In the articles below I am sharing my many years of study and practice helping my clients change how they think, feel and behave to be the best they can be.
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- The Hidden Self – Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and allow about an hour to complete this exercise. You will need pen and paper.Take a few long deep breaths, close your eyes and take a few moments to connect with your body and the sensations of the body breathing. Allow your mind and body to become one, feeling the difference between each “in” breath and each “out” breath. Feeling your chest rise and fall.Now think of traits of yourself that you keep hidden from others – things that would embarrass you if others knew about it. Perhaps you have a cache of pornographic material, you cry when watching movies, have a crush on someone at work. Just take your time and think about those things.Ask yourself “what would people think if they knew”? Now ask the same question with regard to the opposite sex. As thoughts and ideas come write them down. Write down whatever comes to mind. This is your Hidden Self.Now get a separate, blank piece of paper and make four headings – Thinking, Acting, Feeling and Sensing. Categorize each trait that you have identified by putting it under one of these categories.Some of these traits are aspects of your authentic core self that need to be integrated in your self-concept and interpersonal relationships. Perhaps showing your gentle tender side by crying at the movies, writing love poems or seeking an environment where these things are acceptable.
Other traits might be compensatory for aspects that you felt you had to repress – looking at pornography due to sexual deprivation or loneliness.
- The Lost Self – this information is not in your conscious mind and will possibly take several attempts to access.
a) Think about your childhood and remember all the “don’t”, “shouldn’t” “stop” messages that you received about your body, thoughts, feelings, behaviours and self. Eg “stop running, “don’t argue”, “don’t get dirty”.
Also think about the unspoken messages you received “you are a bother”, “you are not good enough”, “you don’t have a voice”, “you are not important”.
Take your time to write down all the messages you heard from your parents, teachers, peer groups, friends and other important adults.
b) Think about messages you received from current or past intimate partners. These could be “stop” or “don’t” messages (“stop talking to your male friends at parties”, “don’t question my decisions”) but may also be “want” messages. “I wish you would be more affectionate”, “I wish you would think before you speak”. “You never kiss me goodbye when you go out”. Write everything down that comes to your consciousness – take your time.
All these messages are clues to Lost Self functions. They are indirect requests to express what you have repressed and contain information about what is missing in you.
Take another piece of blank paper and head it Lost Self and include the same four categories – thinking, acting, sensing and feeling putting all the messages under the appropriate category.
Now you have an impression of your Lost Self. The categories that have the most messages identify parts of your authentic self that are missing.
You will need to develop the repressed functions to become whole so as not to require your partner to “carry” your missing pieces. Our partners prod us to develop those missing pieces by criticizing us for not having them.
In my next article I will describe steps to uncover your Denied Self which involves seeking involvement from people that you know.
The primary function of our caretakers (parents) is to nurture us through the various developmental stages and to meet our basic human needs. Another concurrent job our caretakers have is to socialize us so that we will be accepted into the world, including family, community and beyond which include schools, religious communities and peer groups. When we are not adequately socialized and receive repressive messages from the environment we give up parts of ourselves in order to survive . To live a life of joyful aliveness it is essential to embrace your shadow to reclaim lost parts
There are rules and expectations about what sort of behaviour is to be encouraged and supported and what must be discouraged or extinguished which vary not only from culture to culture but from family to family. These rules and the way the messages of socialization are delivered impact the development of our capacity to express ourselves through thinking, feeling, acting, sensing and the core energy of being.
If the messages are accepting of the expression of our aliveness and guide us in appropriate ways to channel that expression, our energy to that particular area of our functioning stays intact.
Examples of accepting messages are as follows:-
“It’s OK to express your thoughts”
“ It’s OK to be creative”
“ It’s OK to think”
“It’s OK to show feelings”
“It’s OK to express all your feelings”
“It’s OK to exaggerate
“It’s OK to move”
“It’s OK to dance, run, play”
“It’s OK to be strong”
“It’s OK to feel sexual”
“It’s OK to touch”
“It’s OK to enjoy your body”
Through Core Energy
“It’s OK to be”
“It’s OK to be you”
“It’s OK to feel alive”
It the messages are repressive, giving us the sense that we cannot have that part of ourselves and still be loved and accepted, we must choose between wholeness and acceptance. Sometimes these expectations are clear, overt and verbally taught, like the “don’t” messages:-
“Don’t think for yourself”
“Don’t assert yourself”
“Don’t show certain feelings (anger, sadness)
“Don’t show off,
“don’t make a noise”
“don’t enjoy your body”
“don’t show your body”
“you’ll go blind if you…..”
More often than not these expectations are implied, covert and taught through modelling (imitating the norms of the family/culture). These messages may be harder to erase from the fabric of our belief systems. They often appear in the way we believe people should act.
Unconsciously we learn that to be loved and accepted we must disconnect from certain aspects of who we are (giving up playfulness, expressing thoughts etc.). Alternatively we might choose to risk alienating our family, peer group and community by being true to ourselves and express our wholeness. If we were to do this we risk losing love and acceptance.
In conforming to family and societal rules, we essentially create a lost self, a self whose aspects of thinking, feeling, acting, sensing and being go underground and under-develop.
Here are some examples:-
• The little boy who was told not to cry, “to be a man” will grow into a man who cannot show his feelings
• The little girl who was told “It’s not ladylike to show anger” will suppress expressing discontentment as an adult
• The child that was told “don’t think for yourself” will find it difficult as an adult to be confident enough to make decisions and to express opinions.
Because we crave our original wholeness we miss these parts of ourselves. In searching for our Imago match, a person who carries these lost parts will initially be very attractive. We may even refer to them as our other half.
Whilst we are initially tremendously attracted to these traits, after time we may come to dislike and despise them in our partner. This is because unconsciously we recognize that this is a trait that we deny in ourselves and had to give up in order to be accepted by our caregivers.
If we want to have happy, joyful relationships we need to consciously take steps to reclaim our lost traits, accept that they are a part of ourselves which we have previously denied or disowned. Oftentimes a relationship will end because we are frustrated that our partner is “not like me”. We can change the relationship, still attracting a partner who has traits that we have lost and we then journey on the same cycle over and over again. In summary; We have it, we lose it, we miss it, we meet it, we marry it and then we try to kill it!
Imago Relationship Counselling provides the structure and safety to help a couple uncover their lost self. Read more about Imago Relationship Counselling here and here to learn more about the Imago match
Read Suzanne E. Harrill’s article on Finding And Reclaiming The Lost Self here
I have mentioned in previous posts the importance of being aware of what you think and what you say to yourself. Our thoughts and beliefs are stories and impressions that we have gathered about ourselves and the world around us based on messages that we receive from the environment. When I refer to environment I mean our parents, school teachers and peers. As we develop and grow we are constantly receiving messages such as “you are too fat”, “you are ugly”, “you will never be slim, because everyone in our family is overweight, it is in our genes”, “you are not clever enough”, “your sister is the pretty one”. Because these messages are repeated over and over again they become who we are and believe them implicitly. Our beliefs predict success or failure, if we want to change our results we need new beliefs.
“Belief is a thought in your mind that causes the power of your subconscious to be distributed into all phases of your life according to your thinking habits. The belief of your mind is simply the thought of your mind. It is foolish to believe in something that will hurt or harm you. It is worth noting that it is not the thing believed in that hurts or harms you, but the belief or thought in your mind that creates the result. All your experiences, all your actions, and all the events and circumstances of your life are but the reflections and reactions to your own thought.” Source: The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind” by Dr. Joseph Murphy, D.R.S., PhD., D.D., L.L.D.
We believe what we are told about ourselves when we are young because we have no way of testing, and these beliefs often persist unmodified. Our beliefs strongly influence our behaviour. They motivate us and shape what we do.
High expectations (providing they are realistic), build competence. Low expectations instil incompetence.
