Here’s an excerpt of chapter 16: Even when we have done the work of facing painful feelings and restructuring self-defeating beliefs, many of us continue the habit of questioning ourselves unnecessarily or turning against ourselves when something goes wrong. Self-doubt is a habit that no longer serves a protective purpose. It only undermines our efforts to build self-assurance and a new outlook by uncentering us and thus disorganizing our sense of ourselves. We must see that self-criticism and shame are not based on the reality of who we are but rather are attempts to control our pain without dealing with it directly.
If our old sense of self is based on self-criticism and self-hatred, we must be emphatic in treating ourselves positively in order to build a stance based on self-love and a realistic appreciation of our worth. It isn’t overcompensation. It simply feels that way if we’ve had a taboo against being on our own side.
Three things turn the tide
Here’s what turns you from a life based on self-criticism, hurt, or disappointment to one of joy and fulfillment:
- Giving feelings the time they need to be acknowledged and to flow through, and not despairing that they will never end, simply because they are not going fast enough to suit our impatience. When they have subsided enough (not disappeared for good – that’s an unrealistic goal) we will not be swept away by them, and we’ll be able to tolerate their resurgence if they’re triggered, because they are no longer overpowering and we know how to handle them. They won’t run us. We’ll be in the power seat of our lives, and then we can turn our attention elsewhere freely and grow new habits. (This we talked about in the BWITSY chapter.)
- Turning our attention toward a palpable experience of self, with a rich sense of being firmly in our core and valuing what we find there. (We started building this in the Centering chapter.)
- Building a new internal structure based on a strong belief, staunchly practiced, in our own value. And this is what we are learning in this chapter.
To be life-affirming and experience-altering, centering needs to be based on a belief that we are wonderful!
One of the first things people notice when they center is that they feel grateful for what they have and who they are. As we continue to practice, this sense of fullness in ourselves builds a solid core. We then can experiment with a different response pattern, taking the stance that we are fine, good, and wonderful, and then behaving in line with that conviction. This is a crucial step in uncovering joy and really changing how we feel in our lives. Developing the habit of feeling ourselves, at our core, to be valuable and good is the key to building a new personal reality.
Our center continues to strengthen over time as we stop ourselves from going down old, worn paths of self-blame, excessive apology, or excuse- making, (or whatever our automatic artillery is). Then we must insist on taking the stance that we are fine. We can then see what life is like when standing in our ‘worthy’ position, noticing new options that appear – not our old usuals…
…Valuing ourselves is not just a nice idea. It is crucial in order to turn away from those deeply grooved pathways of self-doubt, second-guessing, anticipating disaster, and despair. We cannot wait for circumstances to pop self-confidence over our heads like a new sweater. We must train our minds to see ourselves as valuable and precious. Joy is not an externally induced event, which actually is a great relief. Our joy is not dependent on events or other people. Even if it feels as though we’re breaking taboos, and the wrath of all the gods will pour down on our heads for doing so, we can choose to invest in a true, positive sense of ourselves.
Turning your focus toward your good qualities connects you with your true self. Really. When you do so, you can see that self-negation is not accurate at all. It’s been loaded heavily with the weight given to negative thoughts. When you see that those self-doubting voices are merely an attempt to keep you out of trouble by keeping you from taking risks, you can calm them down and begin to let your old self-image slip off your shoulders.
Getting our nervous systems to help build a new sense of self
How our neurology can help our efforts is clearer if we understand the physiology of adaptation. For example, the reason that you get out of shape if you lie around on the couch is that human bodies readily adapt to changes in circumstance in order to survive. If you had to wait out the winter in a cave or a yurt, your body would reduce all internal activity to a much slower state, closer to hibernating. It accomplishes this by dismantling or reallocating quite a few synapses from action-oriented to being-on-hold and transforming your muscles into fat as fuel storage.
This same physiological mechanism can be used to help you build your new self-definition. Your internal structure – either based on self-criticism or on self-support – builds or atrophies based on usage, just as your muscles do. It’s a miracle of being human that the more conscious awareness you bring to any system or function, the more development occurs in that area, because awareness sparks energy, and more energy can build more structure.
To help that old-view-of-you to atrophy, we need to champion our healthy view of ourselves staunchly, even fiercely. Especially when you’re in the middle of some stressful event, it takes committed effort to combat old fault-finding thoughts. Insist on seeing yourself as good and valuable by rehearsing affirming messages, even if they seem artificial at first. After a while, your self-perception will start to shift.
Own your own power
To staunchly support ourselves we must own our own power. To do so, we must first identify when and how we have given it away to others. Sometimes we don’t even know what power is rightfully ours, thinking that we have to please too many people or be too good in too many situations. We don’t realize that it is our job to stick up for ourselves. When we don’t know what power is rightfully ours, we drain and belittle ourselves by avoiding responsibility and giving the decision-making or action-taking to others, or when we trance out, taking refuge in a numb internal place.
We must activate our energy, come back to the present, and insist on seeing ourselves in a positive light, refuse again and again to go down those old paths that say that we can’t do it, or don’t deserve to get it, or might as well give up, or can’t count on anyone, or (what’s yours say?).
When we build a habit of being our own champion (and who better to do it, I ask you?) we can let our gifts blossom. The more we support ourselves, the more they grow. As we remove the constriction of negative thought patterns, more energy is freed up to apply to our talents, and they develop even more. We deserve to treat our gifts as precious and sacred and to do whatever is needed in order to protect and nurture them.
Being centered with a positive self-awareness allows us to relax into ourselves, giving birth to a profound peace which in turn uncovers the joy waiting for us in our core. Returning to it, or staying with it, demands that we continue to support ourselves insistently and repeatedly. The earlier and more chronically that trauma happened in our lives, the fiercer we have to be in supporting our sense of ourselves as worthy.
As we claim our right to determine our own opinion of ourselves, the past can slip into less importance. Abuse, as well as other people’s criticisms, can become more peripheral to our self-concept. Freedom does not, ultimately, have to do with our circumstances. It is in our power to keep from continuing to imbue events with the urgency or horror that has thrown us off in the past. True freedom lies in seeing that we are in charge of how we interpret events, of our attitude, and in how we choose to be within ourselves. Freedom and peace come when we do not let events, either internal or external, knock us off our center for too long. Then joy is uncovered, at first for a minute, then, with practice, for longer stretches of time.