Body-mind psychotherapy is a profound and elegant method in increasing your self esteem to feel happy in life.
The importance of self-esteem is that it concerns ourselves, how we treat ourselves and others, and what we value. A person’s self-esteem influences the way they think, feel, decide and act. Self-respect and self-confidence are closely linked to self-esteem because it relates to what you do and how you feel about what you do.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow placed self-esteem within his ‘Hierarchy of Needs Model’. Self-esteem is also known as self-actualization. It means having a sense of mastery coupled with acknowledgement and support of the real self. The healthy real self can encompass good and bad emotions, and pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Maslow said that having self-esteem is a basic human need where we can come to expect that we can master our lives and achieve what is good for us (Masterson, J.F.).
Self-esteem can increase as you come to know yourself. The more you understand yourself the more you can appreciate how unique and significant you really are. Self-esteem is generated by the way you treat yourself and the way others respond to you. This includes being listened to, being spoken to respectfully, receiving appropriate attention and affection, having your accomplishments recognized and acknowledged and your mistakes accepted. Individuals build on their self-esteem from their family of origin and school life experiences. Academic achievement and fulfilling social events also shape our self-esteem. Adolescence is a critical period for human beings to develop their self-esteem.
Experiences that can cause low self-esteem involve being harshly criticized, physically, sexually or emotionally abused, being ignored, teased or expected to be perfect most of the time. A person with self-respect usually does not allow others to treat them badly and would rather not be with someone who is disrespectful. A person who can cease associating with people that continue to be hurtful towards them often feels their self-esteem increase. Psychotherapist Mark Sichel says it is about being able to make choices and feel good about the choices we make.
It can be difficult to stop contact with a person who is unkind or demeaning when the person is a long term partner, boss, or family member. Behaviour which is manipulative or controlling can be hard to recognize when we are emotionally close to the person who is behaving this way. The person may have excessive beliefs about being self-entitled and not consider other people’s needs or feelings. Sometimes they believe they are entitled to make rules, then break and enforce them. They can be dependent on other people’s failures to feel good about themselves. A person behaving this way is likely to also struggle with low self-worth issues. On the surface they may appear to have superior social functioning skills such as appearing convincing and charming. Their condescending words or actions can be subtle or sneaky containing negative and entrenched patterns that may last for long periods.
A person who is initially attracted to domineering people may be emotionally needy or unconsciously stuck in a pattern themselves of trying to please people. They may blame themselves for other peoples’ problems and feel threatened with being abandoned. Healing for someone who ‘people pleases’ often occurs when they discover their own personality and talents, and can cease seeking approval from others and develop their own standards of what is acceptable.
Our mainstream culture has socially constructed women to be overly concerned with other people’s needs at the expense of their own. Sometimes this can be a difficult pattern to break if as a person you have been taught to place your attention on things outside yourself. Often the work we need to do to reclaim our self-esteem is to do inner work such as psychotherapy (Sichel, M.).
Body Psychotherapist Bernd Eiden agrees “it is in the body that our experiences live and are perceived as emotions and moods.” Eiden writes “that it is the body’s sensations that add vitality and a felt evidence for our perceptions and memories, which makes them real” (Hartley, L.). I agree with Eiden when he says that as body psychotherapists we subscribe to humanistic principles that include being open to equality in the therapeutic relationship, a belief in the clients’ capacity to heal themselves, and to view the clients’ potential and strengths. We also give priority to working in an explorative way with the client to help them develop their self-awareness and self-actualization (Hartley, L.)
People with self-esteem issues are likely to commence therapy when they are trying to cope with a difficult relationship with a parent or spouse and are either unhappy in the relationship, or the other partner suggests they need therapy, or a person is ready to leave a relationship that undermines their self-esteem. It is not uncommon for a client after a few therapy sessions to say, “I married someone like my parents.” We are often attracted to people who are similar to our parents because it feels familiar. Sometimes this can provide us with a false sense of safety in the relationship.
Most people want to become involved in a partnership that has high levels of differentiation; that is they know themselves, and together they can develop slowly and calmly a mutually attractive and long lasting partnership, where the friendship in the relationship can sustain itself even during periods of intense emotional upset. People often need to do inner work before this can happen unless they have had more than adequate parenting.
