Emotional Abuse & Low Self Esteem

I have issues with self esteem, it’s been something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. Thinking back, I think it initially began with my ballet teacher. She taught the R.A.D (Royal Academy of Dance) classical ballet – and was known for being strict and disciplined. In terms of classical ballet – her school was one of the best around, because of the high standards associated with the R.A.D.

However she was a horrible person. If I were more spiritual I’d venture to say she had a very dark and nasty soul. Logically though I think she was mentally disturbed.

She treated people either with general indifference, or sheer nastiness. I was one of the people she singled out to mistreat. Nothing I ever did was good enough – right from the beginning she picked on me. I was only 6 years old – and preparing for my primary ballet exams. All grades were gathered and taking turns to rehearse their solo dance for the examination. Others made mistakes, big mistakes, and she’d get them to start again. If I did something minor – like not look up at the introduction, or not smile, I was sent to the back of the line, no second chance. This went on all night, it got late, well and truly beyond my bed time – and I’d not even been given the chance to do a full run through of my dance. Each time I was sent to the back of the line for a minor infraction.

It got worse as I got older. When I started a growth spurt at about 10, one leg grew faster than the other. So I had 1 leg a little longer than the other. As a result, my hips didn’t sit straight. My teacher would yell at me for not standing straight and hit my hip. Sometimes she’d grab me round the neck and pull me upwards.

One time, one of the girls in my class asked me what I got for my exams and I’d received honours, and told her so – and I never ever boasted, just quietly stated my grading. My teacher yelled at me and told me I had no right to brag about my grading, and never to talk about how I did in the exams. She never told anyone else off for talking about their results, only me. I wasn’t allowed to be happy that I got high marks.

Because of her devaluing me at every chance, I learned to believe that I was worthless. I tried so hard to gain her approval, but never could. And I suffered emotionally & physically at her hands. And yet, year after year I kept going back. Like a sick little puppet on a string I tried to bend to her every whim. It wasn’t until I was 12 that my mother finally had enough of her behaviour towards me and pulled me out of the school, 2 weeks before the end of year concert.

But by then the damage had been done. I hated myself, and in my eyes I couldn’t measure up to anyones expectations. I was a loser. And I was lost, without my tormentor. Without her poison to drag me down I turned to poisoning myself. I started the emotional abuse, perpetuating all the things about myself she made me believe. It’s sick, I know. But I was young, impressionable and because I couldn’t gain her acceptance I believed that something was wrong with me.

She planted the seeds of abuse, but I’m the one who took a steel pipe and bashed the living hell out of my self esteem.  She was just a bully, but because of her I learned exactly how to torment myself.

I Choose This Life (But I Don’t Approve)

I often write my blog sitting alone on my bed. Tonight it occurred to me that though I’m drawn to spending all my spare time in bed, it’s a place haunted by misery and pain. It holds the painful memories of sharing it with the person I loved more than anything. It is a constant reminder of the emptiness both in my bed and in my heart.

I am lonely. I hate admitting that because I consciously choose to make my life this way. I choose to exile myself from the world. But even though I choose this path, it doesn’t exactly make me happy. It’s so difficult to explain. I don’t like being around people – they don’t understand me. They don’t think the way that I do or feel the way that I do. So I withdraw from the world. I lock myself away, thereby creating my loneliness.

Why would I choose loneliness? I think it’s because reality doesn’t compare with my imagination. I know it sounds like I have incredibly high expectations, impossible ideals, but why would I settle for harsh reality? Why would I settle when my inner life has so much more to offer me? If I can lose myself in my imaginary world for long enough I can conjure up peace: both of mind and soul.

It gets harder to leave the sanctuary of my imaginary world. The disappointment of reality burdens my heart. When I’m in the real world I am painfully aware of my loneliness and heartache. I’m aware that I don’t have a connection to someone special, that my heart isn’t entwined with another. So it’s too easy to retreat into my fantasy world, where I can dream up perfect love and perfect acceptance.

