Independent, self-reliant, strong-willed, tough.
These are the kinds of adjectives that have been forced into my head for the last 22 years of my life.
And I wish more than anything that they hadn’t.
I was only nine years old when my mom gave birth to twin boys. My dad worked full-time in a city that was 45 minutes away, and my mom took on the job of taking care of two infants by herself. The twins were a full-time job needing, and deserving of, her full attention. I became unattended.
In my family there’s an unsaid rule where you don’t ask for help, you don’t voice your struggles, you keep your concerns to yourself, and the only emotion that you should ever even think about expressing in the house is anger. We don’t get scared, we don’t get sentimental, and for the love of all things good we never cry. I became insensitive.
It was pretty common in my house to hear a hole being punched through the dry wall or dishes shattering as they were thrown across the kitchen. But never did you hear crying or softly spoken words of brokenness. Whatever emotion I experienced had to be channeled elsewhere. If I was hurt or sad or lonely I didn’t know what to do. Or, rather I knew what the normal response was, but I never felt that it was okay to express it. I had seen anger expressed, and I knew from watching my parents that I was allowed to be angry. So in response to my intrinsic need to express emotion, I began to channel every emotion to the one that I knew was accepted. So I became angry.
I learned very quickly after the twins were born that getting help was not an option. I was told that I had to “grow up now that you have baby brothers.” So I poured my own cereal, I rinsed my own dishes, I made my own lunch, and I solved my own problems. I became independent.
So there I was, an unattended, insensitive, angry nine year old who was told to be independent.
But don’t get the idea that I grew up in a broken house with unloving parents. No, my family cared about me and often told me they loved me. My dad’s way of showing love comes in the form of sarcasm. He always tells me what he has expected of me. He tells me, “I always prayed for a strong-willed, independent daughter. And,” he always says this part sarcastically: “He sure answered that prayer.” My mom likes to encourage me by telling me what I am good at. She says, “You are really tough and self-reliant and it’s a really good thing that you don’t need a lot of friends to rely on.”
My parents love me in the best way that they know how. But I don’t think they ever quite figured out what I needed, but how would they? I never express to them when I am hurt or sad or lonely. Only happy and angry.
And now here I am, an unattended, insensitive, angry 22 year old girl who is still told to be independent.
Vulnerable, trusting, strong, secure.
These are the words I wished they would have forced into my head.
I wish they would have told me to be angry. But I wish they would have told me that other feelings are valid too. I wish they would have told me that being hurt was valid. That being sad was valid. That being lonely was valid. I wish they would have told me that crying makes me vulnerable and that being vulnerable makes me strong.
Then maybe I wouldn’t have to be independent. Because being independent and self-reliant and strong-willed and tough is so exhausting. I want to be reliant on my friends and my family. I want to cry in front of them and tell them when I need help. I want to be dependent on them for support and be secure in their love. I don’t want to be tough anymore.
Overpowering my desire for this is my inability to overcome what has been inherently rooted in my heart. In my anger, insensitivity, independence, and insecurity, I can’t find the means to maintain the relationships that I have. I can’t figure out how to be vulnerable or trusting or secure. And it turns out that these things are the capstone of that which is needed in a relationship.
And so continues this never-ending cyclic pattern of independence. Not because I want to be independent, but because I have to be. Despite my best efforts to break this system, I remain independent, self-reliant, strong-willed, and tough. Just like they wanted me to be.