The only thing we have much reliable control over, is ourselves. What we do, how we think and how we feel helps shape not just how we experience life, but what happens to us. However, changing our ways of seeing and reacting to the world is incredibly hard – even when I’ve known my thinking was faulty, it’s been a fight to identify, challenge and change it. Often we don’t know where the problems are, or why. Self change is something many people use magic to explore, and often it is a big part of a spiritual path. But, how to do it?
Scientific method goes… observe, theorise, test, conclude, and then you will likely take those conclusions as the observations for the next round. It works to take similar approaches in our lives.
Observe: This means paying attention to patterns of cause and effect, and looking to see if they might be correlations instead. What’s happening that doesn’t go the way you want it to? Identify the problems. So, to make this less hypothetical, let me observe that I have a lot of issues around being touched, but that one of them is fear that my body is fundamentally unacceptable to other people and that contact with me could be offensive and that rejection is therefore likely.
It’s worth noting that this observation is full of existing theories – I have a set of beliefs. I might want to unpick them and work out why I have these beliefs, or I could just accept that they may be wonky. Either way, I can safely theorise that these feelings of mine will be contributing to the problem – I avoid physical contact, and when I don’t I’m usually awkward, which could be sending out the wrong signals to people.
To test the theory I have to be more open to hugs from people I know. I have to notice where that might be available. I don’t have to say yes to everything, I don’t always want people to touch me (I may be in too much pain for a start). I theorise that if I could sort my body out to hurt less, that might help. There’s no need for this to be a wholly linear process, after all. If people can be physically kind to me and accepting of me as a physical presence, then I can question the underlying belief that I’m intrinsically repellent. I’ve been testing this for a while, with mixed results but an overall sense that people are often more ok with me than I expect them to be. I conclude that it’s worth pushing outside my comfort zone to keep exploring this.
The testing flags up other issues – that it’s not just about my acceptability, it’s about my need to feel safe, and I feel safer if I think I’m so horrible that no one would want to get anywhere near me. Even though I feel sad about feeling unacceptable, feeling acceptable might be worse. The thing that hurts me also functions to protect me. There’s a defence mechanism here that helps me keep people at a safe distance, and it helps explain the people I’ve had problems with (it’s my fault, not theirs and I find this easier to deal with). That in turn may be protecting me from facing other things I have not wanted to think about. I find it easier to internalise blame than to deal with the idea of other people being inadequate or unfair. To change, I need to identify all those things and think them through properly. Testing my reality opens up new questions, and new things I need to deal with.
The key thing here is creating the opportunity to gather evidence that what we thought, may be wrong, and to use that to construct better ideas, and from those better ideas, better ways of being in the world. It offers no quick fixes, it can be bloody uncomfortable, but it gives you something solid to work with. I’m not good at belief, or just changing my reality with a daily positive aphorism, but this experimental approach gives me information I can work with to rethink issues.
It’s important not to beat yourself up while doing this. Exposing unhelpful theories and beliefs can make a person feel a bit stupid. These are coping mechanisms that have passed their sell by date, usually – things that once made sense, or once held up. We change, everything around us changes, what worked before is hurting us now. The more lightly you can hold the idea of a rethink, the less the process will hurt you and the more good it can do.