Archive for anxiety
~By Carla Dippel~
The last few posts written by my Mom and I have been focusing on how my Mom’s belief system impacted me and molded our relationship with each other. To wrap up this series, we will each share one more post describing what our relationship had become with each other, what it took to break free from this “enmeshment”, and what our relationship is like today.
My Mom and I grew to be very inter-dependent with each other. For me, it almost felt like I had never left the womb- I was so tangled up between wanting to be free as an individual but not knowing how because my actions/moods/feelings had such a strong impact on my Mom. We were not separate people. My life was my Mom’s life… Even though a part of me was fiercely fighting to be separate, her belief system permeated mine. I tried to live out her dreams for me because I didn’t know how to follow my own. I didn’t date many guys, but in social situations this possibility was always on my mind and caused me great anxiety. I hated myself if I gained too much weight. I went to Bible College (SURELY I would fall in love and marry someone there!) I was very active in my church. Marriage, college, church- these things weren’t “bad” things in themselves. But I pursued them with this unconscious drive, believing that they would make me happy and help my Mom to be happy too. I was so afraid to live my life on my own two feet. Depending on my Mom to help me through my life came to feel uncomfortably safe, but also suffocating and inhibiting. Every step I took was gauged with how it would affect her.
I started seeing a counselor in the middle of one of my deepest struggles. My counselor introduced me to individual freedom. He didn’t try to control me or lead me in one specific direction. He taught me certain principles that would help me make my own decisions in my own best interest. In the course of my counseling, I came to know that my Mom’s happiness could not depend on me anymore. Our tightly spun web of interdependence was killing me. I needed to know that just because she was my Mom, it didn’t mean that I had to sacrifice my own individuality to help her be “ok”. I had to know that her happiness was not my responsibility. It wasn’t in her best interest to glean her identity from me and vice versa. For the first time, I saw our interdependence as a kind of umbilical cord that was keeping us alive in some ways, but ultimately robbing us of the real life we each deserved to have. It had to go. Hacking away at this umbilical cord was painful and unpredictable. I started drawing stronger lines between my Mom and I. In the past, I would have shared every bit of my life with her. I started giving myself freedom to have my own secrets, to take actions that she might disagree with, to live my life for myself. I told myself, “You don’t have to get married if you don’t want to! You are just as valuable single. You don’t have to go to church or play the piano if you don’t want to either. You are free to make your own choices.” I knew this new way of thinking caused my Mom a lot of angst, but I forged ahead anyways. I learned that it wasn’t all up to me to help my Mom feel better. She was her own individual person, capable of taking care of her own heart and mind. These were new beliefs for me about what love really was all about- I used to believe that if I loved my Mom I would live my life in such a way to make her happy, I would give her access to every part of me so we could be “close”. Now I believe that love means having the freedom to pursue my own individuality. It means sharing when I want to share, not because I have to share. It means valuing my Mom for the person that she is instead of me trying to be the person she wanted me to be so she could feel valuable…
Today there is new respect within our relationship. My Mom respects boundaries I put up when I feel I need to. She is seeking to build her own life and her own identity. This has had a huge impact on the health in our relationship. Because she is open to learning and growing, I have a growing trust that I can be honest with her. There are still remnants of our past enmeshment that show up from time to time, both in her trying to sway me to her way of thinking or in me over-depending on her to solve my own problems. But we are both aware of these tendencies. Many times I have had to correct myself and not call my Mom to “help” me or make a decision for me. Or I have had to reinforce the line between us that says, “Mom, this is my life, not yours.” These are growing pains that always help to make our relationship better, and I am thankful that I can now know my Mom as one of my true friends.
Hola! It is great to be home from my travels, although it was great to be there too. In my last post I talked about re-wiring the belief system. This post continues with a snap shot of how it looks when I confront that belief system today. Even though this story stems from sexual abuse, this is the same system that I use to drill down to the roots of all anxiety.
This was the first time that I went to a resort without my husband, and I had a few interesting experiences as I came up against my old belief system. In my blog post “sexualized at a young age“, I told how my mother taught me that my value was in my sexuality, and that I also believed that all sexual encounters ~ positive, negative or dangerous ~ were my fault and were somehow caused by my behaviour. Please bear with me while I set the context for this post.
