Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion: What's the Difference?

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Self-esteem and self-compassion sound very similar. After all, they involve how you view and treat yourself.

However, they are very different perspectives.

Knowing both, and the difference between them, is important for your mental well-being.

What Is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is how confidently you view yourself and your abilities.

University of Texas researcher, Dr. Kristen Neff, defines self-esteem as a “global evaluation of self-worth,” and asking yourself whether you are a good person or a bad person.

To evaluate your self-esteem, consider your answers these questions:

  • Are you the kind of person that has always had the knack of knowing what to do?
  • Do you take on a challenge with enthusiasm?
  • Have you developed self-assurance regarding your abilities after years of practice?

When you think about it, a part of self-esteem comes from the experiences that you have had throughout your lifetime, and the positive feedback you receive from others. These can include successes and how you responded to and recovered from failures. Both give you the knowledge, assurance, and confidence to know that you can handle the situation before you.

The Possible Self-Esteem Trap

Having self-esteem is a good thing. The issue is not that you have self-esteem, but how you get self-esteem. Oftentimes people fall into the trap of looking for self-esteem through the validation of others. You can also get trapped in comparing yourself to others and measuring your self-worth on how you compare to your friends, other families, your co-workers, and even what media communicates to you as a consumer – “Am I thin enough?” “Do I drive the right car, live in the trendiest neighborhood, or wear the best clothes?” “Is my family as well-adjusted as those I see on television, or at school, or at my church or synagogue?” “Am I as happily married as the couple across the street seems to be?” By comparing, you judge yourself. “Am I above average or below average?”

Everyone, of course, likes to hear a compliment or praise, and feel that they are above average. Yet, if you rely only on this outside commendation and comparisons to boost your self-esteem, you may be disappointed.

Self-esteem often depends on how successful we feel in areas of our lives that are important to us.

At the first sign of struggle or hardship, that shell of confidence and self-esteem may shatter. True self-esteem, in contrast, comes not from accolades, but from the grit and skills acquired within through your life experience, and the compassion you show to yourself through the ups-and-downs of normal life experience.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is how you treat yourself. Dr. Neff describes self-compassion as “relating to ourselves kindly, embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all.”

For example, think about your answers to these questions:

  • Do you learn from your mistakes or beat yourself up over them?
  • Even when you do succeed, do you discount yourself?
  • Do you give yourself the same kindness, patience, gentleness, and compassion during difficult times, as you would give a friend going through something similar?

You may struggle with self-compassion if you regard yourself primarily with a negative point of view. This can have a serious impact on your relationships with others, as well as how you view yourself as a person.

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The Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion

There is a big difference between these two perspectives. Self-esteem is directly related to confidence. On the other hand, self-compassion is how you treat yourself. The two can be interrelated, however. Research shows that being self-compassionate can lead to higher self-esteem.

For example, let’s say you are a college student who has just received a poor grade on an exam. In the aftermath of receiving the poor grade, you could think that you are below average and don’t have what it takes to be in college to pursue your dreams and goals. You may compare your grade with those of your classmates who performed better on the exam and feel that you don’t measure up. With your self-esteem shattered over this one exam, you may consider yourself a failure. Or, you could look at the experience and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow, having self-compassion and never doubting that you are, overall, a good student.

As you can see, self-esteem is derived from external experiences, while self-compassion comes from deep inside.

What Can You Do to Improve Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion?

To improve both perspectives involves taking a risk. It means being willing to put yourself out there and to be open to both positive and negative experiences. It also calls for being honest about how you treat yourself and the outlook you have of yourself as a person.

If you discover that both outlooks are negative, try these ideas to improve them:

  • Start with identifying your strengths
  • Use a guided experience to try something new
  • When you find that you are being critical or judging yourself, consider how you might treat a friend who came to you with the same issue
  • Reflect on how you view the world and consider engaging another perspective

Getting Professional Help

You can also seek out professional help for understanding how you view yourself, and how you can improve your self-esteem and your self-compassion.

A therapist can work with you to explore why you struggle with self-esteem and/or self-compassion. The origin of low self-esteem and lack of self-compassion varies from person-to-person, but many times these issues may originate with your early life experiences or how you were treated when young. These experiences form the basis of how you view your world. A counseling professional can also help you learn techniques to boost both self-concepts in positive and affirming ways.

Self-esteem and self-compassion shape how you see yourself and others. If you struggle with these concepts, take steps soon to make the positive, self-affirming changes in your life you’ve been longing for.

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Janie McMahan, MA, LMFT, works with individuals who want to improve their self-esteem and self-compassion. If you struggle with emotions and beliefs that you are "not enough," contact her at 512-362-8050 to explore how you can live your life to the fullest.

What's Your EQ? Defining, Understanding, and Boosting Your Emotional Intelligence

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Thanks to internationally known psychologist Daniel Goleman, the term EQ is nearly as recognizable as IQ.

But, what does it mean to have emotional intelligence, and can it really benefit your life?

Emotional intelligence isn’t just some terminology that only mental health professionals can understand. This is an everyday, real-life concept that affects how you live your life. In fact, emotional intelligence impacts how you see the world and how you interact with the people in your life, as well. Here’s how it works.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the emotions that motivate you and others to behave in a certain way. And further still, this keen emotional awareness also gives you the ability to learn how to be aware of and how to manage your emotions. When you can identify your feelings and mold your behavior accordingly, it gives you a deeper sense of self-confidence and tranquility.

Why would you go from reading an article about emotional intelligence to wanting to be more emotionally intelligent?

For starters, Goleman’s work has proven that emotional intelligence improves recall while preventing negative behavior. In addition, this honed sense of awareness also improves your confidence level and helps to manage negative emotions.

In the world of business, emotional intelligence is now considered one of the most impactful business concepts because of the positive influence it has on individuals within an organization. It’s clear that this ground-breaking idea has a reach that is key for improving the quality of your life and the quality of your relationships.

How to Improve Your EQ:

With all the benefits emotional intelligence provides, you’re probably asking how you improve your own EQ. Following are a few practical steps to improve your emotional intelligence quotient.

Name Your Emotions and Ask this One Question

The first step is learning how to identify your emotions. The most efficient way to do this is simply to ask yourself what questions.

What are you feeling?

What do you think about those emotions?

Sometimes, introspection can become complicated and negative. Mostly, this happens because you’re asking the wrong questions during self-reflection. In other words, you ask why questions rather than what questions.

By asking yourself the right questions, you will get more accurate answers to your introspection.

Learn to Regulate Your Emotions

Learning to regulate your emotions means learning to have influence over them. An incredibly powerful way to do this is by viewing the emotional stimulation differently.

In other words, you learn to you make a conscious choice to see a situation in a different light – a more positive light.

Rather than accepting that your weekly work meetings are stressful, annoying, and never-ending, for example, you choose to see them as a situation you can, and will, successfully endure.

One key to regulating your emotions is to challenge the way you currently think.

Appropriately Expressing Your Emotions

Another element of emotional intelligence is being aware of how others feel.

This can be more challenging because each person expresses themselves differently. To master this part of emotional intelligence, you will need to observe and be attuned to feedback you receive from others.

For instance, pay more attention to how others perceive your expression of emotion. Are they reacting to the way you’re actually feeling or are they reacting to the way you’re expressing yourself? How you feel and how you express yourself might not align. The best way to know is by the response of others.

Making EQ Your Own

It’s likely that you’ve heard the expression about how practicing makes perfect. While perfection is certainly not the aim of any therapeutic goal, there’s much to be said of practice.

Like with learning anything new, it’s necessary to assimilate so it all sinks in.

With each new situation, practice the above steps. It may not seem natural at first but soon, with consistent practice, emotional intelligence will become second nature.

Janie McMahan, MA, is a therapist in Austin, Texas. She works with couples and individuals to help them understand their emotions and behaviors. If you’d like to improve your life by increasing your emotional intelligence, contact Janie at 512-739-2494.

How to Meet the Needs of a Loved One with PTSD

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Imagine walking down the sidewalk and bumping into someone that smells like your attacker. Imagine hitting the floor when the neighborhood kids set off fireworks. Imagine feeling paralyzed by painful and terrifying images that haunt you. That’s what a loved one with PTSD endures.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be a debilitating condition to watch someone suffer through.

Often, a loved one with PTSD can show signs of:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Physical ailments

Caring for someone who suffers from symptoms of post-traumatic stress requires patience, understanding, and consistency. Here are a few things to consider when providing support to a loved one with PTSD:

Active Listening

Active listening is a technique that helps us better communicate with others. A person can often feel powerless, guilty, or erased by their trauma. Active listening is one way in which to give the person back feelings of power, control, and voice.

Active listening can be divided into three major parts: attention, feedback, and response. Demonstrate your attention by keeping consistent eye-contact, nodding, and other encouraging signs and feedback that indicate you are listening to what the person with PTSD is telling you. Do validate the emotions your loved one is sharing with you about their experience. It is not a time to offer advice or rebuttals to what you are being told.

Feedback is a way to reassure the speaker that not only their words, but overall argument is being heard and understood. Try to rephrase what you think the speaker is saying to show comprehension. For example, “What I am hearing is that you feel… . Am I understanding you correctly?”

Active listening is intended for each person to learn. Make sure you communicate your own responses in a way that is non-aggressive and leaves an opening for continued discussion.

Open Invitations

Socialization is a key part of recovery for many who suffer from PTSD. However, it may take time for a person to feel ready to engage in social activities. Be aware of what a safe social space looks like for someone with PTSD.

Although you might enjoy a good party or a loud music concert, these spaces might be overwhelming for a loved one with PTSD. Learn what types of space your loved one feels comfortable in and arrange engagements around similar spaces. Small gatherings of friends or family members might be a better way to help the person with PTSD begin to engage with others until they feel more comfortable in social settings.

When inviting your loved one to a social occasion, give them the power to determine whether they want to attend or not. Reassuring the person that it is an open invitation and you will not be upset if they decide to stay home, will help support your loved one’s ability to make choices for themselves based on their needs.

You might invite your loved one to several events before they decide to attend one. Being persistent, but never pushy, when offering open invitations will keep your loved one from regressing inwardly and encourage them to create positive interactions.

Check-In With Yourself

Checking in with yourself allows you to have time for reflection on the three R’s: review, reassess, and repair. Rejoice in the positive experiences you’ve shared with your loved one and keep in mind that, in certain situations, victims of trauma can act in response to their PTSD and not by conscious decision. This type of reflection helps better frame the high and low aspects of your relationship.

For the moments in which a loved one seems to regress, reassess the ways in which you are connecting with your loved one. Are you practicing active listening, offering support in daily tasks, being available to your loved one when they need a calming and safe presence, and gently encouraging them to participate in activities?

Being an emotional support for a loved one in need can often lead to us neglecting our own needs and health. Treating yourself to restorative practices, healthy eating, getting plenty of sleep, staying active, and staying connected with friends and family are all great ways to keep you equipped for supporting a loved one with PTSD. If you need additional support, seek the help of a counselor to help you learn new coping skills to better handle the changes and challenges you are experiencing in your relationship with your loved one.

Above all, remember that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not an easy equation. It will take time and patience to figure out the best way to approach the needs of your loved one and will often require a daily re-evaluation of those needs. The most important thing, above all else, is that you are present and willing.

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Janie McMahan is a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Austin, Texas. She works with couples and individuals in her practice, with a focus on helping them recover from a variety of traumatic life experiences. Contact her at 512-739-2494 for scheduling.

Depression Symptoms: Understanding Why You're Not Yourself

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Sometimes called the “common cold of mental illness,” depression affects millions of people at some point in their lives. Some will experience major symptoms, while others will experience effects on the mild side; either way, the symptoms can often be difficult to identify.

Part of the reason depression is hard to diagnose is that our society still places a negative stigma around it. This negative stigma can then lead people to deny that they are in fact experiencing any symptoms of depression at all. Like anything else in life, ignoring it won’t make it go away. In fact, it will likely make it worse, if you avoid getting help to address your depression.

The following are just a handful of symptoms those struggling with depression will face.


Some people explain depression as the feeling of living inside a black hole. Others describe a lack of motivation and everything they need to do feels like a bigger effort than it should be. Most people no longer have an interest in the things they once loved. The feeling of numbness is so strong that people often feel separated from themselves, like a prisoner in their own body, or even outside their own body. This brings up feelings of “what’s wrong with me?” but oftentimes, there is no motivation present to counter or change these thoughts. Lack of motivation feels like there is no “wind in your sails” to move you along. You may want to do something, but the ability to motivate to make changes is difficult.

Feeling disconnected or detached from yourself is also a theme reported by some people with depression. Not only do they not feel like themselves, they feel like they are just watching themselves from the outside, as if they’re no longer an active participant in their own life. Depersonalization and derealization are forms of dissociation that are most often seen when someone has experienced trauma, but having emotional and physical numbness, feeling foggy-headed, or in a dreamlike state, can also happen with depression.

Intense sadness for inexplicable reasons

Some people develop depression due to the aftermath of a traumatic event, such as the death of a family member, or the loss of a job, relationship, or friendship, etc. For others, depression seems to appear out of nowhere, and there is no clear explanation as to why the depressed mood has surfaced.

Depression comes in waves of emotional fluctuation and oftentimes hits like a brick without warning. Do you find yourself crying for reasons unknown? Experiencing bursts of frustration or anger without any warranted explanation? These are common signs of depression that cannot just go away by practicing daily gratitude or by “snapping out of it.”


Depression causes not only physical exhaustion but emotional and mental exhaustion, as well. This feeling of extreme fatigue arises because of the mental toll that depression takes on you. Many people who suffer from depression often have anxiety as well, which leads to an interference of sleep patterns. Oversleeping and insomnia are both commonly associated with depression and anxiety.

The inability to get out of bed is in part because of genuine fatigue, but also due to a lack of mental motivation and thoughts of “why should I even bother?” For those struggling with depression, the act of going through an average day takes a lot of energy, both physically and mentally.

Manifestation of physical symptoms

While depression is a mental disorder, its symptoms can display themselves physically. Because mental disorders and physical disorders don’t always cross paths, when physical symptoms are present, the notion of depression may be dismissed.

Nausea, joint and muscle aches and pains, headaches, digestive problems, and chest tightness or pain are all common physical manifestations of depression. Depression is an all-encompassing disorder so it’s no wonder that physical symptoms accompany it, as well.

Inability to take care of yourself

Shame or self-criticism around the ability to care for yourself is often experienced by people who are depressed. Be kind to yourself and have self-compassion for what you are going through. You wouldn’t be embarrassed by your inabilities due do a broken arm. You do not need to feel bad about yourself because of your depression either. Not showering or practicing basic hygiene, no motivation to clean your house or do laundry, changes in exercise and eating habits, are all common symptoms of depression. Recognize them and talk to a therapist or your physician about what you are experiencing.

It’s important to remember that depression doesn’t look the same on everyone. There are other symptoms –  bigger and smaller than those mentioned here. It’s also important to remember that you matter and that your feelings and emotions are valid. Seeking help from a mental health professional for your depression is good self-care. A therapist can help you understand what is happening, and help you toward taking positive steps to treat your depression and live a happier and fulfilling life.

Highly Sensitive Person? How To Tell, Cope, & Thrive

Do loud noises, strong smells and visuals, or rough textures tend to overwhelm you easily?

Does the need for a quiet and private place drive you to withdraw when you feel swamped during a busy day?

Do you get flustered when you have much to do but little time to do it?

Have others ever called you “sensitive” or “shy”?

These traits may mean that you are a highly sensitive person. How would you know for sure?

How to Tell If You Are a Highly Sensitive Person

In general, a highly sensitive person is extremely perceptive and affected by a variety of external stimuli. They are more aware of nuances that others miss, but they’re also easily overwhelmed by sensory input. The main reason for such a response is that their brain processes incoming information more deeply.

What specific aspects would help you determine if you fall into this category?

You may be a highly sensitive person if you…

  • Feel uncomfortable in noisy environments – You may have a lower tolerance for loud music events, fireworks displays, or busy open office settings. The sights, smells, sounds, and activities in those situations put your senses into overdrive.
  • Become quickly overwhelmed in pressure situations – When things are too chaotic, complex, intense, or different from the norm for a long time, your anxiety level increases notably. You may also struggle with staying on task when you have too many things to handle.
  • Retreat when your senses become overloaded – You’re in need of equilibrium at the end of a busy day or week. You need quiet time in a dark bedroom or another private place to find your balance once again.
  • Grow angry when you’re hungry – Lack of nourishment may hinder your functioning, and your frustration shows unmistakably.
  • “Choke” when you’re under scrutiny – You most likely work best in private. But when you’re put on display, perhaps in front of your boss during a presentation, you often falter under the pressure.
  • Have a keen sense of other people’s discomfort – You may easily recognize when someone else feels overwhelmed by a situation.
  • Are easily moved by artistic expressions – Paintings, music, movies, or theatrical performances tend to touch you more than others. It’s not just that you have a special appreciation for creativity, but it consistently stirs your deepest emotions.

How to Cope with Being a Highly Sensitive Person

Such aspects as managing your environment and time, as well as taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, lie at the foundation of coping if you are a highly sensitive person.

