Change and transformation. Many people are fortunate enough not to be faced with having to change or transform themselves during their lifetime. Most people who are fortunate in this way, don’t ask or have to ask those inner-world questions such as, “who am I separate from my parents?” “Do I believe [xyz] like my parents do?” “Am I living for the approval/validation of my parents or society?” Change is difficult but transformation is gut-wrenching. You can change jobs, cars, houses, cities, spouses, lovers and friends, but transformation is about altering or creating a new self-identity. I disliked the word transformation when used for counseling and coaching, because transformation is such a loaded word with so many expectations attached. But, I do use it when there is no other word to describe a situation for someone having to build themselves again from the ground up because everything they’ve known has been removed or torn away.
Identity is like a house. To build a strong or sturdy house, you need a foundation that supports it. Guess who primarily laid that foundation? Your parents or primary caregiver and to a lesser extent, society. Who you are, who you believe yourself to be, are shaped by your family and environment. Your parents, no matter how old you get, are still a foundation. As a child, you relied on your parents for comfort, support, love, nurturing, feeding, shelter etc. You may be an independent and self-sufficient adult, but this subconscious feeling of relying on your parents doesn’t necessarily go away, until you have to grapple with the finality of the loss of your parents.
Identity, in this society is also shaped by work. We live to work (sadly), so work is important. It’s important because it provides a foundation for you as an adult in which you rely to take care of yourself. Providing for yourself allows you independence from your parents and an opportunity to create and provide for your own family. However, we, through society have intertwined who we are (be-ing) with what we do (do-ing/job). Don’t believe me? A common question we ask children is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We ask a college-aged person the same question in the form of, “What do you want to study?” As you get further into adulthood, when you first meet someone, how long in the conversation until someone asks, “So, what do you do?” I get it. Knowing what someone does for a job may tell you a little, a lot or nothing about that individual. It’s the ‘I do” vs ‘I am (Be).’ For instance, I do counseling vs. I am a counselor, I practice law vs. I am a lawyer, I practice medicine vs. I am a doctor. The job can be anything. Mom, Dad, Welder, Writer, Plumber, Chef etc… We often identify ourselves by what we do.
But what happens when your foundations are removed? How sturdy is a house without a foundation?
Tiger woods was recently arrested on a DUI and his mugshot plastered across every news outlet. There seemed to be a certain amount of glee in the media. Understanding someone else’s experience leads to compassion and empathy. In 2010, it was reported that Woods entered an in-treatment facility regarding his behavior (multiple women). Since that time, I have wondered if Woods would remain in competitive golf or give it up. First let me state my disclaimer. ***I don’t know Tiger Woods. Period. Because I don’t know you, the reader personally, your individual behaviors or family dynamics, I cannot use your personal experiences as examples to explain psychology, behavior and family insights to educate, so I identify people already in the public eye. Although we’re all different, we all pretty much have similar family and life issues no matter how much money or fame you have. Ok, end of disclaimer.***
Here’s why I wondered about Woods’ remaining in golf. When someone enters into in-treatment rehab, the program usually consists of 4-5 weeks of intensive inner-work. The individual is invited to excavate and explore their inner world. Part of that program, depending on the facility, focuses on what led to this behavior such as family history, family patterns and looking at and sharing past experiences that may or may not be trauma related. So, when Tiger entered rehab he most likely looked at those aspects of self. I figured it was only a matter of time that he would let go of competitive golf.
- He most likely looked at golf from various perspectives. Perfection being one. His dad was in the military, so there’s a certain amount of perfection that gets passed down to kids, even subconsciously. I haven’t met an adult child raised in a military family that doesn’t have some sort of perfectionism, no matter the outward appearances, me included. Golf is a game of perfection. You compete, first with yourself then with others. After so many divots, I didn’t have the patience for it. Bye-bye golf. Anyhoo, the amount of pressure that comes with sustaining perfection is unsustainable. At some point, there is a breaking point. Sustaining perfection for many years only leads to combustion. Many people can cope with perfection, striving for perfection their whole life, but for the most part people get burned out and tired. Or they find some unhealthy coping mechanism to blow off steam. Perfectionism is also about what you tell yourself mentally, do you ruminate over and over about your bad decisions with regret, wanting to do it over, perfectly or the right way? Otherwise, a mistake = failure. This is the psychology of perfection and it eats away at your spirit.
