“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh.
By Sangeeta Bhagwat | Serene Reflection
Have you ever heard such a voice in your head? You may remember your kindergarten teacher holding your painting, sadly shaking her head and saying ‘You cannot paint’, while the rest of the class laughed and the scene stuck in your head ever since. Or perhaps, the memory of such an event has faded, but the voice lingers on, because the lesson you learned was “I am not meant to be an artist”. Consequently, from that day on, you continue to have a stubborn resistance to all art forms.
Our life experiences lead us to certain conclusions and we use these learnings to navigate our present. But as you grow in age and capability, many of these learnings have outlived the purpose they served at one time and may in fact be limiting you. The world has changed, others have changed, and most importantly, you would have changed. So coping or thriving strategies learned in the past could be counterproductive today.
Just as the cup has to be emptied before it can be filled, we need to unlearn some of our more deeply rooted learnings, in order to make room for more empowering possibilities. Neuroscience now informs us that up to the age of two and six, our brain waves predominantly demonstrate delta and then theta frequencies. This is the same neural state used in hypnosis. The implication of this is that until the age of six, we are at our most suggestible. Hence, it is neither surprising, nor unusual, to find that many of our adult challenges, limiting beliefs and feelings about self and others can be traced back to childhood episodes. Discovering and releasing these inhibitors opens doorways to new possibilities and can be a transformative experience. The suggestion is to examine your own learnings and consciously re-evaluate which ones you would be better off without.
Do remember that this is not an exercise in fault finding or blaming those who influenced you in your childhood. They were only doing the best they could. This is an exercise in understanding what left an impact on you, how it is driving you and whether you need to hold this lesson as your undisputed truth anymore.
Clues for recognizing those learnings that are fear based, unconscious drivers which are disempowering in some way:
I. A strong emotional reaction to the belief being challenged.
II. Stubborn refusal or inability to hold the point of view lightly.
III. Repetitive thought or emotional pattern.
IV. A regimented response that makes no allowances for the current scenario.
The following list describes some of the more common lessons that one may have anchored from childhood and why you may want to unlearn them now. Some of these influence how we relate to our self and others, while some impact our academic and work performance.
1. “You are a helpless victim. Seek punishment of the perpetrator to feel better.”
The blame game is well illustrated by the example of an adult comforting a fallen, crying child by admonishing the floor and giving it a ‘slap’ for having hurt the child. Inadvertently, what has been communicated is that you are a helpless victim and in order for you to feel better, you should find a ‘perpetrator’ to blame and seek his/her punishment. Perhaps that made you feel better as a child. However, as an adult, you would certainly be better off taking responsibility for your own actions and welfare and using the experience to improve your own actions. If you continue to blame others and await their punishment to feel better, you are the one who is going to continue suffering.
2. “Don’t ask questions. Obey without questioning.”
Children display a natural curiosity and wonder as they explore the world. But it would be rare to be constantly around patient adults with the time to address all their insistent queries. A stern reprimand may have left a lifelong scar. Stifling inquisitiveness can bring exploration and growth to a halt. As an adult, blindly succumbing to authority can lead you astray and give undue power to those who remain unquestioned. Despite having doubts, we hesitate to question educationists, health care providers, CEOs, politicians and others in authority and hence allow a great degree of abuse of power. Use common sense and be unafraid to ask. Either you will get a satisfactory answer or you will set some improvements in motion.
3. “I am unworthy of love. People leave me.”
It is not uncommon to have lost a loved family member or friend. The reasons may be varied and diverse, including death, divorce, differences, or just a change of location. However, the interpretation of these ‘losses’ may lead to an irrational guilt or feeling that the fault somehow lies within you. Operating from this space of insecurity, unworthiness, and negative expectations, you are more than likely to attract break-ups in your relationships. This reinforces the lesson and if you don’t clear this internal history, you will just find someone else to repeat the same story with. Emotional Freedom Techniques(EFT) can be very useful in clearing the pain and limiting beliefs and also to help in improving self worth and confidence.
4. “Don’t cry, don’t express your feelings.”
Fear and helplessness drives the adult to shush the crying or screaming child. You are taught not to express your emotions as it may lead to embarrassment, shame or some other reaction in those around you. Males probably had the additional pressure of ‘men don’t cry’. But suppressed emotions accumulate and eventually lead to emotional and physical challenges. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to fully process the emotion in the moment, it will pass. Instead of hiding the pink elephant in the room and pretending it is not there, call it out. And see how it liberates you as it leaves the room.
5. “Girls are less ___ than boys”. The blank can include a variety of factors including valuable, important, intelligent, powerful and so on.
It can be easy to buy into this in a society that discriminates against the female gender. For the girls, the lack of love, approval or importance from family members can instil a sense of low self worth and the habit of placing her own welfare second to every male member in the house. Unobtrusive practises such as keeping the leftovers for women, while the best and most expensive foods are given to the boys, or expecting the girl to help with cooking, washing and other chores, while the son is treated like a pampered superior are not uncommon. While you may not have a dramatic case of female infanticide in your family, such experiences can lead to the above conclusions. In adult women, this creates an internal glass ceiling to combat, while in the men it can lead to an unjustified sense of supremacy or arrogance. This can show up as verbal and physical abuse by the males, or as insensitivity and a careless, disrespectful attitude towards women. As a woman, you may become overly submissive, allow yourself to be dominated and stress yourself out in trying to be the modern superwoman who is supposed to look after home, family and career in an exceptional fashion. Because this workload is usually overbearing, you may further develop guilt and feelings of not being good enough. Though not widely discussed, it is not unusual for successful career women to adopt a wholly different, humiliated role at home. As a man, you would tend to take the lady of the house for granted, assuming that ‘it is her job’. So whether man or woman, one needs to check and update the internalized understanding of the man-woman equation and find a balanced togetherness in relationships.
6. “You have to work hard to succeed.”
There is a good possibility that at some point, you were scolded for your non-activity or playfulness and heard “You are lazy”, “Get serious” or “You will never get anywhere without hard work”. So now one associates success with ‘hard’ work, and non-activity or enjoyable activity with guilt, self-reproach and fear of judgement. In reality, efficiency lies in achieving more through less effort. Exhausted, fear driven efforts arising from stress are unlikely to match the outcomes of minimal, effective action that arises from a balanced state of being. The energy of joy and enthusiasm has been eliminated from what we do, and in its place we have guilt, control and compulsion. There is no space given in our life to allow creativity and inspiration, as we are committed to busyness.
7. “I am not good enough.”
Comparisons with siblings, neighbours and others can lead to this conclusion. Our culture teaches us all about rank, grades and competition with others. Little attention is paid to understanding and nurturing the unique talents that each one of us possesses. As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” You can set aside what you learned as a child and allow yourself to recognize your true worth. You can change how you live the rest of your life.
8. “That’s a pipe dream. It’s impossible. You cannot do it.”
Statements that were probably intended to save you from pain and disappointment can be the most damaging for you. What holds true for one person, or at one time, may not be the same in another moment. Growth comes from stretching your comfort zone, which means that you must be willing to test whether your vision is truly impossible. This one differentiator can separate the successful entrepreneur from the dreamer and the one who disproves an insensitive doctor’s death pronouncement from the one who succumbs to believing it is pointless to put up a fight.
9. “I am insignificant. One person cannot make a difference.”
Were you one in a large family, a soft voice in a large household, or a tiny tot that was often brushed aside by the elders? A child can easily be misled into believing he or she does not matter. Any form of physical or verbal abuse could drown out any attempts at being counted. But as an adult, you need to reclaim your own power and understand that you do make a difference. Without this, you are likely to be a passive witness of events in your immediate world. You may allow others to make your life decisions without protest and could end up feeling stifled, hopeless, angry, resentful or depressed. You will find it challenging to demonstrate the courage required to speak up for yourself and to make any changes or improvements in your circumstances without addressing such an ingrained belief of insignificance. The world needs people to step up and take personal responsibility today. All change begins with a single individual. And that could very well be you.
You are likely to find many more learnings that are specific to you and your life. You need not be intimidated by any persistent ones you discover, as tools like EFT, TAT, Emotion Code and The Work can all help in clearing them. I hope that this article stimulates your interest in unlearning what no longer serves you and helps you to live a more conscious life.
All my good wishes!