Let’s try to crack the secret code of who’s in control. Once we do you’ll see how it will help you live your life more successfully and become less self-defeating and more in charge of all that affects you.
Say Hello to Those Twin String Pullers
A situation has just arisen and you’ve responded to it in a way that is over the top and completely inappropriate. In fact, your response was so out of character you catch yourself thinking, “What was that about?” Or maybe, “Who was that person who just acted like that?” So there you go, you’ve just encountered the twin string pullers,
guilt and rebellion. They are the two keys here. They get their grip on you early and hold on tightly throughout your life. They cause you to respond to situations in ways that feel foreign to you. How does it happen?
Have you ever had to deal with a broken thermostat? With no warning at all it automatically turns your heater way up, and then, at precisely the wrong time, and again with no warning whatsoever, it shuts it off. Your damaged control system functions in much the same way, thanks in no small part to guilt and rebellion. It includes your beliefs, feelings, and all the rules that have become ingrained over the course of your life. And not so much because of anything you yourself have done, but more because of those unresolved problems and issues of your parents (and sometimes siblings) and their effect on you.
“Always Be Nice to Others”
This is a common rule that many of us heard growing up, and on the surface it seems like a rule that would cause us no harm. But it may affect us in our adult life in ways that are detrimental. Let’s have a look.
Being nice to others sounds like a great value to possess. What could possibly be wrong with it? It has a positive moral value for those who hold it. Most people are able to choose when it’s appropriate to be nice and, when it’s actually harmful to their well-being, to refuse to be nice. But for the person who suffers from excessive guilt about breaking this rule, it becomes a trap.
Let’s say your parent or sibling was long-suffering and required you to always put aside your needs for the needs of others. Any attempt on your part to be self-serving in a very normal, typical way resulted in injurious remarks or maybe even physical abuse. Frequently, comments were heard like, “How could you be so selfish and ignore your suffering mother?” or “Your only brother, your own flesh and blood needs your help on the computer and all you can think about is writing your college essay and getting into college?” What was all that about, you may wonder? Guilt.
Guilt has required that you be excessively devoted to others at the expense of your own interests. And if you aren’t able to opposethe rule “always be nice to others,” and your damaged inner thermostat is of no help when you’re trying to determine whether a person truly deserves your being nice to him or her, you become a slave to that simple rule.
How does it play out in your life today? You become a doormat to others. You often feel exploited and unappreciated. And what happens if you wake up one day hating yourself for acting so submissively to people? (And the actual process of “waking up” could take years, not just a morning, though that could happen too.) You become a person who defiantly responds to all requests with “No.” This includes reasonable requests as well, like taking your brother to a basketball game that you were actually looking forward to. But the new you, the one who must rebel against his or her past, rebels against the request and doesn’t go. Won’t go. Period. End of story.
But is it really the end or is it perhaps the middle of the story? Your story can end with how you turned your life around, how you re-routed yourself on a road map established early in your childhood which led you away from the best road to follow. Now you have a chance to take a new road, which is the best road, and lead a life in which you are the one in control.
The Gods Must Be Angry . . . But Is It My Fault?
Remember the indigenous tribe I mentioned earlier? The one that faced natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and droughts? With no scientific explanations, the tribe used its own logic, “We’ve angered the gods and we must atone.” These powerful feelings of guilt require atonement or punishment, and they require that the tribe pay a price for assuming blame.
And so must you. Surprised? It’s not a big stretch actually, not if you think of your family as its own tribe with its own set of rules and rituals. And as it does for the faraway tribe, trouble comes when you rebel against the gods (or, in your case, your parents).
When you’re a child, you often blame yourself for the serious flaws of your parents’ (and siblings’) behavior. Even though these flaws are not your fault, you still feel compelled to placate them. And you will do so even at great cost to yourself. Remember the basketball-loving sibling who said an emphatic “No” to the request to take his brother to a basketball game? Who lost out there? What was the cost of his behavior? He missed out on something that brings fun, excitement, and a good time into his life. Self-defeating behavior? You bet.