Hi, my name is Justin Sunseri, I’m a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist obsessed with the Polyvagal Theory. This is an Open Letter to anyone that needs it. You can buy all 10 Open Letters for $20 here.
As we like to say on the podcast - put yourself first. I think this open letter is safe, but if you need to take a break from it, please do so. My hope is that you hear this and can become more compassionate toward yourself.
I want you to assume the best.
Right now you might be doing the opposite - assuming the worst. Remember that “story follows state,” so those assumptions are probably a reflection of the state that your nervous system is in.
If you’re in a shut down place, assuming the worst is going to sound pretty hopeless and very defeated. Mustering the effort to even pretend to assume the best is going to be a challenge possibly. If you’re in a fight place, assuming the worst is going to be pretty aggressive, but probably about other people. Blame and judgment may cloud your thoughts. Assuming the best might actually make you angry all over again. If you’re in a flight arousal, assuming the worst is going to be negative projections about possible outcomes. Assuming the best might feel disingenuine, you may not be able to trust the words you tell yourself.
Giving ourselves fake kudos, fake affirmations or fake bravado doesn’t actually help, I don’t think. A small part of ourselves need to believe it’s true. Even a little bit, then maybe those words of self-kindness may have more of an impact.
Let’s first address where we might be - There’s emotional pain, a stuck defensive state and a fear of change. Lots of fear. You want to do the things that you read and hear about to face those fears. To live bravely, be fierce, to crush it. Other people are doing it, right? They’re conquering stuff left and right, aren’t they? Why not you too?
You want all of your pain to end all at once. To just get it over with. Frustration builds, maybe even desperation. Frantic thoughts of things getting worse or never getting better.
“What’s the first step? How do I change? Will it be painful and can I handle it? What if I can’t sustain it and the pain comes back? I’m tired of being stuck, hopeless and helpless.”
That’s where you might be. And I am asking that you assume the best.
What that means is, you need to make a conscious decision to set aside your current assumptions. Just for now, while you’re reading. Whatever those assumptions are for you - about yourself or someone else, something else, your future or your past - whatever they are. Make the decision to set them aside, out of your mental reach or field of vision.
Now, we’re going to bring some new assumptions in to take the place of the old ones. Some positive assumptions that you’re going to use to build from. We have to have these basic assumptions in place before anything else. If you attempt to make change without these basic assumptions, I don’t know how far you’re going to get.
Assume your body knows where it needs to get. Your brain might not, but your body does. Your body knows how to release the energy stuck inside of it or how to allow the energy back in. It does.
Assume the best of your body. It knows more than you do and it’s just that simple. There’s zero shame in that. None of us were taught how to assume the best about our bodies. Probably the opposite, in all honesty.
We were taught that emotional pains should be “coped with” or ignored or stuffed down deep. We were never taught they should be listened to with love and curiosity. So assuming the best about these things is very different. We’re literally taught that having feelings of sadness or anger are “bad.” That these feelings shouldn’t be there and are like invaders from the outside, contaminating our bodies and minds. And I’m asking you to do the opposite - to assume the best of them.
Our bodies give us a constant stream of sensations. These sensations turn into images and stories in our heads. Again, we’re told these things are bad. The thoughts we have are bad. We shouldn’t think this way or that way, and we believe it. We judge ourselves for the thoughts we have. But really, our task is to trust in the sensations and images and thoughts. And to assume the best of them.
Assume these are there for a reason, even the painful ones. Maybe even especially the painful ones. Even if you can’t sit with them just yet, accept that they are there for a reason. They serve a purpose. Your body is telling you something and your mind is interpreting it, giving it an image, a memory or a story.
There’s a process happening there and it’s kinda always happening. It’s absolutely amazing too. It’s so easy to default to a negative explanation and that is probably a result of your state. But set aside those negative interpretations if you can and become curious. Not judgmental or evaluative. But the first thing you need to do is assume the best. Once you can assume the best, it’ll become easier to see those things in a new light.
Be a curious observer. Take a deep breath as often as you can, every day. When you do, just notice as you exhale. Exhale slowly and just notice. Your body is always telling you something and this is a great time to listen. To experience the sensations inside. To notice which body parts might be communicating in their own way.
Assume the best of these little communications. Acknowledge that they are 100% accurate. There’s something being communicated. It’s your job to listen with your calm mind as you exhale. To be open to new messages. You don’t have to understand them, not even a little bit. It’s not about interpreting. You simply accept them in the moment and assume the best about them.
Your body knows more than you do. Assume that.
Do this in doses, as you’re ready for it. Don’t rush it. It can be difficult to do since it might be very new for you. Build your tolerance throughout the day in these little doses of noticing. In these little doses of breathing.
Learn about your body and build trust in it. Assume it knows exactly what’s necessary. Assume your mind will catch up when it’s time. Assume your body will know that you’re ready for more.
You will become unstuck. It will happen. Do your doses of noticing and when it’s time you’ll be more ready to allow the unstuckness to take place. Assume it will take place.
In the meantime, treat your body like a new friend. Introduce yourself. Say hi when you see yourself in the mirror or give a little nod of recognition.
Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’ll get to where you need to be. That it will happen. It’s okay to not be ready or not know what to do next. But for now, you’re going to assume the best of yourself. You’ll get to where you need to be. You don’t have to know what it looks like, but assume it’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be liberating.
Assume the best and know that you’re not alone in that, because I assume the best of you as well. I assume the best of you without hesitation. You’re probably doubting that, but it’s true. And this is simply based on the amazing people I’ve worked with in therapy. No matter what they’ve been through, their best is within them. And I know I’m not your therapist, but I believe your best is within you as well.
So please - assume the best.
Thanks for reading Open Letter 2! The other 9 are available to listen to or download and read with a $20 purchase of Stack 1.