“I think you grow up feeling shame about the stuff your parents didn’t allow you to talk about when you were little. So anything that a parent makes ‘off-limits’ – that’s the shit that’s going to make you crazy when you get older. If you want your kids to be normal, let them talk about everything, then they won’t have any shame around it; then it’s just not a big deal anymore. If you grew up with a lot of ‘off-limit’ things, you have to ask people and figure it all out. The more you know, the more you realize you’re not the only one.” -Brene Brown “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)”
What if I was to tell you that I have read this paragraph at least a dozen times, and each time I do, the truth just rings even clearer.
I don’t think Dr. Brown could have written something any closer to the truth. Some families avoid controversial topics such as drugs, sex,
rock n’ roll religion, politics, alcohol, body image. Making it very awkward to talk about later in life, or even confusion in their own opinions and beliefs on the subject.
What if though, “the stuff your parents didn’t allow you to talk about when you were little” was basically everything? I’m not saying this in a hyperbolic way either.
For as long as I can remember, I cannot recall a time where my mother and I sat down and had a serious conversation, of any sort. Granted, she talked AT me, and barked orders. My opinions were her opinions, not being allowed to have any idea or opinion that differed from hers (this was considered selfish, ungrateful, talking back). If we were sitting down to “talk” it was full of shame, belittlement, and ended with punishment.
I was not a sheltered kid, in any way, but I do firmly believe my mom was so wrapped up in her world, that I was neglected normal everyday advice and conversations someone usually has with their child. We never had the sex talk, ever, I learned it from the back of the bus. Every topic had shame around it. Mom called me a slut in high school when I asked if I could go to a football game with friends. Sex Ed was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life, once again, not sheltered, but I was appalled that people spoke so openly about sex. My perception of sex was one based solely on control. After angry drunken fights at all hours of the night, loud obnoxious make up sex was next on the list. This became perfunctory in my little head. People didn’t do that because they loved each other, they did it at the end of a fight. The constant “I love you, I hate you” routine in my life was extremely confusing to me.
Another huge one for me was emotions. I very distinctly remember one circumstance in particular. I was sitting on a railing, my foot got stuck between the bars. As I jerked my foot free I fell forward and bashed my nose on the edge of a bench. Immediately, my mother can running over, yelling at me for being so careless and for not listening. This was typical, as was “stop crying before I give you something to cry about”. I was not allowed to cry, I had no right to be angry.
If I was proud of an accomplishment, I was either selfish, or I was instructed promptly how it had been done “half-ass”. Feelings were regarded as weak, and unable to control yourself, I would be spanked or punished, and still expected to hold it together. Some people hear the saying, “Never let them see you sweat.” My motto growing up was, “Never let them see you cry.”
It just became so much easier to not say anything at all, then to say or do something that would later on be held over your head or used against you. I made sure to never need anything and tried my best to hide. “Fine” was an emotion. That was the deepest it had gone in years. “You look upset.” “No, I’m fine.” It was practically my name and identity. It wasn’t until treatment that I began to learn feelings, much like a kid in pre school.