Potential for Happiness

Potential for Happiness

Do you undermine your potential to live a happy life?

One of the biggest challenges in life is our relationship to ourselves. Many of us secretly live a painful inner life, filled with undermining messages and beliefs. “I’m not good enough”, “I’ll never be able to…”, “I’m such an idiot!”, “I’ll never find true love”, are just a few recurring thoughts that might traverse our minds and affect our emotional and physical selves.

Sadly, some people’s negative inner voice is so strong, it stops them from growing into their full potential. They might sabotage their paths to fulfilling relationships, jobs or life enhancing experiences.

So, how is it, you might ask, that some people’s Inner Critic has such power over them and what can be done about it?

Without looking at this as an opportunity to place blame, but more as an opportunity to help shed light on your own inner world, let’s explore the possibilities.

Part of the answer may lie in your basic temperament, your nature, or how you process the world around you. Many of you are familiar with instances where two people attending the same venue describe their experiences significantly differently. This occurs because we filter things differently based on our interests, innate abilities, prior experiences and belief systems.

For instance, an innately sensitive person may be affected by experiences more significantly than a less sensitive person. An example of this might be as subtle as a child noticing that her mother’s eyes didn’t light up as much as they did when her sibling showed her their finger painting. A child may internalize this as “I’m not good enough, or special enough” even though mom’s lack of response did not hold that intention. Perhaps she was tired, or had an emotionally challenging day. Or, it might just be that mommy, although she would never dream of saying or doing anything to that affect, may secretly feel more affection for one child than the other. If the child is sensitive, he or she could pick this energy up.

Another part of the answer may lie in Nurture. John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory and subsequent experiments help illustrate that the infant’s primary relationship with mother has a deep and long lasting effect on a person. The mother is usually the primary caregiver and more often will be the closest relationship the child experiences, especially in the first years of life. (I must add that many of my colleagues would postulate that it is not only the mother that can have a profound effect, but fathers, caregivers, siblings, teachers and significant others who were involved in the person’s early development). When caregivers were not able or willing to be as attentive to the child’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual needs on a fairly consistent basis, the child was left with an insecure base and had to compensate in order to feel safe.

Generally, adults with secure attachments:

  • Have trusting, lasting relationships.
  • Tend to have good self esteem.
  • Are comfortable sharing feelings with friends and partners.
  • Seek out social support.

People with a secure base, (those who had most of their needs met as children), are better able to navigate through life’s ups and downs. Their inner voice might say: “I trust myself to choose supportive and kind people to confide in”, as they have had people model what supportive and kind people tend to be like. When met with challenges they might also say to themselves “this task might seem hard, but I know I can give it my best shot and at the very least, learn something from the experience”. They can do this because someone has helped them reframe their challenging experiences from one of “I failed” to “I learned to do better next time”.

Adults with insecure patterns of attachment have perhaps learned that they cannot trust themselves or the people around them; they don’t feel safe or able to navigate as confidently through life or relationships with others.

Their inner voice might say: “Why would anyone care about me?”, “I can’t trust anyone”, “I’ll probably fail so why bother”, and “No one will understand what I’m feeling… I better keep my true feelings hidden”, or “In the end they’ll leave me anyway.”

Does any part of this resonate with you? If so, you may be asking if there’s anything that can be done to help loosen the clutch of the negative voices. The simple truth is that you’ve probably done quite a bit so far to create a healthier inner world already. You may have had moments in your life where you’ve suddenly realized a certain belief or recurring reaction on your part has caused more harm than benefit to you. Or, you’ve met someone that completely changed the way you think about certain people and you’ve adjusted your understanding of yourself, others and/or the world. Perhaps you then came up with new strategies that are more authentic and healthy.

It takes us a while to build awareness, and quite frankly, it can take us a really long time to learn some lessons. Many of us need help along the way to make those changes and shifts necessary in order to live a better and more fulfilling life. That’s where therapy comes in. Finding a therapist with whom we feel comfortable is extremely important. After all, this will hopefully be a template for, or an example of, a healthy, compassionate relationship.

The way I see it, our goal is to re-parent ourselves, to show ourselves the love and compassion we all truly deserve. The more you love yourself, the more you will replace those negative beliefs with loving and encouraging beliefs and thoughts. In doing so, you will empower yourself to take steps you wouldn’t dare take before. Perhaps you will find relationships to be more filled with joy than sorrow, and work to be something that does not define you, but gives you an opportunity to grow.

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