The old me would have apologized for the Beach Boys comment.
If you stand on a street corner and poll human beings about their special talents, you will probably hear things like:
“I bake great chocolate chip cookies.” “I can fix anything anywhere.” “I can recite all the state capitals while standing on my head – watch!” etc.
What you will probably not hear is:
“I create elaborate emotional and behavioral frameworks in order to avoid the one thing I am most afraid of in life. Thanks for asking!”
Which is ironic, because this is a skill that every single human being I have ever met has on lock down. We’re all Olympic gold medal winners in this regard.
Recently, this reality has hit close to home.
And people, when a reality such as this hits close to home, it’s not pretty.
I often get asked whether, as a life coach, I have everything figured out.
Um, how do I put this?
Please let me disabuse you immediately of the notion that therapists, life coaches, motivational speakers, and others who get paid to counsel other people through life do not struggle with the same issues as their clients.
It’s true that, as members of these professions, we spend a fair bit of time thinking about life and (hopefully) examining our own, which has led to some wisdom and advice for well-worn paths within the human experience.
But this does not mean that we don’t still struggle. Not by a long shot.
This is because as human beings, there is always more to learn.
Recently, I’ve been examining my own elaborate mechanisms for that which is most unbearable to me. More specifically, my practice of endlessly trying to control situations and people in order to avoid criticism.
The truth is that I will do almost anything to avoid hearing that someone does not like my writing/sense of humor/cat leggings/etc.
To avoid such feedback, I engage in any number of behaviors: chasing perfectionism, over-explaining myself as an offensive strategy (people tend to forget what they were going to say by the time I’m done), generally avoiding putting myself and my work out there, and worst of all, being overly-critical of others.
This is not a pleasant reality to look at.
For me, it ranks somewhere between belly flopping off the high dive and listening to the Beach Boys on repeat for three days straight.
Not fun. Fairly painful.
But also doable.
Because here’s the truth: if we are alive, chances are we spend a great deal of time trying to control situations and people in order to avoid that which we fear most.
The specific fear varies by person: criticism, losing those close to us, talking about our feelings with others, rejection, sharing a specific story or incident from our past, being honest about our marriage or job because of the changes it might bring.
And on and on.
These fears develop from past incidents in our lives, usually when we are children or young adults. In order to make sense of these painful situations, often with no one guiding or supporting us (or worse, shaming us for our feelings), we create rules about what happened in order to keep us safe.
Rules such as, “I won’t get close to anyone again so I’ll never lose another loved one.”
Or, “If I don’t talk about my feelings and believe they are unimportant, then I’ll never feel the pain of not having those close to me validate and protect these feelings again.”
And, “If I can get ahead of potential criticism by being perfect or blaming others first, then I don’t have to feel the pain of disappointing those close to me again.”
These rules are well-intentioned. They are meant to keep us safe when we don’t know any better. And often, they do keep us safe as children.
The problem is, we become adults.
Adults who still choose relationships that can never go anywhere because then we don’t have to lose the real thing, adults who bottle up our feelings and then engage in too much drinking/shopping/eating/etc. as a way to manage them, adults who become perfectionists and “over givers” in order to keep others happy, adults who lash out at others to keep them from getting too close.
We cling to our rules and resulting behaviors like a life raft on a sinking ship.
What we don’t see is that these behaviors cost us so much more than we know.
This is the greatest irony – the rules and behaviors that are meant to keep us safe can cost us our whole lives.
Untold energy in giving to others when we don’t want to or don’t have the resources.
Lost opportunities for real, healthy relationships.
The ongoing stress of perfectionism.
What I now know from my own life and my experience as a life coach is this: the pain that comes from endlessly trying to manage life is so much greater than the pain that would come from feeling our fear in the first place.
I should also point out that trying to manage life is a losing battle. It may work for a while, but never forever.
Because, at the end of the day, peace and contentment do not come from having the things we think we need in life to keep us safe.
They only ever come from knowing that we already have the inner resources to handle whatever life brings our way, even our greatest fear.
Which, I can promise you, we do.
To understand this, we may need to hug some big ugly demons. But if I can, you can, too.
So, just for today, know that the greatest thing you can give yourself is the truth. You need not make any changes or share it with anyone else. But if you’re willing to ask the question, “What am I running from?” and then sit and listen to the answer, you have taken the first step in setting yourself free.
And to me, that’s the most amazing human talent of all.
To sign up for a free phone consultation and receive personal advice on how to throw your rules to the wind, visit www.gailcowan.com/schedule.