You’ve heard the story of the two wolves–the one you feed is the one that thrives within you. The inner critic (I often call it the gremlin) works the same way. The diet for the gremlin is tied to a timeline that starts in childhood.
“My parents never encouraged me,” we sigh, feeding the gremlin the “you can’t
be enough because you weren’t nurtured” food.
“At home, the boys got all the attention,” we complain, giving the gremlin the sweet accusation that we aren’t worth the effort of love, attention, or praise.
“No one ever loved me enough,” we say, giving the gremlin a meaty bone of self-doubt to chew on for years.
The saddest (and funniest) childhood comment I’ve heard as a coach came from the client who said, “My parents gave me everything. They encouraged me and praised me. So I never learned how to deal with disappointment. I don’t have the ability to be self-critical.”
Poor childhood. It can’t win. If we’re treated badly, it ruined our life. If we were treated well, that’s wrong, too.
Yes, I take seriously the grim stories of childhood I hear–stories of abuse, abandonment, loss. No one can take any of those stories lightly. They do cause damage. The sign of growth, the sign of change, the sign of reinvention is the willingness to admit that we can’t go back and change the past. It happened. Blessedly, it is also over, and in the past. The next step is yours to make and live.
You can hold onto that pain from the past, you can brandish it like an accusatory weapon, making it the magic wand that transforms your every tomorrow into the same sad yesterday. “Well, of course I keep choosing the wrong partner. . .my parents fought all the time, and I took that as my pattern.” “I can’t commit because my Dad cheated on my Mom; I don’t want to repeat that.”
Maybe it’s time to put down the past. Hugging the hurt to you, shaping the pain into your heart and making it beat in time to the sad rhythm of the past will not repair either the past or your heart. Waiting for your parents to come back and help you re-live your childhood and create a different outcome–well, it’s not going to happen.
Reliving your past over and over creates too much spinning and not enough weaving. The harder work is to take your present day skills, your present day image of what you want for yourself and building your own future. Give up the idea of making someone else wrong for your present by blaming it on the past. It’s so vastly overrated. Instead, be bold. Be risky. Be the person you wish you were and forge yourself into the person you want to be. It is hard to step away from the past. It is also wonderful to step away from the past. The past and the future are the two wolves within you. The one you feed is the one that stays.
–Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach who did not have an ideal childhood either. But she has the strong belief that if she had had adoring parents who lavished attention on her, she would never have grown a backbone and a colorful soul.