Secret Messages and a Possible Future

“No matter how far we come, our parents are always in us.”
Brad Meltzer

super-childOne day when your children are almost adults one of them will say something aloud that will knock you off your chair. He will remember something that you said, something that you didn’t even remember at the time saying, it was so quick and sudden and even sharp. But it was remembered. You will be amazed that he even heard much less remembered and can now recite those words.

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.”   – Charles Taylor

Your whole lives together you are communicating messages to your children. So much of that communication seems secret because (1) you don’t think anyone is listening (2) it didn’t seem that important at the time, and (3) maybe you said it so often that it became automatic. When your children grow up, those secret messages will often come to light. They will rise from the dead and you will see that they were either nourishing the soul or haunting the emerging self.

Social Psychology introduces to us the term Possible Selves. We think about our future self and either anticipate with optimism all that is possible OR we imagine a negative potential with a pessimistic future outlook. What kind of a person do you want to be next week, next year, in ten years? These days, how limitless/limited are all your possibilities?

When we build our future self we use all sorts of materials to put it together – including those secret messages our parents gave us.

  • If you didn’t get enough positive and inspiring secret messages (and deliberate parenting!) when you were growing up, research tells us that you should think about those experiences as a part of your distant past. Instead focus on the self you are now creating and the successes you have more recently experienced. This helps your autobiographical memory work for you rather than against you.
  • If you are a parent, relative or adult friend, think about what you are communicating in all the little words, gestures and expressions you pass on to the children in your life. Everyone is building a self. It’s a group project.

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”      – Henri Nouwen

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. – I John 3:16

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s