There is no self love without forgiveness

I recently found a copy of a book that I can honestly say changed my life when I came across it many years ago.

The book is called “You can heal your life,” by Louise Hay.

It was first written in 1984 and has sold more than 40 million copies world wide. 

Louise Hay is known as the ‘queen of self-help’ and was ahead of her time in many ways. She was the first person to popularise the notion that your thoughts and feelings are directly related to your life outcomes. That everything in your life today was created by your thoughts, emotions and actions to date, and furthermore that at this very moment we are creating our future selves by the thoughts, emotions and actions we choose today, moment by moment. I still recommend this book to friends and clients who are struggling with any mental health issue or addiction or who are just going through a rough patch. 

I have had many copies of this book since the first time I read it 10 years ago, I can never seem to hold on to a copy for long. I am forever giving them away but nowadays you can download a copy for very little on Amazon or pick up a copy at most second hand bookshops. That’s where I picked up my latest copy from. 

As I was reading through the first chapter today I was reminded of her core message which is so simple it is often considered overly simplistic to be of any real use to people. I disagree as most truths are simple, it’s our humanity that’s complicated. 

Louise’s basic message is “Love yourself” and everything will fall into place. She states, 

Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes, (p.9).

While this sound simply wonderful and it is, in reality simple does not necessarily mean easy. Whenever I speak to clients of self-love and acceptance I see and hear doubt and resistance. Often they will agree with me in theory but often the how escapes them. How do I love myself? They ask, sometimes with tears in their eyes. 

In her book Louise outlines some clear instructions on what to do to start ‘loving and accepting yourself’. She is a big fan of saying positive affirmations daily as one way to retrain your brain to start thinking in a way that will begin to create the changes you want in your life. Do positive affirmations work? I believe they do, as I have used them in my own life to positive affect. When you learn a little about how the unconscious mind works you can see how if you have been programming your brain with negativity and so creating negative experiences for yourself, it makes sense that changing the internal script by thinking more positively can have the opposite effect.

An example of the above is constantly feeling unloved and misunderstood. This combined with negative self-talk such as “no-one will ever love me”, “I always get abused”, or “everyone always takes advantage of me” will certainly create more of the same. However, when you start choosing more positive thoughts or even more realistic thoughts such as, “I am loved and supported”, or “most people mean well” or even “everyone is doing the best with what they know,” then the script changes. Science now has an explanation for why this works which is called “neuroplasticity” and which I have written about before. However Louise Hay has been saying much the same thing, albeit in much more simplistic and metaphysical terms for decades. 

If affirmations aren’t your thing then there are other ways to love yourself more. One simple thing is to treat yourself well. Put yourself first. Listen to your body. Eat food that nourishes you and is good for you. Care for yourself as you would care for a dear friend. Give yourself a break. Let go of perfectionism. Try to be compassionate to yourself for past mistakes or perceived failings. Be your own best friend. These are all simple but effective ways to care and love yourself more. 

However, there is something else that Louise talks about which is even harder to do than loving yourself and that is forgiveness. She writes, 

We must release the past and forgive everyone, (p.9).

Woah. Hold up a minute there. Everyone? Everyone??

I remember struggling with this one caveat when I first read it 10 years ago and I must admit, I still do. Forgiveness of self and others unfortunately goes hand in hand with self-love and compassion. Until one is willing to forgive or at least release resentment for past wrongs (done to and by you) healing will always be slow going. Like constantly picking at a scab deters the healing process and leads to scars, attempting to love and accept yourself without forgiveness of self and others only slows down the healing process. 

I know this is something you don’t want to hear. Often we hold on to our hurts and resentments like dysfunctional friends whom we no longer even like all that much but can’t bear to cut loose. They are a drag but at least they are company. They keep everyone else away but are always around to light your cigarette, pour you a beer or pass you that tub of ice-cream. Louise says, 

Resentment, criticism and guilt are the most damaging patterns, (p9).

They are the most damaging because they are the most sticky. They like to stick around and feed our bad habits and negativity in order to keep us around. Almost like a codependant relationship. 

The truth is that unless you can kick out those freeloaders, Resentment, Criticism and Guilt and their cohorts Shame, Blame and Anger or at least be willing to let go of them true healing and self love will always feel just out of reach. 

Finally, it is never too late to start making positive changes, or begin to think differently as, 

The point of power is always in the present moment. 

Louise passed away in June 2017 at the age of 90. 

