Self-Esteem’s Nemesis: “Deserve”

If I could give only one piece of insight to a person asking me about Self-Esteem and Self-Worth it would be this:  Swap the word “deserve” for “worth” in your vocabulary. It’s a simple distinction verbally, and yet within our amazing mind’s and bodies, the difference is like night and day.

The Danger of “Deserve” 

When we say we deserve something, no matter what “it” is, what we are really saying is that we’ve done something to earn said “it.”  Literally.  The dictionary defines deserve as: [verb] “do something or have or show qualities worthy of (reward or punishment)” Basically, when we use the word “deserve” we’re are teaching our bodies, and our minds, that our worth comes from the things we do.  The way we act.  The choices we make. The amount we give. It sets up a sort of quid pro quo within ourselves, that our value is based on giving and then receiving.  That our value exists only in relation to other external things and/or people.  That we have to give in order to have worth, and that our worth is measured by what we get back.  In other words, we can give until we are empty, homeless, exhausted, totally depleted and if we don’t get back something that fills us up, makes us feel valuable, or is equal to the amount we’ve given then our internal belief becomes that we haven’t worked hard enough, we haven’t earned our value, and therefore we have no worth. Scary, right?!

The Value in “Worth”

On the other hand, when we say we are “worth” something, we are saying to our minds and bodies that we, beautiful, flawed, unique, authentic us- have value, and we are worth said it. Check out the definition for worth: [adjective] 1. are equal to particular amount 2. important enough to justify something Do ya see the difference? When we are worth something, we are “important enough to justify” it.  We get to have said it because we. are. valuable.  We, us, who we are just because we are alive, have value.  We are important.  We matter. We are worth being treated with respect. We are worth having nice things happen to us. We are worth being paid attention to.

We are worth being loved.

We are worthy of love from ourselves.  From our families.  From life.  We, just as we are, not because of what we do, are worth love. So, start Today.  Start the process of learning to see your value by removing the word “deserve” from your vocabulary, and embracing your worth.  You, yes YOU, are important enough to justify this swap. You matter.  You are worth love.    

“3 Simple Rules in Life:” How They Can Help Improve Self-Esteem

  Growth, change, healing, self-worth all require these 3 rules.  There is a common misconception that self-esteem is something we are born with;  that we either have it or we don’t.   The truth is self-esteem is earned, created, developed, strengthened, and worked for.   Our self-worth is like any muscle in our bodies, it has to be used and pushed to get stronger. These “3 Simple Rules in Life” are great reminders of the steps and effort that self-esteem require. 1.  Deciding what we want and then going for it are key steps to increasing self-esteem and satisfaction in life.  The key is being aware that we will hit some bumps in the road along the way.  Personal growth and increased self-worth come from surviving the bumps, not giving up, and finding a way to create success in the face of challenge.  Through struggle we grow!  Sometimes we can learn more from our misses than we do from our successes.  Going for it is what’s ultimately important for our self-worth. 2.Voicing our wants, desires, interests, curiosities, and hopes is how those things become reality.  And as far as your self-esteem goes this is a win-win situation!  Standing up for yourself, realizing and expressing your want(s) strengthens your self-esteem on its own.  Then, either getting or not getting your want gives us new opportunities to further develop self-esteem.  Either by celebrating our success or by giving us a chance to redefine what we want and how we go after it. 3. I like to use a quote by Samwise Gamgee in Lord or the Rings when tackling this step with my clients, “one more step and I’ll be one step further away from home then I’ve ever been before.”  Self-worth isn’t created over night, but it also doesn’t just show up knocking at your door.  We have to take steps, usually baby steps, to strengthen and change our self-worth.  Growing is not comfortable, growing is pushing past our point of comfort to something new; it’s taking just one step farther from home then we’ve ever been before. How can you use these “3 simple rules” to help strengthen your self-esteem?    

Are You “Should-ing” All Over Your Relationship?


I am in the middle of reading an amazing book, I Thought it Was Just Me (but it’s not): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power by Brene Brown.  Brene Brown is a researcher who has spent the last 10 years studying women and shame.  In her book, Brene primarily focuses on how shame effects, influences women.  For me, as a couple’s counselor, I can’t help but make the connections between shame and relationships.

