We all paint ourselves into a corner with our habitual thinking, feelings, and behavior. It’s not so difficult to see how other people do this, but it can be very difficult to see how we do it to ourselves. If only we could step out of our own head, and into someone else’s for just a minute, it would be worth a lifetime of psychotherapy. The more insight we gain into how other people paint themselves into a corner, the more capable we become of taking a look at how we do it.
Let’s start by seeing how two different people succumbed to habitual thinking, feelings, and behavior:
Jeanine, a friend, is a wonderful and compassionate woman. Yet, she doubts her own self-worth. Her relationship history has been with people who do not value her for two reasons: First, that type of relationship feels more familiar to Jeanine. It’s what she expects and resonates with. To her, it is natural and comfortable. So she draws such people to her. Second, because of that familiarity, it is natural for Jeanine to unconsciously push her relationships in the direction of not valuing her and then resenting others when they do it.
Jeanine has instinctively yielded to another’s opinion even if it was contradictory to her own. In her marriage, she conformed to her husband’s beliefs. The foods she ate, everything about the home, the handling of finances – they were all dictated by her spouse. When there were disagreements, their mutual consensus was that his beliefs were of value and hers were not. Over time, she took a more and more submissive position until she felt backed into a corner, disrespected, and abused. Finally, depressed and with her health failing, she couldn’t bear it anymore and ended the marriage. By viewing her adult life as a portal to her childhood, she began to understand the source of this relationship she had with herself and others. She understood that while she may have in fact ‘married her father,’ she also understood that she subconsciously pushed her spouse into the same role.
Certainly we all carry our beliefs from childhood into our adult lives. We then naturally create a world based upon those beliefs of who we are and how other people see us. Psychologists tell us we do well to explore our childhood in order to better understand our beliefs, our personal issues, and how they were formed. Yet, oftentimes, the most effective portal to that understanding is through an examination of the life we have created as an adult.
Jason, another friend, had a hard time trusting people. Throughout his life, he self-sabotaged many business deals by assuming that partners and associates would betray him. Accusing them of such, he would push them away and force them to abandon the relationship. Of course, this left him convinced that his suspicions were correct all along. As Jason explored his life pattern as a portal to his childhood, he came to understand that he felt abandoned, and not held or supported by his mother. Since that fundamental trust between mother and child wasn’t there, he carried that lack of trust into his adult life and, as a result, compromised relationships in both his personal and business activities.
It’s important to realize how fully our beliefs, created in our early childhood, overtake our thoughts and emotions. As adults, we cite innumerable examples to ourselves that prove beyond doubt that our biased perspectives are completely valid. Emotionally, we recreate the pain of those early experiences in our lives. For Jeanine, it was feeling belittled and worthless. Jason felt unsafe and suspicious of everyone in his life. We are so thoroughly convinced of the validity of our feelings that it can be extremely difficult to see past them.
So how do we start to get past our biased perspectives? By taking an honest look at what we have created in our adult life. How is this a repeat of what we experienced in childhood? Or, how is this person and what they are doing a reflection of what I do? In so doing, we hold up a mirror to more clearly see and understand ourselves. To be willing to look into that mirror is to take the first step on a journey that transforms our lives.
Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. Dr. Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a 'bridge' between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Michael Mamas writes on a variety of subjects on his blogs, MichaelMamas.net and RationalSpirituality.org.