This loneliness always goes the same way. I’m (half heartedly) trying to convince myself that I am in love with someone who … ugh I don’t even want to explain this because it’s too embarrassing to admit even to myself. He is a person who exists on earth. But he doesn’t know me, I don’t even really know him. We’ve not actually met, not actually spoken to each other – but I’m infatuated with his voice, his eyes, his crooked grin. Honestly he may as well be imaginary because he is just so out of my reach.

And it’s even more hilarious (in the most self insulting way possible) that I’m acknowledging this train of thought. Clearly I’m not in love with him. I’m just lonely, so I imagine and project these false feelings onto him because he is unattainable. And by falling in love with the impossible I’m protecting my vulnerability. Because in my warped mind it’s better to be hurt by loving someone who doesn’t even know you exist, than it is to entrust your heart to a real person and risk them breaking it.

Thus I am in a perpetual circle of hurt and loneliness. I justify my self-imposed exile with the belief that if I put myself in reality I’d only end up hurt and lonely anyway. This circular “reasoning” is so draining. I put the word reasoning in quotation marks – because clearly the turmoil inside my head doesn’t have even a single iota of reason about it. Nothing about what I have typed is reasonable – except maybe my admission that this entire post is unreasonable.

Don’t Stand So Close To Me.

I’m really quite funny about my personal space and how much proximity and actual physical contact affects me. About 15 minutes ago I had one of my moments where I became immensely aware of how uncomfortable a situation, especially ones involving strangers, can be.

I’d just finished my appointment with my Psych and I was at the counter paying and making my next appointment. An older lady came up to the counter and stood right next to me because she wanted to speak to the receptionist. And to make matters worse another older lady came up on the other side of me to take up a free magazine they have on offer at the offices. But instead of picking it up and walking away, she stood there flicking through it.

So now I have these 2 complete strangers flanking me, practically standing at my shoulders. I could almost feel them breathing. I couldn’t shake the ominous feeling that came over me – even though logically I knew I could take down both of these old birds if for some insane reason they started to attack me. I am not kidding when I say it actually physically felt threatening to have strangers standing shoulder to shoulder with me like that. My baser instincts of fight or flight started winding me up, and I was starting to get angry with them for standing too close.

There was absolutely no reason why the lady wanting to talk to the receptionist couldn’t wait in line behind me – it was quite rude and impatient of her to stand there as if she was going to butt in. And as for the other lady: take the freaking magazine and read it elsewhere. Don’t stand there at my shoulder reading it. I know it sounds really odd, but things like that make me so uncomfortable, and a whole influx of crazy thoughts go through my head – from staging a “freak out”, to aggressively pushing them out the way, to planning what I will do when they start to attack. My mind goes into defensive overdrive when people stand too close to me like that, and it takes so much self control to not take it to the nth degree and go mental.

Like Sunday Morning.

I used to be an easily agitated person. I’d fly off the handle and lose my temper very easily. I remember as a teenager my mum started saying I needed anger management classes because I’d suddenly lose my shit and yell and shout over the littlest of things. And I could physically feel it within me. I had days where I had this darkness inside me, this negative energy and I’d actually want to blow a fuse and lose it. I’d wake up and know that all it would take was something insignificant and I’d be gone. In those black moods I wanted to hurt and upset those I cared about.

I wasn’t a physically violent person, but definitely threatening and verbally abusive. It was a very ugly thing, and I am ashamed to admit that I was like this. Because it wasn’t me, not really who I am inside. I mean I did those things, I take responsibility for my actions and feel bad for them. But it was to some extent something that was out my control until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and started having the appropriate therapy and medication.

One of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve been on my medication is that situations where I would have melted down just fly right over my head and I keep my cool. In general, when it comes to potentially upsetting scenarios mostly I am very chill.

I’m like Sunday Morning. Easy.

I don’t get as bothered about people or things as I used to. Once upon a time my fuse was so short I would sometimes snap if my ex breathed loudly at night (poor guy has a deviated septum it’s very difficult for him to breath through his nose at all let alone when trying to sleep!).

These days most little things don’t bug me, and many big things barely affect me. I still have my moments when I get angry. From time to time I get a little irritable, I might be a teensy bit short or snappish. And I still have anxiety issues, but I normally clam up and internalise rather than externalise. I don’t shout and scream and rant and rave like I used to. When I’m off kilter nowadays I am far more likely get either super happy or super sad. There are far fewer phases of rage. Most days I have an unfazed, laid back attitude.

