One of my biggest struggles has been that I don’t believe that I have suffered as much as I have. It’s like I have to validate myself to myself. I often think I am exaggerating what I have been through, or I don’t remember something as accurately. Maybe my babysitter didn’t hit us as much as I remember or maybe my parents were more accepting of me than I recall. Was I really ignored in favor of the newspaper or some tv show? Did my dad really ground me all the time or does it just feel like that? I have read a lot about gaslighting and the way my brain functions these days indicates that I have been chronically gaslit. I feel like I need to prove my side for benign things that no one would argue about. I always expect to be dismissed or that my opinion will cause an argument.
I stumbled across an article this morning that talked about signs that you had toxic parents. I thought it was interesting, but had the fear that none of those things would apply to me because my parents feel like they were so great. But these things did apply…and it made me feel scared but validated. It really was toxic. It was as bad as I remember. I really did feel neglected and dismissed. But none of this is new, so why would I feel scared about a list of things that validated what I already know is true?
Because there’s a part of me that doesn’t want it to be true. In a way it would be more acceptable to me to be exaggerating the truth than to actually admit that I really was unloved and unwanted. It’s easier to blame myself than to hold them accountable because I have been conditioned to not trust my own instincts, and to doubt my memory of what happened. Any maybe this is the ultimate proof I needed to see about what I went through with my childhood. That actual validation of my circumstances is more frightening to me than to just blame myself for exaggerating what I remember.
The article had 9 things listed and talked about what you didn’t experience as the biggest indicator that something was wrong. This whole list was scary accurately in ways I didn’t expect.
- Compliments – I don’t ever remember my parents complimenting me. I remember them saying they were proud of me for things long after they happened, like when I was an adult, they would say they were so proud of the effort I put into marching band or schoolwork. But at the time, I don’t ever remembering feeling like they were proud of me.
- Being Taken Care Of – This item talks a lot about how your parents expected you to take care of them and this is slightly not applicable at first glance. And then I remember the common refrain in my house of “Adults needs and wants are handled first and then children’s needs and wants will be addressed after ours.” That always made me feel like I didn’t matter. Like their wants took precedence over my needs. And that was most definitely the house I grew up in. My dad wanted to volunteer for the Red Cross, so he was gone a lot when they had exercises. My mom got frazzled when he was gone and we got the worst of her at those times.
- Feeling Comfortable at Home – I hated being at home. My senior year of high school was spent at school, work, marching band practice or competitions, and my friends’ houses. Recent conversations with old friends have confirmed that it seemed like I never wanted to go home and would wait until the last minute to leave. When I was home, I was mostly in my room. I just could not be around my parents at all.
- Having A Lot Of Friends Around – I never had friends over. I didn’t want to and I felt like I couldn’t. My mom got weird with people in the house and it wasn’t very welcoming. I would much rather go over to friends’ houses than to bring someone over to my house.
- Clear Boundaries – I had no boundaries. My cousin once got her bedroom door taken off and my parents were so proud of the fact that they would never remove my door because they knew I needed privacy. But I had none. They went through my stuff when I wasn’t home and I needed to learn how to hide my things so they wouldn’t find them. My brother often brought them notes from my friends and they encouraged him to spy on me. So much for privacy…
- Being Celebrated For Who You Are – I think it’s been more than clear from the time that I started this blog that they don’t care who I am unless it fits their narrow view of who they want me to be. The article also talks about comparing you to others. They ALWAYS told me they wished I could be sweet and loving just like my brother. It should come as no surprise to them that I started to hate my brother early on and resent him for his apparent perfection. He didn’t even have to do anything to earn our parents’ love but all I seemed to be able to do was get less and less.
- Being Listened To – Nope. Everything else was more important than me. The newspaper, the news, a movie, other people, my brother. I was often told to be quiet and that no one cares to hear what I have to say. And so I stopped talking to them and they got upset. Well…there’s not much for me to say when you’ve told me repeatedly that you don’t care what I have to say.
- An Apology – This one hits hard. When I was 7-8 years old, I started mouthbreathing. It was apparently very loud and they would pinch me at church in particular because it was quiet and my breathing sounded like a steam engine, they said. They would push my jaw up to close my mouth and then scream at me when I opened my mouth back up. They told me to just breathe through my nose and stop breathing through my mouth. Finally they told the pediatrician, who told them he couldn’t find any physical reason for it, but he did refer me to an ENT. The ENT told my parents at the very first appointment that my adenoids were very large and would need to be removed urgently. The surgery was scheduled and my adenoids were actually larger than what the ENT reported at the first appointment. And yet, there had never been an apology for the pinching, shoving, pushing my jaw up to close my mouth. They didn’t know and then when they did, they made sure the problem was fixed. They will never understand the damage that they caused by telling me repeatedly that I was just too lazy to close my mouth to breathe when I had a very real physical problem. This memory, more than most others, is the one that makes me ragey. Why would I lie about being about to breathe out of my nose? Why would I made that up?
- Clear Memories From Your Childhood – This one applies the least, because I do have a lot of clear memories. But what I do remember wasn’t great. I do remember that there were mean and cold to me. That I was blamed for things I didn’t do and punished with no questions for things they assumed I did. When I have tried to talk to them about how terrible my childhood was, they deflect and claim I remembering things wrong, they didn’t know, they were busy, they had a lot on their plate, blah blah blah. And why does it still even matter all these years later. Why can’t I just let things go so we can all move on? Why can’t they just hear me out without getting defensive? Why can’t they understand that they haven’t changed at all and still blame me for the things that happened to me, even as a young child who had no control over their environment?
All I can do at this point is heal the best I can with the help of a therapist, because they aren’t going to come around and even have these discussions with me, much less take accountability for their part in this mess.
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