Late at night a baby cries out in hunger. The exhausted face of its young mother appears over the top of the crib. She thrusts a bottle of cold milk in the baby’s hands and hurries away. Alone, yearning for the softness and warmth of her mother, the baby greedily drinks the milk while a tiny portion of her soul’s light flickers and fades.
A toddler taking his first steps crashes into a table and breaks a lamp. “Now look what he’s done,” his father shouts at his mother. “I paid good money for that lamp,” he yells as he storms out of the room. The confused child sees the hurt and fear in his mother’s eyes and begins to wail.
A third-grader on the playground says to her friend, “Look what I can do!” and executes a dance move she saw on TV. A sixth-grader nearby rolls her eyes and says scornfully, “Trust me. You’ll never be a dancer. You’re too fat. They have to be skinny and pretty. Like me.” She leaves without seeing the death of innocence on the little girl’s face.
“Can I play?” a boy asks some neighborhood kids. When a baseball rolls his way he tentatively tosses it back. “You throw like a girl,” jeers an older boy. There’s laughter. Someone taunts, “Sissy girl. Sissy girl.” The boy runs home so they won’t see him crying.
“See my muscles, Daddy?” a ten year old girl says, flexing her biceps proudly. Her father looks away and says, “You smell sweaty. Better go take a bath.” “And brush your teeth,” her mother calls after her. “You won’t catch a husband smelling like that!” As their daughter heads for the bathroom, the pleasure she felt in her strong and healthy body is erased by shame.
“I want to be an astronaut,” a 13 year old boy shyly admits after a lesson on astronomy. “It’s time you faced facts kid,” says the discouraged teacher of this unruly class of low achievers. “You’re an average student at best. And I happen to know that the men in your family have never amounted to much.” The boy feels the place inside that was left empty by the loss of his beautiful dream filling with ugly resentment.
Sitting alone in her room on prom might, an introverted honors student writes in her diary: All my friends have boyfriends. Why don’t I? What’s the matter with me? Am I too serious? Too boring? Will any man ever love me? Fearing to test her divorced mother’s emotional fragility, she suffers silently.
“When will I be loved?” asked Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers in their 1960 hit song.
I’ve been made blue, I’ve been lied to
When will I be loved
I’ve been turned down, I’ve been pushed around
When will I be loved
When I meet a new girl that I want for mine
She always breaks my heart in two, it happens every time
I’ve been cheated, been mistreated
When will I be loved
When will I be loved? If we’re like that lonely honors student, musically gifted teen-aged boy, or any of these wounded people, we probably believe the answer to that question is, “When I make people love me by showing them the false self they want to see.”
Unfortunately, that’s the wrong answer. The correct one, the one that leads to a love-filled, self-fulfilled life, is, “When I become the true self I’ve been denying and discard the false self I’ve created.”
The hungry baby deserved her mother’s full attention, but the mother was too wounded by her own inadequate mothering to give it to her.
The toddler’s first steps should have been celebrated with looks of delight, but when he gazed into the mirrors of his harried parents’ faces he saw only anger and fear.
The dancing girl could have been appreciated for her enthusiastic efforts, but the mean girl was too insecure and intimidated by the perfectionistic standards of the adults she knew to feel compassion for someone who clearly fell short of their ideal.
The more experienced kids could have shown the tentative boy how to throw a ball, but in their desire to impress each other and the adult males in their lives they imitated their demeaning and disrespectful attitudes toward girls and less athletic boys.
And so it goes. Many of us cover them up quite well, but all of us, children and adults alike, suffer from secret wounds that make us feel unlovable. And unfortunately, the less lovable we believe we are, the less able we are to love.
When will I be loved? When I stop showing others a false self, they will see my true self. When I listen to my true self, others will listen to me. When I respect myself, others will respect me. When I love myself, I will be loved. And I will love.