Together or Apart

Sometimes being around people who don’t understand you is worse than being alone; Jean Paul Sartre went as far as to say that “Hell is other people” in his play No Escape.  Being stuck with people who do not appreciate or listen to you, or maybe, operate at a different speed than you, can be a trial. But it’s part of being on earth, being human, I suppose. We are born into families and later have roommates and colleagues and a spouse and children who are separate from us. The clink of the spoon on the bowl, the chewing in mouth across the table, the cell-phone conversation on the bus next to you, is more grating because it comes from an external and uncontrolled source. Psychologically, self-created-noise versus external noise, is a difference of order to chaos.

Some people need special diets, having to avoid too much of certain foods; and some people need to avoid environmental stressors. Too much noise, touch, scents, lights, all can be a hazard for someone with a sensitive nervous system–someone like me. I get headaches from too much light, I’m easily chilled, I need frequent snacks and bathroom breaks, need space away from it all sometimes. What can you do when your most basic needs speak so loudly–but listen?

But not everyone understands this inner urgency: they don’t know how blank and empty you–the extreme introvert–feel if you don’t have books and music and time to yourself. They don’t know how hunger pangs turn you upside-down; how the sound of chips crunching is equivalent to a building-demolition for your senses. And your husband doesn’t understand when you don’t want to be touched, because instead of being turned on by his caresses, a touch to your thigh alerts you to the contents of your bladder.

Misunderstanding is at the root of so much strife, annoyance. We don’t understand why; we can’t put ourselves in another’s shoes, so instead we stand exasperated, asking questions. Why do you need to go to the bathroom so often? Why does it take you so long to get all of your things (sweater, sunglasses, a water, a snack…etc…, when you go places? All these questions seem to boil down to the question of, “Why must you be so much trouble?”

I don’t know why. But I can’t avoid being myself. I can’t avoid suffering. The truth is…life is full of it. But didn’t those of us who got married sign up for a challenge? Didn’t we commit to respect–which is to say, to appreciate that others may have a different angle–and to love the other–which is to consider another’s needs sometimes above our own? Why should people be together if they only tear each other down?

For a short time, we were apart due to failures of love and respect. Now we’re together, and our together better than it’s ever been. He seems to understand my needs. And I still need alone time…but now he understands. Now we feel a little less repelled by all that annoys, more at peace with the humanity that we share.

A Job for Me

I’m not one who can take on just any job: trust me, I’ve tried a few. Childcare: I’m calm and collected externally, internally stressed/exhausted. Housekeeping: good attention to detail, not so much the speed required for hotel rooms. Weather forecasting: my circadian rhythm can’t jive the shift work, and the big open office space is too distracting.

It seems that nerves are keyed to a level of artistic sensitivity, so that the louder, the brighter, the busier things are, the faster I’m spent. It’s as if, at times, I can feel my nerves, frayed at the ends, sparking at the slighted touch, or I feel overwhelmed, the circuits shutting down, shutting out any additional information.

What could I do, besides writing, that will help me earn money, and that won’t stress me out? There’s something I’ve considered for a while but it takes a little bit of training: Massage Therapy. The lights are low, the environment is relaxing. I get to learn about the human body!  and I get to help other people, have compassion and direct contact with a variety of people.  When can I start?

(Update: 14 September 2015), I started Massage School early in the spring, but daily fatigue and frequent upset stomachs were an impediment to finishing, and I stopped in June. I plan on going back after I get these health issues figured out…  In the meantime, I’m finishing my degree online in English Writing.

Tiffany Expounded

In the day to day, I often feel like I speak in a truncated version of the truth–which isn’t so true at all. But when you’re in a hurry, you settle for the simplest version of events.  This blog is a chance for me to unmash the impressions and expound explanations. Of course, lately I’m short on time, so this is something that I haven’t been able to do too much, besides an occasional entry in a handwritten journal.

