Reclaim Your Confidence

Exploring Issues of Insecurity and Self Esteem
by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

Counseling and Therapy Pittsburgh PAWebster defines confidence as “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.”  Why is there such a phenomenon in our society where we often so powerfully lack self-confidence? In order for us to feel an internal sense of self-confidence, we must give ourselves permission to have that belief in ourselves.  Why do we not trust ourselves? It is actually too simple of a question.

Whose rules or value systems are we using as the measurement tool by which we compare our abilities? Whose voice are we listening to when we evaluate whether or not we can trust ourselves? Have we collected messages through our lives that tell us that we are not good enough? Less than? Unreliable? Do we allow ourselves to evaluate these messages and challenge their validity?

Or perhaps we have track records of behavior that have eroded our self-confidence.  Can we never adapt or redeem ourselves from our own histories? How do we build a resilient lens and review our past in order to gain the lessons life was trying to teach us? Are our pasts too painful and not a resource of insight? If we were able to learn from the past and integrate this learning into our life, can we begin to trust in ourselves again?

Counseling and Therapy Pittsburgh PAOftentimes we punish ourselves over the past to the point where we cannot even redeem ourselves to OURSELVES! Is this lack of trusting ourselves a valid “punishment?” Because how is the roadblock to building confidence working out for us as we move forward living our lives? Or, are we benefitting on some level from having the deficit in confidence because it makes life safer? If we do not have confidence, then this removes many things in life that require confidence to pursue and overcome. Will an increase in confidence lead us into uncharted territory that truly scares us, so it is easier to tell ourselves we can’t go there?

Perhaps this is the time in life where we can challenge some of these thoughts and feelings in order to unlock some of the roadblocks that have been standing in the way of movement in our lives?

Be courageous,
David


If your are ready to begin exploring some of these issues, join me for a 12-week group designed to help individuals take a deeper look at how they treat themselves. Exploring how low self-esteem and poor self-image keep us from moving forward in life, this supportive group will discuss the concepts of living mindfully, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully, and developing integrity. The spirit behind this group is to create a nonjudgmental, empathic, and supportive environment that challenges the ways in which we see ourselves. If you are interested in making a positive life change today, please contact us to register for this one of a kind group! Most major insurances accepted. Group begins on September 17, 2014 but new participants are welcome at any time.

If you are interested in registering for this group, please call 412-367-0575 or email admin@pghpsychotherapy.com.

Comfort Food Nation

Exploring Issues of Nutrition, Weight and Body Image
by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCFood is an interesting thing. It nourishes us, fuels us, and provides a sense of comfort because one of our basic and most primal needs is being met. It quenches the death anxiety knowing that we have the sustenance to continue living for one more day.  In America, food is not quite looked upon merely as the core identity and purpose that it has…fuel for our bodies.

There became a time when food in our society morphed into a magnet that all celebrations were centered around; weddings, funerals, birthdays, or anniversaries. Our identities are often infused with food. For example, I cannot think of my cousin without thinking that she is the one who makes the amazing chocolate peanut butter pie! It is part of who she is. Food also has become entertainment, bragging rights, and even part of how we impress others. What is the traditional American date? Dinner and a movie.

The point of this sociological rant is not to imply that any of these things are bad, however, it is merely to point out that we have evolved successfully as a society to the point where the majority of us do not have to hunt, gather, or pray to the gods for rain in order to have food for the winter. In short, we don’t really see food as purely a basic, primal need to fuel our bodies. And this basic fact merely sets the groundwork for a learned and reinforced dysfunctional relationship with how we use and conceptualize food in our lives.

Because food is directly tied to the quality of our health, we often see the manifestation of that relationship through our physical bodies and ailments. This becomes internalized in such ways that we then incur additional societal stressors feeling judged and inadequate. We easily see the struggle becoming more and more complex. Where does it start? How does it stop?

The tricky thing about food as comfort is that it actually does comfort us. Thus, why is it unhealthy to allow ourselves to be comforted by food? Honestly, it isn’t – it just becomes a problem when that connection is your only source of comfort because it could easily get out of hand. Sometimes we don’t see food as the powerful force that it can be.

Food for Thought Since October, a dedicated group of people has joined together to deconstruct and discover their relationships with food and how it has insidiously contributed to emotional management. We have uncovered some great insights that have helped with behavioral changes and also set goals that were more attainable. Please reach out to us if you have any questions regarding this group. We are always looking for more people to join!


