I’ve talked many times before about how my childhood, and my adult life, have had very little challenge in them. School was easy, blah blah blah.
But today I want to talk about how this lack of challenge also meant a lack of authority in my life. This came up in therapy. I realized that I have never truly experienced authority. Between how willful and defiant I could be and the fact that I was smarter than most adults plus the neglect I suffered, there was never anyone in my life who could assert authority over me.
People who had a very different kind of childhood under strict authoritarian parents might think that sounds wonderful. But it’s not. It’s extremely unhealthy. I never had the feeling that someone was looking out for me. I never felt like there was someone who could keep me from making mistakes. I never felt supported by a set of rules of any sort. There was nobody who could or would put me in my place, and therefore I never knew what my place was.
No wonder I never fit in.
And of course, when I was a kid, I had no idea what was wrong. No child, no matter how precocious, is wise enough to know they need more discipline. Looking back, I can see how much happier I was when I had my babysitter Betty or my teacher Mrs. Rogers in my life because they had strong enough wills and personalities to handle me. But it would never have occurred to me to seek out that kind of person, let alone start acting out in order to bring down the discipline I craved.
Oh no. I was far too sensible and smart and reasonable (and timid) to do that. Less unrelentingly precious and therefore head-forward kids act out of emotion alone, and therefore, I didn’t instinctively take care of my own emotional needs. I didn’t look for what I need without knowing it, I didn’t advertise my pain in order to elicit a nurturing (or disciplining) response from those around me, and I didn’t fight for what I wanted at all.
All because I was so “sensible”. For as long as I can remember, I had a level of self-control that seems downright pathological when examined over a lifetime, especially my childhood. I place a very high value on choosing my actions, and that sounds very noble according to a standard Western table of values, but in practice it makes nearly all healthy expression of emotion impossible.
Because it’s not like I find a way to express those overridden emotions at a later date. When I deny my emotions their expression in the interests of self-control, they remain unexpressed indefinitely. It’s like a form of death of one’s inner life. Not the safe inner world of thoughts and ideas and contemplation, of course, but the far realer world of emotion, instinct, and passion, raw and intense.
That kind of thing might lead to acting without thinking about it first, and we can’t have that.
I am learning, slowly. The world doesn’t end when I go with my gut sometimes. It’s okay to be in situations where I will not have time to think things through. I am more than my intellect.
I don’t know why I was such a self-controlled kid. Maybe it comes with the territory when you are as bright as me – that emotional override switch. Maybe it was my response to the trauma of being sexually abused – to kind of empty myself out and retreat into the chilly confines of the intellect, which kept me from having to feel things so much. Maybe it was part of my desire to please – being all cool and reasonable and understanding made me a “good boy” in the eyes of my siblings and parents – in that it made me easier to ignore. And maybe it was part of my desperately trying to catch up to my siblings and fit in with them.
No matter how you slice it, though, it’s just not normal. It’s like I never really was a kid. I had far too much responsibility for myself to let loose, play, have fun, and just be myself. I ended up retreating deep, deep within myself, and everything I am got transferred into being bright.
And that turned out to be not that difficult for me. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if someone had just taken the time to challenge me. If they had managed to get me excited about it, then maybe I would have learned to look for it myself. I can’t say for sure – due to my option paralysis issues, I am still the sort of person who, if told by some well-meaning person to “just go to the library and study whatever I want!”, would end up frozen to the spot by indecision. So maybe I was never going to be a self-starter.
But still. It would have been nice to have someone in my life who paid attention to me on more than a “is it still breathing? Good. ” basis. No child should be so alone, and at such an early age. Perhaps if I had been a more robust specimen, I would responded to it by developing a kind of feral scrappiness and determination to look out for Numero Uno (because nobody else did).
Instead, I withdrew into myself, and all I developed was an ability to keep going no matter what – but only when I had school as a supplier of external goals and validation. And in a sense I retained that ability to just keep going no matter what into depressed adulthood.
No matter what, I didn’t fall apart, I didn’t go do crazy shit, I didn’t harm myself, and I kept up what minimal obligations I had. I never got irritable with anyone, and of course, I retained self-control nearly all of the time.
Fat lot of fucking good it did me.
I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.