Consider some examples:

Eat healthy

Eating regular nutritious meals throughout the day will help you keep your blood sugar levels balanced. Intense hunger can be very disruptive for a highly sensitive person and make it hard to concentrate. Greatly limiting caffeine intake may also help you feel more calm and collected.

Reduce sensory disturbances in your environment

Limiting your exposure to stimuli that causes you problems can be done in various ways. For example: To lessen annoyance with bright lights, you could use bulbs with a lower lumen count in your home. Or you could avoid going to places you know have powerful lighting. To reduce agitation from noises, you may want to have at least one quiet space in your home to which you can retreat when you find it necessary.

(Tip: If you’re not at home, consider using noise-reducing headphones to block out the distractions so you can concentrate and have some personal peace of mind.)

Develop a schedule that works for you

A packed timetable will only frazzle you. Adjust your schedule and structure your work and home life in a way that it will give you the time and space to get things done. When you can start your day calm and unrushed, it can carry you through the whole day. And, in order to get all your errands done, you may want to consider living outside an average person’s schedule. That may mean going to the grocery store in the evening or to the movie theater on weeknights.

Make time to relax

After a busy work day or an event that challenged your senses, you must take some time to decompress and find your equilibrium again. Aside from your quiet space and soft lighting, you may want to find other ways to make your home more calming to your senses. Perhaps you can decorate it in a way that is pleasing to your eyes, reduces clutter, or uses gentle and calming aromas. Seek out beautiful surroundings outside your home, during regular walks in nature, restore the peace and balance you desire.

How to Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person

Aside from just coping with your high sensitivity, you may also want to consider how you can tap into the benefits of your traits.

Yes, there are a lot of benefits. Being a highly sensitive person isn’t anything bad. You don’t need to be fixed!

Consider, for example, that while you may feel difficult emotions with more intensity than others, you can also feel the most beautiful emotions more deeply.

In fact, you can be highly aware and observant of your environment. Also, your capacity for picking up on matters that others miss can provide insight most people don’t have. In turn, that can help you be more empathetic—a very positive and endearing quality that draws others.

This deeper insight can also inspire your imagination, allowing you to construct an intricate and vibrant inner world that fuels creativity, intuition, and clarity. As a matter of fact, high sensitivity and creativeness often go hand-in-hand.

So, don’t ever think that as a highly sensitive person you can’t thrive. Quite to the contrary. Recognizing who you are can lead you to open up to a whole new awareness and understanding of yourself—one in which you thrive, not simply live!

Impostor Syndrome: How To Overcome The Fear You're Really A Fraud

Finally! Somebody noticed my work.

I can’t believe they gave it public recognition!

Yeah… I can’t believe it…

Seems all a little over the top… exaggerated. I don’t think I deserve that much praise.

It was really nothing.

Well, maybe it was something… a little. I must know my business or they wouldn’t have done that.


Ever had a conversation like that in your mind?

As hard as you tried to convince yourself that you deserved that recognition, doubts continued lingering.

You kept feeling like a fraud, an involuntary swindler. Expecting at any moment that someone would realize the mistake they made in praising you and unmask you for the fake you truly are.

You’re not alone. In fact, that feeling often affects high-achieving women.

And it has a name: Impostor Syndrome.

What Is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome describes the fear and self-doubt of women (and men, as well) who—despite solid evidence of their competence—are sure that they’re frauds and that they don’t deserve any of their success.

Instead, they attribute their accomplishments to a “lucky break” or good timing, not their own ability and competence. And that makes it very hard for them to identify and applaud their own strengths and achievements.

Perhaps the worst part is that these women prolong the cycle of feeling phony with their own self-sabotaging behaviors. This includes people pleasing, excessive diligence, hiding their competence, and negating any praise they receive.

Lamentably, due to constantly reflecting and dwelling on their mistakes and failures, they often don’t feel any enjoyment for the things they worked so hard to achieve. They keep pushing on to ever new heights in pursuit of reaching that moment when they feel successful. Worse, they may turn the opposite direction and completely limit any exploration of new experiences.

Either way, their fear of being a fraud controls their lives.

Steps Toward Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

If you are a woman that can identify with these feelings and thoughts, what can you do to overcome them?

Consider some helpful steps to conquer impostor syndrome:

Identify your thought patterns

Underlying thoughts—such as “everyone else is smarter than I am”—often come automatically without you ever questioning them. Therefore, becoming aware of and identifying the very thoughts that make you feel like a fraud is the very first step to overcoming impostor syndrome.

Acknowledge your own accomplishments

There’s nothing wrong with you admitting your achievements to yourself. Accept that you had a crucial role in your own success. After all, you willingly accept responsibility for your failures—do the same for your accomplishments. Make a list of the things you do well and the areas that may need improvement. That way you can maintain a balanced view.

Understand your natural abilities

When you have a natural skill, you may think it doesn’t count. After all, you didn’t work hard for it, so it can’t have much value, right? But be aware, humility is not the same as valuing yourself less. Humility is a good quality, if it doesn’t cross the lines into self-deprecation and paralyzing fear.

Don’t demand perfection

No one is perfect. Even the so-called “experts” don’t know everything. It’s crucial that you adopt a more balanced view of your knowledge. Just because you don’t know it all, doesn’t mean you don’t know anything. So, stop focusing on perfection, be satisfied with doing your task well, and ask for help if you need it. There’s no shame in that.

Avoid comparison

Comparing yourself to others is a trap. You aren’t supposed to live someone else’s life, you’re supposed to live your own. Social media can be an especially deprecating experience. Stay away from toxic environments that only breed envy and low self-esteem. Respect the life you live—just be you!

Share your knowledge

One of the simplest and greatest techniques you can use to overcome impostor syndrome is to share your expert knowledge with others. Teaching a beginner the skills that you already possess can help you see how much knowledge and ability you truly have. And it brings deep satisfaction when you see how your expertise has helped someone else.

Talking to Someone Who Can Help

At this point, you may have noticed how closely related impostor syndrome and issues with low self-esteem seem to be. Yet, there are subtle differences.

What if you’re not sure which one you’re suffering from?

A professional counselor can help. Not only can they explain the differences, but they can also help diagnose which problem you’re facing and equip you with more tools to break the cycle of fearing that you’re a fraud.

In fact, for many women with impostor syndrome, individual therapy brings the greatest benefits.

Everyday Stress or Anxiety? What's The Difference?

When you feel run down, when you worry a lot, when you can’t sleep at night and you feel overwhelmed, the question is: is this the result of everyday stress or are you suffering from an anxiety disorder?

And indeed, the two can be difficult to distinguish from each other.

So, what’s the difference?

Stress and anxiety disorders are closely related.

There are scientific discussions about anxiety disorders. Are they genetic? Is stress the trigger?

Here are some of the main differences between everyday stress and anxiety disorders:

The human stress response

The human stress response is necessary for our survival.

Our system responds to danger by going into the famous ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our hearts start to beat faster, our breath becomes shallow, our digestive and reproductive systems shut down temporarily. We become super-alert and vigilant.

If there is a tiger in the vicinity, we are now best equipped to run away or fight it.

This is what happens in response to everyday stress triggers – triggers that rarely involve a live tiger anymore.

And that’s part of the problem.

The human stress response does enable us to deal with other dangers such as traffic, a difficult boss, and very demanding tasks with a short deadline.

But it is a very crude response to the triggers of the complex and sophisticated lives we now live.

If your symptoms are related to everyday stress, they will arise as the stress response is triggered, and then weaken and eventually disappear as the human relaxation response kicks in, and as the stress naturally dissipates.

Everyday stress is normal. So is everyday relaxation and recovery from stress.

Anxiety disorders

When does the anxiety produce symptoms?

Anxiety disorders produce similar symptoms to everyday stress, but they can have very different triggers.

Anxiety disorder symptoms are triggered by the anticipation of a future threat, real or imagined. Anxiety can produce fear, avoidance behaviors, and are associated with thoughts and beliefs that perpetuate the anxiety.

With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety symptoms are triggered almost at random. Anything that upsets the patient’s routine or sense of calm can set off an episode of anxiety.

What is the timeline?

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when anxiety symptoms persist for a specific period of time, depending on the type of anxiety, or for more days than not over a period of six months. A psychotherapist or psychiatrist can assist you in determining if your anxiety has reached a point where psychotherapeutic or pharmaceutical interventions are warranted.

How intense are the symptoms?

Another important aspect of anxiety disorders is the intensity of the symptoms.

Are they mild and manageable? Can you quite easily recover from them or do they disrupt your everyday life? Or do you feel caught in your anxiety with no way out?

If your anxiety seriously affects your ability to live and work, then you are probably suffering from an anxiety disorder. The same is true if your anxiety makes you feel hopeless and helpless or if you have frequent panic attacks that make it impossible for you to lead a normal life. If you have suicidal thoughts, you immediately need to seek help.

