Unhealthy beliefs about ourselves and the world, instilled in childhood, become rigid rules that may need to be violated. Family dictums such as, “don’t talk about it”, “don’t share feelings”, or “it’s selfish to take care of yourself,” are some of the old beliefs that have ruled us and must be challenged if we are to find inner peace. We can expect, and even celebrate, uncomfortable feelings when they come up for us, learning to see them as opportunities for freeing ourselves of the painful beliefs that keep us trapped in negative patterns of behaviour.
Sometimes we simply need to sit with an uncomfortable feeling such as guilt, without acting on it. Guilt does not necessarily imply that we have behaved wrong or unethically. Guilt is often a learned response. Sometimes guilt just means that we’ve broken a dysfunctional family pattern.
I am reminded of a story I often hear among therapeutic circles about the way to cook a ham.
A little girl noticed her mother cutting the butt end off the ham to cook it for the family holiday dinner and asked, “Why do you cut off the end to cook it?” The mother without giving it a moment’s thought, replied, “Why, this is the way my mother always cooked a ham, so I know it’s the right way to do it!” Well, the little girls grandmother happened to live close by, so she visited her and asked her the same question, “Grandma, why do you cut the butt end off the ham before you cook it?” Her grandmother replied that her mother had taught her to cook a ham like that. Great granny happened to be visiting for the holiday so the little girl went to her and asked the same question — and this time she got the “real” answer “Child, when I was cooking hams back then, I only owned one baking pan and it was too small to hold a whole ham so I would cut the butt end off the ham to make it fit!”
This is how it happens. We follow, without question, family dictums and internalized beliefs that create nothing but misery.