To the victor go the spoils…

I wrote something I want to remember on my friend Rick’s blog over at Awesome Fun, about whether or not he’s chosen to be unhappy. I have wondered the same thing myself.

I think the hardest part about any of the trials we face is that we do one of two things: blame others for what happens to us, or, blame ourselves for what happens to us. Neither one is appropriate. A friend once told me society conditions us to be victims and not victors. Things happen that lead some of us to alcoholism, drugs (prescription and illegal), sex/pornography, over-eating, shopping, gambling, the INTERNET (my vice) and other vices to alleviate our discomfort with the way things are. For some of us, it’s self-flagellation. Do any of them really work? No, they just serve to distract us from finding victory over our challenges.

Some things are well within our control to do something about. And we should take action to avoid them getting worse. Some things are not at all within our control to do something about. So we would be wise to accept that fact and not dwell on it and certainly not castigate ourselves (yes, easier said than done, I agree).

Another wise friend of mine shared this illuminating observation with me about myself:

I do not think that you are suffering from some hopeless pathology. I KNOW that you are not doomed. Sad…misguided…lonely…these are characteristics that we can deal with. Doomed? Not really much to do about that one, ya know? Yes, there is something “in you” that rejects your own ability to change the way things are.

But, the thing of it is…I know for a fact it wasn’t always this way, I certainly wasn’t born this way. And for most of my life, I was a fighter for what I believed in. I championed around my siblings when they were abused by my mother, and I demanded my family to treat me better than I was and when it became clear I was no longer welcome in my home because of it, I moved out (I was not completely financially ready to do so, but I left anyway).  Once I believed in myself and I went after for my independence, my chance to be free, and I GOT WHAT I WANTED – liberation. The sad thing is…16 years after I left home, I had slowly transitioned from being free back into bondage. No, not simply because I got married and had kids, but because I started limiting myself and minimizing my abilities and my talents and my strengths.  After I quit my job I started believing I could not change my situation much and stopped responding to the signals in me that were telling me my boundaries were being infringed upon. The voices that would tell the world “fuck you, world – I can and I will succeed” and “I won’t allow you to treat me this way” got replaced with “there is no way I can do this” and “I don’t deserve better treatment than I am getting”.

WOW. What a breakthrough thought.

My friend Rick made this comment on his blog

You didn’t take the right step. You’re failing again. Ah, there you go. Sit down. You’ll only make things worse if you get back up. And that nice thing you have? Destroy it. You don’t deserve it. You know that. Quit fucking around and face the truth. You are a failure. Admit it. Live it. Anything else is a lie.

I’m telling you, at first I didn’t know whether to smile (because I’ve felt similarly) or cry (because I’ve felt similarly).

But then I got to thinking, how the hell did I let this happen?  Well, all I have to say is that isolation and spending time on the internet actually has been my downfall after I quit my job. Yes, I continued to take care of my family, working hard to help my daughter with her selective mutism, nurturing all my daughters’ gifts, taking care of my husbands’ needs, and neglecting to do the things that strengthened me. But slowly, over time, taking care of others’ needs eroded my own responsibility to take care of my own needs.  I allowed it to happen.

I am not the weak person I feel like at times. I am, as my one friend reminded me, tremendously skilled.  I came across some of my writings when I was in my early 20s and I re-discovered something about myself and shared on Rick’s blog:

The thing I’m remembering is that I’m a lot more powerful than the messages I hear in my head. The not-so-funny thing is, I was such a rebel in my teenage/early 20s that I pretty easily told my parents to fuck-off, but for some reason, I can’t tell the thoughts in my head to do the same. Where the hell did the fighter in me go?

I let life just steamroll me into a shadow of my former self, in order to be considered acceptable and liked by others, and so I wouldn’t neglect my kids or my husband. Well, fuck, it worked so well I have created my own prison. I can rally behind others in a heartbeat, but when it comes to my own cause, I balk these days.

WTF??? I can’t really believe I let this happen.

No, wait a minute, that is a lie. THAT’S why I’ve been so pissed off and depressed lately. I know I let myself down and I hate it.

My friend also recently reminded me of something Einstein is attributed with saying

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So I think it’s time to come up with remembering my old self-confidence and committing myself to making some changes around here.

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8 Responses to To the victor go the spoils…

  1. Rick says:

    Interesting conversation. Thanks!

    I think most of us have still not gotten past the idea that we are suffering because of some sin/wrong thing we have done — that some old man in the sky, or some karmic checking account, is taking us to task. Sure, we can see past that rationally, but the feeling part is not rational, and rather childish (in good and bad ways), so it looks for a condemning parent to satisfy.

    Freud once said something clever, if a bit bigoted. To paraphrase (because I don’t feel like Googling it right now), “The personality of the Jews is identical to that of the favored child of an abusive father.” I think that’s pretty clever, and would extend that basic mentality to several other groups/people outside of 19th century Europe.

