self-esteem

Pursuing Purpose: What Feels Worthwhile

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Purpose. Impact. Fulfillment. All are meaningful words for a desired way of living we want to maintain in pursuit of a quality life. Society may tell us to find what we love to do and do it for the rest of our life. Individuals tell us to never settle and keep pursuing our dreams. Regardless of how it’s described, pursuit of purpose, passion, or fulfillment can be seen as the driving force behind our behaviors and identity within the world. Influential author and speaker Simon Sinek calls this quest for meaning, “finding your why.”

 

Learning Through Literature

So how does one start the journey in finding their why? For some, it’s engaging in reading material such as Simon Sinek and David Mead’s book, Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team, or exploring your leadership style with Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s Strengths Based Leadership. Perhaps you explore your personality through the Enneagram, which is increasing in popularity over the Myers Briggs Personality Test in its ability to develop insight into how we interact relationally with others from reinforcement in our childhood experiences. Any of these sources could support increased awareness not only of our strengths, but awareness of the psychological driving forces behind our motivation and resulting behaviors. A free version of the Enneagram quiz called EnneaApp can be found through the App Store with additional information and the formal assessment can found at the Enneagram Institute (enneagraminstitute.com).

 

Vetting Values

In addition to read and written assessment, another low-risk option for exploration of purpose and self-discovery can occur through values exercises. Ranking a series of values by level of importance can allow further insight of what motivates a person. By engaging in a values exercise, it allows one to check in on how important values are being experienced both in the present moment and how they can be improved in the future to support feelings of fulfillment.  A free, online resource to engage in exploration of your values can be found by completing the Life Values Inventory (lifevaluesinventory.org).

 

Core Beliefs and Cognitions

Engaging in the progressive work of processing behavior patterns and values can also be explored through therapeutic work. Identifying negative thoughts or core beliefs can create new connections and awareness between actions and reactions. Core beliefs can be described as our deepest, sometimes darkest fears or beliefs about ourselves, usually focusing on negative traits such as feelings of unworthiness, being unlovable, or feelings of failure.  When experienced, core beliefs can engage visceral reactions in the body including intense feelings of shame and fear. When explored through trauma therapy modalities such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), healing can be accelerated and supported to re-write our views of negative beliefs to something more positive, thus improving self-esteem, functioning, and relationships with others.

Whether you engage in the above-mentioned exercises to improve self-esteem, discover your purpose, or develop new insight, know that self-discovery is an exciting, sometimes lengthy process to uncover passion and motivation.  However you go about engaging in “finding your why,” enjoy the process and be gentle with yourself as you uncover your recipe for success to achieve feelings of fulfillment and keep your passions alive!

“When you find your why, you find a way to make it happen.” Eric Thomas

Pursuing Purpose: Engaging in Exploration

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Purpose. Impact. Fulfillment. All are meaningful words for a desired way of living your clients may want to maintain in pursuit of a quality life. Society may tell them to find what they love to do and do it for the rest of their life. Individuals tell your clients to never settle and keep pursuing their dreams. Regardless of how it’s described, pursuit of purpose, passion, or fulfillment can be seen as the driving force behind behaviors and identity within the world. And when it becomes hard to grasp or remains unfound, it can create distress that engages your client in seeking support to find answers. Influential author and speaker Simon Sinek calls this quest for meaning, “finding your why.”

 

Learning Through Literature

So how does one start the journey in finding their why? For some, it’s engaging in reading material such as Simon Sinek and David Mead’s book, Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team, or exploring your leadership style with Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s Strengths Based Leadership. Perhaps you explore your client’s personality through the Enneagram, which is increasing in popularity over the Myers Briggs Personality Test in its ability to develop insight into how one interacts relationally with others from reinforcement in childhood experiences. Any of these sources could support increased awareness not only of strengths, but awareness of the psychological driving forces behind motivation and resulting behaviors. A free version of the Enneagram quiz called EnneaApp can be found through the App Store with additional information and the formal assessment can found at the Enneagram Institute (enneagraminstitute.com). Engaging clients in processing the results of the Enneagram quiz can support insight into how they best relate to others when engaging in collaborative activity or to identify strategies for strengthening of their relationships.