At our resort, each evening when the maid comes to do the turn down service, they leave chocolates on the beds as well as a program schedule for the events of the following day. I am one of those people that loves to get that schedule and pour over it. Our second night, the schedule left on the bed was in Spanish, so the next morning I went down to the front desk and asked for one in English. The front desk guy was teasing me and joking around telling me that he only had one in Italian. Eventually, after some joking around, I had my English program in my hand and we were on our way to breakfast. That evening there was no program in the room at all.
I felt a little uneasy the next day about having to ask the same front desk guy if I could get a schedule from him. I wasn’t sure what my discomfort was about but I started paying attention to the chatter in my head as I have learned that is a great way to drill down to the belief behind the anxiety. To my surprise, my thoughts were that the guy would think that I was lying, or that I forgot the schedule in my room and was too lazy to go back and get it. I asked him for one anyway and once again he teased me about only having them in foreign languages other than English.
That night, once again… no program schedule. The next morning I mentally refused to go to the front desk and get one. Instead of going to get one, I went to the board where all the activities of the day are posted and read the one there. I really wanted to have one of my own, but I could not seem to make myself go and get one, and I could not get it off my mind. So once again I listened to the chatter in my head and I realized that I was very certain that if I went for the third day in a row to the front desk, that the man who was so friendly would think that I was flirting with him and then what would I do? I was afraid that I would give him the “wrong idea”. I was afraid that if he got the “wrong idea” that something bad would happen to me AND that it would be my fault. I had come up against my old belief system.
My mother had made it very clear to me that it was my fault that I had been sexually molested when I was 13 by her boyfriend. Because of that false belief ~ which was reinforced regularly after that, I naturally believed that the abuse that happened to me when I was much younger, must have been my fault too. The problem was that I didn’t know what the heck that I had actually done to cause it, so for the rest of my life I lived in fear of doing “it” again. I have done a lot of work on this part of my belief system, but it is the biggie for me. It was connected to the biggest root I had to dig out, and I found out in therapy that many of my other beliefs were attached to this root. It isn’t really surprising that this came up for me again when I was on a vacation without my husband where Spanish men, (known for their flirtatiousness) would be joking around with me.
When I processed the whole thing, it was easy for me to realize what I was afraid of. I was able to reassure myself that since the abuse in my childhood was in fact NOT caused by me, that I was not going to ‘do something’ to cause this man to think he could just have his way with me. I also reminded myself that even if the front desk guy was flirting with me I did not have to get involved with him, I was no longer a child freezing up and dissociating when someone was about to abuse me. There were other beliefs that I had worked on in therapy also that we right there under the surface. One of them was that every man in the world wants to use me because I believed that was all I was “good” for.
My sexuality has been a huge part of the overall problem in my life. In my next post I will talk about how I was afraid of men but longed to be validated by them in the wrong way because of my fears and messed up belief system.
Living in Truth!
~By Debbie Dippel~
In my first post I mentioned that I didn’t want Carla to struggle with the same fears that I did. As a child I had many fears that I kept hidden inside and carried these into my adulthood. I won’t list them here but will focus on the one that I believe most impacted my relationship with Carla, which was the fear of being single.
Some words/phrases that pop into my mind regarding singleness are: “old maid”, “spinster”, “she never married” (which sounded to me like a tragedy) I once had a family member ask me the question regarding my children who are still unmarried: “What’s wrong with them?” Another comment that stands out in my memory during a family get together is “Life doesn’t begin until you are married!” I remember hearing comments about single women like, “She is being too choosy” and “What is she looking for?” I felt afraid of what people would think about Carla and how she was raised.
I believe that being the youngest in the family contributed to my desire to “keep up” with my siblings. They all married very young, from the age of 17 to 20. I was married just before my 22nd birthday and often said “I was the old maid in the family by the time I got married”. This sounds ridiculous to me now but it was a huge deal to me then. The need for me to “keep up” carried on with our children. As their children dated, married and had children, I felt the anxiety that my daughter keep up with them. We had children close together and so the weddings should also occur close together, followed by grandchildren.
Being slim was also very important to the women in my family. In my mind, this was connected to the possibility of attracting a man. So for Carla, the pressure was on to be slim. I was concerned for her happiness but my fears clouded my ability to see her as an individual person who had every right to live her life as she was created to live. I thought I knew what was best for her and what would make her happy.
I had a different relationship with my son. By the time I had him I had dealt with some of my fears about parenting and was more relaxed. In my mind there was no stigma attached to being a single man, in fact, there was something attractive in being a bachelor. I enjoyed our relationship and was not eager for him to have a girlfriend. When he had a girlfriend, (which he usually did) I didn’t have much time with him and may have felt replaced. I did not dislike his girlfriends, they were nice girls, but when they broke up, I felt relief. I feel ashamed to admit this and want to say that this has changed and I am very happy with the relationship he now has and am excited for their future together.
I am certain that my marriage played a large part in the dynamics that occurred between me and my children. I may expand on this in a later post.
This blog has been an excellent platform for the truth to be told, and along with the truth, freedom. I am in the process of learning to live free and allowing my children to live in freedom as well. I am getting to know Carla as a beautiful woman inside and out and I love spending time with her. It is a work in progress and backslides occur, but we are moving forward in the right direction.
How I had been devalued, the root causes of my struggle with depression and anxiety, was hard to see for the longest time. It was like trying to see through a window with shimmery curtains waving back and forth. There were good things in my childhood too. Those things would wisp across my vision and confuse the painful feelings that I had at the same time. I would change my stance to see from a different view but the curtains were still there, still rippling across the window. I had to focus my vision closer and look at the curtains, see them for what they truly were, before I could pull them back and see through the window to freedom.
My Mom had very clear visions of how she thought my life should look (she talks about these in Part Two of this series). She had specific ideas about what would make me happy. I described my Dad as being the Unengaged Gardener in an earlier post. His belief system about himself held him back from cultivating my individuality, from emotional involvement and interaction with me. My Mom was a much more active gardener. In many ways, I am thankful for the work that she did in trying to help me be a happy member of our family and of society. She took the risk of getting her hands dirty in the soil and because of that I had a lot more material to work with as I sorted through her belief system’s impact on me. But my Dad still had a huge role in how my own belief system developed, whether he meant to or not. Together, my parent’s belief systems merged to create what I believe is a very common and often misunderstood inner “tornado” effect: My Dad’s passivity left a huge hungry hole that I was desperate to fill. My Mom’s belief system taught me to try and fill that hole with the wrong soil, soil that couldn’t sustain deep and fulfilling life. The problem was that her ideas of what would make me happy were too shallow and skewed. They weren’t bad things in and of themselves, but they were not the things that would really help me thrive. She planted a false belief system.
My Mom never told me that I had to get married to be happy. She never told me to be thin so I could attract a man. She didn’t actually say that I would only be valuable if I was married and had children. But I saw her belief system lived out in her own life. I saw how she served my Dad, how she made it a priority to teach me how to clean and cook and sew, how she watched her own weight, how she didn’t find her own happiness outside of these enclosing borders. I knew very well the look of concern that would cross her face when I would take a second helping at dinner. I knew that she was very pleased whenever I had a boyfriend or did something good at church or performed well at my piano recitals. I knew she was proud of me, in a sense… But here’s the twist: she was proud of me when I fulfilled her own visions. She was pleased when I lived out her dreams for me. No attention was paid to whether or not Carla herself was really happy in doing these things. And the things that I did enjoy doing were not investigated. In my play, my parents didn’t join in to find out about me. When I would wake up in the early hours of a Saturday morning to prepare a huge spread of food for my family (food is one of my passions) their subtle response was that I had wasted food and made a mess. The things that really made me tick were overlooked. So I learned to overlook them too.
The roots of my own happiness, the deep underpinnings that made me me were not nurtured. The voices that I was born with, deep in my heart, that held the key to what would create a truly fulfilling life for Carla were not given a chance. They were overpowered by the voices from my Mom’s belief system (and eventually, they would come under direct fire within the religious system I became immersed in).
