Turning Off the Autopilot and Being True to Self

March 12, 2012

This is a guest post written by Petrea Hansen Adamidis of ArtTherapist.ca.

The other day I was speaking with a parent who was expressing her frustration that her preschooler wasn’t saying”sorry ” when she asked him to. Rather than saying sorry he gave a hug. Despite pointing out that this was the child’s way of apologizing, the mother was stuck on the notion that her child should say “I’m sorry”. She had been taught that this was right. We chatted a bit more about the fact that many children learn to say “sorry” void of any genuine feelings.  They end up saying “sorry” automatically in order to comply.

This child was naturally being genuine.  He was acting from his heart, doing what he desired to do to make amends.  It was as sincere an expression one could expressYet it wasn’t enough for his mother because of how she had been programed to expect herself and in turn others to behave.

Unfortunately this is what happens for many of us. Going through life saying what we think others want us to say, doing what we think others want us to do.  We do it to please, to fit in, and ultimately to be accepted. Somewhere along the line we lose ourselves in this mascarade.

Others may feel satisfied on some level as we conform to the expected response, but at what cost? It becomes a charade of false expectations.  They don’t see us for who we truly are and thus miss out on a genuine experience; they miss out and so do we. As we begin to forget who we are, we forget what we are capable of, what we are meant to really do in this world.

Army Photography Contest - 2004 - FMWRC - Arts and Crafts - Yellow Corner

We are programmed from a very early age to fit in. We are taught to do as we are told, to think as we are told to, rather than to think for ourselves. Many teachers for example teach children to learn by rote, memorizing facts, rather than understanding or exploring them.

Living a life that is true to who you are is what living is all about. If I am too concerned about what others think, if I live a life that is more acceptable to others but not to me, then I am not being authentic to myself, I am more like an empty shell and less fulfilled. When I live from a place of authenticity I am alive vibrant and full of giving.

When I first decided to train to be an Art Therapist some 20 years ago, my father asked me if there were any jobs in the field.  I remember feeling a little discouraged by this, but being young and in my twenties I shook it off and pursued my studies in art therapy anyway even though I knew there were not many hiring art therapists at the time (not much has changed actually).

To this day I am thankful that I went ahead with the training, as my passion for the work led me to find many rewarding opportunities.

The gifts I have to offer are genuine and not forced. Not done or given because of a need to please or because I feel I should or because this means I will be seen as better in the eyes of others.

Living from my heart and giving from my soul I offer true gifts. Not gifts to bribe, satisfy or convince others. Not gifts that are given with strings attached.

This is not true giving.  This is not authentic.  This is a trap for both others and myself.

As a parent I have often found myself in the trap that my kids should show appreciation for what I have done (scripts I have picked up from my own childhood quite innocently and no doubt my parents have picked up from theirs).  Of course this is a set up: my original intention to do something from the heart then becomes overshadowed by these programed expectations.  When I don’t get the expected gratitude I then feel unappreciated.

This old traditional and cultural script can be expressed in an equation: self-value = acknowledgement and appreciation from others. Within this equation, the original genuine act of giving becomes tainted, distorted and forgotten.  My children no longer experience my actions as loving but as a reprimand or worse they may experience guilt.  Left unchecked they then learn to have the same expectations of others.  They learn to judge their experiences based on others’ feedback rather than trust their own inner guidance.

Now I’m not saying that we should totally ignore responses to our actions.  It is important to learn empathy at a young age through our interactions with others.  However, it is just as important to learn to trust one’s self and tune into one’s own feelings for guidance as well.

There are simple daily things that can be done to help with this.  We can de-program ourselves from these automatic learned scripts.  We can transcend the expectations and “shoulds” that get in our way of acting from our hearts, our true essence.

Imagine opening a door for someone without the expectation of a thank you. As simple as this seems, most of us have been brought up to believe that a thank you is in order, that others should show appreciation.  But how would it feel to open that door for the sake of helping another and just knowing that you have truly given without an expectation for getting something back?

In order to get back in touch with our inner guidance we need to practice mindfulness.  Being present in the situation and tuning into our feelings in that moment, while allowing other thoughts and expectations to flow past.  In this way we will not be influenced by the past scripts we may carry with us.

Tuning into your breath is one way of sorting through automatic emotions that may arise in a situation where you may be expecting a different outcome.  When we notice our breath it brings us back to the present.

Another way is to have a regular gratitude practice.  I like to do this visually, drawing or collaging the things I am grateful for in a day or in that week.  Every Friday at ArtTherapist.ca I have a Week End Reflection post where either through poetry, prose, photography or art, I reflect on what I am grateful for learning that week.  I invite you to join me there to share your reflections for the week with a link back to your blog if you have one, or to do on your own at home.

Petrea Hansen Adamidis R.C.A.T. is a Registered Art Therapist, a mom, artist, & an avid nature nut with over 18 years of experience working with children, families and adults. She is passionate about connecting families through the expressive arts, and connecting adults to their inner wisdom and muse. Join her at ArtTherapist.ca where she offers a free e-course “Free Your Inner Child” plus other creative resources to draw the self out.  Petrea is an engager in silliness extraordinaire and a therapeutic story weaver, who’ll take you on awesomely exciting yet relaxing adventures with her guided imagery meditations. Follow her on Twitter  or Facebook or Stop by her other blog on parenting at Offbeatfamily.com for some self-care meditations.