Self-Compassion: A Neglected Form of Self-Care

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

When we look in the mirror, what do we see? We may notice our frizzy hair, crooked teeth, short eyelashes, thin lips, uneven eyebrows or a plethora of other things. Yet when others look at us, they are more prone to see what we overlook–that we are friendly, optimistic, outgoing, hard working, strong, resilient, creative, kind, sensitive, thoughtful… Why are we so much harder on ourselves than we are on others?!

I recently opened a “Marriage Minute” email from the Gottman Institute and read about self-love. This is something that has been on my mind over the last several weeks, and I thought it would be helpful to dedicate a post to a powerful form of self-care that we often overlook: Self-compassion.

Compassion itself is defined as the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Compassion literally means to “suffer with.” In order to have compassion, we must first notice that someone is suffering, and then we feel moved by their suffering so that our hearts respond to their pain. When we extend compassion, we feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means we offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Compassion is the realization that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

Even though we all need it, self-compassion is so much easier to show someone else than it is to show ourselves! The time has come to focus on extending this kind of compassion to others as well as ourselves.

Practicing compassion towards ourselves is really no different from having compassion for someone else. Self-compassion is…

  • Acting the same way towards ourselves as we do others when we are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something we do not like about ourselves.
  • Being gentle with ourselves when confronted with painful experiences.
  • Cutting ourselves some slack instead of ignoring pain or judging ourselves harshly.
  • Being kind and understanding when confronted with imperfections.
  • Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating (punishing) ourselves with self-criticism.
  • Recognizing that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable.

To be clear, self-compassion is NOT self-pity (being immersed in our own problems), self-indulgence (unrestrained gratification of our desires), or self-esteem (our perceived sense of worth or value).  

Ultimately, self-compassion is an ongoing process of honoring and accepting our humanness, and recognizing that things will not always go our way. It is knowing that we will inevitably encounter frustrations, make mistakes, and fall short of our ideals. This is the human condition–a reality shared by all of us! The more we open our hearts to this fact–instead of constantly fighting against it–the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves and all our fellow humans in the experience of life.

Here is my challenge to you: The next time you are tempted to put yourself down, practice self-compassion instead. Recognize that you are doing your best, and that your effort is what counts. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Celebrate your progress. Be kind to yourself. I can assure you that implementing more compassion (towards yourself) into your life will have a powerful and positive effect on how you view yourself, others, and the world. Should you find that you need help working through self-deprecation, please do not hesitate to contact me today. I am always accepting new clients!

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

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Living with Anxiety: 5 Suggestions to Thrive

Living-with-Anxiety-Cluff-Counseling-Lewisville-Therapist

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” -Leo Buscaglia

We all experience some level of anxiety from time to time. In fact, anxiety is a completely normal reaction to a stressful situation. The cold sweat of anxiety is the fight or flight response that kept our ancestors safe from grizzly bears and other dangers. That adrenaline rush still serves us well under some circumstances today; anxiety can even be helpful in certain instances! We worry about the common things in our lives–like finances, work, friends, and family–and this worry has the potential to help us make good decisions in these areas. Anxiety can motivate us, prepare us for things we have to face, and even give us energy to take action when we need to.

It is very possible, however, for anxiety to have an unmistakably negative affect. Serious anxiety may mean procrastinating to the point of being afraid to take a step at all. You may be so nervous about going to your child’s school to talk to the teacher that you do not go at all–you miss the appointment altogether. Your anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it interferes with day-to-day activities, it keeps you from going places, and from doing things you need to do. If you are experiencing worries that are excessive, uncontrollable, or irrational, and have been experiencing these worries for an extended period of time, you may be suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.

Regardless of the level or intensity of anxiety you are experiencing, it is important that you manage it properly. Anxiety can take a serious toll on your mind and body. You may have trouble sleeping, eating, and concentrating. You may get headaches or have an upset stomach. You may even have a panic attack, a pounding heart, and/or a feeling of lightheadedness. So what can you do when you are feeling anxious? Here are five simple suggestions that you can do anytime, anywhere:

  1. Label your emotions. Figure out exactly what is bothering you by giving a name to what you are feeling. Naming an emotion is the first step in being mindful of it. This activates your prefrontal cortex and can help you balance and self-regulate by creating a relationship with the experience.
  2. Drop the story. Emotions are often driven by the stories you tell yourself. For example: You have an important presentation in class. Your anxiety escalates this assignment into a fantastically worrisome story where you mess up, everyone laughs at you, you fail the class, never graduate college, have to live with your parents forever… and on and on. My suggestion here is to drop the story. Separate the real risks and dangers that a situation presents and those your imagination is making worse. Cut out negative thoughts. No need to worry unnecessarily!
  3. Focus on the task at hand. What can you control? In the class presentation example, what you can control is your preparation and delivery. Try not to stress about peripheral factors–like how others may react or respond. It is a twist on the old adage: “Take control of the things you can, and accept those you can’t change.”
  4. Relax. Stop what you are doing and take deep breaths. Meditate. Do yoga or get some exercise–this is a terrific outlet for anxiety! As you focus on calming your mind and body, you will become more proficient with managing ongoing anxiety.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Feeling anxious is uncomfortable. A good dose of self-care can go a long way to bringing relief and perspective. This may mean practicing a hobby like painting, hiking, singing, baking, exercising, reading, taking a long bath or even sleeping. Whatever self-care looks like for you, make the time to take care of yourself.