Honesty has a way of going under unless we seek it out. Our feelings can have many layers, and what is on the surface isn’t the always truest to our hearts. We need to take time for our hearts–time to hear our feelings instead of silencing them. The voice of the heart might be sweet and sentimental, it might be painful, it might be unfulfilled, and it might be far away with dreams to capture. It needs your time, your compassion, your willingness to be still and trust what’s there is for your best. For what good can we do without our hearts? When we ignore it, the heart grows cold and hardened to the things that really matter in life.

Not to say that we always must follow our hearts. Instead we must have compassion for our own feelings, even as we recognize that they might not always be wise; we should make plenty of room for our feelings to voice themselves, in order to nurture them and give them proper hope, because it is only with these hearts that we’ll journey and become our best, truest selves. Only when we admit this can we offer ourselves–human, flawed but brave–to the world.

A Long Way Down

There is a scene near the beginning of Tangled where Rapunzel first leaves the tower, the place where she spent her entire life (as known to her).  The creators at Disney did an amazing job making us feel as she might have felt. I’m easily moved to tears I know, but I also feel an emotional connection with the story, Rapunzel’s plight reminding me, in some ways, of my own. I was hidden away, schooled at home, my mother withdrawing us from (or “protecting us from”) the outside world. I am out of that tower now, to put it in Rapunzel’s terms, but it’s not easy expressing yourself when you’ve always kept your thoughts inside, and it’s not easy to fit in, when even the most simple thing like the grass between your toes, strikes you as new.

Do you know what it’s like to feel a little out of place, a little new to everything? That first day on a job is always nerve-wracking. You don’t know yet which buttons to push, how to help a customer.  Like waves in a cold sea, the nervousness comes in the form of questions you don’t know how to answer, problems you don’t know how to solve. The social anxiety that I felt as a teen was strong and almost overwhelming, a tidal wave. I was afraid that my ignorance might be revealed, and I would be faulted for not knowing something my publically-schooled counterparts would know. I was afraid to ask questions, afraid to reveal my own ignorance.

I’ve discovered a couple groups that reveal I’m not alone in this feeling of being unprepared for the world from homeschooling. I’m not alone. But unbelievably, one of the first things that I see on the page is opposition to the group–the claim that some former homeschoolers (in a support group, no less!) should stop whining, get over their fears of inferiority, and accept that public schools and home-schools are both lousy. But isolation and educational neglect aren’t things that one can simply “get over.”  One must always walk through, not just push aside, their situation in life. Most anxieties, any psychologist will tell you, aren’t something that you can just “get over” overnight; progress is gradual. If you try to defeat all your anxiety at once, you end up with more than what you started with.

Being socially anxious is no simple matter.  What is it like?  In Psychology 101, I learned about something called the “spotlight effect.” Have you ever felt like a spotlight is shining on you? Like you’re being watched, and every little move you make matters, like everything you do could be judged harshly? Even though I realize it’s irrational to feel that way, people aren’t that interested in me, and most don’t judge me harshly, it takes a while to gain confidence around people. When out in the overwhelming spotlight, I’ve tried to make myself invisible, tried to speak up as little as possible, to keep away from mistakes. I got out in public but I could only handle it in degrees.

It’s only logical to keep quiet when you know that speaking won’t reveal your true self, anyway–just a flimsy version of yourself. When we’re nervous, we say things that we don’t really mean; which is to say that out of the pressure to say something, we might say anything.  It’s hard to know what you think, when you think one thing when you’re alone, and say something else when you’re in company of others. I used to relive the moments, questioning, “What should I have said instead?”  I know that self-criticism is a bad habit, but if someone loses their head for a moment, don’t they have a right to go back and find it?  (I think this reflective quality is part of what makes me want to become a writer. I can hold past conversations in my mind and I can make new conversations using fictional characters.)

There’s another element to coming into the spotlight, much like being starstruck. It’s a sense of wonder–and that’s something that Rapunzel had in full. You’re impressed by visions that were absent in your life in the shadows. When I began to get out to social events, I was impressed by just how much personality others had; teenagers seemed to know who they were–and I wondered at that. The curiosity was occasionally mistaken for a crush but it wasn’t really; I just wanted to know them, to be a fly on their wall for a little while and wonder what made them tick. I suppose something similar happens when we watch nature shows about the Amazon or “Blue Planet”: we wonder at what strange, beautiful creatures we see, and we wonder why they are so different in their unique environments.

I suppose I’m not so special in my childlike appreciation or in my nervousness. Many might feel the same upon visiting or moving to a new country. In a foreign culture, you can’t help but worry that you might do something wrong, that you might very quickly be spotted, and pointed out as a foreigner and laughed at because you’ve done something silly. My experience is common. My progress is good so far. I look forward to another year, in a place where I might not always feel fully at home, much like most everyone else.  Fortunately the more friends I make, the more I feel like I’m with people who speak the same language and make me feel at ease. Yoga also seems to help me release the tension and to breeaaathe. We all have ways of adjusting to tough situations. Most of all, I think, we hang in there and keep trying. Pretty soon you’ll be the veteran and someone else will be “new at this.”

Story of a Narcissist

Imagine if we were to tell a young child things like, “You cannot trust the world. It will hurt you. You must only trust yourself. Everyone else will betray you.” Perhaps these things aren’t said in words, but they are said in the much stronger terms of experiences. In young lives, the narrative is told by the violence of parents and the cruelty of classmates; in personal, compelling, and deeply psychologically ways, young people learn that they cannot trust the world around them, but they must rely upon themselves.

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I believe that childhood experiences can shape us, quite powerfully, as many of us require therapy to unlearn things that we’ve learned from youth. I believe that my mother’s experiences in youth contributed to her narcissism. She is a survivor–her past is something that she is stronger now because of–but she is also strong to a fault. Strong to the point of being impermeable, being unable to hear where she might also be in some ways wrong.

In a word, a narcissist is confident—but troubles come along with that confidence: egoism, selfishness, bullying, dishonesty. A narcissist is not really a team player but someone is who will make themselves look good at all costs. Even the positive quality of confidence is only skin deep: narcissists are actually quite fragile, unable to handle criticism, and indeed they try very hard to keep this appearance of perfection up. They don’t trust others in their world because the opinions of others might differ from their own, narrow views. You must be careful not to contradict them.

My mother was one of those people whose upbeat, self-assured manner can change in an instant to down-beat and off-putting. My three brothers and I were home-schooled because she didn’t trust us to the school system–although she did trust her own abilities with little outside assistance. We spent little time with friends, and didn’t know our extended family–my mom always found something against them. She didn’t trust my father, accusing him of lies, collusion with her enemies, and secular/lacking morality. When my parents divorced, we had very limited visitation (I was twelve at that time and my younger more impressionable brother was 9).  We were encouraged not to call refer to our father as “dad,” but by his first name. We were encouraged to think badly or infrequently of him. A few times, when she was really upset, mom threatened to send us “away, to live with your father.”  “Do you really want to go live with John!?” she would ask. Of course, our answer was “no”!–because it would have completely changed our reality, being that we were homeschooled. (Though the small thought occurred that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, that was  something that we didn’t say aloud, in fear that we might end up in a public school and a grade inferior to others of equal age).

I’ve recently learned that parental alienation is a too common occurrence in divorce, where one parent belittles and often alienates another. Brainwashing children to dislike the alienated partner is a part of the abuse. In our case, the alienation we experienced from my father was a part of a larger pattern of isolation, separating us from the possibly harmful world. In my mother’s mind, she was just doing what was best for us; in all, she was being true to herself, doing what she felt was right–even if, in reality, it was far from the best thing. She was living based on her own fears and experiences, trusting that that would make us strong and confident, like her.

