“We are living in a material world” Madonna
Society and the media especially condition us to think that something outside of ourselves will make us happy or fulfilled. Think of the onslaught of Television commercials viewers are exposed to on a daily basis. If you are an adult and watching TV at night you are exposed to every imaginable pill that that will take care of: Aches and pain, acid reflux, arthritis, depression, sexual dysfunction, to name but a few. Advertisers would like us to think there is a pill for every ill. Not to mention the clothes, cosmetics, cars, vacation getaways presented to make you think you need them to be happy. Advertising is Classical Conditioning at its best or worst depending how you view it. If we see something over and over again – regardless of whether it is true or not we tend to believe what we are seeing. Since our brain is usually more active when we are asleep than we we are watching TV – being in a relaxed semi- meditative state makes us more susceptible to being influenced by the images and messages we see over and over again.
Ekhard Tolle states: “If something out side of your self is the reason you are happy then you are hostage to it.” In my 12 years of coaching, training, and teaching Psychology; I have yet to find evidence of a link between material wealth and fulfillment and happiness. If we are happy, material comforts and financial independence can enhance our sense of well being… however if we are unhappy we are like hungry ghosts -always searching and consuming – never satisfied. “Having more things does not make an unhappy person happy”. No amount of riches, material comfort, business success, distractions, etc. can make us happy if we are anxious, driven, unhappy, suffering from low self esteem or lack of meaning and purpose in our lives.
Happiness is a by-product having a purpose, finding meaning, enjoying “good” relationships and feeling like we are making a difference in the world around us. We cannot be psychologically mature unless we feel like we are making a contribution to to the world or leaving it in a better state than we found it. (Erickson) I am not saying it is wrong to want to be affluent and have financial security and travel the world. I like striving for these things as well. Maturity and mental health come from knowing who we are, being responsible for our behaviors, knowing our strengths and weaknesses, accepting and loving ourselves thus being able to accept and love others. (Marion Woodman) Affluence in the fullest sense is knowing what matters, going after what is truly right, meaningful, having a sense of being connected to something larger than ourselves and having healthy and supportive relationships. In other words: claiming our personal authority, knowing we all have a purpose for being here, finding our own unique personal connection to the transcendent and world around us.
Living in the past
Imagine going to a photo shop and having film developed. (Remember the days before digital cameras?) You take out of the package some negatives to view. You look through one and put another negative in front of the other. What do you see? Probably a blurry picture with the first picture obstructing the much of the view of the second. in a similar way, we view our present circumstances through the lenses of past experiences. What happened to me before is clouding the experience I am having right now. So if I hadn’t bonded well with a primary caregiver such as my mom or dad, this can become the template I view future relationships. Inadvertently, unconsciously (of course) transferring and projecting the experiences, emotions and interpersonal dynamics from this first “picture” on to the experiences I am having right now. Our mind is like an analog computer constantly searching the data base for similarities to past hurts, threats and fears causing us to see and react to the present in similar ways we learned and reacted to the past.
The good news is; when we become aware of this, we are able to have choices in how we respond to what is presently happening. When unaware, it is as if we are on autopilot tending to create and recreate similar patterns from our past – resisting the role we are playing in our current situations, believing that what we are living is created outside of ourselves. Feeling like a victim is a good example of this.
Psychologist Harvel Hendricks wrote; “Everywhere I go and everywhere I may be, I see mommy and daddy and they see me!” If we choose to stay unaware, we often recreate and carry into our relationships very similar dynamics as we experienced from our family of origin. Cruel isn’t it? We can fall deeper into self deception by making assumptions like: he makes me feel this way or if I wasn’t married to her I would be happy. Unfortunately while half of marriages end up in divorce; second marriages have around a 60% plus divorce rate. We often marry the same person as our ex – just different hair color eye color etc. Same person basically just different packaging. If you think some magical other will make you happy, then guess what? That “special” person may then become the cause of your unhappiness once the honeymoon is over! Just because you have a different partner doesn’t mean that you have learned to dance.
If there are some areas of your life in which you are feeling stuck or are not to your liking; here are some questions to consider.
Is what I am experiencing a familiar or recurring dynamic?
When did I first experience this ?
What other recurring patterns I am experiencing or recreating in my life?
When and with who did these patterns start?
What is the story or belief about myself that is behind my being stuck in these repetitive situations?
What role did or am I playing in this or these relationships not being as healthy or supportive as I would like? (Could be career relationships as well.)
Answering these questions truthfully can be a great journal exercise and enlightening as well.