If anyone remembers Lucas from E

If anyone remembers Lucas from Empire Records, sometimes I think I’m almost as Zen as he is!

Mouth from the South

After doing the personality test the other day, and thinking about my son’s diagnosis it really got me thinking about my own childhood. When I was in primary school I was considered very outgoing: I was overly energetic and talkative. Every one of my primary school reports would have variations of “Karlee would be an excellent student if she could just stop talking so much in class”. Actually my nickname in grades 5 & 6 was “Mouth from the South” perhaps cruel, but I never really paid it much mind back then.

Not only did I talk a lot (and I mean a LOT) I was also very loud. My voice naturally carries, and I’d never realise I’d be talking loudly. I’d get particularly louder the more excited I got. And it was very easy for me to be over enthusiastic (as one teacher kindly put it). I was a high energy child, always onto the next thing, never staying interested in anything for too long. I’d get bored if I wasn’t properly challenged and that’s when I started talking incessantly.

I used to assume that I was naturally an extravert, and that it was due to circumstance (bullying in high school & mental illness) I became an introvert. However, even as a youngster I didn’t initiate friendships, I didn’t like inviting people over to play, didn’t like birthday parties where the focus was on me. Thinking back on it now it seems that my introversion was actually the natural tendency for me. It was only my high energy and loud voice that gave a false impression that I was extraverted.

The more I look at my childhood self, the more I see the parallels between my son and myself. And I’m not the first to do that as other family members have also noted he is so much like me in personality. Always wired, always talking, always busy. Often getting into trouble for distracting other people, not doing it maliciously but because of losing focus and getting bored far too easily.

I control myself a lot better now, but I’m still too easily distracted. I still lose interest in things way too quickly. I still unconsciously talk inappropriately too loudly at times. My eyes glaze over when someones talking and I get bored, and I’ve been known to walk away mid conversation (I know it’s so rude). I still can’t sit still – I bounce my heels rapidly up and down whenever I’m sitting. I don’t realise I’m doing it, and it can get on peoples nerves. I also shift positions in my chair during work meetings more times than socially acceptable. I still interrupt others and sometimes get impatient when people are slow. I forget things that my mind doesn’t classify as important (like when mum asks me to bring over spare clothes for the children you can bet your bottom dollar I have forgotten). I routinely forget appointments or plans I’ve made with others even though I have them in a calendar. I can literally walk over a pile of clothing for days without registering that it needs doing. I’m not lazy, I just don’t “see” the pile because it’s not important in my busy mind.

My ex used to call me Dory (from Finding Nemo) because I’d be talking away and in mid sentence … oooh shiny!!!!

Uh where was I? Oh yes, I get distracted and forget to finish what I was talking about. Sometimes I even forget I had been talking in the first place. I’m a pretty forgetful person, often misplacing (not losing, misplacing!) things. And yet, for whatever reason, I have a massive databank in my head of song lyrics from probably hundreds of different songs across different decades and genres. It’s fascinating just how many songs I know all of the words to from start to finish. But I can’t even remember what day it is half the time.

I.N.F.P. – An idiosyncratic dreamer with a strong imagination

Today, at the suggestion of one of the guys I work with – I took the 16 Personalities quiz for a bit of fun. It’s essentially one of those Myers Briggs Personality Indicators. Reading the results I wasn’t particularly surprised that I turned out to be an INFP, classified as a Diplomat (due to having the NF combo). In fact I probably could have just looked at what each personality aspect was and I would have chosen exactly each aspect as the quiz results determined.

In fact previous posts have established that I’m

  • (I) Introverted : I find socialising very exhausting, and I need plenty of alone time.
  • (N) Intuitive: I have an imagination that runs wild, and I’m typically a dreamer
  • (F) Feeling: I’m sensitive, empathic, and highly emotional

I’m not sure if I’ve written any posts about the last aspect (P) Prospecting yet, but it will definitely come up sooner or later. I would have to agree to being this aspect as: I am terribly indecisive and good at improvising. I pride myself on being flexible; always preferring to keep my options open.

