When I was a little kid, like most kids, my parents were my idols. They created my world and they held it up. They kept it safe. They were the center of my universe. They made the rules.
So when things were uncomfortable in my world, I adjusted myself to it. It was my job to fit it. Obey. Behave. Don’t make trouble. Help out.
So one summer night when I came riding my bike down my street, coming home to dinner from a friend’s house…..in the midst of summer in our street of 50 houses on the outskirts of the city where you could hear a pin drop in the heat of the late August afternoon as people prepared their meals…..I pretended not to hear the only noise permeating the entire neighborhood…..that of my father screaming at my mother.
Of course I knew that everyone could hear the horrible words he said and the anger with which they were said. But I pretended not to hear. It was the only power that I had. That I believed that I had. Magic. I couldn’t hear anything so nobody else could hear anything. But my feet peddled faster because I knew that I was needed at home. I had a place in the family and whatever shame or embarrassment or fear that I felt needed to be put into it’s place so I could help mom put dinner on the table and do whatever I could to help smooth things over and make things okay.
I had already initiated the cone of silence over the house so the neighbors could not hear. I knew from listening to my mom that was important. What the neighbors thought.
I don’t know if I ever thought that any other couples in the world fought. If they did, I never heard or saw anything. When I think about that, it must have made me feel that my family was different somehow.
Of course I learned later on that things went on in our neighborhood quietly behind closed doors. People drinking too much after dinner and quietly shutting out the rest of the family….a father removing the bathroom door so his young daughter had no privacy. But these things we didn’t see. So to me, the rest of the world didn’t seem to have any problems.
And I’ve mentioned before that it seems a bit ironic now that although my dad didn’t seem to always have a handle on his emotions, I especially was expected to always be able to handle mine.
And I do see now that in many ways, just as my mom was my father’s scapegoat, I think I have always been the person my mother has released her frustrations upon. Which makes sense if you are trying to keep things together and run a household.
I think this is so because I have never been able to tell my mother how I feel. Or how it ever felt when there were no boundaries or I was compared to someone else. Expressing feelings meant that I was finding fault with her. And she could never understand why everyone else she knew had a wonderful relationship with their mother but we argued. Instead of wanting to discuss the issue or talk about the problems, she told me I took after my father’s side of the family. To this day, I have never been able to say “I feel” or “I think” without it being reflected back upon me as my being an incredibly negative or argumentative person.
And so it’s difficult to say that. Because I love my mom. I love my family. Very much. But that is not what this is about.
But one of the many unhealthy coping mechanisms that come about from a toxic environment at a young age is co-dependency. Another is low self-esteem. Inability to know how to function in a health relationship. Anxiety and depression.
I know I was co-dependent. I went from my parents’ house to living with my husband and our kids. And still having my parents babysit. And not getting that sense of separation from them in order to grow and mature on my own.
How common do you think this is? I’d say pretty common. I have a friend who never moved away from her parents. When she got married, her parents both moved into the house with her and her husband. She ended up separating from her husband and eventually divorcing him because he was very immature. Funny thing, he hung around with the same crowd my ex-husband did in high school and afterward.
So my friend never moved away from her parents. Her dad passed away and she took care of her mom until she passed away. And then she married an older man who now needs her care.
Would we look at this situation as co-dependent? I look at this friend as one of the most independent people I know. But she can be independent to the point of never sharing her feelings and having a mutual friend once describe her as “cold”. But she has the most awesome boundaries I’ve ever seen anyone set and she can literally run a major department. Is that always a good thing? I know that my friend can be fun to be around but she cannot talk about anything that is the least bit uncomfortable….I know….I’ve tried. Silence. It’s funny how in many ways she reminds me of my mom. Sometimes co-dependency means we aren’t the ones who seek care but who care for others.
Funny thing is, my mom thinks she is the best thing since sliced bread and always encouraged me to be a better mom….like my friend….because you could just see how dedicated she was.
I don’t see my friend as often as I used to. Something came up at one point where even a therapist I was seeing asked me if I was sure she was a friend. And I needed to decide if I wanted to let go of the friendship or keep it and if I wanted to keep it, how was I going to re-define it? So I kept the friendship and she and I see each other occasionally and we catch up and have a nice time. But that is pretty much as deep as it goes. I no longer “depend” upon her for advice or for emotional bonding. But I care about her and I accept her as she is.
Perhaps that bit of separation forced some needed growth on my part.
Another thing that can arise emotionally from suppressing emotions or growing up around somewhat unhealthy emotional instruction, is the tendency to self-gaslight.
If gaslighting is emotional manipulation used as a means to maintain control over another person, self-gaslighting is basically that voice that has been implanted inside your head from all of the unhealthy interactions you have experienced and grown to believe.
For instance if stored memories tell you that it is dangerous to allow people access to your feelings or that other people are judging you because you don’t measure up to the rest of the neighborhood, that may not be reality, but it may be the reality that your subconscious is serving up that you continue to believe…..because you don’t question the facts and you are not listening to your feelings and how your thoughts make your body feel….comfort wise.
You are listening to old, false information that at one point in your life was fed to you by a well-meaning parent or family member who could only raise you as far as they themselves could go. When you move on from that reality, you need to start questioning if that old scratchy recording is still helping you in your life.
When the idea of how worthy you are is dependent upon what others tell you, or how others judge your worth, or when love means seeking approval from people who never understood how to express their own feelings in a healthy way or who felt that withholding love and affection was the way for someone to grow up independently…..you could be gaslighting yourself by not acknowledging your own self worth.
If you hear yourself not respecting the feelings you feel…..telling yourself that you are always over-reacting…..that is self gaslighting.
If you hear yourself saying that you are not as good as, or that other people can’t possibly like you, or that you are weird or don’t have the talent to do something or that you will certainly fail because you can’t do anything right…..that is self gaslighting.
As they used to say, “You’ve come a long way, Baby.” It’s time to question those old beliefs. You are going to be different from someone else but not worse than someone else.
Since I’ve “grown up”, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as perfect people….and that we are all broken in some way. We all need each other but we don’t need each other in order to know what to eat or to wear or how to feel. We can support each other without overshadowing each other. We can love each other despite our differences. We can co-exist without one person doing all of the pleasing to make things work. Without doing all of the pleasing in order to be considered worthy of someone’s love. Without disappearing into someone else in order to prevent conflict.
I’m learning to be okay with being critical with the way I was raised in order to separate the unhealthy lessons that were so intertwined with the love I needed for survival. And that doing so does not mean that anyone loved me less. It’s just that as a child, I believed without question that the adults were absolutely correct and without fault. Which meant then that I was all wrong.
In order to grow emotionally, we need to step back and untangle all that has grown so closely together over time in order to see inconsistencies and inaccuracies and the limits of other people’s truth.
And to begin to appear more confident as we find our new truths, it is good to also be aware of ourselves on the outside. By standing tall, we appear more confident until we actually feel that way. If we feel that we have some sense of control of ourselves around others in our appearance, we can begin to feel less dependent upon their approval.
So begin to listen to the words you say to yourself. Keep a notebook of your words and how those words make you feel. Try on some new words and see if there is a difference in how you feel
Thanks everyone and take care. I’ll get back to you later to let you know if we can have a meeting tonight. Maybe we can try a short one. It’s hard to stay at the computer for a long period of time without a break as I have to keep my foot elevated and iced or it starts to swell. And I fell this week….I mean, really fell hard. Lost my balance. Fell on my butt. Scared the dogs.
But I got to hear some good bone-breaking stories from people and my two year old grandson came to visit yesterday and decorated my wheeley bike thing. Boy, did that make me feel old. People….walk. When I can walk again I am not going to stop walking. Do not like feeling incapacitated. So we have a fun poll this week.