Saturday, September 28, 2019


When I was growing up, I had a lot of awkward moments in my life.  Shocking, I know!  Having skipped kindergarten made me a little socially awkward, and being a truth-teller in a world that valued social grace and smoothing things over didn't help.  But many times I would get into a situation where I just didn't know what to do, and I would freeze up, smile and just nod politely until the situation ended.  I didn't know what to say or do.  I didn't know how to react.  I almost left the room until it was over; we'd re-entered the normal universe and I could recognize what was going on.

At the time, I just glossed over it, pushed it away like it was nothing.  I didn't know what to think, so I didn't think about it.  But a few years ago, I read that the scientific community had expanded the concept of "Fight or Flight" to include "Fight, Flight, or Freeze," and I just about shouted in recognition.  This was exactly what I'd been doing!

Throughout my childhood, I was under constant stress, not knowing if or when I was going to be yelled at, who was going to be angry about what.  As children, we were too small to fight, and we couldn't flee from the house we lived in.  I learned to freeze, to just hold still and try not to attract any attention.  If I just stayed still, maybe they wouldn't notice me.  Maybe I wouldn't get yelled at.  Maybe these angry, vengeful beings wouldn't hurt me if I was quiet and apologetic enough.  

Looking back, I think this behavior kicked in when I was in awkward or stressful situations, as one kind of post-traumatic stress reaction.  When I was in middle school, one of my schoolmates talked with me about sex.  She was a good friend, but I wasn't as knowledgeable as she was, and I didn't know what to say.  If I had been calm, I would have asked questions and found things out and learned from her - I really needed to know some of these things for future reference!  Instead, I froze and just survived the conversation instead of living in it.

The biggest trigger for this behavior was not just that I didn't know what to say.  It's that I didn't know the *exact* right thing to say.  I grew up as a gold star girl, meaning that sometimes the only positive feedback I got was giving the right answers in school.  I knew the answers, and I knew what to do in a classroom.  But at home, my mom made fun of almost everything I said, and if I said anything out in the world, she berated me later for saying it wrong, or told me I wasn't supposed to be talking at all.  So even when she was nowhere near me, I could hear her voice in my ears, telling me I was going to say the wrong thing, and I couldn't say anything.  Especially with a friendship on the line, which is something I could not afford to lose.  

If I was embarrassed about something, I couldn't bring myself to speak any words about it, choosing instead to block it out completely.  If something became difficult, or I sensed that someone was angry with me, or there was conflict with a roommate, I would make a joke, defer to them, bend over backwards, anything to avoid the conflict.  But if it came to conflict, I was gone, daddy, gone.  If I could leave, I would; if there was a conversation, I was nodding and smiling, and I am sure I wasn't really there.  

I missed a lot, in those frozen moments.  I'm sorry if one of them was with you.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Peace Brings Confusion; or Dammit, I Know There Were Things I Wanted To Do Today

Most of the time children of narcissists will talk about what they lost by living in their families, trying to process their grief and anger, even just naming the things they didn't know were supposed to be theirs.  Comfort when you're in pain, help when you need it, trust in other people - these are so rare as to be unrecognizable when they do appear.  When people do treat you right, you think they're trying to trick you.  When you feel comfortable, you tense up and look around to see what's coming your way.

But one thing that I've learned to appreciate is my ability to handle emergencies.  When something bad happens, I am ready to go, ready to cope, adrenaline pumping and saving whatever day may need to be saved.  Need helping moving with no notice?  I can find boxes and help you pack.  Need a ride three hours away to get home?  No problem; I can drive you there.  Receive bad news over the phone and not sure if you can get home safely?  Here I am, driving behind you, making sure all is well.  

I can handle my own emergencies too - moving out of an abusive boyfriend's apartment, writing a paper in the middle of the night, driving seven hours to pick up a desperate friend.  All of these things are handled, usually by buying a chunk of junk food, cracking jokes with the darkest of humor, and being supportive, funny, and acting like it's nothing.  Just chugging along, getting through it, getting things done.

