Our sense of reality is not black and white. Every single person on this planet sees the world slightly differently, altered by our upbringing, our values, faiths, education, experiences and personalities. There are so many billions of factors that can affect our perception. Oftentimes, those differences go completely unnoticed by others, but they’re always alive and well within us. They don’t just work alone – they can build off of one another.
For instance, I grew up as the child of divorced parents, but also as the oldest among my half-siblings whom I lived with (I also have two step siblings and another half sibling, which adds a whole separate layer of complexity). I regularly attended a Christian church as a teen, but then dated a very nice Mormon guy for a while. I had pretty bad acne and used to cake on tons of makeup, and I developed breasts earlier than all my other friends and received unwanted attention because of it.
All of these experiences in my life have contributed to how I see the world, they have shaped my personality in such a specific way that it can’t be replicated. I’ve often felt like a lone wolf (divorce), yet I feel a sense of responsibility (eldest child), I have an ambivalent feeling toward church (exposure to different religions), I’ve been horribly self-conscious about my skin (bad teen acne), and I still sometimes feel ashamed of my body (early developer).
I’ve recently been contemplating why I am the way I am at this stage in my life, and a recent video I saw on YouTube got me thinking… what if my perception is off? What if some of my past experiences have caused me unnecessary problems in the present?
Here’s another way to put it… what stories have I been telling myself about my past?
Tonight I realized that I’ve been telling myself one particular story for the past couple years that’s been holding me back more than any other from accomplishing things and creating healthier habits: I’ve been conflating my past depression with failure. Here’s a little example of that thought spiral:
I was depressed for a year – It was a struggle to simply get out of bed.
It was so hard to accomplish anything – I must be a lazy person by nature.
I gained like 30 pounds because all I wanted to do was eat and sleep.
I’m ashamed to be overweight. I’m now unattractive and it’s all my fault.
I’m a failure.
If I’m a failure then I can’t possibly accomplish anything.
So I shouldn’t even try.
It’s been a couple years since I’ve felt the full force of that depression, but the assumptions I made about myself during that time are still affecting me. Now, whenever I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, it translates into a sense of failure. Whenever I can’t seem to accomplish as much as I’d like to, I assume it’s because I’m now a lazy person. “There was once a time when I was a real go-getter, a strong woman with a sense of purpose, but now I’m incapable of such bravery,” I tell myself, using a few past experiences to “back it up,” despite the fact that I have plenty more experiences that could suggest the opposite.
The problem with this thinking is that whatever you believe about yourself, is TRUE.
Because you MAKE it true by living in ways that back up this belief. You could call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If I believe that I’m a lazy, overweight failure (who deserves it), then that’s who I’ll be, because we act according to our beliefs. However, if I start to truly believe that I’m capable, determined and healthy, then I will start acting in ways that support those beliefs. And if I can’t magically start believing it? …Fake it until you make it baby.
Since I’ve realized this, I’ve gotten much better. I’ve started to undo these thought patterns and replace them with more positive ones. But I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be. But we’re all a work in progress, for our entire lives. There is no real culmination of self-improvement, it’s all a journey.
I challenge you to take a moment to think about the stories you tell yourself about your past, and really think about this: Are they truthful, unbiased reflections of actual events, or have they morphed into cautionary tales and reasons to be critical of yourself? Of course you don’t have to leave a comment telling me about these personal things, but if you do, I’d be more than interested to read them and discuss. You can always send me a private message by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.