Grace here. This is one of my all time favorite questions. I am going to have to get a little theoretical with you to tell you why, so bear with me for a minute when I get there. But first, a little story.
I had an experience when I was about 16 that left me doubting my own sense of belonging and my ability to tell where I do and do not belong. I had attended a wonderful and magical horse camp for years. I loved it there. It was one of my safe places. A place where I could be wild and loving and of service to the earth. A place where I felt loved and seen.
The year I was 16, I began volunteering there as a Staff Helper. It was a rough summer. The director was struggling with his own life and some of the camp systems weren’t working very well. At the end of the summer, a lot of us asked to speak to the director about our experiences. It didn’t go well. In fact, it was an absolute trainwreck. We were a bunch of young, overworked, emotionally hurt teenages trying to speak up about our experiences to a man who felt defensive and who wasn’t very good with emotions or feedback in the first place. It was set up for failure.
But that’s not really the point. Where I am going with this is that after our roundtable, I tried to talk to him alone, hoping to feel more heard I guess. Instead, he just angrily told me “I never wanted you here anyway!” and stormed off.
Thinking about it with an adult rational mind and a compassionate heart, I can see how he was hurting and was lashing out. I have no way to know if he meant what he said or not, although over the years other adults at the camp have told me I was loved and welcomed there.
To say that this conversation with the director had a lasting impact on me is an understatement. It crushed me. Not only did I lose the camp that was so important to me, I lost my faith in my own ability to discern where I do and do not belong. I walked away believing people don’t want me around (even when it seems like they do) and that I cannot trust myself to discern the difference.
These are incredibly painful beliefs for me that have persisted in showing up every now and then ever since. Thankfully, less and less the more I work with them but it is still a practice to meet myself and my feelings with compassion. It takes courage for me to allow myself the vulnerability of trusting that I do belong.
One of the things that has helped me the most along the way, along with my practice of compassionate accepting awareness, has been the use of the question “what else could be true here?”. When I notice that I am feeling worried that I am unwelcome, that I don’t belong, or that I am inserting myself into social situations where I don’t have a place, I pause, I muster up some compassion for myself for feeling that way yet again, and then from a compassionately curious place I ask myself what else might be true. And usually, I uncover some other options.
For example, after I had my son, I started attending a postpartum support group. I was new to town and they were all new people for me. It may not come as a surprise that I started worrying that I didn’t belong. That my presence in the group was annoying to people. It made me not want to go, to stay home and hide, or to keep my mouth shut while there, to take up as little space as possible. Even amidst all the chaos of early parenthood, I felt and recognized the feelings and their roots. I was able to compassionately accept that the belief was popping back up again and to ask myself that magical question: “What else could be true here?”
Once I asked myself that question I was able to see that perhaps I was just feeling that way because it is vulnerable to be in a new space with new people and that I could watch for how I was being received in the group. I was able to see that I, along with everyone else in the group, was tired, emotionally raw, and hormonal. I could allow myself a little extra grace knowing that how things felt might not be grounded in truth.
Widening the lens of what could be true allowed me to choose to trust that I was welcome there. It allowed me to be open and vulnerable. It allowed me to make friends who remain dear to me (and vice versa) years later.
So that’s my story. And now let me get a little theoretical with you for just a moment so that you can see what was happening under the surface.
Our beliefs are often formed from the conclusions we draw from the experiences that we have. And once formed, they become the lenses through which we experience all our future moments. The thing is though, the rules of all the future moments don’t necessarily match with those of the past moment so even if the conclusion we drew from a past experience was objectively true at the time, it doesn’t mean that the belief holds true in future moments. But, because we see the world through the lens of our beliefs, it often feels true. This can trap us into interpreting our experiences as though the belief is true, over and over again. And this validates the belief even more, strengthening our conviction that it is true.
You have probably experienced this at some point in your life. Something happens and you feel completely convinced that your interpretation of events is correct. And perhaps that interpretation creates a lot of discomfort in your system. When you are in it, it is hard to see that perhaps you are caught in the self validating loop. It is helpful to have a practice to turn to in those moments to help you open to other possibilities and to help validate new beliefs. We need to have validation of the new belief before it really sticks. This is where the question comes in. When we are able to ask ourselves what else could be true here, it opens the possibility to see another explanation, another possible reality.
So next time you notice yourself responding to a situation from a place of old limiting conclusions, take a pause and ask yourself, “What else could be true here?”
And if you want some solid support in learning to change limiting beliefs, join us in January 2021 for our next live Taming the Bear class! Learn more here.