Lately I was having a discussion on what to do when anxiety, or depression start to get a hold of our bodies. Those who have experienced anxiety attacks, depression, neurosis, understand how none of these symptoms automatically occur. They can creep on us, slowly yet suddenly, like a wave. The body senses the wave as it approaches and our mind starts to loose control as we spiral into of these phases. There are many techniques taught in order to help people be able to feel more in control of their emotions; most of these techniques are taught through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Today however instead of focusing on a lot of CBT theory, I would like to introduce some of the principles I have learned and which I find useful….
This article is based mostly on the teachings by Katie Byron; on what she believes are “key” principles to retrain our minds in order to achieve peace and balance. Personally I love these principles, having tried them myself, I can personally see the difference they can make and the peace they can bring. Like any therapy the idea of these principles alone are not going to be enough. The integration of these principles requires time and consistency, but I promise you that if you implement them in your life, they will help you relieve some of the most stressful symptoms.
These principles allow us to get in touch with ourselves and rediscover our own happiness, experimenting that which already exists within us. To learn these principles no “teacher” is needed, you become your own guide. As you keep practicing them, you will get the sense of control and accomplishment you may feel was lacking from your life.
- Become aware when your thoughts are not in coherency with reality.- We only suffer when we fully believe on a specific thought and that thought its not coherent with our reality. The trick lies in recognizing what is NOT under our control in order to stop fighting with reality and start flowing instead. For example: We can spend a long time trying to teach a cat to bark, however no matter how much we may try, at the end of the day the cat will still be a cat; only capable of meowing. To wish for our exterior reality (what is going on around us at any given time) to be anything else other than what is, is a tremendous risk to our mental health and depleting to our physical energy supply. If we take the time to pay attention to our thoughts, a pattern starts to emerge. Most of our thoughts are about things which are out of our control because they at external to us; for example when we spend time thinking the following: “people should be kinder, more educated, more direct”. “The lineup at the store should be moving faster”, etc. These type of thoughts can get us stressed out, yet we can not change what is happening at that specific moment because it has nothing to do with us. Learning this principle helps us understand how most of our tensions originate because of our fighting with our external reality. Once we learn to identify that which is under our control and that which is not, then we start to relax because understand that fighting against “life” is pointless. No one wants for a loved one to die, no one wants for their car to stall yet it happens; what good does it do to mentally fight with life over it?, yet we do it because we know no other way. Whenever we fight with life, we will loose; so what is the point of opposing it instead of flowing with it?. This doesn’t mean one should give up and do nothing. All this principle is trying to teach us, is that in order to make a change we need to start with what we can control; ourselves. If we all started paying more attention to the things we need to work within ourselves, change would inevitably happen; the ripple effect. If you don’t agree with something, someone or you can’t tolerate an injustice, stand up against it, but do so because it’s who you are, not because you want to be recognize and praised. The first one is part of you, as such is under your control. The second one is not. When you do things because it’s part of who you are then what others think or do becomes inconsequential. Learning to focus on ourselves more; without becoming self involved; is key to stop suffering. It is the key to lowering our anxiety and the key to experiencing happiness.
- Focus on your own things.- This principle is linked to the first, but let’s elaborate more. There are three types of challenges in life: yours, my own and God’s (By God I mean the everything…life, reality, universe). Everything that is out of my control or yours is what I called God’s worries. A big part of our tension originates from spending time not focusing on our own challenges, for example: “I want you to be happy”, “You need to be more punctual”, “You should take better care of yourself”. All of these are examples of someone meddling, worrying about someone else’s life. On the other hand when you worry about an earthquake, war, or the date in which you are supposed to die, then you are meddling in God’s worries. If mentally we become involve in someone else’s worries or those of God, then we experience separation; separation from our own self. Here is a clearer example: If you go around spending energy thinking “my mother (or other) should understand me better” then you will start experiencing a deep loneliness. The feeling of loneliness is a natural result of dwelling on such a thought. If however instead of dwelling on it, we learnt to observe it, we would further ahead. Why observe it? because we are not responsible for what someone else does or doesn’t do or how they feel about us. The only one who can change an exterior circumstance is the other person because the issue lies within that person. I know it hurts and I know we all would like to be accepted by those who were supposed to have loved us. I speak from experience when I tell you that no matter how much you dwell on it, if the one who is in need of changing the behavior is not willing to recognize it and fix it, then dwelling on it will only bring more pain. Dwelling on it then becomes self punishment. It took me a while to understand this concept, and at times I still struggle, but I have come to realize that whenever I felt deeply hurt, abandoned, lonely, it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with someone else’s behavior. Yes I wanted to be seen by those who were supposed to have care but that was not going to happen no matter what I did. It took me a while to understand that particular issue wasn’t my fault or my responsibility to fix, as such I can’t not change the outcome no matter how much I dwell on it. I can only change and evolve my own self. I can only focus on my own issues. When I started “observing” rather than dwelling on it, things started to hurt less. It took time but I was able to learn to let go of those who were being detrimental to my mental and physical health. Think about it, while you stress they go to bed probably without even being aware of how hurtful their actions are, and if they are and are not willing to change; are those the type of people you want around?. People who will only try to make you feel guilty and responsible for what lies within them because they are unable to face their own imperfections?… Aren’t you worth more than that?. What are you willing to give up in order to get their acceptance?…Your peace of mind, your happiness, your self esteem, your growth?. Are you willing to live under their control and shadow?, will that bring you happiness?….the answer is NO. Anyone who needs you to lower your head, to stop healing, growing, in order to make you feel accepted, isn’t part of your solution…it’s the problem. It’s time to get rid of the problem. Leave those things/people to God; they are part of “God’s worries”. Only life will be the judged and only life gets to decide if they ever become part of your circle or not, but never at your mental or physical expense. Realize that if they are living their life, and you are mentally living their life (worrying about how things should be) then WHO is livg YOUR life?… We experience separation from our selves and yet we go around asking why our lives aren’t working out. Your life is not working out because you are not giving yourself permission to live. You are treating yourself as if others have the right to experience life and you have to apologize for yours. I understand what you are experiencing is what others and traumas may have left you feeling, but it isn’t real. You are made of the same stardust, which makes you magnificent and magical, so embrace your magic and LIVE. Live by your own terms. Your happiness doesn’t have to fit someone else’s idea. This where you need to accept we are all different and others have the right to live their life in whatever way they please as long as it doesn’t invade yours negatively. Same rule applies for you, because YOU also have the right to live and be happy without affecting someone else negatively. If you come to fully understand this principle; learning to discern what is YOU and what is someone else’s; it can liberate you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. The next time you experience tension or uneasiness ask yourself whose worries are you taking on. You will see the difference, maybe you will even end up laughing out loud ( I did), realizing a lot of it was worrying about things which I can not control. After practicing this principle for a while you may start to even realize your life actually works just fine for you, that there is nothing majorly wrong with it, and that it’s flowing the way its supposed to.
- Confront your thoughts with understanding.- Any negative thought is harmless unless we start believing on it. It is not our negative thoughts but our beliefs in them which create tension and sadness. A belief is the result of a thought we have spend time and energy pondering on; sometimes we do this for years. The majority of people think they are the result of their thoughts. The thinking process is complex and deeply personal. You can’t get up in the morning and say to yourself “Today I am not going to think”, too late you already did. Thoughts simply float around, originating seemingly from nothing and dissolving/returning themselves to the same void. They are like clouds moving through the sky; just passing by not meant to stay. They are simply visitors, unless we choose to hold onto them and make them part of our reality. No matter how much you may hear others speak of how they have learned to control their thoughts; it’s not true. They may have learned to control the outcome; they have not learned to control the birth of thoughts within their mind or their mind would be empty. Byron recommends not to fight with our thoughts but instead to face them with understanding, accepting that a thought on its own can not harm you. Thoughts are no different than drops of rain, appearing out of nowhere, and through introspection we can learn a lot abut ourselves and even develop a friendship with our thoughts. Would you spend time and energy fighting with a rain drop?, that would be pointless; the same applies to your own negative thoughts. Once you face a painful or uncomfortable thought with understanding and compassion towards yourself for having them, the next time it won’t hurt in the same way, until eventually it is released.
