As he is fascinated with the world around him, my 2 year old son likes to point at everything, but today when he pointed at the man in the elevator, I felt bad. Of course, my son is just showing me, “Wow Mommy, look there’s a man!” In my head I’m thinking it’s not polite to point, you might make him feel bad. Now, I have no idea what that man is thinking, maybe, “Just got my hair cut, and yes, I do look good, thanks for pointing it out,” or, “do I have something in my teeth?” or none of the above, but I’m pretty sure my son is just excited to see another person.
Since yesterday, I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who have recognized the contribution I made in their lives. I would like to tell you that I humbly accepted their recognition, but I haven’t! So with my son’s help it has become clear to me that I need to change my idea of recognition. I have a very hard time accepting positive recognition and that’s clearly due to the way I see myself (not in a good way). When someone calls me, my first thought is, “Uh oh, I’m in trouble,” either they’re angry I didn’t call them, I’ve done something wrong or they want something from me. I never think, “Oh, this person is calling because they want to talk to me.” In my childhood any attention I received was mostly negative, but I think that society in general is the same. People tend to comment on people, or places more often from a negative point of view than a positive one. However regardless of the world outside, I have to change how I recognize myself.
My fear goes so deep that every time someone recognizes me in a positive way, I run and hide, try to give it back or sabotage the situation. Like one night when I was in a bar with a friend who is in a successful mainstream band called Train, who had just done a gig at the venue next door. While we were standing there having a drink and talking I spotted a guy coming over to us. Since it was just after their gig, I assumed that he wanted to say hello to my friend, but he didn’t. Instead he told me how much he loved my band. I was completely thrown and freaked out! Minutes after he walked away I quickly made an excuse and went home. I felt completely threatened by this recognition. If it had happened after my own gig, I would have been expecting it and would have found a way to give it back, like thanking him for coming to the gig, or signing an autograph with a personal inscription, or talking about him. But here I was, taken by surprise and I just had to accept it. Yuck!
But to be ignored is worse than anything. I once went to a talk by Dr. Laura Markham (an amazing being! http://www.ahaparenting.com) about the best way to raise kids and how different parenting styles affect children’s development. When she spoke about kids who are ignored, she commented, “those kids, well…they never really come back from it.” The comment struck a heart chord within me, and I had to do everything in my power to hold back the tears. After I had left I cried uncontrollably, it had been my deepest sorrow growing up being ignored, and to how I ignored myself.
Not only had I felt ignored by my mother, except when she was in a rage, but also by my biological father. When I would go back to Chicago for a visit, I would call him, and his way to spend time with me was to take me for dinner on the way to the airport when I was leaving. I remember one such evening, sitting with him in a restaurant. The waitress casually said, “Oh, a night out with your grand-daughter?” – My father was 56 when I was born and 22 years older than my mom. He didn’t reply. As we sat there in an uncomfortable silence, I became filled with rage and sadness. I covered my eyes and asked him, “What color are my eyes?” No response. I asked again. Still no response. I began to cry and scream at him. How could he not know?! How could he ignore me like that?! But it worked both ways, I didn’t want to recognize him as my father either. It felt creepy to me that he was so old. I saw him as a dirty old man and I was a product of that dirt.
So to be recognized is to be associated with my shame about where I come from. What if I switched my story around? What if I looked at my mother’s kindness towards others and her intense love for her children? What if I saw how my mother was a pioneer in the 70’s, how she was able to leave her husband and raise 4 incredible children who are kind and generous to others, and her many other wonderful attributes. What about my biological father? A man who despite his shame, did not disown us, but did support us in the best way he could. A man who was kind and generous to others amongst other things. What if I could recognize the beauty in them, rather than only seeing their ‘mistakes’. If I could do that, then I could change my perception of myself and recognize and accept a beautiful person who is not perfect, but is perfect just as she is and a better person for the challenges that she faced, for the wisdom they have given her, not less than because her past is not so pretty. And if I can recognize the beauty in me then anyone could recognize and accept their beauty. Now that would be perfect!