Invincible: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up with Domestic Violence

11

UNLOVED TO LOVING

When we love, we always strive to become better than we are.

—Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

These emotions—feeling guilty, resentful, sad, alone, angry, hopeless, worthless, fearful, self-conscious—are aspects of the most fundamental lie of all: That you are unloved, unlovable, and unworthy of love. This is among our greatest fears and, some would argue, is our greatest fear. Those who grow up living with domestic violence grow up with basic doubts about whether they even deserve to be loved or to love. Many spend their lives avoiding that feeling altogether.

Roger (“Rock”) Lockridge struggled with this for most of his life. He was unconsciously convinced that if he got too deep in his love for another human being, he would ultimately be abandoned or betrayed. Why? Because the people he loved most, his parents, committed the ultimate betrayal, choosing violence over the safety and well-being of their children. Love was a feeling that simply was not meant for him.

Born and raised near Muddy Creek Mountain, in West Virginia, Roger’s childhood home was isolated. There was only one way in or out of this homestead, which was densely forested, and the home where Roger, his parents, and three siblings lived was backed by steep cliffs, making it impossible for anyone to leave the place without Roger’s father knowing about it.

His dad could never hold down a steady job, although he did try to provide for his family. He was not a bad man. Roger is quick to point out that, when sober, his dad was a loving guy who’d walk through a snowstorm to get diapers and milk for his kids. But he never committed to quit drinking and, when he drank, he became a monster. He didn’t take it out directly on his kids, but he would get physically and verbally violent with Roger’s mother, leaving Roger, the eldest boy, terrified for her safety.

Late one night, when Roger was ten, the fighting escalated to the point where Roger’s mom thought it best to take herself and her children out of his way and wait out the drunken rage at her mother-in-law’s house, a tiny cabin close by the family home. The plan backfired. The moment her kids were ushered inside their grandmother’s house they turned around to see their father standing in the doorway with a rifle pointed at them, threatening to kill them all.

“Having a gun pointed at you is traumatic enough under any circumstance,” says Roger, “but when it’s your father on the trigger end of that gun . . .” To Roger, this seemed the ultimate proof that he was unlovable.

IF I BELIEVE I AM UNLOVED AND UNLOVABLE . . .

Like many children who grew up in violent families, Roger felt abandoned, deserted, and detached, and the impact on his sense of self was devastating. As Bruce Perry, founder of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston and professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University, explains:

Being harmed by the people who are supposed to love you, being abandoned by them, being robbed of the one-on-one relationships that allow you to feel safe and valued, and to become humane—are profoundly destructive experiences. Because humans are inescapably social beings, the worst catastrophes that can befall us inevitably involve relationship loss. You cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved.1

The need to be loved is a fundamental human need and a core part of our humanity. “Our sense of self depends on our relationships with others, and in many ways, we only know who we are by thinking about other people,” explains Kelly McGonigal.2 In other words, we are naturally social, and when we are children we cannot differentiate between self and others.

Recent studies and technological breakthroughs have allowed science to go even further in describing the precise dynamics of the connection between mother and infant and its impact on human psychology. Bruce Perry has studied the ways in which parental love or abuse can have powerful effects on a child’s mental, physical, and emotional development. Among other things, he has found the devastating effects of separation anxiety.

Whenever a baby is separated from her mother, even briefly, she will go through a temporary protest phase, which accelerates the child’s heart rate, raises the body temperature, creates a 600 percent spike in the stress hormone cortisol, and increases adrenaline levels. While reconnecting with the mother immediately corrects the problem, prolonged separation creates significant physical and emotional changes: growth hormone levels drop, cardiovascular functions decrease, sleep functions are disturbed, cognitive growth stops, and the immune system’s strength plummets.

