Ashamed to Be Human
My Journey in Healing
Kayalin Z. Holsum
Copyright © 2016 Kayalin Z. Holsum
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781533678768
Library of Congress Control Number: XXXXX (If applicable)
LCCN Imprint Name: City and State (If applicable)
Session 1: Childhood Matters, Part I
Session 2: Childhood Matters, Part II
Session 3: Struggles in Adulthood
Session 4: Struggles in Humanity
Session 5: The Mental Health System
Session 6: Effective Therapies for Healing
Session 7: Six-Month Follow-Up
Session 8: One-Year Follow-Up
Session 9: Subsequent-Year Follow-Up
A Personal Note to My Readers
Childhood Matters, Part I
I felt delighted as I approached the building where my new psychiatrist worked. It was a genuine Victorian house that had been converted into an office building. I love old Victorian houses. They have so much workmanship and so much personality. I felt nervous about meeting a new psychiatrist. At the front door, I looked at the sign with her name and suite number on it. I walked inside, passed through the living room area where there were beautiful, antique couches and old-fashioned coffee tables, and knocked on her office door. She yelled out for me to come in. I walked in and sat down with my head bowed. I began biting my fingernails, and my legs already felt restless.
“Hi. I am Dr. Roses. You seem a bit nervous. Are you OK?”
“I’m OK, I guess,” I said. My long dark-blond hair was partially covering my olive-green eyes. When I looked up at Dr. Roses, I saw a woman with short salt-and-pepper hair, baby-blue eyes, and a genuine smile. Her office décor made it feel like we were in someone’s den at home. Plants and flowers were everywhere, and the mahogany-colored chair I was sitting in was big, soft, and comfortable. She also had a big floral couch. Next to it sat what looked to be a one-hundred-gallon aquarium, where a variety of beautiful, multicolored tropical fish swam lazily back and forth. Three paintings of various beautiful landscapes adorned the walls. After I’d taken a good look at Dr. Roses and the surroundings, I felt right at home.
“I see that you have been in the mental health system for about twenty-three years now. I got your records from your previous psychiatrists. I read that throughout the years, you have been diagnosed with several mental disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and major depression. Many mental disorders overlap, having the same or very similar symptoms. Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are very similar in that they both involve more severe emotional dysregulation, mood swings, and impulsivity than many other mental disorders. Therefore, it is common for people to eventually end up with multiple diagnoses. Sometimes, too, people have been misdiagnosed. I didn’t see any mention of self-harm. Do you now or have you ever harmed yourself by cutting yourself, burning yourself, and so on?” Dr. Roses asked.
“Between the ages of ten and eleven, I used to cut my toenails really short and cut off the skin on the bottom of my feet. I developed ingrown toenails because I cut them too short. Eventually, one of my big toenails got fungus, and the nail became deformed. Other than that, I haven’t done any more physical harm to myself,” I replied.
“I read that you tried to commit suicide three times and that these attempts landed you in a medical hospital as well as in a psychiatric hospital. Do you feel suicidal now?” Dr. Roses asked.
I shifted in my chair nervously. “I often feel like I don’t want to live in such a harsh world, but I never attempted suicide except when I was taken off Effexor XR too fast on two separate occasions. The psychiatrist tried to take me off this medication in less than a month both times. She wanted me to take Prozac in its place, but I didn’t. My brain doesn’t feel quite right anymore after these experiences. I think I have more cognitive problems since then. My memory is not so good, and I get brain fog often,” I said.
Dr. Roses frowned. “I’m so sorry to hear that. It was negligent of that psychiatrist to try to take you off Effexor XR so fast. Even though she wanted you to take Prozac in its place, it was still a mistake to try to take you off of Effexor XR that fast. I’m glad that you pulled through that ordeal. Are you stable on the psychiatric medications you are taking now? Do you have a steady job at the present moment? Do you take drugs or drink alcohol?”
“I am functioning better with the combination of medications I’m taking now, and I’ve had a steady job for the last several years. I’m working as a salesperson for a retail store. I never got into drugs or alcohol,” I replied.
“Good. People need to be stable in the present moment if they want to delve into their inner turmoil. I want you to tell me when you first starting having emotional and psychological symptoms.”
“Well, I can remember having feelings of anger, fear, and alienation since I was about four years old,” I said.
Dr. Roses’s eyes looked piercing and intense. “What was your childhood like?” the doctor asked, continuing to probe.
“It was very hard for me. My parents weren’t really equipped to be parents. Neither one of them wanted to be a parent. My father married my mother because she became pregnant with me, not because he loved her and wanted to be with her. This same thing happened between his parents. History finds a way of repeating itself. My father and I believe that she tricked him into marrying her by getting pregnant because she didn’t want to work. She wanted someone to take care of her. Instead, they divorced when I was about five years old—or even younger, I think—and she had to get a full-time job. She hated it. Years later, my father told me that he’d had to leave my mother or she would have killed him with her anger and negativity. However, he left me with her, so I had to bear the brunt of her insanity. I hated him for doing that to me.”
I was rubbing my cheeks and nose nervously. “My mother was very cold and very angry toward me. She blamed me for her problems, including the divorce, and I apparently ruined her relationship with her first boyfriend after the divorce. She was so mad at me for that. I’d refused to accept him because I wanted my father back. Everything was about her, and she never helped me through the pain of losing my father. She had several boyfriends after that, but I hardly knew them because she kept them at a distance from me. She had problems with all of them, because she had problems with men in general. She had the habit of picking men who had a different mentality than she did. She would then act superior to them and put them down all the time. Some of them would provoke her anger on purpose just to get a rise out of her.”
I shifted in my chair and rearranged my purple-colored skirt. “She often told me that she had to be my mother, my father, my aunt, my uncle, my sister, and my brother. I just needed her to be a normal mother, but she always twisted things around to make me out to be too needy. She said that whatever she did for me was never good enough, but the truth was that she didn’t do much for me except use me as a dumping ground for all her troubles. She told me to get off her back, but the truth was that she was the one always on my back, venting her anger and taking her frustrations out on me. Everything was twisted around. I felt guilty for my existence. She didn’t want me. I felt so worthless. I asked her why she hadn’t given me up for adoption, and she said, ‘Because there would have been problems with that, too.’ I was nothing but a thorn in her side. She would say that my father doesn’t care about me, because I hardly ever saw him throughout my childhood. She was very negative about people—and life in general. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. She was very angry, resentful, and bitter about being a mother—and especially about being a single parent. She would sometimes threaten to kick me out of the house.
“I felt very frightened, lonely, angry, and hurt. She was constantly complaining about everybody and everything. She believed that everybody was against her. I became so afraid of people and life, because she scared me so much with her tremendous anger and distrust toward humanity. I felt that she was slowly killing me with her anger and negativity. She also seemed to get angry and jealous if I had any fun. It was as if because she was miserable, I had to be miserable too. There is truth to the expression ‘misery loves company.’ My parents are from Europe, and I am first-generation American, so I had no family here in the United States. I was all alone.”
