Saturday, March 21, 2009

Characteristics of Adults Shamed in Childhood

painful emotion caused by a strong sense of
guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.

As an adult child of two parents with personality disorders, I knew when the abuse was actually going on that some after-effects would be experienced later in life. Although I was able to endure the abuse, I knew I deep-sixed some of the feelings. I remember thanking God for giving me a head on my shoulders to know that the abuse was my parents doing-- that what I was going through was a product of their manufacturing. Even so, I knew that somewhere down the line, feelings or results could emerge.

The following list are characteristics of adult children of shamed in childhood by Jane Middleton-Moz. Both my BPD mother and NPD father wielded shame well with their emotional abuse. My personal commentary is in purple, and brief discussion follows the list. If you are an adult child of abuse / shame, I would love to hear from you as well:

1. afraid of vulnerability and fear of exposure of the self. This statement doesn't describe me. I don't feel vulnerable and I don't fear exposing myself. I am actually quite the opposite, as I have always been "what you see is what you get", as well as I go after what I want, whether it's meeting a person in a social setting, introducing myself in a professional setting, or trying to get to know myself. In regard to rejection, I realize that everyone is not made for everyone, so if I meet someone that the fit doesn't work, I move on, as there are others out in that sea of life. I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people, being in new situations, and experiencing new things. I am outgoing and gregarious as well.

2. may suffer extreme shyness, embarrassment and feelings of being inferior to others. They don't believe they make mistakes. Instead they believe they are mistakes. I am not shy-- I am very outgoing. I am not embarrassed or have inferiority feelings-- I actually am confident and feel like I do my best in whatever situation is presented. There are those that are better at certain things than me, and reciprocally, there are those that aren't as skilled as me in others. We all have our place in life, and I work to do my best in the situation at hand. I don't think I am a mistake as well.

3. fear intimacy and tend to avoid real commitment in relationships. These adults frequently express the feeling that one foot is out of the door prepared to run. The statements don't fit me. I put my effort into my relationships, as I am committed and loyal. If I experience a sour relationship or one that ends for one reason or another, I pick up and move on-- realizing that life goes on. I enter new relationships with optimism and hope (expect the best)-- rather than expecting the worst. I expect the best from others and my relationship with them, which I feel I do get the best from people.

4. may appear either grandiose and self-centered or seem selfless. I can say, from my own perspective, that these adjectives don't describe me. If anything, I put others needs before my own. I, do, at times, immerse myself too much into something, but I don't lose, neglect, or do a disservice to myself. I know limits.

5. feel that, "No matter what I do, it won't make a difference; I am and always will be worthless and unlovable." Completely not me. I am worthy. I am lovable.

6. frequently feel defensive when even a minor negative feedback is given. They suffer feelings of severe humiliation if forced to look at mistakes or imperfections. Being an "all good" child of a BPD mother, this is one of the points that fits me. I know that my mother didn't tolerate me being less than what she expected of me, and what she expected of me was always the very best-- especially when it came to school and grades. I remember her getting mad at me for bringing home straight A's and S's, except for one N (not satisfactory) in self-control ("talks too much"). I remember being so nervous bringing that report card home to her. Even when it came to cleaning something, I had to do a spotless and practically perfect job or else I had to go back and do it again.

To this day, I can be defensive, and I don't want to make mistakes. I am hard on myself, probably more than anyone else, and I strive to do the best that I can at my endeavors. I don't do things incomplete or sloppy-- I am thorough and meticulous.

7. frequently blame others before they can be blamed. I take the blame where I see the blame should be taken. I, however, expect others to take accountability for their actions if they are accountable. I am not a 'finger pointer' but I thoughtfully consider situations before drawing a conclusion, and if I feel like I am a part of the equation, I certainly will take my part and be accountable.

8. may suffer from debilitating guilt These individuals apologize constantly. They assume responsibility for the behavior of those around them. BINGO on this one. My mother and Dad are experts at flinging guilt-trips, and I have been on a guilt-trip practically my entire life (with family). My Dad creates these larger than life scenarios, the need to 'have a talk', and continues to grow the guilt trip larger. He always expects me to apologize. My mother, on the other hand, just wants me to take the blame for her bad behavior and take the burden off of her shoulders. She likes to play the victim and plays the 'poor pitiful me' to a "T"... and with that, she is the grand manipulator with guilt as a tool. I have recently been able to free myself of the guilt-- knowledge is a powerful defense. The more I know what makes my mother and Dad tick, the more I am able to understand that I am just the recipient of their toxic bi-products, one of which is guilt. I am no longer apologizing to them-- I am apologizing to myself for tolerating this treatment for too long (and not exiting out sooner).

