You are not what your mind tells you that you are. You are more.
Life seems to have a mind of it’s own and most days, life doesn’t share it’s plans with us.
I have heard it said that if you want to know God’s purpose for your life, look backwards. Looking backwards may feel like focusing on the past, but it does not need to be this way. When you look backwards, you can see how your life fits together.
Tired of getting more of the same?
Psychologists call it projection when our anxieties, biases and prejudices become the only way that we see the world. They become an invisible set of glasses. If we only look forward, we run the risk of only seeing what we have always seen.
I have experienced seasons of depression that twist my moods and impact my productivity, take over my focus and uproot my entire sense of well-being. The moods eventually lift, but the experience leaves what feels like a scar somewhere in my mind. In these times, looking any direction feels painful. Reflection becomes cruel and twisted.
One of the byproducts of mental health experiences or a history of addiction is that our minds become trained to expect more of the same.
Depressive moods can cast a painful and negative storm over our minds. But if we are honest, looking backwards can help us to rip small holes in the dark skies. Sure, right now, we may feel depressed, dark and in pain. But just last week you felt hopeful about something. And the other day you stopped and smelled some flowers and then smiled because of the joy coming from children playing in the park. And a few days ago at work, you felt a little lighter when a coworker genuinely spent a few minutes talking to you about how your weekend was and how your week has been.
Your feelings of depression (or anxiety, or PTSD symptoms, or past painful memories, or addiction triggers) are not your entire experience. They are only a part of what you are thinking, feeling or experiencing. Learning to take in and accept what your emotions are telling us, along with our thoughts, our recent experiences can help to tear holes in the clouds.
When our thoughts run wild, these can add fuel to our anxiety, depression or triggers to numb with food, alcohol or drugs.
One of the byproducts of mental health experiences or a history of addiction is that our minds become trained to expect more of the same. Our mind tells us that difficult emotions will take us down. We think that we can’t handle anxiety. We tell ourselves that we don’t deserve to be happy because of what we have done or because of painful experiences.
Like I said earlier, if we only look forward, we run the risk of only seeing what we have always seen.
Your mind will tell you that you are what is going on inside your head: perhaps it is your dominant emotions, powerful memories, triggers to use drugs or alcohol, your fears or even things you are excited about. But what your mind won’t tell you is that your life is more than just your thoughts or the emotions are experiencing. You are not what your mind tells you that you are. You are much, much more than the sum of all of your thoughts, emotions and experiences.
Learn to pay attention to your attention
Take a moment and close your eyes. Pay attention to the chatter in your mind. You may have a busy mind. You are reminded of your work projects, appointments that you have, things you have forgotten to do, thoughts about a conflict that you had with your child or you significant other, and anxieties about what people think about how you look in your clothes.
Your mind will tell you that you are what is going on inside your head: perhaps it is your dominant emotions, powerful memories, triggers to use drugs or alcohol, your fears or even things you are excited about.
But if you pay closer attention you will notice another side of your experience. You may hear the chatter, but what else do you notice? Your back is aching a little. Your feet are sore because you went for a long walk. This morning you spent some time in the sun and it felt good. You recently had a good conversation with your partner. You are enjoying your coffee. You may not always have enough time, but you still enjoy playing hockey, painting, reading or card making.
Life has more in store for you than your thoughts and emotions. Pay attention to the other sides of your life. Notice the experiences that make you feel more alive. Notice relationships that you value and why they are important to you, and notice values that you hold as important to you (like creativity, health or mental health, relationships, being in nature, giving back to other people).
Learning to slow down and notice more of your experience can change how you see your life and yourself.
Listen to your experience, not your mind. Hayes, Strosal and Wilson (P. 191, “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.”)
This week, take time to take time. Your mental health will thank you.
If you enjoyed my writing, I invite you to read some of my other work:
How to Make Peace With Your Mental Illness and Addiction
A New Definition of Emotional Healing: Acceptance
Yes, I Pray. And Yes, I am Crazy.
I write articles that talk about the kind of changes I am trying to make in my own life. I hope that my writing also helps you. My topics include addiction and mental health recovery, relationships, and personal growth. I work as an Addiction Therapist, an Editor for the Good Men Project and freelance writer, and Adjunct Professor at City University, Edmonton. But what is most important is that I have a family and I am in recovery from depression and anxiety. My mental health experiences are part of my personal University degree, but they do not define me.
I hope to inspire you, to inform you and on occasion to entertain you. But most of all, I want to connect with you. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.
Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.
Keep it Real
Photo by Chris Price
4 thoughts on “What Can You Do When Your Mind is Not Kind?”
I get sick and tired of people saying that God has a plan for you; however, why is it that he never shows up and tells you what he has in store for you. Also if God has a plan for everyone, then what was his plan for babies who die in childbirth or hours, days, weeks or months later?
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Your honesty is refreshing. I have the same questions and few answers that make sense or answers that don’t raise other, also difficult questions. I don’t believe that the Bible, or that a faith, is an answer-giver. Life can be very painful and confusing. Sometimes the way that life goes is unlike anything we had hoped.
Thank you for responding to the piece that I wrote. I hope that today, you take some time to give yourself some kindness. When life is not kind, we can yet be kind… to ourselves.
Thank you, sir. You are right about being kind to ourselves because: 1) too many people do not care about other people and could care less whether they live or die. and 2) we are stuck with our bodies whether we like it or not.
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I will say one more thing. I get sick and tired of being told how bad/evil people will get judged by God; however, many of those people who are extremely religious will find quotes from the Bible where those quotes say that if you repent and accept God, then all your wicked evil actions that you have done to your fellow humans will be forgiven. What is the point of being a good person if the bad/evil people get off scot-free by God and then are allowed in heaven? If there is a God who will forgive evil/people’s past sins and allows them in heaven, then I don’t want to be in God’s heaven. Here is what Stephen Fry thinks of God: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-d4otHE-YI
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