I was an only child.   My mother rejected me as a child and my father rejected me as a teenager.   I remember my mother being cold towards me – holding me at arm’s length.   If I was ill or in pain, she showed no warmth or compassion.   I believe her rejection of me started at my birth.

When I was a teenager, my father found it increasingly difficult to behave kindly towards me.   He would constantly criticise me, be angry with me, or ignore me.   His hostility towards me was to continue into my adult life.   Once he tried to hit me, swinging wild punches:  I was big enough to put a palm on his forehead and hold him off.   I couldn’t hit him.

This dual rejection left me with emotional and psychological baggage well into my adult life.   I was prey to depression, I had contrasting fits of low self- esteem and grandiosity, I experienced insecurity, I expected rejection and saw it where it probably didn’t exist, I was oversensitive to criticism.   I remain pathetically grateful for praise.

In case you recognise yourself in this account, perhaps you can take comfort from my use of the past tense … it will pass.   Counselling or psychotherapy can help.   And, if you don’t feel like talking about it, art therapy can help too.

One thing I found surprising about all this was that, however bad things got, however much I was in the throes of nightmarish suffering, however much the anarchic onslaught of cancer threw at me, whatever the inconveniences of an artificial bladder and aortic fibrillation, I have never ever wished I was somebody else.


The Hebrew Tree of Sorrows

So it was that when the Hassidic pilgrims vied for those among them who had endured the most suffering, who was the most entitled to complain, the Zaddick told them the story of the Sorrow Tree.   On the Day of Judgment each person will be allowed to hang one’s unhappiness and sufferings on a branch of the great Tree of Sorrows.   After all have found a limb from which their miseries may dangle, they all walk slowly around the tree.   Each person is to search for a set of sufferings that he or she would prefer to those he or she has hung from the tree.

In the end each one freely chooses to reclaim his or her own assortment of sorrows rather than those of another.   Each person leaves the Tree of Sorrows wiser than when he or she arrived.

Brian Cavanaugh


April  2018


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