“I’ll get on my feet and start spending more time on my hobbies”, “we’ll buy our own flat, then we’ll make it cosy”, “as soon as the opportunity arises, I’ll definitely talk about a promotion” – do you know such thoughts? If yes, then you are likely to have encountered the syndrome of postponed life, which is often formed in childhood. How exactly this happens is explained by the example of an executive client.
I was approached by a young man named Michael – charismatic, stylish, at the height of his career. But he was dissatisfied with himself in many areas of life: personal, professional, financial, creative. Mikhail himself, shrugging his shoulders, characterised himself as follows: “Not that I am a failure, but I am not a ‘success’ either”. He considered his dissatisfaction with himself justified: he did not realise himself as a person and a specialist, although he had all the potential and chances: “When I was 20 years old, I imagined my future completely different”.
Mikhail did not attribute the reasons for failures to the weather, customers, sanctions and Mercury retrograde. He tried to look for them in himself, without going into deaf self-obsession, but he noticed that procrastination mercilessly eats up the time of life: “I put off important things for later and wait for real life to begin. But of course it doesn’t. Mikhail’s feelings of guilt and inferiority brought him to me, and they frustrated him more and more until it became clear that either the problem had to be solved or it would completely immobilise him.
The thing is that Michael has a syndrome of postponed life – he lives “on the minimum” of his abilities and possibilities: as if he saves his strength for a “real” life in the future. This is dangerous, because time passes imperceptibly: the years go by, but a person still lives “on a rough draft”. A series of conversations with Michael brought to light five significant stories that influenced the formation of such behaviour – four of them occurred in childhood.
STORY NO. 1. LOST ROBOT
“We didn’t live poorly, but my parents always took care of me. In kindergarten, many boys had robot toys, but I didn’t. I was jealous, I really wanted one for myself and asked my parents for a present. They were worried that I would get carried away by “all kinds of shooters”, and there was no money for expensive plastic. But I really wanted one. Finally, they gave me the toy of my dreams. I was so happy! The next day, against my persuasion, I took it to the kindergarten and lost it on a walk. We searched for the robot with the whole group. I was roaring, tearing up the grass, rolling on the ground and didn’t want to leave. They couldn’t find the robot. Apparently, someone had quietly put it in his pocket.”
The influence of history
Mikhail realised that he would not be able to buy a second robot. He lost what he dreamed of on the first day, and this formed the thought in his mind: “Sooner or later I will lose what is dear to me. I’ve let my parents down, it’s my fault, so be it”.
STORY NO. 2. TOY LORRY
“One day a lorry with German plates stopped in front of our house. People quickly realised what was going to happen and a crowd gathered. My mum managed to snatch some beautiful toys that I enjoyed for several more years.”
The impact of history
A joyous event is a true miracle that every child and adult dreams of. Only in Mikhail’s subconscious mind the thought is fixed: “Something is bound to fall from the sky, miracles happen on your street, at your house”. Belief in miracles can be a support for a person, but for Michael it became an excuse to live not to the fullest: why try, if happiness itself will fall from the sky. But this is a deception: we have to be our own helicopter magicians.
STORY NO. 3. REVOLVER
“I had a toy revolver. Metal, beautiful. I treasured it very much. One day a cousin and her son, whom I was seeing for the first time, came to visit. My father, without thinking long, gave him my gun. Even now, I feel a little sorry. Can you imagine how the kid felt?”
Influence of history
For a child, play is a leading activity: favourite toys are extremely important, and their loss is equal to grief. When his father gave his son’s favourite toy to another child for no reason, Mikhail perceived it as a betrayal. He remembered that at any moment he could lose the most important thing and would not be able to resist external forces.
STORY NO.4. “TRY BETTER”
“My father was rarely pleased with me. When I received two A’s and two B’s, he focused his attention on the B’s: “Why not all A’s?” Try harder.” When I helped my father with repairs, I regularly heard: “Let me show you how to do it,” “I can do it myself faster.” Even quite recently, when I was repairing the lock, he stood next to me and said that I wouldn’t succeed and would break something. I managed”.
The influence of history
Such comments from parents are perceived as corrections in the spirit of “Everything is fine, but we need to do it over.” Only when you are a child, they really hit your self-esteem: if I screw up anyway, why start doing something? Michael’s shadow chose self-sabotage to avoid mistakes and imperfect results. Mikhail admitted that when others tell him “You can do it”, “You will do it as always in the best possible way,” this demotivates him. If such expectations are not voiced, work moves much faster.
STORY NO.5. EXCOMMUNICATION
“Since childhood, the church has occupied a large part of my life, I was even a church activist. But when I got a tattoo that visually reflected my faith, the church leadership asked me to remove it. I refused, and then I was excommunicated. The pastor of the Protestant church said: “We are forced to excommunicate you not because you got a tattoo, but because you did not remove it.” Not everyone supported this decision, but I was morally crushed, because I was “executed” by my own people.
Soon I moved. I began to attend another church, but in order to be accepted, the previous church had to bless me in peace for this transition. I went for a blessing. The pastor expressed his readiness, but voiced the condition: remove the tattoo. This whole situation came as a shock. I saw the “dark side of the moon” and didn’t want to be an astronaut anymore.”
The influence of history
If a child has not received enough non-judgmental love, attention and affection from significant adults, then as an adult he unconsciously strives to earn this love.
In the church, Michael found an environment of love and acceptance. The tattoo became for him the quintessence of faith, but because of it he was kicked out at the peak of activity and development, like the plague: “You are no longer ours.” At that moment, something broke inside, and Mikhail believed that he was an outcast and an impostor. Attempts to break out of this circle encountered internal criticism. And the “put it off until later” pattern, already firmly ingrained in the subconscious after childhood trauma, became even stronger. Concreted.
Seeing this, it is very important to say: “Stop! Yes, such events happened, but my psyche drew the wrong conclusions. Everything is fine with me. I can live.”
Parents create perfectionists with good intentions: they want their children to reach their potential and learn discipline.
But from all these “could have been better,” the child learns the thought: “No matter what I do, I’m not good enough.” In analytical psychology this is called king trauma.
An impostor complex grows out of perfectionism – already in adulthood, a person remains confident that he will not do well enough, that all his achievements are nonsense. The psyche gets tired of constant internal condemnation: “Why listen to reproaches all the time? If it’s impossible to do, and there will definitely be condemnation, it’s better not to do it at all.” This is how internal comfort is formed through the renunciation of achievements, goals and life.
Mikhail was able to remember these stories, see the connections between them and the impact these traumas had on his life. I have selected several exercises for him that will help him become bolder over time. And the main thing is to form internal supports that do not depend on external factors.
“I talked to my child self; determined what on the to-do list can be completed imperfectly (it turns out that almost everything!); compared yourself to others based on actual achievements. And he undressed and looked over his shoulder in the mirror: there are no wings on his back – you can be imperfect,” the client shares. To consolidate the results, the exercises must be repeated periodically, because the psyche, like the muscles, is inert.
When we believe that something is wrong with us, it is extremely important for us that everything around us is “right.” We clutch at this external straw, but one day it breaks and our world collapses. Therefore, you need to know the truth: everything is so with you. No matter what happens outside. Follow your inner truth and grow it outward.