I reached for a piece of tissue paper from Dr. Roses’s desk because I was beginning to tear up. I could feel my face flush because I was feeling nervous about revealing so much about myself. But her caring smile and concern in her eyes made me want to continue to tell my story anyway. “I didn’t trust people and had trouble making friends. I also became a very negative and angry person, because I took on her personality and her view of the world. I mean, she dumped her problems on me, and I had nowhere to go. The ironic thing is that she was able to make and maintain a few friendships with women, but the friendships were not all that good. She often talked badly about them. I told her often that I hated her and would curse her out sometimes. Nobody seemed to understand or care about how much I was suffering. I remember seeing a therapist when I was about eight or nine years old. In the first session, she just stared at me strangely. In the second session, she mixed me up with another one of her clients. I didn’t go back to see her again. I felt so alone and alienated from everyone. Even though I didn’t trust anybody, I longed to have a family and some friends. I had—and still have—mixed feelings about people. I want to hurt them back, but I care about them at the same time. I don’t know how to show that I care about people, especially since I feel so much anger and hatred toward them at the same time. I have always felt so confused.”
I patted my eyes dry. “I was teased a lot in school and in the neighborhood. I had a neighbor, a female bully who was my age, who turned other neighbors against me by telling them that nobody liked me, not even my mother. God knows what stories she was telling them, because they often gave me nasty looks. Nobody had my back, and it scared me to death. I felt—and still feel—very angry toward specific people who hurt me and toward people in general. I’ve always felt that everybody has been against me. I ended up feeling the same way my mother felt about people. I tried to imitate another neighbor of mine who was the same age as me. She had loving parents and friends, and I thought that if I could act like her, my parents and other people would start to like me, possibly even love me. She got angry with me, though, because I was copying everything she was doing, and so the friendship didn’t last.”
I got up to go to the bathroom. “Where is the bathroom?” I asked.
“It’s halfway down the hallway,” Dr. Roses responded.
As I entered the bathroom, the décor made me smile. The theme was marine life. The walls were covered with underwater photos of fish, dolphins, sea turtles, and manta rays. The towels and bathroom accessories also depicted marine life. I looked into the mirror and saw my bloodshot eyes and disheveled hair staring back at me. After I fixed my hair and eye makeup, I went back to her office, sat down, and continued to tell my story.
“Anyway, I just sat around and watched television most of the time, because there was nothing else to do. The television filled the roles of my family, my friends, and my babysitter. I had to try to raise myself emotionally and psychologically, and I couldn’t do it. I believed that I was inherently a bad person. Nobody seemed to even like me, let alone care about me. I was always so confused, because nobody acts perfectly, and some people around me who were quite mean and dramatic still had family and friends who loved them. Why were the rules different for me than for everybody else? Why were people able to get away with acting badly, but I couldn’t? I just could never understand that. I wasn’t born a negative and angry person. I became this way because of how I was being raised and because of how I was being treated. I kept wondering what was wrong with people, and people kept wondering what was wrong with me. I’ve also wondered what was wrong with me. Why didn’t I matter? Why was I less important than everybody else? What is so wrong with me? I still feel this way today,” I concluded, tears springing to my eyes.
Dr. Roses nodded sympathetically. “All of that inner turmoil was a very heavy load for you to bear, and you understandably couldn’t handle it. You had no way to process this inner turmoil. You didn’t have any emotional, psychological, or physical outlets. You didn’t have a support system, and you weren’t involved in any physical activities that could have helped your body relieve some of the chronic stress that you were dealing with. Besides, you were an only child, so you had to handle your mother’s burdens all by yourself. You had to be the parent, but you couldn’t do it. No child can effectively be the parent. Single parenting is hard enough as it is if you don’t have emotional and psychological baggage, but unfortunately your mother did, so she wasn’t able to handle the job of being a parent. You had inadequate protection, guidance, affection, structure, and validation, so it is understandable that you developed inner turmoil and confusion. Also, having been so isolated with no support from others prevented you from developing good social skills. Children are resilient, but not without a support system. You were just a child who, like all children, needed love, support, understanding, and compassion. Unfortunately, you were met with coldness, hostility, and total invalidation. It is very hard and very damaging to grow up in an environment where nobody believes in you. People who grow up this way usually end up becoming criminals, alcoholics, drug addicts, homeless, and so on. I’m sorry to hear all of this. It was a very tough way to grow up,” Dr. Roses replied with a continuous concerned look her eyes.
“Because of how I was treated by people, I always felt that I didn’t have any value as a human being. I felt that I was looked down upon. I’ve always been a very sensitive person because I have been so vulnerable, so alone in my situation and in the world in general. I always felt that I was being judged negatively and blamed for the misfortune in my life. I know people wondered what was wrong with me since nobody liked me,” I said in a bitter voice. I could feel tension and tightness in my jaw. I noticed that I was touching my face a lot while I was talking to her. I do this often when I talk to people. I know it’s my nerves.”
Dr. Roses shifted in her chair and leaned in toward me. Her baby-blue eyes looked intense. “Chronic and severe invalidation is a common theme among people who are diagnosed with a mental disorder, especially a personality disorder. Pervasive invalidation often causes severe emotional and psychological distress to the very core of a child’s mind and sense of identity. This type of pain can manifest in temper tantrums, lack of concentration, impulsivity, paranoia, misbehavior, and emotional instability. Many maladaptive behaviors develop because there is no loving, healthy support, discipline, or guidance from parents or from other adults in the environment. You were left to fend for yourself and to try to raise yourself, and naturally you failed. You also developed attachment problems, because your parents weren’t able to bond with you. You formed the belief very early in life that nobody liked you or cared about you. In fact, you developed the belief that everybody was against you, causing you to develop paranoia, which makes sense. Your mother passed her paranoia on to you, plus other people ignored you or hurt you. Feelings of paranoia set up a black-and-white way of thinking about everybody and everything because such deep-rooted feelings of fear and distrust exist. These maladaptive ways of thinking are totally understandable when a person comes from an abusive background where little, if any, support or love was given. A child’s negative thoughts and feelings about themselves, other people, and life just keep building up and getting stronger if there is no positive outlet for them. I can’t stress enough how important it is for parents or other adults to acknowledge and deal with a child’s emotional and psychological needs and distress.”
“Wow, Dr. Roses, nobody has ever seen it or said it like this before, and you are right about what you are saying,” I said with wide eyes.
Dr. Roses sat back in her chair but continued to speak. “We tend to want to blame the victim, because we hate any perceived weaknesses in ourselves or in others. We often don’t really want to face the fact that we can be very cruel to one another due to ignorance and stigma. It’s painful to accept the dark side of humanity. Many of us turn a blind eye to poverty, starvation, dictatorship, sweat factories, corporate greed, wars, and parenting that is bad enough to cause mental disorders in children. Since many adults are often afraid of their own negative, angry, and hurtful thoughts and feelings, they have the tendency to tell children to stop acting like a sissy, to stop crying, to stop yelling, to stop feeling angry—they even try to tell them they don’t feel the way that they feel. Children are taught to feel ashamed to be human, and they bring these feelings of shame and guilt with them into their adulthood, often repeating this vicious cycle with their own children. When we are mired in feelings of fear, shame, and guilt, there is much suffering. Ignoring their distress is why so many children develop inner turmoil, behavioral problems, and even mental disorders, all of which continue into adulthood. History keeps repeating itself. Throughout history, children didn’t have basic rights with regard to their thoughts and feelings. They weren’t seen as fully human because they weren’t adults yet. Children weren’t mature enough to take all that seriously. Overall, things are better now for children, but there is still much neglect and invalidation going on in many families.”
Dr. Roses took a piece of tissue paper from her desk, blew her nose, and then continued to speak. “Children need guidance, support, love, and discipline. However, there seems to be much confusion these days about what healthy discipline is and what abuse is. Children need to be taught manners and respect on a consistent basis throughout their childhood. Children need to be socialized and disciplined, because even though we are born with the predisposition to be loving, caring, and playful, we are also born with the predisposition to be selfish, self-centered, and manipulative. Children are always testing the authority figures in their lives to see what they can get away with and what they can’t. Parents and teachers need to have the upper hand in dealing with children, but each child is different and therefore needs to be treated differently in one way or another. Some children need more validation and assurance than others. Each child needs to be seen as a valid individual who needs discipline and guidance but who also needs love and acceptance. For healthy emotional and psychological development to occur, children need to feel safe in their environment. They need structure and consistent training in learning how to respect others and in learning right from wrong.”
Dr. Roses took a sip of water from her glass. “From my experience as a psychiatrist and from my observations outside of the office, I basically see three types of child-rearing. I see the child who is being raised with little or no guidance, direction, or care and is therefore growing up to become self-centered and dramatic. When such children become adults, they often sabotage their well-being and the well-being of others, and they don’t know how to handle responsibility well. Then I see the child who is growing up neglected and abused and therefore develops many emotional and psychological problems. They tend to have the most problems when they become adults because they are too troubled and immature to handle people and life. And then I see children who are somewhere in between—enough discipline was combined with enough love so that more of a balance exists in their lives. Such a child will most likely grow up to be a more or less productive, healthy, and stable adult. This is usually how things work out in these scenarios, but not always. Nothing in life is black and white except for death. If you were born on this planet, you will also die on this planet. That’s a guarantee.”
Dr. Roses’s phone rang. It jarred us out of our conversation. She looked surprised because she thought she turned the ringer off. She apologized. After she turned it off, she continued with her speech.
“Anyway, unfortunately, many parents these days, for one reason or another, do not provide enough structure, discipline, guidance, care, and love to their children or they basically let them do whatever they want. As a result, many children are spoiled and feel a sense of entitlement, or they feel unwanted and learn to hate themselves, or a combination of both. Neglectful parents who don’t provide enough structure and guidance can cause many of the same emotional and psychological distress and conflict that abusive parents can cause in their children. Parental neglect is actually a form of child abuse. It seems to me that parents and teachers are afraid of disciplining children these days because they are afraid of being charged with child abuse and endangerment. Also, many parents are too overwhelmed, too self-centered, too busy, or too focused on work. Parenting often takes a backseat so that they can make a living and keep up with the ever-changing technology that now exists in the workplace. Many parents are too focused on keeping up with the Joneses. They are too focused on buying big homes and fancy cars, and the children are neglected in the meantime.
“Most women want to work because of the uncertainties of divorce or death of a spouse. There is a lack of trust between many husbands and wives. Moreover, people who don’t work don’t get Social Security when they retire, so I can understand women wanting to work. I also notice that there seem to be many modern parents who feel a sense of entitlement for themselves and for their children—or they feel guilty because they don’t believe that they are good parents in one way or another. I see this in the parents who get offended and upset if a teacher or someone else disciplines their child, even if it is done in a very nice manner. Parenting is the hardest and most important job in the world. Finding a balance between discipline and love is often very difficult for most parents, especially with today’s modern, hectic lifestyle.”
I nodded. “Yes, I agree with you. I work in a retail store. Whenever we ask children to stop touching things or to stop running around, many of the parents get upset, gather their children, and walk out. We say it in a nice way, so I don’t know what their problem is. I understand it better now that you explained it to me,” I said.
Dr. Roses leaned toward me and began to speak in a lower voice as if she was going to say something that was hard to hear. “You know, sexual incest isn’t the only incest that exists. Emotional and psychological incest exist too, but many of us don’t realize it. Emotional and psychological incest occurs when a parent is overbearing, intrusive, and domineering with his or her child. The child’s boundaries with that parent are broken by that parent’s unhealthy, relentless behavior. It is a type of violation. Your mother’s chronic anger, negativity, and hostility toward you violated your mental and emotional well-being. This is why you felt that she was slowly killing you. The truth is that she was slowly killing your self-confidence, self-esteem, inner peace, and sense of identity by chronically venting her problems and frustrations on you. When boundaries are violated like this, the result is usually a lack of boundaries with oneself and others.
“Many adults lack healthy boundaries in various relationships because their boundaries were broken when they were children by a parent, another primary caregiver, a teacher, a relative, or even a stranger. Victims of sexual or emotional and psychological incest often become victims of domestic violence, engage in promiscuity, abuse drugs or alcohol, gamble too much, or are involved in other reckless behaviors as a result. Whenever we allow someone to use us or abuse us, especially on an ongoing basis, that tells us that we lack self-respect and healthy boundaries for ourselves. Whenever we abuse ourselves on an ongoing basis, that tells us that we lack respect for ourselves and possibly even hate ourselves. In your case, you have been excessively negative and angry, and it has hurt your boundaries with yourself and with others because it is too stressful and energy depleting to live like that and to be around that. You stress yourself out as well as the other people around you. However, this is how you grew up, and you didn’t know how to be any other way, so I hope you develop compassion and understanding for yourself in this matter.”
I couldn’t believe how much she understood me already. “Thank you for your compassion, Dr. Roses. Everything you are saying makes so much sense to me. You have so much insight and understanding about the many damaging ways my environment really affected me,” I said. My tone was hopeful. I flashed her a big smile of gratitude.
Dr. Roses leaned back in her chair. “I think your high level of discomfort in being around people made them feel uncomfortable with you too. Probably some of those people would have liked you and hung out with you had they received a more positive vibe from you. We tend to act in a way that will repeat our history, even if it’s a very painful history, because it is very familiar and predictable to us. It is all we know. You probably acted in ways that caused you to get rejected by people because you expected to get rejected by people. If you had acted in a way that was more positive, then maybe some people would have wanted to be a part of your life. Sabotaging our well-being and undermining our chances to develop more positive relationships with ourselves and other people are very common and are nothing to be ashamed of. You’ve been afraid of acceptance and closeness because it’s unfamiliar to you, and it therefore scares you. This is a common pattern of behavior for people who have been neglected, invalidated, and abused. Deep down inside, they don’t believe that they deserve to be accepted and loved by others because they believe that they are inherently bad.”
I nodded. I remember another therapist telling me this too, and I know it is true, I thought to myself.
“The relationship you had with people has been and continues to be one of distrust and anger. People react to that, and you react back—it becomes a vicious cycle based on misunderstandings and ignorance. You get very upset when people don’t take you seriously. Then you overreact, and then people take you even less seriously, and that makes you overreact even more. This is a common vicious cycle because nobody involved in it understands what is really happening. Few people understand this type of dynamic that goes on within families and outside of families with other people. We tend to take people at face value without ever trying to make an effort to understand why people think and act the way they do. We strongly resist trying to understand ourselves and our family members, let alone friends, acquaintances, and especially strangers. This resistance is a natural part of human nature—we are afraid of exposing ourselves for fear of getting hurt, plus our egos often want to cover up our mistakes and faults. Saving face is very important to most of us. Most of us have vicious cycles going on in our lives that are based on fear, ego, ignorance, and a lack of honest communication.”