How do you get out of it?

Everyday anxiety is a very good reason to seek professional counseling. Your counselor can help you find solutions that will make your life less stressful and will put you in charge when you are dealing with those everyday situations that cause stress.

If you think you might suffer from an anxiety disorder, get a diagnosis from a mental health professional. There are many treatment options available, including medications and psychotherapy, and many people can manage their anxiety disorder very successfully.

Whatever you do, don’t spend your energy and time worrying about this.

These conditions deserve your attention and they can be treated.

Don’t add unnecessary suffering to your already stressful life!

Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect: Is Your Partner Suffering? How to Cope

Could there be a reason why your marriage feels two-dimensional? Why do you keep thinking that something is missing?

Is there a reason why your partner often gets overwhelmed and frustrated or withdraws when you address problems or conflict?

Absolutely. Your partner could be suffering from the long-term negative effects of emotional neglect.

How can you know?

How to Recognize the Effects of Emotional Neglect in Your Partner

A child subjected to emotional neglect receives a very subtle but immensely persuasive message: Your feelings don’t matter!

Due to their emotions being suppressed throughout their childhood, these children have a hard time learning how to recognize, accept, understand, and articulate their feelings. As adults, they often can’t communicate their needs, connect emotionally with those closest to them, or tolerate conflict.

Suffering these effects of emotional neglect, your partner may frequently be irritable for no reason and unable to process emotionally charged situations through critical thinking. They may also misread the emotions of others or their own and withdraw quickly when they become confused or overwhelmed. They may even seek escape into various addictions to avoid seemingly difficult situations and discomfort.

All this may leave you wondering about what is going on with your loved one and feel hesitant about your interaction and your relationship. It’s like they’re there, but not truly present, at arm’s length and yet so distant.

How to Cope When Your Partner Suffers the Effects of Emotional Neglect

  • Educate yourself

Learn as much as possible about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). You will probably begin to find the answers to why you’re not completely happy in your marriage. Explain it to your partner Ask them to look into it , and perhaps take a CEN questionnaire that will help them determine  if they’re suffering from the effects of emotional neglect.

  • Be reasonable

Don’t expect too much from your partner. Be patient and reasonable because they may not always be able to connect with you on a mature level. Remember that they’re probably just as perplexed about what’s wrong as you have been. When your partner makes a concerted effort to learn about CEN and tries to work with you, express your appreciation for their actions. Stay open and available for further communication about the issue.

  • Show empathy and compassion

Provide physical, behavioral, and emotional forms of support. Be kind and compassionate, showing your understanding about how hard this may be for them. Let them see that you truly love and care about them overcoming the effects of emotional neglect. But also make clear how important this is to you and your relationship. Be honest and open with your emotions, letting them see how much pain this problem has caused you, without assigning blame.

  • Learn to ask vertical questions

To help deepen your relationship, try new ways of communicating and connecting. Vertical questions can accomplish that. They’re different from normal questions because their aim is not to gather information but to access deep emotions. They’re often challenging, making you look inside yourself, not outside. They can also lead you to discovering something meaningful.

  • Seek out a professional counselor

If you just can’t seem to be able to cope or the situation doesn’t improve at all, don’t hesitate to consult a mental health professional. A skilled and competent couple’s therapist can usually help those suffering the effects of emotional neglect along the way.

Isolation: Lonely? 5 Crucial Ways to Overcome Childhood Emotional Neglect

Isolation can be a result of childhood emotional neglect and its accompanying symptoms. In adulthood, it often reveals itself as loneliness.

Why is that? Because childhood emotional neglect causes feelings of shame, inadequacy, and fear.

While you may act upbeat, happy, and positive on the outside, deep within you feel unworthy and insecure, constantly thinking that you will be rejected and abandoned. Maybe you fear that others will not like the real you. So you resist having needs and depending on others. Perhaps you fear any connection and the resulting feelings of vulnerability.

Loneliness is a reflection of all these deep-seated negative emotions.

Sadly, feelings of isolation create a vicious circle. The more lonely you feel, the more you think of yourself as unworthy, incompetent, and inherently flawed. The more you devalue yourself, the more you isolate. And the more you retreat into isolation, the more lonely you feel.

It never seems to end.

What can you possibly do to overcome the isolation of emotional neglect and leave this cycle behind?

Ways to Conquer the Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness

To heal the deep wounds that create isolation and lead to loneliness, it’s essential that you build up your ability to love, respect, and care for yourself. How?

1. Confront your inner critic

Pay attention and catch yourself in the act. It’s pivotal to replace negative self-talk. Replace, “Nobody could ever love me” or “People always avoid me”, with positive messages like “I’m lovable just the way I am” or “I do have people in my life that support me.” Avoid sweeping assertions about other people’s motives that will only make you sink deeper into the mire of isolation and loneliness.

2. Fight the urge to isolate yourself

Isolating yourself will only confirm your worst fears – that you’re not worthy of love or respect – because in your isolation you don’t allow any true outside feedback to filter through. Instead of capitulating to loneliness, fight the urge to give in and withdraw from others. Assume the best about everyone – including yourself – and open yourself up to the possibilities. Sometimes you just have to make yourself do the things you fear most.

3. Accept that needing someone is not a sign of weakness

There’s no shame in wanting close relationships in your life. Needing to feel a connection or wanting to rely on another person is a normal and healthy aspect of human existence. It’s something very positive. In fact, it’s a sign of confidence when you seek and are able to develop close connections. To begin, pay attention to how those around you feel and respond to their feelings and needs.

4. Cultivate an emotional support network

Weed out the toxic people and stick with the relationships that inspire you. Even if it’s just one person to start with. One trustworthy person can be the catalyst to ease those feelings of isolation. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable, find your voice, and let that person know and understand you. Tell them what you need, what you want, and how you feel. Share your experiences, your dreams, and your goals. And learn to appreciate the mature view and stability older friends bring to the table, too.

5. Appreciate the benefits of the occasional solitude

Simply being alone doesn’t have to make you feel lonely. Instead of seeing occasional physical isolation as a disadvantage, use this time of quiet and peace to reflect on and connect with your deeper self. Solitude can be valuable and enjoyable when you use it to create space to think. It can help you know yourself better and see your qualities and strengths much clearer.

Overcoming isolation takes strength, endurance, and patience. Hence, actively imagine yourself emerging from the loneliness. That mental picture will be imperative for keeping your goal right in front of you and your motivation strong.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: Why Validation is Vital for Recovery

Imagine the scene:

    You’re in a large room, full of people. As you wander among them, you watch them interact, talk, laugh, but not one of them pays any attention to you. Not one gives you even the slightest glance, acknowledging that you’re there.

    You stop and turn to some, asking questions. Nobody reacts. You yell, you scream. You hop up and down and wave your hands in front of their faces to get their attention. But nobody so much as flinches. You get completely ignored – as if you didn’t exist.

Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?

There are those that live that nightmare each and every day of their lives. Ignored. Non-existent. A zero. Completely invalid.

Although they exist in bodily form, they feel like a shadow of a person, a ghost. Pushed into oblivion by childhood emotional neglect.

They don’t understand themselves, their world, or those who live in it with them. They don’t feel they can voice their opinion or ask questions. No one notices them.

No one ever told them: “I see you. I hear you. I’m here for you. I’m listening.”

But that is exactly what they need: Validation.

Why Validation is so Vital for Recovering from Childhood Emotional Neglect

The fact is that a wound can only begin healing when it’s noticed and attended to.

Emotional neglect is a wound deep inside a person that’s often not noticed easily by others. Validation is like hearing the silent screams of this person and paying attention to it.

Only then can any healing begin. How?

Validation promotes recognition and acknowledgment.

It allows the person suffering from emotional neglect to feel heard. No longer are their feelings ignored. No longer do they feel as if everyone is thinking they’re crazy. Finally, they get recognition that their feelings exist and that there are reasons for them.

In particular, acknowledging their negative feelings can bring great relief. When you acknowledge their anger, frustration, and sadness as something real, it confirms the validity of those emotions. That they’re not simply an overreaction.

Once a person feels validated, they can begin managing their emotions. Now, they don’t have to convince others anymore that their feelings are real. They can openly talk about them, recount their thoughts and worries. It unlocks the door to their secret world.

Validation leads to acceptance and understanding.

No matter if you agree with them or not, accepting and not judging the feelings of those pained by childhood emotional neglect, helps the healing process. It shows them true compassion, sympathy, and empathy. That, in turn, facilitates understanding and promotes trust.

Understanding comes through active listening, absorbing, and reflecting back what you heard them say. Once that person feels understood, they can then start seeing their past as what it truly was. They can see that their pain is not their fault and they can begin accepting those feelings themselves. It eventually can lead them to forgive and move on.

Validation provides assurance and support.

