Kumbaya for three-River City Counseling

The messages start the moment you’re born: you’re cute, you’re nice, you’re good-natured because you smile all the time, you have pretty eyes, and you look like your mother, father, grandfathers, etc. Since you look like all of them, you also carry all of their positive (never negative with newborns) personality characteristics.

And the messages never stop: you’re smart, nice, a bully, good athlete, poor athlete, pretty, handsome, ugly, etc. Each day we carry them along with us; the positives propel us and the negatives hold us back.

From day one, the positive messages I received were that I was smart, nice and had tons of friends, and was good at sports. The negative messages revolved around small motor skills: horrible at art, needing special handwriting classes, and generally unskilled building things. Coming from a family of carpenters and others who work with their hands, the beliefs I developed were especially toxic.

I’ve dragged these negative beliefs along with me, but, like everyone else, I’ve hid them by gravitating to what I’m good at. I have to be creative in my work, but sitting on my bottom doesn’t entail framing houses and pouring cement. I’m highly verbal and type everything for work, so my messy handwriting doesn’t matter. My wife is also really handy, so she does almost all of those household projects. I haven’t been forced to grow and learn new skills.

Present day, small problem: no driver’s license, Light Rail is freaking scary after 5 p.m., and I live too far from work to walk. Solution: I inherited an awesome bike and, after getting a tune up, lights, and a reflective shirt, I hit the roads and became a “bike commuter,” which I’d always found vaguely appealing.

My next problem: bikes break down, and I hadn’t done anything to prepare for the eventualities that eventually happened. Tire blew out, chain completely fell off and pedals broke. Crap, what was I going to do? Wife can’t pull our kid out of bed, drive to Timbuktu, and do repairs while singing Kumbaya to him while he sleeps.

I suppose I could have buried my bike and gone back to Light Rail to hang out with drunk and mentally ill folks talking to themselves, or I could “challenge my belief systems” and hop on the bike-repair learning train. (We therapists love to advise people to do this “challenging your belief systems” stuff. Suppose it was time to walk my talk.)

God bless YouTube. There are videos of all sorts of young, vigorous, and athletic British and Australian men (not sure why no Americans and no women) coaching us on how to fix our bikes. I got out the tools I’ve somehow accumulated, started my repairs, and, hours later…I was 0 for 3. I put the chain on backwards, the tire on the outside rather than the inside of the rim, and I couldn’t get the pedals off.

In my defense, I didn’t have the right tools for the pedals, and I was really close on the other two. I’m also going to go to a free clinic at the bike shop where I’m on a first name basis with the repairmen. I’m optimistic that the next time my bike blows up, I’ll be able to fix things. Or maybe I won’t. And that’s OK, too. There will always be another nail out there chomping at the bit to try to ruin my ride home.

So what’s my point? Each of us carries with us baggage from the messages we’ve accumulated over the course of our lives. Some of these messages propel us forward to successes and positive feelings about ourselves. Celebrate them! Others can leave us with limitations, stunt our growth, and leave us feeling awful about ourselves. Spend some time reflecting on the messages you’ve received and the beliefs you’ve developed about yourself, give some water and sun to what you’re gifted in and want to develop further and pull the weeds and trample on the negative beliefs that hold you back and keep you from growing. I’m not sure what will happen, but it’s clear that you’ll continue walking in those cement boots unless you challenge yourself and try to break free.

4 Responses to Kumbaya for three-River City Counseling
  1. Bill Layne
    September 15, 2014 | 6:33 pm

    As James Brown so famously sang: “Get On Up!”

  2. Marsha Wietecha
    September 15, 2014 | 9:09 pm

    I can relate to this as well. I grew up hearing that I had poor comprehension skills; still carry that message today. Need to stop repeating it outloud and to others. Thanks for the wakeup call!

    • Steve DeBenedetti-Emanuel
      September 30, 2014 | 4:23 pm

      Marsha: As someone with some of the finest verbal skills I’ve known, it’s clear you’ve compensated for how well you do/don’t comprehend what you read. Stopping what you sayout loud to self and others is a good staring point. Giving yourself positive messages could be the beginning of shifting your view of yourself.

  3. elizabeth
    September 16, 2014 | 2:49 pm

    When I was in grammar school the nuns told me I had a terrible singing voice. They were right and I still have a terrible singing voice and just move my lips at Mass. However as life went along I discovered I had some qualities that stand me in good stead and have made my life a happy one.
    Teachers and parents aren’t perfect but we can redefine ourselves too.

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