I read something really interesting today, in a book by Philippa Perry, called “How to Stay Sane”. It’s a very good read and full of interesting information and insights. The particular piece that struck me was how we repeat patterns from our past, over and over again, in our everyday lives. Because we prejudge the outcomes, based on that old story we once lived through, which we reinforce with ferocity, because we tell it to ourselves, over and over again, on a daily basis, we actually cause the outcomes we predict.
In other words, because the narrative in our head says that something is going to happen (usually something we don’t like), then by playing this fantasy fiction in our minds as we go about our daily business, we unconsciously amplify the idea and set up the conditions that confirm our world view. We are not aware of this at all. We act in such a way that the thing we believe is going to happen (the bad thing) becomes the inevitable result.
Think about the stories you tell yourself, about yourself, and see if you can trace it back to a first incident. The feelings you felt, at that time, are frequently the same feelings you feel now, but under entirely different circumstances. The thing is, though, those feelings belonged to a different time and situation. By replaying the feelings in the present time, you are artificially bending how your present pans out. You’re creating your own private version of Groundhog Day.
When I was a small boy, I was dearly loved by both my parents. I was hugged and kissed and cherished. In return, I always made sure I was not just a good boy, but a very good boy, fully deserving of that love, warmth and attention. Then my younger brother came along. He was almost three years my junior, but by the time he was just two years of age, he was very ill – gravely ill, in fact and in another country, far from home, because we were travelling at the time. It was thought that he might not survive the trip home, let alone thrive into adulthood (which, thankfully, he has).
A consequence of this was that I was passed over, not matter how hard I tried to be a very good boy. No matter what I did, the love and warmth I had previously felt, was no longer there. My parents, quite rightly, were very focused on my little brother, who was not well at all.
At such a young age, this set up a terrible pattern, which I have only recently become fully aware of. A lot of my history can be summarised as being the boy that tried so very hard to be the best and to be more than just acceptable to the people I wanted to be closest to, but being utterly rejected and passed over, in return.
Over the years, I rationalised this away as being the result of jealousy or people not appreciating my worth and value, or of them simply not getting me. Whatever the root cause, the result was always heartbreak for me, as the people I wanted most to like, love or trust me steadfastly refused to do so and often did the very opposite. The more I tried to be what they would surely be impressed by, the less impressed they would be.
It got so silly that people who really should have seen something in me, in an objective way, completely failed to do so, even though under more rational and less emotionally distorted circumstances, they might have been inclined to like somebody like me quite a lot, or at least appreciate me as a friend. Sadly, those were not the outcomes.
Today, I wonder how many of those outcomes were as a result of me not only trying to be impressive before their eyes, seeking their attention avidly, but also bracing myself against the coming injustice and hurt of being unrecognised and passed over, for all my demonstrations and protests of how “good” a boy I was. How much of my body language and communication style said, at the very outset, “You’re going to reject me anyway, because that always happens, no matter how much I try”. How much of my carriage and demeanour was already expecting and anticipating the inevitable hurt and sadness of a failed relationship, be it a work, business or personal one, before any of that had happened or was even likely to happen? Did people suspect that I was assiduously hiding the faults or flaws that every normal human being has and presenting something that was so unrealistically positive, that it just had to be totally suspect and untrustworthy? Was I casting unsuspecting people into the available roles of judgemental, unfair, heartless back-turners? Did I make it inevitable that people would say, “No thank you”, to whatever I offered, no matter how beneficial to the recipient or valuable to their lives?
You can’t undo history, but you don’t have to relive it constantly either. Knowing that my internal monologue is all about being golden, but passed over anyway, I will now take note of my own thoughts, at the moments when it is tempting to retell myself the same tired, old story and stop. I will be mindful about whether I am casting people around me into the role of inevitable, cruel rejecter, or if I am giving them the space and time to react according to their own assessment of what they see. I’m also going to try less hard to impress and certainly not hide anything I perceive to be a weakness or a flaw. I’m going to let who I am, strengths and weakness together, be available for people to see.
Let’s see if that can break the pattern. There are reasons to believe it will.
It’s worth thinking about the recurring themes in your own life and thinking about whether or not those stories keep happening, in different times and in different guises, because of the same root story, that you have internalised and almost cherished, as the story of you. It’s just possible that you’re holding onto a fiction, which doesn’t serve you well at all and which compromises the quality of your current relationships and your happiness. Sometimes you have to actively stop that narrative in your head and just let it go. Trust in the future and let it be.
Artists that keep finding that their work is rejected or that they never get their big break may discover that it happens because they are replaying a childhood dynamic in which their work, or some important aspect of their being, was rejected and the breaks went elsewhere. If this applies to you, there is hope. You can choose to be mindful of the repetitive story, playing out once again and make different choices this time. The ending is not prescribed, unless you cause it to be.