Most of us think that the bad stuff that happened to us when we were kids is hardwired into our brains. We try to change old habits/patterns and find it almost impossible. We notice how much like our parents we are, or how our bosses or partners have similar characteristics of our parents, and wonder: “Why am I doing this? I don’t want to keep repeating the same pattern. Help!”
One reason I became a therapist is because I had a childhood that needed a lot of “fixing”. As a kid, my mantra was, “I’m doomed”. My secondary mantra was, “There’s something fundamentally wrong with me.” (See how nicely these two negative mantras work together?)
Being born into a conservative, rural Ohio family didn’t help. I was so closeted that I didn’t come out until my thirties. It took a lot of therapy after that to turn down the volume on my negative mantras. They haunted me for years.
They rarely surface any more. Why? Because I fixed my childhood. You can too. It’s definitely possible, but it does take some work. Consider this:
We unconsciously follow the path – formed during our childhood – of other people’s expectations. We swallow parental and societal values whole, without question, because we have no options. We are helpless children who have little or no power to fight back against everything we’re taught/brainwashed to believe. As LGBT people, we get a double whammy of this heteronormative brainwashing, unless we have super-enlightened parents and totally live in a world where our emerging adolescent sexuality is welcomed and celebrated in every moment (good luck with that!).
To undo this “brainwashing”, regardless of our age, we need a holistic, healing “adolescence”, when we can experience conscious (and moderate) risk-taking, a healthy rebellion against the values from our childhood and the chance to discover and live out what’s right for us now, as LGBT adults.
When working with clients, I often hear comments like: “My life feels empty”, “I feel lonely and trapped in my relationship” and “I just want to escape from my job and all the stress of my life and run away.”
Sounds pretty bleak, right?
Here’s the good news: this unhappiness can be the beginning of a healthy form of “rebellion”. We are looking for our own voice – not the internalized voices of our heteronormative family/society – and are ready to get rid of much of what we were taught is “right” and explore how we want to be and live now.
This is a great thing! It’s how we begin to fix our childhoods.
For some of us, it takes something big to wake us up. For others, it’s a vague, gnawing dissatisfaction that keeps tapping us on the shoulder, saying, “You’re not really happy. This isn’t the life you want.”
To fix our childhood, we need to experience/explore our deep desires for freedom, autonomy and self-definition and to realize that our unhappiness is the result of an internal struggle between who we were raised to be (our past) and who we truly want to be in the here-and-now (our present).
As we get older, we naturally become more aware of previously, unexpressed needs we may have trying to – unsuccessfully – ignore. This often manifests in the strong sense that something is wrong or missing. Some people think they can address this by buying a new car, new clothes, taking a big, expensive trip or having an affair.
Nope, that won’t do it. That’s only a diversion. It’s time for internal growth, not buying more stuff or changing partners.
Here are some specific ways to begin to fix your childhood:
Brainstorm about what you really want – now – in your work, leisure and relationships
Imagine how you want to feel on a day-to-day basis
Assess your need for security versus your need for excitement
Do the “Oprah”: identify and write down things in your life you’re grateful for
Limit time you spend in fantasy, regret or longing for the past (e.g., wishing to be younger again)
You can fix your childhood. It’s hard work, but it’s damn sure worth it. Why not start now? You have nothing to lose but all that old pain and heteronormative brainwashing.