Unintentional but Destructive: Belief System Inheritance


Part Two

At the heart of the devaluing belief system (click here to read Part One) is the lie that as human beings, we are not valuable in and of ourselves. We exist to be used by others. Our own desires aren’t important. Other people’s desires trump our own. Our feelings and thoughts can’t be trusted. We are not capable of living our lives to the full. We don’t deserve to live our lives to the full. This belief system manifests itself in all kinds of ways. But the lie at the heart of it is the same.

Today I will describe how parents teach their children this belief system even simply in how they treat themselves. My Dad never told me I was a nobody, but he lived like he was one. He is also intelligent and talented, but he never believed that about himself. In my childlike observance, I saw repeatedly how he was uncomfortable accepting compliments and also giving them, how he did jobs and favors for others even if he didn’t want to because he didn’t believe he deserved to say “no”, how it was safer for him to spend hours watching TV or reading the paper instead of engaging with us, how he put himself down, even calling himself “stupid”, how he always took someone else’s opinion to be superior to his own. He didn’t offer his true self to his family, rarely sharing what he really felt or thought about something.  I got this message from how he lived his own life: don’t flourish, don’t attract attention, don’t fly too high, don’t shine too bright. If other people were successful or happy he was quietly critical or suspicious of them. Be wary of the world because it’s a scary place. This may sound like the wrappings of a humble, unassuming person. But it was not so innocent. How a parent treats their own self is a huge message to their kids about what it means to be human.

As an observant and impressionable child, I grew up in this “lowly soup”. Even though it was never spoken to me, I naturally believed that because my Dad thought so little of himself as a human being, I must be little too. Even though I excelled at school, learned to play the piano, won awards, and succeeded at being popular, there was always this deep deep down feeling that I really had nothing to offer, nothing from my true self would be good enough. I didn’t even have practice in knowing what my true self was! In squishing himself, my Dad’s belief system squished down the spontaneous buds of my own real self. And as a child I had no way of knowing this was happening- I accepted it as the normal reality. As an adult, I have to acknowledge that it DID happen, that I did receive a passively given faulty belief system from my Dad,  in order for me to be free from the lies that entrapped me.

Thankfully today, I can choose a different kind of inheritance. I love what Darlene wrote on our facebook fan page the other day: “I am not defined by who they think I am. I am not defined by who THEY say that I am. I am not defined by what happened to me. I am defined by my heart; my tenderness and compassion for others; by my purpose. I am an individual, worthy and valid. ~ Darlene

18 response to "Unintentional but Destructive: Belief System Inheritance"

  1. By: DXS Posted: 5th June

    [quote]My Dad withheld his interest in me and his attention from me. He did not offer input into my life; there were no discussions about school, boys, hobbies, friends or any of the other things I heard and imagined other girls talked about with their Dads. My father was not emotionally present. I don’t recall resenting this fact; I didn’t know anything different. This was just the way it was. [/quote]

    Boy, that describes my situation. Dad just could not talk to me. He didn’t talk to me about anything. He just assumed that Mothers should do that stuff. I didn’t have any brothers.

    I didn’t have a BAD relationship with him, just a ZERO relationship. Yet, I’m supposed to pretend he was the greatest father in the world. He’s been dead for 25 years. I wrote a letter to him, I’m thinking of taping it to his grave.

    (PS, I changed from JJ to DXS, and I still get the same icon. COOL!)

  2. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 17th April

    Hi MaryAnna~ I think my most recent post might answer some of your questions. It’s really interesting that you raise this point because I was going to start writing about the dynamics between my Mom and I first… My Mom and I have talked a lot about these things and she’s the parent I was able to be the most open and honest with- she was the parent who tried the most to have relationship with me and give me positive direction in my life- and she still seeks to have real relationship with me today. So it would have felt much safer for me to start writing about my Mom first- but the truth was that my Dad played a much bigger role in the forming of my negative belief system than she did. Even though it was more difficult to write about my Dad first (because it felt far more risky) I knew that this was the best way for me to go.

    I hope that answers your questions! Thanks for posting them.

  3. By: MaryAnna Posted: 17th April

    Mark, I found your point interesting and it raises a question for Carla in my mind. Carla, you have written so much about your father in your posts. Was he your single parent, or was your mother in the picture too? I am interested to hear your take on your mother given how you feel about your father.

