Scar Fade

Someone once said that we could sweep away all the self help groups: Adult children of alcoholics; adult children of drug abusers; adult children of mentally ill parents, etc, and replace them with a single term “Adult children.”

He was wrong.  Growing up (or living) in an abusive environment does many things, but none of them is make you an adult.  At least not a “fully functional/operational adult.”

It can give you the marks of adulthood.  Most children who grew up in abusive situations, ranging from casual abuse in that you and your needs weren’t important to your parents, to actual physical abuse aren’t adults.  Sometimes they aren’t adults as adults.  This is because they have trouble individuating and separating themselves from how others perceive them.  When it’s a matter of survival being aware of your parents’ moods, you’re likely to always want to be in the “right” with people around you, in your group, in your work place, in your church, in your family.  You live in function of how others are going to react.

You can appear very mature from the outside, because the spontaneity of childhood is mostly gone.  You’re always calculating for effect.  And in a family where everyone is slightly (or very) off kilter, this can give the impression you’re “the adult.”

You also acquire habits of always blaming yourself when everything goes wrong, of trying to take care of everyone around you, and blaming yourself when something goes wrong with them, of accepting abuse (of the same type you endured, for which case it is worse to be used to getting “hind teat” and “blamed for everything” than to be sexually abused. Though one wonders how many of the Hollywood victims of Weinstein were used to sexual abuse growing up) from your employers and colleagues.

This is not true confessions, and my own personal childhood has bloody nothing to do with it, except to say my relationship with my mother is peculiar.  Yes, I’m sure she loves me — though I only realized it at 16 when I fell in the bathroom and lost consciousness, and woke up to her crying and begging me not to die — more so now, as an adult.  But the fact that I didn’t realize it and the fact that she still (guys, I’m 55) thinks I can’t possibly be able to look after a family/etc. is indicative of some of our problems.

Having seen this from the other side, and not going into other issues, I think part of the problem is that mom’s childhood truly stank on ice, particularly in terms of family relationships, and therefore she tried to “protect me”.  Some of the “protecting” though took the form of — since I had it so much better than her — making sure I was “motivated.”  This meant in practice that I could never do anything right.  EVER.  (The fact I was competing with a brother who was ten years older and had an eidetic memory didn’t help in this.)

The other part of our relationship is that I was severely premature and very sickly.  I once read an article (pre-internet, so I can’t find it) that explained that mothers of premature babies often have lousy relationships with their kids, more so if the kid is the second or third, and the first one or two (or more) were normal.

Subconsciously (these things never rise to the conscious level, and I wonder if it’s part of the same reaction that makes cats kill or abandon kittens who are defective or ill) you are disappointed in your baby.  They can do less, they are weaker, as they grow up they’ll have coordination issues (in spades in my case) and are generally odd and stick out.

The fact the doctor with, I’m sure, best intentions in the world, told my parents, hours after I was born, that I’d probably be mentally slow/damaged because of being so premature didn’t help.  Also, I don’t know if it’s true.  I know that until I got accepted into college, my parents’ explanation for my academic achievements was that “Someone made a mistake.”  (Note here that I also get this having seen it from the other side.  If younger son hadn’t been tested and if they didn’t tell us he has the highest IQ in the family, things he does with … oh, laundry…. would lead me to believe he’s not very bright.)

In fact a lot of us “Odds” get this reaction and have weird relationships with our parents.  Particularly if the parents aren’t odds themselves, or if the parents have suppressed their Odd side so far back they don’t remember. We just don’t do what they expect, aren’t what they expect, and they don’t know how to love us.

I think there is a good dose of that in my relationship with my mom because of two things: first, her battle cry when my brother and I were discussing a book or movie, or having a multi-quote “conversation” or taking prizes in things she didn’t get was “I wish I had normal children.”  She once came home from shopping, and she’d met an elementary school friend whose kids, our ages, were a mechanic and a seamstress.  My brother was at the time working as an engineer, and I was in college — rare and something to aspire to in Portugal those days, as college was strictly on grades and there were no private colleges — and she looked at both of us and informed us she wanted “normal children” and “children whose goals I can understand.”  (Note that she herself pushed us to achieve and get into college.  These things aren’t always straight forward.)
Second, I once heard her complain to a friend that I had such crazy notions of the world, and she didn’t know how I would survive.
Note she was right.  I did have crazy notions of the world, including for a while that we could abolish money.  But none of it had anything to do with how I actually lived in the day to day, and none of it was UNUSUAL for an Odd child my age.

Note I’m not complaining about my upbringing.  Mom did the best she could with what she had to hand, and it’s not for me to stand judgement over her.  I wasn’t a wanted child (I think I’ve mentioned that before) and I am proof that unwanted children can grow up to be happy and for that matter to be loved by the parent who initially didn’t want them.  She certainly spent years of her life trying to push and pull me through severe illness, when just a bit of neglect would have had me die.

Anyway, that’s enough about me, because this is not the point of this. The point of this is that I could have been defined as and often functioned as an “adult child” managing mom’s moods and her reactions to me to the best of my ability — hell, for years after I’d moved away and was a married woman.  I think it took me ten years to stop taking mom’s opinion into account when I dressed myself in the morning, and being afraid she’d have disapproved.

The funny thing is that in the family, they often told me I was emotionally immature.  They were right, of course, but probably not the way they meant.  In public, however, I was considered way too mature for my age, and told things like “you’re an old soul”.  Also that I overthought things, but never mind.

The point is that I’m 55 and I’ve only recently come across the scars and become aware of them.

Because psychological scars aren’t the same as physical scars, and you don’t necessarily know they’re there.  And people who see you might THINK there’s something odd, but not what it is, necessarily.

I’ve come to notice my scars by seeing them in other people in whom they’re way more obvious and who sometimes engage in outright suicidal behaviors because of them.

EVERYONE is scarred by their upbringing.  This is part of being human.  It’s the size of the scars and how non-functional the behaviors are that make a difference.

And you might not even notice them, because in the space behind your eyes that’s “normal life.”

That whole failing to separate thing?

Dan and I take in strays.  We’ll probably always take in strays.  BUT the hyper-responsible causes us to continue feeling responsible/trying to help long after it’s started to hurt us physically/emotionally/financially and long after it’s become obvious that we’re not doing good and are on the contrary creating learned helplessness.

And I realized recently my entire relationship with publishers/employers mimics my relationship with my mom.  Hell, for a long time, until Dan so did my romantic relationships.

At some level, I was aware that I was sickly and a lot of trouble, and that she had better things to do, so I tried to keep quiet, not obtrude.  Yeah, I’m sure I was still tons of trouble, because sickly, but the thing is that I somehow internalized that I didn’t have a right to be sick or take up her time.  Which is part of the reason I tend to ignore it when I’m sick until I land in emergency, and why I try not to bother employers or publishers.

In this if nothing else, I’m not just the prototypical female employee, but female employee with an additional jet pack for extra timidity and helplessness.

This feeling of “And I’m lucky to get hind teat” means I’ll get sick with stress but not demand clarification or payment or–  Because I’m afraid it will be worse for me if I do.  They’ll notice how much trouble I am and just drop me, say.

This has been, possibly, the worst thing for my career.  In any artistic field, if you act like a field mouse, they’ll assume you’re not very good.  You have to sell yourself to publishers, before you sell to the public.  I tended to count only on my skills, and when those didn’t get appreciated, I tried not to make noise.

To make things worse, when my stress ratchets up, the autoimmune kicks in.  And since keeping quiet while I feel ignored/undervalued is inherently stressful, I get sick… a lot.  Or I enter six-month long depressions

Yeah, I only realized that in a sense I look for/mold the relationships into this, because that’s what’s familiar and comfortable.  Oh, not comfortable, but known.

In the grocery store, they have a product called Scar Fade for physical scars.

I’m trying my darndest to do that with psychological scars. But it’s not easy.  Most of the time, as I said, you don’t see them.

So am I going to strut out and be super aggressive and self selling?  Ah!  I still feel guilty when I say things like “self care” because it seems to selfish.

But if you find you’re seeing some scars in yourself, I found this helps, a little:

1- Remember you’re not perfect.  No one expects you to be perfect and you can’t be perfect.  Even your parents/whoever didn’t expect you to be perfect.  You just got this idea because you were young and didn’t understand what was going on.

2- When you fail/do something wrong, from the big to small, forgive yourself.  Don’t dwell on it, just try again.

3- You’re not responsible for the actions of others.  No, not even if they tell you that you are.  Even if you enabled someone’s learned helplessness, if that person is/was an adult, they made the decision to let you do that.  Not your fault.  “Look what you made me do” is not a defense.  And it’s not your fault.  Others have agency.  Let them have it.  Let it go.

4- Identify your bad patterns, such as drifting to abusive relationships/work situations and consciously try to avoid them. This sometimes means doing the opposite of what you “feel” you should.  That’s fine. Weird and scary as h*ll but fine.

5- Value and take care of yourself.  No, I don’t mean become a self-centered *ss, but be aware of when what you’re giving is so far that it’s damaging you.  Stop it.  Moderate it.  Find another way.

6- Complain.  Yes, it’s entirely possible your employer values you so little, particularly because of the image you’ve projected, and particularly if you’re a writer in the current stressful environment for publishing, that they just let you go. So? Find another way.  You don’t deserve hind teat.  No one does.

