How We Unintentionally Harm Our Children (And Ourselves)

Morgan Halas
Morgan Halas

Without intending to do harm, we damage our children. We don’t want to do it — we don’t know we’re doing it — but it’s happening.

To survive, our children “forsake their true selves.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about that sentence since I heard it.

Did my parents unintentionally do this to me?

Are you doing it to your children?

That sentence came from an interview I did on my podcast the Art of Authenticity with Dr. Shefali, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the blend of Eastern philosophy and Western psychology. On the show she explained how we disconnect from our authentic truth in childhood, how we may be parenting in a way that is disconnecting our children from their truth, and what she calls Conscious Parenting as a way to prevent it.

After talking with Dr. Shefali, I could not help but think about the moment that I disconnected from my authentic truth and how many people out there may have suffered the same fate.

My defining moment occurred in 8th grade. I was walking down the hallway, chatting with my friends, hoping that my outfit was on point with the latest 1980s style, when I entered into a conversation with a bunch of boys. I can’t remember the exact words that my good friend uttered about how uncool it is when a girl beats you in sports, but it was the moment I let go of my authentic voice.

In 1984, it wasn’t that cool to beat the boys, plus my parents weren’t exactly the sporty types. For me, sports weren’t something to do to get exercise or to make friends, they were part of my authentic truth. It was part of my identity. As soon as I could walk, I ran. I ran after anything that moved and soon I was playing football with my older brother’s friend, and winning. This wasn’t a hobby, it was part of who I was, who I am.

But it wasn’t popular and so I let go of myself for what I believed benefited others. I believed I would get their approvals, but that was an assumption on my part – a costly assumption.

The crazy part was that I continued to play varsity soccer and varsity tennis, but what mattered was that I no longer cared. To be “cool” and to align with my parent’s values, I took on the role that it didn’t matter – but it mattered.

It mattered a lot because I gave up on my connection to a sacred part of myself. I let go of my belief that I had a right to my authentic voice, my truth.

I lost myself. I fell in with the wrong crowd. I can only describe the sensation this way: my feet felt like they didn’t touch the ground. My authentic self slid into the background, out of mind’s eye, in exchange I got my parent’s, friend’s and culture’s approvals. Slowly, what replaced that authentic self was a shell – an idea of what my life ‘should be’, not what I wanted it to be.

And that was that. “I don’t care.” became the mantra of my life. My life decisions were outsourced to the “world”. The result was a life that never felt quite right and a sense of overwhelm that followed me everywhere.

Because here is the thing: When you don’t create a life that is entirely of your making you never feel quite right and life takes on this overwhelming feeling. It can manifest in many ways: small decisions become difficult to make; saying ‘no’ becomes difficult; even saying ‘yes’ becomes confusing and frustrating.

But the result is always the same. Resentments, anger, and anxiety take center stage in your life.

It wasn’t until 20 years later that I began to bring my truth to the forefront of my life’s choices. It hasn’t been easy. I re-read all of my favorite philosophy books on what an authentic life means and I applied the ancient concepts one by painstaking one to my life.

But now my feet touch the ground. I never let go of my truth. I hold on tight, even when it isn’t popular.

Do you remember a moment when you let go of a defining part of yourself to fit in, to get your parents approvals, to get the love you crave? Do you feel overwhelmed daily and have a sense that your life is just not quite right?

Clip from Podcast Art of Authenticity with Dr. Shefali

[00:00:16.3] LC: If that doesn’t happen and the parent is putting that ego self onto the child, I’ve heard you describe that the child sort of splits away, that they protect their deeper self?

[00:00:27.3] Dr. Shefali: Yeah, they have to survive, right? We all have to survive. So one of the ways of surviving. So the main ways that we forsake or abandon our true self or that poor true self didn’t even have a chance to fully develop because it was having to constantly fend off the projections of the environment and the more unconscious the parent is, the greater they put these projections, this heavy mantel, the second skin, the third skin on the child. So the child will never really develop their true skin.