I was trained for this.  My parents were hot and cold, either hilarious, jovial, expansive, possibly slightly drunk, or rigid, cold, angry, yelling, even storming.  Also possibly slightly drunk.  You never knew which version you would get.  Sometimes they weren't on the same page, and one would defend me against the other.  THAT was a headtrip, and really disconcerting.  Mom would yell at me for something innocuous, Dad would defend me, and then next day they'd switch places.  In a month, the other parent would complain about the same trait they'd defended last time!

Regardless, I knew how to handle what was coming down the pike, no matter what it was, when it was, how it was delivered.  From a very early age, I was protective of my siblings, and my method was to get everything done as quickly as possible and then hide upstairs in my room.  No relaxing unless they were both in the good mood, and even then, stay poised and ready for them to flip.  Kitchen's dirty and they're coming up the driveway?  Quick!  Run to the kitchen and do as much as you can at lightning speed.  Realize you forgot to start the laundry?  Oh lordy, run to the utility room and see if you can make it look like it's been running for hours; find some clean stuff and stand there folding it like you washed it yourself.

I learned to fake industry.  I learned to lie.  I learned to get things done.  Adrenaline and fear were my friends, and while it didn't work all the time, sometimes it would be enough to get the kitchen straightened and sprint upstairs, hold still and wait for an explosion.  If none was forthcoming, I might dodge the anger this time.  

I appreciate my ability to handle emergencies.  It's helped me in a lot of circumstances.  (Of course, most of those circumstances involved my inability to know a good guy from an abusive asshole, due to my upbringing, but that's beside the point.  FOR NOW.)  


What I don't know is how to relax.  I know how to get things done, and in the normal course of events, I need to get things done.  I have a stressful and demanding job.  I have a homestead, husband, and four cats.  I write things now and again.  But when I'm alone, and things are in their place, and I've completed the chores and planned the meals and prepped ALL the things ----

I'm lost.  

I don't know how to act, how to start doing anything I want to do.  WANT to do.  Wanting to do something was never really an option.  I wanted to be left alone and allowed to read so I could escape my reality.  I wanted to have a parent that supported and loved and saw me for who I was.  But that was so far out of my experience that I didn't know it was missing.  I was gaslighted for so long that I thought my parents were wonderful, only realizing decades later the extent of their abuse.  

So I have peace and quiet right now.  I have my chores done.  And I know there were things that I didn't have time for this week.  What were they?  Will I do them when I remember?  How do I motivate myself without fear and adrenaline and anger?  Or will I just eat sugar, play hours of computer games, watch buckets of television and give myself a headache doing the same thing I've done hundreds of times instead.  

When I was in my twenties, I moved into an apartment, and months later, I still had boxes of books and other stuff stacked here and there.  A guy I was semi-dating spent the night at my place, and in the morning, I woke up before he did, and started cleaning up, setting up shelves (quietly) and stacking my books on the shelves.  I did more work in the hour before he woke up than I'd done in the last month of living there by myself.  His energy, his presence in the apartment gave me impetus.  I wasn't scared of him, but there's something about having someone else around that gives me focus, keeps me from shutting down and hiding, or even just escaping into television or books.  I'm no longer alone upstairs in my room, hiding away from the monsters and getting as far away as I can before they yell up the stairs and yank me back into that life.  I'm living - not necessarily for that person, but their presence grounds me, keeps me from drifting away into the surreality I used to dwell in just to survive.  

In those days, I only knew who I was in the world with other people as guideposts.  These days I know who I am when I'm alone; I've come that far.  But I still have trouble avoiding the aimless ricochet as I bounce from mindless task to mindless task.  I'm still trying to escape a reality that is long dead, running on the hamster wheel in a cage that was broken years ago.  There is freedom all around me and yet I'm still hanging out in the cell, not knowing how to stand up and walk away.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

How Can You Go Out In Public Dressed Like That??!!

When you grow up in the household of a narcissist, you grow up as a bonsai tree; you're shaped into whatever your narcissist wants you to be.  Your personality, your reactions, your feelings - they're all dictated under a steady stream of rules.  What the narcissist thinks, feels, believes:  these become your reality, the box you must live inside to keep their approval or at least tolerance.  Any opinion you may have outside of those dictates is dangerous.  As a child, you learn to keep those questions inside.  If your narcissist is violent or scary, you believe that your life hangs in the balance, and you may be right.  

