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Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday: Note 2 Younger Self Part 3: Mind Games or How Do We Learn to Trust Ourselves?

Thought for the Day: I had a very busy day Wednesday which began by helping out at a bank following a robbery. Whenever I can, I go to companies after critical incidents, but it often turns my schedule upside down for a few days! Two full days working with clients left no room for writing and posting. Therefore, today I'm trying to catch up and share the third set of results from the mini-research project based on your 2 word notes to your younger selves. This series of posts is leading to some very interesting questions. How and when did you learn to trust yourself?

There has been a great deal of interest in the results of this research project. It has certainly provided food for thought. I called the group of responses that I want to talk about today "Mind Gamers." I must admit that I chose it thinking that the name would get your attention. Usually mind games have negative connotations. In this case, there is nothing negative about these responses. These “mind games” have an extremely positive impact on those who use this approach to reach out to their younger selves. It was therefore really important to hear about when the members of this group acquired this knowledge and what prompted to offer this advice to their younger selves. Unfortunately, only a few subjects told their stories.

When we are confronted with adversity, what we say to ourselves makes a big difference in how we handle the situation. Our thoughts impact how we perceive and cope with the challenge. Positive psychology research has shown that truly the saying ,"Mind over matter" is true. Since as I reported in an earlier post, negative thoughts lead to depression (Which Comes First Depression or Low Self Esteem?), positive thoughts are important for our mental health and well being. The “mind gamers” were by far, the largest group in this study one third of the respondents chose positive self talk as what they would say to themselves. This may have been due to the large number of therapists who responded to this survey on a LinkedIn group for psychologists and other therapists. Close to half of the therapists chose positive self comments for their two word advice. Here's the kinds of things they said to their young selves and why...

The "Mind Gamers" learned this lesson well. By far the most common 2 word advice was to: "Trust yourself" (5), "Trust your gut," (2), " or to "Believe in yourself" (2). Other positive mind set ideas  in the same vein were:; "You're OK," "Your awesome," "You're special," "You matter," "You're worthy," "You'r right," and "Be you." A second type of positive mind game was to :"Love yourself," or "You are loved," or "Be love." 

What led these people to find the power of positive thoughts is quite interesting as well. One respondent (not from the group of therapists) who earlier in life thought that he needed to be like others, realized that his value came in being himself and helping others. He also shared this insight: "It was through this pursuit of truth I discovered the incredible power of the mind and how our mere perception of the happenings around us creates for itself its own opportunities or failures, successes or struggles; not mutually exclusive one from another but harmoniously working to lead us closer towards the discovery of Truth..."

Here's what helped a marriage and family therapist discover the words, "You matter." The epiphany, " came to me in my 30's when I began working with women helping them decide whether or not to become mothers. Often their indecision was traced back to not feeling like they mattered when growing up. For me personally I grew up with a fair amount of neglect so the words 'you matter' would have made a world of difference to me. Since I have worked hard over the years in therapy I am on the other side of that wound and now can be visible and know quite well that I matter. I help others reach the same conclusion."

A 59 year old crisis intervention clinician wrote that, "As I reflect on my life, the choices I have made and think about the future the two words that came to mind when pondering your request were "trust yourself". It is a personal version of the phrase I often heard from my mentor" when I was in my 20's to: "trust your gut."

 "You´re right" is something a 24 year old (non-therapist)  says  sometimes to the part of herself that does not believe her knowledge of human nature.

Another non-therapist wrote that the concept of thinking, " 'happy thoughts' was something  I’ve used it for as long as I can remember. I read a lot, God knows where I got it from. I just know it's helped me countless times."

What does this mean? Unfortunately, the results are not definitive. Perhaps the therapists who replied to this question saw other people’s answers and simply choose similar words of advice. However, my guess is that many people, therapists in particular, learn from difficult life experiences (and subsequent therapy) that a positive attitude can go a long way in helping them overcome adversity. This acquisition of knowledge may taken place during a person's late twenties to thirties as they began working in the field of mental health. For some people, it may have developed earlier in life like the woman who somehow knew to think "happy thoughts” from childhood. It raises questions for me as a therapist: Does a positive sense of self lead one to become a therapist or does self doubt followed by the the process of self discovery and training to become a therapist help people develop an ability to trust themselves and foster this strength in others? 

Whether you are a therapist or not, if your initial reaction to the question of what 2 word advice you would give to your younger self is something like “trust yourself,” I would like to know which came first? Did you always think positively and trust yourself or did doubts about yourself make it necessary to learn to trust yourself?

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