I had a client earlier this summer who came in for relief from some pretty major social anxiety. He couldn’t live this way anymore; something had to give. He gave me some background info on how this shows up in his life, when it started, etc. And I gave him my standard first session information on feeling and thinking. Then it was time to dive inside and do some releasing.
We both closed our eyes, breathed, and then I directed his attention to some of the triggers and issues he had told me about earlier, things in his life that were sources of anxiety and stress. As I brought his attention to each of these issues, he did a great job of noticing what arose in his body and just witnessing it. And these feelings of pressure would basically evaporate and then we would move on to the next thing, with his eyes closed the whole time (it’s generally deeper and more powerful that way).
We were on maybe the third issue he had mentioned, and he was breathing and releasing the feelings he was carrying, when all of a sudden the floodgates opened. He started sobbing deeply and his head collapsed into his hands. My job at this point was to simply have him be present with these feelings and not dive into a story and a bunch of thinking. Just breathe and witness these feelings so they can move on out of his system. And they did, as they tend to do when we simply let them…
Let me note that I was elated the second that this happened. It’s not because I’m evil and like making people suffer. On the contrary, I know that he’s been suffering enough. He’s been carrying around this trash for years, and there’s tremendous, constant suffering in that. It could even be the cause of his anxiety. And now a good chunk of it was gone. In minutes, he was free from of a large amount of it, and he knew the prescription for getting rid of the rest on the spot whenever it arose. Teach a person to fish…
So I directed him to gently witness these feelings and let go of them, and I assured him that there was nothing at all wrong with this emotional reaction. It was simply feelings coming to the surface, and he would be much better off for it. After a very short while, his body had calmed down and we were done releasing for the time being. Now that all of those feelings had been felt and were gone, we could move on to the thinking part. Remember that we always get the feelings moving first, since they cloud our thinking. After that, we have more clarity with which to process things.
So I asked him what caused such a large emotional reaction. He said that he realized he’s been too hard on himself. Way too hard. YES! What a great thing to become aware of! Being too hard on ourselves is a very effective and convenient way to live in pain and stay stuck. It’s all too common, too. Plus, it’s irrational and optional. The simple fact is that most of us treat others with much more leniency and forgiveness than we treat ourselves. Why do they get the better treatment? We treat them fairly and we treat ourselves unfairly. That makes absolutely no sense if you stop and really think about it.
The good news is that it’s just a pattern, although it’s an old, sticky one. We often say “bust yourself” here at A Clean Mind. Bust yourself when you’re being too hard on yourself, and then drop it like the bad habit that it is. Gently drop it on the spot. And breathe. And let go. If you’re not ready to drop it on the spot, then that’s fine. You just have some investigating to do. Ask yourself very clearly whether or not you’re being too hard on yourself, whether you’re engaging in this pattern. If you are, then gently tell yourself, “This is only that pattern. I was being too hard on myself.” And then breathe and let it go. And maybe smile with the relief of learning and experiencing that you don’t have to keep living that way. Each time you do this, it weakens the pattern some. It’s like peeling away layers of an onion; it’s just a big onion. But what else are you going to do?
So if you’ve tended to be too hard on yourself, then you can go forward knowing that this is a pattern and it can be dropped. It just takes practice. The first step is always noticing it. Turn the light on. When you notice a pattern, then you have a choice where there was no choice before. You can continue, or you can stop. And even if you choose to continue, you’ll be awake while you’re doing it. You were asleep before, and this is a huge difference. Even if you keep acting out one of these patterns but you’re awake, it can’t last too much longer. It just can’t. Each time you notice it, a layer gets peeled away. And that’s something to celebrate. Chopping onions can bring tears, and peeling away layers like this can bring tears, too. Tears of joy!