Growing up with my parents was like living with people who didn’t like us, and didn’t particularly want us around.
From the earliest that I can remember, my mother used aggressive language and unpleasant names to us. One of her favorite phrases was “You’re big enough and ugly enough” which to me meant: you are ugly. I learned early on not to go to my mother with any hurts, because she would laugh, not to ask questions or she would yell at me for being stupid and ignorant. My parents would show admiration for other children, but anything we did or created was criticized, sometimes angrily, or ignored. We were expected to know what to do and how to behave without being taught. If we did something wrong or made a mistake, the first we would know about it was the outburst of rage or slap round the face or both. Often I would be left not knowing what I had done to make them angry. My mother had no qualms about shouting at us or telling us off in public, she would trail me from shop to shop, announcing loudly – “She’s in the doghouse!”. I could not make things better by saying sorry, that would just start throw all over again. Things just had to be left to fester, and then I would hear her yelling that I was sulking. Nothing was ever forgotten, she would tell us off many times for the same thing. Neither of them gave any affection.
I was not shy when I started school, but found myself very lonely. For years I believed I must be basically unlikable. I think now that I found it difficult because I had not had any opportunity to learn to socialize before I started primary school, because we were not terribly well cared for, and because you have to learn your early behavior from your parents; if you have been exposed mainly to unpleasant aggressive behavior, it’s going to be difficult to learn to be pleasant and friendly. Two years were particularly bad: cold severe teachers combined with impaired hearing and short-sightedness and being moved ahead a year so that I was often held up in front of the class for making mistakes or doing badly in tests. But I still preferred being at school to being at home with my mother!
Although I developed some idea of what was likely to set my parents off as I grew up, they were so unpredictable that it was never possible to avoid unexpected bursts of disgust or rage and slaps. If I tried to stand up for myself, I would find myself in more trouble, so I learnt to be passive. I had to give a great deal of help with housework, and nothing I did was good enough or done fast enough. I would be shouted at if I asked for instructions and shouted at if I did something wrong. If there were a decision to be made, it would be wrong whatever I did. If I did to something to an acceptable standard, my mother would still turn her comment into a criticism by saying something like “Miracles will never cease” My mother frequently yelled regret at being a mother, we had no right to be in the home, we were there on sufferance. My sister started getting panic or anxiety attacks when she was 13 and was given Valium. My parents’ reaction was disgust with her, that a daughter of theirs could have mental health problems. I think I survived better because I buried myself in books, or daydreams when reading was not practical.
My mother often reported proudly how she was agony aunt for the girls she taught, but made it clear she did not want me to come to her with any problems. Late teens were very difficult and frustrating. Whenever I started to express an opinion, or let my personality show, she would be sarcastic, or tell me I was wrong or stupid. I had to keep my emotions firmly checked; even appearing cheerful or unhappy led to trouble. Our family doctor found I was underweight at 15 and thought I must be dieting – the truth was that it never occurred to my mother to give us more food as we grew older.
Things did not get any better when I turned 18 and was officially an adult. I kept going by believing that as soon as I left home to go to University, I would live happily ever after! Depression kicked in at the start of my second year. I didn’t want the treatment available at the time, so I was allowed to move back to a hall of Residence. I managed to get a degree and start working. I always felt useless, though, and used having a baby as an excuse to stop working. Later, when I found out about depressive thinking and low self-esteem, I realized that I had not needed to give up my career so easily.
Being at home has not meant being able to avoid making mistakes or inadvertently annoying people, and depression has returned over the last few years. I am taking cipramil and I hope that therapy while I am on anti-depressants will help me overcome all my unhelpful thought and behavior patterns. Finding out as much as I can about depression and the connection with self-esteem and childhood experiences has helped me understand my problems. It also helps to know that I am not alone in my experiences. Talking through our experiences with my sister is helpful, but I don’t feel bitter towards my parents and certainly don’t think that “confronting” them would help; it would just increase the amount of unhappiness all round to no good effect.
I am re-training and was recovering and enjoying my course until the actions of a member of staff put me back into a severe depression. At the moment I am working voluntarily in the field of work I want eventually to qualify in, and I love it so much I am getting better. I think that my self-esteem and self-confidence will always be very fragile, though. My personal future is uncertain but I have made every effort (and it does need determination to behave differently to your children than your parents behaved to you) to bring my children up to feel loved, wanted, respected, valued, and their achievements, gifts and personalities appreciated; and they are great kids.