Monthly Archives: September 2019

Sep 28

How to Get out of Depression – a Guide to Psychotherapy

By Marcus Neo | Self Improvement and Social Skills

Our decision making in all areas of life comes from unconscious aspects of our minds. If there’s something you are overly anxious or numb about, there may be an underlying emotion that you’ve repressed or are unconscious about. If you’re constantly unhappy, or constantly in toxic relationships with your friends and family members, then perhaps there’s something there as well.

Or perhaps, you may be facing some form of depression.

The Struggle with Depression and Mental Health

I once completely flunked my examinations and got dumped by my ex girlfriend over a text message in a timeframe of a couple of weeks. I was due for military enlistment in a couple of weeks and needless to say those chain of events lead to a minor depressive period.

I looked to friends and family for advice but mostly they ended up giving me superficial or judgmental advice:

‘Just don’t think too much’
‘It’ll need to be more spiritual. That’s the problem with you Marcus’ 
‘You’re over thinking it’. 

I read the research on psychotherapy, I knew the benefits and I jumped straight. I didn’t really cared about what others would think. Stigma? Good. Unconventionality? Even better. I never bought all that unscientific NLP, superficial self help advice, in fact, I hated it. I need something more concrete, something that is based on the scientific method. Okay, psychology isn’t a hard science. I’m aware of that. However, it’s the closest bet.

I checked myself into psychotherapy at the age of 21. However, in hindsight, I didn’t take the benefits of psychotherapy seriously until my third year into it. That was because I went into my sessions with the Mr Know It all attitude:

‘Yeah, I’ve read the research behind it. I know my issues.’

However, intellectualising and/ or verbalising your issues are one thing, but processing them and grieving through them are a different other ball game.

Do You Need Therapy?

Now, if you’re wondering if you need therapy, here is a simple, helpful checklist I stole from Mark Manson’s article.

  • You have emotional or sexual impulses you don’t have control over angry outbursts, fear of intimacy, sexual anxiety, bouts of depression, etc.
  • You come from a difficult childhood, had absent parents or a poor relationship with your parents.
  • You’ve suffered some major traumas in your life (death of loved ones, abuse, major health problems, etc.).
  • You have compulsive behaviors which interfere with other areas of your life: i.e., drug/alcohol abuse, etc.
  • The majority of your relationships in your life are dysfunctional and/or unhealthy (always fighting, lots of blame/guilt, etc.). This includes friendships, significant others, family members.
  • You are overly pre-occupied with one aspect of your life. Common examples include an obsession with being “cool” or popular, obsession with impressing others, a constant need for approval from others, even obsessing about improving yourself (feeling like you’re never good enough), etc.

How to Get out of Depression: The Benefits of Psychotherapy

I’ll argue that many people struggling in different areas of their lives from relationships to their financial lives have emotional stories that are out of touch with from their past. They often experienced past traumas, difficult childhoods and negative experiences that they themselves have not confronted and/or are completely unaware of. Yet, they go on years after years of chasing superficial fixes and are oblivious to their own emotional realities.

For example, through the years in my relationships, I could always be charismatic with women that I wasn’t that emotionally invested in. It didn’t matter if she was hot or not, as long as I wasn’t emotionally invested, I could ‘perform’. However, when it came to a woman I actually felt something for, I’ll go on to screw it up in the multitude of ways possible.

Through therapy, you’re forced ask better questions:

  • Why do you get nervous around that attractive person who is a complete stranger?
  • Why are you so invested in what others think of you?
  • Why are you avoidant of commitment?
  • Why do you feel unworthy of dating someone you’re genuinely attracted to, but feel completely worthy of dating someone you feel so so about?
  • Why do you measure yourself and base your self-esteem with certain achievements/ sexual conquests?

Here’s a catch 22: If you’re constantly wanting to better yourself, doesn’t that stem from the belief that you aren’t already good enough?

