Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Way We Perceive Reality Dominates Our Existence

Tainted Childhood

My wife’s father raised his children with strict discipline, as in “Your ass is grass, no matter what.” At least, that is what MW had conveyed to me. Her mother may have gone along with it for a reason that I should not try to guess. Nevertheless, she was not defending her children when mean old dad came home and did the discipline thing using various instruments. The discipline was based on mom’s bitching about what kids did or did not do while he was at work.

I was not privy to this situation until many years past our nuptials, and only second-hand from my wife’s stories. To say the least, MW was tainted by alpha males. She still had the hots for Hollywood macho (John Wayne) or debonair (Cary Grant) male characters, but when it came to reality, such as me, that was a different story. With me, her father’s behavior set the role, and even in my most tender moments she was on guard. I could seldom, if ever, do the right thing and expect her to just enjoy it. There was always a reservation of fear of her not being worthy, or what people will think of her reaction to pleasure, or anything. One might surmise from this that she had problems, and he would be correct.

Fast-forward some decades

Given the above does not mean that she is totally messed up. She is a perfectly functional human, wife, mother, sister, and friend to many people. It means that she has brought a lot of useless baggage with her from childhood, and we are working on divesting ourselves of it.

We are in a position such that my willingness to help and serve her has been evident, and my unwillingness to hurt her in any way should be obvious. However, that does not let me off the hook. She is still worried about life as it is. She is concerned about making sounds when we share pleasure. She seldom allows herself to just feel good and not worry about whether she had earned it. Trepidations… Then the other things …

I can say, “Something does not smell right in the refrigerator,” and she hears, “You worthless girl, your only purpose in life is to keep the refrigerator clean and uncluttered, and now see what you have done!”

She struggles with her inheritance. Her father loved and supported his children in his own peculiar way, such as photographs and bronze plated baby shoes. But he was not what I would call the best loving and supporting parent in more realistic ways. His grown children expressed their general behavior in their father’s presence as, “Try to blend into the background, and if you are seen anyway, duck.”

I am an outsider, so can’t say what is what. In the many years that I have known MW’s father I never had any problem with him. In the last several years he has been great. MW’s mother was something else. Instead of being supportive of anyone who could use help, she had been destructive. Even worse, she had been using up the good will of those few people who would help her in her old age. Passive resistance and subversion were her tools. MW realizes this, and has stated a number of times that she (MW) should be warned by us if she begins to behave like her mother. After all, she is her mother’s daughter. Well, MW has a long way to become that abusive and destructive. She is a caring, warm, creative, loving, wonderful person. She does well for our family, community, and people whom we don’t know, but value greatly, such as our soldiers serving overseas. But, we still have problems.

I think that she and I are both past the time when we could benefit from psychoanalysis. That sort of therapy, since Jung, has been known to take many years, if ever, to bear fruit. At this stage in our lives that is not a viable option. I never really thought that years of psychoanalysis was any use, but then I am not educated in psychotherapy. My approach to problem solving is (1) identify and limit the problem, (2) offer a number of potential solutions, (3) choose the most viable and appropriate under the circumstances, and (4) do it within available resource limits. Yes, I know, psychology is not that deterministic, and cannot, in general, be conducted that way. Still, the “years of therapy” approach must have the same characteristics. Without it, the therapist and the patient just wander around aimlessly, and never know if there was a real problem, or if there was, the problem has been solved. Am I by any chance describing psychotherapy in general?

So, if I have a deep-seated psychological problem, I am screwed. I am totally unwilling to spend years and thousands of dollars in therapy, but I don’t have a realistic way of fixing what is wrong. Of course, that assumes that I know exactly what is wrong and am willing to admit it. That may not be the case.

So we live with our problems that taint every hour of our existence. Because of our misconceptions we punish those who should be praised. It is a wonder why our children and our friends put up with us. Then again, everybody has problems, so maybe they understand.

