Last week, I observed a number of different parents interacting with their children. I saw positive and encouraging examples of parenting, but also several devastating ones. It made me contemplate how we talk to our children, and what messages and suggestions we instil in them. Ultimately, this also made me ponder how we talk to ourselves. What is our own inner voice saying? Is that inner voice possibly echoing messages that we received in our childhood which were less than loving or supportive?
In one museum, a boy of about eight was standing at the top of an escalator, lost in his own dream world, just looking around. Instead of bringing him gently back to the present and asking him nicely to pay attention to other people who might want to use the escalator, I heard the father bark, “Get out of the way!” followed by, “Why do you never listen to me?”
It was at the tip of my tongue to say, “Because he is trying to tune out your critical voice. If you were more loving, he would listen.”
Not only does this father send the message that the son is in the way of other people but he also implants the suggestion not to listen.
The son learns, “I am not good enough. I am stupid or clumsy. Other people are more important. I am annoying to my father the way I am.”
In a restaurant, I overheard a snippet of another conversation. A father was saying to his six-year-old daughter, “No. You are the problem here!”
I have no idea what they were talking about, if the daughter was trying to communicate her needs or opinions. But no matter what it was, the father’s comment shut her up immediately.
What a depressing message to get! The daughter learns, “In my father’s eye, I am a problem. My needs, requests or opinions are nothing more than a nuisance.”
On a parking lot, another father was pushing and pulling his three-year-old daughter along, while the mother walked ahead and ignored them both. The little girl was just being a normal three year old, taking her time enjoying the sunny summer’s day. In passing by, I heard the father say impatiently, “How many times do I have to tell you to hurry up? This is a parking lot! Parking lots are dangerous.”
Another child, another devastating message. The little girl learns, “Not only is life not safe for me, but I am also annoying my parent by being myself and enjoying the moment. I am a bother.”
One could argue that the parents are just trying to teach their children to have consideration for others, not to blame others and to stay safe. However, all these life messages could have been delivered with love. Instead, they were delivered with impatience, judgment and harshness. The children did not learn anything but that they are not accepted the way they are. They might even conclude that they are unlovable, especially if their caretakers act like this on a regular basis.
As we grow up, we still at times have this harsh parental voice in our head, the inner critic that at times is useful and tries to protect us, but most of the time just beats us up mercilessly.
How do you speak to yourself?
What does your inner voice say when you make a so-called mistake, or when you are in a situation that you could interpret as a failure?
Does it still say “You are stupid and not good enough”, or “You are the problem,” or “Pay attention! There is danger lurking just around the next corner”?
Just as children need a patient, understanding, compassionate and encouraging parent, you need to bring out that inner parent who sees you with loving eyes. The inner parent can put your inner critic in its place. That loving, caring parental voice believes in you and in your potential. It’s that part of us that helps us to bring the best out in us. If you want to be happy and feel good about yourself there is no way around self-love. If you want to love others, there is no way around self-love.
If you want to succeed and live a happy life, you have to make the choice to separate from your harsh inner critic, stop being a victim to your own inner voice, stand up for your abused inner child and begin to parent yourself differently!