I was reading a fellow blogger’s Pearls of Wisdom, and became inspired. Other writers do that for me. (Thanks Ned!) He was giving advice on how to handle unkind critics, and the advice was spot on. I’ll let you check it out for yourself because trying to encapsulate it into a sentence or two wouldn’t do it justice.
As my brain is wont to do, I got to thinking about taking things with a grain of salt, or letting criticism roll off my back because opinions are like people’s backsides: everyone’s got one. And the next thing to hit me was times when that criticism hurts, when it pings on something in me and I can’t let it go. It won’t roll off my back, but rather clings to it like a twenty-five pound rabid raccoon. What’s up with that?
Why does another person’s opinion even matter at all?
We all just want to be accepted and heard. When I’ve slaved over something, putting my blood, sweat, and tears into it, the last thing I need is someone telling me it’s crap, or it’s some other form of refuse or waste. The last thing anyone ones is rejection.
But why? Why is it so damned important that someone I don’t even know, likes or approves of me or something I create? Why do I even care?
Because my nature as a human being is one of connection and community. We are hardwired for connection. How did we come to be hardwired for connection? Survival. It’s all about surviving.
Come with me down the rabbit hole.
As infants and children, we aren’t equipped to survive alone in the world. We carry eons of lifetimes when we, as a species, didn’t live very long until this thing called maternal instinct was created. Once mothers and fathers became very attached to their young, people started to live longer. We, as human animals, carry a deep-seated fear of death, because the human in us, that functions through our brain, isn’t aware that our true nature is that of our eternal soul. We, as a conscious person, as consciousness, never die. Our bodies don’t know this. (This is how I perceive our fall from grace.)
Our body’s number one job, is to survive. Period. And especially when we are young and our brains are not developed, our brains will do whatever they have to, in order for our human bodies to survive. Young children’s brains take time to develop the ability to understand certain concepts, like the concept of time, and some visual and spatial concepts, such as a baby recognizing that when they look at a mirror, they’re seeing their own reflection, not another person.
If you take two eight-ounce glasses, one taller than the other, and fill them (using the same measuring cup), with exactly eight ounces of water, a three year old child will argue all day long that the taller glass holds more water. Take that same child at six years old, and they understand that the two glasses, even with different dimensions, hold the exact same volume of water.
While it takes years for the human brain to develop fully, we are born able to feel the complete range of emotions, right off the bat. Using our toolkit of emotions, they steer us through the first few months of our lives fairly unencumbered. But as we go along, when our actions bring us pain, our brains step in and create scenarios the lessen that pain. These scenarios take on a life of their own, and they become beliefs.
Beliefs about life, and beliefs about ourselves. And they all center around helping us to survive. Imagine an infant in their crib, having just been put down for the night, and all they want is to be held, loved on, and paid attention to. When mom or dad leaves them, they become afraid or just want more loving, and they cry in upset. When they are left to cry without being attended to, the baby has choices to make. They can choose to believe that not being attended to is a signal of abandonment, and their life is now in danger. Or, after falling asleep in exhaustion and then waking up refreshed and in a better frame of mind, might discover that falling asleep alone won’t lead to their death, and they can do this.
The event of being left alone and falling asleep carries only the meaning we ascribe to it. Because we are emotional creatures, our emotions lead the way in giving meaning to everything in our lives. Events themselves are inherently neutral. We decide how to feel about them. And our brains create stories to explain the feelings and justify them. The survival instinct part of us drives our emotions in a very specific direction: fear of death, in order to survive.
Picture a toddler, happily following whatever grabs its attention. Playing with this or that, exploring their world. When an adult comes along and wants the little one to stop what they are doing, the most expedient way many adults coerce a young child away from what’s got their attention, is with pain: physical or emotional. Both forms of pain signal danger to our brains. Emotional pain in the form of disconnection and disapproval puts the brain into a state of fear for survival. Physical pain also put the brain into the same state, using the same brain pathways. When pain happens repeatedly, or is shocking to the system, the brain creates a belief in the form of a story that relaxes it.
If a young child spends their time exploring their world, and they are very curious and strong, with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, they might want to discover what’s in every cupboard and drawer in the kitchen. And after discovering every pot, pan, scrubber, tool and dish in the lower cupboards, they’ve seen their parents open upper cupboards, and decide to figure out how to get to those unopened treasures.
Upon being discovered standing on the kitchen counter, one hand holding a cupboard door open, and the other one having just dropped a glass onto the counter, where it bounced and crashed to the floor below, a young child’s enthusiasm for discovering their world might be met by an angry, frustrated, or scared (or all of the above) parent. When the parent’s emotions hit the child in the form of a spanking or being banished to the naughty chair (where they experience forced disconnection from the family), the child is likely to create the belief that they were bad and deserved to feel the pain that was rained down on them.
Whammo! Fear of death! Fear from the parent, afraid of their child getting hurt or worse, and from the child who is now afraid of being abandoned by their parent or hurt by their parent. And fear has created a core belief in the child. I am bad. I am a nuisance to my parent. I am a danger to myself. Take your pick.
So what in the world does creating a belief based on our need to survive have anything to do with handling hurts in our lives?
When we create a piece of art or work, and then put it out to the world, we put a piece of ourselves out there. When someone doesn’t like our creation, by extension, they don’t like us. They don’t accept or validate us. If we carry around beliefs of unworthiness in any form, when someone criticizes our work, our craft, what we’ve made and put out there, it threatens our existence. As simple as that. Their negative feedback pings on that time when you were a toddler, exploring your world, and you were taught that you were not ok just exactly the way you were.
You were doing your thing, minding your own business, and whammo! Pain. You were taught that doing your own thing, playing, having fun, being lost in your own world, is not ok. It’s not safe. It’s dangerous and life-threatening, in fact.
So, later on in life, when you are happily letting your creative juices flow and you’ve put your amazingness out into the world, when even one person comes back at you with negative feedback, that very old pain speaks up. It’s still there, even though you’ve grown up and see life through very different lenses. That beautiful, fun-loving, care-free, crazy curious toddler in you, is stuck with that shitty belief that she is less than, is a burden, is bad, will die.
So how can we let that little one who’s still living with those old outdated beliefs, become free? That’s the million dollar question. A belief that was created by a child’s mind, and now lives in the subconscious mind of the adult, is best accessed in an altered state of consciousness, like meditation. That little one still exists (and will continue to do so), but in a different time-space. When we quiet our minds through practices like meditation, we can travel to where that little one is, and have a conversation with her, explaining what happened with our adult wisdom and perception of events.
With a different perception of an event, we can give it very different meaning. Something that initially brought pain into our lives, can be let go in a moment. Once that little one understands from the adult perspective, she instantly lets go of the fear, pain, and all of the beliefs she created because of it. It’s like a miracle, only because most people don’t understand all the mechanics around our feelings and beliefs, and how they affect our lives. How do I know this? Well, let’s just say I’ve seen it in action in my own life more than a few times.
By the way, I have just shared the nugget of healing. Life events are inherently neutral. We ascribe meaning to them. If we can find a way to change our perception and perspective, we can change meaning we had ascribed to an event. This goes for everything in life. Every-freaking-thing.
When life brings us pain, whether it’s physical or emotional pain, it’s our emotions’ way of talking to us (yes, even with physical pain). Screaming at us, really. It’s our emotions way of letting us know that there is something living inside of us, from our past, that wants to be addressed and set free. It’s that infant who was abandoned, that toddler who’s still in pain, that tween or teen who is still holding onto anger and sadness. That part of us that got fucked over in the drive-through, and that part of us that’s still afraid to die. They all live in us, crying out to be rescued.
As you travel throughout your day, when something hits you sideways and pushes you off-balance, ticking you off, or hitting you below the belt, understand that there’s an old piece of you wanting to come back into the fold. Wanting to reunite with your amazing sparkly self. Instead of getting mad at someone for “causing you pain” or wanting to brush it off or make it go away, make time to go within and witness it. Look at it and let it speak. Let that part of you have its say, and then have a conversation with it, explaining how you now perceive what went down, way back when. Know that whatever that other person said or did this morning, was merely a catalyst, a flaming red arrow pointing you in the direction of yourself. It was the easy button of life telling you there’s a part of you that was disconnected by a belief it created, and it’s time to let that old belief go, so you can come home.
This has been the process I’ve been using and understanding at deeper and deeper levels for the past several years. Any time there is something in my life that doesn’t work for me, I look for what’s beneath the surface feelings. Where do they lead me? What belief pops up, and what scenario went down to create it? I discover events that still hold uncomfortable meaning for a piece of me, and in shifting the meaning or perception, old shitty beliefs are released, and that piece of me comes home, happy once again.
This, my friends, is how to let go of hurts and create peace.