Self-Esteem & Self-Worth: Two essential Components of the Self

Cluff Counseling - Self-Esteem & Self-Worth - Lewisville Counselor

Cluff Counseling - Self-Esteem & Self-Worth - Lewisville CounselorWe live in a world where too often what our friends and peers think of us is the most important thing. We worry about making a good impression, about showing the best of our lives, and about being liked. Instead of caring so much about what others think about us, what if we spent our time improving what we think and feel about ourselves? This post will be the first in a small series on self-esteem and self-worth; this week I want to discuss the difference between the two, and, in future posts, I will focus on building your existing self-esteem and self-worth.

It is common to see the terms self-esteem and self-worth used interchangeably, yet these two terms are fundamentally different. Once we understand the fundamental distinctions between the two, we will be able to focus on both of them individually and improve emotional health.

First, I want to talk about self-worth. Self-worth is defined as the value you give to yourself, without the impact of external factors. It is not determined by what others think of you. How valuable do you think you are? What do you think you deserve to have and accomplish in this life? If you have a happy, fulfilling relationship, or a stable job, do you deserve these things? Or, if you are stuck in a rut and/or unhappy, do you think you deserve that? It is not superficial, but instead formed from your opinion of yourself, your innate gifts, talents, and abilities. Often, our upbringing will determine what we believe we deserve… or do not deserve. The good news is that our self-worth does not have to be fixed or stagnant. You can value yourself in different ways; some may choose to focus on gaining material achievements over spirituality while others may focus on spiritual gain rather than materialism.  By elevating our self-worth, we can earn and yearn for new heights and depths of good things in this life.

Self-esteem is the appreciation that you have for yourself; it is fleeting and can change on a whim. It is greatly dependent upon external versus internal factors. You might get dressed and ready for the day, feeling like a million bucks. But when someone calls you a name or slanders your work, you can suddenly feel deflated, worthless, and insignificant. Others can easily damage your self-esteem by their responses. Self-esteem is also intricately tied to your physical appearance; a bad haircut, acne, weight gain/loss, or dirty clothes can affect your self-esteem. Self-esteem is fragile, and can rock back and forth (like a pendulum) for many. The good new is, though, that self-esteem is more easily bolstered than self-worth, as one compliment can quickly lift your spirits and leave you feeling better about yourself temporarily.

When we focus on building self-esteem, we tend to work on being better at this or that (ie. losing weight, becoming healthier, thinking more positively, developing healthy personality traits–which are all good things). But when we place our entire value in them, our own supposed value can come crashing down at any given moment. Whereas if you know that you are of great worth–no matter what you think, feel, or do, or despite whether you fail or not–your core knowledge of your fundamental worth does not change. This is something I focus on in individual, couple, and group therapy since your perception of yourself and what you believe you deserve carries over into all aspects of your life and relationships; this is always one of the first places I start in my sessions with clients. If you sense that you are struggling with your self-perception and self-worth, please schedule a session with me today. And stay tuned for future blog posts where I will discuss how to improve your self-esteem, as well as how to place more importance on your ideas of self-worth.

Difference Between: “Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Worth”
Dr. Christina Hibbert: “Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: Q & A with Dr. Christina Hibbert”
Online Counseling College: “Self-worth Versus Self-esteem”
Psychology Today: “Reframing Self-esteem as Self-worth”

When #metoo Isn’t Enough: A Response

Metoo Campaign - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

Metoo Campaign - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

According to the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), each year 321,500 Americans 12 and older are sexually abused or raped. More than 60% of women are sexually assaulted in college and 88% of them do not report it. The prevalent #metoo movement filling our feeds begs the question–what now? What can be done to stop sexual harassment?

Recently, there has been an outpouring on social media of the hashtag #metoo. You may have wondered what it means, and its purpose. Harvey Weinstein, American film producer and co-founder of Miramax, was recently fired by his company’s board of directors following numerous allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Over the weekend, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted out this hashtag as a call-out to victims “so we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The hashtag, #metoo, was created as a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed of what I went through” and ‘I’m not alone’ , as well as a way to say–from survivor to survivor–‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you.'” This hashtag has gone viral; it has been tweeted and re-tweeted, posted and reposted, and received thousands of comments, from both men and women!

