Maybe you were, and are, different. And maybe that’s the good news.

Maybe you ARE different than “them.”

And maybe that’s the good news. 

I remember, for years, I felt terrible because I knew I was different. 

When I was a kid, I knew I was different insofar as I was carrying around a secret: that I’d been sexually abused. 

I remember looking at the other kids in my class and thinking, no one knows this about me. This is a BIG secret. 

I know now that I can’t have been the only kid at school who had been sexually abused— and I wonder if they felt like their experience was this big secret they were carrying around, too. 

I wonder if they felt as different as I did. 

But that wasn’t the only thing that made me feel different. 

I knew that there was something different in how I experienced feelings— something different in how things impacted me. 

At the time, I didn’t know such a thing as a “highly sensitive person” existed. I didn’t know that my nervous system likely was physically different from a lot of other kids’— and I would have had NO idea that the sexual abuse and attachment difficulties I experienced on top of that likely exacerbated my highly sensitive wiring. 

All I knew was, I was different. 

Maybe I couldn’t have put words to it at the time. I’m not entirely sure I can accurately put words to it now. The writing I do is often my attempt to TRY to verbally get my brain around my life experience, as well as connect with others who might have had a similar experience. 

When we’re kids, we assume that different is bad. 

After all, we’re often mocked an ostracized because we’re different. 

Growing up, we often assume that if we’r being rejected by our family or peers, it must be because we’re somehow defective. We’re not living up to their standards or expectations. 

It must be be because we’re “bad,” and the people around us somehow know it— and that’s why they’re rejecting us. 

Now I know there are lots of reasons why some kids don’t fit with their peer groups growing up. 

And those reasons don’t necessarily have ANYTHING to do with being “bad.” 

Is it all that “bad” to be different from a peer group that bullies and values conformity above kindness? 

Is it all that “bad” to be different from people who WOULD reject someone just for being different? 

I don’t think so.

I know my sensitivity and my social anxiety made me a tough kid to understand and get close to. I don’t envy the adults in my world whose job it was to try to understand me or get me to open up. 

If you’re reading this, you may be aware that you’re different from your family or the people you grew up around— and you might have lots of feelings about that. 

But I need you to know that “different” doesn’t equal “bad”— even if your family or peer group decided it does. 

Your sensitivity may make you different. How you process emotions or information may make you different. How you manage focus or stimulation may make you different. 

I know LOTS of people— myself included— who would’t, couldn’t have the positive impact on other people they do UNLESS they’d grown up feeling different. 

Yes, growing up feeling like an outsider was painful at times. 

Yes, I would have preferred an easier childhood experience— for both you and me. 

But I know now that I don’t want to be like the kids who made me feel “bad” for being different. 

They were right. I WAS different than they were. 

And I’ve come around to being grateful for it. 

Eating and body image are supposed to be “easy” to manage, right? Right?

People are going to have ALL SORTS of feedback for you about your body. 

People will have feedback about your attractiveness to them. 

People will have feedback about your body’s size and shape.

People will have feedback about your body’s color. 

You’re going to be told you should ignore the things that people say about your body…but you and I both know it’s nowhere NEAR that easy. 

The things people say about your body and appearance tend to get REALLY ingrained in our nervous system. Our brain plays them on a loop. 

Just telling ourselves not to listen to other peoples’ judgments about our body and appearance is an almost impossible ask when our brain is recirculating those comments and looks over and over and over again. 

Nobody who is anxious or obsessive about their body size, shape, or appearance, WANTS to be obsessive about it. 

Nobody WANTS to be anxious every time they look in a mirror. Nobody WANTS to be anxious whenever the very idea of eating comes up. 

It’s exhausting and embarrassing. MANY people go to great lengths to hide it. 

There are people reading this who struggle with their body image and their eating habits, who have NEVER acknowledged the intensity of that internal war to somebody else. 

Many people DON’T understand. 

Many people DO think that managing our eating habits and our thoughts about our weight and appearance are straightforward. 

