WHAT YOU THINK? DO YOU BELIEVE
Have you ever felt that the harder you look for love, the more it seems to elude you? Or that seeking approval makes you feel insecure? If you have, there’s a reason. It’s because seeking love and approval is a sure way to lose the awareness of both. You can lose the awareness of love, but never love itself.
Love is what we are. So, if love is what we are, why do we look for it so hard, and often with such poor results? Only because of what we think-the thoughts we believe that are not true.
You don’t have to believe any of this. You can verify it for yourself as you read this book or when you put the book down and ask four questions about your own relationships, or lack of them, and discover how your life changes. In the pursuit of love, approval, and appreciation, what do we think? We think that the love and approval of others are the keys to the kingdom-to every good thing in the world. We think that seeking romance brings love, a sexual partner, long term closeness, marriage, family. And we think that trying to impress society-trying to win the admiration of the right people-is our best shot at bringing fame, wealth, and satisfaction into our lives.
So we think that if we succeed in the quest, we’re home: safe, warm, and appreciated. And what if we fail? We’re homeless, out in the cold, lost in the crowd, unnoticed, lonely, and forgotten. If those are the stakes, no wonder the quest can be so fearful and all-consuming. No wonder a compliment can make your day and a harsh word can ruin it.
The big, primitive fears rarely rise to the surface. Few people walk around actually thinking that they’re about to fall through the cracks of society and vanish. Instead, thousands of anxious thoughts appear all day long: “Was I noticed?” “Why didn’t she smile?” “Did I make a good impression?” “Why hasn’t he returned my call?” “Do I look okay?” “Should I have said that?” “What do they think of me now?” It’s a constant monitoring to see if we’re gaining or losing ground in the grand approval sweepstakes.
Those little doubts are rarely noticed or questioned, and yet they set in motion hundreds of strategies designed to win favor and admiration, or just to please. The unspoken belief is that unless people approve of you, you’re worthless.
The irony is that the struggle to win love and approval makes it very difficult to experience them. Chronic approval seekers don’t realize that they are loved and supported not because of but despite their efforts. And the more strenuously they seek, the less likely they are to notice.
How do we get into this predicament? For a few pages, we’ll just look at the ways unquestioned thoughts create our experience. We’ll see how often-unnoticed thoughts that most of us share lead us to needing, wanting, longing, and reaching for what we already have. The thoughts behind a familiar 3 a.m. anxiety attack are a good place to start. Thought at 3 a.m.: Nothing Supports Me Suddenly you wake up in the middle of the night, glance at the clock, and wish you were still asleep. A thought appears: “What’s going to happen to me? It’s a cold, uncaring universe. [ don’t know what to do.” These thoughts were triggered by a mutual fund commercial you saw last night, but you don’t realize that.
And the next ones come from a half-remembered motivational tape: “There are no guarantees in this world. Nothing’s going to happen for you unless you make it happen.” This thought provides a little boost, followed by a major deflation as you remember that self-reliance hasn’t worked all that well for you. “[ need so much ] have so few resources to get it. My survival skills aren’t great, and basically I’m faking it. I’m helpless and alone. ”
The next thought brings some hope: “If I could just get more love from my family and friends, if just one person really adored me, if my boss really believed in me, then [ wouldn’t be so anxious, and [ could count on being supported.” The thought “Nothing supports me without my efforts” is just one of the unquestioned and often unnoticed beliefs that set in motion the search for love and approval. Let’s pause for a moment and explore the opposite.
Daylight Reality Check: Everything Supports Me
Do you know what supports your existence right now? Just to scratch the surface of this, suppose you’ve eaten your breakfast, sat down in your favorite chair, and picked up this book. Your neck and shoulders support your head. The bones and muscles of your chest support your breathing. Your chair supports your body. The floor supports your chair. The earth supports the building you live in. Various stars and planets hold the earth in its orbit. Outside your window a man walks down the street with his dog. Can you be sure that he isn’t playing a part in your support? He may work every day in a cubicle, filing papers for the power company that makes your lights come on.
Among the people you see on the street, and the countless hands and eyes working behind the scenes, can you be sure that there is anyone who isn’t supporting your existence? The same question applies to the generations of ancestors who preceded you and to the various plants and animals that had something to do with your breakfast. How many unlikely coincidences allow you to be here!
