Today, my son came home with this assignment from his English AP class. They are reading Hamlet & the teacher has requested the parents write a letter, (i.e. Polonius to Laertes). I’ve decided to post it here….
As I write this letter to you, I am forced to face the very grim reality that you will be “leaving us”. As you set out to build a “life on your own terms”, I hope you don’t forget the happy memories & our unconditional love.
This brings me to the point of this letter: “do you have any advice…that you think will help…find happiness & success?” I’ll try not to bore you with a “verbose lecture” & provide the “Cliff’s Notes” version:
You become what you believe you are & limited by the breadth of self-perceived possibility. You’re very lucky to be blessed with a father & grandfather who are both independent spirits. You’re quite a bit like them. Stick with what you know you are about. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders.
Given one choice it is better to ask the question than know the answer. The former produces clarity & the later perpetuates bullsh*t. (I apologize to your teacher for the potty word). What do I mean by this? Look up the word “Hubris”. In my family there are many individuals who feel they “know the answers” & are quick to spout their own brand of wisdom. Given the choice, I feel it is better to embrace the opportunities for growth life throws your way. (Think Edison & The Light Bulb)…
“Common Sense is a highly over-rated majority rules notion that overlooks deeply held values relevant to one’s unique life experience, for blind pragmatism”. As one “INFP” to another “INFP”, please take my advice & save yourself a world of headache. INFP’s are like that kid in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Do not be afraid to call things as they are. You’re that kid that points out the fact the king is naked. Be unafraid of others opinions & Call it like you see it. You are a horse of a different color – and that is a beautiful thing.
The search for love is often like chasing rainbows. It is something you often find when you stop looking like when a butterfly lands on your shoulder. (Yeah I know this one is kind of corny, but the metaphor works). I spent my teen’s and 20’s seeking outside myself for what I carried within me. Ultimately, I have come to appreciate the empowering notion that the truest measure of my value is the lasting impact I make on others. I get the love I desire in my relationships because I make a concerted effort to invest wisely what I have to give.
In closing, know that the time and space are irrelevant matters when it comes to my motherly love. You carry it with you wherever you go. Go make your life your own & don’t forget I am always here, should you need anything…
INTRODUCTION: This article is part of a series titled “In My Own Defense”
ISSUE #1: Parentification
PARENTIFICATION DEFINED: “a disturbance in the generational boundaries, such that evidence indicates a functional and/or emotional role reversal in which the office child sacrifices his or her own needs for attention, comfort, and guidance in order to accommodate and care for the logistical and emotional needs of a parent and/or sibling.” (Hooper, 2007b, p. 323)
EMOTIONAL PARENTIFICATION DEFINED: “emotional parentification requires the child to fulfill specific emotional and/or psychological needs of a parent and is more often destructive for child development than instrumental parentification (Hooper, 2007a). For example, the emotionally parentified child may be expected to gauge and respond to the emotional needs of the parent, serve as confidante and an unwavering source of support, and provide crisis intervention during times of psychological distress (Aldridge, 2006; Hooper, 2007b; Katz et al., 2009). This subtype, which often occurs in concert with instrumental parentification, is most often found within family systems in which a parent suffers from mental illness or adult attachment issues (Aldridge, 2006). In order to deal with his or her own deficits, which likely arose in childhood, the parent expects emotional or psychological support from the child without reciprocation (Hooper, 2007b).”
ISSUE #2: Scapegoat
“Scapegoat theory refers to the tendency to blame someone else for one’s own problems, a process that often results in feelings of prejudice toward the person or group that one is blaming. Scapegoating serves as an opportunity to explain failure or misdeeds, while maintaining one’s positive self-image” (Scapegoat Theory Definition, n.d.)
I have to be honest, I’m ready to be done with this post series
However, there is a part of me, that anal retentive idiot, whom is insistent that I complete what I start. So I will simply be brief here. “In my own defense”, it was necessary for me to tend to my parents’ needs growing up. My mother wasn’t from “around here”, and I instinctively felt it was essential to “Stick up for her” as the “minority”. At some level, I knew she was worried about growing up because she didn’t know how to help me. There were times, I was aware she was ignorant to how bad it was here and that many of my teachers in school, unfairly judged here. The lack of multicultural sensitivity is pretty standard in the small town I grew up in (especially in the 70’s and 80’s)…..
My dad, on the other hand, is another story, He “marched to his own drum”, and was not very “socially aware”. It took me a while to realize that this was due more to his own cluelessness than any rebellious desire to “buck tradition”. As an “INTP personality type”, who always had pride for his intellect and advanced education. However, these ego-based front to the world, hid his insecurity and areas of weakness: emotion. He hated discussing feelings, acknowledging them, and lived by the motto of isolationist stoicism. However, this didn’t necessarily mean he had no emotions. He just pretended they weren’t there. Like when he came home and got annoyed if you asked him a question when he was watching t.v….Or if we were driving and some idiot cut him off. When he gets angry or anxious he becomes this stupid 2-years-old and pouts until he gets his way. My mother does what she can to appease him in that motherly way. I learned from hear early, that the sooner you could get him to his preferred state of emotional detachment – the better. This meant, I adjusted my actions throughout the day to adjust for how he felt.
And if this emotional parentification, wasn’t enough, there was the need to feel as if I had to feel like it was my fault. Which it always was. You see, it had to be. There was no way, my parents are every going to be able to acknowledge the contextual situation within which my suicidal ideation flourished. I needed to realize, it was my fault and I needed t apologize. I have since forgiven, however forgetting is not really possible…
Hooper, L. M. (2007b). Expanding the discussion regarding parentification and its varied outcomes: Implications for mental health research and practice. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 19, 322-337.
Point #4: “I had to provide support at the expense of my own well-being. To this day, my father has received the fruit of my own emotional parentification by believing honestly that “I had a happy childhood”. My mother has received the fruit of my role as the scapegoat by saying “my conscience has been resolved”
What follows is a transcript from an interview I did with my mother over the phone for a school assignment….
When you were born, what were social expectations for you growing up?
I don’t remember much of my early years. I was born in 1938 and the war started in 1941 by the time the war started I was three years old…. I don’t remember much about growing up in a normal sense, such as reading books and going to bed at night since were refugees of the second world war and were living in caves alongside mountains, growing our own food…As a child in the Philippines you are to be seen but not heard. Crying and whining are not allowed, whether or not you are at home or in public. We are supposed to behave and remain compliant. So parents there were more authoritative and less empathetic….
Give me an example….
Basically any adult, relatives or even strangers, can tell a child to behave. You never do this in America. As children we behaved, and Papa spanked us as kids with a rolled up newspaper. As we grew older, then Mama did the spanking, we would have to lie on the bed and she did so with a slipper on the butt. So basically as children you behaved, especially when we were out in public….We were also responsible, for chores and essential activities of daily living…We said the rosary every night….You have to respect your older siblings. I have to respect Rebecca even though she is a year and a half older than I. I had to respect Rebecca. You don’t talk back to your elders ever.
How did it feel like here? How would you compare American culture to this? What do you feel about American culture from your perspective?
American parents are so much more permissive. In a way it is great at times, but you see American kids whine and whine, until they get their way. Over here kids are so much more familiar.
This reminds me of that story of that kid when you were in Texas while you were a resident at Baylor University, and he called his father “old man”.
Yeah, he told his mother “hey call your old man and come over to see this.”
Remember how your mother got mad because you called dad’s father “BOB”.
My mother told me not to call your father in law “BOB”, you call him “DAD”, it is much more respectful….In the Philippines, you never call an adult by their first name, you would say Mrs. Something. The other thing in America because of all this permissiveness, the spinoff is kids are left disrespecting authority, and are less compliant as a result. In the Philippines kids are compliant, we comply with what our elders tell us, that’s the biggest difference. What seems is that defiance of adults and elders exists amongst American youth, is common, as in “you don’t understand”. Despite all these differences, there were still many similarities between your Caucasian father and Filipino mother. Our standards were the same, in that we were both raised Christian in a Westernized culture, and were highly educated. My biggest issue was getting a handle of how to raise a kid in this culture. You wanted moon boots or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, do I relent, yes or no? Just because that’s what everybody else in this culture is doing, does that mean you must as well? It’s hard for me as a foreigner to fully impose my Filipino upbringing 100% upon you. You were American in an entirely different culture…..
When you were a teenager, what were the norms, values and gender roles supported within your family, peers, culture and in the dominant culture?
The other reality of my upbringing in the Philippines was you didn’t date until College. By the time you are in college you have some degree of maturity and did it then. We didn’t drink in high school, we did not date, we had no car, and there were no extracurricular activities in our public schools. Our society couldn’t afford them as you can here. When you go home you walk or take the bus and your mother was there. The norm was that you maintained your virginity as a girl. I was a virgin for a long time, because I was never propositioned. The boys don’t propositioned the girls. I don’t think teenage boys that young, are knowledgeable of how to do such things. We had no money as teenagers. We didn’t work at McDonalds. Boys and girls have no money. Many families can’t afford a car. We didn’t own a car until High School. We didn’t have a television until High School. We had crushes like everyone. It was never actualized. In the Philippines you did what your elders said and accept their wisdom. We don’t have the high school wisdom, they “don’t understand”, sums up a complaint of American kids. Even if you don’t take the advice, by asking it, they might make you their favorite. They appreciate this. Here if you’re misbehaving, and adult can correct you, and you will listen, even if they aren’t your parents. Here if your child is messing around, everyone could know, but nobody would tell me, including friends because here you mind your own business. Back home, you mess around, any adult can take you to ask, and somebody will notify your family.
….The problem with America is its very permissive, and the notion of being very familiar with adults, and a strong tendency to pair up very young. You’re nobody unless you have a boyfriend. There is a strong need in adolescence to be popular and fit in. There is a ladder, like a pecking scale. Teenagers are so insecure it seems like so much to handle at that age…As a girl, we didn’t wear makeup. In college you wear lipstick. This is when you start dating college. It seems easier, puberty is done, you know who you are and are more developed….
…I think it’s also easier in the Philippines growing up because of the extended family system. I had 24 cousins we all lived on Grandma’s piece of land, building five houses on it. It was a communal area we spilled out of the houses, and played together. We didn’t have the toys or technology you did but still figured out of things to do. There was really no bullying, because in school, if you are picked on at recess, you have many cousins and relatives to stand up for you. There is always a bigger and older cousin or sibling looking out for you. On the same note, if you are misbehaving, they will also inform adults, and you will be punished. This is because the reputation of the family is important, and protected in this respect. My mother’s family, the Gonzales family, has a good reputation in town. Among all 24 cousins, nobody got in trouble, and we were all upstanding citizens. I all these respects it’s a much safer environment.
So how does this relate to your sense of identity? It seems like in the states like there are more cultural and peer oriented influences. In your culture, would it be safe to say that being part of a family plays a bigger role?
Yes. The ideal family size growing up is 3-4 kids. The family structure in the Philippines, I think this is because we are Southeast Asian. you know of Confucianism? Philippines is a melting pot, Spain came to the Philippines in 1400, so we are Christian, but we do have a lot of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian emigrating to the Philippines. So there is also Confucianism, and it you revere your ancestors. As a matter of fact, there are names for the first-born son. My mother is firstborn, she is called “Ate”, they call her this and not Maria. The second born is called “Eche”, that is my aunt who is a Physician. You call siblings by birth order. I was “Nene” which means baby for the youngest child. I am the youngest. You are supposed to respect your elders….
When we were little, if Rebecca and I were fighting, I would get spanked. I would get a swat. Rebecca might get one to, but by being older she may or may not get one. I would be in the family room, and Rebecca is in the bedroom with Mama, if she gets spanked, I don’t know. She also doesn’t show the emotions to give me the privilege of knowing whether or not she was spanked. I never knew because it wasn’t in my presence. I would not get that satisfaction from her.
Fast-forward to when we decided to get married, I wrote my parents twice, the second time I sent a copy to my sister. Shortly thereafter, Rebecca a week later decided to visit, and told us to pick her up at the airport to check her up. Later that night she called our parents to give her approval, and then they responded with a letter of approval. Rebecca did behave as an older sister. When you were born, she bought everything I would need for you, including furniture and clothes. She was very generous and helpful.
It’s not the oldest boy in the family but firstborn male or female that has the position of respect in the family. This, for example, was the authority amongst her brothers and sister. Our society really looks up to authority, number one, and secondly our society respects the primacy of elders. You do what your elders say.
My grandmother in the 1930’s was a widow, put five kids through college on our own, including the girls. They all earned colleges degrees in the 1930’s as women. Our family is very matriarchal. Papa gave his paycheck to mama. Mama saved a portion, and divided the rest into four weeks cash. There was no checkbook and we lived off cash. She ruled the finances and was in charge of disciplining us kids. If you think about it, it’s logical that the woman is in charge of the money. She’s running the house and should know what is available for necessities. She never nags her husband for money, to spend on stuff. It’s not the man who spends the money; it’s the woman to run the home. She should know.
How is that different from here?
