It has often occurred to me as I observe myself and others move through the world that our habitual ways of thinking and being become who we are. I once dated a brilliant and well-read attorney who had Sylvia Boorstein books lying about her upscale townhouse, and she could quote the dickens out of Sylvia. Yet she was consistently rude and condescending to ‘service people’ – at restaurants, at her ‘yacht club’, in retails stores. I was about 40 then, and I got it at a somatic level: who you practice being in the world is who you are. It doesn’t sound particularly profound but at the time it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had another enlightening session with my ‘therapist who specializes in adoptee issues’ and whom I call “Kay”. Each time we meet I seem to leave with a nugget, a kernel of wisdom.
I have said this in previous blogs. But it bears repeating that one common persona adoptees assume is ‘the pleaser’. The pleaser does not want anyone to think poorly of them, has a hard time expressing anger or hurt feelings and does not do well with displeasure coming from another.
When I feel negative vibes coming my way, I go into ‘deer in the head lights’ mode and freeze more often than not. Frequently I can’t even recall details of conversation immediately preceding or following the incident and I usually shut down, eager to get away from the ‘scene’ so I can think about what just happened and try to make some sense of it.
“And how do you feel when someone gets angry or says a hurtful thing to you?” Kay inquired.
“I don’t really feel,” I said. ”I usually start thinking about how I can get away from it and take care of myself. Either leave for a while or get out of the relationship.”
“So you believe you must get out of a relationship to ‘take care of’ yourself?”
“Sometimes that is what I believe,” I concluded. ”Like the little kid standing up in her crib grabbing the side rails and proclaiming ‘I can’t count on anyone so I’m going to have to count on myself’, that premature ego development thing kicks in. It is the other side of the ‘fear of abandonment’ coin.”
“But Carol, what if taking care of yourself could also look like calmly stating your feelings in the moment? Could this also qualify as taking care of yourself?”
Each time I hear this it is like an epiphany. And, change is not easy after a lifetime of practicing habitual coping – even when we recognize that our beliefs are the lens through which we view and react to life’s events and that they are conditioned, not absolute.
To quote Tich Nhat Hanh, my actions are my only true belongings. (Or maybe that was Sylvia Boorstein.)