I’ve always kind of been a hater of primarily cognitive, mind-based interventions. In grad school, I was highly critical of cognitive-behavioral therapies and saw them as nothing more than Band-Aids for larger issues happening for folks.
If we just try to change people’s thoughts and attributions about something and never address the underlying feelings, the concern is going to pop back up.
Feelings! Feelings are where it’s at.
If the only thing required for healing was the feeling of feelings, I would have an A++ already.
I loooooove feelings.
Turns out there’s more to healing than the feeling of feelings (spoiler alert).
As I’ve mentioned many times, I engaged in deep somatic healing for the majority of 2018, finally addressing the unprocessed trauma held in my body.
And I’ve been wondering the past couple of months why things in my life still aren’t progressing in the way that I want them to.
What am I missing? I’ve been feeling my feelings so well!
After trying to change some patterns in the same way I have been for years and getting nowhere, I learned: it’s time to change the approach. I learned: it’s time to attend more closely to my mind.
Our minds tell stories.
You know this. I know this. This is not new information.
The stories our minds tell are more powerful than most of us give them credit for.
Our beliefs about ourselves and others and the world form what coach Bob Proctor calls our self-image.
We project this image we have of ourselves out into the world and the world responds accordingly.
I’m not talking about self-esteem here.
I’m talking about the internalized image we have of ourselves that governs how we move through the world.
What stories do you tell about yourself? What stories do you tell about others and the world–the stories so insidious and deep in your infrastructure that they’re often running without you even being aware of them?
Behavior change doesn’t matter if the mind or your self-image isn’t on board. You either won’t be able to consistently show up with the behavior change, or you won’t get the results/outcome that you want.
We’ve all heard: change is an inside job.
As trite as it sounds, it’s true. You can work to shift and change all kinds of things in your external world, and they either won’t stick or, again, you won’t get the results/outcome that you want, even if that’s just feeling a certain way.
My self-image has shifted some over the years, but there are core parts of it that I’ve been carrying with me for a very long time:
I am small, afraid, sensitive to rejection. I am dependent on others to take care of me yet convinced that I will never get/have what I need. I am terrified of my own power. This self-image is convinced that I don’t matter and that I am unlovable.
How do I know this? I’ve spent the past month really paying attention to the stories I tell myself about myself, others, and the world around me.
The trauma I’ve experienced in my life was stored as an immense amount of vigilance and fear in my body and my brain wired itself accordingly.
When I feel threatened, my protective brain swoops in with a very negative view of the world and others as protection. My brain is going to save me from harm before anything bad can happen again.
Thank you, brain.
And also: no, thank you.
Because for most things happening in my life in present day, the hypervigilance no longer serves me. In fact, it actually serves as a barrier and can be harmful to my relationships and things that do actually serve me.
Now don’t get me wrong: this is a delicate balance.
This is reparenting at its finest.
This process is the ability to recognize when I’m feeling activated or triggered, decipher the story my brain is telling me, assessing whether or not that story is True, shifting the thought to reflect what the Truth is (if relevant), and holding myself with the gentlest self-compassion through all this entire process.
Yes, it’s a lot of work. It’s some of the hardest work I’ve done in my life.
It requires that I say: I see you fear. I hear you. And I’m going to do this thing anyway.
I’m going to believe this thing about myself (or someone else) instead of what you’re telling me.
I’m going to go after this dream and believe it is mine to have.
It gets easier with practice.
It gets easier the more I am in right relationship with myself. By which I mean: taking full responsibility for my experience and feelings and tending to what I need from there.
It’s not perfect.
I am not perfect in it. I still get caught up in blaming others. I don’t communicate as well as I’d like. I say the wrong thing.
I allow my tiny self to have tantrums.
I allow myself to feel the weight of the work.
And I am also building my structures of light. I’m building a foundation to hold me when I get lost in trauma brain.
I leave talismans around to remind me of the way home.
I ask people in my life to be on my “reality check team.”
I make gratitude lists to remind me that there is light when all I can see is darkness.
I make appreciation lists of the people I love in my life to remind me of their goodness when all I can see is the negative.
I make cards that carry the messages I can’t remember when I’m lost in fear:
Fear is talking.
You are changing.
Sometimes disconnection is okay.
Put the focus back on yourself.
I work really hard not to judge the fact that I need these anchors to hold me steady.
I accept that building these structures for myself is good self-care and is in the service of my wellness and living the life that I want.
I wake up everyday ready to start again.
I wake up everyday committed to transforming my self-image so I can project out into the world the life I believe to be possible for myself. And then watch it unfold.
Questions for reflection as we move through this month:
-What are the stories you tell about yourself, about others, about the world?
-How might the stories your mind tells be impacting your life, whether you’re aware of those impacts or not?
-What is your internalized self-image that you’re moving from/projecting out into the world?
-Does that self-image align with who you want to be / the life you want to have? If not, what would it take to begin making those shifts?
For a meditation on working to identify the stories your mind tells, listen to my free meditation below or here.
With much love and gratitude,