  4. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 14th April

    Patricia~ it’s amazing how much we take the blame and the responsibility for our parent’s actions as children. It’s like second nature, because we don’t have the choice to be objective. I am sorry for what you have gone through… Thankfully, the truth is that no one can take our value away from us. This is a truth worth embracing!

    Susan~ thank you for sharing your story and experience, how you found freedom and your own true value by letting go of the responsibility that was not your’s. It is inspiring and I’m sure will encourage others as well.

    Thank you everyone for commenting and contributing so much by offering your stories and thoughts. I am always touched and inspired in turn by what you share. ~Carla

  5. By: Susan Posted: 14th April

    You know, Carla; the first memory that comes to mind when I recall where I – and my parents – came from is my father telling me how when I was an infant he and “ma” would “throw me in the back seat of the car (1958 – no car seats; an infant alone in the back seat of a car) and let me scream and cry until I cried myself to sleep. It was a long haul to get down to the realization that this specific memory reinforced my belief that I had no right to exist…and it was this belief I had to overcome in order to take back my life and find my power. After all – if one doesn’t exist there is no power to be had.

    Today – strangely enough, through following the process, grieving the losses, feeling the anger…crying the tears…I’ve found my way and at the same time I’ve been able to place the responsibility for my early life experiences where they belong – with the adults who mistreated and neglected me. This was so empowering as I was able to let go of the false belief that somehow I did not have a right to exist, breath, live in any way.

    It’s great the way you are able to put to words and open the conversation about what so many of us have lived.

  6. By: Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Posted: 14th April

    Carla, the devaluing of myself is what allowed my first incest experience to happen. I didn’t know that I had the right to say no to my uncle or my dad. I wasn’t given the option of saying no I don’t want to go with you on this fishing trip. I wasn’t even asked if I wanted to go. I remember thinking that if I said something that he would be hurt. I didn’t even think about how I was being hurt. I had no value.

  7. By: Mark Posted: 14th April

    It’s not just fathers that are the victims of devaluing belief systems who then devalue their children. How about a mother that praises all the other kids except her own, “so they don’t get a swelled head”, or when I would get a good grade (Let’s say 97%)…. “well, where’s the other 3%?… It all seems so minor now, but it is insidious. Thankfully one comment from an uncle (may he rest in peace) startled me into rekindling my dying sense of self-worth. Illegitimati nil carborundum, folks! We can be who we are, and not what we are told we are. It does take some work, and it’s not easy. Been there, done that. Still doing it.

  8. By: Sarah G Posted: 13th April

    It is so sad how such simple, beautiful truths can be mutilated beyond recognition by people blinded by their own issues. I too was confused by alot of things I was exposed to in the church. My family growing up was very unemotional. Showing emotion was considered weak and not in control. We were very intellectual, but didn’t acknowledge or respond to each other emotionally and this left a gaping hole in my heart. On the other hand, I was going to church and feeling like I had to force certain emotions to have a relationship with God. My spiritual life was an emotional roller coaster based on fear, and felt contrived at times. I was searching for something real; authentic and good. I got to a point where I refused to sing the songs if I didn’t mean them. I left the church. I told God that I wasn’t sure if I believed in him and I wasn’t sure if he was good, and that he would have to change my mind. And he answered me. Over time, he has(and is) slowly revealing to me how twisted my views of him were, and who he really is. This has been an area of growth and healing for me. He has shown his love for me in very personal ways. He has also brought healing to my family(of course this is a work in progress). I have found freedom in the fact that God welcomes my honesty; even the brutal accusations I’ve thrown at him. He has shown himself to be very gentle and accepting of my true self. I have a long ways to go yet with my own healing, but I’m encouraged by the honesty and growth happening here. Thankyou gals for sharing.

    • By: Carla Dippel Posted: 14th April

      Hi Sarah G! Thanks for sharing your hope and encouragment here. Even though I’ve always had a sensitive heart, I can really relate to the over-intellectualizing in my experience with God too. I’m happy for you, that you have found healing and a whole new understanding in your spiritual life. Yes, we are loved.

      Mark, yup, it’s all the same ball of wax with the same effects. I’m really happy that you had someone in your young life who spoke the truth to you. Thanks for sharing your truth here with us too!


