Saturday, March 25, 2023

Neglect, abuse, endangerment, parentification and the toxic shame trifecta

Hi friends! Today's post is going to be raw and will probably seem to have little to do with how I lost 100 pounds or weight loss at all. But it's part of how I got to such a low place emotionally. And it's how I learned that constant criticism leads to fear of reprisal leads to paranoia leads to defensiveness leads to toxic shame leads AND how reversing that pattern can lead not only to weight loss but improved mental health. 

I never wanted to admit this but I was raised by very narcissistic people. I know it seems wrong, especially in my generation, to fault our parents. But I have to be honest if I'm going to find any kind of peace of mind. They were both very paranoid, super sensitive to criticism and in denial over personal fault and also hyper critical of me, as their only child. I remember being told faulted for things I had no control over and being told "you're too sensitive" when I cried or got upset. 

Prior to my parents' divorce, life was chaotic at best. We moved all the time. There often wasn't a steady parent present. I was let to walk to school alone at 4, play unsupervised in a downtown area at 5, wander the town marina. I left behind on an island in Alaska. I was dumped at a camp with no suitcase and no understanding of what was going on or where I was at 6. Beyond the wonderful times with my grandparents, and a few good ones, I have very few memories other than scary ones. 

After my parents divorce, there was a lot of expectation and parentification placed on me as they remarried and had kids. I was co-parent to my half siblings and foster children, to please step parents and obey their unfair and ridiculous demands, to be a "good girl" to be "modest" in a home where several unmarried couples were living together. I was evicted from my bedroom so my uncle and his girlfriend could sleep there. 

I had be on my best behavior at all times, to give up and sacrifice for the family (sacrifices no one else was making), to do most all the housework, cooking and cleaning, to be a good Christian (when adults in my home were openly "living in sin"--their words back then). At 11, I had to babysit 4 special needs children 4 and under, including an infant, toddler and two physically abuse children for a week. 

What surprises me is not that I was unable to live up to these expectations but how good I got at it. My reward however was not praise or appreciation but even more parentification of siblings and expectation. Anytime a new baby entered the family, I was assigned to sleep with the baby, get up with him/her in the night and care for him/her. I basically raised my siblings. And when I became inconvenient or when the other parent wanted a share of my "help" I was shuttled to them. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

I was held under a microscope and when I "failed" retribution was swift and draconian. At 16, I was evicted from my current home for coming in an hour late. One time. I didn't drink, smoke, use drugs, fight my parents or stepparents and was very (too) biddable. I got excellent grades and kept up an after school job. I walked a mile to school rain or shine to arrive an hour early so I could work before school started. I did all my homework. I cared for siblings and family and did much more than my share of the chores. What money my grandparents had set aside for me was used by parents "for the family" (their new families). 

But that one transgression lost me my not so happy home. I had to go an live with a stranger in town. My other parent did not step up to help out. In a time where it was common for kids to drink, do drugs drop out of school, get in trouble with the law and give their parents a lot of grief, I, who played by all the rules, was the one kicked out of the house. All this would be illegal today and was then too. You can't kick a minor out of the house. But they did. This wasn't the first or last incidence of abuse, neglect or endangerment. 

Sharing this makes me feel very vulnerable. Even at 58, as a parent and grandparent myself, I question whether I exaggerated. I fear that I may not be believed. I fear reprisal and scorn. I never have confronted the issues. I feel intense toxic shame. 

But also, because I am a parent and a grandparent, I can now look at these experiences with a caring adult eye. If these experiences had happened to anyone else, I would be horrified. With objectivity, I see that I learned not only to be too obedient but to downplay a lot and defend way too much. This has distilled into toxic shame over supposed wrongs, fear of reprisal, constant paranoia that I'm failing, pathological people pleasing and PTSD dreams that torment me all night long. 

But I'm also  learning how to work through these issues, thanks to my higher power whom I call God.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive