As a child, I thought that freedom meant being an adult. As an adult you could eat what you wanted, go to bed as late as you wanted, and you had money (where this money came from, I was a little hazy).
However, as I grew up I became less and less free. Yes, I had more control over my bedtime and what I ate, but in my head I was being imprisoned. Imprisoned not just by hormones (and mine were pretty spectacular), but by how I saw myself and thus how I thought others saw me. These feelings were due to the past experiences that I endured as a baby. Put simply, it’s tricky to believe you’re loveable when the person who is supposed to innately love you doesn’t want you and might hurt you. Then, the second person to hold you and keep you safe (the foster carer) hands you over to another set of people.
Over time I looked for things that reinforced these feelings of self-hate and worthlessness, such as an A- in an exam, my parents telling me to hurry up, or a perceived strange look from a person on a bus. I am not an anomaly, although generalising slightly: most adopted children will take any response as negative (including a neutral one), unless it is quite clearly positive. Even then it could be perceived as negative.
This is not to discourage you from teaching your children the difference between right and wrong. Boundaries, routines, and consequences are exceptionally important, particularly for those of us who struggle to self-regulate. But it does explain why, aged seven, a simple request to find my jumper, put my shoes on, and be by the front door in 5 minutes (to go to the zoo), resulted in a meltdown. To me, I wasn’t good enough because I had to be told to do these things. After feeling this shame, I couldn’t even remember what I’d been asked to do, because I was feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. In short, any interaction short of fully positive was ‘evidence’ that I was not loveable.
These warped thoughts became truths; truths I still carry with me today. I have had countless therapists, different types of therapy, support from family, friends, teachers, and it’s only now that I’m beginning to realise that these thoughts are not truths. They have had immense power over me, but they don’t have to. They’re thoughts. Most importantly, they’re thoughts that need to be challenged.
I have a psychologist at the moment who is helping me through a mix of life-story attachment based work and compassion-focused therapy. A year ago I would have scoffed at these and labelled them as ‘a bit fluffy’. However his work has been invaluable. He has helped me identify key moments of my life, take the themes, thoughts and feelings from each event, and examine the beliefs that have grown from these. Slowly, we are challenging the biggest self-hate beliefs.
It’s tricky, very. However, after every session I feel genuine hope that I am becoming free, and I am. For example, I am currently flat hunting in Barcelona. This week, I practiced my Spanish and organised a house viewing. I went across the city and arrived early. After 25 minutes I saw that I had an email cancelling. This disappointment (I really want to move) and sudden change of plan would have spiralled my mood six months ago. However, I sat on the step outside the flat and felt irritated (a natural reaction), but calm.
Half a year ago, it would have felt like a rejection. I would have felt out of control as it was short notice. I would have beaten myself up when I realised that the email was sent in the middle of the night and I had missed it that morning. Instead, I went back home and drank a lemonade on my balcony. For many, this morning would seem insignificant but, for me, the way I managed the situation was a huge success, despite being 26. Looking back, I should be proud, too, that my seven year-old self eventually found the jumper and my shoes and made it to the zoo!