Being instead of Doing
It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday rush of life. Life is speeding up, and often with that, inner angst. We want to put as much on our plates as we possibly can and be productive, but at what cost?
I have personally noticed when I am rushing, I am not really present, and miss out on the more important things in life. I am just determined to get things done. I am racing against the clock. It’s a feeling of pushing against time, the present moment itself. It’s exhausting and draining because I forget to process and feel. I do and forget to be. While there’s nothing wrong with rushing, we are not really home when we rush. It’s impossible to be present and rush at the same time.
When we are rushing, we are living in a state of resistance. It produces a state of consciousness that often comes about when we are feeling anxious. It’s a lack of willingness to be in the present moment. Have you ever noticed how rushing implies a feeling of lack?? A lack of time, a lack of permission, a lack of space in the present moment………..even a lack of space within ourselves.
So why do we rush?
Habitual: Rushing is our MO and we get a “rush” from rushing. It’s unconscious and can be addictive.
To Avoid: We don’t want to feel our real feelings, or deal with our “stuff”. Constant movement is a distraction to deeper, underlying feelings that cause us discomfort.
Self-importance: We often fear other people’s judgments and perceptions of us. When we constantly exude a sense of urgency, we feel valuable in the eyes of others.
We feel unworthy: We tie our inherent self-worth to achievement, doing and productivity. We feel guilty when we slow down. We feel unworthy if we are not doing something.
Competition and control: We feel that if we slow down, we will run down and everyone will move ahead of us. We want to be first. We feel like we have to do everything, or life will fall apart.
We are lazy: It is easier to rush through life and be on automatic, than to slow down and make a conscious effort to be present. Being present takes energy and intention. Rushing allows us to live on the surface rather than go deep. That can be a safe place but in the long run very unhealthy.
We feel pressure: We feel a constant pressure to perform. This can come from society or the voice of our parents, where we feel the need “to do” in order to “be loved.” We feel the need to hurry up and cram everything in, in order to feel worthy of love. This can come from people pleasing and the need to prove ourselves.
False perception: The idea that the grass is greener somewhere else. The future is better than now. We feel we are missing opportunities by slowing down.
“What’s the rush?” is a good question to ask. Knowing what is causing us to push alleviates the pressure that comes from rushing. Stop and take a breath. Invite some space in. Acknowledge to yourself, “I know I am rushing right now,” and invite yourself back to the present moment. It’s a good time to practice self-compassion, and compassion for others who are cutting you off on the highway!
To be present is to fully inhabit the moment, to slow down and pay attention to everything around us. Letting go of inner rush allows us to experience higher states, like joy, connection and love. It takes courage to live inside the moment. It happens when we slow down and find inner stillness.
Repetition of unhealthy Patterns
Humans seek comfort in the familiar. Freud called this repetition compulsion, which he famously defined as “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.”
This takes form in simple tasks. Perhaps you watch your favorite movie over and over, or choose the same entrée at your favorite restaurant. More harmful behaviors include repeatedly dating people who might emotionally or physically abuse you. Or using drugs when overcome with negative thoughts. Freud was more interested in the harmful behaviors that people kept revisiting, and believed that it was directly linked to what he termed “the death drive,” or the desire to no longer exist.
But there may be a different reason.
It could be that many of us develop patterns over the years, whether positive or negative, that becomes ingrained. We each create a subjective world for ourselves and discover what works for us. In times of stress, worry, anger, or another emotional high, we repeat what is familiar and what feels safe. This creates rumination of thoughts as well as negative patterns in reactions and behaviors.
As an example, someone who struggles with insecurities and jealousy will find that when his significant other does not return a call or text immediately, his mind begins to wander to negative and faulty thoughts. The thoughts begin to accumulate and emotionally overwhelm the person, which leads to false accusations and unintentional harm to the relationship.
In spite of not wanting to react this way, the person has created a pattern over years that then becomes familiar to him. To react differently, although more positively, would feel foreign and unfamiliar. When someone has done something the same way for years, he or she will continue to do so, even if it causes harm for both herself and others.
People also revert to earlier states if the behavior is in any way rewarding, or if it confirms negative self-beliefs. For someone who inflicts self-harm in a time of emotional distress, it is a behavior that momentarily relieves the pain even if later on the individual feels shame over it. In the example of a person who continuously enters abusive relationships, we might find that he or she is highly insecure and does not believe that he or she is worthy of being cared for. This person may seek out people who induce anxiety in them, which in turn will make them question themselves. They will scrutinize how they looked, spoke, ate, smelled, etc and will eventually find something wrong with themselves in order to feed their negative self-image.
Cognitive behavioral Therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) can provide effective treatment routes for reshaping thought patterns that lead to maladaptive behaviors. These types of therapeutic approaches focus on bringing awareness to irrational beliefs, cognitive distortions, and negative thought tracks.
What’s a cognitive distortion and why do so many people have them? Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.
For instance, a person might tell themselves, “I always fail when I try to do something new; I therefore fail at everything I try.” This is an example of “black or white” (or polarized) thinking. The person is only seeing things in absolutes — that if they fail at one thing, they must fail at all things. If they added, “I must be a complete loser and failure” to their thinking, that would also be an example of overgeneralization — taking a failure at one specific task and generalizing it their very self and identity.
Cognitive distortions are at the core of what several CBT and other kinds of therapists try and help a person learn to change in psychotherapy. By learning to correctly identify this kind of “stinkin’ thinkin’,” a person can then answer the negative thinking back, and refute it. By refuting the negative thinking over and over again, it will slowly diminish overtime and be automatically replaced by more rational, balanced thinking.
By working on different techniques, one can learn how to recognize when thoughts or actions are more harmful than beneficial, and how to stop them from occurring. The brain’s cognitive processes will be rewired and retrained to develop new patterns that are productive, rational, and positive, which ultimately leads to more adaptive behaviors and choices.
It takes years for people to develop maladaptive patterns, habits, and repetitive choices, and it may also take years to reshape them into something that becomes worth revisiting. However, the good news is the fact that the brain has the ability to reverse both unhealthy patterns to more healthy and productive ones.
Love is not for Wimps
We all strive for autonomy and self-sufficiency, however it can also rob us of true intimacy. “I can take care of myself” or “I don’t need anyone” do these phrases sound familiar?
For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel that they are needed and appreciated for the support they give. Most of us have tried to be let down in the past and the prospect of needing someone can be very frightening. Opening up to our partner makes us feel vulnerable and exposed but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting intimate relationship. Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness, but it’s actually a huge strength. To allow ourselves to sink into the joyful moments in life – dare to show up and allow ourselves to be seen takes guts. If we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.
The act of falling in love is the ultimate risk. Love is uncertain. It’s inherently risky because our partner could leave without a moments notice, betray us or stop loving us. Additionally, putting ourselves out there also means that there’s a greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt.
Think for a moment and try to consider that you might be sabotaging relationship after relationship. If you are afraid of showing weakness or exposing yourself to your partner, you might not be aware that your fear is preventing you from being totally engaged in a relationship. You might be freezing out the opportunity for love because you are afraid to let your authentic self shine and to share your innermost thoughts, feelings and wishes.
So what is it that drives your fear of being vulnerable with your partner?
Are you fearful of exposing parts of your personality that your partner may find to be unacceptable?
Does keeping distance make you feel safe and in control of your emotions?
Are feelings of shame stopping you from exposing your true feelings or talking about tough topics?
Do you fear that your partner will betray or abandon you?
Do you not feel deserving or worthy of being happy?
For many, fear of intimacy may translate into testing a relationship by picking a partner who is wrong for them. We all try to play it safe by distancing ourselves. One of the many questions I ask patients are, “what is it that stops you from being vulnerable and intimate with your partner?” Note that I don’t ask, “what do you think your partner should do differently?” Most individuals answer, “I’m not sure.” My response is that it’s time to examine their fear of vulnerability and the ways they might be sabotaging their relationship.
What are some of the things you can do if you are paralyzed by fear or unable to risk being vulnerable with your partner?
First, you need to acknowledge it. Fear doesn’t go away on it’s own – it tends to morph into something else. Did you ever notice that trying to be perfect and walking on eggshells doesn’t work because it drains your energy.
