Examining Limiting Beliefs

It’s taken me a long time to even recognize the things I say about myself are not objectively true, rather self-perceptions. Even with this realization, it can still be hard to challenge these beliefs. Most of them I have carried with me for as long as I can remember. That’s part of the reason why they feel so true and unchangeable. Today I wanted to list out a few of these limiting beliefs I have about myself and break them down in the hopes that I may begin to see them in a different light.

My Limiting Beliefs:

  1. I am easily overwhelmed.
  2. I am flaky/unreliable.
  3. I am unworthy.
  4. I am broken.
  5. I have poor communication skills.
  6. I’m a bad person.
  7. I am incapable of making decisions.
  8. I am easily angered/upset.

Reframing:

I am easily overwhelmed:

I think it’s important for me to preface this by acknowledging that reframing limiting beliefs does not have to mean that I completely deny these felt characteristics. I don’t have to reframe this to be the exact opposite (I am not easily overwhelmed.) I don’t believe that would serve me either. It needs to be a little more creative and nuanced than that. Rather than feeling badly about being “easily overwhelmed” I may start to view this quality a bit differently. Maybe it’s not that I’m easily overwhelmed, but that I am sensitive and feel things deeply. This isn’t necessarily a different thing, but for me, it’s a more positive and pleasant way to regard myself. One framing feels like a deficit, a weakness, while the other feels like a strength.

I am flaky/unreliable:

I might reframe this narrative to something like: I am spontaneous and ever changing. The first statement makes me feel guilty, but the second phrasing allows me to feel good about myself. There is nothing wrong with being spontaneous. It’s good to constantly shift and reevaluate and go with the flow from one moment to the next. There are definitely benefits to being consistent and commitment oriented, but there are also benefits of handling life differently.

I am unworthy:

This one if very hard for me to grapple with. I can’t recall when exactly I made this determination about myself. I feel this thought lingering over me always. It really inhibits my ability to flourish in life. You can’t enjoy the good things that happen to you or all that you have to be grateful for when you feel unworthy of it. This one might be best reframed as: The good things I have in life inspire me to be better every day. My passion and effort to improve are what count.

I am broken:

This one has also been with me for as long as I can remember. I catch my inner voice repeating questions like why am I like this? or why can’t I be normal? all the time. In some ways, I think this belief stems from my sense of awkwardness and social isolation as an autistic woman. I see my differences and label myself “broken” because of them. But different does not mean broken. I am unique. Differences and diversity make the world a fuller, more interesting place.

I have poor communication skills:

Unlike a lot of the other beliefs I hold about myself, I don’t think I began verbalizing this one until recently. I was often frustrated by interpersonal relationships, but didn’t really understand why they always seemed to go wrong. I think the main cause of my “poor communication” is fear. Therefore, I’d like to change this one to: It’s okay to speak from the heart even if it sounds awkward or embarrassing. I am practicing and improving my ability to connect with others every day.

I’m a bad person:

This one, although I do feel it, I imagine would shock a lot of people. I recognize that they are lots of people that are doing worse things than me, but that does not change the way I perceive myself. I have very high standards for myself and the people in my life. I also struggle with black and white thinking. These two factors lead me to view myself as wildly imperfect and therefore “bad.” What’s more interesting is the fact that I am ascribing this label to myself based more on my inner thoughts than my actions. Even though I don’t often act from anger or jealousy or greed, I know that I feel these emotions often and judge myself for it. However, thoughts are not crimes. Immorality is based on action, not emotions. And doing a few bad things or making the wrong decision from time to time does not make me view anyone else as a “bad person” so why should I apply different standards to myself? I am doing my best. Imperfect does not equal bad.

I am incapable of making decisions:

This belief tends to hold me back a lot in life as well. We are presented with decisions every day, and I make each one of them more stressful than they need to be by berating myself with the belief I am incapable of making them. Rather than thinking of this as a negative, I can see this as another strength. I am a careful, thoughtful, and considerate person. I like to analyze every decision thoroughly before taking action.

I am easily angered/upset:

There are positives and negatives of everything in life. Sure, I might feel anger more easily than other people, but on the other hand, I am a very passionate person. My passion is something I really value about myself. Getting angry is just a sign that I care. It’s how I respond to and deal with those difficult emotions that matters.


