Well, some more really obvious insights after my latest therapy session. I’ve always had a tendency to laugh when recounting some of the sadder/angrier/more traumatic things. I’ve always attributed this to either gallows humor or laughing so as not to cry. But when my therapist questioned me about it this week, I gave it some thought and realized just how much the shaming & the scapegoating played into things. While some of the shaming/scapegoating from my mom was meanspirited, some was meant as “just a joke”. This was the kind she’d invite my brother to join in with most frequently.
I learned that getting angry or sad would only prolong it. But if I laughed, the shaming/scapegoating ended sooner than it would otherwise. It also allowed me the illusion that they were laughing with me, rather than at me.
Again, this is one of those obvious things it’s very clear to see now, but I hadn’t in the past. I laugh at things that are angry or sad or scary because I’m afraid of prolonged shame if I don’t.
Another thing about the shame is that it led me to believe that everyone would feel the same way as my mother and brother did, only MORE so because they’re not family. I remember when a cousin on my mom’s side got married. This is my mom’s sister’s daughter (I’m not using names to protect everyone’s anonymity). She asked me to be a bridesmaid. I was in college with limited funds so I told her I had to check with my mom. This is my mom’s favorite neice. She would compare me unfavorably to her, even on the basis of things I had not control over, like how I’d be prettier if I had blonde hair & blue eyes like my cousin. I don’t, I have dark hair & brown eyes. Which if she was paying attention to her Mendel’s square in high school biology, she would have known she’d get from a brown eyed blonde & a dark haired, blue eyed combo. To her credit, she did eventually realize this was hurting my feelings. But she never apologized, just starting pointing out attractive brunettes. And she’s still freakin’ obsessed with the hair color. She regularly would tell me mine was too dark when I started dyeing it to cover gray. And when she heard I got a photo (at Christmas) of my cousin’s kids, the first thing she was asking about is did my cousin’s daughter have the same shade of blonde hair? She doesn’t, but she’s still a gorgeous kid with her own unique shade of hair color which is beautiful in its own right.
I don’t remember if it was the enagement party or the wedding. But people were dancing & having fun. I tried to encourage my mom a few times to get up on the dance floor. She made a sarcastic comment about, what are you the dancing queen and made some meanspirited remarks about my dancing. Now, I know I’m not that great of a dancer. Hey, even my friends in college would kid me about my dancing, but they did it in a gentle way, not a mean way. For example, one friend would start singing Maniac from Flashdance (released shortly before my freshman year). It wasn’t cruel.
But you know what? A family party isn’t some sort of Bob Fosse audition. It’s for people to have fun, enjoy & spend some time with each other. Not to sit back & pass nasty judgment on people. Too bad she doesn’t realize that.
It’s so hard NOT to internalize this judgment and think that other people are passing these harsh judgments everywhere I go. For example, when I started working out at the gym, I thought every single person there would be looking at me and thinking, “look at the fat girl working out, why is she even bothering”. But as a friend pointed out, they wouldn’t. Most would just be into their own workouts. She’s very fit & athletic, and she told me if she does notice someone heavy working out, she usually thinks “good for them, they’re taking control of their health & fitness”. While she wouldn’t say that out of concern for being condscending, she will nod to them and say hi, etc. as it’s appropriate (e.g. if it’s not interrupting their workout). I found people at the gym to be just the way she described. All that wasted energy on self-loathing on my part.
Since my mother shamed me on a regular basis on things like how I looked, how I spoke, how I walked, how I acted, from about 12-18, I was actually afraid to go outside to walk to the store for an errand. I thought people on the street would be looking at me and thinking the same things she said. Of course, now I realize how utterly irrational that is, but I didn’t realize it at the time.