How were you programmed by language as a child? My brother and I had very different experiences with our Dad

My brother lives just outside Greenville, SC in the town he grew up in.  He mentioned to me one day he had recently seen someone in town he’d known as a child.  His memory was of an extremely impoverished family, with the kids going through neighbors’ trash and eating scrap food.  That is something I never saw as a child.  It makes me realize all over again that Jerry and I had such different childhoods. 

The basic story is that our dad was married to Jerry’s mom.  A couple of years later, he meets my mom, who doesn’t know he’s married.  Daddy simply skips town, deserts Jerry and his mom, and begins to live happily ever after with a new wife, starting a new family.   I am the first girl, so I am the golden child.  We know nothing of his other family.

Of course, in the meantime, here is Jerry’s mom suddenly raising two small children herself.  Jerry by default becomes the man of the house, working to help pay bills and feed the family.  He unfortunately looks just like our dad, so he hears a lot of  “You’re just like your father.”  And not in a good way.

Jerry is a trooper and he just knew it was his work to do and he didn’t mind that he never got credit for it.  We’re talking young adolescent kid here, not a 16 year old teenager working to help support the family.  We’re talking a kid who was lucky to be so tall and to look older than he was, so he could get work.

So it took a few years but Jerry’s mom finally tracked her husband/our father down and the families begin to merge.  It sounds like the perfect setting for fireworks, but I don’t remember there being dramatic scenes.  Maybe they worked it all out over the phone before we all got in person.  Or maybe it was so horrible I’ve blocked it out *smile*   Whatever it was, my lasting perception was that it was a fairly uneventful transition.

Then it was like the Clash of the Titans, literally since dad and Jerry were both well over 6’.  Daddy who was used to not having his authority questioned.  And Jerry, who’d been abandoned by an uneducated and insecure father, making him have to grow up at an early age on his own. I’m sure Daddy felt tons of guilt, as well he should.  I’m sure Jerry felt some resentment, which was justified.

By the time Jerry was 18, the clash became so great and our father felt so threatened, that he banished Jerry from family contact.  When I asked about him, Dad told me he went to Vietnam.  Shortly after, he told me Jerry died in Vietnam.  So when I didn’t hear from Jerry after 1967, I assumed that was why.   I don’t know if my mother knew the real story, but Mom was smart enough to keep her mouth shut for the peace of the family, and we never discussed Jerry.  Mom left her body on April 8, 1996, two days before my birthday.  Jerry sent me an email on December 26, 2002, the day after Christmas. Just a week before, I’d had some deep reflections about our family’s dynamics and came to great understanding of the karmic ties and implications.  I beleive when we come to an understanding of something from the past, we clear the karma of it.  Clearing karma means some people fall from your life and some people come in.  A week later, he contacted me.

What??  Why did he wait so long?  I think our Dad so programmed him into thinking he needed to be away from us that he wanted to do the right thing for everyone as he saw it.  Our father was a troubled man.  He’d had a hard life, working by 10, going into the Army at 14 – he was so tall that he looked much older.  He had only a 6th grade education, yet was savvy enough to use language as a weapon and a lure.  We grew up with that, every day and got really programmed by it.  So I don‘t fault Jerry for being hesitant about breaching the banishment order.   He didn’t know we’d been told he died in Vietnam and never expected to hear from him again.  Until he read where I’d written that on my website at and he emailed, asking “remember me?”  Needless to say, I was floored.  Yet I almost immediately thought I knew why he’d waited so long.

Synchronistically, a journal entry from  two months before said: ”I’m rereading a book from 1975 called The Structure of Magic. It’s about the therapeutic effects of language and what is currently called neurolinguistic programming – how we get programmed by the language we use and how our perception is programmed and distorted by what we’re taught is “the norm.”  It’s one reason I try to be mindful about the written and spoken word – I’ve learned the power of it.  A good example is someone who is a really neat and valuable person, like my friend Tom, but has been programmed to believe they’re a loser, so they act like they’re a loser and all their talk about being a loser finally gets to you and you have to cut them off.  They can’t get past apologizing for imagined deficiencies and pretty soon you’re tired of hearing it because they’ve convinced you to start seeing them through their own filter, which isn’t a pretty picture.

The book asks:  “How is it possible for different human beings faced with the same world to have such different experiences?  Our understanding is that this difference follows primarily from differences in (the model they grew up with.)  Thus, the question becomes:  How is it possible for human beings to maintain an impoverished model which causes them pain in the face of a multi-valued, rich and complex world? The difficulty is not that they are making the wrong choice, but that they do not have enough choices – because they don’t have a wide and richly focused image of the world.  One mechanism which we can use either to cope effectively or to defeat ourselves is Deletion.  Deletion is a process by which we selectively pay attention to certain dimensions of our experience and exclude others.  Deletion reduces the world to proportions which we feel capable of handling.  The reduction may be useful in some contexts and yet be the source of pain for us in others.”