Again I nodded. My hair got in my face. As I swept it aside, I began to speak. “I always felt that people didn’t want to take the time to understand me because they didn’t care enough about me. They had their own selves and families to think about. I wasn’t a part of any family or group of people anywhere, not even at school. I have longed to be acknowledged—not just by my own family, especially my mother, but by other people, too. I couldn’t bear living so alone like that. However, I understand what you’re saying about causing much of my isolation by shying away from people out of fear and anger. My husband says that I don’t show an interest in people. But that’s because I don’t feel that anybody besides my husband has shown an interest in me. I realize that people don’t understand my situation, and so it really has become a vicious cycle. However, I can’t understand why people aren’t able to understand me and my situation on at least an intellectual level, whether they suffered abuse or not. Isn’t it just common sense that someone who grew up alone is going to have problems? Isn’t it just common sense that someone who was rejected and neglected is going to be needy and troubled? Isn’t it just common sense that our childhood experiences are our foundation to go on in life? I feel so alienated from people. People think I’m weird or crazy, and I think that everyone else is weird or crazy. My negative mind-set of always being a victim rules my life,” I said, my tears brimming again.
Dr. Roses sighed. “Yes. The pain of it all is very overwhelming for you. However, these types of vicious cycles are very common and are nothing to be ashamed of. They are understandable considering your background. The saddest part for children who grow up like this, or similar to this, is that they develop self-hatred. Children blame themselves for everything. They are too young to understand that they are not to blame for their parents’ problems—or anyone else’s problems, for that matter. Abusive or unhealthy parenting is caused by parents who lack self-awareness. Perhaps they had an abusive or unhealthy childhood themselves. History often gets repeated. Sometimes the unhealthy and abusive behaviors are the result of poverty, single parenting, physical illness, or stigma, and sometimes they truly believe that what they are doing is right. Usually a combination of reasons exists for why a parent’s approach is unhealthy or abusive. They may truly love their children, but they don’t know how to show it because they are deeply troubled themselves in one way or another.”
“Yes, there can be many reasons as to why parents aren’t able to be good parents. I never thought of poverty or physical illness or stigma as being possible factors,” I chimed in.
Dr. Roses readjusted her chair and took a deep breath. “Not all abusive parents are bad people. Most of them are immature and troubled. Your parents were like children themselves, especially your mother. When parents aren’t mature enough to handle the responsibilities that go along with parenting, problems arise. In your case, it was like a child raising a child. Your mother wasn’t able to act like a mature, responsible parent because she had too many problems that did not allow her to do so. She was more of a child than an adult, both emotionally and psychologically. Therefore, she wasn’t able to be a healthy, mature role model for you, so it is understandable that you weren’t prepared for adulthood. You were taught to hate yourself, to hate people, and to be afraid of life. These negative beliefs caused you to feel a heavy burden of shame and guilt for existing and for being a human being. It is logical that you developed a negative, victim mind-set. It is not your fault. It is human to do so in these types of situations. Being human is nothing to be ashamed of. By the way, most people are taught to hate themselves in one way or another either by their parents, other family members, certain religious beliefs, peers, the media, and so on.”
Dr. Roses got up to use the bathroom. As I waited for her, I watched the fish swim back and forth in their aquarium. Some of them had such beautiful neon colors of pink, blue, yellow, green, and orange. It is a joyful and relaxing experience to watch fish swim around. I was so engrossed in watching them that I was startled when I heard Dr. Roses sit back down in her chair.
Dr. Roses picked up where she left off. “Anyway, the unhealthy dynamics of the family system are often multigenerational and systemic. The only way out of repeating history is to recognize the unhealthy patterns and then work on changing them. A child’s troubling thoughts and feelings need to be acknowledged and processed, otherwise serious consequences can arise. Chronic trauma often causes the brain and the nervous system to get stuck in the fight, flight, or freeze mode—the stress response. You are then either in a state of underarousal/ hypoarousal or overarousal/ hyperarousal. A state of hypoarousal often causes symptoms to manifest in the form of depression, lethargy, and a lack of enthusiasm. People who are underaroused usually have largely unresponsive personalities. Their emotions are flat. They have a hard time feeling anything. On the other hand, the hyperarousal mode can cause your whole body to be in a constant or almost constant state of fear and anxiety. In this mode, it is very easy to get emotionally aroused, but it is hard to calm down afterward and return to baseline or a state of homeostasis. Insomnia is a common symptom of hyperarousal because the body has trouble relaxing enough to maintain a full night’s sleep.
“In the fight mode, you may have the urge to physically fight someone. You may cry, stomp, grind your teeth, feel angry, or have tightness in your muscles, including your jaw muscles. In the flight mode, you may feel restless, fidgety, or anxious, have rapid or shallow breathing, or want to run away. In the freeze mode, you may feel unable to move, numb, stiff, or heavy. Your heart may be racing, you may experience shallow breathing, or you may feel a sense of dread. Being in a state of stress too often or for long periods of time can wreak havoc on not just your mental health but on your physical health as well. Your muscles can become chronically tight, which may cause you to experience chronic aches and pains. You may get headaches often. You may suffer from chronic insomnia. You may have intestinal disturbances, like irritable bowel syndrome—the list of symptoms and disorders goes on and on.”
“I can relate to all of the symptoms you just mentioned, especially the chronic tight, achy muscles and irritable bowel syndrome that I struggle with,” I interrupted her.
Dr. Roses took a deep breath. “Also, the more a person is suffering with inner turmoil, the more they tend to lack a sense of humor. They become too serious, too vigilant, and too paranoid. A lack of humor has hurt your relations with other people, but you didn’t know how to have fun. You just had too much inner turmoil to deal with. This happens to a lot of people, just in varying degrees. I want you to know that none of this is your fault and that you are not alone or hopeless. Our childhood is our foundation to go on in life, so it is very important. Our relationship with our primary caregivers, usually our parents, is very important because it influences the rest of the relationships in our lives. There is nothing to be ashamed of,” Dr. Roses said firmly.
It took me a few minutes to absorb all of this information, and I started to cry again. Finally someone was really seeing me for the first time in my life. “Thank you for truly understanding me, Dr. Roses,” I said, sniffling.
“You’re very welcome. Unfortunately, our time is up for today. I hope to see you next week. Does the same day and time work for you?”
“Yes. Thank you so much. Here is my credit card for today’s appointment.”
“Thank you. I will see you next week, Kayalin. Take care the rest of the week, and please call me if you need to.”
“Thanks again, Dr. Roses.” After I signed the credit-card receipt, I walked out feeling exhausted. But I was also happy and relieved—I was finally being taken seriously and finally being understood.
Childhood Matters, Part II
I walked into Dr. Roses’s office with a big smile on my face.
“Hi, Kayalin. How are you doing?” she said in greeting.
“I’m doing well. I had a good week in general, even though I had more dreams than usual. Most of my dreams are centered around people hurting me or ignoring me in various scenarios with me telling them off.”
“I’m glad to hear that your week was good despite the disturbing dreams. Those types of dreams are common in people who have been traumatized. Is there anything else that you want to say before we begin?” Dr. Roses asked.
“No. I’m ready for this session with you,” I said.
“OK, then I will get right to it. What are the specific childhood experiences you had that stand out the most for you?”