- Become fully conscious of your own story.- The word “story” is used here to describe a thought or sequence of thoughts which we determine as real. A story can be about the past, present or future. It can be about how things should be or why we think they are the way they are. Stories appear in our mind hundredths of times a day, for example: When someone wakes up without saying good morning, when someone doesn’t smile back, or doesn’t call back, and we tend to fill in the blanks in an attempt to make sense of what is going on. Stories are theories which have not been investigated or proven to be real. False stories occur when we assume a sequence of events without any tangible prove. We assume we know what the outcome will be before it occurs. This usually happens because our brain works with “data”; the more traumas we may have encountered the faster our brain jumps to conclusions. It does this to protect us, to protect itself, yet at times this process can become our own jail. It is here where the use of the previous principles (specially principle #3) becomes very useful. It’s not about beating yourself up for jumping to a conclusion. Jumping to a conclusion because of past trauma is not the same as jumping to a conclusion out of being judgemental. Those who have experienced anxiety, depression, etc, need to understand that how your mind is working is not “abnormal”, even when others may think so. It is totally “normal” to react “abnormally” when one has experienced consecutive negative events throughout life. It’s natural for our brain to gather data and determine what it judges to be the best course of action before we get hurt again. However if we want to heal, we need to lower our fight or flight response by gently, slowly , learning to let events unfold before us….witnessing the outcome ourselves vs comparing it to a previous event. This is the only way to reformat, rewire our brain towards healthier thoughts and attitudes. In victims of severe abuse this can be quite challenging; don’t beat yourself up for not always getting it. Give yourself a round of applause, be proud of yourself for every time you allow things to unfold past a previous point. No one has the right to push you when you are trying, The trick is not to get complacent by accepting a reality created by an injured/abused mind. If you want to heal, if you want to recover then you will need to keep practicing this. As long as you keep moving forward when a chain of events similar to something in your past occurs, you will be in the right track. Let me reiterate, this is something you need to do at your own pace; you are only loosing if you are not even trying. Don’t judge yourself by how fast others think you should “get it”. They have a choice, they can either be in your life and show understanding without enabling or they can exit your life and let you move at your pace. You also have a choice; you can choose to not even try to retrain your mind, to heal your past, and live trapped alone in it, or you can gather your strength and take the steps necessary towards healing. It doesn’t matter if they are small steps, what matters is the direction in which you are heading. I know this first hand it isn’t easy; it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. At times when I find myself falling into the trap of beating myself up, I tell myself the following: ” I was strong enough to survive all of it, so the strength is IN me. I am not weak, I am not broken or I would not have made it this far. I am not willing to victimize myself and let life pass me by because of what others did. I am afraid, I am hurt, I may even be damaged, but damage isn’t the same as broken. I can do this because I was strong enough to make it this far”. It does help to acknowledge your hurts and your fears, to embrace them and to give yourself permission to be you. Sometimes you will win, sometimes you won’t, but over time the winning side will become higher than the losing. You may be disconnected from self at times but you are not broken; you are hurt. There is a big difference, one acknowledges what happened and still puts the power on you, the other takes the power away from you. If you want to heal then choose the first. Ask yourself, who would you be without your story….you won’t ever know until you try it.
