You're Saner Than You Think
As humans, we tend to do an awful lot of self-bullying. Which it pretty sad. But, as if it wasn't enough that we have a tendency to over-think, over-analyse, criticise ourselves and replay negative memories on repeat, we tend to blame ourselves for for thinking, feeling and behaving in ways that been pre-installed in our systems from thousands and thousands of years ago. Thoughts, feeling and behaviours that serve as important survival mechanisms and yet we often see them as personal flaws and shortcomings.
So, allow me to tell you why you're way more sane than you think!
Professor and clinical psychiatrist Dan Siegel once said that we're hardwired for unhappiness! And psychologist Dr Rick Hanson says the brain is like Velcro for bad memories and Teflon for good ones.
So, what do they mean by that?
You might be a modern, 21st century human and though the brain in your scull is as old as you, it's evolutionary design is much, much older - over 40.000 years actually.
Imagine that - the software you're walking around with is over 40.000 years old and yet, you're somehow managing to function relatively well in current times. I don't think you'd be able to say the same for a PC running on a 40.000 year old Windows update, do you?
Very often the people I work with call themselves 'people-pleasures' and it's certainly not a compliment! Even though, we're designed to people please, to fit in, to not rock the boat. If you got kicked out of your tribe back in the day, you'd die. Fitting in and learning to please those around you have been a survival mechanism for centuries.
Other people complain about how negative they are and how they can't stop replaying negative memories, whereas they can hardly remember the good times. What's wrong with them, they ask me.
I'll tell you... Nothing!
We also come delivered with a negativity bias pre-installed!
That's the thing about being hardwired for unhappiness and the Teflon/Velcro metaphor.
From a survival perspective, you gained nothing from walking around, happily day dreaming about all the good times while forgetting the bad.
But your chances of survival were much higher if you worried in advance. If you replayed bad outcomes over and over you'd be much better prepared if the same bad situation happened again.
And if you got scared easily by brown sticks on the ground, you stood a better chance of escaping that one time the brown stick turned out to be a poisonous snake!
I could go on but then it'll become a rather long post. But so many of the things we label as 'bad' nowadays and give mental health labels to, like anxiety, have an evolutionary basis. They served a purpose. Perhaps the purpose is less obvious or some of these designs less desirable today but that doesn't make you broken or crazy or stupid.
All our negative emotions serve a purpose, whether we can tie them back to evolution or not. Just like all positive feelings do too. Our feelings don't deserve to be demonised the way they typically are today and these 'good' and 'bad', 'positive' and 'negative' labels are, often, more hindering than helpful.
Our emotions are there to tell us a story but we have to learn to listen instead of judge so much. To stay curious and open to them so we can figure out their meaning and reason.
Depression isn't some random thing that happens to some people (and it's not a chemical imbalance - that myth has been debunked quite a few times but instead of writing an article about it, you can just Google 'chemical imbalance myth'). Depression is a reaction to something. Question is, are you paying attention to what its reacting to?
Johann Hari wrote, in his excellent book, Lost Connections: Depression and anxiety are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances.
I think that's true for all mental health problems. Like Dr Bruce D Perry writes in this must-read book What Happened to You, we must stop asking 'what's wrong with you?' (or to say, what's wrong with me?) and start asking 'what happened to you?' (or, ask yourself with love what happened to me?)
Our reactions serve a purpose. They tell a story. It's sometimes hard to know what that story is without a bit of help and growing our own self-awareness. Certainly, for a long time when I was younger I thought the answer was plain and simply: What's wrong? I'm stupid, I'm a failure, I'm useless.
That's also a story but it's not the story I'm talking about. What happened to set those sorts of thoughts in motion because none of us were born thinking like that. Those kind of thoughts are installed in us as we grow up.
And at some point, you have to decide if you want to keep telling yourself the same old story if it no longer serves you or whether you're ready to do the work to find a better story, to create a narrative that works for you.
As they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
So, it's up to you if you want to keep trying the same thing, tell the same story, carry on living life as you are now and get the same results, or if you want to try something different, something new?
And just to be clear, I'm not talking about lying to yourself. I'm not talking about fake affirmations or denying anything. I'm not asking you to gaslight yourself. Chances are that you already are and I'm offering you a chance to expand your perspective and create a 'thicker', more balanced and nuanced story.
It's up to you...
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, or didn't, or want to add something or have a question, feel free to comment below (but try and be kind about it - I'm a terribly sensitive soul).
Don't forget that this is just my opinion. You don't have to agree. These pieces of writing are just here to make you think and take from it what you like and find helpful and ignore the rest. At the end of the day, it's your life and, therefore, what you consume, what you believe, and what you think and feel is your choice.
Also, this article has been brought to you by a perfectly imperfect, flawsome dyslexic. I hope any potential spelling or grammar mistakes didn't take away from your enjoyment.
Meandering thoughts about life and the meaning of everything, from a know-it-not-all!