Think of a child car seat.
If you are a parent you probably had one (or more) in the back of your car as your children grew up.
Under most circumstances your baby started in a baby carrier and then progressed to getting strapped into their child seat (often with a lot of squirming and shouting).
Eventually your child is comfortable, securely seated and safe.
Eventually they get too big for the child seat, moving on to a booster seat, and finally they sit in the car just like everyone else.
Imagine, that for some strange reason, the child has to use the same little seat forever!
When they are small this is not a problem, the seat fits and they can be comfortably secure.
As they grow this gets more difficult, they get too big for the car seat, it’s too small the straps constrict them.
As they get even bigger this only gets worse.
Imagine a teenager crammed into a child’s seat.
Imagine an adult squashed into the child seat that once held them safe but is now their cramped prison.
In the outside world this is a ridiculous scenario, but in the inner world this kind of thing happens all the time.
Imagine growing up in a hostile family: as a child you have to find a way to survive in this situation. You need your care givers to feed and clothe you, to look after you and keep you safe, ideally until you are old enough to fend for yourself.
Keeping yourself safe in that kind of environment isn’t easy, you will soon learn ways to appease them, please them or avoid trouble and get just enough care to get by.
These necessary safety strategies and responses are often formed when we are the age when we would physically fit in a child seat.
This mental, emotional and behavioural ‘child seat’, keeps us more or less safe. We strap into it every day and hope for the best. Once we have a strategy that works we stick with it.
Since these strategies are familiar and run in well worn neural pathways, it’s much easier stick with them rather than having to find new ways of coping.
Unfortunately, while our circumstances may change our safety strategies and responses stay the same.
Even when we leave our family, we unconsciously cling to the strategies that used to work, even when they don’t fit our current circumstances.
For example if you had cruel parents that you had to appease, you would become very skilled at putting them first and looking after their needs, because your life depended on it.
Let’s imagine you leave this family far behind, never seeing them again. However long ago and far away it was it is as if those appeasement strategies are your goto way of being in the world.
Even though the ‘family car’ is long gone, you are still squashed into that ‘child seat’.
Unfortunately, once we have strapped ourselves into our solution it can be very hard to let it go. We may know at a conscious level that we no longer have to do this, but at some other level we can’t stop.
Sometimes, we can’t just talk ourselves out of it, we need help to release the straps and get out of that old solution that no longer serves us.