Losing Myself in the World
I wanted to share my interpretation of how things that seemed insignificant and subtle in my upbringing created belief patterns, which impacted much of my decision making, going forward.
My parents, both lovely and supportive, are COMPLETE opposites. They never saw eye to eye which became quite evident as they were raising children. My father was the happy go lucky type, yet protective and strict. My mother was quite lenient in what she allowed my sister and I to do; however, she had a short fuse and could be quite volatile.
Unable to agree on everything and after having MULTIPLE tumultuous fights, my parents decided to separate when I was seven.
I am told I was most affected by their divorce, often found crying in my room. I quickly learned to hide my emotions, because in my seven-year-old mind I thought my emotions would be the source of another argument or sadness between the two.
Anyone could feel the animosity between the two, simply getting triggered by hearing the other’s name. I would tell them little white lies about what the other had said, just to keep the peace between them.
I was a happy child, although under the surface, I desperately craved stability between my parents.
Eventually they could tolerate each other in small doses and being in their combined presence was less tense. As it goes, I was becoming more independent, so perhaps they did not feel the common stressor that held them together (me) to be such a stress – whether true or not, I now know this was a subconscious belief I held onto and a reason I always pushed myself to be independent and mature.
In high school, I was one who rarely spoke up for myself and kept the peace between friends, much like I did with my parents. I would have rather sacrificed my feelings because I did not want to be a source of tension.
I was a people pleaser.
I spent most of my time with friends and/or boyfriend and because my dad was strict, I would stay at my mother’s house to have more time with friends. A huge portion of my youth included school, soccer, and regrettably, smoking weed and drinking on the weekends with friends.
I was easily persuaded into drinking and smoking weed because:
- I believed turning it down would make me appear immature
- I avoided confrontation at all costs – my idea of peacekeeping.
- It felt freeing and fun
My mother would often vent her current problems without reciprocating that same support. As a teen I became quite defensive and reactive to shelter my own heart, not wanting to take on her “stuff”. Listening was a tradeoff I believed I had to accept, to have the freedom I wanted in her home. When things were too much I would stay at my dad’s because of the calmer atmosphere, then he’d lose my trust by promising I could hang with a friend only to say he never said that. Then I would snap.
Most fights I had with my parents were actually fueled by unresolved hurt and frustration I had felt since their split.
At seventeen, I fell head over heels for a young man and began a relationship. I was attracted to his wild spirit, a person with prior trauma who I felt I could “save” (In truth, I was deflecting my own emotional healing needs onto someone else).
At eighteen we moved in together which fit the bill for my desire to be independent and mature. It was well intentioned but unfortunately very toxic. Not surprisingly, it mirrored the relationship my parents had towards the end of their marriage.
I had become incredibly skilled at masking my emotions, putting others first, and never setting or maintaining boundaries because again to me, boundaries meant confrontation, hurt and sometimes WAR!
Although my emotional pain tolerance was high, this relationship far exceeded my threshold. In defense to the constant mistreatment, I became emotionally explosive and regardless of my desire for peace and stability, I stayed in this toxic cycle far too long.
Before my twenty-first birthday I ended this relationship, FINALLY feeling free. I had a decent job, I was no longer living under my parents’ roof, and was able to grow on my own without the influence of a partner.
My parents continually got along (likely because they no longer had to make joint decisions about my life). I appeared to be happy and independent, with a good head on my shoulders, giving them nothing to worry about.
As much as I enjoyed freedom, I was lonely. So, I leaned into my social circle, expanding my network of places to go, people to see, and things to do. In hindsight, I should have worked on healing my emotional wounds, instead, I filled the void with drinking and partying.
Deep down I desired an intimate, stable, and committed relationship. Yet, I had not connected and committed to myselfl that I needed emotional healing. I was hardened, and it was clear I was headed down a destructive path. The “party” was a convenient way to avoid the pain of deep relationships, and was a great way to build many superficial ones.
I appeared vibrant and bubbly, but my views of the world had become skewed. The mix of drugs, drinking and being distanced from my true self had blurred my vison. I was unaware of how lost I had become and of the dangers that surrounded the party lifestyle.
Unfortunately, it all became crystal clear once I had been shot.
With deep introspection I saw how my closest relationships in early life had shaped how I approached all relationships, intimate or not. How I interacted with people, what I was willing to accept in my life, all came back to my earliest and closest relationships.
Let me be clear, I am not pointing blame, nor am I saying what happened to me will happen to your family.
The point in sharing my story in a rather critical way, is to let you know that all confrontation and words matter, even if they are not meant for your child’s ears. The demonstration of emotional maturity and appropriate conflict resolution skills is paramount in your child’s development of self for their present and future, and subsequently hardwired their response system to the world.
What you model, your children follow. So, pay attention to the subtleties and resistance expressed by your teens. Be patient, oftentimes they are trying to tell you something more than just being difficult.
Leah is a Youth & Family Empowerment Coach
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