KNOW YOUR ROLE IN LIFE
Recognising ingrained negative behaviour is the first step to creating a happier you.
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