Yesterday evening we gathered in a circle and took some time just to breathe. I am coming off of a long illness (that I recently realized was in part due to a severe iodine deficiency— a widespread, dangerous, sneaky condition worth checking into!) Just standing there, breathing, felt wonderful.
Our topic for the night was ‘Everybody’—you know, Everybody. As in “Everybody will think I’m a failure if I don’t go to grad school” or “Everybody knows good mothers don’t go on long trips without their children” or “Everybody will think I’m crazy if I quit my job.” The interesting thing about Everybody is that it’s different for each person. Everybody is cobbled together of our family, peers, significant others, perhaps even a few acquaintances we met just once. Unfortunately, Everybody does not have our best interests in mind.
We people our Everybody with the MOST critical people we’ve ever encountered. This is reasonable, really, because if we carry these critical voices internally and use them to guide our behavior, then hurtful people won’t get the chance to shame us again. The problem is, unless we are aware of our Everybody, this can get real maladaptive real fast…imagine choosing your career based on what your dead grandmother thought was appropriate for a young lady? Or your evening attire based on an ex-boyfriend’s long ago comment? We all do this. So tonight, we decided to figure out who was on our Everybody panel… and do some hiring and firing.
We started with slow vinyasa yoga, spending a lot of time in forward bend and downward dog. We did some chaturanga pushups to build heat, and seated twists to detoxify. And then, sitting, palms upward on our knees, eyes closed, we chose a part of our body to use as a third lung.
We visualized air expanding it, and the contraction as the air escaped. We visualized a color, entering with the air, brightening on the inhale and dimming on the exhale. We let constellations build in this third lung, dancing and shifting with each breath, like the sky of a new world. Slowly we drew this color and light up into the spine and to the crown of the head, watching the patterns of light form through the body.
Then we opened our eyes and noticed the changes. There was, for many, a great difference in sensation between the body part we’d selected and the rest of the body. We noticed how we’d created this change simply with our attention and imagination. Just so, we create our opinions about ourselves by imagining and paying attention to what Everybody thinks.
We had some tea and broke into partners for a writing exercise based on Martha Beck‘s wonderful book Finding Your Own North Star. I highly recommend the book if this exercise speaks to you. There is SO MUCH MORE where these came from! Write quickly, stream of consciousness, a phrase in answer to these questions:
1. People judge me because____________________________________
2. Everyone loves it when I ______________________________________
3. When I do well, people feel_____________________________________
4. Nobody will let me___________________________________________
5.Everybody always tells me to_________________________________
6. People just can’t accept the fact that I_________________________________
7. When I fail, everyone thinks_____________________________________
8. Nobody cares when I ____________________________________________
9. Society keeps telling me I have to_________________________________
10. Everyone expects me to__________________________________________
Now, below each of your ten statements, write the names of five people who ACTUALLY, VERIFIABLY hold the opinions you’ve ascribed to Everybody. (You can use the same names for every question if that pops up–but no generalizations allowed, only specific individuals.)
Check in…do the same people pop up over and over again? Are there any surprise guests on your Everybody board? Was it hard to find people who actually hold these opinions? Are these people generally supportive friends, or are they people who have hurt you in the past?
When we finished this exercise, we gathered into a circle again to share what we’d learned. We followed up with this exercise (also from the brilliant Martha Beck):
Read each of the statements below and decide whether or not you believe it. If you do, lovely! If not, make two columns below the statement. On the left, list five people who have told you the statement is not true. On the right, list five people who have told you it IS true. You may need to dig a little, and that’s fine–we store negative memories in a different area of the brain than positive ones, so this is exercise!
1.I’m a natural-born winner; always was, always will be.
2. The world is full of people who would love to be my friends.
3. I’ll always have plenty of money.
4. I deserve a life of joy and fulfilment.
5. I’m physically beautiful, and i always will be.
6. i can be wildly successful at my chosen career.
7. i have an amazingly capable brain.
8. I’m perfectly lovable exactly as i am.
9. I’m highly creative by nature.
10. My dreams are in the process of coming true.
Now look at the columns of names you wrote down and circle your answer to the following questions:
1. Whom do you like more? People on the left People on the right
2. Whom do you respect more? People on the left People on the right
3. Which people have happier, more fulfilling lives? People on the left People on the right
4. Which have more stable intimate relationships? People on the left People on the right
5. If you had a baby and were forced to leave your child to be raised by other people, which would you choose? People on the left People on the right
6. Which individuals most deserve to have their opinions ignored, belittled, and discounted?
People on the left People on the right
7. Why in the name of all that’s holy would you give any credence to the people on the left? (I love Martha.)
In looking over our responses, many of us found that our Everybody panel was composed mostly of left-column people; and for most of us, these are people we do not even respect. Interesting.
Clearly a coup was in order. We started by circling up for a round of laughter yoga. (Umm, I may lose some of you here, because this is a truly awkward-sounding exercise. But it WORKS.) So here goes: make fake laughing sounds. Say “ho ho, hahaha. Hee hee, hahaha. Ho ho, hahaha.” Yeah, do that. Because eventually, you are going to start laughing for real. It happens quicker in a group, but it will happen. Really let yourself go when the real laughter takes over—it’s such a cleansing, releasing response. After our laughter, we said goodnight.
The next steps take longer, and they take practice. Martha suggests putting up photos of your right-hand column people—the ones who support you—where you can see them every day. She suggests spending as much time with these people as possible. She recommends writing down EVERY BIT of positive feedback you’ve been given in your life and reading it over and over. I have found it helps to approach people I admire, whose lives really speak, and ask them their opinion of my work. I then write their opinions down and contrast them to the feedback I get from Everybody (who are in my case mostly jerks). I belabor this, forcing myself to look at the difference between the opinion of people I admire and the opinion of people I don’t. And then I choose which to believe.
We won’t be meeting next week; what do you think, readers? Do you want me to post one of our old meetings, or skip a week? Let me know! xo
- Women’s Joy Circle: Living an Authentic Life (truebeautyalways.com)
- Women’s Joy Circle: Celebrating Beauty (truebeautyalways.com)
- Women’s Joy Circle: Arousal (truebeautyalways.com)
- Searching for Equilibrium as a Woman, Writer and Mom (melorajohnson.wordpress.com)
- You Are Not Alone (serenereflection.wordpress.com)
- Laugh Out Loud: Literally it’s Good for You (bodychange.net)