Presence… Controlled By Our Past?
photo courtesy of bahamamadreamer
I am in the middle of yet another autobiography, my favorite reading material. Right now in the story I am immersed in the author’s childhood and finding myself feeling really uncomfortable as her replay reminds me of my own. I am dissecting this discomfort deeper than I have before and discovering a fresh take on it.
Despite the fact that both my parents were chain smoking alcoholics, I had a pretty happy childhood, by all outward appearances. I was raised with benign neglect which gave me a lot of relative freedom to do what I wanted to do. As an adult I absolutely live a life that affords me the freedom to do what I want to do. While my childhood memories always leave me with a dis-ease of emotion, my adult memories never do. I discovered during my reflection on this that the critical difference in the way I feel about my childhood vs. adult life hinges on control.
As a child, despite the freedoms I had, I lived under other’s thumbs: I was required to attend school even though it was boring and mindless, attend church and Sunday school even though I didn’t want to go – it never made sense to me, the logic of what they were trying to indoctrinate me in – and I always knew that I had to please my parents to avoid punishment or insult or – this was my dad’s big thing – being called stupid.
As an adult, of course, I have created a fabulous world where thumbs simply don’t exist. Whatever control I am subject to comes from me, and that’s just the way I want it. I always feel good whereas as I child I almost never did, even though I seemed completely normal and happy and productive and, of course, was a good girl, a very good girl.
As many adults tell me during our discussions of childhood abuse or everyday punishment and control, they ‘turned out ok.’ Yes, I would say that I turned out ok too. In fact, I think I turned out really, really smart precisely because I was so troubled by my childhood memories, which forced me to rethink quality of life, the nature of strong relationships, what children need, what is the meaning of education and so much more.
So that you don’t think I might now support childhood abuse and control or simply explain it away, I have to ask myself how I might be different if I’d been raised with the trust and integrity and unconditional love and support to direct my own life as a child and not be forced to succumb to the dictates of parents, school and church. While I can only fantasize about what my life might be like now had I been raised in this empowered way, as I watch my own grown children expand and create their worlds, I have some good ideas about what might have been, and it feels good, really good.
Turning out ‘OK’ is a matter of debate, for sure. Just as a neglected newborn will have everlasting attachment issues even though they don’t remember the specific situations, adults reflecting on these types of childhoods (and even those less overtly abusive but equally damaging) cannot shed the alterations these situations, relationships, etc. have had on their basic individual makeup. Indeed, all of our experiences shape who we are on a cellular as well as the more recognized psychological and emotional levels.
We can never truly know how we might be different today given a different nurture. The fantasy may even be stunting to our level of empowerment in any given moment. Looking back or to what could have been alters our level of presence and consciousness. For some, it can raise feelings of anger, regret, and resentment and, while these can be powerful tools to analyze and process, it is also easy to get stuck here.
So here’s what I’ve been asked and continues to puzzle me… Why do some of us question overt abuse and even traditional controls of the parenting and institutions of our childhoods while others of us perpetuate them? For some, children are the wake-up call while for others children represent an opportunity to exercise the same controls to which they were exposed. Why do some of us recognize the dysfunctional aspects of our childhood while others of us perceive the same as ‘normal’ and even beneficial? What is the X factor that initiates the beginning of rethinking?
This is a key to the evolution of parenting and could change everything.
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