Getting It Right or Getting It Real
As I thought about what to write for my first blog entry, I found myself stuck in an old familiar thinking pattern that plagues from time to time. From my particular childhood context, it is important to get things right. If asked, my parents would most likely deny they intended to teach me this idea but through their particular lens, the only lens I had as a small child, I saw the world through their eyes.
My father was meticulous, careful, obsessive and extremely conscientious about the choices he made. Seemingly innocuous, I interpreted this to mean there was one right way to do things, a right way to be. My mother saw the world through fearful eyes as her childhood had taught her it was a place where people abused or abandoned you. Through their lenses, I interpreted the world wasn’t safe and that one must be on guard, watchful, prepared for any possible mishap. The way to avoid these pitfalls was to learn to be good, right, strong or perfect. This way of thinking, I concluded, could protect me from what the world might send my way. We all do this with our caregivers. Neurobiologists confirm what we already know intuitively, that we are hard-wired by our original contexts. The trick is to become aware of these thoughts as they arise and make a conscious choice to challenge the old scripts, update the software.
I remember a moment when my old context was running the show. My husband and I were at Disneyland with our two youngest children, two and eight years old at the time. I was feeling extremely anxious. How would we see and do everything, please a two and an eight year old’s very different needs in a short period of time? I became obsessive and anxious, strategizing on the “right” way to do Disneyland. Thankfully, my husband said to me gently, “Instead of trying to do it right, what if we do Disneyland wrong? Let’s just get it completely wrong.” At first I felt patronized and angry. I had legitimate concerns. But he held my hand, looked at me sincerely, and I realized he might be onto something. I soon felt the anxiety cloud lift and off we went. Admittedly, throughout the day, I would slip back into the old context.
Should we eat at Ariel’s grotto or will Peter Pan’s grill have more characters? How will we make it to the parade in time? And then my husband would say, “Honey, remember, we are trying to get this wrong.” I would laugh and the anxiety would die down. We ended up having a great time without all those expectations.
I return to this idea often. My therapist calls it “old brain” vs. “new brain.” Once we know, through self-examination, what our childhood context taught us, we are free to choose a different path or more enlightened path with the latest information and learning from our current context or “new brain”. I work on this in my weekly therapy sessions. I rediscover what the old brain is telling me to do. I find it is usually the loudest voice in my head. It often feels counterintuitive to resist this voice as it has its merits in a dark alley…but most of the time it is afraid of smoke and mirrors.
Each struggle I face presents me with an opportunity to challenge the old messages. I try to find what I have learned with my new brain in my present context, and then make a more conscious choice. Getting it right or getting it real? I try to remember that either way, I am ok. When I apply this principle to my relationships, when I blend the old and the new, I find myself and become more clear.