Q: Can you speak to uncovering and re-writing the script behind the negative core belief(s) that could be running under the surface in the following scenarios please? I'm having trouble pinpointing what they might be:
Feeling left out if certain family members are getting together without you
FOMO (fear of missing out)
Loneliness POPs at times (discomfort with being along for long periods of time)
POPs around being excluded
My pre-frontal cortex knows that these POPs are clearly unhelpful, and not based on anything rational, but something is running in the subconscious that hijacks my brain and sends false messages. What core belief could be running below the surface and causing these POPs that could be re-wired?
A: This is a great question and a complex one to answer. It is not as simple and straightforward as many other aspects that show up in our limbic system because there is a practical reality at play here too. For many, chronic conditions have meant missing out on events and family gatherings, or being excluded because people don't understand the condition. Many have lost friendships or close connections with family members. Even those who haven't had these particular experiences have experienced some form of loss as a result of their condition(s). Perhaps its not being where they wanted to be by this age, not having made as much progress financially, relationally, or career-wise by this point, or missing out on trips, events, or milestones in life. There is a cost to having a limbic system impairment and sometimes grieving that loss and feeling the feelings for the things in the past that we cannot change is part of the healing process. Be open and honest about your deepest thoughts and feelings regarding the cost of the condition(s) you experience, either by having a deep conversation with someone you trust that has the capacity to actively listen and receive what you are saying (without trying to add their opinion or fix it in some way), or by writing them out, uncensored. Talking out loud to a trusted individual or writing out your honest thoughts and feelings allows us to access other parts of the brain, which often leads to new insights or seeing things from a bigger picture perspective. And even if it doesn't in the moment you're doing it, it does allow you to externalize these internal experiences and shines the light on them so that they are no longer affecting you in the same way.
There is a difference between expressing our deepest thoughts & feelings and entertaining limbic system dysfunction. If your brain is perseverating on the past experience(s), rehashing them over and over, entertaining those thoughts are not going to help you release the experience and move forward. When this happens, we want to treat it as an automatic negative thought and actively redirect. At the same time, we can make space to share our innermost thoughts and feelings (verbally out loud or in writing) to release them, and outside of the times we are releasing them through these prescribed processes we can prevent our brain from obsessing about them. Often what people find is that if they are willing to give themselves the time and space to be really honest with themselves and express what is coming up, the perseveration actually decreases. Some brain retraining programs suggest otherwise, whereas others promote this type of action. We know that what you resist persists and often grows, taking on a life of its own. If we can acknowledge and give voice to those parts, they can stop triggering our nervous system and keeping us in survival mode. Emotion after all is simply energy in motion, and is meant to move through us.
Also, consider practicing acceptance of the parts of you that feel left out or missing out. Can we accept that a part of us feels this way? This doesn't mean we allow that part to take over and start operating from that part, we still stay in our higher and wiser adult selves. We simply accept that part is there and give space for it to be present. We might even get curious about that part. Is this a familiar or common feeling to you? How old does that part feel? What is the earliest time you can remember feeling this way? If you were to give that part of you a voice, what would it say to you right now? If you're not sure what it would say, imagine what it might say if it had a voice. How might your wise and compassionate adult self, knowing what you know now, respond to that part? If you have trouble with that last question, think of another child you have or had in your life coming to you and sharing what your inner part shared. How might you respond to that child? Having a conversation with that part will help you to uncover potential underlying beliefs that may be operating. If, for example, our younger part bases its self-worth on the approval of others and being included by them, being left out might trigger feelings of unworthiness, not being loved/loveable, or not being good enough. The core belief is that our self worth & loveability is based on approval of others. We have to earn it. In reality, it is inherent in us and never has to be earned. When you look at a newborn baby do you think it has to earn its worth, or earn love? No, of course not. It is already worthy. It came into this world being worthy. The same is true for you.
This brings us to the another aspect to consider when contemplating this question. If our outer world is a reflection of our inner world (and many believe that it is), then where are we not loving, accepting, and including aspects of ourselves? How are we not showing up for ourselves? What parts/aspects are we pushing away? When we have a high degree of self love and self-compassion, and our needs are being met internally, we are less affected by what other people are doing and whether or not we are included. Living according to our purpose and values also brings richness and meaning to our lives, where we feel more fulfilled and less affected by external factors, which ultimately decreases feelings of missing out or being left out.
All of this is assuming of course that our basic human biological need for connection is being met in some way, even by just having one person in our lives that we can connect with and rely on. We are social creatures by nature and are not meant to live in complete isolation.
Feeling of loneliness are not necessarily synonymous with isolation. We can feel lonely even when we are around other people. Again, this is a sign that what we are longing for is a deeper internal relationship with ourselves and possibly with something greater than ourselves (if that applies to you). That longing cannot be fulfilled by other people, and the loneliness leaves as we befriend ourselves and/or something greater more deeply. In the case of isolation, become your own best friend and do what you can when you can to connect with other people at least a little bit, even virtually or over the phone. And if loneliness shows up, accept that there is a part of you that feels this way and become curious about that part. Hear what it has to say. You may recognize some POPs/automatic negative thoughts entangled in the mix, and you may uncover some unmet needs. As you start to show up and befriend that part of you, rather than trying to make it go away, ironically often the feeling of loneliness starts to dissipate because it is being accepted.
A lot of brain retraining comes down to perspective - recognizing what perspective we are taking and what beliefs are operating behind that perspective. Then asking ourselves, is there another perspective that could be equally as true? Can we learn to hold our beliefs a little more lightly instead of seeing them as undeniable facts? Here's an example. We may hold a belief that if we aren't being invited to a family gathering it is because family members don't like us or want to spend time with us. We may take it very personally. Could it also be true that sometimes family members like to have smaller gatherings so that they can really connect with the people that are there? Or that sometimes the activities or locations are more suited to certain family members than to others? Ask yourself, do you invite your whole family (or your whole friend group) every time you have a gathering (or used to get together) or do/did you sometimes choose to have smaller more intimate gatherings? Part of what happens with limbic system dysfunction is that our prefrontal cortex (pfc) isn't working optimally so we have difficulty seeing the bigger picture or looking at other possible perspectives. The limbic system sees things only from one angle, and it is usually one that puts us into defence, victim, or survival mode. Part of the retraining is to activate our pfc by starting to question our thoughts (i.e. not believing everything we think) and entertaining other possibilities.
If we are already doing this, and consciously understand it but our heart is still feeling left out or missing out, then go back to befriending those parts as described above. This is an opportunity to become more whole, to fully accept and integrate parts of us that may be stuck in unhelpful thoughts or beliefs, based on early life experiences. It requires some curiosity and gentleness to invite these parts to the table, to understand them and let them have their say, and then to gently guide and support them from your loving and wise adult self. You are no longer that child. The rules that applied then to feel loved or have your needs met no longer apply anymore. You are no longer reliant on others for this in the ways that you were when you were a child. Sometimes those parts need to be updated with this information because they are still living in that past. This doesn't mean we don't have meaningful connections with others in our lives or enjoy those connections, but we are not looking to them to fulfill our needs. That's an inside job.
Until next time!
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Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She has a background in nervous system regulation, trauma, grief & loss, mindfulness, & positive psychology. She taught the DNRS in-person program for 5 years, has over a decade of experience coaching brain re-trainers & provides mentorship to other coaches. Candy works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com