We often hear people talk about the “Game of Life”.
In this game of life, as humans we ALWAYS only have two goals, SAFETY and SIGNIFICANCE.
- Emotionally, we feel our needs are equal to other people’s needs and feel comfortable asking for them to be met.
- Physically, we are free from violence and intimidation, and have enough physical health to meet the demands of our lives.
- Financially, we have enough to maintain our lifestyle and secure the basics like food and shelter.
- How we learned to get a sense of belonging
- How we learned to get a sense of worth
- Examples include: by people pleasing, by being the best at sports, or school, by fixing things for people, etc.
We long and strive for SAFETY and SIGNIFICANCE at every stage and age, whether we are 2 yo, 42 yo, or 92 yo!
The tricky part however, is that HOW we learned to get safety and significance depends on our early life experiences, and how those interacted with our genetic predispositions and temperament. Let’s look at some examples.
- Sally learned that to be safe, she needs to puff up and make herself scary and intimidating, and that to have significance she has to be the smartest person in the room, so she can never be wrong or make acknowledge a mistake.
- Phil learned to be safe by fixing things for other people and making sure they are ok, so his needs might eventually be met, and that to have significance he had to keep the peace at all costs.
How each of them interprets and responds to life is completely different, given their survival maps about HOW to gain SAFETY and SIGNIFICANCE.
The other tricky part is that the RULES CHANGE.
How we learned to have safety and significance at one age, may not apply at another. When we are 2 yo we may get a lolly-pop for using the potty, but we don’t at 22 yo.
The problem is that we are creatures of habit and we like predictability, so once we learned one way to have safety and significance, we are reluctant to acknowledge when the rules change and we don’t want to change our approach until we virtually have no other choice. Some people say humans are the only species whose house has to burn down before we are willing to move out.
Kate learned to people please as a way to have safety and significance in her childhood. By her mid-40’s she struggled with her weight, chronic pain, depression and anxiety because she never had time to take care of herself. She was burning out and this now compromised her safety by affecting her health. Moreover, because Kate learned to people please, she really struggled with saying “no” to people and setting boundaries. She now had so many demands on her time that she was not able to meet everyone’s demands.
The rules changed and Kate had not learned to pay attention to her FIRE ALARM, the signalling system that makes us feel distressed and is inviting us to be CURIOUS about what is causing the distress, and to respond to herself with COMPASSION and to have the COURAGE to stay with whatever feelings come up.
So you see, in the game of life, we win or succeed by being willing to acknowledge distress and act to help ourselves get back on track.
When we focus on the aim of the game, instead of on the rules, we notice when the rules change. Then we can notice what makes us feel STRONGER vs WEAKER, so we can figure out how to best gain safety and significance in the next phase of the game.
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