I am continuing to read my way through Peg Streep’s book, Daughter Detox. Chapter 4 deals not with how your mother treated you, but how you responded to the way she treated you.
If you have spent any amount of time around children, you probably know that children can react to the same incident in many different ways. The same is true, after all, for adults.
As a teacher, I see it all the time–we have the students who are externalizers–they are the ones that act out. They might act out in many different ways–yelling, screaming, throwing, running around…this type of acting out is pretty familiar to most people. We see it and we hear about it often.
Then, we have students who are internalizers. They get quiet. They withdraw. They hold everything that is hurting them, or scaring them, deep inside.
What child were you? Peg Streep says that the second step in discernment has to start with “the not-so-simple admission that your needs weren’t met in infancy, childhood, and beyond by the person who was supposed to take care of you.” Learning why we act the way we do–how we react, see ourselves, manage our emotions, etc.–can’t happen until we can sit back and examine how we developed the coping mechanisms that we did and realize what those coping mechanisms are.
Moving into my own personal experiences, I am able to recognize that I knew the relationship between my mother and I wasn’t necessarily normal. I could see relationships among other mother/daughter dyads and know that they were fundamentally different from what I was experiencing. I am cognizant of this feeling–this knowledge that something was different or missing–as early as first grade.
However, as hard as it is for me to admit–mostly because I really always believed I had a high amount of emotional intelligence (I am a huge empathizer)–I could really only see what Streep calls the “broad strokes of the problem.”
When I entered therapy two years ago, I could tell my therapist, easily, that my family was highly dysfunctional. I could tell her that my mother and I had a difficult relationship characterized by her manipulation and hot and cold behavior.
What I couldn’t see then? I couldn’t see how I lacked boundaries. I couldn’t see how I allowed my mom to bully me around just so that I could please her. I couldn’t see how deeply I believed that I was the one who always messed up. I couldn’t see how much grief I had over not having the mom that I deserved.
To this day, I struggle and believe that I was just too sensitive and too dramatic as a child. That is what I was told. I got sick and cried for help? Too dramatic. Hypochondriac. I got teased at school or in trouble at home? Too sensitive. Any show of emotion? Too ______.
In therapy, I have been fighting and fighting with what I know vs. what I automatically feel. For instance, one thing I have been struggling with immensely is fearing abandonment or rejection among important relationships. If I feel like I have upset a friend in this category, I immediately panic, apologize, seek reassurance, and act kinda crazy until I feel like the person has proven that everything is fine and they aren’t going anywhere.
…The unintentional side affect of this? Sometimes it is crazy enough to scare people away. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In therapy, I have asked, Why?! Why am I this way???
Chapter 4 made me see…many, many years ago, I formed a mental model of the way relationships worked. My model, unfortunately, was my mother. When she would get angry with me, can you guess what I would do?
I would apologize. Even when I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. I would apologize because I hoped it would make her forgive me for not being the daughter she wanted me to be. If I apologized right, she would reassure me. If it wasn’t what she was looking for? She would ignore me…she would withdraw love.
I would feel alone. Rejected.
I have been acting this way for so long, I couldn’t even really see it for what it was…unhealthy. It comes from a coping mechanism that, as a child, I needed. But, as an adult?
It no longer serves me.
The next part of this chapter talks about emotional intelligence…and let me tell you…I was bound and determined to prove this part of the book “wrong.” I might be anxiously attached, but dammit…I can read a room like nobody’s business.
WELL. It turns out that emotional intelligence is MORE than just reading the emotions of others, which I can be good at though, admittedly, I can also create problems where there are none.
My biggest problem? Recognizing my OWN feelings. The first “branch” of EQ is being able to recognize emotions. Surprise!! I often struggle to identify what I am feeling. I have trouble expressing my emotions and needs because I don’t want to “put anyone out” or make anyone “uncomfortable.”
The second branch deals with the ability to use emotion to make decisions. Unfortunately, I not only struggle with branch one…I also struggle to trust my own assessments of emotion enough to believe what they are telling me.
I won’t even get into branch three and four which require even more trust and nuance!
The chapter ends with a deeper look at attachment styles and responding behaviors. I will just put it this way…I am definitely an anxious-preoccupied person. Peg Streep presents a set of questions for the reader to answer–with a reminder to focus on how you coped, not what you felt–to help the reader determine the attachment style and the attitudes she holds as a result of her mother’s style of interaction.
It was pretty eye opening.
I will end by saying this. As I reached the close of this chapter, I sat and reflected on my own journey through therapy and all of the struggles I have been having. I have said before…I very much feel stuck in the discernment phase. I have known what I do, and generally been able to recognize the why. I know what my wounds are, though I haven’t been able to figure out how to fix them yet.
What I haven’t been able to do? I have not been able to see myself clearly through this journey. If you ask me, I can psychoanalyze the crap out of myself.
…Well, I can psychoanalyze the bad. However, I do not see myself the way others see me. I do not see the good. The happy. The funny. When I look in the mirror? I see the girl that was reflected back to me as a child…too dramatic. Too _______. I don’t feel like enough.
As I continue this journey? I sure hope I can start to see the good parts, too.