Dragging Around Our Vestigial Tale

No, I haven’t spelled that incorrectly, thank you very much. Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with evolutionary biology knows that Charles Darwin (among others) opened the door to the study of where and how we humans originated. His research set the stage for discoveries of our evolution as a species, which included insight into how adaptations that were needed for a useful purpose at one point in our advancement lost their utility as life changed. Examples of such adaptations include our tailbone, wisdom teeth, and even goose bumps. Once upon a time, these characteristics served an important purpose in how our ancient forbearers lived their lives, but their usefulness has ebbed away as the conditions of our daily existence have radically transformed. In fact, archaic adaptations now hinder many—as anyone who has suffered the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth can attest.

By the same token, there are many, less obvious contrivances in our own lives that have outlived their usefulness. What I mean by this is the following: particular patterns of thinking, certain ways of expressing ourselves, reflexive assumptions or concerns that we utilized for very important purposes when we were children—doing our best to understand and survive in a highly complex, sometimes volatile, and often mysterious adult world—no longer are helpful to us in our maturity. Think of it like this: the only way an infant has to get attention is to cry. So, babies do a lot of crying because that’s the sole mechanism they have for getting what they need. That worked for you as an infant, but now? I sure hope you don’t go around crying and squawking and peeing on yourself.

Children are sponges; we absorb the examples around us and learn to mimic them or decide we’ll behave exactly opposite. I learned from a master pouter and rager; as a result, I unfortunately adopted the pout and in lieu of raging, turned silent and shied away from ever speaking up on a sensitive or vulnerable topic for fear of being ridiculed or yelled at. My tutor schooled me to believe that I was definitively being rejected by anyone who was subdued or inattentive in my presence. As compensation, I stuffed down all my confusing and inconvenient feelings turning to overeating and perfectionism, and by running myself down before anyone else had a chance to do so. Growing up, I had no clue that other families handled anger and disappointment in another manner—this, my friends, is an example of a vestigial tale. I assure you that it has taken me a long, long time to recognize this and to understand that there are far better and more effective ways to manage my inevitable vulnerability, discomfort, or discontent.

So, what about you? What unfortunate behaviors or mistaken assumptions that you embraced as a child still hold sway in your life? Is it your first instinct to withdraw and hide when situations get awkward? Do you nurse your anger or hurt because you don’t know any other way to express a disappointment or you fear that it won’t, somehow, “count” if you don’t nurse a grudge or make a fuss others will notice? Do you prefer to hold onto a years’ long rejection, just because?  And, yes, I’m talking to you–you do this, too.

Vestigial tails, like their counterparts which I am discussing here, once played an important and beneficial role—just no longer. Things can outlive their usefulness.


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2 Responses to “Dragging Around Our Vestigial Tale”

  1. Jim Patterson Says:

    A good one today Chrisanna.


  2. grasshopper Says:

    this is a fabulous topic and blog. thank you!

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