Do you remember Melanie? In Just Desserts, I asked her to write a list of reasons she felt she deserved the “loser” guys she was dating and another list of why she didn’t deserve a “winner.” In the second list, she wrote that she was scared she’d take advantage of a “good” guy. Having already worked with Melanie for a couple of months, it was clear to me that she was thoughtful, considerate, and kind. She was the last person I would imagine taking advantage of someone. It was a far cry from her character.
I asked her what about her behavior made her feel this way about herself, and she said that it didn’t match her behavior; she just felt this way. Basic Inquiry wouldn’t help her, because she already thought the belief was illogical. Nonetheless, she couldn’t shake it. Because this belief was so out of touch with her current reality, my instincts told me that it was formed earlier in Melanie’s life.
Just like a scrape can leave a permanent scar on our knee, a belief formed at a less conscious moment in our lives can stick with us permanently. To heal that “thought scar,” I find it useful to go back to that moment and question the logic of that younger self. I thus invited Melanie to step into The Time Machine. She closed her eyes, breathed slowly, and relaxed. I encouraged her to trust whatever memory would come up when I asked her:
Chana: When was the first time you remember believing that you might take advantage of someone?
Melanie: I’m seven. In my dad’s house. It’s just him and me. I’m at the kitchen table doing homework, and he’s at the stove cooking dinner.
Chana: And you believe you might take advantage of someone?
Melanie: Yes. I’m taking advantage of my dad.
Melanie: He’s making dinner. I’m not making it. I’m not helping him.
Chana: Is he saying anything about you taking advantage of him?
Melanie: No. But it feels like I am.
By asking, “When was the first time you remember believing this thought?” I nudge Melanie into a more formative time: in this case when she was 7. Because Melanie formed (or solidified) the belief that she might take advantage of a good person when she was 7, working with that 7-year-old, rather than with the 20-something-year-old Melanie, actually has a greater impact for cognitive awareness and change. A limiting belief is a sort of trauma. It cuts us off from the joy of life and gets frozen in our consciousness at a particular time in our development.
I’ll invite Melanie to facilitate an Inquiry with her younger self as I guide her through it. You can do this on your own beliefs with a journal and two pen colors – one for you and one for your younger self – or by writing the voice of your younger self with your opposing hand.
Chana: I want you to close your eyes. Good. Now, look at Little Melanie, the 7-year-old at the table. Can you see her clearly?
Chana: Ask her if you can go into the kitchen. See if you can sit down next to her.
Melanie: She’s okay with that.
Chana: We’re going to inquire into this belief she has, that she is taking advantage of your father. But rather than me facilitating you, we’ll facilitate her.
Chana: Great. So the first question we ask is, “Is it true that you are taking advantage of Dad?”
Melanie: She’s nodding.
Chana: Can you absolutely know that you’re taking advantage of Dad? Can you be totally sure?
Melanie: I guess not.
Chana: How do you feel when you believe that?
Melanie: I get sad, and I’m embarrassed. I don’t feel like eating.
Chana: What are you unable to do when you believe you’re taking advantage of dad?
Melanie: I can’t have fun with him. I can’t fully enjoy dinner.
Chana: What else?
Melanie: It’s hard to do my homework. It’s hard to focus.
Chana: Now imagine that you’re sitting there doing your homework not thinking that you’re taking advantage of Dad. How are you?
Melanie: Oh. Um. Just doing my homework, which is not so hard when I can focus. And then I have time to talk to Dad about my Girl Scout troop. It’s my first year and I really like it!
Chana: And how does your body feel without the thought?
Melanie: Just normal. I’m okay. My stomach isn’t all knotted up.
Chana: Good. Now I’m going to ask you to play a game I call Turnaround. Okay?
Chana: Tell me the opposite of, “You’re taking advantage of Dad.”
Melanie: Um… I’m not taking advantage of Dad?
Chana: Yes. Great! Now, in this part of the game, we give three reasons why that’s true.
Chana: Look at his face. How do you think he feels about making dinner?
Melanie: Oh. He’s happy. It looks like he likes making dinner.
Chana: Is that how you feel when you think someone is taking advantage of you?
Melanie: No. So, I guess I’m not taking advantage of Dad. Cool.
Chana: What’s another reason?
Melanie: I didn’t ask him to make dinner. He’s just doing it.
Chana: What else?
Melanie: I don’t know.
Chana: Big Melanie, can you help out here with an insight?
Melanie: Yeah, actually. I know about custody now; Dad didn’t have to share custody, but he chose to. He wanted to be with me. And he sometimes took me home extra nights to spend even more time with me.
Chana: Which meant he’d also have to feed you.
Melanie: Yeah. He was happy to feed me. He wanted to take care of me.
Chana: So you weren’t taking advantage of him.
Chana: Little Melanie, can you give me another opposite? Perhaps this time, change “him” to “me.”
Melanie: I’m taking advantage of me?
Chana: Yes. How’s that true?
Melanie: I’m not letting myself be comfortable and happy. I’m expecting myself to be all grown up. I’m not letting myself be a kid and let someone take care of me.
Chana: So even when your dad is doing something nice for you –
Melanie: I don’t let it in. That sucks.
Chana: Big Melanie, are there times in your current life when you feel other are taking advantage of you?
Melanie: For sure.
Chana: Like when, for example?
Melanie: So, the last guy I went out with, Brad, he used to take advantage of me all the time.
Chana: Give me a specific example.
Melanie: One time, he asked if I wanted to rent a movie. And I said, yes. And then he asked me what movie I wanted to see. And I said, Princess Bride. And then he said, what about Batman? I said, okay. So we watched Batman.
Chana: How did he take advantage of you?
Melanie: We ended up seeing a movie I didn’t want to see.
Chana: So why did you say that you did want to see it?
Melanie: I wanted him to be happy.
Chana: So who took advantage of you?
Melanie: Oh! I see! I did!
Chana: Yes. Why did you say you wanted to see it when you didn’t?
Melanie: I didn’t want him to be mad at me.
Chana: What are you afraid would happen if he was mad?
Melanie: Then he wouldn’t like me anymore. He’d break up with me.
Chana: So you traded your happiness for his approval.
Melanie: That’s so true.
Chana: But then you resented him for it.
Melanie: Yeah. I thought he was taking advantage of me, that he was manipulating me.
Chana: Turn it around. You were…
Melanie: I was manipulating him?
Chana: Manipulation is all about being sneaky and dishonest to get something from someone you don’t believe they’ll give you if you speak truthfully. Brad was making a suggestion of a movie he preferred. He didn’t put a gun to your head, correct? Yet you lied when you said you were okay with Batman.
Melanie: Exactly. I wasn’t honest with him. I thought he wouldn’t like me if I was just myself.
Chana: Let’s go back to our earlier turnaround. Give me another way you take advantage of yourself ?
Melanie: Sometimes I take shifts at work even though I don’t want to. I want to be super accommodating to everyone in the staff.
Chana: Everyone but you.
Melanie: Everyone but me. It means I have to cancel plans or flip my life around. It’s such a pain! And then I get mad at them for asking me.
Chana: How could they be so inconsiderate!?
Melanie: (Laughs). But really, I’m not being considerate of myself.
Chana: One more way that you take advantage of yourself ?
Melanie: It’s not just extra shifts. I really just want to quit my job, but I feel like I’ll let the team down.
Chana: So you let yourself down instead.
Chana: Feel that.
Melanie: I’m feeling it. This is amusing. I thought this process would hurt, but it’s actually pretty funny.
Chana: Go back for a moment and picture yourself in the kitchen with your father. What do you see now?
Melanie: He’s sweet. He’s happy to make me dinner. He loves me and wants to do something nurturing. My dad is so great.
Chana: And how do you want to repay him for this kindness?
Melanie: I’m pretty sure he’d be happy with just a hug and, “thank you.”
Chana: Can you give him that?
Melanie: Yeah. That feels good. We’re both hugging dad. He’s making one of his silly faces, and we’re copying him and all giggling. It’s a sweet moment.
Chana: So now you have a new memory.
Chana: And what do you think of the idea that you were taking advantage of your father?
Melanie: That’s ridiculous! He was just making me dinner. He was being Dad, and I could just be a kid.
Chana: How do you feel now?
Melanie: I want to call my dad. I want to thank him. I don’t think I’ve thanked him enough. I’ve been too busy trying not to take advantage of him. But I bet that hurt him so much more.
Melanie believed a thought about herself that was discordant with her character. A trip in the Time Machine encouraged her to guide herself towards clarity and peace. She was not only able to feel more confident but also more grateful and loving towards her father.
Summary of Time Machine
Use the Time Machine when you’re dealing with beliefs you struggle to shake or experience as being either central to your identity yet painful and unhelpful.
Like what you’ve read? You can learn Time Machine along with 21 other tools in my book, Hold That Thought. Download a free copy of the book here.