by Angel Stewart
As we go about life, we don’t operate directly within the world. Instead, we have experiences and develop internal representations of them. This becomes our guide, and naturally, we begin to catalog these experiences and respond to life’s happenings accordingly. We may believe all mothers are nurturing because our mother coddled and encouraged us. We could think spiders are terrifying because someone once taught us to call for help when we saw one. Our responses to people and circumstances are not literal, rather, they come from deep within us; they come from our perception, internal thoughts and subjective experiences.
There are times when we are so perplexed about why parts of our life are painful and complicated. It’s easy to point the blame at others or create barriers which hinder us from gaining helpful feedback and bettering our relationships and circumstances. These barriers are known as generalizing, deleting and distorting.
Generalizing includes the inaccurate use of words such as “always” or “never.” For example, “You never want to do anything I want to do,” or “I always have to do all the work around here.” Deleting is selectively focusing on certain things and excluding others. A person may believe they were unfairly denied a raise yet they haven’t honestly reviewed their own quality of work. Finally, distorting is making assumptions or acting as if you can read another’s mind, for example, “I know you think this is my fault.”
Reflect on your day. Have you used any of these barriers? How honest were those thoughts? Becoming aware of our use of these harmful concepts and removing them from our thoughts and communication creates an opportunity to refresh our internal representations.
As you work through challenging experiences, notice the positive choices or actions you make and give yourself genuine credit! Then, ask yourself what you could have improved upon. Additionally, think about the reactions of others who were a part of the situation. It is enlightening to allow yourself to disassociate from the situation as if you were a fly on the wall observing and listening. How did you look? What facial expressions did you have? What was your tone? What was your body language communicating? Make it a point to end your reflection by noting the positive elements of the situation.
There may come a time when others are providing feedback to you, so remind yourself that you always have a choice to receive or reject it. Analyze what is being said to you. If you find it invalid, then choose to ignore it and calmly respond by sharing that you disagree. If you find the feedback valid, then rejoice at the chance to learn and grow!
Troubled moments in our life are of no value when viewed as failures. Instead, they are opportunities to gain information allowing you to accomplish extraordinary things. Things that have already occurred are referred to as our past because they do not belong in the present. As we learn to acknowledge the proper placement of our past, we can begin to see that it has one purpose in our life: to provide us with feedback.