The courage to have great expectations

I started getting excited a couple days after Christmas. I’d applied for a $500 flash grant and felt a surge of buoyancy when the foundation’s director messaged me to see if I’d received her email. Why would she be anxious about getting in touch if I wasn’t the winner?! As I waited for her to try sending the email again, my confidence and anticipation intensified. When I finally uncovered the notification where it had gotten waylaid by junk mail filters, I was darn near giddy with glee. The subject line read “Marva, you are our December grant winner!”

Half a second later I went into shock as I read the first paragraph and began plummeting down an emotional avalanche. “Congratulations! You have won a micro-grant in the amount of $55.” What the hey?! Did they forget a zero? Is this a typo?

As I processed my disappointment, I went back to the website, which clearly referred to $500 grants. Then I tracked down the Call for Submissions and found a key statement: “The amount depends on the final balance in our account on December 22.” I remembered reading this sentence through my inner optimist’s rosy lenses and interpreting it as implying I might very well get MORE than $500!

As I digested the news, I zipped through a micro-version of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), as I think we all do when we are caught by surprise. Writing this post is my way of working through the last two stages.

What’s most amazing is not that I managed within an hour of receiving the news to write a gracious reply with a request for clarification of the award amount, but that I allowed myself to raise my expectations that high in the first place.

You see, many years ago—as a young child—I taught myself to lower my expectations as a technique for preventing disappointment. Can anyone out there relate to that?

Marva in 6th Grade

By 6th grade I was adept at lowering my expectations

I employed that tool for 30 years or more before waking up and noticing a persistent pattern: no matter how low I dropped my expectations, people and situations still disappointed me. I finally figured out the reason: what I expected most strongly was that I would be disappointed. And I was, again and again and again.

By bracing myself for the worst, I left little if any room in my world for lovely surprises and happy outcomes. And, in fact, when circumstances seemed to be going well, I invariably had the shadowy suspicion that at any moment someone would announce there had been a mistake! I vividly recall sitting on my couch in an extraordinary new living space about 15 years ago and having a panic seize my heart as I imagined a knock on my front door with this news: I’m sorry, but you don’t deserve this.

The hardest part

For decades I was trapped in the dark clutches of my lower brain’s natural bias toward noticing the negative, a throwback to hunter/gatherer ancestors who presumably had little time to stop and smell the wild roses because they needed to be alert for saber-toothed cats and other potentially-deadly dangers. All these millennia later we can still find ourselves stuck with choosing from the primitive brain’s limited menu of options: fight, flight, freeze.

The good news is that humans have the power to consciously overwrite this old program and move from the dingy, danger-filled basement of the lower brain to a roomier, lighter apartment upstairs in the front of the brain. Decision-making works differently in the penthouse, with time to pause and consider before responding. There is a really wise and creative Upstairs Committee always available for consultation, and I love learning how to tap their ingenuity.

Which leads me back to the disappointing news that I’d received a $55 grant instead of a $500 grant. With a panoramic view of options from the comfy couch in my sunny mental apartment I could actually watch the incoming information arrive in the basement and provoke a rapid anger-fear-despair routine. But because of the hard work I’ve done to install strong stairs and a speedy elevator, the data and emotions arrived fairly quickly up in the mental penthouse where I could take a deep breath and respond more constructively with the help of the Upstairs Committee.

Down in the Doom Room I heard the usual commotion: I never win anything. Why even bother? I might as well tell them to keep their money. People are so misleading; this is probably some kind of scam. You can’t trust the Internet. What was I thinking? Why did I even waste my time? I should have known this was too good to be true.

Up in my higher mind there was a much different set of options under discussion: Maybe it’s a typo; I could write to express my confusion and request clarification. I’ll be able to cover this month’s electric bill at Insight with that money. I am so glad I can consciously choose to be gracious and grateful instead of defaulting to anger and defeat. This could be a good illustration for a blog post!

For the skeptics—what good are great expectations? You only got $55—I have some important news: a day or two after I applied for the grant I received an unexpected check for $500. I’ll just leave you to ponder that along with the reminder that my initial expectation was that I might very well get MORE than $500!

