It is my second last day in California, and whilst I am immensely grateful for all the wonderful moments I have experienced, the trip has not been without its challenges. As a result of the more difficult moments, I have come to a number of realisations:
- Why I find it so difficult to make even the most menial decisions:
Whenever one member of the family asks another for their opinion or preference about something, it is usually met with some form of negative and controlling response. For example, whether it is choosing a meal, an item in a shop, or something so insignificant as a song on the radio, it is never good enough for anyone. The same applies to both the most and least important of subjects. After being consistently asked what my preference is in certain situations, and then met with comments such as “but why would you choose that?”, “I think it would better if you did this instead” or even just looks of judgmental disdain or disapproval, it increasingly grates on me. Why ask me what my needs are if you don’t really care enough to listen to them anyway? I would rather remain passive, apathetic and indecisive than have a strong preference in any direction only to be chronically shut down, dismissed, shamed or disappointed by my family. This struggle has spread to other areas of my life; I am so wary of making any potentially imperfect decisions in a multitude of contexts – because I am so scared of people around me responding negatively – that I simply do not make decisions at all. It is so much easier to not care, to respond with a simple “I don’t mind, you choose”, and to not experience the consequence of my voice being constantly stamped over. Of course it is not ideal, but it is certainly preferable to me than getting all the controlling bullshit I get for saying something *wrong* every second sentence.
- Why I have such a fragile and complicated relationship with anger:
When I try and express my anger with certain family members, I get mocked, shamed and made out to be the bad guy. There are many situations in my family when I am the most calm and contained one (at least externally) so usually when I get angry, it is genuinely justified. However, when I express it, it gets shut down and invalidated, my feelings dismissed. As a child I was very angry, but being constantly ridiculed and even punished for showing it meant that over the years I learnt to internalise my anger more, and take it out on myself. This has continued to today. I find myself getting headaches, my chronic pain gets worse, physical anxiety goes up and I can’t think straight. There is no where for the anger to go because expressing it doesn’t go well, and I’m scared I will explode because of how much power it has. Therefore, often when I get angry, it is followed by a period of dissociation. I become so aroused, and so stuck in that arousal, that my system can only shut down in an attempt to deal with it all.
- How my dissociation manifests amidst my family in further ways and why:
The constant stressful, dismissive and controlling behaviours of family members easily overwhelm me. The more exposed I am to these experiences, the more painful it is. The more I care, the more it hurts. It is therefore easier to disappear, fade into the background, shut myself down, make myself small, take up less space, silence my voice and reduce the addition of more stress to the mix of everyone else’s shit. I do this by dissociating. If I’m not mentally present to the toxicity around me, then I can cope much better than when I am fully exposed to it. Even if there physically, by shutting off mentally, it provides me with one way of navigating the chaos. When dissociated, I remain unphased by what would usually cause huge distress. Instead of feeling constantly on edge, angry, anxious, unheard and a victim of negative energy as a result of the interactions around me, I can disconnect instead – and it is one way I survive the uncontrollable unpredictable people around me. Instead of being pushed and pulled around by what goes on with them, I become immune to my environment. Dissociating is my shield. It provides (the illusion of) invincibility. Without it I would not have been able to get through the 3 weeks without some form of externally destructive behaviours.
- Why romantic relationships don’t come easily to me:
The two parental figures on this holiday spent more time bickering and controlling, yelling and cursing, than they did positively relating to one another. The holiday was just a microcosm of what I have grown up with; I have never seen a healthy relationship between any of my parental figures, almost every conversation is an argument, there are no conflict resolution skills, no productive listening abilities, no understanding of validation. There is more hostility than overt love, more control than encouragement, more shaming than compassion. They are both so negative towards each other, and it feels damaging to be around constantly. I cannot imagine nor foresee myself ever knowing how to be in a healthy relationship. All my “relationships” so far have been toxic, and half the time I haven’t even realised. I have not seen nor been taught an example of how to be in a relationship that works, and as a result it is something I feel completely hopeless and clueless about for myself.
- Instead of missing people, I pretend they don’t exist:
When I was little I had to get used to the people closest to me not being around. I adapted by learning once again to dissociate from my feelings of sadness and loss, because as a kid it was too much to deal with in any other way. I went from missing certain people and depending on them, to being immune to the unpredictably of when they would and would not be around by simply *not caring*. Still to this day, I don’t tend to miss family or friends back home when I am or they are away. It puts me in an awkward position when they tell me they miss me and cannot wait to see me – as I don’t relate to that feeling, but also do not want to upset them! The only people I miss are the people I am attached to, e.g. my therapist. Aside from her, I feel like I could go for months without missing anyone. It’s ironic because even though I don’t miss them, I am not left without the deep loneliness. I haven’t seen my sister in months but I feel nothing? My best friend has moved country but after a single breakdown, I forced myself to become immune to that too. It is like I forget people exist, because then it doesn’t hurt when they’re not around or we are apart for long periods of time. I am always reminded of this when I go on holiday in how profound the disconnection I feel from “home” becomes, and in my inability to really feel emotionally connected to anyone I know intellectually I do have back there.
- There are certain toxic people I really do not want nor need in my life; my self-respect is growing:
Being away I have had limited interactions with friends over social media. The friends I did speak to showed interest and compassion in everything I shared – and vice versa – we shared only pleasant interactions. Then there are those who seem only to care about and get in touch based on their own needs. In the past I would have just let people walk all over me, stayed silent when affected by their behaviour or put their needs ahead of mine. But now, when confronted with those who don’t listen to my own needs or respect my boundaries, who have such high standards that no one will ever be able to live up to them, who are judgmental and invalidating of my experiences and feelings, and who I really do not miss nor feel the desire to contact whilst away, I feel no need to pander to them any longer. In fact, contact had been more of a bother than a pleasantry and I am happy because it has forced me to think about what I want. A sour interaction was the last straw for me and forced me to reconsider my values and needs. It enabled me to gain some perspective and practice some self-respect in terms of what I want from the relationship – or if I even want it at all. I am very much relieved. I don’t owe anyone anything, but I know what I owe myself.