Negative image of yourself as a child can hinder progress as an adult


(Niki Scott is on vacation. She chose this column to run again.)

I know a woman who turned down an important promotion because (she said) she liked the job she already had, and she really didn't want more responsibility, and she wanted to spend more time with her family anyway.

But the real reason she turned down the promotion is that she has believed since she was a child that she is disorganized and has no head for figures.

She's been quite successful despite this terrible handicap, of course, but that's because she's "just lucky," or so she says.

My first editor turned down offers at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to work on a weekly newspaper in Park Forest, Ill., because she believed that she couldn't handle the pressure of tight deadlines.

She died at the age of 80, still convinced that she didn't function well under pressure, still believing what her father and three brothers had told her when she was young.

Most of us still carry a few "awful secrets" about ourselves that we learned as children. We believe we're too skinny or too fat, too tall or too short, too smart or too stupid, too serious or too frivolous, too assertive or too helpless, too something.

We may never see ourselves as we really are, but only through the eyes of the critical adults we knew when we were children.

They may be long gone, but their messages still play in our heads.

What's sad is that these early messages -- even those that never were true -- can sometimes be so powerful that all the credentials, promotions, successes and compliments in the world can't erase them from our minds and our hearts.

What does help is to face them squarely -- often with the help of qualified counselors -- then throw them away. They simply aren't true -- and never were.

What also helps is to look into the eyes of the people who love and respect us and listen -- really listen -- to the good things they say about us. Because the truth is, there never was anything wrong with us when we were little; every child is unique, acceptable and lovable just the way he or she is.

When we finally stop believing the old lies about ourselves that we were told as children, we'll no longer turn success away, or hide our smiles, or accept abuse, or settle for second best.

We'll learn instead to love and cherish and believe in ourselves as others should have loved and cherished and believed in us when we were children.

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