Decoding 2: I grew up scared

.

(Decoding the laundry list, continued.)

As an adult child,

(5) I have trouble relaxing or having fun.

That’s because I grew up scared.  I never knew what to expect.  (Will Dad hug me or hit me?  Will Mom reassure me or tell me what I did wrong?  Will they get along or argue?  Will I be accepted? Criticized? Abused? Ignored?)  Such uncertainty is rife when a family member is alcoholic, but it exists in all families to some extent.   Uncertainty made me hypervigilant.   I learned to scan constantly for threats, signs of tension or anger or conflict or other trouble.  I did that so long I lost the ability to do otherwise, to drop my defenses and relax or just play.  I became an adult who is chronically braced against imminent danger.  

(6) I take myself very seriously.

This flows directly from the last item.  Fear makes you pretty damn serious.  Fear hijacks your attention, steals your energy, keeps you preoccupied and wary.  And since one of the things I’m most scared of is criticism, I’m forever worried that others will judge me.  (Dance?  Play?  Act silly?  God, no.  I’d look like a fool.)  I worry about that, on some level, all the time.      

(7) I  struggle with intimate relationships.

Intimacy means being able to be yourself with another person and allow them to do the same with you.  It requires dropping your defenses and surrendering control.  It requires faith, both in other people (I trust you not to hurt or betray me) and in myself (I am basically lovable and can take care of myself).   I never developed that faith.  So showing another person who I really am feels like skydiving without a parachute.  Frankly it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone can do it, or would want to.

(8) I over-react to changes beyond my control.

I spent childhood reacting to events that were scary or stressful.  This left me experiencing the external world as dangerous.  And I concluded that the only way to feel safe was to control those external events — the people, places and things in my environment.  A logical conclusion, but psychologically disastrous, since it made me hypersensitive to everything I couldn’t control.  And every life is filled with the uncontrollable.  So now, to the extent that I rely on control to feel secure or confident, my internal life feels not safe but chaotic.

(9) I constantly seek approval and affirmation.

All kids need large helpings of the four A’s: attention, acceptance, approval and affection.  Kids who get enough feel loved and lovable.  Kids who don’t feel holey — emotionally hungry.  I didn’t get enough, so now my hunger compels me to seek feeding in the form of approval and validation.  Unfortunately I seek it in self-defeating ways.  Since I feel unlovable, I don’t believe I deserve feeding.  So instead of revealing my true self to you I hide the parts of me (like anger and self-doubt) I think you’ll dislike.  I try to fool you into loving me.  As a result whatever love or approval I do get feels meaningless, since I had to lie to get it.  I remain holey, and so compelled to seek approval and affirmation again and again.

(To be continued.)

 Part 13 of a series on

monkeytraps and adult children.

Read part 1 here.

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2 responses to “Decoding 2: I grew up scared

  • Eunice

    I can really relate to all of these, however, i’m noticing what i’m doing and have loosened the reins on myself a bit more. It certainly is a struggle though yet I know i’m not alone in this. (I just gotta let go of that banana) Thanks Steve. 😁

    • Steve Hauptman

      You’re welcome, Eunice.

      Yes, there’s always a banana, and it’s usually hard to give up.

      But life gets much, much easier once you learn how to.

      Keep up the good work.

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