By Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist
No one wants to be average anymore. Our society seems to be in constant pursuit of perfectionism. We are expected to be the perfect student, perfect parent, perfect employee or boss and look our best at all times. We are bombarded with messages through media about how we should behave, what we should think and how we should feel. It’s no wonder that most of us are left with the feeling of falling short of expectations.
Low self esteem according to one of the leading self compassion researchers, Dr Kristen Neff, is on the rise despite programs being rolled out in primary school years to stave off this potential issue. Interestingly, as Dr Neff notes, self esteem in western societies is largely based on how we perceive ourselves in comparison to others. We are often validated by how many rewards we receive, compliments, the type of house we live in, the clothes we wear, the car we drive and how well our children do at school. You don’t have to go too far on social media sites to see someone that seems to have it better than you. Facebook, Instagram and alike seem now to be sites to simply show the world how great you are. This is further promoted by TV shows such as “The Real Housewives of Melbourne” and other so called “reality” TV. At the end of the day, we look at ourselves and ask why don’t I have that, why can’t I live like that, why am I not successful and ultimately why am I not happy?
If self esteem is based on being better than someone else then aren’t we endorsing everyone to be above average? And if this is so, as Dr Neff asks, “How can we all be above average? Isn’t that illogical?”
As a psychologist, I spend a lot of time with people telling them it’s actually okay to be average. It is also okay to feel disappointed at times and even fail. These experiences, despite being somewhat unpleasant, provide us with the opportunity to learn and to grow. If we expect a perfect result every time, we are actually more likely to give up rather than try, try again.
Happiness doesn’t need to be pinned on perfectionism. Often the pursuit of perfectionism leads to a sense of unhappiness and in some cases anxiety and depression. When there is a perceived failure (in other words something that may be considered as average), the sense of failure seems so overwhelming that it can lead to self hatred. A perfect example of this is the student striving to get perfect results. The emotional cost of this pursuit often produces significant distress which ironically is what they are trying to avoid.
Some parents also fall into the trap of being the perfect parent. Right from the birth, parents are bombarded with messages of what they should do. When a new mother is not successful at breastfeeding, instead of hearing the message “that’s okay”, she often is made to feel guilty and a failure. When we get a bit cranky with our children or express our frustrations, again we feel guilty. The late D.W. Winnicott, a paediatrician and psychoanalyst, introduced the concept of the “good enough mother”. He commented in his writings that it takes an “imperfect mother to raise a child well”.
So what does this all mean? Should we stop striving?
Well, the answer to this is no. We should still strive to do our best and set personal goals as this actually makes us feel good. We should however base our goals on what is important to us and not what is simply reflected back through societal trends and media. We should be forgiving of ourselves when we do occasionally fail and congratulate ourselves when we achieve.
Finally we should celebrate being average… Let’s face it after all we are in good company. So next time, when we see some impossible platitude posted on social media or perceive someone to be doing better, remember good enough is still very much good enough.
To read more about Kathryn Smith and our team of Psychologists visit the Team pageof our website.
According to the 2015 Mission Australia Youth Study, Australian youth are placing body image in their top three personal concerns with the trend increasing from 20.4% in 2012 to 26.5% in 2015, sending a strong message that we need to address this problem that can lead to serious mental health issues.
Clinical Psychologists, Dr Stan Steindl of Psychology Consultants and Dr Kiera Buchanan from Centre for Integrative Health, regularly treat patients with negative body image, weight and eating concerns, leading them to join forces to tackle this alarming trend with a new therapeutic approach – self-compassion.
Commencing 24 February 2016 in Wooloowin, the Clinical Psychologists are embarking on an 8-week program that uses self-compassion as therapy for people who emotionally eat, binge eat or feel distressed about their weight.
Enormous efforts are being made to understand body image concerns and how they may develop into eating disorders, and one mechanism receiving specific attention over recent years is severe and harsh self-criticism.
Clinical Psychologist, Dr Steindl who recently joined the global movement, Charter for Compassion, is a strong advocate for the use of compassion in therapy and hopes to help people by exploring self-criticism as a cause of body image concerns and eating disorders.