One aspect that Brene explores, that specifically relates to relationships, is how shame is all about perception; shame is how we see ourselves, and our relationships, from other people’s perspective.  In other words, we base what we “should” and/or “shouldn’t”do around what other people might think of us.

“The Should-ing”

We all have “should’s” in our lives.  We start learning them before we can even talk.  We learn ways that we “should” eat, play, wash, talk, study, work, manage money, raise our kids, clean our house, choose a car to drive, or a book to read, or a wine to purchase, or which extra activities we participate in, and even how to show our love and appreciate for others.  Really, the list could go on forever!  It becomes so second nature for us to “should” ourselves, that sometimes we forgot to stop and figure out if the “should” is even what we want. I see this all the time with the couples I work with!  Both come into the relationship with their own “should’s” for what a successful/happy relationship looks like.  How could they not, right?  And when I ask them what they want in a relationship, they have a hard time answering, because they don’t know. Often, we end up letting the desire to be seen as the hot, fun, most in love, magical, special, best, successful couple rule what we think we “should” do in our relationship.  Overtime, this creates disconnection and distance in our relationships, and soon our relationships becomes a “should do” like work, vs. a want to do.

The Good News

The good news is that we can change this!   Just like there isn’t one perfect profession for everyone, there isn’t one perfect relationship model for everyone either.  The best part of being in a relationship is that you get to create it to be whatever you want it to be!

What I mean by this….

Now, yes, there are some basic traits that successful relationships tend to have.  For example, John Gottman’s research has shown that a couple’s “ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitably in any relationship,” directly relates to the fulfillment and strength of the relationship.  So while the skill of conflict resolution is important in relationships, how you resolve conflict in your relationship is up to you. The HOW is yours to change, create, make, tailor to you and your relationship. It’s part of what makes relationships great, and yet we tend to forget this simple concept.  We get to create the relationship we want!  If you want to have taco Tuesday’s you can.  If you want Santa to visit your kids twice a year, guess what, you can.  If you want to plan in separate vacations each year, again, you can.  You want to resolve conflict by talking with funny accents….you can!

How you might be “should-ing” on your relationship

When our idea’s of what our relationship “should” look like, or how we “should” handle conflict, or what our partner “should” do for us comes from how we want to be perceived by others vs. what works for us, we end up “shoulding” all over our relationship.  (And let me tell you, “shoulding” feels just the way it’s similarly sounding friend {wink} feels when it happens to you!) Here’s a simple way to figure out some of the places you may be “should-ing” on your relationship without even knowing it…
  1. List out all the things you do in your relationship.  Include work, kids, money, entertainment, vacations, house chores…. anything and every area you can think of.
  2. Put a check by all the ones you do because you feel somehow, or in some way, like you “should” do.
  3. Now, circle the ones that are left that you do just because you love them.
  4. Ask yourself if this list of circled items they way you want to live your life?  Is it enough to fulfill you?

If not, stop”should-ing” on your relationship, and start creating the relationship of your dreams, literally!


How to Make Your Partner Feel Loved

In my last post we explored how the Golden Rule can actually be harming your relationship because it assumes that your partner wants and appreciates the same things you do. Now, when I share this concept with my clients, most totally get it, and yet have serious difficulties applying this concept to their relationship.   It may take a little effort, but this is one of the most helpful concepts to become skilled at understanding for your relationship: it’s not up to your partner to learn the way you express love, it’s up to you to learn the way your partner feels love.

Why is this distinction so important?

Understanding and applying this seemingly subtle distinction is very important in relationships because when you do things the way your partner experiences love it fills him/her up, but when you ask your partner to experience love from your way, you actually deplete them. There are already so many life stressors’ that cause stress and tax us, especially in our relationships.  Bills, in-laws, cleaning, work, friends, children, ex’s can all take their toll and leave us feeling depleted and tired.  It’s normal, natural, and happens in every relationship.  But here’s the thing- when you are feeling depleted and tired, how much tolerance do you have?  How strong is your ability to compromise?  To understand?  To communicate?  For most of us, these areas are all significantly decreased by being depleted and tired; yet our irritability, short temper, anger, and hurt skyrocket. Now think about how you handle the life’s stressors when you are well rested, happy, and content.  How much stronger is your ability to compromise, communicate, and understand?

