Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rubber Bands and Tuning Forks

Rubber Bands and Tuning Forks

Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission ” Eleanor Roosevelt

“It happens all the time. My boss will criticize one little part of a report and suddenly I feel like I’m just not good enough. I spend the rest of the day seeing all the ways I just don’t measure up. By the time I make it home at night I feel totally worthless.”

What makes you feel inferior? You might say your boss, your mother, your husband/partner, your friends. It may even be people you don’t even know. According to a recent University of Toronto study, women who read magazines full of ads featuring skinny female models, suffer more from low self-esteem than those who don’t. A source of constant frustration and helplessness, we are surrounded by images of women who are “perfect” in every way.

We realize that we can’t control others from making negative remarks or from having negative opinions. We can’t stop the advertising industry from using “perfect” skinny female models. We can’t change the way TV or movies glorify the woman who can do it all perfectly. But we can stop giving them permission to make us feel inferior. How? Get rid of the rubber band thoughts and change the tuning fork in your head. Huh???

A rubber band thought is when we take a casual comment or event and twist it and stretch it until it means something totally different from the original comment or event. Someone doesn’t return a phone call, and you say, “If they really cared about me they would have called today. They must not really like me. Who am I kidding? No one really likes me anyway.”

These rubber band thoughts are based on distorted thinking patterns. If we could get rid of the distortions, then our thoughts would be based on facts and realities rather than “rubber bands”. I will often ask clients, “Would those thoughts hold up in a court of law? What are the facts?” The fact is that there are hundreds of reasons why someone wouldn’t return a phone call: working late, got sick, car troubles, felt overwhelmed. And the fact is that 99.99% of these reasons have NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU, or your worth as a human being! The client’s comeback is often, “But I feel....” (In court you’d hear, “Objection!”) Negative feelings about our-selves are often based on more rubber band thoughts, distortions.

Changing how we feel about ourselves means listening to what we tell ourselves so that we can then OWN OUR OWN THOUGHTS. When Cindy Crawford appears in a magazine, she is not thinking a thing about you, your body or your worth as a human being. You are! You are the one who is saying, “Her body looks so great, I’m a worthless lump!” Did you recognize the rubber band in that thought? Great! I knew you’d catch on.

But what about when someone does criticize us. That’s the tuning fork. Did you know that if you had two tuning forks that were the same key and you struck one, the second one would start resonating? If they were different, the second one would remain silent. To illustrate this, imagine that someone told you to shave half of your head, paint an American Flag on your face and wear a pink striped square-dance dress to work tomorrow. Most of us would find that nothing happens, there is no resonance. Why? Because you don’t have a tuning fork in your head agreeing with the comment. Now imagine someone saying, “I liked your hair before you cut it.” Wow! Did you feel your tuning fork resonate?

What that means is that when someone criticizes us we also hear an echo of the same criticism in our heads that was already there. Unconsciously we are agreeing with them. But often a tuning fork will turn into a rubber band. For example, your boss loves the report you did but wants you to change the wording to make it more “user friendly”. First the tuning fork, “I should have re-read the section to hear it out loud.” Then the rubber bands, “I never take enough time with my reports. What’s wrong with me. I’ll never get any where with this firm. They must all think I am just a bimbo.”

In this example, the tuning fork was actually helpful. If we had just stopped with the tuning fork we would have learned something valuable that would have made us “Learn and Grow”. But the rubber band thoughts prevent us from making small steps of growth because we twist it into a matter of personal worth.

But what about when the tuning fork isn’t helpful? If, for example, your mother is a very critical person, whenever you see her she starts criticizing your hair, your job, your partner, your vacation plans, etc, etc, etc. It would be so easy to slip into the same pattern of resonance with her and walk away feeling hopeless and worthless. Instead, we need to realize that her negativity is her issue, not ours. We can then remind ourselves that we are working on more important issues in our recovery program. We can reflect upon our many baby steps of progress.

How do we stop our tuning fork? First we need to become aware of what we are telling ourselves. Many women in our society have tuning forks that unconsciously agree that “tall, thin women are superior to short or large women”. If we look at all our thoughts consciously, we find we really don’t agree with them. We can substitute rational factual thoughts that help us achieve what is really important in our lives.

The book, Feeling Good by David Burns, is very helpful in learning how to challenge negative distorted thoughts and substituting rational facts in their place. He advocates writing down your thoughts, but if writing turns you off saying them out loud or making an appointment with yourself to think about it can also work.

I often suggest that you imagine that a friend is with you all day. When you are having rubber band thoughts, ask yourself, “Would I say this to my friend? Would I call my friend a worthless lump?” No? What would you say? You’d tell her that not everyone is genetically designed to look like Cindy Crawford and that she has many attractive qualities of her own. You’d tell her that just because her boss told her to change the wording that she still is a likable and competent person. You’d tell her that just because she can’t please her mother doesn’t mean she is worthless and hopeless. You’d tell her that you like her just the way she is.

Eventually you will be able to tell yourself these things too.

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