Episode 84 (Season 2: Ep 4)
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders, Entrepreneurs, and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
In the last episode, I talked about some of the reasons we find it so hard to to rest. I am curious what that brought up for you. I would love to hear from you at [email protected].
In this episode, I am sharing some of the other beliefs that kept me stuck for decades and contributed to my descent into burnout and ultimately mental illness. I will also give you a window into some of the ways I am repatterning some of the beliefs that have been anchored into my nervous system for such a long time that I did not have full awareness that I even carried them with me.
This list of unhelpful beliefs may come as a surprise to those of you who have met me in this season of my life. I like to think–in fact I know–that I show up in the world much differently now, even as I am forever a #workinprogress.
Do you resonate with any of these?
* I cannot depend on anyone else.
* I am the only one keeping the “world” on its axis; defining “world” however feels most relevant to you.
* If I don’t do it, no one will.
* The only way to respond to obstacles is to “push through” and persist (aka trying harder and doing more).
* If I have to focus only on what I can control, I will try to control everything that could be in that category.
* Performance and perfectionism = no one will be able to find fault with me = safety
* Emotions are weak and dangerous. If you show the world your vulnerability, someone or everyone will take advantage of you.
* Other people will inevitably hurt, disappoint, or abandon me and tell me it was my fault.
* I have to prove my worth aka be extraordinary in order to be loved.
* I cannot “afford” time, money, etc. to step away and take care of myself no matter how depleted I feel.
* Coffee, wine and pedicures can somehow assuage the loneliness, emptiness and overwhelm I feel.
When I talk about beliefs, I want to acknowledge that there are both conscious and unconscious beliefs. While my conscious beliefs were definitely problematic, I have come to understand that underneath those conscious beliefs was nervous system patterning developed over decades that fueled my capacity to run myself into the wall over and over and over again until my body and mind broke under the assault.
Our unconscious beliefs are often (maybe always?) woven into our nervous system; imprinted at a time when adopting those beliefs (and corresponding behaviors) was inextricably linked to our survival.
In other words, these patterns were laid down for really good reasons.
Our adaptations kept us alive. But not without a cost. The price tag includes: hiding the parts of ourselves that were not safe to be seen; denying ourselves rest; denying that we have wants, needs and feelings that are valid and deserve to be met; denying our own desires, pleasure and joy; denying ourselves the vulnerability that comes with true connection; and denying all we are and all that we came here to do.
Our nervous system operates outside of time in that, once it senses even the hint of a potential threat, and has cataloged and categorized that threat in order to determine our best chance(s) of survival based on our personal database of our experiences so far, it is no longer responsive to new information that might tell us that this threat (such as the overwhelm of not getting our to do list done for example) and a past threat (such as the overwhelm of forgetting our homework and being shamed in front of the entire class) are not the same threat in terms of actual gravity or potential for harm.
In my own experience, mindset work can be helpful when working with conscious beliefs or thought patterns. Such as challenging the story in my head about what it means about my proficiency as a cook if I accidentally burn something.
Challenging the stories in our head and employing curiosity (thank you Brene Brown) and also not believing everything we think when everything feels terrible are just a few of the ways I coach clients and myself to engage with the thought patterns that are not serving us.
But when it comes to these unconscious beliefs or nervous system patterns, we will need to reach beyond the conscious mind, into the body, to ultimately repattern or resolve the things that might be keeping us stuck without our conscious collusion.
In other words, whenever you find yourself caught in the same pattern or cycle over and over and over again, no matter how much you intellectually understand how to “fix” it or how much mindset work you do, there is likely (if not always) a nervous system component.
Early this year I became very aware of a dynamic that I have been helping to perpetuate for years.
You see, I am very very good at holding space for other people. At helping other people feel seen, loved, valued, and held, without judgment.
But I am a reluctant receiver. There are very few people and very few spaces where I allow myself to be fully seen, known and held. Where I show my own soft underbelly.
This might surprise you given how open I have been about my sharing my own story and my journey. But the truth is, I can share lots of things without feeling at risk. In large part due to all that I have survived in my life. My risk barometer is calibrated differently. And in part because my protective mechanisms are so firmly rooted, sometimes I don’t even know they are there.
That leads me to the story I want to tell you about the retreat that I didn’t want to go to.
Last fall, I joined the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Integrated Awareness (“AIA” for short). The mission of this organization is to help people heal from trauma and facilitate relief from psychological pain via the practice of Acceptance and Integration Training (known as “AAIT”). AAIT is an effective way to help people find relief from their struggles and lead happier, more fulfilling lives. It’s built on foundational principles similar to EMDR and Acceptance and Commitment therapy, but varies significantly with the objective to deliver psychological healing in a single session. You can learn more about AAIT and AIA through the resource links at the end of this transcript.
In August, the founder of AAIT, Melanie, and her husband co-facilitated a retreat. The retreat was a fundraiser for AIA. It would also give me the opportunity to continue dipping my toe into the experience of AAIT for myself.