 

 

 

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If you want something to change

When working with persons who are struggling with any mental health or emotional issue, it is interesting to note how attached people become to the behaviours, beliefs and/or relationships that are the main cause of their difficulties and the reason for their appearance in the consulting room. This is not surprising, in psychology, defensive behaviours […]

Trusting the “process”

A while ago now I wrote a post about the shitty shower-head in my apartment and the meaning of my resistance to getting a new one. (You can read it the whole post here if you like.) For those that can’t be bothered, the basic moral of the story was about acceptance. I hated my shitty apartment and was so focused on the future that I was choosing to live with a shitty shower-head in the present that dribbled out water rather that accept my current situation for what it was. Crazy, huh? Hmmm, well we’re all a little crazy, especially therapists! But, it’s recognizing the ways in which our own unique brand of craziness manifests that makes us wiser as we go. We are all trying our best and learning as we go.

Thing is, some lessons are harder to absorb than others. For me, it’s my own special brand of silly ‘futurizing’ anxiety which drives me around the twist at times, if I let it. It’s a constant effort of vigilant, compassionate self-awareness which keeps my anxiety at bay. If there is one thing I have learnt about anxiety, both from observing my clients’ and my own is that is not something you can ever really ‘beat’. It’s something you make peace with, shake hands with so to speak and learn to live with.

I came face to face with my futurizing anxiety today by way of a HB pencil. Yes, a pencil. One of those refillable ones that you put the leads into. When I picked it up I realized that it only had one lead left in it. That made me anxious. Here is a running dialogue of what went on in my mind for the next few minutes: What if I run out of lead while I’m using it? Should I go and see if I can find some spare leads to refill it now before I start? What if I don’t have the right ones? Should I go find another pencil instead of this one? And so on. Exhausting isn’t it? I was worried about the future instead of focusing on the present task which was to simply write down a few notes. It was in the noticing of my anxiety around a silly pencil that gave me the clue that my anxiety was manifesting itself again. It was the same brand of anxiety that manifested itself when I refused to get a new shower-head. So what did I do, I simply repeated my mantra – Trust the process. Instantly I felt calmer, took a deep breath and wrote with the pencil with only one lead. If and when the lead runs out, I will deal with the situation when it arises.

I know this is a overly simple, silly example, beyond silly really but it does illustrate my point. Anxiety starts with the small things, it’s when you let it continue without interruption or give it your full, uncritical attention that it can get out of hand.

Then I thought to myself, why does the phrase “trust the process” work for me? I’m not sure about that but it really does. (I suggest that if you are suffering from some kind of anxiety that you find your own phrase that works for you.) I think it’s because it short circuits the route that your brain has been so used to taking (probably straight to the amygdala, where your emotional responses come from) and re-directs to the neo-cortex area of your brain (your rational, thinking, processing mind). However I think the phrase, trust the process might be a good all-round one to have on stand-by whenever you find your anxious mind trying to take over.

Why that phrase in particular? I think it’s largely to do with the word ‘trust’. Trust is a safe word, and whatever it is you put your trust in can be the right circuit breaker for you. For example, if you are religious, you could substitute the word “Jesus” or “God” for process. As in “Trust in Jesus”. Just as an example. Or you might be humanist and then you would put the word “self” in a sentence, as in “Trust yourself” or “I trust me”.

Whatever your phrase, try it yourself and see. Oh, and remember to ‘trust the process’.

🙂

Impermanence

I used to write a lot of poetry. Especially in my angsty late teens and early 20s. (Those that know me won’t be surprised to hear this.) Somewhere, there is a folder containing all those old poems, some on loose bits of paper, napkins, wrappers etc. Some torn out of the pages of whatever notebook I carried around with me at the time. I always had a notebook and pen with me wherever I went. Most were typed on an actual typewriter. (Yep, I’m that old). How I sometimes miss that clack, clack sound. (I don’t miss making a mistake and ripping the page out in frustration to start all over again though!)

Sometimes, at random times, some lines come back to me from poems I’d written so long ago. Lines that have stuck with me for some reason, for example this one:

Where are you my love that will understand me, not just for my hair, my skin and my teeth?

You don’t fucking exist. It’s me, all alone. I don’t need anyone. I couldn’t care less. 

I wrote that when I was 19. Teenage angst much? Yeah, well. I also wore a lot of black at the time… I remember that line because for me it was triumph of independence and powerful rage. And so, so transparent in its ache for just the opposite. Of course I cared. I cared a lot. Of course I needed love and connection, we all do.

Another line of poetry that sometimes floats back at me, is this:

Constant flux. Constant. Flux.

Is all we can rely on. 

That was the last two lines of a longer poem which I can’t recall right now. But, I marvel at my insight. I think I was 17 when I wrote that. And it came back to me the other day when I was having a conversation with someone who said, and I am paraphrasing here but it went something like this:

“At the heart of it all I think is a desire for permanence, for certainty. Everything changes, and can change in an instant. Nothing lasts forever, and you can’t really rely on someone to be there for you because from one day to another, everything can change. I find it hard to go all in because….well, what’s the point? At one point or another, you’re gonna get hurt.”

