I moved through childhood doing as I was told out of fear of being physically or mentally punished. I had very little freedom, but I didn’t view it as an issue because I got used to being controlled. I became passive from an early age and rebelled against nothing. I sat back and watched classmates, other village children, and relatives willingly attend social gatherings, date, argue with parents, or explore their boundaries. While I remained docile, attending zero school functions and only making friends with groups my family and parents approved of. I was too afraid of disappointing the adults in my life, but mostly I wanted to avoid corporal punishment by any means necessary. My will and spirit were broken like a dog or an enslaved person who no longer had the urge to run away from their master. This strict background wasn’t the only reinforcement that kept me in line, but the attitudes and behaviors of my peers had a similar effect on me. I was molded in such a way that I was easily offended by the ill-treatment I received from my peers. When I entered school and noticed the prevalent need for others to ridicule me and how it affected my emotions. I stared clear of groups who didn’t view me as a complete person. In doing so, I cut myself off from having many experiences. Like my mother, my peers made me feel worthless and diminished my need to stand out. So, socializing became something I didn’t look to for enjoyment because it bought anxiety.
Human beings have interesting methods of dealing with stress in their environment. When stress frequently occurs in a child’s life, they tend to find various modes of escape: repression, behavioral changes, developing nervous or avoidant habits, refusal to participate in activities, or creating unreasonable fears. When my stress was at its highest, it manifested in nightmares, bedwetting, nail/lip biting, panic attacks, jumpiness, and irrational thoughts. I suffered in silence because I assumed it was normal, but mostly I was too embarrassed to talk about it.
An excellent example of how stress played a significant role in my life was how I dealt with new situations or returned to certain spaces after experiencing a long break. For most children, starting school is filled with nervousness and excitement. I was always anxious when I returned to school, and it didn’t matter if I was returning after summer, Christmas, and Easter break, or a long 3-4 day weekend; I was always anxious for at least two weeks to a month after returning. This would amount to butterflies in my tummy, an inability to eat throughout the day, sweaty palms, jumpiness, vomiting, and on rare occasions, fainting spells. It was like this for most of my life until I joined the military and realized that it didn’t matter what my perception was about my environment or self. I was there to get a job done and then leave, but even with that mentality, I still got anxious when I entered new spaces. So, I had to learn to focus intently on only the task at hand, to see it through from beginning to end, and focus on the idea that nothing lasts forever. Whenever I entered an uncomfortable situation, my mantra was, “it will be all over soon.” While this helped me focus on a goal, it felt as if I was too focused on having various activities end instead of stopping to enjoy the happier moments within them.
In 2010, I was sent off to a 6 months course to be trained in a particular skill. It was challenging to get into, with only 100 seats per year. I recall having a tough time there and ended up deep in a secret depressed for months. I remember always hoping that the discomfort would be over soon. There were many moments to bond with the other student at bars, restaurants, or attending social events. I didn’t because I was too focused on hoping that the few negative experiences I was having would be over soon.
Never Go Back
After graduating high school and leaving home, I knew I could never go back. While some of the things I dealt with may seem awful to others. It felt normal, which made departing home very hard for me, but my mother was happy to have me leave. Five months after I left, I returned for Christmas break to find that all the things I left behind, whether that was clothing, school projects, artwork, books, and even my linen, had all been thrown out. I was disappointed and realized that I no longer had a place there, but the more profound realization was that I understood that I never had a place, to begin with. Knowing this made me feel homeless in an emotional sense and singed roots. So, I became like a propagated plant changing vessels as I grew but never able to be planted in the ground. This fact can be seen in my record of never living in a place for more than 3 – 4 years after the age of 18.
Whether it was for better opportunities, escaping pain, or boredom; the need to move on was and still is irresistible. When I departed a place it’s as if I was never there, I took very little friends with me and on available with each place I’ve only ever stayed in close contact with 1-2 people. Perhaps psychologically I have a fear of committing to anything. I can’t commit to buying a car because I never stick around long enough to drive it or house because it seems too permanent. I really want a pet, but fear that my moving would disrupt its peace. I can’t even personalize my office space with items that are uniquely mines because I know I wouldn’t stay long. If I had to analysis this behavior, I would say that it’s a combination of having too many choices and opportunities. Followed by feeling like I don’t belong.
Years ago when I entered into my only serious relationship, I reluctantly moved in with him. I entered that relationship with two large suitcases and never truly unpacked until 2.5 years after. I spent those years living out of my suitcases only to wash and fold my clothing every week and place them back into it. Back then I didn’t even realize I was doing this and somehow thought it was normal and used the excuse of not having enough space. But, that act was me not wanting to take up space in anyone’s life while priming myself for disappointment. For the fear that once I unpacked my bags the time to pack them would soon come.
