By Punya Srivatsava
Many, even outstanding achievers, have been driven by past hurts and slights. to prove themselves or avenge themselves against detractors. Punya Srivastava traces the trajectory of their journey and how they eventually return to wholeness.
“Some people take disappointment and let it destroy them. Others take disappointment and let it drive them. And, you get to choose.”
– Tony Robinson Robbins’ quote may seem like the perfect recipe for success, but then again, perhaps not. It may well be that in allowing disappointment to drive us, the disappointment eventually transmutes into peace and contentment. It could also be that the disappointment does not get transmuted.
“A person operating from pain is full of stress, rage, and egoism and therefore, despite a lot of achievements, he continues to be in a state of misery. The need to prove himself is so strong and never-ending that the happiness he gains from any achievement is short-lived,” says Delhi-based Dr. Pulkit Sharma, a clinical psychologist and founder of Imago – Centre for Self.
Anupam Srivastava, who has successfully established his own foster care agency in Leicester, UK, admits that the need to prove his worth to himself and to his father was his driving force for a significant part of his adult life. He was labeled a good-for-nothing throughout his academic life by his father, and the constant rebukes and chastisements scarred the adolescent for years to come. “I grew up telling myself that I could do nothing in life. I had major self-confidence issues. I would immerse myself in work in order to prove my worth – to myself and to others. Amidst all this, I got an opportunity to visit a friend in the UK and somehow bagged a job there. My low self-confidence was my co-traveler,” he says.
Muses Chennai-based psychologist and Heal Your Life Teacher Trainer, GL Sampoorna, “External validation is important for all those operating from pain. However, any satisfaction is short-lived and swiftly transitions to a sense of restlessness. Often, the person uses this restless energy towards further accomplishments. It drives him to strive for more, with an impatience to move from one achievement to the next,” she says.
When we look outside ourselves for the salve to the pain, such as through fame, fortune, success or the trophy spouse, we will seldom gain the contentment and inner connect which is the true prize of a successful life.
The CEO of a leading MNC once sought help from Pulkit Sharma regarding relationship problems. “He would feel like dirt despite his achievements. Each event, whether big or small, including even routine office meetings and friendly get-togethers, would scare him. He always sought to be in the limelight. He would get depressed if he could not have the last word in any discussion. We could trace this to his history of being teased and bullied as a child at home by siblings and at school by classmates. He felt that he needed to prove to the world that he was flawless and perfect, and therefore always fiercely tried to be one step ahead of others. Despite all his achievements, he felt extremely stressed out, fragile and depressed,” shares Pulkit.
According to Delhi-based Access Consciousness facilitator, Amrisha Ahuja, most of our lives we are either trying to validate what our parents thought of us or are rebelling against it to prove our worth. “Imagine a child who grows up hearing statements like, ‘You can never do anything in life’ or ‘You will always remain average.’ On reaching adulthood, he or she might turn out to be someone who receives a lot of appreciation at work, is very hard-working but always misses the promotion. Or one who draws their identity exclusively from their achievements to the point of ignoring their inner connection and relationships. Thus no matter what they achieve, they never fill their inner void,” she says.
Amrisha also points out that a person’s perception of success, control, and love is greatly influenced by his childhood experiences. For instance, if the father controls the pursestrings and gets away with the emotional abuse of the mother, the child concludes that money is the source of his father’s power. “Such a child might grow into an adult who focusses heavily on earning or hoarding money to always feel in control or in power, to the extent that even though she might have abundance, she will continue to strive for more,” she explains.
This is a common behavior pattern among successful careerists, whose aggression, though the most significant driving factor behind their success, leaves them hollow from within, because of the lack of meaningful relationships in life. This situation further fuels their need to exert greater control over everyone around them, pushing them further into a space of emotional bankruptcy. Failed marriages, broken relationships, emotionally distant children, indifferent colleagues – all these can be the detritus surrounding an achiever driven by negative motivations.
Success in areas other than work can also be defined by the belief systems we inherit in childhood. “The little girl who was told that she has to be obedient and soft-spoken and docile because that’s what girls are supposed to be, grows up to be a woman who can never stand up against injustice in her marital setting because her definition of being a successful wife goes against it,” explains Amrisha.
Rejection in love is another potent wound that can drive many people to achieve success, fame, or wealth. A young jilted lover might vow to achieve great success in order to make the other person ‘regret their decision’.
Pranav Gupta, who works as an assistant manager in a public sector bank, shares how the zeal to ‘become a hero’ almost ruined his life. He planned to sit for various competitive exams in order to bag a government sector job. However, his steady girlfriend of college days started pressurizing him to find a job so that she could introduce him to her parents who had started seeking alliances for her.
