“I don’t value myself because I wasn’t loved as a child.”
“I can’t find love because my father abandoned us when I was little.”
“I have deep seeded issues from my childhood…”
In my coaching practice, I hear these kinds of statements a lot. Usually, the client is trying to explain why they have such limiting beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle, and these statements are usually technically true. Perhaps you really weren’t loved enough as a child. Perhaps someone did totally traumatize you, and cause you to feel unsafe. Maybe you were even abused. I’m certain that much of your parents’ and teachers’ behavior caused you to come to all kinds of painful conclusions about yourself and the world. But, while the explanations may be “true”, using them as justifications for continuing to hold on to the beliefs they helped create, doesn’t serve you one bit. It’s time for you to get over your crappy childhood already. And in today’s post, I’m going to tell you just how to do that. Strap yourselves in, people, this one’s probably going to get a bit bumpy.
Let go of the drama
This is going to be a bit hard for some of you to hear, but I’m going to say it anyway: Your childhood was not as traumatic as you think it was. I’m not saying you didn’t experience pain, possibly a great deal of it. I’m not saying that bad things didn’t happen. And I’m certainly not saying that you deserved it or that you weren’t right to feel awful about it.
What I’m saying is that the things that happened to you in your childhood don’t have to continue to have power over you NOW. People often look at the issues of their early years as though they are insurmountable obstacles. They talk about having been scarred for life, traumatized, damaged and even broken. They see themselves as beyond repair, as if such a thing was even possible (it isn’t, just for the record). I’d like to step up on my soapbox here and give you all a good talking to. Ready? Doesn’t matter if you aren’t, here it comes anyway:
You’re not f%#&ing broken
You can’t be broken. You can’t be damaged. You can only choose to see yourselves that way. You are God (yes, THE GOD, the big G, the freaking Almighty) embodied in the physical. Ok, so bad crap happened to you. You had asshole parents. You were abused by someone. You attracted horrible partners. You had a painful divorce. But you know what? So what? That’s right, I said it. So freaking what? Are you going to use these incidents as an excuse to hold on to pain for the rest of your life? Are you going to keep diminishing your light because someone once failed to recognize it, or couldn’t handle its brilliance, or even tried to squash it? Are you going to keep using their memory to keep traumatizing yourself? Really?
You are not in pain NOW because someone once hurt you. Are they hurting you now? If so, get out! And if not, then they are not the reason you are hurting. You are in pain because you made a decision about yourself that may have explained what was happening to you from your very limited perspective. You may have decided that you were unworthy or bad or deserving of pain. But guess what? You don’t have to keep holding on to that decision NOW. You get to make a new one, a better feeling one, one that serves you more NOW.
Decisions are not forever
If a decision is painful, it’s a bad decision, I don’t care how justified it was at the time you made it. Let me give you an example:
I once had a woman say to me “I can’t trust men because my father hurt me.” She desperately wanted to have a relationship, but kept attracting cheaters. She knew she had these trust issues (thanks to years of therapy), but couldn’t seem to release them. She’d made the decision that she couldn’t trust men, and even worse, had made the decision that this decision was final. It just was. It was fact. It was set in freaking stone. She even knew, intellectually, that there were men out there who were totally trustworthy, and that she was simply not attracting them.
What she didn’t see was that she was making the decision NOW, over and over again, not to trust men. She used her father’s behavior as justification for choosing that point of view again and again. I had to declare Bullshit. Her crappy father may have justified her decision not to trust men when she was a child. Back then, she had a very limited understanding of human behavior, and would’ve certainly internalized (blamed herself for) his actions. But, and here’s the big epiphany, his behavior THEN didn’t need to justify her decisions NOW. She could actually NOW make the choice to trust men, despite all the past reasons not to. In each moment, NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW, NOW, we get to choose a new path, make a new decision, from our new, much bigger than ever before perspective. Not doing so is a bit like saying that you can’t eat gourmet food because you decided you didn’t like it when you were 8.
If you have low self-esteem NOW because of something that happened decades ago, then you are choosing to use a decision you made as a child, from the limited perspective of a child, to severely limit yourself NOW.
Letting go of the pain
I get it, I really do. When I tell you to simply make a different decision, there’s a part of your brain that screams “No! I can’t let him off the hook! He has to pay for what he did! This pain is real, and I’m right and he’s wrong and letting it go means that he didn’t do anything wrong and that I was wrong to be in pain all those years!” I’d like to address all of that if I may.
You’re not letting anyone off the hook, other than yourself. You’re not punishing them. How does keeping yourself from having wonderful relationships hurt your father? How does being insecure and unworthy punish your third grade teacher? How does it “teach anyone a lesson”? It doesn’t. It’s just hurting you. You keep victimizing yourself over and over again, in an attempt to keep the memory alive. Well, let me help you out:
You were right.
You were right. You were right. You were right. They were wrong. They shouldn’t have hurt you. They should’ve been kinder and nicer and more responsible and less evil and not assholes and not douchebags. They should’ve loved you and cared for you and protected you. They should’ve stayed. They should’ve listened. They should’ve accepted you and validated you. They should’ve hugged you more. They should’ve stood up for you. They should’ve comforted you. They should’ve made you feel safe. They should’ve been there for you.
You were right. They were wrong. You were totally justified in your pain. You were right to rebel against their wrongness. You were right to think they were wrong. You were right. And no one can say you weren’t.