Why does vulnerability lead to intimacy?
Vulnerability increases our sense of worthiness and authenticity. Vulnerability helps us feel close and connected to our partner, yet achieve our own sense of identity. Being vulnerable helps us ask for what we want and avoid stonewalling (shutting down). It allows us to build trust in others and to become fully engaged in an intimate relationship. Being vulnerable allows us to open our heart – to give and receive love fully.
Disengagement can be the most dangerous factor that erodes trust in a relationship. The only way to avoid this is to risk being vulnerable with your partner by asking for help, standing up for yourself, sharing unpopular opinions, and having faith in yourself and your partner. The ultimate risk is allowing yourself to fall in love, which requires letting go of control – and the fear of being hurt or abandoned.
Let me tell you something, ALL relationships present risks, however risks worth taking. Even if you have been abandoned or cheated on, you can surrender your shield and allow your partner in. Healthy relationships are within reach if you let go of your fear and believe you are worthy of love and all the gifts it has to offer.
Try to visualize yourself in an honest and open relationship and work toward allowing yourself to be more vulnerable and open with your partner. Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about accepting nurturing and support from your partner. Remind yourself daily that it’s healthy to accept help from others and a sign of strength rather than weakness. Don’t let your fear of rejection or past hurt stop you from achieving the love and intimacy you deserve. Practice being vulnerable in small steps and talk to a therapist or close friends about your progress.
Create a more trusting relationship with a partner by giving yourself permission to be vulnerable and take risks – one where you can be comfortable sharing your dreams and being your true self.
Intimacy can be an important source of comfort and provide predictability in an uncertain world. The truth is that ALL relationships end; through break-ups, death or divorce. So why waste time being preoccupied with fear of your relationship ending? It is possible to be vulnerable to others without loosing parts of yourself. And by doing this, you will be able to restore your faith in love, trust, and intimacy.
Emotionally healthy people are in control of their emotions and their behavior. They are able to handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. But just as it requires effort and work to build and maintain physical health, so it is with mental and emotional health. Improving your emotional health can be a rewarding experience, benefitting all aspects of your life, including boosting your mood, building resilience, and adding to your overall enjoyment of life.
Mental or emotional health refers to your overall psychological well-being. It includes the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties. Good mental health isn’t the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental and emotional health refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Similarly, not feeling bad isn’t the same as feeling good. While some people may not have negative feelings, they still need to do things that make them feel positive in order to achieve mental and emotional health.
People who are emotionally healthy have:
A sense of contentment
A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
A sense of meaning and purpose, in both activities and relationships.
The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change.
A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
These positive characteristics of mental and emotional health allow you to participate in life to the fullest extent possible through productive, meaningful activities and strong relationships. These positive characteristics also help you cope when faced with life’s challenges and stresses.
The Resilience in strong emotional health
Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn’t mean never enduring bad times or experiencing emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause anxiety, sadness, and stress. The difference is that people with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience. People who are emotionally and mentally healthy have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and creative in bad times as well as good. One of the factors in resilience is the ability to balance stress and your emotions. The capacity to recognize your emotions and express them appropriately helps you avoid getting stuck in depression, anxiety, or other negative mood states. Another key factor is having a strong support network. Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience in tough times. First you need to understand what you need, then how to get what you need.
Physical health is connected to emotional health
Taking good care of your body is a powerful first step towards mental and emotional health. The mind and the body are linked. When you improve your physical health, you will automatically experience greater emotional and mental well being. For example, exercise not only strengthens our heart and lungs, but also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that energize us and lift our mood.
The activities you engage in and daily choices you make affect the way you feel physically and emotionally.
Get enough rest. To have good mental and emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body. That includes getting enough sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to function optimally.
Practice good nutrition. The subject of nutrition is not always easy to put into practice. But the more you learn about what you eat and how it affects your energy and mood, the better you can feel.
Exercise to relieve stress and lift your mood. Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going on a short walk. To get the most mental health benefits, aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise per day.
Sunlight. Sunlight lifts your mood, so try to get at least 10-15 minutes of sun per day. This can be done while exercising, gardening, or socializing.
