Hello everybody, welcome to episode 27 of Optimal Living Advice. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Got a big one for ya here today. Today’s question is all about childhood disappointments, how they can seep into our adult lives and what we can do to leverage these painful, outdated feelings. Today’s question is quite long but quite necessary so do me a favor and yourselves a favor by being patient and listening to the question thoroughly before we get it answered for you. Here it is:
QUESTION: “I am a mum of two and have been doing martial arts for about a year and get a huge enjoyment from it. Usually I come home from my class on a real high, but last Sunday I found out that two of the others in our class had been selected to grade for the next belt and I hadn’t. My other half pointed out that they go twice a week and I only do one class so I shouldn’t feel bad and that I should focus on how far I’ve come.
Deep down I know he’s right but I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. It brought to mind a situation when I was about 12. I was the only person at my school who wanted to learn tenor sax, and as there was only one tenor sax in the music department, I got to play it. My best friend decided to ask the music teacher if she could try it, he said yes, and that we would share it for a trial period and the best person of the two could keep it. And of course my best friend turned out to be better, and that was that.
I was really upset that I couldn’t play tenor sax anymore, and we weren’t friends really after that. I think my recent disappointment has brought back all those feelings of 30 years ago. I regard myself as someone who is very keen to work on myself, set goals, move forward etc but I don’t know how I can stop this past event effecting my current life. Should I just get myself a sax and learn it all over again? What practical things can I do to get over the hurt I felt and make peace with the past?”
Childhood Disappointments and Lifelong Feelings of Inadequacy
It sure is interesting when we can’t help but to feel something that goes against our belief systems, isn’t it? We had a similar situation not too far back in episode 22, actually.
I don’t want to spend the time here diving into a deep lesson on brain chemistry (not that I’m really qualified to do that anyway) but our brains store extra information about particularly traumatic events. Information that, because it is recognized as being associated with trauma, is highly sensitive to our brain’s fight or flight response because surely the brain is regularly trying to protect us from trauma. What that means is that even the most minor details of traumatic events can put us on high alert, and present experiences of themes or feelings that are tied to past trauma can plunge us right back into the past and making it difficult for us to realize that the experiences, on the whole, are entirely different.
Being passed up for the tenor sax position came with lifelong feelings of inadequacy and the loss of a friendship. It’s understandable for your brain to fear similar fates now that you’ve been declined the belt upgrade, does that make sense? That’s how our brains work.
The best thing we can do is to consciously plunge ourselves into the present and train our brains to recognize these types of situations as being different from one another – which they are.
So what I want to offer you today is some questions you can ask yourself that will enable you to jump back into the present, and realize how different these situations are from your childhood disappointments.
“Who do you need to be good for?”
First thing I want you to ask yourself is, “Who do you need to be good for?”
Do some digging and see if you can figure out who lives and dies by your accomplishments. Who is the voice in your head telling you that it matters whether or not you get the tenor sax position or the belt upgrade? Sure, we all want respect and significance to varying degrees, but who are you answering to and why is it so strict?
Let’s see if you can answer to yourself and your own standards.
“What kind of worth does this give you?”
Now, with that in mind the second thing I’d like you to ask yourself is, “What kind of worth does being good at tenor sax or karate actually give YOU?” In other words, what kind of priorities do you want to live by as an adult versus the priorities you lived by at age 12? Sure, it’s easy to worry a lot about these types of things at age 12, because we don’t have much else that needs our attention. Now you have the opportunity to reassess these values and your concept of self-worth as an adult.
Sure, you haven’t been able to help it until now, but going forward, would you like to be a person that gets bent out of shape about not being upgraded for a belt? If you’re training to become the next Mr. Miyagi, the answer might be yes, and that’s fine. But if instead you remind yourself that karate is actually far lower on the totem pole than things like your kiddos, your friends, your husband, your job, etc., you might find yourself not having the same knee-jerk reaction to these types of setbacks should they happen again.
“What are the results as a child vs. as an adult?”
Third, I’d like you to ask yourself, “What was the aftermath of losing the sax position as a child, and how is that aftermath different from the aftermath of not receiving a belt upgrade?”
What happened before that you can remind your brain won’t happen again? Are you going to lose a friend out of this? Not if you don’t want to. You can choose to interact differently with those who got belt upgrades than you did with your friend in school. Are you going to feel inadequate for the next 30 years? Not if you remind yourself of priorities. What else is there that applies? Life is very different now than it was back then, and being realistic about the fact that the same results won’t come is definitely worth your time.
“What are you OK with failing at?”
The fourth thing I recommend you ask yourself is a little different. I’d like you to ask yourself, “How many things do you do that you’d be ok with failing at?”
So how much time do you spend doing things that are purely for fun – things where the joy stems from the act of doing more so than the act of succeeding, and how does that number compare to the number of things you do that you feel you have to be good at? It’s important to be conscious of what we’re putting into our brains. If your hobbies consist mainly of say: sports, video games, and chess, you’re much more at risk to feel overly competitive at times. So take some inventory on just how much of your time is spent on things in which you don’t feel a pressure to succeed, and switch your event calendar around if you feel as though there’s not enough balance in that regard.
“What advice would you give to your 12 year-old self?”
And then the fifth and final question for you today actually puts you in the driver seat for a little Optimal Living Advice.
Ask yourself, “What advice would you give to your 12-year-old self as an adult from an outside perspective?”
Use this question as a means of distancing yourself from this way of thinking that was established when you were very young. Put 12-year-old you in a box…no, that sounds morbid…put 12-year-old you in a separate space, is what I mean to say, and talk to her separately. What knowledge that you have now can you bestow unto her and what can you teach her about how to react to these types of situations? What truth do you know now that you didn’t know then that you wish you could go back and tell yourself?
Again, the idea of these questions is to thrust you back into the present. But anything you can do to bring yourself back to the present will be of great benefit – whether it’s asking a question like these or just giving yourself a pinch every time you notice yourself drifting into thoughts of the past. I actually do want to give a book recommendation in this one. It talks a lot about more not only about how to ground oneself in the present but also how and why our brains do store traumatic memories. It’s called Unf–k Your Brain and it’s by Faith G. Harper and its a really terrific book, one of my favorites that I’ve read over the last year. Lots of colorful language in there as you might have guessed, but c’est la vie. Do with that what you will.
Childhood Disappointments: Conclusion
Before we wrap things up, though, I just want to offer one final thought. There I go with that final thought again, I gotta start structuring these things better. This competitive drive of yours, this stress over not accomplishing certain things that you probably feel affects you more than it does most others: it needs to be accepted. Yes, it’s important to accept all of our shortcomings, I’ve mentioned that.
But understand that they’re simply the necessary flip sides of something better. You’re bound to have these feelings more often if you’re a person who is caring, devoted, etc. This bad tendency and others are just part of the package that comes with their good antitheses. So while you can work on dulling these feelings by grounding yourself in the present with the strategies we talked about, you can also accept them as being part of a greater good.
All righty, then. Big thanks to the viewer who sent in this question.
It really is astounding to consider the impacts that our childhood disappointments have on our adulthoods and if you tell me you it’s not true for you you’re a liar – a tendency you also probably picked up as a child. But really, being able to understand how certain events affect us and what we can do with those effects is invaluable so being able to discuss this today was a real privilege.
As always, we more than encourage you to submit your own questions to have them answered on the show. You can email them to us at advice AT oldpocast DOT com
Time for us to tie this thing up. Thanks so much for coming in folks, it’s been a pleasure. Until next time!