My client searched for words. “My father. I think that’s the approval I want.”
Hmmm. Based on what I knew of him and his father, it didn’t seem to be in the cards anytime soon. My client was a free spirit. He packed lightly and moved easily across the earth—immensely talented, inquisitive, and motivated, but far from conventional. His father had chosen a very different path—a more stable and traditional life with a mortgage and a steady paycheck.
I leaned in. “Okay. Imagine for a moment that you received the approval that you want from your father. 100%. What shifts inside of you when you consider that?” He paused for a moment and then let out a long deep breath. “I feel more grounded. It feels more spacious inside.”
Our session was nearing an end, so, for homework, I asked him to consider other possibilities. Could he imagine any other paths to this place of groundedness and spaciousness besides approval from his father? Or was that a locked garden that only his father had the key to? And who got to decide who the gatekeeper was anyway?
The point is this: Very often in our Belief-logic we tie our happiness or comfort to other people acting a certain way, doing a certain thing, or thinking/expressing a certain view about us. We may not even realize we’ve done it, particularly with those people who loom large in our personal histories and have shaped our interior space. The rules tied up in our relationships with them can become part of the air we breathe.
For instance, for some of us, the issue of withheld approval could be tied to some past moment of trauma or distress that is restimulated in the present and carries the message “It’s not safe when my parent disapproves of me.” Or, the concern could be based on some belief we’ve picked up along the way about what the relationship “should be” between a parent and a grown child—perhaps from the advice of a friend we admire, or the model advocated by an author we respect. Or it could be tied to a concern as pragmatic as the potential loss of material support.
Whatever the source, whenever in our psyches we wire our happiness to another person’s actions or attitudes, we give that person (or, more accurately, the thought of that person) immense power over us. The good news is that we have wonderfully effective tools and strategies we can use to reexamine those connections—to heal them, overwrite them, or reimagine them.
Even if the specific issue is associated with a particular moment in our distant past, it’s not therefore unreachable. The past is always recalled in and shaped by the present. It shifts subtly each time we bring it into consciousness, whether we intend it or not. With intention, however, we can deliberately create a new relationship to past events and people and develop new “rules” and associations by which to live and assess our lives.
What power in or over your life have you put up for grabs?
Are you ready to take it back?