by Ross Bishop
So you have trouble staying centered. In touchy situations you lose your calm. You get scared, feel anxious and become defensive. You sometimes do and say things you later regret. Similarly, when presented with opportunities to be compassionate, you sometimes hold back. You go as far as you can, but you are unable to love freely and openly. You become anxious and afraid.
You fear that if you make yourself vulnerable you might be rejected. Why do you feel this way? Where does that come from? After all, that is not who you really are. When you are "yourself" you don't act that way. The simple answer is that you learned this behavior early in life.
A child's existence depends on the love and support she receives from the adults in her world, especially her parents. Their love and support was vital to your survival. Unless you have small children, you will not remember how fragile a child's world can be, but if she is not loved, she might not get fed, or changed or held. She could die, and she feels that at a primal level. Mary Oliver wrote:
Adults can change their circumstances; children cannot. Children are powerless, and in difficult situations they are the victims of every sorrow and mischance and rage around them, for children feel all of these things but without any of the ability that adults have to change them. Whatever can take a child beyond such circumstances, therefore, is an alleviation and a blessing.
Although every child needs to be loved, and most are, few children receive the unconditional love they need. It is not that your parents were bad people. Your parents did they did the best they could, but they had their own issues. Their upbringing had not given them the love they needed either and so they had not learned to give love freely themselves to anyone else. It was necessary for them to defend their woundedness, and personal wounds almost always take precedence over other people's needs, even those of our children.
Which is not to say that parents don't sacrifice for their children, because of course, they do. But most parents avoid dealing with their emotional issues like they were a communicable disease! Consequently, when you came along, you didn't get what you needed.
So when a parent gives the child the message (never said overtly) that they will only love them if they act a certain way, things can really come unglued for the child. Children are very vulnerable to criticism, especially from parents. And parental disapproval can be devastating.
Kids are naturally loud, boisterous, messy and curious. They drop things, question everything and don't understand a lot of adult rules. Perhaps your mother couldn't deal with your need to be loved or maybe your father was unable to respond to your open and heartfelt warmth and so each, in their own way, rejected your natural self. So when there was a conflict between your emotional needs and the pain your parents carried, it is very likely that you lost. It didn't take long for you to learn that who you naturally were, wasn't always OK.
Children don't understand adult psychology. All a child knows that the love she needs is there, but that it is also sometimes withheld, and she has no explanation as to why other than it must have been her behavior. She was just playing, but to mom she was too loud. She didn't mind that her toys were all over the floor, but dad did. And so it goes. . . Unable to resolve what is happening, and powerless to do anything about it, the child does the only thing she can. She turns the situation in on herself. She blames herself for the failure.
Article appears in new book About Life
In effect she says, "Mom is withholding her love. She says that she loves me, so logically there must be something wrong with me." And then the bottom falls out. And that's the problem with logic. Your erroneous conclusion begins a destructive downward spiral. That fed into your already fragile sense of self confidence and led to the creation of a set of beliefs about yourself - all of which were untrue! "I can be hurt," "Other people will judge me," "I am not lovable," etc. You carry these to this day.
The upshot of all this is that you came away from your childhood feeling unworthy and perhaps unlovable. And carrying that burden, you have asked to be loved many times in your life and all too frequently have been found wanting and rejected. Your focus is still on getting love from an external source like a parent or their substitute, and all too often you have tried that and come away feeling shortchanged.
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