By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Beverly had suffered from anxiety most of her life. As a child, she
slept poorly and often had nightmares. She bit her nails and
would chew on the skin around her nails until they were raw and
Beverly had tried many forms of therapy, meditation and
medication before consulting with me. She had a strong belief in
God and prayed daily. Yet she was still anxious and could not
understand the source of her anxiety.
Beverly grew up in a "normal" household with two parents who
seemingly loved her. Yet as we explored her childhood, it
became apparent that, while there was no overt abuse, the
covert emotional abuse was constant. Her parents were highly
critical of her and would get angry and withdraw when she didn't
perform to their expectations. Her mother was not affectionate
and her father's affection was tinged with sexual energy that
Beverly felt tense much of the time in her home. Her parents
fought a lot and her mother would often end up crying hysterically
while her father withdrew behind his newspaper. What she did
not see in her household was any role-modeling for taking
personal responsibility for her own feelings. Her mother would
blame her and her father whenever she was unhappy, while her
father would blame her and her mother for his upsets. Beverly
always tried to be a good girl and be there for her parents, but no
one was ever there for her.
It's easy to see why Beverly was so anxious as a child. But what
was causing her anxiety as an adult?
The problem was that Beverly had never learned how to be a
loving parent to herself, because her parents had not been
loving to her or to themselves. She was kind and generous with
others, but she tended to ignore her own feelings and needs.
The little girl inside Beverly, her Inner Child, felt alone and
abandoned inside most of the time. In addition, she was highly
critical of herself, just as her parents had been with her. She was
constantly telling herself that she couldn't do anything right.
Beverly was treating herself just as her parents had treated her
and themselves. Little Beverly did not have a powerful loving
inner adult to attend to her feelings or speak up for her with
others. Instead, she was neglectful or critical of herself. Due to
abandoning herself and not giving herself love and approval, she
was constantly seeking approval from others. As a result, Beverly
felt anxious in many situations with others - with friends, at work,
as well as with her husband and children. She was constantly
trying to "perform" right so people would approve of her or not be
mad at her. She was constantly suffering from "performance
Beverly saw that much of her anxiety centered around wanting to
control how others saw her and treated her. She realized that
she judged herself in the hopes of getting herself to perform
right. She noticed that she was constantly seeking others'
approval because of being so critical of herself.
Learning to be compassionate with herself rather than
judgmental was a challenge that took time and dedication. She
was so used to judging herself that she would do it without
realizing it. Through her inner work, Beverly became aware of the
fact that most of the critical things she told herself about herself
were just not true - they were beliefs she had absorbed from her
parents but were not the reality of who she was. As she paid
attention to her self-judgments, she noticed that her anxiety was
directly related to her judgments, false beliefs, and desire to
control getting approval from others.
As Beverly slowly learned to be a loving inner parent rather than
a critical one, her anxiety gradually diminished. Any time it she
felt anxious, she could now trace it back to something she had
told herself that not only was not true, but was self-critical. She
discovered that she had been using her spiritual connection as
a way of avoiding responsibility for herself, rather than as
guidance in what was loving to herself. As she opened to
learning about what was loving to herself, she gained more
access to and connection with her spiritual source of guidance.
The more Beverly took loving care of herself, the more inner
peace she attained.