At therapy yesterday I learned a new thing about the teenage brain. Apparently they experience boundary-setting as anger. As in, if a parent sets a boundary that’s experienced as the parents being angry with them.
At first I misinterpreted. I thought the teenager got angry – which of course many of them do – and that didn’t ring particularly true for me. I was never an angry teenager. I was more of a sad, depressed, angsty, self-loathing teenager. I don’t recall ever being angry with my parents. But! I’ve plenty of experience of feeling that they were angry with me.
It’s a feeling that I think persisted well beyond the teenager years for me. If I didn’t “do the right thing” without having to be reminded about it, if clear boundaries were stated to me in friendship, romantic or authoritative relationships, I totally experienced that as the other person being angry (or at the very least disappointed) in me. That I was less. That I was scum. I turned it in on myself of course and resolved to do better, do better, do better, without ever having to be asked. Tried to push down the feelings of self-loathing and disgust – at least until the day that it all boiled over, like my insides had become nothing except putrid and pustulant and I couldn’t handle a single ‘nother criticism.
And we know where that led.
Anyway, it’s kind of interesting to me, here and now from this remove. Because I never once questioned the idea that people were unimpressed or angry with me. I just kind of came to the conclusion that I was wrong in my reaction to it. It’s interesting to speculate that maybe not everyone judged me in the way I was judging myself, that it wasn’t only my reaction to the perception of anger that was over the top, but the very perception itself.
I don’t think I perceive things in that way any more. Sometime in my mid to late twenties I found my viewpoint of other humans shifted. I gained more empathy. They all started to seem a little less alien. I also felt like I mattered less – but in a good way – empathy unshuttered my eyes and I could see that most people are far too wrapped up in their own shit to really be bothered about what’s going on with me. And even cursory passing judgements are just that – transient and without much thought. Certainly without any true personal animosity towards me.
I guess it’s all so far away now. There’s nothing to forgive or undo or even really work through from the 15 to 20 years ago time. It’s like another country and I don’t even really recognise the person I was back then. But all the same, I’m still sitting here typing with a kind of “inner smile” thing going on. It’s like someone took over carrying a bag that I’d borne so long I didn’t even realise it was adding any extra weight.
It’s just nice. An unexpected gift. Some tiny portion of self-blame and recrimination that I’d lugged through the years has now been set down. Funnily enough, it’s my mother’s face I see peeling the straps from my shoulders and setting the putrid old thing down behind a rock to decay properly. As it should have done years before.
I spent so many years feeling as though my mother just didn’t understand me. I didn’t give much thought to the fact that I didn’t really understand her either. We tend to assume that we’re the inscrutable ones, in a field of other transparent humans. Well. At least I have done. We’re all complex little constructions of similarity. More alike than different, but then those similarities can be tricksy little things too.
In other news … I’m so happy to be off work. No wait, happy is not quite the word. Relieved. I had another two hours extra sleep this morning after my children left the house and I can’t believe the difference that alone is making to my mood and feeling of well-being. I feel like I can cope with more.
And then, of course, the pendulum swings back down and as I feel able for more that sneaky back-door voice comes in with its attempts at guilt. If I’m feeling so able now, then couldn’t I have, mightn’t I have gone a little further? To midterm even?
Regardless if I could have, I’m not really sure I should have. And it’s done now in any case. Time to move on with the days that I have.