Over the past year my entire professional (and a lot of my personal) journey has been focused on a fictional version of the rejection I suffered as a teenager. Now, normally I jump at opportunities to talk about the process I went through from majorly screwed up teen, to self-destructive twenty-something, to predominantly healthy almost-adult (somewhere in my late twenties/early thirties). But a weird thing's been happening in the past week or so: I've been hearing those messages again.
You aren't good enough.
People think you're a complete $%#& up.
No one cares.
You're too fat/ugly/stupid/*insert-insult-here*.
Just shut your mouth and go back where you came from
These words aren't new for me. Since about the age of twelve, I've heard them in my head. Between twelve and twenty-five, I lived in that place.
Now, thankfully, I have the resources to deal with this, to see it for what it is. But I started wondering why these messages have become so strong just lately. I mean, for all intents and purposes, I'm more successful now than I've ever been, my marriage is strong and cherished, my son is healthy and thriving. Circumstantially I am better off than ever.
So why are these voices louder than they've been in years?
And it isn't just me. I heard the story yesterday about Robin Williams and it broke my heart. I knew he heard those messages too. And he'd never found the help he needed to put them in the box they deserved and set it alight.
I've always maintained that the biggest concern I have for victims of bullying, or any other kind of emotional or physical abuse, isn't their circumstances or ability to cope. It's how those attacks erode at the person's mind.
See, my brain doesn't tell me these things because my life sucks (or soars). My brain tells me these things because they were learned by rote at a time in my life when my brain was still forming. My thoughts, my opinions, my views on the world were all growing and changing. And a massive part of my world-view became the expectation of hate.
Not personality conflicts.
And the most frightening part of that equation is when the hate becomes self-imposed. If there's no one around hating on me (like right now), then I start hating on myself.
Negative messages were so prevalent in my early life, they become not a battle to be waged, but a theme. A motif. An expectation.
So, when no one else lives up to that expectation, I turn it into self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is, I've decided, almost a form of brainwashing. Or maybe an internal version of Stockholm Syndrome. Regardless of what name we put to it, I suffer the affliction. I'm grateful to God that I don't suffer the belief in those words anymore. I am still prone to inflicting them on myself, but I've healed and grown enough to call myself a liar when I need to.
That said, I know many young and not-so-young people aren't so blessed. Those messages are still rocketing around inside their skulls, still being given airtime, still increasingly powerful.
If that's true for you then I hope you'll start talking about it - to me, to a friend, a family member, a therapist, to anyone who cares enough to start helping you replace those messages with something more grounded. One of the reasons I'm so passionate about the #stopthehate campaign is because I know sometimes it just takes one other person saying "Hey, I feel that way too!" to ease the sense of isolation and to break the loop of those messages in your head. And they do need to be broken. They need to be thwacked with a baseball bat, taken out back and shot. They need to be napalmed.
If there's anything in this world that I believe is worth waging war on, it's the cycle of self-rejection.
Because inside your head is the one place no one can touch unless you let them. Which means it's the one place you can take acid to yourself, and no one else might notice.
So whether you're a writer whose career hasn't taken off yet, or a reader whose dreams are still dreams, or just some person who landed here by accident, I want you to know that I have those messages in my head too.
And it is possible to reprogram them.
Sometimes you just need a little help.