Lessons of Worthlessness from the Lack of Being Heard
Growing up, I spent a lot of time roaming the countryside around my home. Back then, there were many trees in the fields–now taken by lightning–and many old barns around the farm–now taken by storms and rot. The land itself has always been peaceful to me, and in my dreams and meditations, this is my “Country” and my metaphysical home. There is nothing as grounding for me as walking these lands that my ancestors walked. Photo copyright by Lorna Tedder; all rights reserved.
Recently, Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt blog directed my attention to an article by Adrienne Jones, “Lessons My Bullies Taught Me.” It hit close to home, both because I had more than my share of being bullied and mercilessly teased as the “weird kid” or politely as the girl and later woman who was “diffffffffeerrrreeeeent,” and also because it ignited conversation with several friends. The crux of our discussion was how adults become part of the bullying problem, removing themselves from being part of the solution by letting victims and children know that they are not worthy or, at the very least, not heard. That extends beyond bullying to parenting and teaching in general and how an adult’s own darknesses and fears are transferred to less powerful representatives of themselves. Yes, often their own children or students. They’re powerless in their own lives but there is something reassuring about not being the least powerful of the food chain. That’s what children are for, huh?
I’m in a far more powerful place in my life now, without needing to see others in pain to feel powerful–though a part of me does enjoy the karma of abusers being punished. I look back at these times now in a more distant way emotionally, but note with certainty that they happened and the feelings I endured. The way I look back at those times now is not from the perspective of the wounded child but more as her champion, speaking out for her now because she couldn’t then.
The following article is from the upcoming book, Passion to the Third Degree
(Originally published in 2007)
It’s easy to look at someone else and wonder how they could ever have had self-esteem issues when growing up. I guess there are always ways that the message is sent that a child is worthless. Or, at least, worth less than someone else.
When I was a kid—and later, too—authority figures always said the right words, about how I could be anything I wanted to be and how valuable I was as a person—but I often felt they didn’t believe it. It was one thing to murmur praise and platitudes when life was peaceful, but when it was hard or desperate or dangerous? That’s when those defining moments came out.
I’ve journaled about many of them as my way of understanding them and releasing so much of the pain attached to those events. I can’t remember them all. I don’t care to remember them all. But a few always bubble to the top. And considering how far back some go, that’s a long way to bubble. I guess most of mine have to do with not being listened to or believing that no one would listen.
– When I was a very little girl and the dog attacked me when I was petting him, I was repeatedly asked what I’d done to provoke the dog and warned not to tell anyone that I’d been petting the animal because no one would believe me. I never went near the dog again, but he would hide in the shadows whenever I would go outside, and then he’d run up and bite me on the wrist and run back to hide. This happened many more times before a home was found for him, and I never told anyone about the other dog bites or scars. I’d already been told that I wouldn’t be believed, and besides, the scars on my face were still hidden under surgical tape. The bite healed but the psychological damage has always been there.
– When I was repeatedly sent alone to give an uncle a smooch and hugs at his car even though I kept finding excuses not to go and was shamed for not being grateful for the presents the old man brought me on his visits. Just before Daddy died last December, he found out the extent of the molestation and Daddy held me responsible for not having spoken up and stopped it when I was 12 and so sheltered that I didn’t understand any of it except I didn’t want an old man’s hands down my pants, or anyone’s for that matter.
– When Daddy finally wrote me a letter telling me he was proud of me…not for the awards I’d won or anything I’d accomplished in my career or education or any of the good things I repeatedly told him to win his approval, but because I’d married a banker and had a baby. He especially liked the banker part.
– More recently, when I told my mom that things in my marriage were bad, really bad, and how I was dying inside, and she told me not to do anything to “mess things up” and end up getting divorced.
– A relative who implied that my grandmother’s death was somehow my fault (at age 7) because I was crying and trying to be brave and not admitting that I was crying.
– A relative who refused to listen to my screams, particularly when I had lather from a bar of water-logged white Ivory soap on my hands at the lavatory and he thought it was paint from his job outside that he’d told me to stay away from, and he hauled me into the yard and angrily drenched my hands and arms in gasoline to clean off what he insisted was paint and then I got into more trouble for getting into the paint and him having to fix the situation. No one else believed me either…because he was the grown-up.
– The lack of any response at all from my paternal grandmother when I hugged her and her stating in front of me that as far as she was concerned, I was nothing to her. It was just a few years later that she took a nugget of my news of my first weeks at college and turned it into a horrific tale of how her granddaughter was living in sin in a co-ed dorm and probably, no not probably but most certainly, sharing showers and beds with boys in the dorm. Why worry about nasty rumors when your grandmother creates them from scratch before your very eyes and ears?
I understand why all these people said what they did and how so often it had as much or more to do with their own sense of worth or lack of it. They didn’t really listen because they were lost in their own ego, pain, situation, whatever. I could never depend, really, on what I was told because I wasn’t convinced that the people who loved me believed I was really as special as they said because their actions sometimes said loudly and clearly that they were not hearing me.
I think I’ve always had better luck getting people to listen to my writing than ever to my spoken words.