To be happy in life comes down to feeling good about yourself. It isn’t about money, popularity, power, or other commonly assumed indicators of success. In fact, these may actually be forms of over compensation, masking our sense of unworthiness or inferiority.
Unfortunately, most of us think we have to earn our self respect by proving ourselves worthy in ways others will approve. Consequently, we allow others to become monitors of ourselves and miss living authentic lives. We are what we think about ourselves.
Where does it all begin, this failing to accept ourselves? Clearly, much of it comes from our childhood experiences, or the voices of the past, as these lay the foundation for self-esteem and the confidence it fosters–our ability to view others as friends, not rivals; colleagues, not conspirators; ourselves as lovable, attractive, and admired; not difficult to like, be around, or embarrassing.
Surprisingly, these voices often find their sources in the “friendly fire” of parents, teachers, siblings, and even playmates, who label us as unworthy through physical abuse, verbal assault, neglect, abandonment, and the social apartheid of cliques.
As a consequence, it’s been estimated that nearly 50% of us suffer from anxiety in its myriad forms–worry, panic, dread, phobias and defensive rituals. Unsure of ourselves, we relive our childhood trauma whenever we encounter people or circumstances echoing the voices of our past, or what we’ve assumed to be true about ourselves. The past colors our perceptions, often resulting in a paranoia that we aren’t liked, are being talked about, even plotted against.
Ironically, our negative attitude may turn our suspicions into reality, driving away the very people whose friendship can reassure us that we have worth. We can’t chance our being rejected yet again.
I’m struck with how many of those who get caught up in violence, frequently mass shootings, are unable to handle perceived rejection and, accordingly, act out. The recent killings of six young people in Santa Barbara by Elliot Rodger, age 22, can be added to a lengthy list. The focus of his anger shows the pattern–he aimed to get even with the women who had rejected him and the men they chose instead.
I’m aware that it can be argued that a good deal of such violent outbursts stems from mental illness. What normal person could possibly do such things? The fact is, they do, and what constitutes mental illness is often shrouded in legal ambiguity with court appointed experts often unable to agree. The vast majority of those with mental illness do not commit such acts anyway, and every day people we often live or work with often do.
Unfortunately, a good many of us are passive-aggressive, hiding our inner turbulence, only to have it spring like a panther into the open, suddenly, surprisingly, and vehemently. “But he seemed so quiet, always said hello, and sometimes offered help.”
By the way, you can find a good deal of what I call “angst poetry” online. Take this poem, for example. Appropriately, it’s titled “Rejection.”
What are we so afraid of?
Afraid of wanting, but not being wanted
Afraid of feeling, but not being felt
Afraid of asking and being denied
We all need love–and some of us, because of our childhood ghosts, require it even more.