But that was then and this is now. And now, you’re wrong. You’re wrong when you think that you can’t let this pain go. You’re wrong when you think that what happened to you THEN needs to define you, how you think about yourself or anyone else. You’re wrong when you give the people who hurt you the power to have damaged you forever. You’re wrong to think you can’t heal. You’re wrong to think you don’t have the ability to be happy. You’re wrong to think you don’t deserve to be happy. You’re wrong to perpetuate the pain of the past in the present. That was then. This is now. And NOW, you get to make a new decision.
Do NOW what you couldn’t do THEN
You don’t have to be the same person that you were then. You don’t have to be that powerless child. You don’t have to just sit there and take it. Here’s how you make a new decision:
If someone hurt you in the past (it doesn’t even have to be your childhood, this can be anything that caused you to make a decision which you’re still hanging on to now), bring up a memory from that time. See them screaming at you, hurting you, abandoning you, etc. Now, freeze the scene, like a movie. Step into the scene as your adult self. The perpetrator can see you and hear you, but they can’t move. You and your child self are totally safe.
Now, unleash the hounds. Let it fly. Tell them off. Rip into them with everything you’ve got. Tell them everything you couldn’t tell them then. Tell them how wrong they are. Tell them they can’t hurt you anymore. If it makes you feel better, strike back. Heck, use your imaginary super strength and fling them out the window. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your right to be treated like a human, with respect and love. Beat them to a bloody pulp, if you have to (in your mind; don’t go all postal on someone and then blame it on me. You clean up your own mess, young lady). But render them powerless. No one may have stood up for you then, but you can stand up for yourself now.
Don’t let them off the hook
Surprisingly, when I take my clients through this exercise, they often hold back, using their adult perspective to excuse the perpetrator’s behavior. “My father wasn’t a bad man. He left because he was under a lot of pressure.” Ok, that may be true, but you know what? The kid version of YOU didn’t care about that. She didn’t have access to that point of view. And before you can make a new decision, you have to be willing to let go of the old one. So, tell your dad he was a bastard for leaving, and only once you let all that crap out, can you begin to see it from his point of view. So, don’t take it easy on the adults in your memory. If they hurt you, you get to express that. And this time, they’ll have to listen. Be prepared for a fair amount of anger to come out when you do this, and be sure to express it constructively.
Make a new decision
Once you’ve really embraced the fact that you were right, dammit, you can take the first step towards making a new decision. We so often hold on to old pain because we want to be heard, we want to be validated. No one listened to us then (or at least that was our experience), and we’re unwilling to let go until someone freaking does. You can give yourself that validation. And once you have, begin to make a new decision.
This is much, MUCH simpler than you may think. Notice, that I said “simple” and not “easy”. If you’ve been making the same decision over and over again for years, making a new one can be gut wrenching at first. But it’ll get easier quite quickly, so hang in there for just a little bit.
For example, let’s go back to the woman who couldn’t trust men. She visualized telling off her father for leaving, and began to take on the belief that maybe it wasn’t her fault. Maybe it was his. He was the douche in all this and she hadn’t deserved to be left. After sitting with this for a couple of weeks, she was able to start imagining herself trusting a man. She visualized herself in a relationship with a good guy who had no desire or inclination to cheat on her. The great thing about visualizations is that you can project yourself into the head of the other person and check their thoughts. It took a bit of work on her part, but after a few weeks, she was able to see herself through this man’s eyes and view herself as beautiful, special, loved, adored, and not even remotely not good enough. She felt this man’s feelings, and decided that he really did love her, he really was a good guy and she could totally trust her. The mere thought of not being trusted by her, hurt him.
These thoughts weren’t comfortable at first. Far from it. But this client chose to make a new decision over and over again, until this new thought became her belief. Soon after, she began attracting totally different men into her life. At the time of this writing, she’s dating a wonderful guy and hasn’t had her trust issues triggered once. In fact, for the first time in her life, she’s feeling completely comfortable and safe in a relationship.
You get to choose what you believe
Your beliefs are not chiseled into your bone structure. They are merely habits of thought. And habits can be changed. Do not give them more power than they deserve. Even if a belief has been in your family for generations, it’s still just a habit, possibly a really ingrained habit, but still just a freaking habit. You are not broken. You have a habit of thought that isn’t serving you. You are not damaged. You’re just unknowingly choosing to think a thought that hurts you a great deal. You are not traumatized or scarred for life. You have a bullshit belief, that’s all. Stop making it a bigger deal than it is. Yes, you are justified in your pain. Yes, you were right and they were wrong. But how long must you continue to suffer for their wrongness? It’s time to heal. It’s time to let go. It’s time to get over it and allow yourself to be happy already. You deserve it.
You’re here NOW. You survived. You became strong. So stand up, you kick ass Amazonian Goddess, you, and claim your BIRTHRIGHT to be happy. Don’t let anyone, not even yourself, take that away from you. All that matters is NOW. All your power is in the NOW. That was then. And THEN doesn’t matter. NOW does. What do you choose to believe about yourself NOW? Whom do you choose to give your power to NOW? How do you choose to feel NOW? You’re always choosing. Even when you’re not aware of it. So choose consciously. Choose wisely. Choose compassionately. Choose lovingly. Choose yourself. Choose NOW.