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Self-Messages: The Need To Reframe

Crossing boarders always makes me nervous. Even though I do nothing wrong and always declare what I am carrying, I still feel unhinged. My mother used to say it’s the Jewish genes. It comes from generations of ancestors struggling to get in and out of countries during persecution. And so, just the image of a boarder guard stirs up a collective fear.

 

In a similar vein, my friend hates talking to the tax people. Anything dealing with her tax returns sends her into a tailspin. And so I totally understood when she called me in a panic saying she got a letter from the taxation department wanting her to call them in regard to an item she submitted on her tax return. Despite the fact that everything she submitted was honest and backed up with receipts, the very thought of talking to the tax man immobilized her.

 

She told me that she wanted her accountant to deal with it. “That’s why I pay him, right? I know that whatever I say will be wrong. I am just so stupid about these things! I don’t have what it takes to deal with it. I’ll say the wrong thing and they’ll audit me forever.”


I thought about what she had said and what kind of message she was telling herself. Basically she was reinforcing her own insecurity and putting herself down. I called her back and told her how impressed I was with her action. It was so perceptive and smart of her to have the sense to call on people with more expertise than she possessed to handle the situation for her. I told her that her decision to pass the situation on to her accountant took good insight into herself. It wasn’t easy to know which areas of her life she can handle really well and which areas she felt were better handled by the experts.

 

I told her I thought she had made an intelligent choice. She thanked me for the comments, laughed and said, “Isn’t it amazing what reframing does.” Both she and I had basically said the same thing. We had the same plan. But what a difference the words made. Her statements were self-deprecating and insulting. Mine, about her, where reinforcing and praiseworthy.

 

We often put ourselves down and send ourselves negative messages. Negative self-messages only feed into our insecurities and make us feel worse than we already do about ourselves and about the things we have difficulty with. A simple reframing, a way of seeing our action as not only all right, but positive as well, can make all the difference in how we feel about ourselves. It is the first step to bolstering our self-confidence.

 

Well spouses seem to have self-deprecating comments down pat. Always being told what they can do better, being challenged about whether they are doing the right thing and often being criticized by the ill person they care for, well spouses quickly develop the skill of beating themselves up with self- deprecating comments. The greater community teaches them that they need to constantly defend their actions and justify what they are doing, so they cannot help but always second-guess what they decide. Hence they tend to see themselves in a negative way and will often put a negative spin on any comments about themselves.

 

This creates a never-ending spiral. Self-deprecating comments lead to more insecurity, which leads to more self-deprecation.. Being unsure of yourself is revealed in your behavior and so people around you feed into it. If you’re unsure of yourself, your behavior and comments invite people to help you make decisions. This tends to make you feel even more inadequate in your ability to decide what to do on your own. And, so it goes, on and on.

 

There can be a positive way of presenting almost anything. The first step is to stop calling yourself names. “That’s stupid, or I don’t have the brains to do it, or what an idiot I am!” just serves to make you feel bad about yourself. Next, you need to realize that no one has all the answers and no one does everything well. That’s why we have experts.

 

Realize that everyone makes mistakes and that we all need assistance at times. That knowledge makes asking for help a positive choice − a smart thing to do, instead of a negative one. It turns asking for help into a strategy, instead of a response to a feeling of inadequacy. We all need help at times and it is only smart to ask for it when you need it. Lastly, accept your limitations and acknowledge that knowing your limits is smart.

 

Reframe how you talk to yourself. Praise yourself for what you do right and find what you do right in everything you do. Concentrate on what you do well. Acknowledge it and pat yourself on the back, because you really did do a good job. Just reframe your self-talk so that you can see it.

 

You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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