That background drumbeat of negativism in your head wasn’t recorded overnight. Instead, it’s a compilation of messages you’ve herad, impressions and impacts you’ve assimilated, and conclusions you’ve reached over the course of your life. It’s like a top-40 countdown, except these aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard; they’re the worst.
These messages have the ability to overpower the positive things you feel and that happen in your life by the sheer momentum of their negativity. These messages have created a well-worn groove in your mind, allowing them easy access to your subconscious and conscious thoughts, where they color how you feel about yourself and think about what happens to you.
Amy grew up in a household where the “noticed” child became the target of verbal and emotional abuse by an angry father.
The way to survive growing up in Amy’s home was to be unnoticed. Blanket pronouncements of incompetence and worthlessess were common. Amy grew up hearing she wasn’t good enough, wouldn’t amount to anything, couldn’t do anything well enough, and wasn’t pretty enough to be of much use to anyone.
If she did well at school, Amy’s father said it was because the teachers were stupid. He was always right in his pronouncements. Any arguments to the contrary were quickly and vehemently countered, with sarcasm, insults, and threats.
Amy learned to keep her mouth shut, to hide what she was doing, hide who she was, and lay low. She distrusted attention and accolades, convinced she’d gotten away with something whenever anything good happened. She tried extremely hard to do everything right so that nothing could be held against her, all the while fearing she wasn’t up to the task.
When positive things happened at work, they were a source of anxiety and fear instead of satisfaction and celebration. If Amy could have picked out her “Top 40,” to Name That Tune, her list would have looked something like this:
- I learned no matter what, I’m just not good enough
- I learned to to become resigned to failure
- I learned I am the problem
- I learned what I do is never good enough
- I learned the thoughts of others are more important than my own
- I learned the lesson of my own inadequacy
- I learned to wrap my pain in shame and hide it away
Of course, Amy had never stopped long enough to really listen to what she was telling herself. This self-dialogue was so ingrained in her that Amy stopped recognizing it years ago. These “lessons” formed the framework for how she interpreted the world and provided reasons why bad things happend to her. They warned her not to expect good things, and Amy considered them protective, so she wouldn’t get hurt when things didn’t turn out like she wanted. As far as Amy was concerned, it was better to be resigned than rejected.
I’ve known many people like Amy over the years.
These are well-meaning, good people who developed some pretty elaborate coping skills in order to survive and make sense of difficult circumstances. Because the negative messages they carry inside them are so deep seated, it isn’t always an easy or comfortable process to uncover their true meanings and influence. It requires courage, commitment, and a safe environment where truth is honored and supported.
What does your Top 40 look like?
SOURCE: Chapter 6, “Choose Your Station Wisely (Emotional),” in Happy for the Rest of Your Life by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, Inc.