While at the women’s retreat I went to a couple of years ago, we did an exercise in looking at our childhoods and what type of support we received from our parents: positive, negative or passive. They gave us each a sheet of positive sayings and wanted us to circle all the things we didn’t hear from our parents as a child. Here are a few of the sayings:
You are loved – We will keep you safe – We have faith in you – You are capable – You are strong – Your choices matter – You can make a difference – We believe in you – I’m proud of you – You do that well.
Other women were just circling away but as I read down the list, my parents had told me most of these things. I had nothing to circle, which I found very confusing at first. If my parents verbally supported me, why was I so messed up? When I told the exercise leader I had nothing to circle and why, she started asking me questions. And then we got it – words mean nothing to me! How could they? The actions of my family were the exact opposite of the words they used: “I love you – and now it’s time for sex play!” “I will keep you safe but take yours clothes off.” “You are strong but don’t you dare say a word about this.” “We believe in you – now let’s estrange.”
This realization hit me hard. Suddenly so much about myself made sense. The second part of the exercise was impossible for me and filled me with debilitating anxiety. Each woman was sat in a chair and the group got together in unison and told them out loud all the things they circled and didn’t hear as a child. WHAT???? This is where I am different from most people – I literally cannot get myself to do certain things – my body and mind freezes. This was one of those things for some reason. What was the point of saying positive things to someone when you were being told to do it? It didn’t mean anything – it was just words! And we now know words mean nothing to me – actions do! I stood in the group as we read the confirmations to each women but I couldn’t look them in the eye when I did it. It was so very uncomfortable. My turn to be in the chair came and I told them I couldn’t do it. (I couldn’t be singled out; couldn’t be seen, couldn’t be the center of attention). I hadn’t circled anything anyway and anything they could have said to me would have meant nothing. Looking back, I think what it also came down to was I couldn’t hear positive things about myself – not with how I felt about myself.
My family told me for most of my life that I was loved and then they all turned their backs on me, two of them for simply disagreeing with them once and the others for believing the first two’s lies about me. I now can’t hear “I love you” or anything positive from anyone and believe it, unless it is combined with the proper corresponding action – and even then I sometimes still can’t take it in and truly believe it.
Actions – that’s where the truth is found.