Lessons learned — ever notice how the same issues keep repeating — that all that changes is the cast of characters? Here’s why — you have to get the lesson!
A lesson is repeated until learned. It is presented to you in various forms until you learn it – then you can go on to the next lesson.
Well now. Here’s an interesting concept. Lessons are repeated, in various forms, until they are learned.
This is one of the biggest challenges in counselling. Getting people to a) recognize that what they are doing now, with this person / situation is identical with what got them into their last mess. Then, b) doing something different!
It’s like a bad Monty Python sketch, it’s “You’re doing it again!” “Am not!”
My present favourite is:
“I totally screwed up my last relationship, and have no clue how to relate, but boy am I going to keep doing what I think will work!”
Lessons, unfortunately, do not care that this time, you really mean for things to come out differently. Do the same thing, get the same results, every time.
It all starts when we’re kids.
Say you had an odd relationship with your mother. Say that, for all your life, you’ve wanted your mother’s love. Your mother’s form of love was to give or withhold love on the basis of what you do. You therefore learn to look for approval from your mother by endlessly changing your behaviour to more accurately reflect what you think your mother wants. (Notice, by the way, how confusing the language becomes when you own the actual process.)
In the end, though, even when you get approval for a behaviour, you know, in your heart of hearts, it’s the behaviour, not you, that she approves of. You believe, in your heart of hearts, that she doesn’t really love you. Or so you tell yourself.
As a kid, this was impossible to understand, let alone resolve. The complexities were too much for your young mind and heart to untangle.
Heavy of heart, you turn 18, go off to University or to work, thinking you’ve left the problem behind. And there, away from home, whom should you meet? Your mother in drag. Your mother in your girlfriend / boyfriend. Your mother in your boss. Your mother in your professor. And the dance begins again.
You find yourself trying to win the person’s attention. How? By doing what you always did with good old mom. You endlessly modify your behaviour, trying to please. You may meet with some success, but soon you may realize you are doing things for approval that you don’t want to do. (Sex in exchange for attention is an obvious one, as well as being the one to blame, pretending to be the cause of the other person’s problems, whatever.) So, you leave the situation.
And you meet your mother again. Until you decide to get the lesson.
Getting our lessons is tricky until you remember one thing. It’s your lesson, so it’s totally about you.
I was driving in the country recently, and I was thinking about this article, and about using driving as an illustration. Say you’re driving along. Someone pulls out in front of you. You hit them, or swerve and end up in a ditch. Not a good experience.
Now, imagine if the lesson you took from that is that everyone else should learn not to pull out in front of you, because it’s wrong and because it’s not fair. So, what are you going to do? Take out ads? Buy radio spots?
Darbella and I met a woman on a nude beach in Jamaica. She loudly told a Jamaican peddler (of which there are a couple) not to bother her, and then was annoyed when another peddler had the audacity to bother her. She said, “I told them to leave me alone. Why won’t they listen?” Somehow, she thought telling one person would filter up and down the beach. She was quite annoyed at their problem “getting it.”
One wonders who really has the problem.
So, driving along, maybe the lesson is to pay attention and watch approaching drivers. Maybe it’s to take a Skid School or Defensive Driving course. It’s never going to be getting all the other people to stop pulling out. It’s going to be me, knowing what to do when they do.
A lesson is learned when we see it coming, maybe even fall for it a bit, and then step back, say, “Nope. I don’t go there any more.” No “trying to change anyone else.” A lesson is learned when I learn it by changing my own behaviour.
Look for the patterns in your life, the dramas that keep repeating. Look for issues and personality types that keep showing up in unpleasant ways. There are your lessons. Now, try another approach. Let go of “what I’ve always done.” Embrace alternatives. Ask your tribe, your circle of friends, for suggestions.
Soon, the lesson will be learned.