Random, but crystal-clear

Having just returned from kindergarten, having just returned from being pushed around by three five-year-olds I´m starting to understand how spineless, helpless and weak I am. Mind you, I don´t blame the kids. They are kids, they are good-natured, and if they don´t accept me as an authority figure that´s mainly my own fault. Good, not just, I was never really introduced as an authority figure by the nurses. We (the volunteers) come and go and I´m not the only one who has trouble asserting herself. I just realize to my dismay that when things get out of hand I start to feel completely passive, I internally distance myself from the situation and I have to remind myself that I´m the grown-up, that I´m responsible for the kids (and their safety!). Even my voice seems to crumble.

I went home believing that this was at the root of my self-disdain. The inability to assert myself. Now I believe it´s the other way round. My self-disdain is the reason why I cannot assert myself.

Well, I guess those two things fuel each other. But the worst part about this is how often I lie to myself about my assertiveness. I dream of myself as a strong person. I am strong in some ways; I was completely dependent on chewing gum because of my emetophobia and I managed to kick that; and in a way I probably had to be strong all my life. I have suffered with anxiety disorders and compulsions since earliest childhood and I had to deal with those things all on my own. My parents never got me any help. Half the time they weren´t even aware what was going on with me. I believe they underestimated my problems, or thought they were normal childhood fears. I grew up believing that it was normal to be occupied with thoughts of desasters and tragedies.  I grew up believing that you couldn´t help but be as frightened as I was, given that there was a possibility that my house might burn down one day, that my family might die in a car crash, that I might catch a fatal disease.

When and how should I have had the energy to learn social skills if I wasn´t even mentally present enough to focus on other kids´ behaviors? I had and have daymares the way others have nightmares. I get sucked into an alternative universe without even realizing it. I said I was constantly daydreaming, but it isn´t always a pleasant activity. It´s like there´s an internal stimulus to which I have to respond, like a vicious voice saying something that provokes me or puts me down, or a fantasy where the police come knocking against my door and tell me somebody has died. My brain starts working out solutions as if it had really happened. Like: Who do I have to call? How much does a funeral cost? This is the kind of stuff my brain is firing at me 24/7 and I´m surprised I start to stutter when I order a coke!

Sometimes when I am in such a state and some real person wants something from me I get overloaded. I´m in extreme amounts of stress during such internal arguments, so I get very cranky and irritable when somebody approaches me. People have no clue what is going on inside of me. I couldn´t explain it, either. I can write it down here but I constantly doubt if I´m really telling the truth. Am I not embellishing everything? Doesn´t everybody have that? If I was really all that ill, surely at some point somebody would have noticed.

So again I tell myself: I was suffering from some kind of generalized anxiety disorder, from psychosomatic problems and a related phobia and from compulsions ever since I was a little child of 4 or 5 years and nobody ever did anything about that. It is a fact. I feel like I´m lying, but it is a fact. So obviously it is possible that I am not just a “normal neurotic” or a particularly whiny twen, despite lacking the fangs and the drooling that are mandatory for any recognized lunatic.

I told the coach I recently saw over my career choices a thing or two about my family and she, in a very matter-of-factly tone, replied: “Even if only half of this was true I wouldn´t be  surprised you developed mental health problems.” She stated this as if it was understood that 1) yes, I was ill, not weak-willed and 2) “things were not alright at home”. It is ironic, isn´t it, that a coach who I had seen for two days would point out as self-evident what three therapists never acknowledged. Three therapists I saw for a total of more than three years.

And not just therapists. Most of my friends, too, never accepted that anything could be wrong with me. I was different anyway because I was “smart”. I had good grades, so things couldn´t be too bad, right? Or, like I said to the coach: “You already are miserable, and then you are punished again for functioning anyway.”

If I had problems, they could only be a luxury because, after all, I was not afflicted with the things they dreaded most: Bad grades. I could be mean and turn this around, saying that if bad grades are their greatest fear then they seem to be doing pretty well. That, however, would ignore the reality of the demanding and punitive parents who might be behind the pressure to perform. I do believe that many of my friends were in quite a miserable position. I´m just no longer willing to put up with the fact that they invalidate me and my problems. My parents never seemed to be demanding and punitive, but fact is I never found out because I simply always performed. My parents didn´t punish me in those traditional ways (withdrawal of privileges or worse), but that was only the case because they expected me to do what I was supposed to do without any reinforcing elements.

I remember the fight I recently had with my father. He told me to clean up, then when he returned ten minutes later and I hadn´t started yet he told me again, denied he had told me so before and said in that self-righteous tone: “Well, I had thought that maybe you´d think of it on your own, but oh well…” It clearly shows what kind of behavior he expects. And if he has to remind me of it, then I have failed as a person because apparently I don´t care about my mother. It´s not that I´m lazy in a way each normal human being can on some level sympathize with (“yeah, I know I have to wash the dishes, just five minutes, okay?”). I´m inconsiderate, ruthless and exploitative.

Or when I was at the risk of getting in trouble for leaving school early. It had been a misunderstanding, but I was terribly nervous about it. When I told my mother she was oddly cold. She didn´t punish me or yell at me or something, but in retrospect I feel that she was acting as if she´d had the right to do and just decided to be lenient. I constantly have to remind myself that I had not ditched class on purpose. It had been a misunderstanding. It would have deserved a different response.

When I first told her she nodded knowingly, almost triumphantly. “So that´s why you´ve been so weird over Christmas.” She was creating an odd kind of intimacy, like she was saying I´m watching you and I´m trying to understand you, but I did not feel like she really met me with understanding. She was telling me she had figured me out and I believe she somehow mistakes knowing me inside out for being close to me.

I don´t know how the discussion went on, but in the end she said somewhat disdainfully “Well, just accept that censure and try to stick to the rules in the future.” And this is what was really wrong about her response, because I had not broken the rules on purpose. Her disdain could have referred to the school and their “stupid rules”, but in that case she should have backed me up and told me she´d talk to the teacher if there should be any trouble. So I wonder if the disdain was directed at me. At my fear of getting into trouble. It sure feels that way, though I can´t figure out why she would despise me for that.

How did the story end? I went back to school after Christmas break, feeling just as miserable as I had felt before talking to my mother, which is not suprising, given that she had denied me any moral support. The teacher asked me where I had been during her class and I somehow managed to get out of the situation unpunished. Mostly because I counted as a “good kid” who never made any trouble and had good grades. I doubt my classmates liked me any better after this. What remained, until this day, is biting shame.

I believe what I feel so bad about is that both my mother and my teacher treated me as if I was at their mercy but they let me off the hook. If they had any respect for me then they would either punish me if they thought I had done something wrong on purpose, or they would tell me straight away it was no big deal. Instead, this teacher played Spanish Inquisition with me in front of the whole class and as soon as I didn´t know what to say anymore she told me she did not intend to investigate this any further and dismissed the issue. I´d like to think I simply convinced her of my innocence, but I believe she just thought that the limbo I had been in over the last two weeks was enough of a punishment.

Other kids might have been happy to have gotten away, but I could feel the manipulation, the humiliation behind it. The worst part, for me, is that this kind of thing works so damn well on me. I´m exactly the type of person that drives herself crazy. I wish I was one of those non-chalant kids who are scared of nothing short of a solid beating and simply do what they want. On some level I hate myself for even trying to dodge a censure because if I had flat out admitted I had gone home early she would have had no more emotional power over me. (Instead I tried to convince her I´d simply been in another part of the building.) I could have done so, maybe, if only my mother had morally backed me up. Given how she had reacted to my self-disclosure even towards her, though, she would probably have deemed it phenomenally stupid to turn down an opportunity of averting a censure.

I sometimes have fantasies in which I have not just broken a rule, but I have done it knowingly. Maybe out of laziness, maybe out of sheer rebelliousness, who knows. The person who is judging my behavior gives me any opportunity to make excuses, even makes them for me, but I simply tell him the truth. And while this has to result in a possibly inhumane punishment (such fantasies commonly take place in an alternative universe that somehow resembles the Victorian age), I am sure of his love and respect for being honest. I feel like a severely messed up person for connecting being beaten with love and care, but the core of this fantasy is not the punishment but being loved in a non-condescending way.

In my romantic view on child-rearing “consequences” or, if you will, punishments should (if they should exist at all) only exist to help the kid deal with the anxiety, shame and guilty feelings that surround “messing up”, such as by providing an opportunity to make up for it. Using those feelings as a punishment, leave alone exacerbating them for that purpose is a whole lot more cruel, I think. When a child confesses to you that she has done something wrong, she does force you into a certain role, into the role of the judge. If you refuse to accept that role, you are basically rejecting the child. You can refuse to make any judgements, but if you refuse to understand what the child wants from you then you are humiliating her.

