This Is Not That
Last week I wrote about a challenging situation with a family member. My first attempts at doing The Work did not really help, because they were half-hearted; I still wanted me to be right and her to be wrong. But then I noticed that that didn’t help – I continued to suffer – so I threw my whole heart into a fresh attempt. I would “settle for nothing less than love” this time, and it worked! We are in a new place in our relationship, and I learned that, “Even when you think love isn’t possible, it is.”
A reader took exception to this. She is a person who experienced abuse in her first marriage and bristled at the suggestion that her ex or that marriage could be lovable. “Positive thinking” had kept her in place too long, and she was tired of being blamed for her pain.
These are common critiques of The Work (see “Self-Defense Is the First Act of War. . . Really?”) but they are a misunderstanding. Though The Work results in an experience of understanding, peace, and love, it is not positive thinking. Also, there is a difference between taking responsibility for oneself and blame.
The Work helps you find clarity and agency in any situation. From this place, you can be inspired, think creatively, and solutions appear to you. At the very least, you can identify your next right step, which is better than staying stuck.
Even so, there are moments in The Work that can feel threatening to someone who has experienced abuse because they feel familiar. In today’s blog, I will explore how this (The Work) is not that (abuse).
This Is Not That
Intention. First, The Work is not thinking at all. It’s meditation: a space set aside for observation, not predation. This intention introduces calm, which is a reward in itself. Creative solutions almost always come from a calm state of mind, rarely from an upset (fight or flight) one.
Question One: “Is it true?” This question can trigger memories of being told the abuse is “all in your head” – in other words, not real. This is not that. Question One invites you to begin to open your mind to seeing the situation differently.
You don’t have to accept an invitation. If you do, it’s up to you have far you take it. “You can have your thought back,” Katie says, “whenever you want.” Here victimization begins to retreat, and agency gains a toehold.
Question Two: “Can you be certain, or can you absolutely know, it’s true?” Question Two tests the limits of your current understanding, showing you a sliver of opening that you may have missed in Question One. No one is omniscient.
For someone who experienced gaslighting or abuse, this question can feel threatening – in the past, the ultimate unknowability of anything was used to hurt them. This is not that. The Work doesn’t leave you there, lost in unknowability and vulnerable. It leads you on in a process whose intention is clarity, not coercion.
Question Three: “How do you react when you believe it?” How do you feel in your body, and what do you do? In other words, what effect does this thought have on you and your life? Here you stop living the story and start looking at it with objectivity. Clarity dawns.
My challenger said this question is blaming. I know that some bad actors can conflate responsibility and blame. This is not that. The Work assumes that you are confused (morally neutral), not bad. Question Three is not assigning blame (from the Latin for blaspheme). It rather invites you to take responsibility (from the Latin root for respond) for yourself by looking at how you participate in a dynamic. This is agency enlarging her foothold.
Question Four: “Who would you be without the thought?” Here you look at the same situation without the filter of your limiting belief. Without the filter you feel differently, see differently, and act differently. Agency and clarity expand.
“So, all the responsibility is on me?” my challenger demands, because she’s exhausted from taking the high road and fighting so hard. This is not that. You can’t change your ex. You tried. It’s hopeless. You’re not hopeless, though. You can clear up confusion in yourself so that you can take right action for yourself, one step at a time.
A Build Up, Not a Beat Down
To the mind, there’s no difference between vividly imagined and real life. In The Work you relive a moment at your own pace, frame by frame, again and again, differently than you lived it the first time. In this way, you write over it. You lay down a new neural pathway in which you have more agency. So, when you encounter something like it again – same person, similar circumstances – you’ll have more options than to experience the same beat down that you experienced before. The Work builds you up.
It is said that “the same thinking that created the problem can’t solve it.” If you’re open to it, The Work is different thinking that solves problems.