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You have Parent Issues even if you don’t think you do

It is obvious that our parents have an almost inconceivable effect on our development as human beings, and most of us can accept that. Whether you vote the way your parents do or reject that completely, you’re reacting to how you were brought up; the conversations, the assumptions, the influences. And when someone has had a tragic or abusive childhood, we can envisage why that might have messed them up. We can see that impact because it’s in popular culture, in TV and paperbacks in WH Smith with pictures of sad children on the cover. But more and more (and more) I am realising the impact that familial relationships have, not just on our development as a human being but on the very way we form relationships. However conscious we are about our decision making, most of us don’t realise the extent to which we are recreating patterns in our personal lives.

Does this sound a little self-helpy? I can see that. It’s probably symptomatic of the sort of literature that I read and the sorts of things I’ve always been interested in that this rings so true with me. The people I’m interested in (in a literary sense) are often cerebral types, often recovering addicts, people who have had a lot of therapy. I also like Jillian Michaels, the trainer from The Biggest Loser, who is- I think it’s fair to say- not a particularly cerebral type. But she is a person who understands the destructive nature of her relationship with her father growing up, and how that makes her react, in a very real way, to authority figures in her own life. When the people I’m interested in kept saying the same thing in many different ways, it slowly started to dawn on me that it made sense.

This shit makes sense! www.5lovelanguages.com/
This shit makes sense! www.5lovelanguages.com/

The problem is that because we live our own experiences and our perception is our reality. It is often very hard to see that it might be worth questioning the conclusions we’re drawing. I’ve been racking my brains for an example that isn’t vague, or boring. Of course when you have an interaction with someone and they appear preoccupied we can read that as them being rude, or having something on their mind, or interpret ourselves as boring or not worthy of their attention. But without a specific example, it’s all a bit blah. So I’ll give you mine.

In my early twenties I was almost always in a relationship and I assumed it would never be that difficult to find another. A little further into my twenties, I found myself single and working in the City, and it was suddenly much harder to meet someone. It wasn’t hard to meet people in general but it was sure as shit extremely hard to meet anybody worth spending any time with. That obviously excludes the unbelievable friends I made  there and continue to be close to: they’re gorgeous. The harder I tried the further away what I wanted seemed to be, like trying to catch a fish in your hands. I’d have dates, and second dates, and sometimes more, just to have the person disappear. Any time I got comfortable, that person would ghost on me, so of course I went into every relationship being scared that would happen. “We all have those fears!”, I hear you cry, and of course we do. But until I was in a relationship that felt like a team, where I felt secure, I couldn’t see how utterly terrified I had been in the early stages of the relationship that it would all crumble. It was a pathological fear, a physical feeling that M would leave me. I put it down to the ghosting morons. Now, 798 high-brow podcasts later, I am struck by the truth of the realisation I had a couple of months ago: my fear that the person I love will reject me is as a direct reaction to my fear that love would be withdrawn as a child.

I’m not going to criticise or blame, that’s not the point. I just feel more free and more calm realising that love felt conditional in my childhood and  that it’s had an impact. I also had a lot of unconditional love and continue to have that, and that is nourishing and has made me a lot of who I am. I just also deeply feel that love can be withdrawn.

Look, I don’t think having a critical parent with their own issues qualifies me to write a misery memoir called Why won’t you love me? My point isn’t self-pity, my point is that I have reflected on this one small element of what affects the dynamics of my relationship and it feels very true and runs very deep, and holy shit where does that leave us all? We’re screwed, doomed to repeat patterns that we don’t even recognise! I suppose some people can identify some of the many fibres that form the whole, to a greater or lesser degree. But even just taking a second to think about your opinion or emotion or irritation or resentment, taking a moment to hold it up to the light and to think about the years that went into it, the assumptions and pain, well I think that might be worth it. Holding up Not Going to Prezzo and examining it, maybe I’ll find that it turns to dust. Don’t get me started on Ways I Need To Be Shown I’m Loved. I’m trying, OK?


Category: Life
Loz anger  (1)

It’s hard to admit your flaws… and mine is my temper

It’s hard to admit your flaws. I don’t mean the ones about our weight or being terrible with money, or all the other little things we might jokingly mention but we’re secretly paranoid about. I don’t mean the things that we will readily offer up, I mean the uncomfortable flaws. The ones that really suck. The ones that make us wonder if we could ever make a scary mistake.

Nobody who has ever spent more than about 20 minutes with me could ever doubt that I’m an emotional person. I hide it with work stuff so that’s a possible exception,  but even then that’s only in formal situations. A wise woman once told me that the closer you can be to your true self at work, the happier you’ll be, and the truth of this is demonstrable in my own life so I don’t pretend to be a robot. But I do try and apply logic to my feelings, and when I have a (negative) emotional response to another person I do some work to unpick it and work out why I may have had that response. We all feel things that we shouldn’t act on. My issue is not acting on one particular emotional response, and that’s anger. Not anger at people I love, when I will do the work that I just described and try to work out whether my response is fair and- probably more to the point- appropriate to the situation. My impulse control is tested when the anger is directed at strangers.

This is a really hard thing to describe because I think it makes me sound like a horrible, horrible person. And I am ashamed of my reactions when I feel that sharp flash of anger. It’s genuine shame that I feel. So often, the anger I feel is because a person- quite often on public transport- is not acting with the care, attention, and consideration that I think they should and that I consider myself to be exhibiting. It’s a theme in my emotional life that I can feel that other people aren’t trying as hard as I am, but I realise it’s unreasonable to feel that way with my loved ones because a) don’t ask people to be grateful for things you’ve done that they didn’t ask for; and b) you have no way of knowing how much effort someone is making! They might be making a hundred tiny decisions in your best interest every day and you wouldn’t know.

