I was reading Simone Grant’s article Breathing Self-Doubt and this quote spoke to me:
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”—Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I came from one of those unhappy families. Though they would probably deny their unhappiness. We looked happy from the outside, but I don’t know if any of us were ever happy on the inside as a family unit. We were stuck with each other. I am fond of a popular greeting card expression: friends are the family you choose for yourself. Unfortunately, we don’t always choose wisely. We often pick the wrong relationships—relationships that reflect our familial relationships.
If familiarity breeds contempt, what does it mean that we keep seeking familiarity in our relationships? Is contempt somehow a comfortable safe haven for us? Freud would have a field day with questions like these. I’m sure he’d somehow spin it all back to his favorite theories: the Oedipus complex and the Electra complex.
I had a family that told me I wasn’t good enough. I picked careers that told me I wasn’t good enough. I had friends who thought I wasn’t good enough. When I started dating, I picked men who told me I wasn’t good enough. But, perfect strangers believed I was good enough; they told me I was special. They saw something deep within my eyes. They saw my soul. And it scared me. How could they treat me so well, when the people I cared most about treated me so poorly? It didn’t make any sense, so therefore I dismissed them as being wrong. Obviously the people close to me were better judges of my character.
All I ever wanted was to be was good enough so that the world would be peaceful, so that my family would love me, so that I wouldn’t have to hide in my room the moment I got home from school to avoid being punished or criticized for something. Out of sight, out of mind was my survival mechanism. I did well in school. I did all my chores. I just wanted a little approval. Imagine how hard I worked to seek the approval of the men I dated.
Eventually, I stumbled upon this wonderful little thing called self-esteem. It came to me in the most bizarre way—a very personal way that completely blind-sided me—a way that I unfortunately cannot share with you. But, if I’m ever famous (ha!), I’ll be sure to include it in my memoirs. As a result, I no longer choose the wrong relationships. Like Simone, I would prefer to be single than lie in bed next to someone I fear, loathe, or desperately want to have treat me better. I would prefer Chinese water torture to that.
I don’t beat myself up for my mistakes, for having had weaknesses, or for still having a vulnerable side. I embrace my vulnerability. I am, and forever will be, the deer in the headlights – terrified of what’s ahead, afraid to turn back, frozen by fear. But, I would rather be frozen than be the squirrel that darts forward and back…and, forward…no…wait…back…no, forward…and winds up flattened by a car tire. I’m looking for the driver that sees the beautiful, graceful, frightened little doe, and slows down for her. He allows her to trust. He allows her to live. Until I find that driver, I remain alone and afraid. I remain a babe in the woods.