The past few years watching my kids grow has been interesting to say the least. Aside from the joy of being a parent, the struggles that come with it, and the endless self reflection on my “parenting abilities”, I’ve noticed something profound. When children are born and when they are young they don’t question themselves. They don’t understand a world that sees people through a lens of “right and wrong”. Watching my two little girls express themselves freely with no sense of filter, guilt, shame, or over analysis has been freeing, to say the least. “When does this end”, I wonder. When will my kids start to judge themselves, their actions, and see themselves and what they do as “worthy” or “unworthy”?
Am I doing the right thing? What will people think of me?
Nothing seems to keep people stuck in their minds more than the thoughts of “Am I doing the right thing?” “Will this be accepted?” The fact is that we live in a dualistic world. Part of being human is to judge, to discern, to place labels on the things we encounter…on ourselves. Reflecting back to the day my first child was born. I was a new parent. Responsible for a human life. There’s this bond that is instantly present in seeing your child come into the world. It’s not a thought. It’s tangible. And it’s unmistakable. I love this child. Not because of what they do. Not because of what I expect them to be. Just pure unconditional love. There’s nothing like it.
The start of expectations
At some point expectations do enter in that parent-child relationship. “Get your shoes on! We have to go! Now!” “Don’t talk to your mother like that!” “Don’t hit your sister!” The love is still there. Sure. But the expectations of my daughter’s behavior have started. Undoubtedly, she feels this. “Mom and dad get a little edgy when I take a long time to get my socks on. What gives?”, I imagine her thinking. Such is the process of a human, I suppose. Nothing to get around that judgement and discernment on “appropriate” behavior.
So fast forward to adulthood. Those learned behaviors have followed us. “Do this to get accepted.” “Don’t do that. It might hurt people.” “Don’t say that, you’ll scare people away.” “People will probably not approve of me if I do that.” We all have those thoughts. That voice. Still, nothing wrong with knowing appropriate ways of relating to one another. Nothing wrong with having a good sense of boundaries. Nothing wrong with learning from mistakes. But there is a common problem that many of us do have that haunts us as human beings. We see ourselves as equal to our behavior. What we “do” is who we actually are. Our worth is in our actions. Or is it?
The “I am good when I do good” myth
Sure, we can say that our behavior doesn’t define who we are, right? Sure, we can say we believe in second chances for everyone because everyone makes mistakes, right? It’s not so easy, though. Many of us fight a silent internal battle that creates a tremendous amount of unconscious suffering. And it looks like this.
“I’m not like other people.” “I am not as good as others.” “I don’t measure up.” “I’m broken.” “People don’t want what I have.”
Or it might look like this.
“I’m entitled to act this way.” “People don’t understand the problems I have.” “I deserve to get what I want because I said so.” “I’m better than they are because I am more capable.”
Both are an illusion.
At some point when we are young we transition from a state of being “ok” the way we are. We move to a place of “I am ok when I do this and act this way” or “I am ok when other people tell me I am ok.”
The place of “same as”
An innate sense of value, a core sense of worth, is no different than knowing we are “same as”. We are the same as anyone else in deserving and receiving love and appreciation. Feeling connected with others. Having an important place in this world.
Imagine this place of “same as” is a horizontal line. Below it is a place of “shame” or seeing self as “less than” others and our environment. Above that line is a space of grandiosity or “better than”.
Think of all of the messages we get as we grow into adults and interact with society. Getting good grades in school. Winning at sports. Being seen as “special” and valuable because of a talent we possess. And we can see what happens to our sense of self when we don’t make the grades or excel in sports. When we’re not as shapely or attractive as the accepted body type or definition of beauty. We see ourselves as being in “lack”. It’s an illusion.
We are all unique, but none of us are “special”
Nothing changes for any human from that point of birth when unconditional love is given to that age of, say, 5 years old, when self conceptualization begins. Where did that unconditional sense of love go? When do pressures of “what can you do for them?” and “where can I fit in?” begin?
A healthy sense of self esteem understands that we are all unique, but none of us are special. Nobody has the upper hand. Nobody has the secret. Nobody has it made or has been fast forwarded to a point of ultimate arrival. We admire and worship celebrities. We give our power away to politicians and “leaders”. Not fully seeing that “they” are no different than we are.
It’s our job to give ourselves the love we seek
We are all capable and deserving of love and acceptance. But the trick is that to avoid being in that place of “playing the victim” and “feeling entitlement” we have to see that nobody is responsible for giving us this understanding of innate worth. Nobody but us. So as we look for accolades and “atta boys” for a job well done…and as we expect the next “best thing” to improve our sense of self, we are inevitably left feeling empty. Lonely. Unfulfilled. It’s nobody’s job but our own to pull ourselves to that line of “sameness” and connectivity. It’s nobody else’s job but ours to humble ourselves and know that no matter how good we are at something, it doesn’t mean anything more than we are “good” at something.
So, then what?
The amount of pain in the world caused by comparison, resentment, entitlement, and self depreciation is stifling. The lessons learned from hitting the dead end of “never getting enough” and never “feeling good enough” bring us ultimately to this place of sobriety. “What am I if what I do and what people think of me doesn’t really make me happy?” “What am I if what people think of me is always varying and I can’t please everyone?” These are hard lessons to learn. That person that appeared to “have it all together” is revealed to be suffering. That politician that seemed to have good intentions is found to have committed acts of greed. That person we saw as successful with all the money is actually lonely and has never had a real relationship with anyone. What then?
The end might be the beginning
As the world as we know it continues to fall apart and seemingly is ending at times, is it possible that this is a new beginning? One that awakens us to the knowing that we are all connected. Our suffering may have a purpose after all. Our illusions of being disconnected and not being enough might bring us to a point of exhaustion and maybe a point of total despair. But if we are open to it, maybe there is a stronger message underneath all our false beliefs of who we are. It might just look like that little kid we once were. The one that knew that all was right with who they were. That part of us that has fallen asleep and is just waiting to be recognized again. Unique and important because…we are. Without question. Without bounds. Our birthright.