Are you accepting less than you deserve?: Gaining clarity behind your relationship choices

One of the main reasons that clients enter therapy is often times a dissatisfaction or troubling experience in their romantic relationship.

And it makes perfect sense because the people that we surround ourselves with have the potential to greatly enhance or alternately, negatively affect our lives. So the question often arises, what is causing you to accept less than what you deserve in your romantic relationship?
This is absolutely not an easy question to answer because how a person approaches a romantic relationship is largely learned from their own upbringing and then adapted over the years to fit their own individual perspectives.

 

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There are many factors that go into how and why we choose our romantic partners.

 
Generally speaking, assessing a relationship’s longevity and survival rate is slightly different from that of assessing a person on an individual basis. When I work with clients individually, I often assess backgrounds, their own parent’s communication styles, and their self-esteem/ability to set healthy boundaries and maintain those boundaries. Boundaries are often deeply examined because if a person is unable to have a personal set of rules for how they function and the treatment they will accept from others in their lives, it’s a fairly good indication that unhealthy treatment from others may be present. Working with couples in committed relationships is different in that there must be assessment of communication styles between the two, the couple’s ability to turn towards each other in times of stress/sadness/dissatisfaction, and knowledge on each person’s love language and their ability to “speak” it to one another.

So let’s get to the most common reasons that may be causing you to accept less than you deserve in your relationships…

1. An unhealthy self-esteem.

Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves. It can be painful and even scary to really ask ourselves the question, do I like myself?

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Many folks base the answer to this question on the amount of friendships they have, romantic partners they’ve had, and or their ability to be successful in school or work. The issue with looking to external sources for the answer is that often, these external sources can be unpredictable and fallible.

 
Take this example: You’ve been working at the same company for 8 years. You’ve never received any disciplinary measures and for the most part, have been a very good employee—showing up when you’re expected to and carrying out your daily work load. However, behind the scenes at the company you work for, they have been struggling with bringing in money and decide to downsize with you being the first to go and a slew of coworkers shortly thereafter. While the company is downsizing to try to stay afloat, you become a casualty in the process. While yes, this experience would be difficult for anyone, a person with low self-esteem would immediately jump to the conclusion that “I must be an idiot, worthless, and a horrible employee and that’s why I was laid off”.

 
When you have low self-esteem, you will often measure your self-worth with other’s perceptions of you and what happens to you in life, instead of leaning on your own internal resources of strength to get you through. When we have a high internal reservoir that is built upon self-respect, knowing the valuable contributions that we bring to the world, and high levels of self-efficacy and competency, we are better able to deflect the negative experiences that occur.

Practice looking inwards , building upon your knowledge of self instead of looking outwards for the world to tell you that you’re a smart, good, attractive person. If you can practice loving who you are, this inward beauty shines outwardly and in turn increases our self-confidence…and self-esteem.

2. Negative experiences from our past.

Although controversial and disagreeable to some, I agree that Sigmund Freud knew what he was talking about when he developed his psychoanalytic theory proposing that our childhood experiences impact our thoughts and behaviors in present day. The messages that you received while growing up, and during your precious brain’s development will ultimately impact how you function in today’s world.

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If your family was never affirming, you grew up in an unstable and chaotic home environment and you constantly felt as if you did not matter, chances are highly likely that you still struggle with finding what you need in your current romantic partner. We ultimately choose what we know—familiarity is comforting for people even if it is unhealthy familiarity.

 
Consider this: you meet an amazing man/woman and feel overwhelmed that this awesome being has chosen you as their significant other. You’re conflicted because deep down, there is a tiny voice that reminds you “They’ll soon find out who I really am, it’s only a matter of time before they lose confidence in me like my family did”. And because you do not know how to deal with this new, positive relationship, you sabotage. You cut it off and run because this positive treatment is not what you are used to. There’s a high likelihood you have no idea why you sabotaged this new relationship, you may make excuses like “I just couldn’t get over how he/she dressed, they just seemed too good to be true, etc.” Our past experiences, if not dealt with, have a funny way of resurfacing whether it is on a conscious or unconscious level.

