“Why doesn’t daddy love me?” This was the heartbreaking question that I recalled asking my mother at a very young age during a therapy session this week. The inner child subject has been coming up often, both in my purpose group and now with my therapist, Jane. There is no question that how we are treated or what our environments might have been like during our formidable years impacts us later in life. I’m just not quite certain that I ever fully appreciated the scale of this, but I am starting to.
Given so many of my struggles with work lately, the topic has been on the table with Jane for the past several sessions. This week, I walked into the office without any intent of going down the work road again, yet somehow it went straight in that direction. I’ve mentioned before that I work in a high stress environment, but what makes this even worse for me is that I also deal with very difficult personality types – and most of them are men. I’m not even talking about the people that I work with directly, although there are one or two that fall into this category, but it’s primarily our outside clients. They can be very demanding, pushy, obstinate, and sometimes just downright assholes. I’ve never been comfortable in these situations, and it’s only getting worse. On top of it all, the workload continues to pile on and I constantly feel anxious and a sense of urgency to get everything done, even when I know that it’s not possible. Unless, of course, I sacrifice my sleep, personal time, and overall well-being. All of which, I’ve already been giving up to a great extent, and I’m still drowning.
This isn’t anything new, and I’ve talked about the stress here before, but what is new to me is how it’s my inner child that shows up when things get rough. This week, Jane really pushed me into talking about what I think drives my state of internal panic when faced with some of the situations at work. It took me a long time to find the words because I didn’t immediately recognize it, but what I ultimately came up with is that I’m scared. I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I’m afraid of disappointing people. I’m afraid of people getting upset with me, I’m afraid of not being able to measure up to their standards.
As one might guess, the next questions were related to where I thought all of this fear came from. This time, without any hesitation, I pointed straight to my childhood because the first thing in my head was that question to my mom – “Why doesn’t daddy love me?”. Nothing was good enough for my father, at least it seemed that way most times. I couldn’t so much as brush my teeth right, to the point where he would often stand behind me watching with crossed arms through the mirror providing his drunken and angry direction. “Massage the gums first, no not like that. Do it again. Go all the way around the top and then the bottom, now the teeth. No, no, you’re doing it wrong. Slow down. Start over.” This would go on until he was finally satisfied and my gums were sore and bleeding. I didn’t hold my dinner fork correctly, my plate was never cleaned properly, hell, I couldn’t even turn a light switch on or off the right way. Sometimes, without even knowing that he had been watching, he would suddenly jump up and dash across the room at me, yelling profanities. He would then make me stand for what felt like hours watching how he turned the lights on and off, with his drunken over-enunciation of how “you don’t ever touch the switch plate, or else it will get dirty” and “only use your fingertips to touch the very edge of the switch” and let’s not forget “how could you be so stupid?” I was then subjected to repeat the action of turning the switch on and off the right way, until he finally felt like he had done his job and went back to his beer.
The crazy thing, as if any of it wasn’t crazy enough, was that most of this just came on out of the blue. I had always turned lights on and off in what most of us would consider the ‘normal way’, and then suddenly one day it became a problem. The same goes for the way I ate a meal, or brushed my teeth. This is one of the many issues with growing up with an alcoholic/drug abusing parent. You never know what to expect. You never know what mood they will be in on any given day, or what it will be that sets them off next. I spent my childhood in a constant state of alert and when someone got angry, or had a sudden need or demand, I jumped into action. I was perpetually walking on eggshells because it was what I needed to do to survive.
Over this past week, I’ve started to see that this little girl still lives inside of me. She is still running on high, ready for the unknown to hit her at any moment. Sure, you grow up and become an adult who may be more in control of your surroundings, but you don’t just suddenly outgrow the past behaviors. You don’t leave your survival mechanisms on the path behind you. I didn’t realize how strongly my reactions now are tied to my reactions as that little girl, but her fragile spirit is still very much a part of me and it feels well past time for her to finally feel safe.