    “Look at all the burdens God (my ultimate parent) is putting on me! Look at all the (mostly negative) attention I’m getting! Aren’t I special? Wow, my life must have some truly grand meaning if it’s THIS bad…”

    I think some of Western society’s noblest ideals are linked to this child-rationalization-of-uncaring-parent stuff. And I can say that with equal authority, because neither Freud, nor I, have ever cured anyone. 😉

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:


    I’m going to write what thoughts were generated after reading your comment. I am going to say I’m not sure if this actually addresses your point, but this is what you made me think about after reading your comment. And if you could google that quote, I’d appreciate it because I tried and I didn’t come up with what you were talking about (though I didn’t try hard).

    I’ve been reading Alice Miller’s The Drama of The Gifted Child, which is an analysis of child abuse and the amazing “resilience” we have at “overcoming” our childhood suffering. But what I’m discovering is that we really don’t overcome our childhood abuses without substantial work.

    What we really do is grow up to idealize our parents and excuse their behavior and say things like “But it made me stronger” or “It was good for me” and truly believe “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.

    What ends up happening though, is that we transfer that childhood pain onto the next generation. In some ways very obviously (through clearly abusive behavior) and in other ways very subtly (in manipulation and withdrawal of love/approval). As children, we can’t get back at our parents, because they are all powerful and we are weak (both physically and psychologically). But as adults we find avenues of exerting our power and transferring our rage onto others – our relationships, our children, our employees, our ways of governance (for those in political positions).

    I haven’t read this book yet, but Alice Miller, in For Your Own Good explicates Hitler’s behavior in such a way that explains how Hitler’s abuse of the Jews and others was clearly tied into his abuse as a child.

    In Daniel Mackler’s “An Analysis of the Limits Of Alice Miller”
    he states:

    I learned this from Alice Miller: Hitler didn’t need to beat the toddler son he never had into oblivion to be able to replicate the violent abuses he suffered at the hands of his own tyrant father. [For Your Own Good, pp. 153-4]. Hitler instead took out his own complex history of abuse on the Jews, Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, and mentally ill of Europe. (Actually, I loved it when Alice Miller quoted one of her readers as saying that had Hitler had sons of his own to act out on he might have never needed to foment the Holocaust!)

    This is amazing to me. I’ve been interested in Hitler and the Holocaust since I was 10 and I went and visited Auschwitz when my grandma took me and my sisters to Poland. I went with my grandma to Auschwitz while my two older sisters went to the Salt Mines that day (what can I say, I was a weird kid that actually chose to learn about the horrific history of the Holocaust – I actually had a choice to opt-out of it and I didn’t…anywhay…)

    But….in addition to Hitler’s atrocious behavior…there were MANY other players involved – all the SS Officers that went along with his psychosis and any one else that “went along” with what was going on, including the victims themselves that had no chance of fighting back. The reason is because of the conditioning people get as a child to conform by their parents.

    Have you ever seen Night at the Museum? Think about this scene: Larry (Ben Stiller) runs into the Huns and he has to deal with their rage, right? So how does he deal with it? He explains to good old Attila that his problem is that he was neglected as a child because his dad ran off to war (or something to that effect). Then he gives old Attila a big hug, Attila cries, things are good. Okay, this was meant to be a joke, right? Yeah, funny. But really not.

    Babies are born innocent, pure, not USUALLY with murderous rage in their hearts (don’t get me wrong, I suppose in some instances there are exceptions and brain chemistry or neurotransmitter mis-firings going on). Most times people are conditioned by their parents treatment of them and by societal conditioning to behave in certain abusive ways.

    And the thing of it is, generally speaking, while each generation gets “gentler and kinder”, abuses STILL exist, though they are much less subtle than getting beaten for misbehaviors. And we STILL take it out on others – in our relationships with others.

    When you don’t question that parental authority and instead assume they know better, and you forget your history (your own personal history as well as societal history), you tend to gloss over the bad shit and/or tell yourself it was for your own good. Then you’ll turn around and parent your kids and tell yourself it’s for their own good.

    I have a neighbor, who I thought was just like me, fairly rational and objective. Until her son started misbehaving. Then, instead of learning how to parent the way that respected her child, she started becoming MORE aggressive in her efforts to control him (more spanks and timeouts etc) and so was his father. And her son was growing ever more rageful at his treatment at the hands of his parents. It really disturbed me.

    And when she talks of her own upbringing (by a very controlling mother) she says this: “they did the best they could with what they had”. Well, MAYBE, or she was just finding a way to condone their behavior and so they are justified in turning all that repressed rage onto their own child because now they have power over their small child.

    I kid you not, she joked that she’d start saving up money for his therapy costs. I was absolutely sickened by this mockery she makes over her own son’s pain that SHE and HER HUSBAND inflicted.

    Rick…I’m telling you. We perpetrate the “our parents were perfect” image in our own heads in order to keep us acceptable to others, so people approve of us and we are a part of what everybody else is doing. And in doing so, since we can’t ever live up to that image, we crucify ourselves. And of course, even if our parents are dead, we continue to look back nostalgically at our parents and assume they ALWAYS had our best interests at heart. It’s pretty unlikely that they did.

