We live our lives, choose our experiences and relationships, believe in ourselves, and raise our children according to how we were raised. Many do not connect the dots to form the connection. Many swear they are nothing like their parents and would never make the same choices. Yet even in our resistance or rejection, we resist and reject in ways provoked by these experiences—unconsciously. Until we recognize the connections and change our consciousness.
As small children, we are receptors of what is in our experience and environment. We do not yet have the cognitive ability to deconstruct what someone says to us and decipher its meaning. Not until seven or eight do our brains develop enough to take in an experience and think, Dad didn’t really mean that, he’s just having a bad day. Or, Mom is being funny with her sarcastic remark. She’s just pretending to be mad at me. Or, That’s his problem. Before then, a young child’s psyche is just forming. Yelling, criticism, and blame is absorbed and processed as the truth. So when Mom gets her button pushed and screams, “Who do you think you are? You never listen. If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about,” the young child’s brain hears, I’m bad, I’m wrong, I’m not good enough.
Parents can send perfectly well-intentioned directives to their children, but the child’s immature brain misses the intention and hears only a perception of what is said. “Why would you ever do a thing like that?” is heard by the child as, I must be really stupid. When children receive messages from their parents over and over about what they are doing wrong, they come to believe they are wrong, perhaps shouldn’t be here.
What they do with those beliefs differs depending on individual temperament and how often and how deeply embedded those messages were. Some take them in as guilt and shame and learn to focus only on what they think others want and expect of them. Pleasing others becomes addictive to feel okay. Some fight back with belligerence and unacceptable behavior. Some grow to be high functioning capable people with empty emotional holes inside. Some can’t admit a mistake or express love or empathy. Others become angry, negative people who hold power over others to get their way in order to finally prove themselves to disapproving parents. Still others become victims or martyrs—a powerful position that puts responsibility for their problems on everyone else. The varieties are endless.
The value we perceive our parents place on us is the value we place on ourselves. Those messages from our past get stored in our subconscious, and we can live perfectly functional lives, even as CEOs of companies or heads of state, but they drive the decisions we make and rear their ugly heads in moments of stress—especially with our children.
We criticize our children when they don’t take responsibility for themselves but how can we expect them to unless we model it for them. The good news about all this glumness is that we can do something about it. We can stop asking our children to behave differently so that we can feel better about ourselves. We can take responsibility for our baggage so our children don’t have to carry it.
All of that is done with awareness—putting attention on the messages we believe about ourselves and where they came from. When we can raise our consciousness about ourselves and pull those old cobwebbed beliefs out of the corners of our attics, we can brush them off and learn what they really are—ideas we hold about ourselves perceived by an immature child’s mind that are simply not the truth. Then we can change our behavioral habits slowly but surely by using different messages when we talk to ourselves.
Most of us don’t take the time to find out what drives our choices and actions or inactions. We just think that’s who we are and if life isn’t turning out the way we want, it’s somebody else’s fault, it’s the stupid mistakes I made, or it’s the way of the world. Rarely do we see that it was because, I was scared to make the choices I really wanted to, I never believed I was good enough, I’m a girl and so could never make it, I wasn’t smart enough.
But I know a woman who has taken the time, who has taken responsibility for herself—and her childhood filled with criticism and shame. The blatantly abusive and sarcastic words that continuously rained down on her from her mother, left Gayle Kirschenbaum afraid she would never experience happiness, in fact never even deserve it.
Gayle is an Emmy-award winning filmmaker, who is now making a movie about her journey with her mother from pain and anger to forgiveness and happiness. It is a message, a movie, for all of us.
I connected with Gayle on twitter. She followed me, I sent her a message, she emailed me and soon we were on the phone. The moment I saw the trailer of her movie, I was dumbstruck. Finally someone was putting together the pieces, connecting the dots, and sewing the thread through everything I have been teaching for twenty-five years. Gayle had the actual experience of how these messages play out and the footage to prove it—the before and after of what can be done to turn it around.
She and I share the same message but from two entirely different vantage points. Mine teaches parents how children listen and learn, why they behave the way they do, and the results of treatment such as Gayle’s experience. Gayle tells it from the trenches of experiencing abuse and crippling sarcasm as a child and adult—both emotional and physical abuse from a mother who in turn experienced a childhood filled with pain and loss.
Gayle’s movie, LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER shows it like it is with amazing humor and clarity. With both laughter and tears of astonishment and recognition, we follow Gayle and her mother through childhood, adulthood, and therapy, to the forgiveness and acceptance that has healed their relationship. The mother-daughter dynamic, whose happy ending no one could predict, has stunned the players themselves and now will stun audiences. The unthinkable has occurred—Gayle’s mother is now her best friend. And she is going to show us what healing can do.
Gayle’s award winning film, MY NOSE, is about her mother’s relentless campaign to get Gayle to have a nose-job. (Spoiler-alert: Gayle did not have a nose job but did gain insight into her own as well as similar stories of many others.)
Gayle’s experience shown in her new film, LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER, is the bookend to my work with parents. All the books stacked between us are common ground. We hold them together with different but compatible perspectives. We hope that our two bookends will do some interesting work together.
LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER will have a festival release this year.
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