Dysfunctional behaviors often come from trauma, neglect, or abuse, but some can come from seemingly benign areas of life as well.
We don’t know the full impact our childhood had on us until we’re older trying to relate to other people outside of our family.
In this episode, I talk about one person’s experiences from childhood and how she recognized a lot of her dysfunctions, and how she is finding a way out of them.
(The following podcast transcript has been modified for easier readability and to benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing)
I’m going to read you a message that somebody sent me a couple of years back. Each and every individual item in this person’s email could be its own episode but I’ll read through it and go over each item individually because I believe many of us can relate to what she’s experienced.
She wrote, “I came across your podcast this evening and I started with an episode from May 2014 on how to live a more balanced life. It resonated with me so much that I felt compelled to write you to tell you this. I live in Australia and I’ve been dealing with lifelong Social Anxiety which in part stems from my relationship with my anxious parents.”
“Since childhood, I felt this need to ensure my mother’s emotional well-being, fulfilling her expectations and the dreams she could never achieve due to the emotional trauma that she received as a child. I’m realizing now that my parents have never been able to see me for me, just their projected anxiety and ideal images of me.”
“I’m on a journey of letting go of the need to fulfill other people’s expectations, and letting go of chasing my parents conditional love, and allowing myself to feel a lot of repressed emotion. I’m also recognizing the ingrained habits that are holding me back. And I’m staying true to myself. That episode on how to live a more balanced life really expressed, how I feel, and the hope of a way forward.”
“Thanks very much for what you do. I hope one day to also be able to help people understand themselves and inspire them to heal emotionally. I’m keen to continue listening to the podcast, and I got a lot to catch up on and learn. Kind regards.”
Wow, that’s a great message. Thank you so much for sharing that. All kinds of steps in the right direction. I love getting stuff like this. I want to thank this person for writing and I want to talk about what she wrote in here because all of these individual things that she’s working on, have either already been subject for episodes I’ve talked about in the past, or could be entire episodes on their own in the future. Let me go through these and see where we can go with it.
She said that she’s been dealing with lifelong social anxiety, which in part stems from her relationship with her anxious parents. So here we are, where we take on what our parents are going through, and move through life as if we have their condition. I can see this happening when we’re children and we pick up on how our parents respond to the world and what they do in the world and how they maybe fear some things in the world, so we can take these behaviors into our own lives. then transform them into something more personal, something more for us.
This reminds me of something I like to do when it comes to any type of fear or nervousness or anxiety that I’m feeling. There’s usually inner dialogue that goes with some sort of fear or anxiety that your feeling.
There’s usually something that you say to yourself. Maybe you picture something in your mind. When that happens, at least for me, what I like to do, especially when I hear that negative self-talk, I like to ask myself whose voice is it in?
You might have somebody in your mind. Maybe you think it’s your voice, but it probably comes from someone else, where the voice says, “I can’t go in this room. I’m so anxious, I’ll feel stupid. I’ll feel like they’re smarter than me or they’ll be judging” (talking about social anxiety). “I can’t go in this room. I’m just too nervous.”
The question comes up, Whose voice is that in?
Some people are going to say “It’s my voice. I can hear myself saying it. I’m scared. I’m not going in there.”
I would follow that up with, “Where did that come from? Because you weren’t born with that thought or belief. So when I ask whose voice is that in, who is the first person (besides yourself) that comes to mind?
For her, it might be her mom: “My mom was always so anxious. My mom this and that…” that might be exactly what she hears. She could know it’s her mom’s voice. She hears it in her head and her representation of her mom is basically repeating something that she’s said herself in the past this time it’s in this person’s head (the person who wrote the email).
What we end up doing though, just like when we read a book, we often use our own voice when we have inner dialog. We often will change the person’s voice, who “gave it to us” (gave us this fear gave or belief system), we’ll turn it into our own voice because this is how we often think in our own head.
When you’re thinking about your grocery list and you’re going over those items, it might be in your own voice. “Okay, now I’m going to go grocery shopping. Great!”
But what happens when you have negative inner dialogue? Whose voice is that in? Again, we think it’s ours, it sounds like ours and sometimes we can say, “Yes, I know it’s mine. But I follow that up with, “Where did it come from?”
We weren’t born this way. We weren’t thinking this when we came out of the womb. We weren’t even thinking, we were just experiencing the world for the first time outside of that dark place and now here we are in the air and the light and we’re exploring the world, learning how to adapt and figure things out.
Then we’re raised by people that instill messages in us. They instill belief systems. They may not even be doing it purposefully. They are just being who they are, and we are absorbing it.
Okay, so I’m a kid, and I’m around my alcoholic stepfather, and I’m around my submissive mom, and I’m around my scared siblings… what am I getting from this?
I can hop into my body as a child and remember being this way back then. And if I don’t remember being this way, I ask myself, How would I feel if I were in this situation? As a helpless defenseless kid that doesn’t really know anything about the world, what am I learning about the world? What am I learning to fear? How am I learning to show up? What am I learning that will be a dysfunction one day?
“Well, I don’t want to be confrontational. “
Well, why not?
“Because my mom’s not confrontational!”
“I better learn how to calm my drunk stepfather down, and other people that might be aggressive or assertive so where did I learn that?”
Oh, my mom used to do that! (I learned a lot from my mom).
I learned a lot of good things from my mom and also a lot of not-so-helpful things because she was doing the best she could. Just like your parents, they were probably doing the best they could, even if they were abusive, even if they were awful. Because I do believe that when we have limited tools, then we show up in a limited fashion.
Not always. Sometimes we don’t need tools. Sometimes we are brought up in a healthy, non-toxic environment and we learn how to be a different person. Not necessarily a better person than anyone else, but we are more prepared for the world instead of weakened by our upbringing or bringing dysfunctions with us from our upbringing
This can happen where we are brought up in a family that is displaying characteristics that may not be helpful to us, and in fact, hurtful to us and others. Because what we learn in childhood we bring into our adult relationships, and then our adult relationships suffer and maybe we blame the other person for not showing up in a certain way or maybe we figure out that we are the common denominator for all these problems and we need to work on ourselves and figure out what we need to do to heal.
This is one of those things. When you have the inner dialogue, when you have the anxiety, it is most likely from a lot a long time ago (or maybe not so long ago), and it is most likely not in your voice even though it may sound like your voice, but really It came from somewhere else.
Again, we’re not born with that. We have to get it from somewhere. This is helpful to know to realize you weren’t born with this negative inner dialogue. You were born as a blank computer waiting for a program. When that program gets installed, you hope it doesn’t have an emotional virus that will unleash itself when you grow older and you have a midlife crisis or something.
The thought that we have these voices in our head, the voices themselves, they just have to be scrutinized. You just have to discern between the ones that are really helpful and the ones that are actually trying to cause you harm.
I realize they may be your own voices, after all, you’re repeating the words that you heard before but we have to remember how our brain works, it just remembers things and then it repeats things, and sometimes it repeats things sometimes in a distorted way. Sometimes we hear something and we’ll repeat it to ourselves and it comes out a little different than what someone actually said.
Meaning someone in your past might have said, “You’re stupid.” You could have interpreted that as “I’m not lovable.”
Or someone said, “You can do better than that.” And you interpreted it as, “I’m not important. I’m not worthy. I’m incompetent.”
We do this to ourselves. We beat ourselves up. We hear something and we turn it around and make it worse than it is not to say that some people aren’t intentionally trying to hurt us. That is true too. For those people, they definitely don’t have the tools and the resources that some other people have that can help them show up in a healthy way.
The people that mistreat us or abuse us, there are things missing in their life that are important to help them treat others nicely. Often that is just empathy. Often people block their empathy with other things.
A lot of it is they want to be in control. They want to have power over you. If they control you, and they’re not accessing their empathy, then they may be dangerous to be around. They may be harmful to you, either emotionally or physically.
When someone doesn’t have empathy, they’re going to do things to you that makes them appear terrible. Their behavior probably is terrible. You don’t deserve that behavior. What happens is, they mistreat us when we’re younger, then we have to learn something from that.
We can learn something good like, “I’ll never treat anyone like they treated me” or we could learn something bad like, “I guess that’s the way we treat people. I guess that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Or we might get a mix of that like, “I’m going to treat certain people this way and other people another way” like I used to do. I used to treat the people that were not the closest to me better than the ones that were closest to me. That is just messed up. We all have the capability of doing this where the people that we are closest to, the most intimate with, we sometimes treat the worst. And we get into that space where they don’t seem to matter as much as other people.
If that’s the case, we should probably have a conversation about that. We should probably talk to our loved ones and say, “I think I treat you worse than I treat the stranger in the grocery store. I think I treat you worse than I treat my boss. Why do I do that? I want to talk about this.” Think about that for a conversation with somebody you love.
That would be a very vulnerable place to be. What’s interesting is that the people that are closest to us should be the ones we can have these vulnerable conversations with. But I think what happens is that maybe we’re afraid to be a little too vulnerable in front of those people so we lash out. Maybe we don’t want to seem wrong or feel wrong, because maybe we think that they’ll see us differently or they’ll look down on us.
I think it’s just something to think about as we go through life, is how we treat the closest people in or lives, the ones that choose to be around us, and sometimes choose to live with us or be married to us, these are the people that could do anything they want with their lives yet they’re choosing to be with us. Or they’re choosing to have coffee with us on that day. They could be anywhere they want but they choose to meet with us for lunch.
That is an honor. I think of that as an honor when somebody can do anything with their time, and instead of doing anything else, they’re spending the time with me. I am so grateful when that happens. I try to take advantage of that when it does happen.
The people that we’re closest to, we sometimes take advantage of them, or we take advantage of the time that we have with them and we don’t treat them as nicely as other people. I get that. Especially if you’re around them a lot. Especially nowadays, during the COVID pandemic, we’re around certain people all the time.
Some of us can be around the same select people all the time so we do have to deal with personalities. We have to deal with the struggle between autonomies… I’m not even sure if that’s the correct way to say it. It’s one person wanting to be themselves around somebody else wanting to be themselves and having that clash.
This is kind of like everyone lives in a glass house. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing and unless you have unconditional acceptance by everyone, you have chaos – You have someone throwing rocks.
That’s a challenge! But imagine if we could live life in these glass houses, and be vulnerable in front of other people, and still feel safe, still feel connected, still feel like we can say hello without getting our head bitten off. This is the kind of life that would be wonderful but we’re complex beings, we really are.
