By Daniel J Benor, MD
The expectation that something bad will happen stems from the belief that something bad has happened,
neither of which, on the most fundamental level, is true.
– Alan Cohen
Our childhood experiences often shape the rest of our lives. When we have suffered from neglect, physical or emotional traumas, or abuse, we often carry the burdens of buried childhood emotions for decades after the events. This is because we bury the feelings deep below our conscious awareness, often along with the memories, so that we don’t continue as children to suffer from them.
While burying these memories protects us as children, this leaves us carrying a lot of buried ‘stuff’ that is stashed away in our unconscious mind and in our heart. Our unconscious child mind sets up programs to prevent our being hurt by these buried burdens: it leads us to stay away from anything similar to what we experienced – lest we suffer again as we had suffered before.
Barbara’s mother, abandoned by her husband when Barbara was an infant, had struggled to get by as a single mom. She was always tired, embittered, and easily angered. Barbara learned to hold her feelings and needs inside, because expressing them to her mom only brought negative reactions. Barbara struggled through life with very low expectations that anyone could like her, much less love her. She never dared to let anyone close – fearing that her worst anticipations of being rejected and abandoned would be confirmed. Her fears and her low opinions about herself led her to ‘play it safe’ and not get into relationships where she was certain she would be rejected.
Trevor’s parents, both immigrants who had suffered much throughout their lives in a war-torn country, were always critical of him, saying that they had to point out his faults so that he could improve himself. Trevor grew up feeling constantly put down and never praised for anything good. He excelled academically and over-developed is thinking functions, completely suppressing feelings. He was a highly valued salesman because he never needed outside motivation, being strongly driven by his own self-criticisms to do and achieve brilliantly – but always worrying he wasn’t performing well enough, and at the cost of not being available for his family.
Our adult experiences may leave us with negative feelings as well. We have all had experiences that we wish had never happened. Who has not wished:
- We hadn’t said something in anger to a family member, causing long-lasting pain, disappointment or resentment?
- We hadn’t turned down a particular road, where an accident occurred?
- We had said something before a family member or friend passed on, when we hadn’t told them we love them, or shared something else of heart-felt importance?
There are various ways that we may become aware of our residual negative beliefs and negative habits. Sometimes, we just get tired of behaving in ways that are counter-productive to our current situation and to our current wishes. We wake up one day and realize that ‘it’ is not just ‘happening’ to us. We must be behaving in ways that invite ‘it’ to happen.
Often it is our family and friends who make show-stopping comments or ask penetrating questions, such as: “How did you manage to find not just one or two, but your series of four of those people in a row – who all started out looking like such promising partnering material but then turned on you and became abusive?” or “Could there be anything in your presentations at work that is inviting all the criticisms you’ve had? This is the third position you’ve held where this has become an issue. Could there be something in the way that you put things to people that rubs them the wrong way?” These may at first appear to us to be criticisms, but when they are offered with love and care, and when we can see that our habitual behaviors end up getting us counter-productive, unwanted responses, we may pause long enough to re-examine our habits that are preventing us from enjoying and maximizing our potential in life.
When we begin to examine our beliefs and behaviors in such situations, we often find that we have inner life-scripts that tell us such things as, “I don’t deserve to be loved.” We may have anticipations like, “I’m sure they’ll find something wrong with my presentation.” or “The way to avoid being rejected for not being what people want me to be is to do something that will get them to reject me for what I don’t do right.”
Better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth
and utter one word – and remove the slightest doubt.
– Abraham Lincoln
Once we grasp that ways that we are feeling, believing and behaving, it is actually not that difficult to make significant shifts into better personal spaces. Once we no longer expect rejection and failure, we are much less likely to behave in ways that will bring us to that place which we fear.
Barbara came for TWR sessions after having attended a personal development workshop where she was astounded to see other people who also had fears of being rejected. It was easier for her to understand this problem in herself through the mirrors of other people’s similar beliefs, fears and behaviors. Barbara made excellent use of the TWR to clear her limiting beliefs. She was particularly responsive to doing inner child work, where she cleared her feelings while putting herself in the place of being ‘little Barbara’ – and not just remembering being little Barbara. The last I heard, she had not yet found a life partner, but she was enjoying participating in several social/ activity groups and had gone out on several dates.
Trevor was very surprised at how quickly he was able to make deep changes in his negative self-image and limiting beliefs with the help of TWR. Trevor responded well to the practice of imagined dialogues with his parents (as in Gestalt Therapy), verbalizing his more positive views vs their negative worldviews and using TWR to strengthen the positives. Within weeks he was able to shift his lifelong pattern of self-drivenness. He felt himself to be a new person, which was acknowledged by his family and by colleagues at work. He was setting more reasonable goals for himself and able to stop along the way to smell the flowers and chat with people as he never had done before.
Whenever we find ourselves blocked in our progress in life or in our enjoyment of life, be it in our personal, relational, professional or spiritual lives, TWR can help us to shift our negative beliefs and expectations. This then allows us to change our associated feelings and behaviors and to reshape our ways of relating to ourselves and others.
Your feedback on this article is welcomed.
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