Cindy is 43, successful, attractive, a dedicated mom, extremely caring… and she hates herself. She doesn’t readily admit this, but spend a minute inside her head and you’ll discover the resounding messages revolving around negative rants – everything from “I failed” to “I should’ve done better.” You wouldn’t know it from her behavior. She’s a high functioning, regular member of society.
George is 58, happily married (more accurately, satisfied enough in his marriage and not planning on going anywhere), a super achiever, at the top of his career and stuck on getting approval from everyone in his life – except his wife and children who’ve learned to accept his workaholic, frenzied state.
Both Cindy and George manage life but the disdain that lives within is akin to breathing – involuntary and sustaining. They simply know no other form of living. They process every moment through a lens that pulls the rug out from under them, constantly deploying personal attacks.
It began for both of them during their formative years. Childhood is a tapestry of complicated threads that form indomitable fabric. When loved, we are fed messages of warmth and eventually, our own minds take over the voice of our parents, and the fabric is one expectant of love, inside and out. But when unloved, our minds have no choice but to adopt a voice of disdain. Simply, we are taught about ourselves and our world when we are too little to evaluate the truth of it all. It leaves some of us emotional winners and others losers.
Often, parenting is what we do when we are not thinking. We wish our children only heard us at our clearest, rested, well fed moments. But much of what we learned in our childhood was gleaned from the reactions of our parents. How they responded to life’s complications and our behavior told us what they truly thought of us. Whether our parents were “good” or “bad” people is not at issue; only that little kid’s severely limited perception of what came her way is what counted.
Like Cindy and George, too many of us walk around with unwarranted negative chatter in our heads. It doesn’t mean we’re never wrong or don’t need a good internal kick in the pants every now and then. But it does mean that there are others who felt loved as children that approach every second of life with an attitude of internal kindness, softening every blow and understanding that as humans we are imperfect.
So if you are one of those people whose friends like you a whole lot more than you like yourself, it’s time to sort things out. Looking back will explain the story you developed about yourself. Honestly assessing your childhood as best you can will give you the information you need to discover that story. Regardless of what your parents meant to do, you created a belief about yourself based on what you were given. That belief is likely untrue and now as an adult you have a choice: be your parents’ child or be yourself.
It’s a tough decision because most people would rather not take a look under the hood. They’d rather keep refilling the oil than get dirty trying to find and repair the leak. Usually, it takes an event or life crisis that drains the oil so fast, we have little choice but to dig deeper. Once you can be honest about your past, you can be honest with yourself. There are, of course, many parts of every childhood that likely gave us incredible skills and often the same parent has taught us positive and negative lessons about ourselves. It’s up to you to change the ill-conceived notions that you are in any way less than the rest of humanity.
Sadly, there is no simple “change my past” pill. Perhaps you can go back to your parents and get some of those missing hugs? Won’t work. Usually, those hugs aren’t even available now and even if they were, they can’t undo the past. Ironically, searching for emotional hugs from them now is giving away yet more control over your internal self. Trying to change the past by doing anything “outside” of you won’t get the job done.
About the Author: M. Gary Neuman is a psychotherapist, rabbi, and New York Times best-selling author. He is the creator of NeumanMethod.com video programs for marriages and parenting.
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