Truth vs. Belief

Truth and facts used to be objective, hard, immutable things to me. There just had to be a right or wrong, a good or bad, that could be backed and proven by some scientific means. I was passionate about uncovering Truth at all costs. I devoted myself to the pursuit of these concrete certainties, feeling as if everything could ultimately be solved or resolved through them. Feelings did not matter. Emotion or personal beliefs did not matter. Only cold, hard facts were permitted into my consideration on any issue.

One of my favorite parts about Hard Times, a book I’ve been reading by Charles Dickens, is the mockery of this type of outlook. The book begins with several main characters that only concern themselves with Facts, to the exclusion of everything else. They abhor “fancy” and “imagination” of any kind, and see no need to indulge these things even in their young children. Yet as the book continues, we are shown just how damaging this perspective can be and how valuable our whims, beliefs, and opinions actually are.

It was very disheartening for me to discover that even “scientific” studies can be manipulated and skewed to favor a certain perspective. In fact, it seems almost unavoidable as no person, scientist or otherwise, is free from personal bias. Upon the light of this realization, I felt set adrift in a sea of permanent uncertainty. If I can’t trust in objective facts to guide me, how can we ever really know anything? It all seemed so pointless and relative.

All of the things I had rolled by eyes at such as faith, belief, gut feelings, etc. now seemed to be on equal footing with the laws I had been allowing to govern my life. For a long time I really despaired at this. Now I’m beginning to think it is a blessing, not a blow. We really do get to choose our own reality. What we believe about something really is just as important, if not more important, than the facts we may collect about it.

If you find yourself rejecting this idea, take a moment to consider the baffling reality of placebos. I have always been amazed at these fascinating findings. No one seems to be able to explain the mechanism behind this phenomenon, but placebos really can work in even the most unlikely scenarios. If you believe a sugar pill is a cancer cure, your body will begin to win the fight. If you know your entire church congregation is making appeals to God for you through prayer, your condition can actually improve. It really does call into question what might be possible if we truly believe.

Knowing that belief can even effect terminal illnesses, it’s no surprise how great an influence it has on more subjective matters. If you believe that you are a depressed, broken, unlovable person, that is what the world will reflect back to you. You will begin to acknowledge only what reinforces this deeply held belief about yourself and disregard anything that contradicts it. If you believe you are ugly and unattractive, your mind will seek out things that confirm this idea. But the reverse is also true of course. If you think of yourself as a happy, upbeat person, no matter what you face in life, you will absorb it through this positive filter.

The good and the bad news is, changing your external circumstances isn’t likely to change your beliefs. The question then becomes, how can we let go of trying to achieve what we think will make us happy and instead shift our mindset so that we are happy exactly as we are? This is the true challenge we are tasked with overcoming, not the world outside, but our own inner world.

I think most of us seek internal cues to motivate us to do something. We are unlikely to be outgoing and friendly if we don’t feel like it. However, if we want to feel that way, the best method is acting as though we already do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. But it is effective. If you identify as a pessimist, but would rather be an optimist, just act how you imagine an optimist would act. Even if it feels phony at first, with practice your behavior will inevitably begin to change your beliefs.

I used to really believe that the way I felt was the inevitable result of the hard facts about my life and the world. If I found myself in a “bad” situation, I felt helpless. I told myself, “Under these conditions, it is impossible for me to be happy.” I reserved my happiness for moments I felt it was justified. Now I realize that my happiness is just that, mine. I can enjoy it whenever I see fit. It’s certainly harder to connect with some days than others, but just knowing that there is always a possibility for it is a great gift. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Don’t feel the need to withhold your happiness by believing it does not suit the circumstance. The only thing determining that is you. Even when it seems impossible, remember that you really do have the power to choose. The more you remind yourself of this, the more you work to behave the way you want to feel rather than feel confined and oppressed by the way you do feel, the easier it will become. No facts, no circumstances, can stand in the way of your happiness and success in this life. Only you can. And while that can seem scary and like a huge responsibility to take on, it is also quite beautiful.

Belief Systems | What Is Your Belief System? | Pathway to Happiness

Mixed Emotions

I’ve mentioned that I have a lot of unhealthy behaviors that I’ve been struggling with this past year in quarantine. Even though I’ve begun to feel utterly fed up with performing these behaviors, they still seem to persist. It feels like, despite all of my best laid plans to change, I always fall short in the end. However, yesterday the idea of letting all of those things go, my rigid schedule, my smoking, my eating habits, seemed possible. If you happened to read my post from yesterday, you may understand why.

