Chronic shame developed from the best of intentions of my parents when raising two children. They were good at it, striving to create balance for two radically different kids – providing food, shelter, and safety, but I still felt neglected because my parents did not bond emotionally with me. I have few memories of being held, comforted, played with, or asked how I was doing; plenty questions about the events of a school-day, but not their impact. When they didn’t live up to expectations they privately, and I’m sure to this day, scolded themselves; they failed less times than they believe they did. My parents instilled in me the three F’s – family, food, and fun. If there were two then the third would be automatically follow suit; should food be part of the family gathering then we’d have some fun; if there was food and fun, then one must be amongst family.
Growing up, I overcompensated to be the “good child,” or just being generally more agreeable; in comparison to the spectacle that was my sister; I didn’t want to be the reason for everything or have the spotlight on me. The chaos she created taught me that disruptions to a plan lead to eruptions of anger and violence. My sister’s behavior drew my parents’ attention, exhausting them, resulting in an often-chaotic home life. I was not going to add more concerns to their already full plate. I vowed to not be the straw that broke any one’s back, becoming respite for my parents from my sister. I felt shame for being abnormal or wrong, that my failures would bring unnecessary drama. The feelings of my parents, whether expressly communicated or sensed became internalized and automatic. The state of being alone and powerless became pervasive.
I never enjoyed the idea of celebrating my birthday; I do enjoy getting older though. What I feared was not getting older, but that no one would ever come to a birthday party for me. Ever since grade-school, I have always wanted a surprise birthday party, where a home would be filled of people that wished to be there. That dream has never come true, even when it was mandatory to report to a classmate’s birthday.
My sister was unable to make time to celebrate my birthday, and since family waited for each other to acknowledge milestones, birthdays adhered to my sister’s schedule; my sixteenth birthday was two months late because my sister couldn’t be bothered to take time off from work. Eventually, I stopped sending invitations out at all, choosing to ignore the celebration and take enjoyment only from cards – and then settle for Facebook birthday posts.
My birthday was where I learned to exist within the cracks, as typically during the school year it fell in the middle of Winter Recess; becoming the excuse for why no one needed to hold a celebration for me. I wanted to avoid any fuss that would draw attention from friends because if they were paying attention to me, I believed they’d peak beneath my mask and judge me inappropriate – or worse, inadequate. Around friends, I remained shy as if they were strangers because facades kept everyone at an arm’s length. It was simpler to cover my self-consciousness and inferiority beneath masks, that were fashioned for inclusion by adopting specific friend-interests, and sub-cultures, and abandoning my own.
Authenticity’s exposure is informed by expectations, the measurement ruler that experiences are held against. Expectations color our how we present our authenticity, often diluting, covering up, or ignoring parts of myself that I would alienate me from those around me – the unique parts of an individual. These interactions become cornerstones of authentic identity, informed by cooperative experiences.