What Was That You Said?
When we were children, we all heard the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It is a good thing for children (and adults) to learn that what others say to them or about them should not affect how they feel about themselves, but it is rarely as easy as simply disregarding negativity from others.
In her talk “The Words We Tell Ourselves,” guest speaker and Unity Spiritual Center congregant Erin Donovan reminds us that we must be mindful of internalizing negative outside influences into limiting self-talk.
When we are very young children, we do not have any thoughts of ourselves as being “less than” or lacking in any way. As we mature, our parents, siblings, teachers and peers provide needed guidance, first on how to actually survive, but also on how to be a productive and well mannered member of society. Our elders teach us many important things, such as the “three R’s,” personal hygiene, etiquette, and the Golden Rule. But they also teach us other things, often unintentionally, that are not so healthy.
In all societies throughout history, there has been some conception of an “ideal” person. Such a person looks, acts, and speaks in a prescribed socially acceptable manner. Deviation from the norm is often seen as a personal failing of the individual, morally wrong, or even dangerously rebellious. The problem is, that such norms are not universally agreed upon, and even so, they are constantly changing.
In modern society we are exposed to images of beauty standards, and the idea that to be happy we must have more. When we fall short of these ideals, and we all do, that is when judgments begin, both from others and from ourselves. When we are children and adolescents, we are particularly influenced by the opinions of our peers. We would like to think that as we mature this influence is diminished. But for many people, it is not so easy to discard wanting to “fit in.”
There is an old saying, attributed to many but whose source is anonymous, “When I was twenty, I cared very much what other people thought about me. When I was forty, I no longer cared what other people thought about me. When I was sixty, I finally realized that most people have never been thinking about me all along.” This may be an over simplification, but there is much truth to it.
Does this mean that we should not care at all what others think of us? Well, that is certainly open for debate. In a spiritual context, we can say yes. In our essence, we are “whole, holy, and perfect,” therefore we know the Truth about ourselves and the opinions of others are irrelevant. But we must consider that in order for us to manifest all that we can become in this life, we must interact with other people. I suppose if one’s idea of being their best is to be a hermit, human interaction is not necessary, but I think it is not a stretch to say 99.99999% of people will not do that.
In a practical context, what others think of us actually does matter to a degree. For example, if we believe that not attending to personal hygiene is our path in life, that is certainly our right. However, we should not be surprised, offended, or feel we have been wronged if others do not want to be around us. Or if we express ourselves using vulgar language in a job interview, regardless of our qualifications, we are very unlikely to receive an offer of employment.
There are many other examples of judgments that could be given that do effect our ability to function within society. But that is not what is most important to what Erin was speaking about or this blog attempts to address. What is important, as the title of her talk states, are the words we tell ourselves.
Humans, and all other living things now or ever, have evolved to survive. Finding food, protection from elements, avoiding predators and reproduction are the baseline of existence. As such, our early ancestors were not concerned about being “less than,” but merely staying alive for one more day. As a result, as a species we have developed an important natural instinct for self-preservation that necessitates that we focus on what could possibly go wrong, not what might possibly go right.
Imagine the following. You are an early hominid on the savannah of Africa walking near some tall reeds. You see a rustling in the bushes. The movement could be caused by the wind, or it could be a lion waiting to pounce. If you assume a lion and run away but it was just the wind, there is no harm done, you survive. This is a “false positive,” or type 1 error. However, if you assume it is caused by the wind and it was in fact a lion, you are lunch. This is a “false negative,” or type 2 error. We have inherited from our ancestors this instinct for caution.
We want to remain safe, and are much more willing to make a type 1 error. While our actual survival may rarely be at stake, our desire to remain safe persists. If you are unhappy in your job, it is safer to remain where you are than put together your resume and explore other opportunities. Or if you are fearful of relationships, it is safer not to make your feelings known to another, even though that means you may be alone. It is in situations like these, and others, that we engage in negative self-talk in order to remain safe.
Unity and other New Thought philosophies teach a concept known as “positive affirmation.” This is a process by which we speak aloud or silently to ourselves statements that encourage us to hold in our consciousness that which we wish to manifest into our lives. Because of the instinct for caution imprinted in our DNA, overcoming negative self-talk is extremely difficult. While using the power of positive affirmation is by no means a magic bullet to all of the sudden gives us the confidence we never had, it does have the effect of occupying our mind with a vision of how we wish to be.
A common criticism of the idea of positive affirmation is that we are lying to ourselves. When we make an affirmation and we do not really believe it, it is often the first step into examining our beliefs about ourselves. Why do I believe that I cannot lose the weight I need to? Why do I believe that I am not valuable to any other employer? Why must I remain without a life partner? The affirmation itself does not make the vision so. What it does is bring an awareness to the channel of Divine wisdom that is always available to us. When we focus on what we want, rather than what is missing, we will begin to take the actions necessary to make the vision manifest in the physical.
Erin shared with us a quotation from The Quest, by Richard and Mary-Alice Jofalla, published by Unity Press.
The words you use today are the very cause of maintaining our state of consciousness. Today’s words are tomorrow’s reality.
This week’s scripture is the biblical version of The Golden Rule – Love your neighbor as yourself. This Truth teaching assumes, however, that we actually love ourselves. For the most part we do love ourselves. But when we engage in negative self-talk, it can be an indication that we still have yet to fully embrace the Christ within us.
If we are to truly love our neighbor as ourselves, it must start with recognizing and accepting that we are made “in God’s image” and therefore so is everyone else. This does not imply we can be indifferent to or ignore areas in our own lives or of those around us that may need improvement, but simply says that as we work to reduce negative self-talk we can begin to move toward that which we desire, rather than away from that which we do not.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31
Spend the week being very careful with the words you say to yourself. Take five minutes each day to use the “I Choose” statement for things you hope for in your life every single day.
This week, whenever I catch myself thinking or saying something about myself that is less than complimentary, I will stop, breathe, and say to myself, “this is not the Truth of me.”