it like a badge of honor.

Jenna was one of my first clients (all references are fictional, though based on personal experiences). She was a skinny, tall teenage girl who slunk down in her chair and didn't say much. She was only mildly interested in interacting with me, but when I began to bring out the art supplies she perked up. She was the third child in a seven children family. Although she knew she was loved by her parents, she felt like she did not matter, that her only value was in how many chores she could get done at home and how invisible she could become.

It took some time, but Jenna began to allow her self to be interested in things and express her creativity more and more. As she began to see that she was good at it, she grew in confidence. “You matter,” I would tell her. She would look at me in disbelief. “What’s in the way of YOU knowing that you matter,” I asked her. She shrugged her shoulders and didn’t seem to know how to answer this question. Despite this initial reaction, it wasn’t long before Jenna said clearly, “My family doesn’t believe I was molested by my brother.” This statement would have shocked me when I had first began doing therapy, but I found it was common to find abuse associated with lack of self-esteem.

We worked on it, her self-esteem. Before long Jenna began to believe she was worthwhile. She began to experience confidence enough that she began to stand up for her self. We had to work on how to do this in healthy ways, but it worked. She became more outgoing, having fun and relaxing around people, no longer shy and withdrawn.

That simple statement, “You matter,” can have a profound impact on someone. As a therapist, I am in a position of authority, but any person can make a positive impact on another human being. All you have to do is say the words, and then begin to believe in them for your self. Sometimes what we have to do is tell ourselves "I am worthy" over and over until we begin to let some of this truth sink it.

Each person has their own version of low self-worth. I had one client who thought "I am no good." I had to challenge this belief, identifying it as a belief that was handed down from his care givers, but was only their opinion. Not the truth. The truth is what we determine for ourselves. We can give power to a negative belief (which will give us certain outcomes) or we can choose to give power to a positive and empowering belief (which will also give certain outcomes). WE are the ones who get to choose. Not our family. Not our significant others. Not our children. No one, but us.

Homework: Determine what belief YOU want to have in your life. Then, take the time to spend a few minutes "trying it on" as if it were true. How would YOU feel if you believed you were fundamentally a good person? A loved person? A smart person? A dependable person? Whatever your negative belief is about your self, turn it around to the positive and then sit with it for a few more minutes each day! Then, let it sink in...