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Self-Acceptance: The Cornerstone of Maturity

The following is an excerpt on the significance of self-acceptance drawn from the book, How to Be the Adult in the Room, authored by one of our therapists, Jim Kelly. You can purchase this book through Amazon. This book is also available for purchase in our office.


In the privacy of my office, even highly successful people regularly admit deep insecurities, which rob them of peace and happiness. In fact, in many cases their achievements are driven by the desire to prove themselves. Yet, their achievements never satisfy the deeper need to feel whole for just being who they are.

When I work on the issue of self-acceptance with clients, I help them identify and validate aspects of who they are in the following areas:

  • Inherent personality traits
  • Natural abilities
  • True interests
  • True values and principles
  • Honest thoughts and feelings
  • Direction and purpose

Deborah was in her late twenties and struggled with chronic anxiety and anorexia—a very complex issue. In my experience, anorexia is usually symptomatic of a few predicable themes—perfectionism, achievement, and control, though what I typically find at the heart of the problem is an undeveloped sense of self. This young woman, who was a nurse, exhibited these patterns. Her compliant personality oriented her as a child to take her cues from other people and to try to please them. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she lost close contact with her father. She grew up longing to feel closer and more loved by her father, which undermined her self-worth.

Deborah’s personality also predisposed her to strive to be in control. As she grew up, these factors coalesced to work against her. Along the way, she became deeply insecure, and her maladaptive response was to try to be perfect to win outside approval and validation. She always made straight A-s in school and graduated at the top of her nursing class. Yet, she never felt good enough. She was an excellent nurse, but constantly compared herself to peers and would look for evidence to find herself lacking. On the outside, she appeared to have it all together. On the inside, she was a train wreck. This is where anorexia came in. Like many women in our culture who feel insecure with themselves and out of control internally, she focused on controlling and perfecting her body to gain a sense of self-worth and control. The psychological reward gained by achieving this essentially unhealthy thinness is, of course, fleeting, illusory, and never satisfying.

The only real solution was for Deborah to decide that who she was had little to do with her body, her achievements, and the approval of others. While she was gaining an awareness of the elements of who she was, she had to learn how to accept, listen to, validate, be guided by , and trust her true self—not a simple process. She had to completely re-orient herself from taking cues from others to finding and trusting her own center. As she developed a more authentic sense of her own identity and learned to trust and accept herself, she began to feel more secure internally. This internal sense of control allowed her to start shedding, little by little, the need to be perfect. She began to accept her own flawed, limited, imperfect human nature, including her body. Her anxiety began to resolve as she was able to validate her own competency, stop comparing herself to the other nurses, and enjoy her work. Deborah must continue to practice this higher consciousness, but she’s clearly on the path.

Parenting ADHD Kids and Teens

To Understand

ADHD is not just an immature, overly active child; a passive, defiant middle schooler; or an unmotivated, lazy teenager.  ADHD is a neurobiological condition that presents with deficits in self-regulation (attention, focus, over-activity, or impulsivity) starting in early childhood and at times may create impairment in school, relationships, or daily activities.

ADHD is a continuum disorder, not yes/no or black/white.  The Executive Functioning area of the brain (prefrontal cortex) is not fully developed until mid 20’s.  The “ADHD brain” often lags several years behind.

ADHD often co-exists with other behavioral, learning, and psychological concerns (e.g., learning disability, cognitive processing deficit, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem).

ADHD is a lifelong challenge with Age/Stage Implications.  ADHD kids and teens often

  • Take the scenic route
  • Display “quick twitch”
  • Act like “knuckleheads”
  • Act clueless and don’t make connections
  • Are high maintenance, high risk, and high reward

…and where do you think this comes from?  (Whose family tree gets “credit”?)

To Remember

  1. The system is the solution (develop a program-e.g., points for positive behavior)
  2. Surprise is not your friend (plan ahead and tell them about the plan)
  3. Kiss the third request goodbye (one or two is enough)
  4. Being right is highly over-rated (power struggles miss the point and will not work)
  5. Keep your mental illness to yourself (control your emotions and language)
  6. If it is not written, down, it doesn’t exist (lists, notes, charts, technology)

TO TRY

Behavioral/Psychological – Environmental/Life Style

While there is no magical parenting formula, parents with ADHD kids and teens need to be more proactive, more intentional, and more thoughtful in their approaches.  These strategies apply to parenting all children; however, they are especially helpful with children who have issues of inattention, impulsivity, and over-activity.

