29: Redefinition of self through 3 practices
I entered 2020 with a large serving of denial around my mental health and a fucked up definition of self. I loved my job; I had a great support system; I felt happy. I even managed my ADHD and succeeded in most areas of my life. Problems arose the moment I experienced any form of intense, confusing emotion. I became unreasonable, combative, emotionally irresponsible, and erratic. Something had to change: I had to self-destruct. So I did. I enrolled in therapy and started from scratch. In doing so, I learned three practices that changed my approach to relationships and life.
You’re not as alone as you think.
We challenge ourselves when we lean on a support system because we engage in vulnerability filled with complete and utter trust. We challenge our beliefs that we burden others with complicated feelings. We face our fear that people leave as soon as we rely on them. We confront situations that may leave room for misunderstanding. While we worry we offend people and ruin future connection possibilities, we create opportunities for understanding. But our inner critic regularly prevents us from sharing authentic feelings and growing connections.
While our experiences are our own, we are more alike than we realize. Books like The Relationship Cure by John Gottman explore the idea of connection bids. We often turn away from potential connection offers by assuming we must suffer alone. We block interpersonal growth by internalizing our concerns and feelings. We reduce our authenticity in the relationship. We must provide opportunities for people to understand what we’re going through by turning towards bids.
Inner Voice: Proceed with Caution
My therapist asked what I wanted to focus on throughout cognitive behavioral therapy. I said one word: Confidence. Our search ended when I understood I didn’t lack confidence. I did lack a healthy relationship with my internal dialog. I couldn’t differentiate between feelings, and as a result, I reacted to experiences and feelings inaccurately. I trusted my gut while armed with low emotional intelligence.
We learn to listen to our inner voice from an early age. We experience life, which builds neural pathways and forms our intuition. The moment life challenges us, we enter fight or flight and react based on previous experiences. We survived in the past, so we act accordingly to survive. But what happens when what we want doesn’t align with what our intuition says? Do we listen to that voice and assume we don’t want that thing? Or do we challenge ourselves, dive deep to understand where the misalignment exists? We rarely allow ourselves space to name our feelings, recognize how we typically react and decide if that reaction applies. In the end, we self-sabotage without ever realizing what we did.
Boundaries: Practice Standards, Dissolve Expectations
We all have that friend who excels most of the time but regularly confuses us with their choices. We try to persuade them, manipulate them, but ultimately we fail to get through to them. We become frustrated, disappointed, and pull away. At that moment, we don’t recognize we projected unspoken expectations onto them. We know that particular friend, yet we expected them to know better, behave a certain way, treat us better, and so forth. We fail to accept that person as they are.
When we isolate our feelings around the situation and remove blame, our standards remain. We take responsibility for our feelings and understand our disappointment is our creation. Once we let go of disappointment and dissolve expectations, we desire to understand. We open up a whole new world full of questions and opportunities for growth, connection, and even renewal.
Once we accept others, we begin to forgive ourselves. We recognize how often we prevent connection due to anticipating boundaries because we’re scared of asserting our own. We avoid conflict because our inner voice insists conflict will arise when proof doesn’t exist. We push others away and continue the self-fulfilling prophecy. We move forward by recognizing our standards, asserting our boundaries, challenging our inner voice, and taking responsibility for our own lives. Only then can we find that connection we desire.