I grew up believing that there is nothing I can do well. The only thing I believed I was useful for was to give other people sexual pleasure. That’s sick, obviously, because I was a child.
Awareness of who we are grows through the kind of feedback we receive about ourselves. As a social species we use others as a mirror to see ourselves. By how they react to us, verbally and through behavior, we draw conclusions about ourselves.
My mother was unable to be a good mother. My needs usually went unmet. She was unpredictable, angry and often aggressive towards me. I concluded I was unimportant, unlovable, unable to do something right and that I deserve punishment just for being there.
My step-father’s interest in me centered solely around the sexual abuse. If I didn’t do what he wanted me to, he became violent. My mother often said that she only kept me around because I had made him “addicted” to me. I concluded that I had to earn my right to exist by making myself available for abuse.
At school I got held back because I did not learn. Teachers used to say that they are not sure that there’s anyone actually at home inside of my head. “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.” I concluded that I must be really dumb.
In the institutionalized years that followed people became annoyed with me very often after what had always looked like promising starts. I concluded that I may look worth saving on the outside, but that there was nothing inside of me that would keep anyone going.
As you may imagine, my self image was real bad. I didn’t like myself. Like, at all. The feedback I had received painted a very unlikable picture of me and I was convinced that it was true. Because as a social species we tend to take social feedback seriously.
Unfortunately we’re also not born with a way to tell whether the person who reflects an image of us back through feedback is a good mirror, or one right out of a fun house. Imagine you had looked into a distorting mirror all your life. How would you like the way you looked? And if you had grown used to always looking a certain, distorted way in the mirror because you never saw yourself in any other mirror, would you believe the reflection if it suddenly were different?
I went through a lot of unhappiness and trouble with the positive feedback I received after I met my family and came to live with them. Lots of fear that once they discover how terrible I really am, they will want to have nothing to do with me anymore. In lots of ways I have tried to force them to hate me and be repulsed by me. Sometimes I could not stand their presence. At the same time I am and always was mortally afraid of losing them. But I wanted to have it happen, because I was convinced that it was what I deserved and what was going to happen anyway. When things don’t match up, when everything is a mess, when you don’t know who or what you really are or are not, that’s what happens.
Lots of tears, tantrums, hugs, yelling, cuddling, passionate hating, ardent loving and most of all lots of patience later, I am pretty sure that my “self” I have been aware of, was really not very realistic but just the reflection of other people’s mental issues. I don’t feel horribly unlovable, useless and dumb anymore most of the time. I am starting to allow the thought that there are things I might be good at, that I can be a kind person who others like and some even love. That this is not just some con act, but actually part of who I am.
At the same time I do not have a lot of practice thinking those things and old habits die hard and I have moments where I get very confused and find it hard to assess who I am. What I am. What I can. That I am important to someone.
It helps that my family are aware. Sometimes my mom sings the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” chorus to me. You know, the “I belong to you, you belong to me, you’re my sweet-heart” part. She does it just because. Just because she wants to. I really like that because it feels like she means what she sings and wants me to know.
What also helps is actually DOING something useful. I have started volunteering at my mom’s former psychiatric ward. She used to be the head psychiatrist there or something and it’s a kids ward. That they know my mom and trust her judgment is probably the only reason why they agreed to let me volunteer. Anyway, I am going there once a week to just be with a little girl they assigned me to and play. To just do normal stuff with her, so she gets to just play and relax and laugh. We’re friends. She loves my long blond hair and says that when she grows up she wants to be just like me. I always laugh and tell her to pick someone else to be like, not a girl who’s way too old to not have an education and stuff. But deep down I am starting to think that maybe it’s not the worst thing. Being me, I mean. Maybe not by everyone’s standards, but my own standards are modest. Or maybe not modest, but different. But my life is different from that of many other people, so what do I need their standards for, right? 😉
I think finding the right mirrors for myself and the right standards to assess my behavior and my “self” with is one of the keys for a better and more realistic awareness of myself and for becoming more confident and stuff. Also, it helps to actually DO things that I can then assess. After all, staying on the borderline isn’t much fun. Lines are narrow. Borders are boundaries. And while boundaries are not necessarily bad, I don’t want to live ON them, but within them. And maybe sometimes beyond. In a good way. And a feeling good about myself way.
So that’s where I want to get. Slowly but surely.