Tag Archives: negativity

Don’t Be a Debbie Downer!

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Gloomy looking womanHave you ever heard of the term, “Debbie Downer”?  This term, based upon a fictional “Saturday Night Live” character, refers to a person who is frequently negative and complaining, thus bringing down the mood of everyone around her.  Sadly, I have to admit that I can be this person at times, and since my name is Debbie, that makes it even worse!

I don’t mean to complain a lot, but there are times when I catch myself spouting out all kinds of negativity.  At least I catch myself more often these days, but I am still dismayed when I realize I am whining and complaining.  My husband gets the worst of it, and this normally very tolerant man has been known to lose his patience with me on occasion.  Yesterday was one of those times, which is what has prompted me to write this post.   I will look at why we complain, when it’s okay, and how to reform our tendency to gripe and moan.

Why We Complain

Why do we complain?  Often it stems from a need to vent our frustration and feel “heard” by others.  We want to be validated for our pain and aggravation, and sometimes we feel better after we get things off our chests.  We’ve all heard the saying, “misery loves company,” and when we complain to others, we often find people jumping on the bandwagon to add their own grievances to the mix.  But do we really feel better when others share in our disgruntled state?

Sometimes we complain because we’re looking for solutions.  In my opinion, that may be the only time when complaining is really okay.  If the person to whom we’re complaining is in a position of power to change the situation, that’s a best-case scenario.  Unfortunately, however, the people to whom we gripe often have no influence over our circumstances and can do little more than helplessly listen to our complaints.  I’ve known some wise souls who have cut habitual whiners off at the pass by simply suggesting, “Why don’t you tell this to someone who can actually do something about it.”  At the very least, that sentiment might make the whiner think twice before complaining to that person the next time around.

People Want to Help

The people who are closest to us want to help us.  They want to see us happy and doing well in life.  If we come to them with a legitimate problem and ask for their help in solving it, they will generally do their best to help us find tangible and reasonable solutions.  However, if we don’t heed their advice and keep coming back to them with the same problem over and over again, they may lose patience with us. We may wear out our welcome with them, no matter how much they love us.

We need to temper our impulse to go to our friends and family with problems on a regular basis.  Our close relationships should be based upon much more than a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on, although those elements are both desirable and important.   We need to strive for balance in our relationships and ensure that the enjoyable experiences outnumber the trying times as much as possible.  If you think back to your last five encounters with a given loved one and remember complaining to them on more than two occasions, perhaps it’s time to inject a bit more fun into that relationship!  Resolve to either cry on someone else’s shoulder or heed some of the advice you received from a prior confidante.

Taking Advantage?

I often complain too much to my husband because I don’t have many other people in whom to confide.  When I go to him with problems, I feel that I am genuinely looking for solutions, but I have to admit that I often don’t take the good advice he gives me.  I go back to him hoping for different answers instead of first giving one of his useful tips a try.  When I do this, I’m not being fair to him.  I’m taking advantage of his good nature and his love and concern for me. Doesn’t he deserve to have a happy wife instead of one who whines and complains about the same things ad nauseum?

Moral Obligation to Act Happy

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager would say so.  For close to fifteen years, he’s dedicated one of his fifteen weekly broadcast hours to the topic of happiness (he has also written an excellent book on the topic called “Happiness is a Serious Problem”).  Prager asserts that we have a moral obligation to act happy, even when we don’t feel happy.  He believes that happy people make the world a better place while unhappy people contribute to the ills of society.

While one may assume that Prager is advocating inauthenticity with his prescription to act happy, that is far from the truth.  Rather, he values honesty and clarity in interpersonal relationships and believes that we should be open with our intimates about our life challenges.  However, those topics should not dominate our interactions with loved ones by any means.  We owe it to the people who love us to work on cultivating a happy disposition and to overcome our tendency to focus on the negative aspects of life. We should always endeavor to act as happy as possible and we will often be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves feeling more upbeat as a result.

Breaking the Complaining Habit

So how do we break the habit of complaining?  It is helpful to consider the distinction between actions and reactions here.  Often we simply react to situations in our lives without any consideration.  This is the proverbial stimulus-response chain which is cultivated through social conditioning, much like the salivation of Pavlov’s dog upon hearing a bell ring.   But there is another way!

As human beings, we can and should involve our powerful intellect instead of merely acting upon instinct.  It is helpful to take a breath and pause before responding.  During this brief time-out, it is helpful to consider the following related to complaining:

  • Is the person to whom I’m speaking in a position of power to change the situation?
  • Is what I’m about to say constructive?
  • What type of response am I looking for here?  Do I want advice, or am I merely looking to get something off my chest?
  • What is the ultimate result I’m wanting in this situation?

If you simply want to “vent,” I suggest that you either write in a journal about your feelings or set a time limit for your complaining (e.g. “I can vent for 5 minutes, and then I will work on solutions”).  If what you are considering saying will not be constructive, perhaps you should consider not verbalizing it at all.  It’s entirely possible that both you and your companion would be better served by conversing on a more pleasant topic!

Remember the “Law of Attraction”

In closing, it is helpful to remember the Law of Attraction in regards to complaining.  Simply stated, this “law” states that like attracts like.  In other words, when we focus upon something, we attract more of it into our lives.  Focusing on the negative will only serve to attract more negative, and none of us want that!  Instead of looking at what’s wrong or lacking, I suggest you heed the advice given by Michael Losier in “Law of Attraction.”  Ask yourself, “So what do I want?” Then focus on what you need to do to create that result.  Easier said than done, it’s true, but much more productive and sanity-producing than complaining!

Critical Thoughts and Anger

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Angry woman on the phoneAre you a critical person?  Do you have a tendency to look at others – and life – with a “glass half empty” attitude?  Are you someone who is never happy because you always find things to fault about the people and situations in your life, including yourself?

How do you feel about anger?  Are you someone who readily expresses your anger and sometimes has a hard time controlling it?  Or are you a person who is very uncomfortable with anger, such that you can’t really remember being angry at anyone?  Do you confine your angry feelings only toward yourself because that feels more safe and comfortable?