WEIGHT A MINUTE: A confession at 250 miles

Fitbit badges

In late September I bought a Fitbit personal exercise tracker and started challenging myself to shake a leg more intentionally and frequently, as I shared in WEIGHT A MINUTE: A 30-pound love note from my soul.

I have a confession to make. I specified that this initiative was aimed at feeling better. I said, and I quote: I am not weighing or measuring myself, counting calories or measuring portions. The first part of that idealistic statement ended up being untrue.

Here’s how the process unfolded. I felt proud of myself as I set up the Fitbit goals. I didn’t want this to be some crazy, unachievable or hard-driving effort I would soon drop in discouragement. Accordingly, I lowered the suggested daily goal from 10,000 steps to 8,000 and told myself that would be plenty good enough for starters. I found out by gentle experience that on the days when I did no intentional walking, my daily steps were as low as 3,000. Rationalizing from that baseline, my goal seemed a significant improvement over the sedentary sluggishness of the last few years—progress without being punitive.

As I was setting up the Fitbit software program, I came to the section in which I was asked to input my current weight and my goal. I put in the somewhat alarming (to me) figure from the last time I’d weighed myself, and then entered a goal to lose 33 pounds because I liked the number. All this seemed quite theoretical…just filling in the blanks to get started toward my overarching intention to get back into better condition and start feeling more fit and energetic.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started having lots of fun feedback right away. How beautiful that my body responded to such a modest investment! My resting heart rate lowered. My zest came zipping back. The step-tracking strategy did indeed motivate me to get out on the street even after dark so as to meet the day’s target. Wow!

And then…and then…well, I succumbed to the urge to get on the scale and see what kind of progress I’d made. Shit! I weighed more than the estimate I’d entered into the Fitbit program weeks earlier. Even though my body and mind felt much better, the scale screamed F-A-I-L in a loud and mocking voice.

Because I’d written a blog post about my lofty intentions to avoid weighing and measuring my body, I felt as if I was secretly letting all of you down. But that didn’t stop me from weighing myself compulsively a couple weeks later! The figure was exactly the same!!!!!

This seems nearly impossible and more like an object lesson from my higher self than anything, as if the scale conspired to send me back to the refuge of my original, beautiful intention: to not hate, reject, or punitively try to control any part of myself, but to instead be filled with a deep and radiant desire to be my best self.

I choose again and again—as many times as necessary—to trust how I feel over what scales and measuring tapes might indicate. I feel SO much better physically! I feel stronger and more lithe, lighter on my feet and lighter of heart, both physically and emotionally.

Although I am over 250 miles down the road, in some ways I am back where I started, returning home to the goal of learning to love and accept myself with honesty and compassion. Confessing my frailty is part of that, so thanks for listening!

Feet

 

 

 

PART 3 | Beggars DO ride: the power to transform childhood beliefs

Fifty-some years ago, I interpreted my childhood circumstances and the responses of my caregivers, teachers and peers to mean that it is dangerous to be vulnerable; my needs are a burden to others; I am not worthy of love and generosity; self-reliance is the safest course; and asking (or even wishing) is to be avoided if at all possible.

As I shared in Part 1, beliefs come into being as we assign meaning to events and actions. A belief is a generalization about reality that feels true to you. A different child in similar circumstances may not have made the same assumptions as I. For better or worse, these childhood beliefs unconsciously dictated many of my choices for decades without my notice (the art of belief-spotting is covered in Part 2). This final post in the series offers a glimpse into how I uncovered and began changing this particular set of distorted and dysfunctional beliefs.

I thought “you never need anybody for anything” was a compliment.

When a significant other told me 25 years ago, “You never need anybody for anything,” I at first took that as a compliment, and then was puzzled to discover it was actually intended as a lament. I thought I was keeping myself safe and being useful to others at the same time. Instead, I had unwittingly created one of the most abysmal and extreme examples of codependency I have ever witnessed, with toxic tendencies fueled by my low self-esteem and fear: people-pleasing, resentful care-taking, an extreme need for control and the anxiety that goes with it, defensive reactivity, poor boundaries, painful feelings like shame and despair, and great difficulties with trust and emotional intimacy.

