Insight is that epiphany that puts the pieces together, allows us to make sense of what we could not before, and ultimately paves the way for self-awareness.
“When you are living in the glow of insight,” writes John Sharp, M.D., “your brain’s architecture will change accordingly.”
In his new book, The Insight Cure: Change Your Story, Transform Your Life, John Sharp, a board certified psychiatrist and author of the Emotional Calendar, shows us how even the smallest insights can lead to a cascade of revelations that fundamentally change the way we live our lives and, in the process, eradicate the “false truths” that lie at the heart of emotional pain.
Sharp asks readers, “If you were one of my patients and I asked you, ‘What misconception from childhood is still defining you now, as an adult?’, would you be able to come up with an answer?”
The question, Sharp tells us, reveals just how important our interpretation of events in our lives — not the events themselves — is.
What we think and say to ourselves about what has happened to us in childhood then becomes the false truths which lead to self-sabotaging behaviors as adults. Sharp gives the example of Daria, whose parents met her physical and safety needs while neglecting her social needs. “Her false truth was something like, ‘People always let me down,’” writes Sharp.
Drawing on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Sharp tells us that gaining insight is like a progression that starts with the most basic insights and moves toward deeper levels of self-awareness. Looking at the pyramid can often give insight into just where we might be stuck.
Getting stuck, however, is the human condition. Sharp writes, “Change is hard because we fear the unknown. A familiar but unhappy world is still known and therefore hard to abandon. Familiarity breeds complacency. Over a lifetime of thinking and behaving a certain way, people grow so accustomed to suffering that it feels normal, healthy, and ‘right’.”
Yet “right” is often wrong, and what makes the difference is insight.
One tool that Sharp offers to help us become aware of what is really motivating our behavior and actions is a motivation matrix where we list internal and external influences, deciphering the positive and healthy from the negative and unhealthy.
Revealing our false truth also exposes our unconscious patterns, which, Sharp tells us, often repeat themselves. He writes, “Insight comes when you convert unconscious to conscious. By making more of your mind known to yourself, you can break bad habits and change while still feeling safe and supported.”
Childhood experiences can feel traumatic and incite unsettling feelings that we must cope with — often by making unconscious adjustments in our thoughts and behavior. “Although the adjustment made you feel better at the time by giving you a sense of safety and control, in the long run it twisted your sense of self and your place in your family and the world,” writes Sharp.
One example Sharp gives is the child whose mother is anxious and overly protective, and as a result learns that independence is dangerous.
And while most people can’t hear their own thoughts, one tool Sharp offers to learn to listen to the unconscious is to record ourselves completing sentence prompts – such as “I always” – until we come up blank.
“Always, never, can and can’t are very powerful words. They create dangerous generalizations about who you are. Sweeping generalizations cause prejudice about racial and religious groups. And you might realize how profoundly you are forming prejudices about yourself,” writes Sharp.
Prejudices can then lead to assumptions we make about ourselves, life, and other people. These assumptions — also known as anticipatory ideas — then becomes our reality.
Sharp writes, “If you assume the world is indifferent and hostile, you are probably bitter and defeated. If you assume the world is caring and basically good, you are probably happy and optimistic, and walk through life with confidence, your arms open to receive and give love.”
Although we often gravitate toward experiences that reinforce our worldview, we can ask questions, pinpoint moments or events, and reveal underlying emotions and thoughts, all of which offer insight.
“You can create a new set of expectations that guarantee positive outcomes,” writes Sharp.
The process is not without fear, intimidation, or anticipatory dread, but by learning to sit with our reflections, forgive ourselves, and ultimately working hard to be the person we want to be, we can stop the cycle of negative self-narratives and self-fulfilling prophecies and become the hero of our own lives.
We will find ourselves in the center of our own existence — our authentic truth — where, as Sharp tells us, our inner light can shine, we can see the world with new eyes, and we can build a new narrative full of strength, confidence, and happiness.
Filled with timeless wisdom, powerful stories, and practical exercises, The Insight Cure is a book that should be read by anyone looking to shift their personal narrative to a more positive, empowering, and fulfilling one, as well as by the clinicians who help guide them.
The Insight Cure: Change Your Story, Transform Your Life
Hay House, February 2018
Hardcover, 272 Pages