Do you ever find yourself clamming-up at the start of therapy? I sure do! For two weeks, I look forward to my next session. Get there. Nothing. Overtaken by shyness. All clammed up.
Danish comedian Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” A good laugh broke the ice and got me “un-clammed” and talkative. So did the so-called psychological family tree I pulled from my purse.
A Psychological Family Tree
It was just a bee I had in my bonnet. If depression is genetic and OCD is genetic, I wanted to know how far back I could trace them.
Answer: Pretty damn far.
All that fawning about the good ol’ days is pure hogwash. One of my great-great-grandfathers horse-whipped his children and propositioned his daughters. Good ol’ days, my ass.
Perhaps we just have more information about recent generations so the disorders appear to be getting worse. Perhaps something in the environment, the water, the food is exacerbating our genetic inclinations. But they appear to be getting worse, the depression and OCD. They don’t just run in my family. They romp.
And the buck…stops…here.
Passing Down Disorders
As I prepared the family tree, something struck me: OCD isn’t just genetic. It’s taught to the next generation.
I once heard OCD described as “that itch you can’t scratch.” The aching feeling that something is most definitely wrong. Some of us stare at ourselves in the mirror, tweezer at the ready to pluck any stray brow-hairs. (This is mine!) Others are obsessed with scrubbing the floor. Others can track a single germ from here to the Great Wall of China. It’s all OCD, just expressed in different ways.
The relatives whose OCD expresses itself as excessive cleaning, teach it to their children.
The relatives whose OCD expresses itself as germaphobia, teach it to their children.
And the relatives whose OCD expresses itself as an obssession with getting rid of almost everything they own (i.e. OCD Spartanism), teach it to their children.
It’s bad enough that the inclination towards Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is genetic.
But, for goodness’ sake, you don’t have to teach it to the next generation! And, particularly, don’t elevate it to the level of a moral. Recognize it for what it is: a disorder.
But I digress…
Bad Little Girl?
Last weekend, PsychCentral published several wonderful articles on childhood emotional abuse. But one of them stood out. In fact, just one sentence jumped off the page at me. It encouraged us to embrace, love, cherish that inner child, wounded by our parents.
Oddly enough, that sentence filled me with fury.
Love little Lenora!?! The hell I will, was my first thought. My eyes filled with tears of anger and pain at the thought of embracing the little girl I once was.
Who Could Love Me?
Believe it or not, I felt loved by my parents. I really did!
But in the case of my father, it always felt like his love was punctuated by an asterisk that directed you to see a footnote detailing the failings I needed to resolve before he could love me completely, freely, with abandon. This footnoted love, all those akward A-frame hugs left me concluding, “If my daddy can’t love me…who can!? No one!”
Needy Child, Needy Spouse
As Barbara Rogers wrote about her parents, “They claimed that I deserved their cruelty and that the crimes of their physical and verbal violence committed against me were well deserved and based exclusively on MY very own guilt and faults…They seemed like saints who could do not wrong….They made it impossible for me to be on my side.”
I was never on my own side. I’m still not 100% there.
There’s only one person on my side 100% of the time: my husband. But I can’t believe it. However frequently he assures me of how happy he is with me, it can’t sink in. I just don’t believe him even though he’s the most honest person I know.
If Daddy couldn’t (freely) love me…no one can.
Not only was I not in my own corner, I took up my parents’ verbal lash to mentally lash myself into the perfection required to be loved. It was a kind-of mental self-flagellation, a habit running on a loop for years and years resulting in more misery, more depression, more tension headaches.
One thing it did not accomplish is elevating me to those rarefied climes of perfection that would finally grant me Daddy’s un-footnoted love and acceptance.
We, my therapist and I, are gonna work on this next time we meet.
Good Parent, Bad Parent Dichotomy
But I did learn something very important during Therapy #7. Parents can be good and bad at the same time!
The love, the care, the education, the warm clothes, the nutritious food…that was all good, very good!
Both the good and the bad came from the same parents. A confusing dichotomy I’m gonna have to learn to live with. It’s not going away. It makes little sense. But there it is! Even my therapist can’t explain it.
“Do you have any pictures of yourself when you were little,” my therapist asked gently.
“Not really. My parents have them all,” I responded, sadly, wondering if I’ll ever receive old photos of that ever-curious looking baby I once was.
“But,” said I, brightening up, “one of my schoolmates scanned pictures of me from her yearbook collection. I have those!”
“Bring in a childhood photo next time,” he said, ushering me out of his office.
I will. But I dread it.
I dread looking into my 6-year-old eyes. I’m not the person I dreamed of growing up to be. She was betrayed by both her parents and herself. She suffered in ways she could never imagine.
I dread Therapy #8.