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5 Critical Questions to Ask Yourself & What Your Answers Could Mean!

5-critical-questions
  1. Do you value and respect yourself and what you’ve accomplished thus far in your life?
  2. What have you been telling yourself about you?
  3. Why do you make the choices you do?
  4. Do you occasionally overdo it when it comes to using substances, gambling or engaging in excessive behaviours?
  5. Do negative consequences seem to follow every decision you make?

If you have quickly reflected on the questions above and concluded that; “Wow!  I’m fabulous!  I’m focused on achieving my goals and I maximize my potential with every breath I take. My life has never been better.” you can stop reading now.  You have little to learn from the answers I present.

For everyone else, we’ll talk about the questions in a moment. First, though, a word about ‘denial’

Many of you would accept the premise (for other people, never for yourself) that sometimes people are less than honest with themselves and others when the subject of problem behaviours or substance use comes to the fore.   

You fib to yourself about the extent and consequences of using substances or engaging excessively in certain behaviours.  And then, that little fib grows up and becomes your truth.  This is not to say you intentionally lie to yourself.  No – you believe the lie wholeheartedly.  The lie is what sustains you.  And of course, the lie is what makes talking with you about it so mind bending for others.  

Denial’s function is to make it possible for us to engage in what at times is shocking behaviour without a true appreciation of the magnitude of it all.  The mind is capable of presenting the facts to us in a minimized, seemingly insignificant manner

Once you have developed a powerful relationship with a substance or behaviour and can’t imagine life without it, you can’t seriously challenge the lie or it would threaten your ability to continue the behaviour unchecked.  If you allowed yourself to see what others see, your sense of shock, even horror would be so overwhelming, the acting out would have to stop immediately.  And of course, at some level, you do see the magnitude but denial helps you dismiss it or blame it on someone else.

The only change you want is for the bad stuff to stop happening.  And so the lie grows.

 “Well, it’s not as bad as my wife makes it out to be.”

“I’m not in trouble with booze, Roger drinks more than I do; he’s the one with the problem.”

 “I know I crashed the car but it wasn’t because of drugs, the other guy cut me off.” 

“These shoes fit perfectly.  I know I have a few pairs that are similar but these fit much better.”

Honesty, the shear unvarnished truth about yourself and your behaviour is pushed out of the frame. My hope is that you will beard the lion in his den and tackle the questions without any of the usual omissions or embellishments (blaming others, making excuses, ignoring, denying, disputing the facts, etc.)  See yourself, honestly, through your own eyes without resorting to the usual rose-coloured glasses.

SO…… Let’s Get to Those Answers and What They Could Mean to Your Life.

1)        Do you value and respect yourself and what you’ve accomplished thus far in your life?

This question speaks directly to your feelings about your self-esteem at this moment in time.  It also asks you to think about yourself and accomplishments as a journey in progress.  Are you happy with the journey so far?  Has the path led to a person of value in your estimation?

We have all experienced self-esteem slippage from time to time.  It’s usually a nudge to give ourselves a tune-up, or at the very least, review our goals and find out what isn’t working and how we can address the situation. 

Let’s take a look at some of the indicators of low-self-esteem.  Can you see some of these tendencies in yourself?

  • Unsure about yourself - who you really are, what you really believe and what you truly value
  • Unable to trust others
  • Unable to freely express your opinions, needs and feelings.
  • Having problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Problems with anger.  Too little expressed anger – too much expressed anger 
  • A powerful need for approval and acceptance
  • Never feeling “good enough”
  • Easily frustrated and overwhelmed by life’s issues.  Always saying “I can’t…”
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, inadequate.
  • Needing to control – manipulating people
  • Rescuing, pleasing, enabling
  • Looking good on the outside, dying on the inside

If you recognize some of these indicators as problems in your life, you’re probably wondering how to make improvements in self-esteem. 

Changes to boost your self-esteem:

  • Change distorted thinking.  You ask yourself; “Is what I tell myself factually true or is it exaggerated and catastrophic?” If it is not factually true, list all of the possibilities that could be true in this situation with special emphasis on the positive.  You have power over “I never get it right.”  I’m so lazy.”
  • Accept personal responsibility and stop blaming others for your choices and decisions.
  • Identify self-defeating behaviours and begin to change them.  Buy one piece of cake and enjoy it.  Stop buying the whole cake, eating it and hating yourself as a result.
  • Accept your feelings.  Feelings are never wrong.  Feel your feelings and practice self-control over your reactions.  You are in charge of you.
  • Work on your communication skills.  A book or a course on Assertive Communication would be a real eye-opener for you.
  • Work on interpersonal relationships.  Stop isolating, get to know a few people, invite someone out for coffee, and spend time with the people you admire, not the losers who help you feel better about yourself because they are in much worse shape.  
  • Re-connect with your partner and kids.  Make time for fun and family activities. 
  • Don’t forget about words and phrases like - appreciate, thanks, I love you, I’m so sorry, I apologize, that’s my fault, I forgive you.  I hope you’ll forgive me.
  • Change what you can and accept the rest.  Building self-esteem is a process of change and acceptance that continues throughout your life.
  • Become a person you, yourself can trust.  Build integrity.