I know I’m going off on a little tangent here because I wanted to read the rest of this email. But what I’m going to do is I’m going to take a break and when we come back, I’m going to go over the rest of these items.
I started talking about anxiety but I’m probably not going to talk too much about anxiety today but I do want you to remember to ask yourself when you get this negative inner dialogue, “Whose voices this in?”
If you can’t get past “Well, it’s my own voice!” Then I want you to ask, “Well, where did this come from?” And you can also ask yourself, “If I were to name someone whose voice this is, even though it might sound like me, who would it be? “
Who’s the first person that comes up in your mind? I can almost guarantee you somebody’s going to come up and that person you might need healing around. You might need some sort of closure. And they may not be around anymore, you may be able to close it directly with them. But you may need to work on that in your mind or with a specialist or whatever just to get closure around that person because they may have instilled a lot of fear or anxiety, or beliefs that don’t serve you.
That’s the toughest part is having things that we truly believe are causing problems in our lives. You always hear this in personal growth books and videos and talks, they call them “limiting beliefs”.
I don’t really like that term, but it works. It’s a belief that limits you in some way. I think it’s important to understand what your beliefs are that limit you and that’s the hard part because beliefs can be so ingrained that they don’t feel like a belief. They just feel like “Well, that’s the way it is.” They just feel like that’s what normalcy is. So in order to break apart “normalcy” in your mind, you really have to shake the foundation. You really have to rattle your cage and shake yourself out of these belief systems.
One example of that is when I feared being broke. When my bank account was dwindling and I was losing my condo in Florida, when I was going bankrupt, on and on, I was having all these events happen around the same time. I was married too so she was out of work. Our finances were crashing, and we were going to lose the place we’re renting… Everything was happening.
This was the same story for a lot of people during the mortgage crisis in 2008, 2009. Everything was crashing in our lives and big huge panic and anxiety was just filling me. I couldn’t stand it, I hated it. And I had this belief system, that bankruptcy was wrong and made me a bad person so I didn’t even want to use that route.
All of this anxiety and all these voices in my head, like, “Everything’s going to be terrible. We’re going to be broke. We’re going to be homeless!” All of that fear just permeated my soul. It was very difficult day after day to see the bank account going down and not knowing what we were going to do. And I didn’t have a lot of tools that I have now but if I were going through that now, I would probably ask myself, “Whose voice is this? Where did this come from?”
Then I would start asking myself a lot of drill-down questions, like, “Why do I fear being broke?” Then when I answered, “If I’m broke, I won’t have a place to live.”
Then I would ask, “Okay, well, how is it a problem if you don’t have a place to live?”
I would have the snappy response of “What do you mean How is it a problem that I want the place to live?”
Then I would ask the same question again, “How is it a problem that you wouldn’t have a place to live?”
I would have a response of something like, “Well, if I don’t have a place to live, then I won’t have any shelter and if I don’t have any shelter…” then I’m going to give you my answer from there:
“I won’t have a bed to sleep in. I won’t have food in the fridge…”
It’s going to come down to maybe a fear of something so raw and so deep, like a fear of eventually dying, that one fear branches out into all these other fears that if I am able to get down to that root fear (let’s just say it’s the fear of dying), and ask myself even deeper drill-down question like, “How is dying a problem?”
I might have a breakthrough. I might be “enlightened”.
I might go “Whoa. That’s deep.” And that question right there might shake my foundation. That question can rattle your cage when you get down to your deepest, darkest fear, and you drill down even further because you never really thought about going any further than that.
You think “Well death… death is final! There’s nothing after that.” Or if you’re spiritual, there is something after that but maybe you have fears about that too. But when you find that stopping point where you keep asking yourself, “Why is that a problem? How is that a problem?” or another drill-down question I like to use, “What’s worse than that?”
“What’s worse than that? Okay, I have no house and no food and I’m going to die….” What’s worse than that?
Questions like, “What’s worse than that?” are the kinds of questions that are fantastic to ask yourself. You keep going deeper and deeper, until you get to a stopping point and you go beyond that stopping point.
The stopping point is often the belief that you have, the fear that you have, the anxiety that you have, that in order to get through that stopping point to break through it, to bust through it, and get to another layer, you’ll find out that the layers below that (if there are any), really don’t have any fear. They don’t have any anxiety. They don’t have anything. They’re just kind of in a void. And I guarantee that being in a “voidy” place is a lot better than being in an anxious, stressful, panicky place. That’s a lot better than where you were before in this example.
If you ever find yourself in this negative space or you’re not sure what’s going to happen and you have these deep fears, and you’re drilling down into these fears to find out what’s underneath and what’s underneath that one and what’s underneath that one, you’re going to get to a place where there’s nothing underneath.
And it’s going to feel a lot different.
It’s going to feel peaceful, maybe.
Maybe it’ll feel empty, in a good way.
Maybe it will be a realization.
Maybe it’ll be an enlightenment. Maybe it’ll be a place of comfort even though everything above it, all those branches above that stopping point, above that last layer have all these fears and worries and beliefs tied to it but when you reach the last layer and you go underground, and you have the roots, and then you go below the roots, and you have the dirt.
