How often do we state that we are mad, or sad, or happy or jealous or hurt or a plethora of other emotions? These emotional states are feelings and should not be declarations of who we are as individuals. A more accurate way to express our feelings would be to say we are ‘feeling’ mad, sad, happy or jealous… A feeling is fleeting and temporary. A declaration of ‘I am …’ can change our identity with enough repetition. When our identities change to mirror our repeated negative emotions, we lose ourselves to the feelings and our mental health suffers.
We all know people who we label as ‘resentful, negative, bitter, victimized, angry…’ How did they become this way? They weren’t born like this. A collection of life circumstances caused them to ‘feel’ the negative emotions over and over until their beliefs changed about who they are through repeated thinking of “I am…”. We are constantly manifesting our reality and perception of reality through our thinking mind. We see everything through the parameters and filters of what we believe. We come to believe that which we have declared over and over in our “I am” statements.
Something incredible happens in our brains with our thinking (or spoken) declarations of “I am…” As we identify with our emotions neural pathways are formed, and as we repeat the process the neurological circuits strengthen in our brains creating strong beliefs. Every time we say or think “I am…” a neural pathway is created to identify that our declaration is what we ‘are’ rather than how we ‘feel’.
For 20 years I have believed that we can ‘think’ ourselves mentally well. This has been my own personal journey of healing stress and a negative fearful emotional state. I feel it is an important self-care practice of mindfulness to take a hard look at what we are holding on to in our individual beliefs and identities, and ask ourselves if they are serving our higher good. Are they making us happy or keeping us miserable? Are they feeding anger, resentment, shame, blame or attachment to victim mentality? If so, are we willing to shift out of this negative identity and into a positive, present state of being? Sometimes the answer will be ‘no’ if the attachment to the negative beliefs is too strong and have become part of our very identity. It may also be scary as we may not know who we would be if we let go of negativity. .
To heal this state of mental unwellness, we need to understand that how we feel is not our identity. Pausing to notice and name our feelings, intentionally using "I feel" statements instead of "I am" statements is a good practice as we remember that our feelings are just temporary states of being.
If declarations of “I am…” can send us into negative emotional and mental states, they can also bring us out of them. If we practice positive declarations, the same neural pathways will create positive beliefs and help us on our journey to mental wellness. Positive thinking and self-loving declarations work. Things don’t change overnight, as it takes time to modify the brain circuitry, but with practice this process is effective. Here are some of my favourite declarations: “I am safe, I am loved, I am worthy, I am capable, I am valid and important, I am present in this moment, I am healing, I am in this breath with ease and grace, I am safe and can let go of that which doesn’t serve me’ … There are many more, and one can create those that feel right to them. The only rule is that they are positive and supportive and the secret to success is in the repeated practice. Declaring “I am…” positive statements many times a day and focussing on positive thinking (like what we have gratitude for) is transformative and healing.
There are many avenues of help in doing this work: counseling from a mental health professional or a mental wellness / coach, self-help books or podcasts, support groups, spiritual coach or church. There are even apps and social media support groups dedicated to supporting mental wellness. The key is in being ready to shift perspective and start understanding ourselves, and being open to positive change.
Teaching our children how to name their feelings without declaring them as their identity is an important life skill. Big emotions happen in life and eliminating the labeling identity (I am mad, sad, frustrated, lonely…) is part of understanding experienced feelings for what they are – temporary states of mind.
Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of www.elixirforlife.ca. The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health and medical advice. Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses and/or treatment.