Do you ever hear this?
Sure, I had it bad when I was growing up, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It made me who I am today.
I admire the “can-do” spirit in those words – the refusal to be kept down by adversity. Since we can’t go back and change things, I guess it’s good to adapt, but what if adaptation involves denial, and that denial interferes with our ability to enjoy the last half of our lives?
I’ll give you an example. My friend, let’s call her “Carol,” had a horrible childhood, worse than you can fathom, so bad that I’m not going to describe it. Carol says it made her what she is today. Let me tell you, what she is today is heartbreakingly valiant. She labors along, saving the world with her heroic efforts, but never seems to get what she wants or needs. Most of her efforts benefit others.
I had a challenging childhood, so I have the battle scars to speak to this. I ask Carol, “What if we hadn’t had to endure such torture? Who or what might we have become?” She refuses to consider it, as if the answer would open a Pandora’s Box.
My upbringing made me a slave for many years, always putting everyone else first, or hypersensitive to the moods of others, unable to relax and enjoy fulfilling my own needs. I still fight the tendency (like you?) to apologize all the time, and I tend to fidget, doing repetitive movements that substitute, no doubt, for banging my head against the wall in frustration.
What if Carol had been born to parents who adored her and told her how smart and capable she was? For she is a genius, and hugely talented, but has hidden her light under a barrel for almost sixty years. This girl could have played Carnegie Hall, or written the Great American Novel. Instead…not. She’s a hero, no doubt about it. She’s the hero of her life, the same role I decided to shed almost twenty years ago.
I’m sure it’s wrong to extrapolate from just Carol and me, so I’ll refer you to one of the most useful books I’ve ever read, The Narcissistic Family by Pressman and Pressman. An excerpt:
One of the biggest problems for adults raised in narcissistic family systems is that they tend to take responsibility for things over which they have little or no control, yet refuse to take responsibility for what is happening to them today.
I started watching the new HBO series, Girls, but couldn’t even get through the first episode. Everybody is so young and vulnerable. Thank God we get older and, I do believe, smarter. At least most of us. For Carol and the rest, I pray you win the lottery so you can quit working so damned hard and enjoy the rewards you deserve.