Learning to love yourself is among the most important work you will ever do here on this earth. When you come from a toxic childhood, where the message you kept getting was, “You’re not good enough,” it makes the task exponentially more difficult.
Your sense of your own worth is widely determined by how you were treated as a child. Daphne Rose Kingma lists six life themes in her book, When You Think You’re Not Enough, that widely determine how you value yourself. The Life Themes are: Neglect, Abandonment, Abuse, Rejection, Emotional Suffocation and Deprivation. Each of these have a profound effect on how you perceive yourself and is intricately intertwined with how you treat yourself.
Because of these beliefs, we develop behaviors that help us cope and survive. Unfortunately, when the beliefs are unhealthy, so to are the behaviors we use to cope. What’s worse is that because they worked for us in the past, perhaps they eased our anxiety, or allowed us to hide our true selves, be invisible, not draw attention to ourselves ect,,,,, they don’t work so well now that we are adults and they especially don’t work in adult relationships.
Our task now as adults is to sort through the ‘mess’ of messages we got, get to the truth and learn how to view and treat ourselves – as a person of value.
Our Parents Made Mistakes
The first step in this process is understanding that our parents weren’t perfect. They made mistakes. Perhaps they were replaying their old tapes and passing on the messages they got when they were children. Maybe they even thought they were helping you be a better person, or perhaps they were unhealthy and had a lot of difficulty coping with their own life and choices and took it out on the most vulnerable people closest to them. They may have even been malicious and took some sick pleasure out of harming you. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t about blame or whether or not the messages were intentional. Your worth isn’t about them, it’s about you. It’s about understanding where the messages we got came from, why we got them and finally acknowledging that they were wrong.
We were born perfectly us and that’s who we have to learn how to be. As children our maturation process was too immature to understand other people’s motives or inclinations. We trusted them and took their word as truth – except it wasn’t the truth. It was someone else’s lives, experiences and attitudes all directed at poor, innocent us, so it’s time to let go of their truth and start focusing on our own truth – that we are valuable, worthy and important.
The Behaviors of Emotionally Healthy People Who Value Themselves
Mentors are an excellent tool to understand the right mechanics of how something works. Whenever you want to learn how to do something, find someone that is already doing it and do what they do. If you want to know how healthy people behave, watch what they do.
From years of watching healthy people interact I’ve noticed that first and foremost they practice self-care. That means they take care of their own needs. They create the world they want to live in. They take action rather than adapt to situations that aren’t good for them or make them unhappy. Here’s a list of healthy behaviors I’ve noted from my research:
- The people they allow into their lives are of a similar mindset. They add value to their lives, they don’t surround themselves with energy suckers, or negative, unhealthy people.
- They don’t internalize or take responsibility for other people’s issues or behavior.
- They are responsible with their money and can take care of themselves.
- They don’t get overwhelmed with doubt. When they come upon an obstacle, they focus solely on the solution, not on the problem, excuses or distractions.
- They have a good support team, strong family bonds, close friends.
- They take care of themselves physically. They eat well and stay active.
- They don’t self-sabotage or self-medicate. They deal head on with their issues and don’t harm themselves as a means of coping with the situation.
- They are direct and communicate their needs, wants and desires affectively and aren’t afraid of conflict.
- They don’t engage and have no interest in entertaining people who mistreat them, or disrespect them.
- They have an internal locus of control, believing that they are solely responsible for their lives and outcomes.
- They don’t look to others to show them their worth. They are confident and have a positive view of themselves.
- They do things that they enjoy and that makes them happy. They laugh a lot.
- They have firm boundaries and aren’t afraid to speak up and take action if you’ve crossed them.
- They believe that they are fully capable of achieving their goals. They don’t have the critical parent voice and don’t get boggled down with uncertainty, shame or guilt.
- They do the right thing and act with integrity.
- They are reliable, responsible and dependable.
Once You Know What To Do Take Massive Action
One of the things that drives me crazy in dealing with clients is when I hear things like, “I tried that already,” or, “I can’t,” or, “How long is this going to take?” If you want to get healthy you have to a) be committed to change and b) take responsibility for your own progress. There’s no short cut and nobody is going to do the work for you.
We know the subconscious mind learns by repetition and science tells us that change becomes habitual in 21 days and cements in our brains at about 90 days of continual action. So, if you want to be a person of value, act like a person who values themselves. Start by making a commitment to implementing the behaviours listed above into your life for just 30 days. Print out the list and refer to it everyday. Take action and keep practicing self-care and eventually these behaviours will become habitual and like the old poem by Charles Reade says, “Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.”
