Twenty years ago, in my mid-thirties, I started rubbing my eyes and waking up. Until then I’d been asleep and wandering around in invisible pajamas for decades. The deep sleep was a form of mental mesmerism, an assumption, a world view, a default program. I believed my life was happening to me.
If you say, “Hey! Wait a minute! That’s true!” I hope you’ll stick with me long enough to hear a bit of my story.
I don’t know enough to generalize about how common this belief is, but I can imagine that those of us who’ve had traumatic experiences in childhood may be more prone to what is sometimes called a victim mentality. After all, at a time when we were without a sense of power or authority, scary and hurtful things happened in our lives.
From a simple cause-and-effect mindset appropriate to the developmental stage, we make assumptions and create internal beliefs. We naturally develop our own unique ways of interpreting our circumstances, reacting to stimuli, and coping with stress. These perceptions become our reality. As the perceiver, you are indeed the center of the universe. How you perceive the world is your reality.
In a recent peer support training, I learned more about how this reality-creation works:
- In order to make sense of life experiences, we create beliefs.
- We nurture these beliefs because they help form and support our self-concepts.
- We protect our beliefs by selectively filtering out what contradicts them and letting in what supports them.
- Our mental radar continually seeks out evidence that supports our beliefs and reinforces our worldview.
This helps me understand what I instinctively began to move toward as I started awakening. With the help of a supportive therapist, I dared to begin questioning my self-beliefs and worldview. I was tired of being sad and in pain and I knew something had to change or there was no good reason to keep living. I started noticing how many default programs were running on my emotional system, especially negative messages about my self-worth and automatic, mindless reactions to external triggers.
I started experimenting with a small but poignant issue, my over-the-top reaction when I spilled or broke things. Since childhood I’d experienced out-of-proportion fear and self-loathing in reaction to so simple an act as accidentally knocking over a glass of milk or breaking a dish. My body would flush with shame. I’d hasten to clean up the evidence, all the while talking to myself (both in my head and sometimes aloud) with incredible disrespect and meanness. Here’s how I set about altering my pattern:
- I began by simply staying aware and noticing my reaction. Wow! I was tougher on myself than I would ever dream of being on anyone else.
- Next I chose to stop talking shit to myself, a form of if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. The absence of negative messages turns out to be more important for self-image than the presence of positive messages.
- The icing on the cake was to come up with some sweet and soothing words to use with myself in place of “you stupid idiot.” Someone introduced me to the idea of treating myself as I would a beloved child. “Oh, darling,” I practiced saying to myself, “this is not a problem at all!”
The power of resetting this one default was similar in effect to a small amount of yeast causing a big batch of dough to rise. I began noticing other places in my life where my beliefs created stress and unhappiness. The more beliefs I examined and methodically changed, the more exponentially my self-esteem and self-acceptance rose.
As my awareness and compassion for myself expanded, I began to build a different mental model based on how my beliefs influenced my reality. I noticed my point of power always rested in the present moment and not in the past or future. I saw I had the power to choose beliefs that began building me a roomier, zoomier, happier world.
I no longer believe I am a victim of my life. I see myself as its architect, builder, inspector and grateful resident. We can theorize all we want about what causes traumatic events to happen in our lives, but in the end our point of power rests in choosing how we interpret and respond right now.
In my peer support training manual I scribbled this line: change one sentence of the story. I love this. If our beliefs create our story of the world and where we fit in it, a place to start is this simple: change one sentence at a time, maybe even one word at a time. Darling.