The author of this piece is MenLiving friend and Positive Masculinity Coach, Lark Ericson, RN, LF,
In a world overflowing with information we find ourselves just trying to keep our heads above water perpetually caught in the crossfire of data and dilemmas. It’s exhausting but a part of our survival as individuals is to make sense out of our world and therefore we have to give the situations that arise meaning. It’s a daily balancing act trying to keep order amongst all the chaos and on the most primal level our unconscious is constantly asking these two questions: What does it all mean? And, of course, the follow-up: What does this say about me?
We ask ourselves these questions unconsciously about everything. If you choose a burger instead of a salad does it mean you are extra hungry today or are you failing at your health goals? When someone smiles at you are they just being nice or do they like you?
Depending on the meaning you ascribe to anything you can then either have a positive or negative experience. Our thoughts, moods, and inevitably lives predictably follow whatever arbitrary meaning we’ve given to any situation. Here’s an easy test to figure out where you are making the wrong meanings in your life. Where in your life do you feel shittiest? Seriously, it’s that easy.
But it’s a lot harder to change your perspective and your life once you recognize that you might be part of the problem. First you have to get good at recognizing your weak spots and then actually practice reframing your automatic thoughts.
It’s likely that there are a few areas in your life that you feel insecure but for this article I’ll focus on relationships. Here are a few examples of relationship insecurities that my clients have shared and how to break them down to separate the situation from its meaning.
Situation # 1:
You texted a friend a few days ago but you haven’t heard back yet.
Meaning about the situation: Your friend is busy and has more important things to do.
Meaning about you: Your friend doesn’t like you any more and is ghosting you.
Reality: YOU DON’T KNOW
Situation # 2:
You had a great date and even kissed goodnight but it’s been hard to plan another date.
Meaning about the situation: This person is dating a lot or didn’t actually have fun on your date.
Meaning about you: This person isn’t interested in you.
Reality: YOU DON’T KNOW
Situation # 3:
Your partner has been on their phone a lot more than usual.
Meaning about the situation: These are signs of cheating.
Meaning about you: They don’t love you anymore.
Reality: YOU DON’T KNOW
You might be thinking, “but I did have that experience and the person was cheating on me or ghosting me or whatever so why shouldn’t I believe that is the case now?”
Two reasons: past experiences do not dictate the future, and since you don’t know what is really going on, why give it a terrible meaning that is just going to make you feel worse?
I had low self-esteem for the majority of my life and because of that I painted every situation to fit that narrative. In any situation where I felt the slightest bit dejected I would make it mean that I wasn’t likable and was too weird to make friends. I spent years doing my psyche far worse damage by the things I would say to myself then the perceived slights from other people ever could.
But now I know so many tools to help me sort these thoughts out. So again, I ask you to take a look at your life and find the areas you feel shittiest. It hurts to do but it gets you to the heart of the matter. This exercise will help you gain control of your thoughts and emotions. In the beginning it may help to write these out so you can see the process change before your eyes but after a while it will become automatic.
- When a situation happens and those hurtful thoughts and feelings come in, write down the situation objectively. Don’t use any emotions or thoughts just what happened. “She didn’t text me back”.
- Then write down all of the ways it makes you feel and what you think it means about you. “I’m a loser, and she doesn’t want to see me again”.
- Then take each one of those thoughts and write down what might really be going on. “I am great, but maybe I’m just not the right person for her. Maybe she is interested but is working and can’t text back”.
- Then let the calmness of knowing YOU DON’T KNOW settle over you.
Let the situation breathe and transpire however it’s going to play out without your chaotic thoughts and emotions interfering. Don’t make matters worse by making up terrible stories that are only going to hurt yourself more. If you do this practice regularly you will start to feel more in control of your thoughts and emotions which will change your perspective. And if you change your perspective you change your life.