Today’s post is going to be all about the “v word.” No, it’s not vagina, but like feminism, it can be scary for those who are ignorant. HA!
The “v word” is “vulnerability.”
This takes me to the lie that I used to tell myself – “I’m fine.”
When I was a little girl, and someone hurt my feelings (which happened often because I was so sensitive), my mom would tell me to brush it off because I’m just fine. But think about that for a minute. What psychological process happens when you tell a hurt little girl to suck it up? How about: “Don’t be a cry baby,” “big girls don’t cry,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” or worse, “oh waaaaaaaaah, cry like a little baby.”
All of these things have something in common, and that’s invalidation. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the concept of invalidation, but sometimes it does require an emotionally intelligent, conscious, compassionate, self-aware person to recognize when invalidation is happening. Emotional invalidation is when a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Invalidation can be emotionally upsetting for anyone, but for those of us who are emotionally sensitive, it can be particularly hurtful. In fact, it’s theorized that emotional invalidation in childhood strongly contributes to some of the most major and difficult to treat mental disorders. All it takes is a few bad adult role models invalidating the emotions of innocent children, and BOOM, we’ve got a world full of angry people.
Because I’ve experienced so much invalidation in my life, I’ve actively spent years working on mothering and nurturing my inner child. However, because I had such a low sense of self-worth for most of my life (due to severe invalidation), I let people walk all over me. I was, and sometimes still am, a doormat.
I can’t even recount all the instances where I was invalidated, but here are a few that still create profound memories:
- Being relentlessly picked on by my sister to the point I had no fuse and resorted to hitting and screaming. When I told my mom how much emotional distress I was in (obviously using more childlike words), she’d tell me I was “fine,” “go play somewhere else,” or “what did you do to her?” Even when we were older, and I was attacked and choked by my sister to the point I blacked out and lost consciousness, my mom didn’t validate that trauma. …in fact, she didn’t say anything at all.
- Having to sing at funerals as a child. I was groomed to keep it all together as I sang over dead bodies, oftentimes of babies, friends, or relatives. This was severely traumatic. While it’s cute for kids to sing at funerals, and people really loved what we did, I hated it. While you may have seen a few dead bodies, I’ve seen hundreds. In the month of December in 1999, I remember singing at 17 funerals! One particularly memorable funeral, a friend was accidentally shot by his father in a hunting accident. His mother was on oxygen and wailing in sorrow in front of me. As they closed the casket, she ran up and flung her body over it, all the while, I was trying to keep my shit together so I could sing Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven. It was a beautiful funeral, and I’m grateful I could give this family the gift of my voice, but this gift was an emotional burden. This boy’s sister Cindy was in my math class, and I remember her thanking me for singing. To this day, I can still feel her mom’s pain of having to bury her young son. Sometimes my sister and I would joke and laugh to keep things light, but we often got the side eye from the organists and even lectures on being respectful. …another form of invalidation because they didn’t understand why we were laughing. If you’re crying you can’t perform for the dead people, now can you? I hated doing funerals, but I didn’t have a choice.
- Singing, playing music, and performing for anything was emotionally difficult for me. The fear of “choking up,” as my mom would call it, was so overwhelming, that I was too afraid of performing at all. It was rare that I did a good job based on my coached and unrealistic standards. The pressure was just too intense, and I always cracked. It didn’t matter if it was flute tryouts, or piano recitals, or song leading at mass. It was terrifying. Every time I had to perform, and every time I didn’t want to do it, I’d hear, “you’re fine.”
- Playing in the high school band when I was still at St. Thomas Elementary school was horrible. I was so nervous about going to such a big school with so many people and making a mistake that I often couldn’t play once I sat down. I was much more comfortable in my own school’s band, and ironically, I was the president of the band and didn’t even get to fully participate. I clearly communicated to my teachers and mom that I did not want to play in that band, but it all fell on deaf ears. This is invalidation by completely ignoring the child’s needs. Telling a child like me to perform when I have that much anxiety is the equivalent of pushing a paralyzed person across the floor and telling them to walk. How ignorant, and who did this benefit? Me? No.
When you tell a child that they shouldn’t have emotions, or worse, they should be ashamed for having emotions, they move on, but they don’t process that emotional business. This literally starts to create layers of un-processed emotional business. Eventually this builds up to the point where the child starts manifesting symptoms. For me, it was severe illnesses. Anyone who knows me as a kid knows that I had chronic infections. I was weak and pathetic. I was always sick. Illness isn’t the only manifestation of undigested emotions. My sense of self-worth was in the toilet. Instead of serving others because my cup was overflowing with love, I served others because I was beneath them. I was only worthy of love if I was serving others, and although I was a self-hating servant, I never actually received praise or love for the good things that I did.