If Alyssa Milano’s intent of re-tweeting #metoo was to “give the people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” it is working! This movement has caught fire across our nation. Many are shocked to see their friend, classmate, neighbor, cousin, or family member post #metoo. The numbers are staggering; sexual abuse and sexual harassment have touched the lives of too many. The sheer quantity of #metoo posts filling our social media newsfeeds is absolutely alarming. According to RAINN, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and every eight minutes that victim is a child. This statistic takes my breath away.

To further understand the #metoo movement, I think it is important to understand the definitions of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Sexual abuse, or molestation, is unsolicited sexual behavior by one person toward another, often done repeatedly.  When the interaction is infrequent, or of short duration, it is called sexual assault. Beth’s story is sadly a common example of this: she and her boyfriend were watching a movie alone in her apartment, when cuddling led to kissing, kissing led to him carrying her back to her bedroom, where he forced himself upon her despite her persistent pleas to stop. Once he finished, he left her alone in the dark, feeling sweaty and dirty, where she justified his behavior by thinking she had not done enough to stop him.

Sexual harassment occurs in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, and involves unwelcomed sexual advances or obscene remarks, often by a person in authority toward a subordinate. Sara’s story exemplifies this: One day, during work at the retail supercenter, her boss approached her from behind and stuck his hand up her miniskirt. When Sara approached him to talk about the inappropriate placement of his hand, he advanced again, forcing her into the corner of his office. She fled the scene and lost her job.

The above abridged stories are only two of the many, many that exist. I share them not to invoke anger or to be triggering; I share them in the hope that it will empower–empower parents to teach their children, and for others to know that they are not alone and that it was not their fault. This movement has definitely served as a strength to so many women (and men) who have dealt with the repercussions of being sexual abused or harassed. But is solidarity enough? Is there more that can be done?

Admitting #metoo takes an incredible amount of courage. Many have never told anyone about their experience, and know that they may re-experience pain by recalling the memory.  By putting #metoo on your social media, you are adding credence to the significance of the problem. And to those of you who keep typing and deleting, #metoo, I see you. I understand where you are coming from. There is nothing wrong with not putting yourself out there and wanting to keep your experiences from the public eye of social media. Sharing your story with close family and friends can be just as powerful and important!

If you are not posting because you feel that what happened to you is not as significant as someone else, I would like to encourage you to reconsider. Your story is yours. What happened to you is no less significant because it is different than what you are reading on social media. My hope would be that by reading all of the #metoo posts, you will feel validated and not alone. I am certainly not saying that it is imperative for all victims of sexual harassment or abuse to share the hashtag, #metoo! What I am saying is that absolutely no amount of unwanted sexual advances or behavior is okay; regardless of “how far it got”, sexual assault or harassment, in any form, is wrong! Please do not invalidate your experience by thinking you are somehow to blame!

So we have said, read, or felt, #metoo. Now what? Yes, this movement has been striking and powerful, but we cannot let the momentum stop there. We need to act. I urge you to get involved in raising awareness so we can decrease the staggering statistics of those affected by sexual abuse. Here are some ideas:

  1. Speak out. On Thursday morning, the Chicago Tribune released an article urging men to speak out against sexual assault and harassment.  Women are not the only ones that are affected here! You have a voice. Within the realm of your comfort, speak out, speak up, and raise awareness.
  2. Share what you have read or experienced (to the degree that it is appropriate) with close friends and family members. Many people are not on social media; tell them what is going on around them and help them understand the implications of movements such as these.
  3. Teach your children about appropriate and inappropriate touch, and create a safe relationship where they feel comfortable asking any questions they may have.
  4. Listen to and support survivors. We all know someone who has been affected by sexual abuse or harassment. If someone comes to you saying they have been sexually mistreated, be there for them. Believe them first and ask questions later. It is astounding how many people around us have experienced some form of sexual abuse. Let us be a safe place for each other.
  5. Respect. Women and men do not like to be groped, receive cat-calls, or have certain body parts be the object of attraction. Operating like this means you are more likely to commit sexual harassment, assault, or rape–even if you think you are not capable of those horrors. Men and women need to stop objectifying each other!
  6. Advocate for better education and prevention. Meaningful, lasting change can happen through a series of  educational and institutional messages about prevention, and comprehensive training for staff and leadership. Holding one assembly at schools/campuses, or bringing in a single speaker isn’t enough to shift attitudes and behavior. Get involved in your community to improve education and prevention.

