Updated: Jul 8
When it all began
I don’t recall the circumstances surrounding this photo of me at around age four or five. Given my body language and facial expression, I appear to be upset.
Years subsequent to the picture were challenging, to say the least. For a period of time before moving to Colorado in fifth grade, my mom, sisters, and I moved to a different home almost every year.
Growing up poor, I encountered vermin of various sorts, inconsistent nutrition options, and I wore secondhand or poor quality clothing most of the time. With each move to a new low-income address, I had to reestablish social networks.
As I was overweight and poverty-stricken, making and maintaining friendships was an arduous process. I was often bullied by other children and even from educators and other adults.
My mom would casually remind me that because she was white and my dad was black, I’d likely not be accepted by either race. As things went, and out of shame, I was taught to hide the fact that I was biracial.
Due to my weight, some kids nicknamed me “Hoggings” instead of using my proper surname. I was routinely battered at school and at home, often with insults hurled at me.
Hearing from my mother, “You’re fat and ugly, and no one will ever love you,” as I was pummeled to the floor during sporadic beatings, served as a method of conditioning me to believe what I was told. I truly believed I was unlovable.
Further complicating matters, an undiagnosed neurobehavioral disorder paved way for some teachers to call me “dumb” or “stupid.” My mom’s preferred terms for me were “mongoloid,” “retarded,” and, “fucking idiot.”
I recall my older sister and I tag-teaming some of the more terrifying beatings we endured. One child would be bashed by my mom as the other sibling would rush into the room and instigate conflict.
This allowed the kid who was initially assaulted to crawl to safety. Crawling, because my mom’s finishing move was to assist gravity by reducing the height of her children during beatings to the point whereby we could tell whether or not the carpet was clean when in the prone position.
My narrative of devalued worth began in my youth. I was poor, fat, mixed-race, ugly, unruly, and a fucking idiot, or so I believed.
Then versus now
Quite often, I hear adults blaming their parents for unpleasant upbringings. I, too, could play the victimhood angle and blame my current woes on someone with whom I’ve not lived since I was in seventh grade.
For transparency, I did precisely that for a few decades. Barely earn enough points to graduate high school? It’s my mom’s fault.
Struggle with an eating disorder since my youth? It’s my mom’s fault. Get kicked out of the Marine Corps? It’s my mom’s fault.
Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships? It’s my mom’s fault. Fired from jobs? You guessed it, my mom’s fault.
Only, none of those things were the fault of my mom. None!
What sense did it make to blame my mom for my behavior up through the 2010s, when the last contact I had with her was in 1995? It was nonsensical to have used such an excuse.
Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), is credited with having stated, “The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”
Though I’m aware of how popular it is to lay blame on society for one’s economic status, weight, endeavors associated with race, appearance, disabilities, and even intellect, I disagree with offhandedly doing so. I tend to side with Ellis on this one.
My intention isn’t to indifferently treat all of the aforementioned matters as though outside influence has no effect at all. Despite the contrary, I’m unwilling to deny the importance of personal ownership when considering these issues.
My mom was an incredibly flawed individual who likely never needed to have children. In fact, on many occasions, she would yell when physically assaulting me, “I should’ve aborted you!”
Nevertheless, I see no utility in attributing my shortcomings as an adult to a woman who is no longer among the living. Even when she was still alive in my youth and we maintained infrequent contact, my failings were my own.
For example, I don’t recall my mother sitting next to me in class during high school. She sat for none of my exams and wrote none of my papers.
In reality, I didn’t attend all my classes. I recklessly flunked many of my exams. I was also responsible for tomfoolery, like the time I handwrote an entire English paper in micro font and backwards, expecting my high school teacher to accept it.
When moved to the trailer behind my high school, where children with learning disabilities and behavioral issues were cast away, it was my fault. Though she used to call me “retarded,” my mom wasn’t accountable for my behavior—nor should she have been.
Just as my mom was imperfect, I am a remarkably fallible human being. This understanding is the essence of unconditional other-acceptance (UOA).
Recognizing that I am prone to error—always have been and always will be—and accepting this undisputable fact is unconditional self-acceptance (USA). Admitting that others are also imperfect—always have been and always will be—and accepting this truth is UOA.
Per one REBT source, “UOA is the processes of acknowledging who an individual is without placing a weighted, global judgment upon them.” Lying to myself about how my mom should’ve been more compassionate in her approach to parenting would constitute unaccepting judgment.
Suppose I entertained that irrational belief. How would it change anything about what actually occurred?
I disturbed myself into fits of rage in adolescence and through young adulthood, because my mom violated the internal script from which I demanded she act. Not playing a part she was unaware even existed, my mom was unbothered by my belief.
On the other hand, I went on a reign of terror against others—many of whom had no idea why I was treating them poorly, because they also had no idea about my invisible manuscript—and to what effect? I was the one hurting in relation to my unreasonable standard.
It has taken continued practice of USA to accept my fallibility, and plenty of unconditional life-acceptance to understand that I can’t change the result of my past behavior. If I can forgive myself, I can also forgive my mother.
We were both flawed individuals when she was alive—both worthy of compassion and understanding. This admission is one reflective of UOA.
I know when my concept of self took a dive into the abyss of devaluation. Some of my beliefs about how little worth I thought I had were correlated with my mom’s speech and behavior.
For many years, I believed that because my mother didn’t treat me as I thought she ought to have; I was given a pass for poor behavior. I was wrong.
I’ve never heard anyone accuse my mom of being a perfect individual. Likewise, anyone who claims such a thing about me is sorely mistaken.
Everyone I’ve ever known, currently know, and may ever know is and will be imperfect. Rigidly expecting otherwise will do little more than cause needless misery.
You may say, “Deric, in a way, aren’t you suggesting that I should just let people walk all over me, because, ‘Hey, people are imperfect, so let them trample you if they want’?” First, as an REBT practitioner, I’m not telling you what you should, must, or ought to do.
Next, lying to yourself about how much influence or control you have over others will also contribute to your suffering. You can pout about this fact, much as I am frowning in the photo for this blogpost, though you are essentially powerless over the behavior of others.
Last, what I offer you is a method of disturbing yourself less and improving the quality of your life in a meaningful way. Practice of UOA is one method of achieving this outcome.
Are you prepared to get out of your own way and stop directing the theater of life in which participants have no idea they’re even acting? Instead of feeling better during a psychotherapy session, would you like to get better by practicing tools such as unconditional acceptance?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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