Client: I was feeling better today than I have in a long time. It was a good day. Then my husband and I got into a small fight — with friends over — not screaming or anything major but to me it was like that. I internalized what he was mad at me about and it sent me right back down that rabbit hole. I couldn’t save myself for anything. And I’m still there. I feel down on myself, like I can’t do anything right, like I’m a worthless excuse for a human being.
Also I think that my daughter isn’t prepared for college. I feel like a failure. I went from feeling good to feeling suicidal in one day.
Shawn: Hi, sweetie. I’m so glad you told me. We’ve noticed that in your psyche you believe that he doesn’t think it’s OK for you to feel good, that possibly he even thinks it’s dangerous or bad or wrong for you to feel good… so, your mind is scanning the environment for evidence of that.
It’s amazing that before having read your text, I woke up thinking about what a speaker said at an event I attended yesterday about a book called Miracle Mornings. Even though I think we shouldn’t use only affirmations to help ourselves, I was interested in a practice she mentioned of writing only positive things about yourself, and you just keep writing and writing and writing.
Do the Turnarounds
In some ways that is what you were doing with all the negative stuff, and since one thought is as good as another, you might as well try choosing the positive because you have the tools to go further than that, to harvest the thinking, to watch the consequences of it on your brain, and to turn it around. What we are doing here is in some ways skipping to the turnaround because your mind is expert at flooding you with “yes, buts” and new, negative thoughts.
So the turnarounds need to come fairly quickly and fairly fast. Even if you don’t totally believe them in the moment, they can override the other. We’re not ignoring the other or failing to work it… it’s just that we have worked it and you feel better, and then it goes back in from another angle.
I’m not sure what Miracle Mornings suggests doing or if that’s even where she got this one practice, but she said that she sits and writes, “I love that I….”
Focus on What You Love About Yourself
Find the things that you love about yourself like your pretty hair or the ways that you’re a great mom (which is much of what we talk about in our sessions). That helps counteract the ones that say you are not.
We could even do that in a group sometime because all of us could think of about ten things we love about you and you would write them down so that your brain would hear that.
With your daughter, for example, think of all the ways that you have loved the way you parented her. And then watch your mind come in and try to take that away from you… “Yes, but you didn’t make her study enough,” etc.
You’re Not in Charge of the Outcome
You can say to your mind, “I’m not in charge of what is enough, what her path is supposed to look like in college or anywhere else, but I love the way I got her involved in the arts, and I love the way I was committed to helping out with her activities, and I love the way I kept the focus on her as well even when I had more babies.”
And then your mind would say, “Yes, but she felt left out and abandoned by me when I had more babies.” And you can say to yourself, “It’s amazing that she remembers how close we were and that things changed when other babies arrived, and yet that is a normal consequence of having more children. I love that I continued to spend a lot of time with her and care about her interests.”
When your mind says, “Yes, but I’m bad because….” or, “It’s not enough because….” or, “I was too permissive because….” take that sentence and turn it around and tell your mind how that was a good thing. Consider all the ways you weren’t like that, or all the ways you cannot know what is too much or not enough, and all the ways you were amazing even though you were struggling.
I love the way you make everyone around you feel really good about themselves. I love the way you are reaching out to let me know you are suffering, even though I know you feel unwell much of the time while you’re reaching out. I love the way you are so brave to keep on keeping on and raising these amazing children.
I love the way you are going to dive back into this work and do a worksheet with it right now, and find out how whatever you are so sensitive about with your husband is an inside job. “He thinks I’m….” can be turned around to “I think he is….” and to “I think I am….”
Worst Case Scenario
It always helps to go all the way to a worst-case scenario. Assume that your daughter struggles in college. That means she picks herself up by the bootstraps and learns what she needs to learn to do better. That may also mean she drops out and gets a job as a server and is more serious about her art. Then your mind will still go all the way to a worst case scenario and say, “Yes, but what if she gets depressed and gets into drugs and ends up with horrible people and gets in trouble and goes to jail or is killed?”
What if all of that does happen? Is that your fault? Are you the ruler of the universe? Who said you were supposed to love her differently or school her differently or mother her differently than you are? Only your mind said that. What we have instead is God’s will unfolding. Divine reality showing up one moment at a time exactly as it should be. This includes your reaching out to me now because your suffering also is exactly as it should be… because it hurts enough for you to find another way to take care of those littlest parts of you that are shaming and beating you up.
Your Mind Believes It’s Saving You
For the turnaround to the opposite, Katie used to say if you can find one, you can find more. That’s one reason I thought this list of “I love that I’m….” or “I love that I do….” might be helpful. It is like going straight to the turnarounds, but you can also notice how you react when you believe that thought. It’s powerful to notice who you would be right in this moment without the thought.
The mind needs to see that. It believes it’s saving you. Can you try that this morning? You can even start with the ones I gave you and then find more. You can focus on even the littlest things, like “I like the way my toenails….” “I like the way I love my children,” “I like the way I get silly with them.”
Watch Your “Yes But’s”
Watch your mind come in and give you a “Yes, but….” When it does, talk to it like a child who can’t think of anything happy or good about themselves. You would not let them stay in that place. You would tell them what you love about them, and you would tell them how you even love the thing that they are mad at themselves about.
Go ahead and do that with yourself too. Whatever it is, you can find the opposite of it, or find that you are not the decider of what shows up. Tell your littlest self that you love her no matter what and you love her way of being in the world even if it might not be what she had dreamed of.
You would be holding yourself in a more powerful way than ever that combines what you were already doing with not jumping on the bandwagon with the negative thinking. What your mind has been doing to you is as if one of your beloved kids has a moment of feeling bad, or feeling like they are wrong or less than or stupid and you jump all over them and not only agree with them, but yell at them and tell them that they are absolutely right, and look for all kinds of reasons why it is true and give them reasons why you think they are not lovable and they are not worthy of anything. You keep adding more and more evidence so that they can’t see their way back to feeling better and finally they are driven to depression because the one person they expected to stand up for them and love them no matter what jumps on them and kicks them when they are down. That is what you’re mind does to you.
Sometimes when my daughter goes to those places where she is hard on herself, she actually convinces me and I have a hard time thinking of things to tell her. In fact she won’t even let me tell her good things at that time. But I have learned to reach in and find the part of myself that does totally believe in her and hold that space and bring it to her attention (when she will let me). And I’ve learned to be the one who loves her no matter what and focus on all the ways I love how she does her life.
So that’s what you would be doing for yourself here… being the one who loves your ways of being in the world and standing up for you – no matter what — against that cruel inner critic.