People sometimes reflect on their partner and say, “he acted just like my parents” when referring to a difficulty they experienced with their partner. They may begin to notice similar behaviour patterns such as feeling manipulated or controlled over the use of money, how they resolve conflict either directly or covertly, and their style of intimacy may vary from closeness to distancing behaviours. A person can feel ready to leave a relationship when there is domestic violence such as being on the receiving end of repetitive verbal insults, infidelity and the misuse of alcohol and other drugs for example.
The person receiving therapy may get in touch with a part of themselves that wonders how they ever let themselves remain in such a partnership. Their self-compassion can grow as they become more mindful and capable of knowing themselves and trusting in the natural unfolding of their process (Barstow, C.). Mindfulness is a state of consciousness where you observe what is, rather than trying to change it. As a person senses their body, they can notice how their body holds the imprints of the truth of their own lives.
The work becomes effortless as long held in emotions are expressed about a longing to be loved and a sadness about one’s own limitations. The therapist may ask the client to focus their attention on the present, felt experience of the client’s heart, and ask them, “what is the quality of sadness in your heart?” The next step is likely to move the therapy closer to the client’s core organizer that is revealed somatically (Heckler, R. & Johanson, G.). For example a client may say “I feel sadness for myself for not receiving enough love in my early childhood and later in my adult life.” The therapist pays careful attention to the client’s body posture, prosody of their voice and the way they tell their story amongst other things.
The client may reveal a character strategy that is called dependent endearing. Its core wound is lack of support and nourishment in connection with attachment figures. A client may reflect this in the way they sit perched at the edge of their chair looking for connection, with a lot of attention focused out onto the therapist, with an asking look of needing care and support. Like all human beings we are made of many character strategies that assist us in living. The dependent endearing’s strength is their ability for intimacy and sensitivity. In addition to the dependent endearing structure a person may have elements of the industrious-over-focused strategy where the client’s voice’s rhythm is spoken with a great deal of pace, assertiveness and intelligence. Its core wound is lack of self-worth despite the person often being very intelligent.
This character strategy is likely to override a person’s deep fears of ‘not being good enough’ by keeping busy and doing a lot. There is a restlessness and strained quality to the structure and muscles of their body. Often a person with this strategy had parents that compared their worth to other people and never really complimented them, but rather left them feeling lacking in some way by saying someone else was better than them.
In psychotherapy the focus is on assisting a person to discover and explore their own deeper being. This can be core material that shapes the body, its nervous system patterning, habitual thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It is helpful to model to the client feelings of self-acceptance and acknowledgement, and honour their inner knowledge, wisdom and the intelligence of their body so they can be compassionate towards themselves. This is often a missed experience for someone with self-esteem issues as they tend to have an undermining inner critic.
A person may realize that they just could not see or understand what was in front of them. They could not see their relationship clearly and realized that the initial love kept them in an abusive relationship. Hakomi Psychotherapist Greg Johanson says it is preferable that clients “learn to wait for reality to teach them through first surrendering their willful striving to analyze, objectify, control and know. What is already known must give way to participation in what can teach” (Johanson, G.)
Research shows that the factors that contribute to therapeutic success for the client is the therapist’s ability to inhabit their own being and to be with the client’s body-mind experience. For example the therapist is a resonant presence that holds a soft, awake, heartful and spacious attention, while being comfortable with ‘not knowing’ and patiently waits for the inspiration of the therapy to proceed organically. In addition a mature therapist is able to move with the client as they heal without thinking they are doing the healing, but rather know they are the facilitator for the client who is healing themselves (Petersen, S. Summer 2006). This way of being for a therapist encourages a sense of safety in the therapeutic relationship particularly for a client who has felt inadequate and unequal in a partnership.
A client may need plenty of space to release tears of grief about having spent ‘lost’ years with a partner where they felt hurt. For example as a client sits with deep sadness naturally their hand may settle on their heart to support feelings of pain as they come to terms with the sadness of losing themselves in an abusive partnership. As a client feels the therapist’s care, interest, non-judgmental and accepting presence they are more likely to feel ready to express tears not only for the dysfunctional relationship, but possibly also for the dysfunctional family of origin experiences.