What’s below the dirt? And what’s below that?
I’m just talking metaphorically, of course, because we all know if we keep going down to the center of the earth, that’s a different feeling. But if we do this metaphorically, like “What’s underneath that emotional layer? And what’s underneath that emotional layer?” What emotions are present then? We’ll soon get to a different space. It feels lighter.
It feels different. it feels free.
If you’ve tried this, and you’ve not ever felt this, you need to dig farther. This is where sometimes people will dive into their spirituality. They’ll go beyond their belief system, they’ll go beyond their knowledge. It gets them outside of the box and into a different space.
You don’t have to be spiritual to do this. This is just an exercise in the mind. Your body feels it as you dive into these layers. It can be a wonderful experience to get below the fear, below the anxiety, and below the stress. Because under there is a lot different feeling. It almost feels like being reborn.
Again, I’m not trying to make this a spiritual conversation. It’s more like when you’re born, you don’t have these things. I mean, yes, we have some inherent fears. If somebody yells really loud when we’re a baby, we’re probably going to be upset. We’re probably going to cry.
But I’m pretty sure that when you were a baby and somebody said, “Oh my god, I’m almost broke,” it probably didn’t affect you, unless they were taking it out on you, that’s totally different. But somebody’s saying that in the same room, “Oh, no, I’m so broke,” you’re probably not thinking, from a baby’s perspective, that being broke is bad.
However, that kind of stuff we absorb, I know. We bring it with us from childhood and into our adult world. We think, “Oh, I remember my parents talking about that all the time, even before I was old enough to understand.”
I get that part. but we didn’t necessarily come into the world with a fear of not having money. We came into the world with just very limited fears, and wanting to eat. And wanting to sleep. Underneath all of these layers, under the roots even, it is kind of a feeling of being reborn into that empty vessel instead.
So that’s an expansion of the mind I hope you can reach too. And I’m not an expert at this. I’m not saying that this is easy for me. I still have stresses that come up and I have to go through the exercises. This isn’t automatic.
Sometimes I don’t even want to go through the exercise. Sometimes I don’t want to deal with it. Sometimes I just want to block it out. I just want to go outside or play a game or play my guitar. I want to do anything else except think of that so I don’t dive into it.
But I would say that if it’s a constant state of mind, or a constant negative emotion, or constant negative chatter inside your mind, then it’s time to dig. And it’s time to find out what’s under those layers.
Continuing with this email, let’s see what else there is to comment on. She said, “Since childhood, I’ve felt this need to ensure my mother’s emotional well-being, fulfilling her expectations and the dreams she could never achieve due to the emotional trauma she received as a child.”
That’s something else that that can often happen is that if there’s something unfulfilled in one or both of our parents that we might find it our job to fulfill what they’re missing.
This comes in the form of some parents that live vicariously through their children because they (the parent) didn’t achieve what they wanted to achieve, so they hope their child achieves that. If their child achieves that, it gives the parent a sense of accomplishment.
That can certainly happen. In this case, maybe her mom just never healed from her trauma. so, because of that, the child comes along and is kind of that proxy way to heal, but not necessarily in a healthy way because she said she’s fulfilling her expectations and dreams, and “the dreams that her mom could never achieve.” Again, that’s along the lines of the parent not necessarily getting what they want in life and hoping their child does so they can live vicariously through them.
I’m not necessarily putting any of this down. I’m not saying if you’re a parent, and you want your child to achieve more than you achieve, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all. It’s just when it becomes the child’s obligation. When the child feels obligated to do it and feels the stress to do it and the pressure to do it. Or they’re a disappointment to the parent (which may have been what happened in this case).
I’m sorry you had to go through that. I’m hoping that you (the person who wrote the email) don’t feel the need to do this anymore because if you continue trying to fulfill what your mom couldn’t heal or fulfill in herself, that can tend to get passed down the generations in the sense that now that you’ve lived your life trying to heal your mom’s old wounds, does that mean your kid now lives their life to fulfill your wounds?
This is why it’s so important to work on yourself and work on your self-esteem, your self worth, your self-compassion, and your self-love, and become a happy adult child of your parents. Because healthy parents want their kids to be happy no matter what.
If they don’t want them to be happy, and they just need them to fill some sort of void in themselves, then the child never really lives the life that they want to live and that can get passed down through the generations. I’m not saying it will. I’m just saying it can get passed down and we just have to be careful with that.
This is one of the reasons why I always recommend that you work on yourself. It’s that old concept put the oxygen mask on you first before you help others because if you are not fulfilling yourself, healing yourself, or working on your own stuff, then you might seek it from others. Then when you have kids, you might want them to fulfill that in some way and that takes away from them. Just like for this person, it’s taking away from her. She’s not able to enjoy her life and experience what life is like without someone’s obligation on them.
The next item in her email is “allowing myself to feel a lot of repressed emotion.” This so important. This is something I said on the last episode and in many episodes, where when you have thoughts and feelings, and anything negative you might be walking around with all the time and it sits underneath all the layers, and it’s just a low-level feeling that you carry with you, you’re likely holding on to repressed emotions.
These repressed emotions can turn into sometimes very destructive behavior. It can be little outbursts, or passive-aggressive comments. It can be just being upset or anxious. It can turn into depression. Any type of repressed emotions that are in there, I believe you have to address. I believe they have to come up.
I know there are some things that happened to some people, like lots of abuse that they don’t want to visit again, they don’t want to bring that up. I’m not saying you have to saying you have to bring up the events. It’s just important to remember that the emotions surrounding those events are important to address.
Let’s just take an extreme example. Someone gets sexually abused. They might have a lot of shame and guilt and anger and fear and maybe embarrassment and all of these emotions that you’d never want the victim of sexual abuse to feel because why would a victim want to feel guilt? Why would a victim want to feel shame?
But often they do. And some of them don’t want to deal with it. Some of them don’t want to address it. Some of them don’t want to bring it up, they just want to move on. My opinion on this is if it doesn’t affect you today and your life is pretty darn good, and you really haven’t necessarily healed from the trauma of the past, but your life is pretty balanced and you’re pretty happy, then I don’t think it’s necessary to go into the past and drudge all that stuff up.
It may be necessary, but it may not be. If life is going good and you’re moving along fine and you rarely think about it and it doesn’t affect you, and you’re not walking around with that underlying negativity, and you have good relationships and you’re feeling good inside yourself, then in my personal opinion I don’t think you really have to address that kind of stuff. If everything is good now, then maybe you can just move on.
My big “However” though… my big “but” says that if you have unexplained moments of upset or lashing out or self-destructive patterns, or you’re walking around with that low-level sense of dread, or agony, or anxiety, or anything negative, and you’re just not having what you believe to be a somewhat happy, comfortable life, and it has to do with that old trauma, then it’s time to address.
I’m not saying you have to. That’s certainly your choice. But the less you address it, the more it stays repressed. And the more it continues to be harmful to you because it stays in there and it festers. Negative emotions that fester don’t do anything but harm.
Sometimes we try to fight those things, and we try to resist those things that are brewing inside of us but we can’t hold them back because they’re just too strong, they just keep coming up.
I look at it this way: I kind of personify those emotions. I think that when they come up, when there’s an emotional trigger that’s activated inside of you, and one of them comes up, it’s an opportunity to acknowledge it, address it, talk to it, and try to heal a little bit.
It would be great if I could say, “Just heal it then and there.” But every time one comes up, it’s an opportunity. It’s like it’s saying, “Hey, I’m still in here. Could you please talk to me? Could you please help me? I don’t want to stay in here anymore. I don’t want to be repressed. I want to be let out. I want to be free. I know you want to be free of me too.”
That’s kind of something I look at is personifying these emotions that are continuous feelings that you might carry around. They need to be addressed. They might need to be talked to like a person so that they can find their way out.
You may not be able to do it alone, you may have to do it with a support group or a support person or a professional of some sort. If that’s what it takes, you might have to climb the big mountain and reach the big emotional peak where you can finally start living life downhill instead of uphill.
But once you do that, your life changes. It’s night and day. You just feel different, you see life differently, you feel better, and you can start living because some people stop living. They just live in this, maybe fear state or hurt state all the time. That’s just no way to live.
I know this is tough. There are things that may have happened in your life that are just terrible and you don’t think you can get through it but it’s not good when it stays in there, either.
If life is going great and you’ve had some trauma in your past, but it’s not affecting you today, you’re probably okay. If it’s not okay, it might be time to address it. It might be time to talk about it.
The next one is, “I’m recognizing the ingrained habits that are holding me back.” Those are those limiting beliefs that I was talking about. We develop these habits and we do them so often that we don’t even think about it. It’s like breathing, we just do it without even thinking it happens. It’s an involuntary muscle sometimes.
She is starting to recognize her habits. I call this a pattern interrupt. A habit is a pattern that your brain knows so well that it doesn’t have to think about it to do it. It’s sort of like when I used to buy soda at the store. I would just reach for the soda. I didn’t think about it. I could afford so I reached for the soda, and I drank it down during my workday.
But when I gave up soda, that was hard! I would walk into a store, I’d have it in my hand, I’d be walking to the counter and then I would remember “Wait, I gave up soda and here I am with a soda.”
Then I would tell myself, “But it’s so good. It’s just one more soda.” I would do that “one more soda” so often that I might as well not have quit. I really started having to think about these habits that were just so normal to me that when I got out of my car to go into the store, I would imagine myself buying a soda which was something I would normally do unconsciously, but now I was making it conscious.
I was making that habit a conscious thing to help me remember I gave up soda. This does take effort, to interrupt the patterns and stop something you do all the time because it may be so “normal” to you.
When it’s normal, you don’t think about it. You just continue doing what you’re doing. That’s what she’s talking about. She’s breaking these patterns. This is a huge step forward if you can start being conscious of everything you do.
That’s why a lot of people talk about the present moment. Eckhart Tolle talks about the present moment all the time. If you’re very present in what you’re doing, and you don’t become unconscious, and it becomes something that’s just in the background, and then it becomes a pattern, then you are always aware of what’s going on in your life and maybe you won’t get into these old habits and patterns.
Eckhart’s on a different level than most people so I’m sure it comes a lot easier to him. Some of us, we are kind of on autopilot in a lot of the things that we do but those who are good at presence they practice it. And I’m sure they meditate too. And because of their practices, they probably have a lot more control in their life. They probably have a lot more awareness of what they do. They don’t get into these patterns.
They’re also probably able to recognize old patterns like way before they started doing any presence exercises. Because the old patterns might have been the stuff that came out of childhood from well-meaning parents (or not so well-meaning parents), and they were taken out of the home and into their own lives, and never thought of again until one day somebody said something about it, or they noticed it themselves and they finally realized they needed to change these patterns.
That’s a good one to remember. The next one is “staying true to myself”.
I am a big fan of showing up authentically, transparently, and in a vulnerable way with people that you feel safe around. Sometimes you can do it with people that you don’t feel so safe around just to see if they will get vulnerable and be authentic too.
But for the most part, I would rather be around people that I feel safe being myself around. And when I’m around people that I don’t feel safe being myself around, I may not be myself. I may not be my full self, I should say.
I did read an email earlier today about personal boundaries and how someone said, “When I honor my personal boundaries in front of family, they react badly. They don’t like me honoring myself so I don’t do it that often.”
The first thought that came to my mind is “So you’re willing to honor people that don’t want you honoring yourself?”
I didn’t tell her that but this is the first thing that came to my mind, is that when other people don’t appreciate you honoring yourself, and they respond badly to it, especially family because they want you to be who you’ve always been with them. That might mean they prefer taking advantage of you. And if you change, that takes away their ability to take advantage of you.
Yeah, they might be upset that they can’t take advantage of you anymore! Well, boohoo… I don’t know how else to say it. That’s just too bad for them. At the same time, if they truly love you, then they’re going to want you to honor yourself. They’re going to respect you honoring yourself.
If they truly care about you, they’re going to want you to be happy. They’re not going to want you to experience someone else’s bad behavior, even if it’s their own. I look at when you don’t honor yourself because you’re afraid of how other people will treat you, and they’re treating you not so nice, and when you do honor yourself in front of them they get upset that you are honoring yourself, then I look at that in a way of you honoring them dishonoring you.
I don’t know if that’s 100% true, but I take that on as my belief. That is a belief that doesn’t limit me. That’s a belief that empowers me. Because if that person doesn’t respect my choices for myself then I’m either going to honor them disrespecting me, or dishonoring me, or I’m going to honor myself even at the risk that I could lose them as friend or family.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to be a jerk about it. I always like to honor myself with love for others. I can honor myself with love for you. I had to do that with all my family members once (or a couple of times) where I needed to honor myself, I needed to make my own choice and they didn’t like my choice and I still said it with love for them, and care about them.
I even said, “I love you. I don’t want to ruin this relationship with that. I’m going to say no, but I just want to let I’m, I want us to be close. I don’t want this to get in between us. I still want to have this connection with you.”
That person didn’t like it. I haven’t talked to that person since, and maybe that person hasn’t thought about it since then, I’m not sure, but if I were to see this person again, I would hope that they understood that I had a choice and I chose No and it was okay for both of us, for me to do that, because everyone does have a choice.
You don’t want to take away other people’s choices. When you honor yourself and somebody doesn’t like it, then you acquiesce and decide to do what they want you to do, they’ve taken away your choice. Or even worse, you’ve taken away your own choice, because you’ve made the decision to acquiesce – you’ve made the decision to step out of your choice, out of your power, and let them have what they want.
I want you to be really careful if you ever have trouble honoring yourself in front of others that might get upset because either they are going to have a choice that takes advantage of you or you’re going to have a choice that empowers you, and those who love you will want you to be empowered. Those who love you want you to be happy.
I’m not trying to make it a black and white issue. I know there’s more to it. But I just want you to know if you’re ever in that situation that your choices make a big difference in what continues in your life, and what stops.
If you don’t want toxic behavior to continue, you might have to make a different choice. I love that she said that in her email.
She also said, “I hope one day to also be able to help people understand themselves and inspire them to heal emotionally.”
I think that’s an excellent aspiration to have. It’s something that I never really thought I would be doing. I’ve been a coach for well over 10 years now and I never thought that I would be on a podcast telling my life stories and being an inspiration to anyone, helping them heal emotionally… I just thought I’d get a few clients here and there in my local town and I would just do that.
But one day I got on a podcast and I just started telling my stories and suddenly people started following me and really telling me how much just telling my stories helped. This kind of lines up with being authentic, being vulnerable, and putting yourself out there.
I decided six or seven years ago that I’m going to put my guilt out there. I’m going to put my embarrassment out there. I’m going to put my shame out there. I’m going to put anything that I don’t necessarily want to feel, ever again, on the air for the world to hear and for the world to judge and for the world to do anything they want with it.
I really expected to be judged harshly.
I expected to get messages like, “You said what? You did that? How could you do that? That’s so awful.”
As I told my stories over the years, I have never, I don’t think ever, maybe once… I think I’ve only seen one thing that ever judged me for something I did. It was how I used to treat my wife. I was emotionally abusive toward my wife and I just talked about it on the air. I wanted to be transparent. I wanted to tell people, “You know what, I teach this stuff about emotional abuse and I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve been the recipient and I’ve been the perpetrator of emotional abuse.”
I want you to make up your own mind. I want you to ask yourself, “Should I listen to this guy?”
