I’ve been the listener for years. I can’t tell you how many people start a conversation with me out of the blue about whatever is bothering them. I’m just counting the number of strangers, I’m not even thinking of the people I could call friends or colleagues. I’ve listened to countless stories and I offered encouragement or words of comfort as much as I could. While I listen to their stories, I forget about mine and I usually take the chance to give back what I would like to have received. I always thought kindness doesn’t cost much and that you reap what you sow. The problem is that it is not this simple. There are two important implications: if you do good to others and don’t do it for yourself, you can’t expect to receive it from others; if you do good to yourself and don’t do it for others, you won’t receive it either.
I grew up with the wrong idea that I should always do the best for others so that they wouldn’t be mad at me. I have pleased other people even when it hurts me. I’ve done it out of fear. Fear of being left alone in a scary, confusing and violent world. My mother has never been emotionally constant. One day she wakes up fine and then she shifts her mood quite radically and for no apparent explanation. Her mood swings have a lot of emotional violence and I assumed from a very early age that it was my fault, and that I could always do better to avoid her spurs. I became a fixer and an enabler, always hoping the next time I would be able to prevent my mother from lashing out. If I tracked every action, feeling and thought, she wouldn’t be mad and raging. I just had to do everything right.
Wrong. You can’t fix other people and you will only hurt yourself trying it. When you grow up like this, you carry a lot of pain inside of you. Unexpressed sadness, anger, frustration. You don’t get to be the child, you become the parent at an early age. Your feelings and needs are ignored and you don’t get any sort of guidance to know yourself and build your own life. So while you have energy and can bottle down what is wrong, you go through life doing what you think it’s more appropriate but you do it off from your own center. Life is always strange and you are a stranger in it. Then comes a day in which you no longer have the strength to keep up and you find yourself lost, too confused about your life’s purpose and who you are meant to be. You didn’t truly lived your life and your choices were all made based on the fear of missing out. In the end, you discover that nothing good comes from such decisions.
I recently realised I’ve done so many things in my life and yet nothing of what I do seems to be good enough. I don’t value anything I’ve done. I don’t appreciate it and yet I hold the secret desire of being valued by other people, of being appreciated for what I do or who I am. It doesn’t matter what I do, I never get the validation I’m still looking for, the one my mother didn’t deliver. I’ve been convinced all my life that if I just sacrifice myself enough, if I do enough, I will be cherished, seen and loved. It’s pointless. I must give it to myself first. I must take pride in my achievements, even if I’m still far away from the life I actually want for myself. I must ignore the old narratives I grew up with as well. This morning I caught my mother talking to the cat and I was suddenly thrown back in time. Do something for yourself. You’re worthless. Stupid.
To survive on a daily basis I developed a heavy armour until I was 25 years old. I would climb a mountain and then another without spending a minute to breathe and savour the view. There was no time to feel. You are, however, meant to wake up and I started to live crisis after crisis as wake up calls. Using my logic at the time, I asked myself why was life failing me all the time. It wasn’t, it was asking me to wake up and face my dysfunctional childhood programming in order to heal it. That’s what life is about and no one tells us. We are meant to heal and find our way to thrive in life. The more baggage you carry, the harder it is, and I kept a lot of unnecessary baggage with me over the years for fear of conflict and facing my own demons. Seven years have past since I woke up and yet there is much healing left to do. I no longer take my mother’s happiness as my responsibility but I keep recreating that same responsibility in romantic relationships and I keep receiving the same type of love my mother gave me: unreliable, flickery, moody. I either do it right, or I must deal with the consequences. I rarely manage to do it right.
My best friend asked me if I wanted to keep adopting grown up adults or have my own children. I always wanted people to be happy, maybe because no one really cared about my happiness while I was growing up. I have spent most of my life being a mother to others, even at work, and I don’t have kids. It’s time I give myself what I try to give to others. Healing, time, love, attention, appreciation. Once I give myself that, I’m sure I will be able to find my way back. I’ve been the listener, the carer, and I want to receive too so I’m forcing myself into a break from the pressure of having to say, do or be the right things, at the right time and in the right way just to make sure everyone else is happy and comfortable. I’m no one’s mother yet and I have done a terrible job at parenting myself lately.