Breaking the Cycle
“Don’t yell at me,” said my manager as I explained something to her that I cared deeply about.
“I’m not yelling at you.”
“Yes you are. You’re raising your voice.”
“This isn’t yelling. This is me being passionate about what I’m saying. That’s what you hear in my voice.”
“But you’re yelling at me.”
“I assure you this is not me yelling. Would you like me to demonstrate what it looks like when I yell so you can see the difference?”
She sat back, slightly stunned by my question.
This former manager and I had both grown up with overly self involved mothers. Think neglectful. Think overly judgmental. Think soul crushing. Her adult response appeared to be to go flat. To rarely express emotional highs or lows. Definitely not to go anywhere near anything that resembled my natural Mediterranean-rooted passionate nature. I on the other hand became more mouthy in response to my childhood. I was extremely invested in the truth. At revealing it. Whether it was mine or somebody else’s. I’m a little wiser now and realize other people’s truths do not belong to me.
Here’s what I find interesting about all of this in a maybe-this-can-teach-me-something kind of way. My manager and I both chose different ways to break the cycle of being hurt emotionally by others. She chose more of a non-stick coating approach and I covered myself with roses that offered both sweetness and thorns. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to share less or more about yourself, and your emotions, as a way to break the cycle of being victimized. Both are valid choices. Most of us lean more naturally toward one than the other. I obviously opt for revealing more of myself rather than putting my energy into concealing myself. Many others choose to do the latter.
My sister chose not to have any children. I really wanted a child. Imagine a Godzilla-sized yearning. Both of us were trying to overwrite our experience with my mother. I wanted to be the mother my mother never was. I wanted to apply everything positive to mothering that I learned from all of her negative examples. My sister didn’t want to risk ever repeating my mother’s mistakes. Both were reasonable responses. Both make sense. I don’t judge my sister’s choice because it was different than mine.
Here’s what I think we should judge — whether or not our choices reinforce us labeling ourselves as victims. We “were” victims. We no longer are. It would not be a good thing if my sister constantly revisited her choice not to have children with anger and resentment, if the choice itself became a way of picking at the scabs of her childhood wounds and re-wounding herself. But it would be a very good thing if she managed to joyfully live her life to the best of her ability and celebrated that she had broken the cycle of abuse in her own way. The same goes for me. I’m lucky. I’ve been able to celebrate turning my mother’s actions into love. I could just as easily have held onto my son too tightly either smothering him or demanding that he love me almost as a parent replacement.
Bottom line? Any choice we make as an adult in response to childhood wounds is not necessarily good or bad. At the same time, ANY choice we make has the potential to be either good or bad.