But, I was “fine” because I was “tough.” I wasn’t vulnerable. I wasn’t resilient. I was sick, but it was ok because I was fine. Hmmm…
As a young teenager, I was in so many abusive relationships. I had a violent boyfriend, his brother was violent against me, I had a mother that invalidated pretty much all of my emotional business (unless it served her to be attentive in some way), and a sister who was always out to make me her victim in some way. My dad was pretty much mentally nonexistent, so even if I wanted his help, he couldn’t give it to me. My mom had poisoned my family against me, and I was in a position where I was completely trapped under layers of unprocessed emotional business, abuse, and manipulation.
My sister and I were both suffering from a self-worth problem, but they manifested as opposite polarities. For me, it was complete pathetic-ness. I was weak. I was pathetic. I was nothing. I let people treat me that way too – mostly because I felt like I deserved it. I was the family doormat. I had to wake up early to do extra chores. I had to sleep in the creepy, mildew infested basement. I felt like Cinderella, except this was the family I was born into! My sister went in the opposite direction – extreme narcissism. While I thought my worth came from service, she showed symptoms indicative of her worth coming from being in the limelight. It didn’t matter how she got there, she would lie, cheat and steal to get to the top – literally. While I was crying in the bathroom in the middle of the night trying to recover from the abuse of the day begging God to save me, she was in the business of tall tales, leveling, stealing, and in the bathroom purging her guts out to maintain her weight.
Around the age of 17 my thought process began to change, and emotionally, I started to pull away from my family. When I would stand my ground and demand fair treatment, I received a lot of severe reactions. In my heart I knew I didn’t deserve to have a life filled with illusory shame created by the sickness of parental manipulation tactics. At the same time, I realized how frightened people were when I’d show a tender part of my heart. I suspect they were so hurt from their own life that they would seize up and run away if they saw the part of themselves in my emotions that they refused to accept. I was a mirror for them. When they saw their own vulnerability in my emotions, they’d look away, and likely tell themselves, “I’m fine.” When I became vulnerable, those who didn’t yell at me or seize up at the sight of me, just left.
So, I did what any re-born, resourceful, young girl from Northern Minnesota would do: I created a new family – one made up of friends. Then I moved away and did the same thing.
Although I was in this new, more awakened state, I still didn’t quite understand why I didn’t love myself. I just knew I deserved better, but I often settled for being treated like crap. I had a few different boyfriends, all of which who were either as pathetic as me, or narcissists, or sociopaths – same idea, different manifestations of worthlessness. Even with my family, I desperately tried to be deserving of their worth – to no avail. One day I asked myself, “Why am I so perfect for these toxic people, and why do we keep finding each other?” I didn’t ever think about the new-age-y concepts like The Law of Attraction, but I knew that something within me was making me perfect for the ones suffering from manifestations of worthlessness and insecurity. But there was a silver lining in all of this! Because I constantly blamed myself, I had the opportunity to examine myself and observe this toxic pattern! It was so refreshing to finally accept the truth: I’m not fine, it’s not all my fault, I’m ok with it, and now I want to fix myself!
So I did. …and it’s something I work on EVERY SINGLE DAY.
…and honestly, I could spend about 50 pages pointing fingers at all the adults that failed me in my life (maybe in my memoir), but that would be dumb, especially in this blog. I’m a big girl now, and I, like any other person, can actively choose in each moment to make decisions that sculpt me into a person that is more than a worthless door mat. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, “The brain is not a rock – it’s a river.” Through mindfulness techniques, meditation, living presently, and constant practice, we can use brain plasticity to our advantage to be the person we’ve always wanted to be and feel the worth we know we deserve. We don’t have to be trapped by memories of abuse. We don’t have to feel perpetual shame because of years of invalidation. We also don’t need to feel shitty because people try to manipulate us to feel that way.
So here’s a message for all the toxicity and darkness that inspired me to write this blog:
You know who you are. I’m not afraid of you, and you have no power over me. There is no amount of scare tactics, lies, gossip, threats, or social media attacks that will get me down. I was a seed without water, soil, or the warmth of the sun. Now, because of my own doing, I’m a happy tree in a sunny forest. The only thing you can take from me now is my shadow, which I give freely. If that’s where you want to be – in my shadow – that’s where I’ll love you, shelter you, and hope that someday you too can feel the sun.
Don’t be “fine,” be “vulnerable.” Don’t be “tough,” be “resilient.” Feel your emotions to cleanse your pain. Validate your inner child that longs for healing. You deserve it.
With all my love,
The Guru Girl