I realised this week that I’m struggling to unlearn my negative thought patterns and perspectives. I often feel like the optimistic and positive person that I strive to be is at odds with the nest of negative thoughts that I’m hardwired into. I want to shed all those old habits but they’re clinging on, maybe part of me knows how important they used to be to me?
As a teenager, negativity became my shield. My peers at the school I attended were not nice kids. Violence and humiliating others was how dominance was demonstrated, while empathy was a laughable weakness. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t fit in. I learnt very quickly to drastically lower my expectations of both other students and teachers, which bled into lowering them for people in general.
I loathed that whole school, wrapping myself in prickly revulsion for everything to do with it. I was aghast by how selfish people were, how even the teachers would sneer at vulnerable kids. I stopped expecting any sort of understanding or kindness, knowing that I could only be disappointed or hurt if I did.
As I got older and entered my final teenage years, I cultivated my apathy and even encouraged anger. I realised that being visibly temperamental kept bullies at bay, they’d leave me to myself. Inside I felt vulnerable, scared and exhausted, but I knew showing those emotions was dangerous, so I buried them deep. I told myself that by expecting the worst of everybody, I could never be taken by surprise or let down. Meanwhile, marching through life with a bubbling temper meant I felt safe, that I had a defence against anyone who wanted to hurt or take advantage of me. I secretly wanted to let my guard down and open up, but I never felt like I was able to do so.
As an adult I’ve long since tried to move away from that pessimistic mindset, to stop assuming that all strangers are only out for themselves, or to expect cruelty and selfishness as the norm. I know I don’t have to rely on sarcasm and a detached blasé attitude to protect myself. Likewise, I know holding onto anger can be like keeping ahold of poison and expecting it to somehow only harm those you believe deserve it.
This year I’ve been expanding my usual reading choices, breezing through light non-fiction accounts of personal growth. I’m nodding along as I go, agreeing with every word about embracing positive thinking, but I’m unable to fully commit. I know I’m still holding onto flickers of those harmful patterns, just in case. A small part of me is still rolling her eyes at every line about relinquishing pessimism, a sardonic response from someone who wants to believe, but is too apprehensive to open those doors.
Who am I without that old mindset? My gut says “vulnerable”. My teenage years taught me that being vulnerable means somebody will take advantage of that weakness and hurt me, so the way to protect myself is to stay suspicious and glum. Once I had left school, over 10 years ago now, I told myself I was beyond that time period and it couldn’t affect me anymore. Years later, I noticed my teenage years had given me baggage that I was certainly still dragging around.
But I really don’t want to be that person. I know I’ve grown a lot over the last 2 years and I like who I’m becoming. I want to let go of those last toxic pieces of who I used to be. I know being vulnerable is normal, it’s a part of life. I also know being hurt can be worth the risk and that it’s not as devastating in practice as my mind tells me it will be. But that’s all easier said than done.
I don’t really have much of a conclusion to this post, self-help for longterm issues obviously isn’t something that can be achieved in a single evening, it’s going to take work. With that in mind, and to continue towards my 2017 goal of “Be Happy”, I’m going to add a new blog category called Finding Happiness, which I’ll pop all posts such as this one under. This way I’ll have a little chronicle of my attempts to improve my mental health this year.
I suppose for now this is just an acknowledgement that I’m aware of what my problem is, as well as where it comes from. I suppose that’s a start?