The three curses

He’s twenty-six, and every night after work he goes home and locks himself in his room. 

“It’s the only place I feel safe,” he tells me. 

“How long have you felt this way?” I ask.

“Since I was little.  Dad would drink and start yelling, and mom would yell back, and one of them would kick something or throw a plate, and I’d go to my room and shut the door and try not to hear it.”

“Scary,” I say.

“Sure.  But I’m a man now, and dad’s dead six years, and mom and I get along fine.  And I’m still hiding out.  What the hell is wrong with me?”

“You’re cursed,” I say.

“Cursed?” he says.  “Like by…”

“A witch?” I say.  “No, not like that.  Your curse is a false belief you absorbed in childhood, and have carried unconsciously ever since.”

“False belief.”

“Yes.  There are three main curses.  Kids tend to grow up believing that…

The world is a dangerous place, or 

People are not to be trusted, or 

There’s something wrong with me.

He frowns.  “I believe all three.  What causes it?”

“Childhood experience,” I say.  “Grow up in a family like yours, where you never feel safe, it’s pretty hard to believe the world outside is any safer.  So the whole world comes to feel dangerous.

“And if your parents are violent or unpredictable or abusive, if they reject or criticize or abandon you — and these are the people who are supposed to love and protect you — well, how do you trust anyone after that?  So all people come to feel untrustworthy.”

“Finally, if your family treats you badly — or even if bad things happen that have nothing to do with you, like divorce or money problems or someone dying — you tend to conclude that the bad stuff was your fault, that there’s something wrong with you.”

“But why?”   

“Because that’s how kids think.  Bad stuff makes them feel helpless, and helplessness is terrifying.  So they convince themselves they caused the bad stuff.  They trade helpless for guilty.  And they usually grow up to be adults with what’s called free-floating guilt.  Whenever anything bad happens in their vicinity they feel somehow responsible.”

“That sounds like me too,” he says glumly.  He is quiet.  Then he looks at me.

“So I’m fucked?” he asks.

“No,” I say.  “All this is pretty common.   Most of my clients are cursed.  Actually, so are most of the people I know.   Me too.”

“Yes?” he smiles.  “What do you do about about it?”

“Well, I went to therapy, and my therapist taught me to trust her, and that helped break the can’t-trust-anybody curse.  And she helped me to see how the bad stuff that happened to me was mostly beyond my control, and that helped with the something-wrong-with-me curse.  And the first curse…”

“Dangerous world?”

“Right.  That one I’m still working on.”

“How?”

“Oh, mainly by taking risks — new places, new people, stuff I’m scared to do — and finding out that almost everything I’m scared of is imaginary.”

“That sounds hard,” he says.

“Sometimes,” I agree.  “Still better than living cursed.”


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