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How We Become Who We Are Not
by Richard Moss
We are not born, in essence, American, French, Japanese, Christian, Muslim, or Jew. These labels are attached to us according to where on the planet our births happen to take place, or these labels are imposed upon us because they indicate our families belief systems.
We are not born with an innate sense of distrust of others. We do not enter life with the belief that God is external to us, watching us, judging us, loving us, or simply being indifferent to our plight. We do not suckle at the breast with shame about our bodies or with racial prejudice already brewing in our hearts. We do not emerge from our mothers wombs believing that competition and domination are essential to survival. Nor are we born believing that somehow we must validate whatever our parents consider to be right and true.
How do children come to believe that they are indispensable to their parents well-being, and that they therefore must become the champions of their parents unfulfilled dreams, fulfilling them by becoming the good daughter or the responsible son? How many people revolt against their parents relationships by condemning themselves to lives of cynicism about the possibility for real love? In how many ways will members of one generation after another efface their own true natures in order to be loved, successful, approved of, powerful, and safe, not because of who they are in essence, but because they have adapted themselves to others? And how many will become part of the detritus of the cultural norm, living in poverty, disenfranchisement, or alienation?
We are not born anxious for our survival. How is it, then, that pure ambition and the accumulation of wealth and power are ideals in our culture, when to live for them is all too often a soulless pursuit that condemns one to a path of unending stress, which fails to address or heal the core, unconscious feeling of insufficiency?
All such internalized attitudes and belief systems have been cultivated in us. Others have modeled them for us and trained us in them. This indoctrination takes place both directly and indirectly. In our homes, schools, and religious institutions, we are explicitly told who we are, what life is about, and how we should perform. Indirect indoctrination occurs as we absorb subconsciously whatever is consistently emphasized or demonstrated by our parents and other caregivers when we are very young.
As children we are like fine crystal glasses that vibrate to a singers voice. We resonate with the emotional energy that surrounds us, unable to be sure what part is us -- our own true feelings and likes or dislikes -- and what part is others. We are keen observers of our parents and other adults behavior toward us and toward each other. We experience how they communicate through their facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, actions, and so on, and we can recognize -- though not consciously when we are young -- when their expressions and their feelings are congruent or not. We are immediate barometers for emotional hypocrisy. When our parents are saying or doing one thing, but we perceive that they mean something else, it confuses and distresses us. Over time these emotional disconnects continue to threaten our developing sense of self, and we begin to devise our own strategies for psychological security in attempts to protect ourselves.
None of this is accompanied by our conscious understanding of what we
are doing, but we quickly deduce what our parents value and what evokes
their approval or disapproval. We readily learn which of our own behaviors
they respond to in ways that make us feel loved or unloved, worthy or
unworthy. We begin to adapt ourselves by acquiescence, rebellion, or withdrawal.