Our toddler grandson runs up and down the hall just for the joy of running. He revels in getting a spoon of food to his mouth. He shoves sounds together into sentences and beams at his own success. He hasn’t figured out yet that anything is “wrong.” He doesn’t even know that wrong exists.
Most of us started out in a similar way, receiving the love, attention and praise that we all naturally need. But for some of us, something unexpected happened around age two.
We were still doing the same adorable stuff, but some of it became inconvenient and even inappropriate to our adults. And they began acting differently toward us.
This isn’t about parent bashing. Everyone’s doing the best they can, with what they have to work with and what they’ve figured out so far.
Am I all right?
It’s as though we became the square pegs that our adults needed to pound into the round holes. And they sometimes turned to disapproval and even punishment.
How did we respond? “How can I get the love back?!” is all we could think about.
Approval from our adults became conditional, depending on whether we did what they wanted us to do. And most of us adapted our behavior so that they would tell us that we were all right: “Good boy.” “Good girl.”
The big issue in life became, “Am I all right?” And since we were little, we let our parents, older siblings, teachers and authority figures determine that for us. We even let them decide whether we were good or bad, nice or mean, stupid or smart, hyperactive or lazy, average or great.
We learned that something we needed could be withheld, which led to fear-based thoughts and beliefs like, “I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve the good stuff that others have. I won’t know how to respond. I’m afraid.”
We decide whether we’re all right.
Our grandson doesn’t know about wrong yet. But he’ll find out soon. Not from his parents, because they’re doing a super job in their roles.
He’ll probably get it from the local playground or from daycare. There will be a moment when he’ll do something that someone, either a child or an adult, won’t like. And that person will want him to stop doing it. So he or she will criticize or admonish our grandson, to get him to change.
It takes courage to believe in ourselves when people want us to change so that they can feel better. And it takes clarity to discern what our needs are and what’s true for us, without another person’s beliefs and needs taking us off course.
E. E. Cummings wrote, “To be nobody but yourself, in a world doing its best to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle any human can ever fight, and never stop fighting.”
We need to keep reminding ourselves that we’re all right just as we are, because we’ve decided it. And that we’re not letting anyone else make that decision for us anymore.
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Pic by Mike Ricioppo