The other day I encountered someone whose behavior reminded me of my mother. They engaged in love bombing and projection, using compassionate words in a way that came across as coercive. When I recognized the similarity to my mother, I felt my body tense up and a slight fear uncoil in my stomach. I remembered how much my mother terrorized me day after day as a child and how little power I had to stop her.
I feel proud of myself because I chose to disengage. I told this person I did not want to speak with them. I continued to set boundaries by ignoring their subsequent messages and actions for the sake of my mental health. My close friends and community members held space for my emotional reactions, supported me in my decision to establish boundaries, and role modeled healthy relationship behaviors by setting boundaries of their own with this person. Though I could not and still cannot control this person’s behaviors – nor do I want to at all – I practiced agency by choosing how I responded.
Over the past few weeks, I have struggled with a different situation that reminds me of my childhood and brings up feelings of powerlessness. As a child, I felt out of control a lot: my mother would yell at me all the time regardless of what I did or did not do, my father avoided our household and left me to deal with her, and my brother dealt with it all by delving deep into the world of video games. Though I do not think much about my past now, I remember the constant pain and how I starved myself to cope.
Looking back on that time in my life, I try to remind myself of the ways I managed to survive and reclaim myself, despite my awful bio family. From a young age I dedicated my life to helping others who have experienced mental health issues and abusive relationships. When I went to college, I attended therapy on a consistent basis even when working through my PTSD felt almost worse than experiencing the trauma itself. Today, minus COVID’s existence, I would say that I am thriving: I have vibrant and caring close friends as well as more casual friends, I love myself regardless of my career or awards, and I bop along to BlackPink often and feel lots of joy while doing so.
I write this all out to remind myself that I have survived and thrived in the face of uncontrollable trauma and pain before. As a child, I literally had zero control of what bio family I was born into, and damn did my life suck for several years. That experience should not have happened no matter how strong it made me. Still, somehow, I pulled myself out of that awful situation and propelled myself into the direction of my dreams, hoping that life would get better even if I didn’t quite know how.
With this uncontrollable situation I am struggling with right now, I don’t have any ability to change what’s happening, at least not the root issue. Still, I can control how I react to the situation, just like I chose to disengage from the person who reminded me of my mother. And even if ideally the situation would just not happen, controlling my reaction gives me some form of agency. With that agency comes a sense of hope, that I can choose to reduce my pain and increase my joy, even if only by a little.
How have you coped with adversity in your life, or situations in which you have lacked control? General reactions to this post? Thanks for reading and until next post!