Many men go through life repeating the same self-destructive and dysfunctional behaviors. They may keep forming attachments to the wrong people or sacrifice themselves so much to others that they neglect their own needs or regard themselves as unworthy, no matter how much they achieve.
While these men say that they would like to live more fulfilling lives, they seem unable to change these patterns, which I call life traps. Life traps are developed in response to emotional damage caused during childhood. Repairing that damage requires three steps:
Learning to recognize the patterns.
Understanding what their origins were in childhood.
Working determined to confront and change the destructive behavior.
ORIGINS OF LIFE TRAPS
Life traps begin when our parents or others stronger than ourselves repeatedly mistreat us in some way. We become emotionally accustomed to the situations, no matter how unsatisfactory they may be. Then, as adults, we continue to create similar situations because that is all we know. Example: Tom’s parents, Holocaust survivors, were terrified that something might happen to their son and discouraged his enjoyment of everyday activities by continually warning him of remote dangers like being trapped in the subway or drowning. The Result – At age 45, Tom was a self-imposed prisoner and hoarder in his own home, dependent on tranquilizers and paralyzed by fear of the outside.
ELEVEN COMMON LIFE TRAPS
1) Vulnerability – Do you live in fear that disaster – whether natural, criminal, medical or financial is about to strike? Do you tend to exaggerate the danger in everyday situations? As a child, you were probably over protected by parents who constantly warned you about dangers.
2) Defectiveness – Do you feel flawed – like there is something wrong with you? This is found in those who were constantly criticized as children and never given respect. As adults, they still expect rejection and, therefore, fear love.
3) Subjugation – Do you sacrifice your needs and desires in favor of other people’s needs for fear that they will reject you or because you will feel guilty if you please yourself instead? This life trap stems from childhood subjugation or from a parent who was needy.
4) Unrelenting standards – Do you always strive for unrealistically high standards and never feel satisfied with yourself or others? You were probably told as a child that nothing you did was good enough and that anything less than the best was failure.
5) Entitlement – Do you feel that you should have whatever you want right now? Impatient adults who disregard others were likely spoiled children and some never learned self-discipline.
6) Emotional Deprivation – Do you feel that nobody truly understands or loves you? This life trap affects people whose parents gave them inadequate nurturance. As adults, they tend to be attracted to others who are cold and unforgiving or even act that way themselves. In either case, they form relationships that only fulfill their negative expectations.
7) Failure – Do you believe your achievements are inadequate? This life trap develops in children who are constantly told often by their fathers that they are inferior and are tagged stupid, lazy, and untalented. As adults, they tend to act in ways that make them fail and they cannot admit or identify their actual successes.
8) Abandonment – Are you constantly fearful that those close to you will desert you or die? These fears are a response to loss or separation from a parent at an early age or to an emotionally remote mother or father. Many men caught in this life trap are drawn to women who are likely to abandon them, and their fear often makes them cling so tightly that they drive women away.
9) Mistrust – Do you expect to be hurt or abused? Mistrustful adults were often abused physically, sexually or psychologically during childhood. As adults, they are drawn to abusive or untrustworthy partners, and with good partners they may themselves be angry or abusive.
10) Dependence – Do you feel unable to handle everyday events and problems without a lot of help? This develops in those who were made to feel incompetent whenever they tried to demonstrate independence during childhood. As adults, they seek out strong figures to rule their lives and shrink from showing any initiative.
11) Social Exclusion – Do you feel different from other people or ill at ease in group surroundings? As a child, you may have felt rejection by others because of some difference. As an adult, though you might feel comfortable in intimate settings, you still may feel uncomfortable in groups.
HOW TO BREAK FREE
You can escape from life traps. Negative patterns formed in childhood can be changed, provided you make a conscious decision to confront your problem. But you must first decide what positive life goals you are seeking. When you identify your own needs and aspirations, not those forced on you by society or as a child, you will realize how the negative patterns locked in by your life traps prevent you from fulfilling your goals. Then you are ready to change.
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