“Today…I will not allow the voices of the past to control my present. I will remind myself that I am strong and resilient and that I deserve to be loved.”
I have conversations routinely with men and women who struggle to let go of the shame they received from those they trusted most. These voices from the past that, regardless of intent, prevent us from living the fullest life we can.
In my life, as I’ve talked about in previous posts, those voices started with my mother, were reinforced by those around me (teachers, coaches, friends), later the church and eventually my ex-partner. Messages that reminded me I am inferior, inadequate, that I will never be enough and as a result, will never find a place to belong. There are many iterations of these messages in my life, but they are all well entrenched.
I have been contemplating lately on the thinking error of “personalizing” lately. Quick lesson. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, people can employ what are called thinking errors or thought distortions. These thought distortions prevent us from seeing a given situation accurately and consequently we then react out of our distorted perspective which often leads us into destructive behaviours. There are many different thought distortions like black and white thinking (“its my way or the highway”), selective attention (only paying attention to facts that confirm what we believe and ignoring any fact that disputes our thinking) and personalizing. Personalizing is when someone takes events that have no relation to them and interpret those events as though they DO have a relation to them personally. For example, if someone doesn’t text back right away, we interpret that as “they must hate me” rather than “I bet they got busy.” That’s personalizing.
I have been reflecting on how subtle and insidious this thinking error is in my life. When something goes wrong, I automatically assume it is because of me. That I’ve done something (or didn’t do something that I was supposed too) which then quickly leads to shame. As crazy as this may sound, this was a survival skill for me as a child. Because I was dependent on my mother for my very existence, I could never assume she was in the wrong because that could jeopardize my well being. So assuming whatever was happening was my fault was a way for me to stay safe and in control of my surroundings. I surmised “if I’m in the wrong then I can fix it.” So this thinking gave me an ability to make sense out of an extremely chaotic and unsafe environment. Anyone I’m sure raised in an alcoholic or drug addicted home can relate to this.
What I didn’t, or haven’t recognized is that, even after all of the years of therapy I’ve done and conducted, this pattern of personalizing is still strong as ever. It is this thinking that led me to the church and accept that I was a “sinner”. It is why I married a woman who also focused on my short comings and wanted to “change me.” We were both initially aligned in the belief that I am weak, flawed and broken.
This pattern of thinking is present in my work (“if the client hasn’t changed then I must be doing something wrong”), in my family life (“if my kids struggle then it’s my fault”) and even in my dating life (“they didn’t call back because I’m this or that.”).
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done a tremendous amount of healing over the years. I’m not in the same place I was all those years ago. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t struggle with these thoughts and have to be diligent about challenging them when they arise.
Being authentic to me means confronting these thoughts head on. Not allowing them to continue in the background somewhere. It means being honest about my experience with it because I know others struggle with these and other thought distortions. It means embracing who I really am, the beautiful parts and the broken parts, and allowing all of it to reflect the beautiful soul that I have become and continue to be. This concept is what reflects the name of this blog. A beautiful mistake. I was not expected or wanted. I was a mistake which my mother and others have constantly reminded me of throughout the years. However, as is the theme of my life, I have, and continue to take something broken and make something beautiful of it.
Remember…you are beautiful. No matter what challenges you have, Remind yourself every day that you are beautiful, you are strong and you are resilient. Reject the voices from the past that keep you bound to a life that is not yours and watch how you begin to live the life you create for yourself.