Limit alcohol and avoid cigarettes and other drugs. These are stimulants that may unnaturally make you feel good in the short term, but have long-term negative consequences for moo and emotional health.
Learn to take care of yourself to improve your emotional and mental health.
In order to maintain and strengthen your mental and emotional health, it’s important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Don’t let stress and negative emotions build up. Try to maintain a balance between your daily responsibilities and the things you enjoy. If you take care of yourself, you will be better prepared to deal with challenges if and when they arise.
Taking care of yourself includes pursuing activities that naturally release endorphins and contribute to feeling good. In addition to physical exercise, endorphins are also naturally released when we:
Do things that positively impact others. Being useful to others and being valued for what you do can help build self-esteem.
Practice self-discipline. Self-control naturally leads to a sense of hopefulness and can help you overcome despair, hopelessness, and other negative thoughts.
Discover new things. Think of it as “intellectual candy.” Try taking an adult education class, joining a book club, visiting a museum, or simply traveling somewhere new.
Enjoy the beauty of nature or art. Studies show that simply walking through a garden can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. The same goes for strolling through a park or an art gallery, hiking, admiring architecture, or sitting on a bench.
Limit unhealthy mental habits like worrying. Try to avoid becoming absorbed by repetitive mental habits – negative thoughts about yourself and the world that suck up time, drain your energy, and trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression.
Appeal to your senses. Stay calm and energized by appealing to the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Listen to music you like, place flowers where you will see them, be affectionate or massage your hands and feet.
Be productive. Do things that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive, whether or not you are paid for it.
Get a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for one makes you feel needed and loved. There is no love quite as unconditional as the love a pet can give. Animals can also get you out of the house for exercise and expose you to new people and places.
Make time for appreciation. Think about the things you are grateful for. Meditate, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.
Everyone is different; not all things will be equally beneficial to all people. Some people feel better relaxing and slowing down while others need more activity and more excitement or stimulation to feel better. The important thing is to find activities that you enjoy and that give you a boost.
Supportive relationships: The foundation of emotional health.
No matter how much time you devote to improving your emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and be your best. Humans are social creatures with an emotional need for relationships and positive connections to others. We are not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship – even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.
Social interaction – specifically talking to someone else about your problems – can help reduce stress. The key is to find a supportive relationship with someone who is a good listener – someone you can talk to regularly, preferably face to face, who will listen to you without a pre-existing agenda for how you should think or feel. A good listener will listen to the feelings behind your words, and will not interrupt or judge or criticize you. The best way to find a good listener? Be a good listener yourself.
Keep in mind that screens will never have the same effect as an expression of interest or a reassuring touch. Communication is a largely non verbal experience that requires you to be in direct contact with other people, so don’t neglect your real world relationships in favor of virtual interaction.
Every day we are bombarded with images, which send a clear message that Thin is in, and how much looks matters. With such emphasis placed on appearance in our culture, both men and women in the U.S have become obsessed with their body image and perfection. Body image refers to a person’s perceptions, thoughts and beliefs about attractiveness of their body. Most people complain about their bodies, but their dissatisfaction does not cause them significant distress. If you feel that you spend a good portion of your time thinking, worrying or ruminating about your body, weight, or looks, you may ask yourself the following questions:
How much time do I spend thinking about my appearance? Is that time spent judging, critizing and condemning my appearance? Do I worry what others think about my appearance? How much time, energy and effort do I spend on my looks? Am I always on a diet? Do I obsess about certain body parts? Do I feel inadequate? If you answered YES to most of those questions, it is clear that your body image is creating a significant problem for you. A negative body image can pave way for anxiety/depressive disorders, as well as eating disorder behavior.
Where does it all begin? How does someone develop body dissatisfaction? The answer to those questions is complex. Most importantly, you will learn what it takes to discriminate the negative internal voice from the one that is intrinsically yours to claim. Healing will come as you gain the courage to remove the negative voice and begin the journey of self-discovery. What that means is that you will have to risk coming out of hiding.
