As a contemplative psychotherapist, I know that within each of us there is a brilliant sanity that exists unconditionally and that everything can be turned around. Not one of us is beyond hope. Yet most of us have been conditioned by society and our culture in such a way that we develop some pretty thick armor that can make us resistant to change in certain predictable ways. Here is my current list.
- Identifying with the problem or with your history. Perhaps you are a survivor of a particular type of trauma. To what degree do you now think of yourself as being a survivor of trauma? Do you feel obliged to tell new acquaintances that this is who you are? Perhaps you have been experiencing depression or anxiety. Do you label yourself as a ‘depressed person’? Overcome by: Getting clear about who you are. You are vastly more than your problem or your history. You may have been affected by trauma or depression or addiction, but it does not define your essence.
- Holding on to rigid beliefs and unexamined thoughts. Sometimes I hear someone say “well it runs in my family, this is how we are.” Of course, we are all products of our conditioning. This is a good reason to come to therapy: to get free of conditioning. Don’t let anyone tell you change is not possible. Or someone might be absolutely convinced he/she is unworthy of success, or love, or happiness. Overcome by: Questioning your thoughts, beliefs, judgments. Cognitive therapy and the work of Byron Katie offer valuable skills.
- Being afraid to feel. We have all been conditioned to hide, deny, and get rid of our tender feelings. Perhaps you have the fear of appearing weak or helpless if you show feelings to others. Many of us are terrified of feeling emotions so strong that we might loose control and be carried away in the torrent. As children we were often made wrong or even punished when we were angry or scared. Overcome by: Learning how to mindfully experience emotions: Just notice them, let them be there, gently dialogue with them, feel their presence in your body. Resist the desire to explain them or push them away.
- Holding unrealistic expectations of yourself, others, or of life. In Buddhist philosophy there are three marks of existence: suffering, impermanence, and egolessness. Yet most of us have been conditioned to expect a happy ever after life and relationships with the perfect man or woman of our dreams (who will always be that way). We are convinced that others are living this happy dream that somehow eludes us. Overcome by: Get real! Obviously we are not here to have perfect pain-free lives. Life is messy. This does not mean we can’t be happy. Happiness comes when we fall in love with life just as it IS (not as it isn’t); and with ourselves and others just as we are.