“The program is designed to help male and female adults develop skills in self-awareness, kindness, courage and compassion towards oneself to better manage eating, weight and body image concerns” said Dr Steindl.
“We need to set an example for our youth with healthy body image and positive self-talk, especially parents of young children, as negative body Image can quickly lead to eating disorders that cause devastating effects on a person’s life, including impaired psychiatric and behavioural effects, medical complications, social isolation and an increased risk of death, including suicide,” he said.
Dr Kiera Buchanan urges, “The program is not a quick fix or replacement for standard therapy and is not appropriate for people suffering from anorexia or other eating disorders.
Participants will benefit from a relaxed group setting and a positive environment where we can learn from one another’s experience and allowing professional therapy to be more financially accessible”, she said.
The program takes a more holistic and alternate approach to treatment by reflecting on how we treat ourselves and the impact this has on our mental state and aims to provide participants with long term strategies for overcoming eating problems, weight and body image concerns,” said Dr Buchanan.
A GP referral is not required to participate in the program, which costs $50 per session and is not subject to a Medicare rebate. To book your place in the February program, call Centre For Integrative Health on (07) 3161 0845.Read more
By Dr Stan Steindl & Prof Jason Connor
Australia Day is fast approaching as a day to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being Australian.
For many, it’s also the day that marks the end of the festive season. Children return to school after their long summer holiday, and work returns in earnest for the rest of us. The strong sense of national pride, public holiday and ominous reality of the return to work culminate in a national party, with friends and family coming together for fun and frivolity.
The problem of alcohol in the mix
Australia Day celebrations often involve heavy drinking. Contrary to media publicity, Australia’s per capita alcohol consumption is similar to that in other high income countries. However, according to the The World Health Organisation, Australia’s alcohol consumption has slightly increased, while it has dropped in the US, UK and Europe.
Our culture promotes heavy sessional (“binge”) drinking which greatly increases the risk for alcohol-related harm. Recent research in Victoria found that on Australia Day, compared to an average day: ambulances receive more than double the calls to attend to intoxicated young people; three times the number of young people needed treatment for injuries from assaults; and there was a sharp increase in alcohol-related presentations to hospital emergency departments and hospital admissions.
Each year, articles (such as these in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) appear in the media reporting on the problem of excessive drinking on Australia Day. These articles warn of the harms associated with excessive drinking are typically published just prior to Australia Day. Despite these warnings, statistics seem to be getting worse, not better according to WA Department of Health data from 2008 to 2012 (summarised here)..
One trap, long understood in alcohol treatment and prevention, that these articles offer unsolicited advice and issue dire warnings. Bottom line, people don’t like being told what to do and typically resist authority figures who try to do so.
The problem of poor prior planning
Drinking often occurs in response to situational and emotional triggers. Professor Allan Marlatt described the way people and their environments interact to cause heavy drinking. He identified elements of “high risk situations” that trigger drinking, including certain days, places, people, heightened emotional states or during certain activities. Australia Day is a great example of a number of these elements increasing risk.
Heavy drinking often occurs unconsciously in these situations. Urges take over, and in the absence of a plan, before long you are asking yourself:
“I just don’t know how I got so drunk!”
The next day the consequences hit home and the regrets kick in. We can be left reeling from our drinking on autopilot the day before.
Stepping out of autopilot can be enormously empowering and self-determining. Instead of being reactive to these events, you might pause to consider what really is the way you want to approach a day like Australia day.
Take the opportunity to reflect on personal motivations
The good news is that there is a whole field of study that focusses on how to enhance people’s motivations to better manage their drinking. The approach, first defined in Professors Bill Miller and Steve Rollnick’s 1991 book (and then two subsequent editions), is called motivational interviewing (MI). In reviewing the most effective treatments for Alcohol Use Disorders, one of the world’s leading medical journals, the Lancet, recently identified MI as having among the highest level of evidence. MI invites us to stop and consider our own personal motivations, more clearly understand our goals and values, and guide ourselves towards how we want to live our lives.
