When a Child Feels that She is Seen as “Real”

In a previous post, Sarah Brach and Radical Acceptance I highlighted the wonderful book Radical Acceptance, by meditation teacher and clinical psychologist Tara Brach.   In this post, I’m sharing a short passage from the book that never fails to move me deeply. It speaks both to parents and to any of who were children but never felt quite “real” in how our parents raised us. Here’s the story:

“In their book Stories of the Spirit, Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman tell this story: A family went out to a restaurant for dinner. When the waitress arrived, the parent gave their orders. Immediately, the five-year-old daughter piped up with her own: ‘I’ll have a hot dog, french fries, and a Coke.’ ‘Oh no you won’t, interjected the dad and turning to the waitress he said, ‘She’ll have meat loaf, mashed potatoes, milk.’ Looking at the child with a smile, the waitress said, ‘So, hon, what do want on that hot dog?’ When she left, the family sat stunned and silent. A few moments later the little girl, eyes shining, said, ‘She thinks I’m real.’

My own mother was visiting when I told this story at my weekly mediation group in Washington, D.C. As we drove home from the class together, she turned to me and said in a teary voice,’That little girl in the restaurant was me.’ She had never felt real in the eyes of her parents, she went on.

Being an only child, she felt as if she was on the planet to be the person her parents wanted her to be. Her value rested solely on how well she represented them, and whether or not she made them proud. She was their object to manage and control, to show off or reprimand. Her opinions and feelings didn’t matter, because she said,they didn’t see her as ‘her own person.’ Her identity was based on pleasing others and the fear of not being liked if she didn’t. In her experience, she was not a real person who deserved respect, and who, without any fabrication or effort, was lovable.”  Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance


Dear Metta Refuge reader, if these experiences resonate with your own experience growing up, as they do with me, then I hope you will investigate for yourself how the  power of loving-kindness and mindfulness can bring profound healing to our lives. We can learn how to break free of the what Tara Brach calls the “trance of unworthiness.”

The Buddha’s teachings of metta show us a way to go back and love that unappreciated child and to love the adult that that became you. Nothing created by conditions is eternal. No pain or sorrow is intrinsic to our being. What was fabricated can be unfrabricated—deconstructed by creative love and by mindfulness. This is the Buddha’s great message of hope and redemption for all beings everywhere!  Steve Goodheart


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

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