This was the heart of the devaluing that happened to me. The pain of this devaluing was very real and set me up as an easy candidate for depression, anxiety, fear, and abuse of other kinds. My own pleasure, my ability to listen to my own heart, was disconnected from within myself (where it belonged) and implanted into someone else. I was maniuplated to survive by pleasing someone else, by fulfilling someone else’s dreams. Until now, I didn’t know how to live any other way.
Working to part the curtains!….
A few years ago I was at a workshop and I participated in a church tradition of eating bread and having wine during one part of the service. Three lines had formed in the room and we were all waiting for our turn to be handed a piece of bread to dip into the wine cup. I was waiting in my line, watching the server break off piece after piece from the loaf in his hands, piece after piece to this person and the next… Each piece was so small, I noticed. I was hungry. It was a big loaf of bread with that crunchy crispy outside… As I stood there a couple thoughts floated through my mind. The first came along… “Hmm, I hope I get a really big piece...” My second thought was a reaction springing from the lies I used to believe: “I wonder if God is disappointed about me standing here only thinking about how big a piece of bread I’m going to get...” Thankfully, at that point in my journey, the guilt guards didn’t win those kinds of battles anymore… So I didn’t fight either thought and they were held suspended in my heart as I approached the man for my piece. I stood there, and as he made eye contact with me his elderly hands tore off the BIGGEST chunk of bread I had seen the whole time I was waiting in that line. Even he seemed surprised at the size! I felt deeply affirmed in that moment that it was okay to want more.
I am so familiar with that acute desire of wanting more, the feeling that something was missing or that there was something great that I needed to find. I imagined what it would feel like to find that “thing”… I searched and searched in every person I met and book I read and movie I watched to see who “had it” or where “it was”, that thing I was looking for. And I analyzed and tried to figure out exactly how a person got it. Had they always had it and I was just born missing it? Did they have to work really hard for it? Did it just happen one day? Did someone else need to give it to them? Many times I had also felt the message being said to me, “Why are you even searching? Can’t you just be happy with what you have? Look at the many people who have so much less…” which for me translated into “your heart is over-sensitive, selfish and unreasonable and your desire is just too much.”
My recent posts have been about how my Dad’s belief system so strongly impacted me. Passive withholding abuse is difficult to define or see. As adults it can feel overwhelming and scary to even try to see it in our pasts because there’s nothing really concrete to “pin point”, there are no solid markers along the way. It’s like… growing up believing that all there is to eat on the planet is potato soup. The same thing, every day, same quality (kind of watery…), same amount, not completely nourishing or delicious but enough to get us by. As children, the reality that this is all we’re served tells us that this is all there is. We feel disappointment but it doesn’t really make sense because it’s not like we had the better soup at one point to compare it to. As we grow older, we still feel something is missing, something doesn’t seem satisfying… But we don’t understand why. We struggle with depression and low self-esteem, guilt and anxiety. But in our reasoning, the potato soup was always there and seemed substantial enough, especially compared to those who were never served any soup or actually served toxic soup… Still, there’s this sense of… lacking soup. There’s this restless hunger that’s misunderstood. It is so painful to feel the hunger but not the validation that the hunger is worthy; for me, depression was one way of trying to make the hunger and the pain go away altogether. Darlene has shared about this kind of abuse as well in her post “Withholding Emotional Abuse“.
As I was putting the pieces of my past together and growing in the affirmation that my struggles had been caused by something, my intense hunger was an answer in itself; it was the “pin point” as well as the starting point on my quest to gain what was missing. I see now that it came from the very alive part of me, the part searching to find what I was born wanting… the “more” that we are all worthy and deserving of.
A belief system that says, “I am a nobody, I can’t do anything right, I’m just stupid” wreaks havoc in a few different ways. I believe we were born with an unconscious sense of our own value; deep down, in each of us, there “dwells a beauty”, a person who is loved and can love. But trying to function with a totally opposite belief system creates a swirling, anxious situation inside, as if two rivers are colliding head on into one another and the water is all confused. In my last three posts (1, 2, 3), I’ve been describing my Dad’s belief system and how it was passively handed down to me as a child. His belief system also created havoc in my family, just not the really obvious easy-to-see kind.
