Why we do what we do, helpful or not …

I was prompted to write this after a client I worked with for maternity coaching reflected on our sessions together. She said:

“ For me it’s literally been about learning to be a mother… I’ve found that all the patterns from my own parenting come up and play out at home and at work. Helping me unravel all this material; because it gets thrown into such sharp relief returning to work; and free myself to be the kind of parent and leader I choose to be, has been such a gift…”

Same Old Thinking

My client found that being a parent highlighted her own patterns – the ways she thought and things she did. She knew that she wanted to free herself to act more from choice in-the-moment, rather than be driven by the past.  Over the course of 6 sessions she achieved enough of that freedom to feel she had let go of ways that no longer served her. Within weeks of completing our coaching programme, the shifts she had made were reflected in a significant career development.

When working with clients I draw on various fundamental perspectives that inform my approach. In this post I share some thoughts about how our patterns are formed.

Psychologists know that what we experienced when we were small becomes part of us as we grow up.  As a small child, each of us is totally dependent on our parents’ protection. And that what we each learn and experience from our parents impacts on our growing selves.

From my own knowledge and experience, I take the view that each of us has an incredible natural intelligence, which allows us to adjust our responses precisely to the expectations of our parents. It’s like constantly finding the right frequency on the radio and tuning into the signals we receive. We learn exactly what conditions we need to fulfil to get the love and attention we need: to grow and thrive; to feel we are seen and appreciated; that we belong and that we matter.

Each child is completely tuned into their parents’ moods, behaviours and attitudes, some of which the parents themselves may be unaware of. Maybe you remember stopping yourself from doing or saying something just by the look in your mother or father’s eyes, or from sensing their disapproval or fear.

Experiences like these form rules and beliefs that we take into ourselves. They become part of us as we grow up. Our vision of who we are, what love is, how to view the world around us – all is experienced through the lens of what we take in. At each stage of childhood, our body, our feelings and eventually our mind registers all we have taken into ourselves. Then our ego, or our idea of who we are, solidifies around this material. This is where many of our beliefs and fixed ideas originate.

What started out as a highly intelligent approach to circumstances we could not change has evolved into automatic ways of thinking, acting and feeling. Another name for this is our personality. Even when our personality helps us be successful, the hidden automatic responses from our childhood can burst through into our adult behaviour, contaminating our adult life.

Being a parent brings so much of our own upbringing to the surface, things we may have forgotten, or held out of our awareness.

What my client referred to as the ‘gift’ from our work together was the surfacing of that material, bringing it into her conscious awareness. This was not therapy, although she did revisit aspects of her own parenting and upbringing. Rather it was an exploration of how the past had conditioned the way she is today, as a wife and mother, and in the workplace. The same will be true of individuals who have the sense that they want be more present in their lives, more available to be who they really are. The client’s exploration allowed her to relax and re-examine previous patterns – discarding those which no longer served her. In turn this opened the door to building new strategies and approaches to live the life she chooses, at home and at work.

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