It might come across as a bit of a cliché to claim that everything that we are now is a sum of our experiences as a child, but it is essentially true. This is what this book tries to explain, but endeavours to show that it’s not because this or that happened during our childhood that we can no longer do anything about it. On the contrary, this little book aims to help us find avenues to heal from our childish wounds.
The School of Life is an organisation which strives to provide people with resources to find calm, resilience and self-awareness in their lives. They have a great YouTube channel, which I would highly recommend as they have lots of short films about different aspects of daily life. They also have very informative videos about key philosophers and intellectual figures, I found them really useful when I was studying Enlightenment thinkers last year! In short, The School of Life aims to make people understand themselves and feel better, but if you had seen me reading this short book (118 pages), you may not have believed I was feeling any better. I cried, and I cried, and I cried – through the whole thing.
As far as I can remember, I have always seen myself as an ugly duckling. I have always tried my best to please everyone and be a good little girl. I am still like this, a desperate people-pleaser who just doesn’t know how not to do things 200%. I still struggle with criticism as I experience it as a rejection of my whole being, and I demand a lot emotionally from people. I always thought that this is how I was born, however, I realised recently that it might actually have been a consequence of my childhood. I have heard the words ‘emotional abuse’ to refer to my own experience, but I am just unable to accept these words for me. I prefer to think I just wasn’t good enough from the youngest age (writing it down, I realise how ludicrous this statement sounds, though!).
With this book, I understood that there were quite a few things that I was deprived of growing up and which prevented me from being a mentally healthy adult. I found it useful to have concrete lists and tabs under my eyes, to really understand what I need now. I need to tackle the bad memories and really try to remember as much as possible. As they say, ‘We need the novel, not the essay’ in order to accept what happened and move on. It sounds fairly easy but when you have tried to bury those memories at the back of your head for many years, going back to them is an actual work of pain.
The one concept that they promote and which really stuck with me is that of a ‘bittersweet life’. How every good memory we have is tinged with melancholy and sadness, how nothing is ever all white or all black. This sounds fairly obvious but when we reflect on our childhood, we tend to lose this balance and tend to focus on just one aspect. Equally, when we experience a disturbed development we grow up forgetting about this bittersweet aspect of life and to see all in black – in my personal experience, at least. Yet it is important to accept that everything bad in our lives do not cancel the good things, life is a balance between the two:
‘Bittersweet memories force us to acknowledge that the positive is never far from being devilishly entwined with something more difficult.’
I am not a big fan of self-help books, in general. The ones I have partially read so far have been a little bit too spiritual for me, I just can’t get on board with gurus, higher-callings or revelations, which I realise is a matter of personal taste. However I found this one very useful as a way to start a long process of recovery, in order to understand ourselves better and feel a little relieved that we are, in fact, good people – if only we take the time to nurture our inner child. Of course, professional help will always be the best option as there’s only so much books can do to help someone to heal from their mental wounds.