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Love More, Try Harder: Rewriting Files of Self-Doubt

People who tell me they are in one-sided relationships often hear me say, “Oh! Love more, try harder?” It’s my way of validating a coping style often used by people when a relationship is not going well, because the other person takes but does not give.

These people often feel lonely or experience depression because the love they give is not reciprocated. Loving another person more, when they are showing less love for you, is a choice. It is also a way to cope with the fear of personal rejection.

Rejection is a nail in the coffin of believing you are not good enough. Where can you go in life, believing you have no worth? The answer is, nowhere. With this mindset, it is necessary to prioritize giving to others, so your life has meaning and you can believe you are a good person.

If these words jump off the page, then you may be thinking, “Yeah! That’s me!” You owe it to yourself to understand the reason you give more of yourself when the other person is primarily taking care of himself or herself. In an effort to help you identify why you put yourself second, I offer these words:

We don’t do things for no reason. We do things because there is a payoff.

Ask yourself what you are deriving from subjugating yourself, always trying to please the other person? Does it feel like a natural way to make yourself happy? You may be surprised to learn why you do what you do.

You aren’t born this way. Putting other people’s needs first, before your own, is taught. It takes a little digging to extract the answers and raise self-awareness about how you learned to view yourself in relation to others.

Think about your earliest experiences, in childhood, to appreciate this: The big people teach you who they expect you to be and how they expect you to act. There is a lot of reinforced conditioning that takes place. Approval is reward for good behavior when children behave as adults instruct them. Unfortunately, shaming and causing embarrassment are common methods for correcting children when they misbehave or go against the wishes of adults.

Years ago I heard a riddle: “Men die for it. Babies cry for it. What is it?” The answer is approval. It emphasizes that children rely on the messages from authority figures to know when they are good or bad.

Those of us in the behavioral health field have long known that these messages factor heavily in the formation of an individual’s identity and personality. Professionals who study the science of behavior have also identified that validation is important throughout one’s lifetime. It’s nice to feel appreciated for a job that is well done.

Personal beliefs act like software programs. They tell our brain what to do with information. People buy computers and purchase software programs based on the needs they have for these machines.

Human beings don’t get to choose their early beliefs. These are heavily influenced by adult authority figures, predominantly established in childhood. Once installed, they become habitual fixtures for the way we think. Computer programmers have mechanisms for updating software, making it current with the latest information. When people no longer need a program, because it is outdated and not serving them well, they can simply delete it.

This is not true for people. We have permanent memory. When we mature into adulthood and have different needs than those of childhood, we struggle with making changes, especially to our core beliefs. There is no delete button.

In order to update, we need to integrate our newest information with our existing thoughts about the same subjects, especially self-doubt and the views we have about ourselves. I invite my clients to “update and integrate,” as a means for embracing changes that will help them to “think differently about the same old stuff,” especially themselves.

Let’s say, for example, childhood experiences taught you to believe “I am stupid”. As a core belief about yourself, this would not serve you well and would make learning new things very difficult. You would never have chosen this for yourself. The big people may not have intended this for you either. Somehow it got filed away as a belief.

Obviously, if you thought you had a choice, the preferred programming would be, “I am smart” and “I can learn new things”. In order to update to the positive way of viewing yourself, you would have to start with an awareness and appreciation for why you thought you were stupid in the first place.

Raising awareness requires exploration of how you came to think so negatively about yourself, and who might have influenced that. Only then may you efficiently install a revision. Most people prefer to put the negative views behind them or try to get over it, without doing the awareness work. I explain that it may work for the short term but will not sustain them for the long term—in other words, it’s good, but I’ve got better!

Think about two files on your desktop. One reads “I’m stupid”. The other reads “I’m smart”. They both represent files of core beliefs but they operate independently of one another. I call this “good” because some of the time you view yourself as smart. Other times, calling yourself stupid may couch a fear of looking that way. It is protective.

Merging the files of experiences, integration, is better. All of the information from both files is available at the same time. It enables you to choose to view yourself as smart about what you know and capable of learning from what you don’t know. This is easier said than done. People who come to therapy often say to me, “Oh, just tell me how to fix it.”

Sometimes the job is too big for one person. If it were that easy, you would have done it yourself.

© Copyright 2014 by Pandora L. MacLean-Hoover, LICSW, therapist in Lexington, Massachusetts. All Rights Reserved.

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