Imagine being 8 yo at the dinner table and all you hear day in and day out is about how the government is out to get us. If you try to leave the table you are told stories about rude children who didn’t get their supper and how you are a disrespectful and ungrateful child. Then you hear about Joe from your parent’s work who was whistle blower and got fired as you are warned to mind your manners and your mouth!
We evolved as a social species, which means we connect and learn through stories. Stories tell us who the “good guys” are and who the “bad guys” are. They tell us what is allowed and what isn’t. They teach us about ourselves in relation to others. Stories also teach us how we can stay safe and have our needs met.
Stories we hear from the people around us shape how we see, experience and interact with the world.
Sometimes we learn stories that seem good for us, like that we are determined, or hard work pays off. Sometimes we learn stories that don’t seem so good, like we don’t deserve to be physically safe, or treated with respect, or that our needs don’t matter. A common one is that our safety depends on the emotional state of other people, so we have to keep everyone else happy.
As long as we are living out our old stories, things seem relatively calm, even if they aren’t healthy. If I learned I don’t matter, I will be drawn to people who will treat me that way and I will treat myself that way most of the time too. I will stay in those relationships for ages even when they are unhealthy. We do this because it “makes sense” based on what we know of the world.
The world gets turned upside down when we realize it may just be a story because we no longer have a framework to help us understand the world and it feels terrifying. As humans, we loathe uncertainty and that panicky feeling like something bad will happen, so most of us keep investing in our old stories, even when they are making us unwell.
If we learned we didn’t matter, and our needs don’t count, then something as simple as making healthy food choices, or prioritizing going to bed at a reasonable hour or exercising become near impossible. Much less standing up for ourselves, setting boundaries and cutting out the toxic people from our lives. The times we do stand up for ourselves, or do something positive for ourselves, we unconsciously feel compelled to punish ourselves for it, by over-eating, picking a fight, getting an upset stomach, putting ourselves down or getting stuck in “what if world” worrying about things.
This happens because positive and negative feelings track together, so as we connect to the positive- “Yay! I did something for myself feeling”, that stirs up all the times we didn’t, and all the other people who didn’t treat us with respect or like we mattered. These get stirred up BECAUSE WE ARE WELL and our bodies want to pass those feelings so we can get on with being healthy. Sometimes, we just notice that doing something good for ourselves makes us cry or makes us anxious- this is why.
Unfortunately, if we grew up learning that our needs don’t matter, we usually don’t really know how to stay connected to them to allow them to pass, and instead that energy gets pushed into all the ways we learned to avoid them. The details of how we learned to avoid those feelings will vary by person and culture, for some it may be to worry, for others it may be to get a headache or drink, or eat or beat ourselves up etc. For a quick reminder of how this all works, watch the All about feelings video (click here) and the More about feelings video (click here).
So why can’t we get out of our own way– because feelings get stirred up and we don’t have permission to believe or act like we matter. We are testing the waters to see if it IS actually safe to live as if we matter and feel our feelings- the grief, the anger, the disappointment that will inevitably surface as we connect to that belief. These feelings are a healthy response to not having been treated with respect and kindness, by others and/ or ourselves. Connecting to those feelings is what allows us to internalize that those times were not ok, and that we do have permission to expect better and act on that belief.
The good news is that once we allow ourselves to pass those feelings, we do get to “get on with it” and be healthy!
If you are stirred up and you want to know what to do about it, watch the Dealing with feelings video (click here).
See you next week! Remember the Community Potluck breakfast next Sat am Dec 12.15 at 10.30 am. We will bring coffee and waffles- you bring toppings!