Here in the 1940’s-1950’s the father was in charge of the finances more often. Jeff’s dad was in charge, and if his mom wanted mom, she needed to ask. They fought about stuff more. They were more affluent here, not having to experience losses from war as we had. They wanted things, material things. You don’t think about necessities here as much. First and foremost are food, clothing and shelter. People don’t think of retirement or saving. Back home we have no health insurance, no nursing homes, no student loans. You saved for these things and paid out of pocket. You saved.…..
Regarding norms and values of your culture. Our culture was close Confucianism and a melting pot. We had a history that blended Christian tradition with Confucianism, and then America came and chased the Spanish out. There was already a revolution going on in 1890’s but we had not navy, so America helped. Then we were worried about another power overtaking us. America and the Philippines fought for a time in 1898 about. Apparently a bunch of Filipino rebels were killed, but then American came here, and your teachers came, and English instead of Spanish was taught in schools. My grandparent’s generation was in Spanish, and was taught that language. My mothers generation learned English instead, as was I.
Like I said we are Southeast Asian, but are mainly westernized Christians and our norms have a touch of Confucianism in that we value elder’s opinions. The reason for this is to keep order in families and society in general. Gender roles admittedly aren’t much different than America. My father was the primary wage earner; my mother was in charge of the home, but also held a job. As far as gender roles, everyone has an opportunity. My Grandma in the 1930’s put five kids in school including girls. My mother majored in biology, another aunt is a doctor, and the other was a chemist. My grandma did not just send the boys to school. If you have the aptitude you had an opportunity
How does religion play a role in identity?
Everybody is primarily Catholic. The country is 95% catholic, I would guess. There are other religions, but Catholicism is predominating. We are also very westernized….
How was your view of the world shaped by the social movements of your teenage years?
We are very westernized as a country and were very much influenced by America. I grew up with Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and The Everly Brothers. We saw movies and T.V. too, such as Mission Impossible, Bonanza, and I Love Lucy. American Music influenced me, because you heard it on the radio. We did have magazines, but I didn’t have television until high school. As a matter of fact, Rebecca would write celebrities and receive a signed letter from them. We didn’t have any social movements resulting from teenage angst, or youth rebellion. I was around during the Korean War, and Philippines went to war. I remember it being in the newspapers regularly. My cousins and I were young, and my aunts and uncles were old. We had no personal experiences with Korea. Just like Jeff, as an American who didn’t know of WW2 as a child. We were unaffected. American influenced us in music tastes as well as fashion. I remember wearing saddle shoes and poodle skirts. I remember when Russia put out sputnik we worried, and rooted for America. Another thing about social movements. We are very diverse as a culture but we really didn’t not have the racially based issues you have. I grew up as a member of the majority. We all appeared Filipino. I have some Spanish and Chinese in me but had never developed any chip on my shoulder through discrimination. I feel if I fail its my failure, if I success its my success. It’s all on me.
When you were a young adult, what educational and occupational opp]ortunities available to you? And now?
The reason we are compliant with our elders is because you rely on them for education as well as food, clothing, and shelter. In the Philippines it is somewhat a given that the parents pay for the child’s education, if able to at all. If you have the drive and ability, you are encouraged to go to College. Your ability to go to college is ability of your parents to pay. This is because there are no Federally Guaranteed Student Loans. This is what’s different about America. Anybody here can get an education. Back home, if parents are well off, you stand on their shoulders as they pay your education. If not, you can have the ability, but not the resources to get a degree. It really is also an unspoken fact that when you do finish your education, you better have a marketable skill, career, and you support your elders in their old age because basically they gave up their retirement for your education. Usually in the Philippines, the parents live in the kids’ house. Grandma then does the babysitting and usually does it for free. That also makes it difficult to get away from things, because Grandma is there to watch over everyone. The education of your child is your form of retirement.
What generational roles make up your core identity?
I remember Charlotte, Jeff’s father. She said, I raised my kids; I’m not raising my grandkids. Grandparents are less liable to assist kids with babysitting. I’m kind of along those lines now. Back home, the three generations have a role in a family. Grandma enjoys all the grandchildren because all 24 lived next door in houses built on her land…..
…..Families are authoritative to some extent. If you think about it, children don’t have much ability to think in the future. More guidance is important.
What is your core identity now?
I was never conflicted in my identity, I just was clueless about much regarding raising kids here. I should have kept up on what went on with your education. I should have been more on top of enforcing you to do well. You guys didn’t tell me anything. I remember a lady in church say jokingly, “I hear Dorene has a boyfriend”. I just smiled and nodded. I only found out your sister was dating this way. There are so many different kinds of kids and different kinds of parents. No one child is the same. Every child has different needs, every parent has a unique set of life experiences. I think in your case you wanted to spare my feelings because I was a foreigner. You didn’t tell me what was going on.
When you settle down, you prefer to do so in one you can feel somewhat familiar with, and less likely to feel comfortable one, which is highly foreign. Philippines, like America, is very Westernized. Additionally, your father and I were raised Christian.
How was it moving here?
When I moved here back as a resident, I had a good command of the language. the Filipino t.v. Anchors speak American Midwest English. I have trouble understanding other accents, but Midwest accents make sense to me. The thing I had trouble with were idioms such as “the cat’s meow”. I do feel my fellow residence at Baylor treated me fairly, although I was the only female, foreigner, minority in the program. Although I do believe I imposed this upon myself, I felt I had to be twice as good to be good enough. I felt determined to prove myself. I was over prepared with a goal to do twice as good as anyone else. What did help is my older sister was already a resident at Baylor going to school. We were there together. I do remember people sometimes were surprised I was the housekeeping staff and not the physician in scrubs, so I learned to dress well and look the part. You know if I received discrimination from patients at times who didn’t want me to care for them because of my color. Oftentimes they were minorities like me, which surprised me. Nonetheless, I had to work hard to prove myself over time. There was a time when I had trouble on the bus system. I took myself at face value, yet there were people who felt I shouldn’t sit here at a certain location on the bus. Since it wasn’t illegal to do so, I would stay there. They were the ignoramuses. I found it hurts only you if you put value upon the opinions of those people. I know who I am and stick to that identity of myself. To tell you the truth today, I don’t think of myself in terms of race, but as a person. The same goes for you, your sister or your father. We are just a family; people. I didn’t have the effects of being a minority growing up. While the Philippines is a melting pot country, but it was less “in your face” as an issue. In this country, it is more an issue in an “in your face manner”. Back home, we are so diverse as people it wasn’t an issue. I, for example, have Spanish and Chinese in my family background, as do you through me.
I’m being fair to each child. You give your child what they need, as they need it. Make your own way. Let go of any old gripes they aren’t worth the familial disharmony. Your successes are your own, as are your failures. I see myself as me; I am Virginia first and foremost. Race in a respect is a social construct, not genetic fact. My identity is a choice of my own that I make it for myself irrespective of what comes at me from the race perspective.
This series has served as a writing exercise “of sorts” that can allow me to work through feelings of shame that still remain. As is typical with a child’s-eye-view of the world, I perceived life as if it revolved around me. This self-centered viewpoint, made it difficult, to varying degrees, for me to see others’ perspectives. As a sensitive child, I tended to take all the bullying and ostracism of my childhood personally. By the time I reached high school graduation, all I wanted to do is put as much space (physically and chronologically) from this experience as I could. I remember leaving for college with huge hopes. However, it quickly became apparent that this would require a significant amount of effort on my own part. It’s only in the last decade of my life, that I’ve taken time to look back at these experiences without feelings of self-blame and hatred welling up inside me. I’ve learned to accept the fact that there are those from my past who may never see me beyond an outdated set of preconceived notions. In a way, this series represents the final step in the long process of healing, forgiveness, and acceptance.
In the wound-licking phase, I simply began to work through the unresolved hurt instead of burying it…
This process started in my later 30’s when I first sought out a therapist because I felt “Stuck”. It took a while to understand the nature of this stuckness & what was holding me back. Until this point, my life was like an invisible minefield. There were some things – things that reminded me of events I was trying to forget – that became excruciating. It was all too much, so I spent time going through the motions and checked out on the basement sofa watching t.v. like a mindless blob. Or I would nap, my other favorite maladaptive coping tool. I began to see a therapist, I completed a DBT course, worked on the relationship with my sister and slowly, I somehow felt safe in the world. In time, this healing allowed me to gain some clarity by viewing directly things that had previously been too I was empowered with a solution the problem that involved action on my part.
However, more needed to be done. Feelings of shame and invalidation had plagued me. That is, until my mother recommended I read this book….
PART ONE: The Consequences of being an “Other” (i.e. biracial / mixed race)…
ME = “One of those things that is not like the other”
I usually call my mother once every two weeks just to see how she’s doing. At some point in the conversation, I am usually provided an update on the “local gossip”. During one of these conversations, my mother mentioned an old classmate of mine: May-lee Chai. She was a senior in high school while I was a freshman. We didn’t know each other well and I only remember as one of the many faces I passed by in the halls between classes. At any rate, she asked me if I heard about that book she had written: “Hapa Girl: A Memoir”. She said bought a copy and urged me to read it, since she felt it might “resonate” with my own childhood experiences….
When I first read it, I remember reflecting on my childhood from a new perspective. Until this point I thought it was “all my fault”. This book helped me to contextualize my experiences. There were forces much larger than me at work…
So where do I start? How can I begin to adequately describe my own experience of being biracial? How have I dealt with the idea that I’m not perceived as I am? What is it like to live between world’s? What follows are random thoughts, in no particular order….
In the video above, the narrator describes the twins as “black and white”. Based on phenotype characteristics that each girl carries, they are so labeled. It amazes me, how people are so quick to forget that the meatsuits we wear, don’t accurately reflect what dwells within us. In reality, there are four abstract constructs which together are effective in developing a basic understanding of a biracial individual’s experience of race. Together they explain what it is like to live within an unclear “in-between” space. These constructs are: (1) genotype; (2) phenotype; (3) identity; & (4) culture. Understanding how they converge within an individual’s life can help quite a bit in explaining their racial identity. They are useful in understanding the diversity of experiences amongst biracial experiences, as well as the issue of colorism…
FACTORS 1 & 2: Genotype vs. Phenotype…
Genotype refers to the DNA you carry within you. You get half from your mother and half from your father. For example, at geneaology.com they studies of populations around the world. When individuals are isolated historically these populations tend to share genes for traits that are conducive to survival in that area. When you submit a test at genealogy.com, they tell you what subsets of the human population are present in your genes.
Phenotype has to do with your physical features, how do you look? What is the color of your skin, your face shape, and hair color? The point is, you can have the same set of parents, but inherit different subsets. Therefore, two genetically biracial individuals can have very different appearances.
Critical Point #1 – regarding these two factors, I have a genotype / phenotype mismatch problem. This means I am not what I am. Due to the random qualities that define my meat suit, I am classified within a preconceived ideas that do not relate to my own lived experience of self…
FACTOR 3: What is Identity?
The DSM-5 Manual defines Identity as follows: “[the] experience of oneself as unique with clear boundaries between self and others; stability of self-esteem and accuracy of self appraisal; capacity for, and ability to regulate, a range of emotional experience.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p823). As a biracial individual the experience of how others see us diverges from the inner knowing of who they are. Regarding how others’ experience, I feel as if I’m a man inside a monkey suit wearing upon my being the preconceived notions of others. I wait for somebody to see within to the real me, but it happens rarely. R.D. Laing (1990), summarizes this experience succinctly in his book “The Divided Self”. In contrast, the description of our inner sense of self is best described in my old course textbook (Corsini & Wedding, 2013).
Critical Point #2: “The usual sense of the self as being who we ‘really are’ and as being continuous and consistent over time seems to be an illusory construction of imprecise awareness….similar to the ‘flicker fusion phenomenon’ by which photographs projected successively on a movie screen…we suffer from a case of mistaken identity. We are not who, or even what, we thought we were. What we take to be our real self is merely an illusory construct” (Wedding & Corsini, 2013, p467).
FACTOR 4: What is culture?
Culture provides another set of mental programs relevant to a society (Chung & Bemak, 2002). It consists of a shared system of meanings within society that define modes of expression and communication, (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). It influences how we view the world around us and sets the normative standards for behavior (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). As a form of “mental programming” (Chung & Bemak, 2002, p282), it defines our value systems and preferred ways of thinking and feeling.
Critical Factor #3: I was given two diverging, (and frequently oppositional) cultural perspectives. Nobody fully understood this and I was largely left on my own to feel my way in the dark…
While working on my master’s degree, I was working and had little time for anything else. On the back burner, I placed everything unnecessary and “survival” became my priority. I remember reading various articles for homework assignments and being “highly intrigued” by the information I was taking in. It held information that was interesting personally as well as professionally. As I work through this blog, I continue digging through files of things I’ve save, with the intention of “bloggging on it” when time would allow. Here I am about a year later – finally getting around to it.
“individuals who live at the juncture between two cultures and can lay a claim to belonging to both cultures, either by being of mixed racial heritage or born in one culture and raised in a second, should be considered marginal people. Park suggested that marginality leads to psychological conflict, a divided self, and disjointed person” (LaFromboise, et al, 1993, p. 395)
I have these piles of folders divided into subject categories. Inside them are copies of assorted notes, assignments, and articles that I’ve printed with ideas jotted in the margins. The quote above does an excellent job of describing succinctly, how I’ve felt as a biracial individual with a broad-based culturally diverse perspective of the world. The Sesame Street video below describes my experiences as an individual who lives between worlds. I am both my mother and father, yet I am also like neither of them….
ME = Three of these kids belong together. Three of these kids are kind of the same. But one of these kids (i.e. me) is doing his own thing
“The Psychological Impact of Biculturalism”
So without boring you to death, I want to quickly review this article titled: “They Psychological Impact of Biculturalism”, as a jumping off point. This article begins by describing what individual’s need to be culturally competent to function in a society.
“In order to be culturally competent, an individual would have to (a) possess a strong personal identity, (b) have knowledge of and facility with the beliefs and values of the culture, (c) display sensitivity to the affective processes of the culture, (d) communicate clearly in the language of the given cultural group, (e) perform socially sanctioned behavior, (f) maintain active social relations within the cultural group, and (g) negotiate the institutional structures of that culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 395).
This article the provides an overview of different models utilized in research, to describe the varied transitions that occur between an immigrant and the country he has chosen to reside in. What follows is a “quick and dirty” overview….
ASSIMILATION: “The underlying assumption of all assimilation models is that a member of one culture loses his or her original cultural identity as he or she acquires a new identity in a second culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 396).
ACCULTURATION: “assimilation approach emphasizes that individuals, their offspring, or their cultural group will eventually become full members of the majority group’s culture and lose identification with their culture of origin. By contrast, the acculturation model implies that the individual, while becoming a competent participant in the majority culture, will always be identified as a member of the minority culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 397).
ALTERNATION: “The alternation model of second-culture acquisition assumes that it is possible for an individual to know and understand two different cultures. It also supposes that an individual can alter his or her behavior to fit a particular social context.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 400).
MULTICULTURAL: “The multicultural model promotes a pluralistic approach to understanding the relationship between two or more cultures. This model addresses the feasibility of cultures maintaining distinct identities while individuals from one culture work with those of other cultures to serve common national or economic needs. In this model it is recognized that it may not be geographic or social isolation per se that is the critical factor in sustaining cultural diversity but the manner of multifaceted and multidimensional institutional sharing between cultures. Berry (1986) claimed that a multicultural society encourages all groups to (a) maintain and develop their group identities, (b) develop other-group acceptance and tolerance, (c) engage in intergroup contact and sharing, and (d) learn each other’s language.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 401).
FUSHION: “The fusion model of second-culture acquisition represents the assumptions behind the melting pot theory. This model suggests that cultures sharing an economic, political, or geographic space will fuse together until they are indistinguishable to form a new culture. The respectful sharing of institutional structures will produce a new common culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 402).
So what’s the need for this list of terms? Why is it necessary?
I simply include it to indicate that the issues that can potentially arise for individuals living in a foreign country are to great to list. For that matter, there is a high degree of variability amongst immigrants who are trying to make a life in a new country. Factors such as socioeconomic status, education level, language familiarity, ethnic pride, and local race relations can all have a huge impact an individual’s experience.
My mother and her sister are an excellent example of this…
My mom is from the Philippines and is the youngest of two children. Her sister Rebecca is just 18 months older. Consequently they’ve always had a very competitive relationship. My mom is describes her older sister is much more popular and much more successful in school. She on the other hand had just a few friends and was very shy. To top this off she kind of had an inferiority complex next to her sister and was never really good in school and didn’t quite catch up to her until about seven to grade. This sense of insecurity and competition also spilled into the issue of appearance. My mother always described her sister as the prettier one. Her sister was always faired skinned and curvy and this made my mother jealous. My mother on the other hand past the paper bag test and your mother I was giving her a hard time about being skinny and was constantly instituting various plans to help her gain weight – all of which never worked. As a kid, I always found my mother’s insecurity strange, living in a “mostly-white” midwest town. All my classmates were obsessed with tanning in the summer and could never ever be thin enough. From this vantage point, it seemed strange to me that anybody would complain about being thin and tan…
However, I’m most struck by how my mother & her sister went about building lives in a new country.
My mother was always the “good girl” and very “values oriented” and in this respect, quiet a bit like her mother. On the other hand, her sister was a bit rebellious and more socially adept. She was always popular and much more knowledgeable socially. Its interesting to now my mothers traditionalism played out in her life and how my aunts rebelliousness played in her own. These two divergent characteristics affected their experiences as immigrants living in a new country. My mother was alone in the midwest. There were only a handful of non-whites so I was never exposed to Filipino culture. In contrast, her sister lived in Texas and employed several Filipino women. So my cousin was exposed to her mother’s culture, visited the Philippines several times, and speaks Tagalog. However my mother’s traditionalism caused her to remain reluctant to understanding what it is like to be an an American Teenager. This meant that I was not allowed to wear makeup, shave my legs, or wear bikini-style underwear, much less date. When you consider the fact that I already had few friends and was bullied constantly, this made things very difficult. I had no social guidance whatsoever. I was the oldest firstborn of all the cousins and as a result I was kind a like the guinea pig. My mother decided to raise me according to her own values that she knew and made them a priority. It probably wasn’t until my sister came around that she some understanding of what was needed to help the child survive socially school. So, I was isolated, overprotected and held to social standards that made fitting in difficult. My sister was given opportunities to experience things that I didn’t at her age. While five years younger, she was able to date first, given spending money first, and allowed to be out with friends late – all before me. Oftentimes, what would happen is they bought her a car and then would think, oh we never got one for Kathleen, lets do that….
So what point am I trying to make here???
I am frustrated with the lack of understanding in my family. I talk to my mother, and she talks about how I know nothing about her culture and am basically American. While this may be true in many respects, I blame this fact on my mother who has refused to speak Tagalog in front of me. It is, however, the case that she held me to standards that were her cultures and not my own. As somebody who was already bullied and ostracized quiet a bit, I needed guidance. Yet I got nothing. I sometimes I sacrificed my childhood and years of social development, so my mother could have her “peace of mind”. I will never forget when I told my sister about how I had to wear granny panties to P.E. She laughed and said, “OMG! There’s no way I would allow that to happen!!!” And in that comment is the problem. She didn’t have any idea how different they were with her and how she had chances for normalcy I never did. You see, the problem is the experiences that come together to influence a biracial’s experiences can vary greatly from person to person.
“I don’t count” due to the random qualities that define my meat-suit. My identity feels a farce, and I had to “act as if” I was what others deemed even though this was a lie.
My sister & cousin were allowed the opportunity to live as a normal American Teenagers.
I was cloistered way like a nun. I had no friends & was ostracized. My different-ness stood out like a sore thumb in my small homogeneous town.
The final thought I’d like to make comes from a few articles by Maria Root, who describes racial identity development for individuals of mixed race. There are a few points she makes about racial identity development amongst biracial siblings that are worth noting:
“Siblings of racially mixed heritage…often identify themselves differently from one another” (Root, 1998, p. 237).
“Phenotype does not determine how people identify themselves” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
“Identity can change over the lifetime” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
“A monoracial framework is usually the guide for interpretation of behavior.” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
An Ecological Model of Identity
“The identity [options} are (a) accept the monoracial identity society assigns, (2) actively choose a monoracial identity (congruent with the identity society would assign), (3) define self as biracial or multiracial, (4) develop a “new race” identity.” (Root, 2003, p. 115).
Ecological Models of identity focus on the social and individual factors that influence Identity development. “This model of identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed heritage may identify themselves.” (Root, 1993, p. 240). Mixed race individuals frequently see themselves in a way that diverges significantly from how others tend to. Root, (2003 & 1998), discusses the following concepts in her ecological model of racial identity:
MACRO LENS: Gender; Social Class; Race Relations; Sexual Orientation.
MIDDLE LENS: Family Socialization Influences; Temperament; Community Relationships.
PHENOTYPE: Is a factor that influences many of the factors in the middle lens significantly
A Stage Model of Identity
“Typical behaviors of person’s of mixed heritage are…interpreted as signs of poor adjustment. Some of these behaviors stem from ways of sorting out the meaning of race…from a mixed perspective….negative adjustment is not [related to] being mixed…but rather conflict rising in the family and environment and the lack of guidance in resolving developmental crises…” (Root, 2003, p. 113).
Root begins discussing early stage models of racial identity development by reviewing the two primary stages which seem to encompass (1) a desire to adapt to a new culture, (2) response to inherent inequity and racism in American culture.
INITIAL STAGE: “internalization of white reference group that necessarily is accompanied by devalued messages of [minority group] values and culture.” (Root, 2003 p. 114).
TRAUMATIC EVENT: “Awakens the individual to the lack of equity and fairness…There is a retreat and immersion into the racial group of origin to gain support and…as part of the process of undoing the harm of internalized racism.” (Root, 2003, p. 114).
Next, Root provides the following summary of stages that biracial children progress through as they address the idea of “what they are”
“In the first stage, the awareness of race and ethnicity was not necessarily attached to ethnic background….In [the] second stage, people choose a racial identity; their cognitive capacity [in childhood] usually allows a single identtity. The third stage is driven by dissonance between the chosen identity and the incomplete mismatch with ethnic and racial identity.” (Root, 2003, p. 115).
Finally, common questions that arise
“Who am I?” (Idenitity)
Where do I fit in?” (Is there a place in the world I fit with?
Where is my social role?” (“What cultural standard?)
Who is in charge of my life?” (Who tells me what I am?)
“Where am I going?” (what goals?)
<h5><span style=”font-size: 45pt;”>Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”</h5></span>
Benet‐Martínez, V., & Haritatos, J. (2005). Bicultural identity integration (BII): Components and psychosocial antecedents. Journal of personality, 73(4), 1015-1050.
LaFromboise, T., Coleman, H. L., & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism: evidence and theory. Psychological bulletin, 114(3), 395-412.
Root, M. P. (1998). Experiences and processes affecting racial identity development: Preliminary results from the Biracial Sibling Project. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4(3), 237-247.
Part Two: Exploratory Paper from MCC 638 “Social & Cultural Issues”
The purpose of this paper is to closely examine my personal worldview and sociocultural background. In doing so, the goal will be to understand how this influences my future clinical judgment and client interactions. I will begin by utilizing the Addressing Model, (Hays, 2008), to provide a biographical overview of my sociocultural history. The paper will then conclude with a series of interview-style questions, to help reflect and explore my life history in detail. Any personal understanding of my values, cultural identities, and areas of privilege that come from this activity will be used to direct future growth throughout this program.
According to our textbook, a bias is simply a “tendency to think, act, or feel in a particular way.” (Hays, 2008, p24). Personal biases emerge as a result of our upbringing and sociocultural background, (Hays, 2008). Our life history provides us a worldview, value system, identity and cultural background that produce the very biases we carry into therapeutic relationships, (Hays, 2008). In light of this fact, a cultural self-assessment is the first step toward developing greater multicultural competency as a counselor. I start this self-assessment by utilizing the Addressing Model to provide a rough overview of my sociocultural history. I then move on to a series of interview questions, which can help to shed light on areas of privilege, as well as value systems, and identities.
Utilizing the Addressing Model
Age and Generational Influences
My Parent’s Generation. My mother was born in 1938 and my father was born in 1941. They are members of the “silent generation”, born just prior to the baby boom (Martin, 2004). Their earliest years of life occurred while the world was at war. My mother, from the Philippines, grew up in the middle of war. My dad, an American, was ignorant of war altogether. They were both raised to work hard, get an education, and pursue the American Dream. For my mother’s family this meant gathering resources to put both of their two daughters through medical school and then help them to emigrate to the states. For my father’s family, this meant raising their sons in a strict household, expecting them to work hard, and then put themselves to school. In the end, they all did so, earning advanced degrees.
My Generation. I was born in 1969, and grew up in a small college town in South Dakota. Unlike many of my generation, I was spared from having to experience divorce first-hand. With divorce rates, at the time, soaring to 50% in my childhood (Amato & Cheadle, 2005), I was fortunate to have such a realistically positive view of marriage. The experience of witnessing everyone in my extended family enjoying long and happy marriages, has caused me to place a high value in the commitment of marriage and family.
Nonetheless, I am typical of many women in generation in being skeptical of the idea of “having it all”; a popular notion existing in westernized cultures in the aftermath feminist movement (Genz, 2010). While very appreciative of the strides made, I’ve witnessed many women struggle to keep up with home and work life in frustration. Many women in my generation have chosen to put off family, or opt out all together, (Genz, 2010). Still others, such as myself, have chosen to put off career pursuits in favor of focusing on my family life, (Genz, 2010).
Fortunately, I have no physical disabilities or health issues whatsoever. I’ve had the privilege of ignorance that comes with living in a healthy body, and never having to think about living with disability. (Hays, 2008). Nonetheless, I’ve found plenty of opportunity in my life to learn about living with disability. As a hospital tech I have had a great deal of opportunity to work with disabled individuals. As the mother to a son with a congenital defect, I’ve gained insight into experience of raising a child with special needs. I’ve developed an awareness of what it is to deal with physical disability on a daily basis. In fact, I’ve felt a great deal of satisfaction from these experiences, and wish to explore this area as a potential career path.
Religion and Spiritual Orientation
My religious background is complicated, by the fact that my family isn’t unified in its religious beliefs. My father is an atheist, my mother is devoutly catholic, and my sister considers herself a “born-again” evangelical Christian. As an agnostic, I can see everyone’s point of view and respect each one, as right for that person. I don’t feel it is right for anyone to impose my religious beliefs on others. Nonetheless, I do find the other members of my family disagreeing on matters quite often. My sister and mother disagree with the others beliefs on the grounds that it goes against their own. My father refuses to talk about it altogether and this annoys my mother and sister.
Ethnic & Racial Identity
“The ecological model of racial identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed racial heritage may identify themselves….These identities do not necessarily coincide with how other persons identify them. Thus the private identity may be different from the public identity assumed or validated by others.” (Root, 1998, p240).
I am a biracial individual, born to a Filipino mother and White father. A book written about my hometown, by author May-Lee Chai, titled “Hapa Girl” (2007), provides a good depiction of my childhood environment overall. Also biracial, she was a senior in high school when I was a freshman and endured much of what I did growing up.
My racial identity can be best described as a personal knowledge I hold within. It isn’t reflected in my phenotypic appearance and consequently is rarely acknowledged in my interaction with others. (Root, 1998). As a result, my identity as biracial is held with pride despite often being refuted and criticized by others. Additionally, because I’ve never been to the Philippines, it isn’t based on any cultural heritage. (Root, 1998) While purely American, from a cultural perspective, I claim both my Asian and American heritage from an identity viewpoint.
The socioeconomic status of my family of origin is solidly upper middle class. In contrast, my family of procreation would most likely be somewhere in the lower middle class. My husband comes a working class background, and had a rough home life. Adding to this, until recently, I’ve put off career pursuits in favor of family. As a result, I have experienced some downward mobility, in a matter of speaking. By marrying someone of a different socioeconomic class, I’m aware of the huge cultural divide between my husband’s family and my own. I feel comfortable in both worlds, yet my husband doesn’t enjoy being around my extended family, (despite getting along with my parents). A quote from a book titled “Reading Classes” by Barbara Jensen (2012) sums up my husband’s experiences well:
“I knew I wasn’t middle class like some others in the movement, and I believed I wasn’t as smart as they were. I knew my brain worked okay, but they knew more, lots more, and I wanted what they had. They often referred to authors I had never read or even heard of. They used words I didn’t understand, and they often talked about their college experiences, worldly travel, orchestral music, and other things with which I had little opportunity and experience. They appeared to all understand one another, but sometimes I just pretended I understood, and then I felt ashamed of both not knowing and pretending.” (Jensen, 2012, p18)
Sexual Orientation & Gender
Sexual Orientation & Cisgender Status. Regarding the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, I happen to be a cisgendered heterosexual. Being cisgender, I have moved through life with a body that matches my gender of identification, (Levy, 2013). Being a heterosexual, I have a sexual preference that is deemed acceptable by all facets of our society (Levy, 2013). I have never felt the need to think about my sexual orientation or gender identity to the extent I have my racial identity. Any thought I do give to such matters has been purely political in nature, since I’ve always been very supportive of LGBT rights. Having said this, I do feel simply believing in equal rights isn’t enough With ignorance, can come a lack of awareness of things such as subtleties of interaction and the imposition of our biases that can indeed be felt as discriminatory, regardless of their intention, (Hays, 2008)
Being Female. While being a female certainly implies a second-class status, it must be noted that the degree to which this is experience varies by culture. Fortunately, my sociocultural background has been one which values and empowers women. Having said this, it would be fruitful to learn about the implications of being female in cultures other than my own, as a matter of perspective.
Indigenous Heritage & National Origin.
On the one hand, I’m an American living in the United States and have no experience living in another country. I am neither an immigrant nor of indigenous heritage. On the other hand, with a mother who emigrated from the Philippines, I’ve witnessed a bit of what it is like to balance the influences of two competing cultures. Described best as a biculturalism, (LaFramboise, et al, 1993), raising a family in a foreign culture was certainly problematic for my mom. From my perspective, the cultural gap that resulted did require time to work through. Having not occurred until well into my own adulthood, I have a relationship with my mother today, which is very different from that of my childhood.
Cultural Self-Assessment Interview
In this portion of the paper, I move on to a series of self-assessment interview questions. It is my intention to answer each within the Addressing Model framework. I will consider how each question applies to my sociocultural history as described within this model.
Social Expectation & Identity.
“When I was born what were the social expectations for a person of my identity?” (Ajuoga, 2014). My biggest struggles with social expectations associated with identity, are in the areas of: (1) gender roles, (2) race identity, (3) socioeconomic class, and (4) religious affiliation. Other addressing components such as disability, sexual orientation, and indigenous heritage, have been of little concern. I will address these areas of struggle in turn, leaving female gender roles issues, for later.
Racial & Ethnic Identity. As mentioned already, I have experienced a great deal of confusion regarding my ethnic identity. My own biracial identity has been largely met with messages of disapproval, with others needing to inform me what they believe is the correct one (Root, 1998). It has taken some time, to sort through this issue as I’ve learned to let go of the idea that validation from others is ever a realistic expectation, (LaFramboise, et al, 1993).
Religious Identity. While my mother’s family is devoutly catholic, my father’s family is predominantly agnostic and atheistic. The competing perspectives from this interfaith family background yielded an array of contradictory expectations (McCarthy, 2007). As my sister and I matured, our chosen routes diverged greatly. I came to identify myself as agnostic, while my sister has joined an evangelical church and embraced those ideals. The biggest issues in our family have come as we’ve tried to maintain a sense of integrity while also respecting others’ beliefs (McCarthy, 2007).
Socioeconomic Identity. Maria Root discusses, in her work on mixed race identity, that individuals from such backgrounds can often develop negative biases against one side of their family as result of negative treatment, (Root, 1998). Within my father’s extended family I have experienced just this growing up. The ignorance and ethnocentrism they display, alongside the pride, and unwillingness to see any other perspective has been the source of much pain. As a byproduct of this experience, I’ve developed a negative bias against their upper middle class socioeconomic ideals (Root, 1998). It’s only in my adulthood, that I’ve been aware of how much I rejected this component of my identity, while embracing husband’s working class background instead, (Root, 1998). Coming to terms with this will be essential in my growth as a counselor (Hays, 2008).
Norms, Values & Gender Roles.
“When I was a teenager, what were the norms, values, and gender roles supported within my family, by my peers, in my culture and in the dominant culture” (Ajouga, 2014)” Overall, a great deal of conflict exists with norms, values, and gender role expectations in my extended family. Additional conflicts were present between my familial and environmental norms and values growing up.
In an article an on biculturalism mentioned in our textbook, there is a discussion of the impact of living between cultures (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). This article mentions feelings of psychological discomfort as the initial result of a dual identity-based consciousness that can have potential benefits in the long run, (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). Having many conflicting identities, values and belief systems has resulted in much of this discomfort as well as many fruitful life lessons.
Gender roles. Within my family, gender roles brought about much confusion as a child. Conflicting messages existed as a result of complex familial generational and cultural gaps. My dad’s family came from a traditional background, with the belief that women were supposed to stay at home. In contrast, my mother’s family was very forward thinking. Since my maternal grandparents were both teachers, it was very important their daughters go to school. Having two daughters finish medical school was a source of great pride.
These competing perspectives left me with a conflicting and contradictory array of familial gender-based role expectations. Against this backdrop, was the generational influence of being born in the aftermath of the feminist movement, (Genz, 2010). Not feeling the need to having it all, I have instead discovered a path that has worked for me.
Norms and Values. While there were many conflicting norms and values within my extended family, this wasn’t really the biggest issue in the context of day-to-day life as a child. The greatest source of conflict existed between the values and norms my parents held me to in contrast to with what was expected in my hometown. Norms and values regarding: (1) relationships and dating, (2) parental roles, (3) rules of emotional expression, as well as (4) appearance and demeanor stand at the forefront as most problematic.
In keeping with her cultural background, my mother assumed the role of matriarch, and was largely responsible for setting parental limits. My dad, busy at work most of the time, didn’t want to interfere. As a result, my mothers cultural belief systems were the standard we complied with at home. Naturally unbeknownst to them, this key factor resulted in an array of problems throughout my childhood, when it came to fitting in (Chai, 2004; Fortune, 2012).
For example, regarding the issue of appearance, my mother didn’t allow me to shave my legs or wear makeup, and I was bullied endlessly for it. In the arena of dating, I was absolutely forbidden from even considering it until college, because that’s how it was for her growing up, (Fortune, 2012). Added difficulties resulted from differences in parenting role expectations between my mom’s culture and my hometown environment, (Root, 1998). Cultural differences such as these, caused many parents and teachers to misunderstand my mother. They often thought poorly of her parenting style, because it was so different from what they knew. This added to my difficulties in trying fitting in.
“How was my view of the world shaped by the social movements of my teen years?” (Ajouga, 2014) With a population that was mostly white, middle class, and well educated, my hometown had a very ethnocentric feel to it (Chai, 2004). At school, a large portion of my classmates came from families that called this town home for several generations (Chai, 2004).. This gave many of my classmates the benefit of a large social network, as well as consistent socialization, on how to follow the values and norms of the local culture (Chai, 2004). Without this knowledge base or support system, fitting in was difficult, and I was bullied throughout much of my childhood, (Chai, 2004). As per Brene Brown’s work on shame, my personal view of the world was based on an underlying identity of shame as she defines it:
“The definition of shame that emerged from the research is, an intensely painful experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance, and belonging.” (Brown, 2006, p45)
“When I was a young adult, what educational opportunities were available to me? And now?” (Ajouga, 2014) While I did enter college with many opportunities for learning, my ability to make the most of them limited by my problematic childhood history. Nonetheless, having been born into an upper-middle class environment to two highly educated parents, provided me with many privileges I failed to appreciate at the time, (Hays, 2008). Today, after having come to terms with my past through counseling, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make the most of these privileges and pursue this degree.
“What generational roles make up my core identity (eg., auntie, father, adult child, grandparent)?” (Ajouga, 2014). Key generational roles which are strongly associated with my identity, include my roles as a daughter and mother. In fact, I hold my role as parent before any others in my life. Having nearly lost my oldest after several open heart surgeries and then suffering a miscarriage before giving birth to my youngest, I value my time with my kids greatly. It’s been my goal in life to learn the lessons from my parents, and be there in ways they were not able to. Making sacrifices for my kids, showering them with affection and cherishing our time together are key priorities in my daily life.
Regarding my role as daughter, while I’m not as close to them as I’d wish, I do strongly identify with my duties to them. As the oldest child with a background in health care, its expected that I be there to care for them when they age. I plan on trying my best to live up to this expectation as a show if respect and love, knowing action and not words work best a communicating such things with them.
In completing this assignment, I’m actually surprised at how much I learned about myself. Rereading my personal history has been quite enlightening, as a much-needed perspective within to contextualize the outcome of my life. It’s cleared while my complex sociocultural history yielded much stress as a child, its also provided me with wonderful opportunities for personal growth. Inspired by this fact, I am committed to a lifelong process of learning as a counselor and plan to use these insights as I worked completing my degree.
Ajouga, P. (2014). Re: MCC 638 Week Two Overview. Retrieved from
Genz, S., (2010). Singled Out: Postfeminism’s “New Woman” and the Dilemma of Having It All. The Journal of Popular Culture, (43)1, 97-119.
Hays, P. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice. (2nd Ed.) Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Jensen, B. (2012). Reading Classes : On Culture and Classism in America. Ithaca: ILR Press.
LaFromboise, Coleman, H.L.K. & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism: Evidence and theory. Psychological Bulletin. 114(3) 395-412.
Levy, Denise L. “On the outside looking in? The experience of being a straight, cisgender qualitative researcher.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 25.2 (2013): 197-209.
Martin, C.A. (2004) “Bridging the generation gap (s).” Nursing2013. 34(12)62-63.
McCarthy, K. (2007). “Pluralist Family Values: Domestic Strategies for Living with Religious Difference” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 612(1) 187-208.
Root, M.P.P. (1998) Experiences and processes affecting racial identity development: Preliminary results from the biracial sibling project. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health. 4(3) 237-247.
Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”
He gazed upon me with that evil Cheshire Cat grin knowing full well all eyes are on us as he said, ”What the fuck is wrong with you moron, I’m talking to you!?!?”
I tried my best to ignore him and looked straight ahead. My face was burning hot and at this point very red as I realized everyone in the classroom stopped what they were doing to watch our exchange. I honestly can’t remember at this point what our group project was that day, but our geography teacher had divided us up into groups. I had the misfortune of being paired with three “gems”.This unspoken – yet very real fact – somehow made her mere existence produced feelings of awe and deference. I will never forget our graduation day in that large ornate university auditorium. They sat all 110 students alphabetically. Consequently, I sat right in front of her during the ceremonies. During the speeches that preceded the handing out of diplomas I had to suffer through her annoying hiccupy cry. It produced feelings of anger and bitterness within me. I wondered, in that moment, what it was like to be her. Yes, I know she had her own trials and tribulations to look back on, (as did my sister: a fellow popular girl from a younger grade). However, I wondered if she knew how lucky she was to feel accepted by her peers. Did she understand how fortunate she was to feel comfortable in the halls at our school? My sister commented once that school was a haven from home. I wondered if she felt like this as I sat there, forced by my parents to attend this event. I hated the school and my classmates, and wanted nothing more than forget the whole experience.Also in our group was that guy most of the girls in school secretly, (or not so secretly) had a viscous crush on. In fact, I was one of them to my own dismay. You see, in my mind crushes were bad things. Nothing, good could ever come of then. I was, after all, an abhorrent social atrocity. No one in their right mind would dare interact with me for fear of what others might say – especially guys. My only course of action? As someone who “knew her place” these feelings were best left buried way down deep, kept to myself.
