“Criticism is the one form of service, of which everyone has too much. Everyone has a stock of it which is handed out, gratis, whether called for or not. One’s nearest relatives often are the worst offenders. It should be recognized as a crime (in reality it is a crime of the worst nature), for any parent to build inferiority complexes in the mind of a child, through unnecessary criticism.”–Napoleon Hill
I started writing when I was about six years old, started by drawing comic books and graduated to little stories. I forced friends and family to listen to them, and frankly, many were receptive and kind. But my parents’ marriage had failed largely because of money issues connected to my dad’s singing career, and Mom was terrified that my growing ambition to become a writer would lead to disaster. As a result, when I was in trouble of any kind, or my grades dropped (a common occurrence) she would tear up my stories and tell me, in quite colorful phrasing, what a failure I was going to be.
Tear them up, burn them, flush them down the toilet…my heart was heavy, but on some level I never stopped believing that she was just afraid for me. Some how, in some way, there was something inside me that said: “I will have this! I will be this!”
But note that: no matter what, I never lost a grip on the thought that she loved me. Life got pretty bad for my Mom. She feared poverty, experienced ill health, suffered from depression and despair to the point that holidays were often nightmares, waiting for the time-bomb of screaming and blame to “go off” at any moment.
And one of the very worst was her belief, too close to the surface, that if she had “passed for white” her life would have been better, that my sister and I were the uncomfortable evidence that she had married a black man, which opened the door to questions that prevented her light skin being a passage to a better life.
And some of the things she said were downright vile. But never, ever, did I mistake those comments for anything but fear and pain. They hurt. But the part of her spewing that bile was the smallest, most damaged part of her…not the mother who loved me.
It was as if she was physically ill, and vomiting on my shoes. I wouldn’t take that personally. And I didn’t take this personally either. Still hurt though. I still cried, and worried about her, and wondered what would become of us.
When we were so broke Mom was cutting dandelion greens off the front lawn so we’d have vegetables, she screamed her fear, and I worried.
When after a long day worrying over bills she woke up in the middle of the night screaming that Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy were chasing her, I worried.
When she went into such despair that she put her head in the oven to commit suicide, and I turned her depression into rage at me by calmly telling her that natural gas wasn’t poisonous and that this would be an inefficient means of killing herself, such that she came after me with a vacuum cleaner extension, screaming what a terrible child I was…I knew this was the demon fear within her, not the mother who loved me.
Somehow, I knew. If I hadn’t, the damage could have been incalculable. The things our family and friends say to us can be devastating. You MUST clean house on this material from your childhood, or negative things said to you in adulthood will go deep, chewing on the shredded flesh of your heart, breeding and feeding in the darkness of your soul until they can poison your entire life.
Start with love. Love for the child you were and the adult you are. Love for your potential. Give up the need to feel superior to anyone, and you free yourself from feeling INFERIOR to anyone. Be as gentle as you would with a newborn baby, but as stern as you would be with a defiant teenager. We need both discipline AND total acceptance. Only love can counter fear, and guilt, and shame. It lays the foundation to BELIEVE in yourself, to be willing to go after your dreams when no one else thinks you can have them.
How did I do it? I suspect that part of that was that Mom endlessly played LPs of THINK AND GROW RICH, and THE STRANGEST SECRET, and THE GOLDEN KEY, and PSYCHO-CYBERNETICS, and AS A MAN THINKETH…
Oh, Mom. You knew the direction of salvation, but your own fears and programming went too damned deep. You did the best you could, and passed me a baton you couldn’t carry yourself.
Don’t worry. I know every negative thing you said was just a scream for help, a cry of rage against a world that tore you apart, gave you no where you felt safe and accepted.
I’ll never forget you, or the lessons you gave me. I’m only who I am because of you.
I will NOT let you down.