“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ~Unknown
I grew up believing that nothing I did was ever good enough, and this is something that I still carry with me.
It affects every aspect of my life: my hobbies, skills, my relationships, and even the understanding I have of my body, physical appearance, and my mental health. I often think that I must have done something quite terrible in a past life to go through any of this, to not be good enough.
As certain as I’ve been of this, I’ve been sure I wasn't responsible for these attitudes and beliefs. That other people did this to me, so I literally can’t let go of the pain they caused. They hurt me too much, did too much damage for me to confront them, stand up to them, and forgive them.
But blaming others hasn’t helped me move on and become the person I want to be.
It’s helped me stay a victim, sure—got me some sympathetic ears along the way—but it hasn't helped me get out of bed with a smile every morning for the past twenty-odd years. It’s made me feel sluggish and sick to my stomach whenever the thoughts and memories worked their way into my consciousness.
There’s no mystery to the way I think. Negative thinking is exactly that: negative. However, understanding negative thoughts is paramount to overcoming them.It’s taken me a while to connect with the idea that the harmful actions of others has shaped my thinking; and it’s taken me just as long to realize that it’s time to let go.
Change can come quickly but more often it’s a gradual process in which we endure and learn many lessons. I don’t want to feel like this anymore so I have to start changing my attitudes.
Attitudes I’m Changing
1. I’m a waste of time.
Not true. I make a difference simply by being; and because I’m a strict vegetarian and an environmental and animal welfare campaigner, I know I make a positive difference. My close friends wouldn’t consider me a waste of time. Even though I find it difficult to believe sometimes, they do value my ideas and opinions and they love my company.
2. Nothing that I do is good enough.
My ideas of perfection aren’t mine; those ideas belong to other people. How can I ever live up to someone else’s perfection? I can’t. There are many things I can do with great success, but in order to make those achievements real for me, I have to define my own perfection: peanut butter on toast, growing my own fruit and vegetables, the smell of freshly baked vegan cookies, writing off the cuff and producing lucid prose.
3. I deserve pain.
No, I don’t. Nobody does. There’s a difference between accepting responsibility for how you think about hurtful things other people have done, and taking the blame for those actions. I’ve not done anything to deserve the things that have happened to me.
4. I’ll never be happy.
Not with that attitude I won’t, but then aren’t I already happy? I may not have all the things I want yet, like my dream job, but I do have a lot of other things in my life that mean a lot to me: my friends, my home, my cat, my family, waking up to the river every morning, my floating garden (I live on a boat), my creativity.
Happiness comes from the small things—it comes from inside of me. I don’t buy happiness or find it or receive it; I make it, for myself and others.
The fact that people sometimes hurt other people won’t change. My attitudes that have left me open to suffering —my attitudes—will change.
It’s taking time to work through these things and I don’t expect to be finished by next Monday, but that’s what I love about change and self-improvement—there’s no pressure to be complete tomorrow. I can do it all at my own pace, in a way that suits me. I’m a work in progress. And that gives me a lot of hope.