It was such an honor to have Dr. Shefali on my podcast, The Art of Authenticity. The quote was a clip from our conversation on the show. I wanted to highlight it because I thought her words were so powerful, so meaningful that they have blown me away ever since we talked. My work focuses on how to shed the layers that weigh your authentic voice down and how to reconnect to your truth, the truth that is not broken, but only buried under the impostor voices from culture, family, and the challenges in life. And so when Dr. Shefali’s showed up on the podcast with an explanation of the origins of an inauthentic life, I was blown away.

Here’s why.

Without intending to do harm, parents project their own images so heavily onto their kids that the child never developed their true skin, their true selves. Why? To survive, the child has to give up on their true self to satisfy the parent and keep the love the child so deeply desires. The desire for approval, love, safety outweighed the child’s desire to remain true to themselves.

The outcome – we can’t decide on dinner, we can’t decide where to live, even what to do with our lives in a way that feels completely at peace within ourselves. Most of us wonder ‘what is wrong with us’. We wonder why we can’t feel at ease in our life choices – it’s because we haven’t developed a connection to that deeper self.

It’s simple in theory to speak your truth, yet many of us convince ourselves day-to-day that we should do things that are not aligned with our truth. Why? Dr. Shefali, clinical psychologist who’s been on Oprah and travels the country explaining these ideas, is sharing the answer with us. It’s because we never developed our authentic self; we never learned how to speak our truth. Our family’s projections were so strong that we got lost in those projections and we never got the opportunity to develop that deeper sense of self.

We split away from our truth and now we make decisions from our minds. Our minds are filled with pros and cons, how to get other’s people approvals, and all these incredible skills which can be helpful, even necessary in our lives.

But when we don’t have that connection to our deeper self, how do we figure out what it is that we want? How do we build a life that makes sense for us?

[00:03:04.3] Dr. Shefali: Yes but as parents, we have to seize the power we have in the moment and it’s in these ordinary little moments where we get to say, “Okay, what matters right now? Does it matter that my child feel rejected for an external validation of a grade or can I separate the external validation at this moment and let my child step into their own journey, their own body and their own relationship with their experience versus me putting it onto them?”

So it’s in those very subtle moments where we get to make choices and step back and say as parents, whatever your daughter or your son’s name is, Jake, Jack and this is of course after they’re seven years old or six years old so they can comprehend and you say to them, “Look, these are the things that go into getting this result. I can help you get these results. This is the effort that it’s going to take. These are the conditions that I will create in the home.

Such as, I will create a quiet place, I will be there to assist you, I will give you healthy nourishing food so you can get to that goal, I would drive you to that place that will help you get that goal or I will give you the tools and skills in that subject matter, whatever it is. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have to put in the effort and care enough to get that goal. I’m not invested in that goal because I think you’re perfect and whole and complete the way you are. If you want that goal, I am there to assist you.”

And always providing that assistance-ship and the space and the room for the kid to grow into it but not telling the kid inadvertently or unconsciously that, “I will approve of you, only if you create that external goal in your life.” I think parents sometimes forget how important it is to teach children that, “I see you, I care about you and you matter to me whether you get that A grade, the B grade, you’re a soccer star or you’re just in your room reading a book or doing nothing. I validate you and I honor you for who you are.”

Dr. Shefali continues to share such pearls of wisdom. This simple, simple, simple point, “I’m here to assist you in your life but I honor you and validate for who you are today. I see you, I care about you, you matter.” Unfortunately, most of us didn’t get that message as children. The message we received was: we’re only good enough for the grades we get, for the things we do, for the projection that we put forward into the world, but not who we are as a human being.

And when we aren’t valued for the person we are and we focus on the self that was created from the projections placed on us, we lose connection with who we are. We can’t see ourselves anymore so we rely on what other people have told us about ourselves and what makes us happy. Our life choices rely on what we believe to be the quote “smart choice in life”. The result: we resort to a life designed from our minds.

I see this every day.

So say you want to change jobs, so you come to me for coaching and you want to talk about how to make a change. As we begin our session, I ask, “what do you want.” Client after client doesn’t know how to answer that question. The connection to their truth has been lost.

Because they haven’t validated who they are, they haven’t felt as if that is enough, so they try to make sense of their life choices. They try to make smart decisions.

