Challenging Thoughts

(Song Dedication: You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive)

My intellect is often like Jack and Rose, spinning frantically, building momentum with each turn as the weight leans heavily toward this outward trajectory, should someone let go…look the fuck out. Consider yourself warned.

Although this ill-fated couple dance in the moment, to establish some kind of connection, synchronization or affirmation of their authentic selves and the choice they do actually possess to do as they wish, even though society would vehemently oppose their union, they carry on until they can’t, all in the name of survival.

And I don’t just recall the iconic scene from Titanic (in case you were like WTAF is she on about?) because we watched it last weekend as a family, I reflect on that particular scene as a metaphor for my busy mind, a mind who needs a break before it vomits on a passerby’s shoes or let’s go and pummels an innocent bystander in the face or ends up smeared down a close-proximity book shelf or something. All not ideal outcomes, by the way.

Typically my breaks in intellectual spinning come in the shape of yoga, meditation, post-write bliss or sleep. TBH, I think you can tell who isn’t getting her steady diet of intentional processing rest. That would be me. Although I write plenty still for work and academics, I have denied the act of this writing, this blog, personal essay, informal writing thingy that is whatever this is. And although I struggle to define whatever this is, I will not deny its significance in its impact on my well-being.

I have carried passages and concepts of this particular write…including the summative title, for nearly a month in my dizzy mind. Initially I was concerned I might let it slip away like water in cupped hands; trickles and drops returning to the stream of my unconscious, until I had lost all perspective on what it was that had me so wrapped up. But it didn’t seep out, it just kept churning from the back to the front, until, I guess I had enough experience and events to construct the intangible into letter and word form. It persisted and so must I, paying attention to what it is I need to know.

This is what I can say with all certainty today, as I slow it all down for my own good sake, I have spent recent years working to notice thought patterns that weren’t currently serving me as an adult; thought patterns developed in my perception of need-to-survive as a child. The continuous stream of mental messages were precautionary language to keep me in my place. Sign posts to stay the course. If I knew my place, I had control. When I had control I was able to create a perceived sense of safety, familiarity and attachment.

Common operational procedures of self-talk included, you are wrong, you are stupid, you are lazy, you would be prettier if ‘x’, you are a liar, you don’t belong, you are too much…too emotional…too sensitive. All of these equate to the core idea of You Are Unworthy. Unworthy of what? This I have defined through my more recent academic studies and the work of Gabor Maté, Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. Kristen Neff, Dr. Edith Eger and science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa, and what this is is love, attachment and acceptance. 

It is human nature to desire belonging. With a secure attachment to our caregivers, we as babies and children have an increased chance of survival by design. However, human nature also longs to identify with who we really are – our authentic selves – good, bad and ugly. When a human mind is asked to choose between who we truly are or maintain relationships and belonging, the suffering ensues as we push back for a time, trying to meet our need for authenticity. Unfortunately the culture of the system in which we exist can be so domineering that eventually the act of authenticity becomes unsustainable and we relent to keep our attachments in tact. We are coerced and eventually we comply. We can fundamentally survive without being our true selves much longer than if our tribe shuts us out when vulnerable. A tribe of one is unprotected and survival resources are depleted quickly. Personal abandonment is safer than being abandoned.

So the biology of this process kicks in. If I believe the thought I am unworthy, as a child I will not just keep my attachment integrity, I actually have the power to control through my behaviours. You see for me unworthiness meant if I make myself small, non-threatening, non-demanding, reduce expectations, and awareness of my own needs I can be who I think they (family, friends, teachers, coaches, bosses, etc) want me to be. In response to this thoughts-create-behaviours feedback loop, I discovered perfectionism was a great solution to preemptively stay ahead of this completely draining and exhausting existence. And even in perfectionist mode I constantly countered with impostor syndrome tendencies to balance it all out to reduce the risk of rejection. Be perfect, but not so perfect that they reject you, find your flaws and make sure to point those out to remain part of the group. See there’s the spin cycle yet again!

On a recent second run through of Louise Hay’s book You can Heal Your Life she said something that bent the cyclical thinking that I was still wrestling with, even with all my awareness and capacity to self-empathize. The noticing and letting go (this is my description of mediation anyway) of thoughts as passing clouds in a mind-sky just wasn’t quite serving me anymore. I needed the wrench of her offering to recalibrate a different relationship with those thoughts. She asked me to release my need to feel unworthy. And for a few repetitive moments, I needed to go back and consider, go back again and say whoa, whoa, hold up…did you just say I have a NEED to feel unworthy? Holy shit, yes she did and she isn’t kidding! In fact, the more I contemplated, the more I considered how accurate this statement was.

I think the first time I read her book, I passed over this passage as a notion that didn’t really hook me because my intellect simply dismissed it as of course I know I am worthy of love and belonging, of course I am worthy as a human because I believe all humans are! But when she followed up with the reinforcement phrase ‘treat yourself as you want to be treated’, I began to understand that I could no longer cycle these unhelpful and frankly cruel and unhealthy thoughts with a simple nod and tip of my spiritual hat, I had to actually challenge them.

Being asked to release my need to feel unworthy is the greatest challenge for my intellect at the moment. I believe if I continue to release this need, which no longer serves a purpose and is now instead contributing to unhealthy behavioural adaptations like self-doubt, self-deprecation and believing I don’t deserve to live my life in joy, purpose and fulfilment…which then leads to actionable choices to not write like this, practice yoga, meditate, ask hard questions of others or eat copious amounts of mini chocolate bars because otherwise we will have leftovers after Halloween (weak argument I know…if I want to eat the candy, just eat it without a lame-ass excuse), I will create the shift from self-sabotage to self-actualization.

I am ready to challenge my most challenging, long established thought now that I appreciate the mold from which it was formed and how it once helped me survive as well as the greater importance of how it now only serves to imprison me from embracing my authentic-self. I release my need to feel unworthy and look forward to the alignment of returning to the self I repeatedly abandon who waits ever so patiently for my return. Again and again, I will return until that is, the cycle is broken in all my worthiness to challenge this patterned opponent.

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