Here is another example of my mother´s behavior when I admitted to breaking a rule: I have mentioned in the false memory post that there was a place where I was forbidden to go; it was an old ruin nearby. My mother worried about what kind of people might hang out there. So when I was about ten years old I went near that place (dodging her interdiction) with the two neighbor boys. A couple of teenagers stopped us and threatened to call the police on us, beat us up or whatnot. Thankfully we were naive and sure of ourselves and we stood our ground, telling them they couldn´t call the cops because they had been inside the ruin themselves. Eventually they said “Well, alright, you can go, fuck off before we change our minds!” They probably never had intended anything other than intimidating us, they realized they were failing and they were trying to save face. We ran home and it was then that the fear kicked in. The boys told their mother what had happened and she said indignantly: “Call the cops my ass! These lads had no business bothering you!” (Well, she might not have used the word “ass”.)

Then I told my mother. She looked at me coldly and said in a terrible voice: “So what else has to happen before you don´t go there anymore?” (I had broken her rule before. Nothing had happened then.) There were no consequences or anything. I could play with the neighbor boys the next day and the days afterward until we got tired of it and went separate ways. Something happened, though. I was frightened to leave our street when we were playing. I was constantly on the lookout for those teens. When I thought I´d seen them in our street (and I didn´t really remember what they looked like) I ran away and hid somewhere. I cannot prove it, but I believe that my mother basically withdrew her protection from me. If I went to places where I wasn´t supposed to go, the consequences were my problem. She didn´t assure me that she would protect me from those teens, she wasn´t dismayed that anyone had threatened to beat up her ten-year-old daughter.

I understand that she was upset I had broken her rule a second time. I don´t understand, though, how that anger could override her relief that I had gotten out of this situation unharmed. How that anger could override her anger over the teenagers who had bullied me.  I don´t understand how, in a situation like this, she could react like an ice queen in the first place. If she had yelled at me I might buy that she was frantic with worry and relief and frustration and anger. Her reaction, however, had “serves you right” written all over it.

I believe this reaction exacerbated the fears I had with regards to the teenagers and the entire incident. The boy´s mother sort of downplayed what had happened, but she did so to reassure the boys. And indeed I don´t believe we had been in serious danger, though you never know how such situations might escalate. My mother simply left me alone with the incident. Made me feel like I could expect nothing else if I did something she disapproved of. My fear of the teenagers, my avoidant behavior seemed like something I was going to have to live with from now on. Forever, or until I would thankfully forget about it. I couldn´t count on her support to deal with it.

The day afterwards I passed by near the ruin with my sister on the way to the supermarket. I was dead scared the teenagers might show up again. I think I just didn´t expect to get any protection from my sister. Mainly, I was scared that my sister might find out about what had happened. I was probably not aware of it then, but she was jealous all the time because she believed I had more privileges than she´d had when she´d been my age. If she had known about this incident she would probably have exploded. She had a way of being aggressive that mixed utter disdain and frightening levels of rage.

In the light of these childhood memories I´m not so surprised anymore nobody ever did anything about my pathological anxiety. And given the levels of intimidation I was exposed to it might not be a surprise, either, that I cannot assert myself. At least I ought to have more patience with myself.

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2 Responses to “Random, but crystal-clear”

  1. vicariousrising Says:

    I could be entirely wrong about this, but assertion and stated authority has never seemed to translate to much control over kids except over those already terrified by crao st home.

    The times I find kids listen to me best is when I listen to them. They trust when they feel heard.

  2. I guess I´m having a hard time earning their trust for several reasons.

    I find myself entering the kindergarten with too rigid expectations, I ask too much of them, but then I´m also inconsistent. If they don´t meet a request I dismiss it. No surprise they cannot take me seriously.

    I asked one of the nurses if there are specific rules in kindergarten what kids may and what they may not do, and she told me volunteers could make up their own rules. That was not very helpful; by telling me her rules she would have given me an idea of what is and what isn´t too demanding. I could still have adapted them for my purposes.

    Another problem is that I´m only there once a week, for one hour. From what I´ve heard from other volunteers, it often takes months for the kids to get used to you. They aren´t shy, they always want to come along, but do they trust me on a deeper level? Not so sure.

    Regarding listening to the kids: I love to do so, I´m always interested in what they have to say, but normally that results in three of them talking to me at the same time and demanding that I pay attention to them. In order to be able to listen to all of them, I´d have to make them let each other finish speaking. Often even this is impossible. In such situations I fear I´m not being fair to the kids who are more quiet or who cannot assert themselves against other kids. Sometimes it´s a matter of either me asserting myself or the loudest, strongest kid deciding what happens.

    I guess if I had more self-confidence I wouldn´t be so worried about asserting myself. I could rely on myself having enough influence to prevent the kids from getting themselves into a dangerous situation and to ensure they all get an equal amount of attention. I could be a whole lot more relaxed about everything else.

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