Very often, it is possible to get past an anxiety cycle with the help of friends or family to help you sort out your problems. But when anxiety becomes overwhelming, it may be time for you to consider seeing a therapist, taking medication, or both. Anxiety is the most common mental illness among American adults–with women experiencing it at roughly twice the rate as men–and only half of those affected receive treatment.  Please do not be part of that statistic. Get the help you need and deserve in order to find happiness. Many of my clients face some form of anxiety, and I have been able to help them overcome the negative effects that come with this mental illness. If you or someone you care about could use help living with the effects of anxiety, please contact me today. Additionally, you can click here to schedule a session.

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

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Getting Up With the Sun: Morning Routines

Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, started his days off asking himself, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I’m about to do today?” Ensure that you are starting your day off on the right foot with a productive morning routine!

You snoozed through your alarm to work out, woke up late, had no clean underwear, got toothpaste on your shirt, grabbed a fast, non-nutritious bite to eat, and rushed into work. You meant to wake up early, hit the gym, have a protein-packed breakfast, and beat the boss into work, but–yet again–it did not happen. Does this sound all too familiar? If you feel you are stuck in a cycle of good intentions and consistently disappointing follow-throughs, this post is for you. By making a few tweaks and additions to your morning, you can be on your way to a happier, healthier life–one where you are in control.

Last month I posted about nightly routines and promised to follow-up with a post on morning routines. We all know that starting the day off on the right foot is actually quite indicative of how the rest of the day will go. A morning ritual or routine can consist of many activities; whatever you choose, consistency in those activities is the key to jumpstart your day!

The hardest part of starting a morning routine is just that, getting started–both literally and figuratively. Do you know where to start? What type of morning ritual do you want to have in place? What types of things do you want to do? I scoured the internet and read blog posts about all sorts of morning routines, and I found the following six suggestions to be the most recurring:

  • THE GYM. We all know someone who is slightly smug about the fact that he/she made it to the gym before the sun arose. While getting exercise in to start the day does come with various health benefits, there is an additional benefit we all could use:  Focus. A friend of mine who has dealt with ADHD her entire life recently told me she got through the most stressful job she ever had by waking at 5 a.m. to go to barre class. It calmed her down, helped her focus, and allowed her to wean off coffee–which, in turn, reduced her jitters. Hit the gym in the a.m., or simply get out for a walk. You will never regret it.
  • MEDITATION. I have written about the benefits of meditation. Though often used to slow down and relax (before bed, for instance), it can also be used to focus the mind and prepare oneself for productivity. Whether your meditation includes actual yoga and stretching, prayer, spiritual study or simple breathing exercises, being in tune with your psyche will start your day off on the right foot. Meditation lowers stress levels and boost productivity and creativity.
  • NUTRITION. This one will be different for all of us depending on preferences and allergies. Some may have oatmeal, chia pudding, a green smoothie, or maybe it will be eggs, toast and sausage. Give yourself nutrient-rich food and you will be sure to notice heightened energy levels. Fuel up in preparation for a productive day. Take a few extra minutes and pack some healthy snacks to take with you. And don’t forget the vitamins!
  • APPEARANCE. My dad always showers at night because he likes to go to bed clean; but then, he will shower in the morning as well. Showering in the morning wakes him up and helps him feel refreshed, awake, and ready for the day. Whatever you choose, be sure to make time to get yourself looking and feeling presentable. Shower/wash your face, brush your teeth, do any necessary ironing, coordinate your outfit and accessories, so that you can leave your house feeling good and confident.
  • GAMEPLAN. Many nightly routines include making a plan, schedule, to-do-list, etc. for the next day. The reason for that is to streamline that process in the morning. During your morning ritual, review that game plan for the day, add in any specifics, and prepare yourself for any responsibilities you may have. Plan what you will need to take with you when you leave the house, as well as anything you may need throughout the day. This may seem obvious, but taking the time to sit and plan this step will help you feel less like a chicken with its head cut off as you haphazardly grab things while rushing out the door!
  • PRODUCTIVITY. Get right to work. Instead of wasting time idly catching up on your Facebook or Instagram feed (which has been proven to decrease overall motivation and productivity when done at the start of the day), get to work. Start your morning routine immediately.  It will reduce your stress!

