Monday, March 23, 2015

Emotional Deprivation: a self-indulgent ramble

I've been going on a web surfing adventure, clicking on links.

It started with one of my favourite bloggers, Hands Free Mama.

I then followed a link to an article by Jonice Webb which looked at studies showing that the most important thing for happiness in life is being loved as a child. However, she says, love is not enough. She then talks about the difference between knowing you are loved and feeling that you are loved.

From there I then linked to a questionnaire which fits me almost perfectly. except for two points:
6. Often just want to be left alone
17. Believe you’re one of those people who could easily live as a hermit
which sort of fit, in that I often feel I want to be alone. However when I am alone I start losing myself. I depend upon others to provide me with a sense of reality. Although I am intellectually certain that it was given from a desire to help me, the constant criticism, and denial of feelings as a child, left me dependent on being told what to feel, what to do, what to be. I need people, even when I want to be alone. Without others, I feel I am nothing.

All this reading brought up things that a counselor told me more than 10 years ago. That I was emotionally deprived as a young child. That I would never be able to recover from it. That I'd never get over my episodic depression. That I'd never be able to properly love anyone. She said that the best I'd ever be able to do was to manage my depression, but that it would come at a cost - that I'd also have to manage my occasional highs out of existence too.

Fortunately my mother had not managed to totally destroy the stubborn streak I must have been born with. She never managed to teach me to totally ignore my own feelings, despite punishment, including being hit with wooden spoons and her hairbrush for being angry or sad, and then sent to my room to calm down or cheer up. I was even, on a few occasions, sent to my room to calm down and stop being so annoyingly happy.

When the counselor told me those things, I knew she was right about one thing: I was emotionally deprived as a child. From the vantage point of fifteen years on from my mother's death, I was able to explore the reasons for this with the counselor (issues in my mother's own life before I was even born), and these discussions set in motion reflections which continue today. My mother did not give me hugs - even negative physical contact was via the wooden spoon, not her hand. But she did show love, I guess, through all the things she did for me. She loved craft work, sewing, knitting, made all our clothes, and always the new dress was accompanied by a new outfit for one of my dolls. In my teens she gave me a subscription to Seventeen magazine (an American publication) and then copied the clothes, crafting fashionable clothes we could not possibly have afforded otherwise. (This was in the days when there were no cheap imports and making your own was cheaper by far, but rarely made as well as my mother's beautiful work.) She even made amazing fancy dress party outfits for us, often out of crepe paper.
Twenty six years after her death, memories of the good things my mother did for me are returning more frequently, and I am seeing love in those things that I never felt as a child.
That counselor was wrong about my ability to love though. I don't give love easily, except for the instant falling in love that happened with the births of each of my children. But I do love them, and also my husband, grandchildren, and a few friends.
She was right when she said I will never 'get over' depression, but she was wrong about managing it - I have learned to manage it without sacrificing the highs. In fact, I have learned to manage myself so well that I have more highs now, and can, with effort, actually bring them on. (Without drugs - drugs scare me.) High is not a state for everyday living though, so I don't go there all the time.
The management and expression of feelings is still a problem. Learning, as a child, that the only way to manage feelings is to repress them, has left me struggling to learn more helpful ways to manage and express them.
I still fear rejection, struggling to believe in my gut that people really do love / like / want to be friends with me: I expect people to ditch me 'when they find out what a horrid little girl I really am'. It took me thirty years of being with my husband before I stopped waiting for his return from work, heart in mouth, every day, wondering if this would be the day he woke up to what I 'really am' and drive away to a happier life. When people reject my friendship, I have to remind myself that it's not always about me as a person: it may be about them; it may be we have diverged onto different paths; that our connection no longer serves one or other of us. It may be that I turned out to be a bitch - or that she did - it can just be a matter of perspective.
I am incredibly insecure still. I have only ever intentionally asked two people to be 'Facebook friends', so when I discovered recently that I had apparently asked some people without knowing I had (or that someone else did it - my computer and phone are always open), I was instantly overwhelmed by a sense of embarrassment and shame. I 'unfriended' one. I have felt undeserving of friendship. It took me years of knowing people before inviting them to my home or asking them to meet me for coffee. In recent years I have worked really hard on this, but it is just that - outrageously difficult work just to invite someone for coffee.

Most of the time I wear boring clothes, and little make up or jewelry. I was brought up to understand that I shouldn't draw attention to myself. That make up should be subtle and not 'trashy' (anything other than unnoticeable). My mother was horrified when I got my ears pierced when I was 21 - only whores and sailors had pierced ears apparently. God knows what she would have said about my tattoo! Jewelry should be quality and subtle - not fun. Shoes should be sensible and plain so you only need three pairs: sandals for summer, lace-ups for winters, one pair for good, plus slippers and gumboots. Clothes were the one thing my mother didn't restrict greatly, because she loved making pretty things - but they had to be well made.

Somewhere along the way, through the weight gains of pregnancy, the exhaustion of parenting, the put-downs of a society that professes to value motherhood, but which despises those who practice it, and the put-downs of my generation of feminists who professed to value choice for women 'who should be able to do and be anything thing they liked' just as long as it wasn't being a full time mother, somewhere along that way, the little sense of self value that I had retained, shriveled even more.
However, as I said before, I must have been born stubborn. That little voice inside was never quite shushed completely. I 'know' I have friends who love me, and enjoy my company although there are still too many days when I don't 'feel' it.
I know that I don't look as good in harem pants and bright shirts as anyone else younger, slimmer, prettier, so I only wear them at home. And at womad where a good portion of people are wearing slightly crazy clothes. I was people watching at womad and realised that when I dress in boring jeans and black t-shirt, I still don't look as good as anyone else younger, slimmer, prettier - so why not wear what I actually feel right in? Well, I've bought some crazy shoes, which my mother would not have approved of, and I wear them everywhere, not just at home and womad. It's a start.

God knows, I'm not denying that I've fucked up my sons in turn. 

But eventually we all have to take responsibility for ourselves. I've spent my adult life looking to fill the gaps that my childhood emotional deprivation left, by looking outward to others to tell me what to do and what to be, but now, at last, I'm trying discover what it really is to be and 'do' me.

It's time to say to the world, "Fuck off then, if you don't like it." Except the reality is, it's unlikely that anyone will even notice, let alone care!

 * This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin

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