If you are one of the many people who typed, thought, or relate to the #metoo sentiment, please do not stop there. Now is the time to seek further healing. You do not need to do it alone. As a trained, experienced therapist, who has seen many clients in similar situations, I encourage you to honor yourself by seeking help and support. I urge you to not push this to the backburner. Get the help you need and deserve; schedule your first session with me today.

If you have experienced sexual assault, you can call the free, confidential, National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access 24-7 help online by visiting

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Allure: “A Note to Survivors Who Aren’t Ready to Share Their Sexual Assaults”
CBS: “‘Me Too’ trend on Twitter raises awareness about sexual assault”
Chicago Tribune: “It’s time for men to join the chorus of voices speaking out against sexual assault”
Cluff Counseling:  “Are You are Secondary Survivor?”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
CNN: “An activist, a little girl and the heartbreaking origin of ‘Me too’”
Huffington Post: How To Respond If Your Partner Has Been Sexually Assaulted Or Harassed”
LiveYourDream.Org: “Understanding Domestic Violence: Facts and Figures”
Mashable: “5 crucial ways men can help end sexual assault”
RAINN Website
Refinery29: “Alyssa Milano Details What Needs To Change In Hollywood After Harvey Weinstein”
TSM: “Literally, Why Can’t I Say #MeToo?”
Wikipedia: “Harvey Weinstein”
Wikipedia: “Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations”
Wikipedia: “Sexual Abuse”

Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part III: Communication in the Bedroom

Communication in the Bedroom - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy

Communication in the Bedroom - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy

Part 1: Benefits of Sex” and “Part 2: Hindrances to Sex” have laid the foundation for this third and final blog post in our series on reclaiming the bedroom. We all know that sex is good for us–both individually and as a couple–and we also know that life sometimes gets in the way of healthy, consistent sexual activity. We hear chatter about sex everywhere…except where we need it most. Here are practical suggestions to get you and partner talking about sex.

As with most things in life and relationships, communication is key, but it is not easy. Talking about sex is hard. It makes us feel uncomfortable. Perhaps sexual communication is so difficult because we grow up with the myth that it is unnecessary. Maybe, as a society, we believe that great sex comes naturally…your partner should know intuitively what you want and like, and good sex must be spontaneous! When, in reality, more often than not, great sex is much like a great meal–it does not just magically happen. It needs to be planned for, and then carried out with skill and thoughtfulness. People’s tastes, preferences and values with regard to sex—much like food—differ greatly. You need to know what your mate likes and dislikes before you cook for him or her; the same holds true for intimacy.

There is really no way around it: you must communicate with your partner about sex. It is nearly impossible for your sexual relationship to improve without some dialogue. Because many couples struggle in this area, a couple’s sexual relationship is a common topic in my office. Here are some suggestions that my client’s have found to be helpful to help them communicate in the bedroom:

Possibly the least intimidating option is to write a letter. The goal is to communicate what you like, need, or want, while not shutting your partner down. Refrain from saying things like, “I don’t like when you…”  or “I wish you wouldn’t…” or “you always/never…” and instead use positive feedback. With this exercise, it is beneficial for both partners to write and exchange letters. Keep it simple and short but 100% clear. Follow up with verbal or written clarifying questions (“Did you mean this?” or “Tell more about that…”). If you are not sure what to say or how to say it in a way that your partner will hear it, a therapist can be a helpful resource.

Now this combines sex communication with a potentially fun date idea. Head off to Barnes and Noble–or some place with a discrete adult book section–and read away. Once you find something that strikes your fancy, give it to your partner to read. And vice versa. There is so much sex education literature out there and some will be more helpful than others, so be careful. You may want to establish some guidelines, as a couple, about the type of literature you are seeking (an example could be books with nude drawings are okay, but not nude photographs).  If you are new to communicating about sex, this can be overwhelming. Instead, you could look on Amazon and together pick a book to buy and read together. You could also ask close family members or trusted friends for some recommendations. As a therapist, I get this question a lot. Click here to visit my website and see my list of book suggestions to help you get started.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Simply take turns showing each other what feels good for you. Demonstrate what you enjoy and what helps to arouse you. You may take your partner’s hand and guide them over your body. Then switch and listen and watch your partner, and follow their lead. Sensate focus exercises are a safe way to start! This is one of the best techniques I have found. Stay tuned for a future post solely dedicated to this technique!

