Never Good Enough
Here are some questions I’d like you to reflect on: Is it fun being in your family? Does it feel good to be a part of your family right now? Do you feel that you are living with people who like and trust you?
Such questions rarely occur to us, says family therapist Virginia Satir. We just take these relationships for granted. If there is no crisis, we think everything is OK.
Some adults were called stupid (noisy, clumsy, selfish) so often by their parents or brothers and sisters when they were growing up that they “know” nobody liked them. “I sincerely believed I was so bad that nobody could possibly love me or want me,” said a college professor. “I’ve spent my whole life believing that I am undesirable.” And not surprisingly, this man is killing himself with overwork.
Recently I heard an elderly woman report that only once in her life had she ever heard her father speak of her with pride. “When he did,” she said, “I wept for joy. I waited 45 years to hear my father say ‘I’m proud of you.’”
When parents demonstrate through their words and actions that they like their children, the message that ingrains itself in the child’s mind is, “I am lovable.” If parents demonstrate that they disapprove of their children, that translates into the conviction that “something is wrong with me, and I am not worthy of love.” Whatever the message, the child opens a “self-respect” file in his mental computer, enters the data, and saves it to the hard drive.
One of the characteristics of driven, dysfunctional families is that they have little time for fun. The atmosphere in such homes is solemn, somber, serious. Parents and children are devoid of spontaneity. It’s a depressing environment!
The negative atmosphere of such homes is programmed into the child’s mental computer. He grows up believing that life is a drag. There is no joy. Occasionally, people who are misprogrammed like this delete themselves (commit suicide) instead of getting rid of the negative messages. How much better it is to purge the “virus” from the system. This is not as easily done with the human mind as it is with computers, though. (Wouldn’t it be great if we all had delete buttons we could press to rid ourselves of inappropriate messages!)
Your answers to the thought-provoking questions at the beginning of this article may reveal where your family fits on the functional-to-dysfunctional scale. If you answered Yes, you live in what we call a nurturing family. If you answered No or Not Often, you probably live in a family this is more or less troubled.
Self-assessment can be a painful exercise. If you are coming to realize that your family is imperfect, comfort yourself with the thought that all families fall somewhere along the continuum from very nurturing to very troubled.
Most importantly, recognize that change is possible. If you are able to acknowledge that there is room for improvement, you have begun the process.
Sometimes our negative relationship patterns are so deeply ingrained that we are powerless to change them. Trying harder to have a good attitude doesn’t work. Determination isn’t enough. Our program for codependency has helped thousands of people overcome the impact of those negative messages.