Eventually, the girl broke off with him in order to marry someone with a steady job. “My world came crashing down. I had emotionally invested a lot in this relationship. However, I decided to pull up my socks and focus solely on clearing my exams. I would do nothing apart from studying day in and day out. Her betrayal and her stinging words kept me motivated,” he says.
Belonging to a middle-class family in a tier two town of Allahabad, clearing the exam was a great achievement for his entire clan. He became an overnight role-model for younger cousins across the extended family. “And yet, after bagging a position in a reputed bank, my joy was short-lived. I wanted to throw my recruitment letter at her face but she was already happily engaged to someone else. I didn’t exist for her anymore. All the feelings that life without her was futile, came rushing back and kept me in their embrace for a long time,” he recounts.
In other ways too, love can be a potent drive. We all know of the youth who falls in love with a girl, is put to a test by her father or circumstances, and in meeting and vanquishing the challenges, he grows up and becomes, not just a man, but a hero, someone worthy to win his lady’s hand and attain happiness.
Sometimes, though, the potency of passion can drive people to rash and foolish actions and ruin their lives. The Great Gatsby deals with the story of Jay Gatsby, who transcended his impoverished roots to become a wealthy man through his dealings with organized crime. Gatsby threw weekly parties in his garden in order to entice Daisy, a beautiful and upper-class girl whom he was deeply in love with, and with whom he had had a relationship in the past. Daisy was married to Tom, a callous man of wealth and privilege, but the two contrived a clandestine relationship. However, it all blew up into tragedy when Gatsby was murdered and no one except a handful showed up at his funeral. Even Daisy had no time to pay her respects.
“What was always incomprehensible to me was your total lack of feeling for the suffering and shame you could inflict on me with your words and judgments,” wrote German novelist Franz Kafka about his father in Letter to My Father. He went on to say that the hostility his father expressed against him when a child, he later turned against himself. “My father’s method of upbringing had saddled me with a general load of fear, weakness, and self-contempt.” As an adult, Kafka was haunted by his father’s hostile and impatient presence in his mind.
Anupam too grew up with similar experiences. “I was a naughty child and my father was a strict disciplinarian. He was a firm believer of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. My grandfather and my mother were the only two people who loved me dearly, as per my childhood perception. However, I lost my grandfather when I was just nine, and my mother passed away when I was 14. These deaths made me bitter. I had been a believer until then but was filled with anger against God thereafter. My grades went downhill, though I was quite good at fine arts and other extra-curricular activities. My father, however, decided to pay attention only to my academic performance, as was the norm those days and declared me the black sheep of the family. This broke my confidence and to save myself from this pain, I cloaked myself as a rebel,” he says.
How wounds fuel ambitions
Negative emotions such as anger, revenge or hurt, emanate a powerful energy which can give us the motivation to do what we might normally not have had the strength to. The Count of Monte Cristo is the story of a man whose whole life was oriented around avenging his unfaithful fiancee and the friend who seduced her. To achieve this end, and with the aid of a treasure trove he fortunately discovered, he posed as a powerful and wealthy nobleman, who eventually drew all who had conspired against him into a trap that destroyed them. It makes for a compelling tale, but is this the best use we can put our life to? What about attending to our happiness, our dreams, and our desires?
At the same time, since this energy is drawn from our wounded ego selves, it depletes us instead of replenishing us, and eventually brings us to a space of confusion, unhappiness, or even disaster.
Arvind Sanghvi, a Pune-based former businessman, used to work an average of 16 hours a day in order to succeed in his business. Looking back, he attributes this drive to a deprived childhood. “We could not afford milk,” he recalls wistfully. All went well, until the day his body began to malfunction, and no doctor could figure out the problem until he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The onset of multiple sclerosis is often associated with overwork or high drives.
Anupam says, “My perception of myself for the first 27 years of my life – that I was a failure – kept the fire burning within. The pain of my inadequacy intensified when I started my first networking-based business. For the first year and a half, I kept on failing miserably. And I kept on striving further – as it was a do or die situation for me.”
For Pranav, what followed was a maniacal urge to get a beefed-up physique and a charming personality. “All I ever wanted at that point of time was for her to see my new avatar and regret her decision. I would mentally practice my cutting retorts. These inner dialogues kept me going. I would look at myself in the mirror and smirk, and congratulate myself for not crumpling into a heap!” he shares.
