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Look Closely At Your Childhood - 8/25/2008

Craig had a wonderful childhood.  He grew up in a typical midwestern home filled with warmth, with a loving mother who baked cookies, read stories and helped him and his brother with their homework.  His father, although stern, was actively involved with both boys.  If you don’t believe me, just  ask Craig, because that’s the story he told me.  

I don’t know about you, but to me, it sounded too good to be true.   Particularly in light of the fact that Craig was in therapy because, in his own words, “I’m a geek.  I’ve never been successful with women, and I didn’t start dating until I was 33.  Even then, most of the women I chose were beneath me, educationally, professionally and financially.  For the most part, they were all assertive, manipulative women who, I hate to say, probably saw me as easy prey.  I do far too much to please people I care for and to appease them if I feel they’re upset or angry with me.”

After several months in therapy, Craig began dating.  He  eventually became seriously involved with a young lady who was successful in her own right and genuinely cared for him.  There was one problem - he realized that he was experiencing feelings inconsistent with what he believed to be true.  For example; one morning, she called Craig at work and said, “Hi.  I just wanted to connect with you and tell you how much I enjoyed being with you last night.  I hated to see you go. I love spending time with you and  I wanted to share that feeling with you. But, I don’t want to infringe on your work time.  I know you’re overloaded by the projects you told me about.  I’m just glad I got a moment to talk with you.”  I thought her message was loving and caring.  He thought so, also, but this is what he felt.  “She ended that conversation awful fast.  I would have liked to talk longer.  She probably just called to do the right thing.  She has a friend visiting from Chicago and undoubtedly wanted to spend time with him.  I began to make it into a whole book, filled with my jealous fears.  I don’t know where they come from.  I’ve always had a lot of them, but now that I’m involved, my insecurities are worse.”

I wanted to say, “it’s strange you felt that way, in light of the perfect home you came from”, but instead, I complimented him on his introspective ability and assured him that it was appropriate for these fears to be heightened.  The rule seems to be, the more important someone is to you, the more involved you are, the more likely it is that you’ll be fearful of losing that person.  After all,  you have more invested in them.  Nevertheless, it did seem as though his feelings were excessive.  I further suggested that he needed to examine a conversation he had with me earlier, when he said, “I’m so appreciative of the way she’s dealing with me.  She’s busy, has all kinds of activities planned, her family’s visiting from out of state, but she’s still sensitive to my needs.  I really appreciate her going out of her way for me.”

My point was that the approach he was taking was, thank goodness for the kindness and reassurance she’s giving me, a poor, insecure, inadequate-feeling person.  When, in fact, there was a far more plausible reason for her behavior.  Maybe she isn’t quite as considerate as he saw her.  Instead, isn’t it possible that her consideration, kindness and sensitivity, though real, stem more form her desire not to lose him?  That her attempts to reassure him are indications of her insecurity and fondness for him?   His eyes opened wide and he said, “I never even considered that. It’s hard for me to conceive of but, intellectually, I know it’s  plausible.”

My reason for relating this conversation is two-fold.  First, to add more credence to the notion that each of us has two separate people living inside our bodies and that letting the immature child rule our thoughts, behaviors and reactions is tantamount to giving the steering wheel in your car to a five year old.   It is an approach that will negatively color the way you interpret the behavior of individuals you interact with and ensure that your responses stem from your fears, rather than your good judgement.   

My second purpose is to reinforce the notion that the way you perceive your past isn’t always accurate.  People frequently create their histories on the basis of half-truths that they can best live with, in order to avoid  pain or aggrandize as possible.  It isn’t that they actually lie about it.  Instead, similar to Craig, they fail to include information that is difficult for them to swallow.  For example, Craig’s father was involved, but he was also unbending, controlling and critical.  He constantly found fault, focused on the negative, and was quick to dampen any enthusiasm.  Mother, though a  wonderful homemaker, had her faults.  She was partial to Craig’s older brother, whom she doted on and covered for.  As a result, he grew up emotionally crippled, never taking responsibility for his own actions and unconsciously believing that to get her affection, he had to be helpless and dependent.  In contrast, Craig spent his life striving to prove that he was worthy of love.  He excelled at school and at work and tried to please everyone.  Craig had never dated and his brother never succeeded, but neither had them are crazy.   Similar to most of us, their inner kids were wounded in childhood.  Those wounds  heal, but leave heavy scars.  Understanding that, accepting your inner child and learning to behave not out of your emotional fears, but out of your intellectual awareness, will allow you to take control of and nurture that child .  It will enable you to support him when he’s frightened, encourage him when he wants to run, aid him to face his fears and see that, in spite of and because of them, he  - and consequently  you - are okay, worthy of love and able to succeed in a threatening world.

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