So, right from the start, love is a condition necessary for our ability to thrive, no less vital than milk. When we are born, we need to be touched. A newborn clings to her mother, and the powerful hormone oxytocin creates a profound bond between them. This “cuddle chemical” is essential for milk production, nursing, and the mother’s ability to bond with her offspring. It triggers a feeling of profound connection. In this blissful state, a child basks in the comfort of a mother’s arms knowing the world is a safe place to be.

But if when we are born we are routinely deprived of touch and affection, the consequences are severe, the possible result being the so-called failure to thrive syndrome.3 This occurs when a baby is ignored, perfunctorily fed, or left alone. A child will despair and become unresponsive. In extreme cases, the baby may even stop eating, waste away, and die. That’s how essential it is for humans to be shown that they are loved. In the same way that infants may fail to thrive when they do not experience the physical signs of love, when children grow up living with domestic violence, they learn to question how loved they are.

UNLEARNING THE LIE THAT WE ARE UNLOVABLE

The standoff between Roger’s father and the family seemed to last forever. But after some time, the police came and Roger’s dad ran off into the woods behind the house. The trooper put the family into his cruiser and drove them to a local shelter, which would become their home for the next four months.

It was the first time in his life that Roger felt there was help, that somebody cared. Each day he was at the shelter, Roger was exposed to people who dedicated their lives to helping families. It made a huge impression. “Yes, they are doing a job,” he recalls, “but no one gets paid enough to do this—to commit to being there for people at the lowest point in their lives.”

Roger was fortunate in that the people at the shelter acted as the One for him at a very young age. They helped him unlearn some of the most damaging lies about himself. At that moment he saw that he was not alone and he felt safe enough to trust. They had compassion for him, which let him know that he had been hurt. So therefore, he was then able to have compassion for himself and only then was he able to have compassion for others. He expressed his gratitude freely and promised himself that one day he would give back in the same way that they had given to him. He learned that it is never the job of a child to control the actions of an adult. He realized what had happened in his family was not his fault and that it was not his job to stop it. So his guilt began to subside, which set him free. As he unlearned the lies, he began to find evidence to support his new truths, and thus his transformation slowly began. Roger and his family were able to leave the refuge eventually and moved into a small apartment. Roger’s mother reconnected with old friends, and made new ones while her kids settled into a more peaceful routine in their new schools. But with so many emotional issues unresolved, Roger’s mother went a little too far enjoying her newfound freedom and started staying out late and drinking. She too became an alcoholic, often partying at home and attracting the attention of neighbors, who intervened when they felt her lifestyle might be harmful to the children.

But this time when somebody tried to help, there was an unintended consequence: Child Protective Services took Roger and his siblings away from their mother, who went into rehab. And, as it happened, their father was the only relative in the area who would take the kids.

Roger’s father had convinced the authorities that he’d gotten clean, found a new job, and had his life back in order. It wasn’t true. The family home had been destroyed by a storm, so the entire family had to move into their grandmother’s tiny cabin, which had no indoor plumbing. Filthy, neglected, and isolated, they were forced to relive their old memories for the next four months.

It was here that Roger’s new truths kicked in and he was able to use what he learned to convince a school counselor that he and his siblings needed help. By then, his mother had come out of rehab and found another job, and they were reunited.

This reunion was an important time for Roger as he found himself living his new truths, sharing that example with his family. He started to feel connected, he says, “in a way that I had never felt before.”

It was also during this time that he overheard something that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Unaware that he was within earshot, one of the police officers working his family’s case told a social worker, “You know, what’s really sad about this is that we just saved these kids, and ten years from now we are going to be arresting them.”

Rather than getting angry at that comment, Roger chose to convert that feeling of rage into passion, and rather than believing what he heard and thinking all was hopeless, he now had a purpose. From that moment on, Roger vowed not only that he would prove the police officer wrong but that he would end up helping people like himself. He was thirteen years old.

BECOMING LESS SELF-CONSCIOUS

Fast-forward to high school: Roger and his family were moving on with their lives. But a lingering issue for Roger was his belief that he was unlovable, that no woman would ever want him. Even though he had unlearned many of the lies, this one stuck with him. He was the skinny little kid who always got picked on. He was shy and withdrawn and shut himself off from friendships. As for dating and relationships, he says, “I never believed I was meant to have a steady girlfriend, let alone a wife and children.”

When one of his high school teachers couldn’t remember his name, he’d earned the nickname “Rock,” a shortened form of Roger Lockridge. Still a scrawny kid at the time, the moniker was used ironically, but Roger didn’t care. He wanted to become “that guy his father never was—a rock—someone you could lean on.” That’s when he discovered weight training. Roger was sick of feeling weak and defenseless, so when he was a senior he decided he was going to get bigger and stronger. He saved up for some free weights and started working out at home. A few months later, he joined a local health club where he found the role models he was looking for.

As he envisioned a new self, he no longer felt worthless. Instead he felt accomplished. One accomplishment built on another. His fear of failure was replaced with a feeling of confidence. This confidence made him want to keep at it each week, and as he unlearned the lie of worthlessness, he became less self-conscious and was able to reveal his true self to the world.

As soon as he graduated high school, Roger took a job at a local shelter, the Family Refuge Center, handling files, getting coffee for the caseworkers, and answering the phones. He was keeping his promise to serve. It was a small role, but being that first voice someone heard on the end of the phone was a duty he took seriously. When government funds dried up and he lost his position, Roger found work wherever he could—anything from managing a health club to waiting tables—in order to fund his college education to get a degree in business.

During his final year in college, he got a call from his father, who told him he’d gone to rehab and was eager to make peace with his kids. Roger and his brother and sister went to see him in Salem, Virginia. Roger was now able to forgive his father, because of the compassion he had found in himself. It made this a far easier step to take than he imagined. Roger always knew deep down that his father loved him, but he could not connect those emotions with his father’s actions. But now, Roger had come to understand what his father had been going through. The reconciliation was to be a fresh new start, but shortly afterward Roger’s dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he passed away a few months later.

Even though Roger felt that he was robbed of the love that his father could only now express, he knew what to do. He had learned (as Sonja Lyubomirsky articulated), “the next step after acknowledging regrets is to move on by committing ourselves to new pursuits.”

SHARING THE TRUTHS WILL MAKE YOU FEEL LOVED

Roger found a career for himself in the bodybuilding field and it took off as he became nationally known for the columns he wrote for Bodybuilding.com. Meanwhile, he started volunteering back at the Family Refuge Center, getting more involved in mentoring children of domestic violence. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month he wrote an article about the story of his childhood and how bodybuilding helped him develop both his physical and emotional strength. He was amazed that many other men from the fitness world wrote in to say they grew up living with domestic violence. Suddenly Roger had a way to connect and help millions around the world.

The accolades for his article got him local news coverage and the attention of West Virginia’s governor—a platform that Roger has since leveraged to become an outspoken advocate for people who grew up living with domestic violence. The two careers have dovetailed perfectly. Bodybuilding.com recently launched a social media awareness campaign, using Roger as the poster boy with the slogan, “As a fitness writer, I work to help my generation; as a child advocate, I work to help the next generation.”

Roger now sits on the board of the Family Refuge Center and serves as their media spokesman as well as a part-time caseworker, helping children record their stories so they don’t have to relive it several times, like he did. He’s the first person in the history of the center to go from resident to caseworker to board member, and he’s fiercely proud of his connection.

WHEN YOU SHARE THE TRUTHS WITH OTHERS, LOVE APPEARS

In writing and researching this book, a common theme emerges with respect to the emotion of love and how growing up with domestic violence warps it. Take Roger, for example. Considering what he has come through and the man he has become, he is as deserving of love as anyone. But for a long time, he didn’t see it that way. He still felt, deep down, that he was unlovable and unworthy. To be more precise, the only way he felt he deserved to feel loved would be if he earned it.

As Roger’s experience showed him, only after consistently sharing the truths with others was he able to attract the type of love that comes from being deeply intimately connected to another person. “It took a long time for me to accept that I was deserving of it because I didn’t feel I earned it.”

By sharing the truths, he eventually attracted another who never had to unlearn the lies. It took Roger time to understand and accept the simple fact that someone could love him unconditionally and that he could give that love back without fear. “My life changed,” he says, “when I fully accepted the truth that I could be loved.”

So the lesson here is clear. As you unlearn the lies and share the truths with others, you can help them feel free, compassionate, grateful, hopeful, trusting, passionate, accomplished, confident, and attractive. You never need to worry about earning love because it will come to you. And when it does, you can happily accept it and give more love in return.

Roger has become a role model to countless people who grew up living with domestic violence. He is a loving husband and father to two boys. He has fully embraced the truth of love. Growing up, he desperately wanted to find that strong man, that rock in his own life, and he never did, so instead, he says, “I became the man I wanted to be and the father I wanted to have because I want to speak to future generations before they repeat the pattern and help them reach their full potential.”

I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT LOVE MEANT

Growing up, we never used the word love. We didn’t show physical affection. But there was no doubt that I felt a deep, tender caring for my mother’s well-being. And as I look back I know there was love around me, I just couldn’t see it through all the fear and confusion. There were moments that I remember. When I was a toddler, my mother would tuck me in after returning from work. She’d put my Bad News Bears teddy bear right next to me and lie down beside me in the bed. I remember how her crisp waitress uniform would crackle as she lay down and how much I loved the smell of restaurant food mixed with her perfume and the spray starch she ironed into her blouse. I have always loved that smell because it meant everything was safe.

She would sometimes read to me, often from Goodnight Moon—the classic children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown. I felt such comfort looking at those images of the red balloon and the cow jumping over the moon, the bears, and the kittens and the mittens and the quiet old lady whispering, “hush.” I felt so happy to have her in the room, instead of with Keith, because it made me feel certain that, for that brief moment, nothing could happen.

But something always broke the spell of those peaceful storybook nights that the book promised. For every moment of peace, security, and kindness, there were just as many moments of fear and pain. Much later in the night, I would hear the loud voices, and I remember repeating the phrase “goodnight noises” to myself as I sat atop the stairs in the hope of somehow ending the fighting.

As I got older, there was no more tucking in. The fights grew more intense, my mother grew more depressed, and my sister ran away. Those moments of tenderness just made me feel more exposed and vulnerable—more wounded when their promise came crashing down—so I gave up on them forever. To deaden the pain, I instinctively grew numb to any form of love.

ACCOMPLISHED AT EVERYTHING—EXCEPT LOVING AND BEING LOVED

The impact of feeling unloved can carry forward for decades. On the surface, Amanda, a lawyer at a top Manhattan firm, has everything. But her extraordinary accomplishments and busy lifestyle leave her feeling empty inside.

She was born to an unhappy, violent couple and grew up as an only child in the shadow of their quarrels. They were so preoccupied with their fights and the emotional fallout, as Amanda remembers it, that they basically stopped attending to her. Her mother would stay in her room all day, the blinds drawn. Her father would disappear all weekend. By age seven she was expected to pick out her own clothes, get dressed, make her own breakfast, and get to school on time, while her mother stayed in bed. Her mother never asked her about friends at school, where she went in the afternoons, or when she’d be back. At home she would watch television alone for hours at a time.

As we’ve discovered through the other stories in this book, all too often children who have lived with domestic violence have been raised by adults who themselves were children of domestic violence. Their parents were not role models of loving behavior. And we know how important it is during this time that the parents’ responses are rational and not emotional. But children don’t have that kind of perspective. They simply take the weight of the blame on their own shoulders. They feel emotionally abandoned, convinced that they’re both unloved and unlovable.

While the feeling of being unloved may be true at this moment, being unlovable is a lie. This is a damaging falsehood that makes children of domestic violence believe that they are unworthy of tenderness or care.

