How Your Adaptations Save Your Life, Only to Doom It! - Teal Swan Articles - Teal Swan Jump to content

How Your Adaptations Save Your Life, Only to Doom It!

Human beings are incredibly adaptable. They adjust and modify themselves according to the environment they find themselves in, as well as the other people around them. This adaptability bends people towards success. But it also tends to doom them, especially when it comes to the things they want most.

Each and every one of us adapts to our surroundings. This begins when we are children. We adapt to our parent’s personalities, beliefs, wants and needs, likes and dislikes. We adapt to our culture. We adapt to the language we are taught to speak. We adapt to the schools we are educated in. We adapt to the peers we play with and are bullied by. We adapt to society at large. We adapt to traumatic situations we may find ourselves in. And this list just keeps going on and on. We adapt so as to keep ourself safe and give ourselves the highest chance of meeting our needs and succeeding at whatever it is we have our sights on, consciously or subconsciously. If we didn’t adapt, we would be in real trouble in many ways. So, adaptation is a survival strategy, if not at times a strategy we use in order to thrive. But what happens when we need to move to a different environment than the one we have adapted ourselves to? What happens when we want to experience a different relationship than the one we customized ourselves to? The answer is, either we adapt again, or we doom ourselves to only being able to be in the very environments that we previously adapted ourselves to. And this, can spell doom for us. 

So that you understand this concept, I’ll give you three examples. 

  1. Amara’s father was diagnosed bipolar before she was born, and was in and out of psychiatric facilities. Frequently, he drive drunk and gravitate towards other risk taking behaviors. He would catastrophize and self-medicate with prescription opioids. Amara’s mother coped with this through denial and false optimism. In truth, the entire house revolved around the father’s mental and emotional state. Amara had to adapt to this to be ok in her childhood home. She figured out how to co-exist with her father. She became hyper attuned, so she could tell where he was emotionally and mentally at all times. She let go of the need for predictability and learned to roll with anything that came, rather than be attached to any outcome. She learned how to get her needs met by figuring out how to manipulate her father’s behavior rather than being straightforward because life could never be about her, when it was about him all the time. Amara’s father leaned on her for all of his needs and so, she was parentified. But she learned to gain security from how badly she is needed by someone because of their dysfunction. 
    After several failed relationships, Amara is really, really wanting a healthy relationship where she doesn’t find herself in a relationship with another addict. She doesn’t want her life to revolve around things like bailing a man out of jail and caretaking him after a drug binge and having to pay his rent to prevent him from ending up on the street. Amara doesn’t realize that her adaptations, the very ones she made in order to be ok in her childhood home, are the reason she keeps ending up in these situations with men in her adult life. When she dates a man who is not drowning in mental and emotional problems, she feels they can stand on their own two feet and do not lean on her or need her. Because of this, she feels no pull or grip and decides there is no real bond there. She has learned to never make conversations about her or her needs, so she is incredibly appealing for men who are looking for a one-way relationship that revolves around them. Because trying to make things predictable went so badly for her in her youth, she feels safer when she just rolls with whatever happens. Because of this, she has not made any effort to be in the driver’s seat of her own life. If she meets a man on Tuesday who lives in another state, she can abandon whatever she is doing and wherever she lives and move in with him by Friday. This appeals to men who are looking for rescue. She learned how to parent men through her relationship with her father. And this adaptation makes it so that the only relationship she feels confident in, is one where she needs to caretake and parent a man. Amara’s adaptations have made it so that she only works and her behavior only makes sense in one kind of relationship. A relationship that mirrors her relationship with her father growing up, despite the fact that this keeps ruining her life. The last boyfriend she had, didn’t tell her that he had taken a sleeping pill when he offered to drive her and her daughter to a concert and all three of them ended up in critical care. 
  2. Kyle is very confused about why nothing in his life ever works out for him. Things don’t seem to happen for him the way they do for other people. Looking back at Kyle’s past, what we find is that he grew up in a religious environment that was obsessed with the afterlife. In fact, not much about this life mattered, except doing what was necessary to get to the afterlife. His family and culture did not care about worldly successes. They found earthly ambition to be a fool’s errand. As a result of this, they did not care to encourage Kyle or enable or empower him relative to whatever he was ambitious about or interested in. In fact, they often acted as an antagonistic, oppositional force to it. He did not have any support. He had opposition. The way he adapted to that opposition, was to stop putting his full effort into things, since he had learned his efforts were not going to come to anything anyway. And he adapted by making excuses about why things didn’t work out. These adaptations may have made it more tolerable to live in the culture around him. But now, as an adult, he is sick of being broke and having no accomplishments to his name and getting random injuries any time he tries to succeed at a sport. He doesn’t understand why he is so unlucky. 
    The problem is, Kyle doesn’t consciously see his own adaptations and how they are sabotaging him now. Everyone else around him sees it. They talk about how easily he gives up and they see how much more time and energy he could be putting into the goals he says he has. Kyle has adapted to a situation where he will never achieve anything he wants in life. And because of those adaptations, which he doesn’t see and therefore isn’t facing and changing, he never will achieve anything he wants in life.
  3. Jim joined the military. In the military, he was put through intense training. Suddenly, the world he had joined was harsh. Perfection was expected and there was no space for vulnerability at all. Jim adapted. He adapted by learning the pattern of suppression. He suppressed anything about himself that he or anyone else judged as vulnerable or weak. He adapted by learning to never divulge anything private about himself. He adapted by becoming rigidly disciplined. He adapted by finding safety through control. He adapted by feeling a sense of power and security through putting himself through intense discomfort so he could prove to himself he would not break down, no matter how much pressure was put on his system. He adapted by re-framing every single challenge into an opportunity. 
    Now, Jim is a father. He has a son who is a young teen. The behavior that Jim needs to be a good father to his son is lacking severely because of the adaptations Jim made to the military. When his son needs his vulnerability to be heard and needs to be supported, Jim gets triggered because he sees this as weakness in his son, a big liability. So, Jim negates his son’s feelings and deliberately does not help him, so his son can see he can do it himself. There can be no closeness between them because Jim does not like to divulge anything about himself, even to his own son. His son wants to be loved by Jim for who he is. But Jim is not doing this. Jim is busy trying to turn his son into a miniature version of himself. Including imposing his own strategy for success on his son, which is intense discipline and uncomfortable challenges. His son is afraid of him and so, he goes along with these intense exercises, such as cold plunges and weight lifting extreme objects and severe fasting. And he never, ever feels good enough for Jim. Jim wants to be a good father. But he cannot be. He has a terrible relationship with his son because of the adaptations he made to belong in the military. He needs to let go of those adaptations and develop different patterns in himself in order to parent well and have a good relationship with his son. 

The big problem with the adaptations we make to things, most especially to traumatic and dysfunctional environments, is that those adaptations form and forge us to fit into those things we adapt to. This includes traumatic and dysfunctional environment and relationships. And so, we start to only make sense in those environments and only feel a sense of personal power in those environments. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: There Is No Such Thing as Self Sabotage. We feel like a fish out of water in different, even far more functional and healthy environments and relationships. And when we really, really want something different, these adaptations work against us. They act as resistant forces to the very thing we want and need.   

If we want a different experience, we need to change the adaptive patterns within US that make us a perfect match to that experience.  


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