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.