Is being perfect achievable, desirable or even healthy? I suggest that perfectionism may lead to anxiety and depression, read on to find out more.Read More
Do you secretly believe that if you keep everyone around you happy the world is a more pleasant or perhaps even a safer place?
Do you believe that you should never show any negative feelings, always trying your best to be enthusiastic and happy?
Do you put other people’s needs before your own even if they don’t expect you to do so?
Do you make it your life’s mission to make sure you avoid conflict with others?
Do you find it difficult to say no to other people’s demands?
Do you often feel exhausted and want to be alone?
Does it seem like you have to do all of the running around in relationships?
Do you pretend to be OK when others hurt you?
Are you a bit of a cameleon, morphing into a different person around others just to fit in?
Do you think you have to be nice at all costs?
Do you feel responsible for other people’s feelings?
These types of behaviours often stem from a lack of self-worth and without a sense of self-worth we are unlikely to believe that our feelings and needs are as important as others and will therefore put everyone else before ourselves.
If we don’t value ourselves we will find it difficult to implement the boundaries that we all need to keep us safe and this can lead us to feel very vulnerable when faced with conflict. It’s little wonder then that we will do anything we can to avoid confrontation mistakenly believing that “nice=safe”.
As a people pleaser you may mistakenly believe that if you are always happy, upbeat and looking after other people’s needs, when you need something back, others will be there for you, but here;s the thing, other people aren’t living their lives using your rule book and when they let you down by not meeting your implicit expectations not only will it sting but more often than not it will feed into your belief that you aren’t as worthy as others, after all how could anyone be horrible to a nice person right so clearly you aren’t nice enough!
If you’ve had enough of putting yourself last all of the time perhaps it’s time to break this habitual behaviour and to challenge the thought process that it stems from. Counselling could help you do just that and I’m here to help.
Michelle Brown dip.couns.MBACP is a counsellor based in Tunbridge Wells.
Struggling with anxiety can be an isolating, unpleasant and debilitating experience. Is it any wonder that the people suffering will try to avoid it?
The problem is this avoidance can stoke the power of anxiety so how can we tackle this increasingly prevalent condition?
This very short article seeks to explore some of the thinking styles that keep the vicious cogs of anxiety going.
The biochemistry associated with anxiety prepares us for the fight, flight or freeze response.
The part of the brain responsible for this could be thought of as an on-board smoke alarm, constantly on the lookout for threats to our survival. It keeps us safe by activating the sympathetic nervous system which enables us to fight or flee. Of course in more primitive times we may have faced threats to our survival on a daily basis and may well have needed to run away from a predator, fight others for our food or automatically become frozen so that we were in less pain whilst being devoured! But what sends these systems into overdrive these days?
Life experiences, thinking styles and a predisposition all have a part to play.
Unhelpful Thinking Styles:
Unhelpful thinking styles can trigger the survival brain into action and once activated the thinking brain struggles to take control it may become difficult to remember things or challenge our negative thinking. It is easy to see how this becomes a vicious cycle.
Something bad is going to happen!
If we regularly overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening to us perhaps based on past experience, this pattern of thinking becomes ingrained. Our internal smoke alarm may well feel under threat all of the time!
Worrying keeps me safe.
Does worrying keep you safe? If you predict every possible scenario that is likely to occur as a result of your actions are you be protected from hurt, rejection, danger? .
I must be prepared for every eventuality
Perhaps you believe if you workout every possible thing that might go wrong you will be more prepared to deal with the situation if it occurs. How many of those scenarios ever come into play? How much time have you wasted worrying unnecessarily? Has this style of thinking triggered more anxiety?
If I avoid the situation my anxiety will go away
One of the results of distorted thinking and the anxiety is that it creates is avoidant behaviour. Perhaps you can think of an example where you avoided a social situation because you have thought of too many “potential” dangers. Perhaps you self-sabotaged a promotion because it meant standing up and publicly speaking? Perhaps you have avoided a difficult conversation because you worry about the outcome. Unfortunately when we start to avoid we never get to challenge our fears and distorted predictions so we never get to see that things can take a more positive path and we become locked into that groove of anxiety.
Perhaps I can help you to work out what fuels your anxiety and perhaps together we could get you to step off of that vicious cycle.
Michelle Brown Dip. Couns. MBACP
People come to counselling for all sorts of reasons but although their personal experiences vary greatly there are often common themes in their behaviour that is tripping them up and keeping them stuck.
Written for Support Local Magazine’s February/March edition, In this short blog I consider the 10 rules to follow to lead an unhappy and unfulfilling life.
