I began to feel that, in a sense, we were all prisoners of our own history. Roland Joffe
Our lives are set in motion by many factors, some we can control and some we cannot. Often, those that we can control reside just below our awareness. It’s these factors that influence our interactions with others, our successes and failures, our relationships with our loved ones and the way we care for ourselves.
We can live our whole lives without discovering the keys to change. Or, we can excavate our beliefs about ourselves and the world that lies just beneath our consciousness.
The difference between the two is the difference between a life lived intentionally with confidence and direction and a life of reaction defined by a desire for something different and no idea of how to get it.
The steps to discovery are simple, though they require a willingness to invest in oneself. When we do the work of discovering what we believe and why, we free ourselves to change, if that is what is best, and to let go of what is no longer necessary.
Our personalities are shaped early on in our lives, before we’re able to comprehend others’ motivations and desires. We internalize many messages and beliefs that are critical to our early survival and development. But often, as we become adults, these beliefs no longer serve their purpose. Questioning these beliefs and their accuracy allows us to more fully accept ourselves as we are today and our world as we understand it now.
There are different paths to this learning. Each one requires a commitment to learning and understanding ourselves.
Journaling is one way to do this work. Working with a therapist is another.
If you decide to learn more about yourself through journaling, you may find the following prompts helpful:
- What were the early messages I received as a child? These can be verbal things you were told about yourself and others, or, nonverbal messages that you understood to be true. Examples include, “You’re not capable.” This can be expressed verbally or non-verbally when a caregiver intervenes before you’re able to try things for yourself.
- Which of these messages were really true and which were not? Often times we receive messages that aren’t true from caregivers who are struggling with their own challenges. They may project mistaken beliefs onto those around them. Children are especially vulnerable to these projections.
- What are my strengths? Each of us has a set of gifts that are unique to us. If you find listing your strengths difficult, think about what others appreciate in you. Consider how you’ve overcome obstacles in your life.
- How do I care for myself? Before you can invest in others, you must learn to appreciate, love and care for yourself. It can be helpful to treat yourself as you would a dear friend. When you find yourself feeling down or struggling, speak to yourself as you would a loved one. This can help turn around any negative self talk you may be engaging in.
- What are my priorities? These are the things that are most important to you in your life. List them in order of importance, then list small steps you can take daily to increase your focus on these priorities.
If you find yourself struggling with anything that comes up for you as you do these exercises, consider talking with a trusted friend, family member or a professional therapist. You can learn more about getting the most out of working with a therapist here.
Please ask any questions you have or share your experiences with personal insight in the comments section.
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