Words are extremely powerful. Words we use to define ourselves, others, our actions, relationships, and circumstances reveal a great deal about our internal world and how we approach life.
Even when we believe our words are expressing facts/reality, they mirror our beliefs and our perception of reality.
A great example of this is saying: “I have to … (insert your complaint of choice: work, workout, do my homework, pay my bills, go to therapy, eat healthy…”
Is it really true that you HAVE to? Or do you CHOOSE to (or want to), because there is some kind of a benefit or consequence behind your choice.
You may think that whether we say “have to” or “choose to” is irrelevant. But it’s not.
The first one implies no choice and the latter implies free will. It is true that sometimes you have really undesirable choices, but they are still choices.
Try it for yourself. Notice how you feel when you tell yourself, “I have to do x, y, z.” Notice the heaviness, the dread, and powerlessness inherent in these words.
By replacing “I have to” with “I choose to” you place yourself in the driver seat. Being in the driver’s seat is the only place from which you have the power to affect the course of your life. And that’s freedom lies.
Recently I had an opportunity to be a guest on Next Quest Podcast where I shared about myself, about being a therapist, and how we can grow beyond patterns that restrict our life and limit our growth. I'm sharing some of the main points we discussed in the podcast. As you read through,
see if you can distinguish your patterns and notice in which areas of your life are they prevalent.
What are limiting patterns and what are some examples?
Limiting patterns are learned adaptations. They are rigid, inflexible, and constricting ways in which we move through the world. These patterns can be reflected in the ways we perceive our personality, in our beliefs, thoughts, triggers, feelings, relationships, actions that constrict our healing and hinder our growth. Patterns that limit us come from a place of childhood wounding and they reflect an automatic reaction based in conditioning rather than a conscious choice based in the present, adult self. These patterns and beliefs run so deep that they feel as if they are unchangeable parts of who we are. Specific examples are: self-judgment, people pleasing, self-sabotaging, self-hatred, self-criticism, blaming, etc. Essentially, patterns can be any internal identifications or behaviors we are attached to that keep us from being grounded in a present and living a life that allows nuance, flexibility, self-compassion, and self-acceptance.
How do we develop these sorts of patterns?
During a time when we are most vulnerable we have to fit in and adapt to our environment, because as children, we are helpless and depend on those around us for our survival. These adaptations are ingenious, often subtle ways in which we contour ourselves to successfully navigate the family we are born into. We adapt by being highly attuned to our environment and our caregivers, and we figure out what it is that we need to do and who is it that we need to be to successfully navigate our environment. Oftentimes these patterns are a result of chronic misatunement from caregivers, which is a marker of complex trauma, and they affect psychological and biological functioning. They disrupt our natural development and create a distorted sense of self that we take as a truth of who we are. Social and cultural norms play a big role in this as well. Oftentimes we adapt by foreclosing parts of ourselves that somehow feel threatening or unsafe to show, or that are culturally or socially considered unacceptable. In these situations, one may feel compelled to compromise authenticity and true self-expression for safety and acceptance.
How do these patterns, in fact, limit us?
Patterns subconsciously guide us through life, restrict our authentic expression and prevent us from engaging with life from a place of personal autonomy, responsibility, choice, and awareness. When we operate from these patterns we are responding from a place of a wounded child, not from a place of an adult that has resources and does not have to rely on false, adopted identities in order to move through life. When we are unaware of being driven by these patterns, we tend to rely on rigid, self-imposed “shoulds” to make decisions. Another way in which these patterns limit us is that they get in a way of living life more fully, authentically, with ease, creativity, and peace. They make life more black and white, and prevent us from seeing our humanness in its nuance, curiosity, complexity, and compassion.
What can we do outside of therapy or in addition to therapy to grow beyond these patterns?
Although therapy can be one of the best ways to deepen our self-exploration and learn how to relate to ourselves with more compassion and self-trust, there are tools and practices we can utilize outside of (or in addition to) therapy. Self-reflection and curiosity will be keys for increasing our awareness and bringing us to a place of choice and embodying resilience. An important note is that self-reflection is not same as analyzing and overthinking; it is different in a way that there is no self-judgment and identifying with the content of our thoughts and feelings, rather, there is a curious observation. Self-reflection is an invitation to turn inwards, tune out the noise, and connect to one’s inner world with an intention to explore. This kind of exploration is based on getting to know oneself on a deeper level without the goal of getting somewhere, evaluating, and comparing. The excitement of it is in allowing ourselves to be surprised by what new parts we might discover about ourselves.
If you’d like to begin a guided self-reflection practice, you can take a look at the guided journal I’ve created with the intention of facilitating self-exploration and increasing self-connection. Other ways of doing that is stream of consciousness journaling, where you allow yourself to simply journal about what is on your mind. You can pose yourself questions that will evoke interest and curiosity, and will make you go beyond what you think you already know about yourself. For example:
What am I telling myself about this?
What am I making this mean about me?
What have I not considered yet?
Have I chosen to think this away or have I adopted someone else’s view on this?
What am I not allowing myself to know?
What kind of life feels true to me?
What are may values and how can I live by them?