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“I am not perfect, mama! Stop putting so much pressure on me!”
That’s what my daughter told me when she was nine.
I remember how it shocked me. Such a clear rebuttal of my effort! But also some kind of profound wisdom that she had access to and I did not.
Looking for support, I called my own mom to share. My mother advised, “Tell her that she may not be perfect, but she should always strive to be.”
I was raised by a mother who tried to convince her husband that she was lovable. Perhaps she tried to convince herself. Subconsciously, she must have thought that if she could only prove to her husband that she was good, capable, worthy of respect and loyalty, and the best wife he could ever have, then the way her own father made her feel—unloved, hurt, punished, abused, unworthy—would go away. To that end, she tried to be perfect.
She did not succeed convincing my father. Not because she was not lovable, or not a caring wife, or not a warm and doting mother, or not worthy. She did not convince him because he was stuck in the prison of his own childhood emotional experience and was looking for something else. Moreover, his idea of a perfect woman was different from my mother’s idea of what a perfect woman is for a man. They obviously did not communicate enough to transmit those values to each other. Chances are, my father did not even know what he was looking for exactly. He once told me that he was looking for love.
The search for love from outside of ourselves is a sign of arrested emotional development. We strive to be the best in order to be noticed and found worthy of attention and love.
We are powerless when we are children. In order to have our needs met, we quickly learn to adapt to what our adult caretakers need and want us to be, so they are inspired to give us attention. When there are other siblings, we learn to compete to be noticed.
Since most of us never saw healthy boundaries modeled to us, nor were we taught how to have secure emotional attachments or how to process stressful emotions during childhood, our ego took over. Our sense of self has not been fully expressed, because we had to suppress parts of ourselves that adults found inappropriate or unwelcome. As a result, the ego stepped in to protect us. Thus, children perceive life from this egocentric state and take everything personally, which means “everything in life is happening to me and because of me.”
The game to conform and to please continues in adulthood. If we do not invest in the work to emotionally mature, the ego (the inner child) will continue to run our adult lives through our subconscious urges and choices. In this state we always feel low self-worth, lack, low-level paranoia (everyone is against me), and carry a belief that we can be or should be saved by someone.
The body remembers every moment of our lives, even if the mind cannot. The subconscious mind has stored each experience, with the resulting emotions imprinted in our cellular memory. We live the memories of our childhood wounds and traumas each and every day, unaware.
And that is really what drives our urges to achieve and the need to be the best: because, regardless of our biological age, deep down we are always that little kid, competing for love and attention.
Emotionally stunted adults continue seeking external validation throughout their lives, and will use relationships, material symbols, or titles to try to get it.
Family dynamic is passed on through generations. Blindly recreating my own childhood experience, I was trying to turn my children into overachievers, automatically praising the ones who distinguish themselves. Being emotionally enmeshed with my children, I derived my sense of value from their accomplishments.
I devoted all of my intelligence, my creativity, my energy in service to my husband and children, hoping that they would excel and achieve what I needed them to achieve, for me to feel validated and worthy.
Instead of pouring my energy, creativity, and intelligence into developing my own life, building my own self-confidence and self-realization, I poured it into others, expecting that their achievements would give my life meaning.
They didn’t. Because this meaning cannot come to us from the outside. This is something that each of us has to find from within.
It was only after a total breakdown that I understood that striving for perfection in order to be validated by others is a waste of a life and a total trap.
I also understood that my energy, my creativity, my intelligence are the gifts nature gave me so that I put them in service of my own life. I now see that healthy relationship with myself as not only not selfish, but as the cornerstone of all other relationships in my life.
The work of healing my inner child helped me break dependence on outside validation. It helped me see that my children are not my accessories to serve as ego boosters. They are independent beings that come here for their own lives. I do not need them to be perfect in order to capture my attention, nor will their achievements impact my inner sense of worth.
My nine-year-old daughter was way ahead of me. It took me another five years to come to the same conclusion as she had—that I am not perfect, and to stop putting so much pressure on myself.
I did have a meltdown when I came to that conclusion, because in my worldview you were either perfect or a failure, there were no other options. It took another few years of self-healing to accept the fact that although I am not perfect, I am not a failure either. I’m just a regular person. A good enough one. Lovable and worthy just the way I am.
What may help you start to heal:
>> Become a conscious observer. Develop awareness of your triggers, your patterns and how you respond to people in your daily life. Be curious, but compassionate.
>> Know that the narrative that you are not good enough or not worthy just as you are is not the truth. It’s a conditioned belief about who you are, not who you actually are. It was projected onto you by someone else who was wounded—you simply internalized it.
>> Become aware that all addictions are ways to leave the present moment. A behavior adopted in childhood when the present moment was too painful or scary to sit through. We learned to escape because we had no viable adult models of healthy ways to process difficult emotions. Mindful awareness and training to remain in the present moment are powerful tools.
>> Make a commitment to yourself. Take daily steps to re-parent yourself, by giving yourself the attention, love, and care you still expect others to give you.
Contact me for a free introductory session to begin healing from the self you did not create.