The Unconscious Vows We Make to Ourselves So the World Can’t Hurt Us

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” ~Jonathan Safron Foer

Do you realize that unconscious vows can be made early in life and become your internal blueprint. These vows are often deeply embedded and dictate our character.

Our vows are attached to a deeper need we’re trying to meet—the need for love, acceptance, safety, connection, and security. They’re not bad or wrong, and neither are we for having them; they come from a smart part of us that’s trying to help us feel safe.

Vows are more than a belief; vows are a “never again” thing or “this is the only way to be because my survival is at stake.” 

You may be wondering what a vow is. I’ll show you.

My little sister used to tease me for being ugly, fat and stupid. As soon as I was older, my body started to be hurt and teased. I thought that because I was “fat, stupid, and ugly” there was something wrong with me, and that was why I didn’t have any friends.

At age thirteen my doctor told me to go on a diet, and that’s when I started to believe that I was a “defect” because I was fat. At that point I made a vow: “I will never be fat again.”

When I began to eat less, it was a turning point in my life. I found that being thin was the most important thing.

At fifteen years old, I went to my first anorexia hospital. I was there for 23 years. I also spent time in many hospitals and treatment facilities. No matter how much weight I gained in these programs, when I left, I went right back to losing weight by limiting my food intake and exercising excessively because I’d vowed to myself “I’ll never be fat again.”

I felt even more trauma and fear as I gained weight. Instead of being compassionate and understanding and helping me offer love to the parts of myself that were hurting, staffers “punished” me when I didn’t eat my whole tray of food by taking away my privileges and upping my meds.

When we experience trauma like I did as a child, it’s not what happened to us that stays with us; it’s the vows we made and what we concluded it meant about ourselves, others, and life in general that stay.

The unconscious blueprint of who we were to be loved by our families was established. It became the basis for our actions, thoughts and feelings.

“I will never be fat again because if I am I won’t be loved and accepted” was a trauma response, which turned into a vow that carried a lot of fear and anxiety. Compulsive exercise and undereating were my survival strategies. I refused to let this go no matter what anyone said.

If I couldn’t exercise, especially after I ate, my heart would race and I would panic, sweat, and shake. Those symptoms were my body signaling to me that I needed to exercise so I wouldn’t get fat

It was all I knew. This was my automatic, conditioned response to living in a state of trance. No matter how conscious I tried to alter my habits, some part of me would always return to eating less and exercise too much.

When we’re forced to let go of our survival mechanisms without healing the inner affliction, it feels like jumping out of an airplane with no parachute; it’s scary and overwhelming. This was also why I felt suicidal. I had started to feel fat and was worried about my future. I preferred not being traumatized or teased.

Eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety, pain, or illness are often symptoms showing us where our energy is frozen in time, where we’re carrying deep wounds and holding onto vows we made from traumatic or painful experiences.

When someone is anxious or depressed, it may be because they’re not living their truth, and this may be because they feel they’re not allowed to. They may think they need to meet everyone else’s expectations, because if they don’t, they may be punished and/or abandoned. 

They may use food, drugs, smoking, or drinking as a way to find ease with what they’re feeling and experiencing. They may be using a substance to numb the pain stemming from traumatic experiences or from the idea of not being “perfect” or not feeling “good enough.”

Is it difficult for people to be themselves? To ask for the things they need and love them. Because, if you’re like me, you may have been screamed at or called selfish for doing these things when you were a child, so you may have made the unconscious vow “I’m not allowed to ask for anything or take care of or love myself.”

The habits and behaviors we can’t stop engaging in, no matter how hard we try and how destructive or limiting they may be, are meeting a need. The goal isn’t to override our impulses and change the behavior; instead, a better approach is to understand why they exist in the first place and help that part of ourselves feel loved and safe.

No matter how many affirmations we say or how much mindset work we do, our survival mechanisms and vows are more powerful, so a part of us will resist change even if it’s healthy.

Often, when I’m working with a client who struggles with addiction, anxiety, depression, and/or loving themselves and allowing themselves to have fun, when we go inside and find the root cause, it’s because of a vow they made when they were little, when they were either being screamed at, teased, left alone, or punished.

It was thought they were wrong to be true to themselves and to ask for what they wanted. They learned that having needs and acting naturally wasn’t okay, so they started suppressing that energy, which created their symptoms as adults.

“I don’t need anyone; I’m fine alone” may be a vow and a way to protect ourselves from being hurt again. This is where the problem lies. As humans we require validation and approval; love and care are what we need. This is what makes us human and helps us survive and thrive.

We feel unsafe when trauma is stored in our bodies. Until we resolve it and reconnect with a feeling of safety in the area(s) where we were traumatized, we’ll remain in a constant state of fight/flight/freeze, be hypersensitive and overreactive, take everything personally, and seek potential threats, which makes it difficult to move on from the initial occurrence.

How can we determine which vows guide our lives?

You can identify your unconscious vows simply by being present to the fearful parts of yourself. These feelings and symptoms are often felt in the body. For instance, I would panic, sweat, and shake if I couldn’t exercise, especially after I ate.

It communicated its fear to me when I was able to sit with it with unconditional love, acceptance, and the desire to know where it came from. It brought me back to where it all began and said, “If I’m fat I’ll be teased, abandoned, and rejected, and I want to be loved and accepted.”

Healing is about releasing that pent up energy that’s stored in the body and making peace with ourselves and our traumas.

Healing is about reminding our bodies that the painful/traumatic event(s) are no longer happening; it’s learning how to comfort ourselves when we’re afraid and learning emotional regulation.

Healing is about getting clear about where the hurt is coming from; otherwise, we’ll spend our time going over the details and continuously get triggered because we never get to the real source.

Healing is not about forcing; it’s about accepting what’s happening. It’s a kind, gentle, and loving approach. We’re working with tender parts that have been traumatized and hurt. These parts don’t need to be pushed or told how to be. They are in need of compassion.

They’ve been hiding; in a sense they’ve been disconnected. They can be acknowledged and brought into our hearts. This is the beginning of loving integration. We experience inner peace when we are able to love and integrate with others. When we experience loving integration, it is easier to start caring for ourselves and make healthy decisions.

About Debra Mittler

Debra Mittler is a warm and compassionate healer with a unique ability to touch people’s hearts and souls. Debra loves helping others to love and accept themselves without condition, feel at ease in their bodies, and live authentically. Debra is an authority on overcoming obstacles. She supports clients with unconditional love, providing encouragement and effective tools as well as valuable insight that allows them to feel and hear their inner wisdom.

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