I found you a thousand times
Guess you’ve done the same
But then we lose each other
It’s just like a children’s game
— Harry Chapin, “Circle”
I’ve had a terrible week. It wouldn’t look that way from the outside, but I’ve felt tortured inside.
It started Monday with a disagreement over the way I’ve managed a part of my company’s investment real estate. There was no argument. There was nothing nasty. It was just a philosophical disagreement that I’ve bumped up against numerous times in the last couple of years.
I’m confident about my approach and about the financial results I’ve consistently achieved with the property, but an investor was fretting about some expenses I was approving for maintenance and repairs. Investors never like to spend money — and I felt the icy judgment of his disapproving words. It felt like a personal attack, even though it wasn’t personal. I seriously wanted to quit. Right then and there.
The next day, I reported some income figures to the same investor. He was ecstatic, because I was bringing in cash better than he ever had when he managed the property for himself. He praised me, as he’s done on other occasions — and I felt elated.
Then the clear truth hit me. My self-worth is far too tied up in whether I make someone happy with me or not. I can be incredibly high or disturbingly low, depending on whether someone approves of me. And it’s not emotionally healthy to be affected that way.
I’ve learned this lesson a hundred times, but I keep forgetting — just as I forget dozens of important lessons — so I keep having to learn them all over again.
If you took the time to go back and read everything I’ve written here in the last 10 years, you would soon discover that what I’m writing about is self-discovery. I try to explain my own journey in ways that can be helpful to others, but it’s ultimately about my long history of discovering painful or difficult lessons about myself.
Every now and then, I write about something that feels like a new insight about myself — a new understanding of something I need to change or some way in which I need to grow — and then realize weeks or months later that I’ve written about the same thing before.
Why do I do this? Am I stupid? Am I too stubborn to change?
I’ve realized recently that we all keep repeating the things in our lives which we refuse to repair. We keep putting ourselves into similar positions — in ways that guarantee we’re going to suffer the same painful result again — until we get something right.
For many of us, we’re just like the fictional Phil Connors in the movie “Groundhog Day.” We keep waking up each morning in the same prison. And we keep living this day — in the metaphorical sense — until we finally learn to get it right.
Most of us like to pretend that we have it all together. I used to do that. In truth, I thought I had things figured out. I was arrogant enough — and emotionally blind enough — to think I’d solved my problems. I was just cruising through life — oblivious to the wounded child inside me who was crying out for me to stop and repair some deep emotional damage.
I’m frustrated that I’m still having to deal with some of the same old problems. It hurts to feel disapproval from someone else — as I did from that investor Monday — and realize that I’m still living out my terror of feeling my narcissistic father’s disapproval. I’ve figured that out — dozens of times — but that doesn’t stop it from hurting me when I’m in the moment.
We’re all going through life in these adult bodies that like to act confident and wise. Our need to “have it all together” often puts up barriers between us and the people we need the most. But the wounded child in me knows that he needs the wounded child in you, even though that’s not the cool and attractive thing for us to say to one another.
We all have different core fears. At heart, I am terrified of being bad or corrupt or irredeemable — of being a wounded heart that makes me unlovable. That affects everything I do, even when I don’t notice — especially when I don’t notice, I suppose.
Your core fear might be different from mine. You might fear not having any worth or inherent value. This could drive the shallow version of yourself to seek outward symbols of success and value to show to other people. You might go through life unconsciously thinking, “I’ll have value if I just have a little more success. Then I can feel good about myself.”
Whatever your fear is, the child inside you knows, even if the adult is out of touch with the child.
I don’t know what lessons you need to learn, but I can be very certain that you’re no different from me. You keep making the same mistakes. You keep thinking you’re going to fix things that you don’t fix. And you might even wonder why you keep having the same rotten luck.
The truth is that we need each other. Not the shallow and arrogant adult selves. It’s the wounded children within who need each other.
Until we see that — and then allow ourselves to find one another and help each other to heal — we’re going to continue moving through the adult world making the same mistakes, feeling the same pain and wondering why things haven’t changed.
One of the lessons that I’m certain about is that wounded people need each other. As long as you keep that wounded inner child hidden — and as long as I keep trying to go back inside to hide again, instead of finding someone to love — we’re going to keep living this same dreadful pattern.
We need each other, but nothing changes until the right two people accept that — and then help one another as we learn to heal ourselves.