If you’re unhappy with your level of accomplishment, do you consider yourself worthy of success? This can be a key issue for many.  You go into an action expecting to fail, and, big surprise, you do.  Sometimes you need to reevaluate what success means to you.  Are you comparing yourself to someone like Bill Gates and expecting the same results? When you find you’re not quite as ingenious as Bill Gates, do you judge yourself a complete failure?

See yourself as worthy and then do the work! Set reasonable goals along a timeline and celebrate each and every success, even the smallest, along the way.

“How will I feel when I’ve improved my self-esteem?”

  • You will like and respect yourself as a person of character and integrity.
  • You will know you matter and you will feel ready and capable of success.
  • You’ll be much more optimistic.
  • You will live as an independent person who enjoys others but does not need someone to save you. You will happily build interdependent (equal) relationships with others.
  • You will know when unhealthy relationships must end.
  • You’ll handle conflict and solve problems in a much more effective manner.  No more overwhelming, crazy-making situations.  Problems will be solved with compromise, not just shouted about and endlessly repeated.
  • You will know yourself as a good person who cares for others.  No more navel-gazing.  No longer devoting 100% of your time focused only on yourself.  Here’s some really big news – It’s NOT all about you!
  • You will accept your accomplishments and look forward to your future goals.
  • You’ll have dreams, aspirations, and hopes that you’ll know are within your grasp with time and work.
  • You’ll expect and give encouragement.
  • You’ll have healthy coping skills and no longer rely on mood-altering substances or other excessive behaviours to numb unpleasant feelings or artificially create good ones.
  • Finally, you’ll be able to put problems, concerns, issues and conflicts into perspective without guilt and personal recriminations.

2)        What have you been telling yourself about you?

This question goes hand in hand with issues of low self-esteem.  Part of the reason you lose your sense of confidence and your self-esteem takes a hit, has to do with what’s going on in your head.  Do you recognize your use of the following?

  • Constantly criticizing yourself, your worth, your efforts and your accomplishments.  Everyone is better than you - smarter, more energetic, better results, a better family and looks better. Let’s face it - everyone is better, period.  This constant refrain sets you up to anticipate nothing but negatives in your life.
  • Giving up before you’ve really tried.  You are always so sure of failure that you feel hopeless, helpless and powerless to do anything about the situation.  You let life roll right over you.
  • Worrying about the future.  “What if-ing” yourself constantly.  Imagining the very worst that could happen and then thinking about it as though it were fact.  Catastrophic thinking is poison to the soul. 
  • Thinking that you should be better than you are, more perfect, only serves to focus your attention on your perceived flaws.  If the goal is perfection you’ll always lose.  Perfection is unattainable. 
  • Are you constantly draining your reserves of motivation with procrastination?  Sometimes procrastination is caused by the mental fatigue generated by imagining how you will complete the task, perfectly.  Any degree of motivation is frozen solid in the presence of: “I should…., I could…., my boss expects….., anyone in my position would……, or, I’ll never be as… “
  • Give yourself a break.  “Just a little bit more than enough is by far, much too much.” was a favourite saying of my husband’s father when he observed others applying the perfectionism law to themselves.  Stop being excessive and driving yourself to a goal that doesn’t exist - establish a standard of ‘enough’.

There are many things over which we have no control.  Self-talk isn’t one of them.

First you need to catch yourself spewing this contamination into your brain.  Immediately counter the thought.  Argue with it fiercely and then replace it with a positive affirmation that is reasonable and within the realm of possibility. “I can handle problems as well as anyone.”   “I have a job that I’m good at and that fulfills me daily. “ I feel supported by family and friends.”  “My business is growing daily”.  You literally re-program your brain. 

People ask: “What‘s the point of rattling something off in my brain if I don’t believe it?”  You may have heard the expression: “Fake it until you make it” This statement is, quite literally, true. Repeating positive statements will, in time, become your truth.  It’s as if your brain throws out the old CD and replaces it with a much more positive and up-beat CD.  STOP repeating all of those negatives to yourself.  Don’t tolerate it, support it, or believe it - and certainly, don’t give it any space at the table.

3)         Why do I make the choices I do?

Is your response, “I don’t know?”  Give me a break!  I submit you do know but are feeling very ambivalent about making changes of any kind.  Saying “I don’t know” lets you off the hook quickly, no harm, no foul and it’s on to the next thing.  

When your self-esteem is wounded and you’re awash in negative self-talk, it’s not surprising when asked a sensitive question you shut down with “I don’t know”. This is the easiest of all statements to make when you ‘don’t want to talk about it’. It also serves the purpose of allowing you to stay in denial. 

The truth is, you make the choices you do because you feel you are getting benefit from them.  They’re working for you! Sometimes the benefit is numbed feelings, an absence of worry, and freedom from conflict, name your poison.  All of those fears, all of that pain you would be feeling is completely anesthetized.  Substances and excessive behaviours take you out of conscious reality.  They reward you with artificial feelings of power, success, attractiveness, control, intimacy and belongingness.  They allow you to feel good about yourself, at least for the moment.

So even though the consequences of your behaviour may be catastrophic, when you remove yourself from reality, all thoughts of more consequences piling up are banished along with the pain from which you’ve been suffering.  Ambivalence about removing or modifying the substance or activity in your life or changing it in any significant manner makes sense when observed from this perspective.  Staying stuck, takes you off the hook.

A decision to do nothing “until you know more” is just a decision to stay stuck where you are.

All you really want to change is the trail of negativity and pain that follows your behaviour.  The real question is how long are you going to absent yourself from facing the consequences and moving forward in your life in a positive and healthy manner. 

Perhaps you need help in sorting through the possibilities before any change is undertaken.  You really aren’t going to know what your options are until you’ve discussed the realities of your situation with a non-judgmental ally. That requires you take your head out of the sand and fully and honestly face your truth about where you are in your life and where you will be if nothing changes. 

We all know, unconsciously or consciously, why we do what we do.   If you don’t admire or respect what you do or who you are, work with a therapist who can help you understand that a part of the reason you make these destructive choices is to continue staying numb and avoiding the question. 

4)            Do I occasionally (or frequently) overdo it when it comes to using substances, gambling or engaging in other excessive behaviours?

If your answer is well - maybe a little, sometimes - then it’s time to decide if something has to change.  You must determine the extent to which your use of the substance/behaviour is impacting your life, health, work and relationships. 

Not surprisingly, denial is once again rearing its ugly head.  Are you telling yourself the truth or are you blaming, minimizing, and rationalizing?  After all, no one pours a drink down your throat, drags you to the casino, or flashes the well-used credit card time and again.  You do that all by yourself. 

Undoubtedly others impact your life but how you respond is entirely your responsibility.   You may decide what has to change but never instigate the behaviour of change.  It is usually fear, even terror, which impedes any movement toward change.  It’s much easier to keep on procrastinating for ‘just one more day.’

Your reasons for a lack of action may be different.  Whatever they are, no doubt, they’re excuses by any other name.  The best way to get yourself in gear is to visualize what your life could be like with some degree of change.  Imagine all of the benefits you can possibly think of. 

Change is easy, but requires persistence.  Also, mistakes will happen.  This idea that someone is a total failure, a complete loser if a slip or fall happens, is fundamentally ludicrous.  If you need to make some changes in substance use, gambling, or spending, get some help with the process so you’ve set yourself up for success.  

5)     Do negative consequences haunt your every move?  

If your answer to question (4) involved some degree of over-doing it with substances, gambling or spending, then your answer to question (5) will also involve a mental list of the fallout.  How much you “over-do” has a direct bearing on the number and extent of the negative consequences you’ve experienced.  Sometimes people imagine that negative consequences mean huge problems like legal charges or convictions, looming bankruptcy or sleeping in the street over a heating vent.  And, of course, these are extremely serious negative consequences. 

The term negative consequences also pertains to the day to day costs of continuing your problem behaviour, such as unhappy, resentful family members, employer distrust or worse, hours engaging in the behaviour that should be spent on your responsibilities, serious health concerns, financial difficulties, feeling ill and tired day after day, deep feelings of guilt, shame, regret, grief and loss, the list is endless, literally.

 This question will, hopefully, get you thinking about the real reasons you’ve experienced so many problems or crises.  Frequently people blame their partners, children, employers, bankers, anyone but themselves. As long as I can convince myself that these problems are caused by others or, failing that, the hand of fate, itself, I can justify my behaviour.  And so, once again, denial is in play.  I must be able to validate my behaviour to myself in order to permit myself to be impervious to the obvious state of affairs that is so evident to everyone else.  Negative consequences are the direct result of your involvement with a substance or activity.  Undoubtedly, they will continue to haunt your every move until you make some changes.

I hope you have found these 5 questions and their answers helpful to your situation.  Sometimes talking them over with an objective third party makes a big difference in how you view your world and life experiences.  It is always useful to get someone else’s point of view even if you disagree.  A problem shared is a problem reduced by half.

Please remember, I can help you today – not tomorrow or next week - today.  Set up your 15 minutes of free consultation time by giving my office a call at 519-438-4947.  I look forward to speaking with you.

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