• 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!

Perfect!”.


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,

to codependence and control issues. They have Biblical comparisons to lessons and

refer to Jesus and God versus a general higher power. For me, this program presented

itself cradled with love from two friends who spoke highly about how it helped them with

their control issues and codependence after I came to them with frustrations I had

surrounding addiction I saw some friends going through. It is a strictly anonymous

program and so I can’t thank these friends publicly, however, they know my vast

appreciation.



I walked into the BBQ that they serve every week before the meeting, feeling proud yet

nervous. I spotted a friend right away and I could tell she was happy yet surprised to

see me. I told her I was there so I can learn how to help my friend dealing with

addiction. Her face softened and she simply replied, “Well, we’re just glad you’re here”.



I had expected her to acknowledge what a great friend I was being and tell me I was in

the right place to learn what to do. Her response completely caught me off guard, and I

would later find out why.


When the meeting began, I walked in and the lights were all down. The only lighting

came from the glow on the stage, the screens that scrolled with the words to the songs

playing and the last bit of daylight creeping from behind the curtains.



As I entered, I could feel a lightness come over me. It was as though I left all my

baggage at the door. The darkness held its arms out for me and embraced me. I was

shaded from the light - the light which held all my secrets. The loud music filled my soul

with safety and assurance. I found a spot in the back, not fully ready to join the group,

not really sure if I belonged there. Every feeling that was coming up felt so foreign.



Up against the back wall, I felt the emotions welling up to the surface and before I knew

it, I was overcome with this explosion of tears. It rocked me to my core. I wasn’t sure

where it was coming from or exactly why I was crying, but I did know it came from

knowing that the baggage everyone left at the door also held all of their judgment. I

was free. I was without shame, ridicule, embarrassment, or having to please a soul in

that room. I could just be. And I could just allow myself to process whatever feelings

need attention. It was pure freedom.



It is the same feeling most people have once they get something extremely painful off

their chest. The weight that is lifted after you just lay down all your cards and say this is

me, this is how it is and most importantly, I am risking the shame in the exchange of

letting go of the weight from carrying it. I’m not sure what is worse, the shame others put

on us, or the shame we put on ourselves based on all of these stupid limiting beliefs,

ideas we hold as truths, and how we think other people are going to respond.



I later understood my friend’s response to me at that first meeting. It was in the right

place for me. My friend's addiction was their own journey to deal with, how they needed

to, and I would not be able to do anything for them. Codependence stems from us

wholeheartedly believing we can control another person’s outcome. However, we have

no control. We can inspire, but we cannot and should not do so with the intent and

expectation to change another person. We should inspire because it is simply a

byproduct of us owning our truth and dealing with our own shit.



Releasing the idea that you have any control over people or things, gives a huge sense

of freedom. We can shed the expectation, and with it will also go the frustration, anger

and resentment when things don't go to plan. The best thing we can do is own our own

actions, thoughts, and beliefs while being diligent in setting and maintaining boundaries.

And then trust in the process because you are exactly where you are supposed to be.