But you can’t make a choice for yourself when you don’t know yourself. If you haven’t had a chance to embody your truth, your voice, how can you make life choices to figure out how to change jobs or how to find the relationship of your dreams?

But you can, you can take steps to find that voice. You just need to learn how. Like a child who’s learning how to walk for the first time, you have to learn how to find your truth, step by step until your truth is your first instinct – the unconscious default, not the voice that’s buried deep beneath the mind’s chaotic and misleading views.

[00:07:03.7] Dr. Shefali: Okay, so first, the disconnect will show up in many external ways. First, life doesn’t go your way, your boss is upset with you and your spouse is not working cooperatively and your friend was rude to you. First, the cracks starts showing up in external ways and our instinct is to blame everyone, right? “My boss is mean. My friend was mean. My spouse is mean. My child is disobedient, and the weather is not being cooperative.”

So we blame the whole external realm for our inner discontent and so this is the first sign that we are internally disconnected. When our external world begins to show up with loud resulting, “I’m not helping you, I’m not supporting you. I’m not working well with you,” this is how the internal disconnect shows up. So usually at this point, people kind of break down and they go seek help and therapy and that’s a good thing and then the wise guy therapist, the parent, the friend kind of tells that person, “You know, these are indications. These are wake up calls for you to go, “Whoa, what inside me is disconnected and not aligned?”

Okay, so first you have to pay heed to the disconnect, right? Is my first message to you. So if you have a conflict after conflict with your child, they heed to that. That’s a sign that there is something disconnected within you and of course, it is easy to blame the kid and punish the kid and discipline the kid but then what? At the end of the day, the only person who has power to change is you. So you have to then start saying to yourself, “How can I start taking that pause in the moment and look in the mirror and not react?”

The first step is not to react and the step to not react means to take a pause. The way to take a pause is to invite yourself to say, “For the next three days, I’m just going to enter silent mode and just pay attention. So if my child is being rude to me, I’m not going to react and say, “Why are you being rude to me? I’m going to punish you. I’m going to discipline you,” I am just going to listen and say, “I hear you. I can see that you’re upset. I’m going to watch and see how I make you upset and I’m going to pay attention.”

Just the willingness to turn inward and say, “I am going to pay more attention even though I wanted to yell at you and scream at you and make you feel bad for making me feel bad. Instead, just not taking it personally for a moment and pay attention and begin to see how I’m contributing to your distress.” So instead of blaming the world, we begin to turn our eyes inward and begin to ask the pivotal question which is, “How am I contributing to this upheaval in my life?”

The key thing is first to gain the awareness that you are not coming from your true self. Then, take full responsibility for your behaviors. Once you have the awareness, and you take full responsibility you can begin to learn how to operate from your authentic self.

Interview after interview, book after book, I see the same theme. Nothing can start without awareness of what’s going on with you. Our first instinct, as Dr. Shefali is saying – and so many brilliant, wonderful people have said – is we stay focused on the world around us, not our deeper instincts. In part because we haven’t developed that deeper sense of self and in part because we think we won’t like that deeper sense of self.

So we focus on the external world. We blame. We get stuck on being a martyr and a victim. We are upset with what we believe other people may have done to us. But this is your work. It is your work to honor who you are. Maybe you weren’t seen as a child, maybe you weren’t told you mattered, but now it’s up to you. You must start the journey by turning inward and creating the awareness of what’s going on with you.

If you stay in the blame or victim space, you’ll never be free. You’ll never rise up and you’ll never have the empowered life that you desire. When you create the awareness and check in with what’s going on with you, you can then begin to grow. You can begin to learn about who you are and who you are not. And those disempowered voices of the mind that tell you, “You’re not enough, you are not capable enough, you’re not powerful enough, you’re not lovable enough,” for who you are, must be managed or they will be your undoing.

[00:11:22.4] Dr. Shefali: So we begin changing and liberating ourselves and that is ultimately the most powerful thing we could do.

[00:11:29.4] LC: Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. Thank you again, a big thank you for Dr. Shefali for coming on the show, doing this tremendous work and sharing these incredible ideas. They’ve changed my life and I know they can change your life too.

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