Understanding My Past
I’ve had a complicated relationship with my mother over the years. It took a long time, but I learned some lessons that helped me become a confident and secure adult.
Just like in the famous Seinfeld episode where George’s life turns around when he “does the opposite,” I learned to do the opposite of the behavior that I saw growing up.
My Early Years
I was a painfully shy and sensitive child, and my mother made me feel that something was wrong with my personality. For years, I was unfavorably compared to my brother—who was outgoing and popular.
My mom is very outgoing and could not understand how she had a child that was so opposite in personality.
We moved to the suburbs during Christmas break when I was nine. Shortly after starting at my new school I was labelled an outcast and subjected to constant criticism. When I went home crying, my mother said I was too sensitive and should ignore the teasing.
I eventually learned to hide my emotions and pretend it did not bother me, but the mean-spirited teasing I experienced at school left emotional scars that took years to recover from.
I spent most of my teenage years feeling that I had the wrong type of personality and having very little confidence. When I had to speak in front of the class, there were times when my hands would shake, and my voice would break from nerves.
Finding My Way
I struggled for many years to feel comfortable in my skin. It took a long time, but my belief in myself and sense of confidence have remained a steady force in my adult life.
When I was a teenager, my parents decided that I was too introverted and needed to see a psychologist. Although I have seen other people benefit from therapy, I have not opted for it as an adult because of my experience as a teenager. I was made to feel as if there was something wrong with my personality that I needed to fix.
My parents were uncomfortable with the idea of my needing therapy, and it was a big secret. My younger sister later told me she thought I was dying because they would not tell her where we were going when I went to my weekly appointment.
After a few months, my father asked me if I needed to continue (even though it was their idea), and I said I was ok with stopping the counseling.
Lesson #1 – Boundaries Are Critical
Growing up, I realized having an outgoing personality had some drawbacks. My mother did not seem to have a filter and would blurt out whatever came into her head.
I tended to be very secretive because my mom would run up to people and disclose personal information. She also did not seem to have a sense of boundaries.
At age 16, I was taking a shower, and she allowed one of my brother’s friends to stand outside the bathroom door and make comments such as “I’ll wash your back for you.” She later said I was unsociable for not responding.
When I was in my 20s and 30s, my mother would give my phone number to single men without my permission.
My youngest brother was hit by a car when he was in college. He wasn’t seriously injured. I was reassured that he was ok because after rushing to the hospital my mother gave my phone number to doctors in the emergency room!
Maybe because I witnessed this type of behavior over many years, I try very hard to think before I speak and respect other people’s boundaries.
Lesson #2 – There is No Wrong Type of Personality
It wasn’t until I reached my mid-30s that I started to accept myself and realize that being an introvert was ok.
I pushed myself over the years to get out of my comfort zone and gradually became more comfortable in social situations.
I realized that I would have to tackle my fear of public speaking after I got a job that involved doing presentations. My reluctance was hurting my career. I took a course on public speaking and forced myself to participate in presentations. It was challenging, but I became a decent public speaker.
Lesson #3 – Developing Confidence Is A Process
The ability to take care of myself financially helped build my confidence.
It became clear when I was in high school that I would have to put myself through college. When I was 15, I started to write and decided to major in journalism. While in my senior year in high school, I started working as a maid at a local motel to earn money for tuition and books
After college when I started my first job, I did not make a lot of money. However, I never asked my parents for money and always was able to live within my means.
As I got older and developed more emotional distance from my childhood insecurities, my confidence grew stronger.
Focusing on Letting Go of The Past
My mother had a complicated relationship with my grandmother who was an immigrant and not a nurturing type of person.
My grandparents were working-class people, and my mother had to go to work while attending high school. She always felt upset that her parents forced her to lie and say she was 16 so she could start working part-time at age 14. They also made her take the business school curriculum in high school. She was disappointed that she never got to go to college.
When I looked at the issues I had when I was younger, I realize that my mother tried to do a better job than her parents did. My mom is now in her 80s and is having problems with her memory. She is more dependent on me now, and I’ve come to terms with the issues I experienced when I was growing up.
What lessons have you learned from your family and childhood experiences that shape who you are today?