“Children are great observers but poor interpreters.”

Rudolf Dreikurs, parent educator, author and psychologist

Why this feeling?
When we were children, one of the ways we could create the illusion life was not careening out of control when scary or sad things happened, was to blame ourselves. To do otherwise was to feel too powerless. Blaming ourselves was an amazingly creative coping mechanism that gave us the feeling we could do something after all, even though this way of coping cost us too much then and now.

The actual punishment. In fact, this very habit of feeling and thinking we are being punished so we can avoid a sense of limitation takes on a life of it’s own, creating the pain of punishment while also continuing to be a nice diversion tactic from facing what is. The awesome news: You are not being punished. You don’t ever deserve to be punished. And you never have. In your own individual, subjective and private way, you make perfect sense, you have a good reason for what’s happening in you, and it’s not your fault. You have also frequently interpreted the behavior of others, the circumstances of your life and your immense inner power poorly. And, here are some ways to start changing things if want to stop that cycle:

Let your life be real. It’s time to take up a new coping habit of opening to what you are experiencing, knowing you can face it, especially when your first inclination is to resist. Allow and breathe into every experience as if you have opened a door within you and allowed whatever is there to enter, without judgment, or an agenda. That includes your prejudices, snap judgments, fixed expectations, the desire to convert, heal, or fix life, others or yourself. It includes noticing the urge to win, the fear of looking like a fool, the need to control and much more. It includes your most personal experiences, such as your hidden grief’s, hatreds, or terrors. It’s a time of risk, unveiling and courage, and can feel a little like dying. It is. But, it’s the death of the caterpillar inside the chrysalis.

Get kind and curious. Approach what you are thinking and feeling at all times with a sense of wonder. One key reason for doing so is that unless you sink below your initial surface feelings, you won’t get to the limiting beliefs that now effect you but have been doing so below your consciousness and have been blocking your current reality and innate wisdom. This new habit of opening with curiosity especially when you feel scared, sad and disappointed, and to stay with this process until you reach what’s underneath, can take nano-seconds once you master this new habit.

Have the courage to be imperfect. The truth is, we all need to be more human or rather, embrace how human we actually are. In order to do so, you must look at reality with appreciation. What is your typical process when you feel frustrated, confused, sad or paralyzed; the days when you’re not getting along with others, feel you have no friends and no life, when you are discouraged? Do you stay present to you or do you grab a few favorite distractions such as food, alcohol, technology, guilt, sex or work to avoid what you’re thinking and feeling? Decide to face yourself and have compassion and care for whatever you find.

Question everything. Look at life from all angles. Do you believe people must suffer when they do wrong? Why? Do you believe you can’t be a radically honest, assertive, and authentic person AND be liked? Are you sure? Do you think being truthful and loving always needs to look and sound pleasant? Really? Do you need love, approval and acceptance from others? What if you have that all backwards and only need to love, approve and accept yourself and others? Be willing to look through a new lens and confront your illusions of security, and what is good and bad. Open to exchange what you are holding onto (that isn’t working) for a bigger and longer-lasting adventure. Commit to knowing what you want and going for it.

Let your life be your friend. Treat every experience as the perfect next way to learn about yourself, become more fully you, and free yourself to even greater joy. There is a bold life within your reach. It’s within YOU, but you must first reach within, past all protections and illusions so you find your way back to your wisdom and your joy.

This article was inspired by a good friend who said to me, “I often have this very real feeling: Am I being punished for something?” I am happy to provide this article in response to her and all of you.

Judy Ryan (judy@LifeworkSystems.com), human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Her mission is to help people create lives and jobs they love. She can be reached at 314-239-4727.As published nationally in Women’s Journals, August/September 2015