Childhood messages

If we are to accurately hear ourselves, we first need to learn to listen with sensitivity.

I was recently reminded of all the times something accidentally happens; I drop a cup which seems to shatter into a thousand pieces, I drop a bag of parmesan cheese all over the kitchen floor, I stub my toe on the door, I miss my junction on the motorway and have 10 miles to go before I can turn round!
The words “you stupid woman!” trip off my tongue like they’re on a loop tape, ready for the fader to be opened at every given opportunity, And yet, I’m not stupid, I know that, not PhD material maybe, but definitely not stupid.

And then I remembered the feeling that accompanied the accidents, it was anger, and the original message was actually, “you stupid child!” It wasn’t my fault, it was an accident, but I was still stupid.
I’m 60 now and still, I can’t allow myself to do anything ‘wrong’, those damning words are etched somewhere in my brain.

It set me thinking about the way we should be with our children; in John Gottman’s words, ‘the emotion coach’. The right way would be to assure the child that “accidents happen”, “come on, I’ll help you clear it up”, acknowledging and validating the child’s anger at themselves for having broken their favourite toy, letting them express their anger safely, while providing time limited boundaries.

None of this happened in my childhood, and it’s only now, that I am beginning to understand why. My parents were disapproving and dismissive, and even occasionally laissez faire, everything but emotion coaches. They couldn’t have been emotion coaches as they had no family pattern to learn from. If they’d once opened up to their own lack of emotional validation, how would they cope, much easier to block feelings immediately by using the “stupid child” phrase.

I’ve realised recently that the humiliation I felt at these times, triggered anger; I knew then that I wasn’t stupid, as I know now. But there was no one to hold my anger, and so it has stayed with me through life. Whenever my self esteem takes a hit, and I feel that same humiliation, I get angry.

It interferes with relationships, be they personal, or work related, and it makes me withdraw into a safe world of my own, but this world is isolating; I daren’t show someone my true self for fear they too will see that I am stupid, and I will once again feel humiliation.


This is a good example of how phrases stay with us through life and of the actual messages they leave us with. How many of us have been told:

“Children should be seen and not heard”?

It’s a very strong message that what we have to say is of no value, so we either go through life feeling our opinions aren’t worthy of being expressed, or we get angry. We are definitely left in no uncertain terms that we are worth nothing, are incapable, and are not allowed to express our opinions.

Another commonly heard phrase, certainly in my youth, is “Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy?”. Innocently said, but giving a child the strong message that other people are far more important.

“Why do you always get so dirty?”
You’re not acceptable.

“Go to bed if you can’t behave”
Do it the right way, or you’ve no right to be here.

“Keep out of the way, go and watch TV”
There’s no place for you here.

Childhood messages are powerful and if left unresolved are a major cause of emotional dis-ease in adulthood.

We only have to think, how would I talk to that child? What do they need? And then, we have to give that to ourselves, for that hurt and humiliated child still lives inside us, and still hungers for acknowledgement and validation of his/her feelings.

It is the first stage of emotional healing, for if we are to accurately hear ourselves, we first need to learn to listen with sensitivity.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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