I like the way she asks me to talk about the highlights of my life because it steers me into getting right to the point. “Several experiences stand out. I went to a public elementary school. I was kicked, punched, slapped, and had my hair pulled by the other girls. I would come home with bruises, so finally my mother put me into a Catholic school. Catholic school was tough too, but in other ways. The nuns were quite mean, and they disciplined us in a harsh manner. They seemed to treat all the children the same. They weren’t able to—or didn’t care to—distinguish between the children who were misbehaving because they were just acting like children and the children who were misbehaving because they were emotionally and psychologically troubled. I did badly in school because I had trouble concentrating. I spaced out a lot because I couldn’t handle the situation that I lived in. But they failed to see that. Instead, my report cards reflected bad grades, and their comments were always about how I don’t apply myself and that I could do better. I did especially badly in math, and one of the nuns who taught math would roll her eyes and let out big sighs in front of the class whenever I or anyone else made a mistake. I always felt so rejected. As far as they were concerned, I was just a sinner. At least, that was how I felt. I went to a public high school, which was better,” I said.
“Yes,” acknowledged Dr. Roses. “I’ve met people who were scarred from the harshness they experienced in Catholic school. It seems to me that generally there was too much discipline and not enough compassion and understanding by the teachers and the school staff. They didn’t seem to know how to acknowledge you, and therefore they didn’t know how to help you. Besides, they are educators and not the students’ parents, but nevertheless, it still hurts when you need help and nobody is there to help you.”
I started to play with my hair nervously. “Another experience that stands out for me was when I had a babysitter for a few months. She was an older woman that a friend of my mother knew. I went to see her after school every day for a few hours since my mother worked a full-time job. I often misbehaved because I was so angry, scared, and hurt. This babysitter would punish me all the time because of my acting out. She would often hit me. One time, she pushed me into her garage, turned off the light, and locked the door behind her. I felt so scared and so hurt that I cried hysterically and told her that I hated her. She didn’t understand that I needed help. To her, my mother seemed nice enough, so she didn’t understand the situation I was in. I don’t recall her even once asking me what was wrong. After a few months, I decided not to see her anymore. I just told my mother that I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t tell her or anybody else what had happened because there was nobody to turn to. I was all alone, as usual.
“I also remember a teenage neighbor of mine who babysat me a few times. She would get undressed down to her underwear and bra and have me touch her breasts and her vagina. Another babysitter I had scratched the linoleum floor on purpose and then blamed it on me. I never had anybody to talk to about these experiences,” I said, getting emotional again.
Dr. Roses cleared her throat. “These were traumatic experiences for you, and you couldn’t get any help for them because there really was nobody there for you. You had to deal with so much pain when you were growing up, and you acted out because there was nobody to talk to. It is understandable that you developed many emotional and psychological problems because of it. Many people suffer greatly during their childhood because they aren’t truly acknowledged by their parents—or by anyone else, for that matter. I am saying this not because I want to compare you to other people or stir up the anger you feel toward people but rather to tell you that you are not alone. Children think they are the only ones who suffer so much. When they become adults, many of them still believe that they suffered more than anybody else. It’s human nature to blame and shame ourselves for practically everything. You are no exception, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not a sign of weakness. Needing and wanting your primal needs met is simply human. Your primal needs aren’t just for food, clothing, and shelter. Emotional and psychological support and nurturing are also primal needs.” At that point, Dr. Roses came over to me and gave me a big hug, and I returned it. After a few minutes, she went back to her chair again.
I felt my body relax a little when she gave me a hug. “Thank you so much for the hug,” I said. “I’ve never had a mental health professional hug me before. It felt so nice. Anyway, another experience that stands out for me was when I visited my paternal grandmother, once when I was a young child and again when I was a teenager. Both times, I was smacked around for apparently misbehaving. I remember her hitting me when I went to the refrigerator to get a snack. Apparently I was only allowed to eat at mealtimes. One time, she locked me in her closet. When I was a teenager, she criticized my weight and told me that I was ill-educated and to be careful of my behavior. I often felt feelings of unreality because I didn’t know what I was doing during my time with her—or throughout my childhood, for that matter—that was so bad that I deserved to be abused. I wanted and needed someone to help me, not to punish me. I believed that I was some kind of criminal. I couldn’t figure out what my crimes were, though, and I believed that nobody wanted to tell me what they were. The punishment I received never seemed to fit the crimes I committed. Nobody cared about me. I felt, and still feel, very paranoid in general.” My eyes teared up again. I was touching my face a lot and biting my nails. My face felt hot and flushed. I could feel my muscles tense up again too.
Dr. Roses noticed my distress and began to speak. “You were a scared, angry, hurt little girl who needed love, compassion, and understanding,” Dr. Roses said. “The last thing you needed was to be punished and made to feel worse about yourself. Feelings of unreality are symptoms of disassociation. You disassociated from your feelings and from these situations in order to survive. It’s a defense mechanism, a coping mechanism that we use whenever a situation is too unbearable for us to deal with. None of these people you’ve talked about so far understood you and the situation you were in. They judged you on a superficial level, at face value, and that is not your fault. Their behavior toward you was due to their own problems and their own ignorance. Unfortunately, even if you’d stood up for yourself, most likely many of these people would not have taken you seriously because they weren’t able to understand the situation.
“Most of us live on a superficial level because it is less threatening to our egos. For so many of us, saving face is often more important than honesty and accountability. Many of us don’t fully realize that we are against a child’s well-being. We don’t fully understand that if a child is acting out, his or her troubling thoughts and feelings need to be taken seriously. We tend to believe that discipline and punishment are the only ways to go. It is understandable that you developed self-hatred and paranoia. You needed help, not punishment. So many people walk around with feelings of guilt and shame on their shoulders that don’t belong there. It is such a tragedy. I am so glad that you didn’t get into harming yourself physically because of all this psychic pain.”
I was thinking of how much Dr. Roses’s honesty and caring meant to me. “I greatly appreciate your compassion and understanding. I notice that I tend to have feelings of unreality whenever I can’t be honest and speak the truth about myself, my life, other people and their lives, situations, events, or humanity and life in general.” I said. “Anyway, I remember one night when I was hanging out with a large group of young teenagers who lived on my block. I was a young teenager myself, and although I knew all of them, I’d hardly ever hung out with any of them before. One of the guys asked me to hold his big radio, which I did. Then another guy pulled down my shorts, and my underwear was exposed. Everybody in the group, with the exception of two of them, laughed so hard that tears were streaming down their faces. Some of the guys went into the alleyway to pee. My underwear was beige in color, so they started calling me ‘brown underwear.’ I felt extremely humiliated and ran home. Later, two of the girls who laughed rang my doorbell downstairs and asked if I was OK. I told them I was OK, and then I heard them laughing again. I had no one to turn to. This incident highlights my deepest feelings of fear, hurt, and anger about being so alone in the world and about being treated as if I were a worthless piece of garbage rather than as a human being who deserved basic respect like everybody else. I often felt humiliated when people treated me badly.”
“I can understand why that event would stand out in your mind, Kayalin. It was a very painful and humiliating experience,” Dr. Roses said.
I took a sip of water from my water bottle. “I also remember going to summer camp. I felt scared of everyone. Kids would make fun of me. A few times, I found sand in my bed. One time, the other kids decided to move away from me while we were sitting and playing on a giant, round swing. Another time, I was hurt by what another child said to me. Crying, I called my mother from a phone in the camp office, but she didn’t help me, of course. There were people in the office, but nobody came to help me,” I said, loudly blowing my nose into a tissue.
