Positive changes in how we think and how we manage difficult situations can develop even without our full awareness; they can even surprise us, but in a good way. There’s a message here for us and for our children. Author and foster youth advocate, Shenandoah Chefalo, shares her thoughts on self help.
I have written before about how I was a self-help book addict. I read every book I could find, re-reading several of them and even going as far as getting them on audiobook so I could re-listen to them hundreds of times.
I did this because I absolutely believed in their base principles, and, frankly, I needed a constant reminder. I would listen — and would feel good for 10 to 30 minutes afterwards. But, then life would happen; I would forget everything I learned and I would be right back to old habits until the next time I was in my car. This went on for years.
I often felt more depressed the more I listened or tried to read the books. Why wasn’t I able to just do this? How come I wasn’t good enough to implement these ideas? They weren’t helping me, and I didn’t know what else to do. I abandoned the ideas and assumed I was doomed for a life of hardship.
A Different View
Then, I decided to write Garbage Bag Suitcase, and everything changed. I didn’t know how this book would completely flip my world upside down, but while researching for that book, I stumbled on a piece of research (the Adverse Childhood Experience Study) that changed the way I understood my relationship with my mind and body. That one study lead me to more reading, but not in the self-help section, this time in the science section. Specifically, these were topics on brain function.
Before I read this study, things happened to me and I felt as though I was an unlucky participant in the happenings. I couldn’t understand how I could “change my luck.” After I read the study, I started to see my life’s journey in a completely different way. What if everything I considered “bad” that had happened to me, happened for a completely positive reason? It was a stretch, and when I told a friend she basically laughed at me.
But I couldn’t escape the thought. Was it possible that my own neglectful childhood had caused me to see only bad things? Slowly, I started to see tiny shifts within my own life. I was rewiring what I considered to be my “trauma brain” but it was tedious.
Then, recently, several disappointing things happened in a row (minor things, really):
1: My book wasn’t chosen for an independent award I was hoping to receive.
2: I submitted the book for a writing/screenwriting competition, and it wasn’t recognized there either; and
3: I also received a negative review about the book that felt very personal.
All of these things happened within a few days of each other.
In the past, any one of these things would have sent me into a deep depression for a day or longer. The trifecta would have made me nearly despondent.
But it didn’t. After each event, after the tinge of disappointment, I remember thinking to myself, “That’s OK, something better must be coming.” I didn’t intend for that to be my response, it just was.
Those old feelings of depression, sadness, emptiness, feelings that I wasn’t good enough, seemed to have just disappeared. This is what I understood from all the trauma research I had done. I had actually changed the pathways in my mind to a new way of thinking and feeling.
A New Way of Thinking
It was possible! And now that I have this new way of thinking, I find the information I learned in my previous self-help addiction is easier to implement then before. It wasn’t bad information; it just wasn’t enough information for a person who was still functioning in trauma brain.
The self-help industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. When I was in trauma brain, I talked about “how it was” because none of it worked. Now that I have begun healing my trauma brain (I have a few more new pathways to develop), I understand that the information is valuable, but usually there is a lot of hard work to do before implementing the principles in any of the books.
Some of us have never known true happiness, so trying to “tune in” to that emotion and bring more of it to us is impossible until we find, create and reinforce new pathways in our brain. We can feel helpless and paralyzed. What we really need is the support of those around us to offer guidance on our journey of self-healing!
In the end, my self-help addiction helped me heal — maybe not in the way I initially thought. I hear lots of people talk about the Law of Attraction. They are almost afraid to have a negative thought for fear it will bring more negativity. What I learned is, to begin with, you have to heal yourself from your negative thoughts. That takes patience, love and grace for yourself above anything else.
If you are going to go down the path of healing your trauma brain, you will bump into lots of negative emotions that you have to learn to overcome. It isn’t easy.
Practice, patience, and remember that we all deserve absolute joy.
Shenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth, and advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute, an organization focused on translating evidence based research on trauma into skills that can be used immediately by individuals and organizations. You can learn more about her and her work at www.garbagebagsuitcase.com or www.goodharborinst.com