When I met Elizabeth, she appeared to have been dragged on a chain behind a truck on a gravel country road. She looked beaten up and intolerably exhausted. Questions revealed that she’d been married twice before, and she was about to marry a man who frequently expressed his anger toward her and everyone else. Her second husband had treated her like a servant for many years.
“Every time you have ever trusted someone,” I said, “you’ve raised your hopes that finally you’d be accepted and loved, but your hopes were consistently betrayed.”
She burst into tears as she said, “That’s it! I feel betrayed and alone all the time.”
More tears as she recognized that nearly everyone in her life had used her to varying degrees. “How does this keep happening?” she asked. “The common denominator in all these experiences seems to be me. Am I doing something to make this happen?”
“Yes, you are. It’s almost like you wear a sign on your forehead that reads, ‘Use Me. Manipulate Me. Lie to Me.’”
“But why would I want people to treat me like that?”
We talked about how she had been raised. Her mother was angry at her from sunrise to sunset, treating her like an object to be used. Her father beamed at everything his son did, and communicated obviously to his daughter, Elizabeth, that he was disappointed that she wasn’t a boy. There is no blaming of her parents here. They were acting out of their own pain.
In short, as a child, Elizabeth was actively taught that she was worthless, and she had little choice but to accept that verdict wholeheartedly. All her life she continued to let people treat her that way, but she never quite let go of the hope that some day someone would be kind to her, so with each relationship she allowed her hopes to build that things would be different. When the relationship soured—when she was treated like an object, which happened every time—she felt that hopes dashed against the rocks. She felt betrayed, hurt, and alone.
“The only condition you know is to be treated badly by people,” I said. “It’s your role in life, a role you fill with everyone. Although it’s completely unconscious, you invite betrayal. And no matter how many times it happens, it’s just as painful. You feel empty, hurt, and alone.”
Elizabeth proved to be a remarkable student, and soon she felt the power of being loved and valued. I simultaneously worked with her fiancé, who understood what he was taught about her, about relationships, about anger, and about himself. He made the conscious decision to divorce himself from the old patterns of behavior that would have ended their relationship in disaster. They’re now married and happy.
As children, our parents and others are gods. They teach us how the world IS. They teach us who we are, and how we are to interact with the world. If we’re taught that we are worthless and meant to be used, almost invariably that is exactly what we believe and do. Then we spend a lifetime repeating this pattern of behavior, and we are mystified by the endless abuse and unhappiness. But our lives are not mysteries. They’re continuations of what we were taught at an age where we can’t even remember the lessons.
We can learn new lessons. We really can. We can find the love we need to heal the old wounds. We can learn new ways of believing and feeling and behaving. We can find the happiness we’ve always wanted and always deserved.
Learn new lessons, find the love you need, heal old wounds
READ OR LISTEN TO: