I have often heard this phrase casually said during my childhood. It was most often my mother. She would say either “Nobody cares about me”, or “Nobody loves me”. It would be her way of fishing for hugs, or affirmation from her children. The truth is, however, a lot more convoluted than it would seem.
I have, from my childhood, three dreams that are left over in the back of my mind, emotionally unresolved – that is, I still feel the emotions I felt when I dreamed those dreams the first time.
The first dream is a very good symbolic description of my childhood. I’m in our family (of origin) home, in our kitchen. The walls are barren, stripped of all decoration and there is nothing of interest in the room whatsoever. Just the grey walls. I try to get out, but there are no doors. I look out the tiny window, but to my dread, the walls are so thick I can only see wherever the window is facing. Despite it clearly being too small, I try to crawl out, only to find myself frustrated. I can hear voices outside, talking casually. I call out, but nobody answers. I find an opening in another wall, leading to another room. I can barely get through it, but the room is the same as the one I came from.
As if that were not enough, when I wake up, I wake up in a small, dark room which is my actual bedroom (and I really am awake). I have no clue which direction I’m facing, so I try whichever way to get off the bed. I hit the wall with my head. I turn what I think is 180 degrees and I hit another wall, I turn to the side and bang again. I turn to the other side and bang again! Now I panic. I know this isn’t a dream and I just realized I’m trapped. I cry and my father comes inside the room, turning on the light. I feel disoriented because the direction I was facing wasn’t exactly what I expected. Instead of being supportive, he’s angry that I’m awake.
The feelings from this dream are both dread, boredom and frustration.
The second dream is of my father and me sitting in some kind of waiting area. I don’t know what we are waiting for, but we seem to be facing out of the building through a glass door of some kind. There appear to be some rooms in the hallway beyond the doors, but it could also be an exit on either side of the hallway. I know my mother is coming, but we’ve been waiting so long I start to cry. Then finally my mother appears through the door on the left. She looks at me as I’m crying, with a look of utter disappointment on her face and walks towards us into the waiting area.
The feelings from this dream are sadness – and hatred.
The third dream I had after we moved from the house we lived in during my early childhood with my parents, my grandmother, my two aunts and an uncle (and their families when they eventually had them) to another one, where I lived only with my parents and my brother during high school and college. The dream took place in the old house. It was dark and everyone was asleep and I believe I went from my tiny bedroom to my parents’ bedroom. On the way I accidentally tipped something over and this woke up one of my aunts. She started yelling at me from her room and as I turned from my parents’ bed towards the entrance to their bedroom, she was already there, the look of absolute rage on her face. As she approached me, she started yelling and screaming unstoppably. As I was looking for a way to counter the insults she was throwing at me, I couldn’t find my voice, let alone an answer to whatever it was she was yelling. So, I woke up with a scream. It wasn’t a scream of fear, it was a scream of pure rage.
My dad once again (though this was years later) entered my room, but nothing had changed in his attitude in the meantime. Instead of being worried that his son was troubled with nightmares, he first didn’t want to hear about my dream and when I told him in the morning he just snorted.
The feelings from this dream are fear and rage.
This is the legacy of my childhood. Dread, boredom, frustration, sadness, hatred, fear and rage. I say rage, because anger doesn’t even begin to describe that feeling. You feel angry when someone accidentally steps on your toe and you want to punch them for being so stupid, or clumsy, but then anger goes away. This is pure rage! Like the one you would have to feel to flip over massive tables and smash everybody’s face in, then keep kicking them until you reduce them to a pulp. I differentiate dread and fear in that a dread is like fear, but a more sublime kind of fear of something that you can’t put a finger on, but you know it’s lurking there in the shadows. Fear is of something you can actually see, or touch. And hatred!
I never said this to anyone, and I never wrote this before.
I hate my mother.
There. I wrote it down now.
So that’s one tiny bit of the truth. To my knowledge, I never cared for her. I don’t think I ever loved her. But the interesting thing is that for this to happen, the feeling had to be mutual. Moreover, it had to have been originated by her.
You think nobody cares about you, mother? Well, that’s because you don’t care about anyone yourself. Not even your own children.
Oh, but we were always such a happy family! My mother and I would always come to an agreement about everything (as long as I agreed to every single one of her demands), she never had to yell (except when there was nobody else to hear it), she never hit me (except she did, or had someone else do it for her)… She would even organize parties in my honor! And I would even be asked if I’m thankful…
Not only would I really like to grab a bat and smash the inquirer’s face in too, but I would also like to yell “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” while doing it, before I also smash in that of my mother who is intently listening to an affirmative answer. She didn’t organize parties for me, she organized them exactly for you superficial people who ask such moronic questions in the presence of the very tyrant who commands – with the slightest of facial hints which only the most attentive of servants are trained to see – that an answer of their liking is given! That’s the kind of hatred that I feel!
