February 6, 2016

Our Toxic Mantras Don’t Belong to Us.


“I’m unlovable.”

“I’m not smart.”

“I’m worthless.”

We all have those nagging thoughts about ourselves that we’ve been holding on to for years and years. You know, the ones we would never share with others and try to avoid admitting to ourselves. And yet they play a big part in how we think and act.

We all internalize messages that we receive from the outside world, eventually leading us to spend our lives believing that they are true—that we are inherently flawed in some way. Some of us may have heard these messages as children, while others pick them up as adults when the going gets rough along the way. Yet we may have never examined our assumption that these messages are true.

Each day, we receive endless communication from every direction, from Hollywood movies to Facebook ads, asking us to mold ourselves into a desirable marketable product. Our school teachers and sports coaches tell as we didn’t perform our best. Our significant others tell us we aren’t playing our parts well enough. There are countless ads selling us products and services to help us turn our deepest insecurities into makeover success stories. Our perceptions of ourselves are shaped and constantly reconfirmed by our confused marketing-driven world and the people around us.

And as a result of these messages, we spend our time running in circles seeking money, accomplishment, praise or Facebook “likes” trying to feel better about our perceived inherent flaws. While this forward-momentum can make us feel accomplished, it can also rob us of an internal sense of okay-ness. The external validation we seek is driven by our belief that we are not simply “good enough” as we are. An assumption that feels so real, and so unbearable, that we spend our time and energy trying to hide our flaws and fix ourselves rather than examining its validity.

What if we, you and I and everyone else, is already perfect as we are? No need to fix perceived flaws and no need to live up to others’ projections of what constitutes “good enough.”

I am not suggesting that we all stop working toward our own goals of bettering our world or ourselves. Rather, I believe we can save the stress and wasted energy of repeating these negative messages to ourselves, as if we need these unhelpful mantras as a means of self-punishment or misguided motivation.

Rather than accepting our beliefs as fact, we could change everything by examining these internalized messages, rather than being pushed around by a world that is all-too-eager to point fingers and name flaws. We may find that we are not inherently flawed. In fact, we have mistaken the effect as the cause. We are fine and always have been. Our existences and perceived flaws are not something to be fixed by means of the latest self-help advice fad around. We can collectively and individually relax.

We may believe that the world has been giving us our own personalized message about the ways in which we are flawed, and repeatedly reinforced it over time. But, in fact, we likely internalized these messages a long time ago, and have continued to act in a way that has allowed us to reinforce our own internalized beliefs without question. The world no longer has to tell us we aren’t enough. We do it ourselves.

We must slow down and look at our deepest fears closely enough to realize that having been misunderstood or mistreated by others us doesn’t mean that we deserved it. Nor does it mean that we have to believe it, and continue to internalize those messages as a result. Allowing ourselves this type of introspective observation could spare each of us a lot of needless suffering and wasted energy.

In order to begin to unwind these beliefs, we must be willing to patiently and nonjudgmentally spend time with our thoughts and actions, examining the assumptions we have allowed to become habit. Is it possible to stop repeating our toxic mantras to ourselves? We can be as accepting of and gentle with ourselves as we are with others, and as a result we will start to neutralize the effect these messages have on our lives.

In each moment, we have a choice. We can continue to reinforce these messages for ourselves, binding us in painful patterns, or we can learn to think and act in a different and less self-punishing way, reducing the power that these messages have over us.




Author: Tai Pimputkar

Editor: Travis May

Image: Flickr/Youssef Hanna

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