In the months leading up to the publication of my book, “Where Did You Learn To Behave Like That?“, I was overwhelmingly touched by the generosity of so many colleagues, friends and family. Little did I know when I started out, that it is a small army of people who actually help bring an Author’s book to publication in countless untold ways. But I certainly found this out in a very personal way this year.
What I was not expecting however and what threatened to knock me sideways during the closing months of the editing process was the arrival of some powerful and potentially hurtful behaviour from someone who I had loved and respected for a very long time. It was shockingly in contrast with the behaviour of others who were all cheering me on from the side-lines to achieve publication including staying up until goodness knows what time of night to help me reach the finishing line of the editing process, which was so tantalisingly close.
What kept me strong in the face of this person’s dark behaviour was the content of the very book I was writing. I knew I had several choices for how to respond in the face of, what felt like, verbal onslaughts. Historically, my childhood story (the experiences of love I had in childhood that were characterised in some way by sadness, disappointment, anger or frustration) and its accompanying old internal narrative (the things I would tell myself to survive the childhood story e.g. “I’m not loveable when I’m angry”, “It’s dangerous to oppose anyone because I will get hurt”, “It’s my job to take care of everyone around me and put them first.”) would have sent me reeling with every interaction. I would have allowed every threat, criticism, negative comment and projection from the person to enter in and do harm. I would have searched for and worried endlessly over even the smallest ‘verbal misdemeanours’ on my part and whether they were ‘real’ or not, I would also have done everything in my power to make things right with that person even to the extent of sacrificing myself.
Taking responsibility for things when they simply were not mine to own was a familiar and well-worn path for me. But not anymore! Such is the power of working on your childhood story [‘Story’] to redeem the child and gain command of that Story and its old internal narrative. Such is the extraordinary freedom that can come with transcending the past and writing a new internal narrative for one’s life.
For me these days, even in the face of some of the darkest and most shadow-ridden behaviour from others, I am able to locate empathy for them and be curious about what might be impacting on them and how that might be leading to their verbal outburst or attack. I am also confident in the knowledge that even though I may not ever discover what the childhood story is that is sitting behind that person’s behaviour or how it might be manifesting in their lives more generally, I do know that a childhood story is there and is doing harm. I also know that it is the invisible childhood story that is leading to the high-stakes reaction in that person. And, simple though it might sound and be, actually knowing this is so, so helpful because of how it guides my reactions to them.
I’m no saint and I would not be human if I didn’t feel the impact of what I hear as hurtful comments and unfair accusations or if I didn’t instantaneously go into some kind of moral judgement of that other person. Nor would I be honest in even suggesting that I’ve got this ‘nailed’ in some way. I haven’t. I trip up and fall on many occasions. Some days I am skillful and some days I am not. But, what’s different today is that it takes barely any time at all to catch myself in my own reactivity and rather than join in and end up in some kind of futile battle with others, I can at least give myself the chance to be more in command of my reactive behaviours and as a result open up many more options for responding.
One thing is certain, I will be working on my behaviours that grew out of my most formative experiences for the rest of my life. It’s not over in a series of coaching sessions or even through a period of deep work on the ‘Self’. But what I do have now, as a result of doing the work on Self, are the skills to be able to keep working on myself and these are what I can bring to bear in what is a life’s work to be more skillful in communicating and interacting with others. In so doing, I might just minimise the harm I could do if I continued living in the spectre of an outdated internal narrative and Story that I didn’t even really know or appreciate were harming myself and others.
We have to go to work on ourselves, we have to stop blaming others and we have to look inwardly. This really is the only place where we have true agency to make the kind of change that is so sorely needed and at least has the potential to eradicate some of the harm that is so pervasive in our world.