Here is an example of a morning routine:
5:30 AM: Wake up, put on gym clothes, contacts, drink 8 oz. ice cold water
5:40 AM: Hit the gym (M/W/F: Weights; Tu/Th: Interval Cardio; Sa/Su: Walk)
6:40 AM: Return home, eat protein shake, shower, brush teeth, get dressed, etc.
7:10 AM: 20 minutes of meditation/prayer/spiritual study
7:30 AM: Review goals and day’s schedule, prepare to leave
7:45: Leave for work

Remember, this is just an example. Your morning routine should work best for you and your lifestyle, and should incorporate your goals. I have covered the basic suggestions to fuel productivity and focus throughout the day.  While this post contains six of the most frequently occurring ideas on the internet, there are so many other options out there! Through my research in writing this blog, I found a neat website, My Morning Routine, where you can sign up to receive a brand new morning routine idea in your inbox every Wednesday. The key is finding what works best for you and implementing that into a pattern you can consistently and happily follow. Should you find yourself with questions or desiring additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact me or schedule a session. And be sure to tune in next month as I talk about ways you can use your morning and nightly routines to help you reach your New Year’s goals!

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

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Cutting Shame Off at the Knees

Cutting Shame Off at the Knees - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist“Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” -Brené Brown

Regardless of age, gender or nationality, we all experience shame from time to time. Dr. Brené Brown, an author and researcher, explains in her book Daring Greatly, “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.” And that is what I want to focus on today–cutting shame off at the knees.

Dr. Brené Brown has dedicated her career to researching shame and vulnerability. She describes shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. The dictionary defines shame as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. We all feel it; in fact, it was recently found that even babies can experience shame!

It is important to note that there is a distinction between shame and guilt. While shame means, I am bad, guilt means, I did something bad. Shame is debilitating, it can shut us down or emerge in ways destructive to ourselves and others. The remorse and regret that can come with guilt, on the other hand, can motivate us to make adjustments or restitution, and create new paths.

Let’s talk about real life examples of shame. How many of us have ever scrolled through social media to see someone doing something we wish we could do–affording a luxury vacation, building their dream home, accepting a prestigious position, holding a difficult yoga pose, cooking a beautiful multi-course meal for friends, reaching 10k followers, etc? We all have. What was our next thought? For many of us it is, I could never do that, I’m not smart, rich or talented enough! This is shame. Shame holds us back and debilitates is. It tells us we are “bad,” which can prevent us from changing or doing better. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change or progress. Further, it can lead to addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders and bullying. Because of the powerful implications of shame, we must identify our feelings of shame, understand them and build healthy coping skills against it! Here are five ways to cut shame off at the knees:

  • Bring shame to the light. Know what it is and what it feels like. Recognize when it sneaks into life. TALK about it. Awareness is the first step!
  • Recognize triggers. Shame is good at hitting us where we are vulnerable. A new mom who secretly feels out of her depth is more likely to feel shame when her parenting style is questioned. A husband who worries about providing may see his spouse’s comment about the neighbor’s new car as an attempt to shame him rather than an innocent observation. We must know where our armor is thin and work to strengthen and protect those areas.
  • Stop striving for perfection.  Dr. Brown has said that perfectionism is like a process addiction–the more you do it, the more you feel compelled to do it. Perfectionism is a common ailment among many of my clients, and it is corrosive. It tells us nothing we do is good enough…so why try?  Perfectionism and shame go hand-in-hand. When we work to stop one, we will find there is not room for the other!
  • Practice positive self-talk. The first option for positive self-talk is positive affirmations. These are powerful; by voicing what we believe (or want to believe) about who we are, and what we are capable of, can decrease our feelings of shame. By literally repeating something (out loud) enough we will start believing it. The second option is simply speaking more kindly to ourselves. If we were to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to our children…we would never speak to them as negatively as we do to ourselves! Be kind. Practice self-love through our inner dialogue.
  • Deeply root self-worth. If we define ourselves by what we do, we put the power of our happiness in the hands of others. When separate what we do from our sense of self-worth we will find freedom. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can look at both praise and condemnation with the perspective each deserves, absorb any helpful critiques, and move on.

Shame is one of the most debilitating emotions humans can feel. It can stunt growth and corrode motivation. It is always looming. Unfortunately, we cannot “beat” or overcome shame once and be done with it. Instead, we must view our relationship with shame as ongoing: recognize when shame is creeping in (know our triggers), speak kindly to ourselves (affirmations), and remember that we are so much more than what we do or look like. Working to cut shame off at the knees is one of the most common subjects among my clients–everyone is feeling it! I fully understand that shame can get in the way of the important things and relationships in life. If you want to more fully understand how shame is holding you back, or if you have questions and would like additional help, I would be more than happy to assist you. Feel free to contact me or schedule a session!