Be courageous,

David

After the tinsel fades

What to do about that holiday hangover
by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCThis blog post was born from a reoccurring theme amongst my clients. Now with the holidays behind us, some may be left with unresolved feelings stirred up by obligatory holiday reunions – isn’t it amazing that an entire year of gatherings and milestones can be dodged or postponed save for November and December (missing Aunt Joan and Uncle Bill’s 25th wedding anniversary or Johnny’s birthday party is a little easier than say Thanksgiving or Christmas.)

Bottom-line: These unavoidable visits often have such a painful power to remind you that, as much as you hope people may have changed, often they are still the same.  These tricky, unconscious expectations you hold often set you up for disappointment.  The kind that quietly whispers, “maybe this year dad will give me a compliment and tell me how much I mean to him,” or “maybe my sister will stop bragging and competing with me.”  Even in ones 30s, 40s, and 50s, these silent expectations somehow reduce individuals to children again, pining for validation or to have unmet needs finally achieved.  You walk into the bear trap of deep rejection over and over again. This supposed festive visit to return to home and hearth becomes nothing more than further trauma, and you walk away with a lot more than just a tin of crunchy cookies.

Discarded Christmas Tree

Flickr Creative Commons Photo © wetwebwork

In retrospect: It is wonderful to expose this dynamic, but how do you deal with this unneeded pain after the party is over?  Do you always wonder why you don’t understand how others seem so happy during the holidays?  Do you leave those experiences feeling resentment only to take it out on those closest to you?  Are you even aware of how all these emotional dots are connected?

The decision to let certain family members into our lives and to minimize exposure with others is a difficult one. As adolescents, managing time and visits with family may have been impossible; however as an adult, have you ever considered that maybe some family members can actually be a source of emotional poison?  But then again, is it merely a perception of them that is the poison?  How do you change your perception of others’ hurtful behavior or lack of desired behavior?  Do you keep coming back to the same person expecting him or her to be a different?  Or is she/he consistently the same, as unfortunate as that may be?  Making sense of a mother who has created emotional distress or even neglect can be complex to navigate, but what you should know is that her behavior speaks more to her personality and struggles than it does to you.  But alas, human beings tend to internalize this neglect as a statement against ourselves.

Where to go from here: Luckily the holiday season is almost 12 months away – time to work on a few coping skills. I think that it starts with acknowledging and expecting people to be who they are and who they have always presented themselves to be.  If for some reason you get some long lost desired compliment or validation, then that is bonus.

You need to bring closure and mourn the loss of the silent expectations for which you still pine.  You need to let go of wanting these needs met by those people and find other areas of life where you can meet those needs.  Perhaps you already have a relationship that is ripe with meaning and fulfillment; however, you cannot grasp it fully because you are still looking over your shoulder through the eyes of the wounded child within waiting for some validation from someone you probably will never get?

Be courageous,
David

Body Image: forming a healthy relationship with food

by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCIn our society today, we are bombarded with images that define beauty. By comparing and contrasting ourselves with these images, we are faced with the realities that the majority of us do not match up. Our society so powerfully constructs these images of classical beauty that we don’t dare question them, or else we may be seen as outcasts. However, perhaps we should challenge these images. With enough challenge, we may actually come to reconstruct a new definition of beauty that allows for individual beauty of all kinds.

Making a quick jump from beauty to weight, this inevitably is the first comparison we make. Our self-perceptions of our weight immediately evokes some sort of emotional reaction which we often internalize from a statement of: “I’m not skinny enough” to “I am not good enough.” What powerfully daunting and self-torturous beliefs are those? The irony then becomes that we need to cope with these negative self-statements, and often we do so in our society with food.

So the society that constructs images of beauty that are unrealistic also reinforces the notion that food is a wonderful coping behavior when we feel bad. Put the two together and there is clearly a recipe for an unhealthy relationship with food. Aside from negative self-regard feelings, we experience many uncomfortable feelings on a daily basis and food is a wonderful coping mechanism, however, straining one’s relationship with food usually has health risks and leads to more dissatisfaction, even depression.

Food is fuelFood is fuel. Our bodies need it to survive. Yet, how much have we moved away from that core concept of food and have embraced it in more indulgent and emotional ways? Food breaks down in the human body chemically, similarly to substances, such as drugs and alcohol. More and more neuro-psychological research is showing that certain foods are triggering the “reward pathway” in the brain similarly to drugs and alcohol. There is growing evidence that that brownie we eat as “comfort” actually does have a physiological comforting effects on us.

