“Some things just couldn’t be protected from storms. Some things simply needed to be broken off…Once old things were broken off, amazingly beautiful things could grow in their place.”
― Denise Hildreth Jones
I wanted to follow up on my post about holding back on life because of my weight. I think that in order to heal our disordered thoughts, we have to understand where they come from. While learning more about myself, I stumbled across a list of traits exhibited by Adult Children of Alcoholics (and dysfunctional homes), as developed by Dr. Janet G. Woititz (author of Adult Children of Alcoholics) in 1983.
The thirteen traits common in adult children of alcoholics and dysfunctional families are that they:
- guess at what normal behavior is
- have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
- lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
- judge themselves without mercy
- have difficulty having fun
- take themselves very seriously
- have difficulty with intimate relationships
- overreact to changes over which they have no control
- constantly seek approval and affirmation
- feel that they are different from other people
- are super responsible or super irresponsible
- extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved
- are impulsive, which leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment
The bolded traits are the ones I feel pertain most to my obsessive, unhealthy thoughts around my appearance. I have always felt different from other people, as far back as I can remember. I always worry that I’m not normal, that I come across as weird. I often (ugh, so often!) walk around feeling not just ugly, but alien.
I feel like during “ugly days” or “ugly phases,” as I call them, I’m not just unattractive but that I’m unattractive in an odd way, a way that’s repulsive to other people. I feel like my proportions are off, mannerisms are strange, thoughts are bizarre. I’ll be shocked by a kind or affectionate touch because I earnestly believe I’m so gross that no one would want to touch me, and I’ll obsess about how unpleasant my body or skin must have felt to the toucher.
Learning that this is completely normal for someone who grew up in a dysfunctional home and had an alcoholic parent was an enormous relief. It allowed me to finally give myself some breathing room to start deconstructing these abusive, limiting thoughts and moving towards self-acceptance. It gave me the permission to accept that maybe I’m not a freak, and to search out the pathology behind what’s causing me to feel this way.
After a lot of introspection, I’ve realized what is driving these self-defeating thoughts is the belief that normalcy can only be attained through perfection. Since I don’t know what normal is, I have the distorted view that I have to be perfect in order to “pass” for normal.
This was reinforced growing up by having a father who demanded perfection at all times. I have a crystal clear memory of handing him a math test on which I scored a 98%. My father insisted on seeing every graded test, homework assignment and project. I was full of pride and expected him to be pleased. My father’s face darkened as he looked at the test. My stomach clenched. He said, “Where are the other two points?” glaring down at me. He reviewed what I got wrong, proclaimed them “stupid mistakes” and forced me to redo the entire test over again before allowing me to go. He didn’t speak to me or acknowledge me for the rest of the day.
In third grade, I received an 80% on something and burst into hysterical sobs in the middle of class, wracked with anxiety about how my father was going to react. The other kids made fun of me because to them 80% was not bad enough to be crying over. The kids with lower scores then mine thought I was a snob, not understanding that I was scared. My teacher was comforting, but I know she thought I was overreacting, that I was used to being an exceptional student and not able to handle getting a “normal” score. What nobody knew was that in my house, a normal score was a perfect score. Anything less brought on yelling, punishment or worse, condescension and rejection.
I was never praised for doing well, was only marginally praised for doing perfectly, and was harshly punished for doing wrong (wrong was highly subjective and changed daily). This, combined with the feeling of being different from other human beings, and it’s no small wonder that I developed eating disorders and a badly distorted body image, one that still is with me today; my unwanted life-partner.
While it’s sweet (and means the world to me) that my friends and loved ones tell me I’m pretty, or that I look fine, or that I have nothing to worry about, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. Because really, the problem isn’t my looks at all. The problem is that I’ve convinced myself that in order to be accepted in the most basic sense, I have to be perfect.
This is why I live in constant fear of success and failure. This is why I don’t hug, don’t dance, don’t ask for help, don’t allow myself to ever be truly vulnerable.
I’ve been unkind to myself. I have taken up my father’s role in my life even though I cut him out of it years ago. I am determined shrug off this dysfunctional mantle of his and move on. I desperately want to stop the cycle of abuse that I’ve been perpetuating on myself and move on to a life that is free and open.
I hope this information helps some of you. If it helps just one person the way it has helped me, it would just make my life. If any of this resonates with you please let me know, it would mean the world to me!