The Mighty Logo

How My Childhood Affected My Mental Health

Resilience [noun]: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

My physical self is very resilient. And for that, I am jolly thankful. I rarely succumb to illness, and when I do, my most excellent immune system does its job quickly and efficiently.

My emotional self has no resilience. I have worked with young people nearly all my life — I started teaching at 14, when I was just a child myself. And children who demonstrate no resilience, are children who struggle — full stop. I am one of those children.

Resilience is such an important life skill, yet when I was a young lass, it was not something parents usually considered. Emotional responses to stressful situations were routinely dismissed — Just toughen up! What are you crying about? You’re making mountains out of molehills! Pretty standard responses in the 1970s.

I was a highly emotional child, raised in a home where emotions were not acceptable and a public face was to be worn at all times. My concerns and worries weren’t acknowledged, validated or worked through. They were dismissed as trivial, irrelevant and selfish. I’m a fast learner though — I always have been — so very quickly buried my concerns. I’d let trivial issues swirl around inside my head and grow wings, and this developed into a lifelong habit. A little butterfly flitting around, rapidly transforms into a fire-breathing dragon, with its scaly hide filling every ounce of space in my head.

When I hear a harsh word or I’m corrected, if I make a mistake or a misjudgment, my body freezes, my brain dies and I want to run away. Later, the disaster dialogue begins: She hates me. I’m such an idiot. How did I miss that? They’re going to fire me. How could I be so stupid? We’ll never be friends again. I feel so ashamed. Why did I say that?

Blah blah blah.

It goes on and on and on and on. I struggle to turn thoughts around or challenge them with alternate scenarios: She’s probably tired. I apologized and he was fine. People make mistakes.

Now, I do have staying power – I can be fiercely determined and stubborn and I don’t give up easily. But I do take things to heart. Far more than I should. And the problem with a lack of emotional resilience, is self-doubt, self-hatred and fear of conflict and consequences, are all dealt with one way or the other. When they’re not dealt with in a healthy manner, they’re dealt with in an unhealthy manner.

Self-doubt is debilitating. I live with the eternal fear everyone hates me. And if they don’t hate me yet, they soon will. I need to be perfect at all times — so you’ll like me. I need to give of myself at all times — so you’ll feel loved. I need to accept blame for all conflict – so you’ll forgive me.

These are not demands placed upon me by others. They are placed upon me by myself. And they are unreasonable expectations that can never be fully realized.

I have come to believe without emotional resilience, I will remain caught in a cycle of mental health struggles. In a perfect world, little bumps and bruises that come my way, would be met with calm acceptance, feet up on a comfy chair, a little self-reflection and a debrief with a trusted friend. Emotional resilience would bless me with the ability to let things go and move on. These are the skills I taught my students. But these are the skills I still need to learn. I have no magic answers. But I trust the first step to change, is to acknowledge the problem.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via berdsigns

Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home