It’s one matter to learn from a hard lesson you’ve experienced. It’s another matter to keep recreating tough times because it’s the only way of living you know.
We seek comfort in the familiar. Freud called this repetition compulsion “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.” We revert to old habits in times of stress, worry, or emotional tension. We repeat behaviours, no matter how dysfunctional they may seem in an attempt to keep ourselves safe.
You do not have to keep struggling through parental or cultural beliefs. Beliefs are a guide on how you want to live your life. By challenging your beliefs, you either solidify them or explore new ways of thinking. Challenging your beliefs is uncomfortable, but a typical primal response. You must determine which beliefs belong to you and which don’t, then remind yourself that you’re safe. You breathe deep. You call your mind back to yourself by writing, reflecting and stepping away before reacting.
When competing thoughts come up, ask yourself, “Why do I believe this?” followed by, “Is this thought really mine?” If the answer does not bring a sense of steadiness to your soul, it’s possible the thought does not belong to you. You do not need to continually punish yourself in order to learn. Sometimes we confuse hard work with suffering. We tell ourselves that we must put up with or embrace pain, despite having other options.
We think we deserve to suffer.
As children, we tell ourselves we’re responsible for the dysfunction around us. We tell ourselves that we should be able to fix the chaos. As a result, we internalize shame. These feelings are carried into adulthood. Unless we do the healing work, we seek ways to penalize ourselves. We end up in abusive relationships, having disrespectful conversations, settling for less pay and being invisible.
We repeat what we don’t repair.
Sharon Martin, MSW, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in helping individuals struggling with perfectionism, codependency, and people-pleasing, suggests that we must look back and find the origin of feeling not good enough. We must explore the unease and admit that maybe our parents weren’t there in the capacity we needed them to be.
It doesn’t mean our parents didn’t love us the best they knew how. They just didn’t know how to love us the way we needed.
It’s your responsibility to heal. Healing work takes time and mental effort. Sometimes it feels like there’s no end in sight. It’s easier to pretend your wounds don’t exist than face them. As a result, we live subconsciously. We let life happen to us instead of creating intention.
We repeat what’s traumatizing in a subconscious effort to gain mastery over it.
Feelings of rejection, loneliness, and not being heard during childhood can cause you to subconsciously recreate the same experiences as an adult to gain mastery over it. We don’t purposefully set out to torture ourselves. We seek out similar experiences because we want to win. We do this by adjusting our behaviour, and pleasing people to receive love. We go against what we want, hoping the ending will change. We fail to realize that ultimately we cannot change anyone but ourselves.
You start healing when…
You become aware of your relationship patterns from childhood.
Did you have a childhood where your family had unspoken rules? Maybe you grew up in a strict religious household that stifled your voice and individuality into adulthood. Now you must learn how you use your voice without being attached to the outcome. You start by speaking kindly to yourself. You think about your desires, needs, and cravings. You listen to the hum, pitch, and intonation of hearing yourself say “yes.” You fall into the drums of hearing yourself say “no.” You practice speaking until your voice sounds familiar.
You reflect on your own behaviour.
You want to blame everyone for what happened to you, and at times rightly so. You feel like you can’t forgive others for the deep wounds they’ve inflicted. They’re living their life carefree, without a worry in the world. And here you are stuck with the aftermath, anxiety, physical illness, and lack of trust. The way you gain victory over your health is by adjusting your own behaviour. Recognize that you were conditioned to behave in a certain way and also have toxic traits to work through.
You allow yourself compassion.
Learning is a work of a lifetime. You cannot guilt trip your way into healing. You cannot critique and shame your way out of learned behaviors. Changing your thoughts starts with compassionate phrases like “I’m still learning. I had a moment, but I’ll do better next time.” I hope you give yourself as much grace as you offer.
You can learn from your suffering, but you do not need to suffer to learn.