Sadness surges from my heart to my throat—and my eyes flood with compassionate tears—as I think of how I flogged myself onward with my impossibly high expectations and rigid to-do lists, never quite measuring up to my own performance standards and rarely accepting help, all for the sake of an illusion of control and a belief that I was keeping myself safe.

Inch by inch, insight by insight, and belief by belief, I have gradually come to understand that the “safe zone” in which I believed I was holding myself and my unspoken needs was actually a high-walled emotional prison that kept others locked out and me locked away from the interdependence that leads to thriving. In other words, the strategy was utterly self-defeating.

This recognition is what first helped me uncover these hidden beliefs. They exhibited two of the belief-spotting clues mentioned in Part 2: (1) they created intense feelings of discomfort, despair and unhappiness, and (2) they produced repeating patterns of failure and dissatisfaction in relationships.

Over recent weeks I have been on an interesting journey to change this particular cluster of longstanding, self-defeating beliefs. Here’s a recap of milestones in the process.

My Steps for Changing Beliefs

  1. I put the obsolete beliefs into words in my journal and began gently and compassionately exploring their origins.
  2. I processed aloud with a trusted friend, telling the stories upon which the beliefs were founded.
  3. As I processed verbally, I felt strong emotions that I honored by allowing them to move through me. This included using lots of Kleenex!
  4. I flipped the old beliefs and restated them as new affirmations: my willingness to be vulnerable is a great gift to the world; others appreciate my willingness to acknowledge my needs; I am worthy of love and generosity; it is healthy and rewarding to be interdependent; asking is the most effective method of getting needs met; and finally, wishing is a wonderful way to imagine what might happen.
  5. I took action based on the new beliefs, and not just some tiny little candyass step. I wrote a letter to 25 friends to make the most taboo of all requests in my old belief system: I asked for money to help get Insight peer support off the ground.
  6. My ego kicked up a hell of a fuss for several days, trying all kinds of old antics and flooding me with negative messages and feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, self-doubt, etc. Thanks to other belief-changing experiments in recent years, I knew to simply outwait the ego storm. New beliefs take time to integrate!
  7. When the first check showed up in the mail in response to my request, shame reared its ugly head again and dumped a familiar flood of stress chemicals into my entire body. I sat down in tears and asked to speak to the little girl who concluded so long ago that it is weak, shameful and even dangerous to ask for what she needs. I told her that the person who sent us the big check was loving and generous. I kissed the check and held it to my heart in a gesture of receptivity. I waved and twirled it in the air to demonstrate there were no strings attached. Together my inner child and I sat down and wrote a deeply-felt thank you note. I kept saying, as often as necessary, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s gonna be okay. People believe in us and what we’re doing.

As it turns out, wishes ARE horses—in their way—and beggars DO ride and CAN be choosers. I wished that I could break out of the paralysis of my fear and reluctance to depend on others. I wished that I could build a safe place where people could come to heal their hearts alongside me. I wished I had the courage to ask for the help I needed to make that happen. All of those wishes became the horses I am riding into a happier, more interdependent and satisfying future. I’ll even ask you if you’d like to help!

Would you like to give the Gift of Insight?

The Magic Horse, Houseman

The Magic Horse by Laurence Houseman

PART 2 | Beggars DO ride: the power to transform childhood beliefs

Imagine growing up with the underlying assumption that you are a worthy and deserving person. Imagine that your existence is permeated with an unshakeable sense of purpose and rightness—that you know without question that you have a right to BE simply because you ARE. Picture your parents naturally nurturing this feeling of inner worthiness in you because they feel that way about themselves.

Chances are, if you are drawn to read this post you did not grow up feeling this way about yourself. I assume some of you are thinking to yourself right now, but I am not worthy and deserving.

MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE? I am using my megaphone because I think this is so IMPORTANT! I would like you to consider that the only reason you might think you are not a worthy and deserving person with an innate right to be exactly as you are is because you have a belief that says otherwise. And that can be changed. I will repeat myself. Beliefs can be changed. And I have news for you: you are a worthy and deserving person.

Megaphone

As I shared in Part 1, a belief is a generalization about reality that feels true to you. We build our beliefs from our interpretations of events and encounters and this is a very subjective process (rather than objective learning), meaning it is influenced by your feelings, thoughts, expectations, and memories (rather than hard facts).

The first task of transforming obsolete, distorted and limiting beliefs is to find them! Beliefs are often well-hidden in that 90% of the mind that runs the show without our conscious awareness. The nature of beliefs reminds me of the story of the woman who sat in her house and remarked on her new neighbor’s failure to get the laundry truly clean before hanging it out on the line…and then one day she remarked on how suddenly the neighbor’s laundry seemed less dingy and stained, not realizing her husband had washed their windows that morning. Beliefs are like the windows through which we view the world. To notice them, we have to step back with an intention to see differently.

Window of belief

Belief-spotting has become one of my favorite forms of entertainment because the object of the game is to make my life better by exercising my power to change. Here are some of the clues I use for tracking down beliefs:

  1. Look for intense emotions…anxiety, anger, hopelessness. Lurking behind these common feelings are often the distorted self-esteem beliefs like I am never good enough, I am unlovable, it doesn’t do any good to ask for what I need, I don’t deserve good things, I can never win.
  2. Notice repeating patterns of failure and limitation in career, relationships and finances. For me, career and finance patterns are incredible places to look for self-defeating beliefs like the world doesn’t value the kinds of things I’m good at, money and other resources are scarce, money doesn’t really mean that much to me, I’ll never be rich.
  3. Pay attention to statements that shift the responsibility or blame elsewhere. “He/she makes me feel…I can’t change because they won’t let me…as long as I’m stuck with this car, house, job, relationship.” Any excuse or justification that relieves me of responsibility for my own life is hiding a limiting belief of some kind.
  4. Watch for sweeping generalizations like “I always…I never” and pessimistic predictions like “I’ll probably fail…I’ve never been able to…I don’t know how.” These are so common that once I started looking for them, I was shocked to see how daily conversations are permeated by negative expectations built upon faulty beliefs.

An important component of successfully uncovering and challenging these unhelpful beliefs is to become gradually more aware and begin noticing where these old ideas are embedded. It is essential to do this in a kind and gentle manner, not like a hardass security guard keeping vigilant watch and pointing a mean finger at infractions, but like a benevolent grandmother who says, “Ah, there, my darling. There’s one to notice.”

Noticing

Along the same lines, remember that you are working with beliefs formed when you were a small child, so treat yourself as you would a beloved child or grandchild. Be patient, sweet, forgiving and encouraging.

Using this approach has allowed me to radically shift my self-esteem beliefs, resulting in enormous improvements in my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. In Part 3 I’ll share about my eye-opening journey to change a cluster of self-defeating beliefs that I’ve held for 50 years.

PART 1 | Beggars DO ride: the power to transform childhood beliefs

I am unlovable. There is something wrong with me. My needs are a burden to others. I am never good enough. My body is big and ungainly. I will never be pretty. I’m stupid at math. Thinking is better than feeling. The world is an unsafe and unpredictable place. It is dangerous to express anger. I can compensate for my flaws by making myself useful. Money and other resources are scarce. My wishes and dreams are unrealistic and annoying. It is not safe to ask for what I need or want. 

Do any of these sound familiar? They are all beliefs I formed in childhood and relied upon regularly as part of my primary interpretive framework. For the first four decades of my life, I was scarcely aware that these were the distorted filters through which I screened life. Such is the nature of belief programs. They run unchallenged in the 90% of your mind that operates below the surface of conscious awareness

To be fair, there were also positive beliefs. I am smart. I am good with reading, writing and spelling. I can figure most anything out by following instructions. I am strong and able. I know how to take care of myself.