 

Vetting Values

In addition to reading or other homework regarding the Enneagram, another approachable option for exploration of purpose and self-discovery can occur through values exercises. Ranking a series of values by level of importance can allow further insight of what motivates a person. By engaging in a values exercise, it allows one to check in on how important values are being experienced both in the present moment and how they can be improved in the future to support feelings of fulfillment.  A free, online resource to engage in exploration of your values can be found by completing the Life Values Inventory (lifevaluesinventory.org). As a helping professional, you may also invest in making or buying value cards that are easy to sort as part of therapeutic activity. The act of sorting presents as a low risk activity and encourages clients to remain aware of their gut reactions rather than finding themselves in analysis paralysis, which allows authentic processing outside of society pressures or others’ values influence.

 

Core Beliefs and Cognitions

Engaging in the progressive work of processing behavior patterns and values can also be explored through therapeutic work. Identifying negative thoughts or core beliefs can create new connections and awareness between actions and reactions. Core beliefs can be described as our deepest, sometimes darkest fears or beliefs about ourselves, usually focusing on negative traits such as feelings of unworthiness, being unlovable, or feelings of failure.  When experienced, core beliefs can engage visceral reactions in the body including intense feelings of shame and fear. When explored through trauma therapy modalities such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), healing can be accelerated and supported to re-write client views of negative beliefs to something more positive, thus improving self-esteem, functioning, and relationships with others.

 

Career Counseling

One final therapeutic element that can support clients in pursuing purpose is career counseling. Career counselors, by trade, support individuals in discovering their strengths, possible career paths, and can support clients in preparing for career interviews, resumes, and choice of higher education if desired.

Whether you engage your client in the above-mentioned exercises to improve self-esteem, discover purpose, or develop new insight, reassuring your clients that self-discovery is an exciting, sometimes lengthy process to uncover passion and motivation can set realistic expectations for your therapeutic work.  However they go about engaging in “finding their why,” it is the hope that they enjoy the process and engage fully to uncover their recipe for success and achieve feelings of fulfillment!

Geared towards Growth: Exploring Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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Have you had a client come into your office wanting to work on their relationships? What about a client who wants to work on self-worth and self-esteem? These goals are valuable and achievable, and could greatly benefit your client in their functioning and connection in the world.  However, depending on your client’s stressors and current life events, basic needs may need to be attended to first in order to achieve the growth and progress desired within your therapeutic work.

 

Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow first introduced the concept of a Hierarchy of Needs in a paper published in 1943. The image found most often in reference to his concept is a pyramid with the bottom representing the building block or foundation for higher functioning. According to Maslow, every human being has needs that must be met and stable prior to advancement to another level of human need. The levels he identified begin with physiological needs, followed by safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and finally, self-actualization. Below are some examples of needs for each level:

  • Physiological: food, water, oxygen, sex, sleep, excretion
  • Safety: security of shelter, employment, resources, health, body
  • Love & Belonging: family, friends, intimate partners
  • Esteem: confidence, self-esteem, respect by others, respect for self
  • Self-Actualization: Acceptance, lack of prejudice, enlightenment

 

Goals for Growth

So how do the levels of need impact your client’s therapeutic work? For many helping professionals, the awareness of the hierarchy manifest through client psychoeducation around basic needs. Perhaps your client wants to work fully on their relationships, but is impacted by the stress of not having a job to pay their bills. Maybe your client wants to strengthen self-esteem, but can’t identify housing in suffering from an eviction this month. The present crises will require therapeutic attention and intervention first prior to a client allotting mental energy to higher levels of functioning.

Within your work, it can be helpful to normalize and educate your clients on basic needs being the foundation for functioning. You may consider describing the imagery as basic needs being the foundation of a house. If the foundation is crumbling, the other parts of the house become low priority or unseen in trying to stabilize the problem due to risks of it all collapsing around them. With this analogy, clients can absorb the importance of a stable foundation of basic needs requiring their attention before other goals can be successfully met.

 

Accessing Needs

A stable foundation may require other resources outside of your office. As a helping professional, it is in your best interest to be aware of resources to provide additional support to your client. The databases in your state, (Colorado Crisis Services and Colorado 2-1-1 for example) can be helpful in identifying food, shelter, clothing, legal advice and more.  You may also consider coordination with helpful organizations that would warrant a release from your client in order to collaborate.

Assessing needs can also occur from a place of looking at client resistance. One way this may manifest is through your client’s capacity to work on homework or assigned tasks between sessions.  Although some clients don’t like homework out of personal choice, other clients may struggle to articulate the crises that prevent progress on the homework you assigned, including forgetfulness, loss of focus, or stressors demanding their attention instead. This attempt at juggling varying demands could even translate to cancelled sessions in trying to handle the stressors at home or work. By being aware of basic needs, it can help you as the professional to better understand contributing factors that may present like resistance as elements requiring attention to support client progress.

 

Maintenance and Motivation

With collaboration and stabilization of basic needs come the client’s motivation for maintaining the foundation.  It is the hope that client’s basic needs, once addressed, remain in good standing.  However, with clients experiencing poverty, trauma, or other adversity, the fluctuating circumstances of their life can delay progress on higher functioning goals. Encouraging ongoing boundaries and self-care can support the client in reaching higher goals around self-esteem and relationships. With awareness and effort, a client can harness a healthy sense of control and autonomy in their life. Remaining flexible to the stressors that may occur between sessions, it is important that you and your client continue to be mindful of what takes precedence to allow the deeper, meaningful work you both value to occur at the appropriate time.

Supporting Self-Esteem: Tools to Identify Strengths

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“I don’t know what to say. I was raised not to talk about myself. I don’t want to sound cocky.” You are engaging your client in an intake session where you’ve created an intentional, positive shift from an otherwise heavy series of questions about symptoms including details as to why they are seeking therapy. Your new client appears caught off guard by your questions about strengths and they struggle to identify anything that is going well, or things they like about themselves. You make a note to identify a possible goal around self-worth and self-esteem, to be explored with the client upon building more rapport.

So how does one engage a client in exploring their strengths while acknowledging the vulnerability to do so? For many, talking about elements they like about themselves or their resiliency may be difficult when entrenched in negative emotions.  For example, a client experiencing a depressive episode may have a hard time identifying any emotions of hope or former pleasure based on their current negative cognitions around hopelessness and feeling stuck.

 

Look to the Past

For depression and being entrenched in symptoms, it can be easier for a client to recall the events or strengths of the past than experience the present or predict the future. By engaging a client in exploring what would formerly describe their circumstance, you can encourage the initial stages of cognitive reframing and thus rewiring from negative to positive thought. Some examples of questions to support access to the past can be found below.

  • Is there a time you felt confident? Can you tell me more about that?
  • When is a time you felt like everything was going well? What made it so?
  • Wisdom, Sacrifice, Kindness. Can you share a time you demonstrated each of these strengths?
  • What is one thing you are happy or satisfied with in your life?
  • What is one thing you like about yourself?

Engaging a client in reflection on these elements can support new awareness and positive feeling through revisiting pleasant memories. By exploring former experiences, the client may be able to identify ways to rediscover those experiences in the present.

 

Likeable and Lovable

If a client continues to struggle with identifying their strengths, it can be helpful to engage them on the thoughts and statements of others that know them well.  You may find asking them what their mother, sister, friend, partner, or close colleague would say about them if those relationships are healthy. Here are some ways you could explore self-image through the eyes of others:

  • What would your mom say is one of your strengths?
  • What compliments have you received from others about your efforts at work?
  • How would you be described by your best friend?
  • What do you think your partner appreciates most about you?
  • If you were represented by an actor for a movie, who would that be and why?

By encouraging the client to explore loved one’s statements or compliments as a reflection of their own strengths, it may remove some pressure to identify them on their own while still encouraging positive thought and reflection.

 

Sort and Seek

A reflection tool that can further encourage exploration of strengths and thus improve self-esteem is a value sort. A value sort instructs clients to review a list of values and narrow down their choices based on order of importance. This can allow clients to explore their values and make connections to how those values are being represented in their life. A favorite tool is the value card sort, currently being used by mental health professionals and some universities. In the value card sort, a stack of values is sorted into levels of importance including minimal, moderate, and most important. Client are instructed to go with their gut and sort quickly, supporting a narrowing of values to the top seven most important to the client. Reflection can then be encouraged by asking the client the following questions:

  • How are these seven values represented in your life currently?
  • How are these values represented in work, home, and relationships?
  • What needs to be changed or improved to maintain these values for you?
  • How would enhancing or improving these values in your life help you?

For many, exploring their values and current representation in their life can support a movement towards measurable goals to improve those values, thus improving sense of control, pursuit of happiness, and higher self-esteem.