To explore this for a while, look around and see if there is anything you can say for sure doesn’t play some role in supporting you. Now look again at the 3 a.m. thought “Nothing supports me without my efforts.” In this moment wouldn’t it be more true to say, “Everything supports me without my efforts”? The proof is that here you are, sitting in your chair, doing nothing, being fully supported.
Everything supports you whether or not you even notice it, whether or not you think about it or understand it, whether you love it or hate it, whether you’re happy or sad, asleep or awake, motivated or unmotivated. It just supports you without asking for anything in return. Right now, sitting in your chair, as you breathe, notice that you’re not doing the breathing, you’re being breathed. You don’t even have to be aware of it, you don’t even have to remember to breathe, because that is supported too. Complicated and intricate as your requirements for existence might be, they are all being met. At this moment there’s nothing you need, nothing you need to do. Notice how it feels to take in that thought. Now think of something you don’t have. I’m sure you can think of something …. The Thought That Kicks You Out of Heaven The thought that kicks you out of heaven could be “l’d be a little more comfortable if I had a pillow.” Or it could be “I’d be happier if my partner were here.”
Without that thought, you’re in heaven-just sitting in your chair, being supported and being breathed. When you believe the thought that something is missing, what do you experience? The immediate effect may be subtle-only a slight restlessness as your attention moves away from what you already have. But with that shift of attention, you give up the peace you have as you sit in your chair. Seeking comfort, you give yourself discomfort.
What if you did get a pillow? That could work (if you have a pillow). You may find yourself back in heaven again. It may be the very thing you needed. Or you could pick up the phone and convince your partner (if you have a partner) to join you, and maybe he or she would actually arrive. And perhaps you would be happier, and perhaps you wouldn’t. In the meantime, there goes your peace.
Heaven: “This is wonderful. I could stay here forever.” Hell: “This is not quite perfect.
The thought that kicks you out of heaven doesn’t have to be about comfort or happiness. It could be “I’d be more secure if … “ or “If only it could always be like this,” or it could be just the thought of a cup of coffee. Most people are so busy making improvements they don’t notice they’ve stepped out of heaven.
Wherever they are, something or someone could always be better. So, how do you get back to heaven? To begin with, just notice the thoughts that take you away from it. You don’t have to believe everything your thoughts tell you. Just become familiar with the particular thoughts you use to deprive yourself of happiness. It may seem strange at first to get to know yourself in this way, but becoming familiar with your stressful thoughts will show you the way home to everything you need.
Getting to Know You When you begin to notice your thoughts, one of the first things you’ll see is that you’re never alone. You’re not alone with your lover or with anyone else; you’re not even alone with yourself.
Wherever you go, whomever you’re With, the voice in your head goes with you, whispering, nagging, enticing, judging, chattering, shaming, guilt-tripping, or yelling at you. When you wake up in the morning, your thoughts wake up with you. They push you out of bed and follow you to work. They make comments about people at the office and people in the store. They follow you to the bathroom, get into your car when you do, and come back home again with you. Whether or not someone is waiting for you at home, your thoughts will be there waiting for you. If you’re afraid to be alone, it means you’re afraid of your thoughts. If you loved your thoughts, you would love to be alone anywhere with them, you wouldn’t have to turn on the radio when you get in the car, or the TV when you get home. The way you relate to your thoughts-that’s what you bring to every relationship you have, including the one with yourself. But Wait a Minute! You may be asking: “That voice in my head, isn’t it me? Don’t I think my thoughts?” You can answer this for yourself. If the voice in your head is you, who’s the one listening to it?
When you wake up in the morning, you may notice that by the time you realize you’re thinking, you’re already being thought. Thoughts just appear. You’re not doing them. Occasionally you may have the experience of waking up before your thoughts. The mind spins for a few seconds seeking to know what it is, and then the world restarts in your thoughts, piece by piece. “I am so and so. This is Philadelphia. That person next to me is my husband. It’s Tuesday. I need to get up and go to work.” That process happens continuously when you’re awake. Thoughts create your world and your identity in every moment.
What Do Your Thoughts Have to Say About Love?
If you listen to your thoughts, you’ll notice that they are telling you what love can do for you. For instance, after a disappointment in love, you may have a raw and exposed feeling. Your thoughts may tell you that you’ve been deprived, that you are abandoned, excluded, empty, lonely, or incomplete. They may tell you that only love can make you feel good again. If you’re fearful, if you crave safety and security, your thoughts may tell you that love will rescue you. If life is disappointing or doesn’t make sense, many people think that love is the answer to that as well. It would be useful at this point to see what you think. Just ask yourself what you hope for or expect from love, and make a list of five things you think love will bring you.
Your most intimate relationship is the one you have with your thoughts.
Most people believe that love and need are synonymous. “I love you, I need you” is the hook of a thousand love songs. If you ask yourself what you really need in life, you’ll probably come up with a list like the one you just made about love. People ask for the same things as they go through life. The way they ask just gets a little more sophisticated:
I want .
I need .
I need your love.
You’re not fulfilling my needs in this relationship.
I need you to …
I can’t go on without …
These are my requirements …
Thoughts about your wants and needs can be very bossy. If you believe them, you feel you have to do what they say-you have to get people’s love and approval. There is another way to respond to a thought, and that is to question it. How can you question your wants and needs? How can you meet your thoughts without believing them?
I meet my thoughts the way I would meet my husband or my children: with understanding.
QUESTIONING YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT LOVE
Thoughts and Feelings in the Pursuit of Love It may seem odd at first to look at grand passions or unhappiness, especially unhappiness about love, in terms of thoughts. Still, if you slow down and take a look, you’ll find that there is always a particular thought that triggers any stressful feeling. Anxiety about love is the result of simple, childlike thoughts, thoughts that everyone has, even ninety-year-olds. “I need your love.” “I’d be lost without you.” Unquestioned thoughts like these pretend to guide you toward love when in fact they are obstacles to it. People who are upset sometimes say they can’t locate the thought that is causing the upset; they can only feel a flood of emotion. This doesn’t mean that the thought isn’t there. Suppose, for example, you say something heartfelt and he doesn’t reply; he just gets up and leaves the room. You’re left sitting there feeling as though the world has ended. The thought may be “He isn’t interested in me.” It may become “Why do I bother? No one really cares about me.” If you aren’t feeling upset right now, as you read this, remember a past situation in your life where you were very upset; be still and allow that feeling to re-create itself. If you’re upset and you can’t seem to find the thought behind the emotions, try this: Take some time to travel inwardly toward the place where the feeling is most intense. This means sinking into the physical sensation of the feeling. Let yourself be upset all over again, for your own sake, and this time give it a voice. If the feeling could talk, what would it say and who would it say that to?
Don’t rush this. Be precise. Otherwise you’re likely to come up with something that seems wise or kind-the thought you think you should be thinking-instead of the thought that’s really there and hurting.
Suppose you’ve just returned from traveling for a week with a new friend, and your hopes for the experience were completely dashed. A psychologically correct thought, such as “My expectations were too high,” isn’t what you’re looking for when your real feelings are saying, “You let me down,” “You hurt me,” “You lied,” “You’re not the person you pretended to be.” Your actual thought, the one you blurt out in the moment like a child write that thought down as bluntly as you can. That’s the thought you’re looking for. Often, within pain or depression, there are thoughts you’ve had for so long and held so close that you don’t even know they are there. And you’ve never stopped to see if you even believe them. What if you stopped to ask? What if you had a method of seeing whether you really believe your most disturbing thoughts? The Work-it’s also called inquiry-is exactly that. Seeing it as a method is only temporary. After you do inquiry for a while, you find that it becomes automatic-your natural way of relating to thoughts. Believing your thoughts comes to seem more and more unnatural, a method of fooling yourself, and it becomes clearer and clearer that inquiry returns you to reality. How do you bring a thought to inquiry? Introducing The Work on Seeking Love and Approval Before the actual instructions for bringing a thought to inquiry,we’ll take a tour of the process, so that you can get a feel for it.
IS IT TRUE? After you’ve found the thought that’s upsetting you, the first step is to ask if it’s true. That means checking it against your own truth, going inside yourself and seeing if you really believe the thought that’s troubling you. Does the thought match what you know as reality? In most cases it doesn’t.