Dr. Roses’s baby-blue eyes were filled with understanding and compassion. “I’m sorry, Kayalin. You were an easy target because you were vulnerable and all alone. I don’t want to feed into your anger and hatred of people, but unfortunately it’s human nature to kick people who are down. Even other animals have been observed avoiding, harming, or even killing one of their own that becomes disabled due to injury or disease or that becomes orphaned or that is different in some way. On a river tour in Costa Rica, I remember seeing a monkey who was apart from his group because the other members had kicked him out. The tour guide told us that the reason they’d done this was because he was albino and therefore wasn’t able to mate with the females in the group. Also, he stood out from the others, and that threatened their survival. He was all alone because of the color of his hair. Being different can be seen as a threat to one’s own survival as well as to the survival of the group. Since we are animals, too, and our ancestors where hunters and gatherers, we have these same fears. They are part of our evolutionary makeup. Nevertheless, it was clearly devastating for you not to get any help in that matter—or in any matter. You are not alone. There are other people who suffer from severe rejection and invalidation, and my heart goes out to all of you. It’s very sad that the more vulnerable a person is the more he or she tends to be treated badly. Nevertheless, I give my clients hope by telling them that they can still learn to forgive themselves for their vulnerabilities and learn to take good care of themselves in a wide variety of ways. Thankfully, there are people out there who won’t use your vulnerabilities against you, so there are people you can trust. You may not notice these people though because you’re totally focused on the people who hurt you in one way or another.”
Dr. Roses crossed her legs. “With that said, harmful gossip is often enjoyable for many of us. We get an ego boost from it. It’s often fun to laugh at another person’s expense. Making fun of others is a source of camaraderie among both men and women. It relieves stress and tension within groups. Children who were bullied often grow up to be insecure, depressed, and anxious adults. When we are children, we need general approval from the environment for our well-being. Children who have been greatly humiliated over and over again tend to develop feelings of rage and hatred. These feelings often get acted out in the form of aggressive or criminal behavior. Many criminals sitting in jail right now are victims of abuse and violence. Some criminals committed their crimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol or for money for drugs, and so on. Nevertheless, they still have to pay the consequences for their criminal behavior. For many criminals though, their behaviors can often be understood when you take their turbulent backgrounds into consideration.”
I cleared my throat. “I feel like I can tell you anything and everything because you really understand me. You really understand human nature. I just can’t thank you enough for all of this compassionate feedback you are giving me,” I said, and my throat and jaw relaxed a little bit.
I felt encouraged to continue telling my story since Dr. Roses showed me understanding and compassion. “When I was fifteen years old, my not-so-good friend and I met two seventeen-year-old boys at a movie theater. Randy and I dated on and off for a few years—mostly off. He broke up with me after several months of dating. I was obsessed with him. He took my virginity and ended up using me for sex in the long run. I allowed it because I was so lonely and needy. However, I really liked him, too. His friends made fun of me, but I kept trying to be a part of his life anyway. A few years later, his friend told me that Randy and my so-called friend were thinking about getting together behind my back soon after we’d all met at the movie theater. However, I’d broken off my friendship with her before I found this out. Soon after the break-up of the friendship, I ran into her mother on the street, and she slapped me in the face. I couldn’t believe it! Her daughter had not acted like a friend to me, but I turned out to be the bad guy. Anyway, I had a few one-night stands during the time I was dating Randy on and off. I didn’t like being used, but again, I allowed it because I felt so badly about myself. I got a bad reputation with Randy and his friends, and I didn’t stand up for myself about it. Instead, I felt that they were probably right,” I said, bowing my head in shame. My hair fell into my face.
Dr. Roses cleared her throat and shifted in her chair. “Children who have been abused often end up thinking and talking badly about themselves because they lack self-confidence and self-esteem. We basically teach people how to treat us according to how our primary caregivers and others treated us. You were taught to be against yourself. If nobody is treating you with respect, then why should you treat yourself with respect? Our views and perceptions of ourselves come from our experiences with other people, especially our primary caregivers. Your feelings of neediness and loneliness are very understandable under the circumstances, and they are nothing to be ashamed of. Again, we are often taught to feel ashamed for being human. Shaming ourselves and one another is one of humanity’s biggest problems. All we can do is learn to take good care of ourselves when we become adults. However, there are quite a few people out there who do have some kind of support system, and I’m sorry that you weren’t one of them. As for being used sexually, this commonly happens to women who were taught to hate themselves. Moreover, men and women are generally quite different when it comes to sex. Men are often more random and less emotional concerning sex, and women tend to be coyer and more emotional about it,” Dr. Roses stated.
I nodded in agreement. “I remember another time when my neighbor friend and I went looking around in stores. We were both around eight years old at the time. We were at a Chinese toy store, and I put a toy in my coat pocket. But it fell out of my pocket, and the Chinese man who owned the place slapped me across the face for trying to steal the toy. Meanwhile, my friend ran home. I wanted her to stay with me and comfort me on our way back home, but she didn’t. I felt so humiliated. I ran home and cried in my bed. I know what I did was wrong, but I had nobody to help me process this experience. Once again, I felt so devastated about being all alone in the world.”
I pursed my lips. “I find myself constantly ruminating about the coldness and rejection I experienced from specific people and from people in general when I was growing up. It always seemed to me that it only mattered how I treated other people, and it never mattered how people treated me. It never seemed to matter if people offended me, but it always seemed to matter if I offended people. I still feel this way. I feel deeply offended and hurt by people’s indifference toward me throughout my life. I think this is what’s hurt me the most. I often see people giving one another a hard time, and yet they make the effort to resolve their issues or at least engage with one another, whether the relationship is healthy or not. I, on the other hand, am rejected so fast and with so much indifference that I feel like I don’t matter enough as a human being to even be involved with—I’m not important enough to fight with or to cry about or to engage with in any way whatsoever. Why don’t my feelings matter? Why don’t I matter as a human being? Like I mentioned before, I have bad dreams almost every night. The dreams revolve around my getting hurt or ignored by other people in one way or another. My husband tells me that I often yell out in my sleep. Sometimes my yelling wakes me up, too. I am yelling at people in my dreams all the time because I don’t feel like I stood up enough for myself throughout my life.
“I remember someone telling me one time that my mother dressed well and dressed me well. My mother did dress well and was nice enough to people so they didn’t know what I was going through. However, there were people who knew that my mother was cold toward me, but they turned their backs on me anyway. Some of them used my situation against me by being mean toward me and taking advantage of my vulnerabilities, like I mentioned before. I was desperate for attention, for love, and for a sense of security. I was crying out for help, but nobody seemed to notice or care,” I said. My eyes were becoming bloodshot, no doubt the result of my weeping and stress.
Dr. Roses took a sip of water from her glass and nodded her head. “You are a human being with primal needs, just like everybody else. However, no one seemed to realize how much these needs weren’t being met, and again, that is not your fault. Besides, people do have their own problems and their own families to deal with. It was unfortunate that you didn’t have other family members around you to be supportive of you. You were born into an unfortunate situation. Even though it is up to families, mainly parents, to take care of their children and nobody else’s doesn’t mean that being invisible and invalidated by others doesn’t hurt. Many invisible children grow up to be dramatic and insecure adults, thus causing them to be invisible when they are adults too. Also, it’s important to realize that your anger and distrust has kept you isolated. Truly seeing that and feeling that on an emotional level is hard for you because you are—understandably—focused on the pain and suffering caused by the hostility and rejection you’ve felt from other people. You got the cold shoulder, and that devastated you, of course. However, as we talked about before, sometimes you gave people the cold shoulder first because you were afraid of rejection. We create what we expect. You expected rejection, and sometimes you created it. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, you have been afraid of true closeness with another human being. I don’t want you to feel badly about yourself. This is a common vicious cycle that most people who suffered abuse get themselves into.”
