“Fate is like a strange unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”
We all come from dysfunctional families and we all come from families who carry secrets. The problem is that the secrets come back and haunt us. They haunt us in ways that cause illness, or failure to succeed, the vague and not so vague fears we carry, and the way we often are compelled to repeat patterns that don’t suit us. Think about how often we find ourselves doing the same things and saying the same things and making the same mistakes even though we don’t want to. This is the definition of crazy: doing the same thing and hoping for different results.
There are many reasons for this phenomenon. One of the blind reasons is that we often live the same fate as our parents, their parents, and on down the line. We have trouble succeeding if our parents didn’t, we divorce or separate or fight like our parents, we are angry like them, we are sad like them, we live messy lives like them, and so on. We find ourselves attracted to people who aren’t good for us over and over again, with similar dynamics. We do know that on a deep level this keeps occurring so that we can finally see clearly what we are doing and make different decisions. But many times we can’t and we don’t know why. Does this sound familiar? Have you ever had the thought that this might be tied to things that happened, secrets maybe, that were not resolved or healed, or some situation that was never accepted? So over time, what happened may be forgotten, but the results live in us and haunt us. We find ourselves living a similar fate and not knowing why.
I see this repetitively with myself, my patients and my family. In my father’s case, he became obsessed with money around the age of 70. Looking back, I see that as the beginning of a type of dementia he lives with. At that time and continuing to this day, he keeps giving everything he has, including money he borrowed from others, to what we call elder scammers. He doesn’t see them as scammers. He sees them as his friends and is compelled to give money to them with the promise of lots of money in return, or a car, or whatever they think he needs. When I look at this from a lens going back over generations, I see a pattern that he is repeating. He is not the first man in his family to lose and end up with nothing. He is, in a way, living the fate of his own father, and his grandfather.
His grandfather was a bookbinder for kings and the pope. He lived in Germany and came over to America around the turn of the 20th century with his family. He was very successful. When they left their homeland, they did alright, but they didn’t have the money and resources that they had had in Europe. And, at that time, grandfather stopped doing anything other than listen to opera. He was extremely quiet and very dominated by his wife. His wife, grandmother, disrespected him. Upon his death, many people visited him whom his family didn’t know. They all came to thank the family for his help and support. Unknown to the family, he had been giving them money for years. It became clear at that time that he had been atoning for something he did while in Europe. What that was is a secret. He had one son, my father’s father, Abraham. He also lived and felt disrespected by the women in his family. He never did well in life, and wasn’t happy and never made much money. He struggled. During the Great Depression, he left my father and his wife and went to another city and was gone for a year or two. No one talks about what happened. This is another secret, which my father asked his aunt about, and she told him the secret would go with her to her grave.
Now comes my father who did well, but never saved any money, kept spending it, and then later in life, lost everything, and would continue to give everything away if we let him. He is repeating a pattern, and living a similar fate as the men in his family. The problem is that he is blind to it. He is in the throes of that family trance. What can we do about this dynamic for us in our lives? We can look at our repetitive patterns that don’t help us with an eye towards who came before us: our parents, their parents, and as far back as we can imagine. Sometimes it is very messy back there with divorces, alcoholism, loss, hurt, trauma of every kind. We can acknowledge their pain, care about them, but consciously choose to live differently. This is not easy, and takes a lot of work, because we often almost instinctively think, feel and live like them. If we can look clearly, love them in a way, but separate from them, accept them for who they are and give us permission to be successful, to be happy, to have good relationships, and step forward in a new way, we can live our fate and our own lives.
Shift Your Story: Guided Visualization/Meditation
I have a very simple yet powerful visualization which can help us to live our own fate and create a new legacy.
First of all, find a comfortable place and rest your feet gently on the floor in front of you. Breathe deeply two or three times and tune into your breathing. Close your eyes. Think of a pattern you find yourself repeating, and it could be words you find yourself saying over and over again, or an action. Is this pattern similar to those in your family; your parents, grandparents, etc? Maybe you become aware of words you say to yourself that you heard from your parents. Maybe you recognize that you too have trouble succeeding, or give your money away, or have failed relationships, and so on. See in your minds eye your parents standing behind you. See their parents standing behind them. Continue this “seeing” a few more generations. See and feel yourself standing in front of them, with your back to them. You are literally putting them behind you. Now step forward away from them and facing front for a new and open future. Imagine what that future would look like; or keep it open with possibility. Stand there feeling this image inside of you for a couple of minutes. Now become aware of your breathing, and slowly open your eyes.
How do you feel? Was this empowering at all or helpful? If not, why was it not? If so, stay with this feeling for a few minutes. You are stepping away from old patterns and moving towards something new you yourself are creating!