I don’t want to say my childhood was extremely difficult. Why? Because there will always be “that guy” who looks at my childhood and says: “pshh, that was nothing compared to what I had to go through.” You’re absolutely right, “that guy”, your life was harder than mine. I grew up in a white middle class family, with a stable mother and father. Yes, I had a good education and ample opportunities to pursue whatever I wanted. But hey, “that guy”, you missed the whole point of the introduction. So let me say it again, in all caps this time:
PERSPECTIVE IS RELATIVE!
Phew, now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s delve right into my childhood, skipping past all the little points that don’t really matter.
I was blessed, or cursed depending on your take of things, with the uncanny ability to care for other people. I was always aware of people’s emotional state and abhorred seeing people suffer. Like, tragically aware of other people. Like it would consume every fiber of my being aware of other people. But hey, I was five, what did I know?
And that’s just the point: I didn’t know. How would I have known that I was being emotionally manipulated by my older brother when he said, “if you tell mom I did [insert bad thing here], I’ll run away.” Or, “if you don’t [insert task here] for me, I’ll run away and I’ll never come back and it’ll be all your fault.” I mean, I was five! I was happy if I could stack wooden blocks higher than my head; I wasn’t thinking about the emotional and social repercussions of succumbing to my brother’s cunning manipulation. In fact, I probably couldn’t have told you what half of those words meant, let alone pronounce them correctly.
But neither could my brother. And it’s a key idea to bring up at this point in the narrative. My brother was eight at the time. He knew absolutely nothing about the psychological development of children and their susceptibility to stinted growth in a hostile environment. All he knew is that he did something stupid and he found a way to not get in trouble for it. I don’t blame him; I would’ve done the same thing. In fact, I did (to a varying degree), when I put on seven pairs of underwear before getting spanked, just so it wouldn’t hurt as much. It was the giggling during the spanking that let my dad know something was up, and we got bare bottom spankings from then on out. Yeah, my bad….
It doesn’t excuse, however, the increased severity of damage I was exposed to over the following years. It started out as “I’ll run away”, then “I’ll run away and never come back and it’s your fault.” You see the increase in severity already happening? It’s subtle, but the attention was directed from him to me, and what was previously implied was now being stated. And forcefully so. Gone was the notion that I was defending my brother, and in it’s place was “I had committed an error and that obeying my brother was the means by which to atone for it.” So picture this: every time my brother, from here on out, is abusive to me, it is my fault because of something I did. Remember that; it’ll be an important piece of understanding when the abuse gets worse.
Because the abuse got worse. And why wouldn’t it?! We see that in every aspect of our lives and would be so ignorant to say it doesn’t exist. You like sugar? The more you eat, the less it satisfies, so you must eat more. But sugar doesn’t satisfy anymore, so find something even more rewarding. Try a little snort of cocaine; feel the buzz as it surges through your veins. But even cocaine loses it’s stimulation after a while, so do more. More and more and more until you’re lying on a cold slab in the morgue, wondering how your life devolved to that point. Dramatic? Absolutely.
The difference between you and that man on the slab is that something inside says, “Woah! You’ve gone too far and you need to stop.” Everyone has different thresholds, and the thresholds vary from activity to activity. You may not know a whole lot of people who have drug addictions, but you sure know a lot of people with social media addictions — or better yet, with just plain media addictions. It’s because it’s easier to excuse addictions to ethereal concepts like media than it is to excuse addictions to physical concepts like drugs. That’s why so many people suffer from depression and anxiety: we as a society haven’t set a limit to how much we can crave those emotions, but we shun the people who have gone too far. We don’t know where to say “you’ve gone too far”, so it IS easy to go too far.
My brother was addicted to manipulation, and I was his drug.
So of course the abuse shifted from verbal to physical. No longer was it “do this or I’ll run away”, it was “do this or I’ll beat you.” Soon it became “I’ll beat you” . . . with no other context. I have a journal entry from May 2nd, 1999, which reads, “Today was just like every other. [My brother] picked on me (like he always does,) but it was different, we [had] a [special] fireside. They sung tons of things like church songs. We had a slide show about Jesus Christ. It touched me how the harmony ran through my ears but never came out. That helped my spirit grow.” (brackets represent names that were replaced and words that were misspelled and are now corrected) I found it so interesting, looking back, that I would include the phrase “like he always does.” I was eight years old! No eight year old should be making that general of a statement! The only time an eight year old should be generalizing is to say, “I ate ice cream today (like I always do).” And that’s it! Needless to say, it did progressively get worse and worse as the years went on, and he branched out to inflicting pain to others rather than isolating it towards me.
But for me and my perspective, I trusted him. He took that trust, and decimated it. What more could I have done to have shown him that I loved him and that I would’ve done anything in the world to see him happy? Quite frankly: nothing, really. That’s the part that hurts to this day. There is nothing I could’ve done differently, because the emotions I felt were real for me, and in those emotions, I acted the best that I could’ve for the situation. I watched, from my little five year old body, my parents sacrifice their time, their money, and everything else they had to make me happy. I was a greedy child (typical for anyone under the age of 25 years old), so I didn’t notice. Clarification: I didn’t consciously notice . I was consciously aware because I was able to emulate, at least the actions, to others that I loved and trusted.
What I missed was the substance behind the actions. I missed the emotional connection between what I was feeling and what I was doing. I was acting through my emotions using motions I’d watched others do, trusting the people to whom I was emoting. That’s all I had to go off of as a little five year old. That’s why I don’t hold myself accountable anymore for the emotional scaring that, to this day, still lingers.
Regardless, I must acknowledge, for narrative purposes, that I was damaged by the persistent barrage of attacks I was exposed to. That delicate trust I had personally established with my brother was dashed. Not only that, but the idea that the pain I was undergoing was a direct consequence of my actions was seared into my head and became the governing factor of all my future actions and decisions. From then on, anytime there was pain, or sorrow, or misunderstandings, or a lack of trust, or even a perceived lack of trust, it was my fault, and it was my responsibility to correct it.
You can see now, how that would create a sour beginning to someone as impressionable as a five year old. You can see how my perspective started with narrow slits with regards to what I saw in the outside world and gaping holes in how I saw myself. This is where I draw the first universal truth: regardless of what you’ve experienced in life, it is easier to look inward and blame yourself than it is to see situations as they really are. This even extends to people so narcissistic that nothing they say or do is their own fault and that everything that goes wrong in the world is a direct result of someone else’s actions. Narcissism isn’t seeing the world objectively; it’s putting up a wall in front of that gaping hole that looks inwards. How did that wall get up there? The narcissist was so tired of the constant barrage of personal attacks that they chose to wall up their half of the perspective rather than accept a complete view of the world.
It doesn’t matter who you are, take what you perceive with a grain of salt. That goes both ways. What you see of others may not be the whole picture, and how you see yourself for sure isn’t the whole picture. We cannot understand who we are and the complex weave of chemical balances that are required to maintain us. All we have to go off of is that something feels good so we do it, or something doesn’t feel good so we don’t do it. Anything beyond that is something we’ve developed to either encourage ourselves to do something that feels good or protect ourselves from something that doesn’t feel good. Keep that perspective as we move through the following chapters. Remember that objectivity as I expose you to the furthest extremes of emotional subjectivity that’s out there.
But who am I to talk; it’s all a matter of perspective anyway.
AJ Heaps was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease about While in High school. He writes about his experience using Specific Carbohydrate Diet to keep it at bay, as well as thoughts, ideas, and past experiences that have shaped him as a person. You can read and subscribe to his blog/book People Suck and That’s OK.