What does how we live say about who we are? And what does it imply about what’s truly happening inside of our minds and hearts?
I’ll tell you.
Our environment – whether it’s our car, bedroom, or home – gives our inner five-year-old a chance to make a statement. She/he also has the opportunity to make a statement in one’s finances, food, choice of friends, partners, family connections, career interactions, etc. What is she saying now that she could not (or was not allowed to) express so many years ago? People who have financial challenges sometimes hide beneath physical conditions.
Whether the environment is messy or too neat can signal a call for help; not enough control versus suffocating control. There is a certain visual ‘logic’ that goes on in one’s environment. Papers need to be stacked with some order; jackets get hung up; shoes get put away; anything that has a corner, like newspapers, magazines and books, all require some alignment. When objects are in order, we feel we have control. Opening a closet and finding clothes hanging with pants together, blouses by color, jackets by tone gives us calmness and peace. We can only see our reflection in still waters.
Chaos is our inner five-year-old expressing something; our fears, our anger, our panic, our shame. We are having a subtle tantrum, and the chaos will keep us spinning…holding us back from being in the moment, trapping us in a fog, preventing clarity from guiding us to make the best choice for ourselves. Chaos has a real function. It is not an accidental occurrence. It is by design. The need to pretend not to be able to get control reflects not having control as a child, having no power, getting no respect for having different feelings. It is disguised anger. The mess is screaming: “Help me…look at me!”
My client Sally’s nickname was Pigpen, after the endearing and confused friend of Charlie Brown.
Her purse was disorganized, and her car littered with empty soda cans, food wrappers, and papers strewn all over. Her house was cluttered with piles of newspapers, laundry not yet put away, dishes in the sink, and medicine cabinet from which things fell out every time it was opened.
Her family had given her that name. Her sister was called ‘String Bean’ because she was a very tall adolescent, and her younger brother had been dubbed ‘Four-Eyes’ because he wore glasses at an early age, and her other sister ‘Ruby’ because of a bright red birthmark on her chest. Not a kind family.
It’s no surprise that she had difficulty managing her finances, for they too were chaotic. She went into a panic every time an expense arose that she could not cover easily – like new tires, a visit to the vet for her dog, or a broken tooth.
Another sign of her internal discomfort was her constant laughing at nothing. She too often ended sentences with a giggle and had difficulty maintaining eye contact with me.
In our work together, we were able to discover that growing up she felt invisible. Her younger brother received most of the attention, then she was next up, making him nine years younger than the oldest. He was the baby, and they treated him as such. An older sister had chronic health issues that siphoned off the parents’ attention, and the eldest always acted as a third parent. The message Sally got loud and clear was: “Your needs have to fit in. We don’t have time for you to want differently. You will get what we give you…and you should be grateful for that.”
Her childhood home life was so chaotic that one time the family left the house while Sally was five and in the bathroom, and no one noticed that she was missing for two hours.
She constantly felt like the black sheep of the family…always lamenting: “Where do I belong?” Her constant need to re-enact her anxiety as a young child kept her locked on a treadmill, repeating that old pattern because it was familiar. Changing that behavior, in her sub-conscious, meant she would be rejected once again; abandoned once again.
One might assume that PERFECTION and CHAOS had very different core messages, but in fact they are two sides of the same coin. PERFECTION contains the illusionary drive that someday, parental love can finally be won. Conversely, CHAOS drives negative attention: better to be scolded than ignored, and as Susan Piver says in her book: “attention is the most basic form of love.”
In the middle of the two extremes, there is calmness through order. And we can feel the vibration. It springs from respect of the property and of the tenant. The environment is clean. Visually, things make sense and don’t cry out: DON’T TOUCH ME; it looks lived in without being messy. It is neither sterile or out of control. The owner is calm, and does not make excuses as to why the house is a mess, because it’s not. It’s peaceful; all the books and objects are being cared for, they feel secure, and so does the owner. And this calmness extends to their wallet.
Treating money with respect is the same as treating your house with respect.