 
If the above rings true for you, it may be time to seek out a therapist to help you process past experiences—to wipe the mental slate clean—and discontinue allowing those negative past experiences to creep up and affect you in the here and now.

3. Not having a clear sense of identity.

Have you ever heard the phrase, if you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything?

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In the case of choosing a romantic partner, not knowing your own core values, morals, and ethics can cause you to let someone into your world based on loneliness and confusion instead of a strong foundation that is built upon similar values and beliefs. I’m not saying that you should always agree with your partner on every. little. thing. But for the most part, your ethical and moral compass should align with that of your partner’s.

 
Think about this example: Ever since you can remember, you have been an exceptionally hard worker. You’ve worked since you were 15 years old and have always prided yourself on being able to maintain employment and bring value to the company you work for. All of a sudden, you meet Kara. There’s something about this woman that you can’t explain. She elicits a carefree feeling in you that you haven’t felt since childhood, however there’s one part of her that causes a slight stir in your gut (gut instinct, anyone?!)—she can’t seem to hold a job down and constantly floats from job to job when the going gets too tough. You can’t seem to shake this nagging feeling that what if things get tough with us, will she leave? One night you have a disagreement about moving in with each other. Kara wants to move in but not pay rent right now because in her mind “you make plenty of money” and per usual, she is in between employment. You tell her you need some time to think about all this as you’ve only been dating a short while. But the next day, when you reach out to her, she’s gone. Won’t return phone calls until eventually telling you “You should be taking care of me”. You let her go, breathing a sigh of relief that you may have just dodged the proverbial bullet. If you would have stayed with Kara, there’s no doubt that there would have been more disagreements down the road because your ethics were not compatible.

 
If in your mind, you value a hard work ethic and want the same from your partner, then when you meet someone that doesn’t feel the same, it’s a strong sign that the compatibility may be off. Same with having a moral compass. Knowing the morals and ethics that you hold close inadvertently causes your identity to develop. Who are you? What do you value in life and what core belief system do you have? Make a list, talk to a therapist about feeling confusion about your identity—no matter what however, not having a clear sense of identity will interfere with you finding a partner that will meet your needs.

Bringing it all together…

Having a low self-esteem, negative experiences from our pasts, and losing sight of or not having a clear sense of identity are all factors that may cause you to accept less than what you deserve in your romantic relationship. The positive outcome in all of this however, is that you have the opportunity to reverse the negative thinking and process the past so that you may move forward. No matter what you may have encountered in previous relationships or childhood, those experiences do not have to define who you are today.

“Everything that happens to you is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. We cannot outperform our level of self-esteem. We cannot draw to ourselves more than we think we are worth.”

― Iyanla Vanzant

Accept what you believe you deserve. And you deserve a lot.

 
Please reach out to Humanitas Counseling and Consulting 757-739-6771 if you believe that there is a pattern in your life of accepting less than what your wonderful self deserves and your desire is to start a new pattern of healthy self love and knowledge. It is never too late for self-discovery and change!

 
Wishing you a healthy sense of self today and everyday,

Rachel Ann

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Through the Looking Glass of Life: The power of visual imagery (Free guided imagery lesson included!)

“Of all the strange things that Alice saw in her journey Through The Looking‑Glass, this was the one that she always remembered most clearly. Years afterward she could bring the whole scene back again, as if it had been yesterday—the mild blue eyes and kindly smile of the Knight—the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light that quite dazzled her—the horse quietly moving about, with the reins hanging loose on his neck, cropping the grass at her feet—and the black shadows of the forest behind—all this she took in like a picture, as, watching the strange pair, and listening, in a half‑dream, to the melancholy music of the song”.—Lewis Carroll

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Yes, Carroll captured the essence of the power of images perfectly. Even the way that Carroll describes Alice’s memory is in such a way that you—the reader— are able to visualize the knight, to become fully engulfed in the imagery taking place.

Visual imagery is so powerful and affects individuals on a profound level. Research reveals that what we view plays a role in our memory, influences what we purchase, how we behave, and how we react. Years may pass after the experience of viewing an image, yet the image may still retain the power to stay ever present with you as if the event had just occurred.