The next time I catch myself mindlessly repeating these familiar self-judgements, I hope that I can remember that there are other ways to view these aspects of myself. Things don’t always have to be true or false. There are so many different ways to view the same situations, circumstances, and aspects of ourselves. It will be hard at first. I’ve believed these things without question for my entire life. I won’t be able to let them go in an instant. But with persistence and practice, it will get easier.

Suffering in Silence

I learned early on that tears and tantrums are bad behavior. Showing these emotions causes displeasure and annoyance in those around us. Our first subconscious lesson to swallow those big emotions and keep them inside, those first seeds of unworthiness, are planted when we are very young. A lesson that others don’t have time for us, are not interested in our distress. Some of my most painful and poignant memories from childhood emphasize this lesson.

Looking backward in my memory I see a tiny child retreat to her bedroom when the world becomes too much. Perhaps an easily disregarded issue to the adults around, but a great source of pain to one so new and small. I see her shut herself away the first few times with a confidence that her mother will come to her, show compassion and concern for her suffering. It seems like hours as the child waits in the darkness for someone, anyone to show her that they care, that her presence is missed. Fits of crying come and go, some intentionally exaggerated to ensure they are heard. Still no one comes.

No one ever came. Many occasions like this ended in crying myself to sleep, feeling utterly alone and unloved. Even though I now understand this was so as not to encourage this behavior (i.e. crying and sulking in order to get attention) it doesn’t make the internalization of the initial message any less harmful. Nor has it helped to have this message reaffirmed throughout life.

I had bouts of extreme sadness in my high school years. I’ll never forget the week my first serious boyfriend broke up with me. I fell silent, kept my head down, hidden in my arms as I fought back tears for days on end. I wasn’t looking for attention. I wanted to disappear. But the realization that this would be so easy, that I would be utterly ignored was a sobering one. I quickly learned the meaning of the term “fair weather friend” and that most friends fit this definition. My best friend at the time did not try at all to console me or hold space for my sadness. She did not even seem to look in my direction that week. It felt as though I could drop off the face of the earth and no one would notice or mind my absence. Understandably this response served to compound my sadness ever further.

It’s not as though no one has ever extended a hand to me in my darkest hours. The best friend I have now is always there for me, through laughter as well as tears. I’ll never forget the day one childhood friend of mine made her boyfriend drive over to get me as I sat on the sidewalk in abject despair. She took me with them to Denny’s and did all that she could to make sure I was okay. These instances have pierced my soul in the most beautiful way. I’m so grateful for them even now.

Intellectually I understand that being present for another person’s suffering is hard. It’s not always that those around me don’t care, but they don’t know what to do. They are just trying to avoid their discomfort. They may even feel guilty and ashamed deep down. That being said, it doesn’t change the way it feels, especially when I am already so low.

As an adult, I really struggle with expressing myself due, in large part, to these experiences. When I’m struggling, I usually suppress the urge to reach out to anyone. I shrink away from the whole world. I choose to suffer in silence and put on a mask for everyone. It’s simply too painful to feel people pulling away from me when I need them most. It’s easier to pretend I don’t need them. My inner voice whispers, “No one cares what you’re going through. Don’t burden people with your problems. You’re only worth anything when you can make other people smile and laugh. If you show them how you really feel, they’ll all abandon you. Just keep it to yourself. Stay quiet.”

Not only does this perception greatly increase my pain and sense of isolation, it also pushes the people that do care away from me. I’m always in a weird spot when a negative event occurs in my life. I usually can’t muster the courage to tell anyone unless I absolutely have to or they directly ask me. I’m so afraid of their reaction, I’m so ashamed of making myself the focus of the conversation, that I just pretend everything is normal. But then when/if people discover what’s happened and realize that I didn’t share it with them, it makes them feel like I don’t consider them a friend. Which is understandable. I like to be kept up to date on the important events in my friends’ lives too. It does feel like a slight when they don’t confide in me.

I never want anyone else to experience the loneliness and pain I have gone through. I never want anyone to feel like no one cares for them when they are suffering. That is what I must believe all of these moments have been teaching me. I’m definitely someone that has the tendency to panic and avoid people that are crying or going through a tough time. I don’t know what to say or do. I feel awkward and uncomfortable. But this feeling I know so well, let it be my inspiration, my motivation to push through that fear and be there for others in their time of need. It doesn’t matter what I say or do. Just being there is the greatest comfort, just acknowledging that pain, sharing it, holding space, that is one of the few gifts I can offer. Let my own suffering give me the courage to do so.

