I wrote this originally in June of 2010. I am re-posting it now for a particular reason. In the next blog post or few I want to talk about the idea that the worst part about growing up in abusive or neglectful home life is the absence of clear boundaries or the distortion of boundaries between yourself and others which leads to problems in adult life. Most times, you develop adaptive defense mechanisms that serve you at the time to protect you from the confusion, the chaos, and the uncertainty that abusive or emotionally neglectful parenting brings, but if retained into adulthood, they turn maladaptive, when such defenses only serve to wall you inside a prison of your own making. It’s a hard task of shedding emotional armor and being able to touch with tenderness and compassion the places inside that hurt deeply.
It’s difficult, but I’m finding out the journey out of the self-made prison is well worth it.
I wrote this a few years back, before all heck broke loose in our household (due to the stress of husband’s second layoff, his two years of unemployment, his depression and his DUI, and my own problems in dealing with my stress that created a cauldron of conflict between us).
With that, read on, my friends.
I had a pretty severely depressed day yesterday. To the point that the will to live was feeble and the desire to die was stronger than it’s been in recent years.
Yes, despite all that I have to live for (wonderful, bright, intense children, faithful husband, roof over my head), I’ve gone through periods of mild depression, and particularly MORE so now…because I’m turning 40 this year, because I’m going to take the Mr. and our daughters to see my dad and stepmother in Colorado, whom I haven’t seen in 29 years (and have only been in contact by phone for the past 10), because I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do when the girls are in school all day long in the fall. I’m quite under-stimulated and this working class neighborhood I’m in (by choice), simply isn’t a mecca of stimulating thought.
Everything is changing on the inside. Everything is in upheaval.
Without going into a lot of details, my mother, step-dad and two of my sisters were pretty cruel to me over the years. On good days they ignored me, on bad days they were emotionally, psychologically and sometimes physically abusive. Every once in a while, my grandmother and grandfather would get in on the fun and write nasty letters to me, telling me what an incorrigible ingrate I was and how I should be written out of the family and how dare I cause problems after all my mother did for me (I think they had me confused with someone else).
I am just now grasping all the ways the loss of my real dad as a child and the abusive family I had shaped me and continued to impact my life with my girls and my husband. I’ve hidden it pretty well, but I have had a lot of rage built up inside me from all the pain they put me through but I had to deny in order to adapt. It has been coming out in its own way though – in how I would snap at my husband, or yell angrily at the girls for small irritations, or even get overly pissed off at the neighbors and get defensive when there was spats between their kids and mine (yes, I am a mama wolf when it comes to my children).
Therapy is helping, but sometimes it sends me into a darker moods because of all the stuff it’s turning up.
The good thing about it is that my therapist understands what I’m going through. She finds it completely understandable that I struggle with suicidal thoughts. She gave me an interesting interpretation to consider. It’s less about wanting to really physically die, and it may not even be about ending the emotional pain I’m in, but that there is a part of me that needs to die – the old identity of who I was – so I can be who I really am supposed to be. Which is the hard part…because I always harbor this desire to go back into science because of the financial security it brings. Plus the fact that my ego is stroked every time I think that I was a woman in the STEM field. Yes, I rocked.
I just don’t know if I’m that woman anymore. And if I’m NOT that woman anymore…who the hell AM I???
In light of all the research I’ve done on attachment theory, what the therapist said makes sense. From everything I have read, insecure attachments to your mother, and absent fathers (through death, divorce, or just emotional distance) cause a LOT of internal conflict because you build your identity based on falsehoods about yourself as a means to survive.
I became this strong, fiercely independent person (I became both a fighter and a ‘fixer’) who really disliked the idea of being tied down by marriage and family because of what I saw in my own family and what I was told by my mother. She used to say, “all men are assholes”…and given the fact I had an absent, alcoholic father (not that he wanted to be…things just got complicated) and a step-father with a drinking problem, it was not that easy to look beyond that message. I was pretty hell-bent on not having a marriage and kids at all, but a string of affairs and a reliable, financially stable career to not be dependent on anyone. Well, I started off on that path (having more than a few lovers and working hard in my chosen field) until I met my husband, then…well, I changed my mind.