And the diplomat part – well I usually tend to be a fence sitter. I tend to worry more about hurting a persons feelings so I am very reluctant to make judgement calls. And I can usually find redeeming qualities in even the most unpleasant person or situation (much to the chagrin anyone who is venting to me about said person/situation!).

It seems with my INFP personality type that I keep good company among some of my favourite authors: George Orwell, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, A.A. Milne, Edgar Allen Poe, Hans Christian Andersen, William Shakespeare, George R.R. Martin.

Maybe it’s little wonder that I love writing as much as I do! I only wish I were half as talented as the above mentioned folk.

Putting myself into this little box of letters, while a fun and interesting exercise, leaves me at a loss as to what to do with the information. I typically don’t put much stock into personality tests. In fact I got downright annoyed when I legit had to do a different one for work earlier this year (or was it late last year? I can’t remember.)

It makes me think of that end scene of Dirty Dancing where Patrick Swayze tells Jerry Orbach “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”. I feel like saying “Nobody puts Karlee into a personality type”. I kind of see it like star signs and horoscopes – keep it general enough and you can get it to apply to you, and everyone else you know.

That said an INFP personality type seems to suit me remarkably well, but it’s not really a type that’s conducive to success in relationships is it?

A question or two, if you care to answer: whats your Myers Briggs personality type? Do you think it suits you, or do you think you another type is a better fit?

Smoke and Mirrors

I am a superficial extrovert. Once I am comfortable with people, I appear to be a chatty, friendly, and fun loving person who is just a little on the crazy side. Most people would tell you that I am also a very open and honest person – what you see is what you get.

Yet, if any of them looked very closely, they would see that I barely reveal a thing about my true self. I tend to move around people like the moon orbits the earth – here on earth we never ever see what’s on the other side of the moon. People only ever see one side of me – the carefully constructed, and controlled persona that I want them to see. The other, truer self is hidden very deep and out of reach.

Why do I make myself so untouchable? Why do I so carefully guard my soul with walls so high? Why do I keep people at arms length? I choose this for myself because I am safe from harm.

I feel like if I keep myself at a safe distance from the rest of the world then I protect my vulnerability. I am not exposing my fragile self to the chance of being torn apart by “the wolves”. Being untouchable also means that if I don’t let anyone near me then I can’t disappoint anyone with what’s really inside.

I’m incredibly lonely, more than anyone would ever know. But I choose this place for myself because I am not ready to open the doors and let my soul run free. I’m not ready to let people inside the crystal palace of my mind. I’m not ready to let them learn of the private, fragile me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. But someday I hope to be.

If that day comes, I will take away the smoke and mirrors I’ve so carefully placed to fool people into thinking they know who I am. On that day I will shine like the sun and everyone around will see who I really am. But until then I am & will remain that superficial extrovert.

Driving Me Out of My Mind

Ever been halfway through an action and wonder how you got there? Happens all the time, but the thing that scares me the most is it happens when I am driving (usually to work). Sometimes when I am driving I really wonder how the hell I’ve managed to get through the task without an accident.

My mind sometimes gets lost in a train of thought, and then I’ll come back to reality and wonder how I ended up this far up the road, when I don’t really recall crossing the past several intersections, or changing lanes, or turning left, or anything really. For several moments horror engulfs me because I don’t know if I’ve gone through red lights, or gone faster than the speed limit, or indicated when I switched lanes.

The scariest part is that I don’t always remember what was occupying my mind before I was snapped out of my reverie and brought back to reality. It’s like my mind has gone through the previous moments with a black marker and struck them off so I can’t read what was written. Sometimes I worry that I’ve blacked out. But since my car is still in its own lane, and no one is blaring their horn at me, it’s safe to say I’ve been conscious the whole time, if not aware.

I lose myself in my thoughts during other actions too, but none of them scare me in the way it does when it happens while I am driving. Each time I get in the car, I consciously remind myself how important it is to pay attention. I fight to keep my focus, to stay aware. Then it slips, and I’m gone for a couple of minutes, until I snap back to reality and fear is pooling in my stomach and chest.

