“We learn our belief systems as very little children, and then we move through life creating experiences to match our beliefs. Look back in your own life and notice how often you have gone through the same experience.” -Louise L. Hay
I was in my early thirties when a traumatic event in my life caused me to begin my journey of self-discovery and personal growth. I recall the time when I met with a counselor with our Employee Assistance Program. After a few basic questions and understanding why I was there, she began by asking me about my family of origin. Why talk about my family when I was the one in emotional pain? Over the coming months, I would profoundly understand the reason why. So much of what was happening in my life as an adult was a result of what happened in my childhood.
During the initial sessions with my counselor I answered her questions about my childhood as if I was talking about any normal and ordinary event. A few weeks later while attending the Human Interaction Lab at NTL Institute in Bethel, Maine, the lightning strike of awareness occurred. The constructive feedback I was receiving from my peers as a result of our interactions together, was similar to how I had felt about my father. How could this be? I swore I would never be like him. Once again, my focus turned to my past. The years of denial about having a “normal” past, that I had painted in my mind, finally broke as I began to recall the trauma and dysfunction I experienced. You mean to tell me that the crap I was experiencing in my life as an adult was due in part to my past!! The answer I realized was, YES!
“Your limiting decisions have shaped everything you do. They have prevented you from seeing opportunities and maybe even discouraged you from trying at all. Time to bring them out of hiding! Once you do that, you have choice.” Source Psychology Today (Link to article)
There are several things I believe that are important to understand when at this juncture.
First, it takes a lot of courage to admit that your life is not going that well, and more importantly to be willing to look into why this is. We tend to remain in denial about our life, attempting at any cost to maintain the perception that we have our act together, and creating the illusion that our life is normal. When tough situations arise where we feel our insecurities, pain, etc., we are tempted to mask these and rationalize that everything is okay. We remain in denial.
The image I relate these times to, is that of a duck on water. The duck appears to be graceful above the water, but once you look underneath, you realize that they are paddling like crazy just to stay afloat. We can attempt to maintain the appearance that things are okay, but at one point, the stress we are feeling within catches up with us. Although you may not be feeling courageous at these times, since we are feeling so weak at first, you are indeed being strong and courageous!
Second, you may experience a lot of intense emotions. The shock of confronting what really happened in our past can lead to intense anger and rage. It is strongly recommended that you work with a professional during these times. Related to above, we need to understand that seeking help is actually a sign of strength, not weakness. We may be prone to experience the fight or flight response, seeking unhealthy ways to deal with our pain.
A prior girlfriend of mine experienced this when the sexual abuse she had experienced as a child finally surfaced. It was like a volcano erupting as the rage came out. At first I had no idea what was going on. She had distanced herself from me and soon broke up. Her experience was similar to my own, when I came to grips with my own dysfunctional past. Fortunately I found support with my counselor and others, who helped me to learn how to deal with this anger in healthier ways. My favorite was holding a pillow in front of my face as I screamed and yelled. It is so important to get this anger out in a healthy way.
Third, comes the choice to remain a victim to your past and offenders, or to take charge of your own life now. At first the feeling of being a victim is real and justified. We were hurt and abused by those that we wanted healthy love and affection from. Not only did it affect our life then, but so much of our adult life! As true as this is, a critical part of the healing process is learning how to let go and ultimately forgive. This does not mean that we accept what they did to us, but instead, the we free ourselves from our past so that we can move forward.
I recall the time when I was ready to forgive my father. I had been healing my past for at least a year, when I decided to let go of the anger I had at him. I called him on the phone and at one point interrupted him and said the words, “Dad, I forgive you.” He asked what this meant, and I simply told him that this was important for me to do. It did not seem to make a difference to him that I said any of this. I was still seeking his approval, which was something I kept seeking into my adult years. But this time, I was prepared and realized that what I did was for me, not him.
Once making it this far, you are well on your way to recovery and healing the past. The process of dealing with our wounds and unhealthy beliefs may take the rest of our life to deal with, be cured overnight, or anywhere between. This may sound disheartening, but is not meant to be. The growth we make to learn how to love and accept ourselves, is the greatest gift we can give. As our self-esteem grows, our ability to love and be loved grows as well. Yes, there may be deep-rooted issues that take a long time to deal with, but just as a person can lose a limb and learn how to deal with it, we eventually learn how to cope and deal with our core issues.
“The benefit of personal growth and self-discovery is that we become better human beings with the strength to endure and carry on, and then we may experience something magical when we begin to reach out to others. We discover a feeling that is so rewarding and fulfilling: that fact that we can make a difference. Here is to your willingness to begin with making a difference with yourself!” Michael James, Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guider to Personal Growth and Self-Discovery (www.discoveringmichael.com).
This discussion reminds me about my trip to Poland, where I visited the concentration camp in Auschwitz. Despite the incredible pain I experienced in learning about what happened, it left an impression that I would never forget. Recalling the past would help to avoid repeating these behaviors that caused pain and suffering.
This is why I have chosen to be an advocate and teacher on the topic of personal growth and self-discovery. I know the pain that one can experience during their past and throughout their life. I reached what appeared to be my threshold for pain many times. But somehow an inner strength, along with support I found from others, developed a new inner strength and resilience that allows me to keep going forward. And each day that I can find joy, I stop and praise myself for making this choice, and gratitude for all those who helped me along the way!