Fear can be paralyzing. It can stop us frozen in our tracks, unable to move, speak, or function with any clarity. When we’re under its spell, we have a tendency to lose perspective and forget what’s really true beneath all our mental noise. You can create a truth by remembering what you know when you feel centered and clear.
Many times, after hearing a client’s predicament, I ask them, “What’s really true for you about this?” or “What do you know when you’re feeling good?” Most of the time, an answer comes tumbling out of their mouths before doubts and “shoulds” take over.
You Really Know What’s True For You
Take a moment to look inside. You’ll find that more often than not, you really do know what’s true for you about a given situation. Here are some examples of clients’ truths.
* I was hired because I could do this job better than anyone else.
* It’s better to be alone than with someone who treats me badly.
* Nothing is more important to me than my spouse and family.
* This relationship is over.
* I feel good when I’m honest.
* I need to be truthful with my son.
* I need to be organized to succeed in my career and for my own peace of mind.*
* Exercise will make me feel better.
* I need to go to bed by ten o’clock.
Since I can’t personally help you develop truths specific to your destructive thinking about each situation in your life, I’ve put together the following process.
Constructing Truths Process
Use a Constructing Truths worksheet to customize truths to support yourself right now.
Make two columns down a page. The left-hand column is entitled Destructive Thoughts; the right-hand is Possible Truths.
Step 1. Write down all your destructive thoughts about a specific event or situation.
Keep going until you run out.
Step 2. Create several possible truths that contradict each destructive thought.
Step back and ask yourself, “What do I know when I feel clear? What would I tell a friend who was in this situation?”
Ask yourself these questions about each destructive thought that tries to sidetrack you. Write possible answers on the right side of your worksheet. (If you feel blocked, shiver to relax your fear of not getting the right answer, then take a stab at it.)
Step 3. After you’ve generated a few options for a destructive thought, say each one out loud a few times.
Keep saying and modifying the different statements until you hit one that fully contradicts your destructive thinking and feels intuitively correct. Double-check by asking, “Does this neutralize my old thinking?” or “Would an impartial person agree?”
If it feels spot on, circle it. If not, try a different one. Repeat this strategy for each destructive thought until you find an effective contradiction for each.
It’s as easy to remember a short truth as it is to forget a long one. When constructing a truth, remember the more succinct the statement, the more effective it will be. The words you use are important, because certain ones dilute a truth’s impact. Refrain from using the following:
* Qualifiers (really, just, might, maybe, sometimes, sort of)
* Expectations (should, ought, must)
* Comparisons (better, stronger)
* Superlatives (greatest, best)
* Value judgments (terrible, weird, stupid)
* Negatives (can’t, won’t, don’t, not)
* Disclaimers (but, but, but)
* Overgeneralizations (always, never, forever)
Step 4. From these truths, pick the statements that most succinctly contradict your old thinking and create a “truth bundle.”
Constructing a Truth Bundle
A truth bundle is usually two to four truths strung together to counter a particular insidious thought pattern. You know, to offset the niggling refrain that you hear in your head a hundred times a day, such as, "I can’t get it all done. There’s no way I’m going to make it in time."
To create your own bundle, select a few constructive statements that resonate strongly with you. With some refining, you’ll find that your truth bundle has the same nurturing ring to it as a verse from a favorite song or poem.
To get a feel for what a powerful bundle looks like, read the following examples. These were possible truth bundles a client and I came up with to help her deal with her fear and move to peace:
Be here now.
Everything is all right.
I’ll do what I can, and the rest is out of my hands.
One thing at a time.
I’ll handle the future in the future.
Everything will be all right.
The future is a figment of my imagination.
Ellen Does Some Spring Cleaning
When Ellen’s design firm offered her an ambitious new project, she found herself torn. The assignment offered the recognition she’d been hoping for, but somehow she wasn’t excited. She was considering passing on the offer. I was curious what she was telling herself.
As Ellen verbalized her mental chatter, I wrote it:
* Maybe I don’t have enough experience.
* Why bother?
* I might fail.
* I’m not good enough.
Ellen was genuinely surprised. “Boy, I didn’t realize what I’d been saying to myself.”
I explained these thoughts had a long history. They’d originated a long time ago, but she could change them without exploring her past directly by entertaining their contradictions.
I read the first statement — “Maybe I don’t have enough experience” — aloud, and Ellen squirmed. “Is that true?” I asked.
Without a second’s hesitation, she said, “No, I have plenty of experience. I’ve been at this job for seven years.”
Bingo. She had just voiced the reality. That was easy.
I read the next statement: “Why bother?”
“I owe it to myself,” she answered almost immediately. “I’ve been waiting for a chance like this for years.”
This is often how it happens. Reality just springs forth.
“I don’t know,” she added. “This feels strange. What I’m saying now sounds so unlike me!”