Our Critical Thoughts…

I recently completed the exercises in Chapter 5 of the “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book.”  This chapter is titled, “Critical Thinking” and explores the tendency we all have to be judgmental and critical toward others and ourselves.  The exercises focus on our beliefs and practices related to critical thoughts and the acknowledgment and expression of emotions, including the often controversial feeling of anger.

I’ve decided to focus this week’s post on the topics of criticism and anger.  I will share some of Louise Hay’s thoughts on these topics, as well as my reactions and insights from the Chapter 5 exercises.

Louise Hay on Criticism

Most of us have such a strong tendency to judge and criticize that we often don’t even realize when we’re doing it. Louise Hay believes that we will never be able to really love ourselves until we go beyond the need to make others, ourselves and life itself wrong.  Since loving ourselves is the key to overcoming all of the problems in our lives according to Louise’s philosophy, releasing the need to criticize is a very important step in the healing process.

Criticism breaks down the inner spirit and never changes a thing!  In contrast, praise builds up the spirit and can help to bring about positive change.

I Criticize Myself For…

One of the Chapter 5 exercises directs us to write down two ways in which we criticize ourselves related to the area of love and intimacy.  Below is what I wrote…

I criticize myself for _____ :

  1. …Attracting narcissistic and needy people for whom it’s “all about them.”  In these relationships, I feel like I am there for them, but they are not there for me.
  2. …Not being able to express myself the way I’d like to in relationships.  I want to foster increased intimacy with people, but I find myself unable to communicate in the right way to do this.

I Praise Myself For…

We are then directed to write about two things for which we can praise ourselves in the area of love and intimacy.  My examples were:

I praise myself for ____ :

  1. …Being able to attract a wonderful partner and grow together over the years.  We have a great relationship and I am very proud of that.
  2. …Not settling for sub-par friendships and relationships just so I’m not alone.  While I wish I had more connections in my life, I am glad that I haven’t held on to the needy and narcissistic friendships.

The purpose of the above exercise was to break the habit of criticism and learn to praise ourselves.  Through this simple example, I could definitely see that self-praise was infinitely more empowering than self-criticism. With the criticism, I backed myself into a corner of negativity.  With praise, I created more possibility and power in the present moment and for the future.  I also learned that when you look for something, you can find it.  While my natural tendency has been to look for things to criticize, it is just as easy to find things to praise when that is your focus.  Try it and you’ll see that it’s true!

Louise Hay on Anger

Anger is a natural and normal emotion, yet many of us have learned that it’s not nice, polite, or acceptable to be angry. Consequently, we learn to “swallow” our angry feelings.  These feelings then settle into our bodies and, over time, they can mount into the type of resentment which contributes to aches and pains and even serious diseases.   Some of the conditions which Louise Hay believes stem from anger include bursitis, carpal-tunnel syndrome, cellulite, cold sores, depression, jaw problems, kidney stones, and sore throats.  Long-term unexpressed anger can even lead to illnesses as serious as cancer!

We need to learn to acknowledge and express all of our feelings, including anger, in positive and healthy ways. But first it’s helpful to explore our family patterns around anger and our own history of dealing with angry feelings.  In many families, anger is frowned upon.  Many people either suppress their angry feelings completely or deal with them through addictive or avoidant behaviors.   Some people only express their anger when it builds up to a crescendo and then they explode in an unproductive manner.   They are like a pressure cooker in that they only show their anger when it builds up to the point where they can no longer stand it.

What Me, Angry?

I have never been comfortable with anger, either my own or that of others.  For most of my life, I denied even having any angry feelings toward anyone besides myself.  I often felt angry toward myself, mostly because I was unable to live up to my own high standards, and I expressed that anger by starving myself, binging and purging, and engaging in other destructive behaviors.  I also suffered from depression for much of my life, a condition which has frequently been termed “anger turned inward.”

In recent years, I have become more comfortable with having feelings of anger, yet I continue to struggle with appropriately expressing those feelings.  I now acknowledge that I have a right to be angry, but it still doesn’t feel safe to reveal that emotion to most of the people in my life.  This is an area of growth for me.  I want to increase the level of closeness in my current relationships, as well as develop empowering new connections.  Being “real” and communicating honestly are keys to our experiencing true intimacy in our relationships.

Anger – Not the Bogeyman!

The ability to express all emotions in a direct and mature way can help us to become closer to our loved ones.  Anger is not the bogeyman that many of us have believed it to be.  It is in our best interest to make peace with anger.  To aid in that effort, here are a few closing affirmations from Louise Hay:

  • Anger is normal and natural.”
  • I am safe with all of my emotions.”
  • I allow myself freedom with all my emotions, including anger.”
  • Healthy expressions of anger keep me healthy.”

The Frustration Rabbit Hole

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Very Frustrated and Angry ManEarlier today, I had to call the phone company about an error they had made regarding changes to my service plan.  I dread making these types of calls because I invariably end up being transferred to multiple service reps before my issues are resolved.  I find myself becoming angry and frustrated at how long these calls take and how inefficiently the company handles what should be a very easy and straight-forward request.

Worse Than Usual

Today’s call was far worse than any other such call I’ve made in recent memory.  I was transferred to no fewer than five service representatives and was on the phone for close to an hour.  It didn’t take long before I felt my heart racing and my blood pressure rising.  I ended up losing my cool during this call and expressing my anger and frustration toward the person on the other end of the phone.

When I got off the phone, I felt shaky and uncomfortable.  I wasn’t proud of the way I had behaved during the call.  While it’s perfectly reasonable to get upset at inefficiencies and wasted time, I didn’t feel good at how angry I had become.  I allowed myself to get “rattled” by what had transpired and I had let these events disrupt my well-being.

What Can I Learn From This?

As I like to do, I decided to look at what I could learn from my phone company experience and how I could react differently in the future.   “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz quickly came to mind, and in particular the second agreement, “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”  In short, this agreement states that what others say and do is a projection of their own reality; it is not about us.  When we are immune to the actions and opinions of others, we won’t be the victim of needless suffering.  Although this agreement has myriad implications for all of our interactions with others, I will focus primarily on my experiences of earlier today.

I Took Things Personally…

I took the behavior of the phone company representatives personally.  When they told me that they needed to transfer my call to yet another representative, instead of merely acknowledging that the company has disorganized processes which impact all of their customers, I made it be about me.  I allowed myself to feel offended and persecuted by the failure of any given individual to help me.

