Friday, January 28, 2011

Raise Yourself Up! Guest Post by Amy Eden


Amy Eden of Guess What Normal Is

Every now and then I run across someone's work that just makes sense and today I want to introduce you to Amy Eden of Guess What Normal Is. I've asked Amy to give us an introduction to the subjects that many of us face who come from backgrounds that may have been less than normal. 

Over the next several days Amy will be sharing her 3 part series on the subject of her blog and introducing some makes-sense solutions we can adapt in our journey from there where we lived in the darkness...

to here, where we begin to live in the light. :)

Today then, Part 1 of Amy's series Raise Yourself Up!

By Amy Eden of Guess What Normal Is

Who, truly, are you?  How did you get here, to this place—this resource?  I’m here because I have a deep desire for a good and happy life, based on love and free of secrets, denial, and shame. It’s not my fault, but I when I was a child, at my most vulnerable, impressionable, when I was in need of consistent nurturing, good nutrition, and encouragement of my emerging self, my needs were a low priority for my parents. My human child needs were in competition with my parents’ addictions.  I was treated like a durable, rubber blob that was expected to be blind to reality, to inconsistencies, to terror, and just bounce, shape and reshape myself to fit my parents lives and related chaos, and then bounce back to shape after it was all over. 

But, what shape?  

Maybe your mother, father, and extended family, too, were abusive, whether emotionally abusive in a secret, stealth, insult-wrapped-in-a-smile sort of way, or physically abusive—or both.  Maybe you had alcoholic parents, or a parent who had an alcoholic parent and was conditioned in that environment. Or workaholic parents who neglected you and put their work first and used it as a buffer between themselves and the world.  Maybe you had a disabled parent—or sibling—who sucked up all the attention at home while you were growing up and needed attention and nurturing.  Or you had a seriously depressed parent, a narcissistic parent, or a parent with a borderline personality disorder.  Perhaps it wasn’t clear, your parents were never diagnosed, but something was just…off—something was wrong.

Whatever the particular lack or dysfunction, we all have a lot in common!  And we all want nothing more than to be free of the effects of how we were raised so that we can have enjoyable relationships and inner happiness.

What, exactly, do we all have in common?

A Childhood You Didn’t Choose

Here are the core issues that most plague people who were raised by deficient, neglectful, and abusive parents:    

  • You often personalize things and feel that, somehow, you are to blame for errors in the world, other people’s moods, and the outcome of events. 

Because our parents held us (as well as themselves) accountable—whether in a verbal or nonverbal way—for things that weren’t actually in our control, we continue to hold ourselves accountable for the actions of others and the outcomes of events. Maybe your parent guilt-tripped you into doing things, telling you that other people would feel bad if you didn’t take a certain action. In my house, it was, “Your brother will feel bad if you don’t go to his soccer game.” Or you were told that you “had to” go to a certain school, take a certain summer job, join a certain sport, to keep people happy—“Your father did everything for you to do play soccer (even though you hate it), you better not let him down now.” The message, time and again, was:  you must do what we want, you’re responsible for our moods and the moods of others.

  • You can’t seem to come to a conclusion about what’s “normal,” and would feel much calmer if you just knew what are desired and acceptable behaviors. 

You know you’d feel calmer if you freely trusted your gut and didn’t feel so uneasy in social situations, around authority figures, and when making life decisions.

  • You judge yourself often and meanly. 

Your compassion just isn’t there when you need it most (during everyday mistakes—snagging the sleeve of your sweater, forgetting to get gas again, spilled milk even!)  We experience great anguish when we realize we’ve made a mistake, particularly one that impacts other people. Our first instinct will be to cover it up because denial and not self-acceptance played such a large role in our homes.

We tend to be afraid that others will reject us, or leave us, when they discover who we truly are.  This has to do with the fact that our parents attacked our whole being rather than our actions when there was a problem or discussion; therefore, we think of ourselves as deeply flawed in light of the smallest fumbles.

  • While not meaning to and while not in keeping with your self-image, you tend to react to people, situations, and life rather than take action inspired by your own wants, ideas, and goals. 

We tend to relate to life as something that happens to us, from the position of victims, someone to whom things happen. In some cases this is very subtle—like making sure other people speak first, before you—and in other cases not-so-subtle (like when thinking thoughts like, ‘if only he/she would do x, y, or z, then I’d be able to have what I want.”)

  • People exhaust us because we’re not able to fully be ourselves.

A lot of us feel like chameleons.  And being chameleons was a necessary adaptation for surviving our childhoods.  As adults, we take-on personas that we feel work in particular situations and are hyper-attuned to non-verbal cues from others (even in situations in which we’re not entirely sure we want to be taking part!), which determine our actions, or more precisely—our reactions.

  • We don’t know our needs nor advocate for them; we don’t ask for what we want; we suffer guilt when we assert ourselves.

The way we grew up, we were conditioned to put others’ needs before our own—now the only way to get our needs met is, first, to begin to understand (a) what it means to have needs, (b) get a feel for what ours are, then (c) to become vocal about those needs and a champion for ourselves. Becoming comfortable saying ‘no’ to others (without feeling guilty for it or apologizing) is part of this, too.  It takes time, but we can learn that our needs and other people’s feelings are independent of one another, that getting our needs met isn’t in conflict, actually, with other people’s needs and their happiness.

  • We don’t feel our feelings.

While we are individuals in pain, and harbor deep pain from our childhoods, whether on the surface (sad face, slumped shoulders) or below the surface, we don’t know how to feel our feelings.  Our feelings were denied, yelled at, ignored, and even laughed at.  When feelings do arise, we’re easily overwhelmed by them and very quickly, we either deny them—to be “pleasant” for others and to avoid rocking the boat, or we re-stuff them because our feelings are begging us to say ‘no’ and speak our minds, and that seems high-risk and deeply frightening for us.

The Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization offers a description of the emotional issues of adult children of alcoholics—which I share here because it’s so relevant to the issues of people who endured other various types of childhood abuses as well. The ACA WSO refers to these emotional characteristics as The Problem—there’s no question you’ll find something to relate to in it.  Here’s my take on The Problem (be sure to read my Antidote!)

Comments and insights are invited and welcomed:) 

Join us here next week for Part II of Amy's series Raise Yourself Up!

Amy Eden, writer of fiction and creative nonfiction, has been studying and writing about issues of children of alcoholics for over fifteen years.  She has worked in book publishing and magazine publishing since 1994, and is currently an editor for a San Francisco-based book publisher. She has published nonfiction articles in city and national magazines, for educational publishers, and for the Web, and earned a BA in English and an MFA in creative writing.  Amy Eden’s inspiration for her self-improvement blog, “Guess What Normal Is” is to “help people trade armor for courage.”
 Thank you for reading today! Please visit Amy's blog Guess What Normal Is and let her know you found her via A Journey!

This post is property of its author; its publication here in no way implies endorsement nor should it be construed as medical or therapeutic advice. 


Coming Out of the cRaZy Closet said...

This is SO GOOD. I'm looking forward to reading the next two parts of this series.

Although my parents were not actively drinking through most of my childhood, I do have all the characteristics of the typical Adult Child of Alcoholics. Insnaity, abuse, neglect... my childhood was a battlefied and a minefield, as so many unfortunately are.

You started off this article with the question "Who are you?" THAT'S a very good question... I was 50 years old ~ half a century! ~ before I could begin to be able to answer that question.

Guess What Normal Is? There's another great question. To me, normal is Peace and Freedom. The freedom to be myself, and the deep inner peace which naturally follows from that freedom... no more twisting myself into a pretzel trying to please someone who can't ever be pleased.

Normal is having healthy boundaries. Normal is allowing myself to have feelings, and accepting my feelings without judging them as good or bad.

Normal is being able to freely and unashamedly admit that I am human, I am not God, therefore I am not infallible, I do sometimes make mistakes, I am sometimes wtong ~ and that's OK! It doesn't take away from my inherent, God-given worth and dignity. Accepting myself as the fallible human being that I am, means I don't have to repress, deny, minimize, blame others, or make excuses for my mistakes... I am free to acknowledge them, to learn from them, to make ammends whenever possible, and then I am free to go forward, without beating myself up incessantly for something I did in the past.

Normal is being Equal ~ equal in worth and value to every other person on this planet. I am not more than, but neither am I less than, anyone else. I have a right to be here, as much as anyone else does. I have a right to be myself, to have my needs and to have them met. I have the right to be treated with common courtesy, dignity, and respect, simply because I exist.

Normal is being able to love because I want to, not because I need to or have to.

Normal is not having to try so hard. An apple tree doesn't have to strain to produce apples, it just comes naturally. When we are free to be our true selves, there is no strain of trying to be a chameleon, trying to please everyone else.. simply being ourselves is so easy, natural, and... NORMAL.


Daan van den Bergh said...

Lynda, your comment intrigued me more than the entire article. (No offense to the authors) :)

I suggest you read "When I say No, I feel guilty". After reading that you should be able to deal with all the problems you stated in your article.