Throughout my primary school years I was constantly told by my teachers that I was not as clever as my brother and that “I should be more like him”; This judgement was continuously repeated at home by my parents. I always remember the time when, like all 11 year olds in the UK at that time I sat the 11+ exam. This exam was a selection process that all children had to go through where the results determined which high school the children would attend but also career options. If a child “passed” then they would go to a Grammar School; If they “failed” they would go to a Secondary Modern School. The Grammar School kids were expected to take GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels and go on to further higher education. The majority of Secondary Modern kids left school at 15 and were expected to work in shops, offices and factories. In both institutions what was expected became the reality. My brother did not pass the 11+ and everyone was astounded; All his friends went to the Grammar School and he felt a failure and subsequently stopped trying so hard; Because my brother failed I was told that I had no chance of passing. Because I wasn’t expected to pass I didn’t take it seriously and failed.
My High school results were fairly predictable because of the double whammy labels both at home and at school. If just one person believed in me and encouraged me I might have been motivated to learn. It took many years for me to believe in myself and study. When we believe something, we act as if it is true. What we do (try or not try) maintains and reinforces what we believe. Beliefs are not just maps of what has happened, but blueprints for future actions.
The best way to find out what you are capable of is to pretend you can do it. Act “as if” you can. What you can’t do, you won’t. We are not born with beliefs as we are with eye colour and they can be a matter of choice. You can drop beliefs that limit you and build beliefs that will make your life more fun and more successful. Positive beliefs allow you to find out what could be true and how capable you are. They are permissions to explore and play in the world of possibility.
Think of some of the beliefs you have about yourself. Are they useful? Are they permissions or barriers? An essential part of being successful is having beliefs that allow you to be successful. Empowering beliefs will not guarantee you success every time, but they keep you resourceful and capable of succeeding in the end.
You might like to think of 3 beliefs that have limited you and write them down. Now imagine how your life will be in five years if you continue to act as if these limiting beliefs were true. How will your life be in ten years? In twenty?
Take a moment to clear your mind. Stand up, walk around or take a few deep breaths. Now think of three new beliefs that would empower you, that would truly enhance the quality of your life. Write them down. Now imagine yourself acting as if these new beliefs were really true. How will your life be in five years now? In ten years? In twenty?
Changing beliefs allows behaviour to change, and it changes quickest if you are given a capability or strategy to accomplish the task. NLP techniques provides such strategies for change.
Read this article Beliefs, Values and the Vacuum of Choice by Dr Patrick Jemmer
An important step to identifying the function of your eating habits is to keep a food diary for a number of weeks so that you can get a better understanding of your eating habits.
There are a number of components which need to be logged in the diary:-
Write down everything you eat and drink
Eat Mindfully this means whenever you eat give all of your attention to eating; Do not eatg when engaging in any other activity such as watching tv, reading, driving your car or working on the computer.
Rate level of Hunger on a scale of 1 – 10 with 1 being not very hungry and 10 being very hungry.
Indicate whether you are alone or with others – you might notice that you tend to eat more when you are alone. This could be due to boredom, loneliness or even shame to be seen eating
Emotions – note what you are feeling before and after eating
Body sensations after eating – notice whether there is an absence of hunger, whether you are full. If you can feel the food in your stomach then you have eaten too much.
Keeping a diary of everything you eat and drink will help you to ascertain if your eating habits are driven by emotions. You might notice that you dissociate or detach from feelings that are uncomfortable.
To explain dissociated and associated thinking styles you might like to try this exercise – Think of a conversation you had recently . As you think about this conversation, pay attention to how you are thinking about it. For example, are you seeing, hearing and feeling the situation as if you are in your own body and you are re-experiencing it now? Or are you experiencing the situation as if you are outside of your own body – seeing yourself “over there” as an observer? The experience of being in your own body is referred to as associated and the experience of being outside of your body is known as dissociated. Both states are valuable. There are times when associating are the best option, for example if we want to engage our emotions, create a state of motivation or show vulnerability. However, people who are able to “keep their heads” in the midst of a crisis can usually dissociate.
In a dissociated state you will be detached from the feelings and it becomes a habit so embedded in our neural pathways that as soon as we are uncomfortable we automatically suppress our feelings and self-soothe with negative habits such as eating too much of unhealthy food, drinking alcohol, gambling or taking drugs. All these habits make us feel better momentarily but do not get to the source of the discomfort.