I didn’t want to go. It was being held the weekend before my birthday. About a week before my oldest would leave to go back to college for the semester. I noticed my resistance. And, at this point in my journey, I know on some level that this level of resistance probably means there is something I need to look at.
I signed up for the retreat. I was going to arrive late because I had made another commitment to show up for an event hosted by a friend on the same evening the retreat was going to begin.
I made one of my own personal, classic errors of not stopping to get dinner for myself between the event and the retreat location even though I knew I was driving to a remote area.
I ended up stopping at a WalMart when I was almost to my destination and picked up some snacks. I don’t eat a lot of processed foods at this time in my life and this was not a full blown WalMart with a full grocery. This was a WalMart with essentially no fresh food available.
I was low on gas, but my sense of urgency at being late–even though I knew no one was specifically waiting for me and I had already missed the programming for the evening–seemed to be in the driver’s seat.
And then I arrived at my destination, unpacked my things, and realized that I had lost my cell signal–without warning my kids that might be the case. Due to some events in our own family history, my going offline without warning just isn’t a tenable circumstance.
I had anticipated the possibility of being out of cell service range for the weekend but I didn’t know for sure until I arrived. What I didn’t anticipate was how long it would take for me (after driving back out of the windy, gravel roads from the retreat center) to regain my signal.
It basically took me an extra hour to backtrack, get a signal, text my kids that I would not be reachable on my cell and give them the number for the retreat center, put gas in my car and drive back in. And the whole time I was painfully aware of the voice in my head saying what in the world are you doing, why are you here, you could just go home right now. I didn’t. I stayed.
The next morning, after a beautifully prepared, healthful meal lifted my hopes for sustenance for the rest of the weekend, we gathered in the group for the first time. I was invited to share why I wanted to attend the retreat. And I was honest.
“I didn’t want to come.” But I felt like it was my responsibility as a Board member, and my level of resistance indicated that there very well might be something THERE for me that I was supposed to get out of this particular experience.
That morning, we did an exercise with an exploration of two seemingly opposing concepts–perfectionism and belonging–which were sourced from the group activity leading up to it. As we shared, I noticed that I was the only one who was ascribing “positive” characteristics to perfectionism and “negative” characteristics to belonging. This is an oversimplification of course but it works for this purpose.
I realized that while I had had perfectionism literally pried out of my grasp as a result of my crash and burn and corresponding illness, that I was actually a little salty about that. And that somewhere inside of me, I still believed that perfectionism was safer than belonging.
I won’t go into all of the reasons why this was a deeply held and reinforced belief for me. But I am so very grateful that Melanie noticed and invited me to participate in an AAIT session, which we did later that day. During that session we were able to do incredibly powerful work to process and resolve layers upon layers of heartbreak.
Can you imagine how this underlying belief . . . one that I was not consciously aware of but that was anchored into my nervous system, has influenced the way I have shown up in the world?
Is it possible that this belief has prevented me from developing mutually supportive connections with other humans where I feel less alone and like I can ask for and receive help? Where I can be seen, held and valued both in my moments of strength but also in my moments of weakness??? This is a rhetorical question. Of course it has.
And what might be available to me if my own protective nervous system is no longer blocking my ability to receive support through community with other humans?
This is why I am so excited about the nervous system healing and expansion certification that I am working on right now and why I joined the board of the Alliance for Integrated Awareness.
Because the things that are keeping us stuck are underneath. They show up in the way we engage with the world and with our lives and yet they are invisible all at the same time.
And what I know without a doubt is that the protective mechanisms that our nervous system developed to keep us alive, may also be keeping us stuck, making us sick, or preventing us from showing up as our full selves and engaging fully with the beautiful parts of living–because the truth is, we cannot selectively shield ourselves from only the “bad” things. When our nervous system blocks access to certain energy, information or sensation it blocks all of it. More on this in future content …
What are the beliefs that are keeping you stuck? Do you resonate with any of the ones that I shared?
Are you denying your fundamental needs–including REST–because you believe you have to earn it, that the sky will fall if you stop, that you cannot survive the overwhelm if you slow down, or that somehow you are lazy and less worthy if you aren’t making sure everyone around you is satisfied before you dare claim something for yourself?
What parts of yourself have you abandoned along the way in order to survive? And what ache remains no matter how many ways you try to assuage it?
Do you have a sneaking suspicion that the skills, capacities and behaviors that got you to this point in your life may not take you where you want to go next?
Whether you need support in reframing your thoughts, or deeper nervous system support, I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. What is keeping you stuck might be underneath . . . but you get to write the rest of the story.
I am beyond excited to have more nervous system healing and expansion resources in my toolbox–both for myself– and also for my clients.
When we make the unknown known, in the presence of a supportive witness with tools that can help us move through, we can change our trajectory. I want this for you too.
For access to even more resources and stories that might support you on your own path, you can subscribe to my newsletter at boothandrews.com/newsletter.
Thank you for listening today.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!
Alliance for Integrated Awareness https://www.aaitaia.org/about