There-in lies one of the great existential challenges that we all face as humans on this small, blue planet that we call Earth. Nothing lasts, everything changes. Impermanence is built into the nature of existence. Yet, we try and resist this essential quality of being with all our might. We resist loving completely because, we will – not may, WILL lose that love one day. It’s inevitable.

Buddhism has a name for this. It is called Annica, and is considered one of the three basic facts of existence. The other two are suffering (Dukkha) and non-self (Anatta). The last one is kind of hard to define and calls for a whole other post, and more so let’s just leave it alone for now.

But, and perhaps the one thing that I wish I had said to my friend, because at the time I didn’t say much. Or what I did say didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, and it’s been playing on my mind. What I wish I had said was this,

What’s the point?
What’s the point of loving or giving yourself completely to another human being, a cause, a passion or an animal even? When there is no guarantee that those things will last? Well, that is the point. That is precisely the point.

Why your unconscious brain hates you.

Ever wondered why it’s so gawd dang hard to change?

To quit smoking,  to start that gym routine, to stick to that healthy eating plan, to just say no to drugs, alcohol and/or sex? (All three perhaps.) The answer is simple: Your unconscious brain hates you.

Well, maybe hate’s a strong word. But if you had a friend that constantly ignored you, wouldn’t you start to hate them a little bit too? Well it pays to know your enemy so here are a few bits of information I’ve found out about the unconscious that may be of interest.

Your unconscious brain’s main two concerns are to protect you and keep you alive and to give you more of what feels good. It doesn’t care how those ends are achieved, only that are accomplished. This may seem contradictory when you are trying to change negative patterns in your life as all the changes you want to make are good for you, and some of the things you want to stop doing are clearly bad for you.

Take smoking as an example. Everyone knows that smoking can kill you in the end, but as far as the unconscious is concerned, the danger is not imminent. The other thing that makes it so hard to drop all those unwanted bad habits and behaviours, the one thing they all have in common, is that they offer the unconscious brain instant rewards. Short cuts to feeling better, well worn paths that have been etched from years of use exactly because they are a short-cut to some desired end. Why take a longer route when that short-cut is so temptingly efficient… And your unconscious brain is nothing if not efficient.

In neurology there is a saying, neurons that fire together, wire together. The more you repeat something, the more adept your brain will become at executing that function.  If something has worked to date, and by ‘worked’ I mean in the most primitive sense, then your unconscious brain, also known as your ‘reptilian’ brain co-incidentally, will see no good reason to change.

Scientists surmise that our unconscious brain is responsible for 90 – 95% of what we do, our conscious brain – what we think, reason and supposedly make rational decisions with, accounts for only about  5 – 7%. So guess what, if you want to change something, then forget trying to talk yourself into it, forget reasoning with yourself, will power, forget all that. You have to get your unconscious on side and working for you, instead of against you. And you can only do that by learning to pay attention to what your unconscious is trying to tell you.

Freud, great grand-daddy of psychology likened the unconscious to an ice-berg. What we can see (our conscious mind) is only the top. The bulk of the iceberg lays beneath the surface.

Ice berg image metaphor courtesy of Mind Talk.

According to NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) and attachment theory, the unconscious brain has some funny ‘quirks’ and these could be responsible for some of the reasons why you find it so hard to make those changes you say you want. (For more on attachment theory see this previous post).

Some weird things you may not have known about your unconscious brain:

  1. The unconscious brain is kind of lazy. O.k. lazy is a bit harsh however, its motto is: If it ain’t really that broke, why fix it? It’s quite happy for you to get by on ‘good enough’ because as far as it’s concerned if it’s worked for you until now, what’s the big deal?
  2. The unconscious brain is super-protective. It’s main aim is to keep you alive and safe, so that’s why it perceives any negative emotion, trauma or stress as a danger – which is what is behind many anxiety issues. Thing is, your unconscious brain doesn’t know whether the danger is real or imagined and it doesn’t care. All it understands is, danger, danger! Like the robot from Lost in Space. (I am so showing my age right now!) So it re-directs your energy away from unnecessary processes, such as ‘thinking’ and puts it into what it perceives as more important; blood flow to your heart, limbs and lungs so you can make haste. Cue: Stress and anxiety!
  3. The unconscious brain is not reasonable, it is 100% pure emotion. It thinks in symbols and its language is the stuff of dreams. All non-verbal communication is handled by your unconscious brain, and according to body language experts about 80% of all communication between humans is non-verbal.
  4. The unconscious brain does not understand negatives, which may sound like a positive thing but if you say, for example – I don’t want to be poor, all it will understand is ‘poor’.
  5. The unconscious brain will believe whatever you tell it. Literally. So be careful how you speak to yourself. CBT spends a lot of time talking about ‘automatic thoughts’ and ‘core beliefs’. Narrative Therapy talks about ‘meta narratives’. The messages, beliefs, unquestioned and accepted things we tell ourselves that are, for the most part pretty negative. When you stop and take a moment to actually listen to the things you say to yourself, well…no wonder you’re reading this blog right now!
  6. The unconscious brain is like a seven year old child. It just wants more good feelings, and less bad. Kind of what Freud called, “the pleasure principle”. It doesn’t understand that sometimes, you have to experience a little discomfort in order to achieve a greater goal. It will try to stop you from doing things like, working out, going to a new class, or making that dreaded telephone call because in the interim there will be some pain involved. And pain, all pain, is bad.