Stages of Cognitive Development

Childhood and Developmental psychology classes helped me learn and understand the different stages that children pass through as they grow, particularly the stages of awareness and consciousness. Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development highlight the ways in which we all expand our perception of ourselves and the world around us as we age.

In the first stage, we gain object permanence, we begin to understand that we are separate entities from others, and that our actions affect the world around us. In the second stage we are largely only focused on ourselves and our own perspective. This stage is also where we first begin to be able to think symbolically, grasping that images can represent ideas and objects. We still think in concrete terms and struggle with abstract concepts. The third stage is where we begin to develop our logic and reasoning skills. The fourth and “final” stage is where we form the ability to think abstractly and contemplate hypothetical situations.

You may notice that I’ve put the word “final” in quotation marks, and I have good reason for that. It occurred to me the other day when I was thinking about the idea of faith and the many aspects of reality and life that we cannot know. I began to wonder why it is that it seems so absurd to consider there being more to reality than we can hope to conceive of in our current human state. Psychology has already laid out the ways that a child’s brain is different than an adult’s and has a more limited ability to process the world. Why do we assume then that a fully formed adult brain necessarily has overcome all of these cognitive limitations? In fact, based on Piaget’s theory, it seems logical to infer we may still not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to perceiving ourselves and the world around us.

It practical terms, it does us no good to try to operate in the world on this premise. All we can do is use the information available to us in order to live. However, this idea that there is potentially much more to this world than we are able to understand is one that brings me comfort. This is my rather garbled attempt to emphasize the fact that faith may not be as groundless as I, myself, once thought. It allows me to more easily surrender to that unknown aspect of this universe and trust that, even when I don’t understand it, there is some higher purpose, or meaning to all of this. There is much more going on than my brain is capable of grasping. Perhaps death is the final stage of cognitive development.

Face Value

Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.

Conor Oberst

The other day my coworker paid me a compliment that took me by surprise. She told me that she envies the way I seem so calm and present all the time. She said I come off as truly content and mindful. Part of me literally cannot believe this is really the way that she sees me. Perhaps she is just telling me what she thinks I want to hear? I don’t know why she would bother though. The comment seemed to come out of no where.

Although I already think about it often, this really emphasized the idea that my perception of people and their perceptions about themselves are quite likely extremely different. I never feel calm and content or that I’m able to enjoy the present moment. I’m exceptionally pleased that I may come off that way to people, but it’s hard to wrap my head around how that could be. Inside I am in a near constant state of fear, anxiety, and agitation. Often I am even ruminating on thoughts of bitterness and anger, playing the victim in my own inner story.

My coworker’s comment made me realize just how easily we become consumed by the image we imagine of ourselves, that we forget others may not view us in the same way. We’re so familiar with the reoccurring thoughts and patterns in our own minds that we forget others have no awareness of them. In the same way, it’s easy to forget that the information we have to work with on the surface isn’t necessarily giving us an accurate understanding of the full complexity of another person.

With the limited information we have, it’s easy to just write someone off as an asshole or an idiot. However, if I reflected on my own actions day to day from an outsider’s perspective, I’d likely label myself in this hasty, inaccurate, dismissive way just as easily. It’s uncomfortable to see someone doing something that we think is inconsiderate or irrational and just let it go with the acknowledgement that we don’t (nor can we ever) know the full story. It’s easier to construct a story to tell ourselves with the small pieces of information we do have.

As a social worker, I hear all kinds of crazy circumstances that people deal with every day. I really couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. With that in mind, you’d think it would be easier for me to give someone the benefit of the doubt and assume they have a lot going on and reasons for behaving the way that they do. On the contrary, I still find myself constantly falling into the trap of cynicism and judgement..

Another helpful way to think about this is to consider that, at least in my experience, I am able to find redeeming qualities in just about everyone that I get to know on more than a surface level. When you only see a handful of moments in a persons life, it is much simpler to judge them harshly. The same tendencies in someone we know are more palatable to us than in someone we don’t know. I believe this is because we are able to weigh them against all of the positive qualities of the person we know, whereas we have no other points of reference for the person that we don’t.