9. feel like outsiders. They feel a pervasive sense of loneliness throughout their lives, even when surrounded with those who love and care. Yes, yes, yes. I have always felt like an outsider in my own family. I don't think I have ever felt like I fit. I feel like I fit with my friends, and interestingly, I have always considered my friends as my family. I haven't felt lonely in life... I have felt lonely in family life. I haven't had family support to cheer me on through tough times. I haven't had the family root me on during my achievements. I have had so many holidays alone and sad. I have had so many birthdays unrecognized. I have felt invisible. I have felt like a 2nd rate member of my family. I do feel the love of my daughter, husband, and friends. But in regard to the love from my mother and Dad, I haven't truly felt that since I was a little, little girl.

10.project their beliefs about themselves onto others. They engage in mind-reading that is not in their favor, consistently feeling judged by others. This doesn't apply to me.

11. often feel ugly, flawed and imperfect. These feelings regarding self may lead to focus on clothing and makeup in an attempt to hide flaws in personal appearance and self. This doesn't apply to me.

12. often feel angry and judgmental towards the qualities in others that they feel ashamed of in themselves. This can lead to shaming others. This doesn't apply to me.

13. often feel controlled from the outside as well as from within. Normal spontaneous expression is blocked. This doesn't apply to me.

14. feel they must do things perfectly or not at all. This internalized belief frequently leads to performance anxiety and procrastination. I do feel that I need to do things to the best of my abilities, and I think that I should consistently put my best out there. I don't feel that my best is 'perfect' by any means. I have experienced performance anxiety at times, but I am not a procrastinator AT ALL. I actually am quite the opposite. My performance anxiety popped up with one of my jobs in my professional life only-- and when removed from the high pressured position, that performance anxiety dissipated.

15. experience depression. I have had my ups and downs but I don't think I experience depression outside of the ordinary.

16. block their feelings of shame through compulsive behaviors like being a workaholic, having eating / shopping / substance abuse disorders, list-making or gambling. I don't have compulsive behaviors.

17. lie to themselves and others. I don't lie to myself nor others.

18. often have caseloads rather than friendships. This doesn't apply to me.

19. often involve themselves in compulsive processing of past interactions and events and intellectualization as a defense against pain. After thinking about the meaning of this statement, I take this to mean that the adult child shamed in childhood incessantly thinks about the past and tries to make sense of it all in order to deal with the painful experiences. I do think of the past and try to piece it all together; I also analyze and pick apart current / recent encounters that have been filled with friction in regard to my family. I do try to take the past and understand it so that I can come to peace with it and move on. I also try to understand my actions and reactions in these scenarios, trying to isolate my part in these frictions, so that I won't make the same mistakes or won't take unnecessary blame. I would venture to guess that I think about the past and its components a great deal more than the average person-- and I would venture to guess that I am like this because of the nature of my past. The past shapes the person who you are today-- and since nothing has been clear cut with either parent or what has happened as a result of my parents, compulsively processing and intellectualizing is a result.

20. have little sense of emotional boundaries. They feel constantly violated by others. They frequently build false boundaries through walls, rage, pleasing or isolation. Completely doesn't apply to me.

21. are stuck in dependency or counter-dependency. This doesn't apply to me.

So with this list, you can see I exhibit residual effects from the abuse I endure from my BPD mother and NPD father. I can trace how I realized that I was feeling after-effects:

Once I turned 18, I was out on my own and concentrating on getting a degree, working through college, and having a wonderful social life. I think my main issue at this time was trying to break free from the emotional control that my parents had over me-- guilt trips, manipulations, and conditional love. I wanted to (and always have wanted to) please them so much-- and if I pleased one, the other wasn't pleased... so I was constantly juggling. The juggling was so disconcerting.

Mid-way through college I went through a period of depression that I couldn't explain. I was making straight A's, running competitively, had wonderful friends, worked several jobs so money wasn't an issue, and I had my needs met being self-sufficient. I never did figure out what this depression was a result of, but one day I woke up and the weight was lifted off of my shoulders.

By the time I was out of college and in management, I realized that I was dealing with my boss a lot like I dealt with my Dad. This boss could put me on the defense identical to what my Dad would do to me. As a result, I reacted defensively-- feeling the need to explain to the nth degree. I did a great deal of soul searching, researching, and delving into spirituality at this time. I purchased books on how to deal with difficult people (difficult people like my Dad is difficult) and about believing in oneself and staying positive & happy.

I also struggled to find balance with work and private time as I worked up to 100 hours a week at times, and my mother didn't offer any support. She actually advocated staying in the position that I was overworked and underpaid AND miserable. I felt trapped and alone a lot of the time, and I felt as if life was unfolding around me, and I was only an observer. After an estrangement with my mother and a job change, I became peaceful and happy once again.

By the end of the 90's I was experiencing anxiety and starting having very bad problems with my stomach. I ended up diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and gall stones. The anxiety continued to accelerated during the time I reconciled with my estranged mother. Ultimately the anxiety subsided-- but I still have hints of it to this day. My stomach issues have also subsided.

During my entire life, I have not been good with confrontation. I do not greet distention or disagreement well. If any type of negatively stems from my family, my heart skips a beat, I feel the fight-or-flight kick in, and I shake. In regard to family challenges, I always prepare for the worst and realize I will be blamed for whatever is in question. I don't accept the blame, per se, but I realize that the situation will be manipulated one way or another to make it 'my fault'.

