Misused and abused
It has happened to all of us
I am not going
To feel sorry for you
And do not pity me
He beat me
Is no excuse
I got hit too
And that does not mean
That I can hurt you
It is a strong trend in my life to be involved with really damaged people. And almost inevitably they seem to take it out on me. Just what is it that makes me a magnet for messed-up people? This has not always been the case. My childhood and middle school friendships and relationships were healthy, normal ordinary companionship and exploration. I never was miss-popular with crowds of friends but I typically had a few close friends.
And then my best friend moved away and I skipped the seventh grade. Guess what? Girls aren’t supposed to be smart. I started out just not telling my new classmates I was a year younger than they were and the first few months were fine. I started to make new friends and had no trouble keeping up in class. But word got around and soon I was perpetually the odd one out. So I learned to have deep empathy and understanding for the underdog, the unwanted. I turned to books and writing. And eventually ended up in therapy for suicidal thoughts. The subtle teasing, blatant bullying, and endless isolation wore me down.
So I spent a long time in therapy and went to a much larger high-school and made new friends. I “went out” with a few boys and held hands and dumped a few when they couldn’t keep up with me or got dumped when they noticed another girl. And then I started to grow up emotionally and not just intellectually and my formerly generally happy (but certainly not perfect!) family wasn’t prepared. My parents were pretty good with kids, I was a wanted, loved, planned child. But my dad wasn’t ready for a teenage daughter. I needed a nest that allowed me to stretch my wings and return and got a cage instead. I was ready to learn to soar and got tethered. And I rebelled. And he retaliated. And it spiraled on from there.
I still had my sense of healthy from my younger years and my Libra thing for justice and balance so I never managed to feel right with the new pattern of control in my life. But I found increasingly cruel people drawn to me. And I was all too willing to try to understand where they were coming from, to be the ear and validation they needed. Isn’t that what we all want? Someone who understands our scars and still loves us? Someone who will be patient and hold us while we heal? Unfortunately it is too common for people to simply repeat what they have learned. And violence or controlling behavior are always escalating problems if left unchecked.
I have been very insistent with a few boundaries in my adult life. There is some behavior that simply isn’t allowed in my house, from anybody for any reason. No physical violence. No age-inappropriate tantrums. ‘No’ means ‘No.’ My kids will not be dragged into disagreements between grown-ups or expected to be more or less than who they are and where they are developmentally. I have put significant time and effort into learning about child development. I can’t undo things that happened to me but I have the power to not repeat them. These boundaries have cost me two husbands. Obviously I am still attracting and tolerating people with serious problems.
And I am soon to have precocious teenagers of my own.
My sponsor gave me a book a few weeks ago. How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. I’ve been carefully restraining myself to read only a few pages at a time and practice practice practice. It’s intended for use by parents. The nice thing about a book on communication with children is that it assumes only half the conversation is reading it and using it. It doesn’t require two parties to be on board. When my first marriage fell apart we went to mediation, talks, recommended books, the whole nine yards. And nothing worked. We’d get home and he’d flat refuse to use any of the tools. So I am thrilled to have a book and a set of tools that don’t require four hands but just two. I’ve made it to the end of the first chapter now and, so far, love it. And it is working, bit by bit I see small improvements with my kids. I suspect I can use this with grown-ups too. Here’s a great little snip of it:
I’ve made a tremendous discovery…. The more you try to push a child’s unhappy feelings away, the more he becomes stuck in them. The more comfortably you can accept the bad feelings, the easier it is for kids to let go of them. I guess you could say that is you want to have a happy family, you’d better be prepared to permit the expression of a lot of unhappiness.
Remember my post a bit ago, But I Don’t Want To Be Happy? Exactly. This is true of all people. We don’t want forced, fake cheer when we have every reason to grieve or be angry. And it plays right into a lovely discovery I’ve made for myself over the last month: it’s OK to just sit there and be miserable. So the idea, thus far, is simply to validate feelings with a simple, empathetic response. All feelings can be validated but some actions are unacceptable. I love it. It’s very much in tune with where I’m coming from. Anger is fine. Lashing out is not. It’s been a bit bumpy for me practicing this, the book contains several exercises intended to be role-played with a partner, which I don’t have, so I have to stop and do little imaginary run-throughs in my head and then keep at it IRL over and over. Some parts I have a natural instinct for and I do well with. And some I’ll just have to keep working at. In general I am already pretty good at this first part. Where I fall down is when I am tired and angry, hurt or sad, lonely or stressed myself. Then it is much harder to keep my awareness up. And I wish someone would say, “Hey, you sound upset. What can I do?”