Martha Beck on Healing After a Loveless Childhood

Woman thinking about her past and healing after a loveless childhood

Aminah Akram is looking forward to finding a relationship where she gets as much as she gives. But to set the stage for that future, saysOlife coach Martha Beck, she has to revisit her past.

By Martha Beck

More than ten years have gone by since Aminah Akram was in a serious relationship. She’s eager to fall in love again, but the 48-year-old airline ticket agent, who lives in Lilburn, Georgia, is growing weary of the dating game. Actually, she’s just plain weary, as she juggles work demands with the needs of a 10-year-old daughter, a son in college and a mom and a sister who often have to be driven around. In her first session withO’s own Martha Beck, Aminah admitted she’s been depressed—which was no surprise to our resident life coach. “Your depression is trying to get you in touch with your healthy anger so you can set boundaries,” said Martha, who gently added that to attract the partner she deserves, Aminah must first learn to value herself. Can she break the caretaking habit? Let’s listen in on their second session.

Martha Beck:Aminah, I’m glad you made it! I know it’s not easy with your schedule. So let’s just jump right in: What’s on your mind?

Aminah Akram:Lately I’ve been frustrated at work. I’ve had some run-ins with coworkers who were disrespectful—snapping at me or trying to tell me what to do. I wish I could let go of it, but I can’t.

MB:When stuff like that nags at us, there’s a reason. Sometimes it just means we need to get away from certain people, but often it’s a sign that something needs to shift inside ourselves.

AA:They act like bullies. I can’t tolerate it.

MB:Right now you’re at a point in your life when you’re preparing to break free and assert yourself. The funny thing is, as soon as we decide to up our game in terms of our self-esteem, people are put in our path to challenge us. It’s just how God, or the intelligence of the universe, or whatever you want to call it, works.

AA:I don’t feel like I have low self-esteem, though.

MB:When I say “self-esteem,” it’s not about disliking yourself. I mean that you have an expectation that people won’t value you for what you’re worth, and you’ll always be the giver in your relationships.

AA:It’s true. I’ve fallen into that pattern with many people in my life. Friends, men.

MB:I suspect that these episodes with your coworkers are bothering you because deep down, a part of you subconsciously believes that it’s okay for them to treat you that way. Otherwise, you’d just dismiss them as crazy. But I also think little hairline fractures are appearing in that belief system of yours. You’re here with me because at long last, you’re ready for a relationship where someone gives back to you for a change.

AA:Absolutely, yes.

MB:If you’re repeatedly having interactions with people who are inappropriate or selfish, something deeper is going on. What’s so amazing about the mind is that whatever we expect on a subconscious level is what we create. So if you want to find the right partner, you have to not only know your own worth but also believe that someone out there will see it.

AA:Well, I haven’t found that person yet.

MB:There’s a flatness in your voice—the kind that comes from trying really hard and never succeeding.

AA:I think this probably goes back to my family, too.

MB:Say more.

AA:My mother and father weren’t around when I was growing up. I guess I’m always trying to find the loving situation I never had.

MB:Who raised you?

AA:My sisters and I lived with my grandmother. Let’s just say it was complicated. I didn’t live with my mother until I was 14, when she married and settled down. She’s here for me now, and she helps takes care of my daughter.

MB:I respect that, and I don’t want to blame your mom or dad. It’s not about that. But the fact is, they weren’t there during a crucial period of your life. The loss or absence of a parent can leave a child feeling absolutely abandoned—and if a kid’s emotional needs are never met, she tends to assume it’s because she doesn’t deserve it.

AA:I felt very alone during my childhood. I still do, even though I’m surrounded by people.

Read rest of article