A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch, but on her own wings.
The issue of trusting ourselves or trusting our own inner resources is something I talk about a lot with my clients. As human beings, we each have our own version of the “branch” that we sit on. And, while the bird might not be afraid of the branch breaking, we are downright terrified of our branches failing us.
I should first define the human version of the bird’s wings. It’s what I call natural well-being, and it is the core of who we are. You might think of well-being as something to create or strive for, but actually, it is the energy that we began life with, the part of us that is connected with God or Source. It is meant to be the automatic, generating force behind every moment of our lives. Well-being is not only what allows us to feel good physically, mentally and emotionally, but it is the source of our creativity and uniqueness. And it is what allows us to discover and fulfill our life’s purpose.
This well-being is what we’re meant to rely on to live well. However, early in life we all absorb the feeling that there’s something wrong with us being exactly as we are. This Learned Distress becomes the automatic, generating force behind our negative moments and situations, and it requires us to develop a survival mechanism to deal with these negative conditions. This survival mechanism is our “branch,” and we really feel at the deepest level that it is what keeps us alive.
There are six basic patterns that our survival mechanisms fall into. Below, I describe them and how people with these patterns feel when their “branch” threatens to break.
To survive, I need things around me to be what I define as the “right” way. People with this pattern tend to see things in black and white, they need to keep everything under control, and they feel threatened when surrounded by (or even hearing about) people or situations that don’t fit into their “right” way.
There is an ideal way things should be and I have to work hard to make sure that my “pretty picture” is maintained. People with this pattern often say “everything is great” and from the outside, their lives often seem perfect. But, it takes very hard work to maintain their ideal, and they feel uneasy if their pretty picture is threatened or questioned.
Everyone need to do things “my way,” and I survive by dictating to others. This person is the know-it-all. They usually feel incapable of succeeding in personal relationships, so focusing on tasks and telling others how to do things is their only comfort zone. They feel threatened when “their way” is questioned or is in conflict with rules and standards imposed upon them by any given situation.
I rely on other people to survive. People with this pattern feel incapable of relying on themselves in some way, so they try to please other people or in some way provide what they think other people need in order to get their sustenance in return. This can include being sick or needy in some way. They feel threatened when they don’t get others’ approval or their efforts aren’t reciprocated.
I survive by proving that nothing ever works for me. This person always has something going wrong, and they never can overcome it. Because their survival mechanism is to prove nothing works, they actually feel threatened by things going well or when someone points out something good or successful about them.
To prove that the future will be better, I have to have a crisis happening now. This person might seem just like the one above, but they’re always trying to overcome what’s going wrong for them. They feel threatened by having things go well, and something in their life will always disrupt peace, order, or success.
Learned Distress rises in intensity through our lives, and as a result, these survival mechanisms eventually break down under the strain. While terrifying, this is the point at which we can find our “wings”—to uncover our natural well-being. We will rely on the “branch” as long as we can, since it is how we have survived since childhood, but once that branch breaks, our brains will let us unlearn Learned Distress to reveal the well-being it has covered up for so long.
As you can imagine, people with each of these patterns experience finding their “wings” in different ways. But, there are some common threads of how they describe their newly uncovered well-being: feeling an underlying sense of peace, feeling more capable, having things work more easily than ever before, knowing that they matter just for who they are, to name a few.
Do you recognize your survival mechanism above? Have you felt your “branch” threatening to break? You might feel that the branch is the only way to survive, but no matter how hidden they may be from you, you really do have “wings.” And, just as flying is a much freer experience than clinging to a branch, living from your well-being is unimaginably better than surviving your Learned Distress.
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Ed: B. Bemel