The year was 2016. It was Canada Day, and after getting blackout drunk by 4:00pm at ye old block party I decided to bring everyone back to my parents house without asking them. I showed up, shitfaced, with all my friends, and my parents were very good sports about it. My mom was teasing me about being a little bit drunk, so naturally I absolutely teed off on her. I was so combative my friend pulled me into the next room because it was like watching a train crash in slow motion. She got me to calm down, but the damage was done.
The next day I was stuck in the car for three hours with my mom and dad while we drove somewhere, and the air was thick with regret (on my part). This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, and she said:
“I wonder sometimes if you are still a good person.”
I looked down into my hands, head throbbing. All I could think was ‘oh don’t worry, I KNOW I’m not a good person, so we’re all covered there.’
I believed I was a bad person.
I don’t know exactly when I started believing ‘I am terrible’, but it lodged itself in my psyche and grew into an overarching self-hatred that I’ve written about before.
Believing the above prevented me for years from becoming the person I always wanted to be, kept me depressed, gave me an excuse to act like a self-centered dickhead and allowed me to turn my back on my values time after time.
Sometimes it was the wind in my sails pushing me to work more and more to prove to my bosses, peers and myself I was competent. Sometimes it was the casual sex that was a bid to be loved and cared for masquerading as purely physical rigour. Sometimes it was the fits of depression that made me feel like I wasn’t fit to be a part of the human race. Sometimes it was the binge eating and battering my body at the gym. Sometimes it was the job titles or achievements I chased to feel worthy and prove I was something more. Sometimes it was the alcohol I dumped down my throat so I could act like I wasn’t weighted down by this belief for a while. Sometimes it was someone saying something nice to me and smiling but wanting to vomit on the inside.
It was the echo of “you are not enough, and nothing you ever do will wipe your slate clean.” Always.
No matter how bad I wanted to break the cycle my life was a mirror reflecting my beliefs back at me.
Let’s talk about moving forward, onward and upward out of this mental shithole.
so is it that you stop acting like an ass, then become a better person, or does the belief that you are good come first?
There’s no wrong way, I reckon. If it’s the chicken, the egg, or you say fuck it and lobby the industry, the answer will out in the end…right?
I feel like when you combine the mountain of research around self-fulfilling prophecies and the placebo effect, it’s pretty hard to deny that what we believe tends to come true. There’s probably a million iterations of this statement but that’s the plainest way I can put it. Our brains can generate some incredibly powerful shit based on whatever stories our subconscious is clinging to.
The diagram above (belief > potential > action > results) is called a reinforcing, or causal loop. They can be negative or positive, or both in order to maintain a balance, but in general these loops produce momentum.
For example, I managed to quit drinking, which was a massive initial push that kick started the belief that maybe I’m not so terrible after all. The positive action didn’t cure the belief, but it got me started.
If you think changing your self-talk is the way to change the belief, then daily affirmations might be part of your strategy. The most important thing, according to self-affirmation theory, is that your affirmations reflect your core personal values (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). Make sure to use your personal strengths or strengths that matter to you when creating your affirmations.
RESEARCH ASIDE, IN MY CASE, I THINK BELIEVING I WAS A BAD PERSON WAS A TOTAL COP OUT FOR ME.
Thinking you’re terrible based on the past is like telling someone they can’t call themselves a vegan going forward if they’ve ever eaten meat.
There’s comfort in staying stuck in your self-deprecating ways. There’s a lack of uncomfortable accountability when you can blame most things on being a piece of shit. There’s a great excuse to throw away your potential and pour your money down your throat and up your nose when you don’t believe you deserve more. There’s a cycle to stay stuck in that gives you a sense of control even if you’re out of control. There’s always another person around the corner who will reinforce the belief that you don’t matter if you let them. Saying I sucked was an excuse. A nice bit of self-sabotage packaged in a convenient scapegoat.
I recently read The Four Agreements and there’s an underlying theme in the book that I think is really powerful: we are often (if not usually) the worst perpetrators of making everything way worse and halting our personal progress based on the stories we tell ourselves.
”Nobody abuses us more than we abuse ourselves, and it is the Judge, the Victim, and the belief system that make us do this. True, we find people who say their husband or wife, or mother or father, abused them, but you know that we abuse ourselves much more than that. The way we judge ourselves is the worst judge that ever existed. If we make a mistake in front of people, we try to deny the mistake and cover it up. But as soon as we are alone, the Judge becomes so strong, the guilt is so strong, and we feel so stupid, or so bad, or so unworthy.”Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
So yeah, the truth is that the power is in your sweaty, probably ketchup/hommus/peanut butter covered hands. It’s time to put down the dip and get to work, whatever that looks like for you.
Take it from someone who is still figuring all this out — you deserve to believe better things about yourself and so do I.