Margaret arrived at my home with her husband, Blake. Over the course of their twelve years together, she had emotionally shared herself in inappropriate ways—frequent texting, sharing of deep feelings, phone calls, furtive hugs and kisses, and so on—with several men. All this distraction was negatively affecting her family relationships—with Blake and their three children.
I discovered that at an early age Margaret had learned that if she wanted any attention, she had to earn it. So she danced, sang, performed with the cheerleading squad, and wore the crowns of homecoming queen and most popular girl in school. Every girl’s dream, yes? But it was never enough. She always had to do more in order to keep the attention she craved. So she married the football captain. When that wore off, she got pregnant, and Bingo! she had the attention again. Newborn baby? Mobbed with attention. But again it wore off, so she had another child, then another.
Then Margaret rediscovered the kind of attention she’d earned when she was a teenager. When she wasn’t with her children, men flirted with her, and before long she was having the emotional affairs described above, about which she was ashamed. I explained to her that she was only treating the pain of a lifetime, using whatever means she had available. Some people use money, others their intelligence, while others use sex—as she had done. Her childhood pain was not her fault, and she had done the best she knew to deal with it—not having unconditional love even available to her as an option. When she saw the trap created by her training to earn conditional approval, tears streamed down her face—tears born of a lifetime of pain, as well as tears of relief from finally being understood.
In an atmosphere of safety and trust, she acknowledged that her affairs had been more than emotional, with multiple sexual encounters. When we’re in pain, mistakes of many kinds become nearly inevitable, and because her husband recognized that, he was willing to move past the affairs. They agreed to recommit to their relationship.
For the next couple of days, Blake and Margaret appeared to be happy, but Blake found that Margaret had continued to connect electronically with her latest boyfriend from the moment they’d left my home. I tried to talk to her about it, but she lied repeatedly, angry that I would dare to hold her accountable for her behavior. She threw a complete victim fit.
Blake was baffled that Margaret was cheating again. “But we were happy,” he said. “Why would she do this?”
“It’s tragic,” I said, “that Margaret was taught from early childhood that she HAD to EARN approval and attention, but there’s a side of this that everybody misses. She also learned that if she DID earn the attention, she had a right to DEMAND it. She learned that everything had a price. On the one hand that’s a burden, but she also learned that if she PAID the price, she was ENTITLED to what she wanted.”
“I don’t quite understand yet,” Blake said.
I explained to Blake that when I was a child, I watched monkeys at the zoo. They learned that if they screamed and flailed their arms about, people were more likely to throw food to them. Quick and simple lesson. But once the monkeys learned HOW to earn food, they DEMANDED it. If people didn’t sufficiently reward their antics, the monkeys became more aggressive. They would reach through the bars and attempt to STEAL food, rather than wait for it. If further frustrated, they’d throw objects at the people outside the bars.
People often behave in similar ways. They learn HOW to earn attention, so then they naturally conclude that if they earn it, they’re entitled to it. They’ll even STEAL it. That’s what Margaret did. She paid the price for what she thought was happiness, and when she wasn’t happy, she bypassed all the rules associated with genuine happiness and attempted to steal it from other men by offering them sex. When our pain is great enough, most of us feel entitled to find relief from that pain in almost any way available.
You may have not received the unconditional love you really needed as a child but you CAN end the negative results. Listen to Real Love and Post-Childhood Stress Disorder and learn how you can live a genuinely happy, responsible, and loving life now.
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