• Sarah Foley

Break Our Own Rules

Updated: Jul 22

Someone recently told me, "You can make up any rules you want”. She was responding

to my need for advice in handling a specific issue, but her words have popped into my

head at all different times. However, I noticed the words may sound awesome and

super inspiring, yet, I just can’t seem to do it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and

allowing my mind to become curious as to why that is.

I think we can’t seem to follow through with our own rules because the old rules are so

deeply ingrained. They are so much of who we are and what we believe that it almost

feels as though are betraying ourselves. As I watch the series Transparent, I find myself

captivated by the freedom each of the characters is finding. As three siblings

experience their father coming out as transgender, they are given unspoken

permission to be the people they have been hiding from their whole lives. Sort of

opening up to who they are behind closed doors.

I think everyone is different behind closed doors. I know I am. I’d even take it a step

further and say there are doors within us that we resist opening or even acknowledging.

And yet, even take a super elementary example; My son is a different child when I drop

him off at preschool versus another mother taking him in for me. With me, he will

scream, yell and run and hide as I try to drop him off. The teacher says he absolutely

loves school and that a lot of kids throw fits at drop-off. Then, once the parent is out of

sight, it’s all smiles. It is an element of unconditional love versus being in the process of

needing approval and to be liked, or vying for that unconditional love. Once we have an

agreement that unconditional love is on the table, we come out as who we are and how

we truly want to behave. If there is even a little grey area in the contract, we retract.

You hear it a lot with marriage. “They totally changed once we got married!” When in

fact, the agreement of marriage has been made, thus loving unconditionally, and now

the two no longer have to be someone else for approval. They are approved, and that is

taken as their cue to relax into how they will respond without judgment based on social

norms. Anything beyond social norms requires another contract, aka, a whole other

level of what it means to love and to accept unconditionally.

I watch Tony Robbins a lot. Whenever he works with someone new, he almost always

opens with the same two-part question: “As a child, who’s love did you want more, your

mother or your father?” “And who did you have to be for that parent?”

The answer to those questions begins a complete domino effect on that person’s whole

life. If they say, “My Father; and I had to be quiet so as to not make him angry because he

was an alcoholic”, then it can lead to a lifetime of that person never standing up for

themselves. They will put themselves in situations where they play small for the whole

goal of enabling others to take the lead for fear of being belittled by another.

If they say, “My mother; and I had to be perfect for her”, then it can lead to an incessant

need to be perfect, OCD, and never for their own pleasure, but for the sake of gaining

others’ approval. They will be perfect in order to have validity in their relationships. This

perfectionism can play a role in control in all areas of their life.

These people had to be something in order to feel loved, accepted, and worthy of their

parent's approval. The love from that parent did not come unconditionally. There were

very clear conditions the person had to appease.

Back to the fit my son will throw at preschool, my son knows he doesn’t have to be

perfectly quiet for me to love him. He knows he can throw a fit and I will love him

regardless. Obviously, these aren’t blanket statements that cover everyone, but I hope

you get the idea.

I have realized that I use the word perfect a lot. When Charlie and I do something, he

puts something away or we complete a project, I will finish it off with, “Great job!


I didn’t notice this until this topic of conditional love came to light through books and

therapy. Once I became aware of how desiring love and approval as a child affects us

as adults, I started paying attention to Charlie, his ways, and my words.

Then I saw it. Charlie is a perfectionist. He is clean. He knows where things go, he has

OCD tendencies and he is very self-sufficient. He is trying to be perfect. He is trying to

gain my love and my approval. That is heavy for a young child and I'm incredibly

grateful to have become aware of how my reactions will shape him. Still far from perfecting

myself, but the first step is always admitting it.

I will never forget the feeling that washed over me when I walked into my first Celebrate

Recovery (CR) class for codependence. Think of it as the Christian Twelve Step

program and it is for any type of addiction from drugs and alcohol, to food, to love/sex,