Risky Business

"If you really knew me, you would not like me!" This is the refrain playing over and over in the heads of so many human beings. I know very few dogs and cats, almost no birds and not one elk or deer who think this way. Corollaries to the above are, "I am not good enough," "I can't do it right." This is the junk that occupies space and time in our weary minds and keeps us from being the best and most comfortable human beings we can be. These negative recordings come from long ago, infiltrating our brains from birth, probably prior to, and indefinitely into adulthood. Shut off the valve that indiscriminately allows the negative and critical to enter, uninvited, into the fiber of your being!

We were tiny little impressionable beings when our parents' propaganda, demonstrated or spoken, began making its way into and through us, eventually becoming ours. Said propaganda is really part of them, the parental units, but since we were "clean slates" as short people, we adopted it as part of us. Hmmm. Simple solution? Do not accept the parts we do not want. Simple, not easy.

To become ourselves, we human beings must all accomplish the task of differentiating from our parents. Under ideal circumstances, we keep what we can use and leave the rest, easy to do with obvious behaviors, opinions and thoughts, like, say, food choices. As soon as we are old enough to recognize differences in how and what people eat, we can chose to eat the way our parents do or not. One daughter of parents who are both hunters became vegetarian at age twelve. She remained a complete non-meat eater until age twenty when she apparently felt she had made her statement and could chose for herself. Now, much to their dismay, her hunter parents provide game for her and her family as she has become, like them, an omnivore! She gave herself the choice.

Less obvious are the covert messages about self-worth that begin with how we are treated, and how the adults and older children in our life treat us and each other. Constant criticism says simply that we have little or no value. Likewise, if mom and dad are always too busy, either physically absent at work or play, or emotionally absent, doing housework, watching TV or drinking, the message to the short people, even when they grow tall, is clear: you are not worth my time and attention. My TV, alcohol, work or whatever I am doing is more important than you.

Conversely, in families where there is regular, positive, focused attention, emphasis on positive, the message is equally clear: you are so valuable that I put you before everything else. I have time for you. I will listen to you, help you, answer your questions, respect you and be with you. Add appropriate boundaries and discipline, requiring everyone to treat everyone else with respect, expecting children to do school work and chores. Model love and respect for your spouse and everyone else, providing role models and examples for the kind of adult you hope they will become, and you have a template for a healthy family. In this setting, children have a chance to grow up with good self esteem.

There is a very old saying that you don't have to be the perfect parent, just a good enough one. Children need and deserve positive parental time and attention and the consequences are dramatic, determining how children feel about themselves and the kind of adults they become.

Constantly critical of yourself? Rarely feel confident, comfortable and content in everyday life? Doubtful that anyone approves of you? Not your fault! You are probably a victim of childhood criticism, putdowns and emotional unavailability, and perhaps outright abuse, physical, emotional, verbal or sexual. You did not get the focused, positive attention and healthy family described above. Unless you are now getting some help and changing out the old messages about yourself, you are probably not in a lot of healthy, satisfying relationships either.

The solution? Take a risk and pretend to accept yourself. Act as if you are valuable and eventually you will believe it. Adopt the philosophy from the poster that says, "God Don't Make No Junk". Risk more and let other people into your life. Risk even more and allow them to love you. Risk the most and love them! Allow God into your life and let Him love you (low risk). Pray for self-acceptance. Be kind to yourself and others. Do not complain, criticize, judge and spread negativity. Get some help from an experienced therapist or consultant, attend a support group, do affirmations, change! Just be the person your dog thinks you are!

Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver info@docdawn.com.


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