This is not a new phenomenon, and I’m sure other people have experienced this as well. That special motivation and excitement from the idea of changing for someone else. I know sometimes that can be a toxic thing. You shouldn’t aim to change important parts of yourself for another. But the thought of improving your image in the eyes of someone else by finally changing things you’ve already been wanting to change seems different.

While I’m grateful for this new sense of energy and motivation, I am also wary of it. Curious about it. Last night as I contemplated my complete disinterest in the idea of binging on junk foods like I would have normally done, I wondered why exactly this behavior had no appeal to me whatsoever. Thinking of the shame I would experience if anyone I knew were to find out always seemed to just exacerbate the problem. No, this was something different. It was positive emotion that was guiding me. I finally settled on the idea that this newfound inspiration to turn away from negative behaviors stemmed from an overwhelming sensation of tenderness and self-love.

It’s been so long since I’ve really fancied someone enough to remember this feeling. Somehow being approved of by someone I really like always seems to flood me with not only the happiness of mutual admiration, but of self-acceptance. Everything seems so much more concrete and crisp when reflected back to you through another. And while I am still extremely grateful and happy for this rediscovered feeling, I am also somewhat upset by it.

Why do I need the attention and approval of someone else to finally love myself? I am still the same person I always was. I have always been deserving of this love. I have been trying (and mostly failing) to love myself for years and years now. No matter what I do, no matter how many positive affirmations I recite or automatic negative thoughts that I try to reframe, at the end of the day, I am always left with the idea that I’m simply not good enough yet to be worthy of my own love.

Yet someone I’ve only met twice comes along and suddenly I am capable of loving myself? Why? I doubt I’ll ever fully be able to understand it. Perhaps I am thinking about it too much. It feels like once again I’ve found myself trying to focus on the negative. True, I should love myself despite what anyone else in the world thinks of me, but I am still grateful for being given a helping hand towards that goal for the time being. Despite the initial catalyst for these positive thoughts and emotions, they are still much appreciated.

Photo by Samson Katt on Pexels.com

Forgiveness

Yesterday I mentioned that I was kinda peeved about my sister’s boyfriend drinking all my vodka. Given the hangover I have today from drinking at Christmas dinner, I’m actually glad he did. Otherwise I would have probably gotten even more drunk last night. Either way, I had decided not to hold it against him. He is a pretty cool guy overall. I even ended up supplying him with cigarettes. All of our local shops were closed for the holiday, and he couldn’t buy his own.

Now normally, this would have only soured me to him even more. But it actually felt good to let all that petty nonsense go. It was nice to just enjoy helping someone else out. It feels much better than getting salty about every little thing. So I was able to forgive him for all of his minor transgressions and enjoy sharing my family holiday with him.

However, this morning as I groggily rolled myself out of bed, I was filled with shame and regret. For probably the hundredth time I got WAY too drunk and practically blacked out while spending a holiday with my family, who by the way, don’t really drink. I genuinely don’t even remember getting home or going to bed last night. I feel like shit this morning, though. Physically and mentally. I can’t believe I made the same humiliating mistake once again.

I’ve started thinking about how good it feels to forgive other people though. I really wish it was as easy to be able to forgive myself. I’m sure yesterday wasn’t even a big deal to anyone besides me. I think I’ve always just been afraid to forgive myself. Somewhere along the line that idea of operant conditioning, of punishment and reward, really stuck in my brain. I am always trying to train other people to behave in the ways I want them to. I am always trying to train myself in this way. If I forgive myself, how will I learn?

I can remember implementing this technique far before I ever learned about it in any academic setting. It seems like common sense. If you are punished for doing something you will avoid doing it. If you are rewarded in some way you will try to repeat the behavior in the future. Yet everyday life is not often so straightforward. Real life behaviors are not isolated in a scientific setting.

My relationship with myself cannot be that black and white either. I don’t have to keep punishing myself for my mistakes. I recognize my flaws, and forgiving myself for them is not the same as encouraging them. Besides I’m not really even following the laws of operant conditioning correctly. When was the last time I gave myself a reward for doing something well? Maybe never. The only thing I’ve been “training” myself to do is to be unhappy, to never believe in myself, to think I am not good enough.