Wounded inner child
According to the relationship counselor and energy healer, Suzy Singh, cognition develops only after the age of seven. “All experiences before this age are interpreted emotionally by the child, making them extremely vulnerable to wounding by even the most caring and loving parents. Unfortunately, the foundational mental programs, formed as a consequence of both good and hurtful experiences with parents and others in the immediate environment, are encrypted by the time the child is four years old and the child lives most of its life thereafter based on these programs.”
For example, when a three-year-old kid is left at a creche by his mother, he feels a sense of abandonment and concludes either that something must be wrong with him, or that his mother is not a good person. “In the case of the former, he starts seeking his mother’s validation by being a ‘nice and good’ boy; in the latter, he grows up with intense negative emotions towards his mother. So many of us are living our lives on the crutches of such coping mechanisms,” says Suzy.
“Early childhood programming is the deepest programming known to the mind, and it is extremely powerful because of the tremendous grip it has over the psyche,” writes renowned healer and therapist Sanjiv Ranjan in his book, The Seven Mystical Laws of Healing.
There is no one to be blamed because our parents to are a product of their childhood, with all the good and bad experiences, unconsciously waiting to pass it to the next generation. “What I had undergone for the first quarter of my life was nobody’s fault; it was my ‘perception’ of those experiences that gave me misery. I have nobody to blame for it – least of all my father,” says Anupam.
Being guided by the Spirit
Not everyone is driven by pain. Many operate from an alternative paradigm of being guided by spirit. In popular parlance, while the former could be said to be Type A personalities, the latter could be seen as Type B personalities. Generally speaking, such people are calmer and more authentic, are in touch with their inner voice, and allow it to unfold their path.
Nontraditional mystic monk Om Swami’s life journey is a perfect example of being guided by spirit. He was a child prodigy with a deep inclination towards experiencing the Divine. As he was a gifted child, the Universe presented him with opportunities that led him higher up the ladder. And yet, within his heart was the burning desire to seek the Divine Feminine. By the age of 25, this middle-class boy from Chandigarh had built himself a multi-million dollar business in Australia with all the paraphernalia of an elite lifestyle. However, he left it all to become a Himalayan sanyasi at the age of 30 years. There was no attachment to the successful life he had so painstakingly built. He found joy in the process of building a business, rather than in reaching ‘success’.
John Robbins, the sole heir to the ice-cream giant Baskin Robbins too walked out of a fortune to make his own life at the age of 21. He eventually became a best selling self-help author worth millions of dollars. By 1969, Robbins had begun to think there might be more to life than inventing a 32nd flavor of ice-cream. In his own words, “I didn’t want to spend my life selling a product that was seriously harming people’s health.”
But his decision didn’t go well with his successful father who threw him out of his inheritance. John Robbins disappeared to a remote island off the coast of British Columbia. He and his wife built a one-room log cabin and spent the next 15 years surviving on the vegetables they grew and the meager monthly income they could earn as yoga instructors. In one of his media interviews, he has said, “In the US, if you say somebody is a success, what is almost always meant by that is that they have made a lot of money. I think that is an impoverishing view. It is so limiting, and so material. I think there’s a frugal and simple lifestyle, provided you have a bare minimum in terms of financial resources, which is actually very rich.”
When he went to see his father on his deathbed, his father told him that he was proud, “that I had had the courage to follow my own star, and that time had proved me right. It was very heartwarming,” John was quoted saying.
The next step for our hurt heroes is to move towards this healthier paradigm. Only through this transformative process will they be healed of their wounds and enabled to take their lives afresh. Only then will they become alive to their own authentic life purpose, and the unfolding of their own innate nature.
Says Sampoorna, “An inner stirring, a quest related to the meaning of life causes one to search. It drives the person from being complacent to a restless search, which may be accompanied by loneliness or emptiness. A desire arises from deep within to know and follow one’s life purpose. This leads to the exploration of new experiences.”
How to heal
So how can we learn to heal our wounds? How can we correct our course, and as Stephen Covey put it, move our ladder from the wrong wall to the right one?
In most cases, life itself gives these heroes a helping hand. Their carefully fabricated lives and success fall apart. Or they fall ill. Or lose interest in the empire or success they have spent a lifetime building.
It may appear to be an unmitigated disaster but more often than not, it is a wake-up call. Driven by desperation, the hero looks for a solution to his problem, and in doing so, stumbles upon his true self.
The most significant thing to do is to become aware; to boldly claim our wounded selves and ruthlessly examine our thoughts, words, and actions without wallowing in self-pity. “The transition happens only when I awaken to my real self. One has to allow oneself to be vulnerable to life and gradually and consciously let go of the memories of the past experiences,” suggests Suzy.
The next step is to re-assess some definitions – of love, success, and control. When operating from the wounded self, we associate love with control, anxiety, pity, pain, and guilt.
