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Presence… Controlled By Our Past?

Reflection Challenge -sooc
photo courtesy of bahamamadreamer

Barb:

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.

Sarah:

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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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tina Fritz #

    Sarah and Barb, thank you for your blog posts. I appreciate your honesty and your posts make me think. Sarah, I want to respond to the question you ask at the end of your post: “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?”

    I am currently reading For Your Own Good by Alice Miller and she asks this very same question. One conclusion she comes to is that there is another adult (either a family friend, relative, neighbor, teacher, etc.) in the child’s life and this adult is supportive of the child’s feelings and experiences. So, even though the parents are controlling and abusive, the child has another adult that provides true support in helping him/her process feelings.

    February 10, 2012
    • I would totally agree with that as one means of feeding a child’s sense of empowerment and allowing for a different type of adult/child relationship, Tina. It sounds like the author also identifies other means. Any others you’d like to share? This is very interesting to me and I think it’s so important!

      February 14, 2012
  2. Amy #

    What is the X factor that initiates the beginning of rethinking? – Sarah

    In one word, pain. A few other words… contrast, struggle, judgment, shame, anger, regret, on and on. Some sort of negative experience and a strong desire for something different.

    I’m with you, both of you. I don’t look back and wish I had a different, pain free upbringing and yet I still will not repeat aspects any more now that I have learned alternatives. In the early years, I repeated stuff – even stuff that my own parents did not do; not even sure where it all came from, control probably – and while I did I felt sick with myself. The sickness within myself spurred me to change, thankfully!

    So yeah, here we are intending to do no harm, to uplift, to honor our children’s dignity while at the same time realizing that the lack of may incite a person to change their ways and do an even more amazing “job” at parenting, relationships, etc. later.

    Still, I choose to work to give my children the best of me. It all boils down to integrity and wanting to live in line with what I feel is true. I’m with Barb on one important aspect being that I feel good. I know this is based on how I think and to some, it’s too simple. It’s a process.

    I do feel we can learn how to live now, to heal the past, and choose what we put forward…🙂

    February 10, 2012
  3. Vanessa #

    I think about this often. Why, as an emotionally abused child, do I strive to change what has been instilled within me. Why, does my sister, embrace the abuses that were thrust upon me, and perpetuate them towards me, even beyond the time period of my parents transgressions. Meanwhile, perpetuating the distance and abuse with her own children. Her and I were brought up in the same family. Why do we see the world so differently. I think partly it may be our own, biological, genitical personalities that differ. But most of it is just blind luck. She saw one thing at one age. I saw the same thing at a different age, with maybe just one single, individual person, possibly noticing something that was wrong, that led me to survive, and change. Maybe she never saw someone that saw something wrong, and told her something that could be different. Maye she was inundated with one view and never saw her world from “outside” eyes. Maybe to see a her world as flawed would be detrimental to her. Maybe, although I was the abused one, she is the one that really hurts and is afraid of what is true and what really happend in an imperfect family and world.

    So what would be different if we were better than “ok.”. Well not everyone turns out “ok.”. It is by chance, not design that we turned out “ok.”. Pure luck…pure chance! Not everyone that goes through trauma will survive. Some, possible quite a few may be “ok.”. Imagine if we did not have to rely on luck. Imagine if we did not have to work so hard to be “ok.”

    February 11, 2012
  4. Josha grant #

    Do our experiences shape our cells or do our cells shape our experiences? Perhaps that is a place to re-think. Right now there is still duality, there is “good” and “bad” so to question that one is better than the other perpetuates more seperation. Some are awake, some are asleep, some are waking up…..The waking up happens in perfect time, no sooner no later that is necessary for awakening. It appears to be happening across time, so some will appear to be asleep some will appear to be awake or awakening. The “x” factor is grace, or the timing of Source for a personality, happens not a moment sooner or later than it is supposed to happen, the “x” factor is the wisdom of life.

    February 14, 2012

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