…and then finally there was TJ. In college, many years later, he would be convicted of rape after his high school girlfriend testified against him in court. He was a legend in his mind with this stupid bleached blonde hair and king shit attitude. I was always perplexed at how everyone secretly made fun of him for these qualities – but never to his face. Maybe because he was superb at dishing it out and nobody wanted to be at the receiving end of his bullshit.
At any rate, we all sat in a circle and I listened quietly as everyone began working on the project together. I felt silly sitting there and wanted nothing more than to crawl into a corner. It’s as if my leper status was burned into my brain as an indelible fact. I wanted to apologize for my presence that day, but said nothing. Instead, I prayed silently, that TJ would overlook me so I could survive the experience unscathed. However, I wasn’t so lucky.
She then makes a point of noting that I’m just sitting there like a “useless blob” while they do all the work. I wonder to myself why she feels it necessary to talk about me as if I’m not there. TJ pipes in on cue hey moron, answer her!” I refuse, (knowing full well any interaction with him cannot go well: it never has). My crush leans forward and attempts to engage in a conversation, (although not as crudely the other two).
There is no way out.
I can’t hide
I can’t run
and I certainly can’t fight back.
I have nobody to stand by me and back me up and TJ has a roomful of bystanders to perform for. So what do I do? I decide to just sit there and look straight ahead at the chalkboard and refuse to acknowledge their existence. This, infuriates TJ who hits me with an unending verbal assault.
Everyone is staring at us and time stands still. The teacher stands there like a numb-nutt and does nothing. My eyes well up with tears and my face grows hot as I start to zone out…
No amount of daydreaming or checking out can save me from the unbearable pain that comes from realizing that:
I am different.
Being different causes you to stand out.
standing out makes you a target.
as a target you’re susceptible to ridicule
people notice & a reputation develops
this reputation renders you invisible
Through the passage of time, my memory childhood events has developed into an morphological representation that is constantly reframed as a result of changing beliefs and previously overlooked details. I must admit – at times, my memory is a bit fuzzy. Around the holidays, while I’m at my parent’s house, we always find ourselves reminiscing about various childhood events. My boys sit eager to hear my parents’ retelling of various childhood escapades. As I listen to my parents’ retelling of things, I frequently encounter a perspective so divergent from mine that I’m left speechless. I’m usually thinking to myself: “how is it you can say this? Where were you?!?”
Yet, as the befuddlement wears of, (and I stop to process the details provided by someone else’s perspective), I come to realize my memory bears the indelible imprint of a child’s eye. Editing out all perspectives other than myself – I was the center of my world. And my eye was narrowly focused upon those details that were most emotively captivating in the best and worst of ways. All other details remain out of focus or edited out altogether.
When looking back at this day in Geography class, I remember it at first as a highly traumatic event. It was a key turning point in my own dwindling mental health. I quickly spiraled into parasuicidality struggling to find some relief to the profound sadness and hopelessness that overwhelmed me. I didn’t want to die, I just longed for the hurt to end, and was sick and tired of “white-knuckling it.”
Yet the adult in me resonates with the thoughts of many readers, “What’s the big deal?!?!?” After all, the event, as I’ve described it is rather mundane and certainly not worth the level of meaning I’ve placed upon it. In some respects, I do agree with you. However, it must be noted that the kid I was then, didn’t have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight and 30+ years of life experience under her belt.
It was in this class, that any last shred of hope within me died. All insecurities burned into my mind as certainties and indelible facts of my own worthlessness. I gave up the internal struggle to hold onto my knowledge of self with nobody to provide me that support I needed. I internalized these messages from my bullies, and became exactly what they said I was…
So being the mental health nerd I am, what can I dig up from the depths of earlier events in my life, to help explain such an extreme emotive reaction??? I had some time to think about this a bit, as I’ve honestly struggled to complete this post. A plethora of memories snap into my mind in rapid succession.
The pain started at St. Agnes: I was ostracized from the beginning & never experienced acceptance or belonging from my peers…
Saint Agnes a a Catholic private grade school in my hometown. The classes were pretty small and everybody knew everybody, (so there was no escaping the idiots that made your life hell). I was bullied from the outset and had the word “patsy” tattooed to her forehead. I was the ideal target: A quiet and sensitive girl who couldn’t keep her emotions bottled up to save her life. If someone hurt my feelings, I let them know it. Very quickly, I found myself the odd-man out. The girls all refused to play with me and the boys all made fun of me. I will never forget how much I hated recess since I had nobody to play with. I tried hanging by the front door, so nobody could see me by myself. However, the nuns always shooed me away and urged me to go play. I begged them to go inside by their response was, “you need the exercise, go play.” Very quickly, I was left with a message from my peers.
“We don’t like you.”
“You are different.”
You see, I’m one of those rare prolonged cases of ostracism. A good majority of people I’ve spoken with have had periods in their childhood in which things were okay for them socially, intermingled within and between periods of peer-related trauma. I on the other hand, only had the ostracism and bullying. There was never any opportunity to experience healthy peer interactions. I was always the social leper. The only people I hung out with were other social lepers. And the bullies were a constant presence in my life. Their names and faces changed every few years or so, but they were always there.
Looking back at it today, I am perplexed by my own childlike desire to protect my parents from this horrible fact. You see, my mom was not from here, and I didn’t want her to feel bad for my problems. I worried she would blame herself. Then my dad, he was always somebody who didn’t tolerate emotions very well. He preferred to pretend they weren’t there and immerse himself in his intellectual pursuits. When he arrived home, my goal was to simply let him watch t.v. so he could relax. My own problems were best left to myself. (((More about this later)))
In third grade, things got really bad at St. Agnes. I fell into a deep depression, and stopped listening in school. My grades went downhill and the teachers suggested I repeat the grade. However, in order to prevent more ostracism, they suggested I transfer to the public school system and continue there. So I left for Jolley School with a solid foundation of insecurity and low self-esteem from St. Agnes. I must admit, my mother did try hardest to help me fit in. However, the emotional impact of those years were hard to overcome.
I left the experience simply wondering “why don’t they like me”.
I wanted nothing more than to know “how the popular kids got to be popular.”
I hoped for a fresh start, but instead received more of the same.
The deepening of my wounds continued as I sat on the sidelines, observing silently, the viscious social politics of popularity in my hick town.
So after failing 3rd grade at St. Agnes, i was transferred to Jolley School. I ended up in Mrs. Herren’s class and also started going to a daycare every day after school and all summer long. I absolutely hated it! We were forced to hang downstairs in the basement with the two yappy dogs who liked to shit on the floor and a pee-stained sofa from all the toddlers who she left all day in wet diapers. A girl from my new school also happened to be in the same grade as me. I was always very jealous of her and her conventional beauty. While only 8-years-old at the time, she kinda reminded me of a minature version of Marilyn Monroe. Standing next to her, I felt like a horrible beast, with my dark hair, large nose, and generalized dorkiness.
At any rate, I had the the fortune of meeting her the summer before Jolley School. She was stuck in the same shitty daycare I was. I received a “quick-and-dirty” education on the in’s and out’s of popularity from Little-Miss-Mini-Marilyn. When school started, she made this agreement with me, to “not talk with her during school”. She explained, her group was “very exclusive”. I complied with her request and was able to observe this crowd of mean-girls rule the school. They had this mysterious power I so longed for. After several months of silent-from-the-sidelines observation, I asked her how she was able to be part of the “in crowd”. She looked at me seriously and said it comes down to one principle: “loyalty”. I looked at her dumbfounded and in disbelief. It couldn’t be a simple as that could it? How did this explain all the reasons people liked to make fun of me. From my own viewpoint I had to believe there was some magical recipe that included a series of idiotic rules: (1) Only hang out with these people; (2) show an interested in these things, (3) dress and/or act in this or that particular way. What I didn’t realize was these were a series of random insecurities instilled within me from bullies as my perceived reasons for “not being good enough”. I couldn’t conceive at the time that these things were just random things that didn’t matter one way or the other….
It’s only now, many years later, that her words had any meaning. This illustrious in-crowd was simply all powerful because they knew how to play the game of social politics. Their magical key was simply to stick together and remain loyal to the group, “no matter what”. In my mind now, I can recall middle school many years later. There was this viscious “mean girls” bullshit happening at the time. All the grade schools were consolidated into one middle school and the popular girls from each grade school engaged in some f-d up “war” to determine who got to claim the title “king shit”…..
It all started in the beginning of fifth grade. These popular girls combined into one group of about 20-some individuals. Over the next year and a half this group dwindled down with various “members” kicked out of the group for an extraneous and idiotic set of reasons. It was only around this time, that I was actually glad to be on the sidelnes. In fact it seemed to me that members of the in-crowd also had it pretty tough too. By the time sixth grade came to a close, this exclusive group now consisted of the four original girls from Jolley, (including of course “Little-Miss-Mini-Marilyn”…
…And then my own self-imposed silence and solitude began when my best friend Ruby Stricker moved back to the Indian Reservation where the rest of her family lived at the time.
I met Ruby at the beginning of 5th grade. She was a student at another grade school. I recall meeting her one day at recess. We hit it off instanteously. I can’t tell you what factors congealed to make us such a good fit for one another at the time. Although, to some extent, we were both outsiders looking in. For me, I was just the clueless dorky social leper. She, on the other hand, was Native American and lived in a trailer park. Alone, neither of us had a “leg to stand on” in a scary world defined by middle school social politics. To the mostly-white and upper-middle-class population that lived there (due to the University) I’m guessing Ruby was probably in the same boat as me. She was my only friend at the time, and without her, I would have been alone in a scary and terrifying….
I will never forget bumping into her mother at the local “Piggly Wiggly”. She mentioned matter-off-factly that they were moving. My face grew cold, my mind went blank, and I fell into an irrational panic. The next morning I asked her why “she didn’t tell me”. She admitted quietly, “I was afraid to break the news to you.”
By the end of the week, she had moved away, and I was completely alone. There was nobody in my corner. I was a pre-teen with only ostracism and bullying in my past. This left me with no positive socialization experiences with peers my own age. Why does this matter???? This move ended my only opportunity for socialization.
Point #2: “In my own defense”, I was truly alone & the chips were stacked against me. School was a terrifying place. My only defense was to retreat “within myself”. By High School I was really known as “the girl who refused to talk”.
”How do you kiss someone for the first time at 21???”
This is a question posed by an interviewee in the above video: A Hasidic jew who decided to venture outside the community as a young adult. Ill-prepared for the “real world”, they all had to confront a “rude awakening” to certain aspects of life. I found myself much like them – wholly unprepared for the real world without the provision of basic social skills necessary to traverse it with any success. This comment resonated with my own experiences and succinctly described why those “it years” were so traumatic. I recall now watching this clip for the first time on t.v., as my eyes filled with tears and mind flooded with intrusive and painful memories of all those lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way.
What strikes me most are the depths of my own cluelessness. Was I really that dense!?!?
As memories flood my mind I first experience a vivid replay from a child’s eye view. I remember feeling perplexed at why everyone saw me as a social leper. “I’m a good person, what’s wrong with me…what is it I must do to be good enough?”
This viewpoint is in stark contrast to the perspective that 20/20 hindsight provides me, after years of learning lessons the hard way.
According to Siri, naïveté is defined as a lack of wisdom or judgment; innocence. This concept fits me to a “T” (((or at least the young adult version of me))).
I will never forget the day my parents drove me to college as a freshman. We spent the weekend setting up my dorm room and buying all the necessities. As a bullied child, I had built up this day in my head over the last four years. I felt like a parolee who just completed a long prison sentence. I was so glad to leave high school behind and looked forward to a fresh start. I promised myself I was never going to be that isolated and miserable dork again. Leaving school was like finally removing the “scarlet letter” that tends to accompany a bullied child’s daily experiences. I was literally starving for acceptance and belonging: especially from the opposite sex. Until this point the only kind of attention I received were complete ongoing reminders that I was a reject. My bullies were always male and always ganged up on me in collectivity during school so all could enjoy the spectacle that was “Kathleen.”
Sometimes it was in the hallways were they called me names as I tried to ignore them.
Or it was in the lunchroom where I always sat by myself while praying in silence that my attempts at social invisibility were successful and everybody would just leave me “the fuck alone”.
The point is, these experiences left me with a feeling of unbridled fear and trepidation around any males my own age.
At this point in my life I only had the benefit of one-sided perspective of me. I had unknowingly internalized my bullies words. I was ugly. I was unlovable. I was worthless. There was no way anybody might happen to actually want to be with me. So therefore, if I was actually able to find someone “willing” to date me I’d be the luckiest girl in the world.
My hopes would be instantaneously shattered as I was felt with the a brutal blow of stone cold facts.
