I’m about 4 years old. I stand in front of a full-length mirror, looking at the image of a little girl. I don’t know who it is. I move away, and the image moves away. I’m intrigued and I start making faces. The image is also making faces! Is it possible that this is … me? Then all of a sudden, I get very interested in this image. This is my face, these are my eyes, and that’s my nose, and my mouth, I’m touching my forehead and cheeks—yep, those are mine. I’m fascinated. In fact, I’m glued to the mirror. By now, I clearly know that this is me. I even start to like this little girl, she’s pretty.
‘If you look at yourself in the mirror too long, you will see the devil!’ It’s my mom sternly talking to me. She must have observed my little game for a while. Her words jolted me out of my reverie and prompted me to stop looking at myself. I glanced quickly to make sure I had not made the devil appear in the mirror! I must have looked terrified because she added, almost apologetically: ‘this is what my grandmother used to tell me’. Her tone had softened, and somehow, I understood that she herself was not too sure about this devil thing … but unbeknownst to me and to my mother, the damage is done. It took me years before I was able to look into a mirror without hearing this warning again, decades before I would be able to take a compliment without feeling vain about it. On that day, I learned that it was bad to enjoy the way I looked.
You see, my mother, like most mothers, didn’t want to harm me in any way. She only wanted what was best for me, and she really believed that ‘vanity’ should not be encouraged in little girls. It was her belief that letting me get too close to a mirror, or telling me that I was pretty, or congratulating me on anything related to my physical appearance would turn me into a spoiled brat.
Many of our childhood experiences come and go without leaving traces. So how do I know this one did?
The best clue is that many decades after, when remembering the event, I could still feel the emotion that the little girl had felt way back then: the fear, the puzzlement, and even the sadness. Somehow my mom’s words were etched in my body, and as long as my body would still react to the memory, it meant that this event was still affecting me. Using Emotional Freedom Techniques has freed me from it.
In a way, my mom’s words only reflected her own battle with her own body, her fear of being fully embodied, the physical experience and its unavoidable consequence, the sexual experience. Her words where wrapped in the good intentions of protecting me from possible flaws and dangers, but the subconscious beliefs that accompanied them spoke stronger and louder than anything she could even fathom, and they were deeply damaging.
It is very easy for us parents to pass limiting beliefs to our kids. In truth, we don’t know which one of our words, of our actions or lack thereof is going to stick with their delicate and virgin psyche. Many parents realize that their very own emotional issues are affecting their child. They feel bad about them, and very often the only solution given to them is to send the child to a psychologist or even a psychotherapist.
Being a parent myself, I know how difficult it is to raise children. My purpose is not to add blame to often very painful situations. So, here is what I respond to parents who ask for advice.
The best thing parents can do for their children is to develop an awareness of their own belief systems and clear what is not helping and what is hurting. It goes hand in hand with identifying and changing the emotions that guide many of their actions. In all likelihood, our children’s issues are the results of our own actions and words, of our best intentions wrapped in subconscious messiness. When we become aware, when we change ourselves, then we can be open about it and even apologize to our loved ones, which helps tremendously to mend the relationship. It also gives a powerful message that parents are not perfect, that nobody should expected to be perfect, and that everything can be repaired, changed, transformed.