For many people who were raised in abusive, neglectful, or dysfunctional families, “you made your bed now lie in it” is a common life philosophy taught and promoted throughout childhood. It's a message that’s typically passed down from one generation to the next, particularly when there was prior victimization or helplessness. This mindset gets normalized and subsequent generations stop challenging its legitimacy. Instead, the belief is that there are limited choices in life and once they’re made, you’re stuck with them. Even worse, there is the belief that leaving an old “bed” in search of a better one is irresponsible, selfish, or immature.
Limiting your options is a powerful and destructive mantra because it discounts many of the basic rights you possess as a human being. Those rights include re-evaluating your choices and decisions in life, changing your mind and your course of action to match ongoing or changing circumstances. The important decisions you made always occurred within a specific life context. Perhaps it was a time in your life when you lacked experience or wisdom. Maybe you felt pressured to accommodate other people. You may have been acting from a lack of emotional maturity or positive self-esteem. Or maybe you were unconsciously re-playing what was modeled and normalized for you in childhood.
The truth is, the personal, academic, and professional decisions that met your needs 5, 10, or 20 years ago may be completely irrelevant to your life today. In the present, your eyes may have been opened in ways they never were before. Maybe you tapped into a creative, curious, or adventurous part of yourself that wasn’t as available in the past, and that new part has very different needs and desires. Maybe the choices you’ve made have served you well and you’ve simply outgrown them now. Perhaps you’ve come to realize that you deserve more or deserve to be treated with greater love and respect. The bottom line is you should never be permanently stuck with a choice that worked in the past but is no longer useful, relevant, productive, or safe in the present.
You have the right to leave that “bed” and discover a new one that truly reflects who you are and what you currently need and desire. This is especially important when you have made those prior decisions under pressure or stress. Or you discover that you‘ve actually been lying on a harmful “bed of nails.” As we begin the New Year, It's a natural time of inward reflection, re-evaluating decisions and choices, and allowing yourself to decide if they still work for you or if It's time to do something different.
Anyone who insists that you have to forever stay with your original choices is asking you to remain frozen in time. They may push the idea because it meets their own personal agenda or needs without considering the impact that It's having on you and your life. People can be quick to weigh in, even when you haven't asked for their opinion. They'll give you advice about what they think is in your best interests. They might make sweeping statements and judgments about your life even when they don’t know the whole story. They might be out of touch with your current needs and feelings or the toll your choices are taking on your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health. It's so important for you to trust your own instincts and inner wisdom. A true sign of an ever-evolving person is one who can look back and identify many "beds" they got to try out, live in for a time, and then moved on. Hopefully you will embrace the idea that this is the healthiest and most productive way to live your life!
In the comments below, share with us a time when you let go of "you made your bed now lie in it."
Adapted from “Finding Your Ruby Slippers: Transformative Life Lessons from the Therapist’s Couch” by Lisa Ferentz.