My mom has since let go of her control and softened her outlook. She has a college education now, so she has learned to be more open, both to criticism and varied ideas. She doesn’t see my father as a bad guy, and is glad he’s happily remarried. She admits that homeschooling shouldn’t have been so isolating, but she explains that “they didn’t know the importance of socialization back then.”

I’ve got a feeling that some others who homeschool might be narcissists too–and like my mother, they might have large blind-spots where their own confidence lubes them forward. (I haven’t seen any scientific studies to this effect yet but I have read some personal accounts.)  I wish I could do something to warn just a few.

If you are a little bit on the confident side, make sure you’re also cool with questions, differing opinions. It’s not harmful to consider alternatives, but it is harmful to be inconsiderate. Don’t shut yourself out from the help of others in your endeavors, in your difficulties. Sometimes we do things which feel right for our own survival but they are actually harmful in the long run. We ALL need ways to keep ourselves accountable–even the most put-together people are organized because they have a system for being that way. We all have different ways of learning, of succeeding. Perhaps homeschooling might be best for a child, or perhaps they will learn best outside of the home. It’s not a failure if your system doesn’t work; we all try things that don’t work and that’s only human; we grow by trying until we find the right balance.

I’ve worked to overcome my sheltered youth, learned to express myself, grown closer to my father. In a way, I’m thankful for my difficulties. I may always have some anxiety but I also have wonder and appreciation for people–and for human psychology. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so interested in people had I grown more accustomed to being around many at an earlier age. I’m part of the club–one of many who don’t always have it easy. I embarrass myself saying mindless things when I’m anxious. But when I find true friends, it’s a wonderful thing. I have a wonderful husband, four-year old daughter, and have made some friends in many places. (I know some might repraise their submissive role, but not me. I can’t find happiness by keeping quiet and holding my feelings down, even if at times I can do it quite well.)

Postscript to Last Post: Parental Alienation

I just stumbled on something related to my last post, something that wasn’t even looking for, and I didn’t realize had a name: parental alienation. It occurs in a divorce when a parent manipulates a child into siding with (or only spending time) them and excluding the other. One parent might suggest that the other isn’t to be trusted. My mom did our visitation with my father, making sure the visits were brief and in “safe locations.”  It all seems so crazy now, because there was no basis to the claim, and I missed out on spending more time with my dad.

Parental Alienation is a stain on what might’ve been my best clothes. Though I wish I could’ve been more for my dad, it wasn’t really in my abilities at the time, age twelve. Although I was naturally timid and withdrawn, my father became as a subject to be feared; my mother use it as a punishment, “Why don’t you go ahead and live with John!” When my mother’s lips, traded “your father” for “John,” on my own lips “dad” began sounding odd.

There’s no way to change the past but sometimes we can learn from it, and perhaps, help others who might have gone (or be going) through some of the same things. Here are the articles I found on the website for Psychology Today:

The Impact of Parental Alienation on Children

Caught Between Parents: Alienation is Abuse

Unvoiced

3279073629_5266926242_z(Flickr Image by Steph Bales)

We all begin in the back seat in life. Somewhere around two, pretty much all of us go through a phase of self-assertion, saying “no” to everything. By age three, we can assert our personal taste, saying what we like and don’t like. Throughout youth and adolescence, we learn to express our opinions with increasing social awareness and sophistication. An emotive, “No, it’s yucky!” simply won’t do past age four.  Hopefully, as we grow, our differing personalities and perspectives are acknowledged and given room to grow in the midst of being taught manners, obedience, and morals. Moral lessons teach us to respect—for we all have feelings that shouldn’t be overlooked or belittled.

In the home of my youth, plenty of sounds asserted themselves. Sometimes the sound was the high-pitched hum of a sewing machine, as my mother compressed the foot petal and pulled the fabric onward beneath the needle. Sometimes, my mother’s voice filled the house in clearly enunciated words–phone conversations, her recollections of recent events. Sometimes, rooms carried shouts to us, as my mom called us on to bring her something from another room, or called us to the kitchen to eat. Often, my own voice and a brother’s filled a room of the house with play, as we animated our stuffed animals. Sometimes, when my father was home, and my mother and father were still together, we could hear arguments and the common remark “not right now [in front of the kids].”  Often after that was the sound of silence–the silence of my dad–as he got quiet or left the house. Those sounds–the arguments and the silences that followed–made us feel sad.

