Cognitive therapy, analyzing negative thoughts and feelings, is a very effective way to help people get past their depression and anxieties. But some psychologists say that there is another important approach often overlooked. Emphasize the positive and your strengths, and increase self esteem and happiness.
I remember working with an adolescent in downtown Baltimore who went to school each day, afraid for his life. Regardless of what the parents and Mental Health Center tried, they were unable to get the city to transfer him to another school.
There had been several knifings at the school he attended and there was no use telling him his “danger” thoughts were not realistic. Telling his stories over and over again and emoting during the period he faced danger would have made him even more vulnerable. He needed to be strong.
The thing that increased his self esteem and therefore his confidence most was to explore his strengths, like the fact that although not a big teenager he was a compassionate human being with resilience and creativity. Each week he would find creative ways to take care of himself and to befriend and help his classmates. They formed a team to defend themselves and each other.
I also taught him how not to walk or look like a victim, and he enrolled in a community Karate class.
What a change in his depression and anxiety level! The truth was that he could not change where he went to school, or his classmates, but he had learned how to cope in one of the worst circumstances imaginable.
Increasing your strengths:
1. Write down five of your strengths.
2. Remember and write down incidences when you have used them in the past.
3. Practise consciously using them each day.
4. Stand straight and tall with head up, swinging your arms beside you as you walk.
4. Think confident thoughts and create images in your mind of you using your strengths.