Written by: John Glass
Our mind, can be our worst enemy or our greatest ally.
You see, our mind, has developed patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that we have carried us from a very young age. We have developed them by listening and observing others.
Our family, most likely has been the strongest influence on our patterns. As we listened to, interact with and watched our parents display their own patterns during situations, with us, and others in their life. Our mind began to build the foundation of our own future patterns.
Along come our peers. During adolescents we generally change focus from our parents to our peers. We want to look “cool” in front of our friends so we make the changes necessary to our patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Thus, our peers begin to influence the development of our patterns.
Along with peers is society at large. Society influences our patterns as we develop. Sometimes in ways unknowing to us. Society directs us to be the person society would like us to be. Society, through media, organizations, and etc. works to mold us so that we may fit into our “boxes.”
There is a statistic that 1 in 5 children are abused. Abuse during childhood can play a huge role in one’s development of ineffective patterns. Patterns that are used to cope and survive during a time that they are encountering very hurtful scenarios. The abuse could be physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, verbal, or etc. Whatever form the abuse takes, it most likely will affect one’s patterns.
As we develop, our newly found foundation of patterns begins to become our standard way of interacting with the world around us. Unknowing to us, our mind has set these patterns into place. Whether they are effective or ineffective. It doesn’t matter to our mind, these become our patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Now, the issue that tends to occur with these patterns is that they tend to be ineffective as one gets older. They can become outdated patterns as an adult, yet the problem is that our minds hate change.
Therefore, the mind resists changing when presented with new patterns. It fights us to ensure that change doesn’t take place. It will tell us lies about how we cannot change or that some extreme thing may occur if we do.
This was one of my greatest challenges when I began the road to recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder. Commonly called PTSD. My mind hated the idea that I was working to make necessary changes within my thinking, my feeling, and my doing.
One session, as I sat there with my therapist she was working to help me see how I had accomplished so much in my life. She was working to get me to a place of gratitude about my life. Gratitude about even the littlest things.
I sat there listening to her and myself as we talked about things I had in my life. Yet, my thoughts (my inner critic) continuously was saying, “That is not enough for you to amount to anything in life. Nothing you do will ever be enough. You are just not good enough, let it go.”
Sounds all doom and gloom, but it is not. There is an amazing thing about our human minds. Our patterns of thinking, feeling, and doing are not permeant. No matter what our mind tells us. If we choose to make the changes necessary, it is possible to change our patterns. It can be challenging, but it is so rewarding in the end.
Our mind has the ability to make the changes necessary to create effective patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
You see, these three main aspects of human nature, flow together. They are like gears in a machine. If your thoughts begin to turn then your behaviors and emotions will also begin to turn.
It is because of this that it is important to work at changing all three.
One large part that requires some change first is one’s thinking. Working to change your thinking form a unproductive thinking to a productive thinking is the foundation of changing your emotions and behaviors.
As men we find ourselves being pushed into a box that has been created not by us but by those around us. We are constantly told what we “should be or do” or what we “shouldn’t be or do” all because we are men. Women have the same thing, but this article is focused on men.
We live under constant pressure that we must measure up to the unrealistic standards set for men. We are measured in society by our wealth, success, and conquests.
Due to this, our minds are in constant battle. We have waged war with our reality and the “shoulds.”
For instance, many of us use internally negative talk. Sometimes because we think it motivates us. Sometimes because it is the voice of someone from our past or present. Yet, the consequences of such talk can be destructive to our self. This negative talk can bring us down to a depressed state. We think that we are not living up to the standards of our “shoulds.”
A reality is that men have the highest successful suicide attempts. Meaning men complete suicide more than their female counterparts. There might be a connection of suicide and the way we see ourselves in comparison to what others are telling us we “should” be.
If the thought is that you are not living up to what you ought to be, then your worth becomes very low.
Reflecting on the patterns of thoughts. Living through the “shoulds” of others one has developed unproductive patterns of thoughts. We beat ourselves up consistently for not fulfilling our “shoulds” as a man. “I should be perfect.”, “I should be a success.”, or “I should have the girl I want.”, “I should be like all those other men I see with beautiful women and successful careers.”
Here is the good news brothers. We can change this. We have the power within our minds to make the changes within ourselves. Allowing us to no longer be forced into a box full of “shoulds.” To no longer, as my therapist said, “shoulding” all over ourselves.
I do not know about your “shoulds,” but one of the greatest shoulds I have lived with is that “I should be perfect in everything I do.” This should was at the core of everything I did.
My shoulds were connected to my needs. At least what I thought were my needs. The need for validation, the need for people to like me, the need to be seen as the most amazing man ever, the need to belong, the need to be desired, and many other “needs”.
The problem is that this should, just like many of the other “shoulds” would get stuck in my head. When I found myself to be not so perfect, my brain would take hold. It would constantly ruminate over what I said, what I did, or what I didn’t do.
I would lie awake at night thinking over everything that happened in the day. I would be analyzing my conversations to see where I messed up so that I can better myself next time. I would think about how I may have offended this person, so now they may not like me. This behavior went on for years of my life.
Through time, help, and learning I have been able to manage and change my shoulds, as well as my needs. The best feeling I ever gained was the feeling that I no longer lived in the world of shoulds. I no longer strived to live a life, centered around a box of “shoulds” men are told to be.
I want to pass on some ways that I found to be helpful on managing thoughts and begin to change them.
Here is what worked for me:
- Inner critic. This is a visualization exercise. First, close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, clear your mind, feel your weight on your seat, feel your existence, allow your body to relax. First think of an auditorium. Your own personal auditorium. All the lights are off. You are standing in the center of the floor with a spotlight on you. Listen for your inner critic. Listen for their criticizing voice. Do you hear them? Good, give them a name. Call them down to where you are. Here you are face to face with your inner critic. Begin to ask them questions: who are you?, why do you say the things you say?, do you not understand the effect you are having on me?, ask them any other questions you want answered.
This process helps you to separate your thoughts from your reality. During the next few days when you hear your inner critic speak up. Go to your auditorium. Call them out. Question them. Dialogue with them. I suggest you write it out and do this for about 5 to 10 mins.
- Questioning your thoughts. When you begin to have that negative self-talk in your head begin to question it. Questions like: “What is the evidence for this?”, “Is this always true?”, “What are the odds of this really happening (or being true)?”, “Are you looking at the whole picture?”, “What is the very worst that could happen? What is so bad about that? What would you do if the worst happened?” Ask these questions search for the evidence of your thoughts. Look for the truth of your thoughts.
- Revise your thought. On a piece of paper write your thought at the time. Then underneath your thought, draw a line down the middle of the paper. Separating it into two columns. On the left side title that as Advantage. On the right side title that as Disadvantage. Begin listing all the advantages to holding such a thought. Also, list all the disadvantages of holding this thought. After you have done this revise your thought showing yourself more self-compassion. Then repeat the columns for this thought.
Remember, your thoughts are not your reality. You can make the changes necessary to rid yourself of any unproductive patterns of thought you may have.
Look for my next two pieces on managing our emotions and behaviors.
originally posted on: The Good Men Project