Friend on the Fringe
My first school-age friendship started in the 3rd grade with a girl named Marsha. We were such good friends that my mother once allowed me to visit her for a weekend. This was a big deal because she wasn’t a relative and didn’t live in my village. When it was Marsha’s turn to visit, she only came once, and I never invited her again. My mother ended her visit to our home by denoting how overweight she was. Once again, I was deeply hurt by her sentiments; I never disclosed this fact to Marsha or anyone but kept up the friendship until we left primary school. Years after, I became good friends with a girl in my village who everyone gossiped about. Her mother was ill, and her father cared little for her and her siblings. We were in the same classes when I entered high school and bonded over not “fitting in.” Once my mother noticed how close we became, she demanded that I never enter her house and never invite her inside our home. She said that she was unclean, and in careful words, I learned that I wasn’t to go to her home because her father was a pedophile. I didn’t know what a pedophile was back then and could barely decipher why I couldn’t stay over at her house. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mother was right in her demands. I later learned why my friend had such a complex home environment when I got older. Once I found out, I was bitter and angry with the adults who possessed such knowledge and did nothing to stop it. Two years before graduating high school, she dropped out and moved away. I then made friends with two girls in my village who were in the same classes as me. We clung to each other primarily out of academic need. I was the friend on the fringe, the studious but unattractive friend. These two girls were closer to each other, but I became the third wheel they didn’t mind having around for some reason. When I left high school, I tried to stay in contact with them, but my efforts were one-sided. Life got in the way, and we drifted apart.
I started looking at my so-called friendships over the last 6 years. I can’t say I have any true friends, only a scattering of people I knew from various periods of my life linked to my career. Some I haven’t seen in years, while a few I have willingly stayed in contact with, and on rare occasions, I get to visit them. My friends at any period in my life seem to be the people who are easily accessible. Unfortunately, these connections are mainly through my work, but there are a few I met while traveling. Many aren’t the type of acquaintances I could safely ask for a favor without having guilt crawl in the way. Most of our interactions are tailored around specific experiences, but I hardly share anything of extraordinary significant about my life with them.
Working in hostile or unhostile environments, I have met many characters. If I came in close contact with over 2,000 people with “close contact,” meaning I have worked directly with them or had an extended interaction lasting more than 90 days. Out of that 2,000, I find that I am capable of being acquainted with a dozen but only being drawn to 1 or 2 persons on a deeper level. I have honestly had a less interesting time with “friendship” and “acquaintances.” I can think of 30 individuals who have made the words friends or acquaintances synonymouswith awful. I have observed a trend with me and certain types of people that often leaves me a bit worried about people in general. I’ve had situations with primarily female friends with a sprinkling of males who I would describe as users. While I am at the age where I no longer willingly put myself in situations where people can ask me for money and expect me to lean it. I am still not over the phase of being a people pleaser and feeling like I have to help others whenever they bring their problems to me. I have learned the hard way 30 times, despite going out of my way to help others, whether for trivial matters such as babysitting their pets or picking up the tab for lunch. To the more serious demands, such as a friend asking to borrow $3,000.00 or assisting them with access to proprietary information.
In more cases than not, I can see through their pretenses, while other times, they are so convincing that they even fool themselves. Through the exchange, they make promises that I never force them to make. They fool even themselves and me into believing their own words as these are the extra key to convincing me of sincerity. Once a favor or two have been done, they slowly or abruptly disappear from my life. While I can honestly say that life usually gets in the way. Like with my high school friends, I keep making an effort but slowly fade away, becoming a friend on the fringe until all connections disappear.
Thus the result of trauma manifests in a strange form of people-pleasing mixed with a hint of sociotropy. It’s not quite these things, but it touches the surfaces of each, making the matter too elusive to grab. Spending my formative years feeling unsafe, living in discomfort, and being ready to respond to demands; made me feel like I had to do whatever it took to make everyone I encountered content or at least not upset with me. I had to survive somehow, so I learned not to anger parental figures and to do whatever it took to please them. I had to keep my mother happy with me through academic excellence, being organized, not giving into impulsive behavior, and never being the type of person others had negative things to say about. As an adult, I have discovered that being a person never spoken poorly about isn’t an inadequate endeavor. The problem comes with the strain and pressure of balancing everyone’s needs, which leads me to anxiety, depression, self-criticism, distress in interpersonal relationships, and discomfort with asserting myself, which ultimately have crafted a miserable life. It leaves me blind to the people I encounter who don’t deserve my attention or time. As an auto default, I push aside the hurt that will possibly come my way to satisfy their needs. The need to constantly be friendly to people who hurt me was engrained as a child who was saddled with abusive parental figures but still searched for their approval and love. The conflict in all of this often comes when I ponder whether I am being nice because I want to or because I was programmed to do so in return for positive admiration or merely not to be hurt? Is my default need to please authentic, or is it solely manufactured to extract the desired reciprocal behavior I need?
…end of Act II