Psychotherapy can help you:

  • Understand how past traumatic events determine your attachment style, that determine the quality of your relationships
  • Why you may be overtly critical or judgment of yourself (could it be because you had an overly critical parent?)
  • The root of your lack of motivation, your anger or apathy in life
  • Help you be aware of your subconscious negative beliefs, the subconscious ways you measure yourself with others, and other unconscious drives
  • How you self sabotage yourself (not studying for exams and partying the night before) This might be rooted in a fear of failure from childhood

There are tons of other benefits, however, these are the main ones that helped me in my life.

Through therapy, you start digging into your past: your emotional development and your childhood. Perhaps you always find yourself in toxic romantic relationships or get uncontrollably angry when someone criticises you on something minor, then perhaps there’s an unresolved emotion or belief there that you aren’t conscious about.

Perhaps, you had an absent father and you’ve been resentful against him for all these years. That unconscious resentment causes you to be lack in sexual confidence with the opposite sex. Maybe, you’ve avoided commitment throughout your life because your ex girlfriend broke up with you over one text message. Maybe you lack confidence in your social life because you’ve been teased and bullied growing up. There may be multiple connected reasons and our psyche doesn’t work like an algorithm, but you get the rough idea.

In my experience, I always thought psychotherapy is a process where you cry it all out on a couch. However, I eventually found out that uncovering and working through negative emotions such as disgust, shame, anger, rage, ice cold bitterness, contempt and hatred is part of the therapeutic process as well. Psychotherapy helps you process the anger and the hurt in a safe environment. When you become more aware of those emotions, you are able to exert a great control over your behaviour.

Psychotherapy and the Stigma in Modern Culture

From personal experience and research, especially in the Asian culture, mental illness, depression is still stigmatizes in culture in general. Modern culture stifles open conversations on emotions, depression, isolation, sex and relationships.

Ironically, the things that matter in life.

Unfortunately, our culture stigmatises getting help from a clinical professional. I’d even go as far to argue that if I had access to therapy earlier on in my teens, it would do so much better than those boring counselling sessions from the school counsellor (who no one really cared about her advice anyway). There’s a difference between being  labelled a ‘patient’ or a ‘client’. The word ‘client’ is often used by psychologists who think of psychological disorders not as illnesses but as problems in living.  

Whenever I attempt to openly discuss therapy with my Asian friends, it gets kind of touchy. They are afraid of how it’s perceived.

If you think about it, seeking help from a therapist is similar to getting a personal trainer if you’re serious about getting really good at bodybuilding. You’re just getting one for your mind and emotions. I also have adviced some of my friends and clients who face repeated problems and patterns in their life. The majority of them ignored my advice due to the stigma surrounding it. However, if you look at me, I’m probably a pretty alright individual. I travel regularly, write kickass awesome articles like this. Yet, I work with a psychologist and intend to continue doing so.

Celebrities, multi-millionaires, successful entrepreneurs, athletes, top performing people, musicians, artists and people who are influential in society have used psychotherapy to help them in their lives.

Secondly, if you really are strong or masculine, then if you can’t discuss a ‘touchy topic’, that would merely imply that you’re actually weak. I’ve used therapy for years already in my own life and it’s has helped me in all areas of my life from taking steps towards building a business, bettering my academic performance, fostering better relationships with my parents and to building better self awareness.

There’s no shame about it. If you need it, consult one.

The Different Forms of Psychotherapy

Okay, now let’s get to the different forms of psychotherapy.

When most people think of therapy, they think of going into a room, lying on a couch and crying your heart out after some sort of hypnosis. That’s entirely untrue. The majority of therapies don’t involve hypnosis and it’s often a two-way interaction between the therapist and the client.

Here are the basic forms of therapy that’s most commonly practiced:

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

(CBT) is primarily a short term treat that takes involves you challenging your own unhelpful thoughts and beliefs when facing a difficult problem in our day to day life. This is more surface level and it’s often focused on changing the way you think in a situation.

Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) is a branch off CBT. It’s focused on being mindful, being accepting of your negative thoughts. It does not attempt to directly change or stop unwanted thoughts or feelings but instead encourages you to develop a new compassionate relationship with your negative thoughts and feelings.

  • Psychodynamic Therapy

However, psychodynamic therapy is an insight style of therapy. The focus of it is to reveal unconscious content of your psyche in an effort to alleviate psychological tension. Psychodynamic therapies focus on the client’s motivation, either conscious or unconscious.

  • Humanistic Therapy

Whilst psychodynamic therapy focuses on conflicting motives. The humanistic therapy model believe that mental issues arise from low self esteem, misguided goals and unfulfilling relationships.

College students who seek therapy showed symptoms such as feeling of alienation, failure to achieve all they feel they should, difficult relationships and general dissatisfaction with their lives. Psychologists often refer to these problems as existential crises.

In the view of humanists, someone is motivated by growth and psychological well being. This differed from Freud’s assumption that a personality is divided into conflicting parts, dominated by a selfish id, driven by hedonistic instincts and pressed conflicts.

  • EMDR

EMDR is a form of therapy that emphasize the role of distressing memories in some mental health disorders, particularly (PTSD). The goals of EMDR is to engage the brain’s natural adaptive information processing mechanisms, hence reliving present systems. It’s used to treat both PTSD and trauma.

There are many other form of psychotherapy, however, I’m pointing out the general ones that most psychologists use.

The Limitations of Psychotherapy

Okay, is hiring a therapist a cure all for all of your life problems? No, psychotherapy, isn’t a cure-all. Ultimately, you have to be responsible for your life and problems.

  • Taking Responsibility

Like all life improvement tools, you still have to take full responsibility for our own issues and problems.

Showing up to a psychologist and expecting him or her to just fix your life is not going to work out. Psychotherapy should be seen as a supplement, as opposed to a crutch.

The more people are leaving therapy, the better it is. That means that it’s working. I would also add that your therapy sessions should be challenging and not fall into a comfortable pattern. There was a period where I found myself repeating myself in 2-3 sessions and I requested for a switch of topics just to mix things up.

If you’re looking to better other aspects of your life, then learning conversational skills such as cold reading, making statements and actually taking action are equally if not more important. There isn’t any therapy in the world can get rid of your social or romantic anxiety. You’ll still have to put in the work, go out and take action.

  • Treat it Like Hiring a Trainer

You got to treat hiring a therapist like hiring a trainer for you. He or she is there to spot you, however, you need to do the heavy lifting yourself. They are not there to be your friends or validate your problems. They are for a professional service: to help you better your emotions.

Therapy should challenge you, it should feel uncomfortable.

Closing Thoughts

Finally, there’s research suggesting that the majority of people come out better from therapy. There’s also research suggesting that people that commit to therapy for a longer period of time, 5 years, come out better.

There are influential reads that led me to take psychotherapy a lot more seriously: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Volk, and Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. They are written by clinical psychologists. These books gave me insights into how psychoanalytic repercussions can run deep. You can’t ignore it.

This may sound far fetch, but I believe that everyone, rich, famous, successful or not can benefit from some form of therapy of another. You may be good at academics but shit poor in your relationships. You may be good at fitness but overspend your pay on the weekends. There’s always a behaviour that you can seek to be more in control of. MY personal belief is that hiring a therapist and using it as a tool is going to be the norm half a century from now. In my own life, I’ve seen considerable improvements and I consider myself a successful client.

Works Cited

Campbell LF, Norcross JC, Vasquez MJ, Kaslow NJ (2013). “Recognition of psychotherapy effectiveness: the APA resolution”.

Knekt P, Lindfors O, Sares-Jäske L, Virtala E, Härkänen T (Feb 2013). “Randomized trial on the effectiveness of long- and short-term psychotherapy on psychiatric symptoms and working ability during a 5-year follow-up”.

Denise D. Ben-Porath, (2002). Stigmatization of Individuals Who Receive Psychotherapy: An Interaction Between Help-seeking Behavior and the Presence of Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology:

 

 

Sep 28

How to Build Self Esteem – The Guide to Healthy Confidence

By Marcus Neo | Self Improvement and Social Skills

I’ve been on both ends of human performance. I’ve been last in class and first in class, in multiple disciplines in my life, from academics, martial arts, business, relationships, and pursuits. Through the years, I always wondered what are the key principles of high performance. Is it motivation, is it discipline or is it willpower?