There’s no reason to believe that thoughts match reality. As you move through life, thoughts appear like shots in the dark. They are no more than vague attempts to figure out what’s going on around and inside you. When you’re seeking love and approval, many thoughts are aimed at deciphering the behavior of the people you care about, or theorizing about what’s going on in their minds.
In a sense, every thought poses a question, something like ”Is this what’s going on?” A thought about something we perceived, if it were expressed accurately, might say, I think he insulted me-is that what happened?” But, like children, we tend to focus on the alarming part: “He insulted me.” We grab hold of it, then react as if the thought were a fact. We go into pain, or we attack, instead of answering the question implied by the thought ”He insulted me-is that what really happened?” (What if the reason he didn’t answer your friendly wave is that he didn’t see you because he wasn’t wearing his glasses?
HOW DO YOU LIVE WITH AND WITHOUT THAT THOUGHT?
Any feeling of discomfort or stress is an alarm that lets you know you’re believing an untrue thought. in this step, you first examine what happens when you believe your thought. You notice in detail what the thought does to your emotional and physical life. Suppose, for instance, that your thought is “George doesn’t care about me.” Take a good look at how you live when you’re in the grip of that thought. How does that thought affect you? How do you treat yourself and others, including George, when you believe that thought? Do you pity yourself? Do you feel hurt and angry? Is this where you become a victim? Do you stop talking to George and give him “the look”? Do you snap at your colleagues or your kids? Does it affect your sleep?
Then you take an imaginative leap. You imagine what your life would be without the thought: if you didn’t believe it or if you were incapable even of thinking it. Just for this moment, don’t bother about whether or not the thought is true. The point is to experiment, to see what your life feels like when you don’t believe that thought. In your imagination, look at George without the thought “He doesn’t care about me” and stay with that experience for a while. This step lets you notice the consequences of believing a thought. You thoroughly immerse yourself in life with the thought, and then you give yourself a taste of life without it.
TURNAROUNDS: IS THE OPPOSITE AS TRUE?
This is the final step of inquiring into the thought. Like a mirror, the mind has a way of getting things right but backward. So you take your thought and turn it around. This means literally reversing it in as many ways as you can. You then ask yourself if these reversed versions seem as true as or truer than your original thought. They often do. Let’s turn around the thought “He insulted me”: first to the other, then to the self, then to the opposite. I insulted him. (I jumped to my conclusion when he didn’t wave, and I judged him harshly.) I insulted me. (I turned a possibly innocent action into an insult. I was the one who created the insult, in my own mind. And my angry thoughts made me feel small and mean.)
He didn’t insult me. (Maybe he didn’t even see me. Maybe he was thinking of something else. I can’t really know what his intention was.) When the mind wants to prove that it’s right, it can get further into a rut, like a stuck car. Trying out turnarounds and considering whether they may possibly be true is like rocking your car back and forth to free it from the mud.
Suppose, for instance, you’re convinced that it would be a terrible thing if your boyfriend were to take a job a thousand miles from where you live. This thought leaves you paralyzed with anxiety. Turning it around makes you look at a possibility that your stuck mind would never consider: Are there any ways it could be a good thing if your boyfriend took the job and moved away? Your mind may refuse to even look at that possibility. That is pure stuckness. But what if you can find even one genuine reason to support the reversed thought? Perhaps you can find this: your boyfriend’s new job could be tremendously fulfilling for him, and your relationship may improve because of that. If you can see even a slim possibility that this may be true, the fear has to lessen. Maybe his absence would allow you to spend more time with your friends, or to start working out, or to take the course you’ve been wanting to take. Maybe his move to an exciting city would result in your spending time with him there, or even moving there-who knows? You don’t have to believe these reasons or act on them just finding a reason can move you out of your rut. You may be astonished at the lightness and relief that come from opening your mind to the possibility that what you were convinced was terrible may not be so terrible after all.
