A Fundamental Sense of Safety

Living with a psychologist, particularly one like my sister (with whom I have a lifetime of theoretical and hypothetical discussions), can sometimes be a sincere challenge.  Particularly if you are working on picking up the pieces of your life after a life altering event.

There are many theories of psychological development out there – some good, with reasonable basis in current understanding of fact; and some not so good.

Attachment theory is not completely a fully described theory as such.  It really only deals with relationships, and relative security/insecurity in the human psyche.

No single psychological trend describes any person fully.  We are, at the base, individuals.  While there may be potential trends and patterns that can be recognized, assuming someone with a set of particular emotional responses will inevitably act in exactly the same fashion as those with a similar set is a dangerous over-simplification.

Thing is, a little while ago, my sister came to an understanding about me – one that shocked her in some ways.  She told me that she finally recognized that at the base of it all, I lack a “fundamental sense of safety” when it comes to my interactions with other people in the world around me.

It’s a pretty accurate assessment of me, actually.

Thing is, as I look deeper into attachment theory, I find the conclusions of many of the assorted proponents of the theory to be flawed.  In general, they separate out four main types of attachment in adults:

  • secure
  • anxious–preoccupied
  • dismissive–avoidant
  • fearful–avoidant

The problem is, that for myself in particular, I don’t fit neatly into their classifications.  I show signs and patterns that relate equally to all four types (yes, including secure attachment).

The person with secure attachment is able to deal both with intimacy and independence.  While I do somewhat struggle with intimacy (and allowing myself to be vulnerable), I am capable of balancing both.  While I may occasionally experience the anxious type (where I doubt my worth to my loved ones, and feel the need to be dependent upon them), I am also well aware that there are times I cannot do so because there is a greater need somewhere else.  I also exhibit behavioral patterns that relate to both the dismissive and fearful types.

But, it’s life – and life is rarely simple or clear-cut.

And, it’s my family as well.  See, for the most part, especially if I allow myself to compare my childhood to that of others, I can look at my own childhood and see myself as having had a pretty damned idyllic childhood.  Yeah, we struggled financially (a situation that followed me into adulthood), but as a family we’ve always been there for each other in times of desperate need.  And we’ve always shown each other unconditional love – even when that unconditional love required cutting ourselves off from someone in the family because of their own behavioral choices.

That’s why I struggle in many ways with why I turned out the way that I did.

If I’m brutally honest, I can look at my family and see their faults.

My father, in many ways, is an emotionally unavailable man.  But, knowing his mother, and the fact that she raised him alone from 1947 onward, I can see the reasons why he became that way.  My grandmother (his mother), was not only emotionally unavailable but was also in many ways a very bitter woman.  That relationship, especially given that his father’s family turned their back on him and his mother, would make it very difficult for any person to allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable.

My mother, on the other hand, is the youngest of a rather large family.  Her oldest siblings were in their 20s as she was growing up.  And, between alcoholism and other inter-familial issues, she grew up to be very similar to the descriptions of the anxious-preoccupied type.  There’s a deep need for people pleasing there, and challenges to a firm sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

My siblings, well, there’s a lot of stuff there.  But, again, if I’m going to be brutally honest with myself, my siblings had somewhat of a lesser impact on me than my parents and grandmother.  It’s not that they had no impact, but that they had a much less intensive impact (and most of their impact was based on my perceptions of them, rather than on who they really were or are).  My older sister, at the point when I started questioning most things, and trying to develop my own independent identity, was pretty much out of the picture.  And my brothers were 8 and 9 years younger than me – and I left for boarding school about the same time that they were struggling with their own identities.

The only thing I can say is that at the same time my sister left for boarding school is approximately the same time period that I started to learn just how cruel the outside world really was.  And started realizing just how insular our family really was.

You see, as much as I have always been able to know that I am unconditionally loved, there is still a lot there that told me I wasn’t enough.  Working through my own emotional woundedness is not about finding other people to blame for why I am as fucked up as I am.  It’s about figuring out why I am that way (regardless of it being perception or reality), and finding ways to heal those wounds.

Some of it comes down, sadly, to living in a world that does not accept me as I am.  And, yes, it’s part of why I’ve become such a staunch activist about so many things.  I’m a fat woman, in a world where a woman’s worth is in inverse proportion to her weight and body shape.  I’m a strong-willed woman, in a world where women are supposed to be the peace-makers and the submissive types.  I’m an honest woman, in a world where women who lie and manipulate others are rewarded for their actions.  I’m a woman – with many traits that are considered masculine – in a world that seems to worship men.

That simple issue (that I don’t fit the niche the world wants to place me in) is quite possibly a good part of the reason I have no fundamental sense of safety.  My parents and grandmother spent quite a bit of my life trying to get me to lose weight, to act appropriately to situations.  My father and grandmother were doing it out of the fear of their own experiences growing up fat and marginalized, while my mother…..I think there was a struggle in her based on a desire to have her children (and by extension herself) accepted by the world at large.

This is not a subject that one blog post is going to fix on it’s own.  There will probably be many more.  But, at least I can say that I am working to rebuild myself in a better way.

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