‘Why do you always have to be such a diva?’ the mother hissed at her daughter as the little girl, still in her slightly-too-big school uniform, looked down at the floor and cried. Just a little bit harder.
It was early evening on a Friday in my favourite, end of the week pub tea and unwind venue, in our currently quite sleepy seaside town.
I’ve a finely practiced ear for listening in to other people’s conversations; the habits of former newspaper reporters die hard. Pubs are a primary source of what’s going on beneath social surface so I’m frequently doing this without even realising.
And on the surface that’s just a mother losing her temper with a child who’s having a moment. The whole family trailed out the pub, the menus abandoned on the table, because the little girl clearly couldn’t stop crying and the mother wasn’t in a place to manage her child’s distress.
But as a hypnotherapist, I hear more than ‘Why do you always have to be such a diva?’ I hear the seeds of trouble ahead being sown, for a little girl who may well grow up with a diva streak a mile wide and wonder why she can’t form friendships and relationships the way others can.
Here’s the why.
When we ask a child ‘why are you always slow’. ‘why do you have to be so greedy’, ‘you’re no good at maths, why can’t you even add up?’ they can take on these labels and they can stick. Because at the time they’re just a little kid, they don’t know ‘why’ so they assume that’s their identity and they wear it.
‘I don’t know why I can’t keep up, I must be slow’.
‘I don’t know why I want more, I must be greedy.’
‘I must be terrible at maths because I don’t know why I got that sum wrong.’
How many of us can read perfectly well, but will insist we’re not great at spelling? Where did that come from? When you think about it, how can that be true? Doesn’t make sense, does it, when you apply logic… (having a ‘lightbulb’ moment?).
Children don’t think like adults, their minds work differently. A child of six won’t be able to rationalise why she’s having a meltdown at teatime, after a long day at school (although I could hazard a guess) and she will have no idea why she’s being ‘such a diva’.
Children’s minds don’t develop the ability to think critically and consider abstract ideas until they’re past 11. This sort of reasoning is one of the last to develop, as they mature into young adults. And although the stages of cognitive development in children may be flexible to an extent, I’d be very surprised if our sobbing little girl, who looked about six or seven, could raise her head and say: ‘I’m not being a diva mummy, I’ve had a long day, my blood sugar levels are somewhere on the floor and frankly I’m overwhelmed by the idea of sitting in a crowded pub, when all I want is something to eat and a lie down.’
And so she takes on the shame of the label and it being her fault everyone had to leave. Shaming is very powerful, but it seldom leads to positive outcomes.
Episodes in our childhood where people highly influential in our lives, such as family members, teachers or even other kids, label us and shame us are invariably the root cause of limiting beliefs we hold onto in adulthood.
I don’t work with children, but I do work with adults carrying labels they collected as children. I’m fat; I can’t cope, I’m stupid, I’m unloveable… the power of working with clients in hypnosis is they can see the bigger picture, because now they have the ability to apply logic to the scene that set the stage for living with a label that’s not theirs.
They can take off the label, once and for all.