This is one of the first questions our new clients usually ask us. The answer, of course, is yes. Nothing a client tells us is ever divulged to anyone.
But I’ve found it interesting that so many people are concerned that others will find out about their beliefs. One obvious reason is that, for us, they aren’t beliefs; they are true statements about us. As a result, most of us are embarrassed about having such beliefs as I’m not good enough, I’m not important, and I’m powerless. And we don’t want anyone to know these “truths” about us.
But there is another assumption many of us have: These terrible things that are true about us aren’t true about anyone else. We are among the few people who were born to be not good enough, not important, not loveable, and not worthy. If other people—who are good enough, important, loveable, and worthy—knew we weren’t, they wouldn’t want to have anything to do with us. On the other hand, if we thought that many others also had our negative beliefs, then having them might not be quite as embarrassing.
Well, based on our experience with well over 13,000 live clients and 100,000 people who have used our on-line programs, I am convinced that very few people escape childhood without having a bunch of negative self-esteem beliefs.
Let me explain why.
The source of our negative self-esteem beliefs
As little kids we are always asking, “Why?” Sometimes we ask our parents to explain things to us and sometimes we ask ourselves, “Why am I being treated like this? Why is my life like this?” We answer these questions for ourselves (unconsciously) during the first few years of life. Because our parents are the people with whom we spend most of our waking hours, they are involved in most of the experiences that lead to our fundamental beliefs.
And what are those experiences in most households? Parents, being adults, generally like quiet; children are not quiet and cannot even understand why anyone would value quiet. Parents generally want their house to be neat; young children don’t even understand the concept of “neat.” Parents want to sit down for dinner when it is ready and before it gets cold; children are almost always doing something that is far more important to them and don’t want to stop doing it when their parents call them. Etc.
In other words, most parents usually want their children to do things that they are developmentally incapable of doing. They want their young children to act like little adults, which they cannot possibly do.
The question is not, Do children frequently “disobey” their parents? Children are developmentally incapable of living up to most parents’ expectations. The only question is how parents react when their children are not doing what the parents want them to do, when they want, or the way they want.
And because few parents go to parenting school and most bring their own beliefs from their own childhoods with them, their reactions range from annoyance and frustration to anger and physical abuse, with every possibility in between.
Virtually all of us have lots of negative self-beliefs
I think there are three primary reasons why the source of self-beliefs is always interactions with parents as a young child and not people or events later in life.
- First, as children we depend on them for our very survival; on some level we feel that we have to be able to trust them to survive. In other words, we assume they must have good reasons for treating us as they do.
- Second, as adults, they seem to know how to navigate reality and we know we can’t. (What do all kids say? “When I grow up, then I’ll be able to ….”) So they must know what they are doing and their behavior must be “correct.” If I don’t like how I’m treated, it must be my fault.
- Third, all children pass through a stage of development in which they are totally narcissistic, in other words, the world revolves around them. (This is a normal part of human development; if adults are still stuck at this level we call their narcissism a psychological problem.) Children experience the outside world as an extension of them. They are responsible for everything, including mom’s and dad’s behavior.
The source of specific self-beliefs
Here is the common source of a few negative self-esteem beliefs.
- If my parents are critical of me, I must be doing something wrong, it must be my fault. I’m not good enough.
- If I can’t get them to spend the time with me that I want or if they are physically around but not paying attention to me, it must be my fault. I’m not important.
- If I can’t get them to give me what I want most of the time, it must be my fault. I’m not worthy or deserving.
- If my parents make all the decisions that affect my life and they don’t allow me any say, I have no control over my life. I’m powerless.
If we could all recognize that few of us escape childhood without forming a bunch of negative self-esteem beliefs, we would better understand why we and others act the way we all do, we would not be embarrassed to have these beliefs, and we would be more willing to acknowledge them and eliminate them.
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