Of course, all children are lovable and deserve to feel that way. When they don’t, it’s confusing and terrifying to admit: My parents don’t love me. This psychic pain is the worst kind of punishment—just as destructive as physical abuse. In fact, children who feel unloved suffer as much or more psychologically as if they had been physically abused.

Although Amanda proved to be an especially adaptable child on the surface, both at home and at school, she suffered from her parents’ emotional neglect, a nonphysical violence.

“Sometimes I tried to be extra nice to my parents, making them breakfast in the morning, somehow hoping that I could influence them enough to stop fighting with each other, but it never worked. In the end, that kind of isolation changes who you become. You start to feel like you can survive without feelings or love or anything.”

By the time Amanda reached high school, she had become an obsessive overachiever. She graduated near the top of her class and earned a scholarship to an excellent university. She then went on to law school and now works as a partner at a prestigious law firm. “I just decided that I was going to work harder than anyone else,” she remembers. “It was almost a feeling of revenge. Like I’m going to make everyone regret writing me off.”

Her attitude worked at one level, shaping the early success of her legal career—but it nearly ruined her marriage. Her husband, a college sweetheart who earned a decent living as a corporate accountant, couldn’t understand why his wife needed to put in such long hours and resented her twelve-hour workdays. It was at work where she got all of her love and connection, where she felt worthy, so that is where she put her time. While Amanda had avoided repeating the cycle of her parents’ violent relationships, she had problems stemming from chronic workaholism and challenges with personal intimacy. Yet, she recalls the birth of her daughter as a revealing moment: “When I saw her little fingers reach up to me, and when I held her in my arms, I think that was the first time I ever felt a surge of anything like love go through me. I’d never experienced anything like it before. It was confusing. I had tears in my eyes, but at the same time, I felt this panic, because I realized that I had no idea how to be a good mother. My own ability to love was sabotaged by my childhood. I had absolutely no idea what love meant.”

Despite this epiphany, Amanda did not resolve the emotional distance she kept between herself and the world, and her marriage continued to deteriorate. She worked obsessively, became verbally abusive, and grew increasingly estranged from her husband. It took the threat of a divorce, and the prospect of becoming a single mother, for Amanda to finally acknowledge the harm that she was doing to herself and her family. “My family was crumbling and it was my fault. My daughter was having behavioral problems in school, my husband had moved out, and I was refusing to acknowledge how much I was actually hurting inside. I had set up this entire bubble to keep all my feelings out of my life. It was unsustainable.”

MASKING THE PAIN OF FEELING UNLOVED

When we feel unloved, we tend to unconsciously sabotage our own relationships or overcompensate for the pain by excelling in other areas. We carry around a core belief that others will dislike us. We cannot imagine that we’re worthy of love, so we find ways to either keep others at bay or dazzle them with our talent.

Amanda had a hard time facing up to her own feelings, even when she committed herself to saving the marriage by scaling back her law practice. Her turning point came one day during her morning commute.

“I was riding the bus, just like any other day, when I struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me, which I never do. It turns out that she was a professor of comparative religion and she had studied most major religions since their inception to determine the shared essential message of each. Jokingly, I asked her if she could tell me the secret to life because I could sure use some advice. ‘That’s simple,’ she said. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It all comes down to that.’

“I must say that I really didn’t think much of her answer at the time. I had a hard time taking her seriously. It was too simple. Too unsophisticated. Too obvious. But something about her confidence when she said it stuck with me. I mean she studied this for her entire life.”

Amanda began to pay more attention to how she treated others, and the impact it had on her own feelings. With the same drive that characterized her approach to everything else in her life, she dedicated herself to making others feel the feelings that she most wanted inside herself.

“I gave it a try. I ended up volunteering at a couple places. I started offering compliments to the people around me, to colleagues at work. I began showing affection and appreciation for my husband and giving more love and attention to our young daughter, whose face lit up every time I opened my arms to give her a hug. As awkward as I felt at first, people started treating me noticeably better. They made me feel better about myself.”

Amanda’s story offers a simple but powerful message. Those of us who grew up living with domestic violence missed learning some important lessons about love—some of the fundamental building blocks about how loving people treat each other. Most important, we missed out on discovering that we are worthy of love! We never really had the chance to discover our value through someone else’s eyes.

Tony Robbins puts it best when he describes the difference he notices in those who have been exposed to childhood domestic violence. “Someone who’s gone through it develops spiritual strength,” Robbins told me. While these experiences don’t automatically make that person more compassionate, they have the potential. “It doesn’t have to be pain that lasts the rest of your life,” Robbins continues. “It’s not that you won’t feel the pain, but that experience can give you more compassion for other people and it can motivate you to serve another, helping someone else make it through.”

Both Roger and Amanda had made great strides in their lives. They’ve overcome many of the lies they were living with—guilt, anger, and worthlessness—and built fulfilling lives for themselves. Roger came to embody his nickname Rock, a pillar of strength and the father he’d been missing in his own life. Amanda dealt with the neglect and lack of love in her early years by becoming highly self-sufficient, taking care of herself and others as an overachiever in all aspects of her life. The last piece that was missing was love: Amanda struggled to give; Roger found it hard to receive.

THE ULTIMATE TRUTH OF LOVE

Giving and receiving love is at the heart of reaching our full potential. As people who grew up living with domestic violence, we know what it’s like to feel unloved, and we can understand the damage it can do to a developing mind. The lack of love is precisely why we have the hunger to reclaim that missing connection. And this need is the secret weapon embedded in this lie: We can turn the hollowness of feeling unloved into the strength of showing others the love we never felt as children.

Today, we have to make a fundamental choice between these two statements: I experienced an injustice when I was young and because of that the rest of the world should suffer, or I experienced an injustice when I was young and because of it nobody should ever have to go through that alone again.

How do we begin to make up for all the love we lacked as children? By sharing the truths we now know. By making others feel the way we want to feel deep inside. Making others feel free, compassionate, grateful, trusting, passionate, guided, accomplished, confident, attractive, and loved. By practicing empathy, and putting ourselves in the shoes of others. By building our sense of compassion, understanding the feelings of others, and trying to ease the suffering of others. Applaud someone’s efforts instead of being judgmental. Be courteous instead of impatient. Replace criticism with heartfelt compliments. The response you get, in turn, will help reinforce the sense that you are loved. We receive love by giving it away, and we create love by taking action that supports it. Anytime you give love you create in you the ability to be loved in return.

GOODNIGHT MOON: MY MOTHER’S LEGACY OF LOVE

Recently, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she has been battling it bravely. Her strength and optimism are sources of inspiration to me. I have seen that living with cancer has made her appreciate every moment of every day in a way that she never had before.

I think that if my mother hadn’t become sick, she may have been less supportive of my writing this book. By helping us resolve the past and deepen our connection to one another, the cancer has been its own sort of blessing. At least, that is the meaning we’re choosing to give it.

Looking back now, with all the perspective that time and experience has given me, I can without question say that my mother did the best she could with what she knew. She was overwhelmed, overworked, physically exhausted, stressed by financial pressure, and strung out by violence. She joined me recently for the birthday party of my seven-year-old daughter. The sight of them together in my backyard, smiling, was an image of love and family that I could never have imagined when I was young. Later that afternoon, I reminded her of one of my early birthdays and took the risk of asking her about Keith and whether she kept in touch with him. I tried to be nonchalant, but I’m sure that I didn’t quite succeed.

“No, I don’t,” she replied curtly, as if to end the conversation. But then she looked up, and sensing something inside me, she paused to add, “You know, Brian, he went through some of the same things you did when he was young.”

To hear her say those words, after everything that she had gone through, made me feel so proud. It wasn’t just the compassion in her voice. It was her desire to help me understand, to reach beyond the anger and resentment coiled inside my question, and past her own guilt over the silence and sadness of those years we shared. She wanted to impart that small bit of wisdom to me, perhaps hoping it could erase some of the pain, but mostly, I believe, because I was her son and she loved me.

