I grew up in a very stressful world. My parents were at each other’s throats most of the time.

Mum was an erudite self-medicating victim of life. Dad was a poor stressed out intellectual with an earnest sense of humour.

They loved each other madly, except when they didn’t, which was a lot of the time.

They used lots of words. Loud, painful words. Dad sometimes threw things, like punches at cupboard doors. Mum used nasty cutting insults that nearly always hit the mark.

Usually, they focused their energy on attacking each other. But sometimes they were so stressed that they forgot that they loved us, their kids, and we would become a target too. A verbal punching bag.

So I grew up in a high state of stress. I spent my childhood checking out the lie of the land. Was it safe? Was I a possible target? What did I need to do to calm this situation down; to make it safe?

I learnt to be good. To tidy up, to do the dishes, to hide Mum’s drink, without anybody asking.

I learnt to read people.  I could tell if someone was angry or upset from 20 paces. I could modify my play, reduce my noise, play small in response to a single glance or a tone of voice.

I learned how to keep myself safe.

I usually liked my friends because I liked their parents. I liked that I was often invited to stay the night at a friend’s house on the basis that I was so helpful, so charming. My friends’ parents loved me.

I was pleasing, ingratiating and nice. Oh so nice.

I was in survival mode.

To this very day when pushed, when stressed, I can default back into pleasing and nice. I don’t think about it. It just happens. It’s my safe place. It’s my MO. And yet it is a feeling I dread. I don’t want to be that person anymore.

Chances are that you too will have a default behaviour you go to when you are feeling very uncomfortable, down or out of your depth. We have to protect ourselves when we are very stressed. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you catch yourself behaving in a way that you thought you had grown out of. We are always developing and growing; it takes time and courage to let go of our learned behaviours that have served us so well.

If this has triggered you and you want to talk about it further; then contact me, a counsellor or your psychologist to get support.  

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