After all, they figure, what could be so hard about eating? Just eat what you’re “supposed” to eat, when you’re “supposed” to eat it. 

What could be so triggering about one’s appearance, they wonder? You look the way you look. 

When certain thoughts get into our head and under our skin— for example, thoughts about our body’s shape and size, or thoughts about what we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat— we tend to lose objectivity about them. 

It’s almost impossible to be “objective” about our thoughts when we’re jumping out of our skin with anxiety. 

Many people TRY to manage that anxiety by minimizing the thoughts or their impact. 

“This is silly.” “This is stupid.” “This shouldn’t be this hard.” 

Strangely, minimizing our thoughts or their impact doesn’t seem to tamp down our anxiety. It often only makes it worse. 

In our culture, both appearance and eating habits tend to be closely tied in our collective imaginations to self-discipline. 

We assume that people who possess self-discipline look a certain way and eat a certain way. 

Which is such a load of BS (belief systems). 

If you struggle with obsessive thoughts about your body, you are not alone. 

If you struggle with your eating, you are not alone. 

You might FEEL alone, and it might FEEL embarrassing. You might BELIEVE you deserve to feel shame about the things you’re struggling with. 

You’re struggling with what your’e struggling with. It’s okay. You’re not gonna shame your way out of this. 

Maybe “they” don’t understand, and maybe “they” never will. 

It’s okay. “They” don’t need to. 

YOU just focus on taking the next step on YOUR recovery journey— even if it’s a teeny, tiny, “stupid” baby step. 

Your depression is not your fault. Full stop.

The world is going to give you all sorts of reasons why it’s “your fault” that you’re depressed. 

People will tell you your depression is the result of choices you’ve made. Thoughts you choose to think. Beliefs you choose to have. Behaviors you do or don’t do. 

Depression is not your fault. 

Just reading that, you might have a reaction. You might be tempted to list all the reasons why depression IS the fault of someone who is depressed. 

That’s how entrenched and reflexive our victim blaming mindset is around depression. 

No one asks for depression. No one likes being depressed. 

There are lots of factors that impact our vulnerability to depression. There are LOTS of things we don’t fully understand about depression. 

But one thing we know about depression is that blaming a depressed person for how they feel and function is never helpful. 

When I say “depression is not your fault,” I am NOT saying that we are powerless over depression. 

There ARE things we can do to lessen our vulnerability to depression, and to feel and function better when we are depressed. 

But that DOESN’T mean depression is your “fault.” 

Some people seem to have a fantasy that if they “prove” that depression is the “fault” of the depressed person, then we don’t have to think any more comprehensively about what depression is, and why it happens to humans. 

There are people reading this who didn’t have much of a chance to NOT be depressed, considering what they grew up with. 

There are people reading this who are very genetically or biologically vulnerable to depression. 

There are people reading this whose depression stems from abuse or neglect. 

The fantasy that someone is always at “fault” for their depression is inaccurate and counterproductive. 

The fantasy that we can “fix” depression by making a few simple shifts in our perspective or our attitude is corrosive. 

How we feel and function depends on a LOT of things. What YOU need to feel and function better is unique to YOU.

Instead of blaming ourselves for being depressed and insisting that we “get over it,” we need to get really curious and really compassionate about our depression. 

There ARE usually things we can do to feel and function better…but we DON’T discover those things by harshly judging and dismissing what we’re experiencing. 

The skills we need to cope with and reduce our depression are developed over time. 

We need to work WITH our nervous system— not just insist that it play ball and do what we want it to. 

The work of coping with and reducing our depression is made harder and more complex by a culture that insists upon laying blame on the person who is struggling. 

Depression is not caused by a “bad attitude.” It’s not caused by a lack of “character.” And depression is not fixed by “sucking it up.” 

I’m incredibly sorry if you’ve gotten the message, either from the world or from mental health professionals, that depression is something you’re “choosing.” 

It’s so, so much more complex than that. 

Please don’t get discouraged. 

Please don’t give up. 

Please don’t buy in to the myth that depression is your “fault.” 

People DO cope with and reduce their depression. 

But that journey dos NOT start with self-blame and shame. 

Your boundaries are about you. Not them.

Your boundaries are about you. Not them. 

They exist to keep YOU safer. They are chosen by YOU, for YOUR reasons. 

Don’t let anyone try to make your boundaries about them. 

There are totally people who will TRY to make your boundaries about them. 

They’ll act insulted that you feel the need to set a certain boundary with them. 

They’ll try to convince you that they are the exception to your boundaries— that you’re being unreasonable to expect THEM to adhere to this boundary that you’d expect anyone else to adhere to. 

When somebody else tries to make your boundary about them, what they’re actually trying to do is construct a loophole for themselves. 

The fact is, we don’t have boundaries in place just to piss off or inconvenience anybody else. 

We have boundaries because we need our relationships to have a certain amount of predictability and relative safety in them. 

When our relationships DON’T have that predictability and relative safety, it become hard to function within them, because we are always on our guard. 

You wouldn’t know it from the way some people respond to setting boundaries or having boundaries set with them, but most boundaries are actually pretty straightforward. 

If someone wants to be in a relationship with us, either casually or intimately, it’s normal to expect there to be some boundaries involved. 

Boundaries can range from “don’t talk to me like that,” to “I prefer not to reveal that information to you,” to “don’t touch me like that,” to “I’m not available during this time frame.” 

We adhere to boundaries all the time in almost every one of our human relationships. Most of them are NOT hard. Many boundaries are implicit in our everyday interactions with many people. 

All of which is to say, you are NOT “high maintenance,” mean, or otherwise unreasonable for needing and expecting boundaries in all types of relationships. 

It’s a bummer that some people think boundaries are an insult. Because actually they are kind of the opposite: if I’m setting a boundary with you, it means I have at least some hope you’ll adhere to it, which is really a sign of respect. 

Some people will try to emotionally blackmail you into letting them violate your boundaries. I wish that didn’t happen, but it does. 

Don’t bite. 

It’s difficult to watch someone be upset by a boundary we’ve set. 

It can trigger old stuff in us, often which revolves around the idea that our basic needs and preferences  are somehow harmful to someone else, thus we don’t have a right to those needs and preferences. 

How someone else reacts or responds to a boundary isn’t up to us. 

How someone feels about having to adhere to a boundary of ours is a “them” issue. It’s not a “you” issue. 

Sometimes someone will be straightforward about the fact that if they’re not allowed to violate this boundary of yours, then they don’t want to be in this relationship with you. 

It’s a bummer if someone feels that way, but, again: that’s a decision THEY are making. 

Don’t let someone else’s bad behavior dictate what you are and aren’t willing to do to keep yourself emotionally or physically safe. 

This WILL get easier with practice. 

Just remember: you are NOT responsible for someone else’s maturity— or lack thereof. 

It’s not your fault– and it’s not your destiny.

It’s not like we ASK depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or eating disorders to camp out in our brain and make life miserable. We don’t INVITE them

It’s not a matter of us being stubborn or difficult, and it’s definitely not a matter of us opting in. 

Everybody who struggles with depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, or an eating disorder wishes they didn’t. Nobody’s finding it fun. Nobody’s getting off on the kind of attention ANY of these generates. 

It drives me up a wall when someone suggests that people who are suffering, are somehow getting off on the “secondary gains” associated with emotional or behavioral struggles. 

We, as a culture, really don’t like the idea that emotional or behavioral struggles can hit ANYBODY. 

(We don’t like the idea that illnesses or struggles of ANY kind can hit ANYBODY, really.)

Some people in our culture perpetuate this myth that emotional or behavioral struggles result from a lack of “character” or “willpower.” 

They perpetuate this myth largely to manage their own anxiety that they, too, might be at risk. 

They really, really want to think of emotional or behavioral struggles as something that they can “immunize” themselves from. 

If only that were the case. 

