What Is Gender

What Is Gender

Gender is confusing. It’s often used and understood as a synonym for sexual genitalia. Consult any dictionary, and you’ll see. And while, in our culture, both terms are inextricably linked with one another, they are different. They’re associations with one another (and our staunch adherence to them) have proven oppressive and dangerously limiting.

For some, it’s never an issue; they’re born, they are raised as the sex they were assigned at birth, identify with that sex and its associated gender, and it’s all good. For many others, it’s not so easy. Some of us feel confined by the limits of our current conceptualization of gender upon which our society has agreed and enforced for generations.

Even in places where people self-describe as open-minded and accepting, a cis man wearing a dress is assumed to be in costume, and a femme or high femme woman with fully grown out leg hair is a spectacle.

Gender is a construct, and we have agreed that being masculine means one thing and being feminine means another. Many of us who disagree with this construct do so while following the rules. We feel that we are following these rules against our wills. When people do break free and live authentically, however outside the norm, they are mocked, isolated, bullied, attacked, and even killed.

For years, in the Trans community, “passing” has been a goal. Some want to pass in hopes of feeling in alignment with who they know themselves to be. Some want to pass to look and feel like and be accepted as a “real” man or woman. (Please note that I am absolutely simplifying this concept.) This is a testament to the generations of patriarchy, toxic masculinity, sexism, and misogyny that inform our culture. Men must “look like men, ” and women must “look like women.” To this day it’s still an issue of safety as MTF (male-to-female) people are the most targeted members of our community. (And MTF People of Color make up a substantial portion of that group.)

Obviously, this is not true for every Trans person. There are plenty of people in the Trans community for whom passing isn’t much of a goal, and there are many who’ve found more peace and happiness after transitioning. Happiness is a universal goal, and many eventually find it after they have transitioned. (Most people don’t find immediate fulfillment; transitioning is often a long and arduous process during which a person can face various types of rejection and self-doubt. Years of managing the stress brought on by denying oneself, living in fear of being rejected for living authentically compounded by the stress of letting go and allowing oneself to transition is an enormous undertaking.)

But there is a whole group of people who identify as Trans and don’t want HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or surgeries. Some Trans people want HRT but not surgery. Some want some of the surgeries but not all and don’t want HRT. Some FTMs will never look the way we’ve been conditioned to identify as male, and some MTFs will never look the way we’ve been conditioned to identify as female. Most of us assume that when someone transitions they’ll start behaving and presenting in a way that our culture affirms as masculine enough or feminine enough.

We have decided what is masculine and feminine, which characteristics are ok to swap and which are definitely not ok. Straight men can have long hair, but they can’t wear makeup. Women can have buzz cuts and abstain from shaving body hair, but they’d better be Lesbian. Our culture puts an incredible amount of pressure on its members to conform to its rules and has assembled a loyal and persuasive army of militant enforcers who are always more than willing to defend these rules.

In response, so much dangerous adherence to these limits is the notion of being gender-fluid. Gender fluidity is gaining momentum. A lot of people don’t feel they should have to comply with a certain presentation based on their genitals. So they don’t. They identify and present however feels most authentic to them. They don’t ask for permission. They don’t appease. People who are gender-fluid have looked at the gender, and sexual constructs created by the dominant groups in our culture and have opted out. They are creating a safer, more inclusive culture where we are not defined by our presentations or ruled by binaries and either-or options.

I’m often asked about “detransitioning” and how common it is. This is a complicated subject and will take time and commitment to discuss. If you have any questions about what I’ve written or would like to discuss detransitioning, please contact me. I’d be more than happy to talk about this with you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

“So about how long should it take until I feel better?” “How long do you think I’ll need therapy?” “How many sessions should I expect to attend before my problem is solved?” I have asked all of these questions during time spent on the other side of the couch. I know what it’s like to want concrete answers and expectations met. Everyone wants a sure thing in the face of so much uncertainty.

Therapy is not exactly a sure thing. Surely, it can and does help, but it’s not as simple as basic input of time and results yielded. Results depend on client honesty (with themselves and the therapist), right fit with a therapist, client’s commitment to the work both in and out of the therapy office, and right fit with whatever therapeutic modality is used.

Therapy is almost never a quick fix, but there are quicker-fix type/brief therapeutic modalities available. Whether or not these protocols are right for someone depends on a lot- personality, history, diagnosis, whether or not a person has experienced complex trauma. Even in the best of scenarios, it still requires the practice of skills through time to maintain results.

Under the psychotherapy umbrella, there are five really (really) broad categories we use to organize treatment strategies:

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy:

Makes the unconscious conscious, insight oriented. Emphasis on client-therapist relationship. Brief therapy model (20 session maximum) is not the rule, but is available for single-incident trauma like an attack, rape, catastrophic event, targeting a single life shift.

Examples of Psychodynamic Therapy: Jungian, Dream Work, Attachment-based

Often used for: Increasing self-compassion, improving self-concept, self-actualization, mood disorders, relational problems, trauma, developing insight to identify and manage internal conflict, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families,

*Psychoanalysis: Multiple times per week. The therapist is a blank slate onto which client projects their beliefs and experiences. Relies heavily on free association.

 

Behavior Therapy:

Focuses on conditioning new behavior. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Applied Behavioral Analysis, Aversion Therapy, System Desensitization

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Anger issues, Impulse control problems, self-injury

 

Cognitive Therapy:

Focuses on changing thought pattern. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Suicidal ideation, Anxiety disorders

 

Humanistic Therapy:

Focuses on cultivating personal accountability and reaching highest potential. Emphasis on free will. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: Gestalt, Client-Centered, Transpersonal, Solution-Focused, Adlerian  

Often used for: Improving self-concept, self-actualization, improving communication with others, cultivating self-awareness, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families, existential crises  

 

Integrative or Holistic Therapy:

Often referred to as “Eclectic Therapy.” (Some practitioners will basically fight to the death in disagreement over whether or not Integrative is also Eclectic.) Uses various modalities depending on what is indicated for each client. One therapeutic modality combines various features of the previous four categories. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: EMDR, Narrative, Cognitive Behavioral, Dialectical Behavior, Internal Family Systems, Gottman Method, Transactional Analysis

Often used for: All of the above

 

Some people prefer to see the same therapist for various issues they’d like to target while others seek out a different specialist to treat each issue. There’s no right way to do this, just whatever feels like it’s working for the client. Some clients come with an agenda and leave when their goals have been reached. Some stay for a while after because they like having a professional to talk to who’s all about them. Plenty of people try therapy and find it difficult to give themselves over to the process, take a more passive route to treatment, get frustrated and give up. Sometimes this is because traditional psychotherapy is not a good fit for them right now, maybe ever. There are so many other great therapeutic options. Traditional psychotherapy is not the only way to heal or feel better.

 

I know it’s overwhelming to look for a therapist and decide which kind of therapy would be best for you, especially when you’ve been dealing with a problem for years, and you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and ask for help.

 

If you describe the issue and a little bit about yourself, many of us will be able to direct you in the right direction. There are plenty of therapists who won’t do this because they are sure that they can handle it regardless of their training and orientation. While I would like to believe that this is mostly the exception rather than the rule, it happens. If you feel too overwhelmed or busy or exhausted to educate yourself on various therapeutic tools and modalities, remember that you can interview multiple therapists at a time to see who feels like the best fit for you. (You can also do this regardless of your stamina to self-educate.) Once you start seeing a therapist, you can audition us. If you’re not feelin’ it for some reason, you can switch. It’s ok not to like your therapist or to like them, but feel like they’re not actually helping you. Therapy is an investment, and you have the right to switch providers at any time for any reason. If you’re feeling like you need to discontinue treatment, I usually recommend addressing this with the therapist; sometimes it just takes a little direct communication to shift things. Even if you don’t plan on continuing your work with the therapist, honest feedback is good for both sides.

 

If you’d like to talk more about this, please email me or call and I would be happy to answer any questions. This is one of my favorite subjects!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There is no way to avoid pain. The human brain has evolved to avoid pain, but there is no way to avoid it. So we find ourselves in a bind.

 

We make concerted efforts to protect ourselves from pain. We try to minimize it or hide from it, trade one type of pain for another. We try to protect loved ones from their pain. And mostly it comes from a loving place. But when we try to protect ourselves and others from something so inevitable as pain we are doing a disservice.

 

We are reinforcing the belief that pain is something to fear, that we cannot handle it, that we should go to any length not to experience it. So we don’t take risks. We numb. We deny ourselves. We micromanage. We hide. We lie to ourselves. We stay in relationships that don’t feed us. We stay at jobs that don’t serve us. We silence our voices. We don’t get off the couch. We make excuses, and we rationalize. We do not live fully.

 

The worst thing about pain isn’t that it hurts or that it’s scary; it isn’t even pain itself. The worst thing about pain is our fear of it. We’ll do anything to put a wide berth between us and pain.

 

But what would it be like if instead of avoiding it, we learned how to interpret pain? What if we learned how to understand what it is telling us and how to manage it, how to soothe ourselves?

 

Because sometimes it’s telling us to move away from something. Sometimes it’s telling us to slow down or rest. Sometimes it’s telling us to move toward or into something. And sometimes it’s telling us that we’re on the right track.

 

How can we hear the messages that only pain can communicate and learn from this teacher if we don’t attune to it?

 

When we are willing to listen to our pain’s message, we find our limits and our limitlessness. We explore unseen capabilities and gifts. We become less afraid to live our lives. We experience intimacy. We trust ourselves. We stop asking for permission and start living in our authentic space. We stop people-pleasing. We explore what it means to be groundless. We explore what it means to live as embodied consciousness.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Forget Self-Esteem

Forget Self-Esteem

The US went on a real self-esteem rampage starting in the mid to late ‘80s. How-To books were written for parents, leaders, educators, executives, and anyone else who wanted to know how to cultivate high self-esteem in themselves and others. After 30 years or so, we’ve seen the impact of this practice, and it hasn’t delivered what its supporters had hoped. As it turns out, the self-esteem movement helped people approach life with more entitlement and less personal accountability. I get the intention behind the self-esteem movement and support that intention, but based on what we now know about the human brain, the application was doomed from the start.

 

Self-esteem is about confidence in one’s abilities, feeling good about oneself. I might be the most confident about my driving skills but constantly get into fender benders, get pulled over for speeding, and be a general train wreck on the road. Someone else might believe that he is an ace baseball player and yet is consistently overlooked by even the least competitive teams. Anyone can have high self-esteem. It doesn’t mean they’ve earned it. It doesn’t even mean that it’s based in reality. This goes to show that someone might have great self-esteem and a poor self-concept.

 

Self-concept is how we view ourselves, the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the feedback we get from our environment. We categorize ourselves, then interpret those categorizations.

Part of your self-concept might be that you handle failure well because you learn from it and use failure as a way to learn strategy and increase your drive to get what you want.

 

I’m not saying that plenty of us don’t have faulty self-concepts. Most of us have incommensurate negative or positive self-concepts somewhere in there. I’m saying it’s more skillful to assess self-concept as opposed to self-esteem because it’s not about how confident or insecure we are in our capabilities as it is about looking at the evidence.

 

In sixth grade, I struggled with math. I wasn’t crazy-struggling, but I wanted to enjoy the same confidence in the subject I saw my peers enjoying so, I came to my teacher for help. If she had been concerned about my self-esteem, she would have told me something like, “Oh, Natalie, you’re such a great student! You’re not struggling that badly. Besides, you’re great and look at all the other things you can do!” Luckily, she cared more about my long-term self-concept than my self-esteem and told me something like, “Ok, Natalie, if you want to be better at math let’s look at where your performance is weak. Here’s where you’re doing well and here’s where you need help. Let’s work on it.” (Thanks, Mrs. Roloffs. I owe you.)

 

So, if you’re struggling with insecurity, instead of working on raising your self-esteem, try looking at how you’ve structured your self-concept. You’ll find it’s a much more useful tool than glossing over your experience with an I’m-ok-you’re-ok message.

 

If you want to look more closely at your self-concept, be curious. What are your values? What do you believe about yourself? What is the evidence of how true or false those beliefs are? What are the stories you tell about yourself? How do they play out in your life?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Defending Our Limitations

Defending Our Limitations

Have you ever talked with someone about a problem that they have, and they’re asking for your advice and opinions and every time you make a suggestion they respond with something like, “Yeah, but it wouldn’t work and here are all the reasons why”? And you can “yeah, but” anything- “Yeah, but I tried that and my situation stayed the same.” “Yeah, but she won’t listen to me anyway.” “Yeah, but that would require me to change everything I’m doing.” “Yeah, but if I did that then I would have to go back and fix a million other things that I’ve left unaddressed.”

After a while, it starts to seem like the person whose problem your listening to isn’t really looking for a solution. In fact, it might even start to seem like they’re committed to feeling bad and frustrated and to the problem itself. You get impatient and say something like, “Well, are you going to shoot down everything I suggest?” or “I don’t know what the answer is.” And they say something about how they don’t mean to be contrary and then start the cycle all over again. It almost feels like an argument, and they’re trying to convince you of all the reasons their life will always suck.

Most of us have been on either side of this conversation and understand that both of these roles are frustrating. When we’re the ones acting as the sounding board, we feel like the other person just wants to complain. When we’re the ones complaining, we feel frustrated that we’re experiencing the problem and scared that we will never move through it.

But what’s the deal? What’s happening with this pattern? And what can we do to make it productive instead of self-defeating?

What’s happening with this pattern is that we are arguing for our problem or our limitations. We’re defending them. (That feeling you had about your friend seeming pretty committed to their problem is right on. They are.) We have a lot of reasons to argue for our limitations. Most of them have to do with core beliefs we hold and the narratives we tell about the world and who we are in it.

We pick up our core beliefs as we develop. As we experience the world, we make meaning of these experiences and internalize that meaning. Our core beliefs are born of this meaning. If I grew up poor and I experienced this as lack, I might have started to believe that there is not enough. As I continued to develop, I might have cultivated the belief that, “Because I am poor, I cannot have what I want.” This limiting belief might have prevented me from going to college and setting my sights on the kind of life I wanted instead of the life I thought was available to me in my current state of lack. Maybe my narrative turned into “Everyone else can figure out how to have the life they want because they came from money or had some kind of windfall or are not as challenged.”

I might even go to therapy in hopes of enlisting the help of a professional, but end up spending a lot of my time fighting the treatment and arguing for my limitations. (And if I’ve picked a therapist worth their weight they’ll challenge me on this so that I can get out of my own way.)

Defending our problems is a pretty common behavior and while it takes time and work to change it, we can.

 

Try this exercise:           

1) Assess your narrative: What story do you tell about yourself, about who you are in the world? What story do you tell about the world? What story do you tell yourself about your capabilities, limitations, how you respond to challenges, what’s available to you?                       

2) Assess your current core beliefs: What negative and positive core self-beliefs do you hold?

 

Next time you’re in an empathic space, explore these questions with yourself. No need to connect your findings to any behavior yet. Just be curious about it. Let yourself sit with what you’ve been telling yourself all these years and hold that with compassion.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

What is Your Avoidance Telling You?

What is Your Avoidance Telling You?

Avoidance isn’t always unhealthy. In fact, there are plenty of times that it’s really adaptive. I want to avoid getting a parking ticket, so I move my car during the specified times. You want to avoid getting fired so you do the parts of your job that you’d prefer not to do. I want to avoid getting scratched by that mysterious cat, so I won’t bend down to pet her.

Sometimes we’ve personally experienced something that has taught us to avoid a certain stimulus and other times it’s common sense or a gut feeling. In my early twenties, I had to learn through a few different experiences that Hot Cheetos should be avoided if I wanted to side-step heartburn and a fairly sizeable stomach ache. I did not, however, have to learn through personal experience that the assignments for my Abnormal Developmental Psychology class needed to be completed and handed in on time. My instincts told me that my professor had zero tolerance for tardy assignments.

And really, it’s up to us to decide what we’re willing to endure. If you don’t mind getting the parking ticket, dealing with heartburn, or getting a bad grade, you probably won’t move your car. You’ll eat that bag of Hot Cheetos while procrastinating your assignments. We all have varying levels of tolerance to discomfort. And we even label discomfort differently. I might experience public speaking as uncomfortable, but you might label it as one of the more pleasurable ways to pass an evening. It really depends on what we tell ourselves about the experience we are having.

Avoidance becomes more troublesome or unhealthy when it gets in the way of our relationships, responsibilities, and the way we want to live our lives when it becomes our thinking-doing pattern. If I think, “Ugh, I really hate this meeting. I don’t want to go. We never get anything done, and it just goes on and on forever,” and then I skip the meeting once to stay back and get some work done, that’s not the end of the world. But I’m definitely going to want to get that thought process under control. If I constantly tell myself how much I hate the meeting and label it as something undesirable, I’m going to believe that it’s something I need to avoid. I’m going to make it pretty hard on myself to motivate when it’s time to go to the meeting. The more difficult it is for me to find the motivation to go, the more I’ll probably find ways to get out of it. That becomes a problem with both my thinking and my doing (behavior).

I’m not saying avoidance is bad or that we need to manipulate or trick ourselves out of feeling it. I’m saying we need to be curious about it. If I’m curious about why I don’t want to go to the meeting, what makes me so uncomfortable, I’ll probably learn something. I might learn that I need to speak up about it. I might learn that I can effect change by using my voice. Maybe I’ll see that I need to talk about it with my boss and we’ll both discover that my time is better spent doing something else. Upon further inspection, I might find that this is a much more chronic problem than I realized and discover that it’s time to look for a new job. If you allow yourself to contemplate why you’re often late with assignments, maybe you’ll discover that it’s because you don’t want to be in the field you’re studying. Maybe you’ll even find that you don’t want to be in school at all right now.

This is one of the gifts of avoidance. “If I don’t think about it, I don’t have to deal with it.” We can just keep skipping the meeting rather than thinking about training and searching for a new job. We can continue not to get credit for late assignments and focus on that problem instead of risking what it might be like to tell our parents that we don’t want to be in school right now. We can come home to our partner after a long day and sit in front of the TV with our phone in our hand and not think or talk about the fact that we haven’t felt very connected lately. When we avoid, we don’t have to do the thing, and we don’t have to think about why we’re not doing the thing.

I like to use mindfulness when I’m dealing with avoidance, my own or someone else’s. Give it a try. Ask yourself what you notice about the situation you are avoiding. What’s it like to do it? What’s it like to avoid it? What are the sensations associated with both? What does it mean to do the thing you are avoiding? And what does it mean to avoid it? What meaning are you making out of the sensations? How are you labeling them?

Bringing a little mindfulness is a good start to hearing what your avoidance is trying to tell you. You deserve to know.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Come Out, Come Out Whoever You Are

Come Out, Come Out Whoever You Are

Expressing our authentic selves can be terrifying. We risk rejection, disappointment, loss, and sometimes even violence. On the other hand, we stand to gain a life lived in integrity with who we are, more intimacy with our loved ones, acceptance, joy, and satisfaction. If we choose to stay closeted about who we are, we risk living our lives imprisoned.

There are a million ways in which we “come out of the closet” and, although they’re not all comparable, they’re all challenging to make known. We can come out as Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, GenderQueer, a survivor of abuse, polyamorous, religious, having a criminal history, a sex worker, nonreligious, an addict, recovering from an illness or disease… There is no limit.

Some closets are harder than others to come out of due to prejudices, culture climates, and phobias. It’s not always safe to make ourselves vulnerable and come out of our closets. If we live in a culture or an environment where we could suffer violence and abuse, coming out might be dangerous for us.

When we keep important parts of our identity secret, we keep a chasm between the people with whom we are in a relationship and us. There is so much we don’t share- our thoughts, our feelings, our wishes, our goals… ourselves. A part of us lives unseen and silent. Having to deny or invisibilize such important parts of ourselves often leads to isolation, depression, anxiety, low self- esteem, self-injury, and suicide.

We feel caught dangling from the precipice of the chasm. If we take the leap and reveal ourselves will we plummet and end up in the void or will we make it to the other side? Many of us spend years, decades even, dangling from this edge, afraid to make a step in any direction.

There is so much to consider when we reveal deep parts of ourselves. Will my support network continue to support me? Will I be safe? Will I be accepted? Will they still love me if I let them see who I am? Sometimes it feels like we have to give up important parts of ourselves to keep the love and support of the people close to us.

Coming out, making ourselves visible, being vulnerable is a painful process by definition. It’s the act of opening ourselves up to attack and harm, scrutiny and judgment. It’s stripping our souls of their protective cloaks and allowing ourselves to stand naked.

Ultimately, all any of us wants is to be loved and accepted. We want to know that our loved ones see us, that regardless of their agreement with and understanding of our choices they want to understand us, and that they love us. We want to know that we’re ok.

So, I want you to know that you are ok. No matter who you are, who you love, what you’ve done, who you want to be, how you want to live, as long as you are not hurting or oppressing anyone, you are ok. You are worthy of love and acceptance, and you are ok.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Having Thick Skin: It’s Not What You Think

Having Thick Skin: It’s Not What You Think

Has anyone ever given you the (often unsolicited) advice, “You need to learn to be thicker skinned”? Yep. A lot of us have been given that tip. It’s not necessarily a “bad” recommendation. I’m just not sure it’s always a helpful encouragement for a lot of the situations in which it’s been given. I usually hear that phrase being communicated to people who are sad or mad. And it sends the wrong message.

Being thick-skinned means being resilient. For example, say someone applies for a job, interviews, and doesn’t get the job. If they are thin-skinned, they will take it personally and assume it’s a direct statement about their worth as a person. Maybe it will even affect the effort they put into looking for other jobs or the confidence they exude during future interviews. If the person is thick-skinned, they will feel disappointed, and maybe a slight sting, but know that there are various reasons that explain why they must not have been the best fit for the job. Because they have resilience, they will try again with hope intact.

There are many reasons for a person to exhibit qualities of having thin skin. Different types of trauma can have an impact on someone’s ability to tap into the power of their resilience, (but this is an entirely different article). Those who can access their resilience, those who seem to have thicker skin know that, though it might add to their grit factor, adversity doesn’t define them.

So, what are a few signs that you’re accessing your own thick skin (resilience)?

You know and respect your boundaries. People who have thicker skin can hold and maintain a boundary with others. They can identify when, for whatever reason, something does not feel right for them. They know that they have a right to protect their time, their energy, their needs, and they know they have a right to do so. They don’t feel that they have to say yes to everyone for everything all the time to feel worthy.

You take responsibility for yourself. This requires a certain level of self-awareness. Those who have thick skin can assess when it’s time for them to call in the reinforcements (ask for help, take a break, delegate, etc.) without feeling like it’s a huge blow to their egos. They can see how they impact people and make adjustments when necessary.

You can say the words, “I don’t know.” When someone is aligned with their thick skin, they don’t have to have all the answers to know that they’re worthy. They can sit in the unknown without watching their confidence and self-trust diminish.

You employ acceptance. This is what helps you respect your boundaries. You have flexibility. You accept when you need help, when you need a break, and when you need a change. You don’t fight with your pain or hardship. You understand that it will pass and give way to new emotion, new circumstance. You know that your present state does not define you.

You show up for yourself. This means you take care of your mind, body, and soul. You know what you need to do to care for yourself, and you do it. When you need alone time, you take it. When you need to spend time with loved ones, you reach out. When you need to go to bed, but you’d rather watch another episode of “The Office” you go to bed. When you need to take a sick day, you take it.

 

You might notice that, in no way, have I said, “to be thick-skinned, you must not be in touch with your feelings,” or “You don’t cry or get upset.” Right, because having thick skin is not about cutting yourself off from your feelings; it’s about being in touch with those precious feelings and being honest about them, respecting them, managing them, and using those feelings as part of your guide.

We all have these qualities already inside us. Sometimes, it’s hard to feel them. The more we work at practicing these things, the more resilient we will be.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie          

Learn How to Change Your Thought Pattern

Learn How to Change Your Thought Pattern

Think about what you know. How did you come to know this?

Now think about what you believe. Is it different from what you know? Why or why not?

What we believe and what we know (and what we think we know) organizes our philosophy on life- our paradigm, our mindset. It is why we behave the way we do, have the kinds of relationships we have, and it informs our level of satisfaction with our lives. Essentially, our mindset is… us. And we are our mindset.

Within our mindset each of us has a set of assumptions, which creates our operating system. We have methods to address, work within, and challenge these assumptions. This creates the impetus for us to make particular choices on every level- how we behave in our relationships, what we do for work, how we interact, how we manage conflict, everything. It provides us with a motivation to accept or not accept.

When I ask people how they’ve come to know or believe things about themselves, they often tell me stories of interactions they have had with others, gains and losses they have experienced, and how they’ve interpreted such experiences.

It’s easy to see how some of us create a particular meaning out of the information we receive. For instance, if I experience a lot of mismanaged conflict with my family, I might believe/”know” that they don’t appreciate me. If I believe or “know” this to be true, it will impact most of our interactions, and I might begin to feel defensive around them. This might cause me to behave in an aggressive, hostile, or otherwise distancing way during our interactions. Our relationship will start to feel unsatisfactory, and that experience will fuel my belief that my family doesn’t appreciate me. At this rate, I will feel increasingly alienated from my loved ones. That mismanaged conflict will have taken a stronghold on my beliefs, my relationships, and my life.

What would happen if I start to ask questions about the conflict I am experiencing, if I wonder about the information rather than ascribe meaning to it? What if I allow myself to be curious about this experience, allow myself to challenge beliefs that I have adopted? This complicated pain will begin to shift to transparent contributing factors. I will have a better grasp on the information and what it might mean. I will be able to reorganize what I believe is happening within my relationships. My perspective will begin to change.

What if you became more curious about what you know and believe? What would happen if you challenged how shy you think you are, how smart, how needy, how sensitive, or how mean you are?

Eventually, you will feel less dependent on what you have incorporated as part of your philosophy on life because you will have begun to trust yourself. You’ll start to feel safer challenging your beliefs, less defensive when others challenge you. You’ll equate these challenges with increased learning and development. You will find that failure is not a threatening statement about your capabilities, but a chance for refinement. Where you once felt a sense of safety in defining yourself with various restrictive proclamations (“I’m… smart stupid, bad/good at relationships, a good athlete, shy, Type A, mellow, easy/hard to please, socially inept, charming,“ – whatever.), you will realize how dangerously confining they are.

You don’t need them.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie