Saturday, March 5, 2011

Believing in oneself

"If I believe I can't do something, I am incapable of doing it. When I believe I can, I acquire the ability to do it" Gandhi

I was writing in my journal in the park that is next to the Sacramento River yesterday. I was feeling a bit down as I had felt that I did not accomplish all that I meant to do yesterday and in my whole life. As I started to write in my journal, I began to remember my father who was a man who had gathered within himself and twisted in agony as he considered himself a failure. He went to great lengths to avoid these feelings and of course could never distance himself enough and found temporary relief only in such things as alcohol and sex. I have seen it many times in others.

The more I wrote, the more I saw that these feelings were from a mindset that was not necessarily set in reality. I had done well with my life. Ironically, the ways my father had felt the most failure were for things he had done well. He had been born in the Ozarks and had started with nothing and ended up with a decent life. It was the things he did to stop feeling like he was a failure that he did things that made his life a long parade of deplorable events in behavior. Luckily, I did not have those things in my life.

Later that day, I was talking with Ted who is my friend and is a successful writer and he knew exactly what I was talking about when I described what I put into my journal. He said he had a terrible problem with alcohol and drugs trying so hard not to feel like he was a failure as his father called him one on many occasions. Luckily, he had gone into recovery from them five years ago. His father was a college professor and taught for many years for a big university.

Both of us agreed that the habit of measuring ourselves by our parents were doomed. There was no way we were ever going to be successes by their standards although I was looking at myself as a failure by my own standards and not by my parents'. Ted said that his last book did well and his agent and publisher was pleased which pleased him for five minutes. Then he got a phone call from his father. The next five minutes, his father told him over the phone that he could have done better and at least sold more copies and had some intellectual content instead of pure memoir as Ted's book was. his father went on and on how he would have put some research in it and made it important instead of a book filled with gossip about a family that did not exist except in his son's head. Then later, Ted said he took himself to task for not producing a book that would live in the canon as a classic instead of what he had written. The rest of the day was spent in a black gloom because he felt like a failure. He told the truth in his book, but he secretly felt he lied when his father accused him of fantasy.

"Ted," I asked him. "Did your father write a book that sold decently?"

"Well, he wrote a book at the beginning of his career that was published but it sunk somewhere. It was his doctorate's thesis. I think a few people bought it, maybe relatives. I don't know. "

"I can't see how you are considering what he says about your books. Just one of your books sold more than his one book."

"You are right. I have told myself all that many times, but as soon as I think it is all settled in my mind the doubt sneaks in. "

"I think this whole way of thinking should be thrown out. It is so counterproductive and no one will ever get the better of it. If the Democratic Party decided to elect you president instead of Obama next election, he still won't give you credit will he?"

"Does George W. feel like a success?"

"Probably not. Bad example. What I am saying is nothing you can do will please your father and nothing you can do will please yourself and nothing I can do will please me. Let's throw out the whole thing."

"Ok. Sounds good to me. All we have to do is figure out how to do it. "

"We ought to give it a try though. Instead of both of us wearing these hair shirts, we ought to be trying to get rid of this way of thinking. Remember, I told you when this guy at work woke up during one morning during his divorce with the realization that there was nothing wrong with him? From then on, he started to get better and stopped beating himself over the head. We should just verbalize what unconscious messages we are bringing to the fore. There is nothing wrong with me. I am doing the best I can and this success or failure is pure bunk. Then we can get on with the work we want to do in life. "

Ted said: "Being writers, both of us, we can at least write it in our journals. Tell the monkeys of the mind that they can get off our backs because the message we internalized years ago is not real. That is a beginning. Make a mantra out of it. I mean not say I am a success but that whole way of living one's life is stupid, not real and not valid. If we tell ourselves enough we are failures or we can't do something then we can't. "

"Oh, that sounds so good. It is true. It is not real or valid."

I am trying to do this since I talked with Ted. I have not talked with hm since then. His father is a piece of work. He is also an alcoholic and is not in recovery. My father was an alcoholic too and never went into recovery. My mother denied he was one and would only say he was allergic to the stuff. Yeah, right. Too bad he never talked to himself. Ted does that a lot especially when he is writing another memoir. I do when I write in my journal.

My father used to say certain people were his enemy and my ex-husband has a long list of people (it includes me) that he has grudges against. I think in reality, the only enemy any of us have is ourselves. We need to believe in our own self worth and like Ted said voicing those negative self messages is a good beginning in seeing that we are really worthwhile individuals that have really accomplished quite a lot and the judgment of that should not depend on anyone even ourselves.

Thinking along these lines is not based on reality. When I am thinking this way, I can't do anything. I am convinced I am a sorry mess. Ted said he knew a model who was making a lot of money until she became convinced she was ugly and she cut her hair off and ate too much so she did become ugly. Then she stopped working. He is well aware of the danger in believing he is a bad writer. I don't want to believe I am a bed person. I'm not and neither is anyone else. All I can do is keep writing these negative beliefs in my journal so they become conscious and I can see how unrealistic they are.

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