Knowing that their feelings are normal, can provide great relief for a victim of childhood emotional neglect. They no longer have to worry about feeling odd or anxious. Their self-esteem can begin to recover.

When you validate them, it assures them that you’re by their side and that they’re important to you. It helps them to understand that they’re not alone anymore. And when you give them support without telling them what to do or minimizing their feelings, you give them freedom. It takes a lot of pressure and self-doubt off their shoulders and helps them to be motivated.

As you can see, validation has immense power. It teaches a person suffering from the effects of childhood emotional neglect to exist as an individual. It confirms and testifies to their feelings and opinions. That they exist, have substance and value, and that they’re valid, worthwhile, and important. Validation is vital for healing.

Childhood Emotional Neglect May Be Skewing Your Self-Perception: Here's How

  • Have you ever wondered why your self-perception seems to be amiss? Why you’re unsure about your interests, your talents, or your likes and dislikes?
  • Have you ever felt lost about your direction in life? Like a loser because the career path you chose didn’t work out? Or like a misfit, because you’re unable to hold a steady job, changing work again and again?
  • Have you ever lamented your apparent lack of resolve? Or your tendency to give up when a challenge presents itself?
  • Have you noticed you downplay or can’t identify your strengths, yet over-emphasize your weaknesses?

Stop for a moment and consider what the answers could reveal.

Self-Perception Becomes Skewed by Childhood Emotional Neglect

If you could see yourself reflected in the hypothetical questions above, you may be struggling with two specific effects of childhood emotional neglect – unrealistic self-appraisal and low self-esteem.

Self-appraisal is the ability to identify one’s own preferences, strengths and weaknesses, and personality traits. It lays the foundation for your self-esteem as well as confidence in your own worth and abilities.

In your case, both have become skewed. But how?

How Your Self-Perception Develops

The concept you hold of yourself determines your choices in life. It helps you to choose what to strive for, what skills to work on, what schooling to seek, what career to pick, and even what intimate relationships to pursue.

Your appraisal or perception of yourself develops from the feedback you receive from your environment – your social interactions. That feedback gives you information about your skills, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and shortcomings. While many people throughout your life will have input, your parents provide you the most important feedback with the strongest impact.

How Your Self-Perception Becomes Skewed

Emotional neglect often robs you of this valuable feedback. When your parents did not attend to your feelings – ignoring or invalidating your emotional needs – you missed out on pertinent information. With that lack of feedback, you were, in turn, unable to understand yourself and develop a sense of who you are. Your identity.

Not only did the effects of childhood emotional neglect begin to show back then, they continued to impact your life going forward. Your difficulties pinpointing your wants and needs and making decisions about your life are a manifestation of these effects. It’s like you’re expected to make important choices for a person you don’t know. You.

How Your Self-Perception Impacts Your Self-Esteem

Since your appraisal of yourself is at the base of your self-esteem, a negative or unrealistic self-perception negatively affects your self-esteem. Subsequently, it erodes your confidence, happiness, and well-being.

For example:

  • If your parents didn’t listen when you talked, you may appraise yourself as boring and uninteresting. Apparently, you had nothing of interest to say.
  • If your parents didn’t seem to spend a lot of time around you, you may conclude that you’re not as fun as other people. And perhaps, others may not like you once they get to know you.
  • If your parents belittled you or shamed you, you may perceive yourself as unlovable, worthless, or incapable of success.
  • If your parents didn’t treat you as attractive, you may have developed a distorted view of your body, thinking that no one will want to have an intimate relationship with you.

Over time, this skewed self-perception may have become a big part of your personality. It isn’t always negative, but it’s usually highly inaccurate. And, ultimately, it leads you to derail yourself, impacting your career, your relationships, your whole life.

The good news? All of these distorted thoughts and beliefs are not fact. They’re fiction. They’re relics from long ago. And they are changeable. They don’t have to shape your perception of yourself anymore!

9 Emotional Neglect Symptoms: When You're Not Sure Why You're Suffering

Are you suffering from anxiety and moodiness, but you don’t know why? Do you often compare yourself to others and believe you’re a failure? Have you been described as aloof or distant?

Are you feeling like you don’t belong at times? Do you usually just want to be left alone? Is it easier for you to love animals than people?

Are you often feeling empty inside?

Maybe you are one of the many adults who say they had a good childhood with happy memories, but you still struggle with a sense of loneliness and a fear of rejection. You’re sure you haven’t been mistreated by your parents, caregivers, or peers. So, why do you feel this way? What’s missing from the picture?

Your struggles may be founded in something invisible from your childhood. Something that’s often overlooked and overshadowed by more visible problems, such as child abuse or trauma. Something that does silent but substantial damage to a person’s life.

You could be suffering from emotional neglect symptoms.

Emotional Neglect and Its Symptoms

Emotional neglect is not a negative action – such as mistreatment or abuse – it’s a lack of action.

Typically, emotional neglect symptoms develop

1) when parents ignore, fail to notice and validate, or do not attend to their child’s feelings appropriately, have unrealistically high expectations, or constantly focus more on the needs of another child, or

2) when parents fail to set boundaries that provide structure and safety or fail to enforce rules, consequences, and discipline.

Many parents who emotionally neglect their children suffer from emotional neglect symptoms themselves. They are usually well-meaning and unaware of what effects they have on their children or how they can change their actions.

You may notice the following symptoms of neglect in yourself:

1. Poor Emotional Intelligence

You often have difficulties knowing, understanding, and trusting your own feelings, as well as those of others. You never learned how to identify, tolerate, or manage your feelings. Thus, rather than allowing your emotions, you feel guilty, ashamed, and even angry about having feelings at all and try to hide them.

2. Feelings of Emptiness

You’re feeling numb and hollow inside. Something seems to be missing, but you’re unsure of exactly what. You often wonder who you are or what your purpose is.

3. Low Assessment of Self

You have a poor concept of yourself and low self-esteem. It’s hard for you to accurately describe yourself, your feelings, and your goals.

4. Having the Fatal Flaw

Not only are you easily overwhelmed or discouraged, you usually end up blaming yourself for everything. You think you can never succeed and always get things wrong.

5. Fear of Dependency

You worry in excess that if you trust someone else, you will be let down. Or if you open up to another person, you will be rejected or be a burden to them.

6. Perfectionism

You tend to hold yourself to unrealistically high standards and unwittingly set yourself up for failure. Often, your lack of clarity about your own expectations for yourself or those of others for you stresses you out.

7. Difficulty Being Nurturing

Self-care is selfish in your eyes and self-indulgent. And your difficulty being nurturing to others often makes you look uncaring, unsociable, and aloof.

8. Lack of Self-Compassion

While you may have plenty of compassion for other people, you find it hard to show yourself the same kindness and sympathy. Hence, your inner critic keeps you from having a happier life.

9. Troubles with Self-Discipline

Your procrastination skills are unmatched. You always seem to leave everything to the last minute and have yet to see many projects all the way through.

If emotional neglect symptoms like these cause you trouble in your life, seek out a qualified professional to help you make more sense of your past, present, and future. You don’t have to keep suffering!

6 Unique Ways Women With ADHD Struggle (And What To Do About It)

Of course, we all experience occasions of forgetfulness, misplacing something important in a messy house or running late for appointments. But for many women, these challenges are daily events that actually impact their lives. They struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

What makes it even harder? Women with adult ADHD often face several unique challenges that men with the disorder typically don’t have to contend with.

What are they and what can you do about it? Let’s see:

The Unique Struggles of Women with Adult ADHD

1. Failure of early diagnosis

Unfortunately, women with adult ADHD typically remain undiagnosed much longer than men. This may be due to the fact that symptoms in girls can be more subtle and easily missed than those in boys. They usually seem less hyperactive in a typical sense. But in reality, they’re often very frustrated by seemingly simple tasks.

What to do about it: Parents, educators, and psychiatrists need to be more vigilant, paying attention to ADHD symptoms in girls, who may otherwise be well-behaved and high-achieving.

2. Consequences of skepticism and stigma

While women with adult ADHD may seem extroverted and animated, they often feel labeled as being scatterbrained, unreliable, willful, lazy, incompetent, or unmotivated. This can cause emotional challenges, like feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.

What to do about it: Actively seek out people who appreciate the best in you and focus on the positive. Don’t put yourself in situations that will confront you with impossible expectations and negative comparisons.

3. Impact of hormones

Monthly hormone fluctuations can intensify symptoms in women with adult ADHD due to an increase of estrogen. But when a woman enters perimenopause, a strong decrease of estrogen can be just as devastating and even cause extreme forgetfulness.

What to do about it: Talking to your primary care physician and/or psychiatrist about managing the destabilizing effects of fluctuating hormones is critical. You may need extra help in handling PMS and menopausal symptoms.