“Continually asking, ‘What motivates me to do this?’ is a good way to discover our latent drives. Admitting one’s fears and insecurities can help a great deal. Writing down the hurts and pains experienced in childhood can help us understand our patterns in adulthood,” says Amrisha.
“When I find myself under stress, I take the time to pause and check within. If I am trying to prove something or my aim is to be right, I re-assess my motive. I recall my true, original desire, and observe how my temporary motive is interfering with fulfilling my dream. I first acknowledge the ego space I am functioning from. I then access my deeper truth of trust and safety so that it can envelop my ego until it feels safe enough to let go and relax. I surrender to the Higher Consciousness to guide me in the right direction, aligned with Spirit. The more I align myself in this manner, the more harmony I experience in what I do,” shares Sampoorna.
Anupam too did the same. “It was a gradual process for me. I worked a lot on my self-worth. I poured out my heart to my father, though he didn’t take it in a positive way – and yet I had to do it to kickstart my catharsis. I realized that all this time I had been driven by my ‘perceptions’ – of people, situations, and experiences. My introspection guided me to Swami Chinmayananda’s teachings and I gained a treasure trove of wisdom that I started applying in my life,” he says. At 53, Anupam lives a quasi-retired life while devoting a lot of time to reading and contemplation, and volunteering at the Chinmaya Mission. He is also toying with the idea of starting new ventures, furthering his path of karma yoga.
Pranav too realized, in a moment of epiphany, the worthlessness of his pursuits. “I realized that the life I wanted to make for myself was not based on happiness, it was based on revenge and that didn’t sound too good to me. At that moment, a load lifted off my chest. For the first time in two years, I felt light. Now, I do not want to prove my worth to anyone. I just want to lead a happy and meaningful life,” he says. As Carl Jung has aptly said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”
The diagnosis of MS was a major shock to Arvind Sanghvi and initially sent him reeling into a depression. But after a couple of years, he recovered his gumption and set out to conquer this degenerative ailment. His search eventually brought him to yoga and through its curative powers, he healed himself, not just physically, but emotionally as well. Just as important, today he is at peace. “Yoga healed me emotionally and spiritually as much as physically,” he says.
“After years of practicing the healing arts, I have come to the conclusion that the deepest healing comes from the healing of the wounded inner child,” says Sanjiv Ranjan. When we acknowledge our wounded inner child and give it the recognition, love and compassion that were once denied, we begin to heal. “When our wounded inner child heals, we become emotionally honest. We set ourselves free from societal norms and conditions. We stop living a routine, mechanical life, and we stop chasing money and success incessantly. We begin to understand love and the importance of nurturing relationships,” says he.
“The practice of emotional healing, of erasing your imprints of images and words, is a deliberate effort and falls under conscious healing. The greater your effort the better and quicker the healing,” says Om Swami. However, he also cautions that the person will experience pain and hurt. “You may experience an emotional outpour. Be bold. Practice multiple times over a number of sessions,” he says.
Om Swami suggests a method of healing emotional wounds. He advises one to sit straight and comfortably, and calm the mind by normal deep breathing. Then recall the person or incident that caused you great grief in the past. Imagine releasing soft white light from your heart chakra in the form of compassion and forgiveness. You will travel through a whole plethora of emotions as you do this practice. Bring back your attention and focus on the calming white light. Visualize yourself being infused with it. “Do not hesitate from engaging in self-dialogue; your focus, however, should not be to binge and brood over but to erase and eradicate the imprint. It is not about right or wrong, it is just about forgiving for your own good. Clean the whole canvas of images. Repaint it with your favorite scene. Imagine yourself in bliss, envision living your dream, being happy, being healthy,” he suggests.
The way forward
The CEO who sought help from Pulkit too freed himself from the shackles of wounded motivations. After a few sessions of psycho-spiritual therapy, he could understand the futility of this pattern but it took him some time to transcend it. But once he did, his life transformed. He quit his job and is now a spiritual seeker while doing some consultancy work to meet his basic needs. “When people realize that they were driven by their wounds, they involuntarily feel the need to end that mad race; they completely change the course of their lives. In the process, their careers change and also their relationships and lifestyle,” adds Pulkit.
“Restless moments that arise are observed rather than used. Calm centredness is the preferred state of action that is used to move forward in the journey. The focus is in the present moment and staying in the process, allowing the outcome to follow naturally. There is a deep satisfaction with life even in the face of challenges and questions that come along the way,” concludes Sampoorna.
Finally, the hurt hero comes to rest, free to take custody of his life and etch his own life trajectory. Free to follow his bliss.
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