Archive for personal belief system
It was so subtle. And I was entirely defenseless to protect myself from it. I had no reference point in my youngest years to be able to say, “Hey, believing this will play out badly for me in the future. I’m going to decide to believe differently.” It was what I naturally took to be “normal” because it was my normal. It was the home I grew up in. It was the two most advanced human beings that I knew, modeling to me what it meant to be human. Being 100% impressionable, I watched and learned and without even thinking about it plugged what I saw into my first and most important belief system about who I was and what it meant to be valuable.
For so long I could not figure out why I struggled and struggled with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I had no traumatic event to point to in my childhood to explain it. When I thought about my past I just felt lost and hazy. In my present, I was anxious, quiet, afraid to assert my real self, not really knowing who my real self was. I grew to assume everyone else was better than I was , even though I was smart and talented. The common slogan of “just be yourself” always appealed to me, made me feel excited, but I never really got it. Inside I just felt empty. I habitually admired other people, and eventually I learned how to act like other people in an attempt to feel like I was somebody, that I had something, something in myself that I admired in them. I was always trying to be somebody else… because I didn’t know how to be me. Because I couldn’t figure out why I struggled so much, I really felt like there must be something wrong with me. I was weak, somehow faulty, just prone to be depressed. Later on in life I beat myself up for not believing enough that God loved me, that I really must be failing spiritually if I was so depressed. It must be true, because what other explanation was there? Somehow, I was doing something wrong.
The belief system that became such a powerful force in my life had a beginning somewhere… The beginning of this belief system, passed down to me like a bad kind of inheritance, was so hard for me to see because it happened so passively. The lies were never said to me verbally, like “Carla, you are worthless. You’re just one big screw-up. You have nothing to offer.” Nope. My parents never said things like that. How did it happen then that I grew up in a definite state of repression and eventually depression?
There are different pieces of the puzzle, as enforcers of the belief system cropped up in different areas of my life. But I’m focusing a lot on my parents now because they were my first teachers and therefore the most powerful ones. My Dad has his own story of brokenness. If you know my Dad you may feel angry or defensive reading my posts because he is a very nice man. But the belief system that caused brokenness in my Dad’s past is the very same one that caused him to contribute to my broken past. Exposing how the belief system was passed down to me leads to understanding, and understanding leads to healing and freedom. This is why I will write so candidly. In seeing how the belief system was implanted in me in my earliest years, I become free of the lie that I was just born faulty, born with the tendency to be depressed, born with a weak mind or weak soul. This is the truth: I wasn’t born with it, I was born into it. I wasn’t born to be depressed or to struggle with low self-esteem. I learned it from somewhere and just didn’t know how to get rid of it until now. The cycle of lies will only die if they are exposed to the light. I’ve already written about one aspect of the belief system my Dad passed down to me in “The Unengaged Gardener”. In my next post, I will expose another aspect.
In reading Paulo Coelho’s amazing book “The Alchemist” I was so inspired by the main character Santiago, on a quest to find his treasure. He reflects to himself that “he had to chose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. ‘I am an adventurer, looking for treasure,’ he said to himself.” We are adventurers on a quest for our treasure, the treasure of knowing the real truth about who we are and why it has been so hard for us to believe that truth. This quest will definitely lead us through painful territory. But the treasure is worth it. I’m excited to be on this journey with you!
In my last post “Freedom from Nose to Tail Surviving”, I said: “What if there is little interest shown at all? Maybe a parent is physically present, but shares no emotional interaction, doesn’t give of themselves or seek to know, really know, their child? The child assumes that she isn’t worth pursuing, her whole self isn’t worth pursuing. Or maybe, her whole self is ‘too much’ to handle, too much to pursue, not worth the effort.”
Imagine a brand new garden. Dark, fragrant earth. All the seeds are planted and ready to grow. The conditions are just right for this garden to flourish, to thrive. All the potential is there. I imagine this is the life of a new child. We are each born unique, with our own unique potential to be and live out who we are in this world. Some kinds of abuse go into the garden and trample it, rip things out or purposefully squish what is growing. Some kinds of abuse want to redo the whole garden to make it look exactly like their own garden. Some kinds of abuse are only bent on passing down the pain and destruction that they received themselves, be it physical, verbal, or sexual mistreatment.
