Turning Negative Self-Talk Around
By Lisette Schuitemaker
There is no one in the world we talk to as much as we talk to ourselves. Unfortunately, we often talk to ourselves from negative assumptions we have made about who we are and what we are capable of. In her new book, The Childhood Conclusions Fix: Turning Negative Self-Talk Around, she identifies the five conclusions in the order in which they are usually drawn at the ages of a newborn, a baby, a toddler and a young child…
ONE: “I’m not welcome, I must go elsewhere.”
“If only I were somewhere else, in another place, another time – maybe then I’d belong and feel welcome and safe. I find the world harsh, hard and unpleasant. I don’t know if I really want to be here. I take refuge in the world of dreams, in higher spheres where it’s quiet, beautiful and harmonious. The contact with those domains keeps me alive.”
The first childhood conclusion arises from the existential terror of the newborn. Are we even welcome on this planet? Maybe our mother lacked confidence, unsure if she really wanted the baby or if she could cope. An infant may be alarmed by a door slamming, a voice shouting. In fright, our small body tenses up. The first neural pathways being laid down in the brain record these initial, adversarial physical reactions.
People with this childhood conclusion are often highly original and gifted. We have maintained our natural connection with the realms of spirit that we hail from and may have a hard time being down to earth. With our heads in the clouds, we may find it difficult to keep our lives together. More often than we’d like, we feel we don’t truly belong – which is a false notion as we are here, so of course we belong.
TWO: “There isn’t enough, I am not enough.”
“I’m not good, smart, fit and savvy enough. I never get back as much as I give, but I don’t want to ask people for anything. I will only be disappointed. Again. I have to be able to do everything for myself. If only I had more time, money, capacity – there is never enough.”
The mainspring of the second childhood conclusion is fear of deficiency. A small baby suffers agonies if someone doesn’t show up to feed it when it has woken up hungry, or when it is returned to the crib before it feels wholly satisfied. The little body craves more food, more time being held and cuddled and touched. The impression arises that there isn’t enough: not enough food, not enough time, not enough attention for me: I am not enough.
These babies grow into adults who are forever plagued by thoughts that we don’t have enough time, have not read enough, are not funny, skinny or accomplished enough. We become adored performers, actors, anchors.
People with this childhood conclusion are endlessly curious scientists and journalists with the gift of the gab. Seeking to stand out in some way, we succeed in getting the attention we long for. Trouble is, it’s never enough, because that insatiable hunger for more will return – until we realize we have always been and will always be enough.
THREE: “What do I know – have it your way.”
“I’ll just go along with the others, that’ll be the easiest. I don’t really know what I want, so I’d rather let the others choose. That way I won’t make any enemies. It does make me feel powerless, though. As if I’m a nobody. I tend to play the innocent – I can’t help it, and it’s safer, if you know what I mean. But then, I end up feeling stupid, and that sucks too. So, I’m stuck, I guess.”
Underlying the third childhood conclusion are feelings of confusion and impotence. Toddlers like to keep their parents and other grown-ups happy but in our innocence, we do things that make them angry. Some of us as young children had things happen to us that we didn’t want but were powerless to prevent. We are furious that our boundaries were not respected by someone we knew, but, afraid to jeopardize the love of our parents, we kept quiet. We swallowed our frustration and fury, resigned ourselves to our fate and consoled ourselves by eating and cracking jokes at our own expense.
Beyond our apparent lethargy lies a well of creativity. Feeling like a victim ourselves, we have developed huge empathy and behind our happy face lies deep compassion for the plight of others. The false image this childhood conclusion paints is that we have no power over our lives, and so we tend to give up even before we’ve begun. In truth, all of us are ultimately the directors of our own lives. We are free to live our own destiny. Becoming aware of that freedom is an inner job that begins with the question “What if my body, my creativity and my life were truly mine?”
FOUR: “I must be in control.”
“In the end no one is fully trustworthy. I love people and I have many friends but I also keep an eye on everybody, so I know exactly where they’re at. Never again will I be betrayed by someone I trusted as I make a point of always knowing what comes next. I like being ahead of the game as it gives me a sense of control.”
In childhood games we assume grandiose roles. We can easily imagine ourselves as princes and heroines, saving the world and everyone in it, or as the true partner of Mummy or Daddy, whom we will later, of course, marry. We take a caress or a look as proof of this bond and then feel betrayed when the parent turns out not to see us as their life partner. Our hearts break for the first time: our naive trust is dented and this is so painful that we resolve never to let that happen again.
Cultivating our sensitivity to other people’s motives, we become superb strategists, people who look ahead and like to keep things under control. No matter how commanding we are, however, life takes unexpected turns and control remains elusive, which creates stress and tension even though we continue to look self-assured. We have big hearts that can easily fit our whole family, wide circle of friends and worthy causes to fight for. Our strategic insight and our charisma make people achieve more than they thought themselves capable of, and have a great time too. We are well-loved and if we could find it in ourselves to begin to trust life, we could do even much more good than we are already doing.
FIVE: “I must conform to fit in.”
“What should I wear to show the world I know the codes? Others think I am competent, but I am afraid to be found out as a fake. I have learned to get on well with people in all situations, yet I can’t help but keep a distance. Outwardly, my life looks perfect. Inside I feel empty and cold. I just don’t feel as much as other people. Is this all there is to life? I’d better keep up the false facade so at least people think I’m capable.”
For some of us, the way our parents shaped their lives doesn’t resonate, and as the odd one out we conclude we must be a bit off. It may come to pass that we have wanted to show our parents how much we loved them, but that at an age of budding sexuality we did so in a way that created embarrassment. As a child, we sensed we had overstepped a boundary without ever having known it was there. We take fright as we think we might do so again, and so decide instead to follow suit and produce only desired ways of behaving. We fret endlessly over our appearance, what to wear and what to say, and scrutinize our behaviors long after anyone continues to remember what we said or did. We become keen observers of others and, as chameleons, put in any situation we can “do as the Romans do”.
The challenge is to give up trying to be perfect as that is unattainable anyway, to thaw and get in touch again with our emotions and our very own quirkiness. A positive present begins with our rediscovery of our authentic selves. We can be who we are, quirks and all. Life is quirky anyway.
founded and ran a communications company before becoming a healer, life coach and personal development author.
She studied the work of Wilhelm Reich as part of obtaining her BSc in Brennan Healing Science.
The co-author of The Eldest Daughter Effect, she lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands. See: http://en.lisetteschuitemaker.nl.