Sometimes I wonder how on earth anyone would think it was okay to give me a drivers licence. I also wonder how anyone isn’t fazed at the thought of giving me any sort of responsibility. No one questions giving me important tasks at work (things that would have dire consequences if I got them wrong). No one worries about me being a single parent of 2 young children. Sometimes I think its a revelation that I’m even allowed to live by myself, let alone left in charge of other people.

I know I’m too hard on myself. But when I space out like I do, when I find it so easy to retreat into my head, I wonder. I wonder how I managed to get as far in life as I have without serious accidental injury, how I haven’t accidentally set the house on fire, or crashed my car. Sometimes I almost think that it’s a bloody miracle!

Like a Broken Record.

I have a tendency to obsess over things. Clearly, I obsess over my thought as I spend way too much time inside my head. But I obsess over little things too. Things that should have little to no relevance in my life.

When I visit my parents, sometimes I help my mum with hanging out the washing. I obsess over her peg basket – how it is filled with pegs of all different shapes, sizes, colours and different stages of bleaching by the sun. When I hang up an article of washing, I have to search for two pegs that match. They have to be identical – right down to how much they have faded by exposure to the weather. When we both lived at home, my brother used to deliberately use two pegs that were completely different. I’d have to spend time going around the washing line, fixing each piece of washing so that identical pegs were used.

If I get my hand “dirty” because I had to use it to touch a railing, or elevator button, or something else that is public access – my hand is effectively rendered useless until I have scrubbed it clean, or at the very least smothered it in antibacterial gel. Help me if I have to wait longer than a minute before I can do one or the other. By that time, I fancy I can actually feel the germs crawling over my skin, spreading up my arm.

All of the times I’ve had an intravenous drip in my hand/arm – within minutes of it being inserted I am fixated on it. Something in my mind snaps, and I have a singular focus on the drip, panic floods me and all I do is mutter repeatedly how it needs to come out, needs to come out now. It is as if I can simply will it out if I repeat the mantra enough times. I get hung up on the needle under my skin, and like a dog with a bone I just can’t let the obsession go.

I have been listening to the same 7 songs on repeat for the past 6 or so weeks. That should have driven me mad (maybe it has and I just don’t realise it!) But apparently my fixation on this band’s music has left no room for any other music in my life right now. I’m very familiar with this type of obsession, getting well keen into a band, or an actor, or something and saturating myself in nothing but said fixation. Eventually I’ll lose interest, but for now it’s like being in love – I can’t imagine not feeling so passionately and strongly as I do about said band right now.

If I have had even the tiniest most insignificant unpleasant or embarrassing interaction with a person – the event plays over and over in my mind like a broken record. There are several stages to this. The first 50,000+ mental replays are the embarrassment/anger phase – where I’m repeatedly reviewing the interaction trying to make sense of what happened. Stage 2 is the beating myself up about it – another 50,000+ replays chiding myself for not reacting appropriately, or saying the wrong thing, or not saying the right thing. Basically it’s about abusing myself relentlessly because I didn’t handle the situation in the “best” way. The final stage is trying to change the past in my head – recreating the scenario and imagining all the alternative outcomes that could have occurred. Inserting the snappiest comeback, or not reacting, or reacting differently. In my mind I am rewriting what happened in a manner that creates the best possible outcome for me. All in all, I will be hung up about a particular interaction for days and even weeks at a time, unable to move past it until I’ve played it out enough times in my head.

I have a ritual when I get in to work in the morning – I open my desk drawer to pull out my notebook, pen, highlighter, calculator and ruler and I have to line them all up on my desk parallel to the edge of the desk. My coworkers sometimes tease me by nudging things out of place when I leave my desk. Of course I notice, I always notice, and I have to realign them when I get back.

These are just a handful of things I obsess over. I kind of find them funny when I look at them through the eyes of “the scientist” because logically none of those things matter. The world won’t end if I use 2 different pegs, or don’t line up my pen to my notebook and make sure they are parallel to the desk edge. I won’t die if I don’t wash my hands immediately after pressing the elevator button, and the drip in my hand won’t kill me. But, for whatever silly reason in my head, if I don’t comply with these rules I’ve created for myself, it all seems to come crashing down around me and I can’t “keep calm and carry on”.

