April 2018
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the thought-work of building faith in love: focus on positive evidence, discuss ambiguous evidence

So four years ago almost exactly I made a set of three posts about faith: 1, 2, & 3. There was a lot of pushback -- some people disliked the idea that it takes faith to believe in facts and others resisted the idea of faith being evidence-based. I think that series of reflections reflects a thing I have done for about 7 years now -- faith-building. Partly in a spiritual sense, but mostly in my relationships. I've just realized that this is a skill I have that enables me to feel more secure and happy in my relationships and I want to share it.

There are at least two parts to this (possibly more) -- the parts that I can articulate are these: 1) recognizing that fears are not reality, and not allowing them to attach and 2) squashing doubt with evidence. 2 is harder because it involves unlearning, but both are the same process. With 1, you feel your emotion, but you compare it to your set of knowledge and see that it does not make sense, and you acknowledge that it is not true. For instance, if some offhand comment by a lover made me worry that they did not want my company, I would consider how often they invite me to spend time with them, how happy they are to see me, how often they reach out to me, and if those things were all high level I would understand that the comment did not mean what it sounded like and dismiss it. If this was a 2 situation, I would have a previously-formed belief that people do not want my company, which would make it much harder to dismiss. If I did have that belief, I would acknowledge it to myself and realize that it would bias my views. Then, most importantly, I would keep a mental list of all the positive things that showed a desire for my company, and run over those again and again in my head, over and over, remembering and remembering -- OFTEN, not just in crisis -- until the time I spent thinking and experiencing that desire for my company outweighed the time I'd spent experiencing/thinking about how people did not want my company. 2 is a loooong process, and I do not think it can happen without deliberately changing thought patterns.

Other people can help you with these things, reminding you of positive things about yourself or love or whatever, but for one that only works if you're trying to build faith yourself, and for another, it's hard work for that person, especially if you don't practice on your own and therefore never get better at it. If you rely solely on their reminders, you're going to wear them out; it's too big a self-project to be all external.

The thing is, most people employ these tactics already, very effectively, but in the opposite direction. They build their doubt in love or self-worth or whatever by reflecting only on the negative, over and over, and dismissing anything that would be evidence for good. I'm not saying don't talk about things that are negative: hell yes talk about them. Hell yes process them. This faith-building I am talking about is internal, self-talk: the thoughts you often don't even realize you're having, unless you watch for them.

And it's fucking hard when you don't think you deserve love, admiration, appreciation. That was the first thing I built faith in and maybe the most important. And part of it I built with a logic train based on faith: if love is necessary food for living beings (which I believe), every living thing deserves it. From there I practiced receiving love. It is very easy to block out love: it's kind of rare to be able to just accept it as your right as a living being. It takes faith to accept that when someone tells you you are amazing, it is because they are right. I don't really know how to articulate how I got from automatic rejection to acceptance because it was a leap. I decided to believe people's sincerity without edits when they showed me appreciation (instead of mentally appending things like "but you don't ask for my time" or "but you don't know how much I stink at this important thing"), and to stop using people's dislike/etc as a stick to beat myself with. And it took lots of practice and lots of mental backtracking -- responding to my habitual mental doubt-statements with faith-statements.

Also, if you're in problematic relationships, this exercise may make you realize the problems in it. If, with my previous example, my lover did not invite me to spend time with them, seem excited to see me, or reach out to communicate with me, that would not be evidence for the idea that they did want to spend time with me. BUT it would not necessarily mean that they did NOT want to, either! I would need to discuss these things with my lover and find out what was the cause of these things. Concluding that they were evidence of my unwantedness would be a massive assumption (one which I have made before and try hard not to make now!), and one that would be VERY hard to disbelieve later. It's much harder to unlearn a belief than to simply not adopt it. When considering the evidence does not result in increased faith, that means that it is time for a talk to increase understanding, or possibly to renegotiate the way the relationship works.

I've been reflecting a lot on this lately and feel I have more to say, but this is long enough.

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ladywind ══╣╠══
Thank you for posting this. The example-fear you used is a thing I've been chewing on/been chewed on by for a while. Tools to re-educate that = rope of golden chords. I'm tucking this post into my Memories folder so I can get back to it quickly.
tralfamadore glasses
tralfamadore ══╣tralfamadore glasses╠══
This post couldn't have come at a more opportune time for me. I think you perfectly articulated some of the things that I've been trying to work through in my own life, and in my relationships with others. (Especially one in particular, which is my strongest but also unfortunately extremely long-distance.) To make a long story short, I've been dealing with a kind of backslide into old, unhealthy ways of thinking and patterns of behavior. It's caused me to initiate a lot of arguments with my partner and act out in the hopes of getting her to challenge me and tell me good things about myself. It's a really messy situation that I couldn't adequately explain here, but part of the problem is that I would allow myself to read too far into her actions and assume that she resented me, or was disinterested in talking to me, or whatever other terrible thing I could beat myself up with. Unfortunately continually challenging her to remind me of the positive feelings she had for me made her feel resentful and reluctant to engage with me, which in turn made me think, "Ah hah! See? She really doesn't love me!" It was just this horrible cyclical thing that kept playing itself out and making me absolutely sick with depression and self-loathing.

I've been trying to practice taking a step back and grounding myself in more evidence-based things, just like you said. When I start to feel that negative self-talk creeping in, I'll start small and remind myself of all the things I know to be true. (Because of the way my bipolar manifests itself in delusional thinking, sometimes I have to parse this down to the really, really simple and most obvious things.) "Look at the time you spend with one another." "Look at the fun things you do." "Consider these moments you share, and what kind of trust it takes to do so." Stuff like that. I've also gotten much better about telling her what's happening and asking that she help reassure me, rather than letting my own frustrations manifest in resentment until I lash out and look for a fight. It's helped so much. We've really stopped fighting so much less, and I feel a lot more healthy and secure.

So all that to say, great entry!
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.