*** Now Available: Attachment to Your Therapist: A Conversation. This series of posts in expanded E-Book form, on Amazon.***
Echo says: “I don’t want to be afraid to be seen any more. I want to enjoy being valued, and I want to be present – sharing moments with others. So how do I let good things and healthy relationships in, and not fear self-worth? Would you mind elaborating on low self-esteem and guilt a little more?”
This one of the more challenging change processes. First let me put in a plug for How We Heal and Grow: The Power of Facing Your Feelings. Chapter 5, “Your Conscience Can be Wrong” is all about this topic and, like the other chapters, has a “Next Steps” section at the end discussing practical things to do.
Basically, the answer is “The Kitchen Sink,” meaning all the resources and approaches you can find. The reason is that low self esteem and inappropriate shame emanate from values we have internalized as part of our conscience. Internalized values and attitudes are hard to change. Why? As I have said before, your conscience would lose all its power to override your immediate wishes and desires if it were that easy to change. Like the “Untouchables,” those prohibition era federal police who were incorruptible, your conscience is built to resist other parts of your mind that would be happy to bend principle for pleasure. Therefore, trying to change your (inappropriate) values takes everything you can throw at the task.
EMDR is one of the few therapeutic traditions to recognize that changing values is different from other healing processes. They call it “installing” a healthier value. Francine Shapiro in her book on EMDR tells how this is done. My own thoughts are as follows:First, education. It helps to realize that your low self-esteem and shame are inappropriate and dysfunctional products of your mind. Sometimes it is useful to know how you got your unhealthy values and attitudes. In the case of trauma, they often come directly from your perpetrator, the last person you would want to have governing your feelings. Armed with this knowledge, you can “talk back” to your own mind, reminding it that it is wrong. It also helps to have others to remind you that your own opinion of yourself is not true and that you really are valued.
But the most powerful measure is probably action. I call this “civil disobedience” because you are taking it upon yourself to act in ways that your conscience will not like. You can expect to feel guilty or ashamed afterwards, but will need to resist those inappropriate feelings and persist in your new, healthy actions. By bringing your behavior into sync with the values you truly believe, you will bring out uncomfortable feelings that will then resolve through catharsis and make it easier to accept healthy values and attitudes.
Notice, here, that behavior patterns that reflect values and attitudes towards the self are the mainstay of how our conscience keeps us in line. We get quite uncomfortable when we act differently than we feel about ourselves. Making changes in our habitual ways is not easy, and takes a long time to become natural, but it an essential part of the change process. I’m afraid that one of the main reasons people fall back into unhealthy patterns is because of the subtle shame or guilt we feel when we deviate into unfamiliar postures.
I hope that is useful, and urge you to check out Chapter 5 in How We Heal and Grow.
Next post in the Attachment series: Saying Good Bye