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“You’re not wrong!”
Is that music to your ears? A soothing balm? Something you cannot trust or believe for yourself?
Abuse survivors often live under the judgment of always being wrong: in thought, in word, in deed, in appearance, in beliefs, in identity, in sexuality. You name it; you and I have probably been told we’re wrong, not right, about it.
We are disempowered and deceived into believing we need “fixing” of some sort.
Why is that? The answers can be complicated, unique, and varied. But, perhaps, here are some explanations to this “certainty” that we are wrong, never to be “right.”
An In Utero Job Description
Well, there’s just nothing like going back to the start of it all.
Trace all the way back, before we even arrived on the planet!
And it’s not such an absurd premise to think along these lines. After all, how many expectant parents, preparing for their new arrival, project their hopes, dreams, plans, goals, and yes, jobs, onto their unborn child? It may not be intentionally malevolent, but its impact, nonetheless, can be harmful and devastating.
Because, however overtly or subtly, we have a job description subscribed to us.
It could be that we need to fulfill the parent’s unrealized dream. It could be that we need to keep the parent from being lonely or depressed. It could be that we need to carry on the family name. It could be that we provide identity and purpose to the parent. It could be an actual job description that we work in the family business and financially support the parent(s) as the designated moneymaker.
Some examples of job descriptions and pressurized circumstances to rise to the occasion, from birth on, exist all to serve the parent.
Being Made Wrong
What’s the purpose of being wrong here?
Being the child, just born, assigned this job or role is a set up for failure. There is no real winning here. For, inevitably, our life and performance will not match the parents’ vision of what that looks like in their own head.
We fail to fulfill a job description and a purpose we didn’t ask for in that exacting specification. Nevertheless, we were still given that job to execute successfully. Therefore, our failure to do just that can better absolve the parent, the family belief system, and the necessary sense of responsibility these individuals have for their choices. The blame shifting might begin from their role as adults to us, as the children we are, no matter what age and stage we are, in the situation.
The child is the problem, not the adult.
And that might be easier and more comfortable for the adult to accept. The adult parent doesn’t need to address, face, change, and accept their own dysfunction, disorder, addiction, failure, weakness, or any harmful dynamic, if the child is the solely wrong party.
If the child, you and I, are wrong, then the adult, our family member, gets to be right.
Inability to be Constantly Perfect
Often, along with our in utero job description, lies the mandate of perfection. Perfection can translate to any number of associations and meanings. Perfection can equal such things as safety, comfort, aesthetic image, success, and love.
We must look perfectly, speak perfectly, act perfectly, obey perfectly, respond perfectly, and meet needs and expectations perfectly to be considered “right.”
There is nothing shy of achieving those criteria that will do.
So, we can turn to addictions and eating disorders as a way of executing this perfection, or consoling ourselves for not achieving it. We can punish ourselves through self-injury. We can get tunnel vision and become Machiavellian in our pursuits, doing “whatever it takes” to accomplish that perfection, including committing crimes and making choices that are not ones of personal integrity.
Image is prized over truth, certainly over human imperfection. That is not allowed.
For some of us, being imperfect is, as extreme as it sounds, punishable by death.
Being Made Wrong
What purpose does this tactic of striving for unattainable perfection serve?
If we, as the children of this kind of parent, fail to reach and perpetually sustain perfection, we, again, get to be designated as “the problem.”
How much more so if that parent is putting out a well-honed and false standard that keeps up those necessary appearances?
If the parent is highly achieving with accolades while the child gets all As and one B plus, the message is that it’s the child who is not measuring up, not the parent. The parent can achieve perfection. Therefore, really, how difficult is it for the offspring to do likewise?
The apple doesn’t fall from the tree, right?
It’s convenient for the adult parent, because the focus from others often goes to the source of imperfection, not to the good-looking, pulled-together adult instead.
If, indeed, the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, it can, then, be reasoned that the kid is the “one bad apple.”
“The problem child.” The “issue.” The “wrong” party.
Again, who is exalted and spared and who is punished and made responsible?
Who is right and who is wrong? And who derives power from that determination?
Being right can feed the ego. And if a person is dysregulated and dysfunctional, that ego feeding can reach a desired sense of all-importance, with raising their child coming in at a distant second.
“To thine own self be true.” ~ Act I, Scene III, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
Nope. Forget about that!
There is no such thing as “thine own self.”
We, according to a certain parent, need to be someone else. Sometimes, it’s them—a little “mini-me” or an exact clone. Sometimes, it’s a particular archetype—the “good boy or girl,” the star athlete, “the star,” in general.
Yes, indeed, many decades ago, some mothers tried to fashion their little girls after famous child star, Shirley Temple. How many two, three, and four-years-old had their hair set in curlers each night, while being shoved into dance classes against their will? All to become the next Shirley Temple.
Yeah, you get the picture. Maybe some of us have flashbacks from being forced to sing “On the Good Ship Lollipop.”
And although Shirley Temple now is long gone, child beauty pageants and kiddie talent shows, unfortunately, keep the star search alive and well. The promise of “getting discovered” lights up the eyes of many parents who desire to live vicariously through their children. Fame, wealth, attention, and luxurious perks are to be mined within the child who is just ripe for the picking.
With this emphasis on choosing “other” to make up for the child the parent already has, little focus or positive association is given to the concept that this child is their own unique, wonderful being, with individuality and traits all their own.
Nope, that concept only classifies the child as wrong, defective, in need of changing, somehow.
Being Made Wrong
What purpose does this tactic serve?
Again, it’s a game of who’s right and who’s wrong. Certain adults, certain parents, can decide with the utmost authority that any choice a child makes that does not exactly align with their world view is wrong, wrong, wrong.
And that includes the choice for the child to be their own separate person. How dare they? That’s the cry when the child defies the adult “who knows better.”
So, perhaps, the only way in the adult parent’s mind to be right is to make another person, their child, wrong. It’s ego-driven. Being “right” could be more important to them than raising their children. It may be deliberate or unconscious.
Nevertheless, the explanation that the dysfunctional adult needs, even in the context of relating to their own children, is that they are inherently and forever right. A child becoming fully who they are is betrayal, disobedience, evil intent, even. The adult personalizes it and makes it about them. They do this instead of recognizing that each child, including their child, is a separate human being. And that is not an aggressive declaration of war on the parent.
The adult will not, or cannot, see it as such.
You’re not Wrong! You’re Right!
Maybe you have never heard that before. It’s not about a person being perfect—never making mistakes. We all do. But who you are is separate from what you do. You can have wrong actions; you can make mistakes. But who you are is not wrong. The individual, in all of your uniqueness, is not wrong. You are right. And your individuality is to be celebrated, not condemned.
The next time you encounter the decree that who you are is wrong, consider the statement’s source.
And its agenda.
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