I meet many individuals who are suffering. These individuals are immersed in a pit of anger, fear, regret, shame and guilt. Life is painful for them. Sylvia is an example of someone suffering in this way. Even though she is only twenty-three years old she has a core belief she is not good enough. She describes herself in disrespectful and derogatory terms. "I'm a procrastinator. I never finish anything. I'm a loser."
It's painful for me to hear someone as young and as full of potential as Sylvia describe herself in such dark ways. "How did you come to see yourself in this way?" I inquire. Sylvia describes her history - a difficult childhood, parents fighting, separation, divorce, being lost in the struggle, leaving home at seventeen, and living with an abusive boyfriend. The story goes on an on.
When I hear Sylvia's life experience it's not surprising she has come to believe such negative perceptions about herself. "Sylvia", I tell her, "those stories you have about yourself are not true. You are a beautiful young woman with abilities beyond belief. You just haven't discovered this about yourself yet." I can see Sylvia wants to believe what I'm saying but it goes against the story she has held for most of her life.
I explain to Sylvia that all of us develop our identity and self worth by the thoughts, actions and perceptions of others. We assume what our parents, grandparents, teachers and friends say about us is true. Unfortunately the comments, actions and perceptions of our parents and others usually say more about them and their level of consciousness than it says about us. But the child assumes whatever another says, especially an adult or authority figure must be true.
I recall working with another young woman named Linda. Linda too had a core belief she wasn't good enough. I asked Linda when she learned this about herself. Linda described taking ballet classes as a child. When she was twelve she took part in a ballet performance in front of a large audience. The feedback she received that night was wonderful. People stood and cheered as she completed her routine, inspired by the talent and effort of this young protégée.
When Linda got home her mother greeted her with these words - "You're not as good as you think you are." Those words cut Linda like a knife and etched a deep wound into her core. From that day Linda felt like a fraud. She mistrusted her sense of self or the positive feedback received from others.
Years later Linda asked her mother about the words she uttered that day. Her mother explained her response this way - "I was afraid you would think too much about yourself and get hurt. So I thought it best to take the wind out of your sails then."
Its not surprising that Linda believed her mother at that tender age. That's what children do. I explained to Linda that she needed to take full responsibility for her sense of identity and self worth now. She needed to be responsible for the stories she told herself about who she is. She needs to recognize that the words, opinions, and judgments of others are for her consideration, not her consumption.
As a child I too had a tender heart. (I think every child does.) I easily absorbed what others thought and said about me. I assumed their messages were the truth. I had to learn to not give another's perceptions so much power. At one stage in my own healing I carried around a message in my wallet that stated - "What others think about me is none of my business."
I've learned each one of us is an amazing creation. Each one of us is unique and special and gifted. Recently I was at a presentation where the speaker declared we have three tasks in life: 1. Identify the gifts you've been given. 2. Develop those gifts to their utmost capacity. 3. Give those gifts back to the community.
My hope in writing this message is to accomplish two goals. One, remind you that your words and judgments can and do have the power to diminish the worth of others, especially young children, and to be careful with your words. Second, to encourage you to reclaim your power and take full responsibility for your sense of worth now. And if someone fails to see your gifts, recognize it as a statement about them rather than a statement about you and your gifts and worthiness.