What about the gardener who, being gifted with the garden, doesn’t do very much with it? He may be there every day but he’s not working to help the seeds to grow. He doesn’t try to learn what they need to thrive. He is terrified of making mistakes, so he stays as far to the periphery of the garden as he can without actually leaving. He finds other things to occupy his time while the garden starts to grow as best it can without his help. He offers some easier attendance here and there, providing the basics, certain things he is comfortable doing. But he doesn’t take the time to learn the intricacies of this place, how unique this particular garden is, and exactly what kind of potential is brewing in its deeply planted seeds. Certain things may still grow and flourish, but with a sense of grasping at life, a hungry sense of surviving. The gardener is not vigilant to protect the vulnerable early growth. Weeds grow at the same time and strangle some of the good stuff just poking through. Birds or insects are given free rein to come and pick at it as they choose. Ripe things that could be harvested drop to the ground unnoticed. Over time, tendrils crawl out all over the place, seeking for some kind of attention and care.
My dad was this kind of gardener. He never tried to destroy my garden, but by mostly sitting around the outside of it, being too afraid to get involved with what was really going on on the inside, he inadvertently sent the message to me that I was not valuable enough to be pursued, that my own feelings and thoughts were not worth being interacted with, that my deepest potential wasn’t worth being investigated. This was the beginning of my hungry heart, the tendrils hungrily seeking out other ways of being validated and affirmed. As children, we automatically form our first most powerful belief system based on how we are treated by our very first gardeners. This belief system was one of the biggest vacuums that drew me into deep struggles with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
I went trail riding last summer as part of my vacation. I’m not an avid horse-rider, and though I have this admiring affection for them, I was still afraid. The guides assured me that these horses had ridden this trail a thousand times- they knew exactly what to do and where to go and there shouldn’t be any surprises. It was true. Though some parts of the trail were more open and gave a little bit of freedom, these horses fell into a predictable nose to tail pattern. We switch-backed down through a steep valley; they plodded along with steady, consistent rhythm. But what had intimidated me at the beginning of the trip was there all along; these were big creatures, strong and powerful. And even though they were controlled day by day with reins and the predictability of the trail path, they had all the potential to break free and take me for the gallop of my life.
Nose to tail, nose to tail… plodding along the same path. What happens when a person’s full potential isn’t valued? What happens when a person is actually valued for being less than all that they are, or for doing things (or not doing things) that please only someone else? Value is placed on the wrong thing. In the powerful dynamic between a child and a parent, the child will automatically strive to be more of what their parents value. As a child, I knew I was valued for being good and right, so I strived to be that way. Or what if there is little interest shown at all? Maybe a parent is physically present, but shares no emotional interaction, doesn’t give of themselves or seek to know, really know, their child? The child assumes that she isn’t worth pursuing, her whole self isn’t worth pursuing. Or maybe, her whole self is “too much” to handle, too much to pursue, not worth the effort.
These were the deep conclusions I had drawn about myself that were at the root of my depression. Over time, what I was valued for was becoming far too cumbersome and burdensome to maintain. Like weights around my shoulders, pulling me down… All my effort to be right and good created endless shoulds and should nots and guilt guards and striving . What I was not valued for was still deep down inside, but so afraid to come out, unaccustomed to interacting with others, unsure of whether or not it would be accepted. I did not know that it was valuable, and I didn’t know how to value it myself.
This is the work I am doing. Chiselling out more understanding, more understanding, deeper and deeper. Uncovering these root beliefs truly is the door to freedom for everyone still plodding along nose to tail, nose to tail. We are each filled with unique and amazing potential and value beyond this trail.
(Part Two from my post The Guilty Way)
Imagine that as you journey along, a destination, a place you would like to be, flashes like a picture into your mind. You can see it. You can see it so clearly… You have this strong sense deep down of what this place is like. You naturally have this urge of wanting to be there, wanting to reach it, this desire coming from the uniqueness of you. You picture this place and feel the desire to be there all in one flash, one spontaneous moment. This is an aim of your heart.