Being known is a scary prospect, especially for those who struggle with food issues. Shame and guilt compels them to hide. Freedom is available, but only by taking a risk and letting the cat out of the bag. Secrecy breeds isolation, and isolation never healed anybody. In fact, it causes us to loose our true selves. We hide because we can’t bear the idea that somebody may come to really see and know us, and then leave. At least if we look good, we believe we have got a shot at staying in the game. Food can either become an enemy or our only friend in the quest for masking our fears of exposure. This only serves to contribute to our sense of self-loathing. Somewhere in the background, buried under our conscious awareness, we struggle with accepting the fragility of our lives. We are players in the drama of life, often, not liking the script that has been written for us. So, when the going gets tough, or when we feel something that is uncomfortable, we head for the hills. How do we hide? By eating, restricting, binging, fixing ourselves, blaming, obsessing, withdrawing, fantasizing, or turning our anger inward. What do we sacrifice? Our hearts. Don’t get me wrong hiding has its perks. It protects us from getting hurt and having our hearts shattered—again, and it keeps us busy in the moment from thinking about how much we hate our bodies.
At the heart of hiding lies the unconscious fear that we can’t handle pain. The fear that we are not perfect unravels us. It makes us feel “less than” and we don’t quite know what to do with that. But we have already handled pain! We have probably been handling it for years. The truth is we are still handling it. And if hiding really worked, we wouldn’t be so unhappy. Maybe we’d even like our bodies a little better. There has to be a better way.
As a result of your body dissatisfaction, have you struggled with food? When things get heated in your life, which of the above-mentioned strategies do you use to cope? Does hiding help you deal with pain and rejection? How so, and is it worth it? Are you afraid to be known? What will people find out if they really know you?
It takes courage to face our fears and ourselves. But you have to notice what you are telling yourself that drives you to the default of hiding. Many of us have painful memories that have caused us to want to numb out or withdraw. Maybe someone told you that you were fat, unattractive, or not GOOD ENOUGH. Maybe you have childhood memories that have left you feeling inadequate and devalued. But those memories are in the past, staying there keeps you in a box, giving power to that which was. What remains is what needs to come into full vision. Who you are now, and what you will create is where the power lies. Refusing to risk says that you are unwilling to accept the challenge of developing your true self by exploring the possibilities that remain.
Staying requires fighting a battle for your heart. It also requires that you identify something worth fighting for, and that takes deliberate and intentional effort. At some point you have to consider you may be fighting the wrong battle and that maybe it’s time to begin the journey of self-acceptance and self-discovery.
What old tapes play in your head about your body image or yourself? Where did they originate? What thoughts or feelings emerge as you think about this? How have they sabotaged your life and kept you stuck? How ready are you now to fight the battle to re-claim your heart? Is there something you can identify that will motivate you to move forward?
THE LIES WE BELIEVE
The inner critical and demanding voice has convinced you of some powerful lies, all of which involve your performance, appearance and identity. You obviously believe your lacking something that you need to be ok. That is why you can’t accept yourself as you are. Look at the list below and see if you can identify anything that fits: I must be perfect. I need to be thinner. If I am not thin I am a failure. My worth is determined by how I look. I must have a flat stomach. I need to have everyone like me. I need to have a firmer butt, tighter abs and loose 10 lbs. I always have to look my best. If you are identifying with any of these statements, you are on the performance treadmill, and you will never find out who you really are. If your body image has caused you to live a life of shame, it will make coming out of hiding all the more difficult. If you want to change, and learn to love yourself, here are some questions worth considering: Am I willing to risk coming out from behind the mask I have worn? Are my current strategies getting me what I want? How well is what I am doing working for me?
One of the most egregious lies we can buy into is the one that says if I had a perfect body I would be happy. It ‘s a dilemma called the “if only….then” if only I had a smaller butt, bigger breasts, a better job, more money, ….then I wouldn’t be lonely, empty, angry, frustrated or lacking. Or maybe, as one client told me, it would just be one less thing to worry about. Believe me nothing is farther from the truth. You will always find something to be dissatisfied about; it’s just our nature. Losing weight or having a better job will never be the answer to your problems. And in the meantime, you are putting your life on hold till the “if only’s” happen, loosing precious time that could be spent on personal growth. In the end, only one thing is necessary to begin the healing journey of the heart. You have to choose to live differently. If you are ready read on!