By 1966, most of my self-esteem beliefs were already formed

By 1966, most of my self-esteem beliefs were already formed

A belief is a generalization about reality that feels true to you. Beliefs come into being as you assign meaning to events and behaviors. Most self-esteem-related beliefs are formed during the first 6 or 7 years of life and are the result of interactions with your parents and—most significantly—how you interpret those interactions. There are always multiple ways to interpret any experience, and this is key to understanding how beliefs are formed and how they can be changed.

Beliefs usually take time to form and are reinforced through repetition of similar circumstances and conclusions. One cross word from a parent on a bad day when you make an ill-timed request will not create a belief. Repeated episodes, however, of eliciting a parent’s annoyance or anger when you express a need will do the trick. I think perhaps it’s also possible that a single event of sufficient trauma can sear a belief into the brain in a day.

Once integrated into your worldview, a belief becomes a bias for interpreting future events. In other words, beliefs are self-reinforcing. The brain selectively collects data that support beliefs and just as preferentially overlooks contradictions. Beliefs quite literally alter your experience of reality.

The subconscious is unable to differentiate between real and unreal, true and false; it takes its cues from what you believe to be true and creates your version of reality out of that. It even uses the filter of beliefs to screen out memories that don’t fit your beliefs, which explains how five family members will remember different versions of the same event.

If Wishes Were Horses by Casey Craig

“If Wishes Were Horses,” mixed media painting by Casey Craig

I have no way of knowing how many times I had to hear if wishes were horses, beggars would ride before I learned to stop expressing my wishes. Although I didn’t understand exactly what the old saying meant, I eventually responded by ceasing to put my imaginative desires into words. Wishing is an innocent pastime and an important building block for a child’s future ability to dream, envision and set strategic goals, but to a parent trying to raise a family on a tight budget, a child’s wish may be a trigger for frustration. By adulthood, I had become a person easily irritated by anyone articulating a wish. Hidden beneath my intolerance was my own suppressed ability to dream, wish and express.

Since I know my parents are among my blog readers, I want to clarify these important points with love!

  1. I do not blame my parents for my distorted beliefs, although it was indeed my experiences with them that helped build my beliefs.
  2. I take responsibility for drawing my own conclusions about what their words and actions meant.
  3. Beliefs are not necessarily logical, sensible or true, and we can easily hold contradictory beliefs.
  4. Beliefs can be changed at any time! I am not crippled by my childhood!
Me and my folks in 1963

Me and my folks in 1963

What’s helpful to understand is that, in the period during which a child’s beliefs around self-esteem are being formed, there is a fundamental conundrum in the family: children are developmentally unable to consistently meet their parents’ needs and expectations for skills like self-control, quietness, neatness, and following rules. What this implies, then, is that unless parents are extraordinarily patient, self-aware, getting their own needs met, and in possession of a healthy self-image, they will unwittingly perpetuate what is often a multi-generational pattern.

The discomfort and depression that came of interpreting life through the filter of my negative self-beliefs for over three decades finally started me on a path to uncover and transform those self-defeating beliefs. In Part 2 I will share some tips, steps and outcomes from my adventures in belief-spotting, including the joyous realization that beggars can and DO ride!

God made a little Gentian—It tried—to be a Rose: A love letter to heterocentric Christians

Dear heterocentric persons of faith and good will (which includes most of my dear family of origin):

I want you to know first of all that I can intellectually and compassionately understand both your consternation and some of the vehemence with which you defend doctrines on sexuality and marriage. Can we start there? Can we begin with me saying with love that I hear you and I see where you are coming from? Because I do.

Like you, I have been culturally conditioned since birth to accept heterosexuality as the prevailing paradigm and the normative ethic, both socially and religiously. I can certainly understand why those for whom attraction to the opposite sex is as natural and unquestioned a behavior as breathing would assume that any deviation from the norm is, well…abnormal, and perhaps even a willful rebellion against what’s natural.