There’s been a HUGE struggle these past 6 years. I am of two minds. There is a part of me that loves being a mother, loves being close to my children and husband and understands ALL TOO CLEARLY the pain of not having a close, intact, family…and there is the part of me that resents the massive changes to my lifestyle and my identity. Whereas I once came and went as I pleased, and had seen many things and done many things in the nearby city. I had challenging work to keep my mind busy (forensics for a while, then medical genetics at a private university), and long-standing friends who liked spending time with me. I enjoyed my ‘city life’ a LOT. I didn’t party, but I loved being surrounded by the beautiful architecture and learning about the history of the city and seeing the museums and going on the historical tours now and then with colleagues.
This has been the center of my internal struggle for about 6 years now. I think that it would be ‘easier’ in some ways to either love being a parent or to absolutely hate being a parent, because at least you’d be able to act fairly single-mindedly (either immersing yourself completely and selflessly into parenting, or checking out of parenting completely – through divorce or emotionally checking out by hiding out at work).
The problem, I’m finding out, with being ambivalent about being a parent is that you swing between two extremely strong conflicting emotions and you tend to feel guilty for the negative aspects of your feelings or worse, you feel guilty because you DO act harshly due to those negative aspects of your feelings. So you sit, suspended between these two emotions, feeling immense love for your child(ren) and sometimes immense tension for all the difficulties having children brings and you sometimes feel you made a mistake. And then you judge yourself for that tension (and how it manifests), and it makes you feel ashamed…because what kind of human being has these feelings?
Well, I can tell you what kind of human being does. It’s one that has been broken by their own parents and family. One who has not had permission to be who they really are supposed to be.
I didn’t really like my therapist at first (because I didn’t think she would know what I needed to hear, and for the time when she mentioned she felt my husband might be gay – yeah, that was a difficult thing to resolve, thought I’m happy to report my husband is pretty confident in his current orientation), and now I’m really appreciating her insights and what she brings to the table. I thought she was a bit too soft, too, well…alternative. She has a round table in her office with an orange embroidered scarf as a table runner, a candle always lit and a salt crystal lamp. I believe she had a glass ‘crystal ball’ on a wood base. I wasn’t sure I was going in for analysis or to have my future being read. It turns out that Madame Doctor Crystalball (or DMC as my friend and I refer her to) is exactly what I needed.
What I found most intriguing about my therapist? She is 47 years old (but looks in her 30s), with a 3 1/2-year-old son, she is firm believer in attachment theory, and she was a former opera singer. She knows what it’s like to be an older mother, a working mother, and giving up a dream for your family.
The best thing I think she’s giving me is permission to be. Permission to be angry, permission to be hurt, permission to be afraid of the process of burying and mourning who I was and discovering who I am supposed to be, permission to be compassionate to myself while the part of myself I cling to is dying because it has to in order to make room for who I will become.
She tells me this pain and confusion and depressed feelings are a ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ and ‘healthy’ part of the process of real growth. I am doing exactly as I should be doing through this process. What a relief that is to hear, even if it hurts to go through to get to the other side.
With further conversation, she stumbled onto my identity dilemma: while I have the mind of a scientist, I have the heart of a creative type. In order to escape my family, I chose the practical side of me and developed that at the expense of that creative side of me. I never pursued my creative ambitions, but gave them up really early in my life when I knew they were unsupported.
I have some more work to do…to uncover the truth about who I am and who I am to become. I have some ideas…but still I need to uncover in what ways I will give expression to who I really am. And maybe in doing so, find my life’s work.
And I’ve made some great strides since I wrote that 3 years ago. I write poetry, I write stories. I go to the city by myself and sometimes with my husband to take photographs of the architecture I love so much. Once a year I go on a writing retreat. I attend a writer’s conference and spend the night in a bed and breakfast. I absolutely adore my mini-adventures.
I am finally expressing myself artistically.
I’ve gone back to work part time, as a substitute teacher. I have mixed feelings about that, because I find it both intensely rewarding sometimes, and intensely draining. Sometimes I substitute in classrooms where people get sick and so often I end up contracting viruses. It’s not enough money – particularly, if I have to put my children in afterschool care. Husband is employed again, as a massage and craniosacral therapist. He’s actually a great intuitive healer.
But I still haven’t found my ‘calling’, though maybe I should start selling some of my creative works.
I wanted to share a few articles I just came across from a website my therapist recommended to me that resonated strongly with me.
Warning!!!! If you don’t want to be sent to the BlueTruth website for Conscious Sexuality…do NOT follow the links below…I’ve excerpted the parts that were relevant for me.
I’m growing in awareness that I’ve always been who I am on the inside, but have needed help understanding and communicating who I am on the inside to others and finding a way to be understood. I found a few great articles that embody some of my own thoughts and feelings. I have a craving for community of a particular kind, and can’t quite find it. I find, instead, a lot of trouble.
How to Recognize a Consummate Friend by Amara Charles
In my view, the glue that will bond a new kind of community together is true friendship. A gathering of souls pulled together by resonant frequencies of deep love. Thus the more real and deep and thickly connected our friendships become, the more divine reverberations will flow forth from the community. These new friendships will not be ordinary; they will be a full consummation of our deepest selves being inevitably drawn to our highest possibility.
It seems to me a magnetic recognition, an innate attraction happens when we gather together in soul clusters in order to begin the business of living rightly. It is a riveting and electrifying feeling when we find a Consummate Friend….
Consummate Friendships are as rare and valuable as pure gold. Like a star that will not disappear in your lifetime, they can draw out your most precious offerings. They can lead you onto terraces too terrible or too grand to walk on by yourself. If you even suspect you may have found one of these in your life, drop everything superfluous and make it your business to connect with them no matter what. …Missing the chance to commune at the deepest levels of your being is a needless way to suffer.
All good and enduring communities will be forged through the radical audacity to make and nourish such friends. Who knows what these divine unions might co-create.
Yeah, I like that.
The drawing out of your best self.
I like that too.
From the article Settling for Sensation (you’ll have to overlook the typos on that article):
The deeper connections and currents between things takes place below the skin, and they are illuminated by the softer light that Eve brought into the world – not the power of a spotlight, or the cutting edge of a laser beam, But rather the more feminine light of a candle, or a lamp, such as Psyche shone on to Eros. This light from the erotic heart is more diffuse, altogether softer, letting things remain in their surroundings rather than picking them out. Instead of being judgmental, it is receptive and discerning. Instead of destroying, it warms the world.
Excerpt from Soul and Sensuality by Roger Housden
Yeah…I get that.
I truly hope I have not offended my readers, but the point is not at all about the sexuality. One of the things that has always troubled me about modern (U.S.) culture is how disconnected we actually are, despite our sex-saturated culture. We have become a confused culture with many misguided attempts at connection.
We crave close connection often settle for sensation (as in sex) and fantasy (imagined connection). From my own experiences and my conversations with people across the globe, I’m finding some truth that our early attachments…or lack thereof…influence how well we will be able to form strong, healthy bonds with others in adulthood. The more and more I study this issue, the less surprised I am many of us are struggling with connection in our lives, not just to others, but to ourselves. We give others love and grace that we forget to give to ourselves. If that sounds like you, I’d recommend changing directions. Nourish yourself first, THEN seek to serve others.
I am realizing though, I can’t do one single thing about another person, but there are a LOT of things I can do to change myself. I’ve found most of my friendships had turned toxic or dangerous. It took me a while to catch on that it was my lack of clear boundaries that invited trouble.
But I say it’s better late than never.
Rather than settling for unhealthy friendship, I severed ties with a few people who were going through their own confusing experiences so that I may take care of my own attachment issues, boundary violations, and personality development.
Boundaries are something very interesting I will be talking about in future posts. And I dare say I can’t wait. 🙂
I can honestly say I’m really beginning to enjoy my journey and I feel so grateful for the progress through the treacherous terrain I’ve traveled to date.
I wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2014.