It was early in the morning. The winter sun was just rising and I was taking a walk on the beach. I was walking towards the sun and enjoyed the light and warmth shining on me. I saw a young woman running, but could only see her silhouette. I thought, “Oh, how beautiful! A young woman running with the sun rising behind her.” I enjoyed the image as she came closer. And then I recognised her! It was Mieke, a fellow coach. She stopped and we had a chat. Sighing, she told me that she hadn’t been able to go running at all in the last two months. Things were out of control at her home. Caring for her three young children asked a lot and her coaching practice took up a lot of her time. I asked her:
‘How long are you going to sustain this? Is it not an option to work part-time?” Mieke shook her head violently.
“No, that really would not work. My husband is about to lose his job and because of that we are already in uncertainty. I can’t start working full time on top of that. No, that’s really not a solution.” She sighs again and she says:
‘Running is now my only ray of light for me.’
New Year ’s Resolutions
The new year has arrived. During the turn of the year many people made New Year’s resolutions and now the time has come to comply to them. As a result, we often get the feeling that we have to do so much. We are so strict with ourselves. Maybe we should first take a look at what is going well in our lives! Otherwise we’ll get the feeling that everything is going wrong. If we learn to look at ourselves with gentleness, we can look for the rays of light in our own lives instead of making resolutions only by putting more pressure on ourselves.
I like this beautiful poem by Michael Leunig about it. It is a Christmas poem, but also very appropriate for the new year:
I see a twinkle in your eye,
so this shall be my Christmas star
and I will travel to your heart:
the manger where the real things are.
And I will find a mother there
who holds you gently to her breast,
a father to protect your peace,
and by these things you shall be blessed.
And you will always be reborn
and I will always see the star
and make the journey to your heart:
the manger where the real things are.
Being strict with yourself
In the poem by Leunig we see a wonderful example of one of the basic principles of Transactional Analysis (TA). “I’m OK, you’re OK.” We can at who we have become through how our parents communicated with us in the past. The way we have been approached makes us develop a script, or a story about our lives, about how to respond to events around us. We adapted to the —sometimes very strict— expectations that our parents had. As a child that script was very useful, it enabled us to survive.
Unconsciously we still often live from our old story, as if that story were still true. As if there are still strict eyes directed at us. This way we often make life very difficult for ourselves. Being strict yourself is exhausting. As an adult we still need deeply in our hearts what is described in the poem by Leunig, and what a young child also needs: that our mum and dad look at us with gentleness and that we can feel calm and safe.
Gentleness or stress?
When parents look at their child with gentleness, the child experiences a calm that becomes a point of reference. The child takes over that peace and mildness. Parallel to this: When parents are stressed, children take over the stress and experience it as normal. Then the stress becomes their point of reference. If a mother looks at a child with stern eyes, that child will have a stressed reaction. This later still happens in adults. If someone looks at us with a stern eye, we get a Fight, Flight, Freeze, Friend or Flop response. Fight, Flight and Freeze are known to most people, but I will explain the latter two: – The Friend-stress reaction is that we are going to act as the friend of the other person, to make sure that the other will look kindly at us. We bend over backwards to be liked. – The Flop reaction is that we feel weak and vulnerable. We close up from the inside.
This stress reaction doesn’t only happen when another person looks at us strictly. Often we are own biggest critic ☺ We often look at ourselves with much stricter eyes than that others see us with. This way we confirm our script or to the life story that we wrote about ourselves in our youth. As a result, we continuously keep that stress reaction going. Our hormonal system works overtime and we make too much adrenaline and cortisol. That costs tons energy and it makes us very tired.
You can learn to be kind to yourself
To get back to the story at the beginning of this blog: Mieke was very strict with herself. She set high expectations and surpassed her own needs. Yet she saw a ray of light and allowed herself the time to go running. I think that’s beautiful and I can also read it in Leunig’s poem: ‘And you will always be reborn’.
We can all start again, see and enjoy the sunlight. We only have to allow ourselves time to find it.
Exercise for a New Year’s resolution that brings peace
I will be the last person to tell you what to do. It’s totally fine by me if you skip the following exercise. But if you do it, you will see that there is really only one resolution that will bring you the peace you need.
Make a nice cup of tea for yourself, put on some music you liken and sit down under a blanket. Make yourself comfortable. Are you there? Now let all events of the past year roll past you and look at them without judgment. Which things went wrong? Which things went very well? Focus on those last ones and become aware of them. Give yourself a compliment about the things you have done well in the past year.
Perhaps it is difficult to accept the things that went wrong. Patterns from the past can often be so deeply rooted that we do not even recognise them. Perhaps you recognise this in yourself or in the clients in your own coaching practice. TA can help. Do you want to learn how to understand yourself better and learn how to use your TA knowledge to help others? Then the two-day introduction course might suit you. You’re welcome to join in.
Rays of light
You can probably guess now what New Year’s resolution will bring you peace. Look kindly on yourself and the people around you. Because of that kindness you can let go of things that did not go well and look at the positive things. Michael Leunig also wrote a beautiful poem about this. I would like to end this lettre with it:
Let it go,
let it out,
let it all unravel.
Let it free
and it will be
a path on which to travel.
A very happy new year.