by Monica A. Ross, LPC
One of the issues that clients and I collaborate together on in therapy is being attached to old beliefs that no longer fit.
By that I mean beliefs like:
“I should have done something”
“I can’t trust myself”
Part of the hurt caused by what other people may say or do is hurt that we associate with our very own buy-in to one of the above mentioned thoughts.
A big part of letting go of what sometimes shows up as anger or frustration or even jealousy in relationships is letting go of those thoughts.
For someone who believes that :
“I am helpless”
“I am trapped”
“I should have done something”
“I can’t trust myself”. . .
. . .like a magnet there is a certain amount of susceptibility to the pain floating around in the world. When operating on one of the above sets of beliefs some of us tend to take on an inappropriate amount of responsibility for a seeming defect or weakness.
In actuality, a lot of that pain is projected pain of disowned parts. For example, a partner’s refusal to acknowledge that they sometimes too may be rigid gets instead targeted towards a partner or spouse whom they may blame for being inflexible.
What I’m saying is, are there times when we all feel helpless, trapped, guilty, mistrustful?—sure. Are there also times when others are feeling helpless, trapped, guilty, mistrustful, and projecting that discomfort on to us? Yes, as I just pointed out in the above example.
The essence of who we are may be thought of as the highest versions of ourselves, but everything else is part of being human and imperfect. As human beings we are limited in many ways.
Gaining acceptance of the best parts of ourselves or standing in our power as it were isn’t a blank slate to do whatever we want with no moral consequence. It’s not about being overly confident and prideful and thumbing one’s nose at constructive criticism or our potential limitations.
Not owning up to misplaced blame is not the same thing as a refusal to apologize when we’ve done something wrong. By the same token, I do see many people bearing burdens that either do not belong to them or that they may only partially be responsible for, which is really what this whole post is about.
The problem is that these burdens fuel the overall anxiety and depression that many feel in life. This in turn causes people to 1) consciously hold back from others in the moment 2) unconsciously hold back in the moment and/or 3) withhold inviting any kind of vulnerability in the future.
It’s not safe. It’s very hard to feel anxious and safe at the same time.
The question becomes how much of that anxiety do we create for ourselves by holding on to limiting beliefs from the past?
It can be hard to look past someone’s actions which may in the moment seem abrasive and misplaced and try to imagine a more positive or constructive intent. But then, if we can imagine of ourselves wanting to act with good intent even in the midst of saying something that we know would be hurtful, then it’s not a big leap to imagine the same motivation behind the behaviors of others.
We can’t be hurt by hurtful words or phrases that in the end we do not believe to be true either about ourselves or other people.
I often get a response like the following: But don’t some people do things just to be mean? There is evil in the world after all. What about Hitler? He was evil.
People can do mean things with mean intent. People do make poor choices. I agree.
I choose to believe that even for those who set out to truly harm another, still, that person’s thoughts and behaviors are less about the object of their vehemence who no doubt suffers but more about the persecutor’s inner conflict and turmoil.
Evil behavior does leave a trail of destruction, in fact, it can cause a host of negative core beliefs in the victim. To come full circle with this post, those beliefs may be in the form of the following, but through the work of therapy, they can transform.
“I am helpless” or “I am trapped”
becomes “I can only control what I have some measure of control over”
“I should have done something” becomes “In the moment I did the best that I could”
“I can’t trust myself” becomes “I can learn how better to trust my own judgment about things”
To recap, we as humans have a bias towards negativity and that bias comes in some measure from survival and safety needs and those safety needs perpetuate thoughts that fuel anxiety and depression which then confirm our needs for safety. . .what would it be like to experiment with the idea that we are much safer than we think or that we could, in turn, create that safety when things start to feel a bit uncomfortable or unsafe?
In other words, how would I think, feel, act or behave if I believed the opposite of what was currently driving some of my behaviors if in fact my negative or maladaptive behaviors are fueled by negative core beliefs?
I think we would be a bit more risk-taking and fearless in our lives.
I think we would be able to relax more and have fun.
I think we would have the ability to forgive ourselves and others a little bit more easily if we believed that we were all playing for the same team and not against each other. Playing for the same team to me means sharing in the very least the commonality of being human and of making mistakes.
Monica A. Ross, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Monica can help you to foster resilience. To schedule your appointment with Monica, you can reach her at (512) 572-0055 or request an appointment with her on the Empathic Psychotherapy Scheduling Calendar.