This soundtrack you’ve been living with wasn’t recorded overnight. Instead, it’s a compilation of messages you’ve heard, impressions and impacts you’ve assimilated, and conclusions you’ve reached over the course of your life. It’s like a top-forty countdown, except these aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard; they’re often the worst.
These messages have the ability to overpower with 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 was to be unnoticed. Blanket pronouncements of incompetence and worthlessness 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 Amy did well at school, her father said it was because the teachers were stupid. Amy’s father 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 forty,” to Name That Tune, she would have put down:
- I learned no matter what, I’m just not good enough.
- I learned 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 that Amy stopped recognizing it years ago. These “lessons” formed the framework for how she interpreted the world and provided reasons why bad things happened 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 for 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 around 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.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.