I had the opportunity very recently to discover something about myself which is causing me to really think and try to uncover if what I’ve discovered is something that needs changing. I’ll be honest right now and say that exploring this through my blog is going to be a bit uncomfortable, as it exposes my vulnerability, but I think – or at least, hope – that what I share here speaks to one of my readers.
I grew up in a home that was neither physically nor verbally affectionate. Both parents worked outside the home and were busy with other activities beyond their jobs. I only have a few memories of spending time with my dad’s family but in those memories, I don’t recall a lot of affection or praise either. That is equally true in my mom’s family. A hug hello and goodbye, often required by the young children to their aunts and uncles, were all that was given at gatherings. I do, however, recall quite vividly that the easiest way to get parental attention was to do something wrong – from getting caught sneaking a quarter from mom’s wallet to buy a candy bar at the community pool to any bad behaviors at school – we were at the forefront of a parent’s attention. As the only girl, and born between two brothers, I chose often to be the ‘good’ child in order to remain invisible to that kind of traumatic attention. Don’t get me wrong, I was far from perfectly behaved, but I guess I was pretty good at hiding what I’d done wrong and being well-behaved and dutiful as my punishments happened far more rarely.
I do recall that, while not spoken of one-on-one, great positive accomplishments were noticed and used to share with neighbors and friends. This is much like the bumper stickers you see on cars that say, “My child is on the honor role”. In a sense, it was bragging rights to show others how well you’ve trained or taught your children without praising the actual child. It became ingrained in me early on that the only way my parents were going to speak positively about me, even if only to others, was to “do” more and “be” more. I can’t begin to count all of the choices I’ve made in my life that were, subconsciously and sometimes consciously, made in order to please my parents so they could tell me how proud they were of me. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time and energy on turmoil inside myself, fighting my own authenticity in order to become the person who would finally “do” enough and “be” enough to get the praise I so desperately desired.
It was around a decade birthday (40, if you must know), that I finally admitted to myself that what I needed from my parents they didn’t know how to give. For my birthday, I gave them a booklet of some poetry I’d written over the years, hoping that my voice in black and white might break through to them. When pointedly asked, their response to “what did you think?” was a simple “it’s nice”. That response was a break-through moment for me, realizing that it wasn’t possible for them to “get” me for who I was at the core, and I had to accept that. And slowly, I made small steps to liberate myself from the constant stress of trying to please them and began to realize that I could only be enough for myself – that was the only thing over which I had power and control.
While this liberation was a long process, I thought I had pretty much conquered it. But it came up, loud and clear and very unexpectedly, and in that new realization that it was still present, I began to wonder if all I’d done was change the ways in which I chose to try to “be” enough and “do” enough and that I was still under the spell of trying to be good enough but was still chasing an affirmation of some kind in order to feel worthy. I’ve come to realize that, in some ways, my giving might be tied into wanting some acknowledgement and verbal appreciation. Ironically, that doesn’t hold so true in the ways I share financially as much as it does with the little things I give – and more often, do – for others that, if anything, might get a standard “thanks” but nothing else. Trying to draw a clear line between what I do simply because I want to and what I do that has reasonings that include the desire for validation is difficult right now. I mean, at the core, I will always be a giver, but I do believe that I need to stop doing for someone else’s validation (which I should already know from experience is not going to be forthcoming) and make a conscious choice as to whether I can translate those acts into something that is done without that glimmer of hope that this time, maybe this time, I’ll receive the validation of being worthy…. of being good enough.
Readers, I’m scared. I’m very afraid that if I stop doing those things for others, their need for me in their lives will dwindle. My true circle of friends isn’t huge by any means, but each person in it is important and the relationship matters to me. Do I dare risk the loss of that relationship? Is the cost worth it?
If I move forward despite my reservations, I think my first step needs to be to look at these relationships and ask if I am giving my best to each one. Along with that will be trying to solicit if the person is getting what they need in the relationship, in case there is something I can give but don’t know they want/need. With luck, that may open the door to each of us sharing what things the other needs from us and deciding if it’s something we can willingly and genuinely offer.
Beyond that? I guess stay tuned and find out!