1/ Never take a few moments each day to reflect on what you are enjoying in your life and what feels wrong.
2/ Never take a hard critical audit of what you are doing to see if it fits in with your true values. Make sure you follow the crowd and always conform to what the crowd is doing. Be sure to live your life by the values of your, Mum, sister, school, friends, society or your next door neighbour but one. Do what is expected of you at all times and never stop to think if it’s what you want.
3/ If you’ve haven’t got an addiction of some kind be that, food, alcohol, drugs, social media, self-sabotage or relationships, make sure you get one as soon as possible. It fills up that space where life could be peaceful and uncomplicated. If you already have an addiction spend as much time as possible pretending to yourself and others that you don’t.
4/ Strive for perfection in everything that you do. Never settle for the comfortable place of excellence be that at work in relationships or exams. If you want to stay trapped in your unhappy world it’s imperative to expect perfection from everyone else too. Perfection is an impossible target to achieve so it will help you to feel bad about yourself for as long as possible. Don’t forget to waste lots of time questioning every exchange you have with friends, relations, lovers and work colleagues It will keep to the theme of royally f@@king up your life.
5/ Make sure you make your life as complicated as possible, by not putting in any boundaries and always saying yes to everything that is asked from you, even if you don’t have the time, resources or energy. When you get to burn out never stop to think about what is important to you and what you can let go, just keep going until you crash.
6/ Pick a partner who’s not that into you, doesn’t give back as much as they take and always makes you feel bad for needing or expecting more. For extra points here make sure they belittle your feelings and expect you to apologise when they do something wrong. Get creative here, if the partner you choose is already broken or needy you can waste lots of energy trying to fix them they are a perfect fit for the miserable life you have chosen.
7/ Make sure your belief system keeps you trapped. Keep it limiting. Believe that inner critic that tells you that you shouldn’t try, that your incapable, stupid, too short, too unlovable. If you need some help with this be sure to tune into instagram, facebook or twitter at least 10 times a day to reaffirm just how rubbish you are compared to everyone else.
8/ Have absolutely no belief in yourself. If you do you might try something new and succeed! Stay small, hide and bitch about the person that succeeded and laugh at the person who tried and failed.
9/ Always take the most comfortable decisions and never take risks. Listen to the doubters and never step out of your comfort zone, it’s a scary world out there and if you take a risk and succeed you might be happy.
10/ Finally be scared of change and make sure you do a job you absolutely hate. And stick with it for as long as possible. Make sure you have an armoury of excuses for carrying on doing it too. Never chance sharing an idea or opinion at work, you might get noticed and who knows where that might lead? Promotion?
To live an extraordinarily unhappy, dull and conformist life it is important to start these patterns of behaviour as soon as possible in your life and of course if you ever allow yourself to notice how unhappy you are, make sure you leave it as long as possible to get some help with it all. That way your way of being will be second nature to you and will take longer to resolve.
However remember life is very short and if you would prefer to live a more authentic and enjoyable life, full of meaning and purpose, perhaps more in tune with your true values, the first step could be a few counselling sessions with someone who won’t judge your outlook or devalue your dreams. someone that doesn’t have an opinion about what is right or wrong for you and could help you unpick what you are doing in your life that might not fit in with your true needs or desires.
It would be my privilege to help you to do just that.
Michelle Brown dip.couns. MBACP
What is Impostor Syndrome?
“Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenonomen remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally” - Wikipedia
Wow, well that sucks.
All the evidence points to you being competent, but inside you feel like a fraud, incapable and undeserving, all the time fearing you may be exposed as a fake. Living your life in this way is a recipe for anxiety and seems to be something all of us have experienced in one form or another from time to time.
Impostor Syndrome may have shown up in you life in more ways than you are aware. Perhaps you’ve just qualified for a role you’ve been training for for a long time but can’t bring yourself to start applying for positions that demand that qualification or maybe you’ve just landed your dream job but you can’t enjoy it because every day you feel like you have to act a part because surely they have made a mistake and sent the congratulations letter to the wrong candidate! Maybe you’ve just been promoted, been given a whole lot more responsibility or a sizeable new project at work and you suddenly feel like you’re in the wrong position, surely the boss has got it wrong, you’re not ready, you’re not good enough or perhaps you have attended a meeting where you can’t answer a question and found yourself immediately reaching for the negative self-talk? “I’m an idiot, I’m in the wrong job, wrong career, I’m not good enough, I’m going to get found out, I’m going to get the sack!”
Not only does impostor syndrome cause anxiety and make your present day work difficult but it can actually hinder you achieving what you are really capable of by leading you to apply for “safe” and unchallenging jobs that are way too easy for you or by diminishing your courage to really stretch yourself or push for the next promotion.
