WHY DO I GET SO STUCK?
In the past few weeks we’ve explored how our brain patterns get formed early in life and how this can lead to anxious responses that can be really overwhelming.
What we’re going to look at today is why exactly we get so STUCK when these reactions arise. Why can’t we simply think a new thought and GET OVER IT??
when we have an unhelpful brain pattern that gets triggered,
it’s not just the thoughts that we experience…we also have a whole cycle of emotions, physical sensations, and behaviours that are associated with the thought that launch us into a downward spiral that totally consumes us.
For example, say I grew up in a household where I had to please my mom or she would get angry at me. As a result, I would develop an anxious brain pattern of perfectionism, where if I do something that I perceive to be “wrong” I have a thought trigger that arises: “I’ve done something wrong…someone is going to find out…something bad is going to happen to me.”
Before we’ve noticed and dealt with these patterns, they can get triggered anytime without us realizing. For instance, say I forget to turn off a light when I leave the house. Seems like a really small thing, but to an anxious mind this can feel like life or death. My mind formed this pattern of thinking that doing something “wrong” means I'll be punished, rejected, or yelled at when I was a young child, and to a child those things DO feel like life or death!
And when this anxious response arises, it’s not just the thoughts that we have to reckon with. Along with these thoughts come a whole physiological response to anxiety. We experience feelings - overwhelming fear, or guilt, or shame. We feel physical sensations such as our heart beating fast, our palms getting sweaty, and feeling light headed.
When we are experiencing all these feelings and sensations and these negative thoughts are running through our minds…what choices are we going to make about our actions? Well, probably not the wisest ones, right!?
I mean, who can make any kind of mature decision in a state like that? So we end up doing things that make our situation WORSE. We might rush and become clumsy, we might get irritable and lose patience, we might run around frantically trying to get rid of our thoughts and feelings…And here's where sh** gets real (as they say). The things we do when we are in an anxious state actually REINFORCE our original thought about ourselves!!!! So if we start out thinking “I’m a total screw up, I can’t do anything right” then we panic, and we actually end up 'screwing things up' even more, therefore making the thought more true!!
the way we react means our thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophesy that literally create the reality we experience. YIKES!!!!
That is why it's so hard to shift these cycles…it’s not ‘just a thought’ when it’s happening, it’s a full blown self-reinforcing, completely contained system of crazy going on inside of our heads!
So...how on earth do we get off this crazy train!? First off, some form of safe place where we can process this does WONDERS. Having a person we can go to and notice all of these things with (whether that’s a friend, sibling, parent, teacher, psychologist, therapist, or anyone else that can maintain a calm and loving presence) will go a very long way. And this is simply because the very nature of these brain patterns is that they are hidden from our view. It is therefore FAR easier to see them in someone else, because we have the benefit of perspective. If you watch closely the next time you see someone “freaking out” you will be able to take a pretty accurate guess at what unhelpful core belief might be triggered in them, and how that experience is making them feel.
When we have someone we trust that can gently help us notice these patterns in us, we gain that same loving, aware perspective about ourselves.
This is where the power is. It doesn’t mean that magically we will stop getting triggered and anxious, it simply means that when it happens we can take a step back, notice what is happening, and make a choice about how to respond. So instead of getting lost in the vortex spiral of
our whole world falling apart, we can pause and choose to think a different thought. We can ask ourselves “what really happened here…what’s actually TRUE? Can I see that I’m safe, that this situation is ok?”
With that new thought, our emotions ease up a little, our bodies relax a little, and then we have the space to choose to do something different that soothes and calms us down. That is the power of thoughts. A great example of this is how you feel when you're about to get on a roller coaster…palms sweaty, butterflies in your tummy, lightheaded, jittery…EXACTLY the same sensations you might feel before an exam or a situation where you think you might have 'messed up'. But if we’re on a ride, we love these sensations! They make us feel elated, excited, and fully alive. When we are in an anxious response, those exact same feelings and sensations cause us to feel worried, scared, overwhelmed, and bad about ourselves. Why? Because it’s not the SENSATIONS that are making us feel that way! It’s the THOUGHT FILTER through which we are viewing them that changes everything! That is how our thoughts create our reality. The way we see things and perceive things shapes the way we feel and the way we interpret our physical sensations, which shapes the way we act, which shapes the outcome.
This is a feedback loop that can keep us stuck in one version of reality forever (“I’m a screw-up”) OR it can be something we choose to take an active role in and therefore create a whole new reality for ourselves.
One where WE get to decide what we can and can’t do, rather than letting our childhood fears hold us hostage. Sounds a heck of a lot more fun right?? That’s because it is….
Want to see more? Check out my youtube video on this topic here :)