You contemplate moving towards your destination but suddenly you also have this doubt… this strong palpable doubt that what you have pictured is really, well, okay. Is really… good enough. You’ve heard other people describe their picture and suddenly yours seems a little dull. Maybe the vision cast in your mind is faulty. You start to feel anxiety and a sad kind of disappointment all at the same time (you really liked your own picture… in that flash of a moment it was really yours, it was a worthy destination…) Or, you start to doubt if you can make real what you see in your head, if you can actually go from here to there. You’ve never bridged that gap before, never spanned the distance. Maybe you should ask everyone else around you how to get there because they definitely would know better than you do. Oh, YIKES- everyone has a different suggestion! Everyone has a different experience to offer you with different advice! You try to take steps towards your picture but you get pulled this way, that way, updside-down, downside up. Maybe without you even asking, the Guilt Guards say, “But your aim isn’t the right one!! It’s not valiant, virtuous, perfect enough!!” They slam their spears into the ground and block your way.
Voices all cry out at once and the more you listen to them the more they cloud your picture, that picture that at one time was so clear and desirable, just a moment away. Eventually you decide that the mine field between you and your destination is just far too treacherous. The Guilty Way has befuddled your desire to live out what is on the true inside of you (this analogy could relate to many other things besides guilt, but it’s all in the same pot).
Feels like something died.
As I continue to work through my recovery, the difference between that scenario and the next all hinges on the work I’m doing at the foundations of what I know to be true about who I am. Living from these new foundations, my interactions with life (big and small) are growing more and more infused with freedom…
Re-imagine your picture… And this time there’s a clear path straight to it. In sorting through the lies and the truth, you have this growing sense within you, this sense that knows “I have what it takes to live my life. I have that good heart. I can trust it!” You still know you’re not perfect but you accept that as part of the journey and not as a means to discount yourself. So, you see your picture and nothing holds you back anymore. You don’t need to give in to the Guilt Guards to protect you because you now know that the freedom beyond your current borders is a place you can thrive in, and a place you are worthy to thrive in! The Guilt Guards and the Guilty Way just disappear. You bridge the gap and make it to your destination. You feel… alive. You have manifested what was inside of you, outside. You didn’t deaden yourself with pretensions and conventions. You acted out of your own unique spontaneity and were relieved from being pulled in all the directions of the other voices and extra-terrestrial rules. You make it to your picture and breathe in the satisfaction of being there… You did it. And you do it again, and again and again, striding forward towards the aims of your true, good heart. You are free to fly, free to learn, free to grow. This transcends the Guilty Way. This is the Freedom Way!
Big encouragement to everyone as we continue on in our journeys.
Taking a thinking break, I looked over to my calendar. The saying for February was about growing quietly but persistently… I liked that one. Suddenly I realized that it was time to turn it over to March! Pulling it off my cubicle wall, I excitedly peeled up the next page to read this month’s quote. It read:
“The most powerful agent of growth and transformation is something much more basic than any technique; a change of heart.” ~John Welwood
In a split second, I took my pen, crossed out “heart” and wrote a different word underneath.
A change of heart… My heart has to change? How?…
It was as if I was a little girl in church again and the pastor was telling me that I needed to change my heart. Feet dangling above the floor… innocent eyes and ears drinking in every detail, every voice inflection, every verse read, every song sung. Change my heart? Make it somehow… better?
Does this mean I have to change how I feel? Yes, I guess it must be that. I have to have better feelings. So some feelings are bad, and some feelings are good. Okay… so how do I change the bad feelings to good feelings? Because that “good” heart?- that’s what I want. Oh, and having a change of heart means I need to be good on the outside too? Maybe that will help… Okay, give me the list of what’s good and I will work very hard at it. Very hard! If I can work hard enough at this list, then will I get that good heart? Where do I go for the stamp of approval? What signs can I look for to know that my heart really has changed for the better?
I don’t think the writer meant for his words to be taken in quite this way… but that is how they struck me today. Instead of the phrase change of heart, I’ll be looking at the phrase change of understanding for this coming month.
Understanding. After I wrote it, I thought about that word. I pictured something strong standing up on the inside of me, strong legs and strong arms holding up my heart, holding it in place, letting it breath, letting it pump and flow and give and receive and BE alive. Understanding. Knowing that way before it got so confused with other people’s versions of “good”, my heart was good. It was born that way. It’s not my heart that needs to change. The thing that creates the vitality of transformation is a change in the underpinnings of what I believe about myself and a new understanding of where the faulty underpinnings came from in the first place.
I read a really interesting article in the paper this week. The reporter interviewed a few high end restaurant servers who shared how they actually dreaded Valentine’s weekend at the restaurant. Couples sat awkwardly across from each other, looking unhappy and not really knowing what to talk about. Pressure was high to get all the details right. An evening of high expectations rarely fulfilled, with more tension than enjoyment.