My personal experience, starting from a very young age in this same milieu—specifically in the 1970s in the Church of the Nazarene—I’m guessing was exactly the opposite of yours, and for me, equally natural, unfolding softly like a wildflower. I did try to meet the cultural expectations, but those attempts in high school and college were strange, awkward and felt like a fraud. In 56 years of life, I have never fallen in love with a member of the opposite sex. Not once.

To be clear, this is not because I dislike men or have been damaged by a man. In fact, I love and appreciate men very much, starting with my Dad, grandfathers, and brother, all of whom were unusually loving, gentle, kind and approachable. I hung out with boys a lot during my teen years and they mostly treated me like one of the guys, which made me feel safe and comfortable, a pal. Secretly, of course, what we had in common was our attraction to the girls.

I never once said, oh, I think I’ll squelch my heterosexual identity and give myself over to lust for my own kind in defiance of the Church’s teachings. As far as I can tell, I only ever went with the flow of my own innate selfhood. I was a Marva. And even as it became clear that I would face disapproval and rejection, I did not consider twisting myself to fit cultural and religious expectations because I felt purposeful as I was and courageous enough to stay that way. I knew somehow in a very deep place—seemingly against the odds—that I was unique and beautiful and loved by my Maker, who is famous for moving in mysterious ways.

The fact that I have always felt this unexpectedly deep confidence in the face of pressure to conform to the norm, remains my single most powerful and self-evident argument against the moral depravity judgment. If I am an abomination or a mis-creation, why do I feel so confident in my holy birthright? Why would I take a path so painful, rocky and counter-cultural simply for the sake of rebellion, and if it were a phase, wouldn’t it eventually end? And why, if the way I am is a deep perversion subject to the wrath of God, do I manifest in my daily life so many of the fruits of the Spirit? How can I be the happiest and most peaceful person I know?

That’s all I have to offer, my own story, my own sweet certainty of the sacred validity of my personhood exactly as I am, and these heartful inquiries. If you would be willing to sit prayerfully with those questions, I would be so grateful. For the moment, I would love it if we could we drop our defenses and simply see each other face to face, and heart to heart, without scriptural interpretations and a church manual as wedges between us.

In case you wonder, I am writing because I have this wild, idealistic notion that it’s possible to befriend and heal the misunderstood pink elephants of shame that have been standing in the shadowy corners of so many good Christian living rooms for so long. These elephants are the unspoken plights of our children and grandchildren, cousins and nephews, mothers and fathers.

One of the motivations that spurs me onward now is the desire to heal my own hidden hurt by bringing it out into the light. I didn’t even realize how potent it was until I heard last week’s announcement of the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality and found myself ducking and bracing as if I’d just heard the unmistakable freight-train-roar of a tornado bearing down. Or of thousands of pink elephants crashing out into the public square.

While millions of happy people of all proclivities and nationalities joined in celebrating a step forward in human rights, I took a step back and felt inexplicably sorrowful, in part because I knew how many of you would feel about the announcement. I’ve made the mistake of reading too many condemnatory articles and offensive comments. I’ve stepped away in despair from many unfruitful and unfinished conversations over the last 30 years.

I am also inspired to speak because of my desire to encourage others to not give up on living authentically. I am convinced we all have a purpose in the beautiful spectrum of being—simply because we exist—just as we are.

And finally, the deepest driver of all—the most potent of motivators—the craving for wholehearted love and acceptance—not the confusing contradiction of I love you, but, or the poison razor of love the sinner, hate the sin—but love without condition, in the manner of Christ.

I am convinced this unconditional love is abundantly available to me from my Creator. I feel it purposefully and joyfully in every cell of my body and every particle of the cosmic consciousness in which I am an avid participant. I don’t need any religious institution to validate my spiritual passport; I have traveled a great distance without external approval.

What would be lovely, however, would be to feel that my fellow humans, especially my own extended family, did not condemn me for being myself. I am totally coming out of the closet as a Marva. I can do no less if I wish to be free and whole. Perhaps my heart can be a bridge. I offer it freely as a gift to the troubled waters.

Much Love, Marva

image

The power to change your world one sentence at a time

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.
My scribbles from peer support training

My scribbles from peer support training

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!”

Spilt milk

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.