Secondly, I also wanted some research behind it. I didn’t want to be one of those self-help writers that write another cheesy post on ’10 steps to feel better about yourself today’.

How is genuine self-esteem is actually generated? Why do some people feel like a fraud and why some people feel like a king? Why some people feel deserving of things in their life, and some people struggle with it? Why do some people boast of things they never did accomplish, and are perfectly fine with not doing so?

Initially, I bought the idea of willpower, after all, with psychological studies that showed that the environment shapes behaviour, as opposed to willpower. However, I, later on, bought into the argument of childhood development: the Freudian approach.

I’ll argue that high performance boils down to multiple variables, from the environment and your childhood experiences. I’ll also argue that self-esteem is a key fundamental of all high-performance behavior. Your behaviour boils down to one’s self-esteem. How much you believe you’re worth, deep down. Self-esteem leads to courage and eventually leads to an expanded life.

If you believe you’re worth it, you’ll have higher expectations of both of yourself, and others, you’ll have stronger boundaries, you do not take shit from anybody, including yourself.

The student who believes he’s smart is going to put in the work, whether he’s really actually smart or not. I found that to be true in my short Summer stint at Berkeley. I traditionally wasn’t a good student in Singapore. However, for someone reason, because I had the freedom to explore another aspect of my identity in another culture. I ended up performing academically.

In my entrepreneurial career, I quadrupled my price point overnight, that’s because I believed that my product and service was worth that price. Yet, it sold. Of course. Yes, a higher price comes higher pressure, intensity and a willingness to make it work. It goes to demonstrate that a of our decisions and success in life is based on self-esteem.

The Freudian Idea: Self Esteem Derived from Childhood

It’s hard not to notice the parallels between self-esteem and childhood experiences. It’s also not uncommon to find people with problematic childhoods growing up with self-esteem issues: self-sabotaging in academics, career, and relationships.

The issues also come often in two main spectrums: you either had it too tough or had it too easy. Hence, you lack true self-esteem.

It’s also hard not to notice that most parents have high expectations for their children, yet, they didn’t and are unable to replicate similar expectations and behaviors in themselves in the past or present. This is the similar of leadership, your troops only follow you when you’re able and willing to execute upon similar tasks. If a sales manager isn’t able to make a sales call and only makes his employees do it, he’s not going to be a manager for long!

Self Esteem and Relationships

Self-esteem or the lack of can also be expressed in our relationships. If you choose to be with someone because he or she makes you feel confident, a sense of comfort or confidence that you can’t internally generate on your own, then you may lack genuine self-esteem.

However, if you choose a partner who has personal values that you admire, for example, intelligence, confidence, and strength, then that says about your security as an individual, of a feeling of your own self-worth.

In an idealistic world, your employers, friends, and family are going to recognize the best virtues in you. However, in the real world, it often pans out in the opposite. I’m not going to bore you on the cliché that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. However, it’s true.

To name an example: your self-esteem maybe compromised if you’re attempting to lose weight and the people around you don’t believe that you are capable of that. Yet, these are the exact people that you define as ‘friends’. It’s weird that many loosely define friendships as people that subtlety put you down.

If you studied the philosophers from Plato to Socrates, friendship to them is defined as a constant open debate, growth and an introspect discussion into their lives.

I remembered 8 months ago in my formal employment where I borrowed a couple of books from the little office library and finished it overnight. My colleague thought I was bullshitting him. That I couldn’t have possibly finished it in one-night right? Yet on the other hand, in one of my last projects for them, he demanded that I finished a 2000 words sales page for them in a short period of time. I managed to produce it within a day.

I knew deep down that they didn’t see me the way I perceived myself. Every day that I stayed there was a detriment to my self-esteem.

How to Build Genuine Self Esteem

Self-esteem is the judgment you pass on yourself, and by the standards by which you judge yourself. If someone lacks self-esteem, they will feel driven to fake it, to create the illusion of self-esteem.

It has two interrelated aspects: it entails a sense of personal efficacy and a sense of personal worth. It is the conviction that one is competent to live, and worth living.

The sense of efficacy is defined by an individual choosing his goals and action. That one has to be right in the conclusions one draws and choices and make. However, not demanding or expecting omniscience or infallibility.

