The messages we receive as children impact us our entire lives.
I am a clinical psychologist, so I know this better than anyone. Yet it is something that I have had to learn over and over for myself in my own life.
In therapy, I hear my patients discuss the impact of the love they did not receive, and the impact of the messages they took in as children.
As humans, we all go through the acquisition of false beliefs in childhood. It cannot be escaped. When we are children, we depend on our caregivers, and it is in our evolutionary best interest to change ourselves to be who we think we need to be to receive love and support. It is our means to survival.
Maybe we learned we needed to be quiet and not have an opinion in order to be loved. Maybe we learned it was better to keep our pain to ourselves, and we learned to “just push through” any difficult situations that came up. Maybe we learned that in order to be loved we had to be a certain weight, skin color, height, education level—the list goes on.
Maybe we learned we weren’t tall enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, or smart enough to be worthy of love and acceptance.
The question is, what happens when the things we learn never get unlearned? What happens when we are showing up in our adult lives as the children that believed they had to change themselves to receive love? We become disconnected with ourselves and our passions. We become numb, and potentially develop mental health concerns or even physical health concerns.
When we turn off our needs, and we change who we are, we often develop unhealthy coping skills to change our state. This could look like using alcohol, overspending, or overeating. We try to use things to make us feel better without examining the childhood wounds we are carrying around.
Growing up, I took in a lot of messages about who I was supposed to be. I felt I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, or good enough to be liked by others. This meant I needed to constantly please others and bury my needs deep down in order for them to like me. I shut off my awareness to my own needs many times in order to be who I thought I needed to be to get people to like me. Sometimes this meant bending over backward for people in my relationships, or changing myself to be more like them.
Ultimately, through a lot of emotional labor and increased self-care behaviors, I increased my self-worth.
One of the things that helped me, and has helped many of my patients, is an understanding of the false assumptions we make, as well as the rights we have—or should have—in our relationships. These rights challenge many assumptions we had as children and allow us to step into our power and put self-affirming behaviors into action.
There are many more of these we could explore, but this list is a good start:
- False: It is selfish to put your needs before others’ needs.
True: You have a right to put yourself first at times.
- False: It is shameful to make mistakes.
True: You have a right to make mistakes.
- False: If you can’t convince others your emotions are reasonable, you must be crazy or wrong.
True: You have the right to be the final judge of your feelings and accept them as legitimate.
- False: You should always try to be logical and consistent.
True: You have a right to change your mind or decide on a different course of action.
- False: People don’t want to hear you feel bad, so keep it to yourself.
True: You have a right to feel and express pain.
- False: You should always have a good reason for what you do.
True: You have a right to make decisions, and you do not need to justify yourself to others.
- False: You should be sensitive to the wishes and needs of others, even when they choose not to tell you what they want.
True: You have a right to not anticipate others’ needs and wishes.
- False: You should always try to accommodate others.
True: You have a right to say “no.”
To feel we are not good enough in any way is a painful burden to bear that ultimately gets in the way of our joy and our ability to connect authentically with others.
It is my hope that this list can help us all take a step toward unlearning how we are “supposed to be” and begin showing up more authentically ourselves.