No Talking

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“Children should be seen and not heard” That actually is what my childhood was like.

Self-esteem. This is a subject that is touchy and very difficult for me to talk about. Sometimes I feel as if people think that when you are an adult you should automatically have self-esteem. As if being a grown up means that you no longer have the insecurities of a child. I don’t like that assumption. It is very hurtful and dismissive.

Thinking back on my life so far, I’ve tried to figure out what it is that caused such poor self-esteem for me. I certainly didn’t choose it. I don’t want to be pitied or condescended to. I think maybe we don’t consider enough how much our childhood affects our everything. Adulthood doesn’t mean automatic anything. When you never learn it, how can you practice it in your life.

I think over and over to myself what I need to do or what I should be able to do and say to be a normal social person. And it seems basic and uncomplicated. But again, if you never learned those skills, you don’t enter adulthood and automatically become endowed with magical self-esteem and social skills.

Remembering back, I am realizing that the major contributing source of a lack of self-esteem is a lack of communication. Human beings were meant to communicate with one another. It is one of many very important ways that we connect with people so we don’t go crazy.

I can’t tell you how many times when we were kids that we would have a friend from church over on a Sunday afternoon and the kid would always go home and tell their parents how quiet our house was. It became this thing. The Dalton’s house is so quiet. And it was true. Aside from yelling between my parents frequent arguing, there wasn’t any noise. No one talked to each other. We didn’t have conversations or debates, positive or negative.

I really try not to sound like I’m saying “it’s all my parents fault” for everything, but in this case it IS all my parents fault. They did not talk. To each other. To us. To friends. Nothing. Talk about our lives, our emotions, our fears, our joys, our insecurities, politics, history, current events, science and everything else under the sun. We did not talk. Ever. The only “conversations” I can clearly remember were when we were all being lined up to get spanked. They weren’t really conversations at all. Just my parents telling us how bad we were and how many times we were going to be hit.

Do you know how hard it is to have confidence in yourself when you never learned how to communicate. I do well through writing. But that’s always been my only outlet. I learned how to write when I went to the Christian school and that was how I expressed things. I have a lot of diaries. They are not things I’ve ever really talked about to anyone. When you think your parents don’t give a crap about what you think or feel, you tend to retreat into your own world. I became silent. It didn’t matter what I thought or felt. It only mattered what they thought and felt, which was pretty much never in agreement with each other. My mother’s emotional state was always more important than anything else.

Why should I, at 16 years old, want to sit down with my mother and talk about something I’m feeling and thinking when that had never ever happened before. When children are born they do automatically trust their parents or caregivers because they literally depend on them for their lives. But that trust quickly falls away when you are never asked how you feel or what’s wrong, and never listened to. My point is, if you don’t talk to your children from the very beginning, they aren’t going to grow up and want to talk to you.

There were a few times my mother sat down with us and basically just read us bible verses and tried to use that as justification for what was wrong. That is so incredibly manipulative. I can’t stand it. It angers me to my very core that someone who claims (still) to be a dedicated Christian would take the holy book they believe in and use it to manipulate her children into feeling sorry for her. You can ask all of my siblings and they will all say the same thing.

There was never any kind of conversation with either of my parents about dating, relationships, college, career, life goals. I still to this day have absolutely no idea what exactly my parents thoughts or beliefs were about dating. We never discussed it. I never dated, we didn’t talk about dating, or boys, or friendship. I think because I was a “good girl” it was just assumed that I was never going to get into any of those things. Or maybe it was assumed I didn’t want to. I didn’t date in college either. And then I had a very tumultuous, damaging relationship that made me feel like I wasn’t even capable of being in a relationship.

One thing that still hurts me a lot is that my parents never discussed college with me. They never asked me what I wanted to do, what I was interested in, or even if I wanted to go to college. I kind of decided it all on my own, at 19. I picked PCC because it was the only college I knew anything about and it’s where other kids in the church went. There wasn’t really a thought process involved in the decision making. I really just wanted to be out of my house to I went to Florida. And I hated it. Even after I came back from my first semester and told my dad I didn’t want to go back. There still wasn’t any kind of discussion. He didn’t ask why or what else I might have wanted to do or where else I might have wanted to go. He just told me to finish.

I ended up deciding to graduate a semester early so I could get it done with as soon as possible. And it just felt like another thing that I did just because. I had no vision, no goals, no dreams, no ambitions. I finished at PCC because it was the “right thing to do.” I wish so much now that my dad would have actually sat down with me and asked me what I wanted for my life and what direction I should take. I did it alone. I was a naive, inexperienced kid and I did it alone.

After college when I got into a relationship with a terrible person, the only conversation in regards to that was my mother asking me if he was pressuring me for sex. That’s it. That’s the one and only question she ever asked, even though I was miserable. I told my dad when I broke up with him and that was pretty much it. Still no conversation. I just think it isn’t fair for a parent to raise their child with no communication or social skills or direction and then when they become legal throw them out into the world to try to figure out how to survive on their own. My dad didn’t literally kick me out, but there was no talking about it. I was lost. I’ve always been lost.

Now that I think about it this may also be something that has contributed to me never being able to make up my mind. Jumping around to different schools and floundering in search of a job or career with meaning has been my life since graduating. I always admired my dad for his job and work ethic. He worked very hard and truly loved his job. I wanted that. But no one told me how to find it. I’m working on it.