Most importantly, understand that you’ve always been worthy of the very best that life has to offer. Think of it like your parents gave you the wrong pair of glasses as a child and you’ve been seeing the world and how you fit into it from a distorted point of view. It’s time to take off those glasses and see the truth – that you were always good enough.
Image courtesy of marin at freedigitalphotos.net
So glad you are highlighting us and not the NSA at the moment. We are the important people. Of course it took a while to see that.
Yes, my parents made mistakes. They learned from their parents. My father’s parents chose to send him to boarding school when he was six years old. They lived in a major western city and could have kept him at home but that’s what their parents did (in other circumstances) and they followed suit. I know quite a lot about my maternal grandmother too. My aunt (mother’s sister) who is 90 still tells me about it so it all gets passed on and in many ways I’m glad I didn’t have children (nor did she) because who knows I could have passed it on, all the stuff that was said to me and that hurt, I didn’t ever think to question it until my mother was quite elderly.
I recently found myself in the place my grandmother lived in and which we often visited when I was very young. It occurred to me that my parents did try to spend time with us and I recall very much my father’s presence, going out walking, and I found a particular walk that I remembered.
For one thing I realised it was quite a long walk even for me now so, for a two/three year old it was a real achievement. Sixty years on, I could even see some of the fence posts, plant types and houses I remembered,
Now I’ve always been dubious about the inner child but here, quite clearly, I found little Milie, waiting for me, still wandering in those hedgerows. I had to sit down and cry then gathered her up and told her how wonderful she is and talked with her about the hurt and mistakes and now I have her with me that’s quite a break through.
At present I am pursuing a solo activity at a time when families with kids are starting to be on holiday so I get to listen. It’s quite shocking to hear the way some of those kids get spoken to while other families are so together.
To those people who regret the past, I thought there was nothing you could do to change it. I was concentrating on looking forward to making my remaning years count. But extracting that inner child out of the mess actually does come some way to coming to terms with it.
Have been reading your prior posts and came accross one about forgiveness. I have actually read it before and was yet again impressed by thé way our minds fully take in information when wé are ready for it. Thanks again for your dedication To this site.
Hi Savahna, thank you for you site and insights. Thought provoking as always! I have to say, I’m à long way from your list above. And am only just accepting, at à profound level the extent of my mother/family/ ex husbands narcissistic behaviour and by conséquent my bizarre coping stratégies. All to the détriment of my ‘self’. It was à constant struggle to raise our family, put on a ‘show’ of normality in front of our children towards their extended family and even towards their father. Excuse me while I have a little bout of self-pity!! Whatever, the children are grown and living their own lives, husband is now ‘ex’ , no contact/little with my family and I have rid myself of some terrible friends. Life is more Peaceful but at almost 60 and little chance of getting employment, health issues, lonlieness, I find I have a song turn ing, relentlessly, much to my annoyance, in my head…Oasis, ‘Don’t look back in anger’! S
o, what am I trying to say or ask here?! I think, through your posts, I am realising to what extent I gave my ‘self’ up in order to be loved/ accepted by others only to find myself alone, broke in so many ways and I’m angry with myself more than anyone else. I also regret, hugely, to have wasted the greater part of my life. Largely due to à lack of understanding, knowledge and insight…what a pity. Mental well being should be taught from an early age in school, if only. I’m wondering what to do about my anger…I’m trying to??? Accept it, go with the flow, I wonder if I haven’t got to the root cause and that’s why the song doesn’t go àway? I think that must be it. In the meantime, tiny steps to achieve just some of the things listed in your post. Sorry about the ramble but it does help clear out the mess.
Dear PhoenixBurning I am in the same situation you are in. After 40 years and at age 55 i filed for divorce. I could have written your words and experiences It has been only 5 months since the divorce was finalized and still so many loose ends to tie up. Coming from a dysfunctional family i didnt realize that i choose to marry what i wanted so desperately to get away from. At age 55 I am just starting to figure things out. We are able to see things when we are ready. I thank God that I was ready even at this time. Yes i got angry that I lost time in a realtionship that i knew was not right. But i chose to stay so i have no one to blame but myself. And i refuse to be my own worst enemy! I too am trying to figure out what next. After being in such an emotionally draining marriage I am very happy to be by myself to recharge, reflect and reinvent myself. I dont know what the future holds but for now I am looking at things that i can do everyday to make that day better. Right now it is all about me and my needs. Best wishes on your journey!
Patricia, thanks for you reply. I Particularly like what you said…’I refuse to be my own worst enemy’! Exactly what Savahna preaches, just put another way. Nice little phrase to keep in mind!
So simple and yet, not so easy to do. When you mentioned your clients responses Savannah, I thought that yes, we all want instant fixes and easy fixes, too. And there’s no such a thing. Time and patience.