Mental distress is caused by arguing with what "is"
When you argue with reality you lose - 100% of the time. And when you're finally exhausted by the argument, that's when the invitation to happiness has arrived.
The truth is, you are the only one who can end your own mental suffering—you, and only you.
This is good news because it means you have more power over your life than you think. It's bad news because it means work, mental work. It means adopting an internal daily mental discipline that you alone are responsible for.
This requires taking personal responsibility for making things better, while also reaching out for help and assistance as you need it.
In this article, I'm going to tell you how it works so you can do it too.
I'm talking here to people who find that their thoughts bring them pain or contribute to an unstable mood and patchy life success—and who want to change that. If you're living with a psychiatric diagnosis, it's best to be guided by your medical practitioner when you're interpreting these ideas.
What I'm not talking about is [some form of] magical thinking. So this is not about faith healing or 'creating your own reality.' I'm talking about the power of thoughts to bring peace or bring struggle –and how we each choose one or the other with every thought we think, each and every day of our lives.
With peace, with inner happiness and stability, comes new opportunities and capacity.
You have more power over your thoughts, your mood, and even how life responds to you, than you may realize.
In this article I'm going to whisper the secret-that-isn't-a-secret-at-all: I'm going to tell you exactly how and why what I'm writing here is true—and what you can do to make it real for you.
I speak about mental suffering with some authority.
I grew up in a household with a mother who had paranoid schizophrenia. My brother and I spent our childhoods in and out of institutions, on the street at midnight with a hallucinating mother, or in a constantly crazy home.
As a child, my job was to take care of my beautiful and vulnerable mother, whom I loved deeply. But at that time medical science offered only two options in its psychiatric treatment arsenal: shock therapy or drugs that turned my mother into a zombie. And when I was 12 years old, my mother, after many failed attempts, finally succeeded at taking her own life.
I will never forget being called out of the classroom on that tragic day and the words of the school principal. "Scott, I have some really bad news...."
Now, in my early 50s, I look back at my life and see how blessed I've been. I have a beautiful partner and family. I have a PhD, an MBA, and a happy and successful personal and professional life.
I'm happy. But, given where I came from, how did I get here? And why is it that I believe my own thoughts had everything to do with my success?
Let me tell you, now.
Scott Berry PhD | Life Coach and Counsellor
Coaching for self-mastery is a coaching program that makes real change in your life. The program raises awareness of your natural gifts & strengths and focuses you on the areas of yourself you find hardest-to-hold. It helps to gain more self-control and create more happiness in your life.
Over-identifying with our pain
Naturally, it seems logical to assume that we all want to rid ourselves of pain and be happy. But, in reality, this is not true. It amazes me how, when I reach a moment with a coaching or counselling client at which they can see the pathway to giving up their pain, they suddenly balk.
In that moment they fear that giving up their pain means giving up their uniqueness, the thing that makes them different from others and special in the world. Giving up the story they tell themselves about pain means giving up the struggle, which they have, over time, over-identified with.
THE ANSWER IS: Stop telling the story. Visualize a new pathway to a happy life. (Note: we often need help to do this effectively).
The memories and the people that still upset you—the replay of past events and feelings—that's where you still have work to do. The people you haven't forgiven yet. The situations when you felt humiliated or embarrassed or ashamed. The moments in your life where tragedy struck and lodged deep in your heart. Those are the places that still need work only you can do.
These moments continue to affect you in your day-to-day life. They remain under the surface, just out of awareness, but powerful in their strong control over you. They affect you in the most important relationship of all—the one with yourself.
THE ANSWER IS: Write out a paragraph about each person or event you're hanging on to. Reverse the story so that you see it from multiple perspectives and not just your own. (Again: we need help to do this effectively).
Notice when your thoughts argue with reality. When we want reality to be different from what it actually is or was, we are guaranteeing our own unhappiness.
Another way to say this is that to have happiness we must strive for acceptance of what is.
You can tell that you're arguing with reality when your internal dialogue includes lots of should’s
, should have’s
and must’s in it. Wanting reality, people, and situations to be different to how they are or were is completely futile.
THE ANSWER IS: Practice not using words internally. This is a game you can play for even a short period of time, where you silence the inner dialogue. Stop identifying with what should be or should have been and work with what actually is the reality of this moment. (Once again: we tend to need help to start doing this effectively).
Being authentic while changing your life
The problem with techniques like affirmations or positive thinking is that when we use them it feels like we're lying to ourselves; in using them we're pretending that the problem isn't really there, and we try to deny our way out of it.
Because we don’t believe the scripted words we’re saying, the affirmations and positive thinking never stick. They don't work for us, because saying them feels dishonest.
THE ANSWER IS: Live what is. Honestly accept what is your own work to do. Bring authenticity to your attempts to create more happiness in your life. Use affirmation and visualisation - but with a healthy dose of the truth. Acknowledge the past—the difficult things that are true about yourself and others and your life—and move on from there to creating an authentic and happier future for yourself.
Scott Berry PhD | Life Coach and Counsellor
When you 'bottom-out' in the cycle of depression there's very little you can do but reach out for medical help. But once you get it, and you begin to emerge from that horrible place, that's when you can actively work to improve your life and create resilience strategies that help should you start 'falling' again.
When I was 19, I had a bit of inner work to do: I was living with post-traumatic stress from my childhood, and I started the long journey through counselling to recovery.
I was full of should's. My mother should have been this or that. My father should have been different to how he was. Other people—the members of our extended family—should have stepped in, offered more, been more supportive or helpful.
I was blessed to be around an amazing community of people who believed in me and my abilities. So, still at 19, I went back to college and got my senior high school certificate. I finished my first degree at 23 and won a scholarship to study psychotherapy in London at the age of 24.
I began to realize that hanging onto the should's only caused me pain. Life was what life was and is. I am what I was then and I am what I am now. In this moment, I have the power to forgive myself and others, to own what is my inner work to do—and do it.
I can tell a better story today without denying the past and its impacts on my life.
When I realized this, I got more access to the natural resilience and optimism that had, in my history, guaranteed my survival all along.
The story I tell myself today
My mother has given me a beautiful gift: the capacity to see pain not as something that separates me from others but as something that connects me to them.
The fact is, we all have a story that would break each other's hearts. My story is unique, but so is
everyone’s. You have yours, and I would love to hear it.
I have learned that every life is unique and precious. These are some of the lessons from my mother's life that I carry with me, through my own.
(Acknowledgements: I've borrowed from Richard Carlson, Stephen Covey, Byron Katie, Pema Chodron in telling the stories and describing therapeutic methods in this article).