Hung Up On The Hang Ups

We all have hang ups. Those small voices in our heads telling us we should be better, nicer, thinner, smarter.

(We do all have hang ups, right? Please say ‘yes’ or I will develop a hang up about having hang ups.)

Where do they come from?

Who really knows?

The usual answer is that they are due to something that occurred in our earlier years that left an indelible mark. Sometimes it’s obvious. People who were given away as babies develop a fear of abandonment. Those who suffered abuse and neglect have issues with trust.

Sometimes it’s less obvious. The music teacher who said ‘you can’t sing’ and now you never do. The parent who said ‘you eat a lot’ and now you worry about your weight. The other child who called you ‘ugly’ and now you obsess about your appearance.

And maybe, sometimes, it’s just genetics. Maybe it’s just in your make-up to be uncertain about yourself.

As a child I spent a lot of time in trees. It’s no different now, I just spend a lot of time hanging in the Neurosis Tree. Why I am a mess of hang ups is as much a mystery to me as it is to everyone I meet.

I had a stable, happy childhood full of love and encouragement. I had a good education, travelled, and was exposed to many enriching experiences.

What could I possibly have to be hung up about?

And yet I am. I worry about not being good enough. I worry about causing offence. I worry about being annoying.

I came to realise recently that all my hang ups can be summed up into the one fear. Of being seen to be a nuisance.

And perhaps therein lies the answer. It’s a small thing and there will be groans of “Really? Something that insignificant had that much effect?”

But this is where the genetics come in. Perhaps a significant event has little effect on someone whose inherent nature is one of strong self-esteem. To a person cursed blessed with a sensitive, introverted nature, even a minor occurrence could have a lasting impact.

I was three years old. My mother had to go into hospital for an operation and my father had to work. The three oldest children were all in school and the eldest was quite capable of ensuring they all got there and home again. My maternal grandmother agreed to look after my younger brother, then 10 months old. But not me.

There was no option but to put me into childcare.

“That’s it?” I hear you say. “Children go into childcare all the time.

Don’t think I don’t know that. But I also know that while many of those children will thrive in such an environment, some do not. And I certainly did not.

My sister would drop me off on her way to school and my father would pick me up on his way home from work. It was meant to be for a week. When my mother got sick after the operation and developed an infection, it turned into three weeks.

“That’s all?? You had to go into childcare for three weeks? And now you’re a mess of neuroses?”

I know. It sounds pathetic to me too.

But who knows what went into a little three-year-old girl’s head when all her life she’d never been away from family and suddenly found herself among strangers day after day? Who knows what a three-year-old felt when, already unhappy about the new interloper in the family, she saw that he was taken to be cared for by family but she was too much trouble? And with the genetics of shyness already embedded, what impact did the new and the strange without the support of the familiar have on a little girl who didn’t really understand what was happening?

Perhaps what that three-year-old learned was: If you’re a nuisance, people don’t want you.

I can’t really know if that is what it is. Certainly, what I can tell you is that by all reports, I was never the same after the experience. A little quieter, a little less confident. Subsequent school reports are full of the phrases “reserved”, “quiet”, “needs to participate in class”.

What is important here, though, is that finding a cause is about understanding our actions or feelings and putting them into a context. It’s not about blame. I know my mother did what she had to do and agonised over the decision. As a parent myself, I can relate. I know it was enough to ask my grandmother to care for a small baby; adding a toddler into the mix would have been asking too much.

Blame leaves us to sit in our neurosis and say “It’s all your fault so there’s nothing I can do about it.” Understanding, on the other hand, leads us out of that place into one where we can say “Okay, I know what is behind this, so how can I change my thinking?”

I’m still working on that part and I’ll be swinging in the Neurosis Tree for a long time yet, but I swing a little happier understanding why I’m there.