Just like drug and alcohol abuse/addiction, food can easily take this place in our lives. And similarly to addiction treatment and psycho-education, food abuse and addiction has a similar way to tackle it. It is always a two-pronged approach. Far be it from me to insinuate that popular dieting programs are not doing a good job in helping people lose weight, still, I feel that they focus too much on only one of the prongs. They see it as a behavioral struggle that requires training and will power. I agree with this, but the second prong is quite psychological.

ScaleIf losing weight and reevaluating our relationship with food was simply behavioral, it would be very simple, as it is quite easy to lay out a nutritional path for any human being. Science demonstrates what it takes to make us healthy and this knowledge is readily available. However, if food is a comfort, and you take this comfort away, then what will provide the comfort? We will always run back to that which comforts us. This lends to more powerful questions: Why do we need this comfort? What is going on that we need such physiological and psychological comfort through abusing food? This is often the question easily posed to an alcoholic or drug abuser. What is the food abuse doing for you? What need is it meeting that demands to be met? Until we can figure these questions out, the need to gravitate toward food abuse will be like gravity pulling us back.

While working on the answers to these questions, there is also the power of the behavioral approach and the concrete nutritional information. Both happening simultaneously is the key that many have found in losing weight. It is often said that “becoming healthy and losing weight truly requires a lifestyle change.” This lifestyle change also includes one’s psychological and emotional life too. We cannot compartmentalize these aspects of ourselves and wonder why behavioral change is not happening. The behaviors are always symptoms of deeper needs.

Be courageous,
David

Courage in Society

by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCOftentimes in psychology, we talk about attachment theory in developmental terms with children.  I have often seen some benefits of applying this theory to the LGBT population within the larger context of their attachment development to the heterocentric society in which they live. 

Someone simplistically put: if a child touches a hot stove, they soon learn not to touch it.  If something proves itself to be dangerous, traumatic, or unsafe long enough, then what is the natural and instinctual response?  People will usually not attach themselves to it.  Thus is the same when the unsafe item is society at large.

Now, credit needs to be given that society has evolved much in the past decade for LGBT individuals, but not in all places and not for all LGBT individuals.  We think of the 1970s and 80s where LGBT individuals were cultural pariahs migrating away from society into the arms of the LGBT communities that were built up in urban areas.  One would say that they found a place where the “stove is not hot” and they felt safe to attach themselves and found corrective experiences with “chosen families.”  However, there are those that never find a sense of safety in this society and become arrested in their attachment development.

Now, the idea that all human beings (regardless of individual personalities) must form healthy attachments and cultivate meaning and purpose in their lives in order to find true happiness and fulfillment is a powerful challenge to the LGBT individual who fears attachment beyond all else.

Note PaperThis insidious lack of attachment causes such intense anxiety that often permeates throughout the entire LGBT individual’s life, unless it is faced.  The pain and trauma that some LGBT individuals face at the discriminatory hand of our society has rendered them like a Post-It note that has been stuck and unstuck so many times that the stickiness has rubbed off.  It can no longer adhere and resembles an ordinary square piece of paper.

Now what does all this psychobabble look like in real life?  Oftentimes it is a grand interference in bonding in relationships leading one to move from one relationship to another, or to stay in a relationship longer than one should because of the fear of finding something else safe; moving from place to place and job to job; lack of deep and meaningful friendships; a focus on accumulating material possessions; staying in the home; too much television…all of which leads a person to a sense of depression and loneliness because the lack of attachment is not cultivating meaning in life.

Note PaperWhat a lot of hopeless damage a heterocentric society may appear to do to an LGBT individual, however, there is always hope to regain a sense of safety and attachment.  One can apply a new coat of adhesive to the Post-It note for it to adhere again.  It takes time and healing and a strong courage to trust those who are with you on this journey.

Not to say that forming attachments in this society is simple for heterosexual individuals, but there is a grand sense of “heterosexual privilege” that is unseen, but felt and executed on a daily basis that LGBT individuals have to work against.

Be courageous!
David

Spiritual Awakenings

by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCI have met with many individuals who struggle with the concept of “Spirituality” because it has become too infused and interwoven with the word “Religion.” For some LGBT individuals, religion has been a source of intense trauma and pain. To be able to process this pain, oftentimes, they remove themselves from religious communities, or are forced out by the dogma and those who seek to enforce it.

It is quite an internal conflict to try and conceptualize, “because of who I am naturally attracted to, I am a sinner.” To most LGBT individuals, this natural attraction started during the normal developmental ages of about six or seven, and then gets a bit buried until puberty. For heterosexual children, it is pretty easy to put it on the back burner because what they feel matches society in every single way, especially matching their given religion.

