When you’re dealing with private issues, I know it’s not only easier to deal with it alone, but also necessary. After all, it’s something that only you experienced as you, that only you felt, that only you understood as you. I get it. I’ve processed so many things alone, sitting at the top of a stairwell or in my room, gazing out a window or scrawling on barely seen lined paper under the thin night moon. I get the shame, guilt, anger, frustration at yourself for getting into that position is not something you want to share, that it will add to the screaming critic in your head who already has enough ammunition.
But here’s the sticking point. What you think creates something called neural pathways in your brain. It physically links synapse to synapse, triggers actual biochemical responses in your body which, in turn, sets off particular associated emotions.
What does this mean? It means that I made life much much worse for myself at the tender age of 16. When something happened to me, I decided the best course of action, the smartest thing I could possibly do was actively re-live it, go over each minute detail again and again to try to find all my trigger points so I could avoid it happening to me again. I wanted to learn and I did that by training myself to spot my blind spots.
All I did was set my blind spots. I realised only a few days ago that that the very situation I tried to avoid played out with different details but along the same sentiment until I was in my 30s. All I did was train my brain to believe things about me that weren’t helpful, that made my body go under stress, believing I was in danger, and I got used to living in a certain level of fear. And from a place of fear, I made a series of questionable decisions.
So if you want to process something to learn to sit with it, you can do that alone. But if you truly want to move past it, to not have it play out as a subplot in how you feel each day, you have to do something different. Your best thinking doesn’t get you out of it, it anchors you in it. To create difference, to create momentum, you need to grab the tools around you.
If what you are dealing with is in any way stressful, you need to accept that your body is pumping adrenaline around your body more than it was ever designed to do. So:
– move your body in a way that calms that down in some way, any way. You have to get your body away from the stress response. Pay most attention to your breath. It’s more powerful than you may know.
– get your brain to wire in different pathways, different options instead of running thoughts on the same paths of least resistance. That may mean counselling, it may mean starting to read things that get you thinking in different ways. It may be not swearing at yourself when you get something ‘wrong’. But you have to do something different.
– give someone permission to hold you accountable. Don’t give someone permission to nag you, but to support you. Understand this is not because you are weak, it’s not because you’re useless. It’s because you are going to fundamentally cause conflict in yourself. Your brain will do all it can to hold you in the certainty you’ve taught it. You’ve taught yourself your coping mechanism is real, that it keeps you safe. Now you’re going to try to unpick it. Let someone remind you that the terror that comes with that change WILL pass. (Choose someone who has earned this right)
– be kind to yourself. Because of this conflict you’ll create in you, you may find it hard to see the progress that you make. Again, someone keeping you company on this journey can help you see the baby steps add up to major shifts in thinking and action.
Understand this. No-one and I mean no-one will make the changes, progress, improvements for you. And it’s not that you can’t do it alone. But you have to understand what will hold you back. That what feels like failure is the old pattern trying to pull you back, so you have to disrupt that pattern as much as possible. What worked for me was this:
Filling in a gratitude diary every night
Doing yoga every morning
Consciously stopping myself every time I swore at myself
Trying to tell my partner a little of how I felt instead of the over-rated ‘I’m fine, I’m just tired’.
It was a good starting point. I felt better doing something active each day and learnt to laugh at myself when I fell over trying something new. I went to sleep each night appreciating things, no matter how small, instead of stewing over everything that frustrated me. I tuned into how I talked to myself and I stopped speaking as though I was my own worst enemy. I made myself acknowledge how I was feeling and made it easier for my partner not to make me mad by telling him how I felt and, therefore, what I needed him not to do right at that moment.
So if there is something you need to get past, start small if you need, but start. And I hope this helps understand why it may seem so hard sometimes. It’s not because you can’t do it, it’s not because you’re wired for failure. But you are wired to try and stay in your comfort zone, to live with more certainty, not less. So tool up, buddy up and be gentle as you start to shift things. And just when your brain starts to scream at you to go back to your old ways, try to stick with the new path for just that little bit longer. Just one day longer. No harm in one more day. Do yourself no harm for just one more day.