Redeeming a precious heirloom: Lessons on how to see and treat ourselves
I once completed a coaching call with an amazing, good-hearted, kind, talented, and accomplished sixty-five-year-old man who was struggling to see his own value.
His second wife recently left him, and for the same reason his first wife left him. He’s currently living with his mother while rebuilding his life.
With his permission, I want to share a portion of our conversation. As you read this, look for the application in your own life.
We pick up on our conversation where he’s telling me that he’s struggled with depression for years.
“When did that start and where does it come from?” I ask.
“I guess back to my ex-wife,” he says. “It seemed like no matter how much money I made, it just was never enough for her. I couldn’t produce enough to make her happy.”
“And so it’s a sense of not being enough, of being somehow broken or deficient in some fundamental way?”
“Yeah, that’s really tough,” I say. “I get it. You’ve been carrying that burden for a long time, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” he says with emotion.
“Let’s go deeper,” I prod. “The only reason why not producing enough money would trigger you that deeply is if there was another point of origin. You were triggered by your ex-wife, which evidenced a deeper source. I want to find the real source. For example, what was your relationship like with your parents? Did your parents ever send the message that you weren’t enough?”
“Not my dad,” he says and he breaks down. Wracked with emotion, he tells me how his dad was always supporting him and building him up and shares a few stories.
“My mom, on the other hand, wasn’t so supportive. She swore like a sailor and she constantly tore me down. She always called me ‘idiot,’ ‘horse’s ass,’ things like that.”
My heart breaks for him.
After expressing compassion, I say, “So you learned from your mother that you weren’t good enough and that you would never be enough.”
“And you believed her, didn’t you?”
“I’m guessing you have a habit of beating yourself up with self-criticism and shame, right?”
“Oh yeah,” he says.
“Can you see why you’ve been drawn to these women? You’ve believed your whole life that you’re not enough. And since we subconsciously work to prove our beliefs right, you have married women who would confirm your belief.”
“Yes, I see it now,” he says.
“And what is your relationship with your mother like now? Has she changed? Does she treat you better?”
“No,” he admits. “She’s the same as she always has been.” He shares a story from that same day that ended with her calling him a “horse’s ass.”
“Are you ready to break free from this belief?” I ask.
“Yes,” he affirms.
“Okay,” I say, “the first thing you have to do is move out of your mother’s house immediately. Not because you’re angry or because you harbor resentment, but because you are drawing a line in the sand declaring that you will not allow anyone to treat you as she has.
“This doesn’t mean being reactive, harsh, angry, or vindictive. You can be kind and loving. But you have to set clear and firm boundaries.
“And on a deeper level, it’s a formal declaration that you will no longer allow you to treat yourself that way. From now on, you will not tolerate anyone mistreating you — including and especially yourself.
“Here’s the deal,” I continue, “If we find that we get harshly and unfairly criticized a lot, especially by people close to us, that’s evidence that we believe their criticisms; otherwise, we wouldn’t tolerate it. When we don’t believe we are broken or deficient, we remove from our lives people who believe that about us. Or they just naturally drift away.
“The people who are closest to us are mirrors reflecting our deepest beliefs about ourselves. If we believe we are good, whole, and amazing, our closest friends become people who believe that about us. Likewise, if we believe we are ‘stupid idiots’ and ‘horse’s asses’ who are not enough, we attract people into our lives who confirm that belief for us.
“To uncover your deepest, most subconscious beliefs about yourself, examine how you’re treated by the people closest to you, and what they believe about you.
“Yes,” he says.
I’m searching for the right metaphor to explain how vital this conversation is for his progress.
I say, “I want you to imagine that your great-great-grandfather passed down a priceless heirloom, say an antique gold watch.
“You have it on your mantel and a friend comes over to your house. He picks it up and plays with it carelessly as if it’s a cheap trifle. He says he wants to break it open with a hammer. Would you let him?”
“Of course not,” he answers.
“Exactly,” I say. “And yet it’s exactly what we allow people to do with our own souls — the most precious heirloom imaginable.”
I’m crying now as I say this, “It’s incomprehensibly tragic. Think of how much better we treat material things, inanimate objects, than we treat ourselves and other people. We wouldn’t dream of letting anyone scratch, dent, or break an heirloom watch, and yet for sixty-five years you’ve allowed your mother and many others to desecrate your own soul.”
This next part really breaks me up: “And furthermore, it’s exactly what you’ve been doing to yourself for sixty-five years.”
It sinks in. He gets it.
I continue, “But no longer. No longer will you ever allow yourself to treat yourself like a worthless trifle. From now on, you will always treat yourself as the child of God that you are, with divine worth and potential.
“And as you do so for yourself, you will find that you will no longer tolerate it from other people either. You will remove from your close circle anyone who believes anything about you other than that you are good and noble to your core. You will begin attracting people who see the best in you and support you to become your best self.”
The point for all of us is this: Authentic Purpose is coming home to who we always have been. And we’ll never make it home if we don’t see ourselves as we really are — if we believe we are broken, deficient, inadequate, unworthy to our core.
My invitation to you is the same as I gave to this wonderful man: come home.