By setting the intent to practice associating with feelings, over time you understand yourself better and what used to be unconscious reactivity becomes conscious and you can choose to soothe yourself in a way that serves you better and keeps you on track towards achieving your goal.
We can also ascertain whether we focus on our desired goal or on the challenges that may be faced in order to get there. To help you understand what I mean think of a goal you have for yourself right now. Be aware of how you are thinking about this goal. Are you imagining what it is like to achieve the goal, seeing, hearing and feeling the experience of having it? Or are you aware of what stops you and what you don’t want? For example, if you are thinking of being slim and fit do you imagine yourself wearing lovely clothes, receiving compliments, feeling confident, or do you think of the food you want to avoid and the weight you want to lose? What is in your mind? Your ability to think about what you really want is known as towards thinking. Your ability to think about what you don’t want is known as away from thinking.
In the context of goal setting, the principle is that what we think is what we get. Our mind does not recognize the “not” part of a problem-centered statement. For example, if you tell yourself not to each chocolate you are effectively programming yourself to eat chocolate. If you think about the benefits and rewards of being slim then the likelihood is that this is what you will begin to achieve.
Read more about thinking patterns in NLP At Work by Sue Knight. Visit her website www.sueknight.com
Read more about NLP here
For many of us our “go to” place when we are worried, bored, stressed, angry, upset or hurt is to eat. Often this is something we learned as children; Perhaps our parents would give us food to soothe us when we hurt ourselves or were upset. Conversely food is a cause of celebration and reward. Over time our associations to food become embedded in our neural pathways and we unconsciously turn to food in response to our emotions rather than eat only when there is a physiological need for food to fuel our body.
There are a number of strategies that we can use to break the habit of comfort eating:-
Identify Whether Hunger Is Actually Present
The moment we find ourselves thinking/looking for food we need to STOP, tune into our body to check if we are actually hungry; Check that there are physiological signs of hunger, such as a rumbling stomach. If those signs are present then the body needs food and we should eat until the body is satiated.
Connect To Emotions
If there is an absence of hunger then we must ask ourselves “what am I feeling”? Most of the time we are not paying attention to how we are feeling emotionally and the moment we feel any discomfort we automatically want to suppress it without even identifying what the emotion is. We are conditioned to soothing ourselves with food rather than addressing the cause of pain. Pain is part of the human experience and we can expect to feel it from time to time. Our feelings are a message from ourselves to ourselves and this flow of communication is continuous.
Name The Feeling
Give it a label; Happy, hurt, disappointed, bored, lonely, sad, angry etc. Acknowledge those feelings and be present with them. Then ask yourself “how much cake must I eat to feel less sad/angry/lonely”?? The answer, of course, is that food will only give us a temporary good feeling a short term gain with long-term consequences. Eating hasn’t addressed the cause of the feeling and afterwards we feel bad and beat ourselves up. It would better serve us if we can find something else that we can do to feel less this way. Such as calling a friend, engaging in a hobby, doing some exercise etc. Oftentimes there is no solution to the feeling; At those times a pragmatic attitude of accepting “what is” for now and being gentle on ourselves is all we can do.
Expect To Stumble
Humans, don’t like change, we are creatures of habit and the moment we start to change them we become uncomfortable. When we do stumble (eg didn’t take lunch to work which resulted in buying a take-away) we have two choices; We can just roll over and say “I can’t”, “It is too hard”, “I’m a failure”, or pick ourselves up and get back on track. Every “mistake” is an opportunity for learning. We can choose to look back at what happened and think about what we could have done differently. If we didn’t take lunch to work we can identify what stopped us. We may have run out of time to prepare it. Perhaps we didn’t have the ingredients to make it or were over-burdened with other tasks. Once we have identified what stopped us doing what we set out to do we can find a new strategy to achieve it. We cannot fix what we don’t acknowledge. We could perhaps ask someone else to make it, relinquish some other tasks or decide to shop more regularly.
Be Kind And Patient To Ourselves
If we are gentle to ourselves and make caring for our physical, emotional and mental self a priority then what follows is a slim healthy body. Understand that you didn’t get fat and unhealthy overnight and you won’t get slim and healthy overnight. Just love and care for yourself!
