Fears and hurtful tendencies that no longer rule me
Today I received the book 52 Lists for Calm: Journaling Inspiration for Soothing Anxiety and Creating a Peaceful Life by Moorea Seal. It’s nicely formatted as a hardcover journal and I appreciate that there are a few lined pages for each list prompt.
LIST 16: List the things you are most proud of overcoming.
Please be aware: As I explain my list below, I briefly mention some of the verbally and emotionally abusive conditions of my childhood.
- Fear of stuttering
As a child I was interrupted so often while trying to speak, I developed a stutter and often just stayed quiet instead. This occurred with a sibling of mine as well.
- Picking at my hands
As a result of anxiety and the inability to control my environment or my level of safety as a child, I’d bite or pick at my nails or cuticles until my hands hurt. It took months of gently reminding myself to place my hands on my lap instead of picking or fidgeting. I still remind myself at times, though it’s maybe a few times a year rather than several times an hour.
- Substance-addictive personality
Addictive personality as a trait runs in my family: alcoholism, drug abuse, escapism, internet addiction (more recently), and disordered eating can all be traced through multiple generations. Once when my son was a toddler, we were sitting on the living room floor playing with building blocks. My child picked up my phone from a side table and placed it in my hand, since that’s where he was used to seeing it. I decided that day to put my phone down every time he asked to play or read with me. It’s been so freeing to just play and focus on him when he wants my attention.
- Total disconnection from some of my body’s signals
Some of the meanings of my physical sensations were lost as I struggled to feel safe and okay. I became so familiar with frequent anxiety accompanied by stomach pain that as an adult, sometimes it’s difficult for me to recognize that I’m hungry. I’ve become more physically integrated and now if my stomach hurts, I ask myself whether I’m upset or just hungry. I still have a high pain tolerance and I suspect it’s partially related to what’s left of my past disconnection from my physical body.
- Fear of being recognized by acquaintances
I can now greet people I know in public, though I occasionally notice my old tendency to avoid being seen. Being accustomed to negative family interactions, I felt safer with strangers than the people I knew best. This is a tremendous relief to have overcome.
- Fear of being shamed for answering incorrectly
Gaslighting and blatant lies about past events were frequent occurrences in my childhood. I developed such a fear of being wrong that I would mentally punish myself for the rest of the class period if I answered a question incorrectly in school.
- Comparing myself in great detail to my peers
Every school year, I was asked whether I was the smartest and prettiest person in my classes. I was trained to list the names of people who were brighter and more attractive. What a destructive pattern that was. I’m so thankful to feel that those are not my defining qualities.
- Body shame
The size and shape of my physical body were frequently scrutinized, as were my food choices, by a person with an unhealthy relationship to both their own physical body and to food. I recall a time when a family member thought something was horribly wrong with my neck because my collar bone was visible (they hadn’t seen their own in years).
- Fear of invalidation
I was made an example of growing up if my emotions didn’t align with what was expected of me. One day I was berated for hugging a sibling to comfort them after they were yelled at and called names, which was commonplace for all of us.
- Fear of loud noises inside my home
I learned growing up that the louder the stomping or cabinet-door slamming was, the worse my day was going to be. I still to this day will apologize to any humans or inanimate objects present if I accidentally close a door or cabinet harder than I intended. I still have a startle reflex to some loud noises indoors, but I no longer fear for my safety when they happen.
The author follows up with an affirmation exercise: “Is there anything you’re currently facing that reminds you of things you’ve already overcome? Think of your past experiences as practice for the present and future. You’ve done the work before, and you can do it again.” As a psychology student, I learned to ask people in difficult situations how they’d overcome something similar in the past. This powerful question serves a few purposes, including reminding us that we’ve been through difficult times before and survived and helping us identify our resources and support systems.
Thank you for reading. What have you overcome (if you’re comfortable sharing)? Let me know in the comments below so we can all celebrate your success!