As a child, we are aware of being a member of a family. There are certain things you think about as being unique to your family: “In our family, we do it like this.” And if you feel like a valued member of that family and you feel like your family is valued within society to some reasonable extent, this is great. You have a sense of identity, and of safety and belonging.
But what if you don’t feel valued within your family? What if you don’t feel proud of yourself within your family or you don’t feel proud of your family? There is no sense of belonging that comes with being a member of your family and no sense of safety that comes with being a part of your family within society.
What if “what we do in our family” is be mean to each other?
I was thinking about my dad, whatever his mental health issues, he was fucking weird. I don’t know why he was busy butchering corpses or openly engaging in sexual activity with his daughter in front of his wife, but what does that mean for the children in the family wondering about their place in the world?
In our family, we are out of our minds.
There is certainly no sense of pride about being a part of that family, no safety in feeling you belong to that particular insanity.
I was thinking about this because C wanted a book to read. She wanted greeting cards to give to her friends to tell them how much they mean to her, and a teddy bear that’s bigger and cuddlier than the one I had given her in March, and a book to read.
I haven’t been able to find a book to read for her because it became too overwhelming for me. There is a pretty good bookstore here in this town, and there’s also a thrift store almost entirely devoted to books This town is a town of readers. It’s great.
Anyway, I went to both places, and was checking out the YA section at the bookstore, and there was just too much of everything. Too many voices talking too loudly, too much cheerful music (the kid’s section has different music going on than the rest of the bookstore), too many books to choose from. Meanwhile, my feeling of longing became too much.
I don’t really know why.
But today I thought it’s because she’s imitating me. I send her greeting cards. I read. She’s aligning herself with me by imitating some of my behaviours. For someone with attachment issues, the idea that someone might want to be like you is profound.
It can happen in an extreme and unnatural way in controlling relationships, because the person is trying to get their need for belonging met by forcing someone. And it can also happen because someone feels so intensely damaged and broken that they’d like to be someone else.
This isn’t that extreme.
I began to think she’s imitating a behaviour that was contested when I was a child. My mother took us to the library every week, she read bedtime stories to us, she liked to read herself and she also criticized me for reading whenever she saw me doing it. I was ridiculed for it within my family.
I don’t honestly have any idea how my mother managed to make sense of the cognitive dissonance within her own mind about it. How does, “I am a good parent. I take my kids to the library once a week….” square with, “Then I ridicule one of my children for actually reading those books.”
I mean, maybe it was something like she wanted me to read like a normal child. She didn’t want to be different or weird or “nerdy.” And I read voraciously, rapidly, and from a very young age.
I don’t know. In the bookstore, none of that went through my head. I just had all of these very intense, very painful feelings of longing and I also felt confused. So I left.
Now I think maybe it makes sense that it would feel confusing. This was something about me that my mother both encouraged and hated, and here C is wanting to be like me in that way. Or, C has discovered about reading what I discovered: that it opens up other worlds to you, expands the range of possibilities and allows you to connect to and feel like you can relate to people who aren’t even there. Anyway, that’s confusing. It’s confusing that my mother would have such diametrically opposed attitudes towards the same activity. It’s confusing that C would want to adopt a behaviour that my mother thought was “bad.” It makes sense that I would feel confused, and also that I would feel something over connecting with C over a shared interest.