When the pieces no longer fit

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but you can’t speak to me that way — not any longer.” She just stared at me and, though she said nothing, I knew what she was thinking. “I’ve spoken to you this way for years and you’ve never challenged me. Why the change?”

“So what is discord at one level of your being is harmony at another level.”

— Alan Watts, British-born philosopher, writer and speaker

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but you can’t speak to me that way — not any longer.”

She just stared at me and, though she said nothing, I knew what she was thinking. “I’ve spoken to you this way for years and you’ve never challenged me. Why the change?”

When I began working on my self-esteem and started to stand up for myself, something unusual began to happen. Many longstanding relationships became strained. Some even collapsed. Others had to evolve or face a similar fate. A deep-level shift was occurring.

For years I had believed I was unworthy or deserving of love and affection, so I had built relationships with people who couldn’t express love or, worse yet, took love from me but seldom gave back any in return. I also felt unworthy or deserving of success and abundance. This resulted in my holding down a series of low-paying jobs for abusive employers. An overwhelming sense of inadequacy manifested itself in the form of people-pleasing and conflict avoidance.

When I started to change my perception of myself, my own perception no longer matched up with the perception of the people around me — the people with whom I had chosen to surround myself. That created conflict — ironically, the one thing I had always sought to avoid.

Early in my self-esteem journey, I read an online article entitled The Metaphysical Minute by American best-selling author Dannye Williamsen. In the article, Williamsen said that most people’s lives are in perfect balance — harmony exists between beliefs and experience. At the time, I found the words hard to swallow. My life was a train wreck. There was no balance. Certainly no harmony as I understood the word. I realized later that what Williamsen was talking about was congruency.

Congruency is a quality of agreement, of matching. When my self-image was low, I had surrounded myself with people who agreed with me. When I began to improve my self-esteem, there was no congruency between my new self-image and the environment in which I had placed myself.

If we believe we are worthy and deserving of happiness, love and success, then we will allow experiences that support these beliefs to become part of our life experience. If we believe the opposite to be true, then we will deny ourselves those positive outcomes, and put ourselves in situations where they cannot happen. And the crazy part is we don’t even realize we’re doing it. That’s because it all happening at an unconscious level.

How did we become the hapless victim of our dysfunctional thinking and, more importantly, how can we break the cycle? In an article written for Psychology Today, marriage and family therapist Athena Staik says that a “sophisticated” communication network exists between the brain and body. The subconscious mind manages the “systemic processes” in the body but it also handles all of our personal requests, both conscious and unconscious.

According to Staik, “this vast and complex network manages the flow of information that, quite literally, shapes your behaviours and, in many ways, your life.” Our early programming creates “inner standards or rules” that in turn spark neurochemical processes that “selectively govern” our choices and actions. Says Staik: “Toxic or dysfunctional thinking is self-perpetuating.”

These processes stimulate the body’s reward or learning centres producing “feel good” feelings but also activate the body’s fear centres triggering the fight or flight response.

Put another way, if you’re not enjoying the life, love or career that you desire, it’s likely because you do not have the right “thinking patterns” needed to create optimal emotion states. Without the right set of inner standards or rules you cannot sustain positive momentum.

Says Staik: “Toxic thinking causes unhealthy levels of anxiety.” Anxious thoughts — often a misinterpretation of a perceived threat or danger — usurp energy from all bodily systems. This — says Staik — all but severs communication to the higher thinking areas of the brain. You are basically switching off learning or growth mode and switching on fear and protection mode.

So we know — in basic terms — how the system works and why our unconscious beliefs have such a profound impact on our behaviour and life experience. What happens then when we bring awareness to our thinking and begin to shift our beliefs? Quite simply, we fall out of balance — we step out of congruency. If you begin to think of yourself as worthy and deserving love and affection you may begin to demand more of your relationships. Likely, you’ll start to stand up for yourself and assert your needs. If you start to feel worthy and deserving of success and abundance, you may start demanding better remuneration or more respect from your boss. You may look for a new job. If you feel confident, you’ll be less inclined to people-please and more willing to step into the fray when an issue or individual needs to be challenged.

To initiate the process, Staik has a few suggestions.

Develop your connection to your body. Says Staik: “Your inner life is your school, a connection that teaches you about life around you.” She recommends that you practise mindfulness. Learn to “feel your feelings” and to observe any energetic shifts in the body. This effort will create a “special opening to inner wisdom” and a connection to your intuition.

Cultivate healthy relationships with yourself and life. Notes Staik: “Communication plays a special role in your relationships.” Your goal should be to cultivate healthier, more vibrant relationships. You can do this by being open, honest and courageous enough to speak your truth.

Befriend your subconscious mind. Writes Staik: “To make changes, you need your subconscious mind on your side.” Your behaviours and subsequent life experiences are — for the most part — shaped by “what is going on deep inside of you.” Learn to recognize your automatic defence strategies and then begin to break them down through awareness and reflection.

Inspire yourself to break dysfunctional thought patterns by reminding yourself of the negative results they generate. This change can be stressful and dramatic but persistence is the key. The good news is you’ll eventually fall back into balance or become congruent once again — this time with a much more positive set of beliefs, values and perceptions.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.