Freedom From “Life Lessons”

Freedom From “Life Lessons”

Remember the little girl who started all this (Language of Listening®) way back at age four when she had a problem at her preschool and then suddenly couldn't leave my leg? And I sought help from an internationally known play therapist, Dr. Garry Landreth, because she was only a few months away from starting Kindergarten?

By age 26, here's how the world seemed to Colleen as voiced during her breakthrough work:

"I just got that I think caring about someone means keeping them alive. If you blindly trust someone to care about you, and you end up dying, it's your fault for making the wrong choice to put your faith in them. That's why it's important for you to be right. If you're wrong the people you trusted to care about you will let you die."

That is Colleen bringing awareness to a "life lesson" that has run her life for over 20 years! And as usual, it rings so true of fears I had about keeping kids alive (caring about = taking care of = keeping alive) and so many more related to trust, fault, choice, and having to be right. Yes, she came by her fears honestly, and now look at her! Unraveling them all for both of us and other family members as well!

So many of our fears are inherited or deliberately handed down as "life lessons" that no one likes.  For a child, those lessons can actually be true - infants and young children are right that they need someone to care for them, or they could die. Learning who to trust to take care of you is an early "life lesson" that can increase the odds of survival.

The problem comes when a fear-based "life lesson" remains with you as an adult in the form of a belief about who you are - in this case helplessly dependent.

That's what she did, and me before her, and my mother before me... when we took on the belief that "being cared about = being taken care of = being kept alive = helplessly dependent."

Since helplessly dependent does not match who you really are, your natural tendency toward growth kicks in and propels you to create a life that proves you are not. In Colleen's case, that included challenges like having few childhood friends, choosing an intensely difficult high school curriculum, and now deciding to make it on her own as an artist in NYC. Of course, she's gained proof of many STRENGTHs along the way with independent at the top of the list!

Now that she's proven to herself that she can survive on her own, it's the perfect time for her to re-examine her fear-based beliefs from an adult perspective. Unconscious fears can create anything from a general sense of uneasiness to a heavy burden or a phobia-level fear. Gaining awareness of them as beliefs, not truths, can lead to complete breakthroughs - sudden perspective shifts where the whole world changes in front of your eyes and an invisible weight lifts from your shoulders. As clients often say, "Everything is the same, but nothing is the same." That's what our Authorized Coaches help clients do in our breakthrough coaching programs.

When I look back at Colleen's Power Playtimes at age four, I can see that she was tackling this same set of fear-based beliefs even then. Week after week, she created a makeshift baseball game with a beanbag "ball" and container lid "bat." For her, tricking me into believing that she would stay on third base was critical, as was the result...stealing home! She won, I was wrong and no one died, proving over and over that life is not as scary as she thought, and most of all, that she was not helpless! This was Colleen rebuilding her STRENGTHs while laying the groundwork for dismantling this "life lesson" about trust that she knew just couldn't be right! And it worked. After a couple of months of weekly Power Playtimes, she skipped off to her first day of Kindergarten without looking back!

If you learn a "life lesson," something you really don't like, but you think you have to learn to survive, notice how you still continue to look for proof that it is not true. You always keep searching because deep down inside you know it can't be true. And interestingly enough, you're always right!


  1. love this– never thought to question “life lessons” — which were not mine! I will think on this.

  2. Angelika |

    The other day I read your article on Whining, and what you said about the importance to validate the child’s wants, so he can feel: What I want matters. My daughter is whining a lot, and I realized that she probably feels: What I want doesn´t matter.
    And then I read what you said about life lessons and suddenly everything fell into place.

    My own childhood was marked by two things:
    What I want doesn´t matter.
    What I want causes trouble.

    That is already an important equation, but looking deeper into it, I came to the following equation that worked for my entire childhood experience:

    Peaceful home = Be invisible. = Function without causing trouble.

    Failure = Trouble
    Wants = Trouble
    Illness = Trouble

    The last point even got my grandmother to hide her breast-cancer until it was too late because she didn´t want to trouble the family.

    So putting everything together, the equation sounds like this:
    Peaceful home = Function without failures, without wants and without becoming ill.

    Since a peaceful home is very important for me (because I didn´t have one as a child), you can imagine what I have been trying to do up to now. I think I am finally beginning to understand why perfectionism is so vital for me and why I am always so exhausted. And if it is true that – as you say – what we want, what we like and what we don´t like is the ultimate expression of ourselves, then I also understand why I have always had so much trouble to validate myself to the point that I wasn’t sure who I am at all. Without validating my own wants, I can´t validate myself.
    And coming back to my daughter: This life lesson may explain why she may feel the same, why I am struggling so much with her strong will and why it is so difficult for me to listen to her wants.
    Does this make any sense? And how could I start to heal this life lesson for me and my family?

    • mila |

      wow, thank you Angelika. For the depth of exploration. Yes, this is topic is onto something. I agree. I am exploring.

  3. Angelika, Wow! You really put that together! This is such a tremendous insight, and it makes total sense!

    When you put together an equation like that, you can validate that belief just like you would in speaking to your children. That allows you to be the compassionate adult listener to your child self.

    The more you explore the the world that belief creates, the more your life makes sense – like when you realized why your grandmother did what she did. In a way, it makes her right when you can see why she had to do what she did. The acceptance breaks up any negative judgments you held about yourself (grandmother, etc), and compassion takes their place.

    When you hit the point of compassionate understanding, new thoughts start to take the place of old, and your current actions are much easier to change because they become expressions of your new thoughts not the old ones.

    So as for what to do, you SAY WHAT YOU SEE to yourself about the “life lessons” or generalizations that still seem real: “You think __________.”

    As you fill in the blank with the equation, see which parts cause you to tear up. Those are the ones that are still real; the ones you hated as a child, and have been trying to accept ever since.

    The more you repeat those to yourself and allow yourself to feel how devastating they were (or still are), the clearer you become about the importance of a peaceful home to you. You love the idea of a peaceful home!

    Understanding the huge sacrifice you were willing to make (giving up your “wants”) for a peaceful home will put you in touch with how much you loved the idea of a peaceful home. When you make yourself right for loving what you love and can see why you thought what you thought and did what you did (perfectionist, etc), the equation will start to break apart and the parts will return to their rightful place as things that occurred together once, but not always, and definitely not rules for creating a life you love! From what you wrote, I can see that this process has already begun.

    This SWYS phrase jumps out at me because I can see how it might seem true to a child wishing for a peaceful home, but from an adult perspective, the logic fails: “You think you need to be invisible to have a peaceful home.” That would mean that a peaceful home would only be possible without you showing up!!! Can’t happen when you are a mom! You need to show up for YOUR home to even exist. Showing up by validating your own “wants,” which is finally possible for you, will make a huge difference for your whole family, especially your children! Yay!

    Those are the kind of thoughts and awareness that will replace old thoughts when you validate your childhood beliefs and break apart those equations. Once you have a new thought like that, you can tell a new neural pathway has been created, and you will never go back. Other thoughts begin to rearrange themselves to fit, which basically reprograms your brain!

    Angelika, it is so generous of you to share your deepest thoughts like this. It will help others free themselves from unwanted “life lessons.” Thank you so much!

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