I heard a story about a man who saw to the needs of his ailing mother every day. He bathed her, combed her hair, and fed her. Everything was done gently and with a tenderness that displayed the man’s compassion. He cared for his mother as though it were a privilege for him to help her.
I’d never seen or been on the receiving end of that type of caring. In my family, even sympathy was in short supply.
When I was in the hospital after being hit by a car, a friend of my mother’s gave me a much-longed-for doll, a Betsy Wetsy doll. After her friend left, my mother told me I didn’t deserve it.
The only reason she let me keep it was so she wouldn’t hurt her friend’s feelings.
My childhood was made up of moments like that one and ones of criticism about how I looked or walked or behaved. Other times, I’d have toys or games taken away because I couldn’t play with them correctly.
Sometimes, I didn’t even have to do anything.
One day my German grandmother stood at the side window angrily shredding to pieces our Irish neighbors Mrs. O’Connor and the O’Connell family from two doors up.
I stood in the doorway frozen and devastated, not because I liked our neighbors, but because my father was Irish.
A Diamond Is Not The Only Thing That’s Forever
What you learned in childhood will stay with you.
It sets you on paths that don’t serve you, and paths that only appear to benefit you.
And if that’s not bad enough, your unmet needs from childhood manipulate you in ways you’re not aware.
Worse, though, is how you treat yourself.
Denying what you want because you believe someone else’s needs or desires are more important.
Pushing to prove yourself over and over again because nothing you do is ever good enough.
Always trying to fix in yourself what you think is broken.
But . . . this is only one truth about your life.
There’s another truth — beneath all the crap you were taught, and all the ways you tried to overcome your upbringing:
That truth can help you heal the hurts that were done to you. I know because that truth is still helping me heal mine.
Getting Hooked on Being Valued
As soon as I started working, my self-esteem kept me in entry-level jobs. Boredom would have me moving from one entry-level job to another until I wound up in an international insurance company.
I had found a workplace home, and a corporate family. A pretty dysfunctional corporate family, but one that gave me challenges where I could shine.
When I was told how my behavior, or knowledge, or lack of skills was dimming my shine, I fixed whatever they said was wrong with me.
Making others happy fed my ego, but I was out of touch with myself and what was best for me.
From Success to a Ghastly Mess to OMG!
Before I could implement my exit plan from my corporate life, they paid me to leave. I started working for myself 18 months before I was ready to do so, but I figured, how bad could it be?
It was a disaster of the kind only I could make.
I’d worked for other people for too long. My self-worth was tied to the job I did for other people. I had all the skills I needed, but I couldn’t make a damn thing happen for myself.
I beat myself into the ground, and then I got up and did again. I was on my third round of trying to make a go of SOMETHING when I met someone who didn’t need me to do anything for him.
He saw me as a person and as an equal whose knowledge and opinions he valued.
He found all my unmet needs and seemed to want nothing more than to fill them.
He hooked into all my childhood fears and manipulated me with them.
By the time his perfectly executed but stupid, rotten, and nasty scam was done, I was a basket case.
Help From a Surprising Source
He had released the unresolved fears and traumas from my childhood, and they were out of control.
The constant barrage of anxiety zombied my mind. The worsening shame and despair of being abandoned made every day a struggle.
I couldn’t find comfort anywhere, and I had no idea of what to do to get even a tiny break from my suffering.
Then one day, I tripped over a bag of books I had gathered for the local library’s fundraiser. Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance tumbled out. I needed what she had to say, but I felt like screaming with frustration when my brain couldn’t retain anything I read.
Thank God for audio books!
As I listened to her recording, a curious thing happened: I fell asleep until the recording ended and she stopped talking.
While putting the recording on repeat helped extend my sleep time, my anxiety would vengefully reassert itself. It would jerk me awake, and I’d clutch the side of the bed so I’d not fall out.
So I did something I was never allowed to do as a child or even a teenager; I put my mattress on the floor.
The Double Blessing of My Pillow Talk
Sleeping on the floor helped. Listening to Tara Brach’s voice helped block the negative pillow talk my mind generated.
One night, I found myself waking up to her voice. I listened as she talked about treating yourself with compassion even when you believed you were the worst person on Earth. Then I drifted back to sleep.
Though it didn’t happen every night, some nights I’d wake and listen to a bit of Tara’s wisdom and then fall back to sleep.
It was as though my mind was poking me awake so I could hear something I needed to know.
Nothing was in her words about how to fix anything that was wrong with me. It was all about a truth that was new to me.
A truth that said I didn’t have to do battle with myself to try and avoid the suffering I experienced in childhood.
Her words were about how to nurture yourself.
The practices she talked about helped me learn to be kind and compassionate with myself.
How to know myself as a person who was worthy of being treated that way.
And she’s not the only one who knows this truth.
Why Do This Special Kind of Pillow Talk?
Even if your days aren’t fraught with anxiety and emotional crap similar to mine, they’re probably filled to overflowing with everything that’s going on in your life.
Sometimes, bedtime is the only quiet time you have to listen to people who can help you heal and support you as you do it.
Yes, I know listening as you fall asleep may not be the most advantageous way of hearing about how to nurture yourself.
But listening helped me get the sleep I so desperately needed then, and it still helps today to calm my overactive mind and sooth my anxiety.
And listening may give you what it gave me, something I had never had when I was growing up.
Someone to read to you at bedtime, and help keep the monsters at bay. Someone to ease your loneliness, and most importantly, someone who can tell you in the middle of the night that you’re okay.
The right people are out there who can help you find the truth of yourself. Who can help you realize your worth. Who can help you heal the hurts that were inflicted upon you.
They’re the ones who will help you be filled with loving kindness for yourself, help you hold yourself in loving kindness, and help you realize loving kindness as your essence.
All you have to do is go looking for them, or maybe you’ll get lucky as I did and trip over one of them.
Quinn Eurich is a freelance writer and storyteller, who takes what she learns about overcoming her challenges with panic and anxiety, and shares them to help other people create the success they want. Her website, OutsmartingPanicAndAnxiety.com, provides methods and techniques to help people deal with these two tyrants. You can pick up your free copy of her 10 Tips to Outsmart Anxiety (Whatever the Situation) here and follow her on Twitter.
Image courtesy of Jay Mantri.