How to Overcome Failure and Achieve Success: Releasing the Ghosts of the Past

Many of us we have a repeating failure in some area of our life that seems to haunt us. Generational trauma patterns of failed relationships, failed businesses, failed creative endeavors, failed self-improvement. We drop the ball in one particular arena so many times, it feels almost fated. It ends up looming so much bigger than everything else in our lives.

How to break generational cycles?

One of the first things to do is realize that most of us have been raised to focus on what’s wrong. We focus on the “bad stuff” so much that even though we might be doing dozens of other things really well, we still focus on what we aren’t getting right. 

The next thing to do is notice the details. If you have such a situation going on, really pay attention to what you’re telling yourself about love and relationship, money, your body etc.  Particularly notice the language you use to describe what’s happening. Here are some negative beliefs examples: “Love is an absent bedfellow. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Fatty fatty two by four, can’t get through the bathroom door!” And quickest and sharpest of all: “Loser!”

How to release negative thoughts

You know the words circulating endlessly through your head. Write them down exactly the way you are thinking about your issue. Don’t censor yourself. Once you have that down on paper, take a highlighter and begin to mark the trigger words and sentences. And be sure to notice your feelings as you do so. What emotions come up? What do you feel in your body when these phrases are spoken? Where are those sensations? 

This is how we start the search for the ghosts from your past and start breaking generational patterns. Your systemic ghosts – those lovely little specters that make you jump and twitch and feel awful about yourself. I call them ghosts from the past because all these patterns, and the words and phrases and feelings that accompany them, might well have been picked up somewhere in your youth or even from the lives of your ancestors.

Systemic Language

Let’s look at words for a moment. In Systemic Work & Constellations, we call repeating phrases that haunt us “systemic language.Sayings can become so ingrained in the speech patterns of family members, they often generate unconscious family belief systems. As such they often end up running the show.

For example, “Love is an absent bedfellow.” Who in your family lineage tragically lost a beloved partner? A loss they never got over, so much so that the sense of absence and loss became synonymous with love? And then that ancestor spoke those particular words so many times, over and over, they turned into a family saying, passed down generation to generation.

A haunting event

But it’s not just language patterns that haunt us. Dramatic events that occurred in our family’s past can turn into generational patterns that show up in us as well. For example, Mary was an obsessive numbers counter. If there was any sharp noise around her—a book falling from a shelf, a glass shattering on the floor—she would find herself counting. The more numbers she could count, the safer she felt. And she just couldn’t shake the habit. 

When I asked what might happen if she didn’t count after she heard a noise, she firmly replied, “Then we will all die.”  Not “Something bad will happen” or “Somebody might die.” But “We will all die.” 

Such extreme language and behavior suggested she might be ‘haunted’ by a systemic ghost of some sort. As we explored, it became apparent that it had all started with a thunderstorm. Mary remembered that from the age of 10 at the first roll of thunder in the distance, she would find herself under a table.

Her family loved to go walking just after storms had passed. It drove Mary crazy, especially if lightning could still be seen in the distance. She would find herself counting to see how far away the lightning was. The further she could count, the safer they were. If she couldn’t get to at least five, she would plead with her family to stay indoors, fearing that everybody would die. 

What was even more intriguing was that she remembered the first time she reacted this way that she was choosing to be afraid, and that somehow being afraid and counting felt “right.” When I asked about her parents and grandparents, Mary remembered that her grandmother also refused to go outside during a storm because her brother had been hit and killed by lightning. She’d told Mary this story when she was about 10 years old. She also mentioned that they did not speak about the brother who had been killed.

Now, the source of Mary’s generational beliefs and counting habit was clear and it was also pointing out an ancestor who had been excluded from the family system by ignoring his life and subsequent death. When I asked Mary what her career was, she started to laugh. “I’m a health and safety inspector,” she replied. 

Shifting generational beliefs

Mary’s fearful actions, her language, even her job, were ALL trying to point out the pattern and the exclusion—the missing member in the family. Once she recognized where the pattern that had run so much of her life had come from, she could retire the fear. Over time, she recognized she was safe when sharp noises occurred. That she could simply go indoors if there were a storm. She no longer needed to count. The generational trauma patterns that had haunted her family system could be seen, given a place, and allowed to retire. She also asked her family for a picture of the great uncle who had died early so she could remember and include him.

What are the ghosts that haunt you?  Pay attention because they contain valuable clues to what needs to stop and start in your own life. 

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