Making Waves and Being Yourself after a Painful Childhood

For a lot of us, including myself, conflict and making waves are things we wish to avoid.  Early in life, I learned that throwing even the smallest of pebbles out into the water meant that a vicious tsunami would come my way.  As the waves hit my shoreline, they violently tore apart anything in their path.  I never understood why the sea reacted this way but this didn’t matter, the sea was always this way.  At a young age, I learned how to flow with the sea and anticipate its every move.  The smallest of changes in the temperature and the currents could be felt in my bones, and so a vigilance was born.  Every moment of the day, the possibility of a tsunami hitting was possible.  A cause was not needed and no earthquake was required for it rise and slam against the shore.  So with constant threats possible, my sensitivity was developed.

Living, for many years, with constant threats looming over head is a painful way to experience people, relationships, and the world.  These threats don’t have to come in the form of physical or mental abuse.  Eruptions of anxiety, anger, or sadness are intense and when we’re around a person or people where these occur frequently, they make their imprint on us.  They teach us to sacrifice our individuality and natural expression for the sake of avoiding the storm.  This is how we learned to survive…back then.  Yet, as we get older, survival is no longer needed because we’ve moved more inland where the tsunami is unable to reach.  Yet, our vigilance remains heightened when we leave the home, drive to work, and glance out our windows at work.  The terror that a storm might happen at any time reverberates through us constantly and the terror that was felt for so long has stained our heart.  And so we remain in this prison of playing it safe, muting our voice, and holding ourselves back from living an authentic life.  And even though we don’t like this prison, we’ve been trained for so long that we choose to return to our cell…every day.

I haven’t lived on the shore for roughly 25 years but I can see how these early experiences play out today.  Every day I remain strategic, acutely mindful of what occurs in the moment, and am sensitive to the slightest shifts in others.  But for many of us who have experienced the terror of the storms, they have inadvertently become the storm.  When we’re growing up, we know that we have less power, less choice, and less influence on the direction of our life.  Consequently, we live as a victim lives…experiencing the world coming at us.  Most cannot choose to leave the shore because we’re told that the growing up on the shoreline is the healthiest thing for us…even though, objectively, it probably isn’t.  But when we’re finally free to leave and actually do, our resentment and our pain rises up and becomes the storm.  We continue the legacy of the terrifying coast even though our deepest desire is to avoid it.  Yet, some of us remain as we were when we lived on the shoreline.  Everyday we’re vigilant, terrified, we play it safe, and any sense of an authentic way of being is muffled or stamped out.  We all go one of these two ways.  And so the question arises, might we be able to live without the memory of the storm driving each moment?

It is possible but this depends upon our willingness to return to our experiences of the storm and to feel the intense fear that we experienced for so long.  If we aren’t willing to relive and reflect upon our life, then we cannot develop a deep understanding of how the memories of the storm influence how we react to the world today.  In psychology, the term Repetition Compulsion is used to describe how the storm continues to play out even today.  Personally, I love this term and it’s one of the few that directly and simply describes what happens in us.  The storm imprinted upon us and each and every day, we have a compulsion to repeat it, over and over again.  It takes a great deal of time to learn about how the storm occurs in us each and everyday but the work is worth it…in the end.
As we deepen our understanding of ourselves, we naturally find gaps where we can live and react differently.  If we’re willing to take risks and to express ourselves naturally, little by little, we can learn to be free from the compulsion.  There will always be echoes in our heart and in our mind but the work that we do to develop our awareness gives us the power to separate the past from the reality before us.  When we’re ready to take risks, we also start to toss our pebbles out into the water again but this time, we decide to toss it into the creek because it’s not as threatening.  It’s at this point that we are starting to rewrite our mind and acknowledge the full reality; not all bodies of water will erupt as the sea.

Over time, we begin to trust the creek and we visit a variety of creeks to increase our experiences.  We move to rivers, choose bigger rocks to toss into the water.  Some bodies of water don’t respond to us tossing the rocks.  Some become mildly irritated with our presence but still, they do not erupt.  But then…one does and the memories of the sea rush back in flash…and our compulsion returns…we are a child once more.  Despite our terror and compulsion rushing back, we’ve developed and enhanced ourselves.  It’s not like the past because our awareness has changed us.  We’re starting to see that we’re freer than we thought, and we don’t have to remain trapped in the compulsion any more.  Yet, we need to experiment and observe with the situation so that the boundaries are pushed.  Instead of retracting ourselves or becoming just like the storm, we need to find ways to be the person that we want to be…whether or not the storm and waves come.

In my own life, it’s taken a great deal of work to learn how to be free from the compulsion.  Even though I would have liked to have experienced a different upbringing, the storm did bestow gifts upon me and so I choose to use the survival skills of old as tools for today.  Having the ability to be strategic is invaluable, when it’s truly needed.  But I’ve also learned to allow a nice interplay between strategy, spontaneity, and flexibility.  Rigidly adhering to a strategy or a plan is unhelpful.  Being aware, from moment to moment, of what occurs in others and in the environment is also extremely helpful because this allows me to recognize patterns in myself, in the world, and in others.  As a result, hope is easily found because options are endless.  When our attention is placed upon a moment, we come to realize that we have many more choices than previously thought.  And finally, the sensitivity that I had to develop allows me to empathize and see others for who they are instead of what I think about them.

Yet, with all of these improvements, the compulsion remains and it always will.  This is simply a product of our memories being brought up in various situations.  But it’s important that I continue to choose, more and more, to toss my pebbles into the water, to express myself authentically and without muting my voice or action, and all the while, avoiding the trappings of becoming the very storm that stained my heart.  The one thing that I’ve found though, that might be useful to those with similar sensitivities, is that solitude is needed.  When we have such an acute awareness of what occurs around us, within us, and within others, we can become drained.  We can feel the pain of others, the anger in them, their fear, and so on.  And because our neurology is such that we literally connect brain to brain, we have to be careful about what we allow to be imprinted on our own.  Now, this doesn’t mean shutting out the world, but we do need to take time to recharge, to shake off the experiences, and to remain connected with who we truly are and want to be.  So if you aren’t used to taking time to be alone so you can write, reflect, contemplate, and connect with your authentic heart that’s free from compulsion, I strong suggest you do so.  Oh, and spend some time with a therapist…there’s a lot to work through.  But if you’re willing do venture into yourself and take some risks, you’ll see some amazing gains within the next year.

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