In my personal (friend / boyfriend / husband) and professional relationships, I do not analyze or intellectualize them; however, with my family, I am completely the opposite. And as the years have progressed, and the dysfunctional episodes continue to pop up, I tend to analyze and intellectualize more and more. Having a family that is so dysfunctional, keeping everything straight in your own head can be challenging. Having the support, love, and validation of trusted friends (and spouse) is vital. Being able to talk things through with people who have been there with you through thick & thin is worth more than any therapist can tell you. Having friends that have been through the same or similar situations is also more valuable than what any psychiatrist can give you. So, although I may think things through, I know that my processing is taking me to a place of acceptance and understanding-- a place where the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together.

My entire life I have always felt like an outsider in regard to my family. Whether it's with my birth father and his family, my Dad and his wife / kids, or my mother and her husband / kids, I have not felt like I fit in since my parents split in 1979. See subsequent blog entry: Feeling Like I Don't Belong to a Family. When that family unit was pulled apart by my mother's infidelities, my feeling like I belonged was also pulled apart:
  • My birth father and his family may have wanted to love me or to include me, but (1) getting to know them was too late (too much baggage had built up in my life that I couldn't handle another family added to the mix) (2) I didn't feel like I fit in (they had their own history, stories, and traditions that I was not a part of making) (3) they were just another group of 'nice' people... there are lots of 'nice' people out there, and trying to make them 'fit' into my confusing and whirlwind life was too much.
  • I was part of a family with Dad and his wife / children (my Dad had custody of my brother and me when he married his new wife); however, the family unit was brought together too soon after a tumultuous divorce between my mother and Dad. The situation seemed forced, and situations weren't handled with finesse or care. In fact, tensions were high from the beginning, and my step-mother managed to alienate me from the beginning. I left to move in with my mother.
  • My mother and step-father kept me as an outsider by making sure to remind me that my last name was different than theirs, reminding me that my brother is "JUST" my half-brother, and noting whenever possible that my mother is the "only" family that I've got (trying to keep me aligned with her but an outside to everyone else). My mother has tried to manipulate my family relationships my whole life.
As a result of a very disorderly, confusing, and cluttered upbringing, I have been very much a person who lives very orderly, clearly, and simply. I believe there's a place for everything and everything in its place. I wouldn't say I am a perfectionist, but I do believe in putting one's best foot forward every day. I feel as if I should treat everyone as I would want me to be treated... and I am acutely aware of the effects of my behavior / actions on others.

As brief as childhood is compared to one's entire life, the results are amazingly intense and enduring. Every day, I strive to overcome the results of my childhood and work on self-improvement. I also pray that I give my child the love, support, and safety that she needs to be a well adjusted and happy adult, ready to take on the world.

1 comment:

  1. Shamed? Big time. As a toddler 2, maybe 3? I hadn't seen my "mother" for some time and one day she was in the house. I ran towards her, arms outstretched, great excitement, "Mommy! Mommy!" When I got within reach, she bent down and slapped/pushed me backwards so hard I fell backwards on my ass, my head hit the hard floor and it knocked the wind out of me. She hissed, "STOP HANGING ON ME!" and stalked away. I was just...shocked. I didn't cry. Just tried to get my breath back. My most common utterance from the time I could talk: "Mommy? Are you MAD at me?" (said timidly.) She of course would deny it while slamming doors, the click-click of her hooker heels ringing throughout the house...
    Some fit but a lot don't. And this whole "counter-dependent" thing? I HAD to become independent and self-sufficient at a very young age. I don't view this as some kind of pathology or flaw but rather an adaptation necessary to survive growing up CB Parented with a CB "Mother" who swung wildly between Engulfing and Ignoring.
    I'm older so I do have some minor age related medical stuff and long-term autoimmune stuff. My body just does weird things that come and go-no biggie in my mind. Ex: The vision in my right eye comes and goes briefly occasionally. I was telling my BF-another antique-about it one day and she said, "TW? If that happened to anyone else they'd be on the phone to their Primary immediately..." Huh.
    My point is, it *never occurs to me* to ask for help. I'm not being some sort of martyr etc. and I've also been widowed for years. Since I live in this body I'm accustomed to it being like a vehicle that makes some strange noise-and the day you bring it in to the mechanic? It stops doing it.
    Until the drive home! ;)
    I'm accustomed to doing for myself. If that makes me "counter-dependant?" OK. It also keeps me active, resourceful (I'll figure out a way to get something done) and not an old PITA whining about how "HORRIBLE" it is to get old, all their aches/pains/pills-uuuggghhh!
    No, it's not. It can be extremely liberating. But aging does require some grace, dignity (and humor) in the face of reality. If you have perfectionist tendencies, time will "cure" that: You may not have the energy to be so "perfect."
    And nothing cataclysmic is gonna happen. Promise! ;)