Later that month I had planned a trip for us. I do business in Europe, and it always saddened me to think that she had never seen that part of the world with her own eyes, so I invited her and her sister to join me to celebrate Mother’s Day in Paris.

One evening a few days into our trip, about an hour before we were all to meet for dinner near our hotel, I was strolling through a bookshop and stumbled upon a familiar image—the cover of the children’s book Goodnight Moon, translated into French as Bonsoir Lune.

As I thumbed through the book, I felt tears in my eyes, reflecting on how far my mother and I had come since those early days when she read it to me at night and how precious that memory remains to me even today. I picked up the book, found a nearby pen, and wrote a note to my mother on the inside cover of the book.

When I gave the book to her that evening after dinner, she smiled at the cover, her eyes welling with tears, and opened the book to read the inscription, “Dear Mom, for all the nights that you were there to read this to me. With all my love.”

She began to cry and quietly put the book down and got up from the table. I thought she would return after she collected herself, but ten minutes later, I realized that she was not coming back.

Only later did I come to understand what she felt. Reading that book had given her as much comfort as it had given me. It made her feel like a good mother, yes—but being in my room was also a peaceful place for her. She knew that so long as she was tucking me in, nothing bad would happen.

That book, in a way, was the bedtime story that no one had ever read to her as a child. It was her own moment of peace. Back then, I think that it may have been the only peace she ever knew. To see that book, I believe, brought all those memories rushing back to her, and she felt overwhelmed by both love and sadness all at once.

As my mother faced the end of her life she found great comfort in knowing that we had both found safety and peace. The bond we shared in those brief moments, reading that book together, has grown and filled our entire lives with love. We have both come through the worst of it.

•   •   •

This is my wish for everyone who grew up with domestic violence. All those lies—that you are guilty, resentful, sad, alone, angry, hopeless, worthless, fearful, self-conscious, and unloved—that you can see the truth. It can be done, because we are resilient, much stronger than we ever knew. When we discover that hidden strength, the truth is never far away.

As for my mother, the story ends happily. The doctors say that it was a miracle that the cancer subsided because, as they had told me very early on, she had less than a 5 percent chance to live.

You see, I knew she would live. With what she has overcome, with what she has inside of her, she is invincible. Of course she would overcome this obstacle.

She is now cancer free and rebuilding the most important relationships in her life. In many ways, at sixty-five, she has just unlearned what she learned for all of those years. She is now beginning to fully live and is reaching her true potential, proving yet again that it is never too late.

From the Lie to the Truth

The Lie

You are unlovable and unworthy of love. You don’t even really understand at times what love means. You are even uncomfortable using the wordlove, and you have a difficult time expressing it yourself. And this is the way it will always be. It’s just who you are because you doubt whether you even deserve to be loved.

The Why

A lack of love early in life interferes with your sense of self. Fundamentally, we are social beings who define ourselves by our relations with others, beginning with that vital connection between parent and child. You believe you weren’t loved by those who created you, so you wonder who else could ever truly love you.

The Truth

I am loved. I am loving.

I find opportunities to make others feel free, compassionate, grateful, trusting, passionate, guided, accomplished, confident, attractive, and loved. I give freely the feelings I most want to feel.

In doing so, I feel the same feelings. I feel loving and I feel loved.

I give these feelings freely as the love I give without expectation is love that comes back to me. By giving others the feelings that they most cherish in life, the same feelings are created in me.

To Try

1.    Share with others the truths that you have learned, the truths that counter the lies. In your day-to-day conversations, do all that you can to make others feel free, compassionate, grateful, trusting, passionate, guided, accomplished, confident, attractive, and loved.

2.    Give to yourself the acknowledgment and love that you share with others—allow yourself to feel it. The more you do so the more you will embody these truths, and the more they will become yours.


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