Every adult wants to live a version of what he or she imagines is “the good life.” Yet many of us struggle with a default inner voice that tells us that whatever we do will never be good enough and that we will only be happy when we get a new job, relationship, physical appearance, and so on.
In How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening, author and psychotherapist Ira Israel explains that the origin of this voice of dissatisfaction is the wounded child within us who is subconsciously and retroactively seeking the acceptance, approval, and love of primary caregivers who either withheld love, loved us conditionally, or treated us in ways we did not understand.
We hope you’ll enjoy this short excerpt from the book.
# # #
Ram Dass said, “If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family.” Although Americans enjoy more privileges and freedoms than people in many other countries, we grow up in a highly competitive society, where children are constantly pushed to get good grades and “achieve” various goals daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Whoever pushed us — usually our family members — wounded us by subconsciously informing us that whatever we did was “not good enough.” Even positive statements like “You’ll do better next time” may have unintentionally informed us that we were failures in some way. In adulthood, all of that (totally unintentional) wounding during childhood adds up to low self-worth, low self-esteem, and feeling unlovable or only conditionally lovable because we “do” certain things or look a certain way or have attained certain goals or a certain status.
Ram Dass’s famous quote becomes particularly poignant later in life whenever we actually do visit our primary caretakers, because that is often when we get triggered and our childhood wounds, or core wounds, are reopened. If I receive emergency phone calls from patients during the holiday season, I usually end up telling them: “That fight you are having with your mother/father/sister/brother is not about what you think it is about.” And then we discuss things that happened during the patient’s childhood — abandonments, betrayals, violations, humiliations, frustrations, feeling unheard, resentment for being told what to do and who to be, and so on — and we figure out what is going on at a subconscious level and at least develop a more interesting narrative.
The best tool I have found for these situations is mindfulness, because it teaches us to cultivate nonreactivity. Not reacting to dynamics that were established twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years ago is definitely the best way to modify them. And then we can make healthier, more compassionate long-term decisions that bode favorably for peace, love, and harmony.
The next time you are with family members and the situation gets heated, try thinking phrases to yourself such as: “Wow...isn’t that interesting! All of my daddy abandonment/withholding [whatever your core issue is] buttons are being pushed right now! I thought I had resolved that issue a long time ago! This is so interesting!” And then you can decide to take a walk or do something healthy instead of reacting and exacerbating the situation.
In particular, all “observing thoughts meditations” can be helpful. Please visit YouTube and spend a few minutes doing such meditations every day. You can think of it as exercising a muscle, as going to a gym for your mind. Once we learn to sit and observe how our minds operate, then when we are in situations that trigger us, we can make healthy choices — like choosing just to observe the triggers and being proud of ourselves for not reacting. For example, let’s say we are visiting our parents and our father or mother asks us to drive him or her to the store. Everything is going swimmingly until we have to park and our parent starts looking around nervously, then tells us: “More to the left, no now to the right — I said more to the left...no, more to the right.” He or she is trying to help us parallel park, but the wounded child in us hears: “I can never do anything right.” Mindfulness helps us direct our attention to the present moment, be in the present moment, and ignore and dissipate the negative voices that stem from our childhood.
# # #
Ira Israel is the author of How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening. A licensed marriage and family therapist and professional clinical counselor, Ira graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and holds advanced degrees in psychology, philosophy, and religious studies. He lives in Santa Monica, California, and you can visit him online at www.iraisrael.com.
Excerpted from the book How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult. Copyright © 2017 by Ira Israel.