Ron Kurtz said that we create safety by going slowly and adjusting to the unconscious needs of the client. He wrote “it was about getting the cooperation of the client’s unconscious by letting it know that I was following the flow of the experience and that I understood and accepted what was going on for the client” (Petersen, S. Summer 2006). Kurtz said that he learned the power of deliberately establishing a felt state of compassion and attention to the client’s experience moment by moment. He learned to recognize the importance of being silent while being present with the client as they sobbed for example. Kurtz also recognized the necessity in holding a silent space and allowing the client to do their work (Kurtz, R. (2007) Update Handbook on the Refined Hakomi Method).
Hakomi psychotherapists Richard Heckler and Greg Johanson assert that “a profound degree of intimacy, openness and curiosity is achieved between the person and their own experience, as well as between client and therapist…” (Heckler, R., Johanson, G.) This is often why hidden unconscious material can be uncovered without effort and naturally allows for lasting change. As a person touches their heart and feels their sadness, I may encourage them to stay with this resource a tender touch from their own hand, and after sometime of crying, I could contact them, saying ‘lots of pain huh.’ This is another place where the therapist learns to be silent and wait for the client to respond in their own time. It is likely that more tears may emerge, and the client may say, ‘I didn’t know I had so many tears to cry.’
Kurtz wrote “that appropriate silence supports following as it gives control to the client’s unconscious and it allows the therapist time to notice where the process wants to go” (Kurtz, R., Five Recent Essays). Kurtz continued to say these are “signposts along the path that leads to the buried experience that needs integration and healing” (Kurtz, R., Five Recent Essays).
As a client integrates their sadness they may say “I have been crying tears of sadness and joy. Sadness about feeling trapped and betrayed in a difficult relationship, and equally emotions of joy with a new found sense of liberation that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. It is exciting because this feeling feels endless. I don’t remember having this kind feeling before because I went from one dysfunctional family into another.” This is a good example of when the time is ripe for a person to open to memories and insights that can give rise to meaning as a client witnesses their experience unfolding.
Kurtz wrote “that a memory or core belief which colours a person’s sense of self is re-experienced and understood from a larger perspective. It is re-evaluated by a more mature mind with as much love and forgiveness as possible (and within the therapy) …insight and integration are as spontaneous as any other process” (Kurtz, R., On the Uniqueness of Hakomi). As a person transforms themselves they can feel when the time is right to complete therapy, and with new found vigour make better choices about what relationships they wish to build.
Young people may seek help from a therapist when a parent worries about them and notices the other parent being particularly strict about them achieving high marks for their school exams. It can happen where the strict parent unknowingly also struggles with self-esteem issues, and contributes to the young person feeling self-doubt about their academic capabilities by placing pressure on them to perform. Sometimes parents cannot see their children as they are, but only as their unconscious needs dictate. For example they may be projecting their own insecurities about being an under achiever and fear that their children could fall into a similar pattern. Their concern as a parent may come from a positive place, but because there is an over concern this can cause a young person to question their ability.
When a young person has a parent that pressures them to achieve by frequently and repeatedly asking to hear their results or probing for details about their academic records this can have a counter-productive effect. For example a person may show signs of procrastinating when they feel their performance has been attacked. A person may postpone what they think is beyond their grasp and become afraid to give themselves the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
Parents sometimes believe that they are helping their children by criticizing with the hope to improve their performance, but this can become an unhelpful pattern of looking at what is wrong rather than what has been achieved. As young people in therapy understand their parents’ imperfections and fallibilities they can begin to disallow any negative words to sink into their own beliefs about themselves. Young people can start to understand that an indication that they could ignore a critical comment is when they hear remarks that cause them to worry (Golomb, E.). Young people may either become compliant or rebel against a parent who appears excessively critical. Either way young people can begin to lose their authentic selves in having fun and also working to conscientiously reach their goals.