The feeling that mistakes are wrong for example are learned already during childhood. When people laugh at you, or even in the way your parents make you feel after you did something "wrong". We are taught to feel either stupid or guilty after we made an error.

This knowledge can help you pass a lot of these obstacles.

It's a good read, it's been very helpful to me.

Unknown said...

Lynda - I love your comment and as often could be a post in and of itself!

All the points you in peace, freedom, understanding and having healthy boundaries, loving because its love not a need or a want...are all things that so confounded me for years. It was in finding "me" that I was able to begin to be myself and live free of those chains.

And it was in learning to let life unfold naturally that it became "normal" for me too:)

I really appreciate your wisdom...thank you for sharing!


Unknown said...

Hi Daan and thanks for contributing your experience and sharing your resources here! Your commnets are so on target with the gist of this series.

For many of us who grew up in the chaos and craziness of abuse and neglect we just don't know what "normal"is. Our "normal" doesn't work in the larger world.

It is in being able to identify where we are at and understanding that we are not defective that we begin to find the hope to find healing. Thanks for sharing part of your journey and offering that hope:)


Lynda Robinsons ~ Coming Out of the Crazy Closet said...

Thank you, Susan ~ [[BIG-HUG]].

Thanks to you, too, Daan. Yes, I agree that I have the right to say no without feeling guilty. If you don't have the right to say NO, then you are living in dictatorship, and today, that is not my definition of normal!

This is basically what I was saying in my comment, that in my life, today, it is normal to be treated with equality and respect, it is normal to know that I am equally valuable to every other human being, and therefore my needs and wants are just as valid as anyone else's. It is also normal to accept my own human fallibility as a simple fact of life, not as something shameful that I should be berated for and punished endlessly, as was done to me in my abusive childhood and abusive former marriages.

BEFORE I experienced the healing that began for me 8 years ago, just prior to my 50th birthday, I did not know that these things were normal. I was the perfect victim, always trying to please others, never allowing myself to have needs. In addition to great therapy, the biggest help I have found along the way in my healing journey of becoming "normal," was through reading books like the one you mentioned. "When I Sat No I Feel Guilty," is indeed a very helpful book. Thanks for bringing that up, I actually needed that reminded today especially.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad these practices are a conversation-starter! I'm thankful to learn about "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty," which describes exactly my relationship to saying No. Thanks for noting it, Daan.
And, Lynda, your use of the questions about what's normal and who are you is great. I always thought that other people had those questions figured out (or in the case of What's Normal, that people didn't question that because they felt fine, not ill at ease as I always have).
There's a great Self-Esteem book, "Healing Your Emotional Self," by Engel, as well as one that I think of as a classic, "Self-Esteem," by McKay and Fanning, as well as (for women), "The Courage to Be Yourself," by Thoele.
For me, 'Normal' has come to be "anything that stems from my true self and which I feel comfortable about, no matter whose "rules" I appear to be breaking. Spontaneous and free are things I feel when I'm in my 'Normal' zone - unencumbered by my own thinking/rethinking/analyzing my actions.
I like your personal definitions too. Especially the phrase "freely and unashamedly"!
Getting to 'Normal' felt odd at times--scary. Saying No to my parents? SCARY. It's one of those 'fake it till you make it' deals...defending my boundaries and saying No felt "unnatural," but not because it was 'bad,' simply because it was new. You know?
Thanks for the dialog!
Amy Eden

Anonymous said...

P.S., Another book that has been hugely helpful to me in terms of family-of-origin work that has had positive impact on my new relationships is a book by Gilbert, "Extraordinary Relationships." It's a bit psychology, but it's still accessible. The point I drew from it was that if we are to change in a fundamental way, that we must do so with our families of origin; doing it at the root, so to speak, with hit all our branches. This puts an end to re-enacting our family dynamics -- because we alter our part of the family dynamic. The theory made complete sense to me.
It's $10 on Amazon -

It's not for post-trauma survivors, per se, nor alcoholic parent survivors, per se -- it's for anyone who survived childhood and wants to re-map, re-wire dysfunctional patterns.
(I think I'll dust off my copy and give it another spin, come to think of it. Always fun to read over what I highlighted in prior years.) --AE

Unknown said...

@Lynda - right back atcha!

@Amy - "Normal is being equal"...great short version of the description of what normal is! And this is actually one of those things that worked to do the "fake it till you make it" on. There were times I'd be literally shaking in my boots but those were the times I grew into owning my own self as I stood my ground against the onslaught of those who would rather I stayed in their version of "normal".

Thanks for sharing the book suggestions!