(Excerpted from the book How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening)
Every adult wants to live a version of what he or she imagines is “the good life.” However, our versions of “the good life” are not only culturally contingent but typically also intense amalgams of reactions to the approval and disapproval that we received as children. Many people have default voices in their heads that tell them that whatever they do is not good enough. This hedonic treadmill manifests as phrases such as “I’ll be happy when I have a better. . .home, job, relationship, salary, vacation, automobile.” The origin of this voice is the wounded child inside of us subconsciously and retroactively seeking the acceptance, approval, and love of primary caregivers (parents, teachers, siblings, and so on) who withheld love, loved us conditionally, or treated us in ways we did not understand. As sentient beings, we primarily desire one thing above all: to be loved unconditionally. But we grew up in a highly competitive, scarcity-based society that provided us with tools to gain love conditionally — because we are talented, goodlooking, go to good schools, get good grades, write well, speak well, dress well, earn boatloads of money, take vacations in the most exclusive places, and so on.
Children create “false selves” — facades, personas — in order to obtain the acceptance, approval, and love they crave; however, any acceptance, approval, or “love” that we receive as adults based on our facades, and not on our inner and usually somewhat messy authentic selves, ultimately causes resentment. Many people have become so closely identified with their facades that they no longer know who they are, other than what it says on their business cards, résumés, Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, Instagram and Twitter accounts, or in Google searches. Some younger people even judge or score their lives daily by the quantity of social media followers they have.
Over 20 million Americans take antidepressants every day. Consider the possibility that the problem Americans face is not some rogue gene for depression. Our definition of depression might be culturally contingent. Maybe what we are experiencing is really loneliness, or the inability to connect with and securely attach to fellow human beings, thinly veiled as pathology? Or maybe it is an inner feeling of unlovableness that was inadvertently inculcated into us by our parents and school system continually prodding us to be more, better, different?
Many people in my generation, through the iconography and symbolism of popular-culture songs, films, television programs, and books, were tacitly promised the American dream: if you do well in school, then you will land a great job, marry a wonderful person, have exceptional kids, live in a fabulous house, and be happy. Many of my peers accomplished the school/job/marriage/kids/house part of that equation and are still not happy. Actually they feel betrayed — mostly because those school/job/marriage/kids/house formulas are deathly expensive and force them to work eighty hours a week just to maintain a particular lifestyle.
One of the wonderful things about the growing trend of mindfulness (Buddhism lite, as I call it) in our culture is that people learn to observe their thoughts without identifying with them. And once we take the first steps on the path to awakening, we often notice that many of the characteristics we developed in order to get our emotional and psychological needs met as children are now hindering us from getting the love we desire as adults. We all learned how to get admired, but do we know how to be loving, lovable, loved?