What did your mother, father or other primary caregivers give you praise or positive attention for?
Was it for not ending your sentences with a preposition?
I received praise for doing well in school. Negative criticism was the common interaction with my parents, but if I showed academic excellence, I got rewarded.
From early negative interactions from my parents I concluded these beliefs about me (to name a few):
I’m not good enough.
I’m not important.
I’m not lovable.
I’m not special.
Being special is bad.
And yet, I got the message that it was important to my mother that I appear a certain way. It was important that I got “A’s” in school so that she (or what she called the “family”) would look good. “Dumb” people were considered “bad”.
I did get “A’s” and a lot of them. And when I did I got positive attention from her (father didn’t care). More specifically I got her to:
- Express happiness
- Praise and congratulate me
And because of this I concluded stuff that could not be seen in her responses such as:
- I’m good
- I’m okay
- I’ll live, I’m safe
- I’m special
- I’m lovable
Some survival strategy beliefs I created are, “What makes me okay, good or special is to appear to others as smart or a genius” and “The way to survive is to do well in school”. Again, to just name a few.
These beliefs have been very limiting for me because of the possibility in my mind of looking “dumb” or “stupid”. What would happen if I didn’t appear to others as smart? What if I didn’t do “well”? I would no longer be good, okay, safe, special and so on right? In the mind of a child, I might not even survive. So what would be a likely pattern of behavior that would result from this?
Action avoidance. It would be better to avoid trying something new, taking a risk or completing a project if there was even the slightest chance I could look “stupid” or “dumb”.
Fortunately, survival strategy beliefs like these can be removed with the Lefkoe Belief Process. I do think that the core or identity negative beliefs like “I’m not good enough” and “I’m not special” need to be eliminated first so that when you tackle a belief like, “What makes me good enough is to appear smart or a genius to others” you have already taken out one of the legs of the survival strategy belief’s legs.
Namely, since it is impossible for you to be “not good enough” anymore, you wouldn’t have to be smart, or appear smart, or be a rocket scientist, or do anything to be good enough. So the survival strategy belief cannot be The Truth!
Which is what we want. We want to get to a point where all of our limiting and negative beliefs are mere possibilities, or even better completely impossible. Personally, I want all of my negative beliefs to be as impossible as me becoming a volcano in the South Pacific, but if there is some planet in the Universe where my negative beliefs are The Truth so be it. May it be 500 million light years away.
I’m going to keep working on these survival strategy beliefs and the deleterious effects of parental praise. I’ll post more as I know.
NOTE: If you decide to plunge into this work, you will have to explore your earliest moments with whatever set of bigger people were taking care of you. This can be a challenge for some. I want to be clear, this process is not about blaming your parents, it’s about finding the source material you used as a little being to create yourself as, “not good enough”, “bad” and so on. We are the belief creators and the creator of ourselves, but we used the actions of others to sculpt our identities when we were young. We are sure we see in mom and dad’s punishments or even worse, their abusive behaviors, the negative beliefs. But what really happened is we hung our conclusions on those actions. How do we know this? Because we can give their abuses any distinction we choose! So it’s not what they did (which they most likely shouldn’t have done), it’s what we concluded about ourselves, others, and the world that are the source of our problems. Finally, if you really do have a healthy and loving relationship with your folks, they would demand that you eliminate any negative conclusions you made up about yourself based on what they did when you were three. They weren’t perfect and no one expects that. Now, if they freak out and get defensive, you are definitely in the right place, because that means that your needs are secondary to their childish feelings and you would do well to get after creating your life on your terms. This is great time to ask yourself, “is this love or is this old people tantrum avoidance”? You’ll know, I’m sure of this. Oh, and one last thing, I’m not saying praise is bad for children. I think it’s awesome if it’s not just given for what a child does and not who the child “is”. I think you get this.