Deep within us is a sacred space—where our true self lives, empathy, authentic strength, and love reside. When we struggle, we can be disconnected from this part of ourselves. Our thoughts, which can be distorted by mental health, can disrupt our ability to see our true self and self-worth.
Think back to being a kid. Do you remember the freedom we felt as we played? How was the tree always climbable? How was the wave that knocked us over always so much fun? Then ultimately, as we face failure, this faith in ourselves fades. To make sense of it all, we make decisions about what it must mean about us—which become beliefs and form our self-image. This action, which at the moment is to make sense of our experience, becomes how we protect ourselves from the pain of future failure. Over and over again, we limit ourselves with thoughts that we are not good enough or worthy to try.
For me, there are two that stand out. At five, I decided I needed to be strong, no longer relying on anyone but myself because I was invisible. At twelve, I decided I was not lovable, and people would leave me so I couldn’t allow them in. There are many more moments just like these, and the decisions I made about myself in those moments have become the identity I have spent 40 years living.
My first belief happened as I stood in the living room of my childhood home. Surrounded by turmoil, the family I had believed in is crumbling around me; I am terrified. I was frozen in fear and felt utterly alone, even while my immediate family surrounded me. No one sees I’m scared, and no one comforts me. With all the experience a five-year-old has, the only way I could make sense of it was that I was invisible, and the only way to be safe was not to have needs that could be unmet.
My second, the belief that I’m not lovable and people will leave, was my reasoning for why my grandfather left our family. Just twelve years old, when I first heard that his car had been found on the side of the road by the Michel Creek hotel, he was gone. There was a chaotic nature to the search, as though it consumed every moment of life. In the beginning, hope fueled the effort and slowly transformed into our despair over time. The search failed to provide results, and the clues of his disappearance began to uncover the truth. He had left.
It would take five years for us to know what had caused him to make this choice. We had been best friends, and he had chosen to leave me. That was all I needed to blame myself, to believe he had gone because I wasn’t loveable, and I could never trust myself to feel loved again. Even after my grandfather returned and told us his version of the truth, I still believed it was me. No matter what he said, I remained stuck in my belief.
Releasing my limiting beliefs
How do you stop believing something after so long? I started by looking at when I thought, what happened, what meaning I had added to it, and why.
First, I needed to recognize that I created these beliefs as an upset, scared, and hurt child. I didn’t have the experience or capacity to understand what was happening, let alone process it. Nor did I have the questions to ask. Through the wisdom of experience, only now could I see how alone I felt. At five, my parents were too focused on their argument and what had just happened with my sister. Then, again at twelve, I was surrounded by adults in unimaginable pain. Now, so many years later, I could understand that they hurt too and acknowledge I still needed help I did not get.
Until choosing to work on my beliefs, I had never realized that I was mad at myself. For being weak, letting myself get hurt, and not being strong enough to do anything about it. I couldn’t stop the fights in our home or keep my grandfather with us; I had blamed myself for all of it. Then, as I got older, my anger turned to loathe and then hatred. I had also never allowed myself to be angry that I didn’t receive the comfort I needed.
Awaken our inner strength
What I had always needed was to let myself feel my pain. Along with acknowledging that I had the right to be protected, cared for, and comforted, I needed to process the anger of feeling alone and scared and not get angry at those who didn’t help me.
I couldn’t unlock my inner strength until I acknowledged the pain with me. That’s the thing about embodiment; we can avoid feeling the pain. We try to hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist, yet it persists in our bodies. But we must acknowledge our experiences. Yet all too often, we will continue to try to reason with them, diminish them, or avoid them.
What is the inner strength we need to awaken? It’s empathy.
I need to love her, releasing the expectations I had carried for so long of things she was never capable of. To understand that she had always acted to protect herself. And forgive my adult self for still wearing these beliefs as armor, never to be hurt so deeply again.
Letting go of these beliefs has not been easy, and it has been the most rewarding struggle I have ever faced. At first, it seemed impossible; I’ve believed these as facts for almost my whole life! But, along the way, I have found tons of “proof” that these beliefs are true. That’s the thing about being a human; we can make anything mean anything.
The effects of empathy
Empathy makes other things possible, especially curiosity. Looking at my adult life, I sought and found evidence that I was safe, loveable, and comforted. What shocked me was it was everywhere. In my childhood, friendships, relationships, marriage, and even my relationship with my grandfather. What made his leaving impacted me so profoundly that his choice had nothing to do with me. Before he left, I was grampa’s little girl; we were together constantly. While our relationship couldn’t return to where it was, I could see the love we had shared.
Through the lens of empathy
Now I got to begin connecting with the real me. I was lovable all along, and the essential love was self-love. This part of me that was always waiting to be acknowledged.
The change has been incredible! Finally, I can recognize how fiercely my husband loves me. To see how he does little and big things every day to show me. I can see lovable in my friends, who always have my back and are authentic through the good and the challenging.
Most importantly, I can now see the light of empathy has been within me all along—my very own Dorothy moment.
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