Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

 

What if happiness isn’t about toughening up emotionally but rather about toughening up mentally?

When I was younger, I used to get cold sores on my lips 2-3 times a year. For a kid, it was social suicide and I dreaded that initial tingly feeling signifying that a cold sore was coming. That tingly feeling meant that for the next 2 weeks, nothing else in my life mattered except doing everything I could to hide the ugly crusty sores and praying no one could see them, yet knowing everyone could. 

I did everything from wrapping a scarf around the lower third of my face telling everyone I was cold (even in the blazing heat of summer), keeping a pen in my mouth dangling at just the right angle to block the blister from sight (so I thought), and putting makeup on it to “blend in” to the color of my lip (which often made it stand out more). We all know how subtle little girls are when it comes to wearing mom’s makeup!

Photo by Christina Ramey

My mom had cold sores growing up too and she understood why these agonizing times meant the end of the world to me and how hurtful it was to be teased and taunted by other kids. She’s also an empath and highly sensitive, so undoubtedly she absorbed my pain and tried to do everything she could to alleviate it, for my sake and hers. This included letting me stay home from school until any evidence of it had disappeared (usually 14.75 days, yes I counted). 

The problem was my dad did not empathize. He refused to let me hide. 

So in the mornings, while he got ready for work, I got ready for school. Then when he left for work, I put my pajamas back on and stayed home with mom, who spent most of the day consoling me by overcompensating for my feelings of ugliness and telling me how beautiful I was every 5 seconds and that she couldn’t see the sores over my beauty. 

When dad came home from work, I hid in the basement for an hour until it was the usual time that the school bus dropped me off every day, and I would sneak out through the basement door in the back of the house, tiptoe around to the front, ducking under the windows, and come in the front door nonchalantly with my backpack and lunchbox, as if I’d been in school all day. 

He never caught on. 

I remember the fights my dad and I had. “It’s not faaaiiir,” I would yell at him, “why do I have to get these stupid ugly things? Why does everything happen to me??? You don’t understaaaand!” 

He always replied with the same stock answer to just about all of my childhood and teenage woes: “Life’s not fair,” followed by, “the sooner you accept that, the better you’ll feel.” 

Unlike my mom, my dad never coddled to my emotions. If I was scared or didn’t feel like doing something, he made me do it anyway. 

He made me face life, despite how I felt about it. It was as if my feelings didn’t matter. If the thing needed to be done, it needed to be done, end of story. Feelings schmeelings. 

I hated him for it. 

But as an adult, I look back with gratitude and understand what he was trying to teach me. 

He was trying to teach me mental toughness. 

He was trying to teach me that it doesn’t matter how unfair life is or how I feel about it, I can’t hide at home all day and cry about it, I need to go out and face it, ugly cold sores and all. 

 

MENTAL STORIES CREATE EMOTIONAL DISTRESS

 

As a teacher of Emotional Resilience and a sensitive, spiritual coach for all things emotion-and-energy related, you’d think I’d tell you that emotional resilience is more important than mental resilience.

But it’s not.

My dad had a point. He was right not to let me give in to my feelings of fear, embarrassment and shame. 

I had defined myself based on the cold sores. My worth and identity were wound tightly around them like a Victorian corset, suffocating me. 

On a physical level, I simply had a viral infection, nothing more, nothing less. Had I stopped there, there would be no story to tell today. This blog post wouldn’t exist, nor would decades of unnecessary torment, shame and pain. 

On a mental and emotional level, the stories I created around my cold sores wrecked me deeply. Stories such as “why does everything happen to me?” and “it’s not fair,” and “why is God punishing me?” and “what did I do to deserve this?” and “I’m so ugly, they’re all laughing at me.”

I lived in deep shame, disgust and anger toward my parents for giving it to me, God for allowing it to happen, and myself for being so wretched to have it. (I was a bit dramatic back then!)   

As I got older and learned more about spirituality, law of attraction and how we create everything in our lives, my stories shifted to a more spiritual form of self-annihilation. I hated myself for being so weak and unevolved that I couldn’t visualize them away and every time they surfaced, I tortured myself with incessant questions of how I manifested them again and how I was subconsciously self-sabotaging and what was my bigger lesson in all this, what did I need to learn and what was I still holding onto energetically that I couldn’t let go of. 

The root of all my stories around cold sores and any other problems that sprung up in my life came down to a sense of self-worth and deserving. 

My mental stories created my emotional distress and my spiritual crises.  

 

HOW TO OVERRIDE YOUR MENTAL STORIES

 

To me, as a kid, cold sores were a mark of shame declaring to the world my unworthiness and wretchedness.  

To my dad, they were just a common viral infection, an impersonal act of science that could happen to anyone. 

Instead of explaining the concept of mental stories to me, like I’m doing now in this post, my dad didn’t know how to talk about that, so instead, he said things like, “toughen up,” and “life’s not fair, deal with it,” and “suck it up,” and “don’t take it so personally.” 

All of which made me feel worse because I didn’t know how to “suck it up.” So I beat myself up for not being strong enough to “deal with it”, and I took it even more personally, creating more drama and more stories.  

What mental stories is your mind creating about circumstances in your life? 

What problems, experiences or challenges are you using to identify with and define yourself? 

If your body is weak or ill in some way, are you transferring that weakness to your identity somehow? Do you think you “should know better” by now how to heal it with your vibration, energy and spiritual wisdom, but it’s not working? Are you spending an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to figure out why this is happening to you, what the Universe might be trying to teach you and how you can unblock whatever’s stuck or release any unconscious limiting beliefs you have? 

If your finances are lacking, are you transferring that lack to your identity somehow? Are you tying the value of your bank account to the value of who you are, to your worth? Do you feel less-than, not-enough and limited? Do you feel singled out because your friends have more than you or people you know manifest easier and faster than you?

I’m going to talk more about mental toughness in the coming weeks. For now, start by paying attention to the thoughts and stories that swirl around any particular challenges you’re facing, and especially bring awareness to how these stories make you feel. 

Once you become aware of the stories, take the next step to recognize that they’re just that: STORIES. Not fact. Not truth. Not you.

When you recognize that they’re simply stories, you can step outside of them and observe them without being lost in them. You realize that practically everything you feel is a result of the stories you’re telling yourself and your level of belief in those stories.

Then ultimately you can make a conscious choice… wallow in your story and let it define you, or do the hard thing and live, refusing to be defined by it. 

My dad instinctively knew the unnecessary drama I created and pushed me not to hide at home and wallow in the stories and emotional pain they caused, feeding them and allowing them to grow. To him, doing the hard thing (in this case, go to school) despite what my mind told me to do (stay home and hide) was a way of telling my mind that I’m in charge, that I don’t care what stories it makes up, I’m going to forge ahead in life anyway. That it can’t define me, I define myself.  

How are you defining yourself?