  1. First, get their attention (eye contact, prompts)
  2. Structure, structure, and more structure (routines, consistency)
  3. Catch them being good #1 (to reinforce positive behaviors)
  4. Talk and fuss less, behave more (clear expectations, clear consequences)
  5. Run for your life! (or walk, swim, kick, jump, climb, move, exercise)
  6. Teach “executive functioning” skills (study strategies, organization)
  7. Catch them being good #2 (to build confidence, self-esteem)
  8. Find the best school fit, then advocate (504, IEP, Learning Services)
  9. Offer academic tutoring (to build basic skills)
  10. Seek counseling or coaching (for you and your child)
  11. Catch them being good #3 (to shape your behavior)
  12. Teach emotional self-control (don’t assume it)
  13. Don’t over-schedule (to provide down time, rest, and sleep)
  14. Catch them being good #4 (to help break the negative cycle of behavior, punishment, anger, avoidance, loss in self-esteem, depression, acting out)

And finally…

  1. CELEBRATE THE GOOD NEWS OF ADHD (intelligence, creativity, independence, out-of-the-box thinking, “quick twitch” athleticism, sense of humor, energy, enthusiasm)

Books

  • Taking Charge of ADHD, Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, 3rd Edition, Barkley
  • ADHD Workbook for Parents, Parker
  • Spark, Ratey
  • The Gift of ADHD, Honos-Webb
  • ADHD in Adolescence, Robin & Barkley
  • Smart But Scattered, Dawson & Guare, and Smart But Scattered Teens, Guare, Dawson & Guare
  • Give your ADD Teen a Chance, Weiss

Websites

Violence and Human Nature

The past years have seen increased incidences of violence in the schools, in public, and in the workplace. The aftermath is the same: shock, grief, looking for answers. In our search for answers, we tend to blame our pet peeves as the cause for senseless violence. Of course there is not just one cause, but rather a complex interaction between human nature and our environment.

There are three tendencies of human nature which are important pieces of the puzzle to explore. Knowing about them could possibly prevent further school, public, and workplace violence. These are the tendencies to alter our consciousness; seek intensity; and narrow our reality. These tendencies are natural to all people, yet when exaggerated in the context of addictions, poor judgment, alienation, illness, and denial, they can lead to violence.

Altering our Consciousness

The first of these tendencies, altering our consciousness, is seen in small children who love to spin around making themselves dizzy, or peek through their legs to look at the world upside down, or giggle or scream loudly for no reason adults can easily see. Adults also have a natural desire to alter their consciousness, as seen in altered states induced during some religious ceremonies, sporting events, overeating/vomiting, daydreaming, a bad temper, cutting, road rage, and sexual activity, to name a few.

Seeking Intensity

The second natural human tendency is to seek intensity. Examples of natural periods of low intensity include boredom, routine, deadened emotions, and depression. We will then create situations to lift us out of the low intensity state and into the realms of feeling “very alive.” It feels better to feel alive. Most addictions are exaggerated attempts to keep intensity going or to lift us out of boredom/routine/deadened emotions/depression. Intensity is built into news stories, video games, TV, advertising, political rhetoric, and movies as a way of engaging our interest (we are drawn toward intensity and drama)

Narrowing our Reality

The third natural human tendency is to narrow our reality. This relates to taking a small piece of our world and focusing on it to the exclusion of the bigger picture. We do this to gain a sense of control over our lives, since dealing with many of life’s issues all at once can seem overwhelming. The more a person feels disenfranchised, powerless or out of control, the more one tends to narrow one’s world. Some of the more problematic examples we frequently see are, being overly focused on violence, religion, sex, work, drugs, money, or relationships. This will eventually lead to an unrealistic view of oneself and the world, and intensify feelings of anger, frustration, fear, and alienation. Narrowing one’s reality to a small area of life is part of the addictive process and may be one of the purposes behind most addictions. Certainly, violence has an addictive quality.