In my next article I will discuss ways to stay on track and be motivated when things get tough.
Read more about alleviating emotional eating here
The benefits of a desired outcome are personal and differ from person to person. These benefits become our “why”. If we focus on “why” it is important to do something then our thought processes are specific and positive which motivate us to stay focused on our goals.
Here is how you determine your personal benefits:-
Using all of your senses imagine that you could wave a magic wand and you have the body that you so desire; Ask yourself the following questions about how different your life is:-
- How does it feel and what affect does it have:-
On how you interact with others?
On your intimate life?
When you exercise?
When buying clothes
- What are you doing differently?
How does it affect your productivity?
What can you do now that you wouldn’t/couldn’t do before?
- Imagine further into the future being slim and healthy – perhaps as an older person, a
being a grandparent, achieving sporting goals, pursuing hobbies. Notice what gets you excited.
Now, as you imagine the future with a slim healthy body determine what benefit is most important and compelling to you. It would be helpful to focus on this most important benefit for about 10 minutes at the start of every day so that you can stay on track to be self-nurturing.
The first step is to picture and imagine yourself on a tv screen with the body you desire and all the habits that are associated with having a slim trim healthy body.
Imagine trying on your “slim clothes”
Making healthy choices when socializing
Shopping for healthy foods – reading nutritional information on packaging
Imagine it so vividly, using all of your senses (seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting, and what you are saying to yourself) as if you have already achieved success
You might also like to give yourself some affirmations that are appropriate for you such as:-
- I eat when there is a physiological need for food for fuel….I am in touch with my emotions
and recognize the difference between hunger and negative emotions…..I seek to change my
habits to self-soothe in a healthy way…
- I choose fresh healthy foods to nurture my body… I make it a priority to plan my meals….. I
nurture my body and mind with a wide variety of foods.
- I give all my attention to the food that I am eating, enjoying aromas, taste and texture…….I
enjoy food and take the time to research and try out new recipes……I eat mindfully and find
that I am satisfied with eating less
In my next article I shall explain how you can rid yourself of past beliefs and experiences which affect your eating habits and lifestyle today.
Read more about Hypnosis/NLP/Personal Coaching for weight loss here
Read Health Status article on using visualization for weight loss here
Nearly two-thirds of men and women in the UK are obese or overweight, according to new analysis of overweight and obesity data conducted by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.
The study which looks at data from 1980 to 2013 claims that more people in the UK are either obese or overweight than at any other time in the past three decades. The UK, it says, has the third-highest rate of excess weight in Western Europe.
Researchers found that overweight and obesity among children and adolescents is also a growing problem in the UK. The study found 26% of boys and 29% of girls were overweight or obese, compared to 17.5% and 21% in 1980.
It starts in the home; If adults don’t change their eating habits and lifestyle then future generations will be overweight and obese. However much children learn about nutrition at school won’t be helpful for them if their parents don’t provide healthy food at home. Change has to start at home with daily habits which become embedded for life in children and thus future generations.
When I meet clients for the first time there are several key questions I will ask to help them identify what is perpetuating the weight gain. Here are some key questions you can ask yourself :-
If you were once slim
When did it change?
What was going on in your life at that time that contributed to your weight gain?
Did you turn to food for comfort in order to cope with emotional issues?
Did you for any reason stop eating regularly?
Did you eat “on the go” grab anything that was easy and available ie chocolate, crisps, take away
If you were overweight as a child
How did you feel about yourself?
Were you teased?
How did your family view your weight?
What did you do to make yourself feel better?
How often do you eat?
If we skip meals it slows down our metabolism; This is because the body is always working for our survival. If we make a habit of going several hours without food our body doesn’t know when the next meal is coming and will actually store fat for our survival.
Do you plan your meals?
When you begin your day do you know what you are going to eat for the rest of the day?
Do you take lunch and healthy snacks to eat throughout the day?
When you arrive home do you “see what is there” or do you decide first thing in the morning?
If we don’t think about re-fuelling our body regularly throughout the day then when we are really hungry we will grab anything that is quick and available; Often not healthy! If you fail to plan you plan to fail.