There are other things, I’m sure, things I’ll need to learn.

What seems normal to you in the space behind the eyes isn’t.  What you do for the best is sometimes the worst thing you can do.  This is true for others too.  Understand them, forgive them and move on.

In this space between ape and angel, sometimes all you can do is try.

244 thoughts on “Scar Fade

  1. Thank-you. I have long been troubled by the fact that the English language lacks an easy term for those who are “fully grown but not grown up” — the physically adult but mentally adolescent (or worse … id there worse?) While you have not solved the shortage it is congenial to now I am not alone in recognizing this linguistic shortfall.

        1. It ain’t just you. Seeing the children-in-adult-bodies, that is.

          To be clear, some childishness is okay. Good, even. It’s where those moments of unrestrained joy and wonder come from, I think. Possibly.

            1. “Once we have reached our destiny we understand that it is different from the dearest wishes of the beginning. It is much deeper, broader, sometimes greater. Either we understand or we sail on and on and on.” Xandria, “Return to India”.
              You just reminded me of that bit from the song.

        2. Don’t get into the dating scene. *shudder* The number of chronological men who expect any woman they favor with their favors to take mommy’s place– and the number of women willing to DO it– is sheerly horrifying.

          The female version tends to be “manipulative (removed for website’s decency)”. Obviously not exclusive, and both tend to be utterly entitled twerps.

                1. Now I am curious as to the others.

                  Skimming your more recent blog entries, I rather like your proposed new introduction for the second amendment of the Constitution of the USA.

          1. Yeah – I think one of the big reasons I’m not married, I have this vision of me turning into the overbearing rolling-pin-wielding battleaxe with the pathetic hen-pecked husband, which wouldn’t be fair to either partner.

            1. Find a true partner. Then do couples therapy on how to fight fair. It worked for us.

              The Therapy Subculture can be a swamp, but we’ve been lucky. It helps if you keep in mind that your therapist is an employee, not a Priest.

              Also; beware the amateur, and the Living Section Gloss, especially the latter. What gets printed as theraputic advice in a newspaper is the out of context precis of what a Jounalism major misunderstood of his interview(s) with members of a profession he has no background in.

              1. Oh, it’s not anger or fighting that I’m worried about – I hate fighting and am generally considered very patient. It’s more Get-A-Spine kind of thing.

  2. I think there may be more than one way to respond to this. I grew up with an alcoholic divorced mother, and what happened with me was that I resisted being depended on, or meeting other people’s expectations—to the point where, about half my life ago, a group of people put up an illuminati-style chart of “X controls Y controls Z,” one of whose entries was “nobody controls Bill Stoddard.” This can create its own forms of emotional damage, and I’ve spent a long time getting over some of them, but it seems to be different from what you describe, perhaps even “going out the other end.”

    1. Ditto to I think there may be more than one way to respond to this. I grew up with an alcoholic divorced mother. From 6th grade on. I have taken many of those self diagnostic tests available on the internet, and test very strongly for Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m thankful that wasn’t a diagnosis when I went through school- or it might have become a disabling crutch. I was forced to learn how to interact with people by watching and mimicking their behavior. Didn’t go on my first date until well after I graduated HS and got of boot camp.

      Got married at age 23 to someone who seemed to like me the way I was. All 5 of our children (age 27-19) seem to be extremely well adjusted adults. For which I give credit mostly to my wife, but they insist I helped a lot.

      Part of my successful marriage and and helping bring up my kids was by using my father as an example. I looked at what he did in relationships and child rearing (or would have done) and then did something different. Not the opposite, but just different. It worked.

  3. “Mom did the best she could with what she had to hand, and it’s not for me to stand judgement over her.”

    All parents do the best they can with what they have at hand. Too many don’t have much of anything at hand, with fairly predictable results. Of course they may have resources available that they aren’t capable of locating, even if they perceive a need for them. Not that I’m so sure that Dr Spock or the various and myriad child protective services have “THE TRUE WORD” when it comes to properly raising children.

    Scars from upbringing. You are sooo right about that. And you often can’t find them until the circumstances that elicit the behaviors that go with them show up and trigger the wrong ones.

    How about an acronym? Pamoei: “physically adult, mentally or emotionally immature.”

    1. “All parents do the best they can with what they have at hand.”

      I’d like to believe that, but I’ve read too many stories about the horrible things that parents have done to their children. I have a hard time believing that, for example, the “mother” who put the baby in the car overnight while hosting a party was really doing the best that she could.

      1. Thing is, if those parents had the ability and the inclination to do the right thing (both learned, not instinctual) then they would have done it. You have to wonder about “damaged” children as pamoei inflicting the same damages on their own children, just because that’s what they see as the default way to raise children. They might ‘intellectually’ understand what they are doing is wrong, if you made them stop and think first; but many of them haven’t ever been taught how to do that. And in todays world of instant gratification, I don’t see that improving at all.

        Now the kid left in the car seat trick? OMG. Trying to remember the DOJ report on this; but 70% of those turn out to be a total brain fart by the distracted parent. 20% are bad judgment calls. And only 10% can be attributed to sheer maliciousness of the parent.

        1. I experienced the opposite of the “kid left in car” problem a few times in my youth. During my early elementary school years, my mother dropped me at school on the way into work. A few times she forgot to turn and drop me off, and headed straight toward work, passing the road my school was on, until I spoke up.

          1. I don’t think that’s the opposite; I think that’s exactly the “kid left in car” problem. Stereotypically, Mom is on the way to work, she’s in a hurry and frazzled and forgets to drop off the kid at daycare. Unlike you, the kid is to young to speak up and say, “Hey Mom, aren’t I going to school today?” so she gets to the office, parks the car and goes inside without any clue that the baby is napping in the backseat.

              1. Early years of parenting come with perpetual sleep deprivation. Add that to more-severe-than-average absent-mindedness, mix in some specific stress, and you have a recipe for tragedy.

                1. Also a standard where mothers aren’t supposed to be home with the baby all the time, so your instincts are always screaming there is something wrong.

            1. The ‘kid left in car’ problem has been greatly exaggerated. Most kids left in cars will be fine; it’s not too hot or too cold, and walking a fractious child across a bsy parking lot is more dangerous. Thanks to stories about the few horrible exceptions, busybodies are likey to call The Authorities when there is no threat to the child. Which drops the mother into spicy Government kimchee.

              See a kid in a car on a moderate day? Or playing in a park by him (her) self? Or walking along the street? Do the world a favor and (unless,the child,seems distressed somehow) mind your own business.

              It is safer for children out in the wide world ( at least here in the US) than it has been since the 1970’s.

              1. my kids used to stay in the car, reading. They hated being dragged into stores. At some point some old biddy knocked on the window and asked if they were all right and got answered with “Reading comics. We sent mom away. Now you go away too.” She did.

              2. See a kid in a car on a moderate day? Or playing in a park by him (her) self? Or walking along the street? Do the world a favor and (unless,the child,seems distressed somehow) mind your own business.

                Better yet: if you have a Bad Feeling, and nightmares of doing an interview where you were the last one to see the kid in the blue coat before the body was found, do the freaking work yourself and sit there making sure nothing goes wrong.

                You might be wrong. It’s quite likely that their parents know the situation better than you do. But if you are worried, you do the work. Don’t try to force the people who know what the heck is going on to form their lives around your fears.

                1. I have a print out of state law for any state I am in to hand to anybody who tries to declare I’ve got to take my nice, warm, SLEEPING child out of his car seat, into the freezing cold, walk across a frozen parking lot where I pray that nobody will go car-skating, so I can buy three things and juggle them– with the now struggling, crying kid– back to the car.

          2. Now the kid left in the car seat trick? OMG. Trying to remember the DOJ report on this; but 70% of those turn out to be a total brain fart by the distracted parent. 20% are bad judgment calls. And only 10% can be attributed to sheer maliciousness of the parent.

            My mom told me of a particularly tragic example. A son the the family had gotten the first car anyone in the family had ever had, and as a treat, took his family, his sister’s family, and parents to some outing – the beach maybe. For the rest of his family, none of them had ever been in a car before (this is important). They played and enjoyed themselves and had the time of their life, left entirely too late, and headed home. This being the Philippines, there were some people riding in the back/trunk area and one eight year old girl, the fellow’s niece, had wedged herself into a corner, sitting on top of where the rear wheel goes, and fallen asleep. Where they live must not have had much in the way of light, because nobody saw her in there and it was a case of ‘she must’ve gone to bed already’ while everyone blearily unpacked and fell into their beds. Nobody woke up until very late the next day, and that’s when they wondered where she’d got to.

            They found her body in the car’s back seat, where she’d climbed out of the back part of the car, with indications she’d been trying to claw on the doors and windows trying to get out. Cause of death being the usual one from being left in a car in a hot environment. The whole family is traumatized, because everyone had the exhausted parent brainfart and the uncle and aunt who had wanted to share a wonderful day with the rest of their family were, from what my mom heard, half out of their mind with grief. You see, they were going to take in that little girl so she could go to school in the city.

        2. I understand about the brain farts; I live in mortal fear that I’m going to do one of those with my daughter one day. Whenever she’s in the car, I always keep my purse in the backseat next to her to try to force me to remember, but I’m terrified that one day I’ll wander off leaving both purse and baby in the car. This case wasn’t that; it was a deliberate, “Where can I put the baby so I can party all night without interruption?”

          Even your statistics, though, suggest that all parents are not doing their best. I believe that no more than 10% of kids left in the car were left their because of malice, but those 10% of parents were clearly not doing their best.

          1. I once forgot Robert at school for an hour. They were about to call CPS because Robert was convinced I’d abandoned him for being bad (NO, I never told him anything like that.)
            Writing. Tight Deadline. Forgot to look at clock.

            1. Reminds me of something that happened.

              Athena’s very first day at school. Her very first. I had made arrangements with the daycare that they would pick her up. I’d filled out the paperwork at the school to that effect. So I get a call from a neighbor (who runs an in-home daycare that we couldn’t use because they have a hard upper limit on time that neither my wife nor I could reliably meet with our work schedules). Athena was out in the street crying because they’d put her on the bus for home and let her out and she couldn’t get into the house (because nobody was there).

              One of the other neighbors, who also had a girl starting school that year, let her stay with them until I could get home from work.

              Admin tried to blame it on the teacher. Teacher tried to blame it on admin. I “suggested” that it had better never happen again–this was the polite talk, the next one would be the not-so-polite talk with my lawyer. (Okay, I didn’t have a lawyer at that time but they didn’t know that and I would have gotten one if needed.)

              As I came later to get to know the teacher I have become fully convinced the problem was on the admin side. While Athena’s had some crappy teachers over the years, her first grade teacher was an absolute gem.

              1. I am firmly convinced that, while the product of the Teachers’ Coleges are a problem, 50% of what’s wrong with the public schools could be ameliorated, if not eradicated, by marching into the schools, lining up the teachers along one way and the admin types along the oppossite wall, stucking amspear into each administrator, and telling the teachers “Pick somebody to run the place as Principle, and start teaching the little housemapes to read and write and do math. Or we will be back.”

                1. Admins, except for the school secretary, only exist because of the mass of bureaucratic regulations that our elected and appointed officials create as a means of demonstrating they’re doing something to get paid for.

                  1. And these days , they ‘can’t afford enough teachers’ but somehow can afford just as many administrators as teachers…

                    1. The one thing I think we can take as proven by the last thirty years of experience with Public Education is that the problem ISN’T not enough money.

                      Private schools that cater to at-risk populations (inner city black kids, for example) often get better results for LESS money per pupil.

                      Now, some of that is for the same reasons that the ‘Experimantal’ Progressive schools of the early part of the 20th century did so well: such schools are, in many ways, self-selecting samples.

                      Still damn good arguments for voucher programs, though.

              1. I did it twice. The second time Ginny Heinlein caught me on AIM just before I left to pick him up. This led to my running into the school yelling “I’m sorry. I was talking to Mrs. Heinlein.” And the entire school went quiet…

            2. I have alarms on a device turned up to full, especially since our school district has an early-out day once a week. If I didn’t do that, I would NEVER be on time for school pickup.

              My dad left me at high school one day. I usually rode my bike but it had been raining, and the safety factor of the routes available drops precipitously when there’s rain. I finally went to the office and called home to basically say, “Forgot something?” (I was the sort of child to come home and disappear into my bedroom with a book, so it wasn’t like he’d notice…)

          2. I was TERRIFIED of doing that with Brandon – the ‘forget him in there.’

            Hubby reassured me that given how much he HATED the baby capsule and didn’t hesitate to let us know, there was little chance I’d forget.

            I worried anyway, because I remembered that he was quiet as long as he was content – so much so that when he was in special care the nurses were all ‘who’s that baby, I don’t recognize that voice’ the rare few times he did howl enough to be heard through the ward.

            … and well, we never did get the chance to find out if he would get used to the capsule. I think we had only two rides in the thing that he didn’t get crying upset about, and possibly only because they were very short rides. Boy had his opinions and he wasn’t shy about airing them. Baby or no, that was a lot of varied vocalization.

        3. Note on the “accidental” ones– they include things where NO ADULT WAS INVOLVED, like the kids who were playing around and for some reason locked themselves in the car trunk.

            1. ^^^^

              And that there is why women “worry too much”— because if you’re right, that just might save the kids’ lives; if you’re wrong, it just takes a tiny bit longer.

        1. ^THIS^
          “Adult” is taking responsibility, making the world go, replenishing the tribe with good people, things that (at least before “top fails” on youTube became a thing) actually matter to the world in the long run.

          It’s a pretty dang cool thing, in reality. Unless you are a narcissist. Then it’s all about you, of course. IOW, a child.

      1. Well, I am a kid in a somewhat over the hill body.

        Seems like I demonstrate to myself on a weekly basis that I’m no longer 25.

      2. Bluff? Nope. Been an adult since I was pretty much forced to become one back around 19 years old. I was definitely the first of all my friends to realize what being an adult meant, and to actually become one.

        And yeah, I’ve seen a lot of people over the years who never figured it out, or who just took forever to understand it. It’s always sad to be in a room of ‘older people’ and realize that you’re the only damn adult in the place.

        Sure, I missed out on a lot of ‘fun’ things that ‘kids’ (or irresponsible ‘grown ups’ in their 20’s or 30’s) do. But, on the other hand, because I -was- an adult, I got to do a lot of stuff that most people will only ever dream of. Though not all of it was ‘fun’.

        1. I don’t think any even halfway intelligent person could have read more than two Heinlein novels without having a pretty good idea of what being adult entailed, and the importance of acting the part when it was yours to play.

        2. We used to become adults younger than now. A sociology professor called college a time of extended adolescents when students are given a pass on behavior frowned upon when done by adults. She had a point. Maybe it was regional culture, but you were considered adults in the mid teens. After that point, some pranks and behavior were labeled “How could you be so stupid?” not just by those older but by peers as well.

          That’s still somewhat true regionally. It grates on ours, one in particular. I told them “You can’t fix stupid,” meaning they are not responsible for the stupidity of others, and that helps some.

          1. The reason for that earlier “adulting” is that life required you to pick up responsibility much earlier in life. It was true everywhere, though it lasted longer in rural farm communities (probably a reason for the regionality you mention).
            Universal college is another way of pushing out adolescence (as others mentioned).

  4. One thing I swore when we had Athena (and before her Reio–but that got taken out of my hands) was that she would never have cause to doubt that I loved her. In my own childhood, I was never sure.

      1. The “everybody gets a trophy” thing ain’t helping, either. When the adults (teachers) lie, a kid gets to wondering.

        Teacher: “Oh Billy, that’s the best picture of an elephant I’ve ever seen!”

        Billy, thinking: And I heard oyu say the same thing to Schmedlap over there that drew a tree and called it a cat. On purpose. He told me about it. Either you are delusional, or lying, teach.

        From there, they can get to wondering about parents. But good parents don’t lie to their kids like that. The kids don’t want to *believe* their folks would do that. But a kid can get careful, and watch their parents, who in a moment of distraction might mess something up. Ah ha, says kidlet. I am *not* a super-genius, like Wile E. Coyote. Therefore I must be stupid.

        It isn’t always that bad. But of such things as this are the dysfunctional elements of the nuclear family molecule created.

        1. Robert Paul Smith addressed that in WHERE DID YOU GO OUT WHAT DID YOU DO NOTHING: the watering of grades from ABCDF down to Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, and similar slush. And he was writing in the 1950’s, so it’s been going on for a while. He felt, and Imagree, that kids have at least some ifeamif they are doing well, andmdeserve the truth.

          But that might make the poor ed-school drones have to actually WORK.

        2. You don’t tell your kids they are “smart.” You tell them they get better at things with effort. And that some things come easier than others, but even they get better with effort.

          Wish somebody had told me that when I was a kid. I did all right, but I would have done better if I’d been told about the effort thing.

  5. Though one wonders how many of the Hollywood victims of Weinstein were used to sexual abuse growing up
    Probably elevated levels of this generally in Hollywood.

    Now that Weinstein’s downfall has shined a revealing light, the fact pattern of the true nature of Hollywood society is very suggestive.

    The drugs, the gossip, the messaging all fit together.

    People prominent in Hollywood are so because they want to be, or at one time wanted to be, or because parents in the case of child actors. The nature of Hollywood would have become apparent to people as the participated, and being closer, they’d have gathered the necessary evidence faster than I did. People who stayed in Hollywood made a choice.

    There seem to be three possibilities. 1) Saw Hollywood, and stuck with it because of an insane ambition that overwhelmed an otherwise healthy of self preservation. 2) Saw Hollywood, and stuck with it because of a deficient sense of self preservation being overwhelmed by a perhaps normal level of ambition. 3) Saw Hollywood, and stuck with it because a predator wants easy prey and a safe hunting ground.

    Growing up with sexual abuse can correlate with two of these. Plus, it seems to be documented for some Hollywood figures. Couldn’t say how reliably, or about any statistical significance.

    1. It would be interesting to look at those who did a few films or TV series and walked away, those who do films or TV but live outside the Hollywood scene and “commute in” so to speak, and those who are fully involved in “being Hollywood.”

      But them I’m also contemplating how one could take LeGuin’s “Those Who Walk Away From…” and tell it through the eyes of someone who eventually comes back—with an army to free the child and raze the city, sowing the foundations and fields with salt.