Me looking cheerful. Which is a lot of the time
Me looking cheerful. Which is a lot of the time

So how does this anger manifest itself? Physically. How awful it is: the shame I feel at typing that sentence. How is it any different an emotional response to somebody who beats their partner when they feel aggrieved? It’s different because the scale is different but I realised recently that it has to stop. I got on a tube, tipsy, and interpreted someone as being in the way as we tried to board the train. And I pushed his backpack. It was a shove, really. And I immediately apologised and he was angry and swearing about me the entire journey and that was my punishment. But it could have been so, so much worse. It could essentially have been picking a fight with a man on the tube. And even more than that, it upset my mother (who I had been trying to protect) and M (who would have felt that he had to protect me) and it’s just not fucking good enough. I have to be better than that. And believe me, this is only the occasion that sticks in my mind as being very recent and pretty grim, there are plenty more.

I’ve known since my first serious relationship that I have a quick temper. That boyfriend brought it up all the time, until I had to accept it was the truth. And I know that it is a small, dirty flare signalling that there’s some anger inside me that hasn’t been taken care of. I know it’s sad inner child stuff but I have the manifestation of that under control a lot of times. It’s these silly infractions that I react like a pressure cooker to; stepping on my foot, hitting me with your bag, walking diagonally across a busy road. These are not things to give a shit about. In the world we live in, they could probably be let go.

So, I have been consciously watching myself. I have been seeing when I react; recognising the signs. And by being conscious of every angry tut, every time I want to kick the foot of the person who’s crushed my toes, I get better at diffusing myself. The regularity of those reactions means I’m already taking the sting out. And by writing it down I am facing up to the work I have to do, and I am putting it out there so I can’t pretend that it’s a one-off, a silly drunk reaction, nothing to worry about.  I’m taking responsibility for my sharp, white anger and I am refusing to be defined by it. I hope.

Category: Life
heart sand

On living with M

I lived in a house with one or more parents until I was 34.  Seeing that written down feels weird, but for the most part that’s because other people reading it will find it weird; while there were frustrations, sharing a house with my mum didn’t get in the way of much and there’s always been a bunch of beds/sofas/mattresses at friends’ houses to choose from.  It was just the way it worked out for various reasons- some stemming from my parents’ divorce, some not-  and I’ve always had an unusually close, supportive, and respectful relationship with my mum.  I also have never had any desire, even when I’ve felt a mite stifled or childish, to live on my own.  Friends, family, a partner: yes.  But not on my own: that’s a very quick way to minor depression for me.

When I met M I think we tried not to move too quickly, even while emotionally we were speeding out of sight.  We didn’t see each other every night, and work trips and my social life (and the fact that M couldn’t really have one) meant that we had space from each other.  Except that by six months I was staying at M’s house so often, and hanging there even when he was out, that the writing was pretty much on the wall: we live together now.

I had always taken the view that moving in together would be huge, and if the timing was wrong that it could spell absolute disaster.  And I still think that, but I feel that at my age I’m in a better position to know what I want and what I’m able to adapt to.  And in so many ways it’s felt stupidly easy.  I’ve sat in bars and pubs asking my co-habiting friends whether they found it difficult when they first moved in together: I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Or I did.  It turns out that I had interpreted my difficult to be the same as other people’s difficult, which it isn’t.  We split the chores, and although we’re both messy and that can irritate, we’re mostly pretty considerate people.  Where I realise my difficult comes in to play is when it comes to feelings.  I have all the feelings, and I’m a naturally very emotional person.  I’m also resilient, supportive, and fairly alright company, and my emotional side makes me a better friend and partner.  But I do realise that I’m used to living with someone who’s known me all my life and who’s able (pretty much) to gauge my moods and knows the tricks to make me feel better, or to take care of me.  Which me and M are still navigating.  We have an agreement that I need to signpost M to what I need because I’m not that easy to read, and also because I’ve had those very emotional relationships and he hasn’t in the same way.  But it’s not easy when you’re upset to tell someone that you feel they’re handling the situation wrong or you need something else.  I try to guess what people need and I think I do ok but it’s ridiculous to expect anyone to be able to do that with me.

I also have a characteristic that I’m sure can be very tiring for the person I live with. I have a need for things to feel special, or an occasion, or marked in some way.  I’m not sure where it comes from, or rather I do but I can’t quite articulate it.  I know I want to be present and I like things to be deliberate- I really am not one for channel-surfing and ending up with half an old episode of Only Fools and Horses.  I think the concept of ‘occasion’ is a throwback to my childhood: up until quite late in my parents’ marriage, occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, and holidays were sacred.  People put aside their differences and made nice for a couple of days, and we had fun things to eat and drink.  I can’t quite unpick exactly where this need comes from and why I need a sense of ceremony on a bog-standard Saturday night, but I do.  I do my best not to dictate our weekends, and it’s worth noting that somehow marking the evening can be as small as picking something nice for tea, or watching a film instead of something from the Sky planner.  It’s just important to me that we’re present, I guess.  Similar to my feelings about marriage, I want to be actively being in our relationship, not coasting or sleepwalking through it.

I carry with me a fear, always, that I am being emotionally demanding or dictatorial.  While I think we are usually excellent communicators, a recent row proved that pussyfooting around and thinking that we’re being considerate essentially ends up amounting to (benign) dishonesty, and potentially feeling a bit hard done by.  It’s a tricky balancing act between signposting a need and making a demand, I suppose.  But we’re not doing too badly.

Category: Life