For many of us, looking at the past challenges our denial and raises many buried memories and feelings. We ask, 'Why do I have to look at the past, why can't I just move forward?'
Simply recounting the past is not enough. We need to understand the meaning of how we were abandoned, neglected or abused to prevent us handing it on to the next generation. In these next few Steps we break the cycle of family dysfunction, bringing relief and healing into our lives. There is no guarantee but please keep an open mind.
The aim of a personal evaluation take is to prevent us returning to unhealthy behavior where we unwittingly harmed others and ourselves. These behaviors include excess drinking, drug taking, shopping into debt, binge eating, smoking, and compulsive sex or gambling. We cannot move beyond these behaviors if we skip this section.
By undertaking a personal evaluation take we take positive action towards putting down these traits, which are there to stop us from feeling. By recognizing who we really are and why we behave as we do, we learn to love ourselves with gentleness, understanding that we did these things because we were scared and confused. We begin to take better care of ourselves and it becomes easier to release the destructive behaviors.
We realize how ineffective our behaviour has been as a result of our ingrained dysfunctional family legacy which has been passed down to us through previous generations. We see that we easily return to our survival techniques when we try to control others or events. When we try and get our deepest needs met through outside sources, again we find ourselves back into living the old ways.
We identify the help and support we need to heal, i.e. our Higher Power. This source is a powerful strength to us and we look for it in the way that feels comfortable to us. We come to rely on this power to be our parent, the one who will always be there for us. As our attachment to this parent grows, we are able to let go of our actual parents and see them simply as our biological parents.
We have learned that our need to control others blocks the love from our Higher Power. We begin to see that each day we have a choice - our will or our Higher Power's will. Our work is to face our denial; the gift is to let go and cease the need to control others. We take baby steps at first but we will end up taking big strides as we learn to stay still and allow our Higher Power into our life.
We come to understand the defensive traits we developed as a child. We look at the abuse that took place and, without blame; we come to understand the outcome that served us as adults. We have made decisions we regret and have abusively acted out against others. We thought we could never change and this led us to hopelessness and despair. We felt like victims even though we were the perpetrators. We used our dysfunctional childhoods as weapons against others.
By undertaking a personal evaluation we are not attacking ourselves. We are surrendering to a power greater than us by acknowledging how our childhoods turned us into dysfunctional adults whilst looking for another way to live.
IDENTIFYING OUR FEELINGS
We begin be identifying our feelings. Feelings are the physiological reaction to our thoughts. Feelings can be strong - so strong that many of us have unknowingly found ways to misidentify them. Often we don't understand them and we aren't sure how the word on the page is supposed to feel in us. Those of us raised in dysfunctional families watched our parents to guide us in our feelings. We reacted to their mood rather than responding in a clear and focused way because we had to survive rather than thrive.
By the time we reached adulthood we had lost sight of our feelings. They frightened us or we became confused if we had negative feelings. We didn't know if they were OK and so we tried to push them down. We don't understand how to have empathy with others instead sensing an urge to ‘fix' the other person. This left us devoid of any understanding in our own inner world.
All feelings felt scary and we couldn't tease them out as individual emotions. They were stuffed inside like one ball of rubber bands all entwined and jammed in together. This exercise helps us to untangle those feelings and begin the process of naming them and then owning them.
The power of our ‘don’t feel’ message from our childhood is often misunderstood. If we – perhaps unconsciously – work to not feel our emotions, we spend a lot of energy fighting them off. We constantly finding ways to resist them or stuff them down. If feelings surface we are usually ashamed of them or misunderstand them.
By chronically fighting off our feelings, we land up in a world of dysfunction, depression and hopelessness. We create situations that keep us from our feelings e.g. creating chaos, focusing on other people and their problems or using substances all to keep away from how we’re actually feeling. Because we began to suppress our feelings at a very young age, all of us have to catch up to our feelings. Those feelings didn’t just disappear. They still live inside us.
Our anger or pain that we felt as children sits in the body but comes out inappropriately. We feel rage towards strangers who take our parking space or we cry at a film when a child dies even though we know it’s just a story. These old feelings control us and we have to experience them, share about them and then let them go.
Our Higher Power shows us how to uncover our buried feelings without shame, blame or losing control. By learning to feel what we feel, we start the process of healing and freedom. By allowing our feelings to be just as they are we stop trying to control them and become honest to others and ourselves. This helps us to grow and develop as mature adults.
It is helpful to carry through this exercise on a daily basis until we naturally feel our way through the day by naming our feelings, experiencing them and then releasing them.
Here's a list of feelings which we will help us start that process. Read each feeling and description. If you have a sense of that feeling, you can put it on a scale of 1-10. Do this every day for a week.