Does this resonate with you? Do you want to kick Impostor Syndrome into touch?:
Challenge that automatic voice that kicks in when you are faced with situations that trigger you impostor feelings. Instead of allowing the voice in that says “Everyone is going to find out that I have no idea what I am doing” try thinking “Everyone feels out of their depth when they start something new”.
Remember it’s OK not to have all of the answers, you are smart enough to find them out and it’s OK to ask for help.
Don’t be worried about sharing your fraudulent feelings, I guarantee you will not be the only one struggling with this type of feeling and it can be reassuring to know that you are not alone.
Try to start using the CBT method of “Fact or opinion” Is what I am feeling a fact or is it my opinion? Just because I feel stupid at this moment in time it doesn’t mean I actually am.
Perfectionism is a curse in all walks of life and although you might feel it is necessary to drive you to where you want to be it can become a hindrance when you start obsessing over small mistakes, procrastinating for fear of not being perfect and taking too long over tasks because you fear they are not perfect enough. Aim for excellence and work on being happy with that.
Recognise and congratulate yourself on your achievement. Internal validation is so much more satisfying than external validation and is an available resource all of the time!
When I started out I was a female working in a predominantly male environment, my impostor syndrome feelings weren’t a sign of me being incapable they were feelings of being a minority. Recognise that some of the feelings you are feeling may be a natural response to the situation you find yourself in.
If you screw up, don’t pull out the metaphorical beating stick, see your failure as a learning opportunity. Remember you are human, we are all capable of making mistakes, pick yourself up and move on.
Be kind to yourself. You have as much right as everyone else to have a break, ask questions and to screw up from time to time. People don’t know everything straightaway, it takes time to build knowledge and that’s OK “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.”
Take some time to visualise what success looks like to you. Picture yourself speaking calmly and articulately at that important meeting or at that next interview.
Michelle Brown dip.couns. MBACP is an experienced therapist based in Tunbridge Wells
It can be very easy to slip into an inauthentic way of living over the years. Perhaps you have noticed that you say yes when really you mean no, or perhaps you do a job that you hate because you feel it carries more status than the job you would really love to do. Maybe you are constantly striving to earn more money to buy a bigger house or a shinier car when actually what you would like rather do is to work less and enjoy your life a little bit more. Before you know it your own needs, values and and desires have become forgotten and life has slowly moulded you into someone that doesn’t feel quite right.
If you’re lucky something might crop up that shakes up your life a little bit and causes enough of a disturbance for you to look around and question if you life is shaped the way you would like it to be. Sometimes this disturbance can be a loss, redundancy, depression or stress but embrace this as an opportunity to take a long hard look at your life and work out what you want to let go of, fight for, or change?
Deep down we all know what is and isn't working for us but we do ourselves a disservice by choosing to ignore that knowledge whilst pursuing the things we feel we need to achieve and do to feel accepted. It’s much easier for us to risk being ourselves and to start tapping into our authenticity and creativity if we are provided with the right environment, an environment in which we feel safe enough to truly be ourselves without fear of judgement, criticism or reprisals and this is the environment I hope to provide in my practice.
Carl Rogers was an American psychologist and one of the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology, he said
“ the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.” (Rogers, 2012)
So what if you were to stop using up all that energy focusing on what you are not, where you are not and how far you have to travel to get to that imagined “good enough” you? What if you were to accept yourself as you were? Perhaps if you were to shift the focus away from non-acceptance and conforming you would be free to listen to your own needs and desires and perhaps that burden of conforming and pleasing others is the very thing that is blocking your path to growth and change?
Perhaps together we could uncover all that suffocated potential, empowering you to do what it is you need to live a more rewarding and authentic life.
Michelle Brown MBACP Registered Counsellor and Psychotherapist and Associate Counsellor for West Kent Mind.
Quote taken from
Rogers, C. (2012). On becoming a person. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Life can feel so overwhelming at times that it’s not uncommon to feel like you would just like to step off of the constant hamster wheel for a while. The more life is filled with busyness and complexity the more stressed we become and the more disconnected we become from present moment awareness leading ultimately to anxiety.
When we feel stressed the world can quickly begin to feel like a threatening place, we can start over-reacting to the smallest of triggers and anxiety can whisk us away to the future, where we waste our time trying to magically solve situations that haven’t even arisen yet.
Thankfully there is a remedy for this feeling and it isn’t as unlikely as winning the lottery or as improbable as waking up in the morning without any problems it is a more tangible technique which can help right now and that you can start practising today.
