The art of being influenced and how your thoughts about change either help or hinder you in relationships.
Cognitive Therapy teaches you to examine your thoughts and beliefs and restructure the irrational or distorted ones. Our thoughts and beliefs are always connected, often in a vicious cycle type of way that impacts our choices and relationships. Let’s explore a common type of thought distortion called black and white thinking within the context of change, or personal and relational growth. Consider the following examples:
→ Irrational, Black and White Thought
“If my girlfriend, husband, friend, etc. asks me to change a part of myself, then he/she does not value who I truly am.”
→ Distorted/Unhelpful Belief:
“I should not (or cannot) change who I am.”
Now, let’s take a closer look at these together:
This belief serves the purpose of protecting and preserving your sense of self and identify, which means it is inherently good. However, in doing so, it works like quicksand by keeping you stuck and partially, or fully, hidden from yourself and others. Furthermore, the healthiest human connection occurs when two people are open to the influence of each other; particularly during instances where a pattern of behavior is negatively impacting one person or the relationship as a whole. “Accepting influence” from your partner is a skill taught in the Gottman Method of relationship therapy.
Here’s the beautiful and encouraging truth, though: You don’t have to resist changing who you are, because who you truly are is unchangeable.
From birth, the core of who you are is a unique, vast place overflowing with endless potential and worth. It is a place full and flowing with light and love. Over time, negative life experiences and messages cause you to disconnect from your core self. You learn the survival skills of self-preservation and self-denial. You learn to over-identify with stuff that does not matter nearly as much, like how much money you make, your looks, your relationship status, how much you give to loved ones, and your choices. Sometimes, your identity is entirely attached to external circumstances outside of your control. Your most painful experiences especially distort your opinion of who you are and your sense of worthiness.
We are all somewhere on the continuum of unraveling these distortions. Positive influence from someone within a trusted relationship can help.
Returning to the pure qualities of your core self is a lifelong journey that you must choose to travel daily. When you separate your unchangeable identity of potential and worthiness from external factors, you feel more grounded and confident, and you are more open to positive change and feedback. By tending to the connection you have with your true identity, you feel what it’s like to have a nurturing relationship with yourself, perhaps for the first time. In turn, you are more open to the influence of others because you understand how survival has kindly “gifted” you with blind spots, hard spots, and sensitive spots.
On the journey of identifying primarily with the qualities of your core self, you must continually discern between positive and negative influences. There is no perfect formula to follow. You must incorporate and prune influences at a level and pace that feels personally honoring. This requires you to challenge and let go of old ways of thinking, believing, and behaving and adopt new ones. What and how to change is a personal, empowering, and sacred expression of art.
Yes, opening yourself to the influence of others changes you. A positive influence aligns you with your worthiness and potential. A negative influence disconnects you from your worthiness and potential.
Furthermore, thanks to science’s more recent understanding of neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to wire and rewire neural patterns of thinking and behaving throughout a lifespan), we know the process of change in our brains is always unfolding in some direction, even when we think we shouldn’t or can’t be changed. Change cannot be resisted. This is why it is better to bring an open awareness to the matter. This is why it is important to align our brains with the unchangeable truth of our worthiness and potential.
Let’s take all of this perspective and restructure the irrational thought and distorted belief from the example at the beginning:
→ Restructured thought:
“My girlfriend, husband, friend, etc. cares enough about me and our relationship to be honest about where we’re stuck and what needs to change. I can be open to his/her influence while also deciding for myself what change looks like for me. “
→ Restructured Belief:
“My work is to connect with my core self and truest identity. I understand this is an ongoing process of growth, renewal, and change. It’s okay to change parts of me that no longer serve my highest self.”
Changes to your default thoughts and beliefs can enhance the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. Returning your core self to its inherit quality of worthiness and potential is a beautiful, messy work of personal and relational art. Research shows we need one another and live longer within the context of healthy relationship. I’m happy to be on this excavation and renewal journey with you.
I hope you find this blog post to be thought-provoking and helpful. Please share your thoughts and feedback with me! ♥
Jacquie Drury MA, LPCC