4. Lack of support

For women with adult ADHD, the greatest struggle may be trying to fulfill the duties expected by their family and society in general – the role of caretaker. Often they are the support system for everybody else but lack access to a support system for themselves.

What to do about it: Give yourself a break and stop expecting the impossible of yourself. Educate your partner and family about the effects of ADHD. Ask them to handle some household matters, including taking the children away from the home without you at times.

5. Dual roles – dual stress

The dual roles of a full-time career and being a wife and/or mother can intensify stress tremendously. Problems with routine matters, such as buying groceries, making dinner, or replying to emails may lead to being overwhelmed and exhausted for women with adult ADHD.

What to do about it: Eliminate or delegate some of the things you do yourself – at home or at work. Seek advice from a therapist on parenting, relationships, or career matters that takes your ADHD into account.

6. Single parenting

Being a single parent adds additional stress for women with adult ADHD. Since the mother most often remains the primary caretaker for children, single parenting adds a huge burden to women with adult ADHD.

What to do about it: Try to approach any difficulties with acceptance and good humor. You’ll have more energy for the positive things in your life. Simplify your life and reduce some of the commitments you or your children have. Also, recognize your limitations, ask grandparents or friends to help out.

Certainly, while both men and women with adult ADHD face obstacles, the lives of women may be impacted in different ways. But with diligent effort and patience, you can learn to successfully cope with emotional challenges, social expectations, hormonal fluctuations, or single parenting.

Waves of Emotion: Women, What Do You Do? Ride Them or Run?


What a beautiful gift. They deepen and enrich our lives like nothing else. They can take us to the highest heights – but also to the lowest lows.

Just like the waves of the sea, the waves of emotion deep within us are in constant motion. They calm when the winds of life send you a gentle breeze, and they agitate when a turbulent storm rushes in. Feelings may wash ashore and simply wet your feet, or they can crash so hard that you could lose your emotional balance.

So, what do you do when waves of emotion swell and head straight for you? Should you turn and run? Or ride them out?

Ride or Run?

The problem with running from a wave is that it will often pursue and overtake you.

As with literal waves, getting pulled under and tossed about by your feelings is a scary thing. The harder you fight the current, the more exhausted you become.

By the time the wave ebbs and you pick yourself up again, another one is on its way.

As time goes on, for lack of strength, you can’t run as fast and you get pulled under more often. You find yourself repeating this cycle over and over. In the end, if you don’t make a change, you may even drown.

There is a better way to handle waves of emotion.

Riding them out allows you to stay on top, in control, and not be pulled under – no matter how enormous the swell may become. And you can learn how to do it!

How to Ride Your Waves of Emotions

We don’t have an inborn instinct about how to manage our feelings and achieve emotional balance. Being able to identify and manage our emotions is a learned skill:

1. Observe the waves – The first thing you’ll have to do is get a feel for your waves of emotion. Watch them coming and going, learn to name them, and recognize the differences.

2. Understand their source – Emotions just don’t magically appear out of the blue for no reason. You have to figure out what triggers them. Sometimes, their source isn’t very obvious. You have to investigate and dig deeper, exploring them without judging before you ever react.

3. Accept them – You can’t stop the waves of emotions. They’ll continue coming, wave after wave. It’s how you’re wired. Therefore, accept that each one of your feelings is valid. It tells you something about yourself. Once you accept that they’re part of you, you can simply let them flow and respect how you feel in each and every moment of your life.

4. Harness their power – Emotions have enormous power – tap into it! Even negative emotions can teach you something. For example, anger provides you energy and motivation. Fear affords you alertness and endurance. Harnessing their energy slows down the waves of emotion. You no longer fear them because you can use them to your own advantage. You are no longer helplessly at their mercy.

Achieving Emotional Balance

Remember, with every emotion, you have a choice of responses. Ignore it, explore it, or fight it. Of course, every option carries a suggestion with it for how you could react. But you don’t have to act on those suggestions. There are always more ways to respond. It’s completely your choice.

Look at your choices and ask yourself: Is how I want to react going to help me or hurt me?

Think about it carefully – observe, understand, and accept. And then pick the reaction that will allow you to harness the energy from your emotions to come up with a positive solution for yourself. One that will benefit you long-term and help you achieve emotional balance.

Counseling Questions? What You Need to Know About Professional Help

It’s important to get your basic counseling questions answered if you’ve never seen a mental health professional before. After all, the more you understand, the better the counseling experience will be for you.

Let’s shed some light on the topic and consider a few different counseling questions.

How Does Counseling Work?

Most counseling sessions take place once a week for approximately one hour. Sessions are completely confidential and may continue as long as you and your counselor feel they’re helpful.

Counseling requires hard work in the form of self-exploration, personal insight, and honesty with yourself and with your therapist. Counseling is a partnership between you and your therapist.

The therapist assimilates what you tell them and determines how the pieces come together. Your counselor will be objective and help you to identify areas of your life to focus on in therapy, and the right therapeutic approach to help you. During your appointments, your counselor may teach you coping and problem-solving skills to utilize outside your appointment times. While they’re often very candid, your therapist will never make any decisions for you.

You must be completely open and honest about your feelings, experiences, thoughts, and actions with your therapist. Commitment to the counseling process and trust in your therapist are important keys for progress and recovery. It’s imperative that you consider your counselor’s feedback carefully and practice what you’ve learned in your sessions in your daily life.

What Types of Therapies Are Common?

Individual Therapy – Sessions are held with one individual at a time. They normally focus on exploring negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and making positive changes.

Couples Therapy/Marriage Counseling – Sessions are held with two people who are in a committed relationship. It often focuses on teaching how to handle challenges, improve communication, overcome an incident of infidelity, parent cooperatively and effectively, and have a happier and more satisfying relationship.

Family Therapy – Sessions are held with more than one member of a family at the same time. It usually focuses on resolving conflict and improving interactions between individuals.

Group Therapy – Sessions are guided by a professional therapist and are held with a group of peers that work on the same problem, such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.

What Types of Mental Health Professionals Are There?

All mental health professionals are licensed, regulated, and governed by a professional licensing board, and they must abide by and adhere to a strict code of ethics for their profession. The terms “counselor,” “therapist,” and “psychotherapist,” may be used interchangeably in most mental health professions. Here is a brief description of the most common mental health professional designations:

Counselor/Therapist – An LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), and an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), are individuals who have completed a minimum of a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field. They provide professional counseling, psychotherapy, and mental health services to individuals, couples, families, and groups.

Social worker – A person who has a minimum of a master’s degree in social work or a related field. An LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) is trained to help families dealing with various social issues, but they are also skilled and trained in providing mental health and counseling services to individuals and couples. 

Psychologist – A person with a graduate degree in psychology who is licensed to work with patients who need mental health therapy. Most psychologists hold a doctorate (PhD) in their professional discipline. A psychologist may hold a master’s degree, and work under the supervision of a psychologist holding a PhD. Like LPCs, LMFTs, and LCSWs, psychologists provide counseling and psychotherapy to individuals, couples, families, and groups. Many psychologists are trained to provide specific mental health testing that they deem necessary to help diagnose specific conditions. They often work cooperatively with other mental health professionals (LPCs, LMFTs, and LCSWs) to provide needed testing for their clients.

Psychiatrist – A medical doctor (MD) whose medical specialty and training focuses on mental and emotional disorders. They are licensed to prescribe medication, and they also may provide psychotherapy. Often, psychiatrists will provide medication management for a patient, and work in coordination with the LPC, LMFT, LCSW, or psychologist who is providing counseling for the patient. Psychologists, LPCs, LMFTs, and LCSWs often refer their clients to a psychiatrist if they determine the client needs medication for their condition.

How Do You Choose Which Mental Health Professional to See?

Choosing the right mental health professional for you is a lot like finding a primary care physician, or other professional. You may know someone who can refer you to a therapist they really like. If not, search online for therapists in your area who work with your particular concern or mental health diagnosis, or ask your insurance provider for a list of therapists they work with. Contact the therapist and ask questions about their areas of specialty and training, how much they charge per session, do they accept your insurance, and other questions you have. Many therapists will offer a free consultation over the phone or in their office. A consultation gives you the opportunity to see how comfortable you are talking to them. Once you see them in person, or have a phone conversation, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about choosing a therapist that is a good fit for you.

Keep in mind that not all therapists and patients match up. You may have to find someone else if the first therapist you talk to doesn’t fit your needs, for whatever the reason. But don’t give up. Your mental and emotional health is worth finding the right fit just for you.

Negative Comparisons and Low Self-Esteem? How Women Can Nix Them!

At times, demands and perceptions from external sources can cause negative comparisons to creep into your thoughts and disturb your inner peace. It’s an alluring, but dangerous, emotional trap that only makes you feel jealous, inferior, and inadequate. This can easily lead your self-esteem to a new, all-time low.

