Sunday, December 14, 2008

Only Love Can Break a Heart: Only Love Can Mend it Again

Below is a picture of Robin, at the age of five, dressed in her dad's work clothes, in an early effort at trying to be someone else. Someone, that is, who might be more lovable.

I once was in an abusive relationship that necessitated a court order requiring the abuser to keep his distance from me. It also landed me in therapy, something that turned out to be the healthiest thing I've ever done for myself.

"Did you have abuse in your family?" asked the therapist. "Did your father hit your mother, for example?"

"Oh no," said I. "My father would never hit my mother."

And then, through my reading and therapy, I learned that even worse than physical abuse for a person's self esteem, is verbal abuse. People who have grown up on a diet of verbal abuse often seek out abusive people to reinforce their low opinions of themselves.

Thus it is that I can tell you about a family I know, so beautiful from the outside. Such a nice house, in such a nice neighborhood of such an exclusive town. Such a handsome father, with a degree from a fine school. Such a beautiful mother who spends hours in front of a mirror fixing her hair and makeup to look just so before she goes to church to pray.

"Your father just doesn't have any talent with people," says the wife of 64 years to one of their children. "You know he's had good jobs but he's never been able to keep them." His last job lasted 27 years and when he retired he discovered his investing had been so successful his income was higher as a retired person than it was as a working executive. Yet he always felt like a failure.

"I'd be nothing without your mother," he says.

Two kind, dutiful daughters, neither with any self confidence. "I think it is so nice your sister is doing some substitute teaching," said the mother one day. "It is so good for her self confidence." Then in front of a group of dinner guests she criticized the meal the daughter had lovingly cooked to ease the workload on the 87 year old mother. "This pork, unfortunately, needed to be cooked at least two hours longer," said the mother. The sister slumped in her chair. "I never do a good job of cooking when I'm here," she said.

The other daughter appears to have spent her life jumping up and down at the back of a large crowd yelling "I'm here! Notice me! Please tell me you love me! I'm trying to be good enough! I'm trying to be better than good enough!!!" Once, long ago, when she had written an article that was published in a prestigious national magazine her mother said to her with some disdain: "Will it be here, in our edition?" When the love of the daughter's life left her, in what she now knows was a self-fulfilling prophecy, the mother said: "He was certainly a luxury you could ill afford." This child, successful on paper, thinks she is unlovable, a nothing, a failure, unable to do even one thing right. Except, of course, spend money, which she does in an effort to make herself beautiful enough to be worthy. "You live such a wasteful, lavish lifestyle," says the mother.

Words have power. In some families they are used to fix a positive seal on the heart of a child that will last a lifetime. "I love you. You are such a good child. You are such a good person." When words are used for evil they sear like a hot brand. "What's wrong with you? Only a baby cries over a thing like that. You always waste your money. You never mind me." Children live up or down to the words placed before them.

I'm reminded of a friend who was beloved by her parents. She had no sisters nor brothers and she and her parents created a tight bond. To spare her trouble in caring for them, they sold their house when they were in their 80s and moved into a continuing care community. First, she lost her father. Within just a few months, she lost her mother. She was devastated. But when she went to the summer home she had inherited from them she opened a drawer one day and found a note: "Never in all your life did you give me one single minute of unhappiness. You were such a joy to me. All my love, Mom."

Such powerful words they were, they even bridged the abyss between life and death.

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6 comments:

Bob Liddle said...

So, you are really going to do it! I guess I cant blame you, your story gets incredibly sad each time I read it. I used to watch you when you were in Portland in the 70's. It is amazing that you are as insecure as you say. I do believe you, I just remember a confident, bright, witty young lady. I have always admired people, especially news people, who are able to put their problems on the back burner to do their jobs on air. I guess that is part of being a true professional and you truly are. Are you leaving before Christmas? Please continue your blog from where ever you will be so we can all keep track of you. I care for your well being. I know that sounds weird from someone you dont know but I really do.

Take care of yourself.

Robin Chapman said...

Bob, how kind you are! I'm working through all these issues, as they say in the self-help books. I really haven't decided what I'm going to do yet. I know writing all this down is a form of therapy for me, and now that my flu is fading I'm feeling a lot better about things. Anyway, I won't stop the blog, no matter what!

Anonymous said...

Your story, including the abusive relationship, is also mine. The only difference is that it was my father who was verbally abusive, and my mother who taught me, by her example, to passively accept it. They are both gone now, but their damage lives on. I understand why they were like they were, and I forgive them. But I am so mad at what they did. I am intelligent, good looking, creative. And my life should have been so much easier than it has been. I believe, though, that our madness is our spiritual journey. I'm learning. Therapy helps. Group is particularly good. Keep talking about it, writing about it. Recommended book: Emotional Alchemy.

Robin Chapman said...

Dear Anonymous: Don't know who you are, but you wrote me such a lovely note. Just writing about things is therapy for me and though I guess it is difficult for some in my family to read what I write, your comments make me realize there are others out there who do understand.

We'll be okay and that's the good part of the legacy we are living.

Thanks so very much for your comments.

n.yezhov said...

Hey, Robin. I checked out your blog tonight, as is my near-daily habit, and noticed the Oregon Magazine cover. I Googled 'Oregon Magazine Robin Chapman' trying to find it, and I thought you'd like this result: A writer noted his memories of KGW and other things Oregonian(http://zehnkatzen.blogspot.com/2008/11/i-am-all-oregon-baby-list-explained-nos.html) and included the following note: "Robin Chapman: KGW. I remember her from the Evening local magazine show. I had a crush on her. Loved her hair. This was mid 70s." After re-reading your blog posting in this section, I figured this was the place to post this one. Don't let the naybobs of negativism try to define who you are, have been, or will be.

Robin Chapman said...

Dear n.
That was so much fun to read about Larry's crush. I should make the Google myself and catch him up! You made my day!