When I found myself living alone for the first time in thirty years, it was as though I’d entered a virtual world. It had components of my previous reality, yet I walked through the first few months in a bit of a fog. My old habits continually exerted their influence and I found myself stopping mid task and asking what the hell I was doing. For example, the first time I went to the grocery store to stock my kitchen, I found myself picking up a bottle of ranch dressing. When I put it in the shopping cart, I stood there staring at it for a full minute before I took it out and put it back on the shelf. I hate ranch dressing. I bought it for years for my husband and children. These are the type actions that you don’t think about, until you do.
The most difficult and time consuming change was changing how I felt about myself. I was no longer getting daily feedback about how I looked or what another didn’t like about what I was doing. When you live in an environment that is continually critical, no matter how strong you are, eventually you begin to take that criticism on as part of your truth. As I started noticing thoughts that made me feel bad, I had to examine each one for the origin….was it my initial thought or one that I’d taken ownership of after hearing it from another? Recognizing that a belief about yourself actually was something you adopted is the first step in liberating yourself from those beliefs.
Once you identify a belief that is no longer part of your truth, or isn’t beneficial to you, you need to create a replacement belief. It’s one thing to say I’m not going to believe that anymore, but that isn’t how our minds work. Think of a toddler with a box of crayons who colors on the wall. Taking away the crayons could be a short term solution however replacing the surface for coloring teaches what is acceptable. “Susie, we color on these papers then we can hang them on the wall.” Hopefully you see the difference. For me, the thoughts I had to replace ran the gamut from my feet are ugly to I’m too controlling.
Here is the actual exercise I did to help me begin to change those beliefs about myself. First I wrote down the beliefs that made me feel bad about myself. I did this in pencil and I left a couple of blank lines between each belief. I filled a couple of pages on my legal pad as negative thoughts flooded my mind and found their final resting place on the yellow paper with the blue lines. The next part of the process took much more time. Using a pen, I wrote replacement thoughts in the blank lines between those non-beneficial thoughts. The reason this took longer is I had to find a thought I could believe without that constant battle that occurs when you try to convince yourself of something that is out of your acceptable level of what’s possible. For example I replaced I’m too controlling with I make thoughtful decisions and being organized helps me keep my life in order.
You probably guessed the reason for writing those negative beliefs in pencil, so you can erase them. If you do this exercise for yourself, I’d encourage you to only erase the old belief once you’ve truly switched how you think about that particular topic. That means, dealing with one at a time. It doesn’t matter if it takes months to adjust your beliefs, after all it probably took years for you to take on those negative beliefs. Be gentle on yourself as you work at changing them.
Learning to live on your own after being part of a couple can be difficult however if you’ve gotten to the point that being alone would bring you more personal happiness, I understand that feeling. Although my book is about multiple areas of life, life partners fills a chapter. For more information, you can check out my author book site. No matter what you do, I want you to know that if someone else is deciding how you think about yourself, it’s worth examining.