Two Questions, Many Answers
“Who’s love did you crave growing up?
Who did you have to be to for that person?”
I was listening to my favorite podcast this week, The Tim Ferriss Show, and his guest was none other than the inimitable Tony Robbins. For those of you who don’t know about Tony Robbins, he is a master performance coach who has worked with world class athletes such as Serena Williams, politicians such as Bill Clinton and Margaret Thatcher, and many more. He also is the creator of Personal Power, annually hosts mega-workshops designed to help you live the life you want, and author of multiple best-sellers. The whole podcast was excellent and I recommend it to anyone reading this. However, it was the two questions at the top of the post that really stuck with me.
Who’s love did you crave growing up?
As humans we are all born with attachment longings. We crave the love, care, and attention of our caregivers, usually mom and dad. Whether you had a loving caring home, where your needs were generally taken care of, a neglectful violent home, where you were scared and unsafe, or anywhere in between those two extremes, chances are if you think back there was one parent whose love and attention you craved more (Note: this doesn’t mean the other parent was unimportant).
So, at a gut level, without thinking about it, who’s love did you crave growing up, mom or dad?
For me it was dad. At a gut level I always felt like mom was more predictably available.
Who did you have to be to for that person?
When we want something, what do we do? We take whatever actions we can in order to get what we want. So what kind of person did you have to be in order to get the attention/affection you craved? Again, see if you can answer that on a gut level, without thinking. What word comes to mind when you read that question out loud.
The first word that came to my mind was – small.
I found this very confusing at first, but the more I sat with it, the more it rang true. I was often left feeling incompetent and like a failure. When I look back, I wanted/needed dad’s approval, but I also wanted him to help me develop a sense of self-confidence and a thicker skin to be able to tolerate the inevitable failures that come with trying new things – judo, piano, riding. Dad was more apt to point out what I did wrong rather than what I did right. Instead of gaining confidence, I was left with the message that, making mistakes was bad, and that he could always do the things I couldn’t. I should just accept that (he was a national level judo player, played multiple instruments in a jazz band, and a good rider), and as long as I did, all would be good.
Now, to be fair to dad, the man drove me all over hell’s half-acre to judo, swimming, piano, badminton, and more. He did pretty well dealing with my teen-aged idiocy, and I know he loves me. I don’t think for moment that he was intentionally telling me that I needed to be small. That doesn’t change the fact that for me, the message I heard was I needed to be small.
Call it a survival map, call it a story, call it what you will… these kinds of messages have a massive impact on how we experience and act in the world. For me, the need to be small led me to be fearful of making mistakes and unwilling to push through the discomfort of failure. I was more concerned with being a follower, and looked to please the leaders of my social groups rather than forge my own path.
So, how much of who you are now is still connected to who you had to be then?
Are you OK with that? Keep in mind, you might be very happy with who you had to be… there can be lots of positives that come from these kinds of explorations as well. Maybe who you had to be was someone who was outgoing, passionate and thoughtful. The point of this exercise is to be curious. To get to know yourself better. To understand your driving forces. Armed with this knowledge you get to make informed decisions that will help you create the life you want.