(On a side-note, here’s the reason I look at other people when I’m in the middle of a discussion with my wife, or kids in a public place – I’m looking for exactly such hints and it’s maddening to not see them, because the truth is seldom the right answer where tyrants are involved. And on another side-note, here’s the reason I became such a good liar: I always know exactly what you want to hear, as long as the question isn’t very technical, so to speak.)
I’ve known that I hated her for a very long time and it has been like something I kept locked up in a hidden room somewhere. I’d occasionally stumble upon it again, or check up on it, only to realize that yes – it is still true.
When I look at my childhood in general I feel sad. It seems like I have wasted it and I often wish I’d done some things differently even though I know I could never have done that. There was always this watchful eye somewhere and there were very few moments I had that I could truly dedicate to doing something that I liked.
On Jordan Peterson’s self-authoring program I was asked to divide my life into seven epochs and then think of some number of significant events during those epochs, something that still evoked some emotional response when I thought of those events. Not only did I have trouble finding any significant events, but for me they all seemed to have merged into one giant mass of grey boredom, like a constant replay of the same thing over and over. If there was some way to make an audio summary of my childhood that lasted 10 minutes, I’m quite sure those 10 minutes would be bustling with my mother’s screaming at me. She’d do that so often that I knew exactly when her next fit was coming up.
When they say that boredom leads to creativity, well sure. I was quite bored, and quite creative. But it also leads to frustration when your creative efforts are discovered. It wouldn’t be half as devastating if your peers were making fun of you because of it. When your parents do it it’s a whole different game. It’s not ridicule then. It’s part scorn, part disappointment, part disgust, part shaming… and whatnot. I wrote a story about a boy who was bullied and then met another boy who could teach him to fly. It wasn’t a school assignment, it was just a story I wrote. The look on my mother’s face when she told me she read it is etched in my brain to this day. And it’s not pretty. Scorn, disappointment, disgust and shaming only scratch the surface of the volumes it spoke.
I really do get to say that my childhood is finally over – and it ended too fast. I kept on being a child because I never had a chance to be one. When others talk about what crazy things they did during their childhood, I can tell them about that one time when my cousin and I broke into a house that didn’t seem to belong to anyone and it turned out it used to be the home of then dead parents of my math teacher, and that’s about it. If I reiterate something that once happened to me during my childhood and my eyes light up you can be sure that it’s because I’m so glad that I have something to share.
Even my therapist commented on that. I didn’t even know at the time what she meant. I told her some of the things from my childhood like I tell any other story from my childhood. At first I thought I was a bit excited about it because I was completing Jordan Peterson’s Past Authoring program and so that part was quite well known to me. My thoughts after the session were that perhaps I was looking for something in my past that made me feel compelled to make the mistake that got me into my present mess and that it was important because I didn’t want to make a similar mistake.
The truth is that nobody really cares about someone who has nothing to share. So I get unusually excited when I find something that I can share. Even if it’s dreadful. It beats having nothing to share by infinity. But dreadful isn’t something people want to hear. They want to hear silly, or stupid, or daring, or funny. Lying can spice things up that way, so here’s another good reason to lie. In the absence of anything funny that actually happened, something made-up will do. Extra points if it’s at least based on anything that actually happened.
When your life is dull you lie to make people interested in you. And then you get anxious because you don’t want anyone to know you lied. And you get doubly anxious because the truth is too dreadful to let anyone know about it. I often had a nagging feeling that what I have is not really social anxiety. Rather, it’s fear of being caught in a lie by anyone in your social circle. A lie you had to tell because the truth was so bad, or because there weren’t enough truths to make anyone interested to begin with.
When I discovered the Internet and when I learned to create websites, I’d go nights without sleep trying to make the background tile just right, aligning table columns just so, choosing fonts and thinking what dreadful part of my life I want to make public. Either I’d finish by a certain time of the night, or without fail my mother or father would always get out of bed, walk furiously across the house to where the computer was and yell at me for being “on the computer [sic]”. Sometimes I’d manage to switch it off and hide. More often I wouldn’t. Sometimes I’d decide to go to bed on time, but something wouldn’t let me sleep and I’d try sneaking out of my room to the computer. Sometimes I’d wake someone up and they’d put me down. Sometimes I’d find that my father unplugged the computer and took the cables, or he unplugged and hid the keyboard in their bedroom. They called my enthusiasm an “addiction” to computer games. And yes, sometimes I played games. Other times I wrote stories they ridiculed; other times I was learning about a new technology for creating web sites, or a new programming language. It didn’t matter. They didn’t care. If I was doing it using the computer, it was bad, period. It was deserving of a screaming lecture in the middle of the night. And it’s not like I wanted to be there during the night. I hated it. I wanted to sleep. But there was no way to do it during the day, because they were all awake then and their attitude to me using the computer was not different. At all.
And so now nobody cares about me. Nobody cares about what I have to say, because I have so little to say, because my childhood was dominated by the people who sought to frustrate, if not kill, every creative shoot that managed to sprout from the sheer boredom of it. Why did I play computer games? Because that’s what helped me find some friends. We had something to talk about, we had something to do together. I wasn’t addicted to video games, video games saved my life! (And who knows what other lives they saved, considering that I got my fill of face smashing and skull bashing in a virtual world, so I didn’t feel such need to do it in the real one.)