Running on a full tank vs. an empty one

It’s like with your car, you’ve got to take time to fill up the gas tank before you run out of gas to keep your car running.   Showing your partner appreciation in a way they feel it, is like filling up their gas tank.  It gives them fuel to more easily handle the stressors in life, and to better navigate the waters of your relationship.

Here’s a few questions to ask yourself to help kick start you understanding of this concept

How do you express love to others, especially your partner? What makes you feel the most loved and cared about? How does your partner express their love? What makes them feel the most loved and cared about? Have you ever asked your partner what makes them feel the most loved? What forms of love are you most comfortable expressing?  What forms are you most uncomfortable expressing? How do these (answers from above) influence your assumptions of what your partner likes?      

An Example of Couples Education

In my past post I shared how I feel like my title should actually be Couple’s Educator instead of Couple’s Counselor.  So this time I thought it might be helpful to share an example of this.  We all know the Golden Rule “do unto others as you would have done unto you,” and many of us try to live by this code.  Seems nice, respectful, helpful, and what “good people” do, right?

What you might not realize, is that when it comes to relationships, the Golden Rule can be the kiss of death!

I’m serious!  This rule that we all learned back in kindergarten can be the downfall of your relationship.

Here’s my example of just how it can be damaging….

Let’s say there is a couple named Ross and Rachael. Ross grew up with 8 brothers and sisters, in the country, with little money.  In his family when it was someone’s birthday they got to pick what the family had for dinner that night, and everyone else pitched in and did their chores for the day. Rachael on the other hand, grew up an only child, in the city, with lot’s of money.  When it was her birthday, her parents threw her huge parties with clown’s, balloon animals, jumping houses, cotton candy machines- the works. As adults, Ross and Rachael meet, fall madly in love, and get married.  During their first year of marriage both really try hard to do things they think the other will like and appreciate, including birthday celebrations.   Ross has the first birthday and Rachael throws him a huge surprise party in their back yard.  All their friends and family are invited, it’s catered, there is live music, and a dance floor- it’s an elaborate celebration.  During the party Ross is a bit withdrawn and quiet and so Rachael asks him, “What’s wrong, don’t you like the party?”  Ross responds with, “You didn’t put this on the credit card, did you?” Rachael is heartbroken and hurt, she bursts into tears and feels totally unappreciated.  Ross feel frustrated, embarrassed, uncomfortable, and totally unsure about what just happened. Then, a few month’s later it’s Rachael’s birthday. Ross makes a point of coming home from early that day and says to her, “Baby, I want to take you out to dinner tonight.  Anywhere you want to go.  You pick it, and we’ll head out.  And, I want you to know that this weekend, no matter what, every single thing on that honey-do list you have for me, it’s getting done!  I don’t care how long it takes me, I promise I’ll get through the whole list.”  Rachael’s response to this birthday offering, “Is that all?!?” Again Rachael feels hurt, let down, and unappreciated.  Ross feels confused, frustrated, and again, totally unsure about what went wrong.

The message in this….

It’s a simple example, with a big message in it.  Both Ross and Rachael did things that appear nice, loving, and appreciative but here’s the catch, it was based on what they would want and appreciate not on what the other one would want and appreciate.

Can you see the difference?

So often in relationships we get excited and focused on what would feel good to us and totally forget that our partner is a different person than we are.  We do like we were taught in kindergarten, follow the Golden Rule with the best of intentions, and yet come out feeling like crap.  Then in the future, it’s the crap feeling we remember and focus on, and we begin to put less effort into surprising, or building up, or showing appreciation to our partner for fear of being shot down again.

So, how do we go about changing this cycle?