What’s been the cost? What are you putting off till you have a better body, or a better job…….? What beliefs have you constructed around having a better body? How can you begin to challenge those?
Shame about who we are or how we look, creates the false self to hide behind that helps protect our dreaded secret of being unmasked. Even those closest to us are not always privy to knowing our authentic self. If we can’t convince ourselves of our own intrinsic worth, how will others see us as valuable? The only solution is to pretend…. And continue to perform. Why? Because pretending, like hiding, provides the following advantages: Helping us to get our needs met for love, acceptance, value, security and adequacy. Giving us a false sense of meaning. Creating a false identity to avoid being known. Perhaps the saddest thing about the false self is that we create it in response to the endless tapes playing in our heads telling us that we are falling short. It deceives us into thinking it has our best interests at heart, and that if we just listen to it, we will get what we want. Of course, we don’t realize all this at the beginning. We think we are the ones in control. We are listening to the voice because we trust he can do something for us. The problem is, after a while, we can’t tell who is who.
The first step towards healing is choosing to get rid of the negative voice/the imposter. There are two of you and one has to go. That begins by noticing all the ways the imposter sabotages you. Identify the voice and replace it with YOURS. How? How do we begin this journey to love our bodies and ourselves? First we have to want to. Second, we have to notice and distinguish the negative internal voice from our own. That means paying attention to what we tell ourselves. A steady diet of negative remarks, self-defeating thinking, and judging your body will surely do you in. Try meditating on positive things that challenge you to love your body and yourself.
A helpful exercise is to stand in front of the mirror and observe your body in your underwear. Most of us focus on what we don’t like about our bodies and judge them disapprovingly. Instead of giving the critical voice power, I ask patients to begin to develop a compassionate voice to accept their bodies. This takes practice. Start slowly. You can start cultivating an attitude of gratefulness for your body by saying, “I am grateful I have a strong and healthy body so I can walk, run and get around, because many people are sitting in a wheelchair right now.” Look carefully at your body and find some part of it that you like. Hold your focus there and see what you can be thankful for. This type of internal dialogue can help you take a non-judgmental stance toward your body and help you learn to love yourself.
What do you see when you look in the mirror and observe your body? What thoughts come up? What feelings? What memories surface? Record any insights. Are you open to cultivating an attitude of gratefulness for your body? How will you begin? What will you tell yourself to silence the negative voice?
Families often have a lot to do with shaping our belief systems about our body image. If we grew up feeling we didn’t measure up to certain standards that were set for us, we either chose to hide….or perform. Sometimes our standards have been self-imposed, or critical and judgmental family members or friends have projected them upon us. The tapes we hear in our heads reminding us of our shortcomings can be deafening. This voice, the harsh critical one that demands, ad pushes us for perfection is the negative voice. It may represent a parent’s voice, or someone else’s. Nevertheless, the stronger we let it become, the harder it is to rid ourselves of its controlling power. The negative voice challenges your intrinsic worth by speaking about your behavior……….you ate too much…..and by assaulting your identity. The negative voice can drain life from you, leaving you feeling defeated and helpless. The good news is you are anything but helpless! The challenge you face is to make your voice louder until it drowns out the negative voice. You will not believe what you tell yourself at first, and you will not do it right every time, but you CAN do it. And if you can do it once, you can repeat it.
Don’t expect thoughts about your body or yourself to change overnight. The negative voice will not be easily silenced. This is a journey that takes time and intentional practice. Remember the negative voice will be stronger than yours, but in time, you will learn to be kinder and less judgmental of yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling helpless to change; instead, pull your strengths into the here and now and move forward with confidence. You are the only one who is in charge of the decisions you make from here on in……so CHOOSE LIFE!
What is a thought, —not the content but the very nature of thought itself? Thoughts and emotions, those invasive mental activities that condition our minds, our bodies, and our lives. Few people really explore the question. What is this phenomenon that occurs so many times a day, to which we pay so little attention?
Not being aware of the thoughts that arise in our mind, nor of the very nature of thought itself, allows thoughts to then dominate our lives. Telling us to do this, say that, go here, go there, thoughts often drive us like we’re their servants. We become slaves of preconditioned the fear of being judged.
