Happy Not Perfect
chapter oneMy Toxic Core Bliefs
At the heart of every human being is a desire to be loved and to love. Love is what protects us from the moment we enter this world. We discover early on that the love we crave is often conditional and in our delicate sponge years, we learn how best to get and give the love we want and need. From these experiences, we form a set of core beliefs for and about ourselves that shape our identity, influence our decisions, and construct the basis of the relationships we have with others.
No one is to blame for the core beliefs we created. They’re survival strategies formed in our first environments, and not necessarily all driven by our parents, either. School, siblings, and friends also contributed key plotlines to the internal story we repeat daily, usually without realizing it. And we’ll continue to play out the same words again and again until we become aware of the narrative we’re stuck in.
Here’s my story about my (faulty) core beliefs that were installed during childhood, how they turned toxic, and where they left me. As you read, have a think about the three core beliefs that were installed in your head, and how they’re still filtering your reality (not in a pretty Instagram way).
As you’ll soon see, what protected me at eight, didn’t continue working as I got older.
Core Belief #1:
Not Good Enough
By eight years old, I learned that if I could just please everyone, I might then be loved, and nothing would feel better. But that was a tall order. I was never the smartest, funniest, prettiest, sportiest, had the nicest shoes or most delicious lunchbox. My mediocrity (and soggy cucumber sandwiches) meant I had to try doubly to get approval and win love.
It seemed like I was the only average child in my class growing up. Claire had the voice of an angel. Charlie had the coolest ponytail. Nick was great at swimming. And I had no obvious superpower to attract friends. I had a sense that if I were just better, maybe people would like me more.
In school plays, I was relegated to Fairy #6, Orphan #4, or Hysterical Girl #12 in The Crucible. I was dumped by nearly all the boys I dated and felt lucky if anyone wanted to go out with me in the first place.
For most of my life I’ve kept a diary and when I read back old entries from when I was eleven and twelve, I can see my toxic core beliefs starting to show up. At eleven, I was convinced I was not good enough and not worth dating even for a week.
N.B.: Going out with boys at my junior school meant walking around the playground with them for a few minutes at recess (potentially holding hands at most!).
A couple tween agony moments from those pages when I was eleven:
October 2002 (11 year old Poppy)I asked out Tom W. he said yes. After the weekend I put hair curlers in. Then he dumped me. I haven’t said anything or done anything. I got teased.
January 2003 (11 year old Poppy)Going out with David for a week know. He hasn’t dumped me yet! I really hope I get the scholarship.
Lots of Luv
Sports followed the same vein. I sat on the bench more than I played field hockey, much to my embarrassment when my dad came to watch a game. Out of pity, the coach would put me on the field for the last ten minutes and I would then have to act like I wasn’t scared of the ball. I was terrified.
My “not good enough . . . pretty enough . . . smart enough . . . thin enough . . . cool enough” wounds grew deeper, no matter what I did. I was spiraling in self-blame. Even though, objectively, I was doing well in some areas, like academics, it seemed like everywhere I looked, I was inadequate. Not cool enough for the hipsters, and not smart enough for the geeks. I just wanted one person or group to embrace me with open arms. Despite my perma-straightened hair, blue shimmery overloaded eye shadow, and black-mascara-clumped curled lashes, it never happened, and the feeling of being unaccepted was creating a gaping hole inside. The toxic belief that I was not good enough in the way I looked, acted, sounded, and just was became as strong of a belief as me knowing the sky was blue. It broke my soul to acknowledge, but as I was wrongly told early on, some things in life were just the way they were, even if we didn’t like them. One of those facts was that I wasn’t good enough.
Core Belief #2:
Must Try Harder
My quintessentially English childhood was loving, but at many times unsettling, with an ominous threat of financial insecurity hanging over our family. Among us—my small-business-owner father, psychotherapist mother, my two brothers and me—there were no secrets. Someone’s problem was everyone’s problem and we could have won an Olympic medal for worrying. My older brother Thomas would stay awake at night, listening to my parents’ tense money discussions through the floorboards. He would then repeat what he’d heard to my little brother Edward and me, causing us to think we were days away from homelessness. I grew up with the constant worry that my father’s business was going to go under.
July 2002 (11 year old Poppy)We are going to be bankrupt before we know it. Have to move because the house costs a bomb!!! I am bored fat (because of sweets + T.V. no exercise). I can’t look like a fat Baboon in my new Bicini [sic]. I want to look slim jim. So I am on a fittness [sic] programme.
My heart breaks for my younger. At twelve, I was worried about bankruptcy and looking fat, two fears that stayed with me for twenty years.
Because of our financial insecurity, the idea that fiscal independence was the route to feeling safe and loved became ingrained in me at a very early age. We all became micro-entrepreneurs by ten, washing cars in the neighborhood and setting up illegal sweet shops at school. With my father entrepreneur’s mindset, I was taught that anything is possible, you just have to work so hard it hurts.
The route to having my own money one day started with getting good grades, so on our family holidays I began sneaking textbooks into my suitcase, instead of clothes, so I could study more, much to my mother’s annoyance. I agonized over my report cards. If I got less than an A, it was a crisis, like the dream of a better future was slipping away. If my grades weren’t perfect, it meant that I wasn’t working as hard as I could.
January 2003Exams are over and I did really well in maths 82% + 66% but really badly in french 4½ / 25. I started crying. Hopefully I can take a re-test. I am taking a re-test in chemistry. R.S. was difficult. Very difficult. Had netball. I really need this scholarship to not feel bad.
I would cry after bad grades and not stop working until they improved. Better grades meant I could get a scholarship to school and save my parents money.
The drive for perfection, and not being able to obtain it, helped establish my next belief . . .
Core Belief #3:
Happiness and Success Would Fix Everything
This belief was an easy one to develop. Ever since I first switched on the television or attended school, I’d found ample evidence for why “success” and “happiness” was a fail-safe plan and an entry into the world of ZERO WORRIES where I would never experience anxiety, insecurity, or rejection again:
1.If I am perfect, I will be happy and successful
2.Happy and successful = lots of money and no financial worries
3.Happy and successful = great body and boys fancy you
4.Happy and successful = lots of friends as people will like you
5.Happy and successful people always get married and live happily ever after
6.Everyone wants to be friends with happy and successful people
7.Happy and successful people are always good enough and never get rejected
8.Happy and successful people can always prove their haters wrong
9.Anyone can be happy and successful if you try hard enough
I had no doubt about it, this plan was watertight! I wanted to smile all the time, have nice things, get married and prove my haters wrong! If I could be perfect, just like happy and successful people, then I too would have it all. I just needed to make it happen. My hardworking therapist mother, who kept our family afloat in so many ways, instilled in my brothers and me that self-pity without action was like wanting a car to drive without any gas, made no sense. We learned the mindset If you’re upset about something, go change it. So as my sense of unworthiness deepened, my core belief that happiness and success would fix my problems strengthened.