Fixing Families

Tools for walking the intergenerational tightrope

Reaching Your Bottom Lines

Leaving is not the only way out.

Think about the time you left home for the first time. If you can try and imagine the scene: maybe you are going off to college, getting an apartment with friends, getting married, but you are literally packing up your stuff and moving out of your parents’ house.

How did you feel at that moment? 

Lots of people feel excited. They are going off to college, party on, out of here. Others are have more mixed feelings: a little bit excited, a little bit scared. Some are scared to death: worried about what is going to happen next, feeling not ready or even that they are being kicked out.

Even if you feel excited in some way, what is the negative emotion underneath it that is making you feel so excited? Why are looking forward to this change so much? Maybe you are tired of feeling controlled and bossed around. Maybe resentful of not being appreciated or understood or listened to. Perhaps you are lonely or feeling taken advantage of or criticized. What is that feeling?

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There is an idea that how you felt when you first left home becomes the emotional bottom line for when you leave other things in your life. So when you look back on your life: when you have quit jobs, quit relationships, is there some emotional common denominator that runs through it all? When you feel (your emotion here) you leave.

Of course some people never leave: they are ones who are always the leftees. They get dumped in relationships, get fired from jobs, or stick it out till retirement whether they like it or not.

Why is this important? In close relationships like marriages, for example, this explains why one person is ready to call it quits while the other says not yet, let’s give it another try; their bottom lines are different and reached at different point. Over time this linking of emotion and behavior, the cutting and running reflex, becomes more and more ingrained, more and more automatic. And when it does, when our lives follow the same track over and over, we lose our freedom, our sense of choice, our range of options. The story of our lives winds up moving through the same plot line. 

The way to regain our healthy control is to discover the pattern, to identify our vulnerabilities, and resist the automatic response. Instead of leaving, trying staying, or waiting it out, or better yet, actively changing the situation or relationship rather than giving up. Yes, all this may ultimately not change the final outcome, but we have become more flexible, less driven by impulses and old wounds. And that’s a pretty good lesson to learn.

 So look back and sort it out for you. Identify that emotional bottom line. Then the next time it comes up trying resisting the urge to go just to learn to resist the urge.

 You may be surprised by what happens next.

 

Bob Taibbi, L.C.S.W. has 40 years of clinical experience. He is author of 6 books and over 300 articles and provides training nationally and internationally.

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