Once we become more aware and are responsible for our situations we have choices. We are able to intentionally create and live more closely to our authentic self, needs and values. If I realize I am attracted to needy people who will take advantage of my generosity; and realize an unconscious need to create dependencies (rescuing) so I feel accepted; I can make better and healthier choices. I might want to consider; In what ways do I need rescuing? It can be painful to recognize that I have set myself up – that it why it is easier to blame others for my conditions. However, this won’t change anything except fuel co- dependent or conflicted relationships. Co-dependency we can define as a hostile dependency. Often we stay in unhealthy relationships – painful as they are because they either fill an unconscious need; affirm a limiting belief about ourselves or allow us to play a life script that we unconsciously living. (Like the good boy/girl or caretaker) The discomfort of this realization can be very painful but it can set one on the path to having needs met in conscious and healthier ways. Awareness sets the stage in which the healing can take place and helps identify what needs to be done to have more fulfilling relationships as well as a meaningful career or vocation.
The list of ways we recreate our past can be exhausting : Like a thermostat setting, we often made up a stories about ourselves based on early prior experiences from our family of origin. This “setting” is often unconscious and thus more powerful in directing us to experience over and over again the emotionally charged core ideas we adopted about who we are and what is real. It could be words from an angry parent, a sibling or bullies from school that we accepted as true. Being so young, we simply didn’t know any better.
When our needs are not met or we feel we are not understood, are shamed, neglected, abused or abandoned or feel stuck ; some of the more common, emotionally charged core ideas are:
Pretty or handsome enough
Deserving or capable
Needing to be perfect (to be accepted or acceptable)
Something happened long ago , we made up a story; something else happened, and we made up an assumption about ourselves. These stories we made up then “set” or became a part of our identity and the template in which we view the world. They became a part of “scripts” we started operating from. Unknowingly, the thermostat became set – before we could be aware that the setting can be changed. We took it for granted, co-created relationships, experiences, emotional states and engaged the world in ways that are congruent with these assumptions; constantly finding evidence for these self limiting beliefs and associated pain. Believing is seeing. Tony Robbins states “The mind sees what the heart feels”. Psychologist Eric Berne found, ” We act in ways to make others behave in order to justify how we feel”. Even if the feelings are unconscious.
Since the “outer” world conforms to our inner experience; we often don’t challenge the stories we made up from these early experiences. It is like shooting an arrow into a wall and then drawing a bulls eye around it. We think that this is simply the way it is.
Our self esteem, self image and expectations align themselves to this reality that we have unwittingly co-created yet so often resist. Otherwise highly intelligent, creative and talented people are stuck or trapped by these unconscious self limiting beliefs. The outer world that is experienced on a daily basis mirrors these beliefs and the illusion appears as real. How about that for magic! You thought only magicians could make illusions appear as real. You/ we have unconsciously been powerful magicians making illusions or delusions appear as real as the sky is blue. Yorum Kaufman writes: ‘”Our capacity for self deception is truly monumental”. If you want to see what is going on in your inner world take a look at the outer and you will see a perfect match.
The encouraging news is: these made up stories based on interpretations from childhood pain can be adjusted. We need to realize that as children and for that matter as teenagers we were “Ego Centric and Narcissistic”. This means it is all about me. The world revolves around me, the sun rises and sets because of me and the reason Dad drank or left or Mom hit me is because of me. If these assumptions are not challenged they can become integrated into our identity, often suppressed or repressed because they are painful. Resulting fear and anxiety often comes from: “I don’t want to feel the pain and hurt I am trying to block” or “I am afraid I will be left or hurt again”.
Depending on the severity of the empathy deficits , emotional, or physical pain experienced: Anger and rage simmer, (suppressed or repressed) fester and can erupt and leak out in very destructive ways. We can also become emotionally insulated and detached as well – so as not get hurt again. We perceive the world through these lenses of beliefs and or pain– focus on the data that supports these assumptions even when they are unconscious. “Whether we know it or not we steer the ship of our experiences based on the prevailing beliefs of who we are and what is real” (Fielding Institute) Almost like being on autopilot with faulty programming!
For example, with mistrust the story usually is “You can’t trust anyone – they leave you!” Or people take advantage (never mind that I have been training them to do so.) To change these beliefs, first we need to be aware that they are there. Our unconscious beliefs, attitudes and emotions can and often sabotage our prized endeavors. ( Jim Farr ) Once we are conscious and aware we have choices; for “what we are unaware of manifest itself as fate” Carl Jung. We need to do our work!
What to do about it
First, notice how the false self stories you may have adopted are playing out in your life. Like a scientist and without judging, observe how your experiences may be a mirror for these emotionally charged self limiting beliefs.
What does fear make you do? What does fear keep you from doing? Now imagine what your life will be like as you let go of any of these self limiting beliefs and fears. What would you do? Who would you be with? If you let go of fear, imagine what you could do!
When you are aware, calm, self forgiving, accepting and open; you are less likely to be hostage to reliving the past and stories you’ve made up about who you are. You are more able to live from your true self and create more affirming beliefs. (If we make it all up.. why not make up something that works better?) You are now ready to start answering deeper questions like: “Whose life have I been living?”; How do I start living my life and answer the summons of my soul? How do I embark on my hero’s journey? What actions do I need to start taking.. Now!