Feeling unworthy and unlovable and assuming that others will reject you are symptoms of trauma. This is especially true if you were abused, neglected, or rejected in early childhood. Self-blame for the trauma leads to the belief that you must have done something bad to deserve the punishment.
Of course this is an untrue and very sad belief. However, this is how trauma survivors organize their memories of their painful experiences. These feelings can lead to learned helplessness, a psychological term for giving up and not even trying. This can cause depression, when you stop caring what happens to you. If you want to change your life, but it seems like too much effort and seems futile, because you doubt anything will change, here are some processes that may help:
- Focus on healing, not shaming: Facing your issues is a way to heal them, not to beat yourself up over them. It’s like peeling an onion: we all have issues we’re working on, one layer at a time.
- Take it one step at a time: It’s overwhelming to think of doing a lot, but it’s manageable to think of doing one thing right now. Focus upon what you’re doing in the moment, and the future will take care of itself.
- Detach from diagnoses: Avoid identifying yourself as a broken person. Instead of saying “I am anxious,” use the more detached phrase “I am feeling anxious.” The construction I am identifies you with the condition, which makes it more difficult to heal, while I am feeling signifies a temporary condition and not your identity.
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Moving From Pessimism To Optimism
Being pessimistic and expecting the worst is a post-traumatic symptom. It’s our misguided way of shielding ourselves from future disappointments. Pessimism gives you permission to not even attempt something fulfilling or healthful. You decide ahead of time that it’s futile to make an effort to lose weight, write that book, finish school, or follow your dreams.
In fact, the favorite phrase of pessimism is “Dream on!”—as if it’s crazy to dream about a better tomorrow. After all, if your yesterday was horribly painful, why should you expect today or tomorrow to be any better? It’s a negativity cycle, because if you don’t attempt to improve your conditions, then nothing will improve . . . and, most likely, things will worsen due to your neglecting yourself. Some people think it’s cool to be pessimistic, as it gives you a detached, I-don’t-give-a-darn attitude. But these “cool” pessimists are left behind while the optimists go out into the world having fun and successful explorations.
Many studies demonstrate the benefits of optimism, including increased well-being, greater ability to cope with illness, and a higher quality of life. To turn pessimism around requires that you have a glimmer of caring about yourself, your health, and your happiness. Think of a plant, which needs nutrients, water, sunshine, and loving care in order to grow. So do you! In fact, tending to a houseplant gets you in the healthful habit of caretaking, which can rub off on how you treat yourself.
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Here are 6 ways to become more optimistic and increase your self-worth:
1. Watch biographical movies about people who succeeded, despite all the odds against them.
2. Write a list (or make one in your head) of the times when things did work out for you.
3. Abstain from depressant chemicals, like alcohol, which dampen your enthusiasm for trying something positive and new.
4. Avoid people who are chronically negative, as negativity is contagious. You don’t have to be optimistic about everything. A more positive outlook will help balance negativity.
5. Make a point to initiate a friendship with someone who is consciously improving his or her life. Hang out with people who are accomplishing their dreams, and they’ll take you along for the ride. Worried they won’t want you around? Think again: successful people love to teach and mentor others, provided that you’re kind and appreciative toward them in return.
6. Start giving yourself appreciation and credit for your accomplishments, small and large. That’s what optimists automatically do, and you can adopt this healthful habit.