The warm spring weather coaxed me outside to work in the yard. My neighbors have tasty raspberry bushes. The bushes happen to be just on the other side of our fence and within a few feet of our Aspen trees. Last summer I rescued the Aspens from the choking strangling grip of the trespassing raspberry suckers. Examing the Aspens this year, I noticed some of the dead suckers were still wrapped with a death like grip around the Aspens’ branches. Though no life existed in the suckers, they were still strangling the Aspens. I started thinking about how we let people who have hurt us in the past, who are no longer in our lives, continue to hurt us, just like those dead raspberry suckers.
Maybe the person in your life was a parent, teacher, neighbor, classmate, sibling, ex-spouse, boss… The list of options to choose from is long! Whoever it was in your life who spoke life sucking words to you is still affecting you today. Not because this person is still sending out strangling tendrils, but because you continue to allow those words to float around in your head. Like the raspberry tendrils wrapped tightly several times around the branches, it’s hard to loosen them, remove them and get them out of your head. I was shocked by how strong the dead suckers were. I worked hard to break them and unwrap them carefully from the vibrant Aspen branches. I didn’t want to add any more damage. I could see how the bark on the branches was indented, stunted from the raspberries’ tight grip.
How do we free ourselves from the tight strangling grip of past hurts? Slowly, deliberately and carefully. My common phrase is, it all starts with awareness. We simply cannot create change without it. For those who haven’t heard me say it enough, awareness is the intentional act of noticing what you are thinking, feeling emotionally and feeling physically. It’s being aware of the words you are using, the actions you are taking and understanding why you are choosing to say, act, feel and think what you are saying, doing, feeling and thinking. It’s developing curiosity about yourself. The opposite is living in autopilot. Just going about life without really knowing why you think, feel and act as you do.
From the place of awareness you can notice that you are reacting to old tapes (the sucking tendrils from the past). Maybe you were told you’re not good enough. The message may not have been that direct but again and again you perceived that someone wasn’t happy with you and your performance in life. The person doesn’t say those words to you anymore, but you sort of “hear” them each time you don’t live up to your or someone else’s expectation of you. You feel less-than, incompetent, incapable of doing things “right.” You may lash out at someone in defensiveness or shut down and withdraw. The “not good enough” part of you that feels exposed tries to protect. But guess what? The part that says you’re not good enough is attached to a dead plant. It isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. You don’t have to allow another to define you. So often we do. Like the caged animal whose door is finally opened yet the animal doesn’t leave.
Notice when you are allowing old messages to affect you. Stop your patterned response by doing something entirely different. Maybe say the word, “Stop!” to yourself (or aloud if you want to). Remind yourself that’s an old message. Tell yourself you are enough. We don’t have to be perfect to be enough. Perfect isn’t even achievable so give up that quest. Look toward growth and health but not perfection. When you go back to old ways, notice what that feels like. Look at the progression of your patterned response and think about what you could have done differently. Avoid beating yourself up for not handling things in a healthy way. Even the most seasoned awareness person is going to slip into old responses from time to time. The goal isn’t perfection, just a general, though not always direct, shift up and to the right.
When we don’t do things well, we are given a gift. We have the opportunity to look at the experience and grow from it. How can I do things differently? What can I learn from this? Stay away from, “I’m not good enough.” It will strangle and paralyze you. You are an adult. You get to decide how you are going to respond to things. Take that right, and do something productive with it. Cut off, unwind and remove the choking suckers (metaphorically speaking, of course!).
If you find yourself stuck and not changing, it may well be time to seek out the professional help of a skilled therapist or coach.