When my mother and father divorced, the worst part wasn’t the physical separation of parents (that was for the better); the worst part was the schism that erupted long before the divorce, my mom falling into bitterness and criticism, and my dad into defensiveness or retreat. Sounds, for a while, were out of balance: mom became louder and louder, pointing out my dad’s faults, both real and imagined. She was the scribe, the interpreter of events, the conduit of truth, reminding us that he was the villain.

In times of trial, false dichotomies propped up her self-esteem. She saw the truth, the only truth, while others told lies or held less principled perspectives. Our childhood disobedience was an intentional slap in the face of goodness, a step towards the devil—or “witchcraft” was the word my mom tended to use. The marriage was failing because my dad gave up his faith. This, in truth, was just an after-the-fact attempt to explain why the relationship was falling apart. The false dichotomies were reflections of the way that she felt, but really only made things worse.  She felt like she was always in the right, when she, quite possibly, was the main problem.

I can see clearly now that there wasn’t much basis to what she claimed. My father wasn’t slipping away because he was too secular, worldly, or fallen. Still, to this day, I do not know of a single thing that he did to deserve his status as the bad guy. My mother’s arguments weren’t based in fact; they were emotionally based rather than Christian or morally based.  She had a right to feel the way that she did; it must be scary to be a mother and wife for years, and then, without knowing why, your husband’s love starts slipping away from you. She didn’t know what the problem was; she only felt very strongly that he was the problem. He must, therefore, be cheating, have a malicious heart, or be incapable of love.

Even as strongly as one may feel something true, it’s wrong to assert mere suspicions as facts.  It’s wrong to rally your children’s support, to rely on them, because you feel you’re the good one. Even if one person is obviously in the wrong,  and if children are old enough to handle the truth, children should be given, to some degree, the facts, which can speak for themselves. They shouldn’t be asked to support you in your muck raking and name calling (unless, of course, they’re adults and happen to share your opinion).

If I could have said, if I could have known (though I couldn’t have), I would’ve said this: I am your child, not your support system. Relationships can break. It feels awful. All those unsolved arguments add up and weigh you down. But that doesn’t make you or the other a bad person. Bad moments that you had together shouldn’t eliminate my chance of having good moments with my father.

It breaks my heart that I spent a good part of my youth feeling uncertain about my dad. He’s a terrific person. But I couldn’t see it then. I could hardly know what I thought about a number of things, because I was in the back seat for the longest time, being steered, instead of given room to assert my own feelings and voice.

Have you ever been around someone who pushed your center of gravity out of balance? Have your feelings been criticized? Have you lost touch with your own feelings, as you attempt to respond to the stronger, more volatile body of emotions? Trying to please others with such a temperament can be difficult, if not impossible… Sometimes, normal things will amass praise and sometimes best attempts will garner criticism. And the more you try, the more you lose yourself.

As we grow up, we tend to break away our from parents and develop our own independent voices. If you weren’t encouraged to have your own voice, it’s more of a struggle to find your place in the world. Who am I? What do I like? You must give yourself more time to discover.

If silence was rewarded in the past, you must find ways to reward speech. Friendships that are of the understanding and patient variety. Learning that interests you. Books or poems that are best read aloud.

If you’ve lived off-balance for a long while, with someone else dictating your world, you might search for a stronger, more reliable, center of gravity.  You might seek philosophy, a better faith, a mentor, or a new worthy influence.

In the aftermath of an overpowering influence, I tried to strengthen my own voice, to learn the less-common truths. I looked for arguments that made sense instead of just voicing emotion.  I know that there can be a difference between what we feel is true and what is actually true, even if the two are easily confused.