Listening to the problems people bring to therapy often lends itself to creative insights into our human condition. Most of us carry a mental bucket of excuses with us. We usually cover our faults so that others don’t see them. If we fail at times and perhaps show a less than perfect attitude or behavior, we can quickly grab one and use it to protect ourselves.

Sometimes we have “masks” to hide who we really are. In this pandemic we are encouraged to wear masks for the safety of others, but these “masks” are to protect us from really being seen by others. When we let the masks down in the safety of a therapy office, one of our questions may be, why do I react this way?

One of our excuses is, like Flip Wilson, “the Devil made me do it.” It can keep us from facing our own responsibility when we can find someone else to blame. After the Devil, the closest source to blame is our parents. Often they are guilty! When a parent constantly criticizes a child and destroys his or her self confidence, the child may grow up mentally impaired. He or she may look for another significant adult to reaffirm or recondition the self-image problem. A kind coach or teacher may certainly contribute to the repair process. No doubt parents can be the greatest source of a fundamentally strong self-image or may be the most destructive one for a child.

An interesting phenomena occurs when we begin to criticize others. Too often what we dislike about someone else is something we don’t like about ourselves too. I remember hearing an author talk about anger management. He was one of the most hostile people I ever met. Each of us needs to do a careful self-examination before we begin to criticize others about the faults we cultivate within ourselves.

I have learned that fear and anger are two sides of the same coin in our personalities. What we fear often expresses itself in anger. And when we express anger, we may often feel fear deep within us. The human soul is a mysterious carrier of many positive and negative traits.

Be careful when you have a “hobby horse” of anger on which you ride. Fear often contributes to our avoidance of conflict. Finding the balance in handling these emotions can be the result of positive therapy.

Discovering our weaknesses and creating adjustments in our reactions are steps toward emotional maturity. I hope these descriptions of self-understanding are helpful. The goal for each of us is to choose the way we react to the circumstances around us rather than letting them control our reactions. A key to understanding human behavior is that hurt people hurt other people, but helpful people help others to mature. Each of us chooses the kind we wish to be!

Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as President of the International Family Foundation and lives in Canton. His most recent book, “Living Without Limits,” was published in late 2019 and is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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