I put it down to my need for control. When my mind is running riot, at least I have these little things that I can control. I suppose they allow me to make sense of my strange and sometimes scary world.

My Empathy is Exhausting

I work in customer service. I spend 5 hours a day, four days a week, on the phone helping out with customer enquiries, sales, building rapport, fielding complaints, et cetera.

I am very good at my job.

I have the ability to really connect with customers, understand their needs and provide them with the product and service they require. I can talk to almost anyone from any background, with any personality, and make them feel like I’ve been waiting all day just to speak to them personally. I am always patient, understanding, courteous and professional. I have never once been rude to a customer or co-worker in any job I’ve worked at. I am generally the most amiable and easy going person in any workplace.

The thing I find the most amusing about this is that I actually don’t particularly like people. I mean I like people, but I just don’t like to be around them. The reason for this is probably going to make me sound a little kooky – and trust me I’m a very sceptical person. I don’t believe in the supernatural, or mystical things. I don’t go for psychics, or ghosts, or even any religious beliefs. (Though each to their own, as long as they don’t harm anyone else)

However I am what I suppose could be labelled an empath. I easily absorb the energy of other people’s mood. Being around people (especially groups of people) can be very confusing for me mentally and emotionally. The energy that people give off creates a lot of noise an interference for my mind. It’s very hard in a situation like my workplace – open plan, 40 odd people working in reasonably close proximity to each other (in my department alone), and having to deal with a wide range of emotions from clients.

Let me try to explain it like this – imagine all of those people talking to me at once. If they did that I wouldn’t be able to understand what anyone was saying, let alone even hear myself think. The same goes for the energy they give off – I absorb all those moods and it confuses me because I can’t determine which ones are mine and which ones belong to the people I interact with.

In some ways being very finely tuned to how others are feeling is actually a benefit for my success in my job. When people call me up looking for insurance because they are travelling, or buying their first home, or getting a new car – I feel and return their excitement. I become genuinely excited for them, and can build a rapport with them and personalise the call in a way that I couldn’t otherwise do. Nothing I say to them is facetious, or put on – I speak from a place of genuine happiness and excitement (even if technically it’s not really my personal mood, just an absorbed one). On a side note: I also absorb all the negative energy of people who aren’t happy. And even though I always maintain calm and polite and patient front – their energy also accumulates within me.

There is a huge downside of strong tendencies toward empathy. The accumulation of so many moods (both positive and negative) is very draining (emotionally, mentally and physically). I need to spend long periods of time alone, away from people. At the end of the work day I am so drained from the interference caused by absorbing all the energy of co-workers, customers, and others. It’s can be hard to unwind, unless I can spend time alone processing the moods, releasing them, and finding my real self again. And of course that relates back to my last post where I worry that I am not a good mother.

The amount of time I need to recuperate from such taxing situations cuts into the time I have available to spend with my children when I get home from work before they go to bed. I can’t address their needs properly until I have purged the energy that I have absorbed from all those others that day. And sometimes I feel like they might think I am rejecting them – because when I first get home I am not open to cuddles, and long conversations. I need an hour or so by myself before I feel ready to be smothered in kisses and cuddles, and talk about the things that went on in their day. And on particularly draining days it can be all evening, which makes me feel a little sad for missing out on time connecting with my own children.

But I try to make it up to them. I try to spend quality time with them on weekends. When I returned to work (1/2 way through my eldest child’s first year in prep) I started working full time. Early on I reduced the number of days I work. A little later I reduced the number of hours each day that I work. I start later in the morning so I can take them to school. I finish early enough to try to spend time with them in the evenings (when I am not too drained).

I know it’s about quality and not quantity. But I worry about how it affects them when I can’t reciprocate their unwavering desire for physical and emotional affection. I worry about their feeling rejected if I sometimes have to keep them at arm’s length so I don’t fall apart.

Sometimes I wish I could ice my heart over so I don’t have to feel everyone else’s emotions so strongly. But at the same time, I guess it’s better than not feeling anything at all. I’ve been there before, and it’s very scary.