What he needs is that which is within his power, the conviction that his method of choosing and making decisions is right in principle.

This can come in the form of sharp mental focus, seeking to bring one’s understanding to an optimal level of precision and clarity as opposed to a focus on the level of blurred approximation, in a state of passive, goalless mental drifting.

This is also through the performance of an independent thinking, independent judgment. You weigh the truth or falsehood of any claim or the right or wrong of any issue with the ability to accept in uncritical passivity and assertions of others.

It isn’t the conviction that one can never make an error. It is the conviction that one is competent to think to, to judge and to know and to correct one’s errors.

You Must Place Values Above Emotions  

You can argue that his or her character is the sum of the principles and values that guide his actions in the face of moral choices. If you default on the responsibility of thought and reason, hence undercutting your competence in living, you’ll feel unworthy. If you betray your moral convictions, you will not retain your sense of confidence.

If you don’t respect yourself, you’ll never be able to respect others. These are the people that constantly show up late, say something, and do otherwise.

Every individual has an innate sense to understand to the best of our intellectual capabilities. Sometimes, this defaults in childhood through irrational parenting, authority figures, and societal norms. If a person develops healthily, and acquires a set of values, his mind and emotions achieving harmony, he won’t be chronically torn between knowledge and desires.

The difference between a well-adjusted individual and avoidance is that one is fleeing from reality, and the other is taking proper cognizance over it.

For example, it feels good to be drunk. They can be said the same for our emotions. However, being drunk on emotions is often followed by the misery of a hangover. However, when you place values above emotions, emotions are your reward and not your nemesis. However, if you do not have values or standards of your own, you accept whatever values offered to you by society.

Through setting standards and values of your own, you’re rejecting other values and standards. You’re building your own personal boundaries and values.

Develop a Sense of Life Purpose

Self-esteem is also ostensibly tied to one’s feeling of purpose. It is the desire to grow in knowledge and skills, in understanding and control. The opposite is stagnant passivity.

On any level of intelligence or ability, one of the characteristics of self-esteem is an individual’s eagerness for the new and the challenging, for which he’s allowed to use his abilities to the fullest extent.

In the realm of productivity, a primary desire of an individual of self-confidence is to face challenges, to achieve and grow. Productive achievement is the cause and not the result of healthy self-esteem. People who based their self-esteem on existential achievements don’t really have self-esteem at all.

False and Pseudo Self Esteem

The lack of self-esteem is often expressed by people who desire to escape consciousness and the ability or need to form rational thought. This is often expressed through sexual pleasure, money for the sake of money and common vices in society such as drugs or alcoholism: the pleasure received from temporarily feeling helpless.

This pleasure is different from the man who uses his faculties properly, and of actual values in reality.

Self-esteem is confidence is one’s ability to achieve values and not the external achievement of it. The former is ‘I Can’, and the other is ‘I Have’.

The rational, self-confident man, on the other hand, is motivated by a love of values and a desire to achieve them.

Pseudo self esteem is an irrational pretense at self-value. It is an avoidance of anxiety and it provides a temporary sense of security. To the individual of authentic self-esteem, there is no clash between his recognition of the facts of reality and the preservation of one’s self-esteem, since he basis his self-esteem as his ability to act accordingly with the facts of reality as he understands them.

However, to the man of no self esteem, reality appears to be a threat, as an enemy. It’s always a choice between reality or his self esteem.

The determinant of a man’s self-esteem is the motivation between fear and love. You can be motivated by confidence, or you can be motivated by terror. To a man that lacks self-esteem, he lives negatively, defensively and extensively. His life is always in psychological danger. He is always in anger, psychologically. He never reaches normality.

He takes on the values and judgment of others, and never takes ownership of his own life. He has always counted on others to solve the problem of his own survival and chooses values appropriate to this manner of existence. He has always counted on others to solve the problem of his own survival and chooses values appropriate to this manner of existence.

