How we learn to doubt ourselves & ‘store’

Over time we learn to doubt ourselves & ‘store’ things up …

We spend many years in formal education, learning the appropriate use of our minds.  We learn social interaction by trial and error, and by feedback from our families, friends and society in general.  The little we do learn about our feelings and how to deal with them is governed by general assumptions and stereotypes such as, “boys don’t cry”, or, “girls like pink”.  We don’t learn how to deal with the rage we sometimes feel towards our parents when we are children or teenagers, or how to deal with feelings of jealousy towards a younger brother or sister who appears to have what we want. Parents, never having had help dealing with these issues themselves are unlikely to know what to do for their children.  Generation after generation of us end up feeling uncomfortable and incompetent when faced with the emotions of others.

“Don’t be silly, there’s nothing to be scared of!”

“Stop crying, it’s only a little scratch!”

“Don’t be angry!”

“Calm down!”

“That’s nothing – when I was a lad ……..”

How often do words like these, and many more besides echo down the generations.  Each time words like this are used by a parent or someone important in our lives, it invalidates the way we feel and a little part of us begins to doubt ourselves and our ability to know ourselves. We begin to think that we must be wrong and these other voices must be right, but still we feel what we feel. The hurt still hurts and the anger or frustration still smoulders, but it becomes easier to hide it away, to store it somewhere where it doesn’t bother us.

Because of the way we have been labelled in the past, negatively or positively, we build up an image of ourselves as the, “clever” or “strong” or “clumsy” or “stupid” person suggested by our world. Everything that disagrees with that picture gets pushed away and stored or denied so that we don’t know it ever existed.

We may carry on like this for years or in some cases for our whole lives, no longer knowing what we feel or who we are, dutifully believing what we were told, perhaps decades ago.  Until ‘something’ happens!  Perhaps one day we are faced with the distressed cries of a hurt child, and these cries reverberate deep inside, and suddenly we hear the cries of the small child we locked away all those years ago by not believing its hurt – the small child we once were. In that instant we experience not only the pain of the time we hurt ourselves and were not acknowledged, but also the pain of all the tears of hurt that we shed throughout our lives, from all the times we felt ignored or insignificant.

Overwhelmed by this unexpected wave of emotion, we know we need to shut it off quickly. So we turn to the reason for the way we feel now – the crying child in front of us.  We shush the child, just as we were shushed, or smack the child as we were smacked. We know it’s the only way, that it’s for the child’s own good, just as it was for ours.  We do the best we can, just as our parents before us did the best they could at the time. And we try to push our uncomfortable or distressing feeling back under lock and key in our storage system.

There are many different events that can trigger a response from our storage system. Sometimes we recognise these times retrospectively, when we realise that we have over-reacted in some way and dumped a huge load of anger, sadness, or some other emotion onto a relatively minor incident. Our storage system is vastly complex, but has a certain logic to it – the logic of association.

(read more of this in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”)

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