I remember as a teenager sneaking into my parents’ book collection and reading all of their how-to books on raising an adolescent, just so I wouldn’t be caught unawares by any of their ploys. 😉
This sneaky habit became a love of self-help books as I grew older, and so I was very aware of the process of learning self-destructive patterns from one’s family and the many ways this might play out in one’s adult life. For years I carried around a crippling fear I’m sure many can relate to, of turning into my mother or father. And somewhere along the way, I really began to identify with these dysfunctional patterns. They were no longer merely something I had learned in childhood and continued to play out in the present; they were who I was. They were a core part of my identity.
Or so I thought.
One pattern in particular has had a profound impact on my ability to accept gifts, both physical and emotional, and the ways in which I shun abundance in my life. Here’s the nutshell version: As a kid, my grandma loved to give me gifts. She would take me shopping at the mall, she bought me a gym membership when I was in high school, and she would frequently send me money.
This caused a great deal of conflict between me, my mom, and my grandma. My mom felt that my grandma was interfering with how she was trying to raise me and that I was manipulating my grandmother to get what I wanted. I distinctly remember not being permitted to speak to my grandma for months during one particularly inflamed feud; that’s how bad it could get at times.
There were two key things that I learned from this experience as a child:
1) Every gift came with strings attached, making me beholden to the giver.
2) If anyone gave me anything, I had manipulated them in some way in order to get it.
And I suppose a third belief would be:
3) I don’t deserve to receive anything unless I’ve properly “earned” it.
While these beliefs have had many effects on my adult life, two key consequences are:
1) I get very uncomfortable when people give me things, whether it’s a physical gift or a compliment. And if they do, I then feel like I owe them and will often put up with a lot of shit as a result.
2) When abundance does enter my life, particularly in financial form, my impulse is to get rid of it as soon as possible so I don’t have to experience all of the uncomfortable feelings that come with it, like unworthiness, anxiety, shame, etc.
I could write a novel about all of the things I have done over the years to gradually unlearn these beliefs (and I’m still very much in the process of doing so), but I want to focus on one area of these changes that I find especially interesting. In the last few months, I’ve noticed a growing detachment from these issues.
I use the word “detachment” in an almost physical sense, because it feels less like an emotional or mental state and more like I’ve pried off this encrusted barnacle that’s been feeding on me for years. (As I wrote that sentence, I immediately felt a sensation in my hips, so I’m interested to explore the connection between these habits and emotions with that specific area of my body.)
One of the things that led to this shift was a passage I read in Mark Mincolla’s book Whole Health. He shared a story of a man who had a very difficult relationship with his largely absent father, and as a result his relationship with his own daughter was suffering. In particular, his inner child was competitive and jealous of his daughter, because he felt as if she was stealing attention and love that he wanted for himself.
Reading this, a lightbulb went off in my body. Not my mind, my body. It was as if something I’d known intellectually for over a decade had finally sunk into my cells. This dysfunctional dance between my mom and my grandma when I was a child was exactly that: their dance. I had merely been swept up in the choreography, but I could have been any bystander, because it wasn’t about me, it was about them. My mom didn’t get the things she needed and wanted from her mother when she was growing up, so her subconscious wasn’t going to stand idly by while my grandma showered them upon me.
Again, this was something that I had recognized intellectually years before, but it wasn’t until reading Whole Health that my entire being finally understood that this issue originally wasn’t about me at all. I had taken it up and made it my own, which means that I also have the power to cast it off now that it no longer serves me.
This experience has really driven home how strongly I identify with my issues (similar to my experience with being vegan). They become a core part of who I am, and like any core part of my being they feel very hard to let go of, even when they’re making me miserable.
It’s like the distinction between switching into an entirely new body and changing your shirt. When I believe that these issues are central to who I am, getting rid of them is like shedding my own flesh and blood. But when I recognize them as patterns that I have learned, casting them off is no more threatening than changing my shirt. And I can definitely say that this particular shirt is covered in mustard stains and holes, and it’s high time I put it in the wash. Or the trash.
What issues have you been dragging around that no longer serve you? Do you believe that these issues are who you are or what you do? What does it feel like when you think of no longer identifying with these beliefs?