Someone with a “I’m a nobody” belief system still wants to be valued, because they are human. Because my Dad didn’t value himself he sought to find his value in other ways. One of these ways was to put a lot of responsibility on his family to do the work of his own failing self-esteem. He believed that he was loved if his wife cooked and cleaned and took good care of him. He believed he was loved if we didn’t say a mean word towards him or be upset with him in any way whatsoever. If he put himself down, we would disagree with him and try to tell him that the opposite was true. Because he didn’t communicate his thoughts and feelings, my Mom, brother and I were forced to try and read his mind. If he was in a bad mood we ALL could tell- we became so skilled at reading his subtle signs and passive communications at the expense of learning to communicate for ourselves. If we sensed he was upset, we would do the work to try and make things better. Though my Mom would try and encourage better communication, he was so extremely uncomfortable and uptight about trying that things would end up more anxious than before. He was the passive King in our home and we learned to treat him with kid gloves. In living this way, my brother and I learned that love was all these things. Love meant compensating for someone else’s poor self esteem. Love meant not making the other person upset. As children who did not know this was so backwards, it also meant sacrificing our own needs to be built up and paid attention to in order to build up our parent. So the cycle continued. My brother and I grew up with this huge sense of lacking and low self-esteem of our own. We naturally lived to please other people. And all the while, the pain was brewing deep inside.
The last five years have been a process of seeing these things as the truth of my story. In learning the truth that all these subtle “leeching” dynamics between a parent and his children can have just as much damage as more physical or obvious kinds of abuse, I was exposed to a whole new world. I learned that these things were not my fault. I learned that my depression and anxiety has definite reasons and weren’t just symptoms of a messed up person.
Of my two parents, my Dad’s belief system had the most impact on me. Deep down I believed I was a “nobody” as well and I relied on other people to tell me that this wasn’t true. This wreaked havoc in its own kind of way, testing relationships and causing me to miss out on great opportunities that I felt I just wasn’t worthy of. As an adult, the responsibility to live differently is now in my own hands. Now that I know that this belief system is not my real inheritance, not the one I was meant to have, I can choose to embrace a new one. I can choose which river to follow. Today I am working to change my belief system. Today I take on the primary responsibility of nourishing my own self-esteem. Today I am taking another step into freedom and living in the truth.
At the heart of the devaluing belief system (click here to read Part One) is the lie that as human beings, we are not valuable in and of ourselves. We exist to be used by others. Our own desires aren’t important. Other people’s desires trump our own. Our feelings and thoughts can’t be trusted. We are not capable of living our lives to the full. We don’t deserve to live our lives to the full. This belief system manifests itself in all kinds of ways. But the lie at the heart of it is the same.
Today I will describe how parents teach their children this belief system even simply in how they treat themselves. My Dad never told me I was a nobody, but he lived like he was one. He is also intelligent and talented, but he never believed that about himself. In my childlike observance, I saw repeatedly how he was uncomfortable accepting compliments and also giving them, how he did jobs and favors for others even if he didn’t want to because he didn’t believe he deserved to say “no”, how it was safer for him to spend hours watching TV or reading the paper instead of engaging with us, how he put himself down, even calling himself “stupid”, how he always took someone else’s opinion to be superior to his own. He didn’t offer his true self to his family, rarely sharing what he really felt or thought about something. I got this message from how he lived his own life: don’t flourish, don’t attract attention, don’t fly too high, don’t shine too bright. If other people were successful or happy he was quietly critical or suspicious of them. Be wary of the world because it’s a scary place. This may sound like the wrappings of a humble, unassuming person. But it was not so innocent. How a parent treats their own self is a huge message to their kids about what it means to be human.
As an observant and impressionable child, I grew up in this “lowly soup”. Even though it was never spoken to me, I naturally believed that because my Dad thought so little of himself as a human being, I must be little too. Even though I excelled at school, learned to play the piano, won awards, and succeeded at being popular, there was always this deep deep down feeling that I really had nothing to offer, nothing from my true self would be good enough. I didn’t even have practice in knowing what my true self was! In squishing himself, my Dad’s belief system squished down the spontaneous buds of my own real self. And as a child I had no way of knowing this was happening- I accepted it as the normal reality. As an adult, I have to acknowledge that it DID happen, that I did receive a passively given faulty belief system from my Dad, in order for me to be free from the lies that entrapped me.
