My friend, we’ll call her Susan, is beautiful. She’s married with grown kids. She takes care of her sickly mother and works full-time on a secular job. She is a spiritual woman, kind and not a gossiper. She cooks every day for her family. Her house is immaculate. I often tell her, one day I want to grow up to be like her, a good chef and conscientious housekeeper. One day, I’ll get there (in my dreams.) She is a together lady, even perfect. Yeah, perfect. But that’s the problem. Let me tell you why.
I’m amazed sometimes when I talk to Susan, because she says she feels inadequate. She beats herself up often for not being more giving. However, most of the time she is running full speed ahead with taking care of her responsibilities and others. She feels many times she lets everyone down, which is far from the truth.
After listening to Susan about her imagined insufficiencies, I decided I needed to help her appreciate some realities about herself. First, I wanted to find out where her negative thinking stems. I wanted to know, why she beats up on herself and who "beat up on her," so to speak, when a child.
Apparently, Susan was the oldest child in the family. It was expected she was to keep her younger siblings in line, to be good and quiet, to be “perfect.” So, she grew up in a "perfectionist, high achieving" environment, with consequences of discipline, if the standards were not met.
I’m not one who believes in being over lenient when it comes to raising or disciplining children. However, sometimes parents, who are also not perfect, can cause their children to develop negative traits and self-image. It happens when they keep the expectation of perfection over the heads of their children.
There is no one on the face of this earth who is perfect, not you, not I, not Susan. However, childhood experiences and upbringing can affect and mold our thinking, particularly how we come to view ourselves.
As an adult, Susan was still living out those expectations of perfection without even realizing it. Sometimes, you continue to play in your minds the statements you often heard as a child. For example, you might have been told, “you’re bad” in opposed to “you are acting bad or unacceptably.” There is a big difference in those statements. You never know how a one may translate them in his or her mind.
Or maybe you were told, "You're stupid" when you were younger. So that is the message you may hear and repeat in your own mind, now, when you do less than expected or something less than “perfect.”
Maybe you were told, "you're dumb,” “you're not good enough,” “you're not as good as your brother or sister." All of those negative messages take a toll on our self esteem and self image.
Into adulthood, you may be carrying and repeating these statements to yourself, unknowingly. They may make you harder on yourself that you should. Sometimes, we are so self-condemning, self-judgmental, unforgiving of ourselves and don't even realize it. It takes a continuous self-examination and self-observation to be able to really “hear” the messages played in your mind day after day.
When you become an adult, you need to learn to accept the mistakes your parents made, as well as your own imperfections. Try to develop a balanced sense of worth, esteem, and love of self, if those feelings were not nurtured during childhood. Examine your feelings, your emotions, forgive yourself and others. Learn to let some things go and not feel overly guilty when things don't go the way you planned. In the least, allow yourself to accept the past and move forward.
Traveling down the road of realizing how your past affects you can lead you to finding happiness. It may be hard to look back at the pain and hurt experienced in your life. Progress in this situation starts with self-awareness and knowledge. Sometimes, you have to go deep within yourself and find the underlying reason for your feelings. Then, you must do our best to undo the feelings and thoughts that keep you from feeling true satisfaction, contentment, and peace. Where is the love? Right inside yourself, seek and ye’ shall find.
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June 20, 2003
Copyright 2003 Paula Lonergan.
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