Ever wondered how you became the person you are?
It was no accident. We are not born with our personalities. We are born with all of the characteristics of every human that has ever lived. Looking into a newborn’s eyes, it is easy to see that they are a little being of pure potential. They could become anything, right? It’s true.
We all begin this way, but as we experience the world, we develop in response. Some characteristics fade and others are nurtured and come to the fore of who we are in relation to our environment. As we become toddlers, we receive messages from our parents and siblings about which behaviors are desirable. We are rewarded for some actions, while some things we do generate an unpleasant reaction. We begin to hear the word ‘no’, and this is so unpleasant that we change ourselves in order not to experience it again.
Usually our parents are keeping us safe – in fact they are always trying to. Most often they’re preventing us from hurting ourselves physically. I got a fright when Mum saw me touch the power point – I won’t do that again. Dad withdrew when I was screaming – I’ll try not to.
At other times, they’re preventing us from doing something that is deemed inappropriate, inconvenient, embarrassing, annoying or rude. Our parents don’t want us to be rejected (and they don’t want to be rejected for our behavior), so they teach us how to be more acceptable. We are clever and creative little creatures and when we receive this negative feedback, we change.
All of these experiences are important in terms of developing into someone who can relate to others and their world in a healthy way, but there is often collateral damage. We are not skilled surgeons, particularly when we are small, and in this process, we remove the entire “wrong” parts of ourselves and hide them away from the world – even from ourselves.
As we continue to develop, our behaviors get some fine-tuning. “Stop showing off” tells me that a behavior that I thought was great, is actually not ok, and is going to result in rejection. So, I take that flamboyant, expressive part of myself and tuck it away, so it’s not visible. But when it comes time for that presentation at work, the part of me that loves to openly express myself is nowhere to be found and I’m left shaking with nerves.
And no, it’s not solely the fault of our parents. As we reach school, our teachers let us know which parts they find unacceptable – the part of us that doesn’t colour within the lines, the part that disagrees and speaks out, the part that daydreams, the part that wants to kiss the girls. As teenagers our peers have their say, and the part of us that loves ribbons in our hair, studying insects or playing the flute needs to be disowned in favour of cooler, more acceptable pursuits. When we enter the professional world and relationships, the same thing happens and we disown yet more parts of ourselves.
So here we are. We have thrown the baby out with each lot of bathwater and have ended up as mere slivers of the “whole” we were born as. Pretty depressing, huh?
Not at all. You see, these elements are still within you. You are still carrying them, and they’re there, waiting to see the light of day again. The first step is to realise which parts you have disowned.
As a personal example, an easy indication is a thought like “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”. This belief about myself is the result of a lesson I learnt along the way. As a child, when my colouring and drawing didn’t look as pretty as everyone else’s and I was criticised, it was unpleasant, so I stopped trying in order to avoid the criticism. I am now learning that if I am free of worry about what the end result will look like, I can create all kinds of things.
Therapy is a wonderful way in which to explore and re-integrate these disowned parts of ourselves, bringing them back into our personality and giving us more skills and passions to choose from. Learning to accept all parts of yourself is imperative for health and happiness, and, in turn, for the health and happiness of your children.