Every single one of us is guilty of treating ourselves poorly at some point during our lives. Unfortunately, some of us are guilty of doing it for long periods of time.
Common examples are continually frustrated, easily angered, forever unforgiving, always stressed, resentful towards others, constantly jealous, hateful in general, behaving cruelly, commonly abusive, insecurity issues, plagued by fear, dishonest to oneself, lack of self-respect, living in denial, self-victimized and frequently down or sad.
The mind is a very powerful tool and if used inappropriately it can be very damaging to oneself.
Therefore, these states of being are negative and disharmonious vibrations which have significant impacts on our health. Sometimes these states can even lead to serious physical and mental health complications; they are dis-ease, which consequently lead to disease.
It’s an epidemic in our society to think and feel negatively about ourselves. This can manifest in plethora of ways, such as being overly critical about whom we are, including certain elements of our development.
Even though it is true that all of us have ways in which we need to learn and grow, it’s a factor of life that never ends. We never actually reach an ideal self: it’s a journey of self-healing and self-development, not a destination. So if we harshly criticize ourselves for being underdeveloped in certain ways, then we’re destined to do that throughout our entire lives.
This is simply not fair to us. If we want to develop certain aspects of ourselves, that’s okay, but not when we beat ourselves up about it.
Sometimes our self-harming thoughts and feelings were birthed from childhood trauma. At others they might be the result of our environmental influences, such as learning them off our parents, or a product of social pressures regarding image, success and self-worth. Our chemical make-up too could also have been an influential factor.
Regardless of the exact sources and mechanisms of our self-harming behaviors, ultimately we have the responsibility to take care of ourselves once we reach adulthood. If we’ve been living in this rut for a long period of time, we need to accept that it was our choice to continue that way.
The beneficial aspect of embracing this truth is that it’s self-empowering to take ownership of how we treat ourselves.
When our self-harm becomes a serious health issue, sometimes we are diagnosed with a disorder and prescribed medication. However, drugs aren’t the cure to these dysfunctional psychological states, they are simply a tool that assists a productive chemical balance so that the issue is easier to live with whilst we look for and undertake ways to resolve it.
What actually cures most, but not all, dysfunctional mental states is effective psychotherapy. Usually it is reserved for a professional to guide, however that is for severe cases or when a person can actually access them.
The truth is we can undertake psychotherapy on ourselves. We in fact already do it. Every time we have had insight into a problematic state of mind and undertook changes to remove or alter it, it was literally psychotherapy in action.
For example, if we realized that we were way too angry and then transformed into a more cool, calm and collected person, we have developed our internal and external behaviors. We healed and grew ourselves.
This is a primary focus that we should always have in our adult lives. In what ways do we need to learn, heal and grow so that we become more functional and content people, both for ourselves and those around us? How long have we maintained these self-harming behaviors? Isn’t it about time that we resolved these issues? Don’t we deserve that?
Everybody deserves to be free of self-harm, especially because it’s all too common to project it onto others in uncompassionate and abusive ways. Therefore, once it’s removed, it’s a win/win.
So if our self-harming isn’t a serious detriment to our health and a professional isn’t required, how do we undertake psychotherapy on ourselves? It’s easier than you might think, so just follow this simple formula:
- Identify the self-harming behavior.
- Identify the behavior you want to replace it with.
- Catch yourself out when you are self-harming in that way.
- Immediately replace the self-harming behavior with its alternative.
- Repeat until the self-harming behavior has been permanently transcended.
This is a very simplified way of understanding it, but this is literally how psychotherapy works.
We are not only redesigning how we think, but also rewiring our neurological pathways in our cerebral brain (which contains 100 billion neurons), our digestive brain (which contains 100 million neurons) and our heart brain (which contains 40 thousand neurons). Because of this physiological rechannelling, we can understand why it takes continued attempts to make it a permanent feature of who we are.
Yet if we continually repeat the practice, it becomes hardwired and therefore our conditioned response.
A good representation for self-administered psychotherapy is when we go to bed at night. Sometimes we have something on our mind and it keeps cycling over and over again, ensuring that we don’t fall to sleep.
Our response is to think ‘stop thinking’, so that we do fall asleep. We do that, the thoughts come back, we do it again, the thoughts come back, we do it again and then somewhere along the way the cycle is broken, and we stop thinking and fall asleep.
The continued process of forcing ourselves to think a certain way – because we have the insight to want to change and grow ourselves – is literally redesigning our thoughts and rewiring our neurology. Of course it won’t change overnight, like in the case of falling asleep, but if we vigilantly remain focused on changing one state of our mind to another state, it will happen.
In terms of more complex dysfunctional mind states – such as depression – it’s helpful to revert to our philosophical beliefs. For example, when we feel sad, we contextualize that sadness into a bigger philosophical picture which can over time help us to feel happier and therefore have a good chemical balance.
That philosophical picture can be something simple like “I believe that I am fortunate to have access to food, water, shelter and the other basic necessities of life, something that many other people in this world aren’t so fortunate to have”. Or it could be of a spiritual nature, such as “I am meant to have this experience to help me become a stronger person”.
No matter what we choose, when we constantly remind ourselves of the bigger picture, we have a different style of thinking which is more grateful, inevitably leading to greater happiness and contentment. It is a huge mistake to think that pharmaceutical drugs are what cures depression; as mentioned it can help temporarily, but a positive mental landscape will inevitably lead to positive chemical production.
Regardless, the same principle is being applied; we continually change the way that we think, which changes the way that we feel, which changes the way that we think, and so on. Eventually, after some hard yards, we will have reached our desired state of being.
The scientific term which describes this physiological transformation is neuroplasticity, which effectively means neurological pathways are capable of changing, even after the cerebral brain stops naturally growing at the age of around 25 years. The psychological term for this change is of course, psychotherapy.
Ultimately, if we want to get out of the rut of self-harming thoughts and feelings, we can. It’s a challenging process and certainly tests us to our limits, but with enough persistence, commitment, sacrifice, courage, will and strength, it will happen.
Our health and happiness depends on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phillip J Watt lives in Australia. He best identifies as a ‘self-help guide’. His written work deals with topics from ideology to society, as well as self-development. Follow him on Facebook or visit his website.
©2015 The Mind Unleashed, Inc, all rights reserved. For permission to re-print this article contact [email protected] , or the respective author.
Featured image: Illustrations by Jean-François Podevin