If this is your first time hearing this, I tell my stories from a point of view where I learned a hell of a lesson. I’ve learned how to treat people better how to heal from this stuff and this is typically what I share on the air because I wasn’t perfect. I needed help. I needed healing. I was dysfunctional.
I come on the air and I tell you about my dysfunctions, not because I’m looking for a pity party, not because I think I’m a victim, but because I think when other people hear it, it allows them to feel vulnerable too. It allows them to express themselves, either when they write to me or they express themselves to their friend.
I had somebody write to me and say, “I have my best friend that I live with. We talk all the time, but I never ever want to tell him this one secret that I have. This secret is really eating away at me inside.”
I asked her, “Well, why don’t you want to tell this person? Are they going to bite your head off? Are they going to be angry with you?”
She said, “No, in fact, they’d be totally understanding.”
I said, “Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that and just express what’s going on inside of you?”
Her secret wasn’t even about that person. It was something else that happened in her life. She said, “I never considered it.” I said, “You have this safe person that’s non-judgmental, and you have an opportunity to share what’s on your mind and they’re right there. They are your roommate and you’re not taking that opportunity. It’s a perfect opportunity to release some negativity or at least put it on the table so that it can get some air.
She said, “I just never thought about it. I think I will.” I thought, “That’s fantastic.” I think she did end up doing that, and what a great release for her! To have someone in your life that you can just be yourself and express yourself, that is a gift.
I like to think that when you listen to my stories, and I tell you the things that I’m embarrassed about, I feel guilty about, I feel ashamed about, I have behaved in certain ways… When I tell you all this stuff, I think it allows you to be a bit more yourself.
I think you can maybe look at someone like me and go, “Man, that guy’s messed up. Maybe in my life not so bad after all.”
At the same time, there are many people that have had such a worse life than I did. Much, much worse than I’ve gone through. I still think that sharing who I am and what I’ve gone through on the air allows them to be allowed to connect with themselves in a non-judgmental space even though I can’t hear people talking back to me, but I still believe that it allows people to open up.
“If this guy can come on and tell stories of all the embarrassing things that he’s gone through and all the dysfunction that he’s experienced and all the relationships he’s ruined, then maybe I can tell my mom this or my best friend this or my partner, my husband, my wife… Maybe I can do this too.”
I’m telling you this because this person wrote, “I hope to be able to help people understand themselves and inspire them to heal emotionally.”
I think when you are yourself, when you aren’t afraid to show up authentically as who you really are, you do inspire others. You do help other people heal. Because it gives them a chance to connect with themselves and be open and be vulnerable because they’ll feel safer with somebody who is being who they are.
When you’re around somebody that can share and express themselves freely and openly, knowing that they could be judged, knowing that they could be ridiculed, that usually feels like a safer person. We feel safer to be vulnerable around those types of people.
I’m just saying this to the person who wrote the email and anyone else that needs to hear it:
Don’t be afraid to tell your story.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
If you’re going into a healing modality of any sort, or a coaching modality, or counseling profession or anything like that, I think it’s a great idea to share who you are to allow other people to connect with something deeper inside themselves.
To the person who wrote the email, I love that you want to go into that space. Because when you heal, you feel so good that you typically want to spread that good feeling and want to help others too. My only caveat to that is be careful if somebody doesn’t ask for your help.
I’ve seen this before. Some people that go into these healing modalities, they want to coach or “fix” other people when those people aren’t ready for it and they’re not asking for it.
You just have to be careful with this because you might have all the tools and resources that can help somebody else and they could tell you what’s going on in their life and you could think to yourself, “Wow, I know how to help them out of this. I can help them feel better in like three minutes.”
My advice is to not automatically help people unless it seems they’re asking for it or they directly ask for it. Because some people just aren’t in that space. They’re not ready, or they’re just venting. Some people don’t want to be fixed. That was what my wife told me when we were married.
She said “Sometimes I just want to vent.” And I said “Oh! Wait, why would you tell me this if you didn’t want it fixed?”
She said, “Not everything needs fixed! Sometimes I just want to vent.”
That was a big lesson for me. I learned a lot then. A lot of people are like that. Some people just want to vent, some people are okay with the drama. Some people want to stay in their drama, they want to be the victim. Not everyone that has drama is a victim but some people just want to stay the victim and that’s okay.
We just say, “Okay, that’s awful for you. Sorry you’re going through it, ” even though you could have a solution. We just have to be careful because sometimes we can be the “rescuer” or the “fixer” and we think we’re doing the right thing.
But in actuality, we’re giving people something they don’t want, or haven’t asked for. It may feel intrusive to them. They may dislike us for it even though it could be the solution, even though it could make their life better! At least according to our perception.
We just have to be careful around that. But I don’t think this person who wrote to me is going to do that and if they do, well, this might be helpful advice for her. That was pretty much the end of her letter. I hope this has been helpful.
I received a review on my other podcast Love and Abuse where someone quoted me saying on one of my episodes, “…because I was treated this way, doesn’t give me the right to treat others this way.”
I was referencing when some emotionally abusive people use the excuse that their traumatic or abusive upbringing causes them to hurt those they love today. The reviewer said he loved that line. He said it rang so true to him.
He left a review and said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘I am trying to change. I am working on myself. I realized that I’m not doing loving behavior, I’m doing hurtful or harmful behavior…’
This is probably similar to the realization I had near the end of my marriage, where I finally put on my empathy jeans and was empathetic toward my wife and put myself in her position, and imagined me over there, saying the things I said to “me” being that guy’s wife. It’s weird when I put it that way, but I pretended I was my wife and I imagined Paul over there judging me.
Being in my wife’s shoes, I felt miserable. I felt like being sick. I felt like “What a jerk. I am trying everything I can to love this person unconditionally….” She was so good at loving me and supporting me yet I acted like this jerk.
Near the end of my marriage, I really felt empathy come up and that was the beginning of my healing. I think empathy is a huge key to healing when you are being hurtful or harmful to someone else.
Empathy is a big key and healing anyway because once you have empathy and compassion, sympathy for someone else, you get to understand them a little bit more. If they want help, you try to help. You understand their position. Being empathetic helps you connect with them. It helps you relate to them. It has a lot of benefit.
Then there are people that are overly empathetic and they are highly sensitive and they really take in all the emotions that the other person is experiencing and they have to work on not being so empathetic.
But usually, those people aren’t doing the harm. The overly empathetic, highly sensitive people are typically not the harmful ones. They are the ones that are trying to avoid being harmful and they don’t want that negativity in their lives, typically.
In reference to the reviewer, he said the episode where I said, “because I was treated that way doesn’t give me the right to treat others this way” was what he needed to hear to start treating the people he loved differently.
People who do emotionally abusive behavior, that have been victim to trauma or abusive behavior themselves when they were younger, can be hurtful when they are older. Unfortunately, this happens a lot. Someone can be abused or traumatized in some way then when they grow up, they may not realize how harmful their behavior really is. They aren’t accessing their empathy and they’re treating others the same way they were treated.
I know it can be very difficult to deal with and heal from such a traumatic past. But it doesn’t give anyone the right to treat you badly today just because they were treated badly. Of course, that’s common sense, right? We don’t want to hurt someone just because we were hurt. I think most of us are on board with that.
But it is a good reminder that because some of us were mistreated when we were younger that we might be bringing in a false belief system about how to treat others. We can get mistreated at some other place and time, then we grow these fears and we have these beliefs that if we don’t treat the person like we treated that somehow we’re going to suffer.
This happens a lot is that the person who might have been traumatized or abused when they were younger, they feel like they might have to traumatize or abuse the person they’re with because if they don’t, they might feel like they’re losing control. And if they don’t have any control, then they’ll suffer because they believe there is pain without control.
That might be a belief that needs to be double-checked. Because that belief may not be true. It’s likely just a fear of being out of control that makes some people think that we’re going to break down or die or something at the deepest level like I was talking about in the first segment – what’s underneath all those roots and those layers of emotions? We think there’s something worse, but really, if we keep going, we might find out that underneath all of that fear and hurt and pain, there’s something that might set us free.
When I stopped being a jerk to my wife, it was relieving to me. It was freeing for me to stop being hurtful.
I loved when I healed from being so judgmental toward my wife. I loved it because I wasn’t walking around in a constantly triggered state. I wasn’t constantly watching her like a hawk anymore. It was so peaceful to not be judgmental, to not be emotionally abusive. It was freeing.
The reviewer said he’s trying to change. He said, “I’m currently trying to overcome my controlling patterns and distrust for people around me, namely my wife. We’ve come to a crossroad and I don’t know what will happen, but I need to change this.”
What an amazing journey. If he goes through with this and he turns on that empathy, and every time he’s about to be controlling or manipulative, or just a jerk, then he can remind himself “How would I feel if I were my wife right now?
When you turn on empathy, it takes you out of yourself.
When you’re out of yourself, maybe the fear will be gone, maybe the pain will be gone, maybe the anger about whatever the other person is doing will be gone, and now you’re in the shoes of someone else and what you’re about to say is going to affect you personally, because you’re being empathetic.
That is huge. If he can step into those shoes there will be some emotional freedom coming his way. And it’s going to feel great. Empathy seems to be the key to get out of being hurtful and harmful to others. I really hope that he’s able to grasp that. And I hope this helps anyone that’s listening that might find themselves lashing out or being angry with other people, or having a bad attitude, whatever it is. We spend so much time in our own head, in our own thoughts, and in our own worries, and our own stress, that maybe turning on that empathy and being in someone else’s shoes will snap us out of the trance that we’re in.
Being out of that trance gives us a break. It feels freeing. It might also feel awful. When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you being them, experiencing your harmful behavior can be very revealing and you might think, “Oh, I’m being awful. I don’t like this at all.”
But it might rattle your cage enough so that it helps you heal and it helps you change and get you into a better space to free you from that constantly triggered state.
Wouldn’t you love that? Never being triggered? I’m not saying I’m perfect at it. I still have some work to do there. But 99.8% of the time, I’m not triggered. And when I get triggered, it’s usually because I’m tired. It’s usually because all my defenses are down, and I just don’t want to be bothered and things bother me, I’m a little bit more sensitive so I have to check in with myself and make sure that I’ve still got forward momentum and I’m still on the path of always working on myself, and never just taking advantage of the people I love.
I think that’s a great place to be. I hope you’re in that space too but if not, you’re always working toward that.