Quite suddenly, with no warning, I am crying. Trying to hang the colourful washing out on a lovely warm spring day, almost unable to see the line and the pegs through tears, I feel this enormous surge of grief welling up in me and over-flowing. I could pin-point it to specific incidents (was hoping to see friends this afternoon, but they can’t make it), but, in truth, it is a storm held back for too long; it is banked salty water tethered unstably behind the dam of my tomboyishness – and all the implications that holds.
I don’t know where this came from, though I must assume childhood: This sense I have that I am not, in some crucial and mysterious way, entitled to express my true emotions; that I must always forgive, understand, make allowances for the behaviour and words of others – and that to show anger or sadness is manipulative and selfish.
My beautiful dress, with its shimmering colours, represents so much – not just about the ritual weekend, but about where I am as a person, what is churning away and growing and seeding and budding and tsunami-ing away inside. Though lovely, my creation is the colour of bruises – and, in truth, I do feel bruised inside; I feel as if I have been ‘hit’ time and time again with a very heavy object, a weapon ‘clever’ enough not to break the skin or draw blood, but leaving its purply-greeny-bluey-fading-to-yellow mark behind anyway.
A charge levelled so often against me is that I over-react. This has trammelled up my natural instincts and means that, for the most part, I barely react at all. I apologise when people hurt and upset me, assume I have got the wrong end of the stick or am a drama queen because, after all, no normal person would be wounded by such things. Would they?
I have this deep fear, which I recognise, of being found worthless – and I can see that I often go to ridiculous lengths to try and prove my worth. I fear being replaced in the hearts and minds of others, as if I were little more than a chorus part in the play of my own life. This is an ancient terror, but a very real one. I think, psychologically, I will accept a minor role, even a non-speaking part, as long as I do not fail the audition altogether; as long as I am not told to go away, told I am not wanted.
Do others reading this get these flashes of bone-deep insecurity? This awful questioning of self-worth; this asking, ‘Will you still be my friend today? Or will something about me cause you to push me away?’
Why, then, do I so often say, to others, ‘It’s all right. I understand. I don’t mind,’ when my heart is breaking and tremors of anxiety are pulsating through my body? Why don’t I yell, ‘Face what YOU have said/done and stop projecting it all onto me! Quit blaming my response and start taking a good look at your fucking egregious behaviour and attitude towards ME.’
I know logically that I have just as much power to reject as anyone else; that I should, often, have booted people out of my life when they consistently abused, hurt or denigrated me. But, until I can somehow shake off the mind-set that it is NOT abuse so much as deserved, and necessary, training of a difficult individual (me), I shall continue to ‘invite’ gaslighters, users and other horrors into my life; I shall continue to believe that I am abnormally sensitive to criticism and that people who fling verbal mud in my face are merely trying to help me. I will continue to allow others to walk all over me and treat me like garbage.
Part of me is saying it is utterly PATHETIC: Here I am, nine months away from reaching sixty, and I still cannot stand up for myself. It makes me wonder if I ever will, and that is such an anxiety-provoking thought that I wish I could unthink it.
Let me share the worst (in many ways) and most insidious thought which always accompanies any such distress: That I am an option, an understudy, only useful if the main player is sick.
I am not sure if anyone ever told me, specifically, ‘You must not cry…’ but I sensed that it was frowned upon, seen as the wimp’s way out, seen as something to be controlled and overcome. And yet – there was something oddly comforting about the sensation of tears dripping onto my arms, down my face and, in some cases, onto the clothes I was pegging out. Perhaps this was a far-off memory, a hearkening back to a time and a place when it was absolutely fine to cry – and when physical comfort was available.
Too often, people have accused me of taking their emotional punches the ‘wrong’ way. But my feeling is, increasingly, this: Take responsibility for the pain you cause others and do not blame them for your own rudeness, thoughtlessness or need for cruelty. If you want to harm another, do not lie and make it into some kind of generous act of therapeutic benefit.
So: Why do I apologise to those who have wounded me? Because I am afraid that, if I don’t, they will have nothing more to do with me. Ironic, isn’t it? Grovelling, in effect, to the worthless. Shows how low my self-esteem is, doesn’t it?
It is very hard for me to tell myself that I am amazing.That I am worth befriending and loving and being with. That I might even pass the audition with flying colours and get a starring role. I attribute this to the fact that seminal figures in my life have implied, strongly, that I am only worth bothering with if I am endlessly nice, kind, patient, don’t ask for attention or cry, accept that I am second-best (or third, or fourth) – and always do as I am told.
I didn’t know that these wounds still had so much fresh ‘blood’ in them.
And, I am suddenly furious that the world still deems such training as the above to be appropriate for little girls – and grown women.
Yes, I weep – but I sense that rage is boiling away behind it too.