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Used To Be

» Mental Health Library » Treatment Approaches » Behavioral Therapy » Featured Article

By Dylan Mariah, LMHC, RN

Dylan Mariah, LMHC, RN

There's this great song by Gotye that describes the shift in a relationship from feeling current and connected to someone, to seeing their "ex" as "just someone they used to know."

It's called "Somebody That I Used to Know." There is a version of it you might enjoy performed by Walk Off The Earth. The musicians are incredible; creative in their use of one instrument between the 5 of them and in their sharing of the vocals. Here's the link:

Sometimes those shifts in a relationship are exquisitely painful because we are not always on the same page. One wants out and the other doesn't. After the break, for whatever reason, our identity changes completely; from someone who was in relationship, to someone single. Maybe even from someone who was loved to someone who is not. We even feel sometimes like we lose a part of ourself when we move on. Our expectations of the relationship shift; we go from assuming we can share the events of every day to maybe catching up every few months or years. Or not at all. Now we're available, yet perhaps with self-doubt about our capacity to be successful in a partnership or even with a clearer view of what we want from one. Maybe the shift in circumstance and identity is not about a relationship. Maybe it's a role we played or a job we had. Sometimes the change is welcome, sometimes not.  

When we make those shifts from something being active to something being a part of our past, we are changing our thoughts, our attitudes, our beliefs and our assumptions about the thing. We might draw wrong (or unnecessary) conclusions from it; "I'll never trust anyone again," "I'll never play that role again." We might come out changed in good ways, such as with the firm commitment to never choose to be with someone who treats us that way again.

Creating a big mental shift in advance of a wanted change can help us when we aspire to create new things in our lives. Often we find ourselves spinning our wheels and staying in the same place. We can't seem to let go of old patterns in spite of our sincere desire for change. We self-sabotage. We white knuckle it to force a change and probably suffer more. Or we can go to the root of what creates our experience, which is our attitudes and our beliefs, and use it to our advantage. Feelings matter too, and they are closely linked to our beliefs as well.

Here's an example of making a mental shift to create a behavior change.  I quit smoking in my mid-twenties. Cold turkey, from 1 1/2 to 2 packs a day, to none. I had started nearly 12 years before (I was 12 years old when I had my first cigarette, influenced by friends who were trying new things, and by the example set by my parents, both who smoked). That's a lot of nicotine and it is a very addictive drug. It's no easy thing to quit and I knew myself well enough to know that cutting down wasn't going to work. I had tried. I lasted about an hour or two. Back then I was reading about hypnotherapy and was well aware of the power of belief. So, I decided to apply it to quitting.

I spent a month telling myself that I was an ex-smoker, and a non-smoker. I even told myself that I really disliked smoking as it was disgusting and smelled bad. These statements became daily mantras and even though I continued to smoke, over time I lost my desire. I found myself putting cigarettes out that were half smoked (previously unheard of). When I finally reached my quit date one month later, I was relieved. Already smoking breaks were no longer satisfying. I felt done with it and found that it had lost a lot of it's appeal. I would like to say I never went back. I had one slip, and it didn't last long. I just changed my mind, decided this was short term and used the same technique. I have never gone back and that was 40 years ago. Now, it's just something I used to do.

The key to my success was making the shift from seeing something as active, to something that happened in the past. I know it seems simple, but try it. For example, money. Start saying statements like this regularly throughout the day: "I'm someone who used to struggle with money. I used to think I didn't have enough money. I no longer see myself as lacking money. I no longer see myself as not making enough." Just practice changing your mind about the issue. Try it for a month and see what happens with a simple belief change.

Is money not the issue? Time? Try this: "I used to be someone who ran out of time a lot," or "I used to struggle with not enough time." "I used to believe there wasn't enough time."

Relationship issues? Try this: "I used to be someone who got annoyed a lot with my husband (wife, partner, etc.)." "I used to be critical of my coworkers a lot." "I used to be a very impatient person." "I used to be very judgmental."

Add some positive statements and introduce new beliefs that you would like to adopt. "I enjoy being a patient person." Practice daily and do it with feeling. Feel what it would be like to be changed and to move through life with this new attitude. Then enjoy letting go of the attitudes of the former you that caused you problems. You know, the way you used to be.

About the Author...

Dylan is an experienced psychotherapist and nurse who specializes in offering a holistic approach to living life well. Drawing on traditional counseling techniques, guided meditation, body centered awareness and other natural approaches to stress reduction and wellness, she actively supports you in actualizing your best self.

Last Update: 6/9/2021

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