The Jacob Marley Effect
Jacob Marley is a character in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Like his old boss Scrooge, Marley was bitter, greedy and selfish. When he died, he was cursed to wander the earth as a forlorn spirit — eternally cursed by a burden of chains that represented his accumulated sins.
A fun topic for a Friday afternoon, huh!
I bring this up because we all carry around unnecessary chains of suffering and fear. At a minimum, these chains are a distraction from our mission and work. Worst of all, they will slowly drain us of joy and put us in a scarcity state. I’ve been there — sometimes frequently. And it sucks.
It seems as if there are three chains we tend to carry around:
- The Chain of External Focus. Constantly reacting to negative emotions triggered in us by other people, conditions and situations. This chain creates a sense of powerlessness, constant agitation and never ending conflicts. It perpetuates the lie that some external change will make us happy.
- The Chain of Comparison. Comparing what we are now and what we now believe with what we once were and what we once believed. Or combining with the Chain of External Focus to compare ourselves to others- producing either self-loathing or self-righteousness. This is especially true if we were taught an ideal that doesn’t match our actual beliefs.
- The Chain of Expectations. Attaching our happiness, peace, well being to future outcomes- especially based on other people’s behavior. This also typically means striving to live up to the expectations of others in a way that robs you of your sovereignty and identity. Attachment to outcomes and expectations rob us of finding any sort of joy in the present moment.
The good news is that these chains are entirely optional because we are all given the keys to unlock them and cast them aside. Here are a few:
- accept that every negative emotion is there to teach us something about ourselves.
- Be 100% accountable for your reactions. And 100% let go of how others react to you.
- Stay rooted in intrinsic focuses such as faith, self-love and/or mission.
These keys can be accessed through Cognitive Brain Therapy (CBT), guided meditation, and for those so inclined, by prayer.
So why wouldn’t we cast aside these chains? Sadly, suffering can become our identity. Suffering provides us a false sense of meaning and gives us the role in our story of “victim”. The chains become part of who we think we are and the idea of setting them aside to be free and happy is terrifying.
Thankfully, Jacob Marley is just a character in a timeless story. It doesn’t have to be our part in life regardless of our pasts.