“Those who mistrust their own abilities are being too wicked to themselves, discouraging themselves from doing what they should have been excelling in.” – Israelmore Ayivor
Our world is a rather sorry state: crime, war, poverty, famine, abuse against women and children, and familial conflicts cause both external and internal conflicts in our lives. Thus, many of us, myself included, have spent, and continue to spend, a significant part of our lives wondering why we are not good enough and why our gods ignore us when we beg and plead for something good to happen.
It’s important to note that at the outset of this opinion piece, is that it’s my personal experience over the last half-century or so. I am not a qualified medical practitioner or a practicing psychologist. I am not knocking religion or spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, this article is written from a Christian perspective as I am a practising Christian.
Additionally, I am a voracious reader and spend a lot of time asking “why.” Fortunately, the rise of the Information Age (Google), medical expertise, therapy appointments, as well as life experience, is starting to provide answers to the eternal question of “why.” It should also be noted that, because of the informal nature of the World Wide Web, it is possible to find the answers that we want, not the answers that are necessarily correct.
I grew up in a country where racial, gender, and language discrimination was the order of the day. However, I had one advantage, I am white, so I was recognised as a first-class citizen by the government of the day. However, that’s where it stopped; I am female and first-language English-speaking which means that I was discriminated against by the same government. It is entirely understandable for the non-whites who lived under the same regime to say that the discrimination that I experienced was nothing and it could not have negatively impacted on my life. Yes and No. It did have a profound effect on my psyche, but I can’t say whether being of a different race would have made a difference or not.
Furthermore, for reasons that aren’t important here, I did not have a good relationship with my parents. Therefore, I spent most of my growing years believing that I was bad and God was going to punish me by sending me straight into the pits of Hell (and I was going to burn in a scorching fire for all eternity). Again, this is not necessarily my parents’ fault. It was my interpretation of how I was raised.
For my entire childhood, I spent most of my time in fear. I’m bad. If I do anything wrong, God, the church, my parents, the government will punish me. If I look at another race, I will go to jail or be tortured by the secret police. If I voice my opinion to my parents, and it isn’t in line with their expectations, they will get upset and discipline me. If I express an opinion that the church I attended did not approve of, God would punish me and send me to hell. Retrospectively, and with expert counselling I realised that this is where the neurological paths in my brain that believed I am bad and not worth the air that I breathe were formed.
My Adult Years
In summary, the litany of “I’m bad, I’m bad, I don’t deserve to live; ergo I need to jump off a cliff” grew louder and louder. My humanness and life experience allowed me to make choices that ended up in abusive marriages and had a negative impact on my three wonderful children. But I didn’t understand that it was (and is) part of life to deal with challenges. I believed that bad things happen to people who deserve to be punished by the gods or God. Needless to say, I found myself in a very dark, long tunnel and the only way out seemed to be to physically jump of a cliff.
At times the only thing that held me back was the fact that I have children and who will look after them and what will happen to them if I take my own life. Somehow, fortuitously, I ended up at a psychologist who believes in long-term therapy and who was, and still is, prepared to work with me week in and week out, gently saying the same things over and over again until my very stubborn brain started listening. She does not pander to my whims and, after 13 years of therapy has earned the right to be very honest with me, so I trust her judgment.
Simultaneously, I was sent to a psychiatrist who seemed harsh and uncaring at the time, but I have come to understand that she cares deeply about my health and well-being. She doesn’t mince her words, and I will never forget the day that she told me that when I signed up for parenthood, I forfeited the right to choose whether I want to live or not. Never a truer word spoken! Today I am grateful for those words.
The present and the future
It has taken a long time to understand that I’m not bad and I do deserve to breathe air oxygen, but the negative thought patterns are starting to shift. It is becoming easier and easier to stop the negative, destructive thoughts and to replace them with positive thoughts.
Medical science explains this as follows: Essentially, we can reprogram or develop new neurological paths in our brains which can override the destructive or broken paths. There are many research articles written about the power of our mind and its ability to develop new neurological pathways that allow us to override negative or destructive thinking. Practically, I have been taught to actively stop the thought as it occurs and change it into a positive reality-based thought. Slowly but steadily the destructive thoughts are starting to shift. It is becoming easier to override the negative, destructive behaviours.
Furthermore, my recent trip to West Bengal, India had a profound effect on my thinking and world view. I saw that the Western habit of chasing after “stuff” and the incessant drive to be successful and earn more money so we can buy more gadgets, etc. is not the only way to live. Money does not define success. This is not to say we much give up our jobs. We still need to work hard, but our priorities need to shift. It is possible to live a simple life, focusing more on family and friends than money and possessions. My Indian family is profoundly religious, and this is a good thing because we need faith and hope for the future.
There is hope for the future. My negative thought patterns are slowly changing. I am learning to lead a healthy lifestyle which includes making time for family and friends, a relationship with God, eating properly, regular exercise, as well as spending time being creative. To be honest, it’s a slow process. There are good days and bad days but my overriding emotion is that there is light at the end of the long, dark black tunnel of self-hatred and self-destruction.