|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!) http://www.guesswhatnormalis.com/2011/01/its-a-new-year-right-new-year-new-you-new-habits-new-goodness-and-trying-harder-right-just-making-sure-so-let.html
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.