You become a receiver, knowing exactly what they're thinking at any point in time.  You know their moods from the way the car sounds coming up the driveway, and your adrenaline hits in a certain way when the tires sound more crunchy, or the car moves more quickly.  The slightest different in the door opening will send you into controlled panic:  What did I do wrong today?  Is the house completely spotless?  Did I forget to do something they left on their list/they asked me to do this morning/they complained about two months ago and haven't mentioned since?  What Will Be My Crime Today?

You become completely attuned to your narcissist.  You know what they're thinking and feeling; you know how they would react to something, and you know you'd better have that same reaction if you don't want to be yelled at.  

So what happens when you step outside into the wider world?  Here's what happened with me.

My mom was completely focused on how things looked.  This is really common among narcissists; they always require perfection, and they're terrified of people seeing through their disguise to the human imperfection within.  I was told I was ugly so many times that I believed it.  My mom would pick one thing to criticize every day, and after years of contempt barely masked as concern, I believed I was fat.  (I'm pretty sure 5'9" and 150 pounds doesn't qualify.)  I'm lucky I never developed an eating disorder.  But clothes, stomach, shoulders - all were fair game.  Looking back, my mom purposely sabotaged my appearance for years, frying my hair with bad home permanents every six months, yanking on my tender scalp, the chemicals burning my eyes.  She did this all with a self-sacrificial air, since she was helping me, sacrificing her time on the weekend to "make me acceptable."  By my sophomore year in high school, I subconsciously dodged her plans and cut my hair short in a cut of my own design.  For the most part, I've had a version of that cut ever since.

Once I hit college, I wore whatever the hell I wanted.  I pushed back on society's appearance standards.  I didn't believe that I would ever measure up to society's standards if I dressed by their rules - years of conditioning told me I was ugly - so I did what a lot of people do when they're raised in a pressure cooker:  I opted out.  I shaved my legs, but only in stripes.  I wore jean jackets with my favorite song quotes written on them.  One of my favorite outfits was a black tshirt with a crossbones and smiley face, with tiger striped tights, cut off jeans & jean jacket, black fingerless gloves, and two chains around my wrists.  The Far Side cartoon says it best:  

For me, appearance was a river of fire, so I just hopped over and opted out and said nope.  In later years, I'd find really nice vintage dresses, and wear them with Converse high tops.  Caring about appearances was shallow, hypocritical, and all of the other things I didn't want to be.  The thing that scared me the most was becoming like MY MOTHER.  So I walked away from appearance entirely.

Over the years, I've worked on this off and on.  I know I'm not ugly, but that's one of my biggest insecurities.  When I feel bad about anything, my first thought is usually about how gross I look, or fat I've gotten, or how badly I dress.  And then I hate myself for having those thoughts, because those thoughts don't really belong to me.  They're hers, and I hate my default settings - that I allow her programming to override what I really believe in.  I'm not someone who cares about appearances, and that's something that's really important to me.  But if I've developed one of my core values in opposition to someone, is it really my core value?  Or just a reaction to how I was raised?

What a nest of snakes it becomes, and a lot of ways just like an ouroboros.  But these things I rest on:  I'm happy in my life.  I know who I am.  I will always struggle against how I was raised and the things I was taught had value.  And allowing that struggle is the most revolutionary thing I can do.  I'm not a bad person because I struggle with these things.  I'm a good person because I love myself even as I struggle with these things.  I can say, Yes, this is hard.  Yes, this is tough.  Yes, this isn't fair.  And you deserve love even as you struggle.  You deserve your freedom, your life, your family of choice and your kitties.  You deserve to be you, and to be happy.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Truth, and How I Learned To Tell It; Coming Clean (Part 2)

(Continued from Part I)

At this point I've been unleashed onto the world, and I have no idea how to admit to making a mistake.  I have never made a mistake that wasn't punished harshly.  I've never NOT been yelled at, criticized, called stupid for making mistakes I didn't know existed.  

"Never put metal in a microwave!"  Cool, daddy-o.  Do you think you could have told me that when we got the microwave?  

