Cindy is 43, a successful, attractive, dedicated mom, extremely caring…and she hates herself. She doesn’t readily admit this. You’d have to spend but a minute inside her head to discover that the resounding messages revolve around negative rants; anywhere from “I failed” to “I should’ve done better.” You wouldn’t know it from her behavior as she’s a high functioning and regular member of society.
George is 58, happily married (more accurately satisfied enough in his marriage and not planning on going anywhere), super achiever, 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 and 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 that stopped feeling attacking forever ago.
It began for both of them during their most formative years. Childhood is a tapestry of complicated threads that form an indomitable fabric. When loved, we are fed messages of warmth and eventually our own minds take over the voices of those parents and environment and the fabric is one that is expectant of love– inside and out. But when we are 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 and 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, and most 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 their child’s behavior told us the most of what they thought of us. Whether our parents were “good” or “bad” people is not the 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 ourselves as the imperfect beings we are.
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 good look under the hood. They’d rather keep refilling the oil than get real 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.
What to do. Sadly, there is no simple answer, no “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.
The real answer is to “parent” yourself. It does sound a bit poetic and it’s meant to be vague because it means various things to different people. But the intention is always the same: feed yourself the messages you should’ve heard as a child. It’s easier in concept than you think. If you have a child or a loved one, consider the messages you send to them and start telling yourself the same. It’s harder in reality because let’s face it, you don’t like yourself nearly as much as the ones you love.
You literally have to create a structured time every morning and night to nurture yourself. It begins with positive statements whether said aloud to yourself, written in a journal or both. It then requires you to put on a new lens, the one that sees you as a deserving person like everyone else in your life, and plan your day as if you were this person. Your day will immediately change as you are forced to take care of yourself while living your day. If you miss even one day, you’re supporting the automatic voice that is your childhood. With consistency, you will eventually become the deserving person you’ve chosen to be and it will largely replace the older version. It takes exhausting effort; but not nearly as much effort as critiquing your every move. The choice can be yours, finally.
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M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as “One of the best psychotherapists in the world.”