Positive Journaling — An Encouragement & Reflection

I wanted to share something I was tasked with by my therapist that I thought was completely ridiculous and terribly uncomfortable … But so very useful and effective: Positive Journaling.

I would venture to say that many people with very low self-esteem participate in the practice of negative self-talk, often without really even being consciously aware that they are doing it. Negative thoughts about the self, the world and really just about anything and everything that we encounter in our day-to-day lives can become quite overwhelming, drowning out any positive thoughts that may emerge. It’s really a battle won by majority-rules. When the majority of your thoughts are critical, eventually a change in thinking can be of utmost difficulty. Yet changing our thinking can be so powerful.

So I was tasked with keeping a daily journal of positive thoughts about myself. I couldn’t do it. Months later I was was again tasked with this impossible homework assignment. A few days went by before I finally started it … I completed three entries before I gave up. Weeks later, I was again advised to do this very difficult thing — only this time my therapist started it for me. She told me to write down three sentences that she gave me — her words; her truths. These were to become my mantras; I was to re-write them in my own words, knowing they were truths that she spoke to me; three tiny, seemingly insignificant truths that contained positive words that were about me. I was to re-write these few short lines with the knowledge that these positive things were true thoughts, proof that someone else believed in me, and that it was perfectly acceptable to know and believe and think these things.

It worked.

I re-wrote these things, I read them back to myself, I reminded myself of them when I was feeling glum. Suddenly, as if magic happened, I found myself starting to be reassured and to allow myself to really see and hear the negative self-talk that was happening in my mind. I caught myself putting myself down when I least expected it. My eyes opened. She was right. She was so completely right and I didn’t see it until now. Clarity is a brilliant gift. If I could wish anything for anybody, it would be the gift of being able to see things — to see the self — with clarity; to see our true selves and be reassured that we are not as terrible as we believe ourselves to be, and to see the wonder that others see in us; to know that we are amazing beings that are loved and worthy of awe, adoration and love.

Convincing the self of these things, however, can be a challenge. It might possibly be my biggest challenge — more than the mourning of both parents, the extreme loss and division of divorce; more than any physical challenge I have encountered.

Yet I am determined.

Something triggered a thought in me just recently — I thought that I am so privileged and fortunate to have had so many of the wonderful experiences I’ve had this year. At the end of 2014 I hit the reset button on my life; never in a million years would I have thought at that time that I would have experienced everything that I have so far experienced in 2015. I went home and I made a list. I wrote down the experiences I was so fortunate to have had on just that one day. Then I thought about my week, and the experiences I was fortunate to have throughout that week. And then I was on a roll — I jotted down everything I experienced this year that I never thought I could do; everything that seemed impossible until it was done and everything that brought me joy.

I noticed how many things I accomplished that were very personal, seemingly impossible goals for myself. I was dumbfounded. I went to bed at peace that night, my tormented mind comfortably calm for the first time in a while. I finally saw the power of this completely ridiculous and terribly uncomfortable task.

On Being Vulnerable

This last week has certainly flown by. I’ve fallen a bit behind on my writing schedule, and have chosen to be okay with that. I’ve been writing a little less lately, and focusing on some other things — initially I was perturbed with myself for this change in habit, but I’ve decided that making a periodic adjustment is perfectly acceptable, and that the important thing is to always do what is good for my heart and soul and keeps me motivated in general (seems like a solid plan, though not always easy to adhere to …).

I’ve been feeling a bit vulnerable lately, and that could be contributing to my lack of writing — writing tends to do that to me, perhaps because I am documenting intangible things that are from deep within, whether I choose to share them or not. Being vulnerable can be quite difficult, even if practiced regularly. I am reminded of a podcast I listened to earlier this year, in which Brené Brown discusses her research on shame and its relationship with vulnerability, and subsequently courage (it’s a good listen if you have a few moments).

Speaking of vulnerability, I was extremely touched to read Janie Brown’s contribution to the On Being blog this month. Janie’s letter to a friend struggling with mental illness brought more than a few tears to my eyes. Her friend, who later did choose to end her own life, displayed amazing courage in her decision to be vulnerable when she reached out to Janie. She took steps to seek treatment, to find companionship, to hold friends close to help her through those difficult times. And this, for many (myself included) is so, so difficult. It takes immense courage to admit when you are struggling — to ask someone to be there for you, to let them know you need them. Not only are you left vulnerable, you risk rejection, along with a whole myriad of other possible feelings: obligation, burden, fear, shame, insecurity, etc. You experience doubt that people genuinely care, but feel silly afterword because you know truly that they do. Sometimes you are lost in your head and forget that people have told you they care and that you are valuable and important to them. As Janie Brown does for her friend, a true friend carries no judgement. There is only love.

It is also easy to forget that you are valuable and important to yourself. It is easy to forgot to be kind to yourself. In my journey of transformation, mindfulness has been a prominent topic and a difficult practice to make habit — though an entirely worthwhile effort. Attending meditation workshops, working with a meditation instructor, reading Buddhist texts and memoirs, seeking knowledge from those seasoned in the practice have all fueled much of my personal growth, and led to many changes in my life that continue to increase my levels of happiness and satisfaction.

I kept reading through the On Being blog, to Sharon Salzberg’s post, The Concentric Circles of Connection and Lovingkindness. She so beautifully explains:

Classically, mindfulness is really about being present in a certain way, about tuning into our experiences, interactions, emotions, and thoughts with a sense of curiosity and equanimity. It’s an overall sense of openness, and that’s what helps provide us clarity and space to cultivate insight, resilience, and compassion for ourselves and others.

