It’s pretty neat and scary all the same to recognize my old patterns of thinking in others. I didn’t know how many kindred spirits I had when I lived in a world of preparing myself for the worst in every situation. Sometimes it seems almost like a protective mechanism of self to diminish all that one does in an effort to mask feelings of unworthiness, unfulfilled potential, and ineffectiveness as well as protect from disappointment. When we deny the importance of what we are doing in any given minute or walk in life, deny how much it might mean to us and make such efforts to mold ourselves to what we think other people’s expectations are, we deny ourselves so many exceptional experiences.
These exceptional experiences don’t always feel good! They might be very painful moments of learning that are crucial in propelling us forward in whatever we do but they remain so necessary and it seems we continue to revisit a lesson until we have learned it. In retrospect, one can look back and see the missed opportunities for that learning and often wish that we had been more aware and done it earlier. Sometimes it takes many attempts to learn something and get it right for us and be able to apply it to our lives. This shouldn’t be a source of frustration but rather recognition that what we tried the first xx times isn’t working for us. Then, we have opportunity after opportunity to solidify our learning and it’s difficult but not impossible to be aware that sometimes we are doing all the “right” things and we’re just offered many chances to practice what we know.
I identify with the negative thinking pattern. I basically know that one inside out and backwards. I know how hard it is to change but I also know the absolute freedom I have now and the joy I experience regularly when I seek out the positive and really experience it! There are still many disappointments in life and countless challenges that have, at other times, might have seemed insurmountable but here I am! Life happens and there’s not a darn thing I can do to stop that so why fight it - and now, why would I want to fight it? Why continue to make it miserable for myself? Because I’m scared of getting hurt? I’m scared of disappointing others who, based on their judgement of themselves, apply judgement to me? Why would I lend myself to internalizing that and creating a me that pleases as many people as possible? I don’t anymore, no thank you! I am no longer subject to the judgement of anyone else. Making this change has not been an easy road but it’s been worth it to the enth degree. I still worry about disappointing myself and not living up to the potential I know I have but not in the same crippling capacity that I did before.
I used to worry a lot about failing (let’s use academic learning as an example). I did get to a point on my own where I didn’t care so much that I would fail by someone else’s standards, I desired so badly to not be susceptible to external pressure that I just denied it and buried any hint of that pressure I felt. However, the judgement I had for myself was and remains much larger than any of that held by people on the outside. I had impossible standards for myself. I wanted to be perfect. If I had the slightest notion that I couldn’t be perfect or at least in the top percentile for something, I would often not try at all. Or, I wouldn’t put in an ounce of effort so that I could justify doing “poorly” by saying I didn’t really try. I was constantly worried that I would give something my best effort and still not reach my goal or live up to my own standards. I never felt good enough. This is another pattern of negative thinking that I made a self-fulfilling prophecy. I thought I couldn’t do something, I would put in minimal or no effort and thus didn’t do it very well and confirmed that I couldn’t do what I had set out to do in the first place.
Now, I have accepted not being perfect. I have confirmed that I have many skills that are good and with practice and help get better but I am a master of very little and that's okay. I live so much in the moment that the effort of achieving something holds its own rewards because it feels good to give something my all, to work hard, and “just” to try. Oftentimes I am finding that the process can be more rewarding than the result itself regardless of how “successful” it is. I’m not scared of new things anymore because I don’t feel the pressure to be perfect, I can try and I can learn and have fun while trying and learning!
This took practice. It took becoming painfully aware of a comfortable way of thinking, believing blindly that life could be better if I thought differently and thus challenging it constantly. It took the help of many many sets of external and objective eyes to help give me regular doses of reality when I got lost in my negativity. It took me developing a level of trust that I don’t think I’d ever had in people or in myself. I had to trust that I knew that these people were telling me the truth. I had to be confident in my gut feeling that these people cared about me and only wanted to help me live a life that worked for me.
There have been a few inevitable “burns” where I thought someone had good intentions and that wasn’t really the case. The difference now is that those times don’t diminish the trust I have in myself or lead to believing less in the goodness of people that exists in the larger human population.
Now I’m practicing seeking out those helpful external objective eyes as adjuncts to those of my own that I have developed. This isn’t my practice because I necessarily need it in a self-doubting way but because it feels good to be connected (a common topic of mine!) and to have people to check things out with. To confirm what I already know.
The odd thing is that when one is caught in the negative thinking patterns, we seek to confirm it through circumstance and thus lend ourselves to compromise and self-trickery. I always found that finding confirmation of my negative thoughts through people externally was nearly impossible. This can be illustrated simply by a very underweight me asking if someone thought I looked “fat” – always hearing the honest answer of “no” but never internalizing it. I would then seek out confirmation in other ways like through contorting my body in bizarre ways in front of the mirror that I would never present in public to “prove” that I looked fat or at least strange. However, confirming the positive and true thoughts is actually quite easy. A very simple example of this could be a day where I am feeling a little shaky with my body image but in an effort to deny the negative and refocus I might say, “It’s great to have the energy and strength to spend the day skiing” and I might hear a reply of something along the lines of “Yes, I had a good time too. You have a natural ability and your stamina is great!” Thus, what is really important is reinforced: pleasure in activity and the strength and ability of my body. In the past I might have labelled this as compliment seeking but that is not my intention and because I am solid in that knowledge of my intent, I can receive positive feedback. Also, because of the people I seek it from I can trust that what they say is sincere.
The attempt to make this change in thinking was kind of imposed on me as I set out on my journey towards recovery - it was part of the program - but it certainly wasn’t handed to me. No one could change my thinking for me, I ultimately had to do the work and now I have to find ways to practice this and make it habit in my old environment. I was helped by a specific group of people but I’m finding every day that those people that I needed were right here in front of me the whole time, they just might not have known the language that I needed to understand and really believe and move forward. My point is that it’s possible anywhere if one choose to help themselves. People are here, people care…as cliché as it is: what are friends for? It’s too often through distressful times that we discover who the pillars in our lives are and who we have put effort into that resulted in fair-weather friends. It’s another painful lesson that often comes in acute times of need but through each and every trial, we come out stronger and when we seek out help in those times, we rise together – connected.