  9. By: Carla Posted: 13th April

    Nikki, Vivian and Sarah~ I am deeply touched that this post has encouraged deeper “revealings” in your own stories. Wow… You all share powerfully and I’m inspired by your comments. Thank you so much for sharing of yourselves.

    Nikki, I can relate to that grieving process- it totally is one! Facing the pain and letting it flow, just letting it be, takes a lot of courage but there is healing in letting it come up. You are a truth seeking woman and re-writing your “hard drive” WILL happen as you keep working the work. I’m cheering you on as always.

    Vivian, I absolutely agree- what you’ve described is soul, spirit, self and emotional death. I remember feeling those exact same sentiments and pressures at the bible college I went to. What a brutal twist to say to your children: don’t be greedy for any kind of material goods, but at the same time you better feel “loved” because we have given you the material basics (clothing, food, hymns, the Bible) even though that’s all we are really giving you… And the other twist I see is being “battered” into being so thankful that Jesus paid for our sins, but still having to live a life of punishment!! Thank God that this is not the truth. Love to you too Vivian.

    Sarah, darn in about your first comment deleting! But thanks so much for still posting. I’m so glad that these posts are helping you see things in a new light, and so sorry for the pain you express here. I hope that the more light you find, the more freedom and life you will find as well. Life to the full…

    Hugs to you all,

  10. By: Vivian Palmer Harvey Posted: 13th April

    hiya Nikki,
    Bless your heart and soul..I get it. Your post this morning knocked my breath away.
    I’m glad you’re in therapy. I haven’t been yet; probably should.I can be pretty hard to live with sometimes.
    the religious spirit is a killer.I’m sorry you had to endure those awful things.. and you too, Sarah.Gosh darn it!
    Mourning is very hard, especially long term, I agree.
    The one book in all my reading which has given me a glimpse of the fundamentalist Christian world is Dr. Philip Greven’s, Spare the Child.
    He is a social historian raised in a religious household.
    I have looked hard and long for understanding. Some of those memories come back like a gully washer though.
    I’m grieved you were s crudely treated as a small child, just asking for your dad to help explain things.
    Having a place like this to vent safely is a gift of love.Thank you ladies!
    love ya….

  11. By: Nikki Posted: 13th April

    Vivian I do understand what you are talking about. My dad is a retired minister. When I was a child we would have family bible studies. And being a child had questions many of them. And as I would try to ponder these things with my family as I thought I could my dad would get into a debate with me which resulted in him calling me stupid. I was around the age of six at the time. I often went to church with my grandmother she is pentecostal whereas my parents are southern baptist. I was my grandmothers shadow but the doctrine that was being taught in the pentecostal churches was a lot like what you described. It is death to the soul in so many ways.

    I grew up thinking that everything I did, I liked, etc. was a sin. It was to the point that I just felt that God hated me or that I was his court jester.

    Now I am in my 30’s and I am not even sure where my belief is in God right now. Somedays I feel like I am becoming more atheist and then somedays I really want to so badly see that God is loving and somedays I just dont know what to think.

    But I do understand what you shared in a very deep personal way!

  12. By: Sarah Posted: 13th April

    Carla I just spent 20 minutes writing you a response and it was deleted! Oye technology!

    I’m finally realizing what happened to me as a child was a form of abuse! My parents story is long and I wish I could post what was just deleted.

    In a nutshell my mom was abused as a child and never went to therapy. She suffered for years from depression and mental illness and my dad catered to it even at the childrens’ expense. We went through many years of chaos. Now we have dysfunctional relationships where we only talk about surfacy subjects and barely speak to each other. Oh yeah throw religion into the mix sometimes they liked to use that as control/guilt tactic. If I questioned their behavior they told me I was crazy or something was wrong with me. They NEVER took responsibility for their mental health, for their finances, for anything and always threw their hands up in the air like they had no control over anything. Now they blame their poor choices on the fact that my mom was abused and we should have sympathy for them and just forgive everything and pretend like it never happened. For a few years I actually bought their act and felt bad for them until I realized they want sympathy for their poor choices. I have a lot of (suppressed) anger. I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks and low self-esteem for at least 12 years. When I had sex for the first time in my late teens they made me feel terrible about myself told me I should ask god for forgiveness, tried to turn my siblings against me. To this day they still say wow you were messed up at that age and take NO responsibility for their poor parenting. As I’m getting older and coming to terms with what happened I realize it wasn’t me it was them I was a child they were the parents making the decisions.

