The Long Reach of Childhood
By Ditta M. Oliker, Ph.D.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the whirlwind of the holidays. Getting caught in the pressure of so much to do and so little time is common, particularly as each year seems to rush by even more quickly than the last one. The celebration of a new year is also a time for reflection, renewal and resolutions, so take a moment to ask yourself if, putting the holidays aside, you consistently feel that you lose yourself in the whirlwinds and/or chaos of the lives of others.
The Long Reach of Childhood
How Early Experience Shapes You Forever
By Ditta M. Oliker, Ph.D.
Dec 2 010 It’s easy to lose yourself in the whirlwind of the holidays. Getting caught in the pressure of so much to do and so little time is common, particularly as each year seems to rush by even more quickly than the last one. The celebration of a new year is also a time for reflection, renewal and resolutions, so take a moment to ask yourself if, putting the holidays aside, you consistently feel that you lose yourself in the whirlwinds and/or chaos of the lives of others.
Let me first explain what I mean by the word “you“. We are all born with the same facial features — two eyes, two eyebrows, one nose, one mouth, one chin — yet each of us has a look that is uniquely our own. We may have features that are similar to those of another, but there is an identifiable look to the way each face is arranged. Thus one is recognized as having a specific identity, of having a name that goes with the face. Just as there is an identifiable look to the way each face is arranged, so is there a psychological identity based on your personality and emotional nature. The face and body that looks back from the mirror is your physical “you“. Your sense of “who” resides in that face and body is your psychological “you“. Combined, these two identities form your unique individuality.
Becoming disconnected to the “you” of your existence can be rooted in many different kinds of childhoods, including but not limited to, such issues as your assigned role in the family, your birth order, your parent’s emotional stability, the goodness-of-fit between you and your environment, a dangerous level of competition among family members, a family controlled by fear and so on. Any one of these issues can result in a diminution of your unique individuality.
Start your gift to yourself by asking what kind of environment did you exist in as a child. An important clue you can become attuned to is how you use – or misuse – words. For example, if you believe “involvement” is synonymous with “intrusion” there’s a good chance you may have needed to keep your “you” hidden. The following is a list of positive words or phrases that, when confused with negative ones, can offer a valuable insight into why you may have lost the “you” of you. Do you know the difference between:
•”healthy ego” and “narcissistic”
•”deserving” and “indulging”
•”responsibility” and “burden”
•”proud” and “vain”
•”shyness” and “snobbishness”
•”sensitive” and “weak”
•”neat” and “compulsive”
•”confident” and “egotistical”
•”assertive” and “aggressive”
•”to need” and “to be needy”
•”life is a process” and “life is a burden”
It is helpful to check a dictionary for the actual meaning of words. Some words like “selfish” or “vain” are harsh and carry a punitive, judgmental connotation. Seeing the actual definition of a word can offer meaning as to what was “normal” in your world, but not necessarily normal in a more universal world. Pay attention also to how others use or misuse words when referring to you or your actions. Are you called “selfish” when you appropriately meet your needs? How about “needy” whenever you ask for help? Is mother’s behavior “dramatic” or “unstable”?
Here’s a brief example illustrating the importance of clarifying the meaning of words. Bill had developed a business that had an excellent potential, but he was finding that there was a limit to the success he could achieve. A factor was his difficulty in dealing with his employees. It was important to Bill that his staff experienced him as fair. But Bill had difficulty in establishing clear guidelines for raises and bonuses, and this issue was becoming an increasing problem for him, as well as interfering with his ability to expand his business. Exploring the reasons for his resistance to guidelines led to his discovery that he was defining “reasonable expectations” as synonymous with “exploitation”. Exploring his past and his family’s history of being exploited, Bill realized that he was caught in not being able to differentiate between reasonable expectations of employee behavior in a normal business world and seriously exploiting his employees. His not being able to set guidelines had created unnecessary dissension among his staff and was causing increasing staff turnover. The dictionary was very helpful in freeing him from this confusing dilemma and led to basic changes in employee policy, which in turn resulted in a more successful business.
Derek Walcott, Nobel Prize poet, captured the essence of the gift of “you” in his poem Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Peel your own image from the mirror to rediscover and reclaim your unique individuality. Clear the confusions of the past as expressed in the distortions of words to allow yourself to gain what is your right – the right to be “you“.
This blog will continue to expand on The Long Reach of Childhood: How Early Experiences Shape You Forever including more strategies that can play an important part in the process of your breaking free. Hope you’ll continue to join me on this journey. And hope your New Year includes the new “you“.