Questioning my intelligence

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I have always struggled with learning in that from my very first days of homeschooling all the way up through college I never truly believed that I was smart or capable. I used to cry every single day in Algebra. I had to be tutored for the entire summer before I began attending the Christian school for high school because I was so far behind. I hated history. I thought it was the worst subject that first year. And most of all I knew everyone around me must have known how academically lacking I was.

The biggest and hardest thing about coming from “homeschooling” and going to a Christian school was that I really did feel stupid. I had never written anything ever. And the tests we had to take to gauge where we were grade-wise were humiliating to me. I went home and cried because I didn’t know what half the questions were even talking about. Here I was already supposed to have been in 9th grade and I barely knew enough middle school grammar. I think going from homeschooling to the Christian school was when my anxiety really became pretty severe. Also that was the same year that my mother left. That kind of stress on a 14 year old is sure to create a ton of anxiety.

Although I actually love writing, it has always created a lot of anxiety in me. Every time I say out loud to someone, “I love writing”, a little voice inside my head says, “so what, you can’t do it for real.” I’ve worried that I’m not smart enough to engage in discussions or debates, or smart enough to do something really hard and have a great career. In that sense I’ve sort of taken the easy way out. My degree is certainly helpful for getting a great nanny position,  but what I do isn’t exactly a mentally challenging job. And that’s the thing. I am afraid of a mentally challenging job. I do not believe I am capable of doing a job like being an attorney, or a politician, or a police officer, or a museum curator, even though those are all things I’m very interested in. It’s an insurmountable hurdle that my brain can’t seem to get over.

I’ve skipped around a few different schools in a few different graduate programs because I can’t choose. I can’t choose because I change my mind pretty much every other day. I can’t make up my mind because I’m mostly afraid. Afraid of what specifically I don’t exactly know. Failure? Embarrassment? Intimidation? Being stupid? Maybe all of those things.

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I’m attending an excellent school right now, working on my masters degree in public history. It is honestly (maybe aside from moving away from home) the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to do. It’s not just because it’s challenging, which it is. It’s also because I feel inadequate and unworthy of doing something that is important. I almost feel like everyone else in the class has earned their right to be there and I haven’t.

On the one hand, I love it. On the other, I’m hindered by the fear that at some point someone will discover I am a fraud because my education is so one-sided and close-minded and biased. There are so many things I’ve been learning in my class that make me feel like someone was trying to keep secrets from me. Things I’ve never heard before about history, even though I do have an undergraduate degree in history. I’m in a situation where everyone else in the class is coming from a place of familiarity and understanding of what we are talking about in our discussions. And I’ve never come across such different ways of thinking. I like that I am starting to learn new ways of thinking, but it scares the crap out of me.

I live in a college town now and I love it. I think it’s a fantastic place to live. The University of Delaware is literally less than 5 minutes from my front door. I can’t help but be envious of the experience these kids get to have. I drive right through the middle of campus everyday on my way home from work and I feel a lot of regret with my undergraduate education. I didn’t do what I really wanted to do at the time because I was too afraid. After my first semester at PCC, I came home for winter break and told my dad right then that I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to transfer to a school closer to home and one that was not Christian. My dad just said I should finish. Which is funny to me now because he didn’t really believe in what PCC believed and taught and he wasn’t necessarily adamant that I attend a Christian school. I think it was partly that it was a very cheap school to attend, but also I was the firstborn and first to go to college and he didn’t know what else to do. Neither of my parents finished college when they were that age and I think he just wanted me to see it through. He had no idea how to give advice about what I should be doing for my future. So I was left in the dark.

I do believe that the source of my lack of confidence in my intelligence comes from much more than just my education. That is a huge, huge part of it, but the underlying feelings of inadequacy come from never knowing my feelings or opinions mattered. Home wasn’t a place where anything I might have to say was important or even considered valid. I never really argued with my parents. There were many times I was pissed at my mom but I didn’t argue with her, I just ignored her. She had ignored me a lot so it was a natural response to whatever I was feeling. Don’t discuss things, ignore them. That was the unspoken rule of the house. Ignore, avoid, pretend it isn’t there, don’t talk about it.

So yes, I question my intelligence. All the time. It’s an unending dialogue in my head whether or not I could do a job that requires a daily display of intelligence.

Another reason that I still constantly question my intelligence is that I had a friend who used to give a whole lot of unsolicited “advice” about what I should be doing to feel better. Basically it was that I should do what she does and I would automatically be happy all the time. Having someone who I thought was a good friend basically tell me, in so many words, to get over it and think positive as well as telling me that being friends with me is too much work pretty much crushed me. It also made me think that I didn’t have any capabilities of my own to think things through or figure things out or even put words together and try to talk to someone else. She made me feel like a small person that she looked at with pity and annoyance. She wanted to fix me, rather then just be there. And when I didn’t take all of her pithy, cliche phrases as sage wisdom, she dumped me. On to bigger and better things, I suppose.

I used to listen to the radio all the time in high school. Mostly conservative political talk shows like Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. We would listen every day in the car on the way home from school. Since then I haven’t really listened to the radio or watched the news much at all. I would get little tidbits here and there but I mostly just listened to music all the time. I recently just decided to start watching the news in the morning before I leave for work and I love it. It gets my brain going and makes me feel connected to the world more. It’s interesting now though because my politics have changed so much since my ultra conservative, Sarah Palin loving, Sean Hannity adoring days.