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

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Sleep Like a Baby: Nightly Routines

Sleep Like a Baby - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Therapist

“Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.” -William Blake

Just like young children, adults thrive off of routines. Children learn that bedtime is near because they consistently have a bath, put on warm jammies, have a bottle, read a book, sing lullabies, rock in a dimly-lit room, etc. Adults can do the exact same thing–in principle–as they signal to the brain that bedtime is approaching. How? By consistently doing things that relax the body and mind around the same time each day.

For varied reasons, many of my clients struggle getting quality sleep. I have found the common thread to be that we work, do chores, or are on a screen right up until the very last minute of our day. We get in bed and expect our bodies to know that, like a switch, it is time to turn off! Then we get frustrated when we toss and turn for hours.

The key is to take the necessary time winding down to let our brain and body know it is time to sleep–essentially preparing ourselves to rest. Taking 30-60 minutes to decelerate at the end of a hectic day by doing things which calm our minds is one of the most helpful sleep habits to practice! The benefits to having a nightly routine are many; I would like to name just a few: First, we will calm our overactive minds. Second, as we decompress, we are preparing our brains to avoid rumination (contemplating or stewing over things when we should be sleeping instead). And third, by regularly repeating our nightly patterns, we will condition our bodies and minds to realize that it is bedtime, so it will begin to happen more naturally with time.

Everyone is different. There is no single set nightly ritual that will work perfectly for everyone. But here are some helpful guidelines as we begin creating a routine:

  • Switch off the electronic devices. These stimulate the brain, interfere with our internal body clock, can be addictive, and can induce stress (like by checking emails right before bed). Some sources even recommend leaving your phone in another room or switching it airplane mode in order to avoid EMF (electromagnetic field) emission. I would suggest turning off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Relaxation exercises: meditation, breathing & mindfulness. I have written before about the power of meditation as a form of self-care. Meditating before bed is particularly effective as it calms the mind and helps prepare us to slow down and sleep.
  • Wins/gratitude. Think through the day and write down the wins, the things that went well, or the things to be grateful for. It is powerful!
  • Read. I would dare to say that many of us have a goal or New Years Resolution to read more books–I know I do! Sneaking it into the nightly routine is a great way to reach your goals while simultaneously reducing stress and boosting brain power.
  • Listen to music. (Refer to number one.) Listening to calming, peaceful music can have a soothing effect which will prepare us for bed.
  • Write down worries and reminders for the next day. Prepare a to-do list for the next day. Get organized. Think through things that must be done, prepared for, or accomplished. Write it down. Then put it on the backburner and relax. Another idea: To avoid lying awake worrying about things that may need to be done or people to get in contact with, keep a notepad near the bed. Write those ideas and impressions down so the mind can let them go and sleep.
  • Have a relaxing drink or light snack. While it is important to avoid large meals before bed, having a cup of herbal tea or warm milk can be a soothing, welcome pre-bed ritual.
  • Bring your temperature down. The ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping is between 65-72 degrees. The body associates a lowering temperature with a signal for sleeping, so avoid hot showers and cool down in order to wind down.
  • Spend time with family, friends or partner. For many, this time right before bed may be their only alone time with a spouse. Spend a moment talking and connecting with him or her as part of your nightly routine.
  • Don’t lie awake for hours. This is key: It takes most people between 20-30 minutes to fall asleep. We have to remember that if we are still awake after half an hour, it could be that we are not quite ready to sleep yet. Get up, repeat aspects of the nightly ritual, and try again after some time passes.

Here is an example of a nightly routine:
9:30 PM: Review day’s work, review goals (long term and short term), plan tomorrow’s schedule
10:00 PM: Get ready for bed; take vitamins.
10:15 PM: Write in journal
10:30 PM: Read a book
11:00 PM: Lights out.

The most important advice I can give is to be consistent. Whatever we decide to do for the nightly ritual, do it, and do it every night. Be consistent! If we start the wind-down ritual each night at 9:00 p.m., our bodies will quickly learn what is coming next, and the process will begin to happen more organically.

I fully understand that demanding work schedules or taking care of kids can make it difficult to take any time to relax at night. I can assure you that a nightly routine will not only help you fall asleep quicker, but it will help you sleep better. Additionally, if anyone regularly faces sleep problems, taking even just a few minutes on a nightly routine can work wonders! If you have questions or need additional assistance, please feel free to contact me. My door is always open!

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

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8 Unique Ways to Practice Self-care

8 Unique Ways to Practice Self-Care - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist“Self-care is something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.”

-Agnes Wainman

In June I posted on “Mental Hygiene”, which was really a fun, new way to discuss mindfulness and self-care. I based my post off of a Podcast I heard from from Jody Moore that put a whole new spin on the concept of taking care of our minds. She compared “mental hygiene”–the ways we take care of our minds–to the ways we take care of ourselves physically, like brushing our teeth or exercising. I felt her analogy was very applicable and helpful in understanding the importance of self-care. Today I want to continue thinking outside the box by furthering that conversation and suggesting a few unique self-care ideas.

By definition, self-care is any activity that we deliberately do to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it may seem simple conceptually, we often overlook and do not practice regular self-care. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety, with a host of long-term physical benefits. It is also key to a good relationship with oneself and others. I am a firm believer that self-care done well can spill over into all aspects of one’s life–in the most positive ways imaginable!

I love writing about self-care. I dedicate one post a month to this topic because I want everyone to think about it more and even schedule regular time to take care of themselves. There is so much information and ideas online about self-care options; I highly recommend reading the resources I have included below as an introduction to self-care. Today I will share eight out-of-the-box ideas for things you could incorporate into your daily dose of self-care:

  1. Do something spontaneous. This will depend widely on your location, interests, and preferences. The underlying concept is to do something you have been wanting to do or have been putting off. Just do it!
  2. Do some demolition. Smash something! Make a mess! My good friends are remodeling their kitchen, and this required taking a sledgehammer and demolishing their existing island and tile countertops. It was exhilarating and therapeutic for them to release some stress and anger in the destruction process! You could also have a flour war or have a pillow fight. There may even be options available locally for you to visit an Anger Room or go axe-throwing; I have seen stuff like this on Groupon for Dallas!
  3. Try balloon painting! I have yet to try this, but it sure sounds intriguing. You fill balloons with paint, attach them to a sheet or a canvas, and throw darts to try and pop the balloons! In the end you are left with a unique and masterful art piece that was surely exhilarating and therapeutic to create!
  4. Lay on the ground. Try it. Lay on the ground and focus on what is above you. If you are outside, lay on the sidewalk, road, grass, whatever it might be. Observe the sky and the clouds or the stars and the moon.
  5. Stare at the wall. One of my good friends will literally stare at a blank wall for 10-15 minutes when she feels stressed. She says it is a simple, convenient, and free way to reset her mind and emotions! Don’t knock it until you try it 🙂
  6. Utilize religion or spirituality. So much of self-care focuses on activities like yoga or meditation or practicing a hobby that are integral religious or spiritual practices. Do some soul searching however seems most natural to you.
  7. Color. I have written previously about the benefits of using creativity and creative outlets as a form of self-care. As humans, we find creating something to be incredibly satisfying. While there are many options here, a few simple suggestions would be to try one of those non-permanent henna kits, a coloring book for adults, or even chalk art on your driveway. My adult clients love to do this!
  8. Follow-up with medical care. You know that super accomplished, productive feeling you get when you finally get around to something you have put off for awhile? Yeah, you will have that when you actually follow through with that routine check-up you have been dodging for months. Trust me!

Now, if I were to ask you not if, but how, you take care of yourself, do you have ideas for something new you might want to try? Give them a try!  You will find that taking time for you will recharge you, and fuel your productivity and effectiveness in all areas of your life. If you are regularly practicing self-care, but feel that you need additional guidance or help to reach your best self, I urge you to contact me today. Sometimes, talking things out with a licensed, experienced therapist can help you find needed direction in your life.

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

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15 Minutes to a Happier You

15 Minutes to a Happier You - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples TherapistThere are so many things all around us threatening to tear us down or make us feel less than we are. The dangers of comparison through social media is ever-present, and sometimes we just need to reconnect with who we really are. This post contains an activity you can download and complete at your leisure that will surely help boost your positive self-image!

At the end of each month, I post about self-care. This is one of my favorite topics because it is something I believe in so deeply, and has a profound effect on our overall health. Self-care is a powerful tool that enables us to literally care for ourselves, both body and mind. Last month I wrote a post in which I compared self-care (also referred to as mental hygiene) to the things we do to take care of our bodies–like brushing our teeth, exercising, or eating a balanced diet. All of these affect how we function and ultimately view life. I highly recommend taking this last weekend of July to revisit your 2018 goals, and consider focusing on self-care.

Today I want to do something a little bit different than my normal quick blurb on self-care. I want to introduce an activity and invite you to thoughtfully complete it. It will not take more than 15 minutes of your time, and I promise you will find some satisfaction and meaning in it!

Below you will find a document ready for you to download. It is simple and straightforward. If you do not have a printer, or would prefer to write it out yourself, here are the instructions. Write out the following:

  • 25 things you’ve overcome or accomplished in life
  • 25 reasons why you’re a good, lovable person
  • 25 things that make your life beautiful (or that you’re grateful for)
  • 10 people that inspire you to be your best self (and how)
  • 10 things you want to work on, learn, or improve
  • 5 fun ways you will reward yourself as you progress (trips, food, gifts, etc)

Click here for the doc

And there you have it! You now have a 100 item list that is sure to boost your confidence and self-image. Focusing on your strengths, growth and talents is an essential part of self-care and positive mental image. I recommend doing a similar activity regularly–both to keep yourself humble and to boost your self-esteem. 🙂

Should you have questions or wish to schedule a session with me, please do not hesitate to contact me! I am only one click away!

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

Resources:

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The Best Form of Self-care: Forgiveness

The Best Form of Self-care - Forgiveness - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistHave you ever wondered why it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive yourself? Unfortunately, there is no trick to learning to forgive oneself–it just takes time and patience. Even when we have learned how to offer forgiveness to others, forgiving ourselves is a difficult, yet crucial step we all must work through.

Forgiveness is a process that takes time. It does not happen overnight and may require varying amounts of time and steps for each individual. Regardless of how long it takes or how arduous the process is, I can assure you that it is worth it. Let’s start at square one. What does forgiveness mean? To forgive is to cease to feel resentment against and/or to grant pardon to an individual–including yourself. Forgiveness has many benefits including healthier relationships (with others as well as yourself); improved mental health; less anxiety, stress and hostility; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression; a stronger immune system; improved heart health; and improved self-esteem. Not to mention how liberating it is to free yourself from guilt, resentment, and pain. Nothing but good comes from extending forgiveness!

I think we all know these things when it comes to forgiving others. But forgiving ourselves is a completely different story. Publilius Syrus once said, “How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself.” I am sure many of you have experienced this yourselves; I have seen several clients stuck on this important phase of forgiveness, and it truly does take a great toll on their happiness.

Why is it so hard to forgive ourselves? When we have done something “wrong,” we register it in our nervous system. We hold on to it. We do not forget it. Did you cheat on your spouse? Hit a child in anger? Steal something? The list of potential human misdeeds is long. But then we start to associate definitive statements with our past mistakes. “I’m always saying the wrong things,” “I’ll never be able to cover my bills,” or “I’m a horrible parent.” This perpetuates into a negative cycle of self deprecation and self-loathing. It may seem obvious, but this process does not lead to growth or happiness. Along with forgiving yourself for whatever action or misdeed you may have committed, it is imperative to release those limiting beliefs as well.

Sharon A. Hartman, LSW, a clinical trainer at a drug and alcohol treatment center in Pennsylvania, works with clients struggling with forgiveness every day. She says that forgiving oneself is possibly the most difficult part of recovery. Countless studies show stress and anger can cause or worsen diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and various autoimmune disorders. “When resentment is interfering with your life, it’s time to forgive yourself.”

Just as it is helpful to break up the steps of forgiving others, forgiving oneself can also be separated into more manageable steps, as follows:

  1. Accept what happened. Move away from excuses and accept responsibility for what you did. Do not justify yourself or blame others that may have affected you. This is a difficult but necessary step.
  2. Establish your morals. We feel guilt or shame for actions done in the past because we were likely not acting in line with our current morals and values. This can be helpful in cluing us in to what we hold important and how we want to live. Consider your mistake an opportunity to define how you will (or will not) act in the future.
  3. Realize you did the best you could at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, so it is easy to critically evaluate past actions. But if you remind yourself that you were simply doing the best you could with what you had at the time, it will help alleviate some of the guilt and frustration you have towards yourself. (A warning: Earnestly evaluate whether or not your expectations are unrealistic or not. Refer to step number six about how perfection is impossible.)
  4. Consider creating a “re-do.” Sometimes I advise my clients to write down how they wish they could have responded or reacted in the moment. This gives them an opportunity to react to past events with their current morals/values, or perception. Simply write down how you would have done things differently if you could go back and do it again. In doing so, you will affirm that you not only learned from your past mistake, but that if you had the skills back then that you have now, you would have done things differently.
  5. Turn the page. The time will come, however, where you must accept that the past has happened and you have tried to amend past mistakes. No amount of re-do’s will change this. So turn the page and accept those events as part of your story. Without past mistakes and experiences, you would not be who you are. In a way, you can be grateful those experiences have allowed you to move on and truly forgive yourself.
  6. Cut yourself some slack. This is like learning to ride a bike. You were not perfect the first time (or even the tenth time) you tried. It took falling off, scraping your knees, feeling frustrated, and bumping up against curbs to learn how to ride. New behavior and thinking patterns are no different. Cut yourself some slack while you are experiencing a learning curve. Be patient with yourself. Remember that mistakes are part of the learning process. You are going to make mistakes. We all do.
  7. Move toward self-love. Think kind thoughts about yourself and show yourself some respect and compassion. Talk to yourself like you would your best friend. If we can speak to ourselves with love and kindness, and put ourselves as a priority, it reaffirms that we believe we are worth it. Recognize your strengths. Give yourself compliments. Surround yourself with supportive people.
  8. Appreciate progress. Recognize the steps you have taken in the right direction. The fact that you are trying to completely forgive yourself shows that you care about growth and integrity. Recognize when you make changes that move you to act and live more in line with your morals and values, and be proud of yourself for the progress you are making.

