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Negative Emotions in the Pathway to Self-Esteem
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On the last track we discussed the four R's of regaining self-esteem. Have you found, like I have, that as your client grows through these four R's some resulting emotions they may experience are: fear, guilt, a feeling of going crazy, and anger?
Jonathan, a 28 year old payroll clerk for a small manufacturing plant, reported feeling completely isolated from the rest of the world. Jonathan stated, "Ever since I left home I've felt that I won't be able to make a living, and I'll be out on the street. I used to have some money in the bank, but since Amy left, I live paycheck to paycheck. She used to pay half the rent. I always have a knot in my stomach when I get my paycheck. Last Friday, I threw-up when I got home. I'm afraid I won't have enough money, and I won't be able to pay my rent."
Jonathan's fear of financial failure had caused him to put his life on hold. Jonathan told me, "I feel that if I don't work all the time I won't be able keep up at work. But since I'm on salary, no matter how many hours I work I still make the same amount of money."
Four Key Feelings in the Emotional Roller Coaster
Have you found that most clients who are trying to overcome Lifetraps have negatively focused lives? Have your clients already tried a variety of strategies to overcome their Lifetrap? In this case, Jonathan's fear of being homeless created an emotional roller coaster for him. When his strategy of coping failed, he felt a variety of emotions and was on "an emotional roller coaster." I've found that at the core of this emotional roller coaster there are four key feelings. See if this has been your experience as well. Four key feelings that facilitate the "I'm Unlovable" or "I'm unworthy" mindset are fear, guilt, the feeling of "going crazy," and anger.
♦ Feeling # 1 - Fear
The first key feeling is fear. As you know, your clients become accustomed to living their lives in a particular way. Jonathan feared that anything he did would make his situation worse. Fear of change often prohibited him from seeking help in the past and making effective change. Jonathan stated "I know I work too much. I never see my friends anymore. I know I'll never meet anyone like Amy. But if I can't pay my bills and get evicted, they aren't going to want to be my friend anyway, so what does it matter?"
♦ Visualization of a Container Technique
What do you do with your clients, like Jonathan, whose fear of not being able to financially maintain their lifestyle puts them on an emotional roller coaster? Here's what I did. I used a self-soothing technique to decrease the intensity of Jonathan's fear. Self-soothing allowed Jonathan to experience quick physiological and emotional relief. I asked Jonathan to sit comfortably in his chair and imagine a container two feet in front of him. I then asked Jonathan to transfer his fear of being homeless into the container as he counted from 1 to 3. Is the visualization of a container a technique you might utilize with your fearful client?
♦ Feeling # 2 - Guilt
The second key feeling on the emotional "I'm Unlovable" roller coaster is guilt. Do you agree? As you know, constant worrying leaves many clients feeling like they always need to defend themselves from their fears. Jonathan's feeling that he wasn't good enough, wasn't going to survive, and that he was unlovable wore down his resistance to his internal guilt criticisms. One source of guilt came from not being able to keep himself happy and have his needs met ever since Amy left. A second source of guilt for Jonathan happened when he took the blame for not being able to make Amy happy.
Jonathan stated, "If only I'd held on to Amy, I'd be happy." What do you do with your guilt-ridden clients? I found it helpful with Jonathan to tell him it sounded like he was experiencing "If Only" guilt. This increased Jonathan's awareness of the guilt he was creating in himself by his "If Only" self-talk.
♦ Feeling # 3 - Going Crazy
In addition to fear and guilt, many clients express a third emotion I find, best described, as feeling like they're going crazy.
When clients try to confront their Lifetraps head-on rather than taking steps to rid themselves of their Lifetraps, they often find themselves overwhelmed, which may leave them with the feeling of Going-Crazy. Jonathan stated, "I always think I'm not going to have enough money for unexpected expenses, like fixing my car or a high electric bill when the cold weather hits. I sell things I own, just to have enough money. Then, even if I have enough money, I'm afraid I am forgetting to pay something. I feel like I'm going crazy."
Ask yourself, does your client feel like he or she is going crazy? Do they have trouble sleeping? Insomnia? Nightmares? Does your client disconnect from his or her emotions, stating something like, "I shouldn't feel this way?" To what extent do your clients, suffering from Lifetraps, actually feel trapped? Are they sinking into depression? What are indications of your client's loss of his or her sense of self-worth?
♦ Feeling # 4 - Anger
In addition to fear, guilt, and a feeling of going crazy, is a feeling of anger. For the client you currently have in mind, ask yourself, "Has this client gotten to the point where the ultimate compilation of these emotions is anger?" Anger is the fourth emotion in addition to fear, guilt, and going crazy. When Jonathan felt he'd blown the relationship with Amy and wouldn't be able to meet his needs financially, he became angry with himself. He told me, "I feel so angry that I can't be a responsible adult! I can't take care of myself."
♦ Keep an Anger Log
When a client expresses anger towards themselves, I feel it is important that they create an Anger Log. I told Jonathan, "If you find yourself angry, it might be helpful to record the experience." Have you found that documenting the management of anger increases a client's self-awareness? For his anger log, I asked Jonathan to write about the conditions involved in his anger, including any external events and any self-talk preceding, during, and after the experience of anger. I told Jonathan, "Keeping an anger log will help you step back and put your anger in perspective."
I've found, like you may have, that many clients on an emotional roller coaster and feeling "I'm Unlovable" may feel that sorting emotions and making changes seems too overwhelming. I find it helpful to remind clients to do what they can, one step at a time. By sorting out their feelings, things may become clearer, and they'll be more able to take positive action. The next track will discuss clients who experience an emotional roller coaster that result in physical abuse.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Mackinnon, S. P., Smith, S. M., & Carter-Rogers, K. (2015). Multidimensional self-esteem and test derogation after negative feedback. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 47(1), 123–126.
McCarthy, M. H., Wood, J. V., & Holmes, J. G. (2017). Dispositional pathways to trust: Self-esteem and agreeableness interact to predict trust and negative emotional disclosure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 113(1), 95–116.
Libby, L. K., Valenti, G., Pfent, A., & Eibach, R. P. (2011). Seeing failure in your life: Imagery perspective determines whether self-esteem shapes reactions to recalled and imagined failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6), 1157–1173.
What are the four emotions that result from going through the four R's of Regaining Self-Esteem? To select and enter your answer go to .