A CROSS TO BEAR?
I’ve mentioned the impact our formative years can have on our attitude and our perception of who we are as we grow up. For some of us, our negative formative experiences can wound us deeply and influence how we see the world and how we treat other people.
In the semi-autobiographical book I’m writing, tentatively titled “The Wise Old Man & the Kid - A Guide to Living a Positive Life”, Davey, the old man, continues relating his life’s experiences to 12 year-old Noah.
“Even though I was in my late 30s when my first marriage came to an end, I had the emotional intelligence of a child,” said Davey, offering Noah an apple. They hadn’t bothered to start fishing. The past couple of days they’d fished for several hours without even getting a bite to encourage them. Today, without even talking about it, they both took up their usual positions on the jetty, Noah, with his legs dangling over the side and Davey, sitting with his back supported by one of the jetty poles, leaving their fishing tackle undisturbed.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s taken me many years to work that out. But I now know, although I have to be careful how I express it?”
“Why?” said Noah, taking a bite of his apple.
“Well, I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I’m not prepared to take full responsibility for my attitude and behavior by blaming others. Anyway, this is what I’ve figured out.”
(Extract from Davey’s autobiography)
Looking back, I now have a reasonably clear idea why I was such a cold, uncaring, unemotional person withholding affection, attention and appreciation from my partners who certainly deserved better treatment. Also, I came to understand why my over-the-top outbursts of anger erupted, usually expressed in verbal abuse, whenever I felt my partner was encroaching on my private and secretive, emotional domain.
I thought my non-giving, or my angry reactions, were appropriate ways to protect myself from being vulnerable – from being wounded and hurt. If I didn’t open up and expose myself emotionally to my partners, there was no way I could be hurt. Or, if my behavior was challenged in any way by my partners, I could deflect their justifiable criticisms by howling them down in a shower of anger to protect my thin skin.
Where did this skewed attitude come from? No prizes for guessing the answer. From my formative experiences, of course.
First the influence of my parents. Dad, unable to approve of me or give me the attention I craved. Mum, with her emotions tightly bottled up for her own protection, incapable of expressing tactile warmth and affection. These perceived lacks in my parents’ behavior imprinted themselves on my mind in a negative way.
When I was young I loved my parents unconditionally, yet I thought they didn’t reciprocate. I concluded I was unlovable. I didn’t realize then my parents’ lack of affection was to do with how they felt about themselves as a result of problems and obstacles they were grappling with within their own minds. However, there’s no denying I took things personally and was deeply hurt by their seeming neglect in this regard. This left a void of love and affection in my attitude. If my own parents let me down how could I trust anyone else not to hurt me if I exposed myself emotionally and gave myself to them wholeheartedly?
As for anger, I’m sure I adopted my father’s attitude as well, although this trait didn’t surface until I was an adult. Whenever dad was confronted with things he couldn’t handle, he’d erupt into threatening, abusive behavior. I was still scared of his fiery temper after I became an adult, so imagine how it affected me when I was a child.
Rejections by girls during my formative years; my unpreparedness and ignorance of how to deal with the impact of puberty on my body and on my mind – also played an influential part in the development of my crippled attitude and shameful behavior towards females.
In short, the accumulated effect of my formative experiences wounded me and, in order to mitigate the pain, shaped my decidedly unhealthy attitude towards females. However, by seemingly protecting myself, I was deliberately attacking, humiliating and hurting my partners.
Because of my self-serving behavior, my guilt was piling up – both at the conscious level (albeit, unnamed or unidentified guilt) and at the subconscious level. I didn’t know at the time we’re all programmed by the ego to believe that guilt deserves punishment and, unwittingly, I was already meting out self-punishment as my self-doubts and lack of self-confidence crushed my inner spirit and my joy of living and I spiraled from a negative attitude into depression.
Furthermore, although I was consciously aware of what I was doing to my partners at the time, protection of my fragile feelings came first. As far as my egocentric self was concerned, the pain I was causing others was mere collateral damage.
I was readily prepared to blame my parents for my cold-hearted attitude. It wasn’t my fault. I’m the innocent victim. There’s nothing I can do about it.
It wasn’t until I was in my 60s that I began to understand that hiding behind my parents’ attitudes as an excuse for my appalling behavior was unsustainable and the responsibility rested squarely with me to change my way of thinking and heal my wounded psyche. It wasn’t a cross I had to bear all of my life, nor was it justification for the way I treated my partners. It was up to me to do something about it.
Can anyone relate to the old man’s attitude and behavior?