"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Monday, 2 September 2013

Identifying and Dispelling Toxic People & Events in Your Life

Image of spilt oil on the tarmac ground with text: Toxic People, Toxic EventsHave you ever walked away from friends of family feeling bad about yourself?

Do you keep feeling hurt by the same people?

Do you keep going over incidents that have upset or emotionally hurt you?

Do you keep trying with a family member, but every time you are in their company come away feeling sad, hurt and exhausted?

A toxic person can be someone who upset you in the past and/or continues to do so in your present. They can also be someone who drains you of all your positive emotions and energy every time you are in their presence, either by what they say or what they do.

People inspire you or drain you - pick them wisely. - Hans F Hasen.

A toxic event is something that happened that was upsetting or disturbing that you have never forgotten. And not only is it not forgotten, but you find yourself thinking about it over and over again, maybe persecuting yourself by reliving the negative emotions you felt at that time.

You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one. - Michael McMillan

I first learnt about the idea of toxic people and toxic events and how they can affect your entire thinking when I was using Dr Phil’s website. I was going through the Finding Your Authentic Self (Self Matters) articles, and one of the questions asked to pick a toxic event from your life. For me, there was one in my early childhood that came up every time. I would think through it and remember how I had felt (alone, rejected, hurt), and feel it again.

While working through it, I uncovered how this particular event had affected how I thought and in particular my perception of ‘family’ and why just the word had negative connotations for me. It led me to realise that it affected my ability to trust the people around me, permanently, even though they were my immediate family. And through the process of these articles I was able to unravel this thinking and find a new way of thinking about it.

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. - Wayne Dyer

Once we identify these toxic events and/or people we can then look at how they have negatively impacted us, in terms of our thinking and perceptions as well as our actions and reactions to them. And then, rather than going into a victim mindset and tell ourselves ‘this happened to me / this person is in my life, therefore I am damaged / can’t function / be who I want or have what I want’, we can make a conscious choice to change it, and feel empowered about how we let it continue to affect us and our lives.

Much like in my previous post about backtracking emotions, we can ‘update’ how we want to feel about it and see it through more objective, rational eyes. We can decide what we need to do to either limit its impact on our life/feelings (particularly when it’s a toxic person), or decide to change what meaning we have attached to it. 

Toxic people will pollute everything around them. Don’t hesitate, fumigate. - Mandy Hale

As a child, I had limited abilities to decide how it affected me. I could only respond with internal feelings of hurt, shame, or rejection. I was left feeling that anything related to ‘family’ could not be trusted and would only hurt me. As an adult, I can acknowledge those feelings, but I can then reassure myself that it no longer has to be true – especially in terms of my own family that I had created with my husband. I don’t have to repeat those toxic actions/words, and I can choose to create a ‘family’ that is safe, nurturing and supportive.

By identifying toxic events and toxic people I was able to take a step back from a toxic situation or person that continued to negatively impact me. I could see the situation as something I had the power to change. I could change my reaction to them, and I could change what meaning I gave them, and I could change how much I interacted with them.

If a toxic person was going over past events and making me responsible, blaming or triggering negative emotions about it, I could see that that was their perception of the situation or of me, and not necessarily the truth. This meant I didn’t have to argue that truth anymore, because I already knew my own truth about it; I had my own perception of it. And once I stopped engaging in the dialogue with that person, in either an argumentative or defensive stance, that person lost their ability to manipulate me by triggering negative emotions and/or dialogue that disempowered me. And I could also restrict how much time I spent in that person's company.

And the same with a toxic event; it was past, it could not be changed, and it could no longer affect my life – unless I kept it alive myself. I could see it as something that happened, rather than something that defined who I was.

The past can not be changed, forgotten, edited or erased; it can only be accepted. - Wiz Khalifa

Toxic people can also be responsible for the labels that we use on ourselves, and cause of a lot of our negative internal dialogue.

The negative things we say to ourselves are often the things that have been repeated to us by toxic people in our lives, which we then take on and use against ourselves.

Toxic events may have left us believing something that isn’t true about ourselves, which we then repeat continuously to ourselves at low times.

Ask yourself, what are my labels, and where do they come from? Whose voice is really behind them? Also ask yourself, why am I defining myself by an external perception or event?

Quietly affirm that you will define your own reality from now on and that your definition will be based on your inner wisdom. - Wayne Dyer

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Changing your Negative Emotions: How to Stop Jealousy & Paranoia

Image of sea under an orange sunset with text: Value Yourself, Appreciate Yourself, You are worth itDo you ever wish you had something someone else has?

Their social finesse? Their ease with people?

Their job? Their car? Their lifestyle?

Or do you wish your partner was more like theirs?

Jealousy and Envy appears in many forms: romantic situations, friendships, and work. It’s a feeling of discontent or resentful longing for someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck, coupled with a desire to those things. But most importantly it is created by a feeling of lack.

For me jealousy and envy shows up mostly in friendship. I’ll wonder why someone is friends with another and not me; why they have what appears to be a closer friendship with that person than I do. I will spend an abnormal amount of time focusing on it, wondering what that person has that I don’t.

The basis of all jealousy and envy is insecurity in oneself, and lack of confidence that you have what another has, or are able to attain what another has, whether material or emotional.

"Envy is the art of counting another’s blessings instead of your own." - Harold Coffin.

When I feel this emotion I ask myself what is it that I think I’m lacking, or feel is missing; what is it that I seek?

For example, if my friends see a lot of each other and appear to interact more, then I need to be pro-active and step up; make more contact, socialise and engage with them more. Or I may find I already have what I think is lacking in another friendship, so I focus on that friend and reassure myself that I am capable of having the same kind of friendship.

I take action to counter those feelings. I look at what I DO have and act on that. I also remind myself that we are all different and all have our own gifts.

For me personally, I recognise that the friendship they have with each other is as valuable as the friendship I have with them. I remind myself what good things I bring to my friendships: loyalty, trust, no judgement, and reliability among other things and reassure myself that way.

"Envy is a symptom of lack of appreciation of your own uniqueness and self-worth. Each of us has something to give that no one else has." - Elizabeth O’Connor

My feeling of insecurity about my self-worth and value within my friendships also sets off another negative emotion: Paranoia.

Paranoia feeds off negative thought processes based on insecurities within ourselves. It is an escalation of these negative thoughts about ourselves which can leave us unable to function around other people, or in social settings.

Mine became so great I could not enjoy an evening out. I would convince myself that others don’t really like me or that I didn’t belong. I would tell myself I shouldn’t be there. I would convince myself that others were talking about me behind my back, and if I didn’t hear from others I assumed it was because they didn’t like me or want to be my friend. In the end it caused me to cut off from my group of friends for three years.

"Avoid destructive thinking. Improper negative thoughts sink people. A ship can sail around the world many, many times, but just let enough water get into the ship and it will sink. Just so with the human mind: Let enough negative thoughts or improper thoughts get into the human mind and the person sinks just like a ship." - Alfred A. Montapert

But what I needed to remember was something Dr.Phil has said on his show many times; ‘What makes you so important that you think other people are talking about you?’ By this he means people have their own lives, their own issues, and their own stuff going on. Many of them are too busy with themselves to be thinking about me. They wouldn’t have had a clue what I was thinking or feeling, or what kind of dialogue was going on inside my head - dialogue that was way off.

A friend once said to me; ‘The only person who thinks you are neurotic is you.’
which showed me how tainted my own view of myself was, and how it was me saying it to myself - no one else.

Much of this kind of thinking comes from a lack of self-confidence, which is caused by not thinking you are enough, and not believing in your own self-worth. This may have started with other people making you feel bad about who you are: parents not being supportive or praising, or being bullied at school. And if it gets repeated enough, you start to say it to yourself internally and it becomes part of your internal dialogue - and you start using it against yourself.

"Do not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind for they are the weeds that strangle confidence." - Bruce Lee

As previously mentioned in How to Stop Your NegativeInternal Dialogue the only way to stop it is to catch those negative thoughts and question their validity, and then update them with what is correct.

Insecurities can show up in many areas of life, some are more apparent than others, but it is by recognising them and acknowledging them that we can change them.

Building your own inner security is a long process and one I will revisit in future blog posts, but the starting point is stopping the negative internal dialogue about yourself, and/or other people, and look at what you bring rather than what you lack.

"What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow. Our life is the creation of our mind. - Buddha"

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Changing your Negative Emotions: How to Deal with Anger and Guilt

Images shows three trees silhouetted against a sunset with text: You are Important, Your Thoughts Create, Your Actions Matter, Your Presence Changes Everything
Do you find yourself feeling angry - and then feeling guilty about feeling angry?

But then feeling angry again, because you shouldn’t be feeling guilty?

It took me a long time to understand the cycle of negative emotions my internal dialogue fed - and this was one of them.

My two main negative emotions were anger and guilt, and I would flick between the extremes of both from one moment to the next. It is only once I became conscious of them and took time to understand them that I began to work out how to break them.

“We repeat what we don’t repair” - Christine Langley-Obaugh

Anger in itself is a necessary emotion, enabling us to not be totally submissive, and a critical tool in the self-esteem box, BUT it has to be used in the background, or as a context to fuel actions that help you step forward and stick up for yourself in an assertive and constructive way.

My anger was none of those things - it was explosive and destructive.

I had spent many years swallowing down my feelings, being told they weren’t allowed as a child, and continuing to suppress them to please others into my early adulthood. But there came a point when I couldn’t keep them under wraps anymore and one day I sort of ‘knocked the lid off’ the container I held them in inside.

I started expressing my feelings but they were all wrapped up in anger. I couldn’t express how I felt in a calm, collected way; I would end up either being rude, or screaming and shouting them out instead, taking them out on the person who had triggered them. And the trigger might have only been one small thing, but every time all of them would come crashing in together - eager to be heard and let out.

"The conflicts we have with the outside world are often conflicts within ourselves." - Bryant McGill

It caused a lot of problems in my life, with both new and existing friendships and relationships. And every time I let out my anger I would feel bad about it afterwards; I would feel guilty at expressing myself in such a way, and verbally hurting whoever was on the receiving end.

I soon realised I had to learn a different way of communicating. I had to change my defensiveness to assertiveness. 

“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behaviour affect the rights and well being of others.” -  Sharon Anthony Bower.

To do that I had to find out what was really causing it. I had to get in touch with my feelings, both about past issues and present, and acknowledge them. For me, it was all about letting myself ‘feel’ my feelings – something I had never been allowed to do in my childhood, and thus had never learnt.

This meant that I would get angry when I was choosing to do something that someone else wanted me to do, rather than express what I really wanted to do. I felt I was giving away my power of choice, by letting someone else choose what to do, and this would make me angry. I didn't know how to express what I wanted to do in a clear, coherent way. I didn't know how to stick up for myself.

For instance, if I was invited to a family event I would agree to go even though I didn't want to go. I felt it was an obligation or duty, and that I HAD to go. And this would make feel resentful about going, which in turn would make me angry. I would become angry at the people I thought were ‘making me’ go, although really I was angry at myself for not being able to voice that I didn’t want to go. And I wasn’t able to do that because I didn't believe I was allowed to - as I didn't think my feelings were allowed, even though it was me who wasn’t allowing them!

My partner would then respond with, ‘if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to’, giving me a choice. This would quell my anger, but then guilt would take over. I would feel guilty about taking my anger out on him, and this would then be my motivation for going along, to try and make up for my outburst and make him happy.

I would express my anger about having to go, and then feel guilty about expressing it. So I would go along to the event, but still feel angry that I went.

"Guilt is anger directed at ourselves - at what we did or did not do.” - Peter McWilliams 

This conflict of emotion would confuse my partner and make him unsure of me. It would make it difficult for him to trust me, because I didn’t trust myself or my own feelings. I had to work out what I did want and what I didn’t want and then stand by it.

I had to realise I had choices, and feel okay doing the things I wanted to do, even if they weren’t what my partner wanted to do. I would tell myself that it was okay to not want to do things that someone I loved or cared about wanted to do, that it was okay to do my own thing.

Once I started to listen to myself and define what I wanted and trust it, I could then communicate it more effectively to others. It wasn’t always easy, but once I recognised the cycle of emotions, from anger, to guilt to more anger, I could break it by stopping and asking myself what I wanted - and then listening and doing. 

“Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do.”-  Benjamin Spock.

Monday, 18 March 2013

How to Stop Your Negative Internal Dialogue

Image shows the ripples of a single drop of water landing into a pool of water with text: Change Your Thoughts To Change Your LifeDo people often tell you, you are too hard on yourself?

Do you wish you could think differently about yourself?

Are you aware of the things you do say to yourself?

It took me a long time to understand that all the negative emotions I experienced came from inside me, from my own internal dialogue, and it was up to me to change them. To do that, I had to catch myself thinking the negative thoughts and interrupt them. But before that I had to become aware of what they were.

“You live with your thoughts so be careful what they are.”- Eva Arrington

People who are trapped in a pattern of negative thinking and negative emotions, develop different ways of maintaining them:
  • They could be beating themselves up about something they have done that they are not happy about;
  • They could be imagining a scenario where they are arguing with someone, or speaking their mind to someone who has upset them;
  • They could be going over something that they had done that they are ashamed of, or that didn’t work out as they wanted it to - reliving the bad feelings over and over again;
  • They could be imagining things going wrong, or disasters happening;
  • They could just be saying negative things to themselves, about themselves.
Looking more closely at that last one: the negative things they say to themselves about themselves - I found the following exercise useful:

- Take a pen and paper and look at yourself in the mirror
- Write down all the things we see and think about yourself while looking at yourself
- Then read through this list afterwards

Are there are negative things in there, even insulting things?

If so, ask yourself: if a stranger (or even a friend) said those things to you, how would it make you feel? Would you be offended? Hurt? Insulted?

If your answer is yes, ask yourself why you are saying those things to yourself, why you want to hurt yourself, why you aren’t being kind to yourself.

"Take care how you are talking to yourself, because you are listening." - Lisa M Hayes

People talk about ‘liking’ or ‘loving yourself’, the process above is one of the ways to find out if you actually do.

We can go further and make a list of all the things we do and don’t like about ourselves. But then we need to decide, am I being fair, or am I being hard on myself? And the crucial question: Is this my own opinion, or is it something someone has said about me?

Often the things we say to ourselves have come from external sources - parents, friends, teachers, even work colleagues. We need to ask ourselves how accurate they are, and while we're at it, ask: Why is someone else’s opinion of me more important than my own?

“Be true to yourself. You will stop caring what other people think about you when you realise how rarely they actually do it.”

In many self-help and personal development books and articles, they say we should not seek outside approval about who we are, or who we want to be, that we should be ‘self-approved’. But it can be hard to start being approving of ourselves if we are in a mindset where we are not happy with ourselves.

But being happy with ourselves is directly related to the dialogue we use when we converse with ourselves.

How we speak to ourselves in turn affects how we react to the world outside. It alters our perception on the things people say and do around us.

If we feel bad about ourselves and our reaction is negative, then often the response from the outside world will be negative in return, and this will then only reinforce the negative internal dialogue we use when thinking about ourselves.

"The energy you put out is the energy you get back." - Rachael Bermingham 

Once I started to think about the things I was saying to myself, I realised how unkind I was being to myself. I understood that I was using labels that others had put on me. I was particularly bad for doing negative scenarios involving other people who had upset me at some time. I would imagine telling them what I really thought, but as I would then imagine them giving a negative reaction, I would only upset myself further.

To break this way of thinking I started a process each time:
  • I would recognise that I was doing it;
  • I would shout ‘STOP!’ inside my head (sometimes out loud if I was alone);
  • I would tell myself that it served no purpose, that in fact I was persecuting myself;
  • I would ask myself what it was really about, what had upset me in the external world at that moment;
  • I would then argue against the negative dialogue, sticking up for myself and reassuring myself.
Through this process I began to break the habit of creating scenarios. The more often I actually stopped them, the less they occurred.

“When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.”

But this is just one step in the cycle of breaking the negative thought, one that needs repeating on a daily basis. Negative emotions surface in lots of ways and through different situations.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Backtracking Thoughts and Emotions to Stop your Anxiety

Image of Waves Breaking with text: Feelings are much like waves, you can't stop them from coming but you can choose which ones to surf.
Do you struggle to stop feelings of anxiety?

Are you aware of the thoughts in your head before you go into an anxious state?

To be able to change or stop my feelings of anxiety, I realised I needed to find out what thoughts were triggering them. And to do that I needed to become conscious of what I was thinking moments before I became anxious - not easy with how quickly anxiety can take hold.

Whenever I found myself feeling uncomfortable or bad, I would stop in the midst of it and ask myself what was causing this feeling: Was it a situation? A conversation? Internal dialogue about something in my mind?

“A lot of pain we are dealing with are really only thoughts.”

Often the thoughts I had in my head were reflecting something that had already happened, so I had to recall what event, situation or conversation they were relating to, or where I had felt the same discomfort or bad feelings. This is called ‘back tracking’.

Once I had found what it related to, I would then think about what was happening in the present to reflect it: Why did this feel the same? What was it that was similar or familiar?

And then to break the connection, I needed to ‘update’ and change the thought/emotion. I would do this by asking myself: ‘Is what happened then, the same as what is happening now?’ ‘Is this a repeat of the same situation?’

In most instances it was not the same situation at all. The people were different, their responses were different, what actually happened was different. So I was able to ‘update’ or change my perspective on it by telling myself that it was NOT the same, and repeating this to myself several times.

“We see things not as they are, but as we are. Our perception is shaped by our previous experience.” - Dennis Kimbro

This enabled me to change how I reacted; I didn’t need to react as I had in the past, because it was a new situation. Whatever I feared then couldn’t happen or repeat now, because the present moment contained different people, different situation, and a different conversation. I was in the present, not the past, and it wasn’t the same. I was reassuring myself.

Each time that we do this we interrupt the cycle of thoughts; we break the pattern, and start forming a new habit.

I even went so far as to actually call my mother once, to ask her whether she was safe now, whether she was okay. I knew in my conscious rational mind that she was, but it was strange, I needed to do it; I needed to hear her say she was, if only to settle those thoughts and feelings. And it worked, because it gave me a new reference point to return to, something else I could use to reassure myself that everything was different and had changed now.

A great deal of anxiety or stressful thinking is maintained by the internal dialogue we use. The way we speak to ourselves in our minds.

“Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.” Tony Robbins

Besides the panicked thoughts of ‘I can’t stop this feeling’ ‘I am losing my mind’, ‘I’m going to die!’, which fuelled my anxiety attacks, I found I also undertook what I called ‘negative scenarios’, which are imagined conversations with people who had upset me.

I would imagine expressing my true feelings, venting all my anger and hurt in these scenarios. But I would also imagine a response too, turn them into arguments in my head, which would perpetuate the negative feeling.

Internal dialogue and negative thinking can be a constant battle, and they can lead to other destructive emotions besides anxiety, like jealousy, guilt and anger. But there are ways to break those too - although they take a bit more work.