Do you eat fast/moderate/slow?
It takes about 20 minutes for our body to communicate with our brain that it is satiated. Fast eaters do not give their body time to do this and they tend to over-eat. If you feel uncomfortably full about 20 after eating it is because you are eating too fast. Try slowing down, take small bites of food, chew slowly, and put cutlery down between each mouthful.
Where do you eat?
Do you eat in front of the TV/whilst reading/working on the computer/driving? Eating is a sensual experience; If we take the time to see our food, noting the different colours, smell it, taste it as we chew slowly, feeling the different textures, we gain far more satisfaction from our food and can be satisfied with less.
How healthy is your diet?
How often do you have take-aways (because you didn’t plan?)
How much sugar do you consume every day? – sweets, sugary drinks, alcohol
How much high fat and processed foods do you eat?
As you answer these questions you may understand the source of your current habits. Perhaps turning to food for comfort or making other tasks/people more of a priority than looking after yourself.
What is the first thing I can do today to facilitate change?
It might be something as simple as having 1 small sugary drink per day instead of 1 litre, eating regularly, taking lunch to work (even if that means asking for help if you don’t have time to prepare it).
It is important to identify what is causing the problem (we cannot change what we don’t acknowledge) and working on changing one bad habit at a time. As we do this we can begin to experience success, which motivates us to do the work towards our goal.
In my next article I discuss further steps to facilitate change.
Read Alyssa Shaffer’s article on how to lose weight with just one easy tweak to your routine per week.
Read how hypnosis and NLP can help you to lose weight here
Many adult survivors of incest have undergone therapy, perhaps joined support groups and even confronted the perpetrator. No matter how much healing we do it seems that we are never truly healed and the effects of what happened is so deeply embedded in us that it becomes a part of our core identity.
We can, on an intellectual logical level, put judgement aside and with compassion know that the person who did this to us is a deeply wounded soul but in itself, that is not enough to set us free to be whole again. When I refer to wholeness I mean to embrace all those parts of ourselves that we had to give up to protect ourselves and to survive childhood. To take back joy, taking risks, being curious, spontaneous, dreaming, playfulness and just being who we are.
We might think that we have released all attachment to the perpetrator and what happened but as we get on with our lives and particularly as we age we cannot help looking back on that little child that we once were and feeling so sorry that the joy and spontaneity of childhood was stolen from us. We might wonder what could have been if we had had a secure safe environment to develop and grow knowing that we were loved unconditionally. Wondering perhaps if we would have made different choices about friendships and other relationships and whether we would have performed any different at school.
All children want to feel safe, secure and loved. Secure and safe in their physical environment; Secure and safe knowing that they have an identity and are seen and heard as an individual. Children look to their parents or caregivers to provide unconditional love and meet their physical, emotional and mental needs.
When a parent or caretaker uses the child for their own sexual gratification they are meeting their own needs and simply de humanizing the child. The child is there simply to fulfil their needs and thus becomes an object. Because the parent is an authority figure the child is powerless.
Adult survivors of incest have an underlying core belief about themselves and the environment:-
“I am nothing”
“My needs are not important”
“I have no needs”
“I am here to serve”
“I don’t deserve love”
“I am not good enough”
”I am not safe”
“I have no choices”
“It is not safe to be vulnerable”
“Intimacy is dangerous”
“It is not safe to trust”
Whenever adult survivors of incest are in situations where they are uncomfortable these old beliefs re-surface unconsciously again and again and again….and become our default setting. They are expressed in our interactions with others; be it socially, in the workplace or with our intimate partners.
We can express these beliefs in 1 or 2 ways:-
Being passive – not expressing opinions; Afraid of disagreeing with others, to ask for what we want looking to others to make decisions and tell us what to do. This person will look to their partner to make them happy rather than taking responsibility for their own happiness, they may also have no boundaries.
In being controlling, domineering and striving for perfection. They are terrified of opening themselves up to vulnerability; They keep their feelings to themselves, won’t cry openly or show any softness. They often have a tendency to be seen to be perfect. Whether it is the work they do, their appearance or their home.
The underlying emotion beneath these behaviours if fear; of rejection and abandonment. The perpetrator may have made the child feel “special”, perhaps singling them out for special attention, told them that the family would fall apart if they told anyone. The burden of responsibility for the happiness of the whole family, therefore, rests with them and they have to diminish themselves to survive.
The stretch for adult survivors of incest is to recognize when those feelings come up; When they realize that they are sucking into those old patterns of thought they need to tell themselves that those feelings belong in the past, they were what the little you thought and believed; To acknowledge that you survived and they do not belong in the here and now.
If you are an adult survivor of incest go to the website of Survivors of Incest Anonymous for resources and support.
Read more about past incest survivors here
Belonging and acceptance is a primal need that is common to all of us; From the moment we are born we are seeking this from the environment which begins with our parents and extended family and as we develop and grow expands to include school, peers, church and other social groups. From the very beginning of our lives when we don’t get acceptance and attention we begin to adopt negative beliefs about ourselves. We give up parts of ourselves so that we can be acceptable to others and to avoid the pain of rejection. These negative beliefs become our filter of how we experience the world and we not only misinterpret communication from others but also prevent ourselves from being our authentic selves. Over time our beliefs, emotional responses and behaviours are so deeply entrenched in our neural pathways that they become who we are.
As we begin the journey of self-development we start to challenge those old ways of being. The problem is, of course, to not only recognize when we are backsliding but to check our attitude towards ourselves when we are doing it. It is so easy to bring all those old negative thought patterns into play and beat ourselves up because we over-reacted to a situation, shut down from our partner, or indulged in an addictive habit. We need to understand that this type of thinking has become our default setting and it will take time and patience to create new beliefs. In a nutshell we need to have an attitude of self-compassion.
There are 3 components of self- compassion:-
The first component is to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves ; treating ourselves like a good friend as opposed to being harshly judgemental.
The second component is remembering to treat ourselves with humanity. To acknowledge that imperfection, in terms of ourselves; our mistakes and struggles, is part of the shared human experience.
The third component is mindfulness, which is also key to keeping self-compassion from devolving into brooding and feeling sorry for oneself. It refers to the ability to step outside ourselves and see what’s happening, see that things are difficult or that we’ve made a mistake or we’re struggling, and hold that suffering in mindful awareness as opposed to getting lost in it or fused to it, which is our more habitual response. Understand what mindfulness is here We need all three components to be present in order for it to be true self-compassion.
There are a number of attitudinal foundations to mindfulness:-
A non-judging attitude is important if we are to see past the automatic and usually unexamined ideas and opinions that we have about pretty much everything. When we begin paying attention to what’s on our mind, we rapidly discover that basically everything is a judgement of one kind or another. It is good to be aware of this.
We are always trying to get somewhere else and have a strong need to be on the way to some better moment, some better time when it all will come together for me. When we are impatient and driven it prevents us from being where we already are. Patience is really a wonderful attitude to bring to the journey of self-development.
This concept from Zen Buddhism, called “shoshin”, invites us to experience life in a way that is unburdened by the past and by previous knowledge. One Zen master called beginner’s mind “a mind that is empty and ready for new things”. Read Experience Life article “Beginner’s Mind” by Kenneth Cohen here
Can we trust that things unfold in their own time and that we do not have to fix everything or even anything? Can we trust what we think? Can we trust our ideas and opinions? Often they are unreliable because it is so easy for us to misperceive, misapprehend, mistake what is actually going on. Maybe what we think is true is only true to a degree.
Non-striving is related to the timeless quality of the present moment we call now. If we remind ourselves that “this is it”, that we are alive now, that we are already here, it can make a huge difference. The future we desire to get to – is already here! This moment is the future of all the previous moments in our life including those in which we thought about and dreamed of a future time. You are already in it – it is called “now”. How we are in relationship to this moment influences the quality and character of the next moment. In this way we can shape the future by taking care of the present.
It rather means realizing how things are and finding ways to be in wise relationship with them and then to act, as appropriate out of that clarity of vision. If we don’t see and accept things as they actually are, we won’t know how to act.