On the flip side of this, my interaction with my coworker reminded me just how silly it is to worry about what other people might be thinking about me. I spend a great deal of time worrying about how I come off to other people. I’m terrified that they will think of me in the same harsh, unforgiving manner that I think of myself. While that might be true, it may also be true that they think more highly of me than I think of myself. The point is that I can never know for sure, nor can I hope to precisely shape the way another person thinks of me intentionally. It’s best to just express myself as I see fit in the moment and not worry about the rest.

A Soul Confined

Consciousness drips into these physical bodies, these vessels, so small and cramped. The universe is separated and confined inside of flesh and bone and electrical signals. We squirm and stretch and try to remember why we feel so strange now. Energy that once knew all, is left alone and cut off, forced to see through an unfocused, limited lens.

Some souls, young souls, are easily persuaded to forget about this flowing source from which we’ve been torn away. They smile and slip seamlessly into their new roles, happy, lighthearted, supposing they are whole. The old souls are not so easy to let go. A vague memory lingers of something more, of a connection now lost, of freedom obscured and shrunken down to fit within these new forms.

There is not enough space in here. My soul shuffles and feels suffocated by new boundaries and earthly limitations. This fear, this isolation, this uncertainty, these are all new, they aren’t right. The formless memory of the limitless expanse once inhabited causes friction and doubt. Blinded by the illusions that permeate and penetrate every perception, we anguish in confusion and discomfort. Why am I like this? I wasn’t always like this. Something is different. Something… something is wrong.

Unable to accept the new parameters of living consciousness, unable to feel these new forms of connection offered to us, will live in a surreal state of stupefaction. Equally frightened by life and by death, we float through the foreign rituals expected of us, always wondering, why? What is this? I can’t quite understand. I know there was a time when I understood. Why can’t I now?

Tasked with learning to trust, learning to follow the open-hearted ignorance of those that seem to flourish here. Allowing their smiling faith to support us and carry us through our fear. We don’t have to understand right now. Our job is not to understand, but to experience. These small, fragile, confining containers are gifts to be enjoyed and explored. Vehicles of vastly new, unlimited perspectives.

Let us not be afraid of that sense of something more. It is still there waiting for us. We have not been cut off, just reconstituted. We are these new bodies for now, but it will not always be so. When flesh and blood falls away, we are freed, not forgotten. We will all find our way back to that deep, soothing hum of all there is. We’re still a part of it even now. Trust in that oneness that flickers in your heart from time to time. Your soul is not mistaken, the sensation is true. Let it be a comfort to you on your journey and let it hold you above the painful illusion of an ultimate end. You don’t have to be afraid. Keep going.

Rise to the Challenge

I have met tons of people that identify themselves as competitive. I’ve been told that is a natural part of human nature, and I suppose all living things must have a certain competitive drive in order to survive. I, myself, however, have never considered myself competitive. I’ve never been very interested in sports or even playing cards or board games. There is nothing inside of me that drives me to win. Winning a game or a sport means little to nothing to me. Yet losing still makes me feel badly about myself. Therefore there is really no benefit to me participating in competitive activities.

I’ve wondered about this aspect of myself since I became aware of it. I do think a lot of it stems from social anxiety, but there is another aspect I think might be relevant. Growing up as the youngest sibling, you learn pretty fast that the chances of you winning anything or outperforming your older sibling are slim to none. I got used to always losing every single game we would play growing up. One particular incident stands out where I was playing “Mouse Trap” with my sister and grandmother. When I lost I was so distraught and unwilling to surrender my cheese game piece that I cried and shut myself up in my room. From all of these experiences, I think I have internalized the idea that challenge and competition inevitably means failure and disappointment. This has become so ingrained in me that I feel no more likely to win games of chance than I do ones that involve skill.

To this day, I still don’t enjoy playing games at parties (drinking games are a bit more acceptable) and even the video games I play are much more about casual, steady progress and creativity than winning and losing or being challenged. Until recently this was all the further I really thought about this mindset of mine. So I don’t like games very much, that’s no big deal. I dug no deeper into the matter.

The other day, however, I realized just how much this aversion to challenge has skewed my entire worldview. After all, competition and challenge is something that we all encounter each and every day in our careers, in our relationships, and even within ourselves. How you choose to perceive and respond to these challenges has a huge impact on your self-perception and your overall quality of life. Only very recently did it occur to me that not only do I anticipate failure in games, but in the challenges I face in life as well. I’ve come to view any type of challenging situation as inherently negative, foreshadowing only failure and embarrassment, never as an opportunity for self discovery or personal growth.