If you struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, or an eating disorder, it’s NOT because you lack “character” or “willpower.” It’s NOT because you crave “attention.” It’s NOT because you’ve failed at life or you’re uniquely “bad.” 

Victim blaming mythology dies hard in our culture. 

The changes many of us have to make to manage our risk and reduce our symptoms are rarely easy. Often they involve challenging patterns of thought, belief, and behavior that stretch back years. 

Recovery from emotional or behavioral struggles often asks us to reinvent who we are— which can seem like an overwhelming task. 

Nobody who actually knows anything about emotional or behavioral struggles thinks recovery is easy or simple. 

Emotional and behavioral struggles knock many of us off our life plans. 

My depression, addiction, and trauma issues knocked me off my life plan. I was supposed to be either a professional musician or a lawyer and politician by now. 

(Ask anybody who I went to junior high with— 2020 was SUPPOSED to be the year I was elected president.)

But life had other plans. 

I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that I wanted to steer my life into a dark, painful place. 

I woke up one morning, and found that I was in a place so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my place. 

I didn’t wake up one morning and decide that I wanted to make myself psychologically and physiologically dependent on a substance in much the same way male members of my family had been for generations. 

I woke up one morning and realized that if I didn’t take this substance, withdrawal symptoms would make my life unlivable that day. 

We don’t actively choose these struggles. 

We are dealt the hand we are dealt. 

We DON’T choose the cards we are dealt. 

We CAN learn how to play our hand in such a way that we stay in the game— but we need to be realistic about the fact that nobody “chose” to get dealt this difficult, painful hand. 

All of which is to say: it’s not your fault. 

And but also: it’s not your destiny. 

Yeah. Our feelings really are THAT important.

It’s easy for us to get over focused on whether we have a “right” to feel what we feel. Whether our feelings are “fair.”

Our nervous system does not care about “right” or “fair.” 

We feel what we feel. “Rational” or not. “Proportional” or not. “Fair” or not. 

We often— not always, but often— have choices about what to DO in response to what we feel, or how to EXPRESS how we feel. But we don’t choose our feelings. 

Our feelings choose us. 

Our feelings represent gut-level associations and survival instincts. They don’t exist to inconvenience or frustrate us. 

Feelings exist to tell us things we need to know— often things we’re not equipped to think or reason our way through yet. 

It’s not that our feelings are somehow “infallible.” Feelings, like thoughts and instincts, can be manipulated and are malleable in response to experience, especially trauma. 

Sometimes our feelings MIGHT be misplaced or disproportionate to what’s happening here and now. 

Sometime our feelings MIGHT be entwined with people and situations both past AND present. 

 The question isn’t whether our feelings are “right” or “wrong,” “true” or “false,” “fair” or “unfair.” 

The question is, “what is this feeling trying to tell me?” 

All feelings are trying to communicate something to us about what we’ve experienced and what we need. 

One of the reasons why it can feel good fo “vent” feelings, even if there’s nothing that can be “done” about them, is that by putting words to what we feel we are affirming that our experiences and needs are real and important. 

When we tell ourselves that we don’t have any “right” to feel what we feel— especially “negative” feelings like anger or disgust— we’re essentially telling part of ourselves that what it experiences or needs “doesn’t count.” 

Even if we don’t like what we’re feeling, it’s really important we validate the FACT that we’re feeling it.

Sadness “counts.” Anger “counts.” Jealousy “counts.” 

They “count”— they are important and meaningful— because they express something that part of us is REALLY going through. 

To deny our feelings is to abandon part of who we are. 

We can’t be denying, disowning, or abandoning ourselves. Not if we want to build and reinforce a stable, authentic Self to go out and function in the world. 

We don’t need to tell ourselves everything we feel is “right.” 

We don’t need to act on everything we feel. 

Sometimes we’re even  going to feel things that seem contradictory or nonsensical. There’s a reason for that time honored trope of the head doing battle with the heart. 

What we need to do, every day, is treat our feelings life with curiosity, respect, and compassion. 

