The Cage Door Has Been Open the Whole Time – The Good Men Project

The Cage Door Has Been Open the Whole Time – The Good Men Project

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Here’s how it goes:

Client: “I just don’t think I’m worthy of getting what I want.”

Me: “Ok, do you remember a time when you did feel worthy?”

Client: “Hmm…uhh…yeah…when I was like, 20 or 21.”

Me: “Ok, how did you feel at 20 or 21?”

Client: “I felt…free…like I could do anything I wanted to. Like I could go out and conquer the world, and nothing could stop me. I was doing great in school, I had a lot of friends, and I had a full life. I was happy, and I felt good about myself.”

“I felt like I could kick ass!”

Me: “Great. Now what would that 21-year-old self tell you right now, if she was standing in the room with you?”

Turning point.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

The Family Cage

When we come from dysfunctional families, we were told things that kept us small, kept us hidden, and kept us in positions of servitude.

The family system, or rather, The Family Cage.

We heard these types of messages in The Family Cage:

“Don’t be angry.”

“Don’t be sad.”

“Don’t be afraid.”

“Don’t cry.”

“Don’t demand things.”

“Don’t have needs.”

“Don’t be exuberant.”

“Don’t cause me any trouble.”

“Don’t be yourself.”

See, none of those messages were for us — they were for our parents. They served them, and as emotionally immature people, they needed us to be “good.”

Well fuck being “good.”

And forget about being “nice” as well.

You don’t need your parents anymore.

We stand in our own way through the false belief that we still need our parents, we need their approval, and we need to live by their beliefs, standards, and values.

We don’t.

As children, we thought they were omnipotent beings who had the answers, and it was us who were the problem. By shaking this belief and seeing them for the immature, needy, adult children they were, we can break free from the family cage and the role we played.

Heal the shame that binds you.

One of the major hurdles in leaving the family cage is what John Bradshaw calls “toxic shame.” Toxic shame is the byproduct of being told we can’t have our feelings and we can’t be ourselves. With these messages, coupled with our failure to make our parents happy, we developed an underlying mantra:

“I am imperfect and unworthy of happiness and love.”

It’s not true.

Yes, we are imperfect, and yes, we are worthy of happiness and love. Not everyone is going to like us, love us, treat us with respect, and know where our boundaries are. If we’re honest with ourselves, we won’t like everyone, treat everyone with respect, or know where people’s boundaries are.

That’s life, and we do our best.

Bad boss? Find another team or another company. Or maybe even better, become your own boss.

Bad relationship? Do what you can to improve communication, set boundaries, and accept the fact that most people don’t change unless they want to. Talk to a qualified person if you need help.

Toxic relationship with family? It’s ok to set hard boundaries and limit communication. In most circumstances — and I mean the vast majority — you don’t need them and they don’t need you.

Chances are you are just wanting to need them.

My sponsor said something very valuable to me: “From 0 to 18 we’re victims. After 18 we’re volunteers.”

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Photo by LSD for Society on Unsplash

“I need to feel inspired first.”

False. You need to act first. Do, and your thoughts and feelings will follow.

“I’m too old to do _________.”

Bullshit. History is filled with people who started great things at an older age than you. Same principle applies to “I’m too young to do _______.”

“Yeah but I’ll fail at that!”

How do you know? You didn’t even try, so you’re basically saying that you’re better at predicting the future than doing ________? You’re saying that you have the ability to write your own future negatively but not positively?

The only outcome you’re guaranteeing yourself by not doing is staying where you are. That’s it. No trying, failing, learning, or succeeding.

None of it.

“I’m going to get hurt.”

You might. Same principle as above.

“It’s going to be a waste of time.”

Depends on what you learn from it. The only wastes of time are activities that don’t recharge your batteries or provide no learning experience.

“I can’t leave ________, they need me.”

Take a hard look — do they?

“I’ll never stop feeling this way.”

When was the last time you felt the same way forever? As in, you felt bad forever or you felt good forever?

“This is just how I am.”

Really? You have zero ability to change? You just haven’t experienced enough pain to inspire you. You don’t need to wait that long.

“I’ll never get what I want.”

You won’t if you sit around telling yourself that instead of doing.

“I don’t know what I want.”

Yes you do. You’re just too full of the previous lies to let yourself have it.

“Who am I to succeed?”

I saved the best for last, because it’s actually two questions:

The first question is “Who am I?”

Yes! Who are you? Let’s figure that out! Dive deep, get dirty, go to the scary places, sort through the piles and piles of lies and false beliefs and garbage, and really figure out who you are.

Not the “nice person,” the “fuck up,” the “family star,” or the “mediator.”

You. Your wants, hopes, dreams, desires, needs, values, and boundaries.

And now the success part:

Who are you not to succeed? What makes you think the world/universe/God/whoever wants you to be small?

Where is there petition that says “We don’t want so-and-so to succeed because so-and-so might make the world a little better, or inspire others to succeed, or fulfill their role in this short and precious life?”

Where have you found evidence that the universe will not support you in being the best damn version of yourself? You haven’t. It doesn’t exist, except in the one place you have no business staying in a millisecond longer:

The Family Cage.

The Turning Point

Client: “My 21-year-old self would tell me ‘don’t hold back. You got this. You have everything you need to succeed — you just need to stop being afraid. It’s ok to be you and to go after what you want.’”

Me: “…”

Client: “Huh.”

Me: “What did you learn?”

Client: “That I’m the only one standing in my way!”

Me: “How do you feel?”

Client: “Free…light…unafraid…hopeful…”


Me: “Yup. The cage door has been open the whole time.”

“It’s up to you to walk through it.”

Photo by Nikola Knezevic on Unsplash

This post was previously published on Change Becomes You.


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