Letting go means letting be – not pushing things away or forcing ourselves to release what we are clinging to, what we are strongly attached to – it means non-attachment and in particular nonattachment to outcome.
Read Psychologies article How to be kind to yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff here
read my newsletter article dealing with distractions in mindfulness meditation here
Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, Research professor at the University of Houston, has spent the last 12 years researching what stops many of us from living the fulfilling and happy life we all want. She describes 4 Top Life Lessons to help us achieve a fulfilling life. These 4 lessons challenge many of the strategies we think we need to adopt to get the life we so crave. Being aware of old patterns of belief is, in itself, not enough; We need to do something different and constantly check in with ourselves and track our feelings, behaviour and thoughts because those old patterns can only collapse when we replace them with new beliefs that serve us. We have to do something different to feel different.
Here is a summary of Brené’s Top 4 Life Lessons:-
- Fitting In Is Not Belonging – Belonging is not fitting in. Fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. It is assessing situations and groups of people, then giving up parts of ourselves that we believe will not be acceptable to others. Belonging is something else entirely—it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are.In her research, Brené has interviewed a lot of people who are what you might call “different” , scientists, geeks, etc. and their commonality is that they all have a tremendous amount of self-acceptance. Most are like a Neurophysicist she met who said that his parents didn’t care that he wasn’t on the football team, and he was awkward and geeky. They accepted him unconditionally. He got his sense of belonging from his parents’ sense of belonging, and even if we don’t get that from Mom and Dad, we have to create it for ourselves as adults.Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. When we don’t have that, we turn into chameleons.
- Guilt Is Not Bad for You Guilt is good – Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behaviour. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done—or failed to do—with our personal values. The discomfort that results often motivates real change, amends and self-reflection.We often confuse guilt with shame. Brené explains; “ A clear way to see the difference is to think about this question: If you made a mistake that really hurt someone’s feelings, would you be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake”? If you’re experiencing guilt, the answer is yes: “I made a mistake.”Shame, on the other hand, is “I’m sorry. I am a mistake.” Once we understand this distinction, guilt can even make us feel more positively about ourselves, because it points to the gap between what we did and who we are—and, thankfully, we can change what we do.
- Perfectionism Is Not About Striving for Excellence – Perfectionism is not about achievement and growth it is the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance in their grades, manners and appearance. Somewhere along the way, they adopted a debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it.Healthy striving, meanwhile, focuses on you. It occurs when you ask yourself, “How can I improve?” Perfectionism keeps the focus on others. It occurs when you ask, “What will they think?” Research, unfortunately, shows that perfectionism hampers success and often leads to depression, anxiety, addiction and missed opportunities, due to fears of putting anything out in the world that could be imperfect or disappoint others.
- Vulnerability Is an Act of Courage – There are a few myths about vulnerability. The first is that vulnerability is weakness. The second is that it’s optional.Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s probably the most accurate measure of our individual courage. It’s about stepping up to the plate to do something that causes us to be uncomfortable.Sometimes people say “I don’t do vulnerability.” We all do it, every day, We do it in many different ways with our responses to being uncomfortable; becoming angry, disconnecting, dissociating from them, or perfectionism. The only choice we have is how we handle those feelings of being exposed.Brené says “The key to transforming them into courage instead is learning how recognize them, and make the choice to be there. When you know what you’re feeling and why, you can slow down and make choices that reflect who you are and what you believe”.
The challenge now, is to not only understand what Brené is telling us; We now have to do the work. We are never totally healed from the wounds of the past therefore those old feelings will pop up. We are creatures of habit and our default is to think, feel and behave in a certain way that we used to protect ourselves growing up. These responses are unconscious; We may understand that these default patterns do not serve us but we keep on doing them.
Daily practice of mindfulness both formally and informally teaches us to be present with ourselves in each moment so that we can become aware of our thoughts and feelings before we react.
Learn how to set specific measurable goals to change your habits so that you can begin to experience the feelings of success. This helps us to have positive feelings about ourselves.
Read more about Life Lessons here
In my next article I will describe how your attitude impacts on making changes in your life.