Neurosis Tree

 

 

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21 thoughts on “Hung Up On The Hang Ups

  1. I’m with you 100% on this (surprise !), H: I think it’s really important to see if we can track down the origins of our emotional problems. But even if we can, it means only that level of understanding you mention – not an automatic disappearance of them. We all have to work with what we’ve got, yes ? – so knowing where what we’ve got comes from means we can work better with it. Don’t necessarily mean we can do brilliantly but.
    It also seems to me that putting it out there is good. Although, come to think of it, I don’t do a lot of that, do I ?
    Hmmmm …
    [readers fly in all directions]

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  2. This is a very thought provoking post H. I hope that by writing this and looking at things in an analytical way it helps you to resolve these issues. I’m sure those early experiences do have a lasting effect, but now with your amazing intelligence and capabilities, you are able to see that you are worthwhile. I’m sure your children can tell you this! Where would they be without you!! I really enjoy reading your posts. 🙂

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  3. Genetics, yes. Pesky little devils, those genes are. I heard a scientist interviewed recently on the subject and he was asked why do children born to the same parents and raised in the exact same environment turn out so dramatically different from one another. Aren’t they all comprised of the same genes? Yes, he said, but think of genes like numbers. They get reshuffled and re-ordered in each child just like numbers do in phone numbers, for instance. I thought that was interesting.

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    • Yes. I only have to look at my siblings and how we’ve all turned out to know that people with the same genes and upbringing can end up as vastly different people. There’s also birth order and individual experiences but I do believe that two people – even within the same family – can experience the same thing and react differently simply because their make-up is different. Thanks for your (long-awaited) comment!! 🙂

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  4. Most interesting post! I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I do agree and think that we all come out of childhood marked in some way (and yes, that means your children too). I guess the grand hope is that you’ve given less things for your kids to get hung up on and more things for them to get around hangups with, huh? I find it amazing you were able to narrow down your own issues to just one event from when you were so young. You certainly seem to have your head much more together than I do!

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  5. I learned a lot about myself when I went to counseling…pre-divorce. I have a very co-dependent nature and it’s been a struggle to lock that nature up in the basement. I agree with M-R that it’s good to be aware of your own foibles and neurosis. It helps us conquer.

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    • I had some counselling some years ago that included Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Changed my life at the time. I’ve found it incredibly useful for identifying what I’m thinking when I’m feeling something and then seeing if I can change that thinking (and thus the feeling). Thanks for sharing, M-J. Always good to know we all have our own foibles. 🙂

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  6. Hi Heather, I commented this morning on this post but don’t see it here. Maybe it landed in spam? Or you decided my babbling was quite unsuitable for your comments…..for which I could never blame you!! Anyway, maybe see if it is residing in spam folder?

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  7. I hear you with both ears! I also think that knowing intellectually is different from accepting emotionally – and resisting the temptation to beat yourself up about it! You’ll hear no groans from me. ‘That’s all’ doesn’t enter into a three y/o’s vocabulary.

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    • Really appreciate this comment, Helen. It’s hard not to sometimes feel ridiculous that it’s such a seemingly little thing compared to what some people have gone through in their lives. But you’re right – I guess anything is big to a sensitive three-year-old.

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      • My 3 y/o granddaughter (also bright and sensitive) has just reached the stage where everything is HUGE. I wonder if it comes from a grasp of concept without an equal grasp of context. Or something like that. I’m sure it’s much easier for children (and their parents) who have no imagination.

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  8. Great post. It is good to talk about things like this as I’m sure we all have some neuroses which affect us in our daily lives. I have many and like you I think I’ve worked out a possible cause for each of them but it doesn’t make them go away. At times it doesn’t even make them any easier to manage but just occasionally I get the upper hand and come down out of the tree for short periods. Will see you on the ground at times but otherwise it will be fun swinging through the branches.

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  9. Mmmmm, Childcare. I remember it well, particularly the way we had to line up for the loo, and then they would insist on leaving the door partially open while we did our business – that one’s still up in the tree.

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