My life used to be like this! High expectations of finding some kind of “finally” love to satisfy my hungry heart. The vacuum in me was constantly asking, “Am I loved? Am I okay? Am I loving?” and I believed the warm fuzzies of romantic love would answer those questions once and for all. They did, for the first few weeks with any guy I dated. But the feelings never lasted, and then I was lost again. This was my labor of un-love, the slippery illusion of salvation-by-warm-fuzzies falling from my hands time after time. Not only was I left empty, I also felt these pangs of despair that my life could have no real purpose if I was single.
How grateful I am to know that’s not true… Throughout my depression, having those warm fuzzy feelings were some of the only times I felt truly alive. I believed this was love. The lie entangled me beyond my romantic relationships; I thought loving someone meant I should always have those warm feelings for them and act accordingly (and vice versa). My family believed this too, and so we rarely aired out conflicts in our home. We learned to keep true feelings inside so that no one’s feathers would get ruffled. Some of us labored to get all the details right so that what looked “perfect” on the outside would be proof that we were okay on the inside.
Finding the roots of real love relieves me from this labor. Being whole in my relationships means I am learning to bring my true self to the table when I interact with others. I can see now that trying to please them at the cost of ignoring who I really am only leads to destruction in one way or another- true relationship doesn’t last on that kind of foundation. Learning to love myself means I’m not depending on other people to fix me or fill my “holes”. I don’t need to take advantage of them, and I don’t need to let them take advantage of me either. Instead, we can exchange our real selves with each other. We share our truth and enrich each other’s lives. Real relationship practices mutual respect and equality. It is honest and knows it doesn’t have to be perfect or get all the details right . It desires to grow, to deepen, to learn, to tell the truth, to discover… All these things are at the root of true love.
The warm fluffy feelings are still fun and I have no intentions of banning them from my life! But, I’m not trying to control them anymore. I’m not demanding anything of them in an effort to heal my hungry heart. They come and go based on how real the love I’m practicing is. Kind of like cooking an amazing meal- the aroma is a by-product of the timely combination of good ingredients- it doesn’t happen right away, and it’s free to come and go.
This year I get to spend Valentine’s Day with dear friends; I am so excited to celebrate real love in my growing relationships with them.
For more information on the photographer of the beautiful photo in this post, visit this link!
It all depends on the foundation. For so long I worked high up in the rafters, trying to fix this, trying to fix that. Looking out the windows… obsessed with looking out the windows at expressions, reactions, actions, small gestures. Painfully anguishing about getting the details of living life right. Had to get it right, had to get it right…
I hired an inspector. “What is wrong with my house?” I asked him. “It isn’t working. The top is swaying back and forth it’s so heavy, everything in the middle is creaking and groaning. I’m in a constant state of motion sickness!”
He did some in-depth analyzing and said, “It’s your foundations, friend. They’re built with the wrong kind of stuff. You believe you have to act ‘right’ in order to be right. You believe most everything about you, the real you, is wrong. A foundation like that won’t work for you. It’s no wonder everything from the ground up is trying so desperately to tear away.”
He showed me what a good foundation looks like. “In the context of building material, let’s consider one of the most famous carpenters in history, Jesus. He defined himself by saying, ‘I am.’ Not ‘I do’, but simply ‘I am.’ It was the same ‘I am’ kind of stuff that God looked at on the 6th day and described as ‘GOOD.’ Your identity is made of the same stuff. You are. And the stuff of you is just as good as the stuff of anyone else. Forget about perfect in this lifetime, but know that it’s good.”
So I took my foundations to task. I stopped focusing on upstairs and started digging, started putting this truth into place here, this truth into place here. For quite some time, I looked like a big hole. But that was okay. Tall buildings need deep foundations. When I wanted to despair at my lack of “visible” progress, I just reminded myself of that again and again.
They’re really coming together. They will require maintenance work forever, but I’m fine with that. I have this feeling of peace that comes more and more frequently. My house is settling into these new foundations, like a pair of really great shoes with stellar support. Ahhhhh…. NOW I can move around! Now the motion sickness is passing. Now my windows let light in and my doors open and close in healthier exchange. And now I can work on my “heights” with clarity, excitement and true purpose.
There is freedom in the foundations.