Sharon Hartman said, “We all screw up sometimes. Forgiving ourselves is as close as we come to a system reset button.” Holding on to guilt and shame because of past offenses can stunt your growth, relationships, and happiness. Forgiveness is crucial–especially forgiveness of the self. Because we know ourselves better than anyone else, we know our own weaknesses and faults, and it is easy to withhold that forgiveness. But I can assure you that extending that compassionate forgiveness to yourself will unlock doors of happiness and progression you have not been able to access previously. Remember that forgiveness is a process and requires time. It is different for everyone. If you have worked through all of these steps and you are still struggling to move on from past omissions, I highly recommend talking to a therapist. Please click here to contact me with any questions you may have, or feel free to schedule a session at your earliest convenience.

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

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Finding Your Strengths

Finding Your Strengths - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistIf you’ve ever been asked the question “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” in a job interview or on a date, you probably immediately noticed your heart racing. While acknowledging weaknesses can be quite easy, recognizing and articulating one’s strengths is quite difficult. Let’s change that, starting with YOU, today!

Just last week, I was talking with a friend who had been at a blogging conference. She took a class where they spent some time focusing on articulating one’s strengths…and it was super hard for her. She told me, “I can list off right now fifty weaknesses I have, and areas where I am trying to improve, but I cannot tell you one single thing I am good at!”

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it so easy to see the bad and nearly impossible to notice our strengths? I have not been able to stop thinking about this concept ever since, and so I am dedicating this blog post to discovering your strengths.

  1. Take time to understand yourself.

I have written previously about the power of journaling; it is a great way to become more self-aware and reflective about your abilities. First, look for skill-based strengths. Take several days or even a week to write things you spend your time doing; you may even rate these activities. From this, you may learn:

  • I enjoy doing laundry and cleaning. I am an organized, tidy person.
  • I find research papers interesting; I am driven to always be learning and growing.
  • I don’t love washing/vacuuming my car, but I clean it weekly. I am consistent.

Then, search deeper, and examine your values. Search for personality-based strengths. What is important to you? What governs your choices? Or if this is too abstract, think about individuals you respect and why; what traits do they posses that you value?

  • I let my waitress know she undercharged me last night. I am honest. Integrity is important to me.
  • Even though my life is busy, I found time to take the neighbors dinner to me because I try to be a kind, thoughtful person.
  • I really admire Marilee’s ability to give her full attention to others. That is something I am actively working to turn into a strength of mine.

Evaluating how you spend your time will tell you a great deal about yourself. Take the time to be introspective and you will discover things you did not already know about yourself.

  1. Ask others to identify your strengths.

I enjoy giving my clients the homework assignment where they ask others to help them identify their strengths. This is beneficial and insightful to anyone and everyone, and I recommend you give it a whirl! To start, think of people in every aspect of your life (work, old jobs, and former teachers, as well as friends and family). Send the individuals you’ve selected an email asking them to give you particular instances where they saw you use your strengths. Make sure to mention that these strengths can be skill-based or personality-based. You will likely be surprised by all you can learn about yourself from the perspective of others!

  1. Make said strengths easy to articulate.

Now, you likely have several ideas about things you excel in, but you may not know exactly how to articulate that. I would like to recommend fitting it into one of the following three phrases:

I AM _________

I HAVE _________

I CAN _________

If you enjoy talking with others, that can be, “I am personable.” If you are good at meeting deadlines, you could say, “I am punctual.” If you found you are able to remain calm in stressful situations– ”I can prioritize and manage stress effectively,” etc.

  1. Verbalize strengths. Repeat them. Believe them. Live them.

At the end of February, I posted about affirmations, and the strength we can summon by regularly affirming such powerful statements. Might I recommend repeating your I am/I have/I can statements? Set a time to regularly repeat your affirmations. Reminding yourself who you are and what you are good at is invaluable. Yes, we should never be complacent with where we are, and we should always strive to improve. Recognizing your strengths will help you capitalize on them and even strengthen them.

Everyone has gifts, strengths, and talents…everyone! They just take time to discover. Even though it is easier to recognize strengths when things are going well, It is just as important to recognize strengths in times when you feel discouraged or insignificant. You have worth! I urge you to seek out your strengths so you can be comfortable in your own skin, and build upon these to become the person you want to be. As always, should you need help in this regard, or with any aspect of your personal emotional health, my door is open. I thoroughly enjoy helping my clients build their self-esteem in order to be emotionally healthy. Please feel free to contact me today or simply click here to schedule a session.

