We continue here with William’s recollections of his early childhood. As stated in Day 1, he has recognised and acknowledged his shame and codependency and is documenting his experiences in order to understand where he came from and to understand where he is going. William writes Day 2 unedited and in a raw and emotional manner. He told me that he could feel the hate and disgust pouring out of him as he wrote. Hate and disgust that he has internalized and turned into a skewed view of himself.
This type of purging and the emotion attached to it is quite common when working with shame especially. We hide shame and cover it with easier to handle emotions. Therapists often work on these emotions without getting to the depth of the feeling, preferring to deal with the tip of the iceberg rather than investigate the larger part under the surface. William was let down by his parents when he really needed them and he was let down by professionals who failed to ask him what he was really feeling. The way William documents Day 2 in a raw, unstructured way captures the feelings he has about this time in his life. Only now, is he really coming to terms with how it affected him.
Funnily, the earliest memory I have is falling out of a pram into a patch of nettles. I remember to this day, the pain my mother felt pulling me screaming out of the roadside with rising wets all over me. When I look back at this and other events, I have often wondered why in God’s name I was born to these two people who knew nothing about bringing me and my siblings up. While the Pham incident was probably an accident, it summed up my childhood.
I read that shame based people produce shame based families with no boundaries. I discovered that I was exposed to shame at an age when I couldn’t understand, around people who carried their own shame, but hid it or didn’t know how to deal with it. As they had no hope of dealing with it, I had no chance of dealing with mine. That’s why I have to do it now.
I carry a lot of shame about where I come from and copious amounts of guilt for thinking about them the way I do. I feel compassion, especially for my mother who who gave me a work ethic and some values. My father gave me nothing except disgust and resentment, the very feelings I often have about myself.
I have often wondered how reliable early memories are. Specific events come in feelings rather than exact details. I have always been told “that feelings aren’t facts”. I was never allowed to show emotion and feelings. Boys who cried were “sissys”, “emotions were for girls”, was an accusation I often heard.
So I am never sure whether what I feel about my childhood is actually correct or is it something that through the sands of time, I embellished or exaggerated. Where is the reality?
I said that early memories were sketchy. I do remember vividly living in a big house with my grandparents, uncles and parents, about ten of us. We lived remotely on a farm that one of my uncles worked on. This was possibly between the ages of three through five. We were poor, the house was ramshackle and we were “country trash”. My grandmother was the matriarch of the family and I was terrified of her voice. She often parented me in an interfering way when she felt her daughter-in-law couldn’t. Later at 13, I sat on her bedside as she died in agony from leukemia, not knowing what to do. It was the first time I was confronted with death and nobody talked to me about it. When she died, I immediately felt guilty for some of the things I hadn’t done that she had asked me to do. I felt empty and suddenly remembered her planting beans and keeping a kitchen garden and the peculiar way she cut bread on her chest! My father’s family became unstructured after her death. I remember lots of arguments. It was a big, scary place.
My life there with all of these people was a time with no boundaries. We spent all day outside playing, fishing with uncles, making soapbox carts and playing with the many animals we had around the place. We drank milk straight from the cow, collected eggs everyday for breakfast and generally did what we pleased.
I know now that this was not as healthy as it sounds. We were essentially being parented by our uncles and I never felt safe with them. They were big and boisterous and I felt constantly afraid of the things they did. I believe I was inappropriately touched by one of them but I can’t remember. I choose to believe it didn’t happen.
My “feeling” about those early years is that I wasn’t protected, I had little connection with my parents and “felt” like I didn’t exist and I wouldn’t survive. Nobody told me any different.
As I learn more about shame, I realise that the ego defenses children employ to protect themselves were out in full force in my early years. Things I have heard over the time since, suggested I was distanced and often hiding way from people.
I found connection with an English bull mastiff called Judy, who spent her time looking after me, dragging me around by the arm and growling when anyone came near. I, at least, felt safe with her. During these times, I can never remember my parents being present. I guess they were working, who knows?
To be continued.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com