Whether we have a positive attitude to personal learning and growth or require life circumstance to motivate us on to a path of self-exploration, life as an adult is about unlearning deficient patterns and opening to new ways of being authentic. It can be exciting, is every bit about growth and development as growing up from baby to adult was, and it will involve pain insofar as we resist the unfolding. Through this process, we gain access to our unbridled potency, our power, and can return to manifesting our true and full essence.
I had the delightful experience of being an observer of a young family, and it caused me much delight. A father was with his 3 or 4 year old daughter, waiting outside a store for the mother who was shopping. The little girl asked her father, “When is mummy going to be finished?” Perhaps carrying some of his own boredom, he responded, “I dare you to go in and ask mummy when she will be finished.” That struck the little girl as a fantastic idea and off she headed. Instantly the father called, “No, don’t do that. I was only joking.” The little girl returned, clearly confused, and asked why she shouldn’t say that. The father then said, “Go and ask mummy if she needs any help. Ask her if there is anything you can carry for her.” Less inspired the little girl sat there, mulling this over. A little while later she got up and headed into the store. Where was her head? What was she going to say to her mother? How had she sorted her confused world. Shortly after the mother with the little girl and a toddler brother emerged.
The little boy then went exploring and in his wanderings he turned, saw me sitting and playing on my iPhone, and rushed up to me grabbing the phone. The initial response from his parents was shock and an element of panic. The obvious question of how would this stranger respond was quickly answered as I smiled at him and had a friendly chat. He did not get my phone but he also got positive reinforcement that he was okay. The parents seemed relieved.
It is lovely to see happy families together and acting as a functioning unit, and in this instance they were. However, even in that short episode a number of future patterns and beliefs were being established. There was clearly “Interrupting strangers is not safe.” “Caution around unknown people is sensible”. The little girl learned, or at least started to, that her father does not always speak plainly or communicate what he means. Adults don’t always speak what they mean.
Is it any wonder that by the time we are adults we speak and others don’t trust us, question what we mean, or even challenge whether we are being real, or a host of other possibilities. Each little confusing change of direction; each expression of concern or fear; each redirection away from something we were doing, taught us what was acceptable and what was not, or shaped our beliefs and patterns of behaviour. They are not all a problem except when we unconsciously repeat the learned behaviours and fail to rewrite the scripts given to us as children. What scripts, beliefs, patterns of behaviour do you still use that no longer serve you?
I wouldn’t call it a great movie but the movie ‘Anger Management‘ released in 2003, starring Adam Sander and Jack Nicholson, did highlight an aspect of anger that is often overlooked and ignored, that of inappropriately not feeling or expressing anger. I can totally relate to this.
I spent many years believing I was patient and tolerant as a person, and that I was naturally even tempered, and well in charge of my emotions. I did not get angry. I did not feel angry. I felt composed most of the time. If I did not feel composed I squashed the feeling response until I did. I grew up with little emotional response to things that occurred around me, and my judgement of myself was that this was good. As an approach it kept me safe, and I now know that is what it was all about, feeling safe. By stifling my experience and expression of emotion I was able to control my external response to people and situations. I looked calm and did not take any sudden action, or cause any ripples with those around me. In fact I had layers of protection that ensured I kept myself to myself.
I had a four-year-old part or role that ran away and hid, feeling unwanted and inadequate. I had a seven-year-old part that looked after the 4-year-old part, keeping him safe and hidden, and could be quite comforting. He was very vigilant to danger and emotionally shutdown. I could cope better as a 7-year-old if I did not show my emotions. The 11-year-old part of me was even more protective, even more emotionally shutdown, keeping both the 4 and 7 year old parts safe, with less of the caring component. At 17 I developed another role within myself that was a response to anger and physical danger. It would use anger and urgency to silence any part of me that wanted to speak out or be noticed. Anger was buried very deep within me under all these layers.
For more than 15 years I have been developing awareness of each of these roles within me, understanding the events at the time that encouraged these roles to develop, addressing the threats and fears that these various roles were created in response to, and learning to express myself more immediately and authentically, sometimes with anger. I now know that anger was a strong part of my life, but feeling unable to express it, I directed it at myself. That was damaging on many levels. Unexpressed anger is problematic and needs to be worked through so full, authentic expression is possible.