“Again, ‘Why bother?’” I lightly prodded.
“Because I owe it to myself.” Ellen laughed. (Through the years I’ve observed that when people speak their truths, they can’t help but laugh.)
She repeated this truth a few more times. “I like that one,” she said. “I feel good when I say it. It’s powerful and grounding at the same time!”
“And what’s true about ‘I might fail and that it’s too much responsibility?”I inquired.
“Everyone is excited about my heading this project up. Some colleagues have already offered help. There’s no way I’ll fail.
“I can ask for help when I need it. Plus, my boss picked me because he knew I’d do a good job. It’s true. I know I’m up for the task.”
“Okay, last crummy old message. ‘I’m not good enough.’ What is the reality?”
Ellen grinned. “I am good enough. I’m good at what I do. I know I can do this.”
This whole process took us about ten minutes. I handed her the list of truths she had said so she could make a tidy truth bundle.
Ellen picked: I’ve been waiting for a chance like this for a long time. I can do this. I’m good at what I do.
She carried her truths around with her on a three-by-five-inch card everywhere she went.
Ellen was so tired of her old thinking, she went on a powering binge and relentlessly contradicted all her old thoughts the second they crept in. When I saw her the following week, she seemed like a different person. She was facing the exciting challenges of each new day with an upbeat attitude and level head. “I can’t believe what I’ve been telling myself all these years,” she said. “Guess it’s time to say good-bye to the old and say hello to the new me.”
Finding What Works
Identifying effective truths may take a little time. Just as most people need to write several drafts of a speech before they capture exactly what they want to say, you’ll have to make adjustments to your truths here and there as you zero in on what’s most effective. Just be patient with it, and use your creative imagination.
Find words that resonate with you, and play around with the order. Experiment until they completely contradict your old thinking, are in language you would use, and resonate deeply when you say them.
Start with a statement that you think might work. If it doesn’t ring true, take another truth for a test drive. Continue until something really hits the spot.
When you find ones that work, stick with them. Don’t choose too many truths; you won’t remember any when you need them.
If you have trouble making up truths, shiver and power on something like, “I can do this,” or “I’ll give this my best shot,” since you’re probably telling yourself the opposite. Getting some input from a friend can help you nail down your destructive chatter and find statements that contradict it. Remember, someone can offer suggestions, but only you will know the truth that will be the most liberating.
Say you’ve had an ugly fight with your partner and one of your neighbors calls the police. After the dust settles, you find yourself excruciatingly embarrassed, unable to imagine ever looking your fellow apartment dwellers in the eyes. Instead of judging yourself so harshly, find some constructive thoughts to negate your barrage of self-berating chatter:
* I’m human.
* I forgive myself.
* We all make mistakes.
Soften your tone as you repeat the phrases. Really take in what you’re saying. You’ll connect with some truths more than others. Powering on this bundle might spark a memory that your entire family tends to harshly criticize everyone, and that tendency has been handed down through the generations. “I forgive myself” might be the only truth you need right now.
Or you might create a forgiveness bundle:
* It’s okay to forgive myself.
* It’s okay to forgive others.
* It’s okay to forgive.
Additional Time-Tested Truths
There are an infinite number of truths. Simple and profound, the following phrases are co-creations with my clients and students. They’re powerful statements to unclench the jaws of limited living, and move you into the positive future of your choosing.
Grab one or more of these truths when fear is electrocuting your heart, blinding your mind, and wrecking your body. You will steady yourself and stay on track. Hear, think, and say these words as if they’re a wise coach, calming everyone down and putting things into perspective:
I can do it.
Look for the good.
Speak your truth.
Come from love.
Enjoy the ride.
Say it again.
Don't doubt yourself.
Trust your gut.
Your intentions will waiver like waves rising, swelling and falling in the center of the ocean. So when you feel yourself crashing back into the flatness of old patterns, gain momentum by grabbing one of these:
I can do it.
I can handle this.
Little by little.
The goal is greater than the moment.
Life is not a straight line.
I have what it takes.
I’ll do what I can today.
I am worth it.
I am responsible for my life.
I’m the only person who knows what’s best for me.
I am doing better than I think I am.
It Gets Better and Better
Got the troops ready for a full-tilt assault? That’s what it’s going to take to change your thinking, but with each repetition, you get stronger and more prepared.
Every time those nagging thoughts rear their ugly heads, repeatedly beat them back with the truth. Views of yourself, others, and time shift from sadness, anger, and fear into what you want more of: joy, love and peace.
The rewiring is happening as you’re reading this! It just gets better and better.
©2011, 2016 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.
Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
About the Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Word spread about the success of Attitude Reconstruction, and it wasn’t long before Jude became a sought-after workshop and seminar leader, teaching her approach to organizations and groups. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/
* Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace
* Click here for a video demonstration of the Shiver and Shake Process.