One of the things that gets me excited to wake up in the morning is that I never know what people are going to be talking about on my pages. What emails or texts I might get about one or another issue. What will be a theme for the day? How can I help people?
Well, today what came up is painful childhoods. Abusive step-parents, bullying, neglect. Painful stuff, damaging our self-worth and what I call “self-love.” Without it, we search for love outside ourselves.
For instance: I have a student who has a girlfriend who is more sexually experienced than he is.
He won’t leave her, but thinks of her as slutty. Wants to be the greatest lover she’s ever had, and is constantly repelled and angered by her descriptions of previous affairs and their…attributes.
He constantly asks what’s wrong with her. My answer is that as far as he’s concerned, NOTHING is wrong with her. If she has half a brain she knows he considers her “slutty” and if she has any sense at all, knows that he would throw that in her face in an argument. So it would be stupid to ever open her heart to him, risking real damage. So she attacks him in his insecurity, so that he will either run away or, finally…grow the @#$$ up and take responsibility for his own emotions. He is stuck in the “dark night of the soul” and cannot take my advice: withdraw from all sexual interactions until he is a healthier human being.
I have no idea if he’ll make it through. He has no faith in her, none in himself. Wants to skip the work that needs to be done. Newsflash: you can’t do it.
Every time I hear about her bringing up her past experiences, I think: good for you, girl. Keep those defenses up. This is the wrong guy.
A family should be the place you can tell the truth. A place to heal. Where you can drop your defenses, your artifice, your masks. We all wear them: our masks get us through life, but they are so, so heavy. If you can put them down, absorb emotional nutrients, rest and recover…you actually return to the fight STRONGER. But if you cannot put them down, ever? They will break you.
And if you don’t have memories of a happy childhood? If you don’t have a healthy birth family? Well, that’s what friendships are for.
There is a movie currently in the theaters, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, which is all about a “family” of dysfunctional beings who, together, are massively stronger than they are as individuals.
I don’t want to tackle it because too many people haven’t seen it yet. But I think we can discuss the first film profitably. (And speaking of profit, note that the subject of “family” looms large in both GUARDIANS and the “FAST AND FURIOUS” films, suggesting to me that there is an enormous hunger for simple human connection. Understand this, feel this, learn how to express it…and you will empower your work…
And possibly your lives.)
O.K. Every character has an arc in the first film:
Quill’s mother died and he was kidnapped by aliens on the same day. Raised by an abusive father who trained him to be a thief and threatened him with death by cannibalism every day, he learns commitment and connection, self-sacrifice and the beginnings of love for others. And in that, he finds self-respect and the beginning of transformation.
Gamora was kidnapped by an alien who raised her and her adopted sister Nebula to be deadly, emotionless assassins. When Quill, who is sexually attracted to her, actually commits an action of self-sacrifice her heart is touched: another being in the universe actually cares, for the first time in her life. It is the beginning of her transformation.
Drax the Destroyer is an empty hulk, filled with nothing but the commitment to kill in vengeance for the death of his family. A friend with an autistic son considers Drax’s over-literal mind to be representative of a person on the Autism/Asperger spectrum. Whether neurological or environmentally/experientially triggered (abuse, etc.) Drax has nothing but the wish to die killing, until he realizes that drive placed the lives of good people at risk. He expands from simple self-interest to the acceptance of other beings as real entities, not just shadows in his own internal tragic play.
Rocket Racoon is the product of an experiment that tore him apart endlessly and reconstructed him into a super-intelligent highly aggressive predator. Bitter and utterly self-contained, he cares about nothing except his faithful follower Groot, who can express himself only in three words. Groot, in essence, makes Rocket look downright communicative in comparison.
And Groot’s arc is inextricably intertwined with Rocket’s. Although he can speak only three words, in some ways he is the most open, expressive, joyous, loyal and emotionally healthy member of the entire crew. He offers a flower to a child. He is capable of utterly selfless action: who didn’t tear up when he gave his life for his companions? “We are Groot”. And make no mistake, Groot DIED in that moment. “Baby Groot” is a clone. He is not Groot. And in the second film, they love him at least partially because he is a symbol of the sacrifice that saved them. And that Sacrifice opened Rocket’s wounded heart, and made it inevitable that he step up to the plate, join hands with his companions, and create a circle of power capable of containing cosmic forces and besting the villain.
Through Groot’s sacrifice, they became a family, tentatively willing to accept responsibility for each other and try to move forward in their lives.
Those are their individual stories. Now as a group:
ONCE UPON A TIME there were a group of misfit thieves and criminals who had been damaged and abandoned by the world. Thrown together, they were forced to tolerate each other to defeat an evil larger than any of their small lives. Clever and courageous, they mastered and out-foxed every challenge until meeting one that was too big, only conquered through the mortal sacrifice of one who saw that they were all part of the same soul. This sacrifice gave them the strength to move beyond their egos, to expand, to trust and hold each others’ hand in the face of death, and in doing that to not just win…but earned the greatest reward any of them could have: a place in the universe, people to trust. A future, together.
They were heroes, the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, but more importantly…they were a family.
That was the first film. The second continues to explore the themes of love and family, and together, they’ll make about two billion dollars. Because we’re all searching for connection. And denied a healthy connection, we become bitter and selfish, stop believing it is even possible to make a connection with someone outside ourselves, and most horribly lose even the connection to our own being.
- We must love ourselves enough to be fiercely protective. ALL the “Guardians” are strong as individuals.
- We must open ourselves to loving another. It is love, and ONLY love that has the ability to open the floodgates of emotion. Make us expand our ego walls.
- We must ask “who am I?” and “what is true?” Both films are about the search for identity, and understanding. As we expand, we must seek such understanding to survive in the adult world, as well as accept ourselves and others.
- We must find our tribe. People of similar values. Believe what they DO, not what they SAY. Behavior is truth. Rocket Raccoon believed in love because he SAW it in action.
- Win. By victory, you know your path is a valid one. When that victory brings love and joy to the world, and safety for children, you know it is a righteous one. And then, of course, you move on to the sequel.
The way out of the box is love. We have to shift our “story” to believe we are worthy, precious, as worthy as anything in the universe. Until we do we cannot accept the love of others, cannot believe they see anything inside us worthy of sacrifice. “I’d never join any club that would have me as a member.”
We have to believe. We are as precious as the Nebulas.
We are all Starlords and Ladies.
We are Groot.
Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.