Mind over matter.
Rub some dirt on it.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
These mantras are what I used to tell myself growing up. I wanted to be the person with the thick skin that didn’t get hurt. I wanted to be strong.
They weren’t helpful for me because I ended up becoming ignorant toward understanding myself. They are signals that are meant to help us understand what is going on in life. It’s like having a blinker to use on a car but not actually using them. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to emotions.
I tried to convince myself that feelings don’t matter. Why couldn’t I just be fine all the time? My survival in school depended on fitting in. It felt selfish to feel something while others would appear totally okay and wash it over. That meant numbing and hiding emotions whenever possible. My quivering lip and waterworks were never welcome when I received imperfect grades. Don’t worry about it. It was only in music class or lunch or recess that I shared more of who I was. I allowed more of my competitive side and quirky self obsessed with Kelly Clarkson to shine through. That’s when I felt it was acceptable and safe to switch on the drama and be less robotic. I’d race to the swingsets everyday and shout to the world that I want to touch the sky. I loved life when I got to express myself more.
Life doesn’t have such defined boundaries. Life is all grey and fuzzy. How much can I share? What gets taken personally and actually felt?
We have annual check-ins with the doctor for our physical self. For Pete’s sake, I see a dentist every six months to check the inevitable decay of my teeth. I think it is time that we do the same for our minds. Our brains after all power much of our being. Without our mind, we wouldn’t be living.
Reflecting on 2020 and the pandemic, I lost a loved one, lost my job, and lost my sense of purpose and identity along with it. I felt I didn’t know who I was anymore. I made an intention to make an investment in myself. The first week of January I reached out to a therapist. Nothing was catastrophic in my life to make me in crisis mode. My goal for therapy was to know myself better.
That may sound silly. Don’t I already know myself? In practical terms, yes. Emotionally, though I felt like I am an infant who doesn’t know much at all about the alphabet of emotions. I wanted to be more proactive so life could feel less wonky and reactive in the future.
As psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb shared in an interview, “Part of getting to know yourself is also getting to unknow yourself. That refers to the old clothing, that part of getting to know yourself is to let go of these ideas that you’ve been carrying around about yourself that just aren’t accurate.” I feel like I haven’t upgraded my shoes since birth. I just keep walking. I want to find the shoes that fit me for who I am today, not yesterday. I want to learn how the personal shopper guides me to the best shoes to buy too
It’s scary getting to unknow myself. What would I uncover? Is there a side to myself that I’ve hiding from close friends, family and even myself too? What does it even mean to be authentic to myself?
I don’t see the blindspots of my mind’s programming but a third party equipped with tools can. Having a shepherd to guide me has been supportive. She can dive deep into my noggin with a scapula and probe around a bit on our ancient hardware. She saw the programmed software and the stories that build up over time.
There are two parts to therapy:
The insights and knowing why something is the way it is
Having the accountability to take action on changing
They are the formula that we have to create change. We are a miraculous species that have the power of meta. What do I mean by that? We have awareness of our self. A dog does not. If they look in a mirror they have no idea that it is their tail they see wagging identically to their own.
We can learn about the brain all while using the brain. The same goes for feelings. Self awareness is like a super power. I can be in the thick of excitement by playing a pump up playlist before a first date and all the while recognize that I am inducing a more energetic version of myself as opposed to the serious working professional one.
I’m still in the thick of getting to know myself and where I’m going. Here are four things I have learned about myself so far:
Filter my speech and thoughts to use more descriptive words rather than “good” or “bad”.
I have a tendency to jump to conclusions and think in binary ways meaning that if something is not great then it’s awful. This brings on a bunch of negative self talk and heaps of guilt and shame. There’s already enough negativity in the world so I snap myself out of this tendency by being more descriptive. We’ve got a huge dictionary of other words to choose from.
Reality is subjective and a choice I make.
My reality is my perception and it is only one version of a reality. It is a choice what I perceive. For example, if I choose to focus on the things going well in my life like how fortunate I am for my health, fitness and well-being then I am more likely to appreciate that in others. To be an optimist is a choice I make to see and be grateful for gifts each day. As author Joseph Campbell said, “‘Reality’ is just a word and you shouldn’t use it without quotation marks around it anyway.”
Stories build on themselves starting from self talk.
Little adjustments to the dialogue in my head can drastically change the plot. To think that I’m not unworthy is much different than to be aware of that thought rather than internalize it and recognize that I’m having a thought about that. I have a choice of whether I actually believe that.
Self-analysis does not mean I am healing.
There needs to be time to heal and we cannot expedite the process by overanalyzing everything and going into a mode of proving. Counterintuitive research shows that by self analyzing, it doesn’t actually mean we are more self-aware. The more that we ask why and get to connecting dots, the faster we create a narrative and reinforce existing patterns or unconscious biases. Self awareness involves having multiple sources of perspectives of how we perceive and are perceived in the world. It is about asking questions about “what”. What makes us happy, what are our values, and what feedback we have received?
Answers to all these questions of unknowing myself to better know myself are still being found. Once they get found, they will most likely change again. There’s no rush on this journey as I’ve realized there are no easy answers. For now, I have created some new mantras to better serve myself than the ones from my childhood.
Live a life full of color. Each color will pass.
I’m curious. I’m a philosopher. I love having more questions than answers.
Feeling means I care. Caring makes me human. Being a human is beautiful.