We all know that patterns from the past tend to repeat themselves. What we don't always realise, is how intense those effects can be. We can spend years, or decades, fighting ugly and exhausting battles for no other reason that that we are trying to resolve some situation from the past that we keep holding on to.
Take this example, of an elderly woman (72) who called me today. My colleagues say she has been calling them for months already. For some reason, she decided it was my turn now.
She asked about a legal case, for which she went to court yesterday. She'd been hoping for a resolution, but the case was postphoned again to March and she wanted to know, "When is this going to end??" Upon closer inspection, the case had been going on for nine years. It concerned an inheritance - money and stock options - from her aunt, who had passed away without clear instructions. Both herself and a cousin (daughter of a sibling, not of the deceased aunt) had a claim on the inheritance, and apparently between the both of them and the whole court system, they could not figure it out.
"Do you need the money?" I asked her.
"Huh? No. Not really. I'm fine financially."
"Ok. Clearly this case is bothering you a lot, you're having a difficult time coping with it. If you don't need the money, why is it such a big deal that you spent the last nine years on it?" Because to me, this situation doesn't make logical sense. She didn't feel greedy, or like she had kids who wanted more money and were pushing her to it. She felt obsessive, neurotic, almost panicked. No healthy, stable, well-adjusted 60some goes to spend the next nine years in a constant angry battle over something she doesn't particularly need or want. There are better things to do with what life you have left.
"But I can get it, right? So then you have to ..." She trailed off muttering.
After some further questioning, the whole mess started to make a little more sense. Oddly enough, as she was answering my questions, she sounded like no one had ever asked them before. She was so caught up in "Am I going to get the money? Do I talk to the lawyer some more?" that she hadn't stopped to see what it was her life was telling her, and why this was happening.
Here's the story.
When she was a little girl, she lived with her mother. I'm not sure where the father was. Her mother, however, had five other children, which was just a lot of work, and cost a lot of time and money. As a solution, when she was 6 or 7, the oldest was sent to live with an aunt, so her mother didn't have to deal with her anymore. One less, and all. Her aunt raised her until she was sixteen, took care of her and presumably provided for her while her mother spent all her time and resources on her younger siblings.
Then, when her aunt died, a younger relative, much like her siblings, came into the picture and was going to get the inheritance while she got nothing from the woman who had acted as her mother for most of her youth.
Of course she was angry, and fighting to get what she was owed. But she wasn't fighting for money. She wanted recognition, for someone to say that she mattered, that she was at least as important as a younger relative, that she deserved to be looked after and taken care of and supported. And she didn't want it from her aunt. Her aunt was dead, and had given her these things all her life. She wanted it from her mother. The one who had withdrawn all these things at such an early age. And she wanted a big male authority figure, like a judge, or a dad, to step in and make it so. That's what she had been fighting for all these years.
Not for the money. Not because she didn't like her cousin. Not even because she loved her aunt. She wanted to put right the pain and emotional neglect from her childhood.
I explained to her that this situation had come into her life to help her heal these wounds from her past, and that until she did, the situation would continue to draw itself out. It was there to remind her, to push her to deal with the baggage she had carried all her life. The way to ending this nine year long battle and to put all the anger and aggression to rest, was to work through the feelings of abandonment and irrelevance from way back. Not to beat a cousin in a fight for money.
I don't know if she heard me, or if she is going to do the work. I hope she will. But even if she doesn't, maybe her story can help someone else. Don't spend all your life fighting battles with the people around you, over harm that was done decades ago, by entirely different people. If the cause of your fighting is in the past, deal with the past. Don't let it steal your todays and tomorrows.
Next time, a story from someone under 30. Because those call too, and have wonderful stories of their own. It just seems like the grandmothers are the ones bringing in the stories of a whole life - big and rich and messy but also really beautiful.