Saturday, November 2, 2013

Earliest Memories, Deepest Beliefs

My family:  a tad off center, though I know my parent's did their best

I grew up in a family with two parents who both came from incredibly dysfunctional families, and while I understand that at any given moment while they were raising my bother, sister, and me, they were doing the best they could do, and better than their parents had done, we still lived in quite a hostile environment, rife with verbal and physical abuse, unswerving incriminations, passive-aggressive manipulations, and a general environment of anger, frustration, and feelings of injustice and unfairness.

Typical of children growing up in such an environment, each of us three kids took on roles—my brother the trouble-seeking scapegoat, my sister the favored and sycophantic mascot, and me, the lost child.

The Lost Child:  learns to survive by keeping a low profile.

I have the unusual ability to remember quite a lot from my early years. My earliest memory is of my third birthday. I stood next to one of our armchairs, one with exceptionally wide arms, and I was pushing a Tonka truck back and forth on this wide space. A parent, likely my mother, was in the chair. I speculate it was Mom because I was afraid of Dad, had by this age understood that he was a hostile, angry, and explosive man who didn’t much care for sharing his space with his kids.

The house was full of people, some that I recognized and others that I didn’t. I didn’t like any of them, felt they were too noisy and demanding. Indeed, I was afraid of them and didn’t want much to do with them, thus the strategy of focusing on my toy truck and hanging close to mom. Most striking to me is the feeling I had of feeling conspicuous and vulnerable. This was far too much attention for me.

The house was full of people, some that I recognized and others that I didn’t. I didn’t like any of them...

We form our core beliefs about the universe early, before most of us can remember. At the age of three, I had already come to understand that Dad was not someone I wanted to be near, that I wanted to remain hidden, out of sight, out of the way, and unnoticed. This suggests that by this early age, I had already formed a view of the world as a hostile dangerous place where you it is safer to be ignored.

Even at this early stage, I don’t remember making choices to view the world the way I did. I only remember feeling the transgressions of my formalized strategies by these people who’d assembled for my birthday. No wonder by the time we are adults we have so internalized these strategies that we don’t even notice we are employing them.

We tend to blame the world for the struggles we face.

Once we’ve acknowledged the possibility that it is a choice to view the world a certain way and to employ strategies to cope with this view of the world, it requires a great deal of purposeful attention and sustained effort to begin to truly see that this is what we do. 

And even then, I often stand by and watch my emotions run haywire, seemingly out of control, as events trigger these strategies and I once again inhabit the space I did as a small child in such a harsh, unloving, hateful, and hostile environment. It is not an easy mechanism to undo and reorder. It isn’t surprising that people tend to blame the world for the struggles we face.