Each of us has a story to our lives so far. People, moments, disasters and successes that define us or, should I say, that we allow to define us because our view of how they have affected us is just that, our view. Our version of the truth. It is our choice as to how we react to or learn from that truth.
I have recently realised that I had been clinging to one event in my life, had in fact let myself become a victim to it. That event was my father’s death when I was 13 years old. Even in that description I felt it necessary to tell you how young I was, as if that age somehow made his death more significant than if I had been 12 or 14 years. My realisation had come about because I’d met a new friend and I found myself with an urgent desire to tell him that fact about my past, as if that loss somehow explained the core of who I was today. When I become aware of this driving need to tell him I stopped and asked myself why it was so important to share that piece of information. Looking at the question from another view point I asked myself, “What benefit did I hope to gain from sharing this one fact from my history?” It was with some shock that I realised that I wanted sympathy (25 years after the fact!). What was an even more important realisation for me, when I looked back on my past behaviour, was that I’d been using his death as an excuse, a constant “get out clause”, when I felt nervous about commitment, when I felt afraid of attempting something new or when I behaved in an immature way. This awareness was definitely an eye opener for me. The reason that it was such a shock was because I had chosen to react to his death in that way for all those years. I had done that to myself and allowed my story to include a victim.
Now I’m not saying that we should take a “harden up” approach to the death of loved ones or other major events in our lives. That approach is one that is all too familiar in the New Zealand culture (and I imagine the Australian culture too) and I don’t think it does us any favours. Equally, I’m not saying that we should spend all of our time in therapy constantly analysing every single aspect of our lives. Rather, we should constantly seek to understand our behaviour as this can lead us onto a better understanding of ourselves so that we can make the most of our time and ensure that we live our lives as freely as possible.
As I worked through these thoughts the need to provide my history to my new friend passed as I accepted that event was simply part of my story and I’ve always had the choice as to how I behave. I realised there is no need to be a victim to any past event. I had such a great relationship with my Dad and it is the positive values that he taught me that stay with me every day in the person that I am now and the person I will become.
Have you ever allowed another person or event to define who you are? What would happen if you simply saw them as part of your story?
I’ve often wondered how Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama dealt with the negative events in their lives. Nelson Mandela could have come out of 27 years in jail a bitter and twisted man. Instead, he put aside the wrongs that had been done to him and became a great leader who is respected the world over. This quote from him summed up the process that I had recently undertaken:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
The Dalai Lama could have filled his heart with hatred having been forced from his homeland. Instead, he is now seen as a symbol of compassion not only for his people but to people around the globe, regardless of their religion.
It is to these people and others like them that I look to for inspiration when I questioning the parts of my story that I have allowed to lead to my own suffering.
Today is the 25th anniversary of my Dad’s death. I’m going to spend the day being grateful that I was fortunate enough to have such a wonderful Dad in my life for all of my childhood years and that I have so many happy memories to draw on. I am also going to step back and identity the other negative behaviours that I have previously accepted as part of who I was and work through letting them go.
What event(s) in your past/story are you allowing to hold you back? As Nelson Mandela rightly said:
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”