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Focusing on my troubled family upbringing has cramped my self expression and led to a low but continual level of anxiety - what can I do to overcome this?

heart to heart
I was raised in a home where I thought that I was the central problem of the whole thing. I was told that a lot. Some kids were treated better, I was not. I was treated like I was not supposed to be alive, it was so bad.

My father drank like an alcoholic but quit when I was 15. I then started. My mother was always mad and frustrated and took it out on us kids. There is a terrible problem with control and lying with some of the siblings now. I do not feel happy. Sometimes I am happy and content but generally there is this low level anxiety that I have that is always there. I read self help, go to A.A. and don't drink.

I have hobbies but they never seem to get done to a good satisfaction. I am always just getting ready to do something and never really do it. I get involved with things around the house, but tinker with this, tinker with that, and wonder where the day went. I have a good wife and kids, good place to live and am looked after in all ways materially but have that anxiety, or whatever it is, at all times.

Wallace's reply
You seem like a person who is hard on himself. Why do you get ready to do something and never commit to it? Why are you never happy with your hobbies? Surely hobbies are something that you do for fun. Are you afraid of being judged and therefore set your expectations of yourself too high? Are you a perfectionist?

I want to give you advice in two areas of your life - learning the power of forgiveness and discovering the power of expressing yourself creatively. By nurturing both these dimensions to your life you will heal your persistent background anxiety.

Learning the power of forgiveness
Where do you spend most of your time mentally? Is it in thinking about the past and dwelling on injustices that you feel were done to you or perhaps thinking of the future to plans and goals that never materialize. You can make a powerful choice that will bring healing to your life - that choice is to focus more and more of your mental energy on the present moment. The key that opens that choice is forgiveness. Who do you forgive? Everyone who you feel has acted unjustly toward you or who has hurt you in some way. I want you to give up feeling a victim of your past and give up your tendency to persistently create plans that never materialize, through forgiveness.

When we do not forgive that hurt, resentment remains, causing distortions in our consciousness and throwing us away from the present moment and all the riches to be found there. We start living in our heads instead of in the world, and our creative expression is blocked. The first thing I want you to do is to accept, at a deep and fundamental level, the upbringing you had. No one has the perfect upbringing and you have strengths as a person today that you have because of your unique experiences of life. To accept your past and forgive those that hurt you, I want you to write a letter expressing your acceptance and forgiveness to each of your parents, whether they are alive or dead. In the letter, tell them that you forgive them for all the times they hurt you and that you now accept and love them as they are. If they are alive I would encourage you to post that letter to them. If they are dead take it to their grave and bury it there. If doing this brings up buried emotions so much the better - let them flow.

Once you have done this you will feel a tremendous sense of release - now we come to the creative part and learning to live more fully in the present moment.

The power of expressing yourself creatively
There is a difference between excellence and perfection. Excellence comes into being when we are living in the present moment. Perfection is a result of living mentally in the past and the future. Excellence comes from a full involvement in and enjoyment of the process of doing something or creating something. Perfection is a desire to achieve a high fixed standard of end result. Excellence is flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. Perfection is terrified changing circumstances will ruin the end result. Excellence is fun and laughter. Perfection is a serious business. Excellence focus's on the process. Perfection focus's on the end result.

I would encourage you to take your hobbies a lot less seriously. Focus more on the process of doing or creating something. Enjoy it for its own sake and allow yourself to be surprised at the end result. If you find those old perfectionist voices in your head saying that what you are doing is not good enough, acknowledge them, bless them and send them on their way - then return your focus to having fun at the task in hand.

Initially go for quantity over quality. Maintain your delight at attending with rapt attention to the creative task, always adapting to changing circumstances, always ready to build whatever comes your way into the creative work and always ready to be surprised at the thing created. Think of being creative like the highest and finest adventure in living, where your inner orientation is always on what is happening NOW and on effortlessly choosing material from everything that is coming readily to hand and building it into your creative work.

As you work continually keep one question alive at the back of your mind like a silent mantra. That question is - how can I put more love into what I am doing? Keeping this question alive while you work will mean your creative expression will be offered from your heart and soul and not be products from some lower level of expression.

Do not be concerned that I am using "arty words" like creative - anything we do can be creative and an expression of love. We all know the difference between a garden shed that is simply functional and one positioned, erected and decorated with imagination and care, or the difference between a meal prepared indifferently and one that is an expression of love. So start looking at your world differently. See everything as an opportunity for creative expression and you will be on the right lines. When you do this even the mundane becomes magical.

By these means allow your innate creativity to be expressed in your hobbies, at work, in your family life and especially through your interest in music. See your music as a fun activity that you do for its own sake. If your interest in music grows so that you are part of a band well and good, but let that happen as a consequence of your own joy in playing your musical instrument and sharing this joy with others. Use your Self expression, through these means, to bring about inner healing.

By accepting your past, forgiving your parents and reframing your inner approach to being creative, you will get in touch with your inner power and begin to find your voice and place in the world. As you do this you will increasingly connect with your heart and soul and express what you are finding there. The peace of your inner divinity will begin to fill your being and the low level of anxiety you are currently experiencing will gradually subside.

Peter Shepherd adds...
I would like to make a note about "living in the now," which has become something of a clich and is often misunderstood. Certainly it is important to be able to be oneself in the present, with one's attention not detached in regretful dreams of the past nor glued to fears for the future, missing all the wonderfulness that the present has to offer. But also the ability to relate to the past and future is what makes us human and able to live fuller lives than the animals. The cow in a field, and even the cat, so sweet as it purrs, are living only in the present. But we humans have this great resource for learning that is the past and our hopes and dreams live in the future and give us motivation to plan and achieve and be of service in a meaningful way. Acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude are indeed keys to self-awareness, to live fully in the present, but they are also the keys to unlock the chains of the past and open the doors of the future.

Further Help and Resources
If you would like to read further about getting in touch with your inner voice then I recommend my book Unfold Your Wings and Watch Life Take Off. For an example of getting in touch with and expressing your inner voice to create a hobby see in particular Your healing from an inability to solve problems, page 206.

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