I knew she was right, but it was hard to hear that I created some of my isolation for myself.
Dr. Roses continued to speak with compassion in her voice. “On another note, we often feel angry toward needy, lonely, or troubled people because they make us feel uncomfortable. Trying to avoid discomfort and pain whenever possible is an inherent part of human nature. Also, we are predators by nature, and predators go after the weak. It’s another way of looking at our tendency to kick people who are down. Excessive neediness, anger, and psychic pain became your vulnerabilities, and nobody seemed to have patience or understanding about it. These vulnerabilities were created by how people, especially your parents, treated you. Again, this is all about the vicious cycle of ignorance, misunderstanding, ego, and human nature overall. But here is the catch—it is nothing to be ashamed of. We are human beings with limitations and boundaries. We are all vulnerable when we are children because we need to be loved, nurtured, and taken care of. The weakening of your attention span and concentration, your judgment, your personality, and your identity due to abuse and trauma are very understandable. Again, it is a tragedy that we feel ashamed to be human.”
“That’s so true, Dr. Roses,” I interjected.
Dr. Roses stretched her legs. “On yet another note, we tend not to like people who feel sorry for themselves, but that is a very natural, human response to abuse and trauma. The truth is that people who have suffered have the right to feel sorry for themselves. They have the right to feel a sense of abandonment, betrayal, and resentment. They have a right to feel empty, lonely, and depressed, and therefore to grieve for all that was lost. They have the right to be human. Problems arise, though, when they get stuck ruminating about all of it and don’t know how to move on with their lives. We also have a tendency to compare people who are struggling to people who have it worse. We say, ‘There are people starving to death’ or ‘There are people who are enslaved in this world’ and many other comparisons to try to get the complainer to shut up. Unfortunately, people who are suffering can’t just turn off their emotions or overcome their problematic beliefs and behaviors just by seeing the bigger picture. It’s good to see things in a broader perspective, but the relief from this is short-lived. They eventually go back to being self-centered. Also, seeing the bigger picture doesn’t teach them how to develop more effective coping and social skills. Seeing other people’s suffering doesn’t automatically mean that their pain will go away. In reality, these comparisons often add just another layer of guilt and shame on to them when they are already suffering too much from feelings of guilt and shame in the first place. Comparisons don’t necessarily help them to acknowledge their unhealthy perceptions, beliefs, or behavioral patterns. It certainly doesn’t automatically change their self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. They can only change them through insight, understanding, compassion, and practicing cognitive-behavioral skills. They have to undergo training in order to change.”
I just couldn’t believe that I found someone who understood me so well and who didn’t judge me negatively for my vulnerabilities. “I remember quite a few times when I would talk about my troubled past and my problems with someone and then they would compare me to someone else they knew, or didn’t know personally, who had it worse than me. I felt like they were telling me that my experiences and my feelings weren’t as important as the other people they compared me to. Another experience that stands out for me occurred when I was in my early thirties. I called an old neighbor of mine, who was stunned to hear from me—it had been about twelve years since we’d seen each other. I’d found her number on the Internet. She commented that my mother had never had any patience for me and that I had developed an inferiority complex because of it. What struck me the most was that she said it as if she were talking about the weather! Her tone of voice indicated to me that she didn’t take it seriously, as if somehow it was no big deal and that I would just outgrow it sooner or later. Her attitude sums up my overall experiences with the people I grew up around. I know now that people had their own lives and their own families to tend to, but this attitude still haunts me every day of my life. In my mind, my mother’s negative views of people kept getting reinforced for me by how the people around me treated me. Her message was that people are bad and untrustworthy, and because of people’s harshness and indifference toward me, I believed it. Like you said, this has been a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself over and over again,” I said. I couldn’t keep the sadness out of my voice. My hand was covering my mouth because I felt embarrassed about my situation in life.
Dr. Roses sat next to me and held my hand. “It seems to me that nobody realized you were actually being traumatized. We tend to feed into our own traumas by ruminating and talking too much about them, and we also tend to feed into other people’s traumas by treating them with hostility, indifference, and invalidation, such as what happened to you. Trauma is often not considered a natural consequence of child abuse as much as it is considered a natural consequence of war combat or a natural disaster or a plane crash or a car accident. If a parent seems nice enough and dresses well, then what is the problem? Unfortunately, there has always been a lot of ignorance about child abuse, the effects of child abuse, and about mental disorders in general. Even though psychiatry and psychology have been around for over one hundred years, quite a lot of ignorance and stigma about these things still exists, not only among the general public but surprisingly even within the mental health system.”
Dr. Roses continued to hold my hand. “Our primary caregivers, usually our parents, set the tone for how we perceive ourselves and how other people will treat us, and vicious cycles, or unhealthy energy patterns, are developed if abuse and trauma were involved. Again, we tend to teach people how to treat us according to how our primary caregivers treated us. Parents will often treat their children the same way their parents treated them. Your parents basically ignored you, and so did the other people around you. This, of course, was very traumatizing for you as a child. As I mentioned before, children need acknowledgement, love, support, understanding, and guidance. These are primal needs that need to be met in order for healthy development to occur. If this does not happen, consequences in the form of excessive neediness, emotional and psychological immaturity and instability, and usually the development of mental disorders in the long run will result. A child’s developing brain can be adversely affected chemically, and their mind can also be adversely affected psychologically from trauma. The brain and the mind are inseparable. It’s logical that you developed mental disorders because you are only human. You can’t be nonhuman, and you can’t be superhuman, either. But that was what was expected of you, whether anybody realized this or not. We can’t expect children who have been treated as if they were invisible not to have some serious mental and emotional problems as a result.”
I felt so much gratitude for her insights and her caring attitude. “Again, I can’t thank you enough for your compassion, Dr. Roses,” I said with tears in my eyes.
“I’m very happy to be here for you, Kayalin. Anyway, you have been asking too much of people by wanting them to acknowledge their own pain, the pain of their loved ones, and especially your pain and to understand it all in order to make it all better. Many people won’t do that because of fear, ignorance, or ego. Also, people have been asking too much of you, too, by expecting you to be healthier than your background allows and by expecting you to just get over your problems without really dealing with them. They don’t understand that you have been traumatized and that trauma takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work to heal. You have to change your identity in many ways, and that is much easier said than done. Also, many people think that you should automatically get over your problems as you get older, but that doesn’t usually happen if you don’t work on acknowledging and healing those problems in the first place.” Dr. Roses handed me a tissue from her desk because tears were rolling down my hot, red cheeks.
Dr. Roses cleared her throat. “The more a person has been traumatized, the more self-centered they usually become because they are drowning in inner turmoil. Also, victims of abuse usually develop a hypersensitivity to what people say and do to them. They care too much about what other people think of them. They spend a lot of time and energy ruminating and analyzing why people said this or did that to them. They also spend too much time thinking about what they said and did and whether it was right or wrong. This is understandable considering the rejection they experienced. I see these things in you, and again it is all understandable and nothing to be ashamed of.”