It’s called Grounding and is a way of bringing our awareness back into the present, back into the body and back into the senses.
To be consciously present in the senses and the body is a powerful way to regulate overwhelm, create connection, passion, compassion and creativity. An anchor to the present moment can aid clarity and focus.
Grounding yourself is easy to do and can be of benefit immediately..
Here’s where to start:
1. Find somewhere you can sit comfortably for a moment with a straight back and a relaxed body. Make sure both feet are squarely on the floor. I find resting my hands openly, palms up, on my thighs helps me to remain open,
2. Close your eyes and focus in on your breathing. Breathe slowly and each time you breathe out, imagine you are breathing out some of the tension you are feeling right now.
3. Notice your connection to the ground through your feet and as you continue to exhale tensions, see if you can notice the sensations in the bottom of your soles.
4. Now shift your focus to the weight of you body in the chair. Can you feel the connection of you body with the present?
5. Keep breathing deeply and slowly, inhaling peace and exhaling tension. Continue to focus your awareness on the sensations in your feet and the weight of your body in the chair.
6. Now I invite you to extend your awareness to your entire body, how does it feel in your body, in the present moment, if you mind starts to wonder bring your focus gently and kindly back to your breath. Use your breath as an anchor to your present awareness.
Continue with this until you feel settled and centred, that might be a few minutes, it may take longer on difficult days.
Every time you become overwhelmed of find yourself engaging with anxious thoughts, make a mental effort to hit the STOP button, take a moment and ground yourself.
Michelle Brown dip.couns. MBACP is an experienced registered counsellor practising Integrative Counselling in Tunbridge Wells.
Working through any developmental trauma takes time and courage and it’s important that we are kind to ourselves as we do so. Perhaps you’re not ready yet to delve deep into that trauma be it caused through incest, abuse or perhaps an emotionally unavailable parent, but can you risk taking a few first important steps?
Finding a warm and empathic therapist could be the first step towards this goal. Someone who has perhaps set out on that journey themselves can attune themselves to where you are, pacing your route with what you are ready to deal with in this stage of your unfolding insight.
One of the most important things my therapist shared with me, was the knowledge that it was OK to take out my memories and examine them but put them away until later if need be.
Later might be when my circumstances were better, when I had more knowledge about myself or even just after that important interview or party I’d been looking forward to. The next time I got those memories out I might have more insight to bestow upon them, giving me a different perspective and allowing me to re-frame them.
The point is, whatever you have been through, has touched you deeply and may have made you look at the world in a different way. You might feel like you don’t belong, that you’re not good enough, perhaps that you can only be loved if you are flawless, that you must always put others before yourself, maybe you struggle to deal with relationships because you fear you may be rejected…
That’s a lot of stuff and the journey to healing is going to be long and sometimes hard, but you don’t have to do it all at once. You might have thought long and hard about taking a chance in seeking help and once you’ve finally decided to jump in and share how you’re feeling with another human being, it might be tempting to rush through it all and get better quickly.
Be kind to yourself, this might be the first time you’ve shown your vulnerability and that can feel very frightening. This might be the first time you’ve admitted to yourself, let alone someone else how hurt and wounded you are. Pace yourself. Be kind. You, as much as anyone else deserves to be happy.
Trust that there is a way through. You’ll know you’re on your way when you start taking better care of yourself and your needs, when you stop looking outside of yourself for reassurance or affirmation, when you are able to feel confident in your decisions and act upon them, when you are able to challenge those that upset you and you feel more trust and connection with others.
Be brave enough to take those first steps, but kind enough to yourself to pace your journey.
Would you spend your whole life with somebody who really wanted you to fail? What would it feel like if every time you made a mistake or things didn’t go the way you planned, that person pitched in to highlight and magnify your failings and made it their mission to tell you how stupid you were for even trying instead of helping you up and brushing you off.
Eventually your self-worth would be destroyed and you would start to believe that you didn’t really deserve to succeed so why were you even trying? What effect do you think that might have on your self-esteem and self-belief? Do you think you would be able to achieve your dreams and attain your goals with them constantly putting you down? Do you think you would keep that person in your life once you realised the effect they were having on you or would you seek out more positive friendships with people that wanted you to do well?
The sad fact is that without even realising it many of us spend our whole lives with a negative influence like this one keeping us stuck and stopping us reaching our full potential and the worse thing is that this negative influence isn’t a negative partner or friend it is ourselves! We berate ourselves when we get things wrong, we sabotage our potential by telling ourselves we are not good enough, we push people away because we tell ourselves we are unlovable. When we walk around with an internal voice that is critical, unkind and unforgiving is it any wonder that we end up feeling depressed, anxious and inadequate? Therapists call this negative inner voice “the inner critic” and once we start to notice the power it has over our lives we can start taking steps to challenge it, turn down its volume and eventually replace it with an inner cheerleader!