Rather than make this cold, hungover Saturday even harder by beating myself up, I am going to be kind to myself today. I deserve kindness. I deserve forgiveness, especially from myself. I don’t have to forbid myself from the happiness and comfort I may find today because of what happened yesterday. That isn’t going to make me a better person. Love and forgiveness isn’t going to make me a worse person. Today I am going to be gentle with myself. I am going to rest and make myself comfortable. I am going to forgive myself.

Photo by Tatiana on Pexels.com

Society & Stress

Photo by Fernando Cabral on Pexels.com

I was thinking the other day about just how normalized stress has become in society. Humanity has, in a sense, imprisoned itself. We exhibit similar behaviors to animals in captivity. Yet we have designed our own cage. It’s strange to me that there doesn’t seem to be any type of movement to address or change this. No one is working to restructure society so that we can live better lives. I don’t think anyone even knows how we’d do that or is searching for those answers.

If a zookeeper notices a macaw pulling out feathers, it is a huge concern. The bird is obviously highly stressed, to the point that it’s exhibiting unhealthy self-harming behaviors. Biting, picking, rubbing, pulling, these are all signs of distress that we easily recognize and try to correct in animals.

However, how many people do you know that bite their nails? Probably quite a lot. You may even bite your own nails. But this isn’t seen as a major concern, a symptom of living in constant stress. It is just a “bad habit.” A common behavior that no one thinks much of. Skin picking and hair pulling are a bit more recognized when it comes to mental health. But ultimately, despite being extremely common, they are still seen as a problem with the individual, and addressed as such.

At what point do we start to look at the bigger picture? At what point does the sheer number of people showing these symptoms begin to tip the scale from personal to societal? And what needs to happen for people to start addressing it?

These symptoms are somewhat inevitable for animals in captivity. Because animals were not meant to live in captivity. In the same way, I’ve come to view my stress behaviors as not necessarily a personal failing or imbalance in my brain chemistry. My brain and body are working just fine. They are responding how they were designed to respond. The problem isn’t with the individual, the problem is with the systems we have built ourselves into. We are simply not meant to live this way.

In the end, I don’t believe that any amount of medication or therapy will ever be able to address the ever increasing number of people with mental health problems. While valuable and worthwhile, these measures are only a band-aid on the gushing wound of our modern lifestyles. I desperately hope that someday we can work together to change our society rather than trying to force an impossible change within ourselves.

I don’t know what the answer is. I wish that I did. But I still think it helps to know that you are not alone. You are not broken. Your body isn’t betraying you. Your brain is not inherently ill. Your feelings are not wrong. You are doing the best you can in a strange new world that millions of years of evolution has not prepared us for. Forgive yourself. Be grateful to yourself for fairing as well as you have.

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Control

It’s strange for me to acknowledge the dichotomy between my public life and my personal life. When it comes to school or work or anything else out in the world, I’m the first to tell you, I have no lust for power or being in charge. I would much rather remain a passive observer than the person running the show.

However many of my mental health problems seem to be rooted in a desire to have control. Over myself, over my life. While I have never desired to have influence over others, I have spent my whole life bullying myself into submission.

I have no idea why though. Why on earth do I care so much? What am I afraid of if I “lose control” of myself? Ironically, as most people in my position find, the very behaviors implemented to gain control are the very things that cause us to lose it. We are no longer in control. The behaviors are.

I keep telling myself that I am going to make all these changes in the new year. But to be honest, I get more and more afraid as it gets closer. I keep waiting to feel ready. To feel strong. I’m not sure that day will ever come though. I need to accept that most things worth doing are scary. Are difficult. It is okay to be scared. I can be scared and do it anyway.

And I want to remind myself that it isn’t about control this time. It’s about love. I don’t want to strongarm myself into changing. Changing only for fear of the guilt I’ll rain down upon myself if I don’t. I want to change because I love myself. Because it’s what is best for me.

When January comes, I want to step forward into the new year with the security of self-love supporting me. Whether I succeed or fail. Knowing I will be there for myself. Knowing that the true success is caring for myself every day. Picking myself up again and again. As many times as it takes. Not giving up on myself like I have so many times in the past.

I want to learn to relinquish control. It is impossible to truly have anyway. It is only an illusion, a delusion. Whether we accept it or not, we are not in control. Our choice is merely to willingly let the current take us, or fight it till the bitter end. I’m so tired of fighting. I’m so tired of being afraid of where the water will take me. Because I will be taken either way. It is time I cultivate trust instead of control. I want to learn to trust in this universe. To trust in myself. And I’d rather spend my time floating than flailing.