Awhile back, I was at a surprise party for the husband of one of my friends.
A small group of us were hiding in the living room, waiting for our cue to reveal ourselves.
The husband entered through the garage door like my friend had expected, but before she could greet him with her prepared speech, she was met with a hot blast of grievances.
Seems it had been a crap day and her hon was in a bad mood.
We listened (awkwardly) from our positions while she tried her best to soothe him, but he didn’t want to be soothed.
He was pissed off and seemed intent on staying that way.
Traffic . . . and the weather . . . and the god-damned brakes!
He stormed past her and rounded the corner . . .
And there we were.
And just like that, the grumbling stopped, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out.
He embraced the group, shaking our hands and hugging us in happy astonishment.
For the rest of the evening, there was a big, birthday-boy smile on his face.
I thought about this as I drove home—how fast we can snap out of our moods if we really have to.
I had noticed my own capacity for changing gears in a millisecond when faced with a sudden social crosswind.
I’d be in full thumb-sucking mode, swaddled up in my latest sad story (making myself and my boyfriend miserable) when someone would come to the door and hey! I’d be all smiles again.
Years later, I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and learned something that blew my mind.
Most of our feeling states are caused by our thoughts.
I sat with this new knowledge, feeling the same way I had in fourth grade when Norma Delarenzo showed me her parent’s illustrated book on sex.
What? You can do it in different positions?
What? Our thoughts cause our emotions?
It would take me years to really understand what this meant.
I had never questioned my thoughts or assumptions before.
I didn’t even realize I was making assumptions!
I had no idea I was interpreting events and creating a story about them in my head.
And this, my sweet, is not that unusual.
Most of us aren't aware of the stories we're telling.
Especially the ones that have been handed down to us from our family of origin.
Those stories are like an old broken record.
They've been repeating for so long we don't even hear them.
This is what Pam Grout meant when she said that most of us are still operating out of the mental architecture of our ancestors.
More often than not, we’re viewing the world through the experiences of our parents.
And their parents.
Unfortunately, many of those experiences were painful.
Which means most of the stories we’re listening to are told from a victim's point-of-view.
And that’s bothersome.
Mental architecture that's created (and reinforced) by past victimization can keep us locked in a prison of learned helplessness.
If you’ve been following along with my recent blogs, you know by now I’m talking about the Pain Body.
And today I'm taking a closer look at the mind condition that keeps many of us caught up in a cyclical pattern of anxiety and despair.
Because the Pain Body isn’t always violent.
A lot of the time (especially in my case) it’s full of self-pity.
And while it’s healthy to have compassion for ourselves, especially when life gets difficult (or someone we love hurts our feelings), there’s a dark side to self-pity that few of us recognize.
An identification with powerlessness.
The minute you believe you're a victim, you lose your connection to that higher realm and cut yourself off from the field of all possibilities.
You begin using helpless language like "I can't" or "I have to"
You start feeling like:
life is happening to you
someone else is to blame
the circumstances are unfair
nothing can be done about it
you need rescue or help from outside yourself
it's too big to be changed
you have no choice
Which is a terrible place to be.
And yet . . . it can also be terribly addictive.
There's a comfort in self-pity that causes a FALSE ATTRACTION.
If you've been operating in victim-mode long enough, it can start to feel like your identity.
It can start to feel like home.
A belief in smallness never feels good, but there's a secret, hidden pay-off.
The responsibility for your peace and happiness is taken off your shoulders and put onto someone else.
It's always easier to blame external factors instead of taking the steps of personal growth that lead into healthy adulthood.
I still catch myself with this.
Thankfully, I have a brilliant coach who knows a victim story when she hears one.
Her solution to this problem is the best one I've found so far. (You can read about it in her impactful, self-coaching book Scooch.)
ANTIDOTE TO VICTIM MENTALITY
CULTIVATE A CONSCIOUSNESS OF CHOICE
Find where you DO have choice
If you have no choice (or very little) you always have the choice to harness your power of interpretation
Choose consciously (make the best choice you see to make in the moment)
Get 100% behind your choice
If you find over time that you aren't getting behind your choice then:
Do this, and you'll find yourself right back in a position of power.
See ya later, helplessness!
But what about our magical ability to change our mood in an instant?
If we can just frog-leap into happiness, why don't we do that?
Well, this is where things get interesting.
Lower frequency emotions have their own gravitational pull. (Hint: self-pity and victim mentality are on the bottom rung)
It takes a bit of effort to unstick yourself from those vibrational forces.
Remember my friend’s husband who didn’t want to be soothed?
He was on same the frequency of his Pain Body, and to the Pain Body, crankiness feels goooood!
When his mind-story was interrupted by a group of us jumping up and yelling SURPRISE!, he snapped back to the present moment and was immediately free of that downward grip.
But you don't have to wait for a startling event to connect you back to YOU.
You just have to start paying attention to the way you feel.
It doesn't matter if you're not consciously aware of the music that's on the metaphorical turntable.
Your body will let you know 100% of the time if you're listening to a troublesome tune.
You'll physically feel an emotion that’s on the same frequency as the kind of songs your mind is playing.
A Course In Miracles says that the body is a communication medium—it receives and sends the messages that it is given.
And the receiver and sender are the same.
I know this to be true.
I've lived most of my life in a crack-house of past pain.
I chose songs that matched the emotional essence of my own stories—lonely lyrics that could bring me to my knees.
I craved music that was mournful.
Because don’t those sad ballads make us feel understood?
In my teenage/drug years, I identified with Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd.
Then, as I grew older, This Bitter Earth by Dinah Washington & Max Richter.
La Boheme by Puccini.
The common theme? SORROW.
I felt a bond with this kind of music. It took me to a beautiful place of belonging.
Back then, I was cut off from the fullness of life. I blamed my emptiness on something OUTSIDE OF MYSELF.
Sad songs were a temporary fix.
Sorrow cracks through your ribcage and opens up the chest cavity—grabbing your heart and digging into all the tender parts—forcing you to FEEL SOMETHING, god-damn it!
Yes, it hurts, but it hurts soooo good. And there’s a danger in that.
It took me a while to realize . . .
Those sad songs I played kept me in my story of abandonment and grief.
And oh, it was hard to let them go.
The Pain Body doesn’t want happy, upbeat music.
It wants raw, flesh-torn-off-the-bone kind of songs.
And I have to admit, sometimes I'm still drawn to that flame.
But I listen to this music with a conscious awareness now.
My joyful life’s too important to allow myself to caught up in the sad melody—one that resonates with my past.
I’ve danced too close to suicide to be seduced back into the arms of hopelessness.
And a lot of these songs keep us there if we let them.
Let's not let them.
Let's do whatever it takes to create a healthy infrastructure in our minds.
Not just for ourselves, but for all the generations that follow.
Ladies, it’s time to change the music.
Because no one is served by that old broken record.
Sending you so much love,
PS. At the heart of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an assumption that a person's mood is directly related to his or her patterns of thought. While CBT has been extremely helpful in my own life, I do not mean to imply that it is the only or best treatment for anxiety or depression as medication may be needed in cases unlike my own.
The pathways along which information travels through the neurons (nerve cells) of the brain can be compared with the paths through a forest. As people keep taking the same route through a forest, they wear out a path in it. And the more people who take this path, the more deeply it is worn and the easier it becomes to follow. The same goes for our memories and stories: the more we review them in our mind, the more deeply they are etched in our neural pathways.
And I can help with that!