(and you’ve tried everything else you can think of)
To me, there’s nothing more frustrating than knowing I’m engaged in unhelpful patterns (codependent people pleasing, shaming my body, etc)…
And I maybe even have a clear idea of what needs to change and how…but I just can’t seem to make the change stick.
To give one example in which I basically have a PhD at this point:
Relationship Drama Bulls*%t
There aren’t enough numbers in existence to count the times I’ve thought:
“This person is driving me NUTS–I can’t do this anymore.”
Followed immediately by the ice-cold fear of:
“Oh god, what if they dump me/don’t like me/talk shit about me?”
For years, I felt trapped in relationships where, together, our wounds were inflicting so much collateral damage on everyone involved…
yet I was so filled with a tangly web of terror-relief at the thought of losing the relationship that I couldn’t see a way out.
(Or if I did, I’d just repeat the same old drama-rama with the next person.)
Maybe you can relate?
Or finances. Ohhhhh, finances. Where to even begin.
Perhaps you know what it’s like to crawl out of one angry hornet’s nest of money angst, swearing this is the last time.
From now on you’re going to save more, ask for that raise, STAY AWAY from Amazon when you’re bored…
Only to find yourself, before long, waltzing face-first into the very same trap.
Your car’s transmission craps out, and there goes $4,000 you didn’t have in the first place.
Or Amazon boxes start landing on your doorstep, followed shortly thereafter by a credit card bill that maybe it would be okay to burn without opening. (Just this once.)
For me, these patterns had me convinced that I clearly, obviously sucked at life in some fundamental way.
I mean, otherwise, all of the things I was doing—meditation, yoga, therapy, journaling, etc etc etc—would actually be working…right?
If I just did them enough or the right way, maybe I could finally feel confident in my ability to change, release badgering thoughts, and not be so overwhelmed by my emotions all the damn time.
Well, here’s the thing:
None of us are actually taught how to do this stuff.
It’s kind of astonishing, when you think about it.
I remember back in grade school, arriving to class one morning to find a blank, white envelope waiting on every desk.
We were instructed to take out our ruler and pencil, and the teacher showed us how to make neat penciled rows: one for the recipient’s and one for the sender’s address.
We learned where to affix the stamp (this was back when you had to lick them, and I was one of those kids who fiendishly loved the taste) and how to properly format the address.
I can’t count how many times I’ve used this knowledge. (Thanks, Mrs. Kern!)
So why, then, was I never taught what to do when it felt like anxiety was going to make my heart actually, literally explode?
Or how to set boundaries in my relationships so I could feel safe and connected at the same time?
Or ways to recognize when my “self-care” practices were actually causing me more harm than good (and what to do instead)?
But then again…we are taught these things, aren’t we?
Somehow, we figure out a way of dealing with the anxiety, the boundaries, and the self-destructive patterns.
And we do this by watching what the people around us are doing, especially our family, soaking it all in like a dutifully attentive sponge.
We see how our dad gets that sharp edge of contempt in his voice when someone is being “too emotional.”
We take mental notes when our grandma laughs off (a little too loudly) someone’s hurtful comment instead of speaking to it.
We memorize every nuance of the panic and loneliness when we’re sent to our rooms for a timeout, right when we most need to feel held and accepted.
All of these lessons get absorbed into our being…
…creating what I call our matrix of meaning.
If we imagine this matrix as a props list for a play, we might have things on our list like:
“contempt toward emotions”
“giving people the silent treatment”
“that weird, clenched feeling when I think someone’s mad at me.”
And throughout life, an unconscious part of our psyche is always scanning our surroundings, making sure everything on the list is present and accounted for.
Do we and/or someone in our life exhibit contempt around emotions? Check!
Do we and/or someone in our life engage in the silent treatment when hurt? Check!
Much as we might consciously hate these experiences…
…unconsciously, something feels unnervingly amiss when they’re not present and accounted for.
When this matrix is unconscious, as it is for everyone until we learn how to coax it into the light of awareness, we have zero control over it.
This isn’t because we’re weak or broken or lacking in some way.
It’s because the matrix is unconscious.
I’m going to go Captain Obvious for a moment, but it took me ages to truly understand this:
We can’t do anything about a thing until we’re conscious of its existence.
If, 30 years ago, someone dumped a bunch of toxic waste in my yard, and now, when I’m trying to grow vegetables, they just aren’t doin’ so hot or when I eat them I don’t feel so great…
I can address things at a symptoms level all day long—maybe taking some digestive enzymes to ease that weird cramping or getting some high-end organic fertilizers…
And some of these things might even create change. For a little while, at least.
But the fundamental issue—there’s freakin’ toxic waste in my yard!—isn’t something I can effectively address until I know it exists.
And I’m not an idiot for not knowing—I just don’t know what I don’t know.
There might be parts of us that think, “Oh man, how the heck am I going to deal with toxic waste??” These parts might believe it’s better to just not know.
I hear that. I really do.
I’ve spent decades feeling terrified of knowing what I don’t want to know.
But here’s the thing: When you actually understand what you’re dealing with, you can…well, deal with it.
Your belief in your ability to change might be rock-bottom low, and I can relate, believe me.
But is it really that you’re hopeless at change…
…or could it be that, just maybe, you’ve been spraying fertilizer on some tomatoes that are trying their lovely tomato-y best to grow in toxic waste?
Chances are good (very good, in fact) that as you start learning what’s really underpinning your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, you’ll be in a much, much better position to deal with them, no matter what comes up.
You already possess the ability for utterly gobsmacking change.
I realize this might sound like hooey, and that’s okay. It’s more of a “you gotta feel it to believe it” sort of thing.
So I’m not asking you to take my word for it.
What I do ask is that, for the next week, you allow me to share some of the insights and tools that have helped me believe in myself…
…and that fill me with absolute confidence that you have every reason to believe in yourself, too.
I’ll be back very soon with Part Two.