When I look back on 20 years of Psychiatric practice, it is difficult for me to think of a day when I didn’t look into the face of someone who was struggling with self-loathing. Many of them were raised in environments of abuse, but some couldn’t think of one, single episode of overt abuse in their upbringing! So, how is it that we come to be so hard on ourselves?
It’s Hard to be the Perfect Parent
Even the most well-meaning parents are much more prone to giving negative messages to their children than positive. In some studies of videos taken of actual parents interacting in their homes with their children, it has been estimated that negative messages were 96% vs positive messages were just 4%!
When a child hears those negative messages, the child’s psyche absorbs them into the Unconscious Mind. The Unconscious Mind is the container for what become the core beliefs of any individual. As those core beliefs pile up with negative messages about who you are, they go with you throughout your lifetime, sabotaging your efforts to reach your goals.
The Secret Saboteurs
Beliefs such as: “I’m not smart”; “I’m not athletic”; “I’m ugly”; “I’m a loser” become the forces driving our behavior from outside our own awareness. Just when you set an intention to reach a goal, something happens. You may have what seems like a good excuse not to succeed, but the real problem lies within those negative core beliefs. You may fear failing, so you don’t even try. You may not feel you deserve to be successful, so rather than live with something you don’t deserve, you find a way to avoid it altogether.
The Saboteur’s Accomplice is the Ego
The Ego will tell you that there is a perfectly good reason you can’t start working on that goal…just yet. The Ego will present your intentions in the best light, such as “I really need to get my friend that birthday present today and that means I don’t have time to think about eating healthy, I’ll just grab something on the run.” The Ego, or Conscious Mind, is the part of the Psyche that develops between the ages of 10 – 13. It tells us what the world expects of us and how to attempt to present that. It will not let us see what is hidden in the Shadow or Unconcious Mind, but those things continue to work behind the scenes, undermining our efforts to achieve our goals.
Parent Yourself with Compassion
I’ve run into very few people who have been unable to answer this basic question about how to treat a child: “If you had a 5-year-old child suddenly given to you to care for and he/she felt worthless, unlovable, dumb, incapable, what would you do for that child?” Almost everyone, without fail answers in one way or another that they would nurture that child and teach them to love themselves.
So, think about the messages you were given as a child. You’ll be more likely to remember the negatives, because it’s much more likely you heard those than any positives. Are there core beliefs you need to transform? If you’re human, there are. So, how do you begin to do that?
Practicing self-compassion is an exercise in reparenting oneself. Think of this: If your own child wanted to eat a candy bar instead of a healthy dinner, would you let him or her? If your child wanted to eat nothing but bread or drink nothing but soda pop, would you allow that? Probably not, if you’re a conscious, loving parent…right? So, now it’s time to treat yourself as you would your own child. Don’t allow yourself to do the things you know are unhealthy for you. Love your body enough to eat healthy food and get some exercise every day. Isn’t that why our kids have Physical Education in school? They are required to spend an hour of their day moving their bodies in some sort of athletic manner because it’s good for them!
“And You Know It Don’t Come Easy…”
The practice of self-love takes effort and consciousness. It requires you to take a step back and stop acting in an automatic way. You will have to start being the observer of yourself and learn to intervene when you have the urge to fall into old, unhealthy behavior patterns. The interesting thing is that as you do that, the inner child of you starts to learn that there is someone there who really cares and believes they are worthy of love. Your self-esteem will improve as you prove to yourself that you deserve to be well cared for and to achieve your goals.
Stay tuned for our next installment on how to begin a step-by-step process of goal-attainment!