“Shut up! Don’t you dare talk to me that way. Just who do you think you are!”
“Oh, you’re going to cry, are you? Get over here and I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“Stupid idiot. Don’t you have any brains?”
“You lazy good for nothing brat. You’ll never amount to anything.”
“Fat pig! Look at you. You’re disgusting!”
“Come here, honey. Oh, you’re so soft. Shhh. It’s okay. Now don’t tell anyone. It’s our little secret. That’s a good girl. That’s a good boy.”
What is this? Disjointed dialogue from a bad play? A poorly written novel? No, unfortunately, it is not. These are universal, real life abusive remarks all thrown at youngsters, now adults, and retold in therapy sessions and support groups all across the country. They are tossed out by parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, clergy and other official “care givers.” And decades later, these same people are still fighting inner battles to find some self-acceptance and self-worth. They are also acting out in their relationships the same defenses they used as children.
What does a little boy or girl do with information that constantly declares how bad, ugly, stupid, or crazy she or he is? How do children survive these messages? The answer is, not very well.
Imagine a small child playing in a mud puddle after a summer storm and getting his new shoes all wet. Imagine the same child being yanked by the arm, screamed at in front of his friends and then dragged back home and told to stay in his room because he’s bad.
That child may fearfully comply and then, once in his room, invent a story in his mind that he is a good boy who lives with adoring parents in a big, beautiful house on top of a mountain where nobody will ever hurt him. He may invent lots of stories every time he is locked in his room so he doesn’t have to deal with the shame, loss and terror he feels inside because the people he loves and needs the most say he is bad and don’t want him around.
Another child in the same situation may stomp and scream and invent ways in his mind to get even with his parents for being so mean.
Another will try every trick in the book to make up for being so “bad” and do everything right and good no matter what the cost and the outcome.
There are umpteen number of defenses children use from temper tantrums to deep withdrawal as ways to fight the fain of feeling unloved and abandoned. Later they may turn to drugs or alcohol, become workaholics, or develop eating disorders. They may become obsessive-compulsive, live in denial, disassociate, live with disabling depression or stay dysfunctinonally co-dependent. They may be living on large doses of tranquilizers and anti-depressants. Why? Because they have been shamed beyond belief in their most tender years. They feel so bad about themselves that they will do almost anything to escape the pain of facing who they have come to believe they are.
The human mind is an extraordinarily powerful tool. In times of danger, right from birth, it will invent immediate psychological solutions to survive. If the danger persists and the child feels unsafe, more defenses will be brought in. Before long, these defenses become automatic. The problem, however, is that these responses eventually become ineffectual. They are projected onto people and events that “appear” the same but are not. And now this protective armour, which has become the cornerstone of their belief system, (the world is not a safe place in which to live), only serves to keep them imprisoned in isolation, fear and false reality.
In order to change this, the work then becomes looking for patterns that trigger these kinds of responses. If a person’s current life still has areas that remind him of his abusive childhood, in order to heal, he must begin taking responsibility for his interpretations and actions. It’s bringing into consciousness the programmes he has been using since childhood responding to old tapes and then erasing them by playing new ones. The new tapes or messages he gives himself must elicit self-love self-respect, nurturing and forgiveness.
If while reflecting we discover that we have acted badly, said or done something we regret, we must then love ourselves in spite of our actions. Then we need to take honest responsibility for what we’ve done. It’s about living our highest potential and authenticity. It means opening our hearts with the courage to speak our truth. Often this may mean apologizing to the person we have hurt which can be an uplifting, humbling and healing experience.
During the process of taking responsibility it is essential to be kind to ourselves. Many people go into immediate shame and self-abuse once they realize their actions have hurt people they care about. They apologize to them but continue to beat themselves up. We must use our mistakes as opportunities to grow stronger and healthier. This process requires us to remember the little child we once were who was injured and shamed by the criticism we received. We must stop hurting ourselves by doing the same things that were done to us. Love that little child. Whenever you find yourself in abusive situations, leave. Practice boundaries. Learn how to be kind to yourself. And every time you are about to criticize yourself – Stop! Then breathe, rub your hand over your heart and whisper to that little child inside, “I love you,” instead.
Children need to be loved and nurtured and appreciated for who they are. Supposing that same child who played in the mud puddle had a parent who came over to him, crouched down beside him and they played in the puddles together. They collected neat shaped pebbles and made mud pies until they felt hungry and went home for cookies and lemonade. What if you were that child? How much different would your life be today?
Well, you can’t take back your childhood, but you can choose to make your life happier starting now. You can begin by giving back to your small child everything she or he needs to feel loved, respected and appreciated in the world. Consider keeping a picture of you as an infant or toddler next to your computer desk or on your bedroom mirror and every time you look up and see that beautiful picture of yourself, smile and breathe in love, kindness and compassion for the innocence, wonder and love that is you. I don’t have any pictures of myself as a baby or youngster but I found a picture of a baby in a magazine and she is on my bedroom mirror. I think of her as me. She is the most beautiful, innocent, loving little baby and I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to harm her. My heart swells with love and joy every time I look at that picture and I know I am loving myself up as I do it. This is wonderful daily practice in self-love. I highly recommend it. And remember, you’re worth it!