KNOW YOUR ROLE IN LIFE

Recog­nis­ing in­grained neg­a­tive be­hav­iour is the first step to cre­at­ing a hap­pier you.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Front Page -

W hile ne­go­ti­at­ing life, we can all be­come ac­cus­tomed to cer­tain re­la­tion­ship roles, even down­right hor­rid ones, which we learnt by rote at home, at school or in early adult­hood. Per­haps the neg­a­tive role meant be­ing bul­lied, unloved or never feel­ing good enough; per­haps it ap­plied across the board or was only played out in one par­tic­u­lar di­men­sion, such as fam­ily, friend­ship, ro­mance or work.

Our in­grained pat­terns of be­hav­iour, gen­er­ated by the emo­tional shrap­nel buried deep within our sub­con­scious mind, can act like mag­nets pulling our health­ier in­stincts off-course. At the same time, we seem to send out faulty sig­nals at­tract­ing an un­help­ful, even toxic, sort of per­son or sce­nario. Our en­slave­ment to this self-dam­ag­ing sense of iden­tity is of­ten cam­ou­flaged but can show it­self in any one of three re­sponses: • We freeze and get stuck sub­mis­sively re­peat­ing past pat­terns (I’m a fail­ure, unlov­able, doomed to be alone). We live out the role by ac­tively if sub­con­sciously hunt­ing down sit­u­a­tions that are all too likely to make th­ese harm­ful be­liefs a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy. We re­peat­edly find jobs, friends and part­ners that bring out the worst in us. • We es­cape by anaes­thetis­ing the emo­tional pain born of past re­la­tion­ships. We dis­tract our­selves through ad­dic­tions to work, al­co­hol, food, ex­er­cise, TV or other bury-your-head-in-the-sand ac­tiv­i­ties. • We fight by ag­gres­sively over-com­pen­sat­ing for our once painful roles – the bul­lied child be­comes a highly ag­gres­sive adult; or the unloved youth chases at­ten­tion through fame or promis­cu­ity.

Bear­ing in mind th­ese re­sponses, see if the fol­low­ing neg­a­tive roles ring bells of recog­ni­tion:

I’m unloved and unlov­able. This role re­sults in our try­ing to part­ner with cold and unlov­ing souls, or we be­have coldly our­selves as a sort of pre-emp­tive strike. Ei­ther way, we fos­ter pre­cious lit­tle per­sonal depth or in­ti­macy.

I’m vul­ner­a­ble to ac­ci­dent and dis­ease and crime and bul­ly­ing and go­ing broke and even rot­ten luck. Liv­ing is dan­ger­ous stuff! This role re­sults in a life dom­i­nated by fear and over-cau­tion and trust­ing nei­ther life nor peo­ple.

I’ll be aban­doned. Peo­ple will ei­ther walk out on me or they will die. This role re­sults in our be­ing too clingy or not dar­ing to al­low close­ness.

I can’t man­age alone. I have to de­pend on oth­ers. This role re­sults in us al­ways play­ing sec­ond fid­dle, and shrink­ing from re­spon­si­bil­ity.

I’m an out­sider and strangely dif­fer­ent. This role re­sults in iso­lat­ing our­selves and not be­ing an ac­tive mem­ber in friend­ship groups or clubs.

I’m not good enough. This re­sults in iso­lat­ing our­selves and giv­ing up, be­ing hy­per-crit­i­cal of our­selves and oth­ers, or painfully over-striv­ing.

I’m only fit to serve oth­ers – my needs are unim­por­tant. This role re­sults in a life lived in servi­tude to kids or par­ents, or with a con­trol­ling part­ner, or in de­struc­tive self-sac­ri­fice.

I’m owed far more by life. Rules are for the lit­tle grey peo­ple, not me. This role re­sults in our be­hav­ing self­ishly and driv­ing peo­ple away with our lack of self-dis­ci­pline.

While act­ing out such roles on au­topi­lot, we tend to swing from self-pity and hurt to feel­ing fu­ri­ous, as if we know deep down some­thing is very wrong. Worse still, when we’re for­tu­nate enough to be of­fered a pos­i­tive and help­ful re­la­tion­ship, our re­ceiv­ing con­sid­er­a­tion and re­spect will feel so alien we’ll prob­a­bly re­ject it, like a child re­jects her veg­eta­bles in favour of lol­lies. We’re ad­dicted to what’s hurt­ing us.

If we dare look back at our own life, or the lives of those we know best, we can spot such harm­ful pat­terns. Hu­mans are not only highly so­cial crea­tures, we’re strongly habit-form­ing, and our vul­ner­a­bil­ity to re­peated roles re­flects th­ese traits. Our sal­va­tion is to re­alise how we’ve been type­cast and then, with good com­pan­ions or ther­a­peu­tic coach­ing, our re­la­tion­ship with life can meta­mor­phose very re­ward­ingly. Dr Nick Baylis is di­rec­tor of The Cam­bridge Study of Life­times, Cam­bridge Univer­sity; nick­baylis.com

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