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How’s your sense of self?

iStock-157685437.jpgIt’s vital to look after your mental wellbeing as well as your physical. Here MS-UK counsellors explain the importance of your sense of self for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

Psychotherapeutic research suggests that psychological difficulties are more common in people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS). This could be because MS symptoms may threaten your perception of your sense of self which could lead to a change in your mental health and wellbeing.

The American Psychologist Carl Rogers explored the idea of the sense of self. He explained this term as being the consistent set of beliefs and perceptions that somebody has about themselves. Our sense of self consists of all the values and ideas that characterise the 'I' and 'me'. For example: ‘Who am I?’, 'What is my purpose?' and 'What can I do?’

Our sense of self is a central element of our human experience on this earth. It influences not only our perception of ourselves but also that of the world around us and where we feel our place is within it. However, our sense of self does not always fit with reality and we can often see this in people with a negative sense of self.

 

Sense of self

 

Positive sense of self

 

Negative sense of self

  • You can recognise your strengths,  qualities and potential

 

  • You feel comfortable addressing your limitations or shortcomings, viewing this as normal life

 

 

  • You will find yourself focusing on your weaknesses or faults

 

  • You will often downplay your strengths, qualities and potential

 

  • You will often focus on and vocalise your shortcomings or failures

 

 

Sometimes, MS may impact on a person’s sense of self because the way they view themselves may have changed from their pre-MS self. What we as practitioners may see is that a positive sense of self is now being replaced by a negative sense of self.

However, what is important to note is that living with MS does not automatically bring into question a person’s sense of self. But if it does, it can often be the degree to which MS symptoms impact upon your ability to fulfil roles integral to your pre-MS self that may have the greatest re-defining impact on it. Examples of this could be:

Work 

Have you had to reduce hours at work, change your role or leave your job?

Relationship

You may need to rely on others more than you used to which can lead to feeling a loss of independence, choice and control.

Hobbies and interests

You may no longer be able to participate in, be asked to take part in or want to keep up hobbies and interests because of the physical, emotional or cognitive changes you’re experiencing.  

Social activities

Do you have to plan social events in advance instead of being spontaneous? You may be unable to attend social occasions like you used to or not be invited to these things as much.

These examples above are not meant as a definitive list but provide insight into some of the areas in an MSer’s life where you may notice change has occurred, which at times can bring into question your sense of self.

What can I do?

Some people find journaling their thoughts to be helpful. This can help you to reflect upon negative thoughts, and realise that just because you are thinking them, this doesn’t mean that they are true. It can also allow you to see if there is a pattern to your negative thinking, and perhaps if there are particular situations in your life that are triggering them.

Practising mindfulness can be helpful to bring your mind into the here and now and stop you catastrophizing. You can find a course through the Mindfulness Network’s website www.mindfulness-network.org

If you are ready to talk to somebody, medical and allied health professionals can support you by assessing which symptoms affect you most and for example, help with symptom management or where possible, help you reconnect with valued interests, roles and activities, in an adapted and more accessible way. Your first port of call is your GP.

MS-UK Counselling is here for anybody living with MS and offers space for you to explore your thoughts and feelings in a professional, supportive, and non-judgemental therapeutic space. You can register your interest for this service at www.ms-uk.org/counselling