It happens to all of us. Whether you admit it or not. From the moment we are born, and hear our first words, probably before that, we are conditioned to react a certain way, think a certain way and to live a certain way. As we grow up and develop we may rebel against this and find a different path, yet I have found that some habits die exceptionally hard, if they die at all.
I will often talk of my grandmother, paternal. She was my main care giver as my parents both worked when I was a baby and then as I grew older and my mother fell ill, she was my confidant and anchor. She provided common sense and safety and above all, acceptance, in my teen years when no one else would offer that. Along with it though, came conditioning, the very same that holds me back now from healing.
A very good example is that I suffered tremendously with period pain. I used to double over in agony. I actually used to pray it would start at night so that I would only have to deal with bloody sheets in the morning, rather than deal with the stares and comments at school. I remember a particularly bad day and I was at home, in tears and complaining, because seriously what 13-year old wouldn’t? This was her advice:
Go to the bathroom and have a hot bath. Take your time. Cry and complain. Not loud, we don’t want to hear you. When you pull the plug your mood goes with the water down the drain. By the time you come out the door you are smiling and I want to hear no more. It is not the rest of the family’s problem that you are sore. It is your cross to bear, so bear it. Quietly. When it gets to much you go bath, if you can’t you go to your room. No one needs to see your unhappiness, your anger, your upset – your negativity. It is yours and yours alone. We only speak of the good.
I learned my lesson and I learned to shut up. I never spoke of my hurt, of my pain. I learned to wear a mask that all was good and it ended up in a 20-year relationship, that although not all bad was largely indifferent. I battle with the good relationships I do have because my knee-jerk conditioning is to hide rather than to talk. I will easily talk of small hurts, I have learned to do that in the last 6 years but the big ones? Those I still deal with behind closed doors, in locked bathrooms or enclosed spaces.
I now have a 20-year old who is dealing with hurts that I cannot imagine and it breaks my heart. A 23-year old who doesn’t share his feelings easily. I know that this is because of my own inability to break my own conditioning. I am trying to change this and hopefully making some progress. Interestingly a comment made by my father in surprise when discussing some of my issues surrounding my daughter, to the effect of “oh, it’s having an impact on you” has made me realise how little an impact my issues have had on him. As a friend says, his lack of thought shouldn’t make me want to compensate.
It does though. I spend my life compensating for everyone else, and making life easier for them. I hide my feelings because it is easier. The attempted suicide was not because I felt no one cared, but because I cared enough to want to make it easier on everyone. By not being in the equation it meant that no one had to consider me. Oh, I understand that suicide is not necessarily the answer. But when your pain is all encompassing, it is very close to being the ONLY answer. I am very aware of the impact it has on those around you, the reverberations are felt in many ways and the fallout is huge.
My conditioning was such that when I left RSA to move to AU I broke a family tradition. I have been accused of abandoning family and being the reason why certain members are now in unhappy marriages. I was supposed to take on the care of my extended family and I refused. In fact I have refused to care beyond assisting into a facility. My reasons are sound, I want my memories intact and I do not have that training. As such, I am the black sheep and barely contacted beyond when someone wants something or needs advice in leaving the country. Yet still my heart aches, that was my family.
Conditioning. Today it came home hard, I can only hope that I am making progress in changing it in my children – rather late than never. In myself, I have partners who accept that I will have some knee-jerk reactions to certain situations and instead of letting me go to that shower / enclosed space, they will coerce me out. They will help me talk. It shouldn’t always be me reaching out first, and I am lucky that here in AU I don’t always have to.