Let me reiterate: compassion for ourselves and others. Through mindfulness we can learn to be gentle with ourselves and one another in a most profound and peaceful way. I can feel it in my soul – the way increasing my mindfulness calms my anxiety, eases my fears, aids me in seeing the good in the world around me, and the people in it. I can come back to this moment and feel at peace in this whirlwind of a world. For this opportunity, I am grateful.

For anyone interested in beginning a meditation practice (or interested in general), I encourage you to check out Community Mediation.  You can watch prior videos and practice at your convenience, or take part in the live feed on Wednesday evenings.

I will leave you today with these beautiful words to ponder from Sharon Salzberg:

Through nourishing ourselves with love and acceptance, we ultimately prepare ourselves to offer lovingkindness to others and recognize our shared desire to be happy and supported in this life.

Suicide, Self-Esteem, and the Power of Positive Thoughts

I have two things on the forefront of my mind that I am compelled to share, so I’m going to go in two directions with this post.  First, this news headline caught my eye this week, and struck a chord with me:  Suicides Prompt State Of Emergency On Navajo Nation.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the suicide rate for Native American youth ages 15 to 24 is nearly four times higher than the national average.

In light of this, it is important to note that

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year old Americans.

and

The highest suicide rates in the US are among Whites, American Indians and Alaska Natives.

— American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

My heart is heavy with this knowledge. I know what it feels like to be that sad, to feel that isolated; to have lost all of my light. I also know what it is like to be on the opposite end; to see someone else be that sad, feel that isolated; to see someone who has lost all of their light. My heart is broken with this loss — my own and others.

In my reading and writing on the topic of suicide, I’ve focused primarily on the factors that surrounded the suicide that specifically effected me — my father was an older adult and in poor physical health. I do believe that these factors play in important role in someone’s decision to end their own life, in addition to the mental health situations that are associated with suicide.  For example, we have the current Right to Die debate, which specifically addresses suicide among the terminally ill. But what about those that are young, sad and lost?

We, as humans, cannot continue to neglect to nurture one another. 

The words we choose to say to one another, and to ourselves, are so very important. If only we knew the turmoil within the minds of people around us, would we speak to them differently? Would we be inclined to act with kindness always? Would we ensure that each of us felt included and important?

If you, dear reader, read no further, I implore you to read the below quote and I encourage you to remember it, print it, post in on your wall, put it in your phone, and to always remember what a strong impact that your thoughts can create.

Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Secondly, on a much deeper personal, yet related, note, I had a revelation this week. In fact, this revelation was so powerful that I suspect there are others that might feel this way, and that I, being lost in my own head, would never have known — I suddenly, and so powerfully, realized how important my thoughts and words are to my own self-esteem. In my mind, my negative thoughts are truth, and there is little to counter these truths, to flip the negative into the positive. I have simply not been allowing it. I dashed away my own self-esteem with my thoughts, creating unwarranted insecurities that have very prominently been influencing my journey through life.

I have experienced a growing dependency on reassurances from outside sources — allowing any gain in confidence to be gleaned from random compliments, which I fight to believe are sincere in the first place. I find myself attached to my cell phone, waiting eagerly for replies to messages only so I can be assured that someone finds communicating with me to be an activity of worth. When someone is busy, I find myself translating it as, “I don’t want to spend time with you.” I have been feeling broken and waiting for someone to fix me.

And then I reached a breaking point — I finally (and painfully) admitted to myself that I let my confidence wither away to a non-existent wisp that was quickly evading my loose grip. I have been fighting dependence on external sources of confidence boosting, however, I removed my expectations for others, and did not replace them with any expectations for myself. I don’t want to rely on other people to make me feel good — that’s a crutch; a false security and a false confidence. I want to rely on myself, to build a stable, confident foundation of positive thoughts and feelings. But how?

It is extremely painful and frustrating to realize that I don’t allow myself to think and feel positive things about myself. I never really thought about it, but I noticed that when I say, “I’m hard on myself,” what I really, deeply mean is, “I believe that if I have any positive thoughts about myself, that I am being selfish.”

Why can’t I think positive thoughts about myself? Others do. Why don’t I feel that I am deserving? I am seeing someone who is quite possibly one of the nicest people I have ever met — always calm, patient and fair. I asked him, not expecting an answer, “why are you so sweet to me?” He told me I deserved it. I deserved it? A foreign concept. The old me does not deserve anything; the old me has not “earned” the privilege of  having people be nice to me. The old me believes that anything good in life is handed to you because you worked harder than I will ever be capable of working, and if it wasn’t earned, it was because someone felt pity. This is the most ridiculous belief ever. How is it even possible that I allowed myself to think this way?!

The new me knows that it is okay to feel good about myself. The new me believes that I am a likable person, that people enjoy my company and that the man I am dating continues to do so because he actually likes me. The new me is learning that I am intelligent, attractive, active and fun. My friends are my friends because they like who I am and we have fun together; we are adults and we don’t spend our valuable time with each other out of obligation (yes there are exceptions to the rule, but we’ll not go there today).

The new me knows that this is a difficult mind change, but this is the right mind change. The new me is learning to feel good and positive things about myself, without feeling guilty or selfish. I have been feeling broken and now I know I am the one who can fix me.

Dear readers, go forth and be kind to one another– and to yourself. You deserve it.