My friend Tom distorted and deleted so much from his range of opportunities that he thought he didn’t have access to anything other than his miserable world and his miserable life.  What was available for others was not available to him, so he didn’t even dare dream it or consider it.  Easier just to go to work every day to feed your family, keep one foot in front of another and don’t expect too much else.  I think my brother had reached that point as well, and I think it was synchronistic that I’d just had the experience with Tom and had just been reading about how we get programmed by language.  So when Jerry and I resumed contact, I shared with him what I’d been reading since it so applied to us.

We’d been raised in different environments:  I was the golden child who didn’t know Dad had another family.  I got braces, I got dancing lessons, we had a good life.  Jerry was the eldest, left to fend for self and family that had been abandoned by our father, with no financial support from him.  I got things handed to me.  Jerry had to work doubly hard to get the basics for he and his family.  So naturally, we grew up having different perspectives on what kind of place the world is.

We found we’d read a lot of the same books and had a lot of the same interests, philosophy, theology, hypnosis, psychic/paranormal, meditation.   We’d done a good amount of parallel study and simultaneous research and it was fun to have someone to discuss it all with.  So it was easy to bring up and talk about the effect on our lives that our father’s verbal abuse caused.  I had been lucky.  My mother was very wise and told me about my dad, “He’s not always like this.  He doesn’t even like himself when he’s like this.  But he feels he can’t help it.  He’s sorry afterwards and that causes him pain.  So just get through it as best you can and don’t bait him.  When you’re 18 you will be free, it’s only x more years.”

She was smart.  She took my focus off what was happening in the times of trouble, and gave me the age of 18 as a goal to focus toward.  She gave me something to look forward to when I was going through tough times at home.  It turned out to have been an excellent coping tool that has served me well my whole life.  I mistakenly thought everyone’s mom told them things like that.

Jerry didn’t have that a cheerleader like that, so he lacked that particular coping tool.  I turned him on to the Abraham-Hicks work and while he’s not on board with all of it, he immediately saw that he’d been often focusing on the bad things that had happened, and not on the good.  That was expected considering the mindsets he was faced with at home and growing up. He immediately and intuitively knew that appreciation was a big key and a great tool for changing focus.  We had many long hours of philosophical conversation and catching up with what our future hopes and dreams are.  We don’t feel the need to delve into the whys and hows of the past, we just move forward with what we currently think and do and plan for our futures.

We’ve got several projects we do together and it’s fun to work on these things together.  Since we’re both workaholics, it gives us time to spend together while we’re at the computer doing other work as well.  As my friends and family knows, unless you have email, we don’t stay in touch.  I even email my cousin roommate just because it’s easier.

So I enjoy the email interaction Jerry and I have every day.  Sometimes we might exchange 40+ emails and as many IM’s if we’re working on something.   While we seldom have any differences of opinion, we sometimes have misunderstandings, and one or the other of us will raise our voice to get our point across.  It’s out of character for each of us, so it’s a good mirror when it happens, and we like having a joint project like that to work on – what are we each mirroring to the other?  We know that our parental programming had a hand in determining our automatic responses to each other.

One thing I do is not appreciate Jerry enough for what he does, and the effort he continually makes on my behalf.  His flaw is in making a suggestion to me in a very light way, so that I think it is something very easy for him to do.  Then it may be a project that consumes him night and day for weeks, unbeknown to me.  I may not realize just how complex it is for him.  In the meantime, I’m bugging him with nonsense questions about items of far less priority, not knowing how much work I am really creating for him.  And he’s trained to be the dutiful provider, so he quietly takes it all in without complaint.

So it’s a reminder to me to be more conscious of what I am doing and what ripples I may be setting into motion in the lives of those around me.  It’s a reminder to be more conscious in what effect the words I say to someone will have on them.  Do I know what programming they grew up with?  Do I know what simple word or phrase might trigger an unexpected response in them?  It is a reminder to be more clear in what I ask for, while still being precise in asking for it.

Sometimes I re-read emails I have quickly sent to friends or clients who’ve asked me some questions, and they read to me as very short and abrupt sounding.  That is never my intention, and I will hereinafter endeavor to be more mindful of what I’m sending out.  Short and abrupt some of you ask, laughing.  Wordy me short and abrupt?  It happens.

Expect a miracle!

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1 thought on “How were you programmed by language as a child? My brother and I had very different experiences with our Dad

  1. Jennifer mcvicar

    I can so anand I do mean so relate to this blog so many truly touch me if you will because I can relate to both families if you will.again so many synchronicity. totally blew me away exclamation point

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