David Baxter PhD
The Magic of Rewriting Our Most Painful Storiesby Cerise Knight, Tiny Buddha
Feb 9, 2021
“When you bring peace to your past, you can move forward to your future.” ~ Unknown
It amazes me how things that happen in our childhood can greatly impact our adult lives. I learned the hard way that I was living my life with a deep wound in my heart.
My father was a very strict man with a temper when I was little, starting when I was around seven years old.
He had a way of making me feel like all my efforts were not enough. If I scored an 8 in a math exam, he would say, “Why 8 and not 10?” and then punish me. It was a time when some parents thought that beating their children was a way to “put them in place” and teach them a lesson. All this taught me, though, was that I was a disappointment.
His favorite phrase was “You will never be better than me.”
As I got older, his temper cooled down a bit, but one thing didn’t change: his painful remarks. “At your age, I was already married, had a house, a car, two daughters, and a piece of land… what have YOU accomplished? See? You will never surpass me.”
It was his way of “inspiring me” to do better with my life, but it had the opposite effect on me. It was slowly killing my self-esteem.
When my father passed away, I was seven-year-old Cerise all over again. At the funeral, I asked him, “Daddy, did I finally make you proud? Did I do good with my life?”
This was the trigger that made me rethink what I was doing with my life. I had to stop for a moment to look at the past. This can be very difficult to do, but sometimes we need to face those painful events in order to understand the nature of our poor decisions and behavior.
It helped me realize that, unconsciously, I was looking for my father’s approval in the guys I dated. And you know what? It got me nothing but disappointment and heartache, because I was looking for something that they couldn’t give me.
Inside, I was still that little girl looking for her father’s love.
When you are a child, you are considered a victim, but when you are a grown up, it is your duty to heal from what was done to you. You just can’t go through life feeling sorry for yourself and complaining about the hand you were dealt. This just keeps you stuck in a sad, joyless life and jeopardizes your relationships.
In my case, I had to give that little girl the love she so needed in order to stop feeling lonely and stop making the same mistakes.
The only approval that I needed was my own! When I realized that, I started learning to love myself—regardless of my accomplishments—and I also developed compassion toward my father because I recognized that he was raised the same way he raised me.
He probably also felt he needed to be the best at everything he did in order to win his parents’ approval. And maybe he thought if I wasn’t the best at everything I did I would never be valued or loved by anyone else.
Understanding this enabled me to forgive him, break the cycle, and finally let him go.
So, what makes us slaves to anger, resentment, and abandonment issues? I think it’s the way we keep telling the story in our heads, and this is something that we can transform.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we sweep things under the rug and pretend like nothing happened. We cannot change the past, and certainly we cannot turn a blind eye to it, but we can modify the way we retell the story to ourselves, and this can be a step toward inner healing.
I decided to give the difficult parts of my childhood experience another meaning. I edited the way I tell myself the story, and this is how it sounds now:
“My father was a strict man because he wanted me to succeed in life. He taught me to give my best in every task assigned to me; he didn’t make things easier for me because he wanted me to become strong in character and to find a solution in every situation. Daddy constantly challenged me because he wanted me to develop my potential to the fullest so I could face life and its difficulties.
I’m certain that when my father departed from this world, he did it in peace knowing that he left behind a strong and brave daughter.”
This is now the story of my childhood, and you know what? I think I like this version better! It’s helped me close the wound I had in my heart. My childhood left a scar, but it’s not hurting anymore.
My gift to you today is this: Close your eyes and picture a pencil. Do you know why a pencil has an eraser? To remove the things we don’t like, giving us the freedom to rewrite them into something that we feel more comfortable with.
You can’t change the facts from your past, but you can change how you interpret them, so feel rewrite as much as you need.
Your wounds will hurt a lot less when you broaden your perspective, try to understand the people who hurt you, and change the meaning of what you’ve been through.