Just as there was no all-powerful wizard behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, the only power our thoughts have is the power we give to them. All thoughts and feelings come and go. We can learn to be mindful of them and not be carried away by the wanderings of our mind. With mindfulness, we can exercise wise discrimination: “Yes, I will act on this one; no, I’ll let that one go.”
We experience such a wide range of emotions, sometimes within a short period of time: anger, excitement, sadness, grief, love, joy, compassion, jealousy, delight, interest, and boredom. There are beautiful emotions and difficult ones—and for the most part, we are caught up in their intensity and the stories that give rise to them.
We easily become lost in our own melodramas. It’s enlightening to drop down a level and look at the energy of the emotion itself. What is sadness? What is anger? What is shame and guilt? Seeing more deeply requires looking not only at the emotion’s “story,” but also at how the emotion manifests itself in our minds and expressed in our bodies. It means taking an active interest in discovering the very nature of emotion in your therapy.
The Practice of Letting Go
When you meditate, keep bringing your attention back to what is happening in the moment: the breath, a feeling in the body, a thought, an emotion, or even awareness itself. As we become more mindful and accepting of what’s going on, we find—both in meditation and in our lives—that we are less controlled by the forces of denial or addiction, two forces that drive much of life. In the meditative process we are more willing to see whatever is there, to be with it but not be caught by it. That is we are learning to let go.
Another quality that develops in meditation is a sense of humor about our minds, our lives, and our human predicament. Humor is essential on the spiritual path. If you do not have a sense of humor now, try to meditate for a while and it will come, because it’s difficult to watch the mind steadily and systematically without learning to smile.
Through the practice of meditation we begin to see the full range of the mind’s activities, old unhealthy patterns as well as wholesome thoughts and feelings. We learn to be with the whole passing show. As we become more accepting, certain lightness develops about it all. Sometimes a sigh takes place and the energy shifts. And the lighter and more accepting we become with ourselves, the lighter and more accepting we are with others. We’re not so prone to judge the minds of others, once we have carefully seen our own. The poet, W.H. Auden, says it well: “Love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart.” Spacious acceptance doesn’t mean that we act on everything equally. Awareness gives us the option of choosing wisely: we can choose which patterns should be developed and cultivated, and which should be abandoned.
Just as the focused lens of a microscope enables us to see hidden levels of reality, so too a concentrated mind opens us to deeper levels of experience and more subtle movements of thought and emotion. Without this power of concentration, we stay on the surface of things. If we are committed to deepening our understanding, we need to practice mindfulness and gradually strengthen concentration.
In our busy lives in this complex and often confusing world, what practical steps can we take to train our minds?
The first step is to establish a regular, daily meditation/yoga practice. This takes discipline. It’s not always easy to set aside time each day for meditation; so many other things call to us. But as with any training, if we practice regularly we begin to enjoy the fruits. Of course, not every sitting will be concentrated. Sometimes we will feel bored or restless. These are the inevitable ups and downs of practice. It’s the commitment and regularity of practice that is important, not how any one sitting feels.
The training in meditation will only happen through your own effort. No one can do it for you. There are many techniques and traditions, and you can find the one most suitable for you. But regularity of practice is what creates a transformation. Consistency and predictability makes us feel safe and secure. If we do it, it begins to happen; if we don’t do it, we continue acting out the various patterns of our conditioning. The next step is to train us in staying mindful and aware of the body throughout the day. As we go through our daily activities, we frequently get lost in thoughts of past and future, not staying grounded in the awareness of our bodies. We tend to put too much pressure on ourselves and forget to appreciate the moment and deny our limitations.
A simple reminder that we’re lost in thought is the very common feeling of rushing. Rushing is a feeling of tumbling forward. Our minds run ahead of us, focusing on where we want to go, instead of settling into our bodies where we are and be present and mindful of the moment.
Learn to pay attention to this feeling of rushing—which does not particularly have to do with how fast we are going. We can feel rushed while moving slowly, and we can be moving quickly and still be settled in our bodies. Either way, we’re likely not present and you loose those moments. If you can, notice what thought or emotion has captured the attention. Then, just for a moment, stop and settle back into the body: feel the foot on the ground, feel the next step.
To develop deeper concentration and mindfulness, to be more present in our bodies, and to have a skillful relationship with thoughts and emotions, we need not only daily training, but also time for retreat. It’s very helpful, at times, to disengage from the busyness of our lives. Retreat time is not a luxury it’s a must. Retreat time doesn’t mean isolation and hiding from the world, instead it means a way in which to establish a balance between when we are engaged, active, and relating to the world and times when we turn inward to reevaluate our needs.
If we are genuinely and deeply committed to awakening, to freedom—to whatever words express the highest value you hold—time for you is an essential part of the path. You need to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can care for others. It is part of learning to take care of yourself and love yourself and then express it to your surroundings to make it real otherwise you take the risk of feeling guilty.
As the great Sufi poet Rumi noted, “A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.”
Finding your true self
When do I get better? Will I ever get better? When will I be in a relationship? Will I ever stop repeating unhealthy patterns? Those are some of the questions my patients frequently ask me.
I don’t have an answer that covers all of those questions, however I can say that “the turtle outruns the rabbit” meaning that patience is needed in expecting any changes to occur in yourself when entering psychotherapy. Additionally, entering therapy there will often be a period of feeling very vulnerable and shaky because of removing old coping strategies and exposing the pain underneath it. But over time new emotional habits will be created and healthier coping mechanisms adopted.
First we need to slowly build awareness and find our true self, which has often been hidden behind a false self that has been cultivated for protection. A false self is created when the family we’re in haven’t allowed for a healthy development, which relates to the opportunity for a young child to be able to experience a true sense of self. A true self is created when a child gets to feel that he is respected as an individual, his feelings count and his thoughts are valued. The child learns to trust that his feelings are all his and doesn’t belong to another person. If children aren’t allowed an opportunity to articulate their emotions in connection with experiences, they will learn to hide or deny their feelings in order to be loved and accepted by the family. Furthermore, children will deny the existence of problems as their family is very much invested in keeping up the appearance that everything is just fine. If we express feelings connected to painful experiences and it’s not validated, we begin to question our own sense of reality, which is worse and we for that reason decide to reject the existence of our own feelings. Due to the fact that the environment doesn’t invite an open dialogue about what’s taking place emotionally, children of such families learn to live a lie because they take the risk of being rejected if they let in the truth.
They develop a false self, which is a reaction to a dysfunctional situation. The false self is a survival mechanism to hide, protect against or cope with unfelt, unacknowledged pain and when their reality is challenged retaliation or anger may follow.
However, as a therapist I need to break through the false self in order to find the true self and for the individual to get in touch with their feelings. It is a long and often very painful process but it’s possible and achievable. When we allow feelings to be expressed in a safe and holding environment, such as the therapeutic setting, we become aware of our consciousness, our true self, and there is a newfound sense of awareness, peace and acceptance. It’s a re-nurturing opportunity to connect feelings to painful experiences that we were taught to reject. As you come in touch with more feelings and are able to articulate them, your awareness is expanded and you are permitted to be you, your authentic self. Calmness, peace of mind, freedom from anxiety and worry, inner strength and happiness are some of the results of becoming aware of your inner consciousness. By allowing ourselves to be aware and absorbed in this consciousness, the mind and the flow of thoughts calm down, and you experience inner peace, partly due to the fact that the energy that was used to defend against feeling has now been freed.
To maintain this state of inner peace, meditation, proper mental attitude and liberating yourself of any imbalances in your life is wise. Imbalances can be surrounding yourself with unpredictable people, who generates unnecessary anxiety, instead surrounding yourself with people who are embracing healthy living and who are in constant awareness and allowing themselves to feel and be vulnerable. You don’t have to search for this consciousness or true self, it is here, and you are living in it all the time. We only forgot it, as we were allowing obsessional or unproductive thoughts to rule our lives. The sky is always there and if we don’t see it, it’s due to the fact that the clouds are covering it. In the same way our thoughts cover our consciousness, but by removing them we become aware of it.
So YES it is possible to get better, to connect to people in healthier ways and to break unhealthy patterns.