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

Resources:

Measuring Your Success

Measuring Your Success - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist - TypeLegendary basketball coach, John Wooden, says success is, “…peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Are you doing your best to reach your 2018 resolutions?

As April approaches (and with it my birthday!), I have been thinking about my goals for the year and how I am doing with them. How are your resolutions going? Do you remember what they are? Did you write them down to begin with? Maybe you have a list displayed on your bathroom mirror, and you are actively thinking about daily steps you can make to reach your lofty goals. Or maybe you fall into that ⅓ group who do not work on resolutions after the first month of the year. Either way, I am here to give encouragement, and provide some tips on how you can measure your progress.

Life is busy. We get so caught up in the daily grind of simple survival that we may overlook seemingly extraneous things–like wanting to pick up a paintbrush or get into an exercise regimen. How can we stay motivated to learn the skills we want to learn, accomplish what we want to accomplish, and ultimately become who we want to be? The answer is simple:

Baby steps each and every day.

I want this blog post to inspire/motivate/rekindle your desire to grow and improve this year. You set your resolutions for a reason! With your own persistence, consistency, and organization you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. Let’s get started.

First, take a look at your resolutions. Yes, I list this as an actual step because many people have intangible goals floating around in their brain space. You must write them down! You need to be able to see your goals; there is something about the action of writing them out that makes you more accountable to yourself, solidifies your desire to learn new things, and helps you remember your goals (muscle memory, maybe?). So step one, if you have not already done so, write your goals down.

Next, break down goals into measurable steps. “Learn to play the guitar” is a wonderful goal in and of itself, but it is very broad and difficult to quantify. How will you know if you have mastered or even “learned” the guitar? I would like to introduce a simple method that will help you break goals down to actionable steps and give you baby steps for each and every day. This step is perhaps the most important phase of goal setting, for this is where you can set yourself up for success!

  • VISION. Begin with your overarching goal. Let’s say that “learn the guitar” is your vision.
  • GOALS. How will you accomplish your vision? (Notice that the following can all be checked off yes or no; they are quantifiable steps that are easy to measure!)
      • Have formal guitar lessons weekly from a qualified teacher or musician
      • Practice the guitar for at least 15 minutes daily
      • Master one song a month
      • Perform Christmas song at family Christmas party
  • ACTIONS. Now take each of your goals and break them down into smaller steps with set time frames to accomplish each by. (Yes, this takes time and organization. But this is truly what enables you to reach your goals!)
      • Have formal guitar lessons weekly from a qualified teacher or musician
        • Research local music schools; find pricing options (by end of work week)
        • Call Dad’s friend and ask about his rates + availability (Wednesday @ 7 p.m.)
        • Find, clean and tune Dad’s guitar (before first lesson)
      • Practice the guitar for at least 15 minutes daily
        • Nightly after dinner, 6:30-6:45 p.m.
      • Master one song a month (if we are just now redefining or re-dedicating ourselves to goals, start with April)
        • April: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (Key Signature G)
        • May: “With or Without You” (Key D)
        • June: “Brown Eyed Girl” (Key G)
        • July: “Silent Night” (Key G)
      • Perform Christmas song at family Christmas party
        • Practice basic key signatures monthly
        • Begin practicing “Silent Night” in July
        • Perform for a friend or small audience prior to family party in December
  • ACCOUNTABILITY. Who will you be accountable to? If you have a roommate, partner, sibling, parent, friend or coworker you are close to, consider telling him/her about your goal. Ask him/her to occasionally (or frequently–whatever will help you most) ask you about your progress. Often, knowing someone else knows about your goal helps motivate you to keep going when you are tired, busy, or discouraged. In fact, partner up–play guitar together or hit that yoga class with a friend!

Lastly, REGULARLY review your resolutions. Set a time to remind yourself of your goals. I have long preferred to do this early each Monday–after my morning rituals (like exercising, eating, and getting ready for the day) and before beginning my professional/scholastic duties. Having a set time to go over your goals makes them more prominent in your mind, schedule, and priorities, and helps you to achieve ultimately them. Plus, if you fall off the horse one week, you can reevaluate how to get back in the saddle. If you find your goals to be too easy or too demanding, you can adjust them as necessary. Having a regular check-in with yourself will keep you progressing.

Winston Churchill once said that success is being relentless. If you want to be successful, be relentless in your pursuit to achieve your goals and to become the best version of yourself. Only you know if you are exerting your best effort to reach those goal or not; are you happy with your progress? Is there room for improvement? If you are not on track to reach your goals right now, sit down, write your goals out, and divide each into quantifiable, actionable steps. I can assure you that this is one surefire way to both measure your success and achieve your dreams. And, as always, I am here to help however I can. Contact me or schedule a session today.

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

Resources: