Week 4: Identify Emotional Toxicity in Your Life
This is week four of a 10-week series based on David Simon’s new book, Free to Love, Free to Heal.
It is your birthright to have a life of meaning and purpose. You deserve to celebrate your existence. Identifying any memory or belief that suggests the contrary is an essential step on the path to becoming free to love. It’s important not to waste time, for although the celebration of life goes on forever, your personal invitation to the party lasts a brief lifetime.
As children, we were taught explicitly and implicitly which qualities, traits, beliefs, and behaviors would help us get our needs met – and which would not. If you were raised in a family of bankers and showed natural ability in art, you may not have received attention or approval for your talent. On the other hand, if your family valued artistic endeavors, your natural athletic ability may have been discouraged. Or you may have been born to parents who had an enormous enthusiasm for professional sports, but offered little encouragement for your interest in English literature.
Early Family Patterns
As you were growing up, if you constantly received messages that devalued you, those negative judgments were woven into your identity. When children are told that they are useless, stupid, fat, loud, annoying, or clumsy, it is difficult for them not to internalize these beliefs because their emotional boundaries are still developing and porous. Parents who have unattainably high expectations for their children can also cause harm. If you were expected to always be the best student, the star athlete, and perpetually perfect in every other way, your inability to achieve these goals consistently may have contributed to a sense of unworthiness.
Our core beliefs drive our thoughts, feelings, and choices. If these beliefs are unavailable to our conscious mind, they direct our life without allowing us to question the assumptions. Like a puppeteer pulling our strings from behind a curtain, these subconscious convictions compel us to feel, speak, and behave in ways consistent with the assumption, even if they are inconsistent with what our conscious mind tells us will bring us greater happiness, love, and well-being.
Your heart longs to be free of its burdens, and given the opportunity, will eagerly release the undigested pain, disappointment, betrayal, abuse, and neglect that are stifling its freedom to love. The answers are within you. You simply need to quiet your mind and listen for the responses that will guide you towards the love and happiness you deserve.
When you are ready to begin the self-questioning steps, find a comfortable place where you will not be disturbed. If possible, allow about two hours to focus on this exercise. Spend a few minutes performing the heart-opening yoga poses and breathing exercises we talked about last week. Take about ten minutes to quiet your mind by using a meditation technique. Settle your awareness in your heart.
Now ask yourself this difficult question: What is wrong with me?
Although we spend much of our lives disguising and suppressing the answers to this question, this is your opportunity to access it. You carry negative self-judgments because you’ve accepted the opinions of others as legitimate. This is the time to challenge their validity. Consider the physical, mental, and personality characteristics that you have judged in yourself. For example, “I am too short,” “I am boring,” or “I have no special talents.”
The best mind-set for approaching this process is understanding that for every negative quality we’ve accepted as true, a positive possibility hides just under the surface. Similarly, for every positive trait we accept as true, a negative trait is concealed in the shadows. Embracing our light and dark sides does not make us weak; it brings wholeness to our being.
On a piece of paper, list the top seven negative traits you have internalized and rank them, beginning with the quality that has caused you the most pain. Your list might look something like this:
- I am a slob.
- I am useless.
- I am ugly.
- I am needy.
- I am an idiot.
- I am self-centered.
- I am unlovable.
Processing Your Inventory
Now consider the stories these traits reflect. Acknowledging the tales you’ve woven around these qualities begins to free you from the unconscious hold they have on you. Begin with the first trait on your list and ask yourself the following questions. Write several paragraphs for each answer, recalling what you remember about this wounding.
1) When did I first hear this term applied to me? Who labeled me with this trait and what do I know about my tormentor?
2) What was happening in my life when this label was applied to me?
3) How has this label affected my sense of self and my relationships?
4) How has this trait affected my psychological and physical health?
5) Do I deserve to continue carrying the burden of this toxic trait in my heart? Do I deserve to be happy?
6) Has this belief, however painful, served me in any way?
7) How will recovering the power this trait has held affect my psychological and physical well-being?
What’s the Point?
There are two healing intentions underlying this exercise of identifying toxic beliefs. The first is to bring unspoken misunderstandings into the light. Self-denying internal beliefs thrive as long as they remain beneath conscious awareness. Fears residing in subconscious darkness lose their power when brought into the light – and often yield an unexpected reward.
The second intention of this process is to experience greater self-acceptance by embracing your inherent duality – the “good” and the “bad” inside you. Every human being can be generous and stingy, powerful and pathetic, open-minded and prejudiced. Acknowledging duality enables us to make conscious choices, rather than being subconsciously sabotaged.
Get Ready for Next Week
The work of emotional healing can be challenging, and I commend you for continuing on this path. I promise there is substantial treasure awaiting you. Having identified the limiting toxic beliefs that have constricted your loving heart and harmed your body, you are one step closer to emotional freedom. Next week we will take the next step in the Free to Love, Free to Heal process: Exploring the stories that have restricted your ability to be happy and healthy. You will also learn powerful ways to reframe them in ways that will finally allow your wounds to heal.
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