We need to be clear that we cannot value ourselves and dismiss or belittle our feelings at the same time. Just won’t work. 

We need to be real about the fact that trying to push away our feelings indefinitely creates many more problems than it solves. 

So much of real life recovery is about refusing fo go to war with ourselves. So many of us are so used to instinctively attacking ourselves when we feel (or think, or remember, or perceive) something we don’t like. 

Refuse to attack yourself for what you feel. 

Be there for yourself, no matter WHAT you feel. 

It’s absolutely true that coexisting with painful feelings is a tall order for many of us, especially if we were punished or mocked for being “dramatic” or “emotional” when we were kids. 

It’s real important we don’t pick up where our bullies and abusers left off by shaming and attacking ourselves for our feelings. 

You can do this. You can break the cycle. 

If all begins with the commitment to self-compassion— no matter what.  

It’s time to figure out who YOU are.

Lots of people reading these words know what it’s like to feel we have to justify every feeling or need we ever experience. 

Many of us grew up feeling that we don’t “deserve” to breathe the oxygen we breathe, or to take up the space we consume. 

Some of us grew up being told, again and again, that we’re being “dramatic” or “attention seeking” when we try to get our needs met. 

When we tried to be ourselves, we were told— either explicitly or implicitly— that we were “too much.” 

So we grew up feeling guilty. 

We grew up feeling “wrong.” 

We grew up believing we had to rein it in. Rein ourselves in. 

Some people reading this became obsessed with reducing the size of their body and making their body conform to a shape that other people find more acceptable or desirable. 

It’s hard to develop a strong, stable sense of who you are if your attention and energy is constantly hijacked by thoughts about your weight or appearance. 

We were sent the message again and again and AGAIN that we only have worth if somebody else finds us funny, or interesting, or attractive. Then, when we got preoccupied with what other people thought about us, we were told we should’t be so “insecure.” 

How are we supposed to learn and develop who we really are, in the midst of all…that? 

The truth is, you are not “wrong” for existing. 

You do not have to earn or apologize for the resources you consume. The space you take up. The air you breathe. The food you require to live. 

There will ALWAYS be people who try to reduce us to how well we fit their definition of “attractive” or “worthy.” 

There will ALWAYS be people who will try, hard, to make THEIR opinions and preferences, OUR rubric for how to live life. 

But EVEN IF we lived up to EVERYBODY’S expectations and preferences ALL THE TIME— which we won’t, which we CAN’T— we STILL wouldn’t be guaranteed happiness or success. 

You— yes, you  there, you reading this right now— have a right to define what “success” looks like in YOUR life. 

You have the right to value what YOU value— whether or not it conforms to anybody else’s idea of what’s “valuable.” 

You have things that YOU like. That YOU find interesting. That YOU find fun. 

You have the right to make your life about THOSE things. 

Yes, of course we’d prefer other people find us attractive and interesting— especially those people WE find attractive and interesting. 

Yes, of course we want to have things in common with other people in our sphere, including interests and values. 

But we can truly lose ourselves if we make other peoples’ interests, needs, and preferences the ONLY things we pursue. 

There might be a part of you reading this right now thinking, “If I made MY life about ME, I’d be in trouble!” 

It’s true that someone might want you to think that. Someone might want you to keep making your life about THEM— and they might very well threaten you with disapproval if you choose to make your life about YOU. 

What can I tell you? Maybe it’s time to get into a little bit of trouble. 

Make your life about YOU, you little troublemaker. 

Make some people mad. 

Let’s start figuring out who YOU are. 

The fake news inside your head.

Lots of us have voices from the past that are haranguing us, every day, about how we’re not good enough. 

Sometimes they speak to us clearly, as in, we hear actual voices. 

Sometimes it’s more of a feeling or a vibe. 

But the message is consistent: those voices from the past tell us we ARE our “worst” qualities. 

Those voices from the past tell us we ARE our failures or mistakes. 

Those voices from the past tell us we ARE what happened to us. 