On closer look, what seems like senseless violence eventually does make sense from the violent person’s perspective, as psychological autopsies have demonstrated. Most of us are not prone to violence because we learn to balance the natural tendencies to alter our consciousness, seek intensity, and narrow our reality. Some less intense imbalances, yet still self-destructive behavior, can be seen in sabotaging relationships, under-achievement, and poor health habits. Our goal should be to understand the need for, and the skills required for balance, so that we do not become destructive to ourselves or others. Internal balancing of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors is a prerequisite for a healthy life.

My observation is that those who are violent in schools, in public, and in the workplace are significantly out of balance, but could possibly be identified in advance by applying the three human tendencies listed above. Perhaps the violent individuals get “high” over planning their and others’ destruction (altering their consciousness), felt very alive in carrying it out (intensity), and were removed from most thoughts/behaviors not related to their destructive plan for some time (narrowing reality).

By understanding what to look for, we may be able to prevent further acts of violence. It is important to stop blaming specific issues (usually our pet peeves) in society for a person’s violence, such as gun ownership, lack of religion in schools, Hollywood movies, or even poor role models. Human nature and the environment are constantly shaping each other over time, yet the outcome of that interaction is ultimately the individual’s responsibility.

The Science Behind Stress

What is Stress?

Simply put, stress is the way that we respond to the stuff that happens in our world. The things that are happening are called stressors. I think it’s important to mention right here at the start that stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Really, it is how we think about it and respond to it that can get tricky. Stress can actually be a great thing. When we’re engaged, motivated, excited, energized, etc., we are appropriately stressed. Of course, when we generally think about stress, when we say “I’m stressed,” we mean we’re overwhelmed, anxious, exhausted, and burned out. Think about it on a spectrum, when there is not enough stress then we’re bored, disengaged, unmotivated and uninterested. When there is too much stress, we’re overwhelmed and “stressed out.” We want to figure out how to get into that sweet spot where we have the right amount of stress and are feeling energized

Fight or Flight vs. Rest and Digest

So let’s talk about what’s happening physically when we’re on the overstressed end of that spectrum. Most people have heard the term “Fight or Flight.” The fight or flight response is governed by the activating half of the part of our nervous system, called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), that handles many of our automatic processes. The other half of the ANS handles the recovery response or “Rest and Digest.” Really these two halves of the ANS can be thought of as the gas and brake. When we’re on the overstressed end of our stress spectrum, we’ve got the gas pedal stuck on the floor. Blood pressure and muscle tension go up, digestion, immune system, and ability to think go down, and we start to wear out. Think of it this way: your body is responding to danger. As far as it’s concerned, you’re being attacked by a lion. If you’re actually in danger, this is a great response. So, you’re almost run over by a car, a building is on fire, somebody jumps you in a dark alley…that’s what it’s there for. However, we tend to turn on the same response for relationship problems, excess work, financial problems, etc. What’s worse, we keep it on for long periods of time, and it’s really not meant for that.

Chronic Stress

The problems with stress come when the excess/negative stress becomes chronic. At this point, a number of pretty unpleasant things start to happen. Chronic stress can have a negative impact on our sleep, appetite, mood, immune system, digestion, relationships, memory and ability to learn. Over a long period of time it can lead to high blood pressure, reduced heart health, increased risk of heart attack, and functional digestive problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Essentially, our bodies start to fall apart from the wear, and our ability to reach out to others for support falls apart. What’s worse is that it becomes a cycle. We get overstressed, so we are less able to deal with excess stressors, which makes us more stressed, etc.

How to Deal

So what the heck do we do about it? Life is stressful, are you saying to get rid of stress in your life? No. That’s not reasonable or even useful. The goal is to learn how to manage it effectively to keep yourself in an energizing state of positive stress, which can actually counter many of the negative effects I mentioned above. The good news is that stress management does work…if you actually use it. What is important is to learn what works for you that you can effectively incorporate into your regular daily life.

In future posts, I will talk about the many ways one can approach stress management in order not only to reduce chronic stress, but to fully engage positive stress in an energizing way.

Image of trees, mountains

Self-Acceptance: The Cornerstone of Maturity

The following is an excerpt on the significance of self-acceptance drawn from the book, How to Be the Adult in the Room, …

Parenting ADHD Kids and Teens

To Understand ADHD is not just an immature, overly active child; a passive, defiant middle schooler; or an unmotivated, lazy …

Violence and Human Nature

The past years have seen increased incidences of violence in the schools, in public, and in the workplace. The aftermath …