"I shouldn't have to tell you how this works!"  Um, why not?

"You should know better!"  I heard this approximately four zillion times.  I could never figure out how I should know better, since no one had ever explained anything to me.  

So any time I was in a position to say, "Oops, sorry," I couldn't.  I froze.  I was terrified of being yelled at.  I didn't know what to do.  It's been twenty years since I attended college, but I can think of three classes off the top of my head that I could have gotten credit for taking if I'd gone to the professors and said, "Um, I'm having trouble with the material.  Can you help me?"  A single five minute conversation, and I would have known what to do.  Instead, I let it build until it was too late, and then just ghosted the final class.  I loved the schoolwork, I loved classes, but when I got stuck, I didn't know how to handle it.  In my brain, it was always my fault, and I had to pretend I knew what I was doing in order to be accepted.  After I bailed on the last class, I would avoid that professor for the rest of my life because I knew they hated me now.  

Super healthy, right??

All that to say, not so much with the whole admitting-I've-made-a-mistake dealio.

I worked a crappy temp job after college.  I did a great job, and the boss kept saying she'd hire me as a regular employee, but it kept not being true.  We always had a ton of work, and she was happy to authorize overtime for me to catch them up with different tasks.  I was hired through a temp agency, so I filled out a little carbon postcard timesheet every week, and my boss signed it and we mailed it to the agency.  One Saturday, I forgot that I'd put down overtime hours for that day, and didn't come to work at all.  I panicked when I arrived on Monday and saw my timesheet.  I thought I would just skate by, but my boss called me into her office.  I told her I'd worked the hours, and she asked me what times.  I didn't know what else to do, so I said I'd worked in the afternoon.  She let me go back to my desk, and then called another employee to see her.  Then my coworker went back to her desk.  I tried to concentrate on work, but I was panicked.  I could see this activity from my desk, playing out moment by moment.  My boss called me back in, and said that my coworker had worked during the afternoon, and I wasn't there.  

I was terrified that she would yell at me, that she would fire me, that she would tell me I was a horrible person and didn't deserve to have the job.

She asked me what had happened, and why I said what I did to her.  I told her what happened, that I was really scared, and that I could make up the hours during the week.  She said that we'd fix the timecard and that there wouldn't be any more overtime after that.

That was all.

There wasn't any yelling.  There wasn't any blame.  She even served as a reference for me when I applied for and got a regular position in another department.  She didn't hate me.  It was a mistake, and she probably chalked it up to my inexperience in the workplace.  That's what I would do now, as a manager.  I would probably do a little more behavioral coaching than she did, but that's how I roll.  

What I don't do these days is lie, or hide, or look around for cover or plausible deniability.  I learned from my mistakes.  (No, that wasn't even close to the only one!)  I've developed a healthy relationship with the truth, and, as malleable as the world around us may be, I do my best to see my behavior clearly.  When someone accuses me of doing otherwise, I check myself, and then I look carefully at them.  

That's what life with my mother taught me.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Truth, and How I Learned To Tell It; Or, As You Reap, So Shall You Sow, Dammit. (Part 1)

You may have gleaned that I grew up in a crooked house with weird ways, and my body and soul formed with a permanent list to one side.  I didn't know who I'd find when I walked down the stairs into the kitchen each morning; would it be Affable Dad, or Angry Bastard?  Would it be Neutral Mom, or Critical Angryface?  They say you should choose wisely.  If I'd had a choice, I would have!  Any choice I had was strictly in the land of The Lady or the Tiger, and just as dangerous.

I was always on edge, holding my face in neutral until I found the lay of the land.  I was always going to be at fault, blamed for whatever might happen that day.  My brother would start hitting my sister, I would pull them apart, and I was yelled at.  I was constantly in trouble, or on trial for just being me.  "Can't you fix your hair!"  "Why don't you change into something NICE for a change!"  "What is WRONG with you!"  All non-questions posed as questions, later explained as "Well, I was just trying to HELP.  You said you wanted to make more friends; maybe if you looked better, more kids would want to be friends with you."  Even years later, when I repeated her words back to her, hoping she would apologize, the only response I got was this gem:  "Well you know what I MEANT."