What difference do you think that might make to your life? Can you imagine carrying around an inner voice that brushed off your mistakes and pepped you up, that encouraged you to try again and that was so full of love that you believed you deserved to succeed? Can you envisage loving yourself unconditionally and completely and being true to yourself? How could that sort of positivity impact your life?
Maybe this is something an empathic counsellor could help you with.
1 Do you find it difficult to be assertive?
2 Are you withdrawing from social situations?
3 Are you often exhausted and overwhelmed because of the demands of others?
4 Do you find it difficult to accept criticism?
5 Do you avoid conflict?
6 Are you feeling a bit stuck and finding it difficult to move out of your comfort zone?
We all experience times where our confidence isn't as strong as we would like, but when low self-esteem starts impacting the way we take care of or value ourselves it can become a long term problem and if left unchallenged for long enough it can start to have a seious impact our lives and may even result in anxiety or depression in the longer term.
My name is Michelle Brown and I am an Integrative Counsellor based in Tunbridge Wells. I see clients on a regular basis whose self-esteem has never been nurtured or has been squashed by events but without exception their self-esteem has grown by small adjustments in their daily lives.
Self-esteem is all wrapped up in the opinion we hold about ourselves, and is moulded over the years by our experiences and interactions with others such as peers, parents, fiends, teachers and even the media.
If we are fortunate enough to have good self-esteem we tend to have a healthy opinion of ourselves respecting our own needs as much as others. We will generally feel just as important as them and won't perceive our needs as being less valid. When we experience positive self-esteem we’re likely to have a positive outlook and will therefore be able to easily cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs.
Low self-esteem can feel much less comfortable; it makes it much easier to listen to those critical, self-loathing voices in our heads that make us feel like we are not good enough and less important than others. We might find it impossible to ask for or accept help or simply to know how to get our needs met, our low self-esteem makes us feel unworthy of help or consideration. Because it may feel like others are better than us and more deserving we might start having difficulty saying “no” and put our needs to the bottom of the pile. It’s not surprising that approaching the world with this mind-set can feel exhausting, lonely and at times intolerable Life’s little up's and down's are likely to feel overwhelming.
In short people with good self-esteem are kind and nurturing to themselves not critical and punishing they carry around their own inner cheerleader.
Low self-esteem doesn’t appear overnight itl develops slowly. If we are more prone to negative self-talk it makes sense that we are likely to hold on to any negative messages, if we found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of us we may never feel good enough and if we grew up experiencing abuse or neglect within the home it is very likely that we won’t have internalised a nurturing compassionate voice.
But don’t be too disheartened if you have recognised these symptoms in yourself, your self-esteem isn’t cast in stone and you can take steps to improve it and here are some ideas of where to start.
Try to start to identify the negative thoughts you hold about yourself?
This may take some time and counselling can be very useful in helping you to recognise theses. What is your internal critic is telling yo?. Does it tell you you’re not good enough, that you haven’t worked hard enough, that you’re undeserving or unlovable? Perhaps it says you are selfish if you put your needs before others? Perhaps it tells you something else?
Start noting down the negative beliefs you have about yourself. If necessary carry a notebook and jot these thoughts down over the course of a few days.
Do you remember when you started to hold these beliefs? Where do they stem from?
Are you able to challenge those thoughts by finding evidence to the contrary?
Write down the good things that other people say about you and start recognising your strengths. Learn to accept compliments not discount them.. Armed with this positive list, keep it somewhere you can see it. Refer back to it often and keep adding to it..
Start spending less time with people that bring you down and seek out people that make you feel positive and appreciate you.
Show yourself the same kindness you give to others.
Learn to say “no”. People with low self-esteem often feel they have to say yes to others, even when they really want to say no. This can lead to you becoming exhausted, angry, resentful and depressed.
Be assertive. Respect other’s opinions and ideas and expect that same respect back.
Set yourself a challenge, make it Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timely. Don’t let your low self-esteem stop you trying out new things or giving things a go. Surprise-it’s OK to be bad at things!
Many people around you will be suffering from low self-esteem either too ashamed to admit it or without recognising the symptoms. You may have developed low self -esteem for many different reasons in your childhood but you can take positive steps to develop a better view of yourself at any age. Keep on growing.
If you would like some help with low self-esteem please don’t hesitate to email or call.
Michelle Brown dip. couns. MBACP