Kenny Rodgers Ain’t No Coward…
One of the most difficult parts of being an adult is letting go of old childhood strategies.
These strategies come from having to survive in any family system. Everyone has some strategy that they bring out of their childhood into adulthood. As we recognize how these strategies impact our lives we can start to let go of how they influence us.
The Coward Of The County
Growing up in Montana I had the pleasure of listening to a lot of Kenny Rodgers. My mom was a big fan and I recall her attending one of his concerts. One thing Kenny Rodgers could do was tell a good story.
One of my all-time favorite songs was Coward Of The County.
The story is of a young boy who grows up with a violent father who continually gets in brawls and eventually dies in a jail cell when the young boy, Tommy, is ten years old.
Before he dies Tommy’s father tells him to take a different path in life so that he doesn’t end up like his father. Tommy follows his dad’s words which leads him to become the coward of the county. Tommy continually backs down from conflict and doesn’t stand up to other boys.
Eventually, Tommy is pushed to the limit by the Gatlin boys for assaulting his love, Becky.
Tommy opened up the door, and saw his Becky crying
The torn dress, the shattered look was more than he could stand
In this moment Tommy decides that he must let go of his father’s past and become the man he needs to become to protect the woman he loves.
In the end Tommy cleans up on the Gatlin brothers.
Twenty years of crawling was bottled up inside him
He wasn’t holding nothin’ back, he let ’em have it all
When Tommy left the barroom, not a Gatlin boy was standing
He said, “this one’s for Becky, as he watched the last one fall
Tommy speaks to his father to let him know that he still honors his desire for Tommy to live a different life but he must become his own man.
I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you’ve done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don’t think I’m weak, I didn’t turn the other cheek
And papa, I sure hope you understand
Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man
Tommy was very aware of his father’s words and he chose to try and live a different life. He also was well aware of the moment he knew he couldn’t continue to live that life.
Childhood strategies are often not something we notice happening in our lives. This is because we often make these decisions out of our conscious awareness. They happen in our implicit brain based more on sensation and feeling than logical thinking.
A good example of a childhood strategy that I see often in my clients is the limitation of emotions. When kids grow up in a family system that is scary or repressive, they will often limit their full range of emotions. If a child is continually admonished for showing his anger this will lead the child to stop experiencing his anger.
A child does this by keeping his mind away from his inner experience through cognitive distraction. The child thinks about other things when he gets angry and acts like everything is fine. Other children, may actually dissociate from themselves in order to feel safe again.
This will then show up for adults. However, after years of doing this most adults are not aware it is happening.
Getting out of childhood strategies
The way that we end these childhood strategies is through awareness. When we can finally see how these strategies limit our humanity we can shift towards new behaviors.
For many of my clients this comes about from seeing how they repress their authentic experience. They start to realize how limiting this is in the rest of their lives and they commit to modifying it.
Being with the younger self.
Another part of healing these strategies is finding access to the 7 year old that still believes that this strategy is what is keeping them safe. Wether it is addiction or emotional repression or some other behavior that is no longer helpful, our younger self wants to keep the strategy going in order to control the environment they are in.
If emotional expression is not safe then the younger self will continually signal the adult self to not show or possibly even feel any emotions.
In order to change it is important to create a relationship with this younger self and help them to know that they are no longer in danger. The adult self soothes the younger self and helps them to experience the world differently.
As the younger self feels more safety the childhood strategy is usually no longer necessary.
How this shows up in my own life.
In my life, through therapy, I have learned about my own childhood strategies. One strategy that came up for me was the tendency to take responsibility for other people’s pain. As a sensitive kid I felt like I had to take care of the people in my family when they were feeling uncomfortable. I would try and distract them by being goofy and making everyone laugh. I still can remember a time when I was in a family therapy session and I was doing all I could to make my parents and sister laugh. The laughter made me feel safe. When they expressed their pain I felt scared.
So what is wrong with trying to lighten the mood and bring a little levity into the situation? The problem is that I wasn’t allowing myself to be in touch with how I authentically felt. I was trying to distract myself from my own discomfort and keep my family distracted as well.
As a result of this strategy I would take on co-dependent behaviors in relationships. I would be more attuned to the person than I was with myself. I was externally focused and trying to make them feel happy rather than dealing with what was really going on inside myself. This led to a lot of dissatisfying relationships.
By seeing this strategy and allowing my younger self to feel safe I don’t do this as much. It is hard to see the pain of my loved ones but I have learned that their pain is not my fault. This allows me to care for them — but not take responsibility for them.
If you or someone you know wants to change their childhood strategies I encourage you to reach out.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
About the Author, Bryce Mathern, Owner of BrassBalls TenderHeart, a counseling and coaching practice for men in Denver.
Bryce believes that as men, we have to hide our emotions, according to society. Yet, when we break through that barrier, we become even bolder, more powerful, intuitive and emotionally intelligent. Coaching is a way for strong men to become even stronger and more clear on their lives. For more information and to schedule a consultation, click here.