I’m Not Sure Why I’m Telling You This…

A Therapist once old me that just you don’t need to be physically struck in order to be abused… We will come back to that, later.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you this.

I remember being at my parents house for the holidays when I was Active Duty Navy and finding an old ‘school yearbook’ from my 5th Grade Elementary School class. It was nothing serious, but rather an art project that we did and was later copied and bound by parents as a memento. Each child in my class had a picture with a brief biography, which was written by their parents.

Some of the content looked like this:

“Jessie lives at home with his mom and dad. He has a little sister and they play on the swingset together.”

“Sammy has two pugs that he loves to run around with in the yard.”

“Sarah enjoys math class and hopes to be an astronaut one day.”

Except for mine. Mine was different. It was two paragraphs long and detailed all how smart I was. I don’t remember specifics, but there was a detailed account of my plans to attend Harvard or Yale and study medicine or law. It may have even mentioned Magna Cum Laude…or Summa.

I was nine years old. Nine.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you this.

When I was a kid, everything was about academics.

We were encouraged to participate in sports, but this was always an afterthought and came secondary to school work. It was all about getting an ‘A’, and, for me, it was about being the most dominant student in the class. From a Sport Psychology perspective, the Ego Orientation seed was planted very early on. If I wasn’t the best at something, I was a failure. I internalized that and it became a part of me.

I had “friends”, but I’m not sure how to classify them. How can you truly forge friendships when you look around a classroom and see only opponents in a game of who can get the highest grade? When being accepted by your parents hinges on the ability to be the best, can you really have positive interactions with people who are, in a very real way, standing in the way of you being loved?

As I got older to middle school, I shied away from sports more. I loved books, and still do, but my obsession with books at that time was a way to escape and disappear into other worlds and times. I would often daydream that I was someone else: an athletic star, a mercenary or soldier, a superhero. This was a way for me to take everything I wanted to be and create it in my mind. I hated who I was because being the best was mandatory and I was just on the cusp of the realization that it is impossible to be the best at everything and, more often than not, impossible to be the best at one thing. That is, if your definition of “the best” includes comparisons relative to other people.

Other kids would relentlessly bully me and I would often eat alone or blend in with another group of misfits, just sitting there. Looking back at this, I find myself pondering if they were really bullies, or was I just so cocky and arrogant and pretentious about my intellectual abilities that they felt that maybe I needed to be knocked around a bit. Maybe, in a very real way, I was bullying them academically and they were simply defending themselves the only way they knew how. If you are the most intellectually dominant person in the room and you rub other people’s noses in it like a puppy that missed a piddle-pad, would you expect them to just put up with it?

I started to become like my mother: Negative and full of Fear

Instead of speaking positively about people and seeking to grow with them, I would look for vulnerabilities. I would mentally tear people down to make myself look better, instead of seeking personal mastery. The problem, of course, is that even the smartest people in the world, though well read, have specialties. As such, you become older and branch out into different domains, and realize there are some areas where you simply aren’t as good. This realization was like a bomb being dropped on me. I couldn’t cope with the implications of this.

I became depressed and suicidal.

I would scare myself because I knew where my father kept all of his guns.

I would cut myself.

I became obsessed with the thought that I would never be the best at anything and would never amount to much.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you this.

Because of my Ego Orientation, I would shy away from anything that I didn’t have the potential to be the best at. This was the only way of shielding my self-esteem in the event that I didn’t emerge as #1 in a particular discipline. I have spend a great deal of time working on myself and exploring my motivations, and many of my issues stem from these formative years.

  • I was an expert self-handicapper
  • I would set goals that were too easy for me, in order to dominate.
  • Conversely, I would choose goals that were absurd and overly difficult so that I had an excuse for not being the best.

But, perhaps most tragically:

I would always tend to avoid attempting things, particularly new endeavors in which I was not sure how successful I will be relative to others.

This was my existence until I rebelled against my parents.

Having done a lot of introspection, I think my father meant well. There are no instruction manuals that come with children and you simply want them to do better than you did. My mother, however, is another story. Years of therapy and 4 Psychologists later, I have come to grips with the fact that my mother had serious issues of her own that she refused to face and accept. As such, she used guilt and shame as a tool to manipulate situations and fear as a way to control. In order to fill holes in her life she used my sister and I.

I don’t speak to my mother or my father, and I don’t feel bad.

I’m tired of lying about that and hiding it to friends and family. this is part of my process of moving on and bettering myself.

I have no children of my own, and my sister doesn’t either. When I take time to analyze this, I speculate that this isn’t because we are disinterested in kids (my current girlfriend has two), but rather because we were afraid that we would default to treating our own kids the way that we were treated. The apple doesn’t fall far, and this is not a new phenomenon. We default to the behavior that we have been exposed to, particularly in moments of high stress.

Instead, I chose to pour my heart into developing my leadership and coaching skills. I didn’t join the military for adventure or honor. I joined the military to get away from my mother, but the lessons and skills I have learned there have translated into so many domains which allow me to help people, athletes and otherwise, understand that life is about mastery and your self-worth isn’t determined by the number in the ‘W’ column, the number on a scale, or the number on an exam.

In helping other people, I have, in ways that many clients and acquaintances do not even realize, learned to help and heal myself. There is a long way to go, but I have learned to accept wins and losses in the context of mastery. I have grown. I am happy with the man I have become.


One Reply to “I’m Not Sure Why I’m Telling You This…”

  1. You are amazing ! Thank you so much for sharing your struggles and pain. My own ego wants to comment in a academic and uplifting way only to feed you nourishing words, but at this stage of life ( 64) I can only share my own personal wisdom, experience and unsolicited advice. So why am I telling you this? I can relate to much of it from a different perspective but familiar roles. Mine was not academics , but I plowed through childhood with self hate, abuse ( both physically from a relative) and mentally from my Dad. He loved the word ” IDIOT”. It has been a long road from bullying to acceptance . Since I moved around so much ( in some ways escaping my own self) I would have loved to spend more time with you guys in those early years. I often feel pain in children and love to open up conversation and support so critical in early years. I know your Mom + Dad. They were always very kind to me but of course I did not live with them to share your experience. What I saw were two very nice people who became Isolated and disillusioned by Society . People disappoint ! People make mistakes! Children excelling with A’s is nice , but there are many aspects of them to enjoy on other levels. Families can be challenging and health issues can throw a torch into the dream of the perfect scenario for others to see. ( The Joneses come to mind) . We all have secrets, ( although I am not a fan from a healing perspective ) . WE do not have to become our Parents ! This is the ultimate fear to break and a courageous response. By not speaking there is some irony of your story. The ultimate act is to keep your boundary but discover healthy ways to forgive and engage . I would not say Let Go because I was often told that growing up and I dislike the insinuation it is a simple as it sounds. I work really hard at not holding grudges. It is the most difficult thing for me to do . My own Dad did not speak to his brothers or anyone else that ticked him off. There is that gene pool. But instead of doing the same ( I have a sister who made it a hobby too) , I work hard at it . He tried reaching out to his brother at 78 but it was too late. He passed away at 79. My dad who preached morality had a daughter with his own cousin while married to my mom ! Through forgiveness , I have been able to establish one of my most cherished relationships with her at the age of 50! What I will not allow is to be manipulated by family or friends. I am far from perfect and scars run deep. Expressing feelings , breaking through fears and insecurities are no easy tasks . But it is the biggest and most rewarding accomplishment anyone can do. I live a pretty happy Life these days and I really hope the same for you. I really enjoy reading your story . Love + Peace.

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