We each have filters through which we view life. These filters control our self-talk, verbal expressions and actions. Some of these filters are passed to us by our family of origin, others by society and culture, but many come from the experiences we have. Let me share one of my past filters with you, and a few points on how it was created.
When I was 9-years-old I had an experience that left an impression on me. A small group of kids from the neighborhood was at my home. We were all standing around talking. My older brother seized the moment and cracked a mean joke about a feature on my face. Everybody laughed. I felt embarrassed, ashamed and ugly. I decided that since they had all laughed and because I had felt so much pain that the insult must be true. I began to create a filter in my brain called “I am ugly”.
Over the years, lots of little experiences happened to re-enforce this “truth”. Some were very impactful, like when I was 16-years-old. I went swimming with a bunch of my friends. I came up out of the water and one of my guy friends said to me, “You look funny when you’re wet”. The comment stung. Not just because I already had the seed of belief that I was ugly, but also because the comment came from a teenage boy, whom I spent a lot of time with, and whose opinion I valued. I gave his declaration too much weight and it ended up being over 20 years before I got my head wet in a swimming pool again. It had that much impact on me.
To further cement this “truth”, I got married really young and really fast the first time. And wouldn’t you know it, the reason my husband told me he decided he didn’t love me anymore: I wasn’t attractive enough.
“I am ugly” became my absolute, deeply held truth.
It became my own personal hell through which I experienced the first half of my adult life. Can you see how that thought could suck all the joy from life?! I couldn’t go swimming anymore, I was too ugly for the pool. I couldn’t get up on a stage and share my music, I was too ugly to do that. I couldn’t have friends; no one wants to be around an ugly girl. My husband would never love me, I was too ugly to be loved, etc. etc.
My own customized hell.
I eventually challenged that belief by competing in a beauty pageant. But can you imagine the exquisite and perfect hell that competition was for me with that belief? And even when I competed a second time and won, I still didn’t believe I was pretty. Even a crown and the external validation of a panel of judges did not remove my filter. No, that’s something I had to give myself. I alone held that key.
Much of the time we walk around feeling like events and people and experiences are the things that make our life a living hell, but it’s really our own minds that create that feeling. Yes, there are certain hellish experiences that come from people’s misuse of agency, and there are plenty of people who recover from those horrors and go on to impact the world having learned to view their circumstances through a filter that empowers, rather than victimizes.
Here are a few published examples:
Man’s Search for Meaning –Viktor Frankl
Psychologist and survivor of the Jewish Holocaust who observed the power of mindset and selflessness as a determination of survival.
The Hiding Place–Corrie Ten Boom
Polish woman who was imprisoned during the Jewish Holocaust for hiding Jews.
Left to Tell–Imacculee Ilibagiza
Survivor of the Rwanda Genocide whose faith and mindset worked miracles in the most heinous of circumstances.
Tramp for the Lord–Corrie Ten Boom
Experiences of Corrie Ten Boom after the holocaust as she went out sharing her message of forgiveness with the world
If you haven’t read these books, they are lifechanging–difficult to read–but life changing.
I recommend reading them with the following questions in mind:
What was the author’s mindset in the beginning of the story? What was it like in the end? Was there a progression?
What tools did the author use to control or change their thinking? Was it a perfect and seamless process? Or were there ups and downs in their thinking?
Do I even consider my thought patterns, responses, self-talk and filters? Am I aware of my thoughts and feelings? How have they changed over time? Do my thoughts empower me? Do they make me a victim?
What is the most powerful lesson I have learned about thinking and the mind from the author?
The key to freeing ourselves from our own emotional and mental prisons is in educating the mind in how to think, not pointing fingers and wishing others would change. It’s about taking personal accountability for the only thing you have power over. . . yourself. This is done through a process of self-education.
Do the work. Read a book. Ask the questions. Journal your thoughts and answers. There is no hack to lasting results. The work of the soul is just that. . . work. But oh, how satisfying when you break down those bars and taste freedom from the filters that holds you back.
This Week’s Challenge
Discover one of your filters (beliefs) that may be holding you back. Write it down and consider a more positive belief you could begin cultivating in its place.