October 12, 2011

Family Matters - Part 2

Last week, I wrote a bit about the roles we take on in our family and then later continue playing. This week, I want to share some of the core false beliefs that people who grow up in families where abuse/dysfunction occurred develop. These are*:
    • I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself.
    • I must have others’ approval.
    • Because I have failed, I am unworthy and deserve to be punished.
    • I am what I am, I cannot change; I am hopeless.
These are false beliefs that we can challenge; we don’t have to continue holding onto or being shaped by these ideas. One way that I work with clients to challenge these false beliefs is to have them rewrite them as new stories that will give them freedom and possibility:

Example: I can feel good about myself even when I make a mistake, because it means I am trying and learning.

One important thing to understand here is that there is nothing, in general, wrong with having standards or needing approval. Problems occur, however, when we set up these beliefs as “musts.” If we can’t function and feel good about ourselves without the approval of others, for example, then things have gotten out of balance.

Much of who you are and how you see the world is shaped by the family you grew up in. You received all sorts of messages about what behavior was and wasn’t acceptable. At times, family members may have made statements that influenced how you saw yourself, relationships, or the world. The thing is, whatever messages our family members gave us about ourselves were simply that – messages sent. They are like telegrams that were sent long ago and became wired into our thinking, but all of that is up for grabs now. You get to choose at this point which things you believe, which things you don’t believe, and which things are really just about them, it’s their stuff – so that doesn’t have to be how you think about relationships or yourself any longer.

Here’s the bad news: in order to recover – you have to let people off the hook for the things they do and say. This doesn’t mean you have to continue to be abused or receive negative messages; it just means you have to make it about them and not about you.

The next, and often harder level, is to begin to notice that we begin to take these experiences with people and determine – or prove – things about them. We begin to define who they “ARE.” For example, my mother is over-bearing; my father is cold and disconnected; my husband is lazy. This is similar to what we are out to prove about others. When we have it that someone else “IS” the provider, the dependable one, the loser, the aggressor – this keeps you and them trapped with no possibility, because you frame all of their behavior with this lens or limit them to a particular way of being.

What do you have the people in your life being? How do you define them?
Example: My mother is a nuisance. My father is the one I can trust. My husband is my life.

What are the costs of doing so?
Example: If my husband is my life, I’m not owning and taking responsibility for my own journey.

What new possibility becomes available by giving up who you’ve had them being?
Example: If I give up defining my husband as my life, I’ll experience independence and relieve him of the enormous pressure of being “my life”!

When we determine who others will be, we limit and suffocate them and harm ourselves in the process, because we are unable to embrace the entire person. If your abuser is still in your life, one of the hardest but most freeing steps you can take is to stop defining them as “the abuser” and to begin seeing the whole person. This is particularly important if you want any sort of real relationship to occur. Now, if the person is still abusing you to this day in some way, this statement doesn’t apply to you!

Who are the people you’ve been limiting by defining who they “ARE” for you and not allowing room for anything else? Once you’ve identified these people, I encourage you to go to them and share who you’ve had them being and what you now see as possible because you are giving that up.

A little How-To Guide:
  1. Tell the person who you’ve had them being
  2. Share the cost
  3. Create a new possibility that becomes present when you stop defining them
If you’d like to challenge the false beliefs you've developed resulting from the messages you received from your family members, just schedule a 30 minute FREE discovery session. Right now – receive 6 sessions for the price of 3!

*adapted from Shelter from the Storm

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