“Talk about your blessings more than you talk about your burdens” – someone really wise
We all have the power to rewrite our own past. I don’t remember where I first heard of this concept, but in the past couple of years I have become intrigued by this idea of creating my own history. We often think of the past as a fixed story line and something we cannot change. We are told to let go of the past and live in the present, but what if what we need to do is not to let go of the past, but to change how we think of it and how it informs our present? We not only have the ability to create our own future, we also have the ability to rewrite parts of our story from the past that hinder us. This doesn’t mean pretending that events in our lives never happened, but rather changing how we view certain events or how we see ourselves in light of our experiences.
We all have pain in our pasts and as much as we don’t like to admit it, I think many of us are attached to our pain and see it as something that makes us somehow more interesting. When we share our pain with others, it helps us to connect and be vulnerable, which is beautiful, but I think we often give our pain too much importance, both in the past and in the present. We tend to reinforce that which we focus on; if we believe life is full of pain and suffering, we will always find plenty of examples to prove ourselves right. But the same goes for believing that life is amazing, people are generally good, and magical things are constantly happening!
It probably doesn’t help that our society seems to have some sort of reverence for martyrdom. We are taught that being constantly busy and stressed is a virtue because it means we are sacrificing ourselves for our work or for others. We complain about our aches and pains and are constantly trying to one-up each other with stories of this horrible thing that happened to us one time, saying “Oh, that’s nothing, I once had to wait five hours at the DMV and it was TORTURE!”. We throw around words like ‘torture’, ‘hell’, and ‘the absolute worst!’ as if they were completely normal ways of describing our everyday activities, as if they somehow add more drama and excitement to an otherwise mundane and perfectly harmless activity.
Try noticing when you use these words and see if you can replace them with something a little less dramatic, or at least spend less time focusing on them and more time talking about the things in your day that were ‘fabulous’, ‘terrific’ and ‘blissdazzle!’. And when someone else describes how terrible something was, feel free to empathize and offer them support, but don’t give in to the urge to one-up them, or to answer with something equally terrible that happened to you. You know those sentences that start with “If it makes you feel any better…” followed by some sob story about the other person? Like when my ex-boyfriend told me “I know I broke up with you, but if it makes you feel any better, I did 5 points worse on my test this week than I normally do.” Does that ever really make anyone feel better? No, it just makes you sad for your friend, or feel guilty that you’re upset now that you’ve been one-upped, or angry that your ex thinks his doing worse on a stupid test somehow makes up for the fact that he dumped you out of nowhere. Anyway, obviously I’m over it…
I want to be clear that I am not saying all pain is in our heads and we should just move on. Plenty of people suffer from actual depression and need medication and therapy in order to get better. In addition, most of us will suffer truly traumatic events at some point in our lives and those certainly should not be minimized or repressed. It is important to talk about and share such experiences so that we can heal and move on, rather than trying to just forget about them or pretend they never happened. I still think we should do our best not to let these events define who we are or ruin our chance for happiness in the present, but the pain I’m talking about here is the kind that is almost completely within our control. We create so much pain and suffering for ourselves that is totally unnecessary simply by letting our thoughts run wild and allowing our ego to take over and be a big jerk.
Addiction to pain
The weird thing about pain is that it’s addictive and being in pain is often easier than actually being happy. It’s so easy, comfortable, and familiar to feel sorry for ourselves and believe that the world has it out for us so we may as well just wallow in self-pity and eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s because we’re never going to get anywhere. I find it actually takes a lot more energy to fight those feelings, force myself to focus on the good stuff and stop believing life sucks and there is nothing I can do about it. It takes strength and courage to stand up to your own personal demons and tell them that they are wrong when they whisper mean things in your ear and do their best to pull you down into the darkest corners of your mind.
Again, this is not to say that we should try to hide or mask our pain and pretend to be happy all the time. As I wrote in my post on relationships, I am a huge proponent of feeling pain and sadness as deeply as you possibly can so that you can then let it go and move on. Every emotion is valid and part of the human experience and I’m certainly not suggesting you feel bad for having so-called “negative” emotions. They are important and you feel them for a reason! But I think we not only give our pain and our sadness a disproportionate amount of attention, we often allow it to dictate how we see ourselves and how we live our lives. Everyone needs a good venting/crying/gossiping session every now and then, but it’s when it becomes the norm that it starts to really be harmful to your happiness and wellbeing.
Changing your script
Let me give you an example of what I mean. I’ve been through many break-ups of varying degrees, but with each one I always felt a familiar script creeping into my mind. It goes something like this: I always get my heart broken, Everybody leaves me, No man will ever love me, I’m going to end up sad and alone. By telling myself these things, I was not only being hurtful, I was reinforcing the behaviors and creating a version of myself that I didn’t particularly like. Once I started paying attention to that script and examining it more closely, I realized that I had painted a role for myself as a victim, which I reinforced every time something didn’t work out (which, let’s be honest, is inevitable for almost every romantic relationship we have). I have had to work very hard to change this script and it still comes up all the time, but I have learned that I don’t have to believe everything I think and I don’t have to go along with my brain when it brings up such thoughts.
To change this script, I created an exercise for myself where I wrote two different versions of my past relationships. The one that I’ve told myself for years, and the one I wanted to tell myself.
- I always get hurt and nothing ever works out
- I make bad decisions for myself
- No man has ever loved me or will ever love me
- Dating only leads to misery
- I’m going to die sad and alone
Dang, how depressing is that version of my past!? And these are all actual thoughts that I have found popping into my head over and over again whenever a break-up happens (and I have a sneaky suspicion I am not alone in this). Talk about throwing myself a never-ending pity party and completely missing the opportunities I had to grow and learn from my relationships. As much as I hate to admit it, I have held onto these scripts for a long time and have allowed them to completely define my dating experiences. I even feel them creeping in at the start of every new relationship, setting myself up for the inevitable disappointment I know will occur, masquerading as a defense mechanism when really they are just excuses to continue feeling sorry for myself and clutching tightly to my pain. And then when a relationship ends, it reinforces those thoughts and reminds me that I was right to be afraid in the first place and probably should never try to love anyone at all ever again and should just buy five cats instead. But now that I am aware of these thoughts and can see them for what they really are, I am able to work towards replacing them with a much more useful set of thoughts that I find much more empowering.
- I am strong and resilient and I am not afraid to fall in love, even though I might get hurt
- I have learned something from every relationship I’ve had
- More love will always come my way if I stay open to it
- Who I am is not defined by how a handful of men have felt about me
- I have had some bad experiences with men but also some really great ones
When I looked at these two options and thought about which story I would rather believe and which story would be more likely to lead me to make better decisions and love myself more in the future, the answer was pretty obvious. Notice that my new story still contains realistic versions of my dating life and does not just pain rainbows and butterflies all over everything. This exercise is not about trying to convince myself that the painful things in my past didn’t happen, but about trying not to focus only on the negative and to see what I could gain from my experiences while also recognizing that it hadn’t been all bad. In addition, my new script paints me as an active participant in the creation of my own story, rather than an innocent bystander who is constantly being hurt and victimized.
The key thing to remember is this: You don’t have to believe everything you think. The mind is much more powerful than we often give it credit for and if you continue to validate these thoughts as they come up over and over again, you will make them true for yourself. Fortunately, the opposite is also true – when these thoughts come up, you equally have the power to remind yourself that they are not in fact true and to replace them with more useful thoughts. Repeat this enough times and the positive thoughts will eventually become true instead!
How scripts hold us back
These scripts we have are not limited just to relationships and can pretty much be applied to any aspect of your life. We all have scripts that tend to pop up in our heads over and over, but many of us don’t realize that we have the power to change them rather than just accepting them as a part of who we are. I have dozens, maybe even hundreds of other hurtful scripts bouncing around in my brain, saying things like I never finish any project I begin or I’m terrible at saving money and budgeting or I suck at traveling and will never become fluent in another language. (Of course, there are positive scripts as well, but in my experience those are not nearly as easy to come by). Our mind/ego is really good at coming up with mean things to say to us and we sit there and just take it! I would never be friends with someone who spoke to me like that, so why should I accept those same words coming from my own brain!?
Unfortunately, these scripts can keep us from exploring the world and going outside our comfort zones. Seeing yourself as a victim or a martyr can be seductive but also very dangerous. It can keep you from trying new things, planning an awesome trip, or following your passions. Being a victim gives you a convenient excuse never to go outside your comfort zone or take any risks because you know that you’re just going to fail anyway and that nothing ever goes the way you want it to. Every time I plan a new trip or embark on a new adventure, I still hear those voices in my head telling me I’m going to fail or that it’s all just a big waste of time, but I have learned to push past them and not allow them to run my life. Some days it’s easier to ignore them than others, but it’s all about practice and I find that, overall, I am getting better and better at this as time goes on.
So, my challenge to you (and for myself) is this: start paying attention to those scripts in your head that you have become so used to hearing over the years. Stop accepting them as fact and try replacing them with thoughts you would rather pay attention to, thoughts that will actually motivate you and make you feel loved and empowered. Let go of the versions of yourself that aren’t helpful and start seeing yourself the way you actually want to be seen. Learn from your past but don’t let it control your present or your future.
And if you’re feeling bold, share one or two of your scripts below along with the script you’re going to start replacing it with! I would love to hear what you are working on.