I recently came across a psychological model that makes a lot of sense to me. It is called The Adult Chair, by Michelle Chalfant. The podcast can be found at MichelleChalfant.com (or TheAdultChair.com will redirect to that site.) It has shown me straight forward solutions to things I hadn’t been able to understand, like why I continued to feel like a child in an adult body, and what drives the voice deep within me to flee from what would seem like reasonable risk.
As I explored my automatic reactions to circumstances, I noticed that a great many cautions were attached to a desire to have my natural father back in my life. The last time I saw him was when I was 4 years old. I was standing in the driveway with him, and I remember clearly that he told me “Always do the right thing, and always tell the truth.” He also said something to the effect that I should obey Scott (who became my adoptive Dad), as I would him. I’m not sure what he said that caused me to believe that if we did well enough, we would be together again. I established that as my sole mission in life – to do well enough at always doing the right thing, and always telling the truth, under Scott’s authority, to get my father back.
With those parameters firmly in my 4 year mind, instructions became law and the rules became more and more complex to try to accomplish. By the time I realized I couldn’t figure out how to do well enough, I had erroneously received the message that it wasn’t okay to disturb others with my concerns, that I had to take responsibility for myself.
I pressed on, doing my best, day by day, year by year, always seeing that I was not capable of fulfilling my responsibility. I lost track of why I was trying so hard, and feeling so bad about failing. As I grew more and more ashamed of who I was, and my inadequacy, I had to create a bigger barrier between my shortcomings and the image of who I thought I needed to be. The more I concealed behind the wall, the more I became afraid of letting anyone know me.
After learning self-compassion freed me from despising my ability to fit the false image, I learned to love my faults, along with the noble character I had worked toward.
Recently, a counselor asked me to share some of the challenges of my childhood. After I gathered them together, recognizing I hadn’t felt acceptable to ask for help, I thought “That was one tough kid!”
The next day, doing some inner child work, I told “little Eric” that I wanted him to have a nickname that could expresses how courageous and strong he is. I heard “Leo”. I thought that was perfect. Leo had been the name of our giant stuffed lion that I had since I was 5. He was a best friend to me. I told him everything. He helped me through countless challenges. He gave the best advice. He was wise and courageous.
Then I recognized that the problem with Leo was that he had the same rules, restraints and knowledge that I had. He could only help me to do the best I could with what I had. He couldn’t give me another perspective. He was a reflection of me. What I recognized next encouraged the snot out of me – everything I had ever admired in Leo came from me. How could I ever deny myself acceptance again?
Most importantly to me, I recognized that my foundational belief, that I needed to become good enough to be worthy of my father’s love, was false. I was released from chains I had put on myself, thinking they would give me what I wanted in life.
Today I am a beautiful mess, fully worthy of love and every good thing. I am celebrating more of my shortcomings each day. I am tearing down the walls and allowing people to see me, just as I am. It is very un-appealing to many, and that’s okay. The most valuable people in my life have always cherished what I tried so hard to hide. Now I get to embrace their love instead of shielding from the pain of disappointment. I even get to be open to other perspectives, that didn’t fit with my distorted mission.
I was thinking about a closing statement, but I think I’ll just leave it open…