I was wandering and browsing in my local public library while my son searched for books to take out. It was something we did regularly together. (We still do.) As somebody who has carried depression for decades and had recently done tons of important work with a psychologist , I was interested to learn more. During these library visits, I had begun occasionally checking out the Self-Help section. Whether it was pure chance or whether I had created the right conditions for myself, I came across a book with a title that immediately intrigued me.
How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re An Adult – A path to authenticity and awakening. Written by psychotherapist Ira Israel.
I skimmed inside it a little and became more interested. So I took it out. Maybe the fact it was only 180 pages helped. The last thing I wanted was a voluminous self-book shaped like a cube.
My first ever “Aha!” moment
Later that night, only a few chapters in, another piece of my depression puzzle clicked into place. It was my first ever “Aha!” moment about my condition. My therapy work had done so much good, but it was a slow reveal and I had to keep working a little at a time to improve my mental health. (I still work at it every day.) So an “Aha!” was a surprise.
Like it was written just for me
There were moments as I read Ira’s book where I thought it had been written with me specifically in mind. It provided me with knowledge and hope – two of the best weapons against depression. By explaining why we humans frequently develop mental illness, it helped me find out where my own depression came from. After that, the daily work my psychologist had given me became even more meaningful and more “real”.
I found it so helpful to understand that our pre-verbal emotional memories formed as infants set a blueprint for so many of our interactions and relationships. Being left to “cry it out” as a baby is a big one in the formative emotional memories department.
The trauma of detachment
The idea that being left to “cry it out” as an infant can result in poor self-esteem and can dictate future attachments with important figures was hugely revealing for me. I may not remember many things from my early childhood, but I have a clear image of me standing up in my crib and howling because I was alone and nobody was coming. That emotional memory is imprinted for life. The trauma of detachment created a long-lasting wounded child within me and caused me to develop negative self-talk, at first as non-verbal emotional memories and later in words. Thanks to reading Ira’s book, I understand the significance of the moment and can relate it to so much of my depression and my interactions with people throughout my life.
All that said, Ira’s writing simply explained these important moments in childhood, without judging or blaming. Placing blame would keep me in a kind of victim mentality and prevent me from truly moving forward.
When we are triggered in our depression/anxiety, it’s because our core childhood wounds have been reopened. Circumstances and details are different, but we react out of fear that the memory and trauma are being repeated. So we cover up. Or we lash out. Or we shut down. Or we wallow. Or we turn to substances. Or we harm ourselves. Or all of these. We repeat the same problem over and over.
The combination of childhood wounds, western societal expectations, and our own minds can create the perfect conditions for resentment to grow and create unhappiness and mental illness.
The traps of our modern way of life
As I kept reading, it was helpful to learn (from Ira’s extensive clinical experience) how our western lifestyle can draw us away from our authentic selves. In basic terms, our minds are built to accumulate resentment, and our modern way of life is a recipe for more of that. But none of this info ever came across as “doom and gloom” or as lofty intellectual pontificating. Far from it. It was simple, straightforward, and based in the real world.
I learned how we create “false selves” to gain approval and acceptance, and to avoid negative feedback, shame and punishment. OMG, this was me as a child! Those false selves are often wrapped up in our jobs or titles or image we project to others. Furthermore, there’s an epidemic of negative self-talk that takes us away from our authentic selves and into unhappiness, anxiety, and depression.
Our western way of life has taught us to move away from authenticity, in pursuit of instant gratification, wealth, things, fame, productivity (why must we be forced to be productive in order to feel valid?), and doing everything possible to fit other people’s ideals and directives.
“Every time we are forced, as children, to jump through hoops in order to get love or positive feedback, this foments resentment. We’re never good enough, never achieve enough – based on how our society reacts and trains us about what is desirable and worthy. And even if there was no physical trauma during our childhoods, all of these resentments can add up to what is often called ‘a core wound.’ As adults, we have remnants of wounded children in us.”
“Our authentic selves want to be loved unconditionally.” Bingo!
After so many lightbulb moments, right on cue, Ira’s book provided some brilliant and simple exercises that helped me to own my life and my past, accept my reality, and then start cleansing the negativity to begin moving forward in love and acceptance and forgiveness towards being the person I’m supposed to be. It discussed mindfulness and forgiveness and unconditional love as the antidote and way forward, because these enable us to be authentic.
I’m still on that journey to discover my true self. I used to worry about that. I’ve never known what I truly wanted to do in my life. I still don’t and I’m now 50. But I’m less worried about the inauthentic stuff, like defining myself by a title or by achievements. I’m learning to enjoy seeking to reveal my authentic self.
Btw, I’m not being paid to promote this book!
That’s right, I’m not! I just found it so helpful and I want to help others. It’s filled with tremendous advice delivered in a kind, informative, practical, encouraging voice. Ira explains more about how to be more authentically loving in relationships, how to find some mental peace in a world of “busyness”, how to be alive in the moment of now, and how to appropriately combine the need for electronic devices with interaction, with appropriate self-esteem, and with calm and health and balance – without being anxious or competitive or depressed,
It’s refreshing, honest, wise, enlightening, at times humorous, never heavy or prescriptive.
All I can say is to try it. See if it will help you take steps to improve your life, find acceptance, learn forgiveness (of yourself as well as others), tackle your depression, cultivate better relationships, and simply enjoy life more.
How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re An Adult – A path to authenticity and awakening. Published 2017 by New World Library
By Ira Israel, psychotherapist and licensed professional counsellor. Check out his website https://iraisrael.com/ and his other materials and courses.