Unpacking the baggage of childhood

What old emotions have you been lugging around since childhood?

This week, I’m reminded that parts of my emotional self haven’t grown up at all. I’m easily triggered to feel shame, guilt and humiliation even when things gone wrong have nothing to do with me. Children are narcissists: They think many bad things that happen in the family — death, divorce, depression — are their fault.

I’m reminded again and again that the voice in my head that says, “Uh oh, people around me are angry — what have I done?” is misguided. Things go wrong for a variety of reasons, mostly due to circumstances that have nothing to do with us.

It’s my workplace that prompts these kinds of triggers. This week, I took on a weekly task that was fairly straightforward. My team leader was on a day off so no one came to check on my progress. I was able to get 80% of the job done before I hit an obstacle. I took a short-cut that may or may not have been wise, and it weighed on my conscience. Still, my work isn’t rocket science and I’d be able to make up any lapses the following day.

That following day, the team leader returned to work and seemed unusually reserved. My conscience snapped back to my shortcut and instantly felt that everyone knew I was incompetant. Guilt. Shame. Self-deprecation. My inside voice hammered at my ego.

But then I realized that this woman isn’t the kind to avoid a reprimand if she felt it was due. And later in the day, I was at loose ends so I sought her out. She was out doing the same task I’d been doing the day before.

“I’m going to have to teach you how to do this,” she said. It would have been the perfect time for her to ask me about what happened the day before, but she didn’t.

I said I already knew how to do the task from my experience in another department. She was surprised. I moved on and found some routine tidying to do.

People around us go through all kinds of things that have nothing to do with us and are none of our business. I pondered asking her if I’d done something wrong, but that I didn’t. My guilty conscience didn’t need to be voiced like that.

I was probably still raw from a slip-up I’d made earlier in the week, one that I confessed to. She had laughed and said it was no big deal. My faulty memory and brain fog were to blame, and I made reparations immediately.

It occurs to me that I now handle mistakes much better than I did a few years ago. It’s difficult as a journalist to get everything right every day, and the odd time I misspelled a name or left a word out of a quote, it weighed heavy on me. I’d be depressed for days. Large amounts of alcohol did little to lift my mood.

Today I no longer drink alcohol and I don’t allow my inside voice to reprimand me beyond reasonable measure, although that can take time. I try to keep things in perspective and even be kind to myself.

I’m no longer a child. Everything that seems to go wrong isn’t my fault.

And how come I never take credit for things that go right???

These old emotions remain in our body and can destroy our emotional and physical health. Shining a light of awareness on them dims their potency.

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