The Legacy of Not Being Good Enough

As an American, I realize that many people don’t think we have a class system in the United States, but we totally do. Each and us buy into it everyday by the life we lead. Somehow, we expect those who don’t have much to work like dogs 40 hours or more, 5 days a week for some form of pay that is regular, expected to be raided of payments to other entities, and the illusion of benefits. To keep us from questioning whether or not this is in our own best interest, we are bombarded with images and stories of what is perceived to be normal, good, and or bad.

Our schools sacrifice the talent of our youth to shove doctrine and conformity down their throats. We buy the idea that every child should be exposed to the same tools, lectures, teachers, and tests; but we completely forget that no two learners are the same and that each of us were designed to learn and grow in our own way. In an effort to keep any child from falling behind, we alienate and limit others from going at a pace that is right for them. No Child Left Behind = Every Child is Forced to Stay In Line.

When you go to church, you are surrounded by a make shift family. You connect on joint beliefs and customs. When someone in the family experiences their greatest joy, you celebrate it. When someone hits their greatest low, they are there to help you. Along the way, there are power struggles about who can make the decisions for the family. The personalities of different members clash, and cause rifts. Lines are formed, cliques form.

Those families that have more cash are wooed to donate more. Gifts are acknowledged, power is leveraged. Members that are nonconformists, ungifted, broke, and slightly ravaged are accepted with a little disdain. Depending what church you are in, children weave in and out of this picture, or they are held behind glass because they are expected to be seen, not heard.

Some church families are sexist and/or racist, others have tried to diversify. Membership can be exclusive, even if it is not in print. Members try to match the quality of their cars and home to the level of their pastor. If you can’t keep up with the Joneses, you better say goodbye to your standing in the community.

Even church governance reflects the family and class. Some are hierarchal. Straight top-down decision making. Others have committees or democratic votes. After a while, the only people interested in serving are either in it out of perceived obligation, power, or guilt.

Our parents guide us through our community and teach us how they have learned to survive.

Some parents are completely comfortable and authentic. They teach the same to their children. There is a healthy respect for the diversity and value of each member in the community. They are supported to follow their dreams and aspirations and celebrated when they achieve them. Even when it all goes bad, they are still welcomed back into the fold and loved until they are healthy enough to try again.

Other parents are like mine, petrified of the world around them. They teach their children to be anxious and uncomfortable connecting with others. They teach their children to be suspicious of their neighbor, to dwell on the protection of their pride and the family’s honor. They are taught to keep secrets and to look the other way. They hate divergent thought. They hate people who are overly happy. They hold grudges and take aggression out passive aggressively.

These same parents show their children how to value others. Communication with those of a similar social-economic class or higher is perfectly acceptable. It is acknowledged that if a parent came from a higher class, that they were the most worthy. If any family member was perceived as being higher up, then you must humble yourself before them or ignore them for being snotty. There was a definite pecking order, and you better know your place.

This lends someone to buy the idea of the corporate ladder. Schools teach that the only way to improve your social-economic status is to mold yourself to someone else’s perceived notion of value, delight with your charms, educate yourself and be smarter in order to gain success. It is believed that you can change your identity to get the life everyone else wants, just so you can brag about it when you get there.

Of course, all of this perceived value is just that, perceived. Every now and then, you catch a crack in this fairy tale to see that it is all an illusion. No one is better than anyone else. Your parents are damaged and just taught that damage to you, just like millions of other parents are screwing up their children in a slightly different way. You were born to those parents with the purpose of receiving that particular damage so you can go about your life’s business to achieve your purpose.

What that is, is so specific that no one can tell you what it is. Yet, so many people try to mold others’ opinions of what that should be. All the time my insecure parents were scaring me about others, they were informing me of exactly how they viewed themselves. In my case, that was unworthy, unlucky, incapable, frustrated, angry, uneducated, and unsuccessful.

Transmission worked well in my family. I drank the Kool-Aid. I stayed near my parents, stopped my life to take care of them. I had jobs that I know they valued more than others because of prestige or pay. My happiness was trumped by obligation and tradition. My perceived failings were met with pity and passive aggressive retribution.

So, yes, in America we do put ourselves into classes. There are socio-economic markers that can take on traits of what we perceived as preferred or less than. The thing we can also do here is completely throw those rules out of the window and completely dance to the sound of our own beat. We can wake up to see what we really believe and take action to create our own lives, shape our own identities, and develop our own families and communities. We can shape our own culture.

The first step is to not judge anything. First, we shouldn’t judge the path or the journey of others. We should celebrate their joys and grieve their sorrows and give support. Second, but most importantly, we need to stop judging ourselves by the false guidelines and markers people in our lives have shown us to this point. To listen to God, we need to only listen to our own voice from within. It is the most authentic and fulfilling guide and gauge to how we should proceed with our lives. It does not let judgment or class stop us from obtaining the experiences we desire in life, nor the enjoyment of those experiences.

May 2014 be the year to stop blaming the past, replaying old tapes, and judging everything around us; and instead be the year we become bold enough and brave enough to be authentically and unapologetically ourselves.

Disease to Please

Brood – verb – to think a lot about something in an unhappy way

 

I began to feel a little better at the start of the year. I was opening up and began to know that vulnerability meant. Still, I felt like I was going two steps forward, one step back. I wanted to continue to progress because I felt like failure to do so might be a death sentence. I took a sick day from work and stayed home to make several doctors’ appointments. I had needed to do it for a while, but had constantly been putting it off. I was surprised that I couldn’t get in to most of the doctors for a couple of months due to scheduling.

One appointment that did schedule me in quickly was one to a therapist.

I have had a weird history with therapists. My family did not believe in mental health practitioners. You really needed to be psycho to go to one. I don’t think my parents believed that they even practiced medicine. The sad part of that was that both of my parents could have desperately used good counseling. My father came back from three tours of Vietnam with undiagnosed PTSD. My mother was definitely bipolar and had suffered sexual assault or abuse at some point in her life.

My sister was the first one to give therapy a try after the death of my mother. She was diagnosed bipolar and was put on drugs that definitely improved her quality of life. She inspired my first attempt to give it a try. I worked at a job that had an employee assistance plan that covered it.

My first therapist was a man in his forties who was randomly selected by the EAP service. I was miserable. I was 3 years out from my mother passing away and felt so lost. As I would describe the horrifically violent, emotionally abusive thoughts that went through my head on a regular basis, his comment was that I was brooding. Brooding? What the heck did that mean?

I think I saw him three times. He didn’t seem to like me. I didn’t feel I was getting much out of it, and work was getting hectic again.

Still miserable, I decided to try again a year latter. This time I was assigned a female therapist. She decided to focus on issues related around my bullying in middle school. To heal from the horror of that time, she wanted to put some electrodes on me to give me little shocks as I recounted the bullying as to desensitize my self to them. I think I ran away quickly.

I tried to work on myself be reading dozens of self-help books. I focused on my excess weight being the source of my unhappiness. I tried several programs to lose weight. Nothing ever really made me hate myself less.

After I was laid off from a job and returned to college to work on finishing a teaching certificate, I decided that I should try the free counseling service. It had been several years since the last mental health debacle, and I was ready to try and feel better. I was assigned an old hippie in his 50s. He was a biker, a smoker, and had recovered from two heart surgeries. I found myself in awe of him.

For my entire life, I tried so hard to be the “strong” one. I tried not to complain. I did everything I could to be a “good girl.” I went to church. I was a virgin for a long time. I didn’t sleep around. (I didn’t really have sex at all.) I went to church, served on the Session. I volunteered time at non-profits regularly. My main jobs were all in the service/non-profit industry.

Still, after my mom passed, as every year went by…. I found myself getting angrier and more withdrawn. By the time I had walked into this man’s office, I had started to rebel. I knew, or at least felt, like he wouldn’t judge me for being a little “bad.”

For four months, we met weekly. I found myself talking about the neglect of my parents in my childhood. My mother was emotionally unavailable. She often looked at me and saw too much of herself, so she would lash out at me. I remembered being miserable and hiding in my bedroom for hours upon hours. She was never really there for me, but when she needed me…I dropped everything in my life to be by her side.

