We like certainty!
We create absolutes out of uncertainty all the time!
We turn things that are not definitive at all, like marriage, religion, politics, right and wrong, and we make them into absolutes!
We insist that when WE say “I do” it will be forever, even though the divorce rate is over 50%. Then we are shocked when we end up another statistic.
We have holy wars because we are so certain OUR religious beliefs are the RIGHT ones … the problem, is the other side is equally convinced theirs are too!
We talk about what is “right” and “wrong” as if they are absolute and static things, yet it used to be “right” to beat your children (“Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the saying), to own slaves, to persecute LGBTQ individuals and for women to be considered less than men.
We create absolutes out of uncertainty in other ways too. We like black and white thinking, people are either all good, or all bad! We like clean lines. It is even reflected in our expressions, we talk about being in the “dog house” or in someone’s “good books”, but we don’t really have expressions about mixed feelings do we? There is no “being in the transition house” or in the “mixed books”. There are no shades of grey!
We don’t like ambiguity, so we pretend things are certain when they aren’t- even though it is at our own expense! The problem is, that is not life certain. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to make the round peg fit in the square hole, most of life is about mixed feelings and learning to hold both at the same time!
Therapy sometimes gets a bad wrap, because people think it is about blaming our parents. It isn’t. It is about accepting and honestly acknowledging the things that have impacted us, positive and negative, and taking ownership for connecting and passing the feelings associated with those events so we can move forward. We did not choose what we came from, but we can’t move forward from it, if we are putting all of energy into ignoring, avoiding or minimizing it or it’s impact. All change begins with awareness and acceptance.
The thing is, a lot of people have learned that the way to stay safe is to pretend everything is fine, and convince themselves that things were not so bad. As a result, they struggle to acknowledge when perhaps, by no one’s intent, their emotional or physical needs were not met, and this had a negative impact. This is why the beginning of therapy is often associated with the whole “blaming the parents” story. It is really hard for us to connect to positive feelings when we have negative feelings built up, and many people struggle more with acknowledging negative emotions than positive ones, so understandably, that is what surfaces first. Click here for a 5 min video on feelings for an animated reminder of this.
By the end of therapy though, the aim is to be able to acknowledge and sit with both what positive was there, and any grief or anger as we learn to accept that our parents, siblings, loved ones etc had a different survival map than us and there was/ is a disconnect between our needs and what they are able to offer. Yet another level of acceptance comes when we learn to also accept that given their survival map, they often did what they believed to be right.
For example, meet Josh. Josh’s parents learned that safety comes from appearances. Their primary form of income was a small Mom and Pop shop. The success of the store depended on their ability to stay in the good
graces of the community. This sensitivity to public opinion informed the way they think and act. His whole life, and to this day, they are still asking Josh about what others thought of the things he is saying or doing, or asking him “what would the neighbours think?”. They rarely ask about what is going on for him, but want to know what is going on in the lives of the people around him. These questions make Josh feel not seen or heard. Understandably, once he became an adult, over time these questions would trigger passive aggressive behaviours as his parents were “in the dog house”, black and white thinking got the better of her and they were all black! He often talked about how they didn’t understand him, and didn’t even seem to want to, always focusing on what others thought instead. For years, interactions with his parents triggered fights or avoidance behaviours like lying not to come over or drinking or eating too much when he did. His parents never even knew what they had done wrong to deserve him being so short with them. Through therapy, now when Josh is able to feel the mix of anger and grief that comes up, it also makes space for a new thought- the ability for it to be GREY instead of black or white.
He is able to accept that even though those questions can be hurtful (feeling unseen and unheard), they come from a place of love (his parents wanting Josh to be safe) AND it is the best his parents can offer. He used to minimize or dismiss when they brought him extra food from the store, or offered to babysit for him, as he was flooded with anger that they couldn’t acknowledge him without thinking of what others thought. Once he accepted and allowed his feelings about the disconnect between his own needs and what his parents were able to offer, he took ownership of what needed to happen and he was able to accept what they could offer honestly, without emotional baggage coming up and sabotaging it for everyone.
All this to say, life is about mixed feelings, life really is 60 Shades of Grey!
People hurt us, AND we get hurt by them because we allowed ourselves to care, to be vulnerable. We only expose those soft and squishy parts to people we have some loving or positive feelings towards. So as you process your feelings, remember to acknowledge the positive along with the negative.
Life isn’t black or white- so let’s learn to love and dance in grey!