These are just of the unconscious brain’s quirks that make it such a mysterious ol thing. Bless its cotton socks!

However you shouldn’t go dissing your unconscious side too much as it really does do a lot for you. Is your heart beating right now? Good. Well, it’s not like you have to wake up each morning and ‘kick start your heart’ now is it? (Even if the members of Motley Crue might do.) It’s not as if you have to remember to ‘set your heart alarm’ each night before you go to bed. No. Your unconscious mind looks after all of that. Your breathing, sight, digestion, all of that. Imagine how exhausting it would be if you had to tell your body what to do to digest food. You’d get nothing much else done!

Another thing your unconscious looks after is memory. It stores every single memory you’ve ever had and organizes those memories for you. You can only really think of about 5 – 7 things at any one time. You might not remember the name of your third grade teacher off the top of your head, but your unconscious does. It remembers everything. IN DETAIL. Your unconscious also decides what memories are too traumatic for you to deal with and suppresses those until it decides you are ready for them. Yes, your unconscious is one mean, lean, ripped, pretty powerful entity so… it might not be a bad idea to be on good terms with it now would it

So, if you are struggling to change something in your life, maybe it’s time you had a talk with you and asked yourself, well your unconscious side of yourself… So, what’s it gonna take for us to get along. Huh? How can we work on things together so that we are both happy?

Well, I’ve give you some answers to those questions soon. Promise!

Sources / Further reading:

http://www.simplypsychology.org/unconscious-mind.html
http://www.mindtalk.co.za/unconscious_mind.html
http://www.nlpacademy.co.uk/articles/view/understanding_your_mind_conscious_and_unconscious_processing/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/focus-forgiveness/201307/conscious-the-unconscious
http://www.psychologistworld.com/bodylanguage/
http://www.nlpinfo.com/prime-directives-of-the-unconscious-mind/
http://www.psychologistworld.com/bodylanguage/

On Change

As I am retraining to become a counsellor, often I am called upon to reflect on my personal experiences in the context of some theory or another. A more formal version of what I do on my blog I guess. Studying and working full-time isn’t easy and sometimes I wonder if I am doing the right thing, will it be worth it in the end? Are people really worth helping, is change really possible? Maybe some of us are beyond help? Well, I have to agree with Carl Rogers, the founder of the ‘person centered therapy’ model who firmly believed that people had all they needed within them to change, grow and to become the best person they could be, if only they had the right environment. His thing was all about providing those perfect conditions for ultimate growth in a therapeutic context. But can humans really change all that much?

Here is something I wrote earlier:

Of course humans can change. We change every day, with every breath, every word, every experience…every encounter, every challenge, every disappointment, every success, every word heard and spoken…humans are changing all the time. 
But, on another level, we remain true to a self that seems was always there, whether that there is something lost or to be gained. It is a self that exists regardless of what happens to us, and through us. 
The desire to change however does not always mean that change is easy or possible. The barometer I guess is happiness. A subjective gauge that determines whether we feel like we want something other than what we have, or want to be somewhere other than where we are. The funny thing about happiness is that sometimes you don’t realize you were happy until you are past that point. Nostalgia has a way of tinting past experiences so that you forget the bad and remember the good. You romanticize some past time when even though you didn’t quite appreciate it at the time, in comparison to how you feel now, you think, Wow I think I was happy then. Happiness can be fleeting though. It can come about through an unexpected experience that passes quickly and leaves you feeling lost and bereft after its parting even though you didn’t even think you were unhappy before it. I guess it’s about being content with your present. Memory however can be a bitch. As can desire. One pulls us into the past and one keeps us thinking about something other than what we have now. 

Happiness is always fleeting, like that rainbow and pot of gold.
We know it isn’t really there, but deep down we are still hoping.