- Tiger was introduced to golf at a young age by his father. It was a shared experience with his father, something that they bonded over. How many fathers bond with their sons through sports? How many fathers want to bond with their sons through sports? How many fathers don’t know what to do or how to bond when their sons don’t like sports? Lastly, how many sons who may or may not be athletically inclined want to bond with their father? Umm..every son. This is a form of enmeshment, where the needs/desires of the parent takes precedence over the child’s needs. The parent who subconsciously lives through their child, covertly or overtly pushing their child to fulfill the parents’ unfilled passions, desires or dreams. Example: pageant moms. This is an extreme example, but this can be any dream, passion or family business such as lawyer, military, police, fireman, politician, etc etc…Now, I’m not saying that was the intention of Tiger’s father or any parent. It could’ve been simply wanting to share his passion with his son, but the parent’s passion became the son’s. It’s like wearing a coat of your parents and you make it fit, but after a while, as you grow up, the coat becomes a bit too tight realizing that the coat was never really ‘you’ to begin with. Most, if not all kids will do what pleases their parent even if it’s not important to the parent. This could be going into a certain line of work, study, marriage, or family business, based on your parent’s desire or to make your parent proud.
- Tiger Woods began golfing at the age of 3! He is now 41. He has trained for hours, daily for years on end. Golf was and has been his LIFE. This is like a 40 year marriage. Did Tiger go into this as a professional because he enjoyed it and excelled or were those by-products of choosing a profession that would make his father proud? Did Tiger really enjoy playing competitive golf, or was it what he knew or was expected to do? There is no doubt that Tiger’s identity is and has been intertwined with golf and his father. Golf has been, virtually his longest relationship.
- Tigers marriage also dissolved, yes, due to his own behavior. That’s another loss. I’m not making excuses for his behavior nor absolving his accountability. Woods himself, has repeatedly owned up to his behavior throughout his process, at least in the public eye.
If any of the answers above were because it was expected, implied or would make his father proud, then golf was not his true choice and had a definite shelf life. After the passing of his father, there was nothing really tethering him to golf. It’s as if his body has been telling him, “I’m done with golf” but his mind said otherwise. Golf has been a foundation in his life, something that he knew, was comfortable with, excelled at, relied upon, and enjoyed unlimited success, until he didn’t any longer. Grief alone is a loss of foundation and extremely overwhelming to navigate. No matter what your relationship with is/was with your mom/dad, the loss of your parent is the loss of a foundation. Someone who nurtured you, supported you, loved you no matter what.
I understand the difficulty for people to have compassion and empathy for someone who has the financial means to give up a career and explore their next stage in life without the fear or worry about taking care of their needs. Most people, who lose their foundations, or just about everything, don’t have the luxury of financial freedom. However, losing and building your self-identity is a struggle regardless because your self-identity isn’t linear, tangible, nor can you hold it in your hand like you can an object. Your self-Identity is fluid.
Without a foundation, or with your identity in flux, is like standing on a piece of flat wood in the middle of the ocean. You’re alone, struggling to feel some sense stability and strength within yourself, and grasping at something that isn’t there to support you. This seems to be what Tiger has been doing since 2010, trying to catch his footing but he’s been doing it by going back to the thing that he’s outgrown; golf. Golf is no longer sustaining him, and he hasn’t yet ‘found’ what will. Have you gone back to an old lover only to be reminded that, “Oh, yeah. That’s why we didn’t work out the first time.” Or, maybe you went back to an old job position or career because you don’t know how to change it, or you can’t see another, better possibility. What about remaining in job or relationship in which the stress is literally making you sick? Would you find it easy to leave? Would you find it easy to leave a 40 year marriage? No one jumps from the fall of an identity directly to a new fully-formed identity (foundation). It is a process that could take someone months or years to create. The best anyone can do in times of major flux is to let go and work with the flow. There is no control in that, and that’s scary..for everyone.
Questions to ponder:
What makes up your identity?
If all you knew was gone, what would you reach for? When there is uncontrollable change in your life, do you attempt to control it or go with the flow? Have you ever gone back to something familiar knowing that it wasn’t the best decision for you, knowing that you’ve outgrown it?
**Lastly, there’s a caveat to this situation. Woods clarified that it wasn’t alcohol but a mixing of prescribed pain medications. Unless he was just being honest, there’s an issue with this statement because it implies a justification of use and a DUI because they were prescribed medications. For many people, the fact that the pills are prescribed means they cannot abuse them. It’s like a glorified drug-user. By no means, do I think or know if Woods’ has an issue with pills, but the statement would lean toward a future possibility. I hope I’m wrong.