Most of us are attached to our pain. Why? Because we’ve had it for so long. And we’ve made an identity out of it: “I’m somebody whose mother didn’t love her.” “I’m somebody whose father left.”
I could feel this recently when I saw my own mother. I was with my best friend from college, who has known my mother since she was eighteen, which was a long time ago now. We were in New York and we visited my mother and stepfather and the whole day with them.
My mother was telling us a story about my two nephews, my brother’s kids, who are these gorgeous sixteen-year olds. My brother had gained some weight recently, and so my mother reconfigured some pictures of the grandkids so that my brother wasn’t quite in focus in the picture, because he had gained weight and they were thin. And I, after living with my mother for so many years, it went right by me. It sailed right by me. I didn’t even notice it.
We got in the car and my best friend she turned to me and said, “Do you know how wacky it is that your mother reconfigured the pictures, so that your brother isn’t in focus and the grandkids are, and he’s not in focus because he’s fat now. Do you know that?” And I said, no, I don’t, I didn’t even notice it. I didn’t get it. Why? Well I grew up with her. It’s part of the whole thing. And I said no wonder I’ve spent thirty years dealing with compulsive eating and weight and all of this. Now I understand. Thank you Mom, you gave me a career. But sometimes we’re so caught in the system. I wasn’t aware of it when I was growing up and I wasn’t aware of it when I was just spending the day.
I called my mother the other day and I said, “Mom, did you really do that? Because you know he’s a little chunky now.” And she said, “Yeah I really did, I really did. And I don’t see anything wrong with it.” You go, Mom.
And I got it. That’s how she sees it and I wasn’t aware of it. She sees life that way. It doesn’t affect me anymore. That’s her stuff, that’s her. It’s not me, it’s her.
But sometimes we’re not aware of it and then we become aware of it. Then, we have a choice about what to do. When we’re aware of feeling vulnerable, do we go back into the catastrophe that is imminent, or do we shut down? We often go into protective mode.
In order to have the choice, however, you have to be aware that there is a choice. Without awareness there are no choices. When you’re aware, it gives you a choice, and then there’s the action you take about it.
For example, I was on the phone recently with a doctor about something, and he said something that was really painful to me. And something that I would ordinarily let go by. And I thought, no. I’m just going to tell the truth and I said, I really feel bad that you said that.
And I did not want to cry but then I thought why not? Why not just cry? I feel like crying. I didn’t like it that I felt so vulnerable. Because I have a script that says, vulnerability’s bad. Don’t show people you’re vulnerable. It’s not good if you show them you’re vulnerable, because then they’ll hurt you even worse. I just said to myself: forget it, I’m telling the truth here.
When you allow yourself to be vulnerable you get to have a different script from “shut down.” Because if I hadn’t been vulnerable with him, I wouldn’t have made a choice. I was aware that I was vulnerable. I saw I had a choice to either to tell the truth about it, be it, or do what I normally do, or did as a kid, which is shut down and then go find somebody like Matt: “He was so bad, the big bad doctor said this to poor little me.”
I’ve done that a lot. I’ve gone to other people whom I thought were going to be nice to me to show them how innocent I was, and then that identity gets strengthened. The identity of being this little one who is incapable of taking care of herself, and is around big bad people.
Now, I know who I am again. I’m somebody who’s around big bad people sometimes. And I can take care of myself. I make a different choice, in that I’m aware. And then, the ending is in my hands. Not that I can control the outcome (it’s not always possible), but my feelings are very different. I feel powerful.
What do you do? Awareness of what you are doing gives you a choice about doing it differently, and then what to do about it.
And, once you’re aware of it, you always have that choice.