Imagine for a moment that when each of us is young, our mind is a new computer with very few programs added; it is running smoothly. As we grow, we receive programs and downloads from the world around us. Our parents, friends, family, teachers, strangers, TV, movies, radio, music, and books all contribute to the programs that begin to act like filters through which we interpret and experience our world. Up until the age of five or six, our conscious mind is unable to accept or deny these downloads. Like a sponge, the young mind takes in everything it is exposed to without question. All the programming is accepted and downloaded without our conscious choice or awareness. This becomes the filter through which we interpret the world around us.
If one of our filters is based on fear, we will filter our life through that lens of fear and our experiences in life will be fear-based. If one of our filters is based on love and compassion, we filter our life through that lens of love, and our experiences will be more loving. What we believe we perceive and what we perceive we conceive.
Our minds are programmed to fear or love. In fact, in every moment, we are choosing fear or love. We are either doing this by default based on our programming or we are doing it on purpose. My programming was very much based on fear, worry, anxiety, judgment, and pain. Every experience I had growing up was filtered through this lens of fear and it created an internal hell. On the outside, I was more worried about how others would feel and my fear of being judged was strong, so I pretended to be okay. I wore a mask of a shy little girl who was okay; meanwhile, on the inside, I was in excruciating emotional pain.
My mind was an intense relentless storm by the time I was six years old. I blamed myself for everything. I felt responsible for everything wrong in the world; my filter showed me a ton of evidence to prove the world was full of pain and suffering, and it was entirely my fault. I turned to self-destructive behaviors as forms of self-punishment—I struggled with substance abuse, anorexia, bulimia, and self-hatred.
At the same time as I condemned myself, I strived to make a difference in the world, partially in an effort to make up for my sins and worthlessness, but also because it was programmed in my heart to be of service, to be a peacekeeper, to inspire others. The problem came when I felt I needed to pay my dues by being of selfless service to others. Yes, I did have a positive impact on the lives of others but it came at a great cost of self-sacrifice.
My self-judgment was intense. Here is a glimpse into some of my internal dialogue. Even though I have censored it a bit, it will give you a good idea of the destructive judgments that kept me imprisoned in guilt and shame for years.
“I am guilty.”
“I am a worthless piece of sh…”
“I don’t deserve to be happy. Actually, I don’t deserve anything other than punishment.”
“I will spend the rest of my life trying to make up for my inadequacies.”
“I am not good enough and I will never be enough for anything or anyone.”
“I hate myself and everything about me.”
“Nobody loves me or even cares I am here. I might as well be dead.”
After receiving counseling for my eating disorder in 1993, I realized I needed to change my thoughts in order to change my experience of life. While I couldn’t control the thoughts that came into my mind, I could begin to challenge them. I remember hearing someone say that we don’t need to believe all of our thoughts and, in fact, most of our own thoughts are not true. That was comforting and I was determined to change my self-destructive thoughts and find some peace of mind. It has been a process of unwinding my fear-filled, critical mind and reprogramming it for love.
Over the years I have created new filters and downloaded new programs. I remind myself every day to love and accept myself. I made a conscious choice for love over and over again until it began to feel easier and more natural, and my internal programming shifted from fear to love. I admit it is still a work in progress, but I align more with love than I experience fear, and when I do experience fear, I have the tools and awareness to shift my thoughts back to love quickly and with more ease.
If I can move from such intense self-hatred to this depth of love, anyone can. I will share one tool that really helped me. I call it “The Five A’s to Change.”
The first step is awareness. We can’t change what we can’t see. The moment we become aware of something, change has already begun. The more we practice present-moment awareness, the better we see the truth about what is helping and what is harming, whether that be our thoughts and beliefs, our unfelt emotions, judgments, projections, or physical symptoms. The best question to ask is “What is happening now?” This opens our minds to be curious about what is happening at this moment. Be open to becoming aware of your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, physical symptoms, triggers, anything at all. Be open to exploring anything that you become aware of.
This is the main step most people miss. Instead of accepting their negative thoughts and beliefs or accepting how they feel, they pass judgment on them. We may judge ourselves or project our judgments onto someone else. Projection is a clever tactic of our ego-mind. I share more about projection on Day 5 in “What We Can’t See, We Can’t Change.” Accepting “what is” allows us to move from judging to being curious. Acceptance softens and opens our minds to another perspective. It doesn’t mean we have to like what is, we just need to accept it. If we resist what is, we are holding on tightly with judgment and fear. I am sure you have heard the saying “what we resist persists.” When we practice acceptance, we soften the resistance in our minds. This allows us to take ownership of how we feel or for what is happening in our life. It is okay to feel what we are feeling and at the same time be willing and open to feel differently. When we accept “what is,” we become open to change. Here are some examples of ways to practice acceptance: “It is what it is and it is okay.” “I am where I am and it is okay.” “I am feeling anger and it is okay.” “I am feeling sad and it is okay.”
Another step most people will skip, which only leads to frustration or self-doubt, is allowance. Give yourself permission to feel how you feel about what is happening. Remember that your thoughts and beliefs have been programmed and operating most of your life. Allow the thoughts to rise up and imagine you could forgive them for healing. The process of forgiving allows us to set an intention to let go and offer over our thoughts in exchange for another perspective. Make space to feel your emotions so that they can rise up and out. Emotions are meant to be felt not held or stuffed down inside. Feel your feelings to free yourself from them. Allow your thoughts to rise up into your awareness so they aren’t hidden tapes playing in the background. It is our hidden thoughts and beliefs that create most of our pain. Practicing awareness and allowance is like running a virus scan on a computer. Once you know there is a virus (a negative thought), you can run a program to remove it. Unfelt feelings are also like viruses causing us to react to life instead of responding to it. Allow space for your thoughts to be explored and your feelings to be felt so they can be cleared and healed.
Action is the step most people jump to when they become aware of something they want to change. They go from awareness to taking action to change what they become aware of. The challenge is that, if they skip acceptance and allowance, most times the action they take to change something is not sustainable. The other aspect to consider is whether the action we take comes from our head or our heart. When we follow the directions of our heart, our gut instinct, or our intuition, we will feel a deeper commitment to the action. It becomes inspired action, instead of forced reaction. Intentionally aligning our mind with our heart, our gut instinct, or our intuition becomes a powerful recipe for change. The key is to quiet the mind and listen for the inspired action that comes from the heart. This means we follow the directions of the heart as well as its timing. This is what I refer to as inspired action.
Practicing gratitude and appreciation is great, especially when it comes to change. Gratitude opens our minds and allows us to see what is working and what is right instead of what is wrong. When we practice seeing what is going right by focusing on what we appreciate, it helps reprogram our minds for more gratitude. We can be grateful for the awareness related to the process of change or we can have an appreciation for something we are learning or for something or someone we love. It is great when it is related to the current process but not necessary. Remember: focusing on just the words of gratitude and appreciation is not enough to shift your mindset. When you practice appreciation, invite the feeling of gratitude to warm your heart.
Stay tuned next week for chapter 4 ~ The Judge, the Jury, and the Judgment
***This is an excerpt from Sue Dumais’ book “Stand UP Stand OUT Stand STRONG ~ A 30 Day Guide to Navigate Life When the SHIFT Hits the Fan” (published 2018)
Published on atfortyfive.com with permission from © Sue Dumais