I think one of the ways I can start to change this mindset, is by allowing myself space to fail. There was a wonderful example of this practice in the yoga class I did yesterday. Vrikshasana or tree pose, as well as all the other balancing poses in yoga, are a great place to start playing with this. Once a balancing posture becomes second nature and relatively easy to hold, it’s time to start pushing the limits of our balancing ability. Often a cue is given to try closing your eyes. If you’ve never tried this, it is exceptionally difficult to maintain your balance with the eyes closed. Normally, I ignore this option. I inevitably fall out of the pose and get upset with myself.

Yesterday the cue was given in a slightly different way though. Because of this, I was able to let go of the expectation or even the goal of maintaining my balance perfectly and staying in the pose for any length of time with my eyes shut. It wasn’t about how long I could manage to stay still, but simply what it would feel like to try. Once I released the pressure of perfecting the pose, I actually was able to do better at this challenge than I ever have been in the past. Not only that, but I didn’t feel any irritation or disappointment when I did fall out of the pose.

Whether you enjoy challenges or not, the fact is that you are going to be faced with them regularly. It’s not an option to avoid all challenge for the rest of you life. Rather than trying to avoid challenges, perhaps we can try to look at them in a different, healthier way. Sometimes it even helps me to imagine what it would feel like to be someone that is competitive or excited by the idea of being challenged. Despite my initial reaction, I do admit that there is a certain pleasure and even peace in being challenged. When I’m doing something new or difficult, I am usually more focused than usual. And the only thing I really have to fear is my own self criticism.

In order to let go of the outcome and my expectations for myself, I find it helpful to start off by viewing failure as a likely and acceptable option. It’s almost more pleasurable if I assume I am going to fail from the beginning. Success or failure was never the point most of the time anyway. The point of life isn’t to do everything perfectly all of the time or even most of the time. Life is about trying new things, being curious, and growing through adversity. Failure is a natural part of these things and what’s most likely holding us back from them. Once we realize that we have the choice to live happily with our mistakes and failures we can finally be free to explore and blossom as we were meant to.

How to do Vrikshasana | The Tree Pose | Learn Yogasanas Online | Yoga and  Kerala

Deceptive Mental States

Every day I wake up I choose love, I choose light, and I try.

The Submarines – You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie

What are we supposed to do when we cannot trust our own minds? This is where I believe faith comes into even an atheist’s life. At least for me, this is where I try to practice faith. You might be asking, well why wouldn’t you trust your own mind in the first place? If you are one of the lucky few who have no mental illness, then you may never encounter this dilemma. However, for someone like me, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, there are many times I’m left unsure of whether something is a genuine concern or if I’m spiraling into delusional, distorted perceptions and over reacting. It can be extremely difficult to tell the difference. Not only that, even if I determine logically that I am being a bit dramatic, it doesn’t make it any easier to calm myself down emotionally or silence my racing thoughts.

This happens to a certain degree every single night. As the day dwindles away, my brain is running low on my natural mood stabilizing hormones and dopamine/serotonin stores. I am always at my lowest and most stressed in the evening hours when I am physically and mentally tired. Even though I am consciously aware of this skewed perception at the end of the day, I never fail to fall pray to the thoughts and worries that arise. I know that no matter how serious my problems appear at night, if I just allow myself to sleep on it, I’ll have a completely different and more balanced opinion and perspective come morning when I feel energized and refreshed again.

It’s important for us to pay attention to our moods and thoughts at different intervals of the day, month, and year. Eventually we may notice a pattern. For instance, as I mentioned, I feel more vulnerable to anxiety in the evenings. I also feel much more susceptible of falling into depression during the winter months. I become more irritable and emotional about a week before my period each month. Once we notice these factors and the way they affect our thought patterns and sensitivity, we can begin to acknowledge when we may not be in a great place to make big decisions or judge a problem or situation accurately. Then we can try to adjust our actions accordingly.

