The Basis for Change

By Donnie McKinney   c 2005, 2006

how to change your life depressed teen depression confused teen confidential advice free counseling goals talents conditioning change life

Step #1 – Understand what made us who we are.


Basic Truth #1.  Most of the attitudes, emotions and thought processes we have adopted - our own self-concepts - are fictitious and erroneous.


There are three major influences that determine who we think we are, which in turn dictates our thoughts, attitudes and actions. The first determining factor is human conditioning. When we are born, the human mind is like an empty sponge. We “absorb” everything we see, hear, feel, smell or taste. By the time one is five years old he has pretty much determined what he thinks about himself; i.e., whether he is smart or dumb, “o.k.” or “not ok,” talented or not talented and even whether he likes himself or not.


What’s scary is that the feelings, attitudes, emotions, and everything we accept as "true" about ourselves - our self-image - are all things we absorbed from other people and events in our lives. We fabricate mechanisms to keep from being "hurt" again, which keep us from living. We make assumptions about our abilities, based on our interpretations of events, and limit our own abilities. We set our own limits in life, based on all that "input." The "real me" is in there, but we don't know where it is. Understanding human conditioning is the first key to becoming the person you want to become.


The farther one is from being happy, successful and fulfilled in life is determined by how far that person is separated from the "real me" by an accumulation of false beliefs. It's that simple. If you're not doing what you want with your life, if you're not happy and optimistic, then the starting place is simply understanding that everything we believe to be real is totally false.


The second major influence in our lives is the only thing that ever happens to us over which we have no choice – the family into which we are born. It’s a simple fact that some people are born into healthy-thinking and acting families, while others aren’t so lucky. Every confused teenager I’ve ever worked with had the same common problem. At some point early in life, he or she felt that one or both parents didn’t love them. It doesn’t really matter whether that feeling was true or just “perceived.”


The process seems to be that, in the young mind, the feeling that one or both parents doesn’t live them warps itself into a feeling that, “If my own parents can’t love me, then nobody can,” and over a period of time it destroys one’s self-esteem. The acting out; i.e., drug or alcohol abuse, promiscuous sex, lack of interest, bad attitude or illegal acts are just symptoms of the real problem.


The third determining factor is traumatic experiences. These experiences include abuse and sexual molestation. Sometimes, it’s the sudden death of someone close that is not understood. The way traumatic experiences affect us is harder to detect. If, for instance, one is sexually molested, all the emotions involved at once would destroy us if we fully experience them. So, the mind shuts down to save us. All the emotions, such as rage, helplessness, guilt, fear, etc., plus the “intentions” we have, such as wanting to kill the molester or deciding that we will never let anything like that happen again, are repressed in our subconscious minds.


Later, a sound or sight or smell can trigger those repressed emotions and intentions, even though we don’t even realize it, and they drive our minds without any conscious control. That is where undirected rage comes from. Fears come out the same way. We have no control over our actions, but the scary thing is that we don’t know we don’t even know what’s happening.


Step #2 - Start reacting differently to the subconscious drives that control our lives.


Basic Truth #2.  You cannot change anything that has happened in the past. All you can do is learn from it, fix what you can, and then start right where you are this instant, and move forward with your life.


Think about this logically for a minute. See the past for what it is. Whatever it is, it has already happened. Thus far, no one has devised a way to change anything that has already happened. Yet, we continue to let things that happened in the past - things we cannot ever change - ruin our present lives.


Once we understand that imperfect humans caused those past traumas, we can feel sorry for those sick or confused humans, instead of hating them. If we were the confused humans, we can forgive ourselves and try again. We can choose to continue to let those things from the past [things we cannot change] control our lives, or we can make our lives what we want them to be. It’s that simple. Whatever has happened in the past, however unfortunate, is something that simply “is.” It does not control our lives in the present or the future.


Basic Truth #3 – You cannot change other people. You can only control your reaction to them.


Many problems I see are related to us wanting other people to be like we want them to be. Other people are never going to be like we want them to be. We can't change them. Many times, the people who aren't like we want them to be are parents. Parents aren't perfect. Some are right down crappy. But, you are never going to change them. They are the way they are for the same reasons you are - human conditioning. You only have two choices – you can simply accept them exactly as they are and hopefully, love them unconditionally or you can choose to drive yourself crazy wishing they were different. Those are the only two options. Pick one.


Again, it's simple logic, and a simple choice that also relates to us as individuals. It is vital that we accept ourselves exactly as we are right this minute - imperfect, but changing and growing, worthwhile human beings. That's what we all are. That is the basis for healthy self-esteem. We simply have to accept other people, and ourselves, exactly as we all are - imperfect human beings.


Once we understand that we are “O.K.,” we can see the “pond scum” that has been smeared on us by imperfect human beings and understand that it doesn’t define us. We can become whoever we want to be. We just need to recognize the pond scum and get rid of it.



Step #3 – Use the magic of visualization to “see” the person we desire to become and make that image a reality in our lives.


Norman Vincent Peale the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” told me the most amazing thing I have ever heard. When I wrote him to ask what I should be teaching teenagers, he replied,

“Tell your young people to decide who they want to be and what they want to do in their lives, and then act 'as-if' they are already that person. They will slowly and imperceptibly become that person."


Establish a goal image of the person you want to become and visualize that image every day of your life until it becomes real. You will become that person. Act “as-if” you are already that person. Think like that person. Act like that person.


Every day, become conscious of each undesirable thought that pops into your mind. Instead of allowing those destructive thought patterns [anger, depression, hurt, pain hopelessness, fear and suicidal thoughts] to control your life on autopilot, stop and examine them. Consciously think about whether that thought conflicts with one of these basic truths. If it conflicts with truth, then it is false.


Think about where that thought pattern came from. From whom did you pick up that thought? Then, think about new, constructive thought patterns with which you can replace the destructive ones. Erroneous autonomic reactions to people and events will destroy your life. Start replacing them with constructive reactions. Love is an excellent choice, for starters ;o)


Changing your life is not an overnight process. It is a process of making tiny changes every day. Ferret out one erroneous thought pattern at a time. Face that thought, head-on, in the light of truth. Work on another tomorrow. Tiny bit by tiny bit, you will begin the process of changing your life.


Don’t beat yourself up when you let an old emotion take over. Just recognize that it happened, see if you can tell what caused it, and then decide how you will handle a similar situation the next time it comes up. You will be amazed at how quickly you will see a total change in your life. It took a long time to make those false thought patterns a part of your thinking. It will take some time to replace them with constructive thought patterns.


Take responsibility for your own thoughts. You're not responsible for whatever events occurred in the past. You are responsible for your own interpretations and reactions to them. You're in total control of your own thoughts. It's your choice!

As a first step in changing your self-esteem, copy the following affirmation into a Word document and print it out. Tape it on your bathroom mirror and read it out loud to yourself every morning and every night until it becomes a reality in your life:

“I accept myself exactly as I am right this minute – an imperfect, but changing and growing, worthwhile human being. Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better. I like being me. I’d rather be me than anyone else on earth.”

Ask Donnie

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