Thursday, March 18, 2010

What Makes Me Awesome! (aka: The Little List That Could...)

In my years as an educator and counselor, I've found that countless students suffer from low self-esteem.  There's no need to go into the consequences of low self-esteem (poor decision-making skills, anxiety, and problems in relationships are just a few).  We have all have had a low opinion of ourselves at one point or another in our lives, but many of my students have experienced chronically low self-esteem. The worst part of this epidemic is that I can see the positive traits of my students so clearly, while they think so negatively of themselves that their self-perception becomes distorted.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I like to use concepts from Albert Ellis' Rational Emotive Behavior theory in my counseling interventions, which is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy.  Rational Emotive Behavior theory claims that thoughts guide feelings and behaviors.  Therefore, if one can change his or her thoughts, the feelings and behaviors will change accordingly.  In the case of a client or student who has low self-esteem, I'll give him or her tasks or assignments.  For example, a former student who thought he was ugly because of things he'd been told as a child was asked to look at himself in a mirror and give himself compliments.  This was, obviously, very difficult for him to do, but we processed the activity until he could see the purpose and begin to find some positive things about his appearance.  Another assignment I use often is to ask the student to list at least ten things he or she likes about him or herself, and share that list with me.  The purpose is to start the process of thinking positively about oneself, in order to erase the previous recordings (usually of authoritative voices such as that of a parent or teacher) that have caused low self-esteem. I usually start the student off with something I like about him or her as an example.  Obviously, these types of assignments require follow-up, and I always tell my students that they may feel extremely uncomfortable and may not believe themselves in the beginning, but with consistent repetition and paying attention to positive affirmation from others, they will eventually change some of the negative thoughts that cause low self-esteem. 

Usually, the best way for me to know if what I ask students to do actually works, is to do it myself.  I have very little time to practice EVERYTHING I preach.  That's where insomnia enters the picture.  Since I couldn't sleep last night, I made a list of things I like about myself, also known as the "What Makes Me Awesome!" list.  After reading through the list, being realistic about what I think I'm good at and what I like about myself, I found that the list that I made could:

1. Make something I usually take for granted about myself just a bit more special;
2. Bring to mind the compliments and positive affirmations I've received from others; and most importantly,
3. Give me something tangible to read and reflect upon when I'm feeling a little less secure in who I am.

If that little list could do that for me, why can't it do the same for you, or those countless students I've encountered through the years?  It's a funny list; at the very least, it brings a smile to my face.

Here's my "What Makes Me Awesome!" list:
  • I am one of the funniest people I know.
  • I make a great roasted chicken.
  • I am good at planning events.
  • I use my intuition a lot.
  • I'm empathic.
  • I am bootylicious!
  • I learn from others' mistakes as well as my own.
  • I stand up for what I believe in.
  • I'm pretty smart.
  • I have great hair!
  • I have very expressive eyes.
  • I sing nicely.
  • I try my best at everything I do.
  • I am sweet.
  • I'm just a little sarcastic; enough to be funny, not enough to be bitter.
  • I like baseball and boxing.
  • I laugh loud and hard, and often.
  • I cry.
  • I'm an excellent kisser; I can tell!
  • I don't take myself, or any of the above, too seriously.
I challenge you to make your own "What Makes Me Awesome!" list, sooner than later.  I promise you, it will put a smile on your face. 

P.S.: I don't think you're ready for this jelly!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You Were Loved - For The Young Women in My Life

Last year, I met two amazing women at a conference, Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold and Dr. Peggy Brooks-Bertram. They are the co-founders of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women at the University of Buffalo. Together, they compiled and edited a book of letters to Michelle Obama called Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady. As they talked about the book and the different women who contributed (young, veteran, teenaged, African-American, Latina, and Caucasian), those of us sitting in the room cried. We cried because the experiences of these women resonated in our spirits. They wrote letters to Michelle that expressed pride, not just in Michelle as the new First Lady, but as Michelle the mother, the intellectual, the lawyer, the administrator, the wife, and the daughter. Through their letters, these women showed us that we all had a little bit of Michelle Obama in each of us.

I was so touched by Drs. Seals Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram that I decided to do an activity with my women's leadership group shortly after the conference. I read some of the letters in the book and asked the women what they heard, saw, and felt as they listened to some of the women's experiences. Then I asked them to write a letter to themselves - either their past self or their future self. The experience of writing a letter to yourself is something everyone should do. The young women who participated in this activity shared their fears, their doubts, and their hopes and dreams in their letters. Those who read them aloud found that giving voice to what they had written gave them power. There were a lot of tears that day; the activity had a cleansing impact on all who were present.

I was able to write a letter as well. My letter was to my past self. Tonight, on the eve of the biggest event for the women's leadership group I advise, I found my letter. It is no coincidence that Drs. Seals Nevergold and Brooks-Bertram will be at this event tomorrow; I was so touched by them that I talked with our Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, who happens to know Dr. Seals Nevergold, and she arranged for them to speak during our Women's Expo. Even as I reread my letter, I'm reliving the experience of writing that letter last year. My letter reads as follows:

"Dear Trish,

If you only knew what the future would hold, you would have enjoyed your childhood so much more. You would have stopped worrying, stopped crying, stopped beating yourself up. You would have noticed that you were beautiful. You would have realized that you really were loved. You would have taken pleasure in the care you received. You would have appreciated those who appreciated you. You would have kept those close friends closer. You would not have let some of them go. You would have told your 'friends', those who smiled in your face but talked behind your back, that their actions only served to push you forward into a brighter future, filled with hope and promise. You would have told yourself that you love yourself. And you would have let yourself be loved more.

If you only knew what the future would hold, you could have relaxed, and allowed God to bless you with all that He desired for you.

Remember how carefree these days really are. Remember how close your family is to you. Remember all those times your father walked you to and from school, and even during high school, he walked you to the bus stop. That was love. Remember your mother playing with your hair. That was love. Remember your sisters dressing you, brushing your hair, and buying you cute clothes. That was love. Remember your brothers teaching you how to dance the hustle, play football, and buying you Zingers and Scooter Pies. That was love.

Remember, you were loved. That was all you needed. That is all you'll ever need.

Love, Trish"

I wrote that letter to my past, younger self, but even as I read it tonight, it is a letter to myself last year, last month, and last week. And I hope that it will serve to remind all of the young women in my life that you are loved. I love you, I thank God for giving me all of you as a gift and a blessing. I thank you for loving me. You all remind me everyday that God exists, because God is love.