    2. I’d guess that 80% of Hollywood is sexually deviant in some manner. You want to find the ones that aren’t, look for anyone married more than 30 years to the same spouse. And most of those will probably come up as the rare, not-particularly-vocal-about-it, Hollywood conservatives too.

        1. Yep – staying married to the same person for decades does seem to be a strong indicator. One of my father’s cousins was married to an actor – the cousins’ kids are still in the business and seem pretty well adjusted, so I assume that they are probably on the conservative side of the scale. (The kids look more and more like my father as they grow older. I can’t say how it squicks me out, seeing either of them play a love scene in a movie or a tv series. “Oh, ick! Dad!”

          1. The ‘smaller name but steady’ and the ‘meh if this goes sour I’ll go back to X, Y, or Z field’ (Like Mandy Patenkin) seem to fair better on the sanity scale. Or they may not be big enough for us to hear about their indiscretions, not sure.

            1. Also “I was big but now it’s been ruined, I’ll do stuff that’s below me,” too.

              “Luke Skywalker” had that car accident and (mostly) stopped acting, but did keep up with voice acting*– they just hit 39 years. 😀

              * for those who don’t know– he is the Joker.

                1. A word of recognition for Harrison Ford would likely be in order, although IIRC it is he that is largely to blame for the Hollywood migration to Aspen.

      1. While I can’t say I haven’t had my fantasies, I have never strayed from my marriage. OTOH, I have never had starlets throwing themselves at me. I’ve never had groupies willing to bang a half dozen roadies for a chance to get into my bed. I’ve never had wealth, fame, or power such that a simple crook of my finger would get women to fawn all over me.

        Would I be able to withstand that kind of temptation. I’d like to think so. The wrongness of oathbreaking is one of my major values. But can I really know, not having faced such a challenge, how I would really measure up to it?

        1. To put it bluntly, some men can, some cannot. It depends on character.

          If you are the type of man who was raised to and/or hold to a certain set of iron principles, i.e. no man who takes advantage of a woman can be called a man thereafter, then you may resist in most situations. Himself knows I can’t be the only man who has turned down free NSA sex with a younger, very attractive woman. Or two. Because it would have been wrong, wrong, wrong. And I’m not even all that attractive or rich (rather the opposite, in fact).

          No man’s will is inifinite, however. In a moment of weakness, ‘gainst a woman who has plotted and planned her attack with malice aforethought? *tsk* Man had best hope he has some friends to bolster his sense of honor.

          Men who cannot resist are not necessarily weak of will. Some do not choose to resist because they don’t see it as wrong. Other personal definitions of morality, I suppose. Some men date in the workplace, with women who could become or are already their subordinates. This is something I would not do, but some have, or will. I can’t even say this should be true for all men, because I do know of at least one fifty-seven year (ongoing) marriage that resulted from just such a situation.

          Until a man’s placed in that situation, he cannot say for certain, you are quite right. But I’d lay odds on the man with his principles set against it remaining true. When a fellow makes his stand on such things he’s less like to be swayed even in the face of great temptation.

          1. turned down free NSA sex with a younger, very attractive woman.

            Oh No Strings Attached.

            For a moment, I thought you were talking spy-stuff.

          2. I’m only allowed to fool around with another woman when my wife tells me I can. So how many years to the heat death of the universe now?

        2. I once had a cat throw itself at me.

          I think it mistook me for someone else, it seemed embarrassed. As much as a cat can be, which isn’t much.

          1. Most cats would not be embarassed. They seem to have the philosophy “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” as Mr. Stills would suggest…

            1. Not original with Stills & Co.

              David Wayne sang much the same perspective as og the Leprechuan on Broadway in 1947. Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, Music by Burton Lane

    3. 1) Saw Hollywood, and stuck with it because of an insane ambition that overwhelmed an otherwise healthy of self preservation.
      Or stuck with it because they thought they were tougher than the others. I won’t let it snare me.

    4. What I can’t wrap my ind around concerning Weinstein and assorted others, is; why did anyone think Hollywood was NOT like that. It has been throughout its entire sordid history. These are the same bunch who, just a short while ago, were STILL defending Polansky!

      Seriously; why is anyone surprised?

      1. Hollywood is in the business of deception. That means that, as an institution, it has some small skill. Knowing its market, it disguised itself as only being as deviant as the general public was prepared to tolerate. (Knowing itself, it then poisoned its output in order to coarsen public tastes and mores.) Most folks weren’t paranoid, observant and stubborn enough to catch on.

    5. Do consider that actors and other such entertainers were regarded in a seriously negative way for much of human history, no matter where or when, and it was only with the rise of the “celebrity culture” we developed about the time the movie industry picked up that that began to change. Before that, actors weren’t allowed in “polite society”, and were regarded as being little better than street whores, in social terms.

      Just as with the common theme of keeping homosexuals out of “polite society”, we may well be on the cusp of discovering just why this is such a common feature, in successful social systems.

      I don’t have a particular brief, either way, but I will note that there are often solid functional reasons that such social mores and values exist, and persist throughout history. One would do well to reflect on those facts, before implementing changes based on your oh-so-enlightened modern values and “superior knowledge”.

      My guess is that the reason you don’t see successful social organizations and civilizations with these people achieving high status has an awful lot to do with the constellation of personality disorders that usually accompany “the talents”, and confusion about sexual identities. It may not be fair, it may not be right, but the fact remains, these are damaged minds and personalities. Making them icons of popular culture is probably not a survival-oriented civilizational trait.

      1. Yes and no. I agree with your general thrust. However, I think you may have the precise mechanism mischaracterized.

        I suspect at least two distinct factors. One, overlap between a developed strength in acting and growing up pretending that a socially unacceptable dysfunctional family situation is socially acceptable. (If we want to do something about campus rape culture, maybe we should shut down the theater programs. 🙂 ) Two, the drug use is maybe related to people damaged by previous abuse being preyed upon in a particularly toxic environment.

      2. A note on being considered only somewhat better than street whores– I don’t know if it was always the case, but it was *frequently* the case that it acted as a brothel. IE, exactly just a bit better than street walking…..

        1. I cannot recall the era, but in may venues “actresses” were known for trolling the audience (sometimes in the theatre during shows, sometimes in the streets as they left the theatre) offering to “show them a good time” in exchange for a small consideration.

          Early movies, such as the Goldiggers series are sufficiently consistent in their portrayal of “stage door Johnnys” to lend credence to a popular myth that showgirls saw their opportunities to hawk their wares in hopes of landing a comfortable post-graduate theatre career with a Mrs. Degree. Strutting your stuff in a Ziegfield review could be akin to being in the window at Tiffany’s.

              1. It went back to the Greek and Roman whorehouse roots?

                *thinking cap*

                I suppose the dehumanizing aspects of acting could contribute to making it *easier* to foster a suitable mindset for whore-mongering; in that case, the idolizing of stars can sort of counter-act it— until/unless it goes sour, because virtue is considered square.

              2. Even within the religious texts there can be … issues. I believe it was CB DeMille who noted that Biblical epics not only gave license to depict sex, lust, depravity and sex, it practically required it. Can’t destroy Sodom & Gomorrah, after all, without depicting how terrible those societies were, can you? After all, a lot of people have no real idea what corruption is, and lack imagination to conceive it.

      3. Movies permitted sufficiently mass audience to permit many people to acquire wealth from celebrity, but celebrity culture predated that genre, as witness the social success of Lily Langtry. Certainly films made such celebrity more easily attained.

        On the social tolerance question we might better apply the tools of statistics, looking at the primary norms of society and the degree of toleration for deviancy. For many decades America accepted the Middle Class, bourgeois, Protestant work ethic as its norm, with degrees of acceptance of deviance from that standard typically varying in correlation with economic prosperity and constraints. So long as there was a nod of respect to that norm America typically accepted fairly broad personal divergence, particularly amongst those able to afford it.

        It has been notable that since the Sixties that norm has gradually been erased, treated as contemptible in our popular culture. It held in All In The Family, but that was in spite of, not due to, its creator’s intent. Other arguments have been delivered through our popular culture, as explained here by Ben Shapiro:

        I could cite more, but that five-minute video seems sufficiently comprehensive.

  6. Re: the other things. Thanks. Useful food for thought. Checklist for improvement is also nice.

    What I’ve gotten out of it so far.

    I’ve known for a while that my tendency to gather information about how others are thinking, so I can assess the danger, is a coping mechanism. I hadn’t connected it with the desire to please.

    I’ve also realized that some of my obnoxious contrarian stubbornness is a defense mechanism against being dragged into someone else’s defective thinking, and some of it is resentment of being expected to.

  7. I was considered way too mature for my age, and told things like “you’re an old soul”. Also that I overthought things, but never mind.

    An “old soul” is nonsense because a soul is only as old as Time itself, and Time is not old at all, being forever in the present. Some souls do a better job of handling the wear and tear is all.

    As for accusations of “overthinking” I can commiserate, having myself been accused of such. After several decades of carefully considering the accusation and reviewing and evaluating the evidence I am happy to say that such accusations are probably invalid, although it is still a bit early to be sure.

    1. Only “probably invalid”? This might require some thought. And perhaps a tasty beverage or two. By the fireplace. With a good book or six… shelves worth. Maybe more.

    2. Heard the same thing, most of my life. I think it’s mostly BS, because what they’re really describing as making one present as an “old soul” has more to do with a preternatural appreciation for consequence, and being able to work out better than others the fact that result “B” will inevitably follow act “A”.

