Many years ago when I was a small child, there was a point when I thought I was going blind. I accidentally got soap into my eyes while showering and my eyes stung and smarted thereafter. I thought that the smarting would stop after I finished showering, but it didn’t. In fact, it became worse.
As a little kid, I was completely freaked out. I thought that I was going to lose my sight and become blind for the rest of my life.
Frantic, I bugged my mom, who was doing laundry then. I wanted her to take a look and assess the condition of my eyes. I wanted my mom to dash in, swoop me up (metaphorically), and let me know that I would be fine. I wanted my mom. I needed my mom.
So I tugged at my mom’s shirt in a bid to get her attention. “Mama, there’s something in my eyes,” I said. “Mama, there’s something in my eyes,” I repeated.
Alas, her response was not what I had hoped for. Instead of caring over me in a delicate, nurturing manner as I had hoped, my mom snapped at me in a highly agitated and annoyed tone.
“Stop disturbing me! Can’t you see that I’m very busy? Come and bother me later, alright?” she bellowed at me in Chinese as she tried to shake me off.
I was crushed. As a little child, I could not believe that my own mother would tell me that at a moment when I really needed her. There I was, looking to her for love and support at one of the scariest points of my life up till then, and there she was, refusing to acknowledge my cry for help.
My eyes turned out fine but my sense of self-worth, not so much.
That incident, along with years and years of the same behavior from my mom to me, instilled a subconscious belief that I was an unimportant person, not worthy of attention. I didn’t know it then, but it marked the starting point in my life where I would think of myself as an unimportant person in the world (usually subconsciously than consciously).
My thinking was that if I was so unimportant to my mom who was the most important person in my life (up until that point), then how important could I be to anyone else? And if my sight, which I regarded as my most important sense, could not even stack up against something as trivial as laundry, then what could ever be important about me?
I grew up having issues with being ignored, regardless of whether someone was really doing that or not. I grew up doubting my value (as a person) in others’ eyes, often concluding that people did not find me important enough whenever people did not respond to my correspondences or requests for help.
I just shared my story of how I came to have issues with being ignored and how I came to doubt my worth in others’ eyes. However, what I really want to talk about today is childhood stories.
What are childhood stories? It is a term I use to refer to events that happened to us when we were a child, that became etched into our consciousness thereafter and formed part of our self-identity.
All of us have childhood stories. They can be monumental events that shook your world when you were young, such as when your parents divorced or when your father left you. They can be one-off incidents, such as a time when you were scolded for something you didn’t do or when you were backstabbed by a good friend. They can be a period in your life, such a period when you were bullied in school, a painful childhood, or an abusive relationship.
While I use the word “childhood”, childhood stories are not limited to our childhood. They can come from our teenage and adult years too, especially if the incident had lasting effects on the way you see yourself. However, they tend to come from our childhood as those are our most formative years and when we are the most impressionable. It is said that most of our life scripts are formed by the age of five.
Why Uncover Childhood Stories?
It is important to be aware of our childhood stories, because these stories will replay themselves over and over in our lives otherwise — without us realizing it.
For example, for the longest time, I had serious hangups with being ignored.
If I had important correspondences that went unanswered (after a period of time), I would feel annoyed. Why is this person not responding? I would wonder. Doesn’t he/she know that it’s very rude to ignore others? I would wonder if I wasn’t important enough for the person to type even one lousy reply via text or email. I would wonder if there was something wrong with me. Sometimes, I would wonder if the person would have replied if I was someone else. I would then conclude that I or my request simply wasn’t important enough to the person and it was better to focus my time and energy elsewhere.
It doesn’t matter if my conclusions were right or not. The point is that these self-doubts and second-guessing were unnecessary. Even if they were right, it was none of my concern. Whether the person wanted to respond or not was up to him/her. What I should focus on are the things I could effect, such as following up when I don’t get a response after X days, writing a more compelling message, and contacting those who can help me. These are constructive actions that would make a difference, not hyper-analyzing others’ thoughts and intentions.
After years of such thinking, I began to realize that there could be something else going on behind the scenes. I wasn’t reacting to the people who weren’t responding per se, but re-enacting a childhood story. When I reflected on the situation, I realized that my issues with being ignored could be traced back to that childhood incident when my mom ignored my cry for help. I was repeating the same thoughts that I had as a child, again and again, whenever a similar event occurred — even when these conclusions were way off base.