    Getting down to the religious aspect of things…there is a huge difference in the Old Testament versus New Testament God. Before Jesus came into the picture, everyone was pretty much screwed. Fire and Brimstone and all that. And it was only how much you worshipped and how cool of a burnt offering you gave that made you acceptable to God. But you know what? Jesus made all that unnecessary. God knows, left up to our own devices, we are going to fuck up every time. Which is why he sent Jesus.

    At any rate…I think I’m going to hit post and review this. I’ll add more separately if I have to.

  3. Spacemom says:

    I look at it this way: I lived with my parents for the first 18 years of life. I have lived away from them for the next 20. I have taken what I started with and reformed it to who I am today. It is much easier to find a flaw and try to look for blame (even on yourself) and wallow in the pain than it is to step up to the plate and deal with the flaw. Decide if it is worth moving forward and addressing or letting it go.

    I am not so sure children are born innocent and pure. My second daughter was born with a humor streak that can be downright vicious at times. What my husband and I can do, as parents, is guide her to when it is appropriate and when it is not to use her humor. The first step of respecting your children is to acknowledge that they are not blank slates, but people with emotions, thoughts and yes, predispositions of acting certain ways. We can only guide these people the best we can.

    I don’t know if I am babbling or not. A friend of mine is very much like you and she refuses to accept that it is herself who is holding her back from healing and moving forward. This is the next step. Let go of blame, it doesn’t matter who did what, you can’t heal until you are willing to heal. Does that make sense?

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Actually, it makes a lot of sense, Spacemom.

    I have to refine my thoughts some, probably. I do think, children are born more pure/innocent than not. Even if not a complete tabula rasa (blank slate). They are born completely needy, that is for sure.

    However, I do believe and will discuss in a future post, the idea that children’s identities/self-concepts are formed by how they are mirrored by their parents.

    Let’s take the overtly abusive parent completely out of the equation for a moment. Because most families are not abusive to the degrees I’m referring to in the post above.

    If a parent reflects the good aspects of the child, the child will see themselves as a basically good and worthy of respect (self respect and respect from others). If the parent(s) reflect only the negative aspects of the child, the child will see themselves.

    I see this played out, NOT just in my own life…but in the lives of other gifted adults – those who are sensitive and articulate enough to talk about it.

    No, it’s absolutely not about casting blame, but at least seeing where the breakdowns occurred, and recognizing that the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons a thousand times if we aren’t fully aware of them.

    Basically, if we don’t recognize the errors our predecessors have made, we are bound to repeat them. We learn a hell of a lot from the modeling our parents do around us, how they cope and how they behave and the things they say but more importantly the things they DON’T say.

    And…I have to tell you, in the research I have done on the matter, the psychology is a lot more profound than you realize. The “compulsion to repeat” is a LOT stronger than you would ever know, regardless of how smart a person is. I have to look up what I’m talking about, but otherwise rational people can do terribly irrational things despite being intellectually “wise”.

  5. raisingsmartgirls says:

    I just wanted to add. I don’t think I’m holding myself back from healing, at least not in the way you think.

    I just talked to my mother just last night about going to visit my biological dad this year (we just bought our train tickets). I haven’t seen my dad and step-mom in 29 years.

    My mother at first said she didn’t care I was going, then proceeded to ask me why I wanted to go. All he was was an “asshole”, and “What do you think you are going to get out of seeing him?” and “He never loved you” and “All he is to you is a sperm donor”.

    However, I will tell you, I told her I have had the best relationship with him and my step-mother I ever had in the past 10 years. And she really could not convince me he was the asshole she claimed he was.

    So…yeah…I think there is STILL a lot of unresolved stuff going on I need to be aware of. My mother has changed in many ways. In others, she is just not capable of it.

  6. Rick says:

    One thing I find interesting is how my own mom will blame her parents for all kinds of things, at this point, 50-60 years ago, but when I suggest I have a lasting problem due to something in childhood, it’s completely wrong.

    Funny how that works, isn’t it? 🙂

    The fact is, parenting is hard, and every parent screws up. Also, kids are inherently self-centered. That combo leads to things blowing up, often.

    I think the key difference in my relationship with my own kids is that I admit, at least monthly, if not weekly, that I have made mistakes; that I’m angry or worried or whatever; and I apologize to them when I’ve gone overboard because I was pissed off about something that had nothing to do with them.

    It helps, but it’s not perfect.

  7. raisingsmartgirls says:

    The fact is, parenting is hard, and every parent screws up. Also, kids are inherently self-centered. That combo leads to things blowing up, often.

    Kids ARE inherently self-centered…but that is for a very valid reason. They have a LOT of learning and growing to do. It’s not our job to control them…but to guide them along to help them make good choices.

    Every parent does screw up. I intend to own up to my screwing up asap. So far it’s been working out great. I have some really respectful children. They make mistakes and are great about owning up to them and making apologies and amends.

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Oh yeah, it is funny how it works…by the way, if you have 20 minutes, you might enjoy Dennis Mackler’s views on confronting parents.

    Confronting Parents – Part 1

    Confronting Parents – Part 2

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