As I was transferred to each successive person, I became angrier and angrier because I felt I was being treated unfairly.  I didn’t feel “heard” or understood by any of the representatives, so I spoke more loudly and injected anger and frustration into my voice.   In the process, I made things more difficult for myself instead of easier.  Instead of working on my service issue, the representatives were instead apologizing for my inconvenience and telling me they understood my frustration.  Such platitudes only served to stir up more ire in me because I doubted the sincerity of the words.  I was taking things more and more personally and becoming increasingly more upset.

How To Do Better Next Time

What could I do differently moving forward?  Here are some thoughts… First, I could set an intention for the call before making it.  My intention could be for the call to go smoothly and for me to behave calmly and kindly throughout.  This strategy definitely works!  Before a recent interaction with someone I find challenging, I set an intention for kindness to govern my behavior with this person.  Instead of acting impatient and frustrated as I had in the past, I was much more loving and kind and managed to keep my cool instead of lose my temper.

In future difficult situations, I can take a mental “time out” as needed to help re-center myself.  This can be as simple as taking a deep breath and gently reminding myself of my intention to maintain a calm disposition.  I can also reflect upon the powerful agreement to not take anything personally.  If necessary, I can pause the interaction and revisit it at a time when I am more ready to handle it.  In terms of my phone company call, I could ask for the direct number for the new department and contact them later instead of being transferred to them in the midst of my upset.  Even a few minutes of “breathing room” before speaking with the next representative could have allowed me the space and time to calm down and get into a better mental and emotional state for the call.

We Control Our Reactions

Today’s interaction reminded me of a very powerful principle.  Although we cannot control everything that happens in our lives, we are in charge of our reactions.  There will always be companies with poor customer service practices and people who treat us in an unfair or unkind manner.  We have the choice as to whether these situations cause us to come unglued and if we will react with anger or emotional upset.  Every action we take in life is a choice and it is important to remember that.  I chose today to get upset and angry during my customer service call.  Next time, I can choose to stay calm and centered while the chaos of a disorganized company unfolds around me.  Then I can get off the phone and get on with my day!  I trust that I will feel much more empowered and confident with the latter choice.

Implications for the Healing Project

How is all of this relevant to my healing project?  Healing happens on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.   The more “zen” I display in emotionally trying situations, the less my upset will impact my health and well-being.  If I can remember to not take anything personally in life, I will be a much calmer and happier person.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

I close with some words of wisdom from Don Miguel Ruiz related to his Second Agreement, “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”

You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.  When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.  You can travel around the world with your heart completely open.  You can say, “I love you,” without fear of being rejected.  You can ask for what you need without guilt or self-judgment.  You can choose to follow your heart always, and live with inner peace and happiness.”

What a Pain in the Neck!

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Woman Holding Her Neck in PainI had a lot of trouble sleeping last night.  I was awakened around 2:00 am by extreme discomfort in my neck.  I tossed and turned for quite a while, but was unable to get comfortable enough to fall back to sleep.

Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I had suffered from such neck pain at night, but it was the worst time.  Since sleep was not forthcoming, I decided to get up for a while to stretch my neck and calm my mind.

Not Just a Stiff Neck

To call my problem a stiff neck would be an understatement. A little over a year ago, I started to experience aches and stiffness in the front of my neck.  The discomfort would come and go, and chiropractic care was not effective in relieving my pain.  I mentioned the issue to several doctors and other health professionals, but they were as puzzled about this development as I was.  Internet searches haven’t yielded any meaningful answers, either.  There are a few serious conditions which include frontal neck pain as a major symptom, but if I had one of those ailments, I’d likely be much worse off than I am by this time.

Insights from Louise Hay

Since the teachings of Louise Hay are an integral part of my healing project, I used my time of sleeplessness to revisit what she has to say about neck pain.  Louise states that the neck represents flexibility and the ability to see what’s “back there.”  Neck problems signify stubbornness, inflexibility and a refusal to see other sides of a question or situation.  A stiff neck is a mark of unbending bullheadedness.

Of course, Louise Hay offers hope and healing by means of new and more productive thought patterns, but I feel the need to explore how her probable causes for neck problems might relate to me and my current situation. As I write this, my neck discomfort persists.  It had improved earlier today, so I am wondering if my writing about the pain has served to reactivate it in some way.  Perhaps this pain carries a message from the Universe that I really need to receive… Since I don’t know the answers, I am going to entertain the question in the hope of reaching some sort of epiphany that can help me to heal this troubling malady.

Stubborn, Inflexible, and Bullheaded?

In what ways am I being stubborn, inflexible, or bullheaded in my life?  I have a tendency to be judgmental and critical toward others, especially those who are living their lives in ways that are far removed from what I consider ideal.  I’m not talking about morality issues here, but more in terms of self-awareness and self-actualization.  Since I am so committed to knowing myself and growing as a person, I often judge those who do not share my convictions in these areas, especially those who are close to me.

Instead of merely noticing the actions of such people and thinking, “That’s not for me, but it’s their right to live as they choose,” I sometimes pass judgment and look upon them with disapproval. This is true in regards to the person I wrote about two weeks ago in my post titled “Serenity, Courage, Wisdom…”  I have trouble accepting this person as she is and sit in judgment of her for her actions and choices.  This is one way in which I am stubborn and inflexible.

Unrealistically High Standards

I am also inflexible in terms of my appearance.  I hold myself to unrealistically high standards for how I should look, what I should weigh, and how my body should be shaped. I spend a tremendous amount of time and energy not being okay with what is in these areas (a big reason why I started my second blog, “Body Image Rehab”).  I am having a difficult time with the physical changes that are part of the aging process and although I have committed not to pursue plastic surgery or other drastic measures, I do experience distress about my wrinkles, extra belly fat, loss of muscle tone, and other signs of growing older.

Rigidity about Work and Career

Finally, I am bullheaded in terms of how I think my career and work life should be. I refuse to work for less than a certain amount of money and am very picky about my work situation and environment.  I enjoy working from home with flexible hours and have refused to consider other work arrangements, despite the fact that I’ve been unable to attract enough work to make a decent living under my current situation.

I tell myself that I shouldn’t have to commute to an office, sit in a cubicle, or work for less than a certain hourly wage, and these self-imposed requirements limit my prospects and opportunities.  I think it’s perfectly fine to have goals, aspirations, and standards, but when you refuse to bend in any way, that’s the mark of bullheadedness.  My rigidity has led me to have fewer opportunities, especially during our current recession.

Increasing Flexibility and Openness

I realize that I need to work on being more flexible in my relationships, attitudes, career, and self-concept.  I need to be more open and loving toward others and myself and allow more for differences and failings.  I need to stop holding myself and those around me to unreasonably high standards which are virtually impossible to meet. I also need to be open to work opportunities which could provide growth and valuable experience, even if they are not highly lucrative or as flexible as I might ultimately desire.  I need to recognize the value in situations beyond the surface.

I have written about my desire to increase closeness to others, meet new people, and continue learning and growing as a person.  This blog and the teachings of Louise Hay and other spiritual leaders will definitely help me to improve and heal myself and my life.  However, I need to be open to other powerful opportunities for growth in my life, including my relationships with and attitudes toward the people already in my life. If I can become more flexible, tolerant, and accepting, I believe that will also help me to heal.

New Thought Patterns

I close with Louise Hay’s suggested new thought patterns for those with neck problems:

  • It is with flexibility and ease that I see all sides of an issue.”
  • There are endless ways of doing things and seeing things.”
  • It is safe to see other viewpoints.”
  • I am peaceful with life.  I am safe.”

Louise’s recommendation is to repeat these affirmations many times each day, along with the more general assertion, “I am willing to release the pattern in my consciousness that has created this condition.

My commitment for the rest of September is to repeat the above affirmations in front of a mirror at least 10 times each day and to work on becoming more open-minded, loving and accepting.  It is my hope that, as a result, not only will my neck become more pliable and comfortable, but I will also become happier and experience increased inner peace.

Messages From Pain

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I usually try to be upbeat in these blog posts, but today I need to rant about a frustrating ongoing challenge…  As I write this, I am suffering from my ninth migraine headache this month! I just had a migraine on Wednesday and I am so frustrated that I am afflicted with yet another one just two days later.

I track my migraines and have found that my monthly average is seven to eight headaches.  They vary in terms of severity, so I am not always completely debilitated by the pain, but it does adversely affect my life in a multitude of ways.  Since I’ve been living with migraines for 25 years now, I’ve learned to adapt and do as much as I can through the pain.  Yet, although I am able to “grin and bear it” for much of the time, I am more than ready to release this dreaded condition.

Many Potential Remedies, No Lasting Solution

Over the years, I’ve tried many, many potential remedies to become free of these devastating, throbbing headaches.  I’ve taken numerous prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, tried bottle after bottle of supplements, eliminated various foods from my diet, and visited a long list of medical professionals, both traditional and alternative.  There have been pockets of relief along the way, but these reprieves have been short-lived at best.  My migraines are like a broken record that keeps playing its tired song over and over again, month after month, and year after year.

I’ve mentioned a “laundry list” of health issues that I am working to heal through my healing project.  Some of these challenges have cycled in and out of my life, while others plague me for only a short time period before miraculously disappearing just as quickly and mysteriously as they materialized.  But the one problem which has accompanied me on my life path since the age of eighteen has been the migraines.  So I’m guessing that the lesson I need to learn from this tired and tireless ailment is the most important one of all!  The Universe keeps literally rapping me over the head because I continue to fail to get the message!

Louise Hay’s Views on Migraines

What does the abundantly wise Louise Hay say about migraines?  When I read these excerpts from “You Can Heal Your Life”, I wonder how she could know me so well when we haven’t even met:

“Migraine headaches are created by people who want to be perfect and who create a lot of pressure on themselves.”

“Dislike of being driven.  Resisting the flow of life.”

If you were to look up “perfectionist” and “control freak” in the dictionary, you would see… my picture!  I’m kidding, of course, but that’s not far from the truth.  I have tried to relax and go with the flow more in life, but I’ve found it difficult to change this aspect of my personality.  I’m the type of person who writes a lot of lists and tries to pack as many tasks as possible into a given day.  Despite these practices, I never feel I accomplish enough and am riddled with self-doubt and fears of failure.  I often speak of myself in derogatory terms and find it hard to let myself off the hook when I don’t live up to my self-defined expectations.

My healing project is helping me to become more aware of my thoughts and my self-talk.  It is now clear to me that not only am I extremely hard on myself; it comes with a very high price – my health.  I realize that my migraines and other health challenges are a type of spiritual “kick in the pants” to show me how important it is for me to change.

Headaches and Invalidating the Self

When writing about headaches in general, Louise Hay states the following:

“Headaches come from invalidating the self.  The next time you get a headache, stop and ask yourself where and how you have just made yourself wrong.  Forgive yourself, let it go, and the headache will dissolve back into the nothingness from where it came.”

My problem is that I make myself wrong for the same “offenses” over and over again.  I beat myself up for the lack of material success in my life, for not living up to my potential, for not being a good wife (or family member or friend), and for a number of other affronts I’ve committed toward those in my life, myself, and even God.  I often feel that I’ve wasted my God-given talents by being indecisive and not sticking with a singular career path.  I also feel guilty for not being sufficiently grateful for the many blessings in my life and for continuing to dwell on insignificant things like the size of my thighs and the frizziness of my hair.

The Inner Tyrant…

My critical inner voice is like an unrelenting tyrant.  I once had a school assignment to keep track of negative self-talk for a day.  I’m sure I didn’t capture all of it, but what I did write down was mind-boggling.  My ratio of positive to negative messages is abysmal.  Once in a while, a compliment manages to make its way into my mind, but it is quickly drowned by the sea of criticism surrounding it.

I invalidate myself all of the time – and it’s killing me.  As I write this, I am fully present to the cost of my “stinkin’ thinking.”  Something’s gotta give!  I need to forgive myself, start talking much more nicely to myself (I’ve improved in recent months, but I’ve done some backsliding as of late), and treat myself with more respect and kindness.  I wouldn’t wish my internal negativity on my worst enemy!

Resisting Meditation and Silence

I’ve recently been reading the best-selling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I loved reading about her indulgence and enjoyment in Italy, but found myself less enthralled by her time of reflection, meditation, and silence in India.  I could in no way picture myself meditating for hours and hours each day or scrubbing floors as part of a “retreat.”  Although she was striving for inner peace and connection with the Divine, my thought was that it wasn’t worth the price of admission, especially without an iron-clad guarantee for results.

As I reached the end of the India section of the book, however, I experienced a change of heart.  I wondered what it would be like to live even one day (heck, even one hour) of my life without the constant inner chatter and self-recrimination.  I decided that I want that!  I know that there are many paths to peace and many roads to salvation.  My path may not be the same as Elizabeth Gilbert’s.  My path may not take me to an ashram in India.  I know that I may not even have to leave my hometown to reach the state of freedom I so profoundly desire.

Claiming my Freedom

It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Perhaps my throwing my hands up in desperation tonight at yet another migraine is that step.  It’s possible that I am ready to forgive myself and let go of the need to be perfect – from this moment on.   Peace and freedom for me lie within, not without.  I just need to claim it…

Body Love, Self-Love

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Body Love and Self-AcceptanceNOTE: This article was originally posted to my previous blog, “The Healing Project,” in May 2010.

If someone were to ask you if you love yourself, how many of you would reply with an enthusiastic “Yes”?  How about if you were asked if you love your body?  I know that for most of my life, I would have found both questions absurd.  I definitely and unequivocally did not love myself or my body.

For years, I was my own worst critic.  I would unleash a torrent of criticism upon myself on a daily basis that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.  In fact, I was my own worst enemy.  Nothing I could do was ever good enough for me; my standards were impossibly high and there was no way I could reach them.  While my targets for accomplishment and success were virtually unachievable, my standards for my body and physical appearance surpassed them by leaps and bounds.

Specter in the Mirror

I would look in the mirror and pick myself apart mercilessly.  My hair was frizzy, my face was blotchy, my nose was too big, my hips were huge, and my thighs were completely unacceptable!  These are just a few of the criticisms that would play like a broken record inside my mind.  My self-criticism and overall negative attitude toward my body propelled me into a long battle with anorexia and bulimia, a struggle which almost killed me during my teens and twenties.  Even after I managed to pull myself out of the depths of that battle, the criticism did not end.  I was ruthless in the way that I’d pick myself apart, and all compliments from others would be quickly negated inside my mind.  I just wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, firm enough, or anything enough…

The Toll of Self-Abuse

The years of criticizing my body have taken a toll on my psyche and my health.  Although I have become decidedly more kind toward myself and my body in recent months (partly as a result of my healing project), the damage has been done. I am convinced that the laundry list of health issues from which I suffer can be attributed to the years of self-flagellation.

Think about it… How would you respond to a person who continuously berates you?  Would you thrive and shine in that person’s presence, or would you wither and fade?  The way in which my body has responded to my abuse is no surprise to me.  As Louise Hay and other wise spiritual teachers have written, our thoughts create our reality.  The reality of my physical body has been shaped by what I have continually thought over the years.

My husband has frequently commented on how mean I was to myself in my words.  Sadly, my unkind words paled in comparison to the ferocity of my internal dialogue.   I have created my poor health of the present time.  I take responsibility for that, as sad and defeated as it makes me feel today.

Learning to Love Myself

I am not an unkind person.  In fact, I believe I have a good and kind heart.  It is time for me to direct that kindness and compassion toward myself.  It is time for me to treat myself the way I would treat a person I deeply love.  In truth, I have learned to love myself in recent years.  I have learned to appreciate my uniqueness and my good qualities.  I am finally able to say – and mean – those simple but difficult words, “I love myself.”  I can even speak those words while staring into my own eyes in the mirror, yet tears always well up in those same eyes.   Likewise, I find myself becoming tearful as I express these sentiments today…

Ending the War with Self

The tears are for the years of self-hatred, for the wasted time during which I was at war with myself and my body. Although I would love to recapture those lost years and circumvent my current health challenges, I can only live in the moment and move forward.   Hopefully, I have many years ahead of me during which I can live peacefully with myself and my miraculous body which has survived despite years and years of punishing abuse.

Responsibility is Powerful

Some of you may identify with what I have written. I know that many people are tremendously hard on themselves and their bodies.  We can blame society and the unattainable standards that are set out for us by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.  But while society can and does play a role in our self-image and body image struggles, the ultimate responsibility falls upon us.  That is good news because it means that we have the power to transform our thoughts and attitudes.

Moving Forward…

How do we do that?  Let’s take some tips from Louise Hay (from “You Can Heal Your Life,” page 23):

“Loving the self, to me, begins with never ever criticizing ourselves for anything.  Criticism locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change. Understanding and being gentle with ourselves helps us to move out of it. Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked.  Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

I Approve of Myself

I have been repeating the affirmation, “I approve of myself,” over and over inside my head for months now.  It is a simple affirmation that I think whenever it comes to mind.  I use this affirmation to cancel out self-criticism when I become aware that I am thinking negative thoughts about myself.  Although I know it will take time to undo the effects of my many years of self-abuse, affirming approval of myself is starting to have a positive effect on me.  I am beginning to notice my negative thoughts more readily and can more easily release them and replace them with more beneficial thoughts.  It is becoming easier for me to think kind and loving thoughts about myself.  I am experiencing small but noticeable “pockets” of inner peace in my days, and that gives me hope for the future.

Hope to Soldier On

The journey to heal my health and my life is a challenging and tumultuous road with many twists and turns.  I am humbled on a regular basis by the ebb and flow of my numerous health issues which only seem to crop up again just when I feel they may finally be behind me.  Yet I have hope and that allows me to soldier on with my healing project.

I believe that the key to healing is in self-acceptance.  In the spirit of hope, I close this post with another quote from Louise Hay, one which provides hope for us all for a peaceful and powerful future:

“I find that when we really love and accept and APPROVE OF OURSELVES EXACTLY AS WE ARE, then everything in life works.  It’s as if little miracles are everywhere.  Our health improves, we attract more money, our relationships become more fulfilling, and we begin to express ourselves in creatively fulfilling ways.  All this seems to happen without even trying.”

It’s Always Something!

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My throat hurts...

I just got back from a doctor’s visit concerning my most recent health challenge.  I have a sore and scratchy throat and a cough, and I’m having ever increasing difficulty in swallowing.  I feel as if I have a lump in my throat and have had a few experiences of almost choking in recent days.  Needless to say, this is both troubling and scary.  Unfortunately, my general practitioner could not ascertain the problem or its cause, so I now have an appointment to see a specialist next week to explore the matter further.

This is just the latest in a long litany of health issues for me.  I have come to feel that it’s always something.  Just when I feel that things are improving, something else seems to crop up!  The main reason I started my “healing project” a few months ago was to try to overcome my laundry list of health woes.

Mind-Body Connection

I truly believe in the mind-body connection and am aware that my thoughts have played a large role in shaping the current state of affairs in terms of my health.  I steadfastly believed, and I still believe, that it is possible to overcome even the most serious of illnesses through spiritual methods.  After all, Louise Hay was able to heal herself of a deadly cancer, so I should be able to overcome my less serious albeit numerous issues.

Louise Hay’s List

There is a section in “You Can Heal Your Life” called “The List.”  This section lists a number of physical problems, along with the thought patterns that are probable causes for each problem.  New positive thought patterns are provided as replacements for our destructive and habitual ways of thinking.  I often refer to this list when a new ache or pain crops up to see if the probable cause suggested by Louise Hay rings true for me.  In many cases, it makes perfect sense to me…

The Birth of the Healing Project…

While I use Louise Hay’s positive thought patterns as affirmations and regularly work on releasing my negative thoughts, my health challenges persist. Since it seemed that a more intense course of healing was in order, “the healing project” was born.  I am fully committed to healing my health issues – and life issues – within a period of one year.  Perhaps I need to “amp up the volume” on this project to really get it off the ground!  I will brainstorm on how to do this and will report on my plan for the future in an upcoming post…

Expression & Creativity

For now, I will explore my most recent health challenge involving my throat.  Louise Hay specifies that the throat is our avenue of expression and our channel of creativity.  Her probable causes for throat problems are:

  • The inability to speak up for one’s self
  • Swallowed anger
  • Stifled creativity
  • Refusal to change

There is much food for thought for me here… I can think of ways in which each probable cause could be true for me, but “stifled creativity” seems to hit the closest to home.  Ever since I was a young child, I wanted to be a writer.  I wrote in a journal for years, have written many poems, and have cultivated a number of ideas for books.  I even wrote one book with a friend, but we were unable to secure an agent or publisher, and now our friendship has ended for reasons unclear to me (but that’s a different story…).  I have a second book that has been “in progress” for years because I am not sure of the core message I want to express.  Many other book ideas have been kept on the “back burner,” awaiting the right time for me to pursue them.  This waiting period has often extended to a period of years.

Me as a Writer…

I think I am afraid to really put myself out there as a writer.  Although I have had a number of jobs and careers over the years, none of them meant as much to me as writing does.  I have tried and failed at many declared passions, but I always had writing in my pocket as a type of back-up plan.  But what if I tried to be a writer and I failed at that, too?  Then what would I have to fall back on?  It only recently dawned on me that I have been trying to protect myself by not fully trying my hand at writing.

Self-Disclosure

There is also the matter of self-disclosure.  My half-written book chronicles my struggles with eating disorders and includes excerpts from journals written during the darkest hours of that time period.  I used to be so open and honest about myself, my beliefs, and my feelings, but past hurts and rejection have led me to construct virtual walls in order to protect myself.  If I were to write about my struggles, it would be akin to displaying my heart and soul to the world, and that felt far too scary to even contemplate doing.  Until recently, that is…

This Blog & Creativity

This blog is not only about healing my health and my life; it is also about expressing myself and channeling my creativity.  In the process, I hope that I will also be able to help others.  Perhaps my readers will see themselves in my struggles, or maybe an insight I share will lead to an epiphany for someone else.  I sincerely hope that I will be a force for good by writing this blog, but that remains to be seen.  What I know right here and now is that it feels good to write; it feels liberating to be open and honest – and real – through my writing.  I am releasing some of my stifled creativity through my blog posts and honoring one of the new thought patterns suggested by Louise Hay for healing throat problems:   “I express myself freely and joyously.”

It feels liberating to express myself and I hope that my expression will help others to express themselves as well.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this post and about my blog in general.  If there are topics which you would like to have addressed, please send them my way…

Willing to Learn, Willing to Change

I often feel that “it’s always something” in regards to my health challenges.   It can be exasperating at times, but I always try to look for the lessons in my trials and tribulations.  I am willing to learn and grow, and as Louise Hay suggests that we all affirm, “I am willing to change.”

Missing Tile Syndrome

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Today’s post focuses on a concept introduced by author Dennis Prager in his book, “Happiness is a Serious Problem.”  I highly recommend this book as a concise and extremely informative book on the often elusive subject of happiness.  Dennis presents a number of life-changing philosophies in his book, but one of the best is the concept of the “missing tile syndrome.”

Imagine this Scenario…

Ceiling TilesImagine that you are in a dentist’s office having your teeth cleaned and are thus focused on the ceiling above you.  As you glance around the room, you notice that one of the ceiling tiles is missing.  Although the majority of the ceiling is pristine and perfect, you would likely be transfixed upon that one missing tile for the remainder of your visit.

As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on what is missing instead of on what is present.  That is fine for ceilings, as they can be perfect.  The danger is when we apply the same focus and filter to our lives…

Even if we have a wonderful and full life, there are always areas which we feel can be better.  The positive side of this is that we continue to focus upon learning and growing and bettering our life circumstances.  The downside is that we may end up obsessing on that which is missing to such an extent that it detracts from our happiness.

Examples of “Missing Tiles”

A few examples will help to illustrate this point…  I had a friend who struggled with infertility issues a number of years ago.  She lamented to me that everywhere she went, all she saw were pregnant women and babies.  I also knew a divorced woman who would venture out on the weekends, only to notice couples kissing and holding hands all around her.  These two women were so completely focused on what they didn’t have, a baby or a partner; they felt as if they were the only ones in their respective positions.

I can think of a few personal instances of “missing tile syndrome” in my life.  I mentioned my obsession with straight, sleek hair in a previous post.  I used to feel that every woman I saw had beautiful, frizz-free hair and that I was the only one around who struggled with managing coarse, frizzy locks.  Similarly, I have often lamented my thick hips and thighs and felt they were out of proportion with the rest of my body.  When I would be out and about, all I would see would be slim-hipped women with model slim legs.

Focus and Gratitude…

Of course, not all women are pregnant, not everyone is coupled up, and not all women have sleek hair or slim thighs.  However, when one is suffering from “missing tile syndrome,” the focus is only upon what is lacking, not on what is present.  When we focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right in our lives, we are generally less happy as a result.

As I’ve mentioned previously, gratitude is one of the primary keys to happiness and well-being. If we look for what’s right in our lives, we will surely find a number of things to celebrate.  Similarly, if we look for what’s wrong, we will be guaranteed to find those missing tiles.

Dealing with “Missing Tile Syndrome”

Awareness of “missing tile syndrome” is a first and powerful step, but Dennis Prager offers some additional suggestions for how to effectively deal with this problem.   He suggests that you do one of the following things in regards to your missing tile:

1. Get It

If you determine that your “missing tile” is absolutely essential to your happiness, you can find a way to get that which is missing in your life.  For example, if my friend with the infertility issue was unable to have a child of her own (fortunately for her, she was finally able to get pregnant…), she could have chosen to adopt a child.   Although her initial desire was to give birth to a child, adopting a child would have given her what she dearly wanted, a child to love and to raise.

2. Forget It

Although this option may not seem feasible, it is a viable solution in certain cases.  There are some missing tiles which cannot be gotten.  Dennis Prager wrote about sharing custody of his son with his ex-wife following his divorce.  Whereas he had previously gotten to spend each and every day with his child, that was no longer the case after his marriage ended.  He found himself seriously missing his son when they were apart, but he couldn’t change the fact that they now spent less time together.  Consequently, he had to dismiss the desire to be with his son all the time and instead focus on making their time together as enjoyable as possible.  When they were apart, Dennis would keep busy doing other things he enjoyed and he gradually came to accept the new situation.

3. Replace It

Sometimes, we are not able to get the exact things we want in life, but we can discover a viable replacement with which we can be satisfied.  A somewhat trivial example may concern a man who is fixated on buying a new Porsche but doesn’t have the money to make such a purchase.  This man may choose to either buy a used Porsche in good condition or he may end up purchasing a domestic sports car at a lower price.

A more serious example of replacing a missing tile may involve a woman who wanted to be an Olympic gymnast but never made it to the upper echelons of competition.   This woman may choose to open her own gymnastics studio or become a coach to young children.  By doing one of these things, she can still pursue her great passion for the sport even though her initial goal was not reached.

Personal Conclusions

Let’s get back to the personal examples which I mentioned above.  After my trauma following my recent attempt to obtain straight and sleek hair (see the post “Perspective and Appreciation”), I have decided that I need to forget about getting this missing tile.   I am choosing to accept the reality of my hair and to be grateful for what I have.  If I find myself feeling sad about the hair which I do not have, I will focus on the aspects of my appearance with which I am satisfied.  I will reflect upon my positive qualities and be grateful for those blessings instead of thinking about the “missing tile” of perfect hair.

The same is true for my thighs.  I have done all I am willing to do to make them slim and muscular.  I work out regularly and I eat well, but my thighs have not assumed the desired shape.  Since I am unwilling to pursue liposuction or extreme diet or exercise measures, I feel I need to forget the “tile” of perfect thighs.  I choose to focus on the fact that my legs are strong and effectively carry me through life.  I also choose clothing which puts less emphasis on my thighs and more emphasis on the body parts which I more readily embrace.

Self-acceptance and gratitude are key in terms of dealing with “missing tile syndrome.”   Be grateful for your blessings in life and put your focus there.  Work on accepting yourself and your life as they are, and stop lamenting your supposed “flaws” to the detriment of your happiness and inner peace.   Although I know these topics will continue to surface as I proceed with my “healing project,” I will close with the ever famous and always powerful Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

May we all live in peace and serenity and embrace our life challenges with courage and wisdom!

Uncovering Our Hidden Beliefs

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I recently completed an exercise on beliefs from Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book.”  The exercise was straightforward and consisted of sentence completion for nine topics.  The objective was to uncover hidden beliefs which may be holding me back in certain areas of my life.  In this blog entry, I will share some of the insights that I gained from completing the beliefs exercise.

The topics which were explored in the beliefs exercise were:  Men, Women, Love, Sex, Work, Money, Success, Failure, and God. For each word, I wrote the various thoughts which popped into my head.  I tried not to think too deeply about the “right” or “best” answers for any of the topics.   I spent about twenty minutes uncovering my beliefs and then took some additional time to review my answers and look for insights or “aha moments.”

Some Surprise Beliefs…

For some of the areas, there were no surprises.  I knew that I had issues regarding Work, Success and Failure, and I will be writing about those topics in a later post.  I also knew that my feelings about Love and God were basically positive in nature.   However, the biggest surprise for me in doing the beliefs exercise related to my feelings about men and women.  I learned that I have basically positive feelings about men and a lot of not so positive attitudes about women.   Because I am a woman, my attitudes about my own gender bear some exploration…

My Beliefs About Women and Men

Here are a few of my statements about women:

  • Women can be catty, petty and mean.
  • Women aren’t nice to each other.
  • Women can be too obsessed with appearance.
  • Women have fewer advantages in life.
  • Women don’t know what they want.
  • Women are too picky.

In contrast, here are some of my thoughts about men:

  • Men have more advantages in the world than women.
  • Men have more fun than women.
  • Men are easier to get along with than women.
  • Men generally feel better about their bodies.
  • Men are not to be feared or hated.

If I read the above statements and didn’t know any better, I’d think they were written by a man!  I was definitely surprised to learn some of my hidden feelings about men and women, but what does this all mean?  I am still processing this information, but here are some of the insights I’ve gained thus far…

Beliefs About Women – Or About Myself?

Many of my statements about women were more about myself than about women in general.  I am picky and unsure as to what I really want in life.  I have a tendency to be obsessed with my appearance and I am often not very nice to myself.  I can be catty, petty and mean, particularly towards myself.  While I have many advantages in my life, I sometimes don’t appreciate what I have and times, I feel guilty for the privileges which I enjoy.   I question whether or not I deserve to have the many benefits with which I’ve been blessed.

I sometimes feel as if I’m not a “normal” woman.  After all, I’m not very maternal, I’ve never really wanted to have children, and my domestic skills are sorely lacking.  While I enjoy being pretty and feminine in terms of my appearance, I have often tried to develop more masculine personality characteristics.  I have believed that I should be more career-driven than is my natural tendency, especially since I was lacking the drive to bear and raise children.  I beat myself up on a regular basis for not achieving the societal vision of success, a goal which men traditionally feel more pressure to reach.

Strength – Masculine or Feminine?

While I know a number of strong women, I think I’ve always associated strength more with the masculine than the feminine.  Unlike many other women I know, I do not fear or distrust men.  I find that I easily build rapport with men and in general have positive feelings about them.  Before I got married, I had more male friends than female friends.

The women with whom I have bonded tended to be other women who don’t fit the traditional female mold.   I feel that more traditional women don’t “get” me and sometimes look at me as if I have two heads.  At times, I feel judged by other women for the choices I’ve made in life, particularly the decision not to have children.  I do not begrudge their decisions, but I feel that they begrudge mine.

Next Steps for Me

Of course, I don’t know that any of my suspicions about other women are true.  We often project our own beliefs onto others and are frequently unaware that we are doing this.  The Beliefs Exercise has helped to open my eyes regarding my beliefs about women.  Now that I am aware that some of my beliefs are not empowering and don’t really serve me, I have a choice and some additional work to do.  I need to decide what I want to believe about women and about myself.  I choose to adopt more loving and empowering beliefs about women in general and about myself as a woman.  As this process evolves, I will share my new insights, as well as the ways in which I am growing and learning in this area of life.

Follow-On Questions for Readers

  1. What are your attitudes about men and women?
  2. Do you find that you have more positive attitudes about your own gender or about the opposite gender?
  3. In what ways do your attitudes about men and women positively or negatively impact your life?
  4. Are there any dis-empowering beliefs which you would like to release?

I encourage you to take some time to explore your beliefs about Men, Women, Love, Sex, Work, Money, Success, Failure, and God.  Powerful change begins with awareness.  As Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”   The Healing Project is all about self-awareness, empowerment and positive change.  Although some insights can be painful, they often serve as a springboard toward growth.  

Perspective and Appreciation

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Most of us have things about ourselves which we don’t like or even hate, and we often waste a lot of time and energy resisting or fighting these things.  For most of my life, one of my “hates” has been my hair.   I have very thick hair, so thick that hairstylists have often commented that I had enough hair for two or three people.  In addition, my hair is naturally wavy and predisposed to frizz, tendencies which are intensified by the humid Southern California weather.

My God-given hair was not the type of hair I wanted.  I wanted the straight, sleek hair of a Scandinavian girl – or Jennifer Aniston.  I have been fighting my hair texture for as long as I can remember with countless hair products, daily flat-ironing, and a multitude of chemical processes.  None of these armaments ever worked to my satisfaction, so I continually searched for the next best thing.

Magic Bullet or Nightmare?

This past November, I thought I had found it.  I spent about four hours and over $300 at the hair salon getting what is known as a “keratin smoothing treatment.”  The result was not the nirvana I had anticipated; instead it has been a nightmare which I couldn’t have imagined.  I experienced some serious breathing problems from the formaldehyde released by the chemical process, and since the product was bonded into my hair, I was unable to remove it despite repeated washings.  Consequently, I opted to cut off close to half of my hair in order to minimize the deleterious effects.

Just when I thought I was past the worst of my nightmare, a delayed side effect occurred.  I started to lose large amounts of hair on a daily basis.  By the time I realized what was going on, I had lost so much hair that I could see parts of my scalp at my hairline and my ponytail diameter was only about half of what it used to be.   Fortunately, I think the hair loss has subsided at this point, and because I had so much hair to begin with, it is not as noticeable as might be expected.  However, I am still planning to see a dermatologist to make sure I am able to salvage my hair.

Two Key Lessons…

This is surprisingly difficult for me to write about and I am not sharing this experience to garner sympathy.  I have learned a great deal from this particular struggle and the point of this post is to share my insights.  I have titled this post “Perspective and Appreciation” because those are the two key lessons I’ve gained from my hair experience.

I would love to be able to turn back the clock such that I had never gotten the so-called keratin smoothing treatment, but I have come to understand that I needed this experience to learn what I needed to learn.  The Universe has been trying to teach me the lesson of appreciation and self-acceptance for many years.  Instead of appreciating what I had, I continued to fight it and wish for something different.

Taking Things for Granted

My hair is only one aspect of myself which I would berate and negate. While I would often receive compliments on my thick and lustrous hair, I would never take them in.  I was filled with hatred for my hair because it wouldn’t bend to my will.  Because my hair wasn’t sleek and straight, I didn’t show any love or appreciation for it; all of the energy I gave to my hair was negative.

Now that my hair is no longer long, thick or lustrous, I have been given the gift of perspective.  How true it is that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone.

How often do we take things – and people – for granted until they are no longer in our lives?

Declaring a Truce

I am declaring a truce in the war against my hair.  I am now treating my hair more lovingly and am showing appreciation for the hair that is left on my head.  I am affirming throughout the day, “I love and appreciate my hair.”  I believe that this love and appreciation will help me to save my hair.  It was not only the chemicals which destroyed my hair; it was also my negativity and distain.

How many of us treat ourselves worse than we would treat our worst enemy?  How many of us are our own worst enemy?  How much would we thrive if we were to begin to treat ourselves the way we treat our treasured pets or children?

New and Empowering Vows

From this moment on, I vow to treat myself with much more love and appreciation.  I vow to start looking more at what’s right about me instead of what’s wrong.  I know that I will stumble along the way, as old habits are hard to break.  However, the perspective I have gained from my hair trauma has shown me that I must break those old habits.  It’s time to stop beating myself up and start appreciating all of the wonderful characteristics which I know I possess.

Will you join me in my new and empowering vows?  Many of us wish and pray for peace in the world, but peace begins from within.   Stop fighting yourself and choose to love yourself instead.  I know it’s hard, but we can help each other to live a more peaceful and loving existence!