It’s so easy to blame our parents. Yet, here I am…
I have a hard time starting this discussion, every time, because I feel like I’m throwing someone under the bus. So let’s have someone else start. Take that quote from the last post, the final line: “You are a delight to be with, having taken in the first love of your parents and now being able to live it yourself.”
My parents have always loved me deep and fierce. This is absolutely true, and I have never doubted it. But there was a third party that complicated things: Mom’s Mental Illness (I’ll call her MMI). She’d appear suddenly, often when I was confiding in Mom. I would open myself up, and when I was most vulnerable she was suddenly there, blazingly disappointed at something I said. I never knew when she’d show up (and I didn’t know for a long time that she was different from Mom – none of us did). I only knew that many of the things I said made me bad, unworthy of love.
For protection, I closed off, and I began trying to earn the love I wanted. If I did better, if I were the best, maybe I wouldn’t upset her anymore. I could make her love me. All I had to do was to find out exactly what she wanted me to be, and be that. Simple, right?
Perhaps, but certainly a losing battle. One I kept up for a damn long time: with my family, with my teachers, with my lovers. Changing yourself to suit your audience is a great way to get people to like you, for a while, but it’s not a great way to cultivate joy.
Going back to the article: “This child, then, had not learnt to know himself as he was, and know that he was loved as he was. He had not developed the kind of narcissism that allowed him to feel comfortable in his own skin, at ease with himself.”
If you haven’t been conditioned to trust, haven’t had that initial unconditional love, you can’t rely on anyone for anything. And while my parents both loved me, and still do (and again, I love them with my whole heart), MMI threw a big fucking wrench in those works. I couldn’t count on her the way a child needs to count on her caretakers. She was unpredictable, and I learned to mold myself to her whims so I could avoid her rages and judgment. I learned that I wasn’t worthy of her affection or care.
I was such a serious child that we always joked that I was born twenty-six. It pleased me at the time. Older meant wiser and better; it meant I was improving and she’d love me soon. Now it makes me sad, to know I rushed through years trying to become worthy, and to know how I kept my guard up for so long that I don’t really know how to lower it.
Now? I will drop everything for the people I care about (and the occasional stranger), but it takes huge stakes for me to ask for help of any kind. Kindness from my friends embarrasses me, because I don’t feel like I have earned it. Love means having to become someone other than myself.
I’d like to be able to trust people, and trust myself to be with people. I’d like to let myself be vulnerable without feeling weak. I’d like to just be me, and know that somebody loves me for that and nothing more. But I gravitate toward people who make me prove it, who want something more than I am. It’s a sick little comfort zone, really; I know it’s unhealthy, but that pattern feels like home. I know it. People who just like me, who are sweet and kind and tender, they scare me. The second I let my guard down, the rage will come, I just know it.
Much better to change yourself up front than let your open heart get whalloped.