Practically, there are five key motivational considerations when planning for Australia Day. So, rather than others trying to tell you what to do about your drinking this coming long weekend, you might consider, just privately to yourself, the following:
(1) What would you LIKE to change about your drinking this Australia Day?
This is an important first step. And if the answer is that you would like to change nothing, then that is fine. On the other hand, you might find that managing your drinking feels like a good idea. Think carefully through your different options. What would feel right for you? Perhaps consider how you would like to remember this Australia Day.
(2) What are your personal REASONS for making these changes?
Managing the amount you drink needn’t be about why someone else thinks it’s a good idea, although heavy drinking often negatively impact on others. Think instead about what you see as the benefits for you and those around you. Consider the positive impact this can have on your health, safety, relationships or finances. There may also be other reasons for managing your drinking that are very personal and unique to you.
(3) What is it that makes managing your drinking this Australia Day IMPORTANT to you?
Next, start to drill down to the importance of managing your drinking. How does more moderate alcohol consumption fit better with your personal values? Think about the person you want to be, the relationships you want to have, and the contributions you want to make. Consider how managing your drinking this weekend could take you in a direction that is important to you.
(4) If you were to make these changes, HOW would you go about it?
People often want to manage their drinking, but sometimes lack the confidence to take action. Carefully define how you might achieve these changes. Consider developing an action plan, such as setting personal limits, keeping track of how much you drink, limit how much alcohol you have available, or garnering support from others.
And now, if you like, it’s time to commit!
You’ve thought about what you’d like to do about drinking on Australia Day, the reasons you’d like to do it, what makes managing your drinking important to you and how you would go about it. These are four important considerations in preparing for change. The fifth key consideration? It’s time to commit!
Commitment is a vital part of behaviour change. It’s beyond what you could, should or would do, and is about what you will do. Decide on your Australia Day drinking plan and then commit to it. Tell a family member or friend about your commitment.
Have a think about commitment: what will you do to manage your drinking this Australia Day?
For more information on Dr Stan Steindl and the team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants, visit http://www.psychologyconsultants.com.auRead more
It is that time of the year again when most of us have over-indulged. We have spent the Christmas season in the company of our loved ones and also in the company of some of our most loved foods. Now with the New Year looming, we step back onto the scales to see that we may have gained a few kilos over the festive season and we begin to make New Year resolutions about getting fitter and shedding those extra kilo’s. But many of us fail – and why is this so when we start out with good intentions?
Often the answer to this question is that our goals around health and weight loss are unrealistic or difficult to maintain. Imagine you are playing a sport and every time you attempted to kick a goal you continued to fall short. After a while, you begin to ask the question “What’s the point?” and then you come to the conclusion of giving up
Diet and exercise often fall into this category. So instead of aiming for the same goal, the idea is to move the goal posts closer. So in practical terms, if you haven’t been exercising at all, it’s not realistic to expect that you will do intensive one-hour exercise sessions 5 times a week. Rather it would be more practical to aim for a mild to moderate exercise session of 1 to 2 times a week. Once you are successful with maintaining this, then you can either increase the intensity, duration or frequency. It is also best to try and set your exercise sessions at the same time and day as let’s face it, we are creatures of habit!
Now what to do about eating?…
Eating is one of those essential activities we must do. It is very tempting to go on a popular diet but not always practical, and it often doesn’t teach us what we need to eat when we reach our goal weight. An easier way to begin controlling your diet and reducing your energy intake is to begin to be mindful of what you are eating, when, how, how much, how often and what are your thoughts about it.
Below are some simple tips on mindful eating habits that are likely to lead to weight loss and maintenance.
Remember, to win the war, you may need to lose a few battles.
Each day is a new experience and presents a new opportunity.
Be kind and nurture yourself.
Happy New Year.Read more
By Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist and Adjunct Associate Professor
A big chunk of the modern human brain functions in exactly the same way that it did thousands of years ago. Largely, this means our actions are still motivated by threat and drive systems. The evolutionary science and theories around the development of the human brain and these motivational systems are described in the work of Professor Paul Gilbert.
On the one hand, our threat system insists that it is “better to be safe than sorry”. In other words, our primitive brains much prefer to err on the side of mistakenly identifying a threat when it is not there, rather than miss the presence of a threat that is there. The result, of course, is heightened vigilance, anxiety and avoidance, and anger and aggression. Check out the great work on anxiety by Dr Dennis Tirch and anger by Dr Russell Kolts.
On the other hand, our drive system insists that we always “strive for something better”. This includes us seeking some of the fundamental resources necessary, such as food, shelter and sex. It also means wanting more, striving for success and dominance, as well as avoiding inferiority and shame, and generally focuses on gratification for ourselves and those close to us, potentially leading to selfishness or greed.
These threat and drive systems are extremely powerful motivators, even in modern humans. To our credit, there are many great examples of human progress. We have had the philosophy of the Ancient Greeks, the golden rule of religions, the age of enlightenment and development of human rights, the scientific revolution and the advent of democracy. But, despite all this, we still often feel, think and behave just like our ancestors from tens of thousands of years ago, those earliest Homo sapiens.
There are now well over 7 billion people in the world. The mere fact that this number keeps climbing proves one thing: human beings aren’t generally inclined towards killing other human beings! In fact, while cruelty and violence is certainly part of our make up, it is not all or even most of who we are. Human beings have a basic orientation towards affiliation.
Our ancestors survived because of their ability to look after one another, support one another, and comfort and soothe one another. This included, of course, our vulnerable young, but we looked after everyone, young and old, strong and infirm, all members of the tribe. And this worked really well. Those tribes of early humans that looked after one another and cooperated were able to thrive.
As aspects of the human mind, culture and sensibilities have continued to develop, human beings now have an exquisite opportunity to reflect on ourselves and how we operate in the world. Do we still want our behaviours to be dominated by the threat and drive systems? Do we want to allow those systems to create a world of divisiveness and enmity?
Or do we want to find a way to organise our threat and drive systems so that they can still helps us survive and get along in the world, without fear and greed pervading our species and motivating us to do terrible things to each other?
The soothing system is our chance to do that. Each and every one of us has this system as an integral part of our brains. And it is a source of great compassion. We just need to bring it front of mind and deliberately cultivate it in ourselves, expanding our ability to care for others beyond ourselves and our immediate family, friends or community.
By activating this soothing system, and cultivating compassion as the primary motivator to help organise our other systems and ourselves, we can:
People, ourselves included, are made up of many facets and need not be defined by the labels and biases we may presume of them. We can cultivate a compassionate attitude towards all the peoples of the world. Let’s face it, with progress, technology, communication, travel and the like, the world now is on the verge of being one tribe, living in one village. We are all in this global village together and we have the opportunity to start looking after one another.
By the way, it’s ok to get scared sometimes. Of course we can worry, say, about people we love being hurt, injured or killed and therefore act in ways to keep them safe. And it’s ok to be aspirational. Much of the good in the world has come from the ideas and efforts of human beings striving for something better. We just want to have that third piece of the puzzle, the soothing system, that organises threat and drive in a way that means others don’t need to suffer.
So, I invite you to stop for a moment and carefully think: What might it be like to take a compassionate attitude into your life? How might you start to think and feel? What might you start to do? Perhaps you might commit to doing something today?
Have a look at this info-graphic from my friend and colleague Dr James Kirby…a great way to start the day being your compassionate best.
I will conclude by way of an example. In the context of current world events we might find ourselves thinking (or hear other people saying): This country’s going downhill! It’s unsafe. Those people are coming in here, taking our jobs. And most of them are criminals and murderers!
And then we might respond to ourselves from the perspective of the soothing system with: It’s ok. Thanks for the warning. It can be scary when things change. I’ll stay alert to the possible problems, but today I want compassion to be my guide. I want to see if there is something I can do to help.
For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants, visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.auRead more