- Look for the false thought hidden behind your hurt.- Behind every hurt lies a false thought. This is NOT the same as saying what you have experience may be false or unreal. For example: I survived multiple rapes while growing up, the false thoughts behind those actions would be: “I am worthless”, “I am only a piece of meat” “I need to hide my body in order not to tempt men” “I need to expose all of me and oversexualize, becoming promiscuous because it’s better than being forced”, ” My life sucked so I can’t change it” ” I can never coach anyone because of my past” …Naturally any of those thoughts can create pain and suffering, but are they real?. The answer is NO, the correct thoughts would be: ” I didn’t do anything to deserve what happened to me, I was a child/young adult” “My body is not sinful” ” I am not responsible for the aberrant choices grown men imposed on me”. “The ones who hurt me are the ones with the illness”. ” I am an amazing coach because I know what it is to be deeply wounded and what it takes to reclaim your life”. “I am an amazing coach because I have the experience and know how, not just theory”. “I can help others because I know what it is to be helpless”. ….these is the correct thinking, yet we tend to allow false beliefs to rule our lives. When trauma occurs it changes your perspective on life; if the trauma is brutal, or imposed at an early age, the natural result is the disintegration of “self” the psyche; not your soul (no one can take that from you). It is very natural when not connected to blame one self for the atrocity; this is specially true when trauma is imposed on children. It is important to look at the thought behind the suffering and examine it correctly, sometimes we can do this by ourselves, other times it helps to have someone else guide us in identifying the false belief; examining them and re-structuring our way of thinking. It’s easy to fall into the trap of a false thought. It helps to look at false thoughts as if they were a compassionate alarm, warning us of how we are getting trapped in a false dream, creating our own nightmare. Anxiety, depression, pain and fear are life’s gifts to us, not our enemies. They can be our friends telling us “look at what you are thinking. Don’t ran away…I want to show you how you are living a false story which isn’t true for you”. Trapped in our own nightmare we tend to look for any way out, but we do so looking for an exterior way out, hoping to avoid the very feelings life has brought to us to help us reclaim our selves. After trauma it’s common to experience negative feelings before we even begin to identify the negative thoughts and their cause. If you take the time to investigate a false thought, you will end up rediscovering yourself. It can be painful at first to recognize who you really are at your core; it’s so much different than the lie you imposed on yourself after trauma. You will mourn, not for the death of self but for the years you lost allowing false ideas to take control of you life. After that, our tears become those of joy, as we discover that no one can take the core of who we are. A core which is very much alive and wanting to come to the front to express itself. When you identify a false thought and you replace with the correct one, you stop suffering.
- Introspection.- Becoming introspective is key to discovering inner peace. Inner peace does not express itself the same way for everyone. Many people assume a person who has achieved inner peace is quiet, doesn’t confront anything, etc. This is an erroneous misconception. We are all unique, our stories are different. Inner peace for an expressionist artist is very different than inner peace for a Buddhist monk. Inner peace is living in coherency, mind, body and soul. Inner peace arises from allowing yourself to be you; to embrace your uniqueness and express your soul in your own way. Introspection allows us to discover all the answers hidden within us. Introspection is part of who we are; many of us have just forgotten how to use it. After practicing it for a period of time, once more it awakens, guiding us towards our healing and fullest potential. NO ONE can heal you. NO therapist, no guide, no guru. Anyone who says otherwise has fallen into the delusion of their false ego. All every healer, therapist does, is guide you towards rediscovering your own introspection. No one can save you, you don’t need a savior, YOU ARE your own savior. If you are healing, or have healed, give yourself some love and a round of applause and don’t allow anyone to tell you that so and so saved you… YOU saved yourself. No one can save you if you don’t want to be saved. No one can find you if you don’t want to be found. Do not give your power away, you are pure raw strength and divinity; life, the universe, God, whatever you want to call it, it’s part of you, it supports you and guides you. You may need a guide to discover your introspection but no one can grant it to you. Keep this in mind… no matter how victimized you may feel, you are no victim. You are a beautiful human soul, who hurts, experiences anger, frustration but who can be willing to experience more of the positive emotions such as love, joy, peace. Our connection with our own introspection, grants us a freedom while teaching us, guiding us, like a best friend who wont ever leave you, because is you.
I hope more and more people work consistently on implementing these principles because they can help us reclaim our lives. The process of healing when applying them can be so subtle that you may not even become aware of how much you are growing until one day you start noticing how you no longer suffer. You may still experience uncomfortable emotions, specially when facing painful memories but they’ll no longer cripple you. Give it a shot and integrate these principles in your daily life.