I couldn’t run away from my problems because I carried them with in me as unresolved traumas set at auto-rewind.
For whatever reason, my mom saved some pictures I sent home to her of my dorm mates from my freshman year of college. While visiting my parents last Christmas, I decided to dig through some old boxes of things in my bedroom closet. These pictures fell into my lap while I was flipping through my old baby book. I recall the feelings of elation that I actually was included in various social activities….And how it was quickly replaced by hopelessness and despair.
Over the course of my first semester it became clear that a huge cavernous divide separated us.
They were your typical freshman with the sort of typical social life I only witnessed from a safe distance.
And with these experiences came opportunities for social and emotional development.
I remember listening in on conversations while hanging out with fellow residents in the t.v. room or cafeteria. They shared various dating experiences while I listened as a fly-on-the-wall. In time, it was clear my thinly veiled attempts to hide my differentness failed. These ladies were all talking about adult-like experiences in a manner reminiscent of your typical SATC episode.
At this point, I hadn’t yet been on my first date or even had my first kiss: “the flaming virgin”
I recall listening in on s conversation in the bathroom as we all got ready to go out for the evening. Honestly, had no idea what was planned for the evening and was just grateful to be invited. Keri, a popular cheerleader and ballet dancer in high school eyed me while commenting to another girl: “You know there’s a big difference between virgins by choice versus virgins by circumstance. One I have respect for, the other is just pathetic.”
Then there was the day that my mom stopped to visit me after a meeting she had in town.
My roommate had decided to visit her parents that weekend so we had the night to ourselves. She slept in my roommates bed and we spent the evening catching up. That following morning we went shopping and out to eat. As my mother began packing her things and getting ready to go, several ladies knocked on the door. They all introduced themselves and made idle small-talk. As my mom got ready to go and gave me a hug, Keri commented: “You know it’s just wrong to send a child so naive and innocent without firsy empowering them with any real-life wisdom.”
Back then, I sincerely didn’t get it. I was just plain hurt at the time that I didn’t fit in. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I be their equal?
At the time, desperate to succeed in fitting in, it was my goal to catch up by making up for lost time in order to somehow gain equal footing. However, it goes without saying that this thinking is sorely misguided, there is no making up for lost time. Things have to just work through the work to naturally overtime and my pathway forward was to remain divergent and unique. So they continued trying to invite me to things but it just didn’t work out as I had hoped. Chronologically, I was your typical 18-year-old girl. However emotionally my development had been stunted. Inside I was at stuck in time as that insecure 12-year-old girl who had just lost her best friend after she moved away to the local Indian Reservation. With her gone, I was left alone friendless and destined to remain socially isolated myself in the world of my imagination – only safe place to be.
And there are no words that can adequately do justice to the experience of this. Inside my head this feeling of pain nagged at me as I asked myself: “Why am I so different?” You see, I honestly didn’t know. Looking back at it, I can attribute the problem to a global isolation that was inescapable.. It started in school where I was known as that girl who didn’t talk. It continued at home where I spent 99% of the time in my room, with busy parents who didn’t know and couldn’t understand.
My father was my idol: he marched to the beat of his own drum and appeared to be above others’ opinions not giving a crap one way or the other.
…And then there was my mother who always appeared so self-assured, confident, pragmatic and logical: As if she had all of life’s answers.
And my sister served to act as as proof that I was a human defect, by succeeding in every area of life I failed at.
I was isolated into the world of my imagination. My body was in school, but I wasn’t in my body. I was in my mind, and learned to exist in an inescapably painful situation by being beyond the point of feeling or reacting to it. Mentally numbed into a zombie-like state for the sake of emotional survival. It is only with 20/20 hindsight that I can see what was then invisible to me. The understanding that I needed as a solution to my problems existed just beyond the pain I was unwilling to face.
My father, the idol, was also socially clueless and ostracized – like me.
My mother, the one with the answers, was also naïve and ignorant – like me.
My sister who appeared to succeed was also struggling in her own way – like me.
When examining the origins of my pathological naivety I must say it comes down to the fact that life developed a one-sidedness based on others’ opinions and my inability to see beyond them.
I have had to examine my own personal narrative to include information that had been previously overlooked. This idea of me being not good enough has haunted and perplexed me much of my life. And until I was willing to confront the traumas of my past, I had no idea why people reacted to me as they did. I just knew it was hurtful and made no sense. With no one guiding me there to help me, I naturally blamed myself. Within me was the thought I’m worthwhile person. Around me everyone had these terrible things to say coming out of left field.
In order to pass PE class all you need to do is simply participate. I flat-out refused freshman year and got an F, which really ticked off my mother.
I was always the last one to be picked. Whenever we games like baseball, there eventually came the moment whe. attention would fall upon me and the taunting began. The usual suspects all jumped in with a barrage of verbal insults that felt like knives hurled upon my soul. I would try, in futility, to swallow my tears but was never very successful at if. My heart has always been clearly visible upon my sleeve as an easy target. In those moments I would pray for the ground to swallow me while in order to be rendered invisible. But, this never happened.
So anyway what I did to survive PE was to conveniently forgetto bring my gym clothes. Our teacher said if you didn’t have your PE clothes you could not participate. This strategy worked for a while and I was able to sit safely in the sidelines. However, at some point my teacher eventually sent a note home informing her of my perpetual oversight to not bring gym clothes. From that day forth I was unable to get away with leaving my gym clothes at home. There was no way out.
So one day after the usual taunting and ridicule, we went to the locker room to shower and change. For the most part, the girls in my class ignore me, which was preferable to the verbal ridicule the boys always dished our. Around me several other girls started undressing talking about normal high school stuff like this party on this weekend or so and do’s boyfriend. I remained quiet and simply went about my business thinking to myself, “they have no idea how lucky they are getting to be normal”. However, at some point, I start noticing everybody giving me these funny looks. Perturbed by the stares I gave the girl next to me the “evil eye” as she asks: “who bought you that underwear and why don’t you shave your legs?” I looked down at my underwear, having not given it a single thought until that moment. It was the underwear that my mother bought for me. It had pretty little pink flowers on it and was the modest granny style that my mother approved of. They of course have this fancy underwear that you get from the Victoria’ s Secret. The kind my mother would always comment that only “slutty girls” wear. Then, as I began examining my hairy legs I thought to myself in frustration at my mothers steadfast ignorance. Ignorant of the varied social niceties required for one to fit in at the typical American High School, she didn’t understand why sending your child to school with hairy legs and granny panties was not a “good idea”. I begged for normal panties and she would ask “why do you need those, nobody will see them anyway.” I would try stealing my father’s razors, but she would lake them from me. At one point, I just gave up and thought to myself, the boy’s all hate you now anyway, its not like shaved legs and bikini underwear are bound to make a dang bit of difference at this point. I’m not exactly sure what my response was, but I basically asked: “What’s the point? The boy’s here hate me?” I could tell, by the looks on their faces, that I wasn’t making any sense, but at the time I really didn’t give a shit. I had no desire to explain myself to anyone in that moment.
As I reflect on this memory today, I can’t help but think about a new girl back in 5th grade who moved to town. Since I lived in a small town, “new kids” were a rarity and most of us grew up together. I had her in P.E. class and this was our first time having to undress in front of others in a locker room.
Everybody was just developing and wearing training bras. This new girl, however still wore those “underoos” with superhero characters on them. She would dance around like a little girl as everyone looked at her strangely for her odd behavior. I couldn’t help but wonder how this girl could be so clueless, that she was oblivious to the fact that everybody thoughts he was an oddball. Was this me in Freshman year on that day when somebody asked me about my granny panties? Probably so. I remember telling my sister this story one day, and recall her responding bluntly, “Oh my God! There’s no way I’d let that happen. I would have found a way around mom.” In other words, I was still to blame for my own cluelessness. You see, it appears that ignorance is not an excuse. Societal ignorance is equitable to a character defects I suppose – an unforgivable one.
So what defense can I provide for daring to do things like wearing granny panties to PE class? I can see within my mind the opinions of those who knew me from this time: “What’ the hell’s wrong with her? She was such a weirdo!!” In my own defense I simply would like to note that I was really clueless.. At no point has anyone given me advice or assistance on how to fit in and be like a normal kid. The fact is there are so many things working against me. I was raised in a home with two unique parents. My dad is socially awkward and marches to his own drum. My mother was a foreigner unfamiliar to many aspects of teenage life in America. I had absolutely no friends after sixth grade.
Fortunately for my sister who is six years younger, my parents had already endured watching me struggle socially. They wanted to provide my sister different experiences. So the raised her very differently and retroactively attempted to give me those things that she had gotten first. My younger sister was first to get a car, first to wear makeup, first to date. I followed her and was to retroactively receive these things – as somewhat of an afterthought. I think this was their way of making amends for failing to provide me what I needed to survive socially in your typical American School System.
Point #1: “In my own defense”, I wasn’t only ignorant of the rules of law regarding fitting in. Doing so was legitimately complicated due to the prolonged isolation (both at work & home…
It is September 21st, 2017, my birthday, and I’m officially 48-years-old: an old fart…
Its 11:25 in the morning and I just had an appointment with my psychiatrist and took time to review where I’m at now. Honestly, I’ve been too busy. While I’m grateful to be on track, everything is happening at fast pace and at the rate I’m on going I won’t get a day off until I can move to a different schedule for my weekend job. I’m trying my best to carve out time out for myself whenever I have a spare minute. However, I realize this schedule can continue for very long.
I’m in the car right now trying to make the most of this drive time, and I’m dictating this post on a handy-dandy app I downloaded onto my phone….
I have this theory that life comes with its bitter pill we must swallow. I know this sounds a bit “Debbie Downer” of me, but bear with me. As I see it, this bitter pill represents an undeniable yet ugly truth of our lives. If we face it directly it causes us more pain then we’re prepared or willing to feel. So what we do is we engage in a willful denial of facts and create a reality that deletes these ugly truth out of the equation. The problem with this, is we end up perpetuating what we deny
We seek answers in the wrong places and end up chasing our tails like a hamster on a wheel. As a reformed-fuck-up, I’ve come to understand that the only way out is through. The truth will set you free.
(I realize I’ve said this elsewhere on this blog before. However, it bears repeating here.)
I feel like that kid in the emperor has no clothes fable who points out that the king is naked and gets in trouble for simply stating facts.
It’s truly a crazy making experience to be told that I’m supposed to treat truth as bullshit and bullshit is truth. Its as if those in my past expected me to help them deny what they hated to see. I was expected to collude with others in the maintenance of the pretty, self-deceptive realities we shared. Unseen facts were my crosses to bear and theirs to benefit from since I was too young to know better.
If you’re a first-time visitor I’m sure this makes absolutely no sense. In this case, I suggest you read through my blog. I’m frankly not in the mood now to provide a detailed accounting of this experience.
My point is, I have this life to look back upon that is very lonely in the truest sense of the word. This loneliness – (in part at least) – meant my daily life was lacking in meaningful companionship, interaction, and belonging. I’m at a point in my life now where I am not willing to pay a price for the ignorance of others – even if this does mean I must watch them hurting. I must speak my truth and can’t afford to save others at my expense. I do not expect others to change or if knowledge my truth.
In this blog post I want to tell my side of the story: (or at least the Cliff Notes version of it)
As I write these words my mind is filled with memories of a childhood where I felt like a defendant in the court of public opinion. I was deemed guilty before I had a chance to speak on my behalf. Nobody took time to understand what I was going through. It’s not that they didn’t give a fuck or pretending not to notice….
…they just had more “pressing matters” to deal with and I wasn’t exactly high on their list of priorities.
Today when I speak with people who knew me as a kid – (whether family, friends or acquaintances) – it’s like a bad acid trip. Through the eyes of all those who know me, I am able to see a version of myself that is always distorted and never flattering. Instead, it is stereotypical and glossed over. When viewing these preconceived versions of me side-by-side, I feel I’m walking through a hall of mirrors
No one took time to understand where I was coming from, when they drew their conclusions. Instead they acted as judge and jury. I was screwed from the outset. You see, acknowledging me has meant facing ugly truths previously swept under the rug. My only regret is I did not stand up for myself sooner in life.
As that man in a monkey suit, I struggle to break free, but the zipper is stuck. I ask someone to help me but they don’t notice my inner struggle. You see I’m just a stupid monkey. I urge them from within to look inside but they can’t see behind this frickin mask. All I say and do is contextualized within this preconceived notion. These preconceptions render the truth of who I am essentially invisible to all – including myself. All that can be seen is this thick layer of bullshit ideas thrown my way.
There’s a standard and legal profession that I’m sure you’ve heard before: beyond a reasonable doubt. So they’ll does this mean?
So in my defense, what facts can be brought forth the produce doubts about the conclusions mad about me in the court of public opinion? What follows is listing of unacknowledged facts – in no particular order that provide a solid argument against these judgments rendered upon me in the court of public opinion:
To continue click the links below
one day after the usual taunting and ridicule, we went to the locker room to shower and change. For the most part, the girls in my class ignore me, which was preferable to the verbal ridicule the boys always dished out
Around me several other girls started undressing talking about normal high school stuff like this party on this weekend or so and do’s boyfriend. I remained quiet and simply went about my business thinking to myself, “they have no idea how lucky they are getting to be normal”. However, at some point, I start noticing everybody giving me these funny looks. Perturbed by the stares I gave the girl next to me the “evil eye” as she asks: “who bought you that underwear and why don’t you shave your legs?” I looked down at my underwear, having not given it a single thought until that moment. It was the underwear that my mother bought for me. It had pretty little pink flowers on it and was the modest granny style that my mother approved of. They of course have this fancy underwear that you get from the Victoria’ s Secret. The kind my mother would always comment that only “slutty girls” wear. Then, as I began examining my hairy legs I thought to myself in frustration at my mothers steadfast ignorance.
Point #1: “In my own defense”, I wasn’t only ignorant of the rules of law regarding fitting in. Doing so was legitimately complicated due to the isolation (both at home & school)…
He gazed upon me with that evil Cheshire Cat grin knowing full well all eyes are on us as he said, ”What the fuck is wrong with you moron, I’m talking to you!?!?”
I tried my best to ignore him and looked straight ahead. My face was burning hot and at this point very red as I realized everyone in the classroom stopped what they were doing to watch our exchange. I honestly can’t remember at this point what our group project was that day, but our geography teacher had divided us up into groups. I had the misfortune of being paired with three “gems”.
Point #2: “In my own defense”, I was truly alone & the chips were stacked against me. School was a terrifying place. My only defense was to retreat “within myself”. By High School I was really known as “the girl who refused to talk”.
“I don’t count” due to the random qualities that define my meat-suit. My identity feels a farce, and I had to “act as if” I was what others deemed even though this was a lie.
My sister & cousin were allowed the opportunity to live as a normal American Teenagers.
I was cloistered way like a nun. I had no friends & was ostracized. My different-ness stood out like a sore thumb in my small homogeneous town.
Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”
“emotional parentification requires the child to fulfill specific emotional and/or psychological needs of a parent and is more often destructive for child development than instrumental parentification (Hooper, 2007a)”…”Scapegoat theory refers to the tendency to blame someone else for one’s own problems, a process that often results in feelings of prejudice toward the person or group that one is blaming. Scapegoating serves as an opportunity to explain failure or misdeeds, while maintaining one’s positive self-image” (Scapegoat Theory Definition, n.d.)
Point #4: “I had to provide support at the expense of my own well-being. To this day, my father has received the fruit of my own emotional parentification by believing honestly that “I had a happy childhood”. My mother has received the fruit of my role as the scapegoat by saying “my conscience has been resolved”
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been an optimal target for bullies. In fact, as the “girl with the cooties”, bullying has always been a constant issue: from kindergarten at St. Agnes up through high school graduation.
Admittedly, the bullies changed from year to year, but they all saw me the same way. I was the perfect target: I am highly sensitive and don’t fight back….For those who have never been bullied, you’d be surprised to learn that the actual bullying isn’t the worst of it. The collateral damage it sustains upon your social life is devastating. You see, when you get picked on often enough at school people start to notice and a reputation develops. Now a “loser”, you’re essentially walking around with a scarlet letter tattooed to your forehead. Hapless bystanders, silently observe the altercations but do nothing. Instead they pretend not to notice. Fearing for their own well-being and hoping to retain their status within the social hierarchy, you’re now a social leper. A “dork-by-association” rule starts to govern all social interactions with you. Should someone dare say “hi” or strike up a conversation, they’ll hear about it later: “what the hell are you doing hanging out with that wierdo?!?!”
Point #5: “In my own defense”, I was really a deer in headlights.
A consistent diet of ostracism & bullying left me with a skewed perception of myself. I left home with this emotional hot potato…
I struggled in futility to make sense of my surroundings but without my glasses there was no point. Lying on that hospital gurney, all I could see were the bright hot examination lights. As the fear and confusion grew, an animal instinct in my foggy brain was urging me to resist. However, all efforts proved fruitless. As the sedative effects of the sleeping pills took hold, I struggled in futility to regain control of any motor function. All I could manage in that moment was nonsensical slurred speech while flailing about the bed like a crazy homeless drunk. When I tried sitting up, hospital staff surrounded me while tying hands and feet to the bed. The last thing I recall was the big plastic tube they shoved down my throat.
I opened my eyes several hours later to mental clarity and events of the previous evening began flooding back.
I recall waking up to a knock on my door late Sunday night. Laying on the sofa, I was prepared for an eternal slumber. As the door opened, I became enraged with myself for forgetting to lock the dang door. A crew of emergency responders walked in, including my old college roommate (a cop) & a former high school classmate (an EMT).
At the lowest point of my life, there were 2 people from my past who existed as reminders of traumas I was struggling to forget. The idea of this made me so angry my hands began to shake uncontrollably. They now had a ring-side seat to the assorted details of my fucked up life.
Wanting nothing more than to run away in shame, I stumbled into the bedroom but didn’t get far before my old roommate grabbed me by the arm. As she sat beside me on my bed, I was hit immediately by barrage of questions:
“A friend of yours was concerned about you and told us to check up on you. Did you take this bottle of pills”
“Can you tell me why you decided to do this?”
“I can appreciate that you don’t want to talk about it but I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on?”
As she informed me of her plans to take me to the hospital, a blind panic took over. “I can’t let him see me like this!!!”
A blind panic overcame as I remembered the old high school classmate, waiting in the next room. I felt like that awkward bullied kid again terrified to show my face. The idea that he might spread details of this evening throughout town, pained me. My mind flooded with painful memories of my childhood. He was your adverqfe kid just trying to survive. He always avoided me and pretended to not notice the bullying I suffered – an implicit acknowledgement of the fact that I was the social leper. As a silent bystander he was “the enemy” in my mind. All I wanted to do is hide out in the bedroom. In my mind. I was that scared kid who hid in the girls locker room to avoid the daily lunchroom torture – all over again. It wasn’t until he left that I was willing to leave my bedroom and be escorted to the hospital…
After surviving this nightmare, I was simply grateful the sedative-induced fog had lifted & my mind was finally clear.
I reoriented myself to the surroundings. The ER room was large and expansive with long curtains separating a row of hospital beds. I wondered in horror, how many people were able to witness the “humbling events” that unfolded just hours ago. As a nurse approached my bedside, I asked for politely my glasses. She ignored me as if I wasn’t there and sat down to scribble some notes in my chart.
I laid there in silence, and wondered what I had done to make her angry. Still tied to the bed, unable to move, there was really nothing I could do but wait. I began to recall the conversation hospital staff had while hovering around me just hours ago. They were talking about me as if I wasn’t there, unaware that I was still conscious. A male nurse, at one point, called me a pathetic loser, since “only losers kill themselves”. The ER doctor got mad at him for saying this and ordered him to help someone else.
Sitting by me at eye level, I could tell by his kind eyes and sincere voice that he genuinely cared. He told me it would be okay and he would make certain the nurses took good care of me…
I squinted my eyes and searched for a figure in a white lab coat. However, the ER was quiet, and the nice doctor was no where to be found. The nurse remaining by my bedside, was stoic and cold. Without a hint of acknowledgement she approached my bed and forcibly sat me up & turned around to search for my clothes. I sat there stunned and dizzy, as the my fuzzy surroundings began spinning about. I struggled to grab hold of something, however my arms were still tied firmly to the bed and my hands felt numb. As my untied hospital gown started gradually falling down my shoulders, my breasts were exposed. With no curtains drawn to ensure privacy, I became fearful that some random person might walk by and see me sitting here. I asked her to pull up my gown up or close the curtain. However, She ignored my requests. Frustrated and ashamed, I noticed a phlebotomist milling around, ogling at me with an evil grin on his face. I bowed my head down towards my feet in a futile attempt to use my hair as a privacy shield. After what seemed like an eternity, the nurse finally turned around and pulled the curtain shut, so I could finally be spared another second of feeling like a side-show oddity.
She was 16 years old and brought in by an ambulance to the ER. Her parents called 911 after finding her in the bathroom with her wrists slashed.
She arrived covered in blood and could have passed for an extra for a slasher flick. Her arms were wrapped in towels as they wheeled her in. I was instructed to clean her up so the doctor could do the stitches. Her mother stood by, crying uncontrollably as I wheeled her into a room and pulled the curtains for privacy. After getting her into a hospital gown, I laid her down on the gurney, unwrapped her wrists and began scrubbing the dirt and dried blood away from her arms. After a period of silence I asked her what happened. Her affect remained flat as she shrugged shoulders and contemplated my question for a minute. Looking away, she replied: “I’ve had a rough time at school and my parents are getting divorced.”
I continued cleaning her up and recall saying that I was sorry I was to her about the hard time she’s going through. I attempted to reassure here I was there to help and available in this capacity should she need anything. Beyond the polite smile and thank you, I could see she was in a world of pain. I recalled my own suicide many years ago. I shuddered at the possibility that the care she was being provided might make her to feel like I had several decades ago.
As I continued to scrub away the blood and grime, the details of my life quickly fell into the background. Before me, was a human being who is just hurting. She simply wanted the pain to stop. I wished in futility for a way to make it better and continued cleaning her silently and meticulously. Sounds of ER chaos unfolded just beyond the drawn curtain. The air was ripe with a cold and emotional neutrality that reflected a jaded “I’ve-seen-it-all” mentality. I could recognize the “survival mode” mindset in the staff working that evening. They were overworked, stressed, and entire hospital was short-handed. Everybody was focused simply on the tasks at hand with cold and steely determination. A sadness grew within me as I began to witness this clashing of perspectives. I was vividly aware of the client’s needs and the hurt overwhelming her. However, as a healthcare worker, I also understood how difficult the job an be at times.
In that moment, it was clear to me that the client’s need for compassion, and understanding, would be met with a clinical focus on the overarching goal of simply ensuring patient safety. She could expect to receive repeated punitive reminders that what she did a very bad thing…
Finally, some parting words as “food or thought”:
“Perhaps nowhere is the ability to empathize with another person more important than when one is interacting with a person who is on the brink of suicide. This is true whether one views one’s task as helping the individual choose continued living over suicide or, more rarely, as helping the individual make a wise chose between suicide and continued life. The ability to hold a person within life, when that is needed, and to allow a person who has chosen suicide to die, when that is needed, depend on an experiential appreciation of the other’s world view. Finding hidden or obscure ways out as well as seeing that there is no way out require both the ability and the willingness to fully enter the experience of the individual ready to suicide and, at the same time, not become that experience…” (Linehan, 1997, p. 353).
Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and Psychotherapy. In A. Bohard & L. Greenber (Eds.) Empathy Reconsidered: New Directions in Psychothrerapy. Washington DC: AC 352-392.
As usual my therapy session last Friday was very illuminating.
The session begins when I brought up some of the issues that came up over the week: (read this & this). I then shared with him my “major light bulb moment”: The most painful thing about my childhood was the consistent failure of all involved to acknowledge that I was hurting. At home as well as school, all involved, I am the problem, and it’s solution. Context didn’t matter and the role others played in the perpetuation of my own misery were irrelevant. I was the problem, it was my fault. Healing and moving forward has involved examining the context of the problem and that the issues were much bigger than me.
As I progress in therapy, I’m beginning to understand the depth of the unresolved crap that I carry inside me from my childhood. There was never an opportunity for me to express how I felt, or share with someone what was happening at home, at school, or with the extended family. My misery was an all encompassing thing 24 hours a day that defined the reality of my existence. I struggle, at times, with a doubt in the reality of my experiences, since all involved refuse to hear or acknowledge what I’ve been through….
Something happened at work that really disturbed me quite a bit….
I find myself, in a knee-jerk, matter complying with this bullshit idea that I must protect others from what they don’t want to see. This habit is so automated that I can tend to do it quite a bit. I hold within myself the reality of my emotional experiences, in order to get through my day. I present a pleasant demeanor the majority of the time and appear pretty “even-headed” with such adeptness that it scares me at times. In fact, a patient I cared for complemented on my pleasant and patient attitude. He’s actually a very sweet individual & I enjoy caring for him. However, the floor he’s on is always short-staffed and the nurses are clearly all “on edge”. The lights are blinking like a Christmas tree and I’m trying to keep up with patient’s demands while getting vitals. He calls often asking for small things and I know he’s lonely and needs to talk. I become stressed & overwhelmed inside but try not to let it show. At some point in the evening he states his sincere appreciation for me and how I always made time for him when nobody else did. I smiled and responded with a quick thank you.
On the way out the door, I recall feeling dumbfounded and perplexed. My mind was jostled by this complement & I instantaneously “snapped out of it”.
Until this moment, I was just feeling annoyed that I had to be on this particular floor. It was a very heavy floor that was always short-staffed. As the float pool tech, I felt I was being shit on and seething inside. I began my shift with an internal piss-n-moan rant running in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until I received a bit of acknowledgment from a patient that I started to reflect on my own thought processes that evening. These thoughts had been acting as an internal narrator of the events of the evening:
“I can’t believe I’m dealing with the same person’s crap again for the fourth day in a row. Why is it they have to shit on me & assign me to the stuff nobody wants to do? If only they knew what I have on my plate, I just don’t have the patience.” My eyes began to well up with tears as I began to realize how good I was at “smiling and taking it like a man”.
By about 1:00 a.m. things start to quiet down & I’m able to sit down and have something to eat.
I found a quiet place so I could process what I learned from the meeting with my psychiatrist yesterday. This pervasive tendency to suppress my emotions into the subconscious level of awareness was truly all-encompassing. This just happens to be yet another consequence of the happy family game crap that I participate in. This desire to create a certain public image involved hiding certain things and accentuating others things. When my parents tell me they remember a happy girl, I believe they are sincere in this assertion, (however incorrect). I came to realize, they were the beneficiaries of my coping mechanisms. I protected them, and the family, at a huge expense to my own well-being.
The fact is, denying my truth was unhealthy. Today, I’m so good at keeping things inside that it is almost a knee-jerk action.
This is why today, when I talk about my childhood with the family, they have such a very different memory of things. I kept the reality of my day-to-day life out of their view. I protected them from what I knew they were incapable of handling. I would like, at some point, to tell the truth of my experiences as an act of defiance. It would be a useful and essential opportunity to state publicly the reality of my life experiences. However, before doing so, I need to prepare myself with the frustrating reality that some people might react very negatively to my story. I would need to carefully weigh my options and consider my true motives for doing so….
My biggest struggle today is with a slow grieving process. Neglect is a painful, yet frequently overlooked experience, in some respects just as painful as abuse…
Underlying everything that I’ve gone through is just the idea that I was alone.
There was no one there for me at home or in school. The consistent message that I received is that context was irrelevant. My own perspective wasn’t as important as is the idea that the problem is me and I need to fix it myself. And the funny thing about this assertion, are how I react to it differently at varied levels of awareness….
In fact, I believe there are different levels of knowing.
I can take in the logic of what someone says and filter it against my own experience. Yet emotionally, my feelings betray me. When re-experiencing old trauma, I don’t care about logic, all I know I feel shame, hurt, and invalidation. I ask myself about the purpose of this secrecy and why I’m not supposed to say anything. Why are they so insistent on not seeing certain things? There is fear, pain, and simply a desire to avoid those things that hurt to much to look at too long…
…So the frustrating thing is I’m left to figure things out on my own. Like the serenity prayer, I focus on what I can change and let go of the rest. It feels so lonely simply because there is no one in my life who was there that the way things went down. Instead, when the past comes up, it was me and my problems.
My mind is like a safety bubble within which I reside reside in order to avoid the body’s messages of the unresolved emotions I’m not ready to deal with…
I have a pervasive and f-d up tendency to separate the goings on in my body from an awareness in my mind
I am starting to appreciate the real consequences of this coping mechanism. It has repeatedly slapped me in the face over the last several weeks. I am going through stuff throughout the week that impacts me. The emotions and thoughts don’t present themselves until I am at my final straw. Emotions bubble over & become too much to handle. The cycle has been repetitive over the last several months…
I spend too much of my life with this happy smile on my face that allows everyone to believe that Kathleen’s doing just fine. The happy game I play is now my own. My outer presentation never fully justifies the reality of what I’m feeling in the moment. I know that the reality of my childhood was a perfectly crafted performance. They acted like they were fine and I had to act like I was fine not so we could seem like the perfect happy little girl & everybody we were okay…
HOWEVER, below the surface my dad had checked out, my mom was stressed, my sister felt alone, and I was depressed….
So I just dropped the boys off at home after picking them up at school, & am in the car dictating this on my iPhone…
I have a few errands to run and decided drop my kids off so they can do their assigned errands and start homework. I’m now stuck in traffic after stopping by Starbucks to pick up three Bacon Gouda Sandwiches since I am just too darn lazy to cook.
This particular Starbucks is in a very busy area, so I wait for my food about 15 minutes and unobtrusively people-watch. There are several small groups of high school and college students studying. Wandering in and out are full-time working adults, picking up something to go really quick.
As I finish giving my order, I notice this lady walk in. She’s about my age and has two children with her. The oldest is boy about 12, I’m guessing. He is carrying a school bag and is wearing khaki pants and a button up shirt. His hair is perfectly combed. Her daughter is about 5-6 and dressed in a pretty sunflower dress with matching bows in her hair and matching flats with white hose and a little purse.
As they walk by me, I notice her perfectly crafted appearance. She has her hair pulled back into a neat bun. Wearing a professional business suit, expensive shoes and fancy handbag, I notice her makeup is perfect down to the bright red lipstick and expertly drawn eyebrows. Together they look like the absolutely perfect family you find in empty picture frames at the store.
I then begin to think what sort of first impression I must leave…
I was up late last night finishing up some internship paperwork. My husband ended up taking the kids to school so I could sleep in until 9 o’clock. When I woke up that morning, I spent about fifteen minutes on my appearance before walking out the door. I threw something on that fit my personal standard of comfortable while still falling within the “business casual” dress code. I recall looking at my reflection that morning and cringing. As I got dressed, my lumpy out of shape body was truly a depressed sight. I berated myself for getting out of shape and longed for the day when I can find time to exercise. I pushed these thoughts out of my mind and told my inner critic to shut up. I reminded myself that I was working 65-70 hours a week. As a recovering shlumpadinka, I’m unfamiliar with daily makeup and hair routine. I try my best to cover-up my uneven skin and apply light eye shadow while leaving my hair as the last task, before walking out the door.
A feeling of sadness wells up inside as I gather the remnants of my once-long hair into a ponytail.
It was down to my waist last year, when I asked a friend to layer it a bit. I was hoping for a more professional appearance that fit my future counseling career. Anyway, my instructions to leave the length at about my shoulder blades were ignored as she made the executive decision to cut it at the shoulder. I now struggle every morning to get every last bit of shorn hair into a neat ponytail. I simply have no desire to look at it, and the ponytail is my only option….
By the time I reach Starbucks to pick up the Bacon Gouda Sandwiches, it as almost 4:00 p.m. and I had given up on the hair by that point. The ponytail was falling out and I looked like a disheveled mess. As this lady makes her way to the register she throws a quick side-glance in my direction that kind of spoke volumes in a way that words didn’t have to. I politely smiled at her and walked to my car.
On the way home, This experience reminded of some cousins on my dad’s side….
My dad is the oldest of four boys and has two brothers that are close in age. Throughout their lives they hit all major life milestones around the same time. After finishing their degrees, they married within the same year and got their wives pregnant shortly thereafter. For this reason, I have one cousin a month older than me, and another who is eight months younger than me. Since we are all female there was an upper-middle class success-based comparison between us growing up…
What stands out to me most about this experience, is a feeling of less-than-ness that I intuitively knew had some sort of historical component.
It was also clear to me, that we weren’t allowed to talk about it openly with anyone. For this reason, these experiences burn in my mind as unresolved questions that residing in the attic of my mind. My father was raised in that perfect all-American family. He grew up in a cute gingerbread house that stood on the top of a hill overlooking a creek. It was built in the late 1800s and on the historical registry. Every year we visited around the holidays and I marveled at how perfectly decorated everything was. My grandmother had a love of all things beige, and I was impressed at how clean she was to keep everything. The routine was always the same. We visited every thanksgiving and endured a 13-hour drive in the ’77 t-bird with no legroom. My dad and his brothers would gather in the kitchen with their parents and talk at the same time in loud booming voices. As a young child, they were all imposing figures, standing at around 6 feet in height and always perfectly groomed.
My grandmother, always reminded me of June Cleaver. She cooked thanksgiving meals in nice dresses & high heals in at perfect house, creating the perfect family meal.
I have to admit overall I’m pretty lucky. I believe the most profound legacy in a family is psychological in nature. In this respect I can’t complain. Nobody in his family has ever divorced and I am stranger to the idea. Everybody in the family is an “upstanding citizen of the community”. The ladies stay at home and the men hold respectable jobs, (i.e. lawyers, bankers, dentists, college professor, etc). They are able to uphold the upper-middle class lifestyle, and attain their own perfectly decorated homes. Coming from this background, if all I do is repeat what I know I’m doing pretty well. I am happily married, an upstanding citizen, well educated, and living a good life.
However, I am a firm believer there is a “shadow side” to everything in life.
I noticed the small things each visit that indicated there was more to the story of than meets the eye & longed to know more…
The first indications of this came from my father. My dad’s brothers all wore suits and ties like my grandfather. Together they presented a perfect image. However, for whatever reason, my dad bucked tradition and did his “own thing”. He lives in jeans and button up plaid shirts, (always un-tucked), with the sleeves rolled up just below the elbows. He never fastens the top two buttons and stained t-shirts are always visible above his collar. Completing this ensemble is a thick leather belt with keys hanging on the side that make a klinking sound when he walks. He also loves gaudy rings. My favorite is the one of a grim reaper riding a motorcycle and large ruby eyes. My earliest memories of my father are of playing with his scraggly beard while watching his untrimmed nose hairs wiggle when he would breathe. I always imagined that they were huge wooly bear caterpillars crawling up his nose.
While this description paints an “interesting picture”, I’d like to add that as a child, he was larger than life.
I looked up to my father as a hero and was proud to say I was a lot like him. As a bullied child who never fit in, his unique unapologetic attitude towards others’ opinions gave me comfort. I remember wondering what was wrong with me and why nobody liked me. I hated myself for being different and standing out like a sore thumb. My father’s stubborn refusal to be anything other than who he was, provided a feeling of comfort. It gave me hope that I could survive the bullying, if I could only be myself in the world, just like him…
Anyway, I recall an incident one year while visiting the grandparents on thanksgiving.
My sister was just a toddler so I’m guessing I was about 7-years-old. As my father took off his jacket and hung it in the kitchen closet, my grandmother began giving him the “once over”. A look of disappointment fell across her face and she turned away to stir the food on the stove. Once my dad left the kitchen to join his brothers in the den, the ladies sat down to chat a bit. My grandmother took a spot next to my mother and commented, “I was never able to get him to wear a suit but always believed his wife would succeed where I failed, I guess I was wrong”. My mother sat there with a stunned look on her face as my grandmother looked at her with disappointment.
And then there were assorted side-comments & stories about my father, alluding to his “differentness”.
I remember being asked on several occasions by younger male cousins during the holidays, why my dad was “so weird”. Then there was one year, when we visited my uncle’s house & my aunt said something interesting. This was after dinner & the ladies were sitting down in the living room. Since my aunt knew my dad from a young age, I had many questions. According to my aunt, there was a point in high school when my father just decided to stop talking to everyone and spent all his time in his bedroom. Apparently this happened during his last two years of high school when he was having trouble getting along with his parents. I wanted so badly to ask my dad about this, but my mother warned me, under no circumstances was I to discuss it with him….
So against this backdrop, I endured the emotional impact of thisconstant comparison. The fact that I stood out like a sore thumb didn’t help matters.
I couldn’t help but wonder about this feeling that history was repeating itself, yet frustrated that there was no opportunity to talk about it. When we were little, I recall no real feelings of being different from them. We all enjoyed playing together. However, as we reached our pre-teens, evidence of my odd-ball-ness became painfully clear.
One Thanksgiving on the way home from grandma’s house we stopped by my uncle’s house.
He was just 15-months younger than my father. As, almost-Irish-twins, they have lots of stories to tell. The adults gathered in the living room, as my aunt suggested I go bicycling with my cousin. She was just about one month younger than me at the time. A look of anger flashed across her face as she stormed out the garage. Encouraging me to follow her my aunt continued insisting we go on this bike ride. Sensing my cousin’s discomfort, I told my aunt that I was okay and started walking inside. However, my aunt was insistent. A heated discussion continues for – what seems like an eternity…
…To make a long story, my aunt wins the argument and this cousin ends up being forced to take me on a ride around town on bicycles. She first grabs an old bike for me to ride and tells me she needs to “adjust the gears a bit”. She then warns me not to bicycle next to her because she has friends in the neighborhood and doesn’t want to be seen with me. As we start riding, I notice that the bicycle doesn’t go very fast and begin to realize she screwed with the gears so I am unable to keep up. I try my hardest to stay within eyesight of her, but it’s useless. She peaks her head over her shoulder every so often to make sure I’m keeping up. However, I have difficulty maintaining a steady distance from her since I don’t know how to readjust the gears. My eyes fill with tears, as I realize that it is officially undeniable that I am an oddball. Her figure gets smaller and smaller down the strange and lonely streets until I’m completely lost.
By the time we reached high school, it was an undeniable fact that I was Raggedy Ann standing next two perfect china dolls.
My mind is chuck full of memories like the one above, that gnaw at my gut like day-old sushi. There was that year when a cousin got mad at me for going to a mall she frequented, out of fear that her friends would see me. Then there were the family dinners on thanksgiving in which my cousins would sit close together and exchange stories of their life. I could see our differences most painfully in that moment.
We were on opposite sides of an invisible fence that defined who was and was not “socially acceptable”.
Today, as I recall these experiences I know the how come and why of it all. I am able to provide an explanation of things here, here, here, or here or here. However, this clinical explanation does absolutely nothing to wipe away the twinge of sadness that fills my heart when I type this. The nail on the coffin to this story was my sister’s advice when I shared this with her recently: “Just ignore it, it’s years ago.” That’s easier said than done since the pain still burns in me as if its yesterday. It amazes that while we lived in the same home, we remember the experience in highly divergent ways.
If I have my way, I hope to never lay my eyes on those two *&%#@ again!!