Ruminating that someone is better looking or slimmer, makes more money, is higher up on the career ladder, has a happier marriage or a more caring partner, is a better parent, or has a lot more friends is like fighting a losing battle. There are an infinite number of comparisons you can make with an unending number of people. The Internet and social media have now driven the possibilities for negative comparison off the scale!

So, what’s the point?

Be Aware of Negative Comparisons and How It Affects Your Self-Esteem

It’s truly a shame that we ever allow ourselves to make comparisons with others. You never remain objective! Have you noticed?

Frequently, you end up comparing the worst of what you know about yourself with the best of what you presume about another person. How is that fair?

What you perceive to be true is usually what the other person lets you see. It’s an edited version of what they truly are. They’re not going to reveal their negative thoughts and emotions to the world. They will put their positive side on display. What happens is that you’re looking at a distorted and inaccurate picture when you compare yourself to others.

How could you possibly live up to that idealized image you have of them? In fact, chances are even they can’t live up to it!

Nix the urge to make negative comparisons and focus your energy on raising your self-esteem. It will free you from this unfruitful struggle and help you grow into your authentic self.

How to Raise Your Self-Esteem

Accept your imperfections and embrace your uniqueness.

Remember: nobody is perfect! We’re all human. We all have flaws, weaknesses, and difficulties. When you set reasonable expectations, become compassionate with yourself, and accept yourself for who you are, you truly start growing.

Stop labeling and limiting yourself.

Society may have a specific definition of success for a woman, but you don’t have to let yourself be pressed into that mold. Instead of succumbing to limiting, negative self-talk, visualize and affirm that you’re confident and strong. Step outside the box society dictates. Give yourself permission to try out new things and make some mistakes along the way.

Become aware of your own successes.

Think about what you have and have accomplished, not what you lack or haven't done. Make a list of your past achievements to motivate yourself to pursue more of your dreams and goals. You have unique gifts that allow you to make valuable contributions to the world around you. Nurture these strengths and enjoy doing what you do well.

Find inspiration without comparing yourself.

Learning from others is not comparing yourself to them. Talk with those you admire and ask them questions. Read about those who have achieved what you would like to achieve. As you learn from those you admire, do it with the right attitude and motive. Don’t let their success intimidate you. Don’t let it blind you to your own self-worth. Let it inspire you to reach your dreams. Most likely, you will find that the people you admire were vulnerable and courageous, took risks, and made many mistakes in their journeys to success.

Remember there will always be someone better.

When you realize that you are going down the road of negative comparisons again, change focus. Increase your positive self-talk, talk to a supportive and trustworthy friend, recite some positive affirmations, or read something inspiring.

Faulty perceptions, negative comparisons, and thinking that someone else is much better than you, just wastes time and energy. Focus on your own goals and motivations and commit to growing a little each day.

Above all, strive to be the best possible version of yourself – not someone else!

Shedding Should and Must: Demand Less, Get Real, and Love Well

You should be further ahead than you are right now.

You should dress better and weigh less.

You should suck it up and smile more.

You must make some changes if you ever expect to be happy.

How did it feel to read those statements?

Did you feel your body tense? Did a frisson of tension, or agreement, or even helplessness run through you?

Don’t worry. You are not alone. Too many of us really don’t know how to think any other way.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

First of all, the should and must barrage we impose on ourselves is a form of cognitive distortion. Therefore, the way we see and think about ourselves seems true but is not really accurate or helpful at all. Thus, we make the mistake of thinking we must box ourselves into doing what we perceive is right and best, rather than focus on our needs and wants.

What happens when we indulge this distortion?

Life gets hard and inflexible. All the shoulds and musts we carry around have a way of making us forget we have valid choices. In fact, you might even tell yourself you shouldn’t even want to exercise them.

Think about it, how many times have you chastised yourself or criticized your own actions or desires, reminding yourself of the multiple things you should do, say, think or become?

More specifically, how many times have you believed that:

  • good people should be focused on predetermined activities, parameters, and goals for happiness and contentment?
  • successful people must rise through work and society. They should be smart, funny, sexy, loving, well-liked, and so on and so on?
  • moral people must be pure-minded or like-minded and increasingly perfect as the years go by?

How many times have you felt you failed to meet your own list of internal demands? 

Unfortunately, should and must can take over pretty easily if we aren’t aware. To break free, intentional exploration of our thoughts, wants, and relationships is important. Consider the following ideas for relief:

1. Shed your “Shoulds” and Learn to Demand Less:

Run your list of shoulds mentally. Right now.

What should you be? Thinner, healthier, younger, friendlier, smarter, funnier…? Basically, you “should” be a better version of yourself, right? Sadly, you tell yourself all the time that you’re just not getting life right. That you’re just not good enough. 

To combat such thoughts, empower yourself. Notice should and must when they come up. Practice mindful awareness. In addition, intentionally respond to the demands you place on yourself with self-compassion.

Refuse to be bossed around by musts. Get curious. Ask yourself:

  • “Is this something I really want?
  • “Why do I believe I should do this?”
  • “What am I afraid might happen if I go my own way?”

You may find that the answers to your questions uncover some unexplored thoughts and emotions. Thus, you may be inspired to change your response. Or you may simply feel more in tune with your wants and motivations.

2. Explore your “Musts” in an effort to get real with yourself and your world

The primary problem with should and must?

That the things we should do, must have, and ought to become just don’t have much to do with who we really are.

“Shoulding” your life and relationships limits and polices your experiences unfairly. And, consequently, leaves you with few assurances that you are fine the way you are.

However, with the help of a compassionate counselor, you can learn to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and behavior. Time with a good listener is extremely beneficial as you get know your authentic self and take action.

You can live your life without shoulds directing you. Learning to trust yourself will be key.

3. Minimize Should and Must to maximize your ability to live and love well

Self-compassion, self-discovery, and authenticity are gifts that accompany your willingness to shed your shoulds. In addition, you may find that you are more able to invite loved ones to a more honest, accepting and compassionate relationship with you.

Also, feeling less compelled to live up to outside demands, your tendency to control others with a list of your own shoulds and musts may lessen. Sensitivity and awareness will extend beyond yourself and open your mind to what others need and want, too. As a result, loving yourself and others can be a much more meaningful experience.

Are You Ready To Live Free?

All in all, it’s true that should and must are often sneaky, unforgiving taskmasters. But, hopefully, now you can start to believe your life is bigger than you thought… and entirely yours to reimagine.

So, go ahead, gather some solid support and get to work.

Shed your should and must habit. Change your mind. You’re ready.

Childhood Abuse: Why You Think the Abuse was Your Fault

Childhood abuse can come in many forms - physical, sexual, emotional, psychological.

What they all have in common is that the survivors often think the abuse was their fault.

Before we go further into this painful and confusing subject, it is important to be very clear: abuse is never your fault. Children neither participate in, instigate, or perpetrate their own abuse. The abusers are the adults.

So what is going on here?

1. Construction of the child’s self with parents/adults as guides

Children construct a world for themselves where their parents (and to a lesser extent, other significant adults such as teachers, youth leaders, older relatives) are the holders of authority, reliability, and safety. What these adults say and do is right. They are an important reference point in an often confusing and sometimes overwhelming world.

Even if these adults violate them, children desperately try to uphold the foundations of their world-construction. Often the only way to do this is to believe that somehow, the adults are still right; they must still be right, or the child's world collapses. And that means that the abuse must have been the child’s fault.

2. Conflict of loyalty

Children experience a conflict of loyalty – the abusing parent is still the parent. The abusive teacher is still the trusted teacher. The child feels that she owes this adult loyalty and love. If pressured, the child is afraid to betray the love and loyalty she assumes the parent/teacher/uncle must feel for them. This is one of the reasons why children often lie to defend the abuser. This is also one of the reasons why adult survivors often cannot acknowledge the truth.

3. Scapegoating

Many abusers tell the children directly that the abuse is their own fault. They say that the child ‘made them do it,’ and/or that the abuse happened ‘for their own good.’ This puts the child in an impossible bind. It is normal for children to have to suspend their own immature judgment and rely on norms set by adults instead. How can they differentiate between benign and abusive motives?

4. Loss of parental love

Accepting that you are a survivor of childhood abuse means accepting an immense loss. Your childhood was not the safe place to grow and develop that it should have been, your trust was violated, and, worst of all, your parents did not treat you with love. This is one of the biggest and most lasting taboos in modern society. If you had a strong reaction to reading this, perhaps even a kind of automatic disbelief, imagine what it must feel to have overwhelming evidence. Almost anything else is better. Believing that your parents somehow were forced to abuse you because you were to blame can feel like a better alternative than accepting that they did not love you and did not care for you.

