When we lose someone suddenly, especially to suicide or drugs, the first thing we think is “How can this be?” or “They had so many people that care about them.” or “They seemed so happy. They were so loved.”
All of these statements are true. From the outside looking in, they were loved, appreciated, came from a good loving family, had a wife or husband and children, had fans that worshipped them or were always the one spreading light to others. So when we reach for an explanation, this is where we look. We look to what we can see from the outside looking in.
But what I want to encourage us to do today is to not pull back the lens and look at the big picture, but to zoom in and view the inside of what could be a very complicated mind. There is a difference between knowing that you are loved and feeling worthy of love. This is the viewpoint that I would like to focus on here. What is it that creates a feeling of despair in someone? What makes someone get to the point where they don’t feel worthy of love?
When I was in my worst stages of depression, I would beat myself up over every little thing. Maybe I spoke harshly to someone on a day when it was taking all I had just to hold it together. Maybe I was late to pick up the kids from school because I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight. Small missteps would create a narrative that had me feeling as if I was the worst parent, friend, wife or daughter in the world. I would sit in therapy and listen to my therapist tell me that what I was feeling was normal or not to be so hard on myself. Most days I would leave feeling fulfilled and refocused.
But there were those days when nothing could get me out of my hole and is that kind of day that I am focusing on now, today, here.
Although I KNEW I was loved…
I did not feel WORTHY of love…
There is such a difference!
During the times I would struggle the most, I would dig myself so deep in loathing that loving words about how everyone makes mistakes or that I am no different from any other normal human being would bounce off me like Teflon or, better yet, slide past me like a silent breeze, unrecognized at all.
I couldn’t absorb them…
Not because I didn’t KNOW them to be true, but because I couldn’t SEE them to be true. I KNEW I had an amazing support system of friends and family, I was just so blinded by my “failures” that I couldn’t dig past the sludge of self-sabotage.
So…how do we stop the negative train from taking us down a dangerous path?
What Can We DO?
There is nothing that frustrates me more than articles that describe a problem that exists, making us aware it is there, and then fail to offer possible solutions. How effective would I be as a mom if my toddler fell and I stood over them saying, “You’ve fallen.”
In the world of mental health, we often relate to each other’s struggles, so it is important to offer possible solutions, share what worked for us and learn from each other. There is no shame in admitting we have struggled or are struggling and being honest about what worked and what didn’t. Presenting how we feel is healthy and passing on how we work through it, even healthier. I will share with you what works for me.
There are three parts to trying to gain back a healthy perspective.
PART 1: Acknowledging the struggle within ourselves and others
Instead of continuing to dig deeper and deeper into the “negativity noise,” let’s step back and admit that this is not helpful. If we notice someone around us being excessively self-deprecating or overly critical, the first order of business is to recognize and inform.
When engaging in both self-talk and approaching a discussion with someone else, it is first important to be able to recognize that it is happening. Noticing the patterns that cause you to start the spiral or the patterns you see in others then consider using the following phrases:
“I can feel that I am starting on a path where I feel nothing I do is right. I am going to step back and refocus”
“I remember the last time I felt this way and this is what I did…”
“Jenny, I have noticed that you seem to be beating yourself up over a simple mistake. Are you OK?”
“Let’s step back and take a look at what is really going on”
“I am noticing you are having difficulty letting this go…let me try to offer another perspective”
Informing ourselves and others as to what started the negative thoughts and feelings helps to establish the why this started, which then allows us to get to the how do we fix this?
PART 2: Offer another perspective
After acknowledging the negative thoughts exist, it is time to connect the dots to the past and see what worked the last time this happened. Chances are when we arrive at this place of negativity, or someone close to us seems to be excessively hard on themselves, it is not the first time it has happened. This begins the journey of transitioning from knowing to seeing. We need to help offer another perspective by changing the lens. When we go to the eye doctor, it takes a few tries for the letters on the wall to be clear. Don’t give up! If the first time you try to adjust your thinking doesn’t work, do it again. It is so important to reinforce another way of looking at our self! Here are a few steps I have found helpful:
- Write it down! You don’t need to commit to a daily journal, but writing it down helps us to be able to go back and see what we have learned from the last time we went through this. It reminds us that there is a way out. What did we say that worked? What did we do that worked? What made us feel better?
- Keep a “Joy” file! Keeping a folder of all of the wonderful notes, times that I have helped someone that was struggling, cards from my children and husband, or even small accomplishments that only I know about gives me fuel when I am feeling empty.
- Breathe! When I truly can’t seem to stop the negative thoughts, I sit in a quiet place, turn on meditation music or a guided meditation from the app such as Insight Timer or Calm that fits in with my schedule, and just close my thoughts down. As I breathe, if the thoughts come into my mind, I picture placing the words on a cloud and blowing it away. When I can, I also try to attend a meditation class.
PART 3: Creating a feeling of being worthy of love
This is the final and most challenging part of the journey back to healthy thoughts. Remember the days (I am totally dating myself here!) when we would make our own telephone by using two cans and some string? If you haven’t tried it (my millenials) you TOTALLY should! Well, think of the can as being the head and the string is the heart. If the connection is broken between the string and the can, the sound won’t travel properly and the message will get lost.
This is what happens when we “feed” our negative thoughts. They become so weighted down that the string breaks and creates a disconnect between reality and feelings that you are not worthy.
We NEED to be able to connect the two back again!
How do we do this?
Again, all l I can share is what works for me, and hope that it resonates with you as well.
There is a coping tool I was taught while earning my NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) Practitioner License that is so helpful! NLP is simply reframing negative thoughts into positive thoughts and allowing us to see the whole puzzle rather than just one piece at a time. As in a puzzle, the whole view of a situation looks so different than just that one piece.
When we begin to allow negative thoughts to create a feeling of isolation or a sense of not being worthy of love, we need to do this one exercise to refocus.
As discussed before, we have figured out the “why” we started to feel this way or “what” occurred to trigger the negative thoughts and can now begin the process of putting it all into perspective. With this in mind, make some quiet space and try this next exercise.
Picture yourself sitting in a movie theatre watching the screen up on the stage. The lights go down and you settle into your seat, relaxed and focused. As the movie begins, you either see yourself in the situation having a conversation with either yourself or in the situation that created the negative thoughts. You are looking at and watching the movie, not in it. Watch yourself go through your day making whatever mistakes led you to feel badly about yourself. Put them into context. You’re showing up to school late. You’re speaking harshly to a friend. Act out the scenario, continuing to watch it unfold as and audience member, not an actor in the movie. Look at it as if you are an impartial observer with no part in the story. Create a healthy narrative with an objective view of reality. What really happened? Was it as bad as I am making it out to be?
Now, take it to the conclusion. Every movie has an ending and bringing the day or event to an end is no different. You watch as your kids have gone on to play with friends, forgetting that you were late to pick them up. You watch as you call your friend and apologize, saying you’ve had a bad day and you both laugh about the situation. You bring the situation to a healthy and focused conclusion based on the reality of the situation and not the severity you applied to the situation.
You smile as you eat your popcorn and leave the movie feeling loved, appreciated and above all…human.
Being gentle with ourselves and others is the only way to not only knowing we are loved but feeling worthy as well.