One evening when I was 4, I interrupted my dad’s newspaper reading. In his irritation he said:
“You get right up my nose.”
“But daddy, my feet would stick out” I giggled.
To my little girl brain, getting up his nose was clearly impossible and I found the image of me trying hilarious.
I was open-hearted and playful in my response to my dad, but instead of laughing along with me, he found my “back-chat” disrespectful and flew into a violent rage. I was caught off-guard and shocked by his anger.
I didn’t even have to wait for the other shoe to drop. My “punishment” was instantaneous.
After the beating, I vowed to be more careful about who I was myself around. I swore to myself that I would never be funny or silly ever again. I had forgotten to be vigilant and I had paid a hefty price. The consequence (the other shoe) was swift but unforgettable. And sadly, long after the bruises healed, my vow to squelch my playful spirit remained.
* Maybe for you the other shoe was the bully in grade school and you just never knew when or where they might ambush you.
* Maybe it’s been a recurrent auto-immune condition that flares-up whenever you burn the candle at both ends.
* Or perhaps it’s a vague feeling of impending doom, a nameless waiting for something bad to happen any time you experience too much happiness, joy or financial success.
The most important thing we need to understand is that “waiting for the other shoe to drop” is a trauma response.
Whether you experienced childhood, developmental trauma, sexual abuse, or a one off traumatic event like a car accident, the same rule applies.
Simply put, a traumatic event is anything that’s too much for our brain and body to process in the moment.
In that moment, we become overwhelmed and our pre-frontal cortex (the part of our brain responsible for thinking and making rational decisions) goes offline.
We go into auto-pilot and our survival-response system kicks in. Our blood pressure and heart rate rises, and our nervous system prepares our body to fight or flee.
If, as is so often the case during traumatic events, we’re unable to complete a survival response – like fighting or escaping, we can go into freeze or shut down.
When this happens, what we get left with is pent-up or thwarted survival impulses that have nowhere to go. They get stuck inside us.
Flash forward to today and this translates into us feeling hyper-vigilant and anxious during events which are seemingly unrelated to our original trauma.
Let me give you another example…
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was a caretaker and confidant for my Mum. When I graduated university, I decided that I wanted to be more independent. To call her a little less frequently and to drive to visit a little less often so that I could begin to establish my own adult life, relationships and career.
I plucked up the courage to tell Mum and it felt so good – like a mini-victory in autonomy.
On my drive back to London, less than 4 hours after our conversation, I got a call to tell me Mum had had a seizure.
I turned the car around and so began a further 2 years as primary caretaker and nurse for Mum until she died in 2005.
For years I believed my “selfishness” during that conversation caused her illness and subsequent death.
And this is really what waiting for the other shoe to drop is all about.
* I wanted to be more independent
* I got up the courage to assert myself
* I felt good about myself and my decision
* I was hit by the other shoe (Mum’s shock diagnosis)
* I made meaning (there is no escape from my caretaking role)
* I went deeper and created a belief (I am not allowed to be happy or to live my life – I have to put my life on hold and always care for others…)
Take a moment to reflect on how this pattern of waiting for the other shoe to drop shows up in your own life.
* What meaning have you given it?
* What beliefs have you developed because of it?
* How have these impacted your life today?
Logically of course, I know I didn’t cause Mum to develop lung and brain cancer. So what was really going on?
As young children, we all believe that the world revolves around us. This is a natural and normal stage in childhood development. It’s why we play peek-a-boo with toddlers, to help them to learn about object permanence, separation and autonomy.
However, in developmental trauma and beyond, we are often told that the bad things that happen are our fault. We learn to conflate or mesh-together cause and effect:
“I was me, I was funny, I was happy, I got beaten.”
And so we learn:
“I must not be me. I must hide me. I must shrink in order to be safe (and to avoid the other shoe being dropped).”
So, now that we understand a bit about what’s going on…
The First thing we need to do is pause and ask ourselves “is this really true now?”
For me… Yes, it was true back then. Yes I did get beaten. Yes, Mum did get sick. But is the meaning I gave these traumatic events still true here and now today?
Or – am I a little bit safer now, more able to be myself and live the life I truly want and deserve today?
So take a moment to pause and ask yourself “is this really true now?” Don’t judge what comes up. Perhaps it does still feel true, and that’s ok.
Remember, we can’t heal what we can’t see.
Write a list of situations where you feel like you’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When you write this list, you will begin to clearly see patterns and “evidence” about all the reasons why you must not do the thing (be happy, be successful etc).
For me this is usually anything that involves being visible, speaking up or being authentically myself. And my reasons for not being more me usually revolve around fear or dread of being punished.
Begin to take tiny, titrated steps towards creating new evidence that will support a new belief today, like:
It’s safe for me to be joyful for 5 minutes, especially around my friend Casey.
My immune system is healthy and strong and I can go out with friends once a week without my condition flaring up.
Using Tapping, continue to untangle old traumatic events from the meanings you gave them back then:
This allows us to create space for new, more empowering beliefs to develop and grow today:
Yes, it wasn’t safe for me to be playful or to be authentically “me” back then, but what if it is safer now?
And above all, get curious and the best step of all…
Ask yourself questions like…
I wonder what my life could be like with these new beliefs today?
I wonder what might be possible for me now that I’m free from this school bully? I wonder how much more I could concentrate on learning French now that I’m not waiting for the bully to strike.
I wonder how playful I could be with my kids, now that I’m not constantly waiting for the repercussion or the other shoe to drop.
You see, the bad things that happened were never my fault and they were never your fault either.
It’s time to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. You’ve waited long enough. And with these steps and tools, it’s possible to process and release old wounds and start living the life you truly want and deserve today.
Sending you love today.❤️