My next suggestion is to simply just talk it through. Use your words. Although talking may seem the most obvious method of communicating sexual needs, it can be the hardest. Take courage, you can do it! Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Next time you have sex, with your partner, have a post-coital pillow-talk share. Discuss what you enjoyed, hope to repeat next time and want to try in the future.
  • Don’t save all the talking for post-coital, talk about your preferences throughout your sexual interaction.
  • Be careful to not criticize your partner’s performance.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions to common barriers to sex in your relationship (e.g. having kids barge in on you or being exhausted at the end of a work-day).
  • Practice breathing exercises and meditation to help calm your jittery nerves. Remember, your partner is unable to read your mind. Tell him or her what turns you on, what turns you off, what “gets” you, etc. Since you know your preferences, be prepared with dialogue!
  • State both what you like and do not like ( “Here are 3 things that really turn me on…”).
  • Be specific: “I like it when you touch me here…”
  • Ask clarifying questions (“not sure what you meant by ‘be more gentle’”), while not making defensive statements (“I didn’t do that”, “You didn’t…”).
  • Take turns sharing.
  • Spend a few moments, before talking to your partner, thinking about what you want to share so that you are able to say everything you want to when the time comes.

I have counseled couples who have been together for years, yet have never had an in-depth conversation about sex. It can be hard to know how or where to start. Most people are more likely to have fought about sex than to have had a thoughtful, constructive conversation about it. Here are a few ideas from Psychology Today to get you started:

  • My favorite thing about our sex life is…
  • If I were to write wedding vows for our sex life, this is what I would want to promise you…
  • I think you look best when you’re wearing…
  • The thing that I love about our sex life most is…
  • My favorite memories of being intimate with you include…
  • My favorite way to pleasure you is…
  • One time you surprised me (in a good way), by…
  • I feel the most turned on when…
  • I feel the most desired by you when…
  • I would describe my sexual style as…
  • I love when you initiate sex in this way…
  • My favorite sexual position is…
  • One thing I would like to explore with you is…
  • The part of your body that turns me on the most is…

Get help
Not only can your sex life be difficult to discuss with your partner, but it can also be hard to know where to turn for help in this area. A therapist can help you communicate your sexual concerns with your partner in a safe and structured setting. They can be your advocate, your cheerleader, your confidant. As your therapist, I will keep the intimate details of your life within the four walls of my office, and only between you, your partner, and me. At the end of the day, relationships are all about being honest, sensitive, and brave enough to say what needs to be said. Being sexually involved with someone is to be vulnerable and open. So take those attitudes with you outside of the bedroom, and talk about what you really need inside the bedroom. Set up your first session with me today and together we can overcome the barriers and help you reclaim the bedroom.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part 1: Benefits of Sex”
Cluff Counseling: “Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part II: Hindrances to Sex”
Psychology Today: “5 Ways to Communicate about Sex”
Psychology Today: “14 Prompts to Help You Start Communicating About Sex”
Psychology Today: “Why Aren’t We Talking to Our Partners About Sex?”
USA Today: “How often should you have sex with your partner?”

When the One You Love Most Hurts You: What to Do

Partner Trauma - Cluff Counseling - Denton Therapist

Partner Trauma - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistIn over ⅓ of marriages, one or both partners admit to cheating. At the same time, 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites (⅓ of them being women). While readers focus on these statistics, I think about the partners to these individuals who are struggling in the wake of partner trauma–having been betrayed by the person they trust most. What do you do when the one you love the most is the one hurting you? While the most common trauma response is to freeze or disengage, that is not sustainable. This post focuses on six practical steps for you to take if you are the victim of partner trauma.

In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to address the important topic of sexual addiction, from the standpoint of the partner, as well as, from the addict. Today, I want to focus on you, the person left in the wake of your partner’s addiction or betrayal, because YOU MATTER. I have seen too many times where the addict is the focus of counseling sessions, and the partner’s needs were put on the back-burner. I strive to give my attention to both the addict and the partner–because both need help, healing, and an advocate in order to fully process and move on from something as relationally-trying as partner trauma.

