“I feel so damaged.”
These were the words I heard recently from a friend, and it broke my heart. She had just become aware of a pattern in many of her relationships that has caused decades of struggling. She saw how it originated in her childhood, and she felt hopeless that it could ever change.
I didn’t say it, but secretly I was happy – because becoming aware of an old pattern is the first giant step toward being free of it.
The Myth of Damage
Who among us has not felt damaged? If we commit to authenticity in our lives, to not leaving one stone unturned, we will eventually come across these overlooked places in ourselves. We discover pockets of conditioning that make us feel needy or have led us to act in ways that are less than admirable. We may have even hurt others or ourselves. It’s easy to feel flawed.
But there is a misunderstanding in identifying ourselves as damaged. Because here is the truth: You did not come into the world damaged. Your original source, who you are, is whole, fulfilled, creative, completely at peace, loved and loving.
If you feel damaged, you have forgotten the truth of the matter. Unbeknownst to you, a layer of false identity has been shielding you from yourself. You are absorbed in a learned behavioral habit that, at one time, you needed for your survival.
Now is the time to remember who you are.
Unwinding the Habit
We are born innocent, filled with so much potential, virtually free of psychological scars. Then life brings us challenges. Our needs are not adequately met. Our feelings are rejected or minimized. We may have been criticized, pressured, demeaned, or even abused.
We don’t have the skills and support to manage our emotional reactions, so our feelings go underground, out of conscious awareness. We develop belief systems and strategies to make our way in the world. And we take on identities – as unworthy, entitled, bitter, or afraid.
My friend Melanie grew up with a single mother who gave her the silent treatment for days whenever she made the slightest infraction. Can you imagine what this would do to a little girl? She lived in fear of making mistakes, and her whole focus was on the fruitless task of pleasing her mother. Even now, decades later, she catches herself expecting to be rejected by friends and co-workers if she speaks her mind.
Faced with these untenable situations, our original face, our essence or true nature, gets covered over, obscured by whirling thoughts and desperate behaviors trying to make sense of the confusion. And these tendencies are very deeply ingrained because we become masters of them so early on in life.
Imagine walking back and forth on the same 5-foot stretch of ground day after day, year after year. The groove becomes a ditch which becomes a chasm. We can’t fathom that another way is possible. No wonder we call ourselves damaged.
But you are not damaged (so you can stop telling yourself that you are). Take away what you have learned from your experiences, and what is revealed is the unconditioned you. You are whole, clear, undisturbed, open.
Doing the Work
Working with these habits that have become your foundation takes patience, perseverance, and love. See if you can make these habits an ally rather than an enemy. Let them walk with you, if they need to, but don’t let them rule your life. They may not disappear, but you will see the potential in each moment to make a new and different choice.
- Study the pattern so you can recognize it easily.
- See how it served you at some point in your life – but no longer.
- Be willing to let it soften. You are saying, “Yes!” to life.
- Prepare yourself to feel and act differently.
- Try out a new response or behavior.
On the road to reclaiming yourself, you will forget and lose your way, and this is not a problem. Keep at it, and eventually there will be chinks in the armor. You will notice space and flexibility where before was contraction and habit.
Are you damaged? Impossible. Consider that you are whole. Discover that love is closer than close. Restore yourself to your natural state, and you will see that damage is a figment of your imagination.
Do you recognize yourself as whole? Can you see that the ways you have learned to protect yourself are not who you are? I’d love to hear…