Realizing this helped me unchain that old story from my consciousness, see that childhood incident as what it was, and stop the self-defeatist thinking from replaying itself.
What Are Your Childhood Stories? Five Steps To Unchain Your Past From Your Present
If you want to create a future independent of your past, you need to unchain your past from your present. The way to do so is to become aware of your childhood stories, correct the beliefs you formed during those incidents, and then rewrite those stories. Here are five steps to do so:
- Identify a childhood event that left an impression on you. This can be a one-off event, e.g., when your mom hit you; when your dad scolded you for not scoring full marks in a Maths exam; when your teacher said you were a lazy, good-for-nothing; when you let your team down in a school sports relay; when you were not able to make it to your desired college because you did poorly in your leaving exams; or when your parents divorced. It can be a series of events that happened over a period of time, e.g., when you were bullied in school or an abusive relationship.
- What beliefs or conclusions did you form as a result of that event? E.g.,
- Being hit by your mom (or dad). Conclusion: “My mom hates me even though I’m her child. I’m undeserving of love.“
- Being scolded by your dad for not scoring full marks in a Maths exam. Conclusion: “I disappointed one of the most important people in my life because I couldn’t do something as simple as score full marks in a Maths exam. I’m a failure; I will always be a failure.“
- Being told that you were a lazy, good-for-nothing student by your high school teacher. Conclusion: “My teacher accused me of being a lazy, good-for-nothing student even though I’ve been trying my best. It shows that it doesn’t matter what I do; people will still brand me as being a lazy good-for-nothing. I shall truly be a lazy person from now on and prove everyone right.“
- Letting your team down in a school sports relay. Conclusion: “I’m talentless in sports. I’m a burden to others in whatever sports activities I join. I should not join anymore sports-related activities.“
- Not being able to make it to your desired college. Conclusion: “Everyone but me is able to get into his/her desired college. I’m a failure and I’m destined to be a lesser character in life.“
- When your parents divorced. Conclusion: “I’m the reason for my parents’ failed marriage. I cause grief and anguish to the lives I touch.“
- When you were bullied in school. Conclusion: “I’m insignificant and unworthy. I keep getting picked on because I’m little and not deserving of respect.”
- When you were in an abusive relationship. Conclusion: “I’m unworthy. I’m not deserving of love. Nothing I do is ever good enough.”
- Have you been replaying this childhood story? Review your life since that childhood event or episode. Have you been reenacting that story in your life? How have you been doing that? Likelihood is you have been replaying that story in other parts of your life.
In my case, I continuously replayed my childhood story by thinking that I was unimportant and others found me unimportant whenever I had correspondences that went unanswered. These conclusions were coming from my childhood experience, rather than the incidents themselves. I was damaging my soul every time I repeated this self-defeatist thinking pattern.
- Are the beliefs true? Challenge them.
- For the beliefs you had formed, are they true? Even if they were true for that childhood incident, are these beliefs 100% true across all situations, throughout time?
- Chances are, you will find that those beliefs are not true at all. They are likely erroneous beliefs that you formed when you were a child, during that moment of time when you were hurt by the incident. However, these beliefs are unlikely to be true in the absolute sense.
- For example, a key belief I formed from my childhood story was “I’m not important.” However, is it true?
While my mom shouted at me and told me to stop disturbing her (and did this throughout my childhood), it doesn’t mean that I’m not important. I realized much later in my life that she is emotionally vacant and was very toxic in how she parented me. “I am not important” was a logical belief I took away from the incident, but in truth, my mother is a deeply flawed person and parent. In reality, I’m important, like any other person. Just because she is my mother doesn’t mean that what she did or said was right — it is possible for someone to be a parent and be wrong in their ways.
- Rewrite your childhood story. This final step is easy once you recognize that the belief(s) you formed from that childhood event is false all along (see Step 4). It’s then about consciously letting go of the story and rewriting the story to be what it actually was.
Your Childhood Story
I shared my story in this article. How about you? Do you have any childhood events which left an impression on you? Have these stories been reenacting themselves in your life? Why? How can you stop them from replaying from now on?
Be sure to check out: