Every fairytale has an evil queen, a mean ogre, or something along those lines. But how did they get that way? Were they born bad tempered and power hungry? And what can we do about the bullies in our immediate vicinity?

In my humble opinion, injustice seems to be the usual cause for twisted upbringings. Childhood abandonment, neglect, deception, and abuse can twist our moral fiber, our sense of self, to a point where lashing out at, taking advantage of, or putting down others feels like the right thing to do. Of course, it isn’t.

Were these people born this way? Probably not.

There may be an occasional individual born with a mean streak, or an outright sick-o (those are extremely rare), but most human babies are born believing in themselves and their right to be cared for, fed, and loved. It’s when that caring fails that people grow up angry, mean, or emotionally broken.

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“Nobody loves you!”

“You are stupid!”

You’re too fat/loud/silly.”

The insults we hear as children are horrifying. Horrifying, because we hear them from our caregivers and we believe them. We accept those lies about who we are as gospel truth and, for the rest of our lives, we make decisions based on those lies. Children raised in supportive households, however, where caregivers are firm and kind, grow up to continue to believe in their right to be treated with respect. The insults they receive generally roll right off, like water from a duck’s back, shrugged away as the irrelevant rantings that they are.

Children raised in households where they are criticized, insulted, teased, tormented, and/or abused, do not have that resilience. Instead, they learn to question or even hate themselves. Like weed seeds, those lies grow rapidly and they spread, choking the life out of everything else.

For most of my adult life, I believed that I was ugly, stupid, and that nobody really liked me. Now, in my 50’s, I know that those lies from childhood were false and that they were not mine. I learned them through the abandonment of my father, the perfectionism and rage (at my father) of my mother, and reinforced them with the resulting bad decisions made by me because I believed those lies about me. People took advantage of me and I let them because the lies I had learned about myself made me think that this was how life was supposed to be – so I made the decisions that maintained those falsehoods.

In my late 30’s, I was eating brunch in a restaurant. I looked around the room, enjoying the architecture and people-watching. Across the room, I saw a strikingly beautiful, sophisticated-looking woman with a lovely smile – and then I realized that it was a strategically placed mirror and the woman I was seeing was me.

Without the lies of childhood clouding my vision, I saw myself, as I really am, for the first time in my life. I gasped. I cried. I left in a near panic, heartbroken about all the years I had deceived myself and giddy with this newfound sense of self.

It would take years for that realization to begin to show itself in my outlook and decisions. Without the support of family or friends (because those were other lies I had been told – you don’t need anybody, you can’t trust anybody, you have to do it all by yourself), I didn’t know what to do with this new information about myself. But I am learning.

I am learning to be more supportive toward myself. I am learning to set boundaries that require others to treat me with respect and honesty. And I want to help others to break free from the lies they were told as children.

What lies were you told about yourself in childhood? What is your truth?

[A friend of mine and I created an interactive art piece at Burning Man in 2016, asking people those same questions. The response was overwhelming. So much so, that we are doing it again in 2017, but significantly bigger.]

We should all be freed from those lies of childhood, so that we can live our lives the way we were born to be – knowing that we deserve respect, kindness, and integrity.

You deserve respect, kindness, and integrity.