I learned to hide at an early age, to do my best to obscure any- and everything I could.  Any facial expression, any betraying gesture, any word spoken --- they were all calculated for the least possible impact, with no revelation of my actual emotions.  Every one of my reactions was modulated to within an inch of its lives.  

I find myself tap-dancing around the subject at hand, because I can anticipate the voices that still live in my head.  If I say that I learned to become a liar in order to survive, then here comes the onslaught:  "The LIE is that you were mistreated!  I can't believe you would tell all these LIES about our family!  You've always been so overdramatic, and now you're ADMITTING that you lied all along!  You've always been so DIFFICULT."  (If you'd been raised in that house, you'd hear the all caps, too.  #funnynotfunny)

It's taken me a long time to reconcile my life in that house, and understand why I behaved as I did.  For decades, I was broken, I was wrong, I was stupid, I was ugly, and I was their albatross.  ("'Way I remember it, albatross was a ship's good luck, 'til some idiot killed it."  Yes, I'm a geek.)  I could not do anything right.  With nowhere to hide, I hid in plain sight.  I pretended a lot.  And yes, I lied to my mom to survive.  If I felt cornered, I would look her straight in the eye and lie to her.  

I mean, of course I did.  I was a kid.  I didn't have any other option.  I was trying to make my life bearable.  Sometimes that meant dodging the truth, but other times, I just flat-out lied to make things easier.   

I needed to survive.  But I also watched my mother operate for decades.  My mother knew how to put herself in the most favorable light possible; she preened under the spotlight, loved the attention, and bathed in adulation.  And if someone called her behavior into question, Katy bar the door.  The world might still end before she admits to any wrongdoing; I know I won't see that day.  I watched her bend the truth, I watched her break it, I watched her run circles around people until they didn't know which way was up.  I kept telling myself that she loved me, she couldn't be lying to me, and I was an ungrateful daughter who didn't deserve the roof over her head.  Indoctrinated, sure.  But I also learned her methods:  how to squirm around the question until you were answering a different question entirely.  And maybe the question had only changed in your own mind, not the questioner's.  

Backwards engineering the question was one of her favorites.  If you could change the question to ask for the information in front of you, you could change the entire interaction in your favor.  

So let's say, for example, you've made a bet with someone about a television show, and the answer to the question is back at your place.  They drop you off, you run to the source of the information, you check it out, and find the answer.  

Normally, someone would see it, and figure out whether they were right or wrong.  

My mother would look at the information, and figure out how to make herself right.

(End of Part 1.  Part 2 forthcoming.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rage, Rage, Rage: Medical Facts and Learning the Truth, Part 1

Asking for help, especially from an authority figure, is one of the hardest things to learn as a child of dysfunctional parents.  But I've been going to the doctor and dentist when I have something wrong with me lately, saying, "Yes," every time I ask myself the question, do I need to get help.  Silencing the voices that say I'm not worth it, it's too much trouble, it's my own fault for taking up space --- these voices are all lies.  I'm learning, making progress, taking small steps.  Ironically, some of those steps involve my literal feet.  (Please forgive the puns that follow.  I can barely, um, stand them.)

About three years ago, I discovered I'd been wearing shoes too small for me for probably twenty years, and about that time, I figured out that I had ingrown toenails as well.  So I'd had consistent pain in my feet for most of my life, so what?  I just thought that's the way things were.  

You can collect similar stories from a lot of people who grew up in dysfunctional households.  You don't know anything's wrong until you start comparing with normal people.  But you can't compare with anyone because you don't know how to connect in a functional way for a long time.  And even once you become functional, you aren't around normal people because they don't feel right to you for even longer.  So it takes a long time to understand what the normal people experience actually is.  If that makes any sense.  

To sum up:  What does a normal foot feel like?  Apparently, not mine.

So I decided to go to a foot doctor to try to get this fixed.  

There were many, ahem, steps to this process.  Each of them took some time and deliberation.  I got a recommendation from my doctor.  I had to calm down from doing that and agree that yes, I was worth the time and money and investment to get this done.  I called to make an appointment.  Again, I had to calm down from that freakout and talk myself into not cancelling; yes, I am worth taking time off work to make this happen.  

I had to go to the doctor and evaluate him as trustworthy and make sure I wasn't overriding my instincts with a fit of classic child-of-narcissists urge-to-please.  (I did not want to get stuck with a horrible doctor and end up getting re-traumatized, which is a real risk for people like me.)  I had questions I had to make sure I asked, with notes on paper so I wouldn't forget.  I had to make an appointment for the minor surgery, take time off work, make sure my husband took time off to drive me home.  

The first appointment was the hardest.  It's tough for me to walk into any unknown situation, to face people I've never met, and wonder what judgement lies beyond the door, what they will think of me.   I had the recommendation of someone I really trusted, and I knew that if I wanted to walk away, I could do that.  During the appointment, Mr. Kind Podiatrist looked at my toes and wiggled them around, confirmed that I have ingrown toenails, and started talking about options.  But amongst his kind and gentle poking and prodding of my big toes, he noticed my weird second toenail on my left foot.

There's a pretty good story to go with this toenail, and believe me, you do not want a picture of that toenail!  My parents used to have these super dangerous lawn chairs from the 70s.  Here, let's see if I can find a picture of the chair at least:  

My siblings and I were making forts with the three lawn chairs, piling them on top of each other, trying to get them to stay upside down, having variable amounts of success.  Per usual, my dad wandered by at one point with a drink in his hand and yelled at us to stop doing that, and we stopped for as long as he was in range, and then started up again as soon as he couldn't see us.  Kid stuff.  

Suddenly, one of the chairs collapsed, and one of the hinges grabbed my second toe and pulled out the toenail.  I screamed and there was blood everywhere.  My dad came running and the first words out of his mouth were, "I told you kids not to do that anymore, goddammit!"  He grabbed me and ran into the bathroom, put me on the counter, and ran cold water over my bleeding toe.  It hurt like hell, and I cried and screamed sitting on the counter.  He held my foot under the water until it stopped bleeding, telling me to knock it off, I should have listened since I was the oldest.  I don't remember the band-aid or anything, but when my toenail grew back, it was a quarter inch thick and cloudy like a goat's hoof.  My dad said that was my toenail's reaction to getting pulled out.  My whole family made fun of it for years, and my parents said it's what I deserved for disobeying.  I couldn't really trim it very well, and it sometimes snagged my tights when I got older.  

When Mr. Kind Podiatrist saw my blunt little stubby toenail, I was ready.  I had my story prepared as a pre-emptive strike, isn't this funny, ha-ha! and told him my story about the lawn chairs and how the toenail got ripped out and that's why my toenail is that way and isn't that funny!

"Oh no," he said.  "That's a fungus."

"What."  I said.

"That's a fungus," he said.  "We can clear that right up.  Just takes a little medicine."

"Really."  I said.  

[Let us pause here.  No.  Really.  Let's.]

Reader.  Oh Reader.  It took every ounce of self-control I had to not pick up the entire exam table, crack it in half, and throw it through the wall.  I just kept thinking, forty years.  For almost forty years, I've been living with this toenail, letting my family make fun of me, blaming myself, letting them blame me, filing it down, being ashamed of it, of myself, when all it is is a fungus?  

In that forty years, where were my parents?  Why didn't they ever take me to a doctor to ask the question?  Six words!  "Is there anything we can do?"  Nope, too much work.  Too much effort.  Too much trouble.  It's her fault - never mind that they were the parents, I was the child.  She should have minded - never mind that I was seven years old and just being a kid.  This follows the pattern:  Didn't do your job as a parent and you feel bad about it?  Blame the scapegoat child and never admit you did anything wrong!  Problem solved.  

"It's just a fungus."

I got through the rest of the appointment the way I do everything else in my life.  I shoved my angry, terrified, or difficult feelings into a box and pretended with all of my highly tuned acting skills that everything was perfect.  I worked out all of the details of the upcoming procedure.  I was present, and contained my fury until I got home.  Driving home was tough.  Every once in a while it threatened to swell up around the edges, but I knew I might drive into another car if I started screaming so I didn't think about it.  I got home safely, played computer games, and zoned out with a cat on my lap until my husband got home and started making dinner.  I perched on our table and tried not to rip things apart as I told him what happened.

