Whenever a client queries, “Why does this keep happening to me?” I can be pretty sure an old, often subconscious pattern is being played out. It may repeatedly be attracting partners who are unfaithful or abusive, getting into business deals that always go sideways, or having a dysfunctional relationship with a teen that mirrors the dysfunctional relationship the parent had with his/her parents. Sometimes it is even seeing ourselves behaving like our parents did, even if we dislike those behaviors.
If we are functioning in an unconscious way we blame the outside world or other people, even adopting a victim stance. Without awareness, we keep attracting individuals or situations that confirm our belief that the cause of our misery is external, and the world is an unfriendly or unfair place.
If the negative patterns that we experienced, so often beginning in childhood, left us with low self-esteem and unempowered, it is easy to see how difficult it would be to change these patterns.
Since I believe life is about learning and growing, I see these repeating patterns as opportunities for growth and change. Life situations can be compared to simulated exercises we undertake to gain strength and skill. They can also be compared to school learning. If the child keeps getting a particular math question wrong, he ultimately has to figure out what he is doing wrong, and what he needs to do differently to get the correct answer. Clearly, if he keeps blaming the teacher for the outcome he created, he will remain stuck and, likely, bitter and angry. Even if he gets a new teacher the next year, he will decide she is just like the old one and may determine that all teachers are against him.
When the patterns from childhood show up in adulthood, we are given an opportunity to do what we could not do as a child. A child does not have power. She cannot stand up to the adult or leave the situation. Now, as an adult, she does have this power, although she may need support and guidance to get in touch with it, and to find the courage to use it.
In the process of changing the pattern, there are some significant changes required on an inner level. The individual has to begin to value him/herself, no longer depending on outside validation. We have to become our best friend. There is also need to tend to our wounded inner child. We have to become a stable parent to her, so she relies on us, rather than others for validation, acceptance, and even love.
We have to value ourselves enough to remove ourselves from people and situations that are unhealthy for us. We would never leave our child with an abusive caregiver, or one who did not meet our child’s needs, so why, as an adult, would we leave ourselves in such a situation.
Significantly, once we begin to value ourselves truly and no longer allow others to treat us badly, we do get more respect. This is because we start to set boundaries for the people in our lives, and if they are not respected, then we leave!
Indeed, it can be scary for one lacking confidence and belief in oneself to leave a bad situation and venture into the unknown. That is the inner child’s reaction: the child who would rather be with the known abusive parent than to go into an unknown situation.
We must remember, though, that we are adults, and we can strengthen that wise adult part. We must know too that if we stay in a negative pattern, life will just be more of the same, and deny ourselves the opportunity to live the life we truly deserve.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or cds, visit www.gwen.ca