We start by asking our partner what they would like, and then believe them when they tell us! If you have a hard time believing them, tell them that.  Try explaining that it is so different from what you would want, that it’s hard for you to understand that they will be happy with their request.  Let them in to your world, and what you’d want, and then have fun comparing and contrasting what they want. In the end, the Golden Rule is about not hurting other people; it’s about treating people with respect.  By opening up this conversation with your partner, and learning more about them and their interests, you can follow the Golden Rule and have a happy successful relationship!

Couple’s Educator?

I came across this article on the Huffington Post discussing how women remarry less often than men, and I have to say, it broke my heart.   To summarize, the author, Nina Collins, shares her thoughts and feelings on how marriage is for 20 and 30 something’s with lots of energy, because men, and relationships, require too much energy and care for 40-something’s who have been through a divorce.

This is heartbreaking to me!

As a couple’s counselor, and a wife of almost 8 years, I am very aware of the difficulties and struggles of long-term relationships. Relationships can be hard and they certainly do take work.   But, to reach the point where you’d rather not be in a relationship at all because the negatives outweigh the positives sounds devastating to me. 

I can’t help but wonder is this a reflection on relationships, or our knowledge and know-how of relationships?

Statistically, second, third, fourth (and so on) marriages end in even higher divorce rates the larger the marriage number gets. Yet, studies have shown over and over again, that as humans we age more gracefully and live longer and healthier when we have relationships in our lives, and that our happiness levels do not increase with divorce.

Why is this?

I believe this is because we are not educated on the how-to’s of romantic relationships like we are in so many other areas of our life.  Think about the areas you are most successful in: work, sports, hobbies, organizational skills, cooking, reading, politics?  Now estimate how much time you invest in these activities each day, and how many years you’ve spent investing in them.  You’ve probably put 10,000’s of hours into developing, researching, and learning about your professional life, how many hours have you spent developing, researching, and/or learning about your relationship? There is so much information out there that can help make relationships easier, more successful, and more enjoyable.  It’s up to each of us to seek it out, and to educate ourselves on the how-to’s of relationships.

Why Couple’s Educator?

It’s funny, my title is Marriage & Family Therapist, and most people call me a counselor, but really what I do is educate couples on relationships. I help couples to look at the ideas, beliefs, expectations that they came into the relationship with, and then sort out what really happens in a relationship, what a long term relationship really looks like, and how they can create a happy, fulfilling, secure, drama-free relationship by letting go of the expectations they came into the relationship with and creating their own expectations, definitions, and system. So really, I guess my title should be Couple’s Educator {wink}. This distinction is so important!  The couples I work with who view (or learn to view) what we do together as a learning tool vs. fixing the relationship, or the other person, are the ones who see huge success.   Not only do these couples (and individuals) learn to interact with each other in a more productive way but they also learn problem-solving skills, so things don’t boil up to the exploding point in the future. Maybe a little relationship understanding and know-how is all your relationship needs?

5 Step Forgiveness Plan (Step 5)

The fifth and final step in my 5-Step forgiveness plan…

Forgive yourself if old negative feelings flare up again, and simply repeat the first 4 steps whenever they are needed.

“Forgiveness is a journey. Today you can forgive and tomorrow you can feel the pain all over again” Anne Gallagher.  I think this quote is so true and so telling of forgiveness. Sometimes the pain comes back to us because we are new a learning to forgive, and it takes getting used to. Sometimes the pain comes back because it’s been our “go to” defense for a long time and we have to retrain ourselves to respond in a different way. Sometimes the pain comes back because a new hurt touches upon hurts we’ve carried for a long time. Sometimes the pain comes back because we are sad about something or someone we lost. No matter what the cause or reason for the pain coming back letting yourself face and experience the sadness, or the real emotion, will bring much more healing and relief than letting resentment and anger back into your life.

5 Step Forgiveness Plan (Step 3)

All right, so we’ve reviewed steps 1 (move beyond the anger), and 2 (take care of yourself), in my 5-Step Forgiveness Plan. Now we are ready to move onto step 3. Step 3 is a really important component of this process, not that all the steps aren’t important, because they are, but step 3 is where you really start taking back the power over your own feelings and begin to see whatever happened in a new light.

Step 3- Find 3 things you are grateful for that wouldn’t have happened without this hurt.

