By Mary Miller, MSW Health Freedom Advocate
It’s Thanksgiving. You wake up in the morning feeling like you want to spend some time alone.Maybe take a walk in the woods or visit your local beach where all is quiet. You consider your inner urges but then you realize that your job is to host the dinner. You have been hosting this dinner for over a decade. It is just one more way that you take care of your parents and siblings, something you have been doing since you were very young. You are not free to call them all and say that you’d rather cook on another day and just have today for yourself. You are not free to tell them that next year you are going away for Thanksgiving. You are caught in the loop of obligation driven by guilt.
It’s Christmas Eve. You start to feel stressed out. You still have more than a dozen packagesto wrap for people that you see no more than a few times a year. You will be going to your sister’s house the next day, the one who does not like you very much and disapproves of many aspects of your life. You will be seeing your father who has a problem with alcohol and by the end of the day he will either be aggressive or sleeping in a chair. The routine is the same year after year. It always makesyou tired and certainly stresses you out. You are not free to call your family and say I think I am going to stay home and rest today, maybe catch up on my reading or spend a little extra time with my children. You are not free because you are caught in the cycle of obligation driven by guilt.
Stress is often about overextending our systems to do things that are outside of our natural inclinations. Stress is a function of ignoring who you are and what you need for the sake of doing something or somethings that you actually do not want to do. The Holiday Season for so many of us is a time driven by feelings of obligation.
Obligation and guilt are part of a psychological loop that can be tracedback to the early years of life. In the first five years of life, children are like empty vaults that must be filled with particles of security, love, acceptance, self-worth and so much more. When parents, for whatever reason, are unable to provide these elements, the children must learn to live with an empty or less-than-full vault. They must develop survival systems based much more on what their parents need than on what they need.
To survive these conditions, children must develop protective behavior patterns. These patterns involvewhat Eric Berne (author of Games People Play) called“Adapted Child” behaviors. This is the aspect of each person that figures outwhat other people want us to do and then acts accordingly, again often for the sake of survival.
For young children who are missing love, stability and security, the children must figure out what their parents need and want. For the sake of survival, The “Adapted Child” aspect,in effect, takes care of the parents and carries the emotional burdens of the parents, so that the parents willin turn be able to provide minimal care to the child. The patterns of taking care of others and adapting can almost always be traced to these first five years of life.
The Holiday Season is often a trigger for these patterns. It is the time when the “Adapted Child” can be automatically activated,causing each of us to lose sight ofour own natural needs, wants and interests. The harder we had to work to take care of our parents growing up, the more likely we are to get caught in patterns of adapting to and taking care of others as adults. The “Adapted Child” is the one in us that cooks the Holiday dinner year after year without the freedom to make another choice.The “Adapted Child” in us visits relatives we don’t like or who don’t like us. This part of us overextends ourselves and overlooks any natural indicator that weare acting against ourselves.
This information alone may help some readers find a little freedom. At the very least, it may help some become aware of the power of automatic “Adapted Child” behaviors. For others, the patterns are so imbedded in theirsurvival systems that it may take more than information.
Eric Berne also wrote about an aspect of us that he called the “Natural Child.” This is the spontaneous, present-oriented part of us that knows what we need and want. It knows what makes us happy, who we like, who likes us, and how to spend our Holidays in a way that will leave us feeling balanced and calm.
Perhaps, this year will be the year when you consult with that beautiful “Natural Child” in you. Find out how he or she would like to spend the Holidays and what would make him or her happy. The more you listen, the easier your Holidays will be. If you would like more information on how to make your Holidays easier, just email us at [email protected].
Happy “Natural Child” Holidays from I Ching Systems to all!