He told me that I obviously can’t go back and change what had happened, but as an adult, I could nurture myself in the way I had always hoped my mother would. He told me to think of my 6-year-old self and imagine how I would treat her if she were here, right now. My mind raced with all the things I thought I would have done differently or how I would have liked my parents to respond. He responded that one way to heal is to know that I am in the driver’s seat. I could either choose to keep neglecting or bullying myself, or I could decide to support myself in the way I had always wanted.

I came home and pulled two photos of myself. One from first or second grade, where I felt cuter than a button and truly loved. The other was my 7th grade self, who I had thought was the ugliest version of me. This was the girl that was severely obese and harassed at school. I stared at the photos for hours. Could I love them? The more I looked at me, the more I began to accept that I wasn’t so miserable. I could be kind to them. I could appreciate them.

As for the brooding, I learned more about meditation. I learned some techniques to quiet the mind. I argued with my negative self the way I wished my mother would had stood up for me. It was suggested that I try taking some anti-depressants, but my doctor at the time thought I only needed therapy.

At the end of my schooling, we parted ways. I had really appreciated our visits and felt like I was in a better place because of them. When I got back in to the work world, I tried to hold on to what I had learned but the stress of my job got to me. I had gone to work at the same middle school where I was harassed for three years straight with no intervention. Oddly enough, as an adult, I felt completely harassed by the administration. Everyone was new; no one knew what they were doing; and I felt incredibly alone and inferior.

I eventually left after that first year, but I felt so weak. My next job was a complete 360, but halfway through I knew I had work to do. My most recent therapist came to me in January. She was a woman in her forties. She had short hair and glasses. I remembered thinking she has got to be a lesbian. I found my ability to be vulnerable with her was difficult. Still, I had recently learned that the only way I was going to get help was if I had the courage to be honest.

The focus of my visits was to beat back some of the social anxiety I was facing. I wanted to have more enjoyment in my life and figure out what my “problem” was. One of the first things she suggested was getting on an anti-depressant. I was a little leery. The previous doctor had made me feel like once you were on it, it would be hard to get off of. She pointed out that I still spent some days entirely in bed, and that was abnormal.

It was entirely possible, from her perspective, that I had been depressed for years. She described other patients as defining depression as the inability to get out of a hole or well in the ground. You might gain some traction, and see that there is light up above you, but then you slip and feel surrounded in blackness. The whole way you view the world is askew. When you wake up every day feeling like you are not worthy of taking a breath, drugs are a good option.

I went to another doctor and began taking an anti-depressant. It didn’t work right away, but over time the difference in my energy and outlook on life was dramatic. I wasn’t riding this constant wave of sadness. I was more even keel. Because I wasn’t spending so much energy on my mood, I could focus more on figuring out what the root cause of all this was.

My therapist recommended a book called The Disease to Please. Having read so many self-help books, I thought it was cheesy to send me out for another one. Still, I knew there might be some real truth to this. It took me a month to get it from the library because someone else had checked it out. I read it in a day or two.

The whole premise is that some of us are addicted to pleasing others, just like others are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Our belief in our own self-worth is so minimal, that we feel like we have to earn our value. The more we focus on pleasing others, to the sacrifice of ourselves, the more we can justify being loved. The irony is that the world doesn’t work like that. No one needs to earn someone else’s love, because we are all worthy of love.

People who have the disease to please feel like the more of a martyr they become, the better they will be for everyone else. The rub is that this creates weird expectations. When these expectations are not met (because they are unrealistic), the resentment from the people pleaser can make everyone’s life miserable. You can’t drink water out of an empty cup. Doing things for others isn’t helping them, and it really isn’t helping you.

Through conversations with my therapist, and my good friends, I realized that my need to please others was killing me. Every action I made, any thought I had was always measured around what I thought other people would think. My only concern in life was to either not piss other people off, or to find a way to make them happy. My whole navigation system was based on my perceived notion of what others would think, as opposed to what I thought.

This was incredible information. Rationally, I was beginning to understand. I felt, right down to my core, that I was on to something. I didn’t know all of the answers, but now at least I knew that my thinking was faulty. I needed to readjust my priorities, and do so quickly.