October 03, 2015

Four Common Toxic Beliefs

Let me distract you for a moment and give you something important to think about...

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had tunnel vision and expected my life to go a certain way.  After my divorce, I studied my failures until I lost sight of my successes.  I surrendered my dreams to feel a sense of comfort.  I held tight to my fears and shielded myself from love and happiness by refusing to put myself out there.  And as I did all of this, I sat back and wondered why life was so miserable.

Obviously, I was very lost.  My own toxic beliefs and ensuing behaviors had gotten the best of me.  But after some extensive soul-searching, a friend, lots of reading, and diligent practice, I learned to do things differently, and I found myself again.  I tell you this because I know you struggle with similar inner demons – we all do.  Sometimes the ideas and habits we get comfortable with end up killing us inside.

I now realize that many of the toxic beliefs I struggled with earlier in life are actually quite common.  I have seen the same toxic beliefs surface in the lives of my friends over and over again.  Here are four of the most common ones you need to be aware of:

1.  The past is indicative of the present. – When things aren’t going well there is a tendency to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same.  For some strange reason, this doesn’t happen as much when things are going well.  Remaining in the moment is much easier when we’re experiencing joy.  A laugh, a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it.  But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be just like today.  This is a cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy. 

If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to breach your foggy judgment.  You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

2.  It’s too late to make changes. – Life is not a straight line.  There isn’t one right path for you or anyone else.  And there isn’t a set timeline of milestones.  But sometimes the pressure coming from peers, family, work, and society in general is enough to make us feel completely broken inside.  If we don’t have the “right” job, relationship, lifestyle, and so forth, by a certain age or timeframe, we assume we’re somehow broken and beyond repair.  And that’s not true at all.  You’re allowed to backtrack.  You’re allowed to figure out what inspires you at different stages of your life.  You’re allowed extra time when you need it.  Life is meant to be a series of zigs and zags.  It should look like a mess, but a beautiful mess.  It shows that you have changed and grown.  You’ve had your ups and downs.  You went down one path, but decided to change course… perhaps on many occasions.  That’s how life should be.  Life is a continuous experience of independent present moments and choices.  So whatever situation you are in right now, just know that it can change if you want it to.  It’s up to you.  You just have to choose something new.

3.  What everyone does to you is personal. – People are toxic to themselves and others when they believe that everything happening in the world is a direct assault on them, or is in some way all about them.  The truth is that what other people say and do to you is much more about them, than you.  People’s reactions to you are about their perspectives, wounds and life experiences.  Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re average, again, is often more about them.  I’m not suggesting we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback.  I’m saying that a great deal of hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes from our taking everything personally.  In most cases it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of other people’s good or bad opinion of you, and to operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.

4.  Being vulnerable is dangerous. – We are all afraid to say too much, to feel too deeply, to let people know what they mean to us.  But this isn’t healthy.  Love is vulnerability.  Happiness is vulnerability.  The risk of being vulnerable is the price of opening yourself up to beauty and opportunity.  Being vulnerable is not about showing the parts of you that are polished; it’s about revealing the unpolished parts you would rather keep hidden from the world.  It’s about looking out into the world with an honest, open heart and saying, “This is me!  Take me or leave me!”  Of course, it’s hard to consciously choose vulnerability.  Why?  Because the stakes are high.  But the truth is, nothing worthwhile in this world is a safe bet.  Since love and happiness are born out of our willingness to be vulnerable – to be open to something wonderful that could be taken away from us – when you hide from your vulnerability, you automatically hide from everything you ever wanted in life.

And of course, if you're struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone.  Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track. 

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