A few months ago, I worked with Shelly Lefkoe, of the Lefkoe Institute, on eliminating my fear of public speaking. The institute was founded by Morty Lefkoe, Shelly's husband, to "help individuals dramatically improve their effectiveness and sense of well-being in all areas of their lives." When I tell people I struggle with this particular insecurity, they're perplexed. A typical response goes like this: But you hosted radio shows and an Internet TV show, you still make various radio appearances, and you have taught classes -- you're constantly in the public eye! How could you possibly be afraid of public speaking? Well, just because I do it doesn't mean I don't get anxious. To be sure, my response to this fear has not been one of avoidance. Rather, I constantly place myself in uncomfortable situations until I become more comfortable. Essentially, I practice. I expose myself as much as I can to public speaking appearances with the hope that the fear will dissipate over time. This route has worked for me, but I have long been curious as to what exactly is behind my anxiety. Why did it develop in the first place? What am I so afraid of? It's not like it's a life and death kind of thing. As Shelly said to me once: "I asked my daughter if she was afraid of speaking in front of people and she said, 'why, do they have guns and knives?'"
I had four sessions with Shelly, and although my fear hasn't been completely lifted, our work together did help me recognize how tremendously powerful our beliefs can be and that when we work on understanding where our beliefs about ourselves come from, we can start to work on changing those beliefs. By changing our beliefs, we start to notice that our responses to situations that typically induce fear can change. Of course, most people get a little nervous about getting up in front of people -- being the focal point of attention can be intimidating -- but, as Shelly teaches, deeper fears about public speaking are often manifested in childhood experiences and our parental relationships.
I'll spare you the details about the possible origins of my public speaking fears. But from the perspective of a dating coach and columnist, I can't help but transfer the lessons I learned from Shelly to the world of dating and relationships.
Consider the following:
If a deep fear of public speaking is present, it is possible you got any number of negative messages during your childhood, such as: mistakes and failures are bad; I am not important; what I have to say is not important; people aren't interested in what I have to say; I'm not capable; I'm not competent; I'm inadequate; I'm not living up to the expectations of others; if I make a mistake or fail I'll be rejected; I'm not good enough.
Now, most parents can't fulfill their child's needs at all seconds, and all parents at one time or another have, probably inadvertently, sent one or more of these messages to their children. However, we don't form beliefs about ourselves without the attachment of meaning. Stay with me to see how this applies to your love life.
For instance, let's say your father was emotionally distant with you. As a result, you might have attributed the following meanings for your father's behavior: He acts this way toward me because I'm bad, I'm not good enough or I'm not lovable. But the truth is, any of those reasons could be a meaning for why he acted cold toward you -- though I doubt it -- but it doesn't have to be the meaning. Maybe your father had cold parents; maybe he was constantly stressed when you were a young girl; maybe he had low self-esteem. These reasons might have prohibited him from being emotionally present and loving with you. Yet, you might go your whole life believing you're not good enough or deserving of love and emotional nurturing because of the original meaning you attached to your father's rejection; in turn, that belief system plays out in your love life later on down the road.
The ultimate trick is to realize that events or the behaviors of others don't actually have meanings. Certainly your father's coldness toward you doesn't have a definitive meaning. It only has the meaning you attach to it. Apply this logic to so many aspects of your dating life: Your, say, being rejected by various men doesn't have meaning (I'm not pretty or good enough); it only has the meaning that you attach to it. From those meanings you assign to events and others' behaviors, you form beliefs about yourself which ultimately color your thoughts and behaviors. And it becomes a reinforcing cycle. Because every time you are now rejected by men as an adult you reinforce that age-old belief that you're not good enough, that nobody can love you - the meaning you attached to your father's rejection of you as a girl. You might even settle for someone who treats you badly and is emotionally distant, because you don't believe you're worthy of more.
I would also argue that you don't always have to go back to your childhood to understand how you form subconscious beliefs about yourself. Choose a recent negative experience in your dating life. Understand what meaning you attached to that experience and the attendant belief about yourself that you formed or reinforced as a result.
Once you realize that you assign meanings to other people's behaviors and events in your life, you rid yourself of your harmful, limiting self-beliefs. And once you understand that you are the one creating your beliefs, you can work to create new, healthier ones about yourself. Which means you create your future. And when you create your future, the possibilities in your love life are endless.
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