There were many lies in my childhood. My abusers told all sorts of stories for why it was my fault I was treated so poorly and how I would never be able escape. I learned horrible things about myself and none of them were true.
But once my intuition was blocked, I had no other truth. I had no choice but to take in the lies. Not surprisingly, one of those lies was that I wasn’t good enough. It came through loud and clear in several different ways.
I was never loved for who I was. From the moment I was born, there were problems with who I was. I was too emotional. I was too needy. I ate too much. I was too skinny. I was too fair-skinned. I was ugly. I was too loud. I spent too much time in my room. I was too talkative. I was too argumentative. I told too many “stories”. I was too uncooperative. I wasn’t smart enough. I was too smart for my own good. You get the idea. The barrage was constant. And these statements became the chorus in my head.
I was never praised for what I accomplished. I learned early that I wasn’t going to get love easily. I would see fleeting moments of it. If I cleaned the kitchen well, I could see seconds of approval in my mother’s eyes before she thought better of it. While I didn’t hear direct praise for my report card, it was used to torture my sister with comparisons. And to be honest, I took anything I could get. But in reality, the accomplishments didn’t get me closer to the approval I sought out. There was love of the accomplishments and how it made them look. But there was no love for me.
I was never chosen as a friend or partner unless I was of use. Not surprisingly, the relational patterns of my childhood continued into the teenage years and adulthood. My friends and partners loved to have me around. I was smart so I could help them with their homework. I could help my male friends make their real love interests jealous. I could help them out of a financial bind with my allowance. I could be the only one they could talk to when they were bored. I was useful. But I was quickly dropped when something or someone better came along.
These patterns created an incredibly strong controller focus in my life. I knew that my survival depended on my utility. I knew I must provide a use to the world. On some level, this is true. We all want to get in touch with our purpose, to give back to the world in some unique way. But my trauma took this idea and twisted it around. I believed my purpose was to figure out what people needed and do it for them. I believed that providing what was needed would bring me the approval I wanted.
But there was a problem with that plan. I would not find approval where I was looking. The people in my childhood were never going to be satisfied. They were never going to be happy with the work I had done. I was faced with an endless cycle of working hard to impress others only to be rejected. By the time I was a teenager, I had learned there would never be approval for me.
So the futility took hold. The message became one of hopelessness. There is no point to be of use because nobody will ever be happy with me. And while my controller would power through the futility, the result was never good. There was no way to satiate my need for love and approval with this pattern. But when the futility spoke, I heard the lie. There was no way to be loved at all. And the problem was me.
This is how our trauma sets us up for a life of futility, a life without resilience. The failures become a sign of the futile pattern playing out once again. But the problem is our interpretation of failures. One piece of bad feedback, one minor constructive comment, or one unfortunate event can be interpreted by our inner parts in a devastating way. They are all seen as purveyors of the childhood message. We are not good enough. So we should not bother.
But life is designed to be a series of failures. We are supposed to fail. We are supposed to face disapproval. We are supposed to overcome obstacles that stand in our way. While our childhood has set us up to shrink to the “not good enough child” with every failure, we don’t have to. We can address this pattern. We must see the futility as the trauma message it is. We must remember it is from the past but it isn’t about now. It isn’t about the future. We can succeed without approval from abusive people. We can receive constructive feedback and still believe in our abilities. We don’t have to give up on our journey. We are meant to be more than useful. We are meant to be more than good enough.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW