What is your direction in life? Do you see yourself as simply another cog in the mad machine of random existence, or do you view yourself as someone of great value? What do you believe about God, about yourself, and about the place you hold in your world?
Perhaps you have forgotten who you really are. Maybe you’ve never known. No one wants to live with pain piled on pain, stress layered on stress if there is a deep-rooted sense that life is going nowhere. You may be in such a downward spiral that you wonder if going on is worth the effort.
What causes a negative image of yourself? Your life story holds some valuable clues to solving the mystery.
I remember being terrified by math classes during my junior high and high school years. I can still hear two of my teachers say, “Gregg, you are just no good in math. You won’t make it. Better choose a career that does not involve math.” Oh that hurt, and the pain continued for years. Even in college, I lived with unnecessary fear of mathematics. I almost didn’t enter the field of counseling because I’d have to take statistics.
Then, one day the tutor I’d hired to help me with my college math said I was okay, that I didn’t even need a tutor, that I could handle this on my own. Wow, what a relief — and he was right. From that point on, I began to do well in math-related studies. But what a long wait before I gave myself permission to do so.
Think back to your own past. What do you remember that may have blocked you from feeling good about yourself? Perhaps it was a teacher, a parent, a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a coach, or your peers. Have you lived with misbelief that you were not worthy or not good at something and, therefore, did not have much personal value? Perhaps we’ve all been there. We were not given the freedom to spread our own wings, and, therefore, we’ve spent much of our lives not being the persons a loving God designed us to be.
An important step in regaining control of your life is to understand your script. Write your personal history in a journal or tell a trusted friend. Who are you? Tell the stories of your childhood. Talk about your parents and grandparents. Who were your idols? What did you hate? Whom did you respect? Was it a saintly aunt?
The Greek philosopher Socrates reminded him disciples that the unexamined life is not worth living. What do you see as you examine your own life? It’s important to pay attention to your life script because what you were told to do, to be, to feel, not to do, not to be, not to feel, and how to react have all been the ingredients that have scripted your life. Much of what you learned was good, useful, and important. There’s nothing wrong with learning to put your napkin on your lap, keep your elbows off the table, and say thank you when someone gives you a gift or does something for you. These are admirable, important qualities for civilized living.
However, you also received other messages that were not as positive. You may have learned early on that you needed to take care of people for your own emotional survival and thus feel you must rescue others to be liked or noticed. You may have been overmothered and underfathered and, therefore, live your life seeking the approval of the opposite sex. You may attempt to compensate for past emotional losses by becoming an acceptance junkie through workaholism, overspending, sneaking a drink after work, having an affair, engaging in recreational drugs, or other destructive behaviors.
You may feel vulnerable as you go back through you life script. That’s okay, even necessary. But these are important baby steps toward healing. As you search your personal story, fill your mind with the words of Jesus: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Jesus knew that truth can never coexist with faulty messages. If you’ve tried to live with both error and truth, that experience alone has been one of the factors that has set you up for emotional exhaustion.
We can learn from what has been written on our impressionable heart and begin to change. It is possible to restructure the programming that has been carved into our memory banks. Will it be easy? No. Can it be done? I’m confident it can.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 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. If you are struggling with emotional exhaustion, The Center is here to help.