Dr. Roses got up and went back to sitting in her chair. “Some people who are doing just fine emotionally and psychologically can still develop addictions. For example, they may have acquired an alcohol or drug addiction in high school or in college because they wanted to have fun and fit in. Nevertheless, addictions often develop in order to cope with psychic or physical pain and suffering. Addictions are often caused by anxiety. Anxiety is usually caused by deep-rooted fears and insecurities. Addictions are deeply ingrained, unhealthy habits, but they can be replaced with healthier habits. We don’t just change our habits, though—we can also be changing the chemistry and the structure of our brains. This is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that changes in our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors can reorganize and create new neural pathways. Changing our unhealthy habits to healthier habits and possibly creating healthier neural pathways in the brain at the same time can take a lot of patience, time, determination, and willpower to do, but it is well worth it.”
The conversation was interrupted by my cell phone ringing. We were both startled. I apologized for forgetting to turn it off. Then I got up and told her that I was going to the bathroom. I told her to hold her thoughts because I was coming right back. I washed my face and sat on the toilet seat for a few minutes to take a break from our deep but important discussion. I broke out in a smile while thinking about her. I went back to her office and sat down. “OK, I am ready to continue our talk,” I said, feeling refreshed.
Dr. Roses jumped right in and didn’t miss a beat. “Anything can become an addiction, not just gambling, alcohol, drugs, or sex. Chronic anger and acting dramatic often stems from deep-rooted fears and insecurities, but they are also addictions. Drama is often highly addictive for many people. These are all very hard habits to break. Addictions are nothing to be ashamed of—they are a part of human nature. They are coping mechanisms for us. Suffering, negativity, and drama become many people’s identities, including yours, Kayalin. Who would you be without these things? That is all you know. Your identity is heavily enmeshed with your mother’s identity. You didn’t have a chance to develop an identity of your own. You need to create a new identity, and that is a scary proposition. We have to move out of our comfort zones in order to accomplish this. Both an individual identity and a collective identity exist. The individual identity consists of your personal talents, skills, and predispositions. The collective identity consists of things like growing up in a particular religion with particular traditions, particular music, and so on—in other words, the culture and society you grew up in. However, you weren’t able to establish either identity all that much. You didn’t have a chance to explore your talents and skills, and you didn’t really bond with anything cultural, although, you did watch a lot of television. We all need these identities to develop when we are children because it is vital to our well-being to feel a sense of belonging. For one reason or another, you felt like an outsider in every area of life. This is very damaging to a child’s developing personality and identity,” Dr. Roses said.
I couldn’t believe how well she summed up my life for me. I was amazed at how much insight she had about human nature. I never heard anybody talk like this before, and I found it to be so refreshing. This is the type of conversation I have been searching for my whole life—at least, my whole adult life. I wish someone would have spoken to me like this in my late teens or early twenties. “This is all so true! I have often felt that I was treated as nonhuman but expected to be superhuman, and in reality, all I can be is just human. You understand me, Dr. Roses! I do spend most of my time and energy ruminating and analyzing why people said this or that to me. I also spend a lot of time agonizing about what I said and did and whether it was right or wrong. I realize that I became hypersensitive to not being taken seriously. Then I would overreact because I wasn’t taken seriously, and people would ignore me because I was overreacting. Then I would get even more offended and frustrated, and people would ignore me even more. This has been such a vicious cycle throughout my whole life. I feel very beaten down by people and life. I’ve felt so exhausted from my emotional and psychological struggles throughout my life. I can’t understand why parents would want to beat their kids down when their kids are largely a reflection of them. Thank you so very much for seeing all of this, Dr. Roses. It means the world to me,” I said with a longing sound in my voice.
“Thank you, Kayalin. It is a pleasure to help you. You deserve to be acknowledged and validated. You deserve compassion and understanding. We all do. I believe it’s very important for people to understand why they think, feel, and act the way they do. We can’t heal and change what we don’t acknowledge. Now, I will give you an example of a very common vicious cycle, or energy pattern, as I like to call them. Many girls have grown up with an abusive father. When they become adults, many of these women continually draw abusive men into their lives because that is what they know. They put up with the abuse because they think they deserve it. These women have the impulsive need and desire to try to change these aloof or abusive men so that they can finally love them. What these women are doing is recreating the unresolved problems and struggles they had with their fathers in their relationships with other men. The struggle for positive acknowledgement, understanding, and love continues into adulthood. This is called codependency, and it is very, very common. It is about the inner wounded child who is still trying to get his or her primal needs met, only it becomes a vicious cycle that is often acted out on a subconscious level. They are continuing to try to get love from men who can’t give it to them, just like their fathers couldn’t give it to them. History keeps getting repeated over and over again. Many of these women don’t fully realize they are doing this. By the way, there are many men who are in the same position. They marry women who are cold, domineering, or unavailable, especially those men who had overbearing, needy, controlling mothers,” Dr. Roses said.
I nodded and took a deep breath. “I see toxic patterns in almost every family I know,” I responded. “What you told me reminds me of a former neighbor of mine. She grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. As a result, she’s had one bad relationship after another with various men. She has a pattern of getting involved with men who are unavailable and abusive, like her father. She kept recreating her unhealthy relationship with her father with these other men. She was trying to fix them, just like she was trying to fix her father when she was growing up. Once, her father came to visit her and her children. Well, he got drunk, and there she was, acting like his caretaker. She took on that role not only for these men but for everybody else too, thus becoming a people pleaser. The men she chose to be with weren’t that good to her daughters, either. Her daughters were totally ignored by their father both during their marriage and after it ended. The daughters were also pretty much ignored by the other men their mother had in her life after the divorce. Their brother was mean to them too. As a result, her daughters have problems with men now in their own adulthood. One of them acts the same way with men as her mother did, and the other daughter avoids men altogether. She is still a virgin, and she is in her late thirties now. Up to this day, this old neighbor of mine doesn’t fully realize these harmful patterns—or maybe she does, but she doesn’t want to talk to her daughters about them. I know this because my mother and I have kept in touch with her through the years. And I don’t think that her daughters fully realize these patterns in their own lives. Like their mother, either they are oblivious to what’s really going on, or they realize it but don’t want to deal with it. I know that my former neighbor didn’t mean to pass her problems with men on to her daughters, but she did, and if she wants a real relationship with them, then she has to come clean about it, face the feelings of guilt she has, and apologize to her daughters for it. Otherwise, the relationship she has with them will remain superficial, and no true healing can occur.”
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Kayalin spent her life feeling ashamed of her childhood abuse and trauma. She even felt ashamed to be a human being with feelings and needs. Kayalin was diagnosed with several mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and major depression. Then Kayalin meets Dr. Roses, a new psychiatrist who shows compassion and understanding for her troubled mind and soul. Through several sessions with Dr. Roses, Kayalin learns to understand herself and her life more deeply. Dr. Roses also guides Kayalin in the right direction towards healing her pain and suffering by practicing cognitive and behavioral skills and making several lifestyle changes. Come take this journey with Kayalin and learn the same tools, psychotherapies, and lifestyle changes that helped Kayalin gain self-acceptance and inner peace so that she could finally be able to move on with her life.