Choices & Dysfunctional Beliefs

(Written in April 2003)
I’ve been reading thru Byron Katie and feeling really discouraged because her process doesn’t work for me.  I think it must operate more at a cognitive level, has to do with beliefs that are taken on later in life, not those that are set in infancy.  I think of the time when I saw that I wasn’t applying to Bowdoin because “If I get a higher degree, I’ll be so threatening that no one will marry me and my life will be wasted.” As soon as the belief was out of my mouth I could see it wasn’t true.  That sounds more like the kind of experience people are having with her.  But my belief about how deeply defective I am, how my life is miserable and it’s all my fault because I’m choosing to be unhappy with conditions that I know objectively are pretty good.  I can see intellectually how useless that belief is, how it creates my misery ——   “Who would you be if you couldn’t think that thought?” I’d be happy with my life as it is.  I wouldn’t take discouragements and setbacks as a personal affront, as indicators of how wrong and worthless I am.  I’d be like I was that short time in December when I’d stopped being afraid of making a mistake.  And I’m angry at myself for not being able to get back to that state.  Well, Katie says it’s possible to meet any thought with unconditional love.  To do that I have to get some distance.

So here’s this woman, born with a genetic predisposition to depression.  Her early childhood provides many experiences where she doesn’t get what she needs, and she comes to believe that she’s wrong for having needs.  Her parents clearly expect her to do something for them — she hasn’t a clue as to what it might be, but they are so frequently disappointed in her that she comes to believe that she’s always doing “it” wrong.  She’s just a child, she has no way to see that what they want is for her to make them feel good about themselves — which is impossible.  But she can’t see that, so she believes their unhappiness is her fault.  She’s done a lot of work in her life — a lot of therapy which she hoped would fix her — learned about what happens to children in alcoholic families, done workshops, tried medication and the first experience literally traumatized her so she’s struggling with those symptoms too.  She’s struggling and struggling in a deep pit, a black hole, quicksand, and she makes it be that it’s her fault that she can’t get out.  She should be stronger and wiser, she should just be able to walk away from these painful beliefs, like Katie did, and Tolle.  So the fact that she can’t just do that means she isn’t really trying, instead of meaning that she’s up against bigger forces — different forces — than Katie and Tolle know about.  But both of them are so sure that they’ve got the truth and their way is the one that works, and there isn’t anything that’s not amenable to their process.

Well, I see that it’s buying THIS story that’s making me miserable.  Where would I be without those thoughts?  I’d be much kinder to myself, much more patient with my difficulties.  If I take Levine’s story as the one to live by, that it’s a physiological process, not psychological, not cognitive, or emotional, or moral, just a complex and difficult physiological process that I have to come to terms with, then I’m content to keep working, patiently, with this very confusing and difficult process of staying with the physical sensations and not making myself wrong because they don’t change — when I’m stuck I need to remind myself that immobility is part of the trauma process.  I am truly paralysed, not failing to make a choice I could actually make.  I have no choice but to submit to the process as best I can, to be willing to be terrified, stuck, etc. To accept that there’s no easy way out, just this patient discipline of watching sensations in the body.  When I think that way, I notice that I’m not overwhelmed by terror any more, not blind with it, that I’m able to see the beauty of the world without the glass wall, then I see that I’ve come a long way instead of being angry at myself for not being “all better now”.  I “should” be OK now.  Haven’t I done this enough?  No.  There’s a way to go yet.  Just keep doing this process, keep paying attention to sensations in the moment, stop comparing yourself with people who get it quickly & are able to turn things around.

I “should” just be able to choose to be happy & then be happy.  It’s not fair that I have to struggle so much & others get there quickly.

Well!  There are a couple of painful beliefs that keep me stuck in misery.  I should just choose — but I don’t.  Is that because I’m perverse & really want to be miserable? Or because it’s not possible.  Which belief creates stress?  Which one frees me?  IF IT DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU, IT’S NOT TRUE FOR YOU.

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