A blog by Claire Standen Coaching
As a therapist, I know that trauma can impact people’s lives in big and little ways. Some ‘big’ trauma can have ‘little’ effect, and some ‘little’ trauma can have big effects. I’ve used inverted commas because this highlights something. It’s not really about what happened, it’s about the sense (or meaning) that was made at the time. Whether it ended up meaning something about you, your worth, your power to change things or influence them, how worthy you were of love, respect, good things, kind treatment… you name it. If the traumatic thing happened, and you made meaning of it in a certain way, it lives on in your life expressing that meaning in certain ways until such time as this becomes apparent (which, for a lot of people, may be…. Never).
This week (amongst others), I’m reading ‘Pathways to Possibilities’ by Rosamund Stone Pilcher, in which she shares the stories of people for whom the messages they absorbed in early life had major impacts on their adult lives. That’s actually pretty true of almost everyone. It’s just sometimes those messages are more empowering, and sometimes less. Often within the seemingly empowering lessons, there are subtleties that create a kind of bind. ‘You can do anything if you work hard enough’, for example, could seem outwardly empowering. Yet when someone finds themselves, aged 35, burnt out and wondering where their youthful exuberance went… they might realise that the subconcious message that you have to work hard to get what you want, led them to pursue hard work, and never consider that what they want to achieve might be easy. No doubt, working hard will have had its upsides- perhaps they reached the top of their company, or really excelled in academic studies… But sometimes, that message might lead to them staying in a disempowering relationship longer than they ought, labouring under the Impression that hard work will be the answer.
Yet these things so rarely get examined. There is often an impulsive rejection of the values and beliefs under which we were raised or a wholesale adoption. Either way, there is another path. In ‘Pathways to possibility’, Stone Zander describes the implementation of a thought process called the field of awareness. In the field of awareness, the person does not identify as the individual having a thought or experience, but more as the awareness itself. It’s what my mentor James Tripp calls ‘getting in touch with the ‘I’ that chooses’. On removing yourself from the thought or emotional reaction, the distance can afford the ability to see the reaction as a memory of a time that came before. SO the experience points to a past memory, often of being much younger, in which meaning was made about how the world works, other people or the person themselves. On examination, the new event becomes not so much the truth of the situation, but a pointer towards a memory that could be usefully examined. To do this, she suggests finding the age at which the memory occurred (even if approximate) and what meaning was made. She shares the experience of a man who was not taking enough risks at work, and missing out on promotion as a result. The feeling of taking risks pointed back to when, as a boy, he’d cut flowers for his mum from the garden. The wrath of his dad for cutting his prized flowers had resulted in the childlike assumption that he made bad decisions, which he had carried forward in life until the day he met Stone Zander. On seeing this, he was able to free himself from that belief, and become the field of awareness once more.
I love this concept, and have been playing with it. Perhaps I need to go into it more deeply, because it has great potential, but I do find it hard to self-facilitate this process. However, the principle of ‘child-made’ stories is a key one. Stone Zander states that every time you find yourself sure of something, and having the corresponding emotional experience, there is a childish story at play that could be examined. This I find easier, and seriously liberating. Whereabouts might you have a story about someone that you keep playing whenever you interact with them? What if you gave them (and yourself) the huge gift of liberating them from this, and staying open to the possibility that you might have got it wrong. Reserve the right to change your mind about anything and anyone at any time. A world of possibility awaits if you do, because you get to experience the world in a myriad of different ways, even if nothing changes.