Just like a tree’s roots, we too, have an underworld in the psyche that dwells just below the soil’s surface, or underneath the conscious mind. That is not to say, we can’t access it, though. It is not as dark and scary as it sounds. In fact, if we try, we can pause, contemplate, and examine where our thoughts are coming from and begin to learn about what drives us. This is what I call “getting to the root of it”. In order to understand our actions and in turn, gain self-awareness and compassion for ourselves, we need to look at what’s beneath the surface. Why is this important? Because once we know where a feeling or reaction is coming from inside ourselves (i.e. a childhood insecurity, a wound not yet healed, an unloving thought pattern), we can be better equipped to choose the best course of action; we can take responsibility for ourselves, and we can communicate what’s going on to those around us. Essentially, getting to the root of it enables us to better take care of ourselves and to change negative behaviors into ones we’re proud of.
An Exercise to Get to the Root
You are experiencing a negative or challenging emotion, or repeating a behavior that you know is no longer benefiting your well-being. You are feeling reactive, defensive, offended, or sad. You are hurting the people you love by acting out or responding to them in harmful ways. You don’t know why this is happening, but you want to change.
That’s when you know it’s time to…
*Take a deep Breath*
Spend some time alone
and ask yourself: Why do I feel this way? Have I felt this way before? What hurt is being activated? Where does the hurt originate?
Why am I acting this way? How could I respond differently? Have I experienced a past trauma that is being brought to the surface by a current situation/relationship/interaction in my life? What can I do to better take care of myself so I can heal this hurt?
If it’s helpful, write your answers in a journal so you can look at what you are working with on paper.
Explore your psyche, get to know your fears, your expectations, your thought patterns. Listen to your inner voice – it is speaking to you through the experience of emotional pain. Let it teach you where the pain is coming from.
Be gentle with yourself – no one can love you better than you can love yourself. Look at this exercise as an experiment, a way to get to know yourself better, and a path to deeper self awareness. Whatever you do, try not to beat yourself up for having wounds. You are human and you are fragile. Your feelings are coming from somewhere inside of you and they are valid.
A Bit About My Experience
What I’ve found in the midst of getting to the root of my emotions and reactions, is that most of what fuels my own negative responses is fear. I can’t say this is the case for everyone, but for me, insecurities and even self-doubt are actually rooted in fear; fear of rejection, fear of being vulnerable, fear of failure, fear of being imperfect. All of these fears have at some point in my life been confirmed by a traumatic or painful experience: being bullied, being dumped, making a big mistake. I know they are real and that they originate from a painful experience in the past; there is a reason they pop up. Once I remind myself of this, I can stop beating myself up for having the emotions and brainstorm ways to cope with the feelings. Perhaps more importantly, I can revisit the traumatic experiences I’ve had and work to heal them with acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness for myself and others. I can also communicate to others when my fear gets activated and where it is coming from, rather than react in a way that I will later regret.
This all sounds very matter-of-fact, but like any act of self-improvement, it is not easy, and it takes dedication. I have to continue to be patient with myself as I practice being honest about what’s underneath the surface, and take responsibility for my own emotions, rather than be the victim of external circumstances.
Next time you have a strong reaction to something, I challenge you to get to the root of your thoughts and emotions. Write down where the hurt or the fear originates inside of you. Can you pinpoint an experience that led you to hold onto a certain belief or view of yourself, or the world? Why is that feeling being triggered in this moment?
Getting to the root is all about getting to know yourself better. I encourage you to have a date with yourself and dive beneath the surface! It can be a very eye-opening experience!