The most empowering lesson that I ever learned in this life was this: all the negative ideas that I had about myself, those thoughts that defined how I felt, how I behaved, and that were responsible for my health issues, did not belong to me. They were given to me by others; by my parents, my teachers, my friends, society and my religion. And the amazing thing was, I didn’t have to keep carrying the burden of other people’s ideas. If I chose to, I could end my suffering immediately by throwing them out with the rubbish!
Discovering this gem of truth was the start of my own healing journey. I spent much time exploring the inner world of my ideas, focussing on those that created the emotions of self-hatred and unworthiness…you know what I’m talking about; those almost obscure, murky feelings that make us unable to speak up for ourselves, bully people, feel superior to others, feel inferior to others, play the victim, start wars, thieve, rape and pillage; those feelings that make us greedy, sharp-tongued, back-stabbing, deceitful, disloyal, betraying and all the other horrible traits that make us human.
With my own inner explorations, I found in myself the thoughts that made me feel small, inferior and unable to make something of my life. When I finally discarded them, I flourished, and achieved all the dreams I’d ever dared to dream for this life. It also came to me then, that to do this work effectively, I had to own my beliefs. Though they had been passed on to me, it was I who held on to them and gave them life by believing them. No idea has life if you don’t believe in it, and for me, no longer choosing to champion my inherited ideas changed everything.
Very often in my healing and teaching career, I would ask my students/clients to make a list of ten of their ‘good’ characteristics, and ten of what they imagined were their ‘bad’ points. Every time, without fail, they would whiz through their bad points first, and in a lot of cases, add to the list of ten. When it came to listing their good attributes, they weren’t nearly so successful. If I could get them to write three positive characteristics I’d be having a good day. If I asked you to do this exercise now, what thoughts and feelings would arise? How difficult would you find it to acknowledge your innate goodness, your loving nature and your worthiness as a human being?
I discovered through my own intensely difficult journey that no matter who we are, or what we have done with our lives, at the core of our nature is love. Though we might have forgotten what it means to show it, each one of us is innately good because of the nature of our origins, and the very fact that we exist in this world, means we belong and are worthy of being here. I also discovered long ago, that those who disagree with these statements are those who remain (perhaps unconsciously) caught in their own pain, believing every negative idea that they hold in the mind.
Our thoughts about ourselves define us. They drive our attitudes to life and other people and they determine our behaviours. And as I demonstrated in my last post, our thoughts influence our health. Throughout my childhood, I was plagued by colds, flu and tonsillitis, since I always felt completely overwhelmed by the bullying nature of my parents, their constant punishments, my self-hatred and my inability to talk about it (tonsillitis). My anger simmered in my body and I was always complaining of body pain, though adults always waved it off as ‘growing pains’. Strangely, my own kids who were raised on loving ideas about themselves never ever suffered from pain in the body!
So, in looking at the ideas that make you unhappy and unhealthy, what process can you use to begin your healing journey? The following steps helped me, and may be of help to you.
STEP 1: USE CONFLICT AND EMOTION AS A TEACHER
Life is a series of events that trigger different emotions within us. Whether we are watching TV, at a club with our friends, or in the park with our children, our emotions are in a constant state of flux, and the type of emotions triggered depend entirely on what transpires. When we are happy, we are the closest we can be to our natural state. But when we face conflict, many other dangerous emotions come into play. Using challenging situations to find out what beliefs hurt us, is therefore a good way to enter into self-exploration. I will use an example from my life to illustrate Steps 1-5.
EXAMPLE: As a young wife and mother, I experienced the usual challenges of every day family life, including having to deal with trails of abandoned clothes and toys in my nice house. Hours after giving the children lectures on the virtues of tidiness and orderly living, I’d come into a room only to find more mess. Upon seeing the clothes or toys lying around, I’d feel a huge anger rising up within me. Instead of reacting to this as I’d always done, I started to really get in touch with what it was I was feeling. This was how my brain processed the emotions:
…Anger is what has arisen…this I realize, is a defence mechanism against fear (just think how ‘unreasonably’angry you get when your child runs into the street chasing a ball and nearly gets killed). When anger arises, it means that I am defending some fear. The anger is a protective shield, and when people see it they back off. But what am I defending? It doesn’t make sense. This situation is about clothes lying on the floor; it’s not as if someone’s put a gun to my head. What is the fear? I don’t know…I’ll come back to it…probe deeper. I’m feeling rejection…unimportant…invisible…my feelings don’t matter, I don’t matter, I feel invalidated, stupid and small…And there I have it…! I am feeling what I unconsciously believe about myself. Let me take those feelings and get a clear look at the beliefs that make them manifest:
STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE FEELINGS AND BELIEFS
The feelings? Rejection, unimportance, invisibility, my feelings don’t matter, stupid, small.
