I am 6 years old in this picture. It’s hard for me to look into the eyes of that little girl and not be sad. That was a rough year for her. It was the year her parents divorced. It was the year that the sexual abuse started. The year that no one protected her. The year her father left and didn’t take her with him.
And she thought it was all her fault.
Because that is what we do. We all do it. It’s part of our survival strategy. In the mind of a child, everything that goes wrong is her fault.
When I teach this concept in my trainings, I use this simple example.
Imagine the following:
Scenario 1: You work for a company with a strict policy that you cannot date co-workers. So, you don’t. One day you are called into your boss’s office and he says, “I’m sorry Jane, but we have been made aware that you and John from accounting have engaged in a romantic relationship. You know we have strict policy against this. Please gather your things, you are fired.”
How do you feel?
Most likely, you’re devastated. And angry. And will be seeking legal counsel soon!
Scenario 2: You work for a company with a strict policy that you cannot date co-workers. But one day, across the cafeteria, you and John from accounting lock eyes. You know it’s meant to be. You begin dating in secret, careful that no one finds out. One day you are called into your boss’s office and he says, “I’m sorry Jane, but we have been made aware that you and John from accounting have engaged in a romantic relationship. You know we have strict policy against this. Please gather your things, you are fired.”
How do you feel?
Most likely, not as bad. Though probably pretty disappointed that you got caught.
Which scenario is easier to deal with? Both had the same outcome – you lost your job – but which one is easier for you to accept?
The answer is easy – scenario 2, of course. But why?
Because in Scenario 2 you knew it was your fault.
You knew you were taking a chance. You knew you were breaking the rules. When you got caught, you just had to accept that it was a risk you willingly took and now you have to pay the price.
Life is but a bunch of Scenario 1’s
Our childhoods are essentially a bunch of Scenario 1’s. Bad stuff happens that is in no way our fault. We get hurt. We are abused. We are abandoned. We aren’t loved unconditionally. And none of it is our fault. It wasn’t my fault that these men abused me. It wasn’t my fault that no one protected me. Nor was it my fault that my father didn’t take me with him.
But Scenario 1’s are hard to swallow. Just like being fired for something you didn’t do – it’s devastating. It’s unfair. It’s unacceptable.
Accepting the unacceptable
So, our brilliant little minds do us a solid and turn all of our Scenario 1’s into Scenario 2’s. If I believe it’s my fault, that I somehow deserved it, I can accept it.
We adopt beliefs like “I am bad, I don’t deserve love, I deserve to be punished, I am not worthy of love, care, being protected, etc.” And those beliefs serve us at that time. They help us survive situations that, as children, are painful and not understandable.
But later, as we grow, they become obstacles. I was in my 40’s and still living with these beliefs. They were, of course, unconscious. I wasn’t aware that I believed I didn’t deserve to be cared for. In fact, it was the one thing I kept searching for. Ever-elusive, always out of my reach.
The archeological dig
How did I come to the point that I realized I was creating a life based on beliefs formed when I was 6 years old? Well, I’m an engineer, a problem-solver, so I started gathering evidence and putting the pieces together.
My first clues were found by looking at my relationships. I didn’t feel cared for in my romantic relationship. I was taken care of financially. I had the things I needed and most of the things I wanted. But emotionally, and in our lives, I took care of most everything. I was in a constant state of disappointment and irritation because I never felt taken care of.
But that wasn’t enough to alert me to the fact that I had created this myself, based on my own beliefs. It wasn’t until I entered a business partnership that I started getting wise.
Why? Because my business partner was the female equivalent of my romantic partner! Once again, I was taking care of most everything. And once again, I was in a constant state of disappointment and irritation.
The final clue came when I was in a car accident. The airbag broke two bones in my right hand. The breaks were so severe that I had to have 2 rods and nearly 20 screws inserted to repair them. As I am right-handed, I literally could do nothing for myself for many weeks. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t write or type. I couldn’t wash my hair. I couldn’t even put my hair into a ponytail. I was almost completely dependent on others for help.
During that time I attended a yoga training that I had paid for before the accident, even though I could only sit and listen. I have a distinct memory of our lunch break. I couldn’t even hold a tray to get my food. My friend helped by walking through the line with me, holding my tray as I pointed to what I wanted. I felt so useless.
I think it was that very moment that woke me up. I DID NOT LIKE BEING TAKEN CARE OF.
Putting the puzzle together
It all started coming together for me. I had surrounded myself with people that would not take care of me. I had purposefully (though unconsciously) created a life in which I would not feel cared for. And when people did take care of me, it made me very uncomfortable. Clearly I did not believe I deserved to be cared for.
What had happened to me as a child that would have caused me to believe that I didn’t deserve to be cared for? It wasn’t a hard question to answer. As a child I hadn’t felt taken care of. I hadn’t been protected. Horrible things had happened to me. My mother didn’t want custody of me and my father didn’t take me. I took on the belief that I must not deserve to be cared for. Something was wrong with me. It was my fault.
Consciously choosing your present
My teacher says: “If you don’t consciously choose the direction of your life, your past will choose it for you.” That’s what I had been doing. Just letting my past create my present and my future. I was stuck in the beliefs of that 6 year old girl, who thought it was all her fault.
How did I fix it?
The first step was becoming aware of it. Recognizing what I had been doing. This step can be a huge relief, but can also have accompanying feelings of anger, disappointment, and sadness. When you realize what you’ve been doing all these years and how YOU’VE been creating your own misery, you can get a little ticked at yourself.
That is why the next step is really important. Understand. Understand why that child believed it was her fault. Understand how that belief served you at the time. How it helped you survive a really tough situation. Have compassion for that child who was doing the best she could to just get through it.
I found it useful to have an inner-dialogue with my 6 year old self. I thanked her for all she had done. I thanked her for hanging in there. For having the resourcefulness to survive. And I told her how much I loved her.
And then I told her that those beliefs were not serving us anymore. That we needed to let them go. I told her what we were going to replace them with – the belief that we do deserve to be cared for. That there is nothing wrong with us.
And that everything that had happened was not our fault.
Have you ever wished you could break the chains of fear and step fully into love? Shanon and Kim share their journey of healing from trauma, abuse, and programming through acceptance and love. Do you want to step out of fear? Subscribe and follow their journey.