Posts tagged with "parents"

aporia of faith

In recent years I’ve been rumi­nat­ing on the ques­tion of whether or not humans have inher­ent val­ue, per­haps because my sui­ci­dal ideation caus­es me to won­der whether life itself is worth­less. The sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of such a idea means I don’t ask any­one for an answer, but I do probe for opin­ions. My friends have all told me that they believe peo­ple are inher­ent­ly valu­able; or, at the very least, they know they’re valu­able because they val­ue them­selves, even if they can’t say the same about any­one else.

This sur­prised me at first; I can remem­ber believ­ing that each per­son is a bur­den on soci­ety who has to earn their place, as soon as I was old enough to under­stand such a con­cept1. But a few years ago when I told this to Jesse, he expressed dis­be­lief based on the way he’s observed my treat­ment of oth­ers.

Being chal­lenged about my views by a per­son I so high­ly respect­ed cer­tain­ly gave me pause to recon­sid­er. When I thought about a stranger I might meet on the street, I felt that that life would be a ben­e­fit to the world, that that per­son deserves to be loved, hap­py, safe, and healthy as much as any­one else sim­ply because they exist. Suddenly, I real­ized that it was myself whom I believed to be worth­less, and I extend­ed this belief to oth­ers to soothe any pains I had over such a thought. I did­n’t despair about my worth­less­ness if every­one else had just as lit­tle val­ue.

I can trace this warped world­view to my child­hood, when my par­ents treat­ed me sim­ply as an exten­sion of their lives. They made it clear that their love was pure­ly con­di­tion­al, based on my obe­di­ence, achieve­ments at school/work, friends, roman­tic part­ners, and how those all com­pared to oth­ers. I was always work­ing from a deficit of love, try­ing to earn their approval and affec­tion by doing the “right” thing, which was defined as what they want­ed2.

This is no more appar­ent than when try­ing to show myself com­pas­sion (or per­haps mag­na­nim­i­ty would be the bet­ter word). Imagining myself as anoth­er per­son before me, every time I say to him “You deserve to be hap­py”, my mind can’t help but fin­ish the sen­tence with “…as long as you…” as if that hap­pi­ness is con­tin­gent upon some lev­el of per­for­mance at a work­place.

Unfortunately, aware­ness does­n’t resolve the issue. Even though I had an epiphany that helped me under­stand the fal­la­cy of my world­view, try­ing to sud­den­ly believe that I have an inher­ent val­ue seems as implau­si­ble as find­ing a ran­dom peb­ble on the ground and believ­ing that it’s worth the same as a pol­ished gem­stone. No won­der the opin­ion I have of myself has been so great­ly influ­enced by oth­ers; I’ve been rely­ing on the approval of my peers to give me the val­ue I so des­per­ate­ly desire3.

So if the worth of a per­son is sub­jec­tive and there are no absolute truths, how is it pos­si­ble for me to gen­uine­ly believe that I have val­ue after a life­time of believ­ing that I don’t?

  1. I’m sure that grow­ing up in a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that views any­one who does­n’t work (includ­ing seniors) as lazy and worth­less con­tributed to this belief. []
  2. Not only would this cause me to feel like I had to con­stant­ly earn my hap­pi­ness, this would also cause me to believe any dif­fi­cul­ties I faced were my fault — that I must be to blame if some­one did­n’t find me attrac­tive, or I must have deserved any­thing I suf­fered. []
  3. I even­tu­al­ly learn that exter­nal forms of val­i­da­tion like this are unre­li­able and gen­er­al­ly unhealthy. []

projector

A while back, my ther­a­pist asked, “Do you think Heather will love you, regard­less of whether you’re active­ly con­tribut­ing to the rela­tion­ship?”. I told him I was­n’t sure, cause I was still try­ing to under­stand the con­cept of uncon­di­tion­al love. As a child, my par­ents told me they would­n’t love me if I was­n’t a good boy, and a good boy would do exact­ly what they want­ed. The affec­tion they doled out was direct­ly relat­ed to how well I did in school, or how much I impressed oth­er par­ents. They used it as a tool to con­trol me, and this dynam­ic has influ­enced my under­stand­ing of rela­tion­ships to the point that it feels like I con­stant­ly need to be mak­ing efforts in them (or they’ll decay).

So my ther­a­pist instead posed the ques­tion, “Do you think Heather will love you, no mat­ter what?”. My first reac­tion was one of con­fu­sion; I heard the same ques­tion as before. When I real­ized it had com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent impli­ca­tions — would Heather still love me if I was an axe mur­der­er; if I was racist; if I burned the house down; if I did­n’t love her back — it dawned on me that I was pro­ject­ing this mon­u­men­tal require­ment on myself to be con­stant­ly mak­ing efforts towards the rela­tion­ship. It was­n’t an expec­ta­tion Heather was bring­ing, but my own; one I pro­ject­ed on her due to my child­hood trau­ma.

To real­ize that I was doing this in such a spe­cif­ic and sig­nif­i­cant man­ner was a shock. My mind inad­ver­tent­ly made bounds in log­ic, and every time Heather said, “I’ll always love you”, I would hear, “I’ll always love you, as long as…1

Continue read­ing “pro­jec­tor”…

  1. It blows my mind to know that Heather’s love for me isn’t con­di­tion­al, that she loves me deep­er that I’m even able to under­stand at the moment. []

backstory

It’s tak­en me a gen­er­ous dis­tance, as well as a healthy break from the pain, to real­ize I don’t under­stand what my mom thought of me. In my ear­li­est years, I believed she loved me, cause none of her demands were unrea­son­able. After all, chil­dren are often help­less and don’t even know what’s best for them­selves. Then I grew up, and devel­oped an iden­ti­ty of my own. That meant I had dis­tinc­tive needs sep­a­rate from hers, and she would deny every one of them unless they were in line with what she want­ed. It was impos­si­ble for me to believe there was any love at all when she was the cause of so much of my pain. I’ve since come to real­ize that rela­tion­ships are full of nuances, and that it’s pos­si­ble to love some­one whole­heart­ed­ly and be ter­ri­ble for them at the same time.

Continue read­ing “back­sto­ry”…

mother dearest

The last time I saw my mom was on a trip she took to see me in Ottawa, along with a few oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers vis­it­ing from out of the coun­try. I had table ten­nis prac­tice one night, and instead of drop­ping me off, they decid­ed to come watch. So five of us piled into her van, and halfway through the dri­ve, my vision start­ed grow­ing blur­ry. I’d been work­ing full shifts, then enter­tain­ing the guests every night, and my body decid­ed it did­n’t want to con­tin­ue coop­er­at­ing. With the aches get­ting sharp­er in my head, I told her I could­n’t play. She sharply asked why. I explained.

My moth­er has always been an emo­tion­al dri­ver, and on top of that an “emo­tion­al” per­son when she does­n’t get her way. With me rid­ing shot­gun, she decid­ed to make a U‑turn into oncom­ing traf­fic. It was an attempt to go home in a huff, except there are things to con­sid­er when doing this in a vehi­cle, like the fact that every­one around you is also mov­ing in their own giant met­al sledge­ham­mer. When we crossed over the medi­an, I saw an SUV head­ing towards me at full speed, and in that moment, there was only the dis­tinct real­iza­tion that this is how I died. It was some­thing I’d always won­dered, and the sat­is­fac­tion of my curios­i­ty was greater than any sense of fear of what was about to hap­pen1.

But we were saved by the grace and reflex­es of the per­son dri­ving the SUV, who slammed on his/her brakes, and there was no col­li­sion. My mom con­tin­ued speed­ing back home in her mood, like she had­n’t near­ly maimed us all. I knew in that moment she did­n’t care about me or my well being; all she cared about was how she could­n’t show off her son in front of the fam­i­ly, and how that made her look.

I nev­er looked her in the eyes after that. And when she left, I nev­er saw her again. It was already her last chance. Proof that I still did­n’t mean any­thing to her as a per­son, that I was just an orna­ment to her my entire life.

Fast for­ward many years lat­er. A phase where I find myself learn­ing about hate and for­give­ness, how to let go of one and prac­tice the oth­er. I decide to con­tact her again, let­ting her know that I’m not ready to for­give her yet, but I’m open to talk­ing. She asked what there was to for­give, as if she had no idea what she did wrong. I thought it was an odd thing to say; after all, how did she explain why we had­n’t spo­ken in years? I made no assump­tions though, and brought up a few things to refresh her mem­o­ry, the inci­dent above being one exam­ple.

All she could say was that she was going through a dif­fi­cult mar­riage, so I should under­stand why she act­ed the way she did. Then she meek­ly tried to mask her guilt with excus­es about mak­ing sac­ri­fices for me, as if a child’s accep­tance or for­give­ness is some­thing that can be bought and this is why she owes me noth­ing. Through it all, she refused to apol­o­gize, or even acknowl­edge that she ever hurt me. Perhaps say­ing sor­ry would mean admit­ting to her­self that she’s done these hor­ri­ble things to her only child, her fault things got so bad he cut off all ties, and that real­i­ty would be too dif­fi­cult for her to deal with. To this day, she’s in com­plete denial about her role in any of my suf­fer­ing, and she does­n’t even care enough about me to feel bad about it.

I’m learn­ing to accept that my mom would rather give up the chance at rec­on­cil­ing than do some­thing as sim­ple as apol­o­gize, cause it means her sense of pride is more impor­tant to her than her only child. This is exact­ly what makes her a bad par­ent. Separating myself from her so many years lat­er was just as easy as the first time.

If only I was­n’t still deal­ing with the after-effects of her influ­ence; I’m only now learn­ing not to judge myself the way she did the entire time we were in con­tact, how not to hate myself for being less than per­fect, how not to feel worth­less when I don’t have con­stant val­i­da­tion. So many of my demons can be traced back to her. Parents are sup­posed to nur­ture, instill­ing strength and con­fi­dence and sta­bil­i­ty, while help­ing their chil­dren explore a sense of iden­ti­ty. Instead, she dan­gled love and favour and reward in front of me only if I met some ridicu­lous stan­dard in school or played the piano or did exact­ly as she bid. Otherwise, I was a bad per­son, the child she did­n’t want.

It’s been some­what trau­ma­tiz­ing to re-expe­ri­ence these trig­gers again when try­ing to resolve issues I’m deal­ing with now. Sometimes I hate myself for being so bro­ken, but it’s eas­i­er to for­give my mis­takes and accept myself when I real­ize such a tox­ic per­son has had so much influ­ence on my life.

  1. Although maybe that was also cause I knew it was a sit­u­a­tion com­plete­ly out of my con­trol. []

perpetual eve

This day is the same every year. The streets are dead and filled with slush, the stores all closed. No mat­ter where I am, it seems peo­ple are look­ing for a chan­nel on TV to watch a cor­po­rate-spon­sored count­down, and I always feel alone even though I’m sur­round­ed by friends.

If it’s the same every year, it’s strange that my mem­o­ries of New Year’s Eve are so mixed. Jocks harass­ing me on the bus. Bundling up in big coats to share petit coro­nas out­side. Panic attacks. Blonds and red­heads. Rich foods and too much drink. And some­how the peo­ple I love and the peo­ple I hate end up at the same par­ties.

Sometimes it reminds me too much of my child­hood. My fam­i­ly host­ed the same count­down par­ty every year that became the only real time we spent with oth­er peo­ple, and the only time we ever caught up with our “friends”. Numbers would be shout­ed in uni­son, cham­pagne would be toast­ed, noth­ing would change. An emp­ty rit­u­al for emp­ty peo­ple. Maybe that’s why I nev­er feel like I belong any­where on this day. It’s like I’m wait­ing to feel what every­one else around me is feel­ing when the ball drops.