The truth about why you’re stuck in unhelpful behaviour and what to do about it.
I knew this was coming weeks ago but I kept putting it off. Now there’s only 4 days left to go and I’m starting to feel a rising sense of panic. An old friend I haven’t seen in years is coming to stay. I know it will be lovely to see her, but somehow the excitement is being drowned out by the nagging voice in my head.
I notice all the things around the house that I normally don’t see. The peeling wallpaper, the frayed fabric on the arms of my decades-old sofa. There’s dust and dog hair at the edges of the carpets. Not to mention the piles of books and papers on every available surface.
I mentally run through all the places in the house that she’s likely to see, and then start to write a list of what to tackle first. I start to clear a space on the kitchen worktop, and then get distracted by all the chipped plates and mugs.
“OMG what will she think of me!?”
I spend hours tidying and cleaning, and find myself waking up in the night to add more things to the list.
The stress and worry is all getting too much.
“Should I cancel? I could say I’ve got Covid (or bird flu?!)”
I should know better, but this pattern runs deep and it can take over if you’re not watching out for it.
If you relate to this then you’re not alone.
All that stress and frenzied tidying just because someone’s coming to stay….. ?
Look closely at what’s going on.
What’s all that about?!!
If you slow everything right down, you can see better what’s going on. You know something is about to happen that’s potentially uncomfortable. You’re feeling threatened because you might be judged by this person you haven’t seen in years.
Your mind tries to keep you safe by thinking through all the scenarios of what could happen, and you jump into activity to try to stop the threat.
But at normal speed, you’re not aware that you’re doing it. You’re on autopilot, unconsciously doing what you think will keep you safe. (In this case, cleaning and tidying.)
Your behaviour isn’t random, there’s a pattern.
This kind of thing happens to all of us at some point. But for some people this happens all the time. It might be different situations, and different activities but they’re all done unconsciously on the same autopilot.
Maybe for you it’s over-working, spending long hours in the evenings and weekends ‘just keeping on top of things’. Maybe you’re always trying to keep other people happy. Unconsciously doing whatever it takes, even if it makes YOU unhappy in the process.
The reason you’re doing all these things is that there’s a ‘monster’ under your bed and you’re not even aware of it. To overcome these struggles, you need to drag that monster out from under the bed and take a good look at it. That monster is the huge lie you’ve been told all your life. I’m here to expose that lie, and instead, tell you the real truth!
The world we live in teaches us that you just need to ‘try harder’. Or you just need to be more tough or ‘get over yourself’. We’re led to believe that staying in our heads is how you get on in life, avoiding anything emotional, and instead staying ‘rational’.
That means we learn that everything that’s uncomfortable and ‘messy’ should be shoved down and ignored. We’re taught not to engage with emotions but instead to block those out so we can ‘function’ like everyone else.
It’s often our childhood that shapes our behaviour.
This stems from our early childhood. We’re not taught how to engage with our feelings, or anything about our needs. If you had an unhappy childhood, you’ll probably remember things that happened that made you uncomfortable. Even if you had an ‘ok’ childhood, there are probably things that happened that were unpleasant, and where your needs went unmet.
We all need to feel seen and valued, to be listened to and cared about. Many of us didn’t have that, but we had no way of knowing that these are core basic needs that all humans have.
When our needs go unmet we experience negative emotions – but we’re not ‘allowed’ to express these so we learn to push them down.
As children, when we experience our needs repeatedly going unmet, we learn to block them out. And instead we unconsciously develop tendencies and behaviours that seek to get those needs met.
For example …
Imagine you had a demanding mother who was constantly critical of you. You might learn that things have to be done in a certain way to keep her happy. And without being aware of it, you might develop anxiety, and the habit of overthinking everything. You do this because of an unmet need. Your need to be loved and accepted just as you are, went unmet. You’re subconsciously trying to get that need met, by making sure that whatever you do meets other people’s expectations. And you go through life thinking this is some flaw in your personality, and that you just need to ‘get over yourself’ and chill a bit more.
The truth is, you’re not flawed. And you don’t need to work harder or get over yourself. The truth is all of your behaviours are subconsciously trying to get your needs met. Those needs that went unmet in childhood. And because you’re unaware that you have these needs, or how to meet them effectively, you get stuck in this unhelpful behaviour loop.
Here’s how to get out of this unhelpful behaviour loop.
The way to get out of this unhelpful loop is to get your needs met. And in order to meet your needs you must first figure out what they are. To figure out what your needs are you need to stop thinking and start feeling.
This is the work that I do. It’s what brings me joy and purpose, and gets me out of bed in the morning. I care about helping people get in touch with their emotions, so they can get their needs met. I’ve developed a process that enables people to meet the unconscious needs of their younger self. It resolves suffering and leads to a happier life.
I’ve had a decades long journey with this myself, and it’s still ongoing. I still fall into the trap of staying in my head sometimes, because it’s a habit. And it seems like the ‘easier’ thing to do.
The key to a happier life is to be aware of the underlying swirl of emotions and needs that goes on inside us all the time. And then to pay attention to meeting those needs.
We all have habits and behaviours that we do repeatedly that are unhelpful. Getting stressed over seemingly small things, we make life harder for ourselves than it needs to be. We assume that this is all just because we’re flawed, and we need to try harder and get a grip on ourselves.
But the truth is all of these unhelpful behaviours happen because we have unmet needs that started in childhood. When we can meet those unconscious needs from childhood, we have a ‘blueprint’ for meeting those same needs throughout our lives. We don’t need to be stuck in that unhelpful loop anymore. We can consciously get ourselves unstuck and back on track to living a happier life.
In the story of my friend coming to stay, my cleaning and tidying was an unconscious attempt to get my needs met. My need to be ‘approved of’, and accepted as myself. When I was able to sit with this and realise what was happening, I could give myself that approval and acceptance that I needed. And remind myself that my friend still loves and cares for me even if I have chipped plates and peeling wallpaper!