Wednesday, October 03, 2012

How to Be You

This was going to be a Snapshots post, but I couldn't find a snapshot of identity.  This one goes around the world to get to where I want us to be.  And for the record, only applies if and when it applies.  In other words, as with every other intervention, it may not work for you and isn't intended to work for everyone.

I'm finally beginning to see why the "ultra-Orthodox" (Yids/Jewish observant), tend to shy away from therapy.  It isn't the stigma so much as a certain confidence, a can-do spirit, belief that the power of change resides in the individual.  Not all that different, philosophically, than any school of individual therapy.

Without examining history, religious codes (no disrespect here, some of the best scientists are/were quite obsessive about code) do not always account for extenuating circumstances. Ask your local rabbi/clergy-person if yours apply.

Let's move on.

We just finished rounds one and two of the Jewish High Holiday season, and are in the middle of the relief holiday, Succot.  What this means is that is that if your therapist is Jewish, she didn't return your calls religiously and left apologetic voice mail about getting back to you in a couple of days.

You know the drill.  "If this is an emergency, dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room."

Most think that this means we're partying, having huge dinners and drinking lots of wine and shots of whiskey (Canadian whiskey, we're Jews, with although some do prefer Scotch; vodka, if Russian).  But in fact, the New Year implies judgement of the world, according to this tradition, judgement of the universe, of you and of me. New Years kicks off the holiday season with pause.

In this system of belief, any losses, any gains, for that matter, that any one of us will incur from now until the next Jewish New Year's Day, are determined on Rosh HaShana, New Year's Day.  That's what we think, anyway, and it is a good system, because it gives us a fresh start.  Each Rosh HaShana (a two-day affair, considered one long day), observant Jews go over their errors and ask forgiveness from friends and family. It is assumed that we hurt them in some way over the past year.  And we ask forgiveness from the Old Mighty, too, for being scofflaws, ignoring the rules that don't seem to make much sense sometimes, even those that do.

The serious self-examination begins toward the end of the summer, a personal inventory familiar to addicts and alcoholics who work 12-Step programs.  Jews stay up very late and pray at midnight, or get up really early in the morning.  It's that time of year  She* is listening.  Might as well talk it out.

This tends to wear people out, and you might notice, if you know about these things, that your Orthodox friends and physicians are a little cranky and tired this time of year. All the prayer and self-criticism wear a person down. Then, at the end of that long New Year's day, it all shakes out, whether or not we get to live another year, even whether or not there will be a 9-11, something catastrophic.  Perhaps who will become the next President.  The decree is written in pencil.

Ten days later, on another holiday all is engraved in pen, hopefully for the better.  On Yom Kippur, the Day of Judgement, there's a huge push to confess our wrong-doing while fasting, to apologize for the many arrogant, selfish, callous, careless, base, deliberate or accidental, no matter, unbecoming things we did or inspired others to do over the previous year.  It is the date people dread, not unlike an on-the-job performance evaluation, the one that goes in the permanent record.  We know the standards are high, but bank on the character traits of our Supervisor to see us through, primarily mercy.  Those who have been working their program are not afraid, even feel excited, joyous.  Those who haven't are scared.

I imagine all of the religions have something quite similar, some seasonal way of changing life around,  and use ritual to accomplish the job.

Our ritual is a little harsh, the whole staying up late, getting up early thing.  On Yom Kippur, to be more like that divinity, there is a 25 hour fast, no food, no drink.  Jews wear white, shy away from leather, which is nice, actually.  The truly pious are on their feet most of the day.  You wouldn't sit in the presence of a flesh and blood king.  This time of year you can practically touch an ephemeral king. Heck, we're practically kissing.  Talk about mixed emotions.

In this process, if a person has managed to figure out what to change, how to be a better person, it is a happy day.  An entry in the Good Book is assumed after the fast, a fast that atones for everything, it is hoped, although it helps to repent, pray, and give charity.

Bear with me.  What has this to do with therapy?

Because in fact, to truly keep a promise for change is nearly impossible, which is probably why we repeat the process year after year.  The hope is that we'll work on ourselves over time, over the years.  Two steps forward, one step back.

