November 20, 2016
We, humans, have all sorts of ways that we understand the world. We use all kinds of tools and techniques to help us understand what we see and what we experience. We find ways to cope, manage, and keep ourselves safe as part of our daily survival and growth…
Many of these techniques and tools were created in our youth. That makes senses, doesn’t it? Our childhoods are a time of immense learning. Everything is brand new. We strive to make sense of each new situation that arises. The systems that we create as children are imperative to our growth and development.
However, if we don’t update these systems as we mature, what was once a very useful coping mechanism may actually become a detriment to us. If we keep our understanding of the world static in a childhood view, we may miss out on amazing opportunities, we may keep ourselves stuck, or we may end up holding a view that is hurtful to us without even realizing it.
This week’s theme is about a System Update.
As we grow up, we are taught to apply what we have learned from one situation to another. Think of learning a math process; we learn the general steps needed to solve the problem, and then we are to take that same process and apply it to similar problems.
It makes sense that we would translate this process to the outside world, including our relationships. For example, if one adult got mad because you walked into their room without knocking, you applied that to understand that all adults want you to knock before entering their rooms too. These systems have helped to create general ways of being. They have helped you define the parameters in which you live. This is great…right?… Well, yes…until we get deep into our adulthood and we realize that our old systems no longer apply…
I imagine it like a wave; early in life, the old system got you somewhere…but then it hit a crescendo.. and after a certain critical mass, the system no longer worked anymore, in fact, it took a downward turn and started to work against you.. but you may not have fully noticed this yet.
Most often, the System Update I help my clients with is focused around self-talk-that is, how you talk to yourself in your own mind. Many of my clients show up with a harsh internal dialogue, like:
“I know I need to just suck it up….
“I am being a baby about it”…
“I am just being stupid”…
“I really shouldn’t complain”…
I often find people with this kind of self-talk usually have had one of two experiences in the past:
- They may have been talked to in this way by another person, or witnessed other people talking like this, so this language was role modeled to them, or
- The person started to say these things to themselves with the hopes that this would help motivate them to be different…. and maybe, at least one time, it worked.
If you think about it now, telling yourself that you are “stupid” is not a motivator at all. But, perhaps at one point in your life it was. We repeat patterns of thought or behavior because it at one time it provided some sort of payoff. We tend to continue to do things that provide us with something in return. Even if the return was negative, we, at the time, may have perceived it as positive. Think about a child who acts out. When the child acts out, he gets the mother’s attention. It may be negative attention, as in, she starts to yell at him, but to the child attention of any kind may be a payoff.
If you are someone with negative self-talk, think about what point in your life talking to yourself negatively had some sort of payoff. Sometimes you really need to think about what you needed most at the time in your life the pattern first started. Did you need to fit in, so is that why you started to talk to yourself in this way? Did it keep you separate from others, thereby keeping you safe? Did it at one point actually motivate you? What was the original payoff?
And now think of the current payoff… is it still helping you?
Let me give you a hint- the correct answer is “NO!”
Negative self-talk does not help, it does not motivate, it does not stop you from becoming complacent, it does not keep you moving forward.
Negative self-talk does, however, contribute to depression, anxiety, feeling different or left out, and an overall level of disappointment and discontentment.
Would you ever talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself? Would you talk to a child the way you talk to yourself? If you are horrified by even thinking of speaking the way you do to yourself to other people, then it is time for a system update, my friend!
So let’s update that system. Talking down to yourself doesn’t work. It is time to start to support yourself, give yourself encouragement, and even talk yourself through the tough times.
Before I close this post, I want to talk about one more facet of the System Update, because it is one I have been seeing a lot lately: beliefs about people and social situations that continue to keep you isolated or alone.
So some common negative belief systems that hold people back from branching out socially are beliefs like:
“People only want to talk about themselves”…
“Adults don’t look for new friends, they all have their friends already”…
“Married people just want to be with their spouses”…
“People suck and are completely selfish”…
So, given what I have already outlined, you can see how these belief systems are limiting and outdated. Most of the time, these kind of belief systems are born out of a hurtful experience, or even multiple hurtful experiences. Since we were taught to apply what we learned from one situation to others, it makes sense that when we are hurt by someone we have a tendency to believe others will hurt us too. There is a natural recoil that happens within us after we have been hurt and this is a helpful protective mechanism. But just like any protector, it is meant to be used temporarily to help us through and to help us heal. After we heal, we can hang up the protectors and continue to move forward in life. This is the step that most people get caught up in; they hang onto the protectors and never fully re-engage in life again.
So let’s talk about holding onto the protective belief system way past the time of needing the protection…clearly a system that needs updating! The update needed here is about seeing each situation as unique, rather than a belief of “hurt once, hurt always.” Just because one woman hurt you, does not mean all women will hurt you. Just because two of your ex’s cheated, does not mean that every relationship you have will end in cheating.
I think most of you can see and understand why living with these broad generalizations are not helpful. With this example, though, I want to go a step further….
Sometimes when we have a belief system, we want to re-enforce it, kind of like saying to yourself: “What I believe is right, let me prove it!” One way we do this, is to start to fit what we see happening around us into the belief system. It is like the belief system becomes a filter in which all of life is seen through so that current situations are seen as continued confirmation that the belief system is right.
As an example…”I believe people are selfish. This belief is born from my experiences of feeling hurt when I did not feel like a priority to my friends. So now, I see all situations in a way that confirms my belief. I see the person who cut in front of me to get that parking spot as selfish… I see my co-workers as selfish when they come over to share about what they did for the weekend … I see people who donate or volunteer as just wanting to feed their own egos…”
See the danger here?
Maybe the person who took the parking spot had an elderly parent in the front seat who can not walk far distances… Maybe the person who was sharing about himself was trying to create more of a personal relationship with me.. and maybe the people who donate or volunteer for a cause have been personally affected by the issue they are trying to help…
So, the System Update really has two parts.. one is identifying the system that needs to be updated, and then, just to be thorough, look for the ways in which you have viewed current events in such a way as to fit into the system, rather then to update the system altogether.
All in all, updating your system will likely be about moving out of a black or white belief system (that was likely born out of childhood), bringing it into a more grey understanding of the world. This may include seeing each situation that arises as its own unique experience, and trusting yourself to use your best judgment to deal with each event as it arises. Finally, I encourage you to be aware of the ways you may have shaded or skewed your perception of current events to further confirm an old belief system.
System Updates feel like a great topic to look at as we close out 2016 and move ahead to 2017!
What internal systems do you need to update to create a more peaceful, accepting, loving, and content presence in the world?
I always love to hear your feedback! Please feel free to share in the comments below 🙂