There is a ripple effect to everything! Sometimes we have to look hard for it, but there is always something good, that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, that comes out of something bad.
  • Maybe we discover strength we didn’t know we had
  • Maybe we reconnected or deepened our connection with someone else as a result of what happened
  • Maybe this door closing opened a window to a path we would have never seen before
  • Maybe we found a new job that doesn’t suck our soul dry
  • Maybe we discovered a new passion in life
  • Maybe we were kept from heading down the wrong path for our core self
  • Maybe we were kept from making a big mistake
  • Maybe we were kept from giving our life, love, and support from someone who doesn’t deserve it
  • Maybe we were jolted into fully living and experiences our life instead of sleepwalking though our days
If you look for it, you will find the ways that the ripple effect has influenced your life, and begin to see the original injury or hurt in a new light. When you make the connection between this hurtful event and the wonderful things that have happened in your life as a result of it, (which sometimes can be a step or two removed from it- meaning that the event lead you to them in a round about way) it will be effortless to let go of the anger and resentment. If you watched The Bachelorette this week, you heard Ali refer to one of my favorite quotes after getting her heart broken by Frank: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”- Eleanor Roosevelt. This is exactly why I love step 3 so much! Step 3 is about taking charge of your own life and the path you’ve taken and seeing it more clearly from your own lens and making it all about YOU! It takes the power away from what they did and gives it back to you. So, what 3 things are you grateful for that you that you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise?

5 Step Forgiveness Plan (Step 1)

Gosh, can you believe it’s July already?  June just flew by, and now July seems to be doing the same thing!  Checking the calendar, I realize I’ve gotten a bit (OK, maybe more than a bit) behind on my newsletter and blog posting, so I’ve decided to take a page out of my own play book, and create more balance in my life (and blog) by making my newsletter into a bimonthly topic instead of a monthly topic. I am finding that I have more to say about each topic than one month allows, so I am going to take advantage of time and dedicate 2 months to each topic.  Hopefully, this will allow me to share more thoughts with you guys, and time for you to actually read and process what I write. That being said, I am going to use the month of July to break my 5 step forgiveness plan into a few posts.  My hope is that giving you each step one by one will allow you to follow and experience the forgiveness process in real time vs. just reading about it and trying to apply it on your own later. So here we go…..

Step 1-Move Beyond Anger

I know this can sound like a difficult step, in fact you may have thought that this step alone is forgiveness, but it’s not.  This is where the journey to real, genuine forgiveness begins. Anger and resentment are really just brave faces we put on to mask our real hurts from those who hurt us, and sometimes from ourselves.  Staying in anger is easy because it makes whatever happened about the other person’s actions and not the hurt we felt as a result of their actions. Staying angry and resentful keeps us treading water so to speak, or surface level.  Which makes complete sense- I mean we did just get our feelings hurt! But remaining at surface level does not allow us to heal and move on.  Moving beyond anger to what your real feelings are is like treating an illness vs. treating it’s symptoms.   So for step 1, take some time and figure out why this really hurts, or is embarrassing, or feels like it’s happened before, or has brought out such intense emotion in you. Allow yourself to get in touch with these real feelings, and just simply acknowledge them.  You’ll be amazed the relief this brings.

Forgiveness Podcast

Hi again!

In my last post we explored resistance causing misconceptions about forgiveness, and one of the biggest misconceptions that tends to keep us stuck where we are is that forgiveness is an all or nothing, black or white process.  But this simply isn’t true.  Forgiveness is a journey. To help you start this journey, and to change things up a bit, (not to mention, give you a break from all the reading!) I created a podcast with one of my favorite and most respected colleagues, Aimee Heffernan.  Thanks Aimee! In this podcast, Aimee and I discuss helpful ways to decrease resentment in your relationship, making the journey towards forgiveness a bit easier.

Please download the podcast here.Forgiveness MP3

To download an MP3 above, RIGHT-CLICK on the link and select ‘save-target’. Mac users should do a Control+Click.
If you’d like a copy of the forgiveness exercise Aimee shares in this podcast, you can download that here. Forgiveness Exercise. For more of Aimee’s wisdom and insights please check out her blog.