This Year, I’m Breaking Up With Limiting Stories
Self-fulfilling prophecies are an obstacle for many with SMA, this columnist says
First in a series.
When it comes to New Year’s, there are two types of people. Either you subscribe to the magic of a new year, or you believe there’s nothing inherently special about Jan. 1.
Or maybe you’re more like me. While the optimist in you wants to embrace the fresh start of a new year, the pessimist — or is it the realist? — recognizes that things rarely change. Promises are broken; resolutions are forgotten. January melts into February, and we release all the good intentions that came with the start of something new.
Last week, I wrote about waiting, which is to say I want to stop. The past few years have felt like the grave. More than anything, what I need in 2023 is to come back to life.
But if New Year’s is a fallacy, what’s the point in making resolutions? What’s the point in looking back on the past 12 months and deciding to do better?
Breaking up with beliefs
As I was reflecting on this week’s column, I found myself returning to an essay by Mari Andrew, in which she argues that we “break up with beliefs”: the limiting stories that convince us, however erroneously, that we know with certainty how things will end up. Andrew uses her anxiety around dating as an example. If she believes deep down that no man will ever love her, what’s the point of putting herself out there?
In the mental health profession, we call these self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe you’re unlovable, of course you’re going to remain single; if you believe that professional success is unrealistic, of course you’re going to struggle, of course you’re going to fight tooth and nail for every triumph and high.
This isn’t to say these limiting stories are completely incorrect. A multiply marginalized person is going to encounter obstacles that a white, wealthy, nondisabled person probably never will, thus strengthening their belief that success is unrealistic.
Many people believe that changing your mindset will change your life. While I understand their intent, it’s important to acknowledge that some obstacles cannot be overcome through sheer willpower. Would you tell someone in a wheelchair they could walk if they just tried hard enough? (Please don’t. Never, ever say that, good intentions or no.)
But limiting stories are powerful. Breaking up with beliefs might not dismantle systems of injustice, but it’ll make us more resilient. It’ll make us braver, bolder. In Andrew’s words, it’ll make us more available for possibility and play.
The power of a resolution
Just recently, a friend of mine, Caitlin, wrote about New Year’s resolutions. The article is well worth the read, but one thing that stuck with me was the origin of the word “resolution.” The Latin root, “resolvere,” means “to loosen or release.” With that in mind, Caitlin suggests we shift our understanding of New Year’s resolutions to include two questions: What do you intend to release, and what purpose do you intend to hold close?
As the holidays come to a close, I’m thinking about all I want to release. I think many people in the SMA community struggle with self-fulfilling prophecies, through no fault of their own. All our lives, we’re bombarded with messages of inadequacy. Is it any wonder that, after years of discrimination and social isolation, we begin to internalize such stories?
Each week in January, I’m going to analyze a story that has limited me in some way. And then I’m going to break up with it, publicly and without remorse. It’s my hope that in doing so, I’ll encourage you to explore — and break up with — the narratives that are holding you back.
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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.