When I think of my childhood I struggle to find a happy moment that was not underlined by something sinister. Even playing with other kids was a transgression: those neighbors were such and such, others were such and such, still others were such and such. My best friend from school had snobby parents, my other good friend was a scally and I shouldn’t hang out with such kids, this one was too old for me to hang out with, that one nobody in my family knew, so stay away… This mindset was drilled into me from very early on, so I probably should now not be surprised much that I was very discriminating towards who I was going to befriend. I was also very discriminating to who I was going to fall in love with, until I realized there was not a person in the world who fits the incredibly complex criteria. Seriously! I once tried to put it down on paper and I found that I soon reached for another sheet.
So instead of considering for a while what kind of person I was (which seemed like a silly question back then – everyone knows who they are, right?) so I could better understand what kind of person I needed by my side, I simply tossed the criteria out and figured that anyone is good enough, thinking I’m just making things too complicated for myself, without actually understanding how. All I had to do was learn to play the “game” and that’s that. And so I did. And here I am now.
Nobody cares about me.
They hardly even care about themselves. They’re wrapped up in little cocoons inside of which they are – much like myself before this journey – guarding (instead of healing) their wounds, helplessly watching them fester and spread, hiding their shame, worrying that someone might see inside if they slip up and say something they thought they shouldn’t have.
I realized that I need to become more like a force of nature. Something that if you choose to ignore then it whacks you when you’re not looking. Like gravity when you decide to ignore it on top of a cliff. I’m not quite sure how to do that yet (without actually whacking someone if they ignore me, which is a crime). One “maxim” I realized I should follow is probably “I say what I’ll do and I do what I said.” And that’s regardless of others’ opinions, or better yet, take their criticisms, study them and decide whether to take them seriously and incorporate it into my plan, or not.
I usually messed up the first step of this maxim. I rarely said anything about what I was planning. It’s a defense mechanism. I can’t reveal any of my plans because those plans will be ruined. Like they were ruined time and time again when I was a kid by my parents and others I lived with.
And there it is, now that I think of it this way… the fear of failure.
What if I say that I’m going to do something, and then I fail? I will have shamed myself. Had I kept my mouth shut and failed, nobody would have known. There would be no shame. Just resentment. Because I wanted to do X and didn’t tell anyone, they were behaving exactly like my parents did no matter what I was doing. It’s a very interesting situation.
My parents were consistently ruining everything I was trying to accomplish, pushing me instead to accomplish things that they deemed worthwhile and taking the ruins of what I had planned as “proof” that they always knew better. So, I hid my plans from them, never telling them what I was doing. Then when I was doing it and was discovered, I hid what I was doing again and they thought I was wasting time, so they yelled. But my plans were no longer ruined, although I did often lose motivation to pursue the goals I’ve outlined. And no wonder! Pleasing someone and making yourself successful simultaneously, when the two have nothing in common, is both mentally and physically exhausting (you can’t work all night and then function normally at school in the morning). Moreover, as time went by the very act of hiding what I was doing was causing the situation to spiral ever closer towards a literal hell. (This is still very much so with my parents.)
When I got married, this pattern of behavior remained unchecked and it unsurprisingly continued.
My wife “walked in on me” in the middle of the night just as I was working on this very post. I had written a paragraph that said that I thought she didn’t care about me. She wanted to know why I wasn’t in bed like her and the kids. I hadn’t told her what I was doing, she knew only so much about this journey, so – naturally – she thought I was wasting time, distancing myself from my family for who knows what reason. I’m sure thinking this way is scary, especially for someone who had recently been presented with divorce papers. She was worried, but what I thought was happening was that she, like my parents, came to yell and nag.
Since the moment I brought the divorce papers home, we took some time to talk about our relationship. I told her that I saw very early on that our relationship wasn’t going to work well. Even that I had seen the divorce coming way before we even got engaged. The reason we got engaged and married was part my cowardice as I had no courage to leave her then, part parasitism. My goal from the relationship was to have children and I wanted to use her this way. I was tired of looking for someone and having to play the “game” I didn’t like playing. So, my “vision” where I saw this dreadful future and our eventual divorce was also like a kind of plan. We’d have kids and then we’d divorce. I told her this, or at least the part that I understood back then and we decided then that we’d be more open and honest with each other.
So on this night when she walked in as I was writing this post, I did something unprecedented.
I let her read it.
And I feel it strengthened us as a couple.
P.S. Note, the paragraph in question – the one which said that she didn’t care about me – is not here any more. I’ve removed it and it took some soul searching, so to speak, to actually figure out that situation completely.
I was planning to do a bit of an analysis on the dreams I described near the beginning of this post, but writing about how they made me feel took me elsewhere. I’ll do this in some future post if I find it relevant.
P.P.S. I grayed out some text there because I wasn’t quite happy with it. I think I need to think a little deeper about it.