This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
Human beings are hopeless when we’re first born. Completely useless.
Horses can stand up within minutes of coming into the world, and most mammals can at least move around on their own.
Human beings are only good at one thing: soaking up our environment.
Our ability to learn is our biggest asset, and all that learning happens in the context of relationships in which we grow, and hopefully, are nurtured.
We soak up everything: the good, and the bad. The love, the care, the worry, the doubt, the judgments and even the criticisms, and we all have that part of us that takes extra special note of the criticisms.
A popular saying wisely points out that “How we talk to our children becomes their inner voice” and it’s undoubtedly true. But like most of these things, it’s not quite that simple.
It’s truer that how we love our children becomes how they love themselves. Because for all of us, love is complicated.
We are both enamoured by, and annoyed by, those we love the most. Hopefully over time, we come to realise that most of the annoyance is ultimately our own story getting in the way.
The things we find annoying about ourselves, only to put it on to our loved ones; our own exacting standards that no one can live up to; our own insecurities; or a bad day that we take out on others just because they’re there.
So it comes to be inevitably true that to some degree we all have a self-critic, lurking, whispering in the dark, pointing out our darkest secrets.
But it’s not just being criticised, put down and yelled at that we absorb. In fact, in some ways, it can be even more impactful – and even harder to recognise – that the inner critic also grows in the vacuum of neglect.
That in the absence of love, in the drought of attention, we can come to believe ourselves not worthy of that which we most naturally crave.
If we feel we’re not loved enough, we come to believe we aren’t lovable.
The good news is while our brains are sponges from the moment we’re born, they also stay that way. We’re never too old to allow what we needed back then and still need now, into our heart.
Even the inner critic can be won over with love, validation, and acceptance. And eventually, we can even come to believe we deserve it.
And that’s why there is always hope, and we can all be that hope, for each other.
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