Every moment of your life is generated by a two-year-old.
Sounds crazy, right? But when I fully explain how this works, the response is always, “Finally, I can understand what’s going on in my life. That makes so much sense!”
So, who is this two-year-old, and how in the world did it get to be in charge?
The two-year-old is your sense of self, the part of you that stores how you feel about being human, and it is the generating force behind every moment of your life.
Your sense of self was developed from conception until you were about two and half years old. During this time, you absorbed how it feels to be human from the way those around you felt about being human—good or bad. In a perfect world, the absorbing process was meant to expand your natural well-being, the kernel of energy you began with in the womb. You should have reached age two and a half feeling that it is great being you, just as you are.
What went wrong?
Well, the people around you didn’t feel great about being themselves in every moment. When they felt bad, your sense of self absorbed that feeling as “there is something wrong being human.” Actually, because your sense of self only really understands “me,” it absorbed that feeling as “there is something wrong with me.” I call this feeling “learned distress.”
Of course, you didn’t choose to store this feeling. Your thinking brain hadn’t begun to operate yet, so you were just a sponge.
A sponge doesn’t have a choice in what it absorbs. It takes it all in without any ability to discern what might be helpful or not. Your sense of self sponge couldn’t evaluate the negative feelings as “good” or “bad” for you—learned distress was just “the way life is.”
So, by the age of two and a half, your sense of self had become a mixture of these two feelings: well-being and learned distress. And each moment of your life has been generated from one of those basic feelings—automatically, without your conscious control or input. This is just the natural work of energy, Newton’s Third Law of Motion:
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
In this case, the action was feeling being absorbed (coming in). Now, your brain uses this stored feeling, putting it back out (opposite) as moments of your life that feel the same (equal) as the moments where you absorbed the feeling.
Of course, you have mechanisms to cope with or control the moments that don’t feel good. But often, those mechanisms get overridden by the intensity of your Learned Distress.
Here’s an example from my own life. My dad was diagnosed with kidney failure when I was still in the womb, and he died when I was three and a half. So, one of my bits of learned distress became “the way to be an adult is to get sick and die.”
In my 20′s, I did get sick—my endocrine function started to deteriorate. After years of working with different doctors and approaches, I found an MD who had great success with this condition. He evaluated me after several months on his regimen and said wasn’t working for me. On the surface, I was disappointed, but something deep inside me was jumping for joy. This was puzzling until I looked at my learned distress.
If “the way to be an adult is to get sick and die,” I was right on track! Success!
It makes no rational sense, right? Who would be happy about that? But the two-year-old can’t operate rationally. It’s just operating from what the sponge-like sense of self absorbed. There are countless examples of this: someone eating a certain food despite knowing it makes them feel bad, someone continually having their ideas ignored despite speaking up for themselves, someone whose career is going nowhere despite “doing everything right,” and the list goes on.
What I’ve seen in my own life and with clients is that when well-being is the driving force behind our moments, life is very different.
The two-year-old is still running things, but it’s pulling from the feeling of “I feel good being me, just as I am” to generate situations. Day-to-day things work better and more easily, and then we are able to get to the bigger picture things, like embodying our purpose in the world and being of service to humanity. These things are so much easier when the two-year-old isn’t throwing fits and hurling toys around.
Where is your two-year-old making life difficult? Have you struggled against this, only to have solutions that should work backfire? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
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