Thankfully today, I can choose a different kind of inheritance. I love what Darlene wrote on our facebook fan page the other day: “I am not defined by who they think I am. I am not defined by who THEY say that I am. I am not defined by what happened to me. I am defined by my heart; my tenderness and compassion for others; by my purpose. I am an individual, worthy and valid. ~ Darlene”
It was so subtle. And I was entirely defenseless to protect myself from it. I had no reference point in my youngest years to be able to say, “Hey, believing this will play out badly for me in the future. I’m going to decide to believe differently.” It was what I naturally took to be “normal” because it was my normal. It was the home I grew up in. It was the two most advanced human beings that I knew, modeling to me what it meant to be human. Being 100% impressionable, I watched and learned and without even thinking about it plugged what I saw into my first and most important belief system about who I was and what it meant to be valuable.
For so long I could not figure out why I struggled and struggled with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I had no traumatic event to point to in my childhood to explain it. When I thought about my past I just felt lost and hazy. In my present, I was anxious, quiet, afraid to assert my real self, not really knowing who my real self was. I grew to assume everyone else was better than I was , even though I was smart and talented. The common slogan of “just be yourself” always appealed to me, made me feel excited, but I never really got it. Inside I just felt empty. I habitually admired other people, and eventually I learned how to act like other people in an attempt to feel like I was somebody, that I had something, something in myself that I admired in them. I was always trying to be somebody else… because I didn’t know how to be me. Because I couldn’t figure out why I struggled so much, I really felt like there must be something wrong with me. I was weak, somehow faulty, just prone to be depressed. Later on in life I beat myself up for not believing enough that God loved me, that I really must be failing spiritually if I was so depressed. It must be true, because what other explanation was there? Somehow, I was doing something wrong.
The belief system that became such a powerful force in my life had a beginning somewhere… The beginning of this belief system, passed down to me like a bad kind of inheritance, was so hard for me to see because it happened so passively. The lies were never said to me verbally, like “Carla, you are worthless. You’re just one big screw-up. You have nothing to offer.” Nope. My parents never said things like that. How did it happen then that I grew up in a definite state of repression and eventually depression?
There are different pieces of the puzzle, as enforcers of the belief system cropped up in different areas of my life. But I’m focusing a lot on my parents now because they were my first teachers and therefore the most powerful ones. My Dad has his own story of brokenness. If you know my Dad you may feel angry or defensive reading my posts because he is a very nice man. But the belief system that caused brokenness in my Dad’s past is the very same one that caused him to contribute to my broken past. Exposing how the belief system was passed down to me leads to understanding, and understanding leads to healing and freedom. This is why I will write so candidly. In seeing how the belief system was implanted in me in my earliest years, I become free of the lie that I was just born faulty, born with the tendency to be depressed, born with a weak mind or weak soul. This is the truth: I wasn’t born with it, I was born into it. I wasn’t born to be depressed or to struggle with low self-esteem. I learned it from somewhere and just didn’t know how to get rid of it until now. The cycle of lies will only die if they are exposed to the light. I’ve already written about one aspect of the belief system my Dad passed down to me in “The Unengaged Gardener”. In my next post, I will expose another aspect.
In reading Paulo Coelho’s amazing book “The Alchemist” I was so inspired by the main character Santiago, on a quest to find his treasure. He reflects to himself that “he had to chose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. ‘I am an adventurer, looking for treasure,’ he said to himself.” We are adventurers on a quest for our treasure, the treasure of knowing the real truth about who we are and why it has been so hard for us to believe that truth. This quest will definitely lead us through painful territory. But the treasure is worth it. I’m excited to be on this journey with you!
In my last post “Freedom from Nose to Tail Surviving”, I said: “What if there is little interest shown at all? Maybe a parent is physically present, but shares no emotional interaction, doesn’t give of themselves or seek to know, really know, their child? The child assumes that she isn’t worth pursuing, her whole self isn’t worth pursuing. Or maybe, her whole self is ‘too much’ to handle, too much to pursue, not worth the effort.”