Now, I say this again, “It is quite an internal conflict” for a SIX- or SEVEN-year-old “to try and conceptualize: ‘because of who I am naturally attracted to, I am a sinner.’”  Next time you see a picture of yourself at six-years-old, have some compassion for yourself that on some level, you were given the extra (oftentimes hidden) conflict of having to internalize that. How? What did we have to do to internalize that? It does a number on a kid…that is for sure.

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Then the tricky argument by some religious heterosexuals is that they are choosing how they feel. How would they know? Are they choosing their heterosexual attraction? It is one of those profound human experiences that is universal…we all know what sexual attraction feels like, whatever gender.

Oftentimes the LGBT child grows up wanting to make parents, teachers, priests/pastors and peers happy and God as an extension, of course. At times they embrace the religion, and then oscillate to their natural attraction, then back and forth. It is not uncommon to see the pendulum swing back and forth between religious zealot and “backslidden” rebel. It is just the pattern of working out this conflict.

At a certain point, many LGBT individuals walk away or get shunned, not all, but many.  And often with that comes the denial of acknowledging the spiritual nature of their humanity. Spirituality does not equal religion. Although there are those who make religion a large part of their spirituality, and that is them. But the LGBT individual who has been religiously traumatized MUST recognize and respect their spiritual needs or else the void sets in.

Tall Green TreeTo those LGBT individuals out there who have been hurt by religion, I am not here to say that you MUST find an accepting church and go there for you to heal and start to nurture your spiritual life; however, I do encourage you to look broader. Ask yourself, “What do I think of MY spirituality?

What INSPIRES you?  A long walk in a park early on a Saturday morning in the late summer; Reading a book to your child; Having coffee with a friend; Something that connects you to anything bigger than yourself – these are our spiritual needs and they demand to be nurtured in life for us to tap into true happiness and fulfillment. Religious trauma healing can be had for LGBT individuals, don’t give up!

Be well,
David

Ps, here’s what the leader of the Catholic Church recently had to say on the subject: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/pope-francis-gays_n_3669635.html

Being Normal

by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC

Just some thoughts on DOMA.

David Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCCNow, I’m a therapist, not a lawyer or a politician, so when I think of DOMA, I think of the emotional aspect of its symbolism in the lives of lesbian and gay individuals. That is not to say that heterosexual folks can’t empathize, but it is quite a painful statement of inequality when your government declares that your relationship with the one person you love is invalid. With as much resiliency a gay individual can muster in that stiff upper lip, it is difficult NOT to internalize negativity into his/her identity as a person in this society. Just the mere verbiage alone…”defense of marriage act”… has such a powerfully insidious meta-message. Not only is a gay person unable to have his or her relationship validated by the government, the institution of marriage itself has to be PROTECTED and DEFENDED against gay people. How does this alone not make gay people think twice about who they are and who they love?  It is high time that discriminatory laws such as DOMA be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Yes, DOMA’s demise does not make same-sex marriage legal, and the LGBT community has many more legal fights ahead, but it is the statement alone that has the potency of an antidote to gay individuals and couples. There was an emotional healing that began to take place the other week that will continue on in the lives of gay people and those who love and support them. More importantly, our children will not grow up in a country where our government endorses discrimination.

Rainbow flag and blue skyAs I stood in the middle of Liberty Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh early that morning, I felt my husband beside me and my daughter’s hand in mine. A lesbian couple in their fifties gave their gay pride flag to my daughter who had already asked the simple and innocent question, “Daddy, why is everyone getting together in the streets on a work day and being all excited?” And thus, I had to explain to my 6-year-old daughter about one of the many injustices in the world. To which she replied, “Ok, I can celebrate something that should already be like normal!”

So in this blog, to whomever may read it in public or in private, please be encouraged. Embrace the honesty and authenticity of your love. Bring your legitimacy and quest for legalization inward to know that your love is yours and it is valid. Even though the death of DOMA was a grand taste of external validation, enjoy it like the sweet pleasure of dessert, but may you always remember that your true nourishment will come from within yourself.

Nothing can be harder than watching your spouse, partner, boyfriend,or girlfriend endure this discriminatory pain, so hold them close and remind them that the love you share is more powerful than laws and especially other people’s fears.

And to all lesbian and gay individuals out there… know that a very wise 6-year-old insists that you all celebrate that which “should already be like normal!”

Be well,
David