Saturday, 19 March 2016

Forming Your Sense of Self ....That Can Carry into Adulthood

This is new to me---exploring this thread of invisibility. Tugging on it to see what unravels.

Only last year did my mother say to me, "You and your boys are very close.  I see how you keep them near and how they like to spend time with you."

At the time I had no idea where she was going.  I knew she was very close to her mom so I suspected it was yet another shot at me for not answering the phone when she calls.  That's another story though...

"When your dad and I were kids didn't come first.  I always put your father first."

I didn't know what to say at the time.  There didn't seem to be any judgement attached to the statement, more like it was something that just occurred to her.  Only later, as I rifled through my memories of kids' dinners and separate, late night parent dinners....frequent sleep overs at my grandparents or "aunts'" houses to allow for parent vacations, did I see the truth in that. 

Don't get me wrong, my parents were always there for the important things but they also tried to protect their own time....I just never saw it as a conscious decision.  

And when their 27 year marriage ended in divorce ( a complicated mess ) well before I had kids, it clearly shaped my own parenting.  

A person’s self-concept is develops slowly, over time, through interpersonal interaction and one’s experience of being evaluated in social situations.  So when at nine years old, the age I began to feel invisible, my family would have provided the majority of my experiences.

My dad worked long hours; my sister developed learning disabilities and food allergies; I was no longer the only child or grandchild and my mom disappeared into a world of tennis games, part time jobs and spending time advocating for my sister's education in her classroom.

Mom coffee dates were a big thing, and I was toted along, expected to play with "the kids" at whoever's house we landed at.  These were my first friends.  My mom's friends's kids.  I was an only child for most of that time and my mom's friends all had two or more kids so it was an interesting dynamic to see how siblings worked.  

Most often we were at my aunt's house; my mom's big sister. My cousin, 2, 4 6 and 8 years older than me were outgoing and athletic.  I was neither; but as an only child had a lot more toys and cool things!  They would often  gang up on me and find some way to abandon me, ignore me, tease me or leave me out.

These experiences contributed to my self-concept that I had little value in society....and started a pattern of trying to find ways to escape. When things got uncomfortable I would vanish to the bathroom---just leave--- and find a safe place and lock the door.  

Sometimes I stayed in there so long my cousins would leave the house and go outside to play, forgetting I was there. 

Other times they banged on the door, accusing me of hiding.  That suited me just fine.  After a few years, the banging became less and the ignoring became more.  

Soon I became very interested in knowing where the bathrooms were wherever I went.  I needed to know I had an escape.  I needed some sense of control.  I invented games in our small bathroom at home where I often went to escape my parents.  The game centred around the bathroom being where I lived.  I imagined a bed that flipped out from the wall, an instant food machine that made whatever I requested and an autopilot so the whole thing was on wheels and I could travel the world.  

It's a slow process---becoming invisible.  Repeated experiences reinforce the message---that you are unable to influence your own life, and while many people will probably say, this is just all part of growing up, if it influences your self-concept, it will be something you carry INTO being a grown up.

I still use the bathroom as my escape.  Common among moms trying to get a break from their kids--and husbands who take in their favorite magazine, I still use it in social situations when I start to feel invisible--when my witty comments no longer dazzle--when the focus moves to someone else--when I start to feel invisible.  

And this is where it comes from. Trying to find a way to become real in a world, that at nine years old, felt like it was trying to erase me.

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