This can take the form of:

  • The man who never makes independent thought or judgment on his own
  • The man who obsessed with being popular, who feels driven to win the approval of everyone he meets
  • The woman who has no sense of personal identity, and who seeks to lose her inner emptiness in the role of a sacrificial martyr for her children, demanding that her children do the same for her.
  • The man is aggressively masculine, whose concerns are entirely subordinated to his role as a woman chaser, who derives less pleasure from the act of sex, as opposed to boasting about it to other men

People That Experience a Crisis of Self Esteem

People experience pathological self-esteem crises when their values clash internally. There are often absolutes in this equation: ‘I must not’ and ‘I am willing to’ Hence, this engages your sense (or lack) self esteem. Thus, one experiences a crisis of self esteem.

This can come in the form of a girl who has been brought up in an over religious childhood. She then finds herself engaging in overtly sexual activities. There’s a clash in internal values. On one hand, sex feels good. Yet, one the other, she was brought up to belief otherwise.

Sigmund Freud, in one of his final theories, maintained that anxiety is triggered by forbidden sexual desire that breaks through the barrier of repression and causes the ego to feel overwhelmed and threatened. The unblocking of one anxiety is also known to unblock stir up other conflicts, which are anxiety-provoking.

How to Build A Positive Sense of Self Esteem

Ultimately, a positive sense of self esteem is the product of two things: the ability to form independent judgment and thoughts, and the cultivation of an integrated set of values.

For everyone, the responsibility of thought and judgment is different for everyone. The responsibility and judgment required from a child are different from one of an adult. One has to accept one’s responsibility to choose a set at values, pass judgment, define goals, at some point in his life.

The acceptance of responsibility is a choice, and it’s not automatic nor wired into one’s brain by nature. It is a challenge to which you how you can respond, with acceptance or rejection. To be motivated by terror or love.

The result of being motivated by love and challenge is a positive sense of self esteem. The result of running away from responsibility thought and judgment will be a sense of pain and a lack of self esteem.

It’s a man’s values that determine his values as an extension of himself, as an integral part of his identity. The individual’s self is a cumulative result of year and years of irrationalities, failures, successes, actions, values and etc. When you have self esteem or the lack of it is the reputation a man acquires with himself.

There’s No Such thing as ‘High Self Esteem’ or ‘High Confidence’

Finally, there’s no such thing as ‘high self esteem’ or ‘high confidence’. Self-esteem is basically an opinion about the person you are. Ultimately, self-esteem is a mere bunch of thoughts about whether or not you’re a ‘good person’. It’s NOT a fact, it’s just an opinion.

The problem comes in is when you constantly have to justify and prove to yourself that you’re a good person or that you have high self-esteem. You constantly have to justify the ‘you’re good enough’ opinion. All these proving and justifying of these takes a huge amount of time and effort.

If you stopped exercising for a few days, your mind says: ‘see? I know you wouldn’t last. If you lose your temper with a friend or make a slight mistake at work, there goes your ‘high self-esteem’.’

Early on, during more immature days, I was constantly worried about how confident I was on a day to day basis. The truth is that some days I feel confident, some days I don’t. It’s just human to feel that way. You’re already enough, as I commonly mention to my clients as a dating coach.

The more you try to justify your high self esteem, the need for perfection. The more it kills you inside. The better approach is to let go of the idea of high self-esteem altogether. You don’t need high self-esteem. Here’s what you need is mere: self-esteem. Plain, and simple.

How to Build Self Esteem: Closing Thoughts

If you feel like you ‘lack self-esteem’ here may be why: 1) you probably lack standards for yourself 2) the people around probably lack standards and expectations in themselves and standards and expectations for you.

Ultimately, your expectations and standards you set for yourself is going to largely fall to the quality of people around you. For a lot of us, you’re going to spend most of your time with your family and close friends.

This is why getting a role model can be a possible solution. Some that you look up to and potentially a role model. This can come in the form of a formal paid relationship, a friend, an older brother or perhaps your boss. Self-esteem is the foundation of all success, and also for one to become a better human being. He or she first must respect him or herself, build fundamental self-esteem, which leads to personal integrity and accountability.

Works Cited

Branden, N. The Psychology of Self Esteem – a Revolutionary Approach to Self-Understanding That Launched a New Era in Modern Psychology.

Harris, R. The Happiness Trap