Very often the voices in our head tell us that we’re only worth the value or pleasure we bring to other people— that if we’re not making someone else feel good or serving a purpose for them, than OUR lives are meaningless. That our value runs out when we’re no longer attractive or useful to someone else. 

It’s not true. 

It may FEEL true. It may feel VERY true. It may feel so true that me disputing it right now may feel like I’m trying to “trick” you just to make you feel better. 

But those voices in our heads that try to convince us we are objects to be used and discarded are NOT telling you the truth. 

Why do we have those voices in our head? 

Most often it’s the result of early, consistent programming. 

Maybe we were abused or neglected at home. Maybe we were bullied at school. Maybe we experienced physical or sexual abuse. Maybe we simply didn’t get the support and guidance we needed to form a strong, stable sense of ourselves. 

What we need to remember is, our head doesn’t play those “greatest hits” because they are TRUE. 

Our head plays and replays and replays our programming and conditioning. 

It’s NOT evidence that we ARE as bad and unworthy and hopeless and helpless as we FEEL. 

It’s evidence that those messages were repeated and reinforced over a long period of time. 

That’s it. 

Very often we will have experiences later in life that seem to confirm our worst fears and beliefs about ourselves. 

We’ll have a painful experience, we’ll make a mistake, we’ll fail at something, and we’ll think, well, this just CONFIRMS all that bad stuff I always THOUGHT about myself, doesn’t it? 

Not hardly. 

Humans make mistakes. We fail. We experience pain. The “best” human being you know, the most successful, the most moral, the nicest person you can imagine right now, has had those human experiences. 

We don’t experience pain because we are “bad.” We don’t make mistakes because we are unworthy. 

Those things happen because we are human. 

To be human is to be imperfect. 

But to be imperfect is NOT to be “unworthy.” 

You, sitting there, reading this, are JUST as “worthy” of feeling good as anyone who has ever existed on this planet. 

You do not have to “earn” the right to be free from pain or fear. 

Because you have experienced pain in your life doesn’t mean you “deserved” it. The most amazing (and the LEAST amazing) people on the planet experience pain. 

The voices in your head are not an infallible guide to truth. 

They are echoes of things you were told and made to believe. 

When we grow up believing we are unworthy or hard to love, the voices in our head will work overtime to reinforce those beliefs. They will selectively point to certain memories and reactions and events and be like “SEE? I TOLD YOU!” 

Remember: it’s propaganda. 

It’s fake news. 

Even if it FEELS real, all it is is OLD patterns. 

Don’t mistake what is familiar for what is true. 

F*ck shame.

It is staggering how many people out in the world will try to control you via shame. 

A main reason why so many people resort to shame as a behavior control strategy is because THEY were controlled by shame when they were growing up. 

Every single time I write about shame, I get somebody pushing back at me, declaring that shame is essential to learning appropriate, moral ways to behave. 

I couldn’t disagree more. 

Shame isn’t just feeing bad when we do things that violate our moral principles. 

Shame is the feeling that WE are bad. That we CAN’T do good things, because we are fundamentally toxic. 

In the short term, shame can often be an effective behavior modifier, because no one wants to BE bad. If we’re told that if we do (or feel, or think) X, then we’re clearly a BAD person, we’ll think twice about doing (or feeling or thinking) X. 

The thing is, shame, in the long term, chips away at our sense of self. 

When we are drowning in shame, we are NOT motivated to work on our behavior. 

Why would we be motivated to be better, when we’re convinced we’re fundamentally bad? 

When we’ve been blasted over and over with shame, even our attempts to improve feel hopeless. 

We feel like we’re swimming against the current of our real, supposedly shameful self. 

Everybody reading this needs to know that, no matter what you’ve been made to feel throughout your life, you are not fundamentally “bad.” 

You have qualities some people would consider good, and you have some qualities some people would consider not so good. You do things that some people agree with and like, and you do things that some people disagree with and don’t like. 

You are a human. 

You have good days and less good days. 

Some days you’ll not be thrilled with your choices. 

Some days you’ll fail to live up to who you want to be. 

