When you grow up with unmet childhood needs, your brain gets rewired making it more difficult to release attachment to outcomes. Because of your chaotic upbringing you may become over controlling as a way to keep yourself safe.
Since so much was uncertain and surprises could be dangerous, you became hypervigilant. That means you adopted a survival brain that tasked you with looking out for threats rather than approaching life with curiosity and/or playfulness.
That’s why life can feel like a slog for those of us overcoming the effects of complex PTSD. We never received the security from our parental figures necessary for a child to branch out and explore.
We kept checking to make sure they were there. Often, we had to resign ourselves to the fact they were never going to care for our needs and we had to take care of them ourselves.
Since a child is too young to care for its own needs, we developed coping mechanisms to get us through. These included minimizing those needs and suppressing our emotions (because no one could help us with them or they pushed people away or got us punished.)
Fixated on keeping us safe, this survival brain cannot tolerate uncertain outcomes. It has trouble with longer processes because it simply wants to get things over with.
I can attest to feelings of danger in the face of loose ends or unfinished projects. Until I reached the completion phase, I could never let my shoulders down.
Considering that the majority of life and work consists of unfinished business or work in progress, this was a untenable way to live.
However, I was so used to feeling this debilitating hypervigilance, that it felt like home to me. I had no idea there was another way to feel.
As a result of my sense of foreboding over unfinished projects, I’d avoided writing a book even though I’d been a writer all my life. I believed my limits would not allow me to follow through on such a large project with an uncertain end date.
I’ve also been known to structure and schedule vacations to within an inch of their lives. In reality, I never experienced a true vacation because that would have meant relaxing. Survival brain wouldn’t let me do that.
I discovered the concept of survival brain in Dr. Jacob Ham’s five-minute YouTube video which you can view here. There, I discovered the reason for my inability to release attachment to outcome and began to question it.
I started challenging my brain when it told me I couldn’t tolerate being in the middle of something. I breathed and talked myself through the messy middle and stepped away when it became too much.
Rather than racing to the end, I began to focus on the present moment. I haven’t yet reached the point of enjoying the process, but believe I’ll get there. For now, tolerating it is enough for me.
How to release attachment to outcomes
1. Acknowledge it.
Often, when we’ve lived with something so long, we aren’t aware there’s another way to feel. I assumed my intolerance of processes was simply a limit I had to work within.
Once I learned the childhood roots of my so-called limit, I saw it as a coping mechanism designed to protect me. Then, I could take steps to change and release attachment to the outcome.
2. Be kind to yourself
Understand it’s not your fault, and circumstances beyond your control probably led to the survival brain that holds you back. You might even commend your inner child for keeping you safe the only way she knew how.
Now that you’re an adult you can assure the child you’re in charge now. She can rest and you’ll take over from here.
You don’t have to push through when you experience those old fears around being in process rather than at the end. You can step away and take a self care day or journal your thoughts and feelings to get them out.
3. Stay present
When your mind starts catastrophizing because of one little mistake, pay attention to your breath. Ground yourself by taking note of what you see, hear, smell, touch.
Remind yourself that you’re safe right here and now. And the present moment is the one that matters most.
4. Embrace the learning curve
As children, we weren’t encouraged to learn and explore. We thought we had to get everything right the first time and that made learning and making mistakes terrifying.
Since most people don’t share their failures, we may believe we are alone when we don’t get things right. But failures and mistakes are inevitable while working toward a goal.
Rather than beating yourself up when you encounter one of these blips, remind yourself they are normal. We learn from our mistakes and this is how we get information on how to do new things.
Consider how unrealistic it is to think we should get everything right the first time. When you stop to look at it that way, you realize the impossible position you’ve put yourself in.
Now, you can go easier on yourself as you work on something new. If you’re like me, enjoyment may not come quickly, but tolerance will. You will begin to achieve things you never thought possible and you’ll feel so much better in the process.