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Janet has a memory of when she was about 3 years old. She followed her mom into her baby brother’s room. Mom picked up her brother from the crib and laid him on the changing table. In that moment, for reasons that she would not understand until 50 years later, she had the thought, “I hope he falls off the table and dies.” Janet immediately followed that thought with judgments of what a terrible thing that was to think. Janet then had thoughts that she must be a terrible person for having such terrible thoughts. Janet then thought, “I am an evil person.” A belief about herself was created.
Did Janet choose to think that thought about her brother falling? No. At such a young age we don’t know that our mind generates thoughts all on their own without our conscious choosing. Did she want her brother to fall? No, not really. Did Janet feel bad about those thoughts? Yes, even though she had no intent to think them. Janet had a deep sense of remorse about thinking something terrible. Her mind took that sense of remorse, and gave it a judgmental twist about her being a bad person. It took the worst thought of her whole life up until that point and exaggerated it into Janet’s identity of being an evil person. In this case, the worst one she had in her life to that point. That’s a pretty skewed measurement. The sense of shame, guilt, and unworthiness attached itself to that thought fixed an idea in Janet’s mind about the kind of person she is. That idea grew over decades not allowing herself to feel self-acceptance and self-love until she was in her 50’s and began to question the thinking of her thinking.
How could we think such bad thoughts?
As children we have an innate desire to love, and be loved. We also have many other instincts. One of which is a survival instinct. We know instinctively as an infant, that if we are left alone we will starve or die of other means. This is somewhere in our genetic intelligence for survival. The truth is that as an infant, and even as a toddler we are simply not able to provide for ourselves. We also need physical attention and touch. If a child 0-5 years old doesn’t receive adequate touch and empathy their nervous system and brain doesn’t develop properly. In some cases, when touch, affection, nuzzling, and hugs are so inadequate a baby will die from lack of touch.
So maybe, just maybe, there in her little brother’s room, Janet’s primal brain and body senses a survival need for connection with mom. Mom is walking away from her to her brother so Janet follows. But Janet is a polite young child and so she expresses this by tugging on mom’s pant leg and asking to be picked up. Mom, focused on getting her brother’s wet diaper changed understandably ignores Janet’s request and proceeds with one of the 100 tasks she will do that day.
The rebuffed request to be picked up amplifies the desire for connection just a bit more. Her nervous system creates a small “fight or flight” response for survival. Now there is a fear for herself, and a perceived competitor for the resources of mom’s attention.
Perhaps the primal brain and nervous system express this as an anger for not having these desires met. That feeling from her nervous system is looking for a way to be expressed. It isn’t big enough to have a tantrum, or take a swing at anybody. It isn’t even enough for her to complain, yell, or scream. It’s just enough emotional motivation to create an impulsive thought in her mind. “I wish my brother would fall off that table and die.”
The wish, if it came true, would eliminate her brother as a competitor for the resources of mom’s attention and affection. It is one of a thousand possible ways for her complex system to get its needs met. Is it really necessary for her brother to die for Janet to live and thrive, of course not. But her young brain isn’t sorting through a list of all her needs and feelings, taking an inventory of available resources to meet them, and how to appropriately ask for what she wants. Her brain is just processing some impulsive feelings and forming them into thoughts. Janet didn’t choose to think the thought she did. Janet didn’t even choose her desires and impulses. Nor did she choose to judge and condemn herself as evil. That was just another type of impulsive thought she didn’t choose.
It stuck with her though, that thought that she was evil. The creation became a belief in her mind and she felt it there for years. It was one of the many ideas of her self that made up a collage of what she thought and how she felt about herself. It was a very painful lie about herself that she believed. The lies formed around the memory held shame, guilt, and even some self hate.
The mind is a peculiar thing. It seems to gravitate to stories, and the more emotionally dramatic ones have more pull on our attention.
Janet’s thought about being an evil person might just be one of 100 ideas and thoughts she had about herself that week. But it is the kind of one that is emotionally significant. It generates more emotion than most of the others that month. It is also one that defines her identity. When Janet thinks of who she is, or what kind of person she is, her mind flashes on that memory, and a feeling of shame is invoked. It might flash so fast that she doesn’t consciously see the memory anymore. As years go by, she might not remember that day in her brother’s bedroom, but she will still feel those feelings of shame and unworthiness. Over time they grow into a kind of self-hate. As an adult she can’t figure out why she doesn’t love and accept herself as much as other people do. She has a difficult time taking a compliment, and she seems she is always trying to prove herself good enough to others. Janet doesn’t realize that these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can arise from false beliefs of her identity formed when she was three years old.
At 3 years old her mind had learned the ability to identify what good and bad behavior were, and her mind labeled it, automatically. Just the way we would if we had seen someone else steal a bike. A label formed an identity and self image in the mind that easily. The mind doesn’t think through this process. It doesn’t wonder if the label is accurate. It doesn’t look for alternative explanations. It doesn’t give it a proper ratio against all the good thoughts that day. It doesn’t understand the survival instinct of the nervous system and how it might be operating to drive feelings which create impulsive thoughts. It doesn’t look at the sense of remorse, and factor that into the measurement of moral character. Janet’s attention focuses on one thought, and uses that to define her whole identity in that moment. In that moment, the mind completely distorts Janet’s self image, and Janet, without any conscious considerations creates a false belief. The mind doesn’t even see that it is creating these labels while it is operating as something separate from Janet
Janet’s Mind Creates More Bad Thoughts Based on the Preceding Ones
By the time Janet was 5 years old she had a firm belief that she was an evil person. Of course she would never tell anyone that she believed this about herself. She worked hard to “act” like a really good girl. She did good in school, was polite, and respectful, dressed nice and behaved nice to everyone. As she did this it fed an internal story that she was deceiving people. Which added faith to the belief that she was evil. After all, she was deceiving people into thinking that she was “good” and deceiving people is what an evil person did. This goes back to the mind being a peculiar thing. The more polite and respectful she was, the more the story twisted it into deception and therefore she was evil. The “evil self image” began to make interpretations as if it were her and used everything it could, even lies, to reinforce the belief that the “evil character image” was Janet. It couldn’t see that there were very kind and loving motivations behind her positive actions as well.
When Janet was about 5 years old her dad would drive her to school and drop her off on his way to work. He would always tell her how smart and beautiful she was. This used to make Janet angry. Janet ended up being angry at her father for many years. She didn’t know why. At 50, and through her work in the Self Mastery course inventorying her beliefs, and some coaching sessions, she figured out why she was angry at her father.
Janet discovered that she didn’t feel accepted and loved by her dad. He said it all the time, but she didn’t feel the love. Janet just felt angry about it. Upon close inspection Janet realized what the anger was about. Janet believed she was an evil person. So when her dad complimented her, Janet’s belief was certain that her dad didn’t really “see” the “evil person” that she was. In her mind her dad didn’t know and understand her. It was as if he was talking about, complimenting, and loving a “good person” which meant someone else. Janet couldn’t accept that love because the belief image about “being evil” said it didn’t belong to her.
Janet felt that the “evil” person that she was wasn’t really seen, and wasn’t really accepted. The love and compliments weren’t for her, or at least that is what the false identity belief interpreted. Janet wanted to be accepted and loved for who she was, evil. If they loved a kind and beautiful person then they didn’t love her.
According to the false identity of the “evil Janet” her dad didn’t see, or acknowledge her at all. Not only that, but the “evil Janet” persona was really angry at being neglected. Never mind all the good behavior tactics the rest of Janet’s personality put together to be “good image” to hide the evil part. The “evil Janet” persona belief ignored the effectiveness of the deception and just focused on the aspect of not being recognized. As it felt more and more misunderstood, overlooked, and “unaccepted” it became more and more angry.
One night, when Janet was taking care of her father in his last year of life, he confessed how hurt he was that she was so angry with him for so many years. He was never able to figure out what he had done wrong or how he might have failed her. He worked so hard to express his love and support for her. He wanted so badly to have that love returned, but he felt he had failed her somehow. He just didn’t know how.
Janet apologized that night. She knew she had been angry for years, and told him what a great dad he was, and that she did love him. Yet, when she left the room, the voice in her head berated her for being such a terrible person for being angry at her dad and to have caused him such pain. That false belief image of “the evil Janet” persona, said that this proved that Janet was really evil. The false image of Janet was telling Janet that she was the false image. Janet continued to believe the lie. The false image was angry, and had Janet express it all these years, and then was angry at Janet for expressing it. Then told Janet that it really was evil for having expressed that anger.
Janet might have been playing out the role in some ways, such as not accepting love, and not feeling worthy of it, but that didn’t make Janet that character. It just made Janet believe the “evil image of herself”, that she began building at three years old, was her. You might say that Janet was hypnotized the “idea” of what she thought, and had been for many years. The false self-image of the “evil janet” acted and thought in a way to hypnotize Janet to believe she was the “evil janet” in one moment after another.
Janet discovered with some awareness and practice that it was only a story of her identity, and that she could change it.
Janet isn’t the “evil” character of the story in her mind, but she often believes she is. When this happens, Janet feels the guilt, shame, self-hate, and various other emotions. It also acts as a mental block to love, self-acceptance, self-respect, and self-compassion. In the story in Janet’s mind, “evil janet” doesn’t deserve these things and so they have to be pushed away. If she were to get some respect, acceptance, and love from others, she would likely feel guilty for getting love she doesn’t deserve. She would feel as if she had done something wrong by deceiving them. It is tough for Janet to take a compliment.
This isn’t the only story line of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. In many ways Janet has a wonderful life. She has a loving husband, and great career, and enjoys her work and her free time. She just couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t that happy when she had so much to be grateful for. At least as much as her internal dialog of false beliefs allows her, but she is changing that. Her exploration of these false beliefs about her identity, self-worth, love, self-judgment, hate, and self-acceptance, are changing her internal story. In doing so she is changing how she feels emotionally, and is becoming happier. She is replacing the lies she hypnotized herself with earlier in her life, and consciously adopting Truths about herself.
Janet isn’t an evil person. She wasn’t’ an evil girl. Her mind just had thoughts, all sorts of thoughts. We all have an imagination and it often thinks and imagines on it’s own. We don’t consciously decide what we think. Our thoughts arise and pass like clouds and weather. You don’t know what you will be thinking 1 minute from now or one hour from now. It is possible to consciously choose to think about something, but most of the time, thoughts just happen. The mind is imaginative and creative that way. However, you can decide what you believe about what you think. You can also decide not to believe what you think. Most importantly you can decide what to believe about your self.
You can change what you believe, and when you do, you change the story and the thoughts you tell yourself. When you change the false beliefs into Truths, you will change how you feel emotionally about yourself, and your life. Changing what you believe about yourself is the path to real change, and lasting happiness.2