“We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place”. –Daniel J. Boorstin

Visual imagery is defined by the Medical Dictionary as creating a mental picture of an object, event, or action (1). In speaking to the importance and magnitude of visual imagery, 90% of information transferred to the brain is visual, and the brain processes visuals at 60,000 times the speed of text (2). Our brains are able to see an image and automatically deduce information from that picture without having to verbalize anything.

No wonder the movie industry has capitalized on the fact that humans love visual imagery. Recent statistics report that in 2016, the movie industry in the United States alone was worth $38 billion dollars and is only expected to keep rising (3). We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by images, and we as humans, are built to respond to these images.

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(Image is from The Revenant. Not only is the landscape visually magnificent, the movie plot is one of hardship, triumph, and justice. A must see.)

 

 

While the movie industry has capitalized on the positive experiences often associated with viewing a movie, there is also a much darker side to visual images and how they affect us on a personal level, especially when we experience the event in real life.

When we experience firsthand or witness a terrifying, traumatic event, a mental health condition—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—can occur. We hear much about the harrowing events that soldiers experience and witness in combat, often developing PTSD, however, PTSD can occur to anyone after experiencing a traumatic event. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V  states that PTSD symptoms can occur after a person has been exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence often through any of these means:

  • through Direct exposure,
  • Witnessing the trauma,
  • Learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma, and or
  • Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, medics).

Symptoms of PTSD manifest themselves in the following way(s) as taken from the DSM V (4):

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
  • Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders

There are a multitude of events that can trigger PTSD symptoms or a full-blown diagnosis of PTSD, yet despite the unfortunate truth that a variety of events can cause trauma, there is power in knowing that guided imagery can be used to help heal a person that currently suffers from symptoms of PTSD and or trauma.

Guided imagery is defined by the Medical Dictionary as “An alternative medicine technique in which patients use their imagination to visualize improved health, or to ‘attack’ a disease, such as a tumor. Guided imagery may be utilized as complementary medicine in some oncology centers and other medical facilities” (5).

In the mental health world, guided imagery is typically led by a mental health professional in an individual or group session. Typically, there is a script that the therapist reads in which the client is asked to visualize various relaxing events. I used to lead a Relaxation group at a hospital where the sole purpose of the group was to provide guided imagery to increase relaxation which in turn decreased levels of stress and even pain in some instances.

Many studies have demonstrated the positive effects of using guided imagery that include but are not limited to: a decrease in anxiety symptoms, panic disorder, fear of flying, and a decreased blood pressure (6).

So what exactly are the pieces that go into guided imagery… and can you do this on your own?

There are multiple parts to guided imagery and each piece plays a powerful role in learning how to relax and visualize positive images to combat the stress and or anxiety that you may be experiencing. Guided imagery typically consists of three stages: relaxation, visualization, and positive suggestion (7). Through consciously shifting awareness and learning how to change breathing, your body naturally is able to become more relaxed, sending a message to your brain that there is no need to be in the fight of flight mode.

You can practice guided imagery on your own. There are a multitude of scripted relaxation CD’s that you can purchase and you can also read various scripts in order to practice. I encourage my clients to learn what situations relax them whether it’s going to the beach, or walking through a forest, every person has their own place that is associated with relaxation and these often work very well as go-to scenarios you can use for your relaxation practice.

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Guided imagery becomes similar to mental rehearsal where your mind goes through the motions of ‘practicing’ whatever scenario you want to accomplish. You could mentally rehearse for a job interview, a difficult conversation with your partner, or any kind of situation that causes you anxiety. Think about the positive outcomes that you want to see happen and imagine what direction the conversation needs to go in order for you to achieve your desired outcome. You can rehearse your response to difficult questions so that you feel well-prepared and more confident.

Guided imagery may also coincide with progressive muscle relaxation, which is where you purposefully tense and untense various muscle groups in order to recognize where in your body you feel tense, and conversely, what it feels like when your muscles are relaxed. The overall goal/benefit of progressive muscle relaxation is to help you lower your overall stress and tension levels, and help you relax when you are feeling anxious (AnxietyBC).