Imagine a brand new garden. Dark, fragrant earth. All the seeds are planted and ready to grow. The conditions are just right for this garden to flourish, to thrive. All the potential is there. I imagine this is the life of a new child. We are each born unique, with our own unique potential to be and live out who we are in this world. Some kinds of abuse go into the garden and trample it, rip things out or purposefully squish what is growing. Some kinds of abuse want to redo the whole garden to make it look exactly like their own garden. Some kinds of abuse are only bent on passing down the pain and destruction that they received themselves, be it physical, verbal, or sexual mistreatment.
What about the gardener who, being gifted with the garden, doesn’t do very much with it? He may be there every day but he’s not working to help the seeds to grow. He doesn’t try to learn what they need to thrive. He is terrified of making mistakes, so he stays as far to the periphery of the garden as he can without actually leaving. He finds other things to occupy his time while the garden starts to grow as best it can without his help. He offers some easier attendance here and there, providing the basics, certain things he is comfortable doing. But he doesn’t take the time to learn the intricacies of this place, how unique this particular garden is, and exactly what kind of potential is brewing in its deeply planted seeds. Certain things may still grow and flourish, but with a sense of grasping at life, a hungry sense of surviving. The gardener is not vigilant to protect the vulnerable early growth. Weeds grow at the same time and strangle some of the good stuff just poking through. Birds or insects are given free rein to come and pick at it as they choose. Ripe things that could be harvested drop to the ground unnoticed. Over time, tendrils crawl out all over the place, seeking for some kind of attention and care.
My dad was this kind of gardener. He never tried to destroy my garden, but by mostly sitting around the outside of it, being too afraid to get involved with what was really going on on the inside, he inadvertently sent the message to me that I was not valuable enough to be pursued, that my own feelings and thoughts were not worth being interacted with, that my deepest potential wasn’t worth being investigated. This was the beginning of my hungry heart, the tendrils hungrily seeking out other ways of being validated and affirmed. As children, we automatically form our first most powerful belief system based on how we are treated by our very first gardeners. This belief system was one of the biggest vacuums that drew me into deep struggles with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
We are born valuable but vulnerable. We have this inherent sense of value for ourselves. As babies, when we were in pain, we cried. When we were hungry, we cried. When we were uncomfortable, we cried. We cried because there was no thought or experience that disconnected us from the truth of our value. We knew what we needed and had no reason to fear asking for it. We also laughed when we thought something was funny or stimulating. Pleasure, happiness, didn’t require a labyrinth of justification. Our value wasn’t something we knew in our heads. It was something we just knew.
A wise friend once told me that our home life does not define our value, but models it. God has already defined my value for me (no one on earth can actually do this) but the purpose of a home, a family, is to treat each other as the valuable people that we are. It’s a valuing that respects the value that already exists. It models respect for my unique abilities, passions, dreams, and obstacles.
My home life was very predictable, very “secure”, very normal. My parents tried to do everything the right way. We went to church, did family devotions, did chores, got allowance, were disciplined for misbehaving. But… something was missing. My whole life I have questioned my value, never felt like my own feelings and thoughts were really good enough, have struggled to even know what my own thoughts and feelings were!
I was not taken advantage of sexually or physically, but I was valued for the wrong things. The real Carla was not valued or engaged with, not asked “do you like this? Do you not like this? What do you think about this? How did that make you feel?” She was told to be good and was valued for being good. She was applauded for being right more than she was for being herself. So, I was a very good child and decided to continue being very good throughout my life so that I would continue to be treated as valuable. The church loved a good girl, as did the private school I graduated from. I sweat blood and tears to be good and right in order to be valued.
Today it is my quest to be the real Carla, the Carla not boxed in or confined by the labels of “good and right.” Somedays it still feels like a very wobbly path because I get my value mixed up with these old skewed definitions. It sometimes feels foreign and uncertain to know and trust my own real feelings because for so long I have tempered them with what is intellectually “good and right.” But our souls can be nurtured back to life. The seeds that have been dormant for years are still there inside of us. With some loving work and nurturing, they will grow. It is happening day by day, re-bridging the gap between what is really true and what I deeply know to be true about me.