Kurtz said that as a therapist we proceed by taking something from the clients’ present experience, such as a thought, a feeling, or a body sensation and use it as a significant and workable example of how a person organizes their experience (Kurtz, R., The Organisation of Experience in Hakomi Therapy). A person may sense a tightness in their stomach from worrying. I could say, ‘is it okay to stay with that tightness, and notice if there are any thoughts or feelings that go with the tightness?’ The person may say “I have a memory of doing an exam and the thoughts that come are: ‘I can’t do it, I won’t get good marks.’”
I could suggest to the client that I can ‘take over’ those thoughts by repeating the words just as you hear them in your mind. It is helpful to position myself a little off centre from the client so that as I take over the words and say them to the client it simply is just a thought. I get direction from the client with the kind of tone in which they would like me to say the words, such as in a matter of fact tone. I get permission from the client before proceeding with the experiment.
I set up the experiment by explaining “I am going to be that part of you and let me know when you are ready to hear the words, ‘I can’t do it … I won’t get good marks.’ Just notice what starts to happen as you hear the words?” The therapist takes over the client’s part. In this instance they are thoughts that have become a habitual pattern that is holding them back in their lives in some way. The client may say “my stomach tightens more”, and the therapist notices this and says “it seems you take in those words as if they are true.” Kurtz wrote the words can be parts within the client that operate from an involuntary place.
The person often begins to feel what was hidden from consciousness and emotions such as fear or sadness can be processed. I may suggest to the client that I could say the opposite of those thoughts, such as “you can do it, you can get good marks.” The client is likely to say, “yes that’s different, I can breathe a bit more and my stomach opens and relaxes.” Kurtz wrote further that when we offer help to a client in this way we are offering to be an ally to this part. Unconsciously the client understands that we are not trying to break through their ‘defenses’ or take anything away. Kurtz said “the therapist is perceived to be an ally by the parts of the mind that manage the painful experiences” (Kurtz, R. (2004) Hakomi Method of Mindfulness Based Body Psychotherapy Readings August).
Taking over is a therapeutic method of supporting the client’s emotional management of their behaviour. I may continue with the client to develop a solid relationship between younger parts that are still afraid of failure and older parts that can soothe any unsure younger parts. This includes enjoying the new feeling of relaxation felt in the body (Kurtz, R. 2004).
It is also useful to work with people’s positive resources when helping clients with their self-esteem. This can be anything the person is already doing for themselves that brings them joyful satisfaction, such as creative writing, painting, photography, dance, meditation, yoga or sports.
It is good to be reminded that to foster our self-esteem it is great to acknowledge our accomplishments and to accept ourselves and our individuality. It also helps to be grateful about what we do have in our lives as it empowers, energizes, elevates our mood and engenders a hopefulness about what is yet to come.
1. Barstow, C. Hakomi & Metanoia.
2. Golomb, E. (1992) Trapped in the Mirror Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self.
3. Hartley, L. (2009) Contemporary Body Psychotherapy the Chiron Approach.
4. Heckler, R., Johanson, G. Enhancing the Immediacy and Intimacy of the Therapeutic Relationship through the Somatic Dimension. 5. Theory and Practice of Body- Psychotherapy.
6. Johanson, G. The Birth & Death of Meaning Selective Implications of Linguistics for Psychotherapy.
7. Kurtz, R. On the Uniqueness of Hakomi.
8. Kurtz, R. The Organisation of Experience in Hakomi Therapy.
9. Kurtz, R. (2004) Hakomi Method of Mindfulness Based Body Psychotherapy Readings Papers and Notes.
10. Kurtz, R. (2006) Five Recent Essays.
11. Kurtz, R. (2007) Three Recent Essays.
12. Kurtz, R. (2007) Update Handbook on the Refined Hakomi Method.
13. Masterson, J., F. (1990) The Search for the Real Self Unmasking the Personality Disorders of Our Age.
14. Peterson, S. (2006) How Do I Listen? Applying Body Psychotherapy Principles and Skills in Manual & Movement Therapy.
15. Sichel, M. (2005) Healing from Family Rifts, Estrangements and Other severely Dysfunctional Behaviours. The Written Word Resources & Training for Health Professionals.
I love what you’re doing and the parents are really benefiting, they look different at the end of each group.