How do lifecuffs compare to handcuffs/prison?
Unlike regular handcuffs and prison, where we experience a quick and immediate transition from freedom to a major restriction, lifecuffs are accumulated step by step until our freedom and flexibility is severely limited and we're doing major time.
When we're in prison, the restrictions on our freedom and flexibility are outside of us and we are powerless to leave. With lifecuffs, although it occurs that the restrictions lie outside of us, they're actually inside of us and we can make choices to leave (even though we tell ourselves that we cannot).
When we're in prison, quite often we know when we'll have our freedom again. With lifecuffs we may fantasize about our freedom, but since we think, speak, and act as if that our freedom and flexibility is restricted by what's outside of us, we're unlikely to ever escape. Deep down we know this.
When we're in prison, most others will think less of us for it. Being in prison doesn't have good PR. In contrast, with lifecuffs, either others will not notice our lifecuffs or they'll think it very normal and even honorable to be wearing lifecuffs. They're wearing them.
Release from prison occurs all at once. Obtaining our release from lifecuffs is best done over time and step by step. In one sense, however, we can be "released" from lifecuffs immediately by powerfully declaring a new life direction that will create the journey step by step.
Being incarcerated takes away much of our physical freedom and flexibility, but, by itself, is not life-numbing and exhausting. Lifecuffs are.
How are lifecuffs able to take away your freedom and flexibility?
The basic method of lifecuffs is to make you believe bad things about yourself that you think you need to correct (but can never be corrected once they are believed). Typical lies they get us to believe are:
"You're not good enough."
"You've got to prove you're persistent, a good person, generous, loyal, hard-working, deserving, or...."
"You need to get others' approval to be okay."
"You've got to belong to be okay."
"You've got to fight with yourself (blame your Now) to make sure you have a good future."
"You've got to fight with yourself (blame your Oneself) to make sure you treat others well and you'll look good to them."
"You shouldn't be frightened."
"You've got to fight with yourself (resist your fear and hide it) to make sure you look good to others."
"You're not 100% responsible for your life. Other people get to decide whether or not you're good enough."
Once we begin to believe one or more of these bad things about ourselves (which usually starts as early as two years old), the lifecuffs begin to tighten. Little by little, year by year. So that today you may be wearing a full-blown set of lifecuffs.
Four different styles of lifecuffs
Lifecuffs will link together and reinforce each other, overlapping their responsibilities to limit your freedom and flexibility. Each one of us may not be so constrained by one of them (like the moneycuffs), but are still constrained by the others. Check out each of these four lifecuffs to assess how much each one is a factor in limiting your freedom and flexibility, as well as creating all the suffering in your life.
It seems that you need to change up or even start a new career in order to set up your life so that you're loving what you're doing and it all flows together. But you're locked into your current job (moneycuffs) because it brings in more money than you think you could get otherwise. And all that money is going out. You've "got to have it." Even if you're not making a lot of money, all the money you've got coming in is spoken for. You lack buffer and options regarding money, severely reducing your freedom and flexibility in being able to find ways to ensure that you're loving the process and journey of your life. Your best hope is that "in the future" that will be different. Meanwhile you have to just keep on the treadmill. If not ourselves, the majority of all the people that we know are wearing moneycuffs.
Even more of us are in the "jail of inflexibility" from timecuffs than we are from moneycuffs. Your Next has all these things (parts) that she or he wants to do, needs to do, has to do, promised to do and they more than take up (even though they can't) the 24 hours in your day. On top of that, your Now often grabs chunks of time (that wasn't scheduled) here and there and messes up your plans even more. There is just no way to prioritize process over results. "All this stuff has to get done," you insist.
A few of us have timecuffs, but with seemingly opposite symptoms. We have "too much time." Often life seems meaningless. We're not looking forward to tomorrow. We have "successfully" rebelled against "having to do things" because we don't want to feel dominated by our Next.
We could also call these cuffs your "identity cuffs" or your "looking-good-to-others cuffs." Egocuffs create a "jail of inflexibility" because you're trying to prove something (for example, that you can do more or that you're a good spouse). You could feel that you need to maintain or increase your "success" as viewed by others. You can't give that up. Your whole sense of your self-esteem is based upon that.
A few of us have egocuffs, but with seemingly opposite symptoms. We "don't care" what others think or want. We're insensitive to their wants and needs. And we do what we damn well please. We've rebelled against pleasing others or doing what they want or expect (our Oneself has managed to dominate our Others).
These also might be called the "HOGAB cuffs." The needs, expectations, and demands of others, along with your promises and obligations you think you have to others, make creating a life where you're true to yourself out of the question. You have either entangled (or allowed yourself to be entangled) with other people's needs and expectations so that it seems impossible to prioritize taking care of yourself. In the deepest sense, the source of all lifecuffs is ultimately peoplecuffs.
How peoplecuffs locked my mother down and made her suffer throughout her adult life
My mother was awesome. I don't know how I got so lucky as to have a mother like her. And she lived the happiest life possible given that she still resided in the House of Good and Bad (see Undoing Shoulds).
Before I share with you about the suffering that my mother incurred because of her peoplecuffs, take a side trip to learn about how amazing she was: My Mother.
In the following story, many the facts I present I didn't learn until much later in my mother's life (she had kept them secret).
Within two days of marrying my father in 1943 (she was 21 and he was 20), my mother suspected she had made a mistake in marrying him. But she believed in persistence. It was a solid part of her egocuffs. Because her sense of herself as someone who persists and doesn't give up (and also that she was a kind person), she could not and did not look clearly about whether she should get out of her marriage when the getting was good.