    Anyways thanks for these posts they’ve been helping me immensely!

  13. By: Vivian Palmer Harvey Posted: 13th April

    My folks trained me by example in this manner:
    it is not ok to have interests of your own, those don’t matter. If they are outside of the church or missionary and self-sacrificing world, having nothing to do with “ministry”, you have to forget it! They are just fleshly..and God won’t be pleased if you focus on them.
    too, it is most honoring to god if you have very little material goods. Everything that is not necessary for basic life, you just cannot have it.
    That includes NO singing and dancing..unless it is gospel hymns, but NO DANCING!
    the only thing that mattered was my willingness to be a sacrifice for Jesus. I did that best by going to boarding school and being a “good little missionary for Jesus ” there. My feelings and needs did not matter. I had to grow up and be a “good soldier”
    This is spiritual and soul death. This takes away from Life; from beauty totally unrelated to mission work.
    I might as well have signed a document signing away my personal rights to be who I am; to enjoy and love animals, horses, little helpless and vulnerable things in animal and plant kingdom, drawing, artwork of any kind, reading stuff apart from the Bible…(even tho Mom read murder mysteries and thoroughly enjoyed them)
    If I ached to have something special..just “mine” that was not possible! NO!! You can’t have that parakeet! It can’t go to Africa with you! You can’t have that dog!We have to pack up and go back to Africa!
    My dad scolded me (us) one day at the place we called home in Ivory Coast; He towered over us; his face was severe with anger; mom was in the bed room crying that we were so unhappy. Well…we were!
    ” YOU think you have it so bad!! How dare you! You have a home! You have clothes on your back! You don’t go hungry! You know are saved and so what if you have to go to boarding school! WE can’t do our work for the LORD if you’re at home. So what if you get spanked! Stop being so bad! Shame on you for complaining!
    Little African kids don’t have anything! They don’t know the Lord! That is why we are here!
    Stop your complaining! Get busy and do your chores…( or something like that…)
    So, we went 3000 miles away, did not see them for 3/4 of every year of each 4 year term. We lost ties with family in the USA, with our parents,with everything we wanted to hold dear.We learned that even tho Jesus supposedly paid for our sins we were still as bad as could be and he was as mad as he could be at us. He hated those who did not believe in him..he really hated them.But that is why we were there..so our parents could save them. And if we did anything to get in the way of our parents work, we were SATAN’S HELPERS.
    So..God got his faithful workers..and the lessons we learned is that we do not matter. We were just in the way of Gods work.And tht we deserved the beatings we received.. we were sinners!
    THAT is soul, spirit,self and emotional death. But that is how we were taught to live.
    Those lessons still plague me.

  14. By: Nikki Posted: 13th April

    I am beginning to think you and I have the same dad! As I read this it was as if again I had wrote it. I read the first blog on this to my mother over the phone the other day and she said that sounds just like something that I would write.

    Today I have spent most of the day beating myself up in every way possible to the point my thoughts started going to that dreadful dark place of suicide. Yesterday I spent two hours with my therapist and it re-opened some very recent wounds in my life. One thing is for sure the anger I feel the disbelief i feel is as my therapist said grief. I am so tired of mourning it seems I have done that all my life.

    I keep trying to rewrite the hard disk in my soul as one would rewrite the hard disk on a computer.. I have never been able to really take up for myself and often I allow myself to become a door mat. And to be honest I hate that!

    My dad has never felt that he was worthy enough. He not only cut himself down but often cut me down as well. I think being murdered with a knife that had rubbing alcohol all over it is much easier than being murdered by words. For a knife only kills the flesh but words leaves the flesh alive but kills the soul. I know that sounds harsh but its true.

    I just wished I could shake this I wish that I could just get up and walk away from all of this that is in my head most days. The recent wounds that was talked about in therapy yesterday didnt deal with my dad it dealt with a friend or someone who I thought to be a friend. I don’t know how I allow myself to get into situations like i have.

    But what you wrote here is so very true I am a lot like my dad and i keep thinking to myself is that what the rest of my life is doomed to be that no matter how hard I fight against it I am doomed to that… I am sure brighter days are ahead but even in those brighter days I struggle just to be. I am always looking over my shoulder and I am always waiting to be condemned for every choice i make..

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