Monday, December 5, 2011

My "E" Word

This morning I was feeling frisky so I decided to begin reading "Healing Your Emotional Self" by Beverly Engel, a book centered around overcoming the effects of childhood abuse and neglect. Yes, I'm in the midst of reading a handful of other books, but this book has been calling my name since I ordered it from Amazon a few months ago. A book like this and an emotional self like mine were destined to meet, and what better day than Monday to do a little therapy-by-book.

Doesn't this all sound so enchanting? As I reflect on this morning's therapy session, also referred to as "Chapter One", I feel anything but enchanted. Enlightened? Pushing it. Emotional? Seems a bit obvious. Can you think of a word that begins with "E" and defines anger, emptiness, motivation, frustration, remorse, and confusion all wrapped up in a tight internal package? Me neither. But if such a word did exist, its formal definition would go a little something like this...

"Your inner critic's voice is the voice of a disapproving parent--the punishing, forbidding voice that shaped your behavior as a child. If you were given very strong messages about your 'badness' or 'wrongness' as a child, your adult critic will attack you frequently and fiercely." That it does.

Since I was about 5 years old, I have wondered how and why I've had thoughts like "I am not good enough. No healthy, normal guy would ever love someone like me. I am a bad person. I am different. People don't like me. The world is an awful place. Life is a battlefield." I wouldn't think these things unless they were true, right? This is what I've believed, and I've lived accordingly.

I read that these thoughts, a.k.a. my inner critic, was formed from childhood trauma and maltreatment. Just seeing the word "childhood" drums up painful, frustrating memories. Chaos. Yelling. Cursing. Playing favorites. Name calling. Blame. Mood swings. Withdrawal. And with all of these disgusting words come countless experiences upon experiences, my experiences, forming an inner dialogue that has yet to shut up or change. Inner Critic. Childhood. Thanks, mother.

But I've received new information; a new truth, a very different truth, may exist. This inner critic has nothing to do with how "good" I am, what kind of person I am, what kind of person I can be or will be. This inner critic is my inner critic, and not what others think about me.

It is possible to quiet this inner critic, this all-knowing mother I carry around. It is possible, and it is essential if I am to develop healthy, long-lasting habits, behaviors, and relationships. Despite knowing others have read this book, despite knowing I am not alone in my experience, I still find myself asking, "Can this be done? Can this inner critic, my inner critic, be silenced?"

Hope, hesitance and doubt now followed by guilt. I feel guilty for assigning the source of my pain to my mother. She fed me and housed me and comforted me in times of need. But, whether I need it to be true for my sanity, or she declares (which she has, with a string of explicitives) that is couldn't be further from the truth, the fact remains: I was emotionally abused and neglected by my mother from childhood into my mid-twenties.

Every example and definition and description in this book (chapter one, mind you) about emotional neglect and abuse is my experience. My thoughts and actions, my story, is before me, written by an expert on this subject and backed by research and experiences from others who share this same story.

It sounds like I'm writing a persuasive essay entitled "Why I Believe I was Emotionally Abused". I'm not sure who I'm trying to convince, maybe myself, maybe anyone who's reading this. I'm thinking the former.

Guilt...now anger. Why is this my story? Why can't it be different? Why can't I be different? New wounds have been opened and I'm pissed they even exist. It's not like pain is something new to me, but the truth behind it is. Why is this my truth?

Guilt, anger...now fear and anxiety. I want to bail. I want to burn this book and go about my life like my reading it never happened. I want to run from everyone around me; I'm better off alone anyways.

Do you hear this? This is my inner critic talking about my inner critic. Such a painful, negative cycle.

So here I am, my story in my hands and a decision to make. Realizing my inner critic and the facts behind its birth is just the beginning. With truth comes responsibility and expectations. And if I want this different, better truth to be my own, if I want my inner critic silenced and de-throned, there is more reading, more exposing the pain of the past, more sweat and tears.

The question still remains. Does a better truth await my arrival? Will I ever own it?

Eventually.


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