My friend Karrie Higgins has written extensively on her medical issues and what requesting her medical records has revealed to her.  I've considered doing the same thing just to see what else comes up.  

I keep reminding myself that this will happen over and over.  I wrote about this before in my Law & Order sound effect blog post.  (Jung Jung!)  There will always be something new that strikes me in a different way, or that I'm seeing with new eyes.  Or someone will tell me a story about my parents that I've never heard before, and I'll listen and gain a perspective that sheds light in dark corners.  

Knowing it will happen again doesn't keep it from being infuriating.  The anger is fresh each time.  If there were an Academy Award for Not Hulking Out in a Public Place, I would have twelve of them on my imaginary mantle.  But it's worth the anger.  It's confirmation of what I instinctively believed when I started this journey, and what I now know to be true.  My parents chose to blame me for an accident that could have happened to any child, and when it happened, they sought no medical treatment for the next eleven years.  In addition, they teased me about it, and never thought that I was worth the trouble of mentioning it to a doctor.  That's not good parenting.  That's not parenting.

I may find more surprises around other corners.  Will I take care of them myself?  The answer is YES.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Childhood Trauma: How What We've Experienced Shapes Us

I'm not gonna lie:  None of this is easy to deal with.  I may be able to tell some of these stories with a calm demeanor, but that's hard fought and not easily won.  I've ranted and raved and screamed into a bonfire a few times, mourned the energy wasted and potential lost as I spun my wheels for years and years asking the wrong questions.  "What's wrong with me?  Why am I broken?  Why am I doing all of the wrong things?  Why am I such a horrible person?"  

As a child of crappy parents, these were the questions I was trained to ask.  Every time I did something that my mom didn't like, or made her uncomfortable, she turned it around and asked me, "Why did you do that?  Why are you like that?  What's wrong with you?"  

Even these days, I still flinch if I think someone's going to judge me.  I still anticipate the possible blow.  I instinctively avoid doing or saying something if I can predict what they will say.

Let me pick apart that last sentence for you, and show you how limiting it can be.

"I instinctively" = the instinct is there, implanted.  I have been trained to immediately react in a certain way, and must train myself to stop, think, and react in a different way.  Anyone who has studied childhood knows how hard it is to retrain learned behaviors.

"avoid doing or saying something" = I'm stopping myself, not being limited by someone else, but by myself.  

"if I can predict what they will say." = Ooo there's a lot there.  "if I can predict"  NO ONE can predict.  I'm assuming a lot here.  "they" is the big one.  I'm taking my experiences with my parents, which were pretty horrendous, and projecting them onto whoever I'm with, and predicting that "they" whoever they are, will treat me in the same way that my parents did.  

And then self-limiting based on that assumption.

That's not good.  You can see that, right?

First of all, the general public will never treat me as poorly as my parents did.  I know that for a fact.  I've experienced it daily since I moved out of my parents house.  Twice.  

Second, even if they do, I know that they shouldn't be treating me that poorly.  No one should ever treat me that poorly and my parents shouldn't have in the first place.  Righteous indignation FTW.  

So what I'm doing in that beautiful sentence is presuming that everyone I meet is going to treat me horribly, and that I should not be myself around them because of how they are going to treat me when I do.

If I speak my truth, people will treat me badly.  Because I'm broken.  There's something wrong with me.  That's the lesson of my childhood.  

But no one can stuff themselves down for their entire lives.  Especially not me.  So I finally reveal myself to someone, and if something goes wrong, I'm left with those questions.  "What's wrong with me?  Why am I broken?  Why can't I ever do the right thing?"

These have never been the right questions to ask.  

When I approach it from this other angle, it makes sense.  What happened to me?  I was raised in a house where no one took care of me.  I was never acknowledged as who I was.  I wasn't supported as a person.  I was fed and clothed, but I was derided and chided and nagged and ignored but praised in public.  I never knew if I was coming home to happy parents or angry parents.  There was no safe haven, just the possibility of danger.  The car in the driveway dictated your fear level.  

I'm not broken.  Someone tried to break me.  

But I'm not broken.  I'm still here.