Now, I said try to adjust, because even once we notice and acknowledge these patterns, it’s not as easy as you might think to convince ourselves we’re being irrational in the moment. Last night I felt like the world was falling down around me. I couldn’t stop thinking about financial concerns. I was distraught about my elderly dog’s health. I was ruminating on the way the seemingly minuscule issues of today could potentially snowball into unavoidable catastrophes decades in the future. What if my parents die? How will I afford retirement? What if I develop health issues? Should I leave the job I love for a better paying one? What if that’s a mistake? All of these basically unanswerable questions were swirling around in my head demanding to be answered and planned for accordingly right now. All of these concerns felt terribly urgent despite the fact the day before they weren’t even on my radar.

The deceptive part about anxiety is that it does serve a real, evolutionary purpose. Stress feels urgent and important because in our past as a species, it was. We weren’t made to be able to ignore these mental signals. It wasn’t an option to distract ourselves or even simply sit in our anxious discomfort when it was a life or death situation. Back then, we really did need to act immediately in order to survive. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it seems impossible to talk yourself down from these mental states. Your brain and body aren’t broken. They are simply doing what they were designed to do to protect you. It just doesn’t exactly transfer over well to our modern, often long-term, problems.

This is where faith comes in for me. I don’t exactly know what I am putting my faith in exactly. Maybe I am just having faith in myself. After all, how many millions of times have I felt like I was going to burst into flames if I didn’t solve all of my problems immediately, only to realize it wasn’t that bad the next morning? How many times have I feared I wouldn’t be able to cope with a worst case scenario, only to discover I’m much stronger than I ever believed I could be when I actually have to face one? I’ve made it this far. I have to believe in myself and trust that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to handle it somehow, even if I don’t know the exact details in this moment.

It’s may be hard, but in the moments when we find ourselves most likely overreacting or stuck in a distorted perception of ourselves or the situation at hand, we must practice faith. Just try to notice how your body feels instead of trying to “fix” everything so you feel better. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders. Give yourself a massage or activate a few acupressure points. Notice when you get tangled in your thinking mind and gently draw yourself back to the physical sensations in your body. Your brain is most likely telling you: You can’t just breathe. It’s not safe to allow these feelings. We have to do something! Don’t let these worries dissipate. They are too important. Notice whatever inner dialogue that arises to try to convince you of the urgency of the moment. Say to yourself: I know these thoughts feel really big and important right now. But I also know I am not at my best mental state to judge that at the moment. I’ve felt this way many times before. I trust that, just as it was those times, everything is going to be okay. I am okay. I am safe. I have faith in my future self and his/her/their ability to handle each issue as it presents itself. I don’t need to be prepared for every eventuality before it arises.

You’ve got this. I believe in you.

Keep Calm and Take the Anxiety Test! - My Mental Health

Great Expectations

I’ve been reading a lot of Charles Dickens recently. I’ve finished A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Now I am working my way through Oliver Twist. I have David Copperfield and Hard Times lined up after that. Reading these novels has been one of my favorite parts of the day for months now. After dinner, I have been curling up with a cup of tea, my fur children, and one of these books in my hygeekrog for at least an hour if not more each night.

I think that one of the reasons I find this new ritual so enchanting is the contrast between my warm, cozy, little nook and the lives being lived out on the pages in front of me. Even though they are works of fiction, somehow they make me appreciate my good fortune in life in a way I never really have before. There is a beautiful, simple dignity in the way the characters accept their fates and the circumstances they are placed in, no matter how unjust or painful. It makes me contemplate my self-righteous indignation at even the slightest inconveniences I face from day to day. How might I learn to let go and move with the events happening around me instead of against them? Characters being abruptly put in prison with no warrant or explanation make less of a fuss than I do when I’m cut off in traffic.

There are also other ineffable aspects of these novels that fill me with peace and curiosity. I think one thing is that they shine a light on our shared human experience that spans the length of time. No matter where you find yourself in history or in the world, we all must face quite similar hardships and injustices. Life is not about avoiding these things. It’s about how we face them. Dickens’ books are a reminder of the fortitude and resilience of all those that have come before us and survived and fought to improve society even in our species’ darkest moments.

I think one of the greatest lessons I have taken away from my evening reading is summed up perfectly in the title of one of these books: Great Expectations. While not meant in the way it is in the book, I have realized that I have great expectations. Not for wealth or social status, but for other people. I became rather disgusted and disenchanted with the entire human race quite early in life. I saw the incredible things that human beings are capable of and somehow came to seek out only this from my fellow creatures.

