An Old Dog Abandons Her Old Tricks

For all the growth I have made this semester, I have still been held up by old vices, which is extremely disappointing. I feel the Lord changing me, changing the person within me, and oh… God, I am so eager for it! To be new, fresh, unhampered by the past. And I know I can be. I have tasted newness this semester. But, man, can I be my own worst enemy. But I am determined to win this battle against my old self, and to do that, I need to purge.

My real weakness is that I feel too much. I identify with people, imagine their situation, imagine myself in their situation, try to come up with ways to help and guide them, feel utterly helpless if I can’t succeed in helping them, need to let them know that I am there for them, and then must follow through in being there for them fully. An extreme empathizer. So much that, as a school psychologist pointed out earlier this semester, I allow my own happiness to depend on others, which is so detrimental to myself.

I think this disposition is why I so easily identified with my mother, who in her adversity (being married to my dad), had so much need for empathy. I imagined myself in her place and tried to emotionally fill the void that my dad had created within her. Because I identified so strongly with her, I paid more attention to how my dad treated her than I did his treatment of me. And also, because I identified so strongly with her, she became an example of the kind of person I should be, while my dad became the example of the person I didn’t want to be. I put her on a pedestal.

When I was a little older (~late teens?), my mom told me that she is not the person that she used to be, the person she was before and in the early years of her marriage. But the only person I saw and could remember was this new person she had become. A woman who strived to be wholly self-sufficient, independent, emotionally guarded, masking and denying her true emotions… A necessarily strong woman. A private woman. A dependable woman, who denied herself her own desires and happiness, ranking them after those of everyone around her. Growing up, she was the image of what I thought I should be, of what I wanted to be.

But I realize now that I have truly identified too much with my mother. I have become her in many ways. The qualities that I once viewed as strengths have become faults because I have adopted them too intensely.

INDEPENDENCE –  I always feel like I need to be self-sufficient. I don’t like to ask for help for anything, if I can help it. And I don’t allow others to do niceties for me. For example, I remember when I was moving out of my room at the end of my freshman year at college, a friend scolded me for this. “Let us help you!” he said. “You don’t have to do everything by yourself!” I had tried to move my heavy boxes by myself instead of taking up their offer to help.

Don’t get me wrong, independence is an admirable quality and I am glad that I am equipped to and comfortable with doing things for myself. But sticking too firmly to it has been detrimental (i.e. because of my independence, I have purposely created distance between myself and my friends). This is something of which I am coming to the full realization. I shouldn’t allow my independence to divide me from the people I care about.

When I think more about this trait in relation to my mom, I also realize that she was so independent because my dad didn’t fulfill his husbandly role as God describes it. So she had to step up and lead my brother and I. This example, a woman leading her family, only added to my view of female independence and encouraged me to believe that I shouldn’t depend on any man to do anything for me. And because I didn’t know what that looked like… to have a man lead his wife and for her to be able to depend upon him… I now even find myself resisting guys’ attempts to do something for me. I probably appear less “feminine” to them when I hold doors open for them, rather than allow them to open a door for me. But after years of seeing my dad not do such niceties for my mom, I don’t expect it from any man (except my brother, who my mom brought up to be so courteous) and just automatically do such things for myself. But I don’t like that I am this way. Again, I should be willing to allow people to display their courtesy.

WALLS – My mom set up emotional walls after she realized that her emotions were not appreciated by my dad. He couldn’t be trusted with them. So she entered into  subsequent friendships with a walled heart. Encouraged others to do more talking, so that she wouldn’t have to give too much of herself away. Basically Proverbs 4:23 to the extreme.

I am the spitting image of her example. Growing up, it was emphasized that our private business was our business and not to be shared with others (we had extremely gossip-y neighbors). But I have carried this mandate with me into my young adulthood. I let others do the talking, which is fine because, being an extreme empathizer, I like to hear about their experiences and like bringing them pleasure by showing my interest in their life. And I think I don’t share my emotions partly because I don’t want to run the risk of discovering that they won’t be appreciated by my listeners.

But I have realized that this stunts my growth. Part of being in a relationship with someone is giving of yourself. And part of growing as a person is learning how to trust others with parts of yourself. I think a lot of my past friendships ended because I was unwilling to do this – unwilling to open up and show the other person that I trust them enough to let them see me. Trust. Now that is something that requires true strength. This is definitely something I have been working on building.

This reminds me… I recently read a quote that said something to the effect of… “the problem with [emotional] walls is not only that they keep people out, but they keep you in.” This could not be more true. It definitely has been pretty lonely being the only person who knows me.

DENIAL+MASKING – this falls in line with building walls. My mom was a master actress. Being strong for my brother and I, she denied many of her emotions and masked them. She always appeared strong. Always appeared happy. And she was both of those things. But there was a storm inside. Since I am older now and our friendship has matured, I see this more. She will sometimes say things that hint her desire for affection, but then quickly denies it and masks it. But I know her well and can identify when she’s doing this. And I think she does this because deep down she doesn’t feel that she is worthy of having her desires… or, perhaps more correctly, that it isn’t possible for her to ever have them.

I think out of all the qualities I have picked up, this is the one I need to change the most because, I realize now, it leads most directly to self-sabotage. I deny myself of my desires and convince myself that I can’t have them or am not worthy of them, and then mask that I have a desire at all. For someone who so strongly values communication, this tactic makes me a complete hypocrite because it keeps me from communicating with myself and with others, who very well may be able to deliver what I want. It is a breeding ground for mixed signals.

The truth is, it is not that I cannot have what I desire… but that I do not allow myself to have what I desire, and what is perhaps even available to me. So I create my own unhappiness, not my situation or any other person, etc. In living this way,  I  also offend God by not accepting and trusting His ability to deliver my wants, if they are right for me. So I tie not only the hands of those around me, but His hands as well. I deny myself happiness and love, so that in the end, all I have is my independent self, sitting within all those walls I have built. Alone.

—————————————————————————————————————-

I realize that I have been living as though I am a woman in a wrecked marriage, perhaps thinking deep down inside that behaving this way will prevent me from acquiring her unhappiness. But, my God. It’s all SO wrong… couldn’t be more wrong than this. And I just praise the Lord that He is bringing me to the full realization of these things NOW, while I am still young. I need to live up to a higher standard – to God’s standard. I am resolved to not look to any other person as a model for how to live, because we are each fallible in our own ways. God is the only one worthy of a pedestal!

We can’t help what situation we’re born into, but we can help how we allow ourselves to be affected by it. And I choose to love myself… fully love myself and believe that I am worthy of happiness and all my desires and that I can and will indeed have them, if not today than someday! All according to God’s perfect time.

Wow, when I re-read this, I wonder who on earth would want to have such a complicated person in one’s life. Yes, I suppose I am quite a complicated mess right now, but I know that God is a good janitor. The best, actually. And now that I have finally given Him the master key to my building, I know it will clean up better than “just fine” 🙂

Future Post:  Traits I’ve picked up from Dad.

    • marc
    • April 6th, 2009

    wow. i don’t know how I found your site, but I’m glad I did.

    You’re the female emotional mirror image of me, it seems – and your thoughts on the biblical model of marriage (essentially Christ as head, man under Christ’s authority, woman joyfully submitting to Christ by being under her husband’s authority) are really well laid out.

    cheers,

    m

  1. Hey, Marc! Thanks for your comment! I have yet to have met a male emotional mirror of myself, so that’s pretty cool to know that some guys are experiencing these same emotions/behaviors.

    and glad you were blessed by the marriage posts!

    God bless you, brother!

  2. and do you know what all of this turns into if you’re not careful? –> fear of commitment

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