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Moving on, a New Year and a New You

Rule #1 of life. Do what makes you happy - unknown

‘The book is called Opportunity, and its first page is New Year’s Day’
Edith Lovejoy Pierce

‘The other day, I made the decision to move house. It’s time to leave. I’ve been like the curator of a museum for too long. And the funny thing is, when I made the decision, I said to myself ‘I’m proud of you, Craig’ and it felt really emotional.’’

Craig’s wife, Louise, had died just before New Year’s Eve more than five years ago. He had dealt stoically with her terminal illness, dealt with her death and dealt with the aftermath too, supporting the children in their grief. Then, he just got on with his life.

Louise and he had planned their retirement, and now Craig tried to carry out their plans, but on his own. The routine stayed the same; shopping on Monday, cleaning on Tuesday, golf on Wednesday, an annual holiday to Bournemouth with the family, and so on. It seemed okay for a while but, one morning, Craig hit an invisible wall.

A deep depression descended on him and he now started to question how he was living his life.

What I was interested in was why Craig had felt so emotional when he said the words ‘I feel proud of you’ to himself. It seemed to me this had been a real turning point for him and very significant.

Be a good boy

The idea of who we are and what is expected of us develops in childhood. This is driven by, and is under pinned by, the many core beliefs implanted by our environment, culture and family. Like many children of the 40s and 50s, Craig was the product of a rigid parenting style. There were many unwritten rules and expectations in his family which had become internalised as deeply held beliefs and it felt to Craig like the love of his parents was dependent upon him always being compliant. The ‘rules’ were:

  1. Be a good boy
  2. Do as you are told
  3. Don’t question authority
  4. Respect your elders
  5. Don’t rock the boat
  6. Don’t make a fuss
  7. Just get on with it
  8. Put others first
  9. Boys don’t cry

When we looked at these powerful beliefs, Craig realised he had unknowingly been driven by them all his adult life and, even though his parents were long dead, he was still trying to please them; still trying to win their love.

So, when his wife died, he just got on with it, didn’t make a fuss, put everyone else first and didn’t cry. Craig had always wanted his parents’ approval but it was with a deep sense of sadness that he realised they had never actually told him they were proud of him.

When he chose to say those words to him self, everything began to change. Professionally, I would describe it as a shift in his ‘locus of evaluation’. In a sense, in that moment, he became his own parent and his own best friend. It explained why the experience had felt so emotional, as he began to release himself from ‘the tyranny of the shoulds’ and the old expectations of the past.

Unconditional love

Those words, and what they represented, were so significant for my client, I wanted to help him by bringing into the light something which had been sitting in his subconscious mind for so many years. Harnessing the imagination in guided visualisation is powerful stuff, and something I use regularly as a professional tool.

After I had shown my client how to relax very deeply, I gently spoke to him. Craig loved the beach and had identified it as a good place to go and relax and meditate, so I used the beach as a setting for an exercise I hoped would finally resolve his inner conflict.

A script for resolution of childhood issues

‘Craig, you might now find yourself on that familiar beach with soft, golden sand and a turquoise sea

Noticing the movement of the waves as they gently lap the shore

Seeing the shimmering light reflecting on the surface

Gazing out to that distant horizon where the sky comes down to meet the water

Observing the smooth, calm, serene surface of the sea.

And while a part of you can just relax and breathe stress away

Another part of you can become aware of a young boy standing at the edge of the water

And he is you, aged seven, feeling so sad and wanting so badly to hear those special words that mean so much to him

Longing to know he is loved and he is accepted

That he is good enough, just as he is

And, in your imagination, you can walk towards him, reach out and hold him close

And you, the adult, can tell that little boy exactly what he needs to hear ‘Craig I am so proud of you’

And you can fold your arms around him now, support him and make him a promise

‘Craig, I will always be here for you. I will always support you and I will guide you. You have nothing to prove. You do not need to win my love. I love you, just as you are.’

As I gently spoke the words to Craig, large silent tears rolled down his cheek from behind closed eyes and he let out a long sigh like he was setting down a heavy burden. In his imagination, I encouraged him to throw away the old rulebook that had controlled him for so long, watching it sink without trace into the deep blue sea.

Now he was finally free to live his own life, rather than that designated for him by his childhood conditioning. Afterwards, he told me the experience was ‘cathartic’.

These days, Craig describes himself as ‘a work in progress.’ He’s moved on with his plans to relocate and, with every cupboard he clears, and every box he sends to the charity shop, he says he feels lighter and less burdened.

Five years after the death of his wife, as another New Year approached, Craig had a moment of insight about endings, beginnings and the power of letting go that would change his life forever.

Moving on

Moving from one year to another is much like moving house and, in that moment of transition from the one to the other, we have a choice about what we take with us and what we leave behind.

As Craig came to realise, a New Year, like a new house, promises so much and presents us with a true opportunity for a fresh start. It reminded me of a quote from author/philosopher Vern Mclellan

‘What the New Year brings to us will depend on what we bring to the New Year’

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.