It is important to remember that the words we speak into others, like so many of our actions, is only learned behavior. Those behaviors and actions have more than likely been passed down through the generations of your family lineage. I hear so many people say; It’s the way I am. If you don’t like it bad. How’s that working for you? No, stop and think. How is it really working for you? Just because it is a learned behavior does not mean it is right. As I do with many men that tell me; It happened to me (beatings, verbal abuse), and I turned out just fine, I would invite to really examine your life. Is it really fine? Wouldn’t you like it to be phenomenal?
Here is a simple exercise you can do. All it takes is for you to get really honest with yourself. Find a quiet place you can sit lone for as long as you need to. Sit and go back and visit the little child you once were. Sit with him/her quietly and honor him/her. Remember a time when you were being verbally assaulted. Maybe it’s when you failed a test in school and words like; “you are so stupid, dumb, retarded, or you’ll never be good at anything.” Or you forgot to do your homework and words like “you’re so irresponsible or can’t you do anything right” were being spewed over you. How did that little boy or girl feel? Did he/she feel like they could do nothing wrong, like your parents were proud of them and the apple of their eye? Or did he/she feel like an utter failure and mistake in mom and dads’ eyes? Ask yourself the same question about a time or times you were being hit. No child should ever have to endure a beating. Now ask yourself this, do I want my children to feel like a failure, a disappointment or never being good enough? If you answered no, then it is time to break the cycle of abuse or the seven generational curses in your family. To finish this exercise, go with your inner child to the safe place you had as a child and spend some time there to remind yourself that you did have some time of peace and solitude. Stay there as long as you need, then gently come back to the moment knowing you are safe and loved.
I grew up in a very toxic home environment. Starting from a very young age, four or five, my mother would demean me. Her favorite words were; You stupid little son of a b_ _ _h. She also loved using a belt on me and caking the back of my teeth with soap. My dad was at work and going to night school, so he really ever saw the abuse or heard about it. At a very young age my self-esteem and confidence was stripped from me. When my parents divorced, living with my mother got worse. Yet, time spent with my dad was a blessing. We’d go camping, fishing and to the beach. Dad was always kind, loving, patient and fun to be with. Unfortunately, that part of my life ended at the age of twelve when my father died. For the next six or so years, my life literally became a living hell. It was filled with fear and a lack of love and compassion by the ones that were supposed to be protecting me.
The words my mother and stepfather spoke over me along with their actions were words and actions of death. Nothing I ever did was good enough; they always found the imperfection and fault in the things I did. Don’t get me wrong I believe in constructive criticism. However, constructive criticism consists in pointing out all the things that are done correctly, followed by constructive ways to do it differently to possibly have a better outcome, then close with a positive word about your work. Words that were spoken to me were such as; what are you stupid? You’ll never amount anything. Can’t you do anything right? And like mother, my stepfather would say You Stupid Son of a B_ _ _h with every whack of the belt or punch of the fist. Sadly, my mother was the one who instigated most of the beatings I received. What made all of this more confusing to me was the fact that my mother and stepfather were born again Christians. He was a deacon of the church and she was a member of the choir. They often quoted scripture out of context to justify their actions. Yet they would ignore the scriptures that said their actions were absolutely wrong.
Scriptures like James 3:9-11
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? This describes exactly how my mother and stepfather would speak. Praising God and talking the word of God one minute, cursing and condemning me the next. The words do as say not as I do were preached to me on a daily basis. Parents, your actions speak volumes above your voice, and it is your actions that your children mimic more than your words. Monkey see, monkey do is more like the way our children learn. Do your actions match your words?
As a result of growing up in this toxic environment, my self-esteem, self-worth and confidence was non-existent. On the outside looking in, one would think that my life was perfect. I had a very successful business, beautiful family, drove nice cars, went on luxurious vacations and had everything I ever wanted and then some. Yet if you were to pull the façade away, you would see something that only my wife and kids could see, a very broken and scared man. I believed everyone was talking about me. Everyone was out to get me. My life was doomed for darkness. When things were going well, I just knew they would turn bad very quickly? Why you ask? Growing up there was always a bad attached to a good and a good attached to a bad. I was confused as a child growing up and even more confused about life as an adult.
Above I mentioned spending some time in your safe place as a child. I had two such places myself where no one could touch me or hurt me. Growing up in the 70’s in Dana Point there were not many homes. In fact, it was mostly farmland and undisturbed hills. Often, I would take my dog Taffy and walk about a mile into the hills to a place where I had an 1800 view of the coast. I’d sit in the foxtails with Taffy by my side. The onshore ocean breeze blowing through the foxtails performing a gentle dance. The warm sun gently kissing my face as the wind blew gently through my hair. Just a boy and his dog sitting safely far away from harmful words and actions. My other safe place was in the ocean surfing. Just me, my board and mother ocean. There were days I would stay in the water from sun-up until well after the sunset. I’d bask in the sun all day with the ocean breeze giving me a slight chill. The sound of the water under my board as paddled into a wave was mesmerizing. The wind blowing the salt water mist in my face as I weaved carefree up and down the wave. Again, no one could hurt me out in the water. I would ignore the calls of my mother or friends to come home. This was my time, my space, and no one was going to bother or hurt me.
Fast forward to today and my life is so much better, happier, and I feel safe. The words that had been spoken over me as a child, the words that held such a type grip on who I believed I was, no longer affect me. The change didn’t happen overnight. It took lots of patience and kind words from my sponsors and mentors. While I no longer believe the false dialogue that I was led to believe was me, it does at times still affect me. However, I no longer sit and stew in it. I recognize it, talk about it with a mentor, work through it and move on. As workers in the healing fields we must learn to recognize the best way to approach our clients. We must take into account their upbringing and meet them where they are at. No two clients are in the same place or can be treated exactly the same. As parents, we are our children’s hero’s. They look up to us and mimic our actions and our words. Choose your words and actions carefully, they are all watching and listening.
Here are some common statements people make. As you read them, imagine the effect the words might have.
Words of Life
I love you
We’re having a baby
You look great
You’re my best friend
I see potential in you
You make me happy
You’ll do great
You did your best
I forgive you
Words of Death
I hate you
I wish you had never been born
You’ve gained weight
You were a mistake
You’ll never amount to anything
You’re so lazy
You’re a waste
It’s all your fault
I never should have married you
I want a divorce