Building a New Foundation

I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated when my personal growth feels stagnant. We weren’t meant to plateau through life. I’m learning that sometimes we stumble across new lessons, and sometimes we continue on the spiral and keep coming back to the same places we’ve been through before.

I recently spent some time with a wise woman who is very dear to my heart. Like me, she believes that we as humans should be on a constant search for growth, truth, joy, and change in our lives. When we’re together, she usually likes to share what she has learned about lately, or a new way in which she’s trying to challenge herself. When we met earlier this week, our conversation turned to foundations.

Isn’t there a saying that we’re all just a sum of our parts? If that’s true in the physical sense, then in the emotional and mental realm, I believe we’re each the sum of our life experiences. That is certainly not to say that we are defined by those life experiences, but they shape us, teach us, and often become the basis for our entire individual belief systems. And, on a more personal level, those experiences often determine what we believe about ourselves and our lives.

Can I let you in on a little secret? I have always – and I mean always – struggled with low self-esteem. I still do. Boys in seventh grade would poke fun at my acne. My dad would joke that I needed to think about doing some sit-ups when I was 12 or 13. A girlfriend would share: “you’d be much prettier if…” Sometimes I look in the mirror and still see that gangly, gap-toothed teenager staring back at me.

As I got older, I was able to realize that those were just words without basis, and had more to do with the person saying them than they did about me. But they still formed part of the foundation of how I learned to view myself. That self-esteem struggle carried on into my 20s and the friendships and relationships I formed during that era. Those beliefs had a knack for dictating the way I would interpret the words and actions of others. I took everything personally. The first question that always came to mind was: “what did I do wrong?

Sound familiar?

Once I entered my 30s, I started to do the work. I started to explore the reasons behind why I felt and thought the way I did. I became more mindful and aware of my feelings and learned to, at the very least, try to view myself objectively. I would have thought that would be enough, but I still continued – and at times continue – to revert to my old patterns of thinking.

While I’d been examining the experiences that shaped me, I tried to repair my foundation. I attempted to fill in the fissures, to crack open the veneer I had refined over the years. But what my friend and I discovered together is that sometimes foundations cannot be repaired. Sometimes they should not be repaired. When we try in vain to fix what can’t be reconstructed, we can hurt ourselves even more in the process. Sometimes the best solution is a brand-new foundation. Instead of changing the thought process, create an entirely new thought process.

I am a sum of my experiences, but I am not defined by them. I also have the ability to add to, subtract from, and reinvent who I am. I don’t have to simply accept what has been and attempt to patch up the flaws and the faults. I have the power to choose the groundwork that serves me best, that reflects my heart, and which truly defines what I know about myself.

What are some of the deep-seated thought patterns about yourself you’d like to change? Do you think it’s more effective to restore your foundation or construct an entirely new one? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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