the lie in my head @ any sort of setback or conflict

I catastrophized a lot of things in my childhood and young adulthood. Whenever a conflict came up or I was afraid something would go wrong, my heart rate would spike, I would get sweaty, and I would go into flight or fight mode.

I remember in the fifth grade, I lost about a day’s worth of work on a school project about our state. I threw my papers on the ground and I shook my computer screen, and I wailed at my mom that I was going to fail this assignment. That everything was horribly wrong. And I raged and screamed at my mom.

It happens today too. Less outward raging, but the sinking feeling that I will never be able to recover from this setback remains. I’m still exploring the specifics of the why and how, but I believe this is tied to my sense of helplessness, fragility, and incapability that was fostered within me from a very young age. It’s easy to see how the macro-level variables like my gender (female) and my race (Asian) could contribute to this aspect of my internal identity. It’s harder to think about how the interpersonal relationships and more intimate models of conflict resolution have contributed to the self-defeatist in me.

But contribute they have. And there is indeed a self defeatist in me.

Growing up, my dad would freeze in emergencies. He was known for not being the quickest to respond in times of chaos. I remember when my youngest brother was a toddler, he ran out into the middle of the street in front of an incoming car. Now this was in a cul-de-sac so the car was not moving very quickly, but nonetheless, you would expect the parent to hurriedly jog over to retrieve the child. My dad physically froze as he yelled at my brother to come back and made other incomprehensible noises of panic. My mom was ultimately the one to sprint out from inside the house to grab my brother. I identified with my dad and came to internalize the idea that I was inherently incapable and needed someone else to save me.

In emergencies or other large setbacks, my dad would freeze or, my personal favorite, become angry when he was worried. When my mom was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer, my dad showed no tenderness. When she was recovering from surgery to remove the tumor, my dad wanted to celebrate with a trip to Mount Rainier, not a week post surgical procedure, and expressed his frustration when she protested joining us. Six years ago, I saw this as pure callousness. Now, I see the callousness but I also see that he desperately wanted to put this cancer scare behind him. He was scared and didn’t know how to deal with his emotions, so instead, he ran from them.

He physically ran too. When my parents had arguments, more often than not, he would slam the front door and drive off to cool down while my mom weeped in their bedroom. And the argument would have no resolution. I learned this WAS resolution. I learned that conflict was so painful that the only plausible method to cope was to run from it.

My mom also ran. Outwardly, she was the picture of efficiency. She would get shit done, and she was a fearless fuckin pillar. I could depend on her for anything — No, wait. I could depend on her, for anything logistic. I see today that she was, and is, afraid too. I don’t talk much with her today, so I can’t ask her what she was so afraid of that she would emotionally shut down. What I do know is how witnessing that impacted me. I came to believe that things are precarious enough, so why add emotions into the mix? There was no room for my emotions. There was no room for the expression of my fear. I learned that fear ruled, but we could not talk about fear.

I remember my mom admonishing me for crying about my childhood canine companion of 13 years who died abruptly in a house fire. She claimed that I would upset my little brothers again. Fuck you, mom. Today I grieve for the fact that I was not allowed to grieve. I still grieve for Daisy.

I learned that every setback or conflict had the power to absolutely annihilate me. That it could leave nothing of me behind but a scorched mark on the earth if I didn’t run, hide, pretend, or lash out.

Today I am reparenting myself to feel my resiliency in my bones. I have survived horrors that I still struggle to give myself credit for. I have come out the other side, bruised and brave- because I still allow myself to feel all of the emotions. I allow myself to feel how scared I am and give space for how much I still struggle to believe in myself. I acknowledge that I catastrophize and that I have my own coping mechanisms. I become a hero, who doesn’t stop to think or feel sometimes. I become enmeshed in my black and white thought patterns and attribute people to be good or bad, and actions to be useful or useless. I am not perfect, but neither am I incapable.

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