I was born with birth defects. Over my life, I've had 36 surgeries. When I was small, I didn't really know there was anything wrong with me. I thought I was normal. Once I went to elementary school, however, things became very difficult. This was made worse by the fact that my stepfather was brutal. My mom was oblivious to my issues. I was picked on pretty much all through my school years. I remember being in high school and my classmates started to date and go to dances. Usually, I didn't share these things with my parents because I had learned it was pointless.
My stepfather asked me why I was so down, I started to cry and told him how I was feeling. He sat me on his lap and said, "You'll never be beautiful, so be smart instead." The problem is, even though I did really well in school, he still called me stupid. The things kids said were awful—scarface, Frankenstein, I'd only have sex if someone put a bag over my face or I was raped in the dark. I learned to be a joker, and I can say far worse things to myself than anyone else could. I learned how to walk looking downwards.
I have always felt ashamed and embarrassed. I have been in therapy, and still I cannot let this go. I have been married for almost 20 years and have two beautiful children. My hubby is my best friend. He gets hurt and frustrated because I feel this way. I feel as if one day he will "wake up" and see the real me and leave me like so many have before. I have tried to break this train of thought, but it scares me how much easier it is to have negative thoughts instead of positive ones.
I know I am smart, caring and a really kind and loving person. My whole life I have struggled with this. When I walk into a room, I see people staring and doing double-takes. (You'd think I have three heads.) People often feel they have the right to inquire about why I look this way. Telling them only confirms how ashamed I already feel about myself—it's a Catch-22. How do I win?
— Lorraine R., Fort Meade, Maryland
I'd like to offer you a blunt answer: Get a new therapist. Your issues, painful as they are personally, can be treated. If your therapist hasn't made headway, you need to talk to someone who can. The essential problem is you are carrying into adulthood strong beliefs imprinted by your parents. Your mother was unable to overcome her guilt at having an imperfect child, and your stepfather fortified her feelings instead of helping to resolve them. Before you had a self, when you were so little that you had no choice but to attach your identity to your mother, you were conditioned in totally the wrong way.
I congratulate you for winning your life back. Through adversity, you became a better person than all your tormentors from the past, including those who raised you. On the basis of your own strength and your husband's genuine devotion, your healing depends on reaching the following realizations:
- It wasn't your job to make your mother happy.
- It wasn't your fault she couldn't forgive herself.
- You didn't fail as a child, because there was no way you could have won. Your parents simply were who they were.
- You need a new set of parents, and they exist within you. These parents consist of your own sense of worthiness.
- There is a way to let go of past pain.
- It's safe to be different. You don't have to keep defending your right to exist.
- If your husband can see your inner light, you will be able to, also.
Unless you find a therapist who explicitly works on these core issues, there's no point in going back. At the same time, please write down these points and begin to work on yourself. Healing is always within reach. You have gone a long way. Now you've reached the nitty-gritty. It may be harder to heal, yet the task has been accomplished many times, and once you find the right guidance, you will accomplish it too.
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is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
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