Now.  The therapeutic intervention, one that compares, is inspired by religious fanaticism.  If it is good enough for the rabbi, it is good enough for us.  Can't hurt to at least read about it.  Nobody needs to fast in this intervention to develop more self-esteem, more self-respect. And none of us have to be like the rabbi in the story below, although it couldn't hurt.

We will need a bit of self-discipline, however.


A great Rabbi scrupulously examined his ways before every meal.  He didn't eat breakfast without reviewing the hours between breakfast and last night's dinner, how he had messed up, forgot to do something good, unintentionally did something bad.  Then he didn't eat lunch without reviewing the hours between breakfast and lunch in the same fashion.  He didn't eat dinner without first reviewing the hours between lunch and dinner.

You would say, Well, he had a great job!  He had so much time on his hands!  Discretionary time!  He had lunch!  And he's paid to do things like this, perfect himself.

I would answer that this is true, but we make our time, much of it.  Certainly the few minutes before every bite aren't clocked.  Most of us have a day off, too, some kind of weekend, and many of us work from home.  We don't want to do this, is the better answer.  It isn't something any one of us wants to do, waste time really examining our behavior.

And it is denial, let's call it as it is, that gets us into the most trouble.


A variation on our rabbi's method gives the nod to meditation and mindfulness which improve clarity, and also require discipline.

We'll take a look at one problem area, low self-esteem, which isn't a behavior but can change with alternative behaviors.

Low self-esteem leads to anxiety which leads to avoidance or indecisiveness, which reinforce low self-esteem.  Simply doing things is hard when you have low self-esteem.


Those who suffer this problem have trouble making a move without looking to other people for cues, seeing what they're doing.  When friends are wearing yellow, they will go with yellow.  If they know they are going to see a particular movie, they ask their friends what is good and will see it, even if they hate the genre.

Once called other directed-ness, now Looking Glass Theory, whatever you want to call it, the thrust is that when a person is this anxious over decisions, a fluid identity is at the core of the problem. Fluidity doesn't work when it comes to self and decisions.  A cohesive identity is a building block for self-esteem.

Needing instruction (the old Onion's joke about Oprah readers waiting for instruction), implies less self-esteem, less self-confidence.  Less self.  Not always true, obviously, but that joke works on the kernal of truth, as all do.

Developing a more stable identity, the obvious goal, requires some work.  Our intervention, therefore, does, too.  Yet it is fairly easy to remember.

1. You write down everything about yourself: values, habits, who you think you are, how you appear to others, especially.

2.  On a second page, examine the list and determine if what you wrote about yourself resembles the real you at all.  The real you, you see, is the person that you want to be.

3.  On a third page, write down those ideals, the values, habits, and personality traits that you want.  It is much harder, of course, to work on not being depressed, or not being angry.  Here emotions have to be defined in behavioral terms.  A therapist might need to be called in.

If you do this daily, refer to each list, concentrate on the person that you want to be, at least once a day, it has an impact.  It saves time in therapy.  Just knowing where we want to go is half the battle.  Therapy can help with the rest of the war.

Why It Won't Always Work, and Why It Isn't For Everyone

It is universal, even with narcissists, to think we are just not good enough as is.  It is how we are made.

And victims of child abuse and neglect are going to have more trouble accepting, loving themselves.  They can be obsessed, like the rabbi, with self-improvement, when they are often the most wonderful people in the world.

Their change is to see themselves as they are, as is, as good people, and loving themselves

Not so simple, usually requires a different morning, lunchtime and evening ritual.  Affirmations help here.  Calendars, little books.  You find them in the store.  Maybe not The Onion, so much.


(If you prefer Him, go for it, we merely assume on this blog that being made second, females are an improved lot).


modern psychotherapy said...

be who you are..don't pretend and don't copy cat..its better to show to the world on who you are..

Therapy Sites said...

Be Yourself. Be yourself is a sentence that is quite possibly the most commonly used phrase in the history of advice. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Michael Salas said...

I agree with you that we can become obsessed with self-improvement. Often times I think that we mistake what that would even look like. As a Dallas Therapist, I help clients deal with managing their ideas of self-improvement and determining when this is going too far.