It’s July 4. Like America, It’s time to free yourself from the past. I’m Dr. Stephen Sideroff and I am going to help you today.
It’s July Forth and in the US we are celebrating Independence Day. In the 18th Century we were an offspring of the European continent, from England. It was time to declare we are a separate country that is self-ruled. No more taxation without representation. No more tributes to the King. No more laws that we don’t agree with and are not in our best interest. We will establish our own – more egalitarian – rules and form of government.
It can also be the day to declare your Personal Independence Day! Just like your country, you too are a child of your parents, their rules, environment and upbringing. Just like those American pioneers who didn’t choose a monarchy, you didn’t choose the lessons you were taught directly or through modeling as you were growing up.
But you learned them anyway. You didn’t know any better and they did help you survive in that environment. You needed to learn what made your mother and father happy and what got them upset. It didn’t matter if it was appropriate or logical, it was what is and you had to adapt. And adapt you did, very well. And part of this adaptation was the assumption that what worked within your family and childhood, would work as an adult. But just like the rules of England were outdated for Americans, the rules of your childhood are outdated for you.
I call this early childhood pattern your Primitive Gestalt Pattern. How you learned to cope with your childhood, your environment. Primitive Gestalt’s are very powerful because they are your earliest learning – survival learning, if you will – and thus are deeply imprinted in the fundamental circuitry of your brain and body. They serve as your blueprint and thus all subsequent learning develops along the lines of this blueprint. But just like the colonies, you didn’t choose which lessons are good, and which are bad. What worked in England didn’t necessarily work in America and what worked for your parents doesn’t necessarily work for you.
Personal Independence Day, therefore, is declaring “I don’t want to be controlled by someone else’s rules any more.” Even though they feel like yours, in fact, you never decided on them yourself. You swallowed them before you were able to chew and taste them and decide on their appropriateness.
Three steps to Personal Independence Day
Here are three steps you can take to begin letting go of the old and no longer effective messages and lessons of your childhood; replacing them with a more optimal and independent approach:
1. Becoming aware of your Primitive Gestalt Pattern. In my book I refer to this as “Stalking your Pattern”. To do this, begin noticing your self-talk during decision making. For example you might notice that your first thoughts are about what can go wrong – the negative perspective. Or the message that you don’t deserve or are not good enough is embedded in your thinking pattern. Even when the message might appear to be positive – you still want to watch out for criticism or other undermining comments.
An area of frequent confusion is the use of harshness, and even abuse, in how we treat ourselves, believing it’s the best way to motivate to do better.This might look like, “You didn’t do very well the last time, you are slacking and need to work harder.”I refer to this negative internal voice as the spokesperson of your Primitive Gestalt Pattern.In contrast, you want to begin developing a healthy internal voice – a healthy internal parent.From this perspective you might say, “Here’s what you did well the last time and here is where we need to make improvements.”This is a much more positive and supportive response.
2. Begin the development of a healthy internal parent or voice. It’s too difficult to eliminate a behavioral pattern, unless you have something to compare and replace it with. For this purpose it’s important to identify what a healthy internal parent looks and sounds like. This voice comes from a place of love, acceptance, support, compassion and care. For example, the old voice might be very hurtful in handling a mistake; “You should have known better. Now look what you have done. This is terrible.” So, not only are you trying to cope with the consequences of the mistake, but on top of that you have this harsh parent making it worse and handicapping you for future decision making. Instead, if you look to the healthy internal parent, that voice would say, “I’m so sorry you are experiencing this situation (compassion). We all make mistakes (acceptance). The important thing is to be able to learn from them (growth). I know you can do better” (support). What was it that you were not paying attention to? (taking responsibility for the mistake)” Of course, you also might be angry with yourself for making the mistake, and it’s always important to deal with feelings and not just push them down. So it’s ok to be angry with yourself and express it; but it must be done without being abusive or going overboard. Give yourself a time frame, such as 10 minutes to deal with your anger. When the 10 minutes are over, forgive yourself. And determine to be more focused the next time. The goal is always to let go of past mistakes. Try to identify areas in your life where you have treated yourself in this healthy and positive way. This will show you that there is already a tiny version of this healthy internal voice to build upon.
3. Personal Independence Day – shifting the balance of power from the old internal voice to the new. Creating your independence from childhood negative lessons –your Primitive Gestalt Patterns – requires an ongoing awareness of these two voices: your current voice, and the healthy voice you are working to transition to.
Gestalt Dialogue Process: It’s helpful in this process to engage in a gestalt dialogue process between these two voices. In my book I frequently use this technique to enhance awareness. When you notice the voice of your Primitive Gestalt Pattern, arrange two chairs, one for the old voice and another for the new. Since your old voice is so dominant, it’s good to make this separation in order for the fledgling voice to be heard and have its own separate space. This furthers its development and your ability to shift to it. Switch chairs and engage in a dialogue, remembering that the new, healthy voice comes from that place of love and acceptance. Make sure this voice has the last word. Also, be careful of getting sucked into the oppressiveness of the old.
It’s time to decide that you, like your country, should be independent!
Dr. Stephen Sideroff, resilience, addiction and peak performance expert, is the author of The Path: Mastering the 9 Pillars of Resilience and Success. To take the free Resilience Challenge, click HERE.