Ever on life’s journey of healing, I have found the focus of my “work” this spring has been attending to the wounds of late childhood (8-13). In the past few weeks, this has culminated in several moments of illumination. Like big picture – connect the dots in a way that has been extremely validating to my soul. This was by far the most impactful realization:
I am an only child. I was primarily raised by my mother and her second husband. Today both are semi-retried, successful small business owners. Unfortunately during my developmental years – they were fully in the grind. You know the Puritan influenced capitalistic expectation – work and productivity must be your highest priority so that you can proclaim your rank as a “successful’ member of society. We live in a society that greatly overvalues external validation.
I was expected to entertain myself as well as contribute a decent amount to the household maintenance. Multiple nights each week I prepared dinner for the family, as well as sweeping, vacuuming, never leaving anything out of place, and attending to outside chores as well. My least favorite task was to water the dozen’s of potted plants my mom kept along the back porch. (Just realized this is the reason I’ve managed to kill every plant I’ve ever bought. I totally forgot how much I resented it was my duty to upkeep her hobby that I personally received no enjoyment from whatsoever).
My mom ran her business from our home and she spent the majority of my childhood in her office – two doors down from my bedroom. I remember so many occasions, walking into her office and telling her:
In her household, this phrase was akin to a swear word. It was not met with inquiry or validation. I was simply a bother to be dismissed – usually with a task to complete so that I wouldn’t feel the need to express myself anymore. Eventually I realized that this would only cost me more effort, and I stopped airing my discontent out loud.
It had never crossed my mind that my statement I’m bored was actually the best language I had to express the emotional state of I’m lonely. Attending to my emotional needs (or anyones quite frankly) was not a priority of my family.
Never did an adult suggest that maybe what I was experiencing was not a lack of entertainment but a yearning for connection.
As I think about it now – it’s almost laughable. I was a super smart, fairly spectrum-y kid. I was excellent at entertaining myself. Chapter books were my best friend, plus I could easily spend hours in worlds of my own creation (Barbies or Breyer horses). But I was often lonely. I didn’t have siblings or cousins or neighborhood kids to interact with. Since I attended private school – most of my friends were a half hour drive away.
My television time was strictly limited – so I guess – the assumption was if I was “bored” I was negotiating for more television. What a difference it might have made – if anyone had taken the time to just ask me what was going on inside. Was I out of things to do? Or did was I looking for interaction, validation that my existence mattered?
One of my most frequent discussions with clients is regarding core beliefs. Those two or three messages we internalize from childhood that set the path for how we live our life. A long time ago someone identified one of mine as Jamie is less than. Felt pretty accurate at the time, so I’ve done the work around that for years.
This exploration has allowed me to get more precise when labeling this core belief:
Jamie’s emotional needs are a nuisance.
That tweak – is a compass on my healing journey – it sheds light on the next direction of my work – as there will always be work to do be done.
Once I had this clarification, I was able to label two of the contingencies/rules I still struggle with in my life:
1) It is better to stay silent about my experience, than to reach out and receive punishment for it.
2) My needs are always less important than the demands of work (whether that be my job or the people I care about).
With each new level of awareness, I find myself shedding skins. Each skin an identity placed on me without consent. Those identities did not serve my soul. They did not honor my spirit. They served only to make me a better member of the institution.
I have a lot of grief. Sadness that we live in a society where children’s spirits are never properly attended to because mothers are too busy providing financially.
Mentally healthy adults are a result of secure attachment. Secure attachment occurs when children have predictable, loving caretakers. Parents who model limits, respect, emotional language & validation.
The American model doesn’t support the type of childhood for emotionally healthy individual to germinate. Truthfully why would it – there troubled teen industry, school to prison pipeline, big Pharma – they’re all business that require a certain percentage of the population to be broken beyond repair…
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