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 are finding. As three siblings experience their father coming out as transgender, they are given an 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 to open or even acknowledge. 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 sigh, 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 judgement 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 of that person’s whole life. If they say, “My Father; and I had to be quiet 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 other’s approval. They will be perfect in order to have validity in their relationships. This perfectionism and play a role of 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 though 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 perfect myself, but the first step is always admitting.
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 it’s 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 judgement. 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 needing 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 for 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. I 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 whole heartedly 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.