Thoughts Aren't Facts
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
The other day, my therapist said, "The world is a reflection of your inner thoughts," which is just granola enough to mean nearly nothing. What she actually meant though, was that I project all of my fucked-up insecurities and weird psychic mishaps onto the people I meet and the places I see and even the animals I pat on the head. I think dogs are nice, because I’ve, for the most part, encountered nice dogs. I think the mountains are calming because I’ve felt calm in the mountains. And I think men are assholes because I’ve encountered my fair share of asshole men. I have not, however, encountered as many overtly asshole women, which I chalk up to my ability to read my own species better. Women are meaner than men, I think, because we spread evil rumors and talk behind backs and destroy each other’s reputations without a second thought. Men, on the other hand, probably don’t think about other people enough to consider how or when or why to ruin one’s reputation.
These are all thoughts I shared with her, and her response was simply, “Your thoughts aren’t facts,” which is a common therapist-y thing to say. I never thought my thoughts were facts, but she never thought to ask. She asked me to write a list of negative qualities about myself, so that I could challenge the negative thoughts, realize they aren't facts, and spin them into positives. I suspect she was also attempting to keep my ego in check. So I wrote the following list, and together, we found positive takeaways.
1.) I’m Anxious.
While I used to rely on my eating disorder to quell my anxiety, I now rely upon writing, and doodling, and pulling out chunks of my hair to tie in large knots and flush down my toilet (not really). I also run (a lot) and talk too fast about too many unrelated things. Sometimes, I become unduly agitated at people around me for not keeping up with my string of unrelated thoughts. Sometimes, anxious people push other people away simply by being anxious, which (no surprise here) increases anxiety.
Positive takeaway: I'm learning healthy ways to be less anxious, like practicing yoga or breathing deeply. Breath work can be transformational-check out Wim Hof to learn more.
2.) I’m stubborn.
This manifests in various ways: in an inability to admit when I’m wrong (working on it), an inability to give up (even when that might be the smarter move), and in an inability to change my mind about people/places/things. My cop-out has always been “I’m an all-or-nothing person,” but I don’t have to be. I decided to be that way, and I could just as easily decide not to.
Positive takeaway: Because I hate being told what to do, I often figure things out on my own. This is fruitful, but often frustration, especially because...
3.) Sometimes, I just want to be told what to do.
The time and place for being told what to do heavily depends on who is doing the telling. I can listen to a doctor give me health advice easier than a friend or family member who holds no “credential” in the realm of health-ish knowledge, and that’s probably smart. Not everyone has the authority or knowledge to dispense information or advice but deciphering who is hard. I told my therapist this, and she said, “Do you listen to my advice?” and I said, “Sometimes,” when what I really meant is “No,” because little white lies keep the world moving, I suspect.
Positive takeaway: I'm human. Most people want some guidance every now and then, because the world is a large, scary, and unpredictable place.
4.) I distrust most people.
At least, until they have proven themselves trustworthy. This makes life unduly hard, because I’m often on edge, ready to catch anyone and everyone in the act-of-being-untrustworthy. This is smart sometimes, because not all people are good despite this kitschy Luke Bryan song. Trust is either earned or imparted, I’m not sure which. But this particular character flaw was borne from a need to have my own back, which happens to be the positive takeaway.
Positive takeaway: I have my own back.
5.) I am incredibly, irreparably impatient.
This is not lovely behavior and it has thankfully waned over the years, but not entirely. I was recently waiting in a long checkout line, feeling my impatience rise up my throat and before it could erupt out of my mouth, I started chewing on a plastic Starbucks straw and tapping my foot impatiently, like a very large very dissatisfied rabbit. And then, I tried to breathe deeply because Google said that would help, but it didn’t. "Impatience" is the answer I give to job recruiters who ask me for my biggest weakness, and it’s an answer that seems to please them, so take that along with you on your journey.
Positive Takeaway: I'm a fast walker.
6.) I can be narcissistic.
So can you, by the way. I’ve written a bit about narcissists I’ve encountered in my dating life, but shoot. I’m not perfect, and I definitely go through periods of thinking I’m the goddamned shit. Let’s have a quick recap, shall we? Narcissism is: “an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one's physical appearance. Vanity, self-admiration, conceit, egomania. Also: “selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration.” I do think I’m pretty (most of the time), but I also don’t think my looks are even remotely interesting. My narcissism stems more from the “sense of entitlement/lack of empathy” bit. Empathy makes the world go ‘round, said someone once. But it’s hard to be empathetic sometimes, and it’s hard to quell my endless pit of wanting-everything-to-be-good-and-perfect-now. We’re all narcissistic, just like we’re all sad sometimes or joyful sometimes or just whatever sometimes. The trick is to notice our narcissism, so we don’t perpetuate it.
Positive Takeaway: I'm noticing it, therefore *mostly* not perpetuating it.
As we wound down our session, my therapist said, “Noticing our pitfalls is easier said than done.” Which was likely a gentle reminder that the pitfalls I’ve listed are not comprehensive. Then she said, "But this is a list of thoughts, and thoughts aren't facts, which means you can change each of these. Either the behaviors or your perceptions of them." I probably blinked at her vacantly and chewed on another plastic Starbucks straw."Your perceptions of yourself are likely very different that others' perceptions of you," she said. Of course, she is right. We're only just starting the whole therapy thing, so we didn't get a chance to dig deeper. But creating this list was good for me, and I encourage everyone to make a list of un-lovely things about yourself, as an easy tool to keep your ego in-check and underscore the whole thoughts-aren't-facts bit that seems so easy to forget. But be sure to include the positive takeaways too, to remind yourself that the negatives aren't ever all negative.