In case you are just tuning in or are unfamiliar with what partner trauma is, let me summarize. Partner trauma is when the person you lean on for connection, comfort and support is the one you feel abandoned by.  Partner trauma (commonly known as relational trauma) has many faces: your partner could be ignoring your needs at a time when you most need him or her (such as a miscarriage, or loss of a job, etc), could be an addict (to alcohol, drugs/other harmful substances, pornography, etc), or could be involved in an affair. All of these things cause great disconnect in your relationship.

Let’s first talk about how you feel. You may have felt hurt, betrayed, of little worth, isolated, and insecure. And you are justified in feeling this way! Additionally, depending on how you found out about the betrayal, how long it has been going on, and your past history will all play roles in the severity of trauma you will experience.  The following are other common trauma symptoms experienced by partners (but surely not a conclusive list): fear, anxiety, outbursts of anger or rage, irritability, ruminating, denial, withdrawal, shock, feelings of self-blame or responsibility, codependency, arousal, and preoccupation with body image.

The above feelings or symptoms that come as a result of relational trauma are real and merit attention in order to be helped. So now let’s talk about the steps or action you are going take. What do you do? Where do you go? With whom do you talk? What do you need–for yourself?

Because I work with this often in my private practice, I have the following suggestions for specific actions that can be made should you find yourself a victim of partner trauma:

  1. Process emotions. Grieve. Be angry. Be sad. Cry. It’s healthy to let your emotions take their natural course. Let them course through you naturally. Suppressing them creates a volcano-effect; you are sure to explode later on when triggered.
  2. Communicate with your partner. Even though it’s hard, try to have calculated words with your partner. Tell him or her how you feel. Examples include, I feel betrayed. I feel sad. I feel rejected. I feel angry. Similarly, communicate your actions to him/her. Examples include, I need time apart. I need to think. I need to know all the details. You will be sorely tempted to storm out (or kick your partner out)–and that may be necessary!–but try to avoid the silent treatment.
  3. Connect with a trained therapist. When you break a bone, you see a trained, experienced doctor for treatment and a recovery plan. I am your emotional doctor. I will never act like I know exactly how you are feeling because I do not! But I do know what it takes to find lasting healing. I know the appropriate steps and measures to set both you and your partner on the right track, hopefully together. Our sessions will serve as a safe place for you to confidentially express yourself; you can trust with me with this most tender and intimate issue. Sometimes bones heal on their own, but it is so much easier, more effective, and long lasting when a trained, experienced professional assists you. Schedule your first session today.
  4. Be judicious in choosing your confidants. Aside from communicating with your partner and a trained therapist, be careful fully divulging your situation to friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances. Do not fully disclose your situation to casual friends or people who will take lightly or not respect your situation. I once heard of a man who yelled out to all of his neighbors in the street and told them that his wife was being unfaithful. Although his anger and sadness were completely justified, he was acting emotionally, and now wishes more than anything that he had not made that information public. On the same vein, do not isolate yourself! You need a support system–people you can confide in outside of your therapist. This will likely be your family and closest friends. Let them aide you and give you company during this difficult time.
  5. Remember that forgiveness and healing take time. Do not expect it to happen all at once. Just as broken bone may need a splint/cast and several weeks (or months) to fully heal, give your relationship time. It will also take consistent effort on both of your parts–both to avoid relapses as well as to move forward instead of dwelling in the past. It will be difficult, but I will help you through it. As I said when I first started this blog, I will be your cheerleader!
  6. Practice soothing and self-care. The Center for Growth shared an insightful article about the need for self-care for surviving partners of trauma. Fort Garry Women’s Resource Center defines self care as an act provided “for you, by you.” This is where you identify your own needs and take the necessary steps to meet them. Soothing includes taking the time to relax, calm down, and escape the issues you face to reduce pain/discomfort. Self-care includes participating in activities that nurture you, like taking care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. I am a firm believer of self-care! I write about it on this blog once a month, and I know that taking care of both your body and your mind will aid you in your recovery process. If you are unfamiliar with self-care, please click on this link to learn more.

I have seen far too many cases where the individual experiencing partner trauma overlooks his or her issues, and solely focuses on getting him for the addicted partner. This is dangerous. You, too, have been hurt and need proper treatment. You, too, need healing in order to move on and be able to love, trust, and live wholly. Of course your partner does, too! You both can receive the helpful and necessary direction to overcome relational trauma. Please, if you have been involved on either side of partner trauma, contact me today. You cannot cope with this alone; you need help. I am here for you! I will be your advocate through this very real struggle you are facing.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.