      This is somehow transmogrified into “maturity”. No, it’s really not–It’s just being a bit more aware than average what the consequences are.

      Same-same with “overthinking”: The people described as “overthinkers” are not necessarily doing too much thinking about things, they’re trying to work out how to avoid the pitfalls they see looming, when following a particular course of action. See “Cassandra”, for an example.

      Most humans exist and operate in a blithe cloud of optimism and false expectations. The few that don’t…? They get abused by their peers, until things go wrong, when they are then blamed for not putting a stop to things.

  8. The musical Into the Woods (not to be confused with the oddly-reduced version that made it into the movies) has a really good portrait of how an abusive upbringing can scar the next generation. The Witch was abused—that’s clear from the hints she drops about her relationship with her mother, as well as her final breakdown. She truly loves Rapunzel, but it’s obvious that she tried to raise her in the polar opposite of the way that she was raised, and by smothering her, destroyed her. “I was only trying to be a good mother” is a line that invariably gets a huge laugh, but it’s true. She was. She just didn’t have a clue as to how to go about it.

    1. “I was only trying to be a good mother” is a line that invariably gets a huge laugh, but it’s true.

      Hooks up oddly with something I was musing about this morning; we’re having a bit of a discipline problem, and I was thinking over the very good advice of being firm and consistent, and the also very good advice of not being too harsh and that you should have some give.

      Pretty much decided that there IS a right way to do it, but you don’t know until after it’s done– if they’re LOOKING at “if I am a brat, I don’t have to do it,” you need to be firm and consistent. If they are trying to tell you “this really is too much, I just can’t,” you need to declare a sort of holiday and chill out.

      1. That’s a line that my wife and I have been walking with our four kids. Sometimes on the right side, sometimes on the wrong side. Sometimes on both sides at the same time. So far, it looks like we managed to squeak through without scarring them too much. The oldest is 3/4 of the way through a double major in archaeology (a long time passion of his) and history. So far, so good. He’s got scars, but his girlfriend (and wife as soon as they graduate) is helping him work through them. The other three have their own scars, but they’re aware of them. Not dealing with them, but they’re aware they are there. So, it looks like we haven’t screwed them up too much.

        Of course, they’re all firmly on the Odd side, but I strongly suspect that’s because their genetics made them that way.

    2. The Ever Afters series by Shelby Bach (starts with Of Giants and Ice) has a Rapunzel who, while loved by the main character, shows definite signs of her traumatic upbringing.

        1. That song is the best alto audition piece ever. Once I put the notes back in, of course. Disney’s sheet music has the talky-talky in the score. No thank you; *I* will decide where I want to speak-sing, TYVM.

  9. Of course I’m not perfect but I am better than most.

    On the other hand, “being better than most” might not be something to brag about. 👿

  10. “Dan and I take in strays. We’ll probably always take in strays. BUT the hyper-responsible causes us to continue feeling responsible/trying to help long after it’s started to hurt us physically/emotionally/financially and long after it’s become obvious that we’re not doing good and are on the contrary creating learned helplessness.”

    A couple of years back, a Christian moms group I was part of had a discussion on this. At my table, one older woman talked about the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and how that’s often used to justify taking on more than you can handle. But if you read it closely, the Samaritan binds the wounds of the victim, puts him on his donkey, takes him to an inn, and then pays someone else to continue the help before continuing on his journey.

    This lady explained that “Donkeys are smart. They won’t move if they’re overloaded. So you can’t keep carrying people along; you have to carry them to where someone better suited to help is, and then you need to leave them, or else you won’t be able to help anyone else. Including you.”

    And then a lady named Kristina Albright (who deserves all due credit) said, “So if I’m overloaded, it’s all right to tell somebody to get off my ass!”

  11. I still feel guilty when I say things like “self care” because it seems to selfish.
    I would proffer two bits of wisdom.

    First, when Scripture says that you love others as yourself, that implies that you should love yourself. As you say, “don’t … become a self-centered *ss.” But God loves you, so you should, too.

    And, to put that in perspective, I’ll quote CS Lewis (as someone else here did a while back):
    Aslan, to the newly crowned King Frank,
    You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honour enough to lift the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the head of the proudest emperor.

    1. Although I found it to be a tough slog, Ayn Rand’s, “The Virtue of Selfishness”, does have some good points to it.

      1. One thing that a lot of people don’t get is that when Rand talks about the evil of altruism, she is talking about the concept of altruism proposed by Auguste Comte, the man who coined the word. I’ve edited a biography of Comte. It quoted him as saying that Jesus was not worthy of respect as a moral teacher, because he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and that assumed that you did love yourself, that it was all right to do so, and indeed that the love you naturally showed for yourself was the standard. No, said, Comte, a morally good person had no love for themself at all, and loved only other people, and anyone like Jesus who said otherwise was encouraging evil, because nothing good ever came from love of self. Well, Rand condemned that idea, and I think with good reason; but because the word has been softened (indeed, Comte’s English buddy John Stuart Mill was already arguing for a less crazy version), she is commonly taken as saying that no one should ever show kindness or good will or generosity. Of course, Rand could have chosen a word that a larger population of readers would understand. . . .

        1. Like I said, tough slog. Reading her fiction was okay. But her non-fictional work takes a lot of work and usually ends with my having a headache and a puzzled look on my face trying to digest it all.

    2. Remember what they always tell you on airplanes. Put on your own mask, then help other people with theirs. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to help anybody.

  12. The fact that everyone has scars is the root of both my grandest fear and relief. I’m not getting out of this without screwing up the child… but I probably won’t be especially terrible.

    (I’m still trying to analyze what came before in an effort to at least make different mistakes. Hard as my parents, er… kind of become caricatures of themselves, obscuring the memories. Does that happen to everyone? I’m becoming terrified of what I’ll be when I’m old, since I’m already a caricature.)

    (I figure I’m ahead if I can keep DSS out of it, in any case.)

    1. You get old enough not to care.

      One on MY markers of adulthood is being willing to go to a Disney cartoon without worrying that you’re ’too old’.

      I shave my head. It’s just easier to deal with. My Lady tells me I’m handsome, and nobody else’s opinion matters.

      1. IIRC C. S. Lewis said that as an adult he’d read stuff for pleasure that as a child he thought were “childish”. 😉

        1. There’s a period between when a kid will love TOM SAWYER because it’s a thrilling tale and when he’s old enought to appreciate how well written it is.

          Typically, this is when US schools make it required reading.

  13. In regards to #1, If your parent(s) did in fact expect perfection, it is most likely because that is the only defense mechanism THEY had available to them.
    It seemed to be the only thing Mom (lower upper class) and Dad (poor immigrants) agreed on, a 98/100 on a 50 question test is practically failing!

    1. A family friend who’s family fled China in 1949 said his parents had only one question when he came home from school: “Did you do better than the Japanese kids?” Loooooong memories.

    2. Oh, that. 100 wasn’t enough, either. “WHY didn’t you get extra credit? Your brother always got extra credit. Sometimes they made up extra credit for you.”
      BUT I don’t think mom realized what was coming out of her mouth and the effect it would have.

  14. If younger son hadn’t been tested and if they didn’t tell us he has the highest IQ in the family, things he does with … oh, laundry…. would lead me to believe he’s not very bright.

    I need to keep repeating this to myself.

    The kids are being… well, they’re not geniuses, but my lord are the screw ups so far a sign that they didn’t miss out on their folks’ IQ. And didn’t magically get a shipment of better sense.

      IF color = “white” AND material “knitted” AND material “ballistic nylon” AND material “wool” THEN hot water + soap + bleach + normal setting.
      IF material = “ballistic nylon” THEN cold water + soap + iron out + gentle setting
      IF color “white” AND material “knitted” THEN cold water + soap + normal setting.
      IF material = “knitted” OR material = “wool” THEN cold water + soap + gentle setting.
      IF material = “knitted” OR material = “wool” OR material = “ballistic nylon” THEN clothes line dry ELSE normal dryer setting

      That usually kept my kids and I straight, although I do recall the time my beautiful red, 100% wool bathrobe got washed in hot water and run through the dryer coming out sized for a munchkin.

      1. Yes, Mike, but the latest one was new on me: Confuse clean and dirty clothes. No, seriously. Rewash clean, hang dirty in closet.
        Let’s say I’m starting to understand why Einstein’s wife bought him all matching clothes, so he could just dress…

        1. . . . I’ve done that.

          I’m older though, and have *much* more experience.* No I just rewash everything sometimes. Just in case. *chuckle*

          *:As in I did that last month, but I washed everything this past week just in case.

          1. If you have the money have someone else do the laundry for you? I hate housework, so I have had a cleaning lady for 20 years. One cleaning used the money I paid her for nursing school tuition.

            1. Wish I could. Maybe once the godson grows up, I’ll have some spare change. *chuckle* Nowadays, I’d be more like to be the clenaing guy if I had free time than the man having his laundry done.

              I’ve just the three, well, two and a sometimes-it-pays jobs, and old people to take care of, godson every now and then, and a slowly being renovated century old house. It’s not as bad as it could be, not by a long stretch! But it will take a little time to get to that point, where I can pay people to do things rather than doing them myself. *chucke*

            1. Funny, from what I remember from my brief stint of studying engineering, the dating pool was pretty big. 😆

              Of course, though, they were all engineers.

              1. When I started going to sf cons there were few women attending. The odds of meeting someone were excellent for women.

              2. I enjoyed the pleasant male company as a side benefit of math contests. 😀 Met my husband at one, actually, although his friend did most of the talking that time.

            2. Nonsense. In Colorado you can hardly take a novel drilling apparatus down to the bottom of a disused mine shaft testing without encountering a tentacled thing seeped from deep within the earth.

          1. You wouldn’t believe what some of the kids in basic training did at first. Made me think they were at least semi-barbarian. First inspection, the clowns (8-9 of them) who’d put dirty clothes in their locker and not in the laundry bag were made to wear their dirty underwear as hats pulled on tightly (racing stripes and all), dirty socks on their hands (3 pairs in some cases), carrying other dirty clothes, and had to march round the flight bay chanting the instructions on clothes, their cleaning, and their proper stowage.

            1. Guess I got lucky. The only bozo who wore underwear on his head was the one who brought his girlfriends panties with him. So the TI made him wear them instead of his normal underwear. Yeah, you can guess what his nickname was for the rest of basic training.

        2. I’ve seen a kickstarter or other such fundraising entry for a (rather expensive) towel with a clean/dirty indicator stripe. I suppose that makes it multi-lingual, but for some ‘WASH ME NOW’ would be better if that showed up. For towels, a somewhat neat idea. For clothing? I can see that going badly in so many ways.

  15. This feeling of “And I’m lucky to get hind teat” means I’ll get sick with stress but not demand clarification or payment or– Because I’m afraid it will be worse for me if I do. They’ll notice how much trouble I am and just drop me, say.

    Oh how I know this feeling! It took me years to understand that it was perfectly fine for me to demand to be paid, for my work, if things weren’t right. That talking about money and compensation were normal!
    To understand that if I was being treated bad in a situation, to demand better, and if I didn’t get it to walk.

    And then to not feel bad when I did in fact get up and walk out leaving everyone behind stunned (I’ve done this at two jobs and one large social function – where I was in a strange city, without transportation).

    It took me MANY years (decades actually) but I learned self-value. I have walked into the boss’s office (more than once) and demanded the money I was owed, by lunchtime, or I was going home (got paid each time). I have learned the hard way that the guy who gets pushed around, agrees to ‘stay late’ or do some ‘extra work’ doesn’t get advancement, in fact, they’re the first one let go. Because if you don’t stand up for yourself, if you don’t value yourself, no one else will.

    1. This feeling seems most common amongst women and is a major contributor to the (so-called) “gender wage gap.”

    2. In my careers in retail, I made it clear that I would turn up on time, or pitch in when there was an emergency if I had no conflicts, but their lack of planning did not constitute MY emergency. I regularly took the last shift on Christmas Eve, because it isn’t a big deal to either my Lady or myself. But I don’t work on Thanksgiving. Period, dot.

  16. I didn’t have any single big problem with abuse, but I was unlucky in having had several smaller bad experiences in my life. First one was no one’s fault, apart from the child psychologists of that time – I got sick and was left in a hospital for three months as a baby. Left because at that time it was thought that total separation from parents would be easier on a child than having them visit. So they visited, but only to see me from a distance and behind a glass.

    Then I was send back home. Mother used to tell me how she had to wear all white clothes for weeks after that or I’d get hysterical. I didn’t remember her, all I did remember were the nurses, back then dressed in all white.

    Then, for two years in school, third and fourth grade, I had a teacher who was something of a bully. She had her favorites, those of us who weren’t – well, she, for example, would make fun of the kids in her class, and not in a nice way but so that she’d make the whole class laugh at that kid. Happened to me a few times.

    And one of the ways I had until then been able to get favorable attention, especially from the other kids, was drawing, I could draw a lot better than most kids my age. That teacher’s daughter sometimes came to spend time in our class when her mother was staying longer in the school than her classes lasted. So one day when she was there teacher decided there would be a drawing competition between her daughter and me. Her daughter was two years older, and, well, the teacher’s daughter. We both went to the blackboard and did a drawing – I didn’t want to, but I wasn’t asked – then she told the class to vote which was better. Guess how that went.

    She taught me that it was safest to remain invisible.

    And it kept going on a bit like that most of my life. Things never got really bad, but they never got really good either, there always seemed to be something. Mother got sick when I was 16, died ten years later, and while she didn’t ask for it I rather tried to be as little a problem as possible during those years, never get angry, never cause any trouble to anybody. Then father found another wife pretty soon after her death, one who probably was pretty good to him but bullied me pretty damn badly emotionally at times by constantly belittling me, telling me how bad a daughter and a person I was, how I never did anything right…

    My father died a few years ago and these years after that have been kind of weird. Because I think this is the first time in my life when I don’t mold my behavior from the worry of what somebody else thinks. During the years with the “evil stepmother” (and thank God at least she was just father’s wife, not really that) it tended to be worry of getting her even more pissed at my existence because she did have influence with my father, he never seemed to completely get her games (although he wasn’t fully under her thumb either after the first years). And I didn’t want to lose him – from childhood I was terrified of the idea of being abandoned, presumably stemming from that hospital stay. And I have never fully trusted anybody either.

    It was in some ways like being frozen. I knew what she was like with me as I was, but I was scared to move to any direction from that because I had no idea how she would have reacted. I was worried about losing my job, but I guess I was also scared of succeeding by getting a better job, or by becoming a published writer or whatever, so I guess I never fully invested in trying to get anywhere with those although I kept trying, sort of.

    I just didn’t quite realize it myself back then. That I wasn’t really trying my best, I was always holding back at least to some extent and often enough just going through the motions.

    So yes, the last couple of years have been pretty weird. I’m not exactly fully healed, and presumably never will be, but I have been getting better. I’m not frozen anymore.

    1. Heh. And when you add the damn SAD (seasonal affective disorder, which I do get as a pretty bad version) on top of all that – and the fact that the thing still seems to be something lots of people don’t understand at all, or don’t really believe in… (second wife certainly didn’t. I was just lazy good for nothing as far as she was concerned. Or amusing failure when she was on a different mood. She did seem to like the fact that her own daughters had done considerably better in life, both nurses and one married to a doctor).

      As said, I have had lots of bad luck. Smaller stuff I might have been able to deal with if it had been one or two things, but they kept piling.

      1. “And if it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have none at all!”

        This is something I’ve said many times over the past fifteen years. What I’ve learned the hard way is, if they keep telling you your life is worthless and everything you do is wrong… It is not what it sounds like. What it *means* is something about the one who is telling you that.

        Most people are broken in some way, and a lot of folks are scared. It’s easy it get caught in the trap of being the recipient of abuse, then turning around and abusing others. It doesn’t help. But, for more folks than you might expect, that’s normal.

        One family I know of, their daughter is a very brave woman. She’s currently out on her own, in her twenties, owning her own house and working two jobs to pay for it. Her mother, however, can’t seem to say a single nice thing to her. To everyone else, she’s a proud momma- look what a successful, hard working daughter she has! And that momma is polite and kind to strangers.

        Her daughter on the other hand hasn’t heard a single unqualified compliment from her mother ever. Not once that I know of, and I’ve known the girl since she was six. It’s always, why aren’t you married? Are you a lesbian? Why are you so mean to your mother (she didn’t have the tea on when mother came for an unannounced visit)? And so on.

        That kind of steady grinding disapproval can do a lot of harm over time. That’s why I think she’s brave- she could have moved away, but stayed close. She actually did live abroad for a few years when she first moved out. Came back to take care of her dad when he got sick, and stayed on.

        Everyone’s a bit broken, I think. It means something, the folks who manage to get through life without spreading the pain too much.

  17. Mrs. Hoyt,


    Decent human being, raising more of same.
    Smart-thinker, and thoughtful.

    I missed in there where you are an under-achiever. Not seeing it.

    You have proven yourself worthy of respect. You will do better for yourself and family when you can fully internalize that, and act on it. Keep going. You will get there.

  18. On a reader/writer note… I don’t know if this is insensitive, now that I’m typing it? But incorporating those “missing steps” (you know, the broken stair you hop over without thinking about it) into your hero’s background existence, without particularly bringing attention to it (unless/until it affects how they function in relation to the main storyline) will get you way more sympathy, immersion and attachment than actually showing them having their family killed off in front of them or locked in the small cupboard as a child or whatnot.

    I don’t know why. I think it slips under the radar of things we look for in a friend, without getting into scenes we won’t hear about without a full fifth of whisky involved.

    So, uh, yeah. The more reason to try to work through them: reverse engineering potential.

    (I’m really hoping that’s not insensitive.)

    1. I realize I should clarify that this sort of treatment is something I think you-Hoyt are particularly fantastic at, and mostly mention in general because I’ve been fretting on how to pull it off.

      (Seriously, I’ve been irritated every time I’ve needed to put down Dipped Stripped and Dead since I bought it, in part because Dyce is somehow bith a great example of this trope in action and ridiculously fun. So. Um. Not saying you need to learn how to do it.)

  19. I’ve realized- long after the fact, unfortunately- that though I had a safe and reasonably good childhood, it left me with a few, shall we say, personality quirks. My parents had high expectations, and so did my teachers, but most of them assumed that because I understood some things without prompting, I understood everything, and therefore didn’t need help. So I was essentially untaught until I messed up, whereupon I was told ‘I thought you could do better’ or ‘you deliberately disobeyed me’ by various authority figures.

    The upshot of all that is that I’m still getting over an irrational fear of attention of any kind. I’m one of those people who remembers shameful or embarrassing experiences more clearly than successful or happy moments, and for a long time, it seemed like the only feedback I was getting was in the form of a scolding. And I’m dense as a brick when it comes to emotions, facial expressions, and tone of voice, so that didn’t help, either.

    Ah, the memories.

      1. Ouch; there’s more than one of us? My sympathies. I hope you were loved, to make up for it. I was, and never doubted that my parents loved me, but I wanted to make them *proud* of me, which was a little harder.

        1. Very much loved, and knew it– and oddly enough, that’s part of why I don’t trust most complements. Either the folks giving them love me, and are biased, or I need to figure out what they expect to get from the complement. 😦

    1. I ran into this too. Dad — aka the sane parent — has an almost pathological inability to explain things. He thinks you should just pick them up out of the air. And they can be as simple as “we’re going on vacation in two weeks.” Or as complex as Roman history. He just assumed I knew. And yes, he is the sane parent. But it led me extremes of trying to stay ahead of landmines.

      1. We’ve got a story like that.

        My sister–at that point an only child–was four or five, and Dad was serving ice cream. And he said, “Say when!”

        So she said, “When!”

        And he got really, actively pissed at her screwing with him, utterly failing to realize that she was unfamiliar with the idiom.

        (Older sister was apparently like that, though. Around the same time period, my mother had some argument with her where she finally huffed, “Stop acting like such a *child*!” And the friend who was with them could only say, “…she’s four…”)

    2. Wow, the story of my life. Except as a teenager, there was no such thing as a “small” mistake or oversight to Dad. Watch “The Great Santini” for a taste (without the physicality, or the drunkenness). And yet, I think he did better by me than his father did for him.

      1. And his father’s grandfather was a violent, physically abusive drunk who my grandfather remembers as nearly killing him once. The man ended up dead on the railroad tracks after a binge. It was matter of open speculation that he’d been “helped” to lay on the tracks rather than just passing out on them.

    3. …one of those people who remembers shameful or embarrassing experiences more clearly than successful or happy moments,

      I know this one – and I don’t blame my folks for it, btw. But it’s part of the reason that I find A Christmas Story too annoying to watch (and the unexpurgated[1] version of The Great American Fouth of July… and Other Disasters is better, IMO.) and those People’s Court or judge Judy or such shows? Where it’s rather plain that at least (at least!) one party is a moron… just no. Some might enjoy the take-down, but I just cringe at the whole thing – and not from any sympathy with the moron.

      [1] I’d like to see that again. When it was cut down, many of the good parts were removed. Argh.

      1. *blink* I’m _not_ the only person who dislikes that movie? All I see when I try to watch it is that poor kid being humiliated time and time again. Not something I find amusing.

        But then I am the one who does not like “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Not because it was run to death, but because I find it depressing. There are people who could disappear / never been born, and no one would notice.

        1. No, you’re not. Though we do seem to be rare. For a journal site, I once commissioned a small set of icons and the artist figured that a bundled up version that played on that movie would be an automatic win.. and was shocked at my deeply repulsed reaction. It was shown to others, and they seemed to also be bewildered as to just how someone couldn’t love the movie. Humans, go figure.

      2. The best description of why I do the same that I’ve been able to come up with is that dignity is being assaulted– and dignity has taken enough damage, already!

  20. Thanks for that. 🙂

    I realized I might need to rethink my thinking after 1) reading a sci-fi webcomic where some bit of background humor included a motivational poster with the words “Have You Earned Your Air Today”? and 2) going “oh, that was supposed to be funny?” three or four days later.

    1. Eh. It might be genetic in my case. My grandmother used to give us this long list of everything she’d done that day. I was 30 before I realized she was justifying her existence. And I tended to do the same.

      1. Two ways you can go when you’re smart– see all you could be doing, and feel bad that you don’t manage it; see all you could be doing, and reject the responsibility to do anything. (Basically, what Tony of the Avengers thinks he should do, vs what he’s doing when the series starts!)

  21. Sarah are you familiar with the psychology of family dynamics? Basically proving Tolstoy wrong, children of such families fall into set roles, hero, scapegoat (or black sheep as I learned it), lost child, and mascot. There is of course some gradation and blurring of lines as in all generalities, but it suits most dysfunctional families I have knows (including my own) relatively well.

    1. Hero? That would be Thor, right? Scapegoat/Black Sheep is obviously Loki, and the Lost Child is Hela? Yep, that is one dysfunctional family.

    2. I had a friend once write a one-act play that is four daughters and a mother suffering from dementia, and it becomes obvious that the (deceased) dad was an abusive alcoholic. The four daughters definitely slot into the roles, though I think one of them is caregiver rather than lost child. And when they put on the show, the actress brought out the fraught nature of that role, as it was obvious she was borderline suicidal. (Caregivers are at a bigger risk from death than their patients, especially in dementia cases. Not just suicide but stress.)

      Hmm. I’m still friends with everybody from that show. Though it did take me a while to warm up to the “black sheep” character, since that was my first exposure and that character was prickly (the actress is sweet.)

  22. Oh, I know how this feels…in spades. I was the bright child (No. To Hell with it. I’m a genius, with the accomplishments to match)…who could NEVER be good enough to satisfy his parents. Not to mention the usual miseries suffered by a very-high-IQ person consigned to the Government school system…AKA a 12-year prison sentence.

    You pick up a lot of scars that way.

    1. Older son says “High IQ means mentally ill, either the facto or caused by living in a world of comparative morons.”
      Technically I THINK I’m a genius too. I must be an underachiever.

                  1. Or go with the guy who first broke it as a hit …

                    I confess I have been and remain a fan of Arlo Guthrie, which may make me a less than True Conservative. Screw it – I don’t have to buy his politics, although I gather they’ve become less left-wing over the years.

                    Interestingly, his father Woody wrote a song attacking Donald’s father, Fred:

                    “In January, some unpublished lyrics from the elder Guthrie’s expansive collection of works were discovered. In the lyrics, Woody Guthrie takes aim at his landlord, claiming ‘old man Trump’ was a racist.

                    “The ‘old man Trump’ was Fred Trump, father of GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.

                    “In an email interview with the Sun Herald, Arlo Guthrie, 69, said he quit writing ‘attack songs’ when he was younger and that he doesn’t necessarily share his father’s opinions.

                    “‘These days, I have no problem speaking out against some Trump policy, but I will not judge the character of Fred Trump or his son, Donald,” he said. ‘I’m happy to tell you what I think is right or wrong, but I leave the judgment to a higher authority.’

                    Guthrie said he was given the ability to grow from his experiences in a way that was denied his father, who died at 55 in 1967.

                    “‘Maybe the biggest difference between my father and I is that I was able to live a little longer than he did and was able to learn from my experience in ways he could not,’ he said. ‘My father didn’t have the luxury of living long enough to make that kind of change, regardless of whether he would or would not have.'”

          1. I think you may have inverted the genus and species there, although neither Dan nor the boys have much published as of yet.

      1. This seems related to the concept I’ve always had that artists of any stripe don’t come about without severe damage–that the compulsion to connect with people in *this* fashion doesn’t happen without being completely unable to do it the old fashioned way.

        (I’m coming around to feel that this is needlessly cynical. But… I kind of feel my own reflexive dismissal in that statement regardless.)

        (…my two component results were too far apart to get a meaningful final reading.)

        1. I’d suggest a slight modification– there’s a hunger for a different sort of interaction, which CAN come from being broken, but might just be….lonely, I guess….

    2. Many geniuses have an inferiority complex:
      everyone else is inferior to them, but often they are the only one who realizes it.

  23. Doing ancestry research I can find, both through stories and what I see on census forms and other things, a history of alcoholism and just plain cussheadedness on my mother’s side. Yet, most of the children seem to have been successful adults. Could be genetics and intelligence have something to do with the outcome, for the extended family has more then it’s fair share of doctors, military officers, and reverends in it. From pre-revolution to now.

    As I noted earlier, my mother was an alcoholic. She denies her father was one, but I remember there was always an open gallon bottle of wine in the kitchen, frequently replaced. My g-grandfather? All his kids left home at age 16. 200 miles from the nearest seaport and they all became merchant sailors. All were commisioned in the Navy during WWI, and all pursued different professions after leaving a seagoing life. Were they close? No. Found out just last year one of 2nd cousins graduated from my HS a year before me- my mother’s 1st cousin lived in the town next door for years and they didn’t know it.

    In the 1910 census my g-grandfather is living in GA listed as widowed. My g-grandmother died in 1917 in KY; her death certificate says she’s widowed. He died in 1931. Sounds pretty dysfunctional to me.

    And I can find further dysfunction in the previous generation…

  24. I’m so old I remember when hospitals thought it a failure to allow a patient to die. Now it seems all the fashion.

    UK Hospital Wants to Remove Baby Alphie from Life Support Against Parents’ Wishes
    Yes, the NHS is at it again.

    There is another child in the UK that has been deemed to have a life unworthy of life. Yes, I know it is offensive comparing the NHS to Nazis. And yet I’ll stand by it, and I will explain. In things like this, there is not a hair of difference between the modern, “compassionate” socialized medicine and totalitarian societies. Both can and will decide on your life, without regard for whether you have value for your relatives, or whether you wish to live, or really anything except “what value do you have for the state?” And how much are you going to cost the collective purse?

    As far as I could gather online, Alfie Evans is unconscious, there is no sure diagnosis, except “persistent vegetative state,” which is not a diagnosis so much as a description. And the hospital has applied for permission to turn off Alfie’s ventilator and other life support. They have done this despite the fact that there is a hospital in Italy – still within the EU – that has offered to take Alfie and continue efforts to arrive at a diagnosis, and perhaps treatment.

    This is eerily reminiscent of the case of little Charlie Gard, whose parents raised the money to fly him to the U.S. for treatment, but the hospital – by refusing to release him to fly to the U.S. – managed to hold onto him long enough that treatment was no longer possible.

    I’m here to tell you that these are going to continue happening. …

    1. Count your blessings. Some places practically require an act of God to extricate the patient from their clutches. Took my brother and I to whipsaw the administrators of a rehab and palliative “care” facility to release my Dad so we could take him home to die in peace; and that was after they had admitted there wasn’t anything more they could do for him.

    2. It is a rather offensive comparison– didn’t the Nazis have to give plausible excuses to the parents of those kids and disabled they killed?

        1. Folks who are poor and desperate *are* a lot more likely to be willing to believe there’s a special care facility, especially when that is relatively common for the well-off.

      1. As I understand it, after the so-called Tiergarten 4 (T4)* Edict was passed, congenitally ill/handicapped/seriously ill children and adults could be “euthanized” if the State determined it to be in the best interests of the Volk. Any excuse given was pretty thin. Earlier it might have been different, before the T4 edict. That’s an area I really have not studied.

        *Named for the address of the building where it was drawn up.

        1. The programs I heard of would have been right off the bat– it was a sort of flying-skim of “how the heck did they get to the point where the Final Solution was FUNCTIONAL?”

          It was the early “homes” where they sent very nice letters about how terrible it was that your disabled relative had contracted the flu (or whatever) and passed away in their sleep.

          Last half of the book was photographs of things like the human-skin lamp shade, gloves, piles of corpses, that horrific picture of all the little kids’ shoes…..

        2. Appears that, at least at first, the T4 system tried to hide what they were doing:

          T4 leadership insisted the letters be “personalized” to deflect suspicion and thwart an onslaught of questions from families. In a Top Secret document, local authorities were directed to keep the letters the same, but different – to alter form letters just enough to avoid irritation, suspicion, questions. Cause of death proved a sticky wicket for T4 officials. To avoid questions and suspicions, physicians took great pains to find a cause of death suitable to the patient. A guide was developed by the T4 leadership committee for use by doctors and staff preparing death letters and certificates. A list of acceptable causes of death was made, complete with notes of things to keep in mind to ensure that the cause of death assigned and medical history of the patient were consistent. For example, septicemia (also called sepsis) was on the list of acceptable causes of death for the mentally ill, with cautionary notes to avoid using this particular illness as a cause of death if the patient was known to be meticulously clean. Sepsis was preferable for “young, strong patients who smear readily.” The notes, fairly thorough in their scope, also cautioned that if septicemia was used as a cause of death, care should be taken to remember that “seven to eight days have to be allowed for the illness to take effect.”

        3. I find it funny that everyone focuses on the Nazi’s on this subject when ALL of Europe practices euthanasia these days. The Netherlands have been doing it for decades, and they’re completely up front about it and everyone there knows it. All it takes is for a doctor to say that the quality of your life is such that you’re better off dead, and that’s it, you’re dead.

          The other countries at least (the Britain for example) just slaps a DNR on you, withdraws all food and medication, as well as water, and they just wait for you to die of dehydration, lack of food, or lack of medicine, whichever comes first. If whatever is ailing you doesn’t kill you first.

          How many people remember the story of the guy last year who needed a bypass, but rather than get it here, where they could have done it no questions asked, he went back home to England, where they refused him treatment (too ‘old’) and a month later he was dead? That was euthanasia pure and simple.

          Yeah, the Nazi’s could learn a thing or three from the modern EU.

          1. The people who say our healthcare should be like Europe’s, or who otherwise advocate socialized healthcare, will sometimes pretend to not want the Nazi T4 medical cost savings program. But such a program will appear rational and necessary under any socialized health care system. The only way not to have one is not to have socialized medicine.

  25. So much in this post and the comment threads hits close to home, yet I’m reluctant to reveal many particulars of my own history. One strongly negative influence, tho, was my mother, who bragged to all and sundry about my musical ability, but never said anything to my face except criticisms of my performance, throughout 14 years of study culminating in a Master of Music degree. The end result was that I eventually became a computer programmer. 😉

    There are other scars, and I’ve been working for a few years now to untangle and understand their effects on my current life. But after so many years of having my creative abilities denigrated by those who should have been my supporters, my biggest personal challenge is acting on my ideas and actually making them into a physical reality (woodturning, jewelry). After reading ACT and MGC for 2-3 years now, I have started doing the Sunday Vignettes because they present both a prompt and a deadline of sorts.

    General question: how has your creativity been helped or hindered by these experiences? Many/most of you are writers. Is creative writing an escape, or a sublimation, or therapy? Or would you be writers regardless? Do you think you would be more productive, or less, if your formative years had been more normal and supportive, i.e., less scar tissue?

    1. I also didn’t give my full history. My brother occasionally reads this blog and I have no intention of paining him or mom.
      Mostly the way this affects me, other than an inability to demand support from publishers/etc, which well…. I’m going indie as hard as I can (though not leaving my publisher) this history has gifted me with deeply ingrained self-doubt which sends to six-month or more long of silence, where I can write nothing.

      1. six-month or more long of silence, where I can write nothing.

        Pshaw! many authors who write nothing get published all the same, and so long as they write correct nothing the reap critical acclaim. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has amply proven.
        Published on Oct 17, 2017

        03:09 Critiquing Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book
        10:55 Will the bubble burst on race-centric thinking?
        15:00 John pulls no punches on Coates’s writing
        24:12 The case for hope over pessimism in the black community
        31:35 Glenn: The Jim Crow era is over

        Glenn Loury (Brown University) and John McWhorter (Time, Columbia University, Talking Back, Talking Black)

      2. “The people I’ve met who do great work rarely think that they’re doing great work. They generally feel that they’re stupid and lazy, that their brain only works properly one day out of ten, and that it’s only a matter of time until they’re found out.” Paul Graham
        From my file I call wisdom.

    2. I think it helped a lot in that I have very vivid and realistic internal worlds that I can turn on like a light switch, even if the real world is in chaos around me. Sometimes I have trouble turning them off. It was a coping mechanism because bullying, busy parents in politics/education solving other people’s problems, no friends between 4th and 10th grade and for my last year in hs. so lots of alone time. Both figuratively alone and in places where I felt alone.

      I grew up a genius stuck in the looney bin school wise with no escape bc my parents built the damned thing. Being stuck in a place where I couldn’t talk to any one with parents who were too busy too really listen made me grow up thinking that no one would ever value what I had to say. I get shut down socially very easily and I often font bother speaking at all about things I’m excited about or working Because of a long history of people going “huh” or just walking off mid sentenced they aren’t completely scornful. Makes it hard to form friendships or professional connections. I actually tend to avoid people 90% of the time.

      Add a heaping helping of “you should be a role model” and “why aren’t you more like” from everyone around me (professional parents in a poor rural community) and I’ve got a mix tape of different versions of “I’m doing it wrong” constantly running through my head. It makes it hard forme to write or make art and I struggle with procrastination. Because it will never be good enough or people won’t be interested in what I have to say.

      There’s a lot more wrong with me but I think those are what affect me artistically and professionally the most.

  26. The thing to remember is that we are ALL broken.
    “Humans/men/women are this way” is always in aggregate.

    We make policies for the aggregate, the mean.
    We live with and love the individual.

  27. “I take in strays”
    We had a particularly bad experience that ended that. It was about 10 years ago, now. I think we’re recovered and if something comes up may give it another whirl.

    One reason I think so many gay men are so not-adult is the lack of children. In most cases, having a child forces a man to grow up, whether he wants to or not.

    There is no such thing as a normal family. Most are dysfunctional in one way or another. I’d bet on an almost reverse bell-curve with the dip near zero in the middle (no idea what the axis might be, though).

  28. Some of it is simply a matter of changing times and changing ideas of how parents should act. My parents were both born in the 1920s and had kids late, and they both followed an older, more “stoic” style — or perhaps “deprecating” would be a better term. Not malicious, but I think they had the vague sense that you shouldn’t give kids a “swelled head.” So I don’t think I ever actually got praised for anything.
    Add to that a completely different set of interests, and it could be difficult. When I showed my mother some of my early stories, the only thing she could think of to do was proofread for spelling and grammar — which was helpful but not very encouraging. (And of course nowadays I’m practically OCD about submitting “clean copy.”) My father simply interpreted all my science fiction as satire, which was fine when the stories actually were satire, but a little frustrating when they weren’t.
    Ah, well. I miss them both now. I’m sure my two will have plenty to complain about.

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