Relationships and the Creative Practitioner

I’ve been working through Benjamin Hardy‘s 30 Behaviours to Make You Unstoppable in 2019 in the hope it will help me find a way to achieve my life goals. I don’t want to be a millionaire or anything, I’d just like to make enough to travel a little, buy the odd book, and replace my fraying knickers; be as good a wife as D is a husband; and, when the time comes, leave the world in a slightly better state than I entered it. This week I look at behaviours 10 and 11, which are almost identical.

10. Deepen Your Relationship With Your Parents

“The parent-child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to mankind.”Bessel van der Kolk

In the important book, The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel van der Kolk M.D. explains that suppressed emotions and trauma lead people to unhealthy and addictive cycles.

One of the most fundamental components of making a positive change in your life is developing a healthy relationship with your parents — whether they are alive or not.

Your relationship with your parents is a powerful indicator of your emotional well-being as a person. It doesn’t matter how “successful” you appear on the outside, if you don’t have this key relationship established, then chances are you are an emotional wreck.

Oftentimes, people have “toxic” or unhealthy parents. These parents should be viewed and treated with love and forgiveness, not spite and disdain. As you improve your own life and deepen the relationship with your parents, you often give them permission to expand and evolve themselves.

They need you just as much as you need them.

Henry Moore: Mother and Child

I don’t really have much to say about my relationship with my parents. They are both dead. My mother died in 2006, she was 79, and had been very ill for a long time. It’s safe to say that she was a very conflicted woman: I have memories of her dragging me round a feminist march one weekend, and an anti-abortion one the next. I’m not kidding. She fought her employers to allow women to wear trousers, and won, but let my brother off household chores because he was a boy. We came to blows more than once as I was growing up, and I felt guilty till well into my forties for slapping her back when I was sixteen, but by the time she died we had long been friends.

As for my father, he died when I was thirteen. I was really pissed off with him for leaving us, and for years I dreamt he was still alive (my mother was lying, she’d kicked him out!) and one day I’d meet him in a café on the Brompton Road and we’d discuss philosophy. Then on the evening of the day my mother died I learnt that my father had been a different dad to my wee brother. Rather than the super-rational man I turned to to help in the battle against my mother’s over-constraining Catholicism, he’d been so thuggish that, when he grew up and fell in love, my brother couldn’t bring himself to have his own kids for fear fatherhood would bring out the brute in him too. He couldn’t bear the thought he might hurt his kids as dad had hurt him. As you can imagine that took a bit of dealing with: I was furious with him (my father) for hurting my brother, and for deceiving me. And I was even more furious with myself for not seeing this was going on, and protecting my brother. What kind of sister doesn’t see that her wee brother is being bullied? I’m not sure I can say I’ve forgiven my father for that, but I know how complex each person is, and that it’s very difficult to break out of the mould you were cast in. I don’t forgive him for hurting my brother, but I forgive him for not having had the emotional resources necessary not to.

I’m not sure I could ever have described my parents as toxic, that seems a bit strong, but unhealthy? Somewhat. And although I probably did think of them both with a modicum of disdain (never spite) in my younger years, I reckon my relationship with them has been pretty healthy for sometime. I tend to think of them as victims of their own circumstances, and no one can be blamed for that. Maybe that’s why I’m not ‘an emotional wreck.’ That ‘key relationship’ is, for me, about as good as it can be.

Montmartre, Paris, 1948. Photo: Édouard Boubat.

11. Develop Other “Protection” Relationships

In a recent interview, Kobe Bryant told the story of his first year playing basketball at age 11. He scored zero points. He was terrible.

After that season, his dad looked him in the eyes and said, “I don’t care if you scored 60 points or 0 points. I will love you no matter what.”

That was exactly what Kobe needed to hear. He knew that regardless of his behavior — he was safe. His father would love him.

This protection gave Kobe permission to fail. It gave him permission to take risks. The buffer of his father’s love allowed Kobe to step outside of his comfort zone — to the only place high performance can exist.

If you don’t feel protected in your relationships, it can be hard to push your own boundaries. It can be hard to be free because you’re actually a slave to the relationship. This is living in an unhealthy dependent state where everything you do is based on trying to please other people.

But when you feel loved and protected regardless of outcomes, then you can rise to independence and attempt things that will likely fail, often.

The next season, Kobe began failing intensely and as a result, he began learning intensely. He left his comfort zone behind and began playing in the realms of creativity and imagination — where no limits were placed upon him.

All he had to do was step beyond the boundaries of who he had been in the past, and step into the new role and identity emblazoned in his own imagination and fortified by his father’s love.

He embraced the unknown over and over because he was willing to be free — free to see what was possible, to fail, to explore, to create. Free to become legendary.

Do you have powerful protection relationships in your life?

Do you feel stabilized and safe?

Do you have a firm foundation that allows you the flexibility to jump way outside of your comfort zone, and yet be safe?

Although I find it slightly irritating that Hardy chose to use a parent-child relationship as his example here, I can’t tell you how validating this is. For thirty years I was in a relationship that was so destabilizing that, for the final five or six years, I was barely able to leave the house, let alone push a boundary. My husband had a way of uttering encouraging words in a manner (tone of voice, body language) that suggested I would always be a failure. Yes, I was ‘stunning’ and ‘incredibly intelligent,’ but ‘what do you say to someone with a philosophy degree…? “Big Mac and fries, please” ha ha ha.’ I kept trying to do interesting things, but I’d always lose momentum. I did get two degrees while we were married, and even won an award for academic excellence, but he managed to make my achievements sound paltry, laughable even, and I couldn’t see what to do with them once I’d got them.

But I don’t think I’d have got those degrees and awards in a happy marriage. It was trying to please him, that made me enrol at university. I was so afraid he’d get bored with my stupidity, and leave, I decided I had to try and do something about it. And now here I am, with a bunch of skills I’m putting to good use, and a dream husband. So, although that marriage was often very difficult, and I was pretty sad and lonely for most of it, I’m grateful to my ex for bringing out the best in me.

And now I’m lucky enough to have one of those ‘protection relationships’ Hardy talks about, too. And he’s right, it does allow me to take risks, push boundaries, be creative. I’ve begun to ‘step out of my comfort zone’ almost daily. Even writing this – slightly too personal stuff on a blog that could be read by anyone – would have been impossibly excruciating in my last relationship. My thinking now is that it may help another creative to think their way past some obstacle, and break free. And that’s only possible now I feel ‘safe’ and loved for myself rather than as an accessory. Even though Dave is the kind of man who doesn’t believe in letting the world know his personal difficulties he doesn’t mock me for being different to him, in fact he delights in my idiosyncrasies. I feel I could try anything and he would support me. We’ve been together seven years, and not having to constantly defend myself has taken quite some getting used to, but I’m finally beginning to feel empowered. I can now push myself. Take risks. I’m no longer afraid of failing, of looking like an idiot and giving the person in my life ammunition against me.

It remains to be seen if any of this translates to my achieving my life goals, but it certainly feels possible. I wouldn’t have dared have life goals when married to my ex.


Header image: Chekhov and His Wife, Olga L. Knipper.

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