Which Childhood Lie Is Holding You Back?

Lies kill.

You find that which you seek.

It starts when you are a child and you are told your first lie. It’s usually something like: you are fat and not good enough, or women are catty and they’re all out to get you, or you will not be successful if your competitors are, or you will only be happy if you get what you want, or you are a loser because your life doesn’t look like your peers’, etc. These things stick with you.

Then you go through the rest of you life finding evidence to support this false claim, because that’s just how the human brain works.

The Lie That Holds Me Back

I’ve always believed that no matter where I am, I’m the dumbest person in the room.

Lies like this start from somewhere specific. One can almost always recall the earliest memory of when they learned to believe the lie, and it usually traces back to childhood.

For me, it  was in first grade, when we were given several weeks to prepare a project of our choice for the school science fair.

Despite daily reminders from our teacher, Ms. Smolinski, I was almost out the front door of my house on the morning of the science fair when suddenly remembered. I screamed, “Mom! I didn’t do a science project!”

My mom, a master improvisationalist (as most mothers are), handed me a plant. But it wasn’t just any plant– it was a plant my older brother had grown by watering it solely with vinegar, just to see what would happen. And all that happened, really, is that our family had a plant that smelled like vinegar instead of like a plant.

When it was time to present our projects to our classmates, my 6-year-old best friend wowed us with a presentation about the human hand, plus a fancy diagram and memorized mini-lecture. (FYI, she went on to become a successful lawyer.)

When it was my turn, I felt ashamed of my smelly plant and what I thought it said about me. So when it was my turn to present to the class, I just stood there. Completely silent. Ms. Smolinski had to prompt me to talk by asking things like, What are you holding? and What do plants need in order to grow? I answered with 2-word sentences. And then I ran back to my seat, hoping no one would smell the faint scent of sour toe jam as I walked by.

Shame Shrinks Your Potential

This sense of shame about my intelligence continued throughout my youth and young adulthood. Even now, when I’m in a scary work meeting, my biggest fear is being perceived as intellectually inferior to everyone else. Feeling dumb makes me want to hide in my leather swivel chair at the conference table and let my colleagues thrive without me.

Lies from your childhood shrink your potential, your dreams, and your impact on the world. So here’s your assignment: Discover the truth of who you are.

I may not have an above average IQ, and I’m certainly not the sharpest mind at the conference table. But I’m smart in my own way. I know how to tell mildly amusing personal stories that help people make the story of their own life a little more beautiful. My intelligence cannot be translated into a science project or a business meeting. I am more than just my vinegar plant, damn it!

I love the following mantra from a book and film called The Help: You are kind, you are smart, you are important. If you believe anything that contradicts this mantra, you’re holding onto a lie from your childhood. You’re living small.

It’s time to lean into adulthood and be delighted by the truth of who you are. It’s time to live big.

Your Turn: What lie are you on your way to disbelieving?

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7 Responses to Which Childhood Lie Is Holding You Back?

  1. Your one and only FIL says:

    It’s not only the lies that define us personally that harm us. There are other lies that turn us cynical rob us of the incentive to be good citizens of the world. There are the lies of politicians, advertisers, influence groups, special interests, text books etc. The lies that have most damaged my psyche are the ones that insisted i.e., that this is the greatest country in the world, that this is a land of equal opportunity etc. etc.

    In my work I see so many people damaged and stunted by the lies of the systems that are supposed to enrich life (including when I look in the mirror),

    Lying is a way of life. Perhaps a great topic for a future post is “Why do we lie?”

    • Kimberly says:

      Political lies are just as complex as childhood lies– they’re a mix of good intentions, bad execution, ignorance and fear.

  2. J says:

    I really enjoy your posts. Thanks for being out there.

    A few years ago, I finally summed up the lies I internalized from childhood into a general feeling of being bad/wrong: like a defect, an unfavorable anomaly.

    A lot of this came from things my mother told me, and other unspoken things I learned from watching and listening to her. For example, people would often comment on our similarities: “Your daughter looks just like you!” Her inevitable response was always, “I know, poor thing,” or something along these lines. I always knew it was coming, but every time she said it it cut like a knife, or made me angry, and eroded my self-image and esteem a little more. This is just one example. Suffice to say there was a major, consistent message in my family that my physical appearance was something unfortunate, something that needed to be changed or improved because then–THEN–I would truly be happy. Never mind I was an unhappy kid because of a volatile home life, and I learned early on to eat my feelings and try to stay out of the way.

    I carried that feeling into early adulthood–that there was something highly objectionable about me. Not just in physical appearance, but sort of a global issue. It’s taking some time to unravel and the work isn’t done yet. But it’s a good kind of work.

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi, J. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. And can I just say I want to kick your childhood lie in the groin because that’s how awful and untrue it is? Seriously.

      I have to commend you for doing the hard work of unraveling this lie. It can’t be easy considering your history, but at some point we have no choice but to be brave and empowered by truth. Rock on, girl.

  3. Steph says:

    This is a great topic. One lie I’ve been able to kick the crap out of is “you’re too fat to…” 99% of the time that’s a load of crap.
    One I’m still working on is “you’ll only be happy if you are successful” This lie has left me terrified or failure and disappointed with my career

    • Kimberly says:

      YES! Go Steph! :)

      As for the other lie…this one is tough to kick. I think it has to do with the fact we’re confused about what happiness feels like vs. what we think it’s supposed to look like. Some people never get to the point where they realize “You’ll only be happy if you’re successful” is a lie, so consider yourself ahead of the game!

      Also, based on your plans for the year, you’re coming up on an eye-opening, Truth-honoring turning point in your life, so who knows– maybe you’re closer to kicking this lie than you think.

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