Friday, 18 August 2023 10:42

How Our Thoughts Can Hinder or Heal

I was probably 12 or 13 years old when it started. I was sitting at the kitchen table in my childhood home, feeling left out, depressed, and envious. Nanny was in the living room with my younger sister and brother, and they were joking and giggling about something. I don’t recall what they were laughing about, and I don’t think it was at my expense, but at that moment I told myself no one loved me and I didn’t belong. 

Twenty-five years later and I am remembering that day in the kitchen and how that misguided thought changed everything about the choices I made and the directions I went in my life.

As an overthinker and highly sensitive person, thoughts like that tend to expand until they are out of control. By the time I reached middle school, I had no self-esteem or confidence to try anything that was challenging. I was afraid of failing and making myself even more unlovable. I didn’t do well in my classes and didn’t put in much effort. But luckily, I had a teacher in 8th grade who believed in me and told me I was smart and capable of doing anything I wanted if I tried. 

Her words stayed with me over the summer before high school, and I felt encouraged to start the school year with the goal of taking copious notes, acing all tests, and getting A’s on my report cards. The effort and work paid off. I got positive attention from my family, especially my dad, who had gone through so much after my mom died. He was finally proud of me and I wanted to continue to make him happy.  

By the end of my freshmen year, I had become obsessed with my grades and having the highest ones possible. My thoughts turned dark again. If I got anything less than an A, I berated myself by saying things like, “You are stupid, dumb, worthless, and you won’t amount to anything.” These harsh thoughts continued, but they didn’t stop with grades. The thoughts transitioned over to my body. 

I had always been tall and a “little on the hefty side” as Nanny used to say. My first diet was at nine years old, but I failed at it. I tried again at age 12 and failed then too, disappointing Nanny s second time. At 15, I had a little more will-power, and I thought I could perhaps succeed at the diet and finally lose some weight. 

But, the combination of perfectionism, eagerness to please, and desperation to be loved and accepted were ingredients for a potentially deadly eating disorder. I went the extreme route of starving myself and over exercising. I got the compliments and approval at first, but soon the glee in my family’s eyes turned to concern. I was going too far in my endeavors for the perfect body, and was eventually diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Yet the thoughts told me that I would never be skinny enough.

After years of reflection, therapy, and writing, I realized that on the outside it was about my body, but what I really was after was the guaranteed love and acceptance from my family. I didn’t feel that I had it, and if I did, it was precarious at best. 

And it all began that day in the kitchen, overhearing my family’s laughter, and telling myself I didn’t belong and wasn’t loved. The saying goes, “You are what you think” and from personal experience that is true. For most of my life I have felt unworthy of anyone’s time and attention. It’s why I didn’t go to my college or graduate school ceremony. It’s why I didn’t have a bachelorette party or bridal shower for my wedding. It might even be why I couldn’t love my husband in the way he needed during our marriage. The problem was always inside of myself. 

But with time and conscious decision making, I have learned to recognize when the negative thoughts creep in and go a different route. I try to be more compassionate with myself. Now my thoughts tell me that there is no proof of any of this negative stuff I am thinking. If I say, “I will never meet someone again.” I ask myself, “Can I prove this? Is this actually guaranteed?” and the more rational side of my brain knows the answer is, “NO of course there is no proof that I’ll be alone the rest of my life. I have a lot of life to live and no one knows who or what is out there.” 

Remember that thoughts do have an impact on the feelings you have for yourself and, in turn, create actions that try to align with those feelings. If they are negative, then negative actions will follow. However, if they are positive then the opposite is true. Make a conscious effort to recognize self-sabotaging thoughts, feelings, and actions and make the steps to change, one day at a time.

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