5. Shame

Shame is everywhere in childhood abuse. In cases of sexual abuse, the act itself is often framed as a secret that the victim must keep hidden from everyone else. Children also can feel sexually aroused, often for the first time in their lives, through sexual abuse. This is particularly shameful to them and also confuses the situation. “If I felt sexual arousal then maybe I wanted it.” “Maybe I really manipulated the adult into abusing me without realizing it.”  “I don’t understand what is right and wrong – so I must be wrong.”

6. Stigma

Unfortunately, some media portrayals of childhood abuse survivors often shame the survivors as damaged, dysfunctional, and socially inferior. Private shame turns into stigma.

The truth is, anyone can be a survivor of childhood abuse. Survivors are often very brave, sensitive, and empathetic.

Understanding why survivors feel that the abuse was their own fault is absolutely vital to recovery from childhood trauma and eventual healing. This is not ‘faulty thinking’ that must be corrected, once more, from the outside. Survivors have every right to progress at their own pace. Deeply internalized childhood patterns take a long time to unravel.

But the truth still is: abuse is never the fault of the victim. The abuse has very little to do with who the victim is; it is all about the psychological issues of the abuser.

Alice Miller, psychiatrist, survivor of childhood abuse, and author of The Drama of the Gifted Child, writes this about childhood abuse, “The child must adapt to ensure the illusion of love, care, and kindness, but the adult does not need this illusion to survive. He can give up his amnesia and then be in a position to determine his actions with open eyes. Only this path will free him.”

Depersonalization: A Common Self-Protection Method

What is depersonalization and what does it have to do with trauma?

When someone experiences a traumatic situation or a series of repetitive traumas, areas of the nervous system goes into stress response. This is a survival strategy activated by the oldest and most primitive parts of our brain. The typical result is the fight or flight response, but if neither of these are possible, the person can go into the freeze response, the method of last resort. In animals, this freeze response looks like “pretending to be dead.” In humans, the freeze response can take an instinctive form of self-protection called acute depersonalization, an aspect of dissociation (i.e. disconnection from the self and/or from the situation).

Depersonalization is the disconnection from the self, a sense of not being at home in your own body, disconnected from your emotions, and disconnected from your physical sensations. Trauma survivors report that they were able to “detach” from physical pain during abuse, accidents or illness, or even torture; from fear during natural disasters, war, and abuse; and from shame and humiliation during episodes of bullying as well as psychological and sexual abuse.

Sometimes they describe depersonalization as “this is not happening to me” or as an involuntary out-of-body experience.

How does depersonalization protect during trauma?

Traumatic experiences can be so overwhelming that the cohesion of the self is threatened. Physical pain can be intolerable, and psychological attacks can undermine the normal sense of self. Repetitive trauma can trigger depersonalization, after several episodes, at a relatively low level – a negative “learning experience” for the brain.

This is particularly true for traumatic situations that offer no other way out, such as being imprisoned, physically incapacitated, trapped in a war zone, or facing an attack that you cannot fight off. It is also, sadly, true for the trauma of childhood abuse.

Temporarily disconnecting from your identity, the sense of who you are, can protect the cohesion of your self, a self that you are either still constructing when you are a child or that you have spent many years building up as an adult, by allowing you not to feel the attacks to the same extent. If you can temporarily escape into a sense of “that is not happening to me” or even “that is not me,” you can protect your inner core.

Many trauma survivors describe exactly that.

Some make a conscious decision to leave their body behind, but many report that they “escaped” by disconnecting from their sense of being themselves without realizing that this was what they were doing – the freeze response kicking in.

A survival strategy that can come at a high cost.

While depersonalization can help a person survive the current traumatic situation, it can also come at a high cost. Depersonalization disorder, a diagnosable mental health condition, can result from episodes of temporary (or acute) depersonalization during trauma, and lead to many years, or even a lifetime, of disconnection from a sense of self. It can also affect memory and the person’s general state of awareness.

The survival strategy is no longer offering protection. It has become an inappropriate response that now impacts daily functioning and optimal survival.

Because it is often invisible to others, and because the sufferer often doesn’t know how to identify the disorder, depersonalization disorder is often left untreated. However, a mental health professional will be able to make a diagnosis with the help of clinical tests and exploring your history. Treatment often involves addressing the original trauma that caused the first episodes of depersonalization.

Depersonalization and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Depersonalization can be difficult, but not impossible, to treat, particularly in cases of extreme or early trauma. However, PTSD treatments have evolved considerably over the last decade and some treatments, such as EMDR Therapy, can help in healing from the impact of traumatic events. It is also possible to live and function with a mild form of depersonalization and to manage the symptoms with the help of a mental health professional who is trained in treating trauma and dissociative disorders. There are forums, advice columns, and books available that can help to better understand what you are going through, but the best option is to find a qualified counselor who has specific training in treating trauma and dissociative disorders.


Janie McMahan is a therapist in Austin, Texas. She is trained in EMDR Therapy and has received additional clinical training in treating complex trauma, PTSD, and dissociative disorders. If you have experienced difficult life events that are preventing you from living a life of happiness and fulfillment, call Janie today at 512-739-2494 for more information and scheduling.


When Holidays Trigger Traumatic Memories From Childhood

The holiday season brings up memories from childhood in all of us.

Songs, smells of familiar food, and traditional holiday decorations everywhere activate the long term memories stored in our brains. And inextricably bound to those memories are emotions.

If those memories are pleasant, if they give us a sense of belonging and being rooted in a world that welcomes us, then the holiday season is a very enjoyable time.

But what if you are dealing with painful or even traumatic memories from your childhood, triggered by those same songs, smells and images?

What happens when traumatic memories are triggered in the brain?

Our brains are constant recording instruments. And there are at least two reasons why traumatic memories from childhood are so strong.

First, our earliest memories are actually the building blocks of the brain. They structure our later experiences and how we interpret them.

And second, memories with strong emotions, particularly of fear and pain, are a priority imprint on our brains. This is actually part of the learning function. Fearful situations are remembered so that we can survive similar ones in the future. Unfortunately, we can also get stuck inside those memories and the feelings they evoke.

If this happens to you a lot and if you experience other symptoms like panic attacks and prolonged periods of low mood, it would be a good idea to seek professional help. Some traumatic memories can lead to PTSD which can and needs to be treated.

Coping strategies for random holiday triggers

  • Acknowledge that you have been triggered. Note the trigger and try to understand what the connection is. The act of reflection will make you feel a little more ‘in charge.’
  • Practice your calming skills like deep breathing, sensory mindfulness, and living in the present moment.
  • Connect with non-toxic people in your life right now.
  • Remember that your emotional well-being is important. You deserve compassion and respect for your feelings, including from yourself!

Coping strategies for family holiday events (revisiting the traumatic environment)

  • Plan a time limit for the visit and create a safe exit strategy.
  • If you can, don’t stay overnight and don’t depend on transport from people who are likely to trigger your traumatic memories.
  • If you can, don’t go it alone. Ask someone to come with you who understands and can help protect you. If that is not possible, you could arrange to have a phone connection and agree on a kind of ‘personal emergency’ code.
  • Listen to your feelings and honor your experience.

What can make it worse?

Group pressure to ‘forget’ and pretend

Families (or other groups) can exert a strong pressure on someone who has been the target of traumatization from within their own ranks to ‘forget’ and ‘forgive’ what has been done to them. This is often presented as proof of ‘maturity’ – with the implied criticism that the person who has suffered trauma inflicted by members of this same group is at fault if they don’t comply. Again.

In reality, the pressure to pretend that all is okay is solely for the benefit of those who hurt you and those who didn’t do anything about it.

Alcohol and ‘unsafe’ surroundings

For many survivors, holiday festivities feel deeply unsafe, and efforts to ‘relax’ through alcohol actually make things worse. Try to stay sober so that you are in control.

Presence of someone connected with the original trauma

This is probably the worst case scenario and the one most feared by survivors of childhood trauma. If you know that someone like that will very likely be present, you might consider not attending.

Yes, that is considered an extreme measure and will probably increase the group pressure to disregard yourself. But it might be the best solution for everyone. You can always meet the ‘non-trigger’ members of your family at other times.

If you feel you can cope, try to put in place very strong boundaries. If you have any allies in the group, try to connect to them but don’t let yourself be drawn into any fights.

You have a right to protect yourself, even during the holidays – or perhaps even more so, since traumatic memories are more likely to be triggered.

One good idea is to write down your coping strategies so that you can look at them — why not store them on your phone so that you can have a quick reminder when you get stressed?

Talking through your fears and possible solutions with a good friend is also very helpful. Maybe you can make a mutual assistance plan.

And maybe now is also a good time to consider counseling or re-visit counseling for a few extra sessions.