You may resist this exercise because you believe that it would somehow bring about what you fear. In the example above, you may think that opening your mind to your boyfriend’s move, even for a moment, would make you a weaker opponent of it. But if you really look at that thought, the opposite is more likely: When people take a fearful and rigid stance, they often bring about what they’re trying to prevent. Turnarounds open more space. They allow you to see how things can work out in a peaceful way,
beyond what you had considered when you were defending a position.
If someone has trouble finding one reason to support a turn around (“This is a terrible setback and that’s that,” “This could work out for the best? No! I won’t even consider that!”), I often suggest that they find three reasons that the turnaround could be true. When your mind refuses to budge, you may discover that finding three genuine reasons, even if they seem silly or insignificant at first, moves you out of your rut and puts you back on the road to interesting possibilities.
How to Do Your Own Inquiry Now that you’ve read the overview, here are the instructions.
1. When you feel disturbed, upset, or simply unhappy about some situation in the present or the past, notice the thoughts that are running through your mind, and write down the one that is upsetting you the most right now. If you’re convinced that it’s a feeling, not a thought, give the feeling a voice. Write down what the feeling would say, as a short, simple statement. For example, “He just walked out the door, and that means he doesn’t care about me.” Just writing down the thought that’s been tormenting you is a powerful act. Now you can question it.
2. Ask you if it’s true. “He doesn’t care about me”-is it true? Don’t ask if the thought matches what you’ve been told or have learned. Don’t consider the way life is supposed to look. (He didn’t put down the newspaper when you came into the kitchen; he didn’t call to tell you he’d be late; he walked out the door without saying goodbye-but can you be sure that any of this means he doesn’t care about you?) Don’t consult the part of you that knows what the answer should be. The question is, does the thought match what you know inside? Does that thought resonate with your deepest sense of reality? Can you absolutely know that it’s true that he doesn’t care about you? (“I don’t know” is as good an answer here as yes or no.
3. Explore how you live when you believe this thought. Overall, does this thought bring peace or stress to your life? Does it bring you closer to the people you love, or does it separate you from them? How do you react when you believe the thought ”He doesn’t care about me”? What does it feel like to believe it? How do you treat yourself and others? How do you treat him? Take your time with this process. Picture yourself believing the thought. Do you react with sadness? Depression? Anger? Do you withdraw from him? Do you try to win him over? Do you judge yourself and feel like a failure? Do you light up a cigarette or head for the refrigerator? Be as precise and detailed as you can be.
4. Explore what life would be like without the thought. Use your imagination to give yourself a glimpse of who or what you would be without this thought. Don’t look for a better thought to substitute for the painful one. Just live for a while in the space that opens up when you view your situation without the old thought. Pretend that you don’t have the ability to think the thought. What would that be like? Look at him in your mind’s eye without the thought “He doesn’t care about me.” Maybe you will simply see a man who is deeply absorbed in reading his newspaper, who loves his wife but doesn’t want to shift his attention to her right now. Maybe without the thought “He doesn’t care about me” you’ll find it easy to take pleasure in his pleasure.
5. Turn the thought around. Consider reversed or opposite versions of the thought. If a certain turnaround doesn’t make sense to you, don’t bother with it. Turn the original statement around any way you want to until you find the turnarounds that penetrate the deepest.
Turning around “He doesn’t care about me”: I don’t care about him. (When I feel hurt, I withdraw or I get angry, and I don’t care what he feels.) I don’t care about mt’. (I don’t care about myself when I go to war against someone I love. I take away my own peace of mind. I put myself in a hostile situation, I create an enemy for myself, I give myself a lot of stress and sadness. This is when addictive behavior such as bingeing, smoking, or overeating begins to kick in.)
He dot’s care about me. (He may love me and still speak harshly to me. He may love me and still want to
Ask yourself if any of your turned-around versions seem as true as or even truer than your original thought, and if they do, find three genuine ways in which each of them is true. Turn arounds can dramatically set you free from a thought, especially if you’ve loosened your belief in it by following the earlier steps.
Ask Four Questions and Turn It Around: The Pocket-Sized Reminder of The Work Whenever you have a stressful thought, these four questions and the turnaround will guide you through your inquiry: Is it true?
Can I absolutely know that it’s true? How do I react when I think this thought?
Who or what would I be without the thought? Turn the thought around, and find three genuine examples of how each turnaround is as true as or truer than the original statement.