Analysis Day 4: As William moves towards his teenage years, he enters what is termed as the counter dependent stage of his life. Typically between the ages of about seven and twelve, he would be looking to do more things on his own away from parents and develop individual interests. This should be a time of exploration and the next step on the way to independence before peer relationships become important. It often brings complications if previous developmental phases were dysfunctional, as they were with William. Instead of embracing his autonomy, he was awkward and lacking the social skills needed to enjoy it.
I remember very little about the time of my life before I became a teenager. The years between seven or eight and twelve are a blur and details are hard to come by. We spent a lot of time outside as kids did in those days, unsupervised but punished if someone complained about us, as they often did. We played soccer and other games, built dens and it was my job to stop my younger brothers getting into trouble. That’s really all I remember until I reached the age of twelve when I went to a new school. The time before that had been spent in the same small school I went to at five, where we had wooden desks with inkwells and we wrote with pens that needed to be dipped in the well. It was a place of comfort but I had a real fear of the teachers there. They were old school but looking back now were also fair.
I was an awkward thirteen year old. I felt weird and I isolated myself from other children in the new school. I got bullied badly and this added to the shame of who I felt I was. I remember these years like a dark forest in winter. Threats everywhere. We lived in a dingy, damp house which never seemed to have light running through it. I didn’t deal well with the deaths of family pets or winters very well. I suffered severe anxiety about school on Sundays and often feigned illness to try to avoid going. All of which brought the wrath of my father down on me. “There must be something wrong with him”, “How did we ever produce that?” were the words of affirmation I got from him. I was suffering badly and nowhere to voice how I felt. I wouldn’t have even known what to say if I had. The bullying at school got worse and the abuse at home continued. While this was happening, I still had the responsibility for my siblings, which now included my baby sister. If they did something wrong, I got punished. An example. My younger brother set the cooker alight one day. I smothered it with a thick blanket as I read in a book and got hit when they came back because he did it.
I had very few friends at school that were children I could trust. I tried but I always felt let down in some regard. I must have decided at one point to shut myself down and escape. I became solitary and isolated from others. I spent the summer holidays alone doing my projects around reading history and literature. Here I could escape. I wasn’t confident in any way except on the sports field where I excelled in various forms. However, my pent up aggression often led to violent clashes in soccer games. I was the star player on many teams but also had a terrible disciplinary record. A complete contrast to the meek and passive me in real life who wouldn’t stand up for himself.
At the same time, my peers were having their first thoughts about the opposite sex. This was a mystery to me and sexuality made me feel awkward. I felt weird and ugly and thought that the girls would find me the same. My brother had no such difficulty and seemed to have a different girl chasing him every week. I never felt confident around the opposite sex until I was about seventeen. Until then, they were a mystery. Nobody told me anything about how these relationships worked or the general topic of sex. I’m sure they found it awkward themselves and had no idea what to say even if they had the will to do it. I had no idea what to do, what was normal but was shamed regarding other aspects of sexuality. Hence, I avoided it all. Girls were interested but I kept away, preferring to spend my time alone in the country or with animals who I felt a connection with. I persuaded my father to let me keep ducks and chickens but he decided that they were better in the pot than being my pets so that soon ended.
I spent many summer holidays alone in breaks from school or in the familiar company of the known kids in the town. We had a special place where we used to swim and do all kinds of things but it was often too much and I decamped back to my own company being the introvert I was. At fifteen, I had my first “girlfriend”, a girl from the local village who I saw only at school and once when she came to our town. I lost myself in fantasy and escape to the extent that the teachers in my school used to joke about it. My report card stated that I was often distant and not present which was fairly accurate at the time. My fantasy was burst one day when she told me that her family were moving away from the area the next day and I never saw or heard from her again. I felt that it was something to do with me and told nobody but got taunted at school about it.
Up to that point, I had thought often about suicide and killing myself. As I entered my eighteenth year, something changed in me. I suddenly became stronger and bigger. I had been working on a farm in the summer holidays and had developed physically. Added to that, I had been playing rugby and soccer over the weekends. I became super confident in everything I did, at least on the surface. I got into fights in the town with people who had bullied me and felt great. It lasted for a few months and then I settled down. During that period, I actually knocked my father unconscious when he tried to beat me. I was instantly attacked by my mother, who hit me with a kitchen utensil. After all he had done to her, she defended him to the hilt.
I knew I had to leave and leave them all behind. I was starting to develop my own personality and realized that I was so much different to my family. I wanted to study and go on in life and they wanted to stay as they were. Two days before my eighteenth birthday, I moved out and into a house that I rented from the local farmer I worked for in summer. He gave it to me rent free as long as I helped around the place when I could. At the same time, I was dating a girl from another town who I would go onto to marry. She had severe mental health issues after a childhood of sexual and physical abuse and I found myself in a caregiver role again. Whatever she needed, I provided and I became codependent, trying hard to fix her issues but I knew I was doing this to fix myself and repeat familiar patterns. She moved into the cottage with me to the horror of both sets of parents… We didn’t care. It was us against the world. She was like me. An introvert and at odds with the world around her. We identified with each other’s pain though we never really knew why. It would be our undoing after twelve years together.
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