The beliefs behind them? I am not important. Other people are more important. Other people are better than me.
STEP 3: SOURCE YOUR BELIEFS
Why do I believe these things? My mother looked the other way when my father abused me (I’m not important, but their needs are). They praised all my cousins and friends and compared me unfavourably to them. When they punished me they said they didn’t want to hear my story (my feelings didn’t matter). Everybody else enamoured them but me, and they never recognized my talents (invisibility).
STEP 4: LINK IT TO YOUR CURRENT REACTION
What’s my childhood misery got to do with a messy house? Nothing. It’s to do with having these beliefs hidden away somewhere in some corner of my mind. Though my life is good now and I have wonderful people in it, I am still carrying the horrible ideas that my parents unwittingly gave me. They are all bundled up together and to activate them, all someone has to do is metaphorically press a button. When my children left their clothes and toys all over the place after being asked to pick up after themselves, they pressed a button in my head. Not doing as I asked was interpreted by my idea-cluttered brain to mean that they thought my needs unimportant, that what I had to say was invalid and that what I wanted from them was stupid. The sight of the abandoned toys instantaneously dragged me back to my childhood nightmare. And of course, I unconsciously did what I could to protect myself from feeling that way again…I got angry. So the fear I felt was of re-living those awful feelings once again.
STEP 5: TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR IDEAS
Though my parents’ behaviour may be the source of my beliefs, the ideas are still in my mind because I allow them to be. To blame my parents is to disempower myself. What shall I do now? Shall I continue to believe that I am small, invalid and invisible? I can if I want to. Maybe I am invested in these beliefs. Maybe people will feel sorry for me if I keep these beliefs. Maybe they will feel sorry if I keep telling my sob story, and maybe I can use my past and my sorry beliefs as an excuse not to succeed in life. OR NOT. Perhaps it’s time I fulfilled my potential. Perhaps it’s time I removed those ideas so I can be happier. Yes I will toss them out. They hurt too much; they hurt my family and friends and work colleagues when I act out of these horrible beliefs.
STEP 6: STRIP THE BELIEFS OF THEIR POWER
There’s only one way that I can convince myself that these beliefs aren’t true, and that is to find evidence that they are false. When I do this exercise, something in me changes because an emotional reaction occurs as I speak to myself. This is not an intellectual exercise in which a belief is examined and coldly refuted. It is an exercise that makes me see the truth of what I’m saying by looking at my life in very real, emotional terms. So here goes:
Beliefs: I am not important, other people are more important than me. I am invisible.
Evidence that this is false: My husband loves me. He respects me. He always wants to hear my opinion because it is valuable to him. My children need me. Their deep love shows me how important I am to them. My friends love me. They are loyal and honest, and they care about what I feel and think. They don’t agree with half of my opinions but they are still here. At work, people ask for my advice, because they know I have something to contribute. How can I possibly believe I am not important? How is it that I am invisible?
What feels more real for me now? I am as important as the next person. No one is more important than anyone else. I am here, living my life in full visibility to the people who matter.
STEP 6: WHAT WILL I DO DIFFERENTLY FROM NOW ON?
I will ask the children why they left the place in a mess when I’d asked them to clear up after themselves. When they say ‘oh sorry mommy, I forgot’, leave it at that. They’re kids. That’s what they do, they forget. They don’t sit around plotting to de-stabilize me. The same goes for any one of my friends, family members or work colleagues. When they do things the way that they want to do them instead of how I want them to, it’s not personal. There’s no conspiracy to make me feel small and worthless. Everyone has a right to be themselves. It’s as simple as that.
So that’s it for today my friends. I hope this process is useful to you. It’s not always easy to change, but practice makes perfect, and in the end, the new reactions are who you become…healthier, and happier and a loving person to be around.