Sometimes, it seems as if our habits are determined genetically. Like people saying, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” We’re accustomed to the way we are and people around us are accustomed to that too. That’s so typical of Jan – all brawn with a big heart. Greet is always so kind and caring of everybody. Henk is a real achiever, always was. Tineke is a loner. I’m not at all surprised she did the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage alone.
This can feel very comfortable for years: this personality feels like home. But at some point in your adult life, it can suddenly lose its comfort. Big, brawny Jan’s relationship isn’t working out. Greet starts developing physical ailments and depressive moods. Henk is heading for a burnout and Tineke gets bogged down by an increasing sense of loneliness. They seem to be losing contact met themselves and with the world around them. And the question arises: Am I who I think I am?
Fear of rejection
Jan’s, Greet’s, Henk’s, and Tineke’s behavior is driven by a very deeply-felt fear of rejection. A fear that started in early youth. Experiences then, and it could be very small, unimportant experiences, had an enormous impact on the small, vulnerable child that they were.
Maybe Jan wasn’t allowed to cry when he was little. And talking about emotions was definitely not done. Maybe he naïvely tried to share his pain or feelings and was ignored or even laughed at by his older brothers. That hurt! He learned that he was a nobody if he cried; and he was a good guy when he hid his feelings.
Maybe Greet came from a big family. Her mother was always busy. Asking for time and attention only got you into trouble. But, when she was a good girl and helped out, she was rewarded.
Vulnerable children need to keep their place in the family. Without the care and attention of their parents, children can literally die. So the inner system will develop a strategy to survive and be of worth within the family system.
Survival strategies will eventually lead to loneliness
In psychological terms, we call these survival strategies. They are essential to us when we’re young but lose their effectiveness as we grow older. And eventually they will lead to feelings of loneliness and worthlessness. Even though this is exactly what we tried to avoid. This is life’s great paradox.
The moments that we become aware of this, and these are often moments of great crisis, we become determined to behave differently from then on. But this isn’t very easy. Our patterns of behavior are deeply rooted. Our inner system is geared to avoid every situation that might revive the old pain. No matter what the cost.
Greet might try to say, “I’m sorry but you can’t ask me to help you today. I want to do something for myself today.” The other will react indignantly. This triggers the old pain of being rejected. Greet can’t stand the old pain, it hurts too much. It might even make her cry and cause her to lose sleep. But she could also react immediately and say, “Oh, no problem, I’ll do it for you and find another time to do stuff for myself.”
The emotional pain that Greet is feeling is much bigger than the interaction calls for. This is the wounded child inside that’s reacting, not the adult Greet. The adult could say, “Too bad, but I’m choosing for myself today. Period.”
It takes courage to face your deeper pain
If you do want to react more from your adult self – and less from your wounded inner child – you need to be able to face your deeper pain, instead of running away from it. This takes a lot of courage. Courage to do the opposite of what you are accustomed to doing. Thereby risking rejection, with all its pain
Jan is going to try to show his vulnerability more often. Greet says “No” more often. Henk will be satisfied with less than 100% and Tineke will reach out to other people more often.
So, maybe you will feel rejected when you do. Or maybe your environment can’t handle you behaving differently. Maybe this will hurt. Dare to experience that hurt feeling, dare to enter that raw and bare space, dare to feel the chill and the loneliness in every nerve of your body. Stay with this feeling and realize that you will not die, you are still alive. All that happens, is that you experience pain: an unpleasant sensation in your body. This sensation passes, it always does.
By doing this, you teach your system that you can coexist with the old pain. And, step by step (yes, it does take frequent practice), you will find yourself needing your survival strategies less and less.
The outcome? You feel connected to life again. You are light, powerful, and free! Free of cramps, free of dependence on the outside world. Maybe you will even feel free to do what you always wanted to do.
Your true nature is not who you think you are. Your true nature is not determined by all your old protective patterns. Your true nature is, by nature, free, radiant, flowing, and full of love.
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