None of it means you are beyond help or hope. None of it means you are fundamentally or incorrigibly “bad.” 

You might have a voice in your head telling you that no matter how hard you try, you can’t be a “good person.” 

You might have real people in the real world telling you that because of who you are or where you come from or how you identify, you are “bad” and “should” experience shame. 

You need to now that people change. 

If you don’t like who you are or what you’ve done in the past, it is not too late to make a change. If you are reading these words, you have the opportunity to change what you do, even who you are. 

Shame does not motivate change, at least long term. Shame tends to keep us stuck, feeling helpless and hopeless. 

You are free to judge what you do. I judge what I do all the time. We SHOULD have opinions and feelings about what we do. We SHOULD have standards for our behavior. 

Just be careful that your judgments about what you do don’t generalize to who you ARE, especially in the sense of “good” or “bad.” 

You’re a person, and people change. 

None of us is set in stone. 

Nobody reading this is a completed project. 

No matter what your past holds, it is your past. 

You get to choose and create who you are. Right here. Right now. 

Yeah, we have responsibility. No, it’s not our “fault.”

Of course we contribute to some of the pain in our life. 

And, of course we’re not responsible for all of the pain or bad things in our life. 

Our brain very often wants to make it an all-or-nothing thing…but that’s just not how the world works. 

Why does our brain do this? 

Often, it’s because we’ve been told, over and over again, that we’re bad and we deserve to feel bad. 

Unfortunately, there are a LOT of people out there who strongly buy into the idea that nothing can make us feel bad without our consent or participation. 

They often conceptualize suffering as a “choice.” (They very often use the quote, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” to dramatize this idea.) 

The idea being, if you’re suffering, it’s your fault.

According to this perspective, if you want to stop suffering, you simply need to choose to not suffer. 

In the real world, things are simply not that straightforward. 

When we’ve been programmed with the idea that we “deserve” to suffer, snapping out of it is not as easy as making a different choice. 

Our patterns of thinking, feeling, and responding aren’t consciously chosen again and again and again. They are conditioned. They are on autopilot. 

Often we didn’t choose them in the first place. They were chosen or modeled for us, often in childhood, and we didn’t realize that we had options. 

Changing our conditioning doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. To change our automatic responses to a trigger or cue, we have to realize what’s happening; be aware of our options; push back against our automatic thoughts, feelings, and responses and CHOOSE a different option; and we have to do it again and again and again as our brain literally, physiologically changes. 

All of that’s way more complicated— and exhausting— than “make a different choice.” “Choose not to suffer.” 

We CAN change our response patterns. We CAN develop new habits of thinking, feeing, and behaving. But we need to get off of this idea that if we’re suffering we are somehow “choosing” to suffer— that if we struggle to change, we’re “choosing” to “stay stuck.” 

We didn’t arrive at these patterns overnight. We were conditioned and programmed.

We won’t break these patterns overnight. We need to be reconditioned and reprogrammed— and we’re working against conditioning and programming that feels “right” because it’s very familiar. 

Self-blame for our pain is really a dead end. 

There’s a difference between taking realistic responsibility for our choices, and harshly blaming ourselves. 

Self blame basically starts and ends with, “you deserve to feel this way because of your choices. After all, what did you think was going to happen?” 

Taking responsibility is about realistically acknowledging the role we play in what we’re experiencing— whether that role is relatively large or relatively smaller. 

The idea that we are totally responsible for our experience simply doesn’t jibe with reality. 

Yes, our attitude matters. Yes, what we picture in our heads matters. There are lots of factors within us that can make certain feelings and outcomes more or less likely or consistent. 

But we need to get away from this black and white way of thinking about self blame and personal responsibility. 

As a rule, if you find yourself trying to make declarative, sweeping statements about whether you are or aren’t responsible for something— push pause. Back up. Take a realistic look at what you’re saying. 

More often than not, successful management of feelings and behavior is found in the nuances. The shades of grey. 

Easy does it. Take your time and take a breath. 

We’re ALL learning this as we go.