Where I come from

A little  history lesson is necessary to fully understand some of the concepts I’ll be exploring in future posts.  I was forged from geography, my family history, and a genetic component that I’ll explore as briefly as possible in this post.

I was born in the early 60’s in a suburb of Chicago, IL.  This is important because of what I now refer to as the “Midwest Mentality.”  I don’t mean to be critical of this part of the country at all.  Growing up in the Chicago Metropolitan area provided me with a lot of good stuff:  strong work ethic, recognition of publicly appropriate behavior, and a down to earth take on life.  It’s also been my experience that people who grew up in the Midwest share certain fundamental characteristics and thought patterns.  It’s as much a part of who we are as the color of our hair.  Once again, this is my experience only.  I’m sure there are Midwesterners out there who don’t share all these attributes.  I don’t know any of them, but I’m sure they exist.   A large part of the generalizations that follow are also based on my own personal family dynamics.  Keep in mind that these are simply observations, not judgments.

Midwestern Mentality is comprised partly of strong work ethic, values associated with traditional Christian religions (Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, etc), and strong ties to what we can see and touch.  For example, I don’t expect most of my family and friends to unquestioningly (is even that a real word?) embrace and understand my metaphysical practice and beliefs.  What is different is sometimes feared, sometimes judged, and at best tolerated.    Midwesterners are not generally touchy-feely people, and we tend to not be overly friendly to complete strangers.  For example, when I first moved to Texas, it FREAKED ME OUT that total strangers were helpful.  They would start conversations with me in the line at the grocery store, in the park, in the library.  I didn’t know how to react, because Midwesterners mind their own business and tend to be overly suspicious about the motives of overly inquisitive or friendly strangers.   There are strict unspoken boundaries about what is okay to talk about in the company of family, friends and acquaintances.  We expect life to be difficult, but we muddle through and do the best we can.  Complaining is viewed as airing dirty laundry, and personal strength is admired.  We are not big on expressing emotions as a general rule; emotional outbursts are frowned upon and overly emotional people are viewed as weak.  I sometimes joke that I’m from the Midwest, and we don’t DO feelings.  Midwesterners are strongly rooted in what is appropriate, and appearance is important.  We frown on ill-mannered children.  The measure of success is how well you are able to follow the Plan of Expected Behavior.  The Plan generally consists of finishing school, getting married, buying a house, raising a family, retiring after 50 years of service to the same company (I cringe when I think about doing any one job for 50 years), and death.  In that order, thank you very much.  If you stuck to the Plan, you would live a safe and successful life.  We are a structured people, and it was a formula that worked for generations. 

It never really worked out so hot for me.   The Plan didn’t sound like any FUN to me.  No Plan, strike one.

I know more about the history of my mom’s family than my dad’s family.  I have an uncle who has ammassed a ton of information about our family tree on dad’s side of the family.  Should Ineed more information, I know I just have to ask. I know that there were some pretty colorful characters on that side of the family.  My father is a  wonderful and colorful storyteller.   But for the purposes of this post, I want to talk mainly about  my roots in Kansas and the Depression, because these things directly affect the way my family of origin functioned. 

My mom’s family were dust bowl farmers in Kansas during the Depression.  I have photographs of ancestors on both sides of the family.  Nobody’s really smiling in the pictures, leading me to conclude that I do not come from a joyous people.  I look at those photos and see smiles plastered over looks of resignation and struggle.  Honestly, what the hell was there to smile about in the 30’s and 40’s in Kansas?  I cannot even fathom how frustrating that life must have been for those people.  Everyone on mom’s side of the family was too busy trying to feed their children and not become the freakin Joads.  It was a hard life.  I think it was so mind-numbingly difficult that those people all would have gone crazy if they had been in touch with their inner-selfness, those raw emotions they had to suppress in order to do what needed to be done.  I can’t imagine the stress and fear and uncertainty of that situation.  I come from a long line of resourceful, strong survivors.  Once again, there was a certain way you acted and spoke; it was none of anyone’s business if you were struggling.  Everyone was struggling during that time in our country.  I think the Depression helped create my own family’s core belief that life is hard, and the best you can hope for is to provide a better existence for your children than you had.  So, Depression (big D, as opposed to the little d depression I have struggled with most of my life) and Kansas- strike two.

I could write a Master’s thesis exploring this subject if I were inclined to go back to school.  All I’m trying to do is hit the high points of cultural and ancestral issues before talking about what it was like to be a kid in my family.  Because my Shadow self was born and grew up with me.  To fully understand the Shadow’s function, I need to lay a little more foundation.

Both my parents worked very hard to provide a better life for their kids.  They were not the most emotionally aware people on the planet, but they were never taught to be so by their own parents.  Dust bowl farmers, remember?  It wasn’t easy for my parents, but they both had the dedication and fortitude to make difficult choices and sacrifice their own desires for their family.  I absolutely respect what my parents did for me.  Both of them came from imperfect families that struggled one way or another.  Both of them endured the shortcomings of their own parents. 

<A short aside here on the inevitable failure of all parents.  I believe that despite the best intentions, all parents fail their children in small and insignificant ways or huge and life altering ways.  This is part of the human condition.  If our parents were perfect, we would have nothing to overcome during our lives- no lessons to learn.  The best most parents can hope for is to provide their children with better circumstances- materially, emotionally, spiritually- than what they themselves had growing up.  As a child, I held my parents to an unreasonable expectation of perfection.  I did nothing but criticize them and see their flaws in my late adolescence and early 20’s.  It’s only been with my own maturity and personal growth that I can appreciate their struggles; I can accept them today for who they really are.  Parenting children is not for sissies; it’s hard freakin work. This is one reason I chose not to have my own biological kids- the idea frankly scared the living shit out of me.    So I have the utmost respect for my parents when I say I didn’t get everything from them that I needed growing up. >

My hardworking parents had a home they were paying for and two children by the time I came along.  I think I was a surprise in more ways than one.  I was this extremely exuberant, sensitive, emotional little alien being that was dropped into the middle of an established family.  I’m pretty sure I shook things up a little for everyone involved.  My dad had another mouth to feed, my mom wasn’t able to go back to work like she wanted, my sister was displaced as the only daughter in the family, and my brother was no longer the youngest.  I upset a lot of apple carts. And I remember I was always crying as a kid.  I cried if someone yelled at me.  I cried if my friends made fun of me.  I cried at Lassie episodes, for Chrissakes.  Sometimes, I cried for no reason apparent to anyone- myself included.  I’m sure it got a little annoying.  Neither of my folks were overly comfortable with emotional displays, and I think this crying scared the hell out of them.  They didn’t think I would ever be safe in this hostile world if I couldn’t toughen up a little.  Any time I was loud or overly emotional (positive or negative) I would get sent to my room until I could “behave.” I think my folks just didn’t have any clue how else to wrangle my intense, overwhelming emotions.   Unfortunately, I learned to deny my emotions to be accepted in my family.  I learned to grin and bear it; to act like a perfect little even keeled kid in order to receive the positive attention that I craved.

I also learned to be invisible; to fly under the radar and not draw any attention to myself.  This was an attempt to be able to do the things I wanted to do without repercussions from my parents.  Essentially, I had two sets of parents.  My brother and sister were significantly older than I was, and I felt like someone was ALWAYS telling me what to do.  I became a sneaky, quiet little observer of human behavior.  I learned that being needy was a sign of weakness and was frowned upon.  I learned that self-sufficiency was safe.  Like all children, I let go of parts of my personality to fit in and be accepted within my family.  I remember being very lonely while I created this false self.  I remember feeling crazy and scared I wouldn’t be able to hide it- that if people knew what was REALLY going on in my head, they would run away screaming with their hair on fire.  Because not fitting in and not feeling accepted was life threatening to a child.  I began my career early as a social chameleon and people pleaser.  This made me a prime target for sexual perpetrators, and I was molested by two different males between the ages of 6 and 13.  By the age of 6, I had learned how not to be a burden SO WELL that I kept quiet about my sexual victimization well into my adulthood.  Family history- strike three. 

As an overly emotional, sensitive child in my particular family of origin, I didn’t have a CHANCE of growing up without developing a complicated shadow self.  Every single human being suffers loss of illusion and trauma as a child.  As the song says, that’s life.  We’re taught to always think of others and how our actions affect them.  We’re often encouraged to let go of our artistic or emotional aspects because they’re not “practical.”  We learn it’s not okay to be angry, or that we can use our anger and disapproval to control others.  We’re coached to adhere to the family’s Plan, regardless of whether or not it’s a plan we want. We learn to manipulate.  We learn that what we can accomplish is more important than who we are.  Sometimes parents are so mired in their own issues they simply aren’t available to support their children in the ways those children need support.  Sometimes, parents die and leave us to fend for ourselves.

Remember, despite the best intentions, all parents fail in at least some small way.  Some lessons are hard to learn.  As a child, I denied parts of myself to be accepted and loved within my family.  To be safe.  To belong.  As a child of trauma, parts of me were cast aside in order for me to survive.  My Shadow self followed diligently along behind me, picking up the pieces I threw away and stowing them in a bag until I was ready to accept responsibility for them again.  Into the bag went my anger, my rage, my sorrow, my hurt.  I got rid of some good stuff, as well.   These things also ended up in the Shadow’s bag.  My ability to paint, my genuine hysterical, stomach clenching laughter, my psychic abilities, my personal power.  I need all of these things to be a well-rounded human being.  Had the Shadow not been there to gather up the pieces I cast off in order to live my life and appear “normal,” I wouldn’t have made it through childhood.  As an adult, it’s up to me to reclaim responsibility for these denied pieces of self. 

And I need to dance with the Shadow to do that.


~ by dancingwiththeshadow on March 20, 2011.

One Response to “Where I come from”

  1. Okay – you nailed it – the Midwest, that is. I’m impressed enough by your writing to leave my very first comment on the very first Blog I’ve ever subscribed to. After all, I’m a product of the Midwest too – why should I get involved and, worse yet, draw attention to myself? Just look away, right? Children who have been encouraged to be seen and not heard grow to be adults that worry that being seen and/or heard constitutes “showing off” – something that a Midwesterner isn’t supposed to do.

    I love your writing and I’ll be on Amazon to buy your book someday – hopefully soon.

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