I don’t want to close on a negative feeling. I have been introduced to people’s intimate problems while serving in law enforcement. The feeling I had many times was, “I don’t know how I would deal with this.” Yet, the people involved resolved most problems. Some not too well, but in general, the participants came out all right. We are resilient, and when there is love and commitment, a solution will offer itself. As long as I am still around, I will wait for one.


subservient-husband said...

I like how you ended it. Woody Allan said once, 75% of life is just showing up. ;-})

My wife is quickly turning into her mother, if she has not already completed the metamorphosis. They both teach Sunday school, both drive black cars about the same make, both have shoulder cut black hair, mannerism about the same. The list goes on with a spooky amount of matches. The good news is I like my mother-in-law. My wife though is hot. I was just giving her a topless backrub, but she was torn away to tend to something at the hospital.

Hope you two find a way to live with what can not be changed and gain a level of acceptance if it is unavoidable fixtures in your lives. People learn to live with all kinds of difficulties.

doll said...

Mothers who would have them? It scares me sometimes what I might be doing to my children but then I can do no better nor differently than I learned. I just have to reflect on what is great about my mother and what is not so good and try to follow the best path.

I have mixed thoughts about counselling. I tried it with the wrong person but with some-one else I might move forward. I do my best with my own clients letting them talk and providing other ideas to contemplate (but I am not a counsellor) and hope that it helps them to make positive changes in their health and outlook.

Susan's Pet said...


Thank you for the supportive and interesting comment. I followed your link, and look forward to reading your blog.

Sweet Doll,

Speaking of counseling, I have heard that “A doctor who tries to treat himself has a fool for a patient.” I am patient, but not a doctor, so I would not know. My wife and I have a friend who is a practicing psychologist. She deals with the drags of society mostly. Alas, it does not pay as well as, say, a higher class of people would, so she is not cashing in on her education and expertise. This fine person has medical problems, which over the years encroached into psychological problems. She acknowledges it, but she is trying to heal herself. My wife is with her all the way, but there is only so much one can do even when having the certificates of expertise.

My approach to this friend is to do all I can in a realistic physical way. I help her with household needs, and am on constant call in case she has an emergency. Hugs and such are as she needs them without my being overbearing. She knows she can rely on us, but it’s not the same as being in a family in the same household.

It is ironic that she is in the profession of healing, but in truth, she cannot heal herself. She is too close to the problem to be effective.

doll said...

The need to get expert help from others in ones own field is vital. It has been re-enforced for me and although I resent paying for advice I should be able to give myself I do recognise that only another professional can take an objective look at what may be causing the problems.

I have thought a little more about the issue you have raised. I can only give my own experience but maybe it will be illuminating. I have a problem that extends way back into my childhood. I can now see it clearly and know that I could close that experience and change the way I behave in the future. But I am not ready to do it and so I continue with the same fear and avoidance. I am concerned that if I let it go then I wil be invalidating my life up to this point and I am scared that as it goes I will loose the links to myself in my childhood. So until I need to change I am not prepared to do it, I am happy to continue with the warp in that one part of my life.

Susan's Pet said...

Sweet Doll,

It is interesting that you took a slightly different tack from the posting, yet zeroed in on something that I have been contemplating lately. Among other things you said, “I am concerned that if I let it go then I wil[l] be invalidating my life up to this point and I am scared that as it goes I will loose the links to myself in my childhood.”

This is a controversial issue between promoters of psychotropic drugs and those in the other camps, for example ethicists, moralists, and religious believers. Negating or suppressing one’s memory, according to the anti drug folks, changes us from what we are, to … who knows, and where will it stop? I mostly agree with that.

Your case is different. I am not sure that you would be fundamentally changed if you were to confront and resolve a long-term trauma that has affected your life. As long as your breakthrough comes on your own volition, not assisted by mind-altering drugs, or suggestion by gurus of various pedigrees, you will remain who you are. What you will gain is more knowledge of yourself, but will retain your values and self-respect. You are likely to receive a kind of freedom that you have not yet experienced. I encourage you not to give up on this idea.