To try a round of progressive muscle relaxation, take a look at this excellent activity and explanation offered by Anxiety BC:

https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/MuscleRelaxation.pdf.

Like our breath, the use of guided imagery is free once you become familiar with how to use it effectively. To get your practice started I encourage you to briefly practice now. I will lead you through a sample guided imagery experience with this script. I encourage you to really take your time with imagining this scenario that you’re about to read and assess how you feel. Guided imagery will only be effective if you slow down, immerse yourself in the image, and relax.

Here we go…

  1. Find a relaxing place where you can sit and will not be disturbed.
  2. Start by using your breath. Breathe in deeply in through your nose, out through your mouth for 3-5 breaths. Imagine with each breath that you are exhaling all of the stale, negative emotions you may have [stress, anxiety, irritability] and that they are leaving your body.
  3. Imagine that you are driving and have just pulled up and parked at a beach. You take note of how sunny and cloudless the sky is. The perfect shade of light blue, you begin to feel the stresses of the day start to slip away just as the sun is shining brightly.
  4. You gather your belongings and begin to walk up the sandy shore. Observe how the sand feels on your feet, how the sun feels on your skin.
  5. Take a moment. Breathe in deeply and exhale out through your mouth.
  6. Observe how the wind feels on your skin. It lightly blows your hair. You can smell the salty ocean with every breeze that blows your way.
  7. You set down your things and notice that already your mood has shifted. You feel lightweight and calm. Your breath continues. In through your nose and out through your mouth. No one is there to cause you pain. You feel safe and comfortable in this space.                                 Beach Happiness
  8. You walk out to the water. It’s cool to the touch and feels refreshing. Carefully you continue to walk forward, observing how the water feels on your skin, noticing that you feel renewed and revitalized with each step in that you take.
  9. At this vantage point, you are able to see the shore. You have left all of your worries back far far away. Right now, it’s just you and the ocean and it feels so good. So calming.
  10. You feel in control. You feel ready to go back to the beach. Your breathing is still slow and deliberate. In through your nose, out through your mouth.
  11. As you leave the water, something has shifted within you. You feel confident and calmed. You are aware of all of your senses—taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound.
  12. You stand at the shore for a moment, gazing out at the crystal blue turquoise water. You hear the light sound of seagulls flying overhead and notice how one dives down to the water searching for food.
  13. You smile. You are able to appreciate the goodness of the life cycle. You are able to appreciate the beauty in the world and the oneness that you feel with nature.
  14. Happily, you slowly and deliberately walk back to your place on the sand and lie down. Your breathing continues. In through your nose and out through your mouth. In through your nose and out through your mouth….
  15. Slowly you should begin to now bring yourself back to complete awareness. Try standing slowly, stretching your arms overhead, whatever feels good for you at this time.

 

Notice how your body feels. Do you sense any tenseness anywhere? How does your mind feel? Are you at a place of relaxation and appreciation of the experience that you have just had?

You have just made the first step in gaining control over negative emotions and using guided imagery to increase your relaxation skills. Congratulations! This is what a short guided imagery session with me would feel like. I may play a CD with waves, or light a coconut scented/beach candle to really enhance the experience of the guided imagery session-both of which you can do at home.

Remember that you can draw the above guided imagery steps out for as long as you want, truly savoring the experience or you can keep it to a 15-20 minute session. Try practicing at least once per day or every other day and examine the positive effects that come into your life and your increased ability to deal with negative emotions.

 “Sometimes the cure for restlessness is rest”. –Colleen Wainwright

Start your ‘rest’ with guided imagery. The price is free and the effects are priceless, a win win situation in my book!

 

Wishing you a day full of guided imagery goodness and relaxation today and everyday,

 

Rachel Ann

 

Resources:

  1. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/visual+imagery
  2. https://www.learnevents.com/blog/2015/09/07/imagery-vs-text-which-does-the-brain-prefer/
  3. https://www.statista.com/topics/964/film/
  4. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp
  5. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=11389
  6. http://www.drmiller.com/guided-imagery-and-anxiety-research/).
  7. http://www.nacsw.org/Publications/Proceedings2012/BurnettJGuidedImagery.pdf