Right now, I feel like a hot mess.
I have a bunch of childhood memories that I’ve held, but never connected to who I am today and how they shaped and influenced me.
In going to therapy I started to realise just how deep a lot of this stuff ran. How family dynamics affected me and continue to affect me. How much healing my wounded inner child has left to do.
Kids are sponges, soaking up everything around them. What’s explicitly said and what’s implicitly modelled. They pick up on the smallest of things, often subconsciously. And even throwaway remarks can resonate for a lifetime.
Clarity comes with time, and I’m finally beginning to come to terms with my childhood baggage and try to dismantle those unhealthy patterns.
Becoming more comfortable in my own skin
I feel like I’ve had self-consciousness and self-esteem issues since about age 8 or so. Part of that is no doubt linked to the challenge of moving to a new country and being an outsider. But part of this also ties back to messages I received about my looks and talents.
For example, I’m never going to forget being told that I wouldn’t be “pretty anymore” once I got glasses. Or all the commentary on my classmates’ looks, or celebrities’ looks, and especially in regard to certain Asian features.
I think it’s fair to say I may also have had a love/hate thing going on with femininity. It still makes my blood boil to recall being told that “girls don’t play soccer”, but perhaps subconsciously this may have influenced my rejection of certain “girly” things. I used to take great pride in not learning to cook. In identifying with being a guitar player and listening to rock bands and avoiding chick flicks/lit/pop music. This has swung back a lot in recent years and now I fully embrace whatever I like, regardless 🙂
Learning to speak up
I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, but I never felt I could contradict my parents. On the rare occasion that I did, it didn’t land well. On the last occasion, it led to me moving out at age 17.
I also have serious issues opening up and talking about problems. My family would either not talk about things at all, or talk about things like marital problems that they shouldn’t have revealed to their child. I think this feeds my instinct to clam up and my default is just not to talk about any issues EVER, I struggle so hard to literally get the words out, and in tough times I just become a waterfall of tears.
In trying to analyse this, I’ve realised that I’m reluctant to say anything if it may hurt someone and if I don’t see any possible positive outcome coming out of it.
In a work context, I struggle to voice my opinion, fearing I’ll sound stupid and that my thoughts aren’t valid. Yet over and over I get beaten to the punch by other people and I’m trying to just bite the bullet and get in early. I also have a deep belief that I’m not an ideas person – where that came from I don’t know exactly, but it must stem from somewhere.
Feeling responsible for anyone and everyone
Being on the receiving end of info I shouldn’t have been told was a burden. Hearing things I shouldn’t have been privy taught me to take other people’s crap on as well as my own, and be overresponsible. I felt helpless as I couldn’t do anything about those things as a child. And now as an adult I’ve been overcompensating and going overboard in the other extreme direction. I couldn’t fix those things for my parents and now I suppose I’m making up for it by taking on and fixing every issue that comes into my orbit.
I have a pretty bitter memory of an afternoon where I was made to lie still and quiet in bed for what felt like forever, with mum and my baby brother, because he wouldn’t nap otherwise. I was 8 or 9 and resented every second but didn’t dare move. We lived in a shoebox, basically, and anything I did anywhere in the house would’ve been too loud. Little things like this stick with you, teach you things about the way you’re supposed to be.
My chronic indecision
I didn’t ever try to trace this back to anything, until I recalled to my counsellor a period in time where I regularly accompanied my dad to various religious groups/meetings etc as he looked to figure things out and find his tribe.
“That must have been so confusing for you,” she said, “not knowing what to believe.”
While I’d never thought of it that way, I can’t argue with that. Therapy’s been awesome for shedding light on things, giving me perspective, and making connections I never would have otherwise.
Since then, I’ve made another connection: to the time I was told “Decide who you want to live with, because tomorrow we’re getting a divorce.” What an impossible choice for a 7-year-old.
Not withstanding, I still love them, seek their approval, know they did their best, pity them in some ways. I know they’ve only ever wanted the best for me and would never mean to hurt me.
They moved our entire family to another country and built a new life here. That takes incredible strength.
I have to learn to see them as complex humans, who are right about some things and wrong about others, with strengths and flaws … learn when to listen to them and when to listen to myself … and how to reconcile the best and worst of them, with the best and worst within me.
Now it’s up to me to learn to identify and state my needs, to set boundaries, to focus on myself and do my best to model healthy behaviours for my kid. To literally and figuratively look in the mirror more often and more closely. To feel, process, and release all the baggage stored in the mind and body. however long that takes. I’m making that commitment now and for the rest of my life.