Don't hurry along the wrong road
By the time I was three years old, my father's bipolar condition (even though they didn't have a name for it then) had become obvious even to my mother's parents Beebe and Boog (their nicknames). One day Boog, my grandfather, said to my mother, "If you're on the wrong road, there's no need to hurry." My mother told me that she suspected her father was trying to tell her to "get out" in his own non-directive manner.
Discovering that my father was crazy
I discovered on my own (at age 10) that my father was "crazy." My mother had done a "good job" of trying to hold together a "normal family" and protect us kids from how things really were (now there were three of us, with my sister three years younger and a brother eight years younger). I went to my mother (who was hanging clothes on the clothes line in our backyard) and told her, "I think Daddy is crazy." My mother paused for a moment and then said, "Yes, I know."
Several decades later when my mother and I were talking about this incident, she told me that her first strong impulse was to just collapse on the ground and start crying, sharing with me how incredibly hard it was for her. But she had said to herself, "I can't do that to a ten-year old boy."
Family reunion and my mother decides to leave him
In 1979 our family planned a reunion at my sister's place in Rifle, Colorado (where she lived with her husband). My brother had already arrived there. I flew from New York City and my parents from Nashville to rendezvous at the Denver airport. I rented a car. As the three of us started our drive to Rifle, I quickly realized my father was in one of his manic talk-talk-talk states. My mother was completely frazzled from being around him.
Once we arrived at my sister's home, I took my brother and sister aside, explaining what was occurring (I had become much more aware of my father's general ups-and-downs than my siblings were). We agreed to "share" the burden of being with my father so that we could give my mother a break. For two hours I would be with my father. Then my sister for two hours. Then my brother for two hours. We could each handle two hours at a time, but not much more. On one of those two hours when my sister was with my father, my mother and I climbed a nearby small mountain. She was crying as we climbed. We talked long and deeply. The bottom line of our walk was, "Mama, if you leave Dad, his life is not going to be much worse. But yours will be night-and-day better." Once I could see that she fully got that, she told me she was going to leave him. I was clear that she had decided to leave him and I could already see that new daybreak in her eyes.
"But he needs you"
When my mother and father returned to their home in Tennessee, my mother told her mother, who she was taking care of at that time, that she had decided to leave my father. My grandmother Beebe was no fan of my father, but she replied (from inside the HOGAB), "Dorothy, you can't leave him. He needs you."
My mother's heart sank. All the hope and sense of possibility drained from her (of course, I did not know this at the time).
Several months later I noticed that my mother didn't seem to be doing anything about leaving my father. I somehow assumed (I was so wrong) that she had good reasons for not doing so. If I regret anything in my life, I regret this assumption.
She stayed with my father for five more years of suffering
In 1984 I was talking with my mother on the telephone and she was telling me that she was beyond the end of her rope. She had no idea how she was going to figure out the issues of my father's likely refusal to leave the house, her wanting to make sure her mother was taken care of, and the entangled mutual property mess. I told my mother to just take a stand and we'd figure it out as we went along. She agreed.
I flew to Tennessee (from Arizona) to assist my mother in leaving my father. In three days, she had informed her brother and his wife of her decision to leave and they agreed to take over taking care of Beebe. I suggested that my mother come live in the Phoenix Valley (where both my sister and brother were living). She could stay with me and my wife for a week or two. She agreed. We would leave the issue of property separation and divorce until later. The most important thing was to get her away from my father.
We were both concerned about what my father might do once he realized his wife was leaving him (especially in his current state). All in all, it went well. My mother's friend drove my mother and me with many luggage bags and a cat to the Nashville airport.
"He did this and he did that"
A week later my mother and I were having lunch at a local restaurant in Phoenix. She was going on and on about my father and all the "bad things" he did. I listened for a while. Then I interrupted. I said, "Mama, you let him do all those things." For a moment, she started to get angry at me. But she stopped herself and admitted, "Yes I did."
"The only way I could leave him was to blame him"
Not long after that, in an insightful moment, she shared with me, "I really need to blame and remember all the things he did wrong. Otherwise, I could have never have allowed myself to leave him. I would have felt too sorry for him."
Yes, inside the HOGAB, if something "bad" happens, then somebody has to be at fault. Inside that house, my mother's only choice was to either blame herself or to blame my father. And since she tolerated so much in order to be "the good guy," she had accumulated a boatload of things to blame him for. So when she had been "the good guy" as long as she could, the only way she could allow herself the freedom to leave him was to keep unloading that boatload of blame again and again (which she continued to do until she died, long after my father had died). Inside the HOGAB, this was her only choice she had in order to feel okay about herself for having left him.
"Why didn't you tell me how good it would be without him?!"
Once my mother and father got the property settlement ironed out (with me as the mediator, back and forth with each of them on the telephone so they didn't tear into each other), then my mother was able to move back into her home in Tennessee. Every time I talked with her on the telephone (about every two weeks), she would exclaim, "Why didn't you let me know how good it would be without him?!"
The key(s) to unlock your lifecuffs
Yes, you now have the keys to unlock and remove your lifecuffs, step by step. That's the whole design purpose of AskDwightHow. It's all here (and I'm adding more and better "keys" every day). The major "master key boxes" are the toolkits: the FUF toolkit, CCC toolkit, NNI toolkit, NFS toolkit, OOI toolkit, XXI toolkit, ACI toolkit, and the WWW toolkit. The Life Tutorial is another major set of keys with special focus on Undoing Shoulds.