As children, we are raised to see only the best of human ability and achievement. We learn about soldiers sacrificing their lives for the freedom of their country. We hear about geniuses that have devoted their lives to advancing and/or healing society through new technology and medicine. We see the bravery, the resilience, the altruism first and foremost. Characters such as Hitler are painted as strange aberrations, rather than reoccurring figures or the other side of the coin of human nature. Therefore I think I absorbed the impression that human beings should all be more perfect, generous, and intelligent than anyone can truly be in reality.

This skewed perception led me to be let down a lot throughout my life. Ultimately it led to the pendulum swinging the other way entirely. I began to believe that human beings are all selfish, monstrous, and grotesque in our greed and disregard for others. It seems that now I only look for that hideous side of human nature in order to confirm what I now believe about our species. I take for granted the good I see in the world, because that’s just how it should be. Yet I still see every false step we take as a society as egregious and worthy of condemnation.

Charles Dickens’ works are a vacation away from that staunch, black and white thinking of mine. While the horrors of society are upfront and evident, Dickens shows that despite this suffering, this injustice, there is also deep love, selflessness, humor, and honor within us. Human beings are not the best creatures to ever live, nor are we the worst. We simply are. It’s okay to have high hopes for ourselves, those around us, and our society in general, but not to the extent that we lament any and everything that falls short of our great expectations. There is peace and contentment in taking what the world offers to you exactly as it is. Our ideals should be what guide us, not something seen as a guarantee. It’s okay to be proud and overjoyed by the small acts of kindness we encounter, precisely because they are not guaranteed. At the same time we cannot be shocked and disheartened by the opposite either. The complexity and mystery of life and those we share it with is what makes it interesting. It’s what makes life worth living.

Charles Dickens: Scourge Of Capitalists & Social Reformer - HistoryExtra

Anxiety From the Outside

Even though mental illnesses are be discussed more and more openly, and average people have a better understanding of them than they once did, it is still hard to tell if someone without mental illness really “gets” the struggles faced by those who do. I still remember talking to a client of mine and explaining to him the way my anxiety used to make it impossible for me to talk to people even in the most innocuous circumstances. His own brother was the same way and I was explaining to him that it wasn’t just an excuse for being anti-social as he suspected. Even after hearing my story, he seemed skeptical and unable to wrap his mind around what I was telling him.

Since that day, I’ve become more and more concerned with the way others may interpret my behavior. With both my social work career and my yoga teaching, there are expectations that I am unable to meet even after years of practice. My yoga studio constantly urges me to walk around the room more, watch my students more closely, offer adjustments, etc. The child advocacy center where I work, encourages me to stay in the waiting room with the kids and family the entire time that they are hear not just at the beginning and end of their appointment. Neither of these tasks seems too daunting. Even when I contemplate the idea myself, it seems doable.

However, even with the best intentions going in, I can never manage to do as well as I hope. In the moment, my fear takes hold of me. Nothing besides avoiding the situation seems to matter at all to me at that point. I would do anything to just escape, regardless of the consequences. And usually, I give in to that fear and fall into my usual pattern. I’m not sure even the possibility of losing my position all together would be enough to rival the fear of the action itself.

Not only does this constant internal battle make me feel guilty, like I’m not serving my students and clients well enough, it also makes me wonder what my coworkers think about it. I’ve expressed to them that the reason I resist their advice is because of my anxiety. Even so, I don’t know if they are able to fully comprehend what I mean. I am afraid that, like my former client and his brother, they think I am just making excuses to get out of doing my job. To a certain extent, I even feel like it’s an excuse. But it’s not an excuse to avoid working, or because I don’t care, it’s an excuse to avoid paralyzing fear. I would happily do ten times the amount of paperwork if it allowed me to have less interaction with people. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to do work. I’m just afraid. I’m afraid to the extent that sometimes it really does feel like I am unable to do what is expected of me.

Because I have lived with this anxiety my entire life, it makes perfect sense to me when I see someone else avoiding a task that to others seems simple. But I also see the way others judge them for that avoidance. People who have not experienced this irrational anxiety just can’t comprehend how it feels. Which is why I always go out of my way to accommodate people I meet who are clearly socially anxious. For instance, I have a neighbor that never looks at me or waves or says hi even though we pass each other quite regularly. I know that most people would be offended by that and think he is a rude person. But I find him endearing because I know how he feels. Honestly, I wish more people were like him. It’s a huge energetic effort for me to smile and wave and make small talk with neighbors every time I leave my house.

I understand why these behaviors seem odd and uncaring from the outside. I don’t expect people to be able to understand something so illogical if they’ve never experienced it. I just hope that the people in my life understand that, even when it might not look like it, I really am trying my best. Making a phone call or siting with someone for an hour might seem extremely easy to most people, but just know that there are a lot of us that find it comparable to walking a tight rope or holding a python. Imagine if you had to face your greatest fear each and every day. It’s exhausting at best, and traumatizing at worst. So please try to be patient with us. We really are trying.

Fear vs. Phobia: What's the Difference? | The Recovery Village

24/7 Mindfulness

The hardest place to be is right where you are. In the space between the finish and the start.

Half Alive

A few months ago, in an effort to recover from my disordered eating habits, I began practicing mindful eating. Mindful eating, for those who don’t know, is essentially exactly what it sounds like. Rather than watching TV or reading or even talking to your partner, you focus all of your attention solely on the act of eating. I did a pretty good job of doing this for a month or so, but since then I’ve fallen back into my old habits to some extent. I still practice eating my breakfast and lunch mindfully, free from distraction, but I’ve started to only eat half of my dinner in this way. Allowing myself to go back to watching Netflix or something afterward.

Although I am proud of myself for the progress I have been able to maintain, I can’t help but be a bit frustrated I haven’t been able to keep my mindful eating practice going entirely. When I ask myself why that is, the answer I always arrive at is that it’s just too tiring to be mindful for so much of my day. Despite that being how I genuinely feel, it still doesn’t make total sense to me. How is focusing on one thing more tiring than spreading out my attention and multitasking? Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

Any time I try to imagine leading an entirely mindful, present life, this is the obstacle that I envision. It just seems like too much work. But why does it seem like that? Logically I don’t see how there could be that much of a difference between focused attention and scattered attention. Either way I am still awake and conscious and processing my surroundings the entire time. I wonder if there is a difference in the amount of energy we exert between the two or if this is just a false perception I employ to avoid myself.

I find myself giving the excuse, “I just need a break,” when I want to skip out on a mindful dinner. But how is eating and watching Netflix more of a break than just eating? Why does it seem like such an effort to just be still? I’m sure a lot of it has to do with unconscious conditioning, but it feels like there is more to it than that somehow. Where do I go when I am not being mindful? When I’m zoning out? Sometimes it feels as if my consciousness dissipates and I am just floating by on autopilot. And to a certain degree, I enjoy how that feels. It’s nice to not have to focus on anything. Even though I truly believe a more mindful life is inevitably a happier one as well. Why then do my mindless moments hold so much importance for me? Why does it seem like a nightmare to imagine being mindful 24/7?

It makes me wonder what the consciousness of a monk might feel like. Have they reached a state of perpetual mindfulness? Is that even possible? What might that be like? Considering this also brings to mind a quote from Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception:

To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducingĀ valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet.

The Doors of Perception; Aldous Huxley

If you’re not familiar with this book, in it Huxley is describing his thoughts and experiences while under the influence of psychedelic drugs, particularly Mescaline. From Huxley’s description, this drug allows the doors of our perception to be flung wide open. We are aware of everything all at once. All of the sensory information that the brain would normally filter out is being noticed. And while this is a profoundly beautiful and moving experience according to Huxley, it is also quite overwhelming. That is why he believes our normal conscious mind is filtered through was he has labeled the “reducing valve.”

I don’t know if this is truly relatable to regular, every day consciousness, but that is how mindfulness feels to me sometimes. It has the ability to make even the most mundane, monotonous moments beautiful and profound, yet it can become tiresome and overwhelming trying to remain in this highly focused state for too long.

Then again, perhaps mindfulness is more like a muscle. Maybe the more I practice, the less of an effort it will seem to be. Just like doing a 150lb. deadlift might seem impossible at first, if you keep slowly increasing your maximum weight, you’ll get there eventually. There is still so much that I don’t fully understand about mindfulness and the obstacles standing in the way of it for me. I am hopeful that with further practice and contemplation, I will be able to uncover some of the answers I’m looking for.

What is Mindfulness & What's its Role in the Workplace