For many of us, looking at the past challenges our denial and raises many buried memories and feelings. We ask, 'Why do I have to look at the past, why can't I just move forward?'
Simply recounting the past is not enough. We need to understand the meaning of how we were abandoned, neglected or abused to prevent us handing it on to the next generation. In these next few steps we break the cycle of family dysfunction to bring relief and healing into our lives. There is no guarantee, but please keep an open mind.
The aim of a personal evaluation is to prevent us from returning to unhealthy behaviors in which we unwittingly harm others and/or ourselves. These behaviors include excessive drinking, taking drugs, shopping ourselves into debt, binge eating, smoking, and compulsive sex or gambling. We cannot move beyond these behaviors if this section is skipped.
Undertaking a personal evaluation results in positive action towards putting down traits that stop us from feeling. By recognizing who we really are and why we behave as we do, we learn to love ourselves with gentleness and come to the understanding that we did these things because we were scared and confused. As we begin to take better care of ourselves, it becomes easier to release destructive behaviors.
We’ll realize how ineffective our behavior has been, and that it is a result of our ingrained dysfunctional family legacy which has been passed down to us through previous generations. We see how easily we return to our early survival techniques when we try to control others or events. Trying to get our deepest needs met through outside sources, again, means we’ve fallen back into living the old ways.
Instead, identify the help and support needed to heal, i.e. our Higher Power. This source is a powerful strength, so look for it in the way that feels comfortable. Rely on this power to be our parent, the one who will always be there for us. As our attachment to this parent grows, we are able to let go of our actual parents and see them simply as our biological parents.
Once we learn that our need to control others blocks the love from our Higher Power, we’ll begin to see that each day we have a choice - our will, or our Higher Power's will. Our work is to face our denial; the gift is to let go and cease the need to control others. The steps we take at first will be baby steps, but soon they will become big strides as we learn to stay still and allow our Higher Power into our life.
We’ll come to understand the defensive traits we developed as a child. In looking at the abuse that transpired, we’ll come to understand the outcome that served us as adults, and we will place no blame. We have all made decisions we regret, and have abusively acted out against others. We thought we could never change, which led us to hopelessness and despair. We felt like victims even though we were the perpetrators. We used our dysfunctional childhoods as weapons against others.
By undertaking a personal evaluation we are not attacking ourselves. We are surrendering to a power greater than us by acknowledging how our childhoods turned us into dysfunctional adults whilst looking for another way to live.
IDENTIFYING OUR FEELINGS
We begin be identifying our feelings. Feelings are the physiological reaction to our thoughts. Feelings can be strong - so strong that many of us have unknowingly found ways to misidentify them. Often we don't understand them, and we aren't sure how the word on the page is supposed to feel in us. Those of us raised in dysfunctional families watched our parents guide us in our feelings. We reacted to their mood, rather than responding in a clear and focused way, because we had to survive rather than thrive.
By the time we reach adulthood we lose sight of our feelings. They frightened us or we become confused if we have negative feelings. As a child, we didn't know if they were OK, and so we tried to push them down. As adults we don't understand how to be empathetic with others. Instead we have an urge to ‘fix' the other person. This leaves us devoid of any real understanding of our own inner world.
All feelings feel scary and we can’t tease them out into individual emotions. They’re stuffed inside us like a ball of rubber bands all entwined and jammed in together. This exercise helps us untangle those feelings and begin the process of naming and then owning them.
The power of our ‘don’t feel’ message from childhood is often misunderstood. If we – perhaps unconsciously – work to not feel emotions, a lot of energy is spent fighting them off. We’re constantly finding ways to resist them or stuff them down. If feelings surface, we are usually ashamed of them or we misunderstand them.
By chronically fighting off our feelings, we land up in a world of dysfunction, depression and hopelessness. We create situations that keep us from our feelings e.g. creating chaos, focusing on other people and their problems or using substances to keep our feelings at bay. Because we began to suppress our feelings at a very young age, all of us have to catch up to our feelings. Those feelings didn’t just disappear. They still live inside us.
The anger or pain we felt as children sits in the body and later comes out inappropriately. It may feel like rage towards a stranger who takes our parking space, or become a river of tears while watching a child die in a movie, even though we know it’s just a story. These old feelings control us. We must experience them, share about them and then let them go.
Our Higher Power shows us how to uncover our buried feelings without shame, blame or losing control. By learning to feel what we feel, we start the process of healing and freedom. By allowing our feelings to be just as they are, we stop trying to control them, and become honest to others and ourselves. This helps us grow and develop as mature adults.
It is helpful to move through the following exercise on a daily basis until we naturally feel our way through each day by naming our feelings, experiencing them and then releasing them.
Here is a list of feelings to help us start that process. Read each feeling and description. If you have a sense of that feeling, assign it a number on a scale of 1-10. Do this every day for a week.