In brokenness, I was so busy trying to keep myself together that any mistakes I made were monstrous and threatening. Clinging to the ideal of perfection as my ultimate redeemer, I wallowed in my mistakes. I re-lived them over and over in my mind, feeling this deep shame and guilt in knowing that I had messed up. Ultimately, I was linking my mistakes to my identity. I believed that if I made bad mistakes, then I must be bad too.
In rebuilding the foundation of what I believe about myself and working through where the lies came from that I was coping with, I have a new sense of freedom when it comes to my mistakes. I have a new belief about the goodness of my heart, and I can operate from a platform of valuing myself as I am, for who I am. Because of this, my mistakes lose their power to whack me on the head. I realize 2 things: I can take responsibility for the mental ruts I fall into now (as Darlene has said in a previous post, “The more that I repeated this process, the more I realized that I was the one in my own way and that underneath those other voices, was my own voice telling me that I was not really valuable, or loveable or capable etc.”) and secondly, becoming aware of the ruts I find myself in creates the opportunity for me to compassionately decide on a better way. I am free to choose; I’m not in bondage to the old mistakes and coping habits anymore. Though this might feel overwhelming at first, it is a healing freedom. In wholeness, we have the power to redeem our ruts… even if it takes numerous attempts to create new habits.
In this light, here’s a fun little story about the process of change by Portia Nelson: An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters. I doodled some pictures for your enjoyment, though in the future I may have to hire an artist! ~All power to you as you walk down your new streets~
AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS by Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
“Nothing can give it to you because you already have it… And not only do you have it- you are it, you are what you’re looking for already… the ‘I am’ that is stripped of all this and that, the pure experiencing of knowing yourself as… life itself; I don’t have a life, I am life.” – Eckhart Tolle
When I relate to others from a hungry heart, there is this feeling of intense neediness, of strong reliance on them to keep me “together”. This is why I’m so passionate about being whole in and of myself, of valuing myself as I am, for who I am. It’s not self-centered. I want to be whole in relationships too, and that all starts with the sense of my unique and worthy self.
I used to react to others who treated me poorly. There was always things “stringing along” feeling… this anxiety that I had to be just the right way around them in order to be treated well. For the subtlest reasons I would cower inside or adjust my behavior in order to win their favor. Sometimes I would get very quiet. Or other times I would be verbal and defensive, spilling all my emotions and putting myself in a very vulnerable place. For me, the heart of my reactivity was to try to correct their behavior so that they would treat me as valuable. I was trying to correct the “mirrors” to keep telling me I was “okay”. I relied on their treatment of me to define my worthiness. By attempting to correct their treatment of me, I was attempting to keep my small sense of worthiness intact. I gave a lot of my power away and opened myself up to be hurt time and again.
Building on a new foundation of beliefs about who I really am sets me up for a different kind of relating. I don’t need to depend on others to define me anymore. Inside, there is this growing sense of my own value. Just as I am, now. I exist in this moment with all my strengths and weaknesses, my personality, my hopes and quirks, my unique perspectives. I’m not defined by other people; my past reactions and hungry heart behaviours don’t define the real me either. It’s just a simple unalterable fact that I exist as a valuable part of this world. When I enter interactions with others from this truth, everything changes. I don’t have to hop around inside, adjusting myself to someone else’s requirements. Most importantly, to summarize Eckhart Tolle, I’m not relying on someone else to give to me what only I can give myself.
*Special Note!: My article Contexting Geese (click to visit) was published recently on the multi-author blog, Wisdom a la Carte. I found this blog via facebook, and it’s another great resource for thought-provoking insight! I’ll be writing more on that theme here, in coming weeks!*
Here are seven differences from my life between living in brokeness and living whole:
-Always on high alert
-Happiness came and went depending on circumstances
-Close my eyes and just push through…
-Threatened by other people’s success and unique qualities
-Giving because I felt guilty or obligated
-Determining my value based on how I compared to others
-Deep feelings of happiness and real joy come naturally the more I believe the truth about who I really am
-Believing I have the ability to…
-Freedom in relationships to appreciate other people’s unique qualities without being threatened by them
-Knowing I am not ultimately responsible for someone